Monday, April 25, 2011

Super Fast

The question I hear most often from friends who aren’t quite as food-obsessed as I am is ‘Do you always cook like this??’, usually in response to a full-blown meal that I’ve pulled out all the stops for.

The answer is simply… no way.

Yes, I enjoy cooking. Yes, I probably cook more than the ‘average’ home cook. And YES, YES, I find myself wanting to throw together something quickly with little fuss.

I just happened to snag a really cheap pineapple last week and before it wasted away in the fridge (pineapple, in spite of its tough exterior, is pretty delicate and won’t last long once you bring it home). A quick dash into the store on my way home netted me some shrimp (already cooked), and I threw in stuff I had around the house.

It wasn’t ‘authentic’ or probably even all that well-planned, but it was tasty.

Make some.

Pineapple Fried Rice

About 2 cups cooked rice (I threw one of those microwave packets together and used it)
2 - 3 Tbs vegetable or canola oil
½ cup thinly sliced onion
2 cloves garlic, mashed
½ tsp curry powder (optional)
½ tsp dried chili flakes
½ lb shrimp, peeled and deveined (I purchased the pre-cooked variety)
2 - 4 Tbs soy sauce (to taste)
1 Tbs ponzu sauce (optional)
About 1 cup fresh pineapple, cubed
2 Tbs green onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped

Heat oil in a skillet and sauté the onion over medium heat until it turns translucent. Add the garlic, curry and chili flakes, and continue to sauté another minute, just until garlic begins to soften. Add the cooked rice, pineapple and shrimp to the pan, then pour in the soy and ponzu sauces. Cook and stir until everything is heated through and the soy sauce caramelizes slightly. Stir in basil and green onion and serve immediately.

Two Birthdays, Two Cakes

I had a couple of co-workers celebrating birthdays (there seems to be a lot of April birthdays, at least where I work), and while I asked if there were any particular requests, I was given the go-ahead to use them as guinea pigs. So I found a couple of recipes that appealed to me and went from there.

I’ll have to say they were both very well received, and as a matter of fact, the s’mores cupcakes made a second appearance over the weekend in celebration of my brother-in-law’s birthday. Both were easy to prepare, and I even got to haul out the kitchen blowtorch, so all-in-all it was a pretty successful endeavor!

Be prepared to make a second batch of the coffee/liqueur filling (if needed). The cake is pretty firm, so you definitely want enough to moisten them up.

Tiramisu Cupcakes
adapted from Once Upon a Plate

1 1/4 cups sifted AP flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped
4 Tbs (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
3 large whole eggs plus 3 egg yolks, room temperature
1 cup sugar

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon freshly brewed espresso
1 oz Frangelico, brandy or marsala
2 Tbs sugar

1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 oz container of mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 325º. Heat milk, the vanilla bean pod and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat just until bubbles appear around the edge. Remove from heat. Whisk in butter until melted; let stand 15 minutes. Line muffin tin(s) with liners.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

Mix together whole eggs, yolks, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water; whisk by hand until sugar is completely dissolved and mixture becomes warm warm, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove bowl from heat. With the mixer on high speed, whisk until mixture is fluffy, pale yellow, and thick enough to hold a ribbon on the surface for several seconds when whisk is lifted.

Gently fold flour mixture into the egg mixture in three batches, until it is thoroughly mixed; strain the milk mixture and slowly add to the batter with the mixer on low speed, mixing until just combined.

Fill the paper-lined tins about ¾ full of the batter. Place in preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the cupcakes are lightly-golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (rotate the pans halfway through the baking time). Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, mix the espresso, liqueur and sugar in a small bowl and allow to stand a few minutes so that the sugar dissolves. Make slight indentations in each cupcake and then poke with a toothpick. Spoon about ½ - 1 tsp of the coffee syrup in each of the cupcakes. Allow the cupcakes to stand about 30 minutes to absorb the liquid.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat 1/2 cup of the cream until soft peaks form (don't overbeat). Gradually beat in 1/4 cup of the confectioner's sugar until medium peaks form. Remove to a separate bowl. In the same mixer bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese until softened. Slowly add the sugar and then the remaining ½ cup of cream, blending until well combined. Carefully fold in the sweetened whip cream. Spoon into a pastry bag and immediately frost the cooled cupcakes. Store in fridge up to 24 hours, sprinkling with cocoa before serving.

S’mores Cupcakes

1½ cups graham crackers, ground to a fine crumb
¼ cup sugar
5 1/3 Tbs unsalted butter, melted
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

2 cups sugar
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup plus 1 Tbs cocoa powder
1½ tsp baking powder
1½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup milk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

8 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
½ tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. In a small mixing bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter; mix well with a fork. Drop about 1 tablespoon of the graham cracker mixture in the bottom of each cupcake liner and press down to line the bottom (use a smaller amount for mini cupcakes). Sprinkle a small amount of the chopped chocolate on top of the graham cracker crusts. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, maintaining the oven temperature.

Sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the eggs, milk, vegetable oil and vanilla; mix on low until combined, using the paddle attachment. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the boiling water and stir just to combine (batter will be thin).

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cupcake liners, filling each about ¾ of the way full. Return the pans to the oven and bake about 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Allow to cool.

To make the frosting, combine the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Heat mixture over a saucepan filled with a small amount of water until the mixture is hot to the touch (about 160º). Transfer the bowl to the mix stand fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk starting at low speed and gradually increasing to medium-high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form. Mix in the vanilla until combined. Frost cooled cupcakes as desired. Brown with a kitchen torch and garnish with chocolate and graham cracker segments (optional).

Sugar Buzz

Easter saw me doing all of those mundane things that get pushed to the weekend. Like cleaning the shower.

‘Cuz I know how to live.

Anyway, the day before Easter found us gathering at my mom’s for a barbecue with both of my sisters, their husbands, munchkins, Offspring 1 AND 2, and some friends from out of town. All in all, we had 15 people - a much larger gathering than we normally have for the holiday.

Lunch was a laid back affair, which was just what the day called for since we were actually experiencing good weather - FINALLLY (that all changed Easter day, of course).

I brought out some of the old favorites and tried a few new things, like this…

I’ve seen variations floating around the webosphere, and this just seemed like something the kiddos would enjoy, although I have to say that the adults seemed just as smitten…

I served it with vanilla goldfish (is there a flavor they DON’T make??), but O2 tackled the leftovers with sliced apple and declared the combo a smashing success.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip
makes about 1 1/2 cups

1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 8-ounce block of cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture starts to bubble. Set aside to cool, then whisk in vanilla.

Cream together cream cheese and powdered sugar for 60 seconds. With mixer on low speed, add in brown sugar and butter mixture. Mix until combined. Fold in chocolate chips.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring Rolls for Spring

This was one of those recipes that evolved slowly from inception to realization. Carley made these beautiful spring rolls for our trip to the river, and ever since, I’ve been thinking about making some of my own.

That idea was spurred along after O2 watched Food, Inc. in class and decided that her already lagging meat appreciation had just dwindled to practically nil. Her and her sister were never ones for having large chunks of meat put before them, anyway.

In trying to accommodate her horror over the condition of feedlots and slaughterhouses, I thought I’d pick up some shrimp for dinner. And since those spring rolls were still fresh on my mind, I thought I’d play around with some fillings.

To accompany the rolls, I put together a quinoa with a little dried mango and spices to mirror the filling in the rolls. I also offered up a store-bought sweet chile sauce as well as a quickly concocted peanut sauce… Which turned out to be not so great. The problem was using jarred peanut butter. You know, one of the big name brands that contain stabilizers and what-not. They melt just fine, but when you add the liquids to them, they turn into paste.

And it turns out, this really wasn’t the right accompaniment for these, anyway. The chile sauce, however, was just the perfect thing.

The quinoa, although (I think) a success, was also a little heavy-handed for the spring rolls. The quinoa itself was feather-light, but the spices made this a more appropriate accompaniment to a more substantial main course. Ah, well. You live and learn.

That said, O2 scarfed down the spring rolls, globbed on the peanut sauce, wolfed down a substantial portion of the quinoa and declared the meal ‘awesome’.

Take that, McDonald’s.

Ok, so bear with me. There are a lot of parts here, but once everything was put together, they went together very quickly. And the quinoa is 20 minutes start to finish.

Sesame Rice Noodles

½ package rice noodles
1 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp black sesame seeds

Cook the noodles according to package directions (mine took 10 minutes). Drain and return to pan. Add the sesame oil and seeds, mix well and set aside.

Garlic Shrimp

¾ lb medium-sized raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tsp Ponzu sauce (optional)
2 tsp soy sauce
¼ tsp dried chili flakes
1 tsp sesame oil
1 - 2 tsp canola oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed

Add all ingredients to a shallow dish and allow to marinate for about 10 minutes. Heat a skillet, wok or grill pan to medium-high. Add the marinated shrimp and flash fry just until cooked through. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside to cool.

Shrimp and Mango Spring Rolls

Garlic Shrimp (see above)
Sesame Rice Noodles (see above)
1 small red bell pepper (or orange, or yellow, or a combination), cut into matchstick pieces
1 mango, peeled and sliced
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
About 6 large basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade
1 package rice paper wrappers

A shallow dish filled with hot water

Prepare and assemble all of your filling ingredients.

To prepare the rice paper wrappers, plunge one sheet into the hot water and allow to soften for about 30 seconds. Remove from the water, spread out on a work surface and fill (I prepared one at a time because they’re a bit sticky, and you won’t be able to stack them).

Arrange the filling ingredients across the lower edge of the wrapper, leaving about 1 inch of space. If you want your fillings to ‘show through’ more, put the noodles in the middle and start and end your stack with the more colorful ingredients.

Fold bottom edge over the filling, pulling it back towards you to make it more compact, then fold over the two sides and continue to roll forward until the entire sheet has been rolled. Repeat (I think I made about 8 rolls).

Mango Quinoa

2 tsp canola oil
1 clove garlic, smashed
½ stick cinnamon
3 cardamom pods, seeds removed and smashed
1 cup quinoa
1 ¾ cup water
3 pieces of dried mango, cut into small cubes
2 leaves fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade

In a medium saucepan, bring the oil to temperature over medium heat. Add the garlic, cinnamon and cardamom and sauté for about a minute, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the quinoa and continue to sauté another minute or so until the quinoa begins to toast. Pour in the water and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow to sit another 2 minutes. Using a fork, fluff the quinoa and then carefully stir in the dried mango and basil.

Note: As you can see from the picture, there was NO BASIL in my quinoa because, well, I was hungry, and it was all I could do to snap a quick photo, much less remember to put everything into the dish that I intended to.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Bit of the Exotic

Every time I make curry I wonder, “Why don’t I make curry more often?” When O1 was still living at home, I only made it when I knew she wasn’t going to be around (not a big fan), but O2 does like it, so I’m not sure why it’s not more of a staple in our house.

First off, there are so many wonderful variations on it, and it can make for a fantastic and quick weeknight meal. Pick up some curry paste (green and red are my two favorites) at your local grocery store, cook up your favorite meats/veggies, toss in a tablespoon along with a can of coconut milk and serve over rice. Simple, quick, delicious.

Anyway, when I was a college freshman I was invited to someone’s house for some African style curry. The buffet table held a huge pot of this amazingly fragrant chicken curry, another huge dish of rice, and then a spectacular array of condiments. We were instructed to spoon some rice in the center of our plates, ladle the chicken curry over the top, and then make little piles of whatever condiments interested us around the outside edges. That allowed us to try different combinations and flavors.

It was amazing and one of my favorite memories of college.

With G’s official birthday just around the corner, I’ve invited Carley and him over in hopes of recreating this memorable meal. In the meantime, I’ve gotten the curry bug (Hmm. Sounds like something that you have to vacuum out of your carpet.)

I caught an episode of Nigella Feasts a few weeks ago, and she happened to be making Mughlai Chicken, which looked simply amazing. O2 was off to the prom, and I thought I’d try out the recipe for a night on my own. I followed her recipe to the letter (although I added a few more of the sultanas than the recipe called for), and the aroma was incredible. The taste was pretty amazing as well. I think the only thing I’d change the next time around would be to use a mortar and pestle and grind up some of the spices. I followed her instructions and tossed everything in the pan, which made for a really rustic presentation, but the cardamom seeds were a bit much to bite into (for me). Everything else was large enough to fish out.

To accompany the chicken, I made a batch of gingered coconut rice and some flatbread, which are quickly becoming my favorite go-to bread.

Mughlai Chicken

1 (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes
4 Tbs ground almonds
1/2 cup water
5 cardamom pods, smashed
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
2 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 lb boned chicken thighs, cut into pieces
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 cup low sodium chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
1 tsp garam masala
1 Tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
Toasted almonds to garnish

Put the ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, the seeds from the cardamom and chili flakes into a food processor, or into a mortar and pestle, and blend to a paste. Add the ground almonds and water and then blend again, set aside.

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the chicken pieces (cook in batches to avoid crowding the pan). Sear on both sides and remove to a plate.

Add the spices (including the cardamom pods - you can fish out later) to the pan and turn them in the oil. Add the onions and cook on medium-low until softened and lightly browned, stirring frequently.

Pour in the blended paste and combine well. Allow to cook 2 or 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the yogurt a bit at a time, stirring as you go, then stir in the stock, cream, and sultanas.

Put the browned chicken back into the pan, along with any juices. Sprinkle over the garam masala, sugar and salt. Cover and cook on low heat for 20 minutes, testing to make sure the meat is cooked through. Serve over rice and sprinkle with toasted almonds.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Not Just for the Guys

Since my journey into the world of bacon combined with sugar went so well, I thought I’d whip up a batch of something bacon-y for a co-worker with a birthday this week. But I couldn’t resist a wee bit of a taste test. You know, just to be sure he was getting quality stuff.

I’m thoughtful like that.

Anyway, I haven’t gotten a review from him (If I had actually been a thoughtful person, I would have included something to spread it ON along with the jar he received), but I can say that this is something that I would happily spread on a burger bun, or make into bruschcetta. And it will make an appearance once I get my hands on some green tomatoes, that I can assure you.

Bacon’s not just for the guys, you know.

Bacon Onion Pear Marmalade

4 slices of lean bacon, fat reserved
2 medium sized onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1 bottle hard apple cider, divided
1/2 cup dried pear, roughly chopped
1/3 cup brown sugar
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Fry bacon in a skillet until crispy. Remove from pan to paper towels, reserving bacon grease. Using the reserved bacon fat, slowly caramelize the onions until reduced in size and golden brown (15 to 20 minutes), stirring often.

While the onions are caramelizing, soak the chopped pear in half the bottle of hard cider. Combine the pear/cider mixture along with the remaining bottle of cider with the caramelized onions. Add the mustard, vinegar and brown sugar to the pot. Season with pepper. Turn the heat up to medium high and reduce the mixture until very thick, stirring often. This will take about 10 minutes. About ¾ of the way through the cooking process, once most of the liquid has evaporated, crumble the bacon and add to the pan.

Tax Day Leftovers

Yes, I procrastinated, kept my head in the sand, hoped for the best… and then proceeded to have a nervous breakdown when I saw how much I was going to owe on my taxes this year. Turns out the tax credit for O2 went away when she turned 17 last year. Didn’t matter that she didn’t turn 17 until the END of the year. Uncle Sam doesn’t care about stuff like that.

My jaw hit the keyboard when I saw the final number.

And I vowed to give up everything I needed to to pay the tax man.

Like… groceries.

Luckily, some friends had taken me out for my birthday to one of my favorite restaurants, Sybaris. The chef/owner there does some really amazing things and sources locally. My entrée had a Cajun flare to it and included tasso creamed potatoes, crispy kale and some amazing sausages made (in-house) with crawfish and turkey.

Given the amount of food we ordered (which included a sinfully rich and delicious parsnip soup), it wasn’t surprising that I had leftovers. So after my heart stopped palpitating thanks to the IRS, I decided to make myself a little nosh using stuff I had hanging around, which included:

Yukon potatoes
One lonely Anaheim chile pepper
That really incredible sausage

No recipe. I chopped everything up, sautéed the potatoes and then the onions, tossed in the chile and garlic, seasoned with a little celery salt, pepper, and paprika, then added the sausages and just heated them through. Even had a few stray bits of kale that I threw in.

Guess it’s time to wend my way through the freezer and see what I can come up with from there.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Weekend Away

So, let’s just say that life as of late has been… interesting. And sensing my need to unplug and unwind, G & C generously offered a little weekend getaway at a cabin down in Vida, right on the McKenzie. It was definitely sigh-worthy.

Just see for yourself…

On the way down, O2 and I made a little detour to pick up some of these…

You know. For the kids.

Since this month we were celebrating both mine and G’s birthdays, we opted for a Tapas Extravaganza. And as I mentioned before, we had holy-moley-was-it-good-cheesecake.

Which we didn’t get photos of. Because I think when we saw it in its amazing-ness (caramel, hazelnut, oh…. my), any thought other than diving in went out the window.

We had a few blasts from the past, like the potatoes from our chocolate night, and these

As you can see, we had quite the spread…

Carley’s Menu

Eggplant Meatballs with Almond Butter Sauce
Feta Stuffed Dates wrapped in Pancetta (these were also a marvel)
Tofu Artichoke Dip (also great, I might add, stirred into pasta - C’s idea)
OMG Caramel Hazelnut Cheesecake
Vietnamese Spring Rolls (look how pretty)

Carri’s Menu

Grilled Shrimp Skewers
Jalapeño Poppers
Butternut Squash/Spinach Gnudi
Corn Fritters w/ Shallot and Sour Cream Dipping Sauce
Butternut Squash/Apple Puffs
Meyer Lemon Pesto
Cocoa Spiced Potatoes

Ok, I honestly thought I had 5 items to bring. At some point during the preparation process, I added more. I apparently have this unconscious fear of not having enough to feed everyone.

We should have invited the neighbors. There’s was PLENTY…

Since there was a grill at our disposal, I put together some jalapeño poppers and little shrimp skewers. I kind of threw a bunch of stuff for a marinade in a plastic bag, so I’ll see if I can try to recreate the recipe…

Shrimp Skewers

1 lb cleaned and deveined medium shrimp
½ cup soy sauce
1 Tbs Ponzu sauce (optional)
½ tsp dried ginger (use fresh if you have it)
2 cloves garlic, mashed
2 tsp sesame oil

Thread shrimp onto skewers (I used 2 shrimp to a toothpick). Combine remaining ingredients in a sealable bag. Add shrimp skewers. Allow to marinade for 30 minutes to an hour. Cook or grill to your liking.

* * *

A friend from work has been kind enough to share some of the hazelnut oil he’s pressed himself. The second bottle I received was a hazelnut truffle oil. How amazing is that? I’ve been mulling over how I wanted to use it for its maiden voyage, and this was what I came up with.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Gnudi

2 cups fresh spinach
1 cup cooked and mashed butternut squash
15 oz container fresh ricotta
½ cup flour
1 large egg
½ cup Grana Padano
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1 Tbs olive oil
1 clove garlic, mashed
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
¼ cup red wine
2 Tbs Balsamic vinegar
¼ cup fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade
½ tsp black pepper

Optional: truffle infused oil

Preheat oven to 350º.

Drizzle a little olive oil in a sauté pan. Add spinach. Cook over medium heat until spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes. Allow to cool. Squeeze any excess moisture from spinach. Chop.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the chopped spinach, butternut squash, ricotta, flour and egg. Mix thoroughly. Stir in the cheese and nutmeg. Set aside.

In the same sauté pan you cooked the spinach in, add 1 Tbs olive oil. Heat pan on medium and add the garlic. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for about a minute. Pour in canned tomatoes. Add red wine and balsamic vinegar. Allow the mixture to come to a boil and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Stir in basil and pepper. Pour into a square glass baking dish.

Form ricotta mixture into balls and place in baking dish. Bake until top is brown and crispy, about 35 minutes. Drizzle with truffle oil.

Corn Fritters w/ Shallot and Sour Cream Dipping Sauce

10 oz package frozen corn
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 Tbs baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 oz soft butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups milk

Combine dry ingredients. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until well combined. Add eggs and mix well. Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in corn kernels. Heat a griddle or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add a small amount of butter and an equal amount of olive oil. Make small, silver dollar sized dollops of the batter. Cook until bottom is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip the fritter and cook the other side until it is golden, another couple of minutes. Place on cookie sheet in a warm oven until all the fritters are cooked. Serve with sauce.


1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup tomatoes, finely diced
1/2 shallot, minced
1 green onion, cut into thin slices
Salt and white pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and season to taste.

Butternut Squash, Apple and Sage Puffs

1 box puff pastry, defrosted
4 oz cream cheese
2 Tbs grated parmesan
1 clove garlic, minced
1 granny smith apple, peeled and grated
1 cup cooked and mashed butternut squash
1 tsp olive oil
1 Tbs fresh sage, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

Flour for dusting work surface
Small dish of water

Preheat oven to 400°. In a large mixing bowl, cream the cream cheese, parmesan and garlic until well combined. Add the apple, butternut squash, olive oil and sage. Mix thoroughly. Season to taste.

Lightly flour a work surface. Unfold the first sheet of puff pastry and lay out on work surface. Lightly roll out with a floured rolling pin (the dough should be the same rectangular shape) with the long edges at the top and bottom. Cut dough from top to bottom into four equal strips. Cut each of these in half crossways.

Working one strip at a time, place 1 heaping tablespoon of the filling towards one end of the dough strip (leave about ¼”). Using finger, wet the edge of the half of the dough strip that has the filling. Fold the other half on top of this and crimp the edges with a fork. Repeat with remaining strips.

Repeat the process with the remaining dough.

Arrange puffs on a baking sheet , leaving about ½” or so of space around each. Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden and puffed up. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Meyer Lemon Pesto
(makes 1 cup)

1 Meyer lemon (remove center membrane, seed and cut into pieces)
1/2 cup fresh basil (packed)
1 clove garlic
2 Tbs toasted walnuts
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano (grated)
3 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place everything into a food processor and blend.

* * *

I don’t really have a recipe for the arancini. I took some leftover risotto I had made, added an egg to bind it, and then made little provolone stuffed disks with it. I rolled this in flour, then in egg and finally in panko breading. I cooked them in a little olive oil. That’s it.

All Photos Courtesy of CHP

Friday, April 8, 2011

Yep... More Bread

So, I tend to get on these kicks. I think it has a lot to do with an overblown sense of doing something until I get it right. And while my previous bread baking binge yielded some tasty loaves, I wasn’t particularly happy with how any of them LOOKED. Even the potato bread had this strange little hump to it.

Yeah, I know. I’m weird that way.

Anyway, Offspring 2 and I are off on another C & C Cooking Extravaganza. This one is even going to involve actual SCENERY. McKenzie River, here we come! Hopefully one of us will remember to snap photos!  :-))

And since we are also celebrating dual birthdays (mine and G’s), there will be cake. Several of them, I gather.

In preparation for the weekend ahead, I wanted to bring something that would stand in for breakfast, which neither O2 or I really eat. For me, an Eggo and my morning joe are about the norm. But I ran across this recipe and decided to give it a go. I will have to say that so far it gets the highest points for esthetically pleasing to look at. And it was tasty, too.

Well, you didn’t think I’d take it all the way down there to share with other people without TRYING it first, did you???

Cinnamon Swirl Bread
adapted from Closet Cooking

1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
3-3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs butter, softened
1/3 cups sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 egg mixed with 1 Tbs milk

Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat just until butter melts.  Remove from heat and allow to cool until it is lukewarm.  Mix in the yeast and let sit for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the eggs and sugar in bowl of stand mixer.  Slowly add in milk.  Combine the flour and salt and beat half into the milk mixture on low speed until combined.  Using a dough hook, stir in the remaining flour until combined.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface.  Knead until smooth, adding more flour if it is too sticky.  Place the dough in a large greased bowl, cover and let it rise until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it out so that it is as wide as your baking pan and about 18 to 24 inches long.  Spread the butter over the dough.  Mix the sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle it evenly over dough.

Roll the dough up into a log (If you end up with dough that is wider than your pan, just tuck it under when you're ready to bake it.  It will work just fine; you just won't end up with a perfect spiral.  If that's important to you, pay more attention than I did!)

Place the dough into a greased loaf pan, cover and let it rise until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours.  Mix the egg and milk and brush it over the top of the loaf.  Bake in a preheated 350º oven until golden brown on top, about 30-40 minutes.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Using Up All the Bits and Pieces

How many times do you find yourself with odd amounts of ingredients from a meal that aren’t enough to make a whole new dish with but more than you feel comfortable throwing out? I think this accounts for the largest portion of waste in my kitchen. And in this economy, waste just isn’t something I’m willing to accept.

I found myself with a few odds and ends from my catered lunch and not a lot of motivation to cook. I had also received a free sample of Philadelphia Cream Cheese Cooking Cream, which had been sitting in the fridge for about a week. Thus my plan was hatched.

Using a package of gnocchi I had on hand (This is a staple in my house. If it isn’t in yours, a cheese ravioli, or even just some plain Jane pasta would work), I threw together this yummy little dish in about 15 minutes, which amounted to the time it took to bring the water to a boil and cook the gnocchi.

I put together a recipe here for you, but just understand that this was truly a trip around the kitchen to see what was around and could be used. I just wanted you to get an idea of how you can go about using up all of those bits and pieces.

Mish Mash Pasta

1 package gnocchi (or other pasta), cooked according to package directions
½ shallot (left over from my catering job), finely diced
2 Tbs olive oil (pantry staple)
1 small zucchini (found in produce drawer in the fridge), cubed
¼ cup white wine (pantry staple)
1 cup cherry tomatoes (left over from my catering job), halved
¼ cup fresh basil (left over from my catering job), cut into chiffonade
1 cup cooked chicken (left over from my catering job), diced
1 container Italian herb Philly ‘cooking cream’
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (left over from my catering job)
¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped (left over from my catering job)

While water is coming to a boil for the pasta, heat a skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil and shallot. Sauté until shallot begins to soften. Increase heat to medium-high and add zucchini. Cook, stirring frequently, until zucchini begins to brown. Deglaze pan with white wine and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Add cherry tomatoes, basil and chicken to the pan. Reduce heat to medium-low (your water’s probably boiling about now and the pasta can be added). Spoon in cooking cream and slowly combine the ingredients. When pasta finishes cooking, add to the pan (Don’t bother draining all the pasta water. Just use a slotted spoon to fish out your pasta and add to the sauce - a little bit of water won’t hurt).

Stir until pasta is fully incorporated into the sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Top with toasted nuts and serve immediately.

Lunch for a Crowd

Meals for a large group need not be daunting. They just require a bit of planning.

I was asked to prepare a sandwich buffet for a group of 15 at work. And while I opted to provide some home baked breads, it was by no means required. I would recommend at the least finding a decent bakery and adding one or two bakery quality varieties.

My sandwich buffet included the following:

Breads - Potato and Pumpernickel/Hazelnut breads provided by me, Whole Wheat from a local bakery, and Hawaiian rolls straight from the deli of a big box store.

Lunch Meats - I figured about ¼ lb per person and included a seasoned turkey (garlic/rosemary), roast beef, ham, pastrami and chicken.

Tarragon and Walnut Chicken Salad (recipe below)

Cheeses - I offered Cheddar, Muenster, Havarti and Brie.

Condiments - along with the usual mustard and mayo, I included a garlic/saffron aioli and pesto (recipes for these included below).

Misc - I provided some frisee and green lettuce, along with grapes, pickles and banana peppers

Mediterranean Pasta Salad (recipe below)

Cookie Assortment (Chocolate Chip Oatmeal, Browniedoodles, Matcha Almond Butter Cookies (Going to work on this recipe. They were fine, but I wasn’t completely happy with them).

I don’t have a lot of photos to share because I could only snap a few as I was staging things. I did the set up during a meeting, so it was a fast in and out, but I think you’ll get the idea:


¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ cup pine nuts or walnuts
Juice from ½ a lemon
2 cups fresh basil leaves
¼ cup olive oil (no, this isn’t a typo - you’ll need about ½ cup total)
½ cup Parmesan or Asiago cheese (freshly grated, please)
Salt and pepper to taste

Layer the ingredients in a blender in the order they appear here (I just find that unless you have a high-end blender, you’ll have more success this way). Using a ‘Grind’ setting, or something similar, pulse the mixture until it becomes a paste. Taste for seasoning and add more oil if the mixture is too thick.

Garlic/Saffron Aioli
Note: I would have made my own mayonnaise for this, but I opted to just go for a good quality store-bought instead. No worries about raw eggs.

½ cup good quality mayo
1 Tbs white wine
Generous pinch of saffron
1 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed into a paste
¼ tsp white pepper

Pour white wine into a small bowl and add the saffron. Allow to steep for about 10 minutes. Add the mayo, garlic and white pepper and stir until well combined.

Walnut Tarragon Chicken Salad

2 roasted chickens (you can use rotisserie if desired)
½ shallot, finely minced
1 Tbs fresh tarragon, cut into a chiffonade
¼ cup white wine
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 cup good quality mayonnaise
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
½ cup toasted walnuts, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Remove meat from chickens and cut into a small dice. Add to a mixing bowl along with the remaining ingredients. Stir until well combined. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes to allow flavors to combine before serving.

If you are making this in advance, leave out the nuts and stir in at the last moment before service.

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

1 lb box orzo, cooked according to directions
2 Tbs olive oil
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives, cut into quarters
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (I used an heirloom assortment)
1 cup fresh spinach, roughly chopped or torn apart
About half a bottle of your favorite vinaigrette, or make your own
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup feta cheese

Cook pasta. Drain, pour into a mixing bowl, add olive oil and stir well. Allow to cool. Add olives, cucumber, tomatoes and spinach. Pour vinaigrette evenly over ingredients and toss lightly. Season to taste. Fold in feta cheese. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, April 4, 2011

My Bread Baking Binge

As a general rule, I’m not one for baking my own breads, unless they’re the quick kind. It’s not that there’s anything particularly difficult about it. It just always seems like more of a time commitment than I’m willing to make. But I had a couple of things happen that put me in the mood.

First, I had planned to bake a loaf of Basque bread for last month’s Dinner o’ the Month (still looking for a good name), but because of my Epic.Vertebrae.Fail, I had to shelve the idea. And so, the recipe sat on my recipe holder, mocking me.

Second, I landed a small catering job at work. I’ve been doing the odd platter of baked goods, but this time around, I was asked to provide the entire lunch (a sandwich buffet for 15 - pretty basic stuff). I thought it would be a nice addition to have some freshly baked breads available.

Ever since the cookie baking lunch extravaganza back in December, I’ve been wanting to try out Carley’s Pumpernickel Hazelnut bread, which was just fantastic. It’s a no-knead recipe, and had I paid closer attention to the baking process, it would have been great. I managed to overcook it a bit, and the bottom got a little over-browned. But no matter. I simply cut off the entire bottom of the loaf and no one was the wiser. It’s a nice, dense bread, anyway.

Of course, I never managed to snap a photo of the final BAKED product (sigh), but you get the idea.

Pumpernickel Hazelnut Bread
Thank you, Carley

1 cup rye flour
2 cups bread flour (I used King Arthur)
1/2 tsp yeast
1 packet Starbucks Via instant coffee
2 Tbs brown sugar
2 Tbs cocoa powder
1-1/4 tsp salt
1-1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup molasses
1 cup chopped hazelnuts

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the bread hook attachment, stir on a medium-low speed until well combined. Cover and let sit in a warm, draft-free spot for 18 - 24 hrs. The dough will have risen and be slightly bubbly.

Place a well-floured cotton towel on the counter. Take bread dough from bowl and place on top of towel. Fold over a couple of times and shape into a ball. Cover with another floured cotton towel and let stand an additional 2 hrs.

Line the bottom of a Dutch oven with foil. Heat oven to 425º and allow the Dutch oven to heat up during the pre-heat process. Remove from oven and carefully place the bread in the Dutch oven. Coat the lid of Dutch oven with olive oil to prevent the loaf from sticking and cover the bread.

Bake for 25 minutes and then remove the lid. Allow to bake an additional 5 to 10 minutes until the top is browned and the loaf is done (tapping on the outside will produce a hollow sound).

* * *

To offset the heartier pumpernickel, I decided to include this Potato Bread, which has a nice, soft texture and a delicate flavor. In addition to following the recipe below, I brushed the tops of the uncooked loaves with a little melted butter (and then I brushed them with a little more once they were done cooking).

Potato Bread
adapted from Catherine McMichael, Cooking Light Finalist

1 cup cooked potatoes, mashed (about 8 ounces)
1 cup 2% milk
1 1/2 Tbs honey
2 Tbs butter
About 4 ½ cups bread flour, divided
2 1/2 tsp dry yeast
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
2 large eggs
1 tsp olive oil
Cooking spray

Combine first 4 ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH for 2 minutes or until mixture is 110°. Stir with a whisk until smooth.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, yeast, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add potato mixture to flour mixture, stirring with a fork until combined. Add eggs; stir until combined.

Add about 2 cups flour to potato mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes); add enough of remaining 1/2 cup flour, a small amount at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel sticky).

Place dough in a large bowl coated with olive oil, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough. Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes.

Spray two loaf pans with cooking spray.

Divide dough in half. Working with one portion at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), roll one portion into a 14 x 7–inch rectangle on a floured surface. Roll up rectangle tightly, starting with a short edge, pressing firmly to eliminate air pockets; pinch seam and ends to seal. Place loaf, seam side down, in an 8 x 4–inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Repeat with remaining portion.

Cover and let rise again in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350°. Bake for 30 minutes or until tops are browned and loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from pans; cool on wire racks.

My final foray into the world of breads (this week, anyway) was the Basque Sheepherder Bread that I’ve been keeping on ice. Let me say that this made a HUGE loaf of bread. Next time I’ll probably divide the dough in half. Although it baked just fine, I did run into an issue with the dough sticking to the lid of the Dutch oven (Probably should have lined it with some non-stick foil). When I tried to take the lid off, a good portion of dough stuck, so rather than a nicely domed loaf, mine was kind of flat and scraggly on top. But it tasted (and smelled) pretty incredible. Definitely will repeat this one.

Basque Sheepherder Bread

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbs salt
3 cups hot water
2 packages dry yeast
7 to 7 1/2 cups bread flour

In the bowl of a stand mixer combine butter, sugar, salt and hot water. Stir on low with paddle attachment only until butter is melted. Set aside so ingredients can cool until they are warm. Stir in yeast. Cover and set aside in a warm place until it bubbles, about 10 minutes.

Add 5 cups of the flour and beat at medium speed until batter is smooth. Remove the paddle attachment and add the bread hook attachment. Add more flour (about 2 cups), mixing on low, to form a stiff dough. Remove from bowl onto a floured board. Knead, with long strokes, for about 10 minutes. Add only enough flour to prevent sticking. Place dough in a large greased bowl; cover with a damp dish towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled - about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down and knead about 10 minutes. Form a smooth ball. Cut a round of foil and place in the bottom of Dutch oven. Dust it lightly with flour. Line the inside of lid with foil or grease generously. Place dough in Dutch oven and cover. Let rise in a warm place until dough pushes up lid, about ½ an hour.

Heat oven to 375º. Place Dutch oven in middle of oven. Bake 12 minutes. Carefully loosen any raw edges with knife, then lift off lid. Bake bread, uncovered, for 45 to 50 minutes more or until golden. Cover loosely with foil the last 20 minutes to prevent overbrowning. Remove from oven. Loosen loaf from Dutch oven with a flat table knife, and place on a wire rack to cool.

Keeping Things Simple

I get that not everyone is willing, or even all that interested, in putting food on the table that takes them hours to prepare. And believe me, I understand how busy and chaotic life can be.

There are times when it’s all I can do to throw a bag of popcorn in the microwave and call it good for a meal.

But if you have 10 minutes to spare and are just looking for something fast to eat on the run (I believe I called this breakfast), you might want to start here. No recipe needed. Just some Nutella spread on some bread (I happened to have a partial loaf of challah I’d bought from a local bakery), buttered on both sides, and grilled to your liking will do the trick. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, add some sliced strawberries.

See? It really is that simple.