Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Caramel Ice Cream Nirvana

I have been on an inexplicable frozen dessert journey in recent months. Funny thing is I have pretty much given up eating sugar. With 2 kids at home though, it isn't realistic to expect my home to be sugar-free. Happily I am enjoying the process of creating sweet treats as much as ever. I do taste what I make, happy to see how everything is turning out, as any reasonable cook would. The other day I borrowed a couple of ice cream books from my local library. One, entitled Ice Cream with the tag line Delicious ice creams for all occasions by Pippa Cuthbert and Lindsay Cameron Wilson, caught my eye. I barely got a few pages into it when my attention was drawn to the simple recipe title, Caramel Ice Cream. The author tagged it "divine." Besides being ultra simple to make, it came out so beautifully caramel-ly and deliciously divine. It deserves every superlative I could come up with to heap upon it. I think ice cream nirvana is most appropriate. And whereas my resolve to be healthy and not consume sugar intentionally has been tested since I made that decision, this ice cream completely sabotaged me. I enjoyed several generous spoonfuls, every bite a smooth and delicious dream. I'm not sure I have the need for any other recipe.

Caramel Ice Cream
adapted from the book Ice Cream,
by Pippa Cuthbert and Lindsay Cameron Wilson
1 c granulated sugar (200 g)
6 Tbsp water
1 plump vanilla bean, split
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1 c. 2% milk
6 large egg yolks

In have saucepan combine sugar and water. Scrape the seeds from vanilla bean into sugar mix and add in vanilla pod. Cook over medium heat, washing down sides of pan, as needed until sugar is a dark amber color. Remove from heat and carefully pour in cream, being careful as it will tend to bubble up. Return mixture to heat and cook, stirring constantly, until caramel is completely dissolved. Stir in milk and and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, whisk eggs yolks. Temper egg yolk mixture with some of hot caramel cream, whisking constantly. Whisk yolk mixture back into hot cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Strain into a bowl set in ice. Remove vanilla bean and put it into cream mixture. Cool completely, stirring occasionally, then chill, covered, over-night. Remove vanilla bean, stir ice cream base and churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. Transfer mix to a freezer container and freeze.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Snow Day

We are getting our first real snow storm of the season. The kids even got sent home early from school today. Such glee! Colorado weather can be so funny. March is on record as being our snowiest month most years. I was so excited to have a snowy day because I thought that gave me one more chance to have chili! Light spring cooking can wait! I have tweaked this recipe a little here, a little there, and I am as happy as can be with it now. I make it alternately with beef or ground turkey. I like both versions equally well. I had ground turkey in the freezer so that made my choice easy this time. There are a lot of variables you can play with to spice it up or down so it is easy to make it suit your taste. We like it in the mild to medium range if I know my kids will be eating it. Otherwise I prefer it to have a solid medium zip to it if I don't have to be concerned with whom I am sharing it. Sometimes I use the mild green chiles in a can or I might use some fire-roasted Big Jim's or Poblanos for a little more heat that I roast myself or get from the farmer's market (I keep a stash in the freezer). I like to add black beans and corn because the contrasting colors are really pretty in the bowl and the veggies just make it even healthier for you. I cook it for hours but it could cook for as little as 90 minutes and still be great. Of course, the next day's leftover's are even better...if you still have any. Serve it hot, over cooked rice or not, with all the usual toppings- sour cream, cheese, maybe some diced avocado, fresh cilantro or onion and warm, freshly baked corn bread. I can't wait for dinner!

My Favorite Chili

2 1/2 pounds ground turkey or lean ground beef
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cups fresh diced onions
4 teaspoons minced fresh garlic, peeled
1 c. shredded carrot, chopped fine
1 green bell pepper, seeded, stemmed and diced
1-2 tsp. dried red chili flakes, or to taste
1 1/2 Tbsp ground cumin
1/4 c. chili powder (doesn't contribute to heat really)
1- 28 oz can diced tomatoes in juice, coarsely pureed
1 -6 oz can tomato paste
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 1/2 c. chicken broth (substitute beef broth if using ground beef for meat)
1 -15 oz. can black beans or pinto beans, rinsed and drained (optional)
1/2 c. fire-roasted diced green chiles (from a can or your favorite)
salt and pepper to taste
2/3 c. frozen corn (optional)

Season meat with salt and pepper. Brown turkey or beef in in heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (such as enameled cast iron). Remove meat to a bowl using a slotted spoon. Wipe out fat. In same pot, pour in olive oil. Heat until hot but not smoking. Stir in onion, garlic, bell pepper and carrots. Cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Stir in cumin , chili flakes and chili powder. Cook and stir for an additional 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent seasoning from scorching. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, diced green chiles, broth and beans of your choice. Season lightly with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Bring to a boil. Partially cover, reduce heat and simmer on very low heat for 90 minutes to 3 hours (I prefer the longer cooking time), stirring occasionally. Stir in corn during last 20 minutes of cooking. When chili is thickened and reduced it is just right! Serve straight from the pot with your favorite toppings.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tuscan White Bean and Rosemary Soup

Looks like the cooler temperatures are here to stay for a bit. I am unearthing a few more cool weather recipes for you. I mentioned this soup in an earlier post. All of us, including the kids, love this soup. We have been eating this one for quite a few years. I adapted it from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I am a BIG Ina Garten fan. I absolutely love her cookbooks. They are beautiful and the recipes in them are very good. I have not tried anything of her's that didn't turn out- always tasty, always well written recipes. This soup is no exception. It is heavenly and scented with just the right amount of rosemary. I have made it in the crock pot and on the stove top with equal success. You can't go wrong. We like to serve it with Parmesan fricos. If you haven't tried fricos, here's your chance to be a kitchen super star. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line your baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat mat. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon sized portions of shredded Parmesan cheese (the better the quality the better the frico) onto baking sheet about 2 " apart. Pat the cheese flat. Seeing the mat or paper underneath the cheese is good so you get a more lacey frico, bake for 5-8 minutes until light golden. Remove and let cool. It's like a grown-up cheeze it! Great in place of croutons in salads, too. But now for the soup!

Tuscan White Bean and Rosemary Soup
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

5 c. canned drained and rinsed Great Northern White Beans or Cannellini Beans
1 c. diced fresh onion

1 tsp minced fresh garlic
2 tsp fresh rosemary, stemmed and chopped
6 c. chicken stock or vegetable stock (I always use chicken)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic until translucent. Stir in remaining ingredients bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes (alternately you can cook 6-8 hours on low in your crock pot). Right before serving, remove bay leaf and puree soup to a chunky-creamy consistency with an immersion blender, or puree carefully in batches in a regular blender, filling blender no more than half-way in order to avoid a very hot soup explosion. Serve with warm crusty bread and Parmesan fricos.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Beef Stew and Biscuits

Alas, it was too good to be true. Our warm 60 degree plus days of the past couple of weeks were chased away by strong winds and falling temperatures. I guess winter isn't quite through with us afterall. With a chill in the air, I immediately think of tummy-warming comfort food so I got to work making a red wine beef stew I like to call Cabernet Beef along with biscuits from scratch. My kids are crazy about biscuits and love to slather them with butter and drizzle them with honey. It is an occasional treat that makes everyone happy. The beef stew is really simple and can be altered in many ways. Sometimes I put in mushrooms, sometimes potatoes, sometimes carrots. The constants are stew beef and pearl onions. If I don't include potatoes I usually serve it over mashed potatoes infused with garlic and enriched with half and half, cream cheese and sour cream (good doesn't even begin to describe these potatoes. I'll give you that recipe another day. Those are the my good friend the Queen's mashed potatoes). But back to the stew...it cooks all day long in the crock pot, filling the house with a delicious warmth and aroma that is hard to beat. The biscuits, on the other hand, come together at the last minute as long as your oven is already hot. They are cream biscuits which I first discovered thanks to Sara Moulton's long gone "Cooking Live" show on the Food Network (if you never saw that show, she is an amazing teacher. I learned so much about cooking from her). I think, however, that the iconic James Beard is the one usually credited to bringing Cream Biscuits to light. They are light and fluffy. Heavy cream is used as the liquid, and due to the fat content, doubles as the butter, too. You can jazz them up with some fresh herbs if you wish, but I usually make mine plain.

Cabernet Beef

2 lbs stew beef
1 1/4 c. pearl oninons (frozen or blanched and peeled)
1 tsp. concentrated beef base
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1 tsp minced fresh garlic
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 c. dry red wine, like a Cabernet
1/2 c. low sodium beef broth
12 mini (1 .5" diameter) gold fleshed potatoes, scrubbed clean (optional)
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)

Mix cornstarch together with red wine and beef broth. Set aside. Place all remaining ingredients into your crock pot. Pour in wine-cornstarch mixture. Cover crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until beef is very tender. Serve with warm biscuits.

Cream Biscuits
adapted from Gourmet Magazine

1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. cake flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1-2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (optional, dill, thyme, parsley and rosemary are good choices)
1 1/4 c. heavy cream
1 egg

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Into a medium bowl, sift together, flour salt and baking powder. Stir in fresh herbs, if using. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in cream). Stir the mass just until a dough forms. If mixture appears too dry , you may need to carefully drizzle in some additional cream. Gather dough into a ball and knead gently 4 or 5 times on a lightly floured surface. Pat dough out to 1/2 " thickness. With a 3" floured cookie cutter, cut out biscuits, pressing straight down without twisting. Release biscuit to a parchment covered baking sheet. Gather up scraps and pat down again until you have cut out 8 biscuits. Beat egg with 1 tsp water and pinch of salt. Brush tops only of biscuits lightly with egg wash. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until biscuits are golden. Serve warm or at room temp with butter and honey.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


March has come and nearly gone, and I haven't posted in a long while. It would seem I haven't been thinking about nor eating any food. Au contraire! I have been on a frenzy of cooking and baking, but then don't get around to writing about it. I have also been reading stacks and stacks of all kinds of cookbooks thanks to a wonderful inter-library loan program we have here in Northern Colorado. I have been sucked in by them and as a result not writing either. My stack is pretty high at this point with more on hold arriving soon! One of the ones I just borrowed is Dessert Fourplay by Johnny Iuzzini. I just made his recipe for invert sugar so I could make his vanilla bean ice cream. It came out divinely....really smooth, great mouth-feel. We topped it with homemade hot fudge, of course. I also made his Chocolate-peanut ganache on p. 152 which I used as a filling for my girlfriend's birthday cake this weekend. It was yummy in a nice moist chocolate cake, typical American birthday cake style. I topped it with a round of chocolate fans for a nice flourish. I made the BBQ beef Brisket from the February/March 2009 issue of Cook's Country magazine in the crock pot and that came out yummy, too. They presented this method of cooking it which was supposed to simulate using a smoker/grill combo. It was interesting to try and fun to taste the final product. It was quite tasty. The left-overs became beef tacos the following night. On a cooler night one evening we had Tuscan White Bean and Rosemary Soup, one of my very favorite stand-bys from my now shuttered business. Warm, crusty bread and Parmesan cheese fricos (my daughter adores these!!) are the only thing it needs to make a nice meal. In the dessert realm, I made one more batch of Cannelle et Vanille's Blood Orange Sorbet with the last of the blood oranges I could find in my market. This has become my kids absolute favorite. And with good reason , it is simply extraordinary in every way. That had me go on a sorbet making frenzy with grapefruit, strawberry-banana and David Lebovitz's Chocolate sorbet from The Perfect Scoop, also getting churn time. All were marvelous except the strawberry-banana one which tasted too much of banana and was too sweet. Back to the drawing board on that one. I just borrowed Frozen Desserts from the library, too by Francisco Migoya of the Culinary Institute of America in hopes of learning how to correct that. I would like to try Green Apple next as I once had it at Julien Restaurant in Paris and it was amazing, like taking a bite from a fresh, juicy Granny Smith apple. Oh, so yummy! Let's not forget all the crepes I have been making. My daughter, S., went to a friend's to spend the night. The friend's mom made crepes for breakfast. S does not like pancakes. She loved the crepes. So off to work I went making batches of them. Since they freeze so well, it is easy to have some to reheat quickly later on. S. liked them best with nothing more than a sprinkling of powdered sugar. My son, A. filled his with sliced strawberries and fresh whipped cream. Too much fun! But alas, it is Spring and it is getting time to lighten things up, so tonight I grilled Citrus Marinated Mahi-Mahi and it hit the spot nicely. Here is the recipe. I think you might like it, too.

Citrus-Marinated Mahi-Mahi

4- 6 oz. Mahi Mahi filets, boneless, skinless
1/4 c. Extra virgin Olive Oil
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
zest of 1 lemon, 1 lime and 1/2 orange
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 c. orange juice
1/2 tsp Tamari or low-sodium soy sauce
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine everthing except fish in a non-reactive bowl. Pour marinade over fish in a ziploc bag. Marinate for 20-30 minutes while pre-heating grill. Clean and oil grates of grill to prevent sticking. Remove fish from marinade and grill over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes a side until cooked through.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Valentine's Day

We don't really celebrate Valentine's day. Well, my kids certainly do. Every year we go out to the store and pick the just right box of valentine's and some accompanying candy for them to share with their classmates. This year, however, my son is in junior high, and well, it's just not done anymore....not cool. We also give our kids a little Valentine, something small that they are really fond of, a book, a webkinz, a CD.....that kind of thing. I always wrap them, decorate the breakfast table the night before with Valentine finery (i.e. themed paper plates and napkins) and place the small gift at their place. I love how excited they get about seeing something in the morning. It is a very little ritual, but fun nonetheless. We don't really go for the romantic version of Valentine's day though. But seems to me it can serve as an excuse to celebrate something in one form or another, so this year we invited another family to join us for dinner. I decided to make the Pappardelle with Bolognese out of Mario Batali's Babbo cookbook. It looked delicious, and I love Bolognese sauces! Mario Batali's version is the meatiest and least saucy version I have ever made. It calls for pork, veal and bacon (how bad can that be?!!), and I made it as the recipe suggested. However, I really have a hard time consuming veal for all the possible reasons. Next time I think I will try it with ground turkey instead. I also added chicken stock to the dish because the liquid called for didn't seem like nearly enough to me for the length of cooking time. It was really very yummy. The pappardelle I used I bought, but you can make your own if you want to. I love pappardelle because it is so silky in texture. It is a really nice change from regular pasta and the light yellow hue to it from the egg is pretty on the plate.

As is always the case with me, I put a lot more effort into dessert than I do the main course. For this meal, I was inspired to make a double mousse concotion with a base of chocolate cake. The first layer is a milk chocolate mousse that I lifted from Cannelle et Vanille (thanks Aran!), and the second is a caramel mousse that I used in my pastry shop years ago in Southern California. I don't make it very often anymore because when I make it I want to eat it all. Turns out that now holds true for this milk chocolate mousse, too. Heavenly doesn't even begin to describe it. Eating all the mousse by myself is not such a good idea after 40. Luckily I had some help for Valentine's day which my hips will thank me for later! I made individual desserts because it's like having your own little present. I covered them with ganache and decorated each one with a diminutive caramel-bittersweet chocolate truffle, a chocolate shard/fan-ish decoration and a tiny piece of edible gold leaf. I took a picture of my sample and it will hopefully appear here soon (I am technologically challenged, I'm afraid)! Everything was really scrumptious and I enjoyed making all of it. I told my guests there was so much love in everything that there was no room left for any calories! One can wish......

Babbo's Bolognese Sauce
adapted from the Babbo Cookbook by Mario Batali

1/4 c. olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, sliced
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground pork
4 oz. slab bacon, ground
1 can tomato paste (6 oz)
1 c. milk
1 c. dry white wine
1 c . chicken stock
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, stemmed
kosher salt and black pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in a heavy duty Dutch oven or stock pot. Stir in carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Season with a little salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until transluscent, about 5-10 minutes.
2. Crumble veal, pork and bacon into stock pot and cook over high heat, stirring to prevent sticking and to break up large lumps, until browned.
3. Reduce heat to medium and add in all liquids, tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until done. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Serve tossed with cooked and drained pappardelle, passing grated parmesan on the side.

Chocolate Cake
This is a very moist and easy cake. You'll use it again and again.

2 c + 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. + 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
2 eggs
1 c. milk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. canola oil
1 c. boiling water
1/8 tsp instant espresso powder

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line a half sheet pan (12 x18") with parchment paper. Spray with PAM.
3. Into the bowl of your mixer, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and soda.
4. Whisk together eggs, oil and vanilla.
5. Turn mixer on low speed and mix dry ingredients for 30 seconds.
6. With mixer still on low, pour wet ingredients into dry. Mix for 30 seconds on low. Scrape down bowl and continue mixing on medium speed for 2 minutes.
7. Dissolve espresso powder into boiling water. Pour into batter. Stir gently with a rubber spatula until just combined.
8. Pour batter into shalf sheet pan.
9. Bake about 15 -17 minutes or just until a few moist crumbs cling to a skewer inserted into middle of cake. Do not over-bake.
10. Remove from oven and cool completely.

Milk Chocolate Mousse
I doubled the pate a bombe recipe and 5x'd the recipe for the milk chocolate mousse to make about 12 individual desserts

Caramel Mousse

1 Tbsp gelatin Powder
3 oz. water
10 ounces granulated sugar
3 pinches kosher salt
4 ounces water
12 oz. heavy cream, heated to hot, but not boiling
6 ounces sour cream
28 oz. heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Bloom gelatin powder in 3 ounces of water. Set aside.
2. Combine 10 oz. sugar with 4 oz water in a medium saucepan. Stir once or twice to moisten sugar.
3.Place pan over medium heat and cook until sugar is medium amber in color, wiping down sides of pan with wet pastry brush as needed and swirling pan gently to "Stir".
4. When sugar is caramelized to right color, remove from heat and slowly pour in hot cream. It will bubble up like mad, so be safe. Return pan to low heat until caramel and cream are smooth and well combined,
5. Remove pan from heat and stir in salt, vanilla, and gelatin mixture. Whisk smooth. Pour into a heat proof bowl to cool completely, stirring from time to time.
6. Meanwhile whip remaining cream and sour cream to medium peaks.
7. Fold 1/3 of whipped cream into cooled caramel mixture. Fold in remaining cream.

Chocolate Caramel Ganache
You'll want to make this a day or 2 before you need it.

3 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp water
6 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
tiny pinch salt
4 ounces heavy cream

1. Combine sugar and water in small saucepan and caramelize mixture to a medium amber.
2. Heat cream to boiling. pour half of cream carefully into caramelized sugar. Return pan to low heat until caramel is completely melted and smooth; add salt.
3. Pour hot caramel mixture over chocolate in a heat proof bowl. Pour in rest of hot cream. Let sit a few minutes and then gently stir until smooth.
4. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of ganache and let sit at room temp over night.
5. The next day, pipe small balls of ganache onto parchment -lined tray (it will make a lot more than you'll need....not a bad thing). Refrigerate to firm up.
6. Before using, roll balls by hand into more uniform ball shape, roll in cocoa powder, shaking off excess.
Ganache for coating
Finely chop 16 oz semi-sweet chocolate. Place in heat-proof bowl. Bring 16 oz heavy cream to a boil. pour boiling cream over chocolate. Let sit 1 minute, then gently stir with a rubber spatula until completely blended. Let cool somewhat before using.

Assembling the Dessert:
1. Place ring molds into cake (I used washed and dried 7 oz.canned mushroom cans)
2. Fill each ring halfway with milk chocolate mousse
3. Freeze tray while making caramel mousse
4. Top off each ring mold with caramel mousse; smooth tops and freeze.
5. Early in the day, remove dessert from ring molds; coat with regular ganache, covering all exposed areas evenly. Make sure ganache is able to flow easily but it shouldn't be so hot that it melts dessert and fall off.
6. Decorate desserts as you wish.

Monday, February 9, 2009

What's for Dinner?

I love to cook. It is really one of my most favorite things to do, and yet, I still struggle regularly to come up with or plan for something good to have for dinner. Today it was more about not planning because my freezer and cupboards are full of possibilities. As 3:30 approached and I realized I had to take my kids to piano lessons and have something ready for us when we got home, I went into panic mode! I started to rummage through the freezer to see what I could pair with what and have it be done really quickly. I wanted to simply re-heat it when we got home. My first useful find was some ground beef. I could thaw that quickly enough, but then the real treasure appeared...stewed zucchini! My friend, and the best cook I know, HRH the Queen, made that for me. I thought I'd already used it all up, but there it was, one quart bag full of her amazing creation! HRH worked with me for almost all of my 5 years in business. Then she upped and moved to Michigan last spring and now I don't get any of her good cooking anymore. So sad for me. Even my daughter refers to her as THE best cooker! So to discover the stewed zucchini was a great surprise. I had to now think of something to make that would combine these two frozen pucks of food . My first thought was to make a soup using the zucchini as the vegetables and adding seasoned ground beef for a little more heft. I thawed everything using the microwave, which surprisingly worked out well. I usually end up with partially cooked meat when I try this, but today the microwave god was on my side. As the zucchini was thawing I browned the ground beef in my Dutch oven and seasoned it with Emerils' essence to taste. It has cayenne pepper, oregano, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and more in it. It is pretty savory and kind of brought in the flavor of the Queen's zucchini (which we actually refer to as Zippy Zucchini because she has quite the hand when it comes to spicing things up). HRH has been making this as long as I have known her, and I have been trying to get the recipe just as long. She told me most of it, but being the intuitive cook that she is, she never measures and never makes it the same way twice!

Once the beef was browned and the zucchini thawed, I stirred it all together in my pot. At this point I debated going the next step of making it into soup. I tasted it and it was pretty fine, which made me think maybe I should just serve it over noodles or rice as is. I brought in a second opinion, my pre-teen son, and he liked it as is, too. So we decided to serve it over fat egg noodles. The end result was like a latin-inspired Bolognese and it really hit the spot.

In the summer, I would eat the Queen's Zippy Zucchini as a meal in itself. If it didn't turn out too spicy my kids would also gobble it up. It has onions, tomatoes, yellow summer squash and green zucchini in it. Sometimes it has corn, sometimes it has stewed tomatoes, sometimes it has diced tomatoes. It always has fire-roasted chili peppers in it and a little chicken broth. The Queen likes it pretty spicy. Big Jim's work well, but so would any. Sometimes she sprinkles in shredded parm which I love. Armed with that information I tried to duplicate what I had tasted of her's. The results were mediocre. About a year after my effort, I discovered she had some secret ingredients. I only discovered them because she was making a batch at work in my kitchen one day. Her arsenal contained el Pato jalapeno salsa and Tabasco seasoning salt. Well, the tabasco seasoning salt isn't even made anymore, but somehow she has bottles of it in her stash. The El pato salsa might not be readily available everywhere. I don't even know if she can get her hands on it in Michigan anymore! I'd love to give you the recipe, but it just doesn't exist. The best I could tell you is to think ratatouille with a latin twist! Oh, but don't use any eggplant. Forget the bell peppers, too. Use corn or don't.....You just have to wing it, but whatever you do, try to include the el Pato Jalapeno salsa.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Meyer Lemon Tart

I have been on the look out for Meyer lemons since reading earlier posts on Canelle et Vanille and Tartelette (please be sure to visit them if you love pastry and beautiful food images). Their desserts are so fabulous that whatever they make I find myself wanting to use at least some element of their work. Last week I was at my local Whole Foods and lo and behold, they had a stack of bagged Meyer lemons! So I bought 2 bags as they were not at all expensive. In the meantime I had borrowed Sunday Supper at Lucques by Suzanne Goin from my library. In it she included a recipe for her favorite Meyer lemon tart. So with Meyer lemons in hand I set out to make her tart.

Meyer lemons are small and not as thick skinned as the more familiar Eureka lemons. They have a floral fragrance that has hints of tangerine in it. The smell is heavenly really. The flavor is slightly sweeter than that of a regular lemon, too.

I got to work cooking the lemon curd according to her recipes. I tasted it as I went, as any good cook would (ha!). The flavor was so bright and delicious. I was very eager to taste the final product. As is normal with lemon curds, cold butter is whisked in at the end to help it thicken and hold its shape. This recipe called for 10 tablespoons. After a few minutes of cooling, the recipe instructed me to pour the curd into a tart crust painted with dark chocolate. I know this sounds unusual, but the lemon-dark chocolate combination is excellent actually. Everything about this recipe turned out very well except the end flavor. All the butter turned the once bright and sparkling flavor of the curd into a flat and disappointing filling. I would very much like to try and remedy this to let the flavor nuances of the Meyer lemons shine through as they should. So perhaps I will continue to experiment. You might look the recipe up yourself to see what you think, taste being the subjective matter it is. In the meantime, my "go to" lemon curd is still my favorite. It is very bright and quite lemony, perhaps bracing to some, but I adore it's bold flavor. Here is the recipe.

LB's Lemon Curd

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolk
zest of 2 lemons
1 c. (8 ounces) fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 c. + 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. cold, unsalted butter (1 ounce), cut into 4 pieces
2 ounces good quality white chocolate (Callebaut, Valrhona, Lindt, etc), chopped

1. In an heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk together eggs and yolks.
2. Gradually whisk in sugar, then juice and zest.
3. Place pan over medium heat and cook lemon mixture, whisking constantly, until light and thickened.
4. Remove from heat and whisk in butter and white chocolate.
5. Strain into a pre-baked tart shell or into a bowl. If in a bowl, place plastic wrap directly on curd and pierce in 2 or 3 places with tip of a sharp knife to allow some heat to escape.
6. Chill completely before serving and store in refrigerator.

note: Refrigerated lemon curd can be dolloped on top of slices of pound or angel food cake, topped with fresh berries. You can gently fold whipped cream into it to make a mousse. You can eat it with a spoon or use it as a filling for cakes, too.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sledding and Hot Cocoa

Two days ago we finally got a little snow...just barely enough for sledding. My daughter got a carpet sled for Christmas, and she has been dying to use it. In fact, she decided that if she didn't get to use it at least once before her February 11th birthday, that the winter would be pretty much washed up. So I promised I'd take her sledding today after school, as it was a balmy 20 degrees F compared to yesterday's 6 degrees F. As soon as she arrived home from school she got into her snow clothes, called a neighbor friend to go with her and off we went. Our window of opportunity was pretty small since it still gets dark fairly early and the deeper cold quickly creeps back in. She and her friend romped merrily on the sledding slope, built a make-shift ramp so they could get some air and went up and down over and over again. When the time came to round them up to go home, a mere 45 minutes later, they were completely rosy-cheeked and red-nosed, frozen to the core. So as soon as we got home it was hot cocoa time. I recently came across this recipe in Good Housekeeping magazine which I adapted to our taste. It hit the spot, topped off by what we have come to affectionately call a marshmallow "fart". That is a spoonful of marshmallow cream, plunged into the hot cocoa. After several seconds of being submerged, it pops off the spoon and up to the surface to the delight of my daughter. It's the little things.......

Hot Cocoa Mix
adapted from Good Housekeeping

3/4 c. cocoa powder (I like Valrhona or Cocoa Barry)
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla pod with seeds
3/8 tsp kosher salt
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 oz. mik chocolate, coarsely chopped

1. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of food processor with metal blade.
2. Process until ingredients are all powdery.
3. Place 3 Tbsp cocoa mix into a microwave-safe mug along with 1 1/4 c. milk.
4. Heat on high for 1 minute; stir. Heat on high for 1 more minute or until heated to your liking. Stir to blend.
5. Store leftover cocoa mix in an air-tight container at room temp for up to 6 months.

Baking Pretzels

My daughter, S., is wildly in love with soft pretzels. One of her favorite treats is to get one when she happens to accompany me on a shopping trip to Sam's Club. She loves the buttery goo and salt and considers it an entree, in fact, if it is anywhere near meal time. I see the appeal of the soft consistency, but I find them rather sweet and non-descript otherwise. I have always thought that our pizza dough would make a fine soft pretzel, but never really made the time to explore it further. Then recently I was reading Desserts by the Yard by Spago pastry chef, Sherry Yard, and it included a soft pretzel recipe! It was good timing because I had some pizza dough on hand. I had a lot of fun with this. I didn't follow any instructions except for the part on boiling the risen pretzels. I just cut the dough I had into strips and rolled them into ropes as big as they would go, which wasn't very big (so I ended up with fat, pudgy pretzels). Then I shaped them into pretzels and let them rise, covered, on a parchment lined baking sheet. Then I prepared the boiling liquid according to Sherry's recipe, except I didn't have any beer in the house, save for a non-alcoholic beer left over from my dad's last visit (he has a brain injury and can't have alcohol any more...this for a guy who used to brew his own quite well). So I got the brew going and once the pretzels were risen, I boiled the pretzels then baked them. It was a little magical, to be honest. The pretzels turned a mahogany color in the oven, and the exterior had a nice crust to it while the interior was moist and ciabatta -like in texture with a great chew. They were oh, so good and had a wonderful rustic sensibility to them, unmatched by the box store's uniform blandness. They are easy to make and fun to share. They don't hold over well though. I placed the extras in a zipped baggie and the next morning they had lost their crust and the salt had dissolved into the pretzel. The texture was completely awful. I suspect you could wrap in foil, freeze, thaw, then re-fresh in a hot oven with decent results, but just in case, make them fresh and eat 'em up!
The How To's
liquid recipe adapted from Desserts by the Yard
Pizza dough (Whole Foods sells a good one, very inexpensive)
Liquid for boiling:
8 c. water
1/4 c. beer
1/4 c. baking soda
1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
canola oil
1. Remove dough from refrigerator and cut into even strips. Roll strips on clean work surface into ropes as long as they will go, about the diameter of a Sharpie. Shape into a pretzel by making a U shape, twisting the legs together then bring the ends down over the bottom of the U.
2. Place pretzel dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet, sprayed with Pam spray. With fingers, widen the holes of the pretzel and re-shape gently. Repeat with remaining dough.
3. Cover pretzels with plastic wrap sprayed with Pam, Pam side down, and let rise at room temp until almost doubled, about 30-45 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
5. When pretzels have nearly risen, combine, water, beer, baking soda and brown sugar in a 10 wide non-reactive saucepan ( I used my 6.5 qt. enamel cast iron pot), bring to a simmer.
6. Cut the parchment paper surrounding each pretzel so you can lift the pretzel to the pot using the paper underneath it.
7. Gently flip the pretzel into the simmering liquid, 2 at a time, and cook for 10 seconds, flip and cook other side for 10 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon or skimmer, allowing liquid to drain back into pot, and place onto new parchment-lined baking sheets, rounded side up. Repeat with remaining pretzels.
8. Brush each pretzel lightly with canola oil and sprinkle with desired amount of salt.
9. Bake at 450 degrees F ** for about 10-15 mminutes, or until dark brown . Remove from oven and serve warm plain or with mustard, if that's your style.
** Sherry Yard recommends baking in top and bottom third of oven and rotating halfway through baking time. I didn't do that and had excellent results.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chicken Green Chile

Today it is cold and lightly snowing in northern Colorado. It is so pretty. We just had a week of weather in the 60's so now it's back to winter! Chilly weather really makes me want to eat warm food, especially soup. I just love soup. It is defintely one of my comfort foods, and I love the whole one pot meal bonus that comes along with it. So today I am making my Chicken Green Chile. This was a staple on my winter menu at my now shuttered business for 5 years! Then one day I was out with my hubby for a little light lunch and I ordered a very mediocre chicken green chile soup. As bad as it was, it had one element I really loved in it....rice! So I adapted my recipe to include some rice and then added another off the shelf ingredient, green chile salsa, that just added so much to my old recipe. I love it more than ever now! I'm only sorry my old customers didn't get this version. I can't wait to dig into a bowl with a sprinkling of cheese on top and piece of warm corn bread! Buen provecho!

Chicken Green Chile Soup

1 c. diced onion
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 tomatillos, papery skin removed, pureed
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3/4 c. diced roasted green chiles (I roasted a meaty poblano, you can use canned)
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 c. canned diced tomatoes in juice
8 c. chicken broth
2 Tbsp green chile salsa, such as La Victoria Brand*
1/3 c. long grain brown rice (I like Uncle Ben's)
4 c. diced or shredded cooked chicken meat (Rotisserie chickens are great for this)

1. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a 6 qt. stock pot. Saute onion and garlic until softened and translucent.

2. Stir in pureed tomatillos and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients except chicken and rice. Bring to a boil.

3. Stir in rice. Return to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Stir in chicken and cook until just heated through.

5. Serve hot, topped with shredded cheese and sour cream, if desired, and fresh warm cornbread on the side.

*This is a fairly zippy ingredient, rated "medium." If you prefer your chile more mild, reduce or omit this ingredient. You can also pass some on the side for those who prefer even more heat.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

No Bake "Cookies"

I was reading a post on Artisan Sweets today about cornflake cookies. It was a lovely story about her great aunt's baking and hand-written recipe book. I remember looking through my grandmother Byrnes' handwritten recipe book as well, wondering about the funny measurements and how anything managed to come out well when it called for a soup spoon of this or a tea cup full of that (maybe those items were a standard size at one time, but that's not the case now)! It made for a nice trip down memory lane. But what it really reminded me of is a no-bake cornflake cookie I have made several times.

I was given a gift of Nigel Slater's Real Food during a business trip to London a couple of years ago. He is a well-known Bristish food writer and this book is full of pretty straight-forward yet wonderfully appetizing food using fresh, beautiful ingredients of uncompromising quality. So it was kind of funny to find a small little recipe for a no-bake cookie which he calls "Chocolate Cornflake Cakes." I have taken to calling them Nigel's Fudge Crunchies, and let me tell you, they are crazy delicious if you want just a quick little sweet treat. Of course the secret lies in using very good chocolate. The other reason they are so tasty is the golden syrup called for, which is a quintessential Bristish ingredient. I have found it at Whole Foods, and I know it can be ordered on line from Amazon. I was expecting it to be very similar to corn syrup, but it is so much nicer. It is cane syrup and has an intoxicating aroma kind of like burnt sugar and a wonderful flavor. Give them a try!

Nigel's Fudge Crunchies
adapted from Real Food by Nigel Slater

50 g. unsalted butter

1/4 c. Lyle's Golden Syrup

100 g. bittersweet chocolate (I use 64%)

75 g. cornflakes

a few grains kosher salt (itty bitty pinch)

In a small heavy saucepan, combine the butter, syrup, salt and chocolate and place on burner over low heat.

Stir constantly until butter and chocolate are melted. Gently stir in cornflakes until evenly coated. Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in refrigerator to set. Keep best covered in the refrigerator.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Blood Orange Sorbet to die for

This is just a little hats off to Aran at Cannelle et Vanille. I made her Blood Orange Sorbet today, following the recipe calling just for juice and simple syrup. It was beautiful. It was fabulous. It was extraordinary. It was refreshing. It was mouthwateringly delicious!! If you have access to blood oranges and an ice cream maker it is a must try. My entire family was completely enraptured by it. My preteen son was sucking the last little bit of melted sorbet out of the hallowed out orange half I served it in. He couldn't get enough of it. Everyone had second helpings. It is uniquely wonderful. Here are pictures and a recipe (it's the pink one). I need to go now and buy more oranges. One batch wasn't nearly enough. TTFN!

Saturday Morning Pancakes

Growing up we had pancakes often on the weekends. I have loved them forever. We would have them plain or mix in blueberries when we had them or finely chopped apple pieces in the fall. I loved them every which way and still do. I have two kids, a son and a daughter, but only my son is pancake lover. My daughter loves to help me mix them up, and she enjoys the taste of the batter raw, but there her love stops. My son will never turn down the offer of freshly made pancakes for breakfast. When he was little he loved mini chocolate chips in them (ok, I have never really liked that combination so much). As he got older (he is 4 months shy of 13 now) he stopped wanting chocolate chips and wanted them plain. So that is where we are at now. Plain pancakes with pure maple syrup (Mrs. Butterworth's is not welcome here). It is part of my east coast upbringing again. We lived in maple country. I love the trees. I love the syrup. I love the candy, the butter, the sugar.....you get the idea. Maple flavored....I don't think so.

So on my quest to find the perfect pancakes I made several stops. I usually loved the stop I was on at any given time. Then I saw Alton Brown do a show on pancakes on the Food Network many years ago and the perfect pancake was found. Homemade pancakes have such pure flavor. When properly baked on the griddle they get a wonderfully toasty exterior which reveals a light and pillowy interior that just yearns to soak up butter and syrup. They are seriously fluffy, not rubbery and dense. I use a cast iron griddle on my stove to make them. It takes a while to heat it up, but it is my favorite griddle for pancakes. I just preheat it on low for a good 15 minutes and then pancake magic happens.That's when I get an almost lacy golden exterior on each pancake with just the very lightest whisper of a crackle to it. I also like to use a combination of regular milk and buttermilk so I get that nice tang from buttermilk, but it's a little mellower. The whole house smells so good while they are cooking, too. You just can't beat it!

Pancake Mix
adapted from Alton Brown

1 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 c. buttermilk*
1/4 c. milk*
1 egg, room temp (put it in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1/8 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat your griddle (electric griddle 350 degrees F).
2. Combine all dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk together.
3. Combine milks and heat for 30 seconds in microwave. Whisk in egg and vanilla.
4. Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour in the milks and immediately pour in melted butter.
5. Quickly whisk together to moisten all the ingredients, but don't over-mix. Some lumps are ok.
6. Sprinkle a few drops of water to see if griddle is ready. They will bounce about when griddle is hot. Grease griddle with butter or vegetable oil. Wipe off excess.
7. Pour batter onto griddle (I like to use a 1/4 c. measuring cup for this).
8. When edges start to set and a few bubbles appear on the edge, pancake is ready to flip. On my cast iron griddle this happens quickly. So keep on eye on yours.
9. Cook the second side which could take from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes depending on what your cooking implement is.
10. Serve 'em up with warm pure maple syrup and butter and get 'em while they're hot!

* Note: At altitudes hovering around 5,000 ft as I am, I find I need about 2 Tbsp more or so of milk and/or buttermilk for the right consistency.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hot Fudge Sundaes

Is there anything better than a hot fudge sundae? I think it has to be one of the finest American desserts when done well. It all has to do with the hot fudge sauce itself. Growing up back East we had Friendly's Ice Cream shops. I would have sworn forever that they had the best hot fudge on the planet. As a college student I remember walking 4-5 miles round trip just for a hot fudge or Reese's Pieces sundae when it was "that time of the month," and nothing short of something chocolate and gooey would squelch my cravings. Years later my mother would go shopping in Vermont where she discovered Mother Merrick's hot fudge and that was divine. I don't know if it still exists or not. Then for a long time I had a hot fudge void in my life (thank goodness there were always good brownies around to satisfy the gooey chocolate thing). I longed for a really fudgy hot fudge sauce, and yet all that I could find were the overly sweet, scarcely chocolate flavored brown concotions in jars at the supermarket. Then several years ago Martha Stewart came to my rescue with a recipe for the really best hot fudge. Luckily I clipped it because I have never been able to find it on her web-site. The only hot fudge sauces that show up now are more ganache in make-up, and I am sorry, but ganache as awesome as it is, is not hot fudge. This has that slightly sticky, slightly chewy characteristic that true hot fudge should have, and the flavor of good old-fashioned fudge, the kind you need to have a candy thermometer for. Luckily the hot fudge recipe is even easier than that....no thermometer necessary! I have tweaked it a bit over the years and now I consider it perfectly delicious with the addition of apple cider vinegar, vanilla and a pinch of instant espresso powder. It is equally good on ice cream as it is on my finger! I just made some tonight to the delight of my children who have been begging me to make it for a week. Best of all, it lasts in the refrigerator many weeks (assuming it isn't devoured sooner) because there is no cream in it! So grab your favorite flavor of ice cream and be a kid again! Nuts and a cherry are optional!

Dangerously Delicious Hot Fudge Sauce
10 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped ( I usually use 60%)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
4 oz. unsalted butter, cubed
pinch kosher salt
very small pinch instant espresso powder
1/2 c. water
1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 c. light corn syrup
3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1. In a heavy bottom saucepan, combine chopped chocolate, butter, sugar, water, salt, vinegar and espresso powder.
2. Place pan on medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until butter is melted and mixture is smooth.
3. Stir in corn syrup and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
4. Reduce heat to low and simmer mixture for 8-10 minutes or until slightly thickened and very glossy.
5. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
6. pour into a heat-proof container and cool slightly before using.
7. Keep leftovers refrigerated, covered, re-heating gently in microwave for future use.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Homemade Pizza

I mentioned how much we like to make homemade pizza in an earlier blog. In fact, I am probably as crazy about pizza as I am about cookies. A good pizza makes me a happy camper indeed. I would take it over a steak any day(it's that whole no carb left behind thing again...) !I am from NY, upstate, but still...the pizza there is no slouch. Family-owned Joe's Pizza in tiny Rotterdam , NY makes some of the best pizza I have yet to eat anywhere. Growing up we would even argue over which style to get. My mom and I preferred the round pies with the very thin center and pillowy crust (which we would then fight over), while my dad and brother seemed to like the tray pizza, which was rectangular and evenly thick everywhere. The ratio of bread to toppings is then way off in my opinion. I am not sure which my sister preferred. After moving to California I developed even more reverence for well made pizza, because when I first moved there in the mid 80's there wasn't much good pizza to be found there. That was about the time Wolfgang Puck started the whole California pizza craze, but it didn't really impact the mainstream pizzerias, of which there were far too many non-descript chains. However, over the years I was able to find a couple worthy makers, including Peppino's in Mission Viejo and The Pizza Bakery in Newport Beach. In the meantime I started trying to perfect my own homemade pizza. Up until then I wasn't a fan of homemade pizza at all. It was usually very bread-y with over-cooked toppings and undercooked dough. Gross! One thingI learned is that the dough has to hit something very hot when it goes into the oven (in the summer I put my pizza stones on my grill grates and heat them up. The very shallow space inside really mimics a pizza oven nicely...more on that another time). So I gradually began playing around and came up with a dough I love:

Pizza Dough
1 3/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 tsp honey
1 1/4 c. warmish water
3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1.Combine yeast, honey and water in a measuring cup and stir to mix. After about 5 minutes mixture should look foamy.
2. In bowl of food processor fitted with metal blade, place flour and salt. Pulse to mix.
3. While pulsing the processor pour water- yeast mixture and 2 Tbsp. olive oil into flour mixture. Pulse in short bursts until you get a smooth soft dough that is moist but not sticky. You may need to add a little more flour, about 1 Tbsp at a time, pulsing machine between additions until proper consistency is reached.
4. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and knead briefly (it really isn't very important here in my experience). Divide dough into 4 or 5 even pieces. Form each piece into a smooth ball and place on a parchment -lined baking sheet brushed with olive oil (turn balls to coat evenly). Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge. I like my dough to develop slowly so I let it rise 24 hours in the fridge. You can leave it out on the counter and let it rise in an hour or 2 depending on how warm it is, if you prefer.
5. I let it rise only once. Once it is risen I make sure my oven is preheated to 475 for at least 30 minutes. I alternate using pizza stones (place in oven while pre-heating) or upside down heavy duty half sheet pans (place in oven 5 minutes prior to baking pizzas).

From here it is no longer a recipe per se. At this point I have all my toppings ready and I dip each dough ball into flour and place them on a piece of parchment paper. They are very easy to stretch and manipulate now. Even my kids and their friends have gotten quite adept at it. I like mine thin in the center and pillowy on the outside. When it comes to sauce less is more. Too much sauce just makes the crust soggy in my opinion. A restrained amount adds the flavor but allows the bottom crust to crisp up. My favorite topping is either fresh tomatoes and onions or no sauce, spinach leaves, mozzarella and blobs of ricotta cheese...pizza bianca! Your own imagination is the limit. Just use a light touch. The great part here is that because of the parchment (which I trim to be the size of the individual pies), I don't need to be adept with a pizza peel. I use a rimless baking sheet to slide my little pizzas right onto the stone in the oven and can remove them about 10 minutes later with a pair of tongs! It is really fun to watch the dough blister up and turn golden brown. Everyone loves creating their own magical combination of ingredients, too. It takes a little time to prepare everything, but the actual work is rather minimal. The reward, however, is extremely high. I was thinking I had nearly mastered the art of homemade pizza. However, I recently came across the A16 cookbook and they wax poetic about imported "00" flour from Italy and this really simple no cook tomato sauce that I now think I will have some more experimenting to do in the near future!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Best Damn Roasted Potatoes Ever

I have been making an effort to clear out the old and unwanted since Christmas. About a week ago I took a stab at my office. I needed to clear out stuff from my now shuttered business and re-organize to give myself some space for new good things to come in. While going through a stack of magazines I came across a recipe in the Janury 2007 issue of Fine Cooking for Crispy Smashed Potatoes by Susie Middleton. I didn't recall ever seeing it before, and yet as soon as I saw the picture of the golden, crisped edged potatotes, I knew I had to get cookin'! The recipe calls for pre-cooking baby red potatoes just until tender, draining them, smashing them, cooling them, and re-cooking them. The smashed potato reminds me of peppermint swirls or pinwheels in potato form. You just have to try these!

Crispy Smashed Potaotes
adapted from Fine Cooking, January 2007

12-15 baby red potatoes
2 3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 c. extra virgin Olive oil

1. Put potatoes in a large saucepan in one layer with 2 tsp of salt and enough water to cover by 1 inch.

2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-35 minutes until potatoes are cooked through and easily pierced with a skewer. Don't over-cook or they'll just be mush.

3. Set up a double layer of clean dish cloths. When potatoes are done, remove potatoes individually to dishcloths to drain.

4. Unless you have asbestos fingers, use another clean dishtowel, folded into quarters, to gently press down on each potato with the plam of your hand. Flatten to about 1/2" thick. Don't worry if some break apart a bit.

5. Line a half sheet pan with foil and top with parchment paper. Carefully transfer flattened potatoes to sheet pan. Cool c ompletely. (Can be prepared up to this point 8 hours ahead, cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate).

6. Preheat oven to 450 (or convection set to 400 degrees). Pour olive oil over each potato, gently lifting to make sure some oil runs underneath to well coat both sides. Sprinkle potatoes with remaining 3/4 tsp salt (might want a little more) and roast for 30-40 minutes, turning once gently with a spatula or tongs. Potatoes will be done when they are crispy and deep brown around the edges.

We enjoyed these along a roasted pork roast with roasted veggies and homemade pear sauce. I can truthfully tell you that had we made a meal of only these potatoes, not one of us would have complained. I always remember Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Eat, Pray, Love saying in Italy she felt like she was on the no carbohydrate left behind tour. Yes, indeed that is it exactly! I could have easily eaten the whole lot by myself...with a smile! These are not to be missed. I envision them subbing in for potato skins with cheese, sour cream and bacon on them. The skin gets so crackly it nearly shatters. The salt just keeps everything going crazy in your mouth. They are gorgeous to look at! Use them as an appetizer, a side dish or a meal. I can hardly wait to make them again, and again, and again, and........

Friday, January 9, 2009

Greek Yogurt and Cake

Several days ago I watched a Barefoot Contessa episode on the Food network where she made a lemon yogurt cake with blueberry sauce. I am a big fan of her recipes. They are delicious, work beautifully and are usually very straightforward. I had never tried her lemon cake from Barefoot Contessa Parties and so I thought I'd do a bake-off to see which one I liked best.

I am also a huge fan of Greek yogurt, especially the Fage brand. If you have never tried it you must. I always buy the non-fat kind. It is thick and creamy with a nice pleasant tang. When berries are plentiful I eat a dollop with fresh berries for breakfast. It is completely transformed with even the slightest drizzle of honey, but honestly I like it straight from the tub, too. It is surprisingly rich and yet so good for you! It could easily stand in for sour cream as a garnish on anything.

Anyhow, I got to work on my lemon cakes, using the Greek yogurt on the yogurt version and soon had 2 golden and fragrant loaves emerging from the oven. My kids were begging for a piece before we had let them cool. I tortured them by making them wait! Once cooled and iced we cut into them. They are both good in different ways. The original version has a very delicate crumb and a subtle lemon flavor. I threw in a teaspoon of poppy seeds just for fun. The yogurt cake was more moist and dense with a more assertive lemon flavor. My kids preferred this one, but after a few more tastes I think I prefer the original. However, my all-time favorite Lemon cake is from the original The Silver Palate Cookbook, and I haven't made that one in a while, so I think I might get that one out and give it a try again soon. I so love lemon...if nothing chocolate is available!

Turns out after all that I still had some yogurt left-over so I decided to try Ina Garten's Sour Cream Coffee Cake recipe also from Barefoot Contessa Parties subbing the Greek yogurt for the sour cream. I make this cake often, and we eat it morning noon and night, so it never lasts long. We all adore it (I love the ribbon of streusel that winds its way through the moist buttery crumb, and the maple glaze on top is addicting)! It came out great with the yogurt. It's not so much that I care about making it healthier because when it comes to sweets I am all about using the real stuff- butter, sour cream, sugar....I can eat a bowl of salad later if I've over-indulged my sweet tooth. It was just fun to try something new with another ingredient I am crazy about to see how it worked....like a charm!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Puff Pastry Pizza Tarts

My husband is on a business trip, and I was thinking about what to make for dinner all day for my two kids. When my husband is gone for dinner, it makes dinner a much more low-key affair. Still I like to make sure the kids eat pretty well. One of our family favorites is make your own pizzas. I make fresh dough balls and everyone stretches out then tops his/her own individual pizza. We love it, and they taste great. However, make your own pizza requires advance planning , and today I didn't do any of that. But I did have a box of puff pastry in the freezer. Puff pastry pizza tarts...why not? The kids loved the sound of it, and so we got to work. We cut out rounds of dough and then with a slightly smaller cutter, marked a ring half way through the dough where the toppings would go. Mine had pesto, mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and sweet onions. The kids had...you guessed it, pepperoni and cheese. Still they came out looking so great!The outside crust puffed up around the filling and the cheesy topping bubbled and browned beautifully. Dinner was done in 15 minutes! Why hadn't I ever thought of this before? Best of all they were the cutest little 3" or so size which made them even more fun in the eyes of my kids. It's just one more reason to love the versatility of puff pastry! We threw in some yogurt, green beans and grapes and called it a meal!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Candied Walnuts

I first fell for candied nuts in a salad when I had them at the California Pizza Kitchen in Newport Beach, CA years ago. They were generously sprinkled among the mixed field greens and coated with a balsamic vinaigrette. I thought they were the best thing ever! I have made candied nuts in a skillet by just caramelizing sugar with a touch of butter or oil and tossing in the nuts to coat. But then about a year ago I saw a recipe in Southern Living Magazine for a recipe by Laura Werlin that used an entirely different method and powdered sugar of all things! They sounded amazing and looked wonderful so I had to try them. They came out perfectly! Since then it has been my go to recipe for candied nuts. I have also discovered that I like them even better when I use pecans instead of walnuts. The recipe calls for cayenne pepper, and for eating as a bar snack or with cheese I would make them as directed. However, since I mainly use them in salads I just use a small pinch of cayenne for subtle spice. If you decide to make them the same recipe is here on the Food Network site, though I find they take about 20 minutes to candy and brown sufficiently. Keep your eye on them. I'd recommend doubling the recipe because you will want that many once you try them. I noticed I get two slightly different variations depending on whether I use kosher salt or Maldon Sea Salt. Try it for yourself and see which you prefer. Once you make them, get out those field greens, sprinkle in some dried cranberries along with some cheese ( I love it equally with crumbled feta, blue cheese or shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano) and mix up a Balsamic Vinaigrette. Here's my recipe:

1/2 c. good Balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
1/2 tsp. honey
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. canola oil
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil

1. Whisk together vinegar, mustard, honey , salt and pepper.
2. Combine oils and slowly drizzle into vinegar mixture, whisking constantly (or use blender).
3. Taste and adjust seasoning to suit you.

This one is a little acidic, but it plays nicely off of the sweet nuts and cranberries in the salad. Make it sweeter if you prefer. It will last several weeks in the fridge. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Cookies are my most favorite sweet....ok maybe tied for favorite with ice cream. I was reading a little discussion today among 3 well-known food writers about cookies and it got me thinking about my favorite compact sweet.

As a trained pastry professional I know how to create elaborate desserts using mousses, glazes and all manners of cakes and crusts. I really enjoy making them all, but in the end a simple little cookie makes me the happiest. I think it is just in the fact that it is a hand held yummy that I don't have to share. If they are small enough I feel like I can have more than one without feeling too bad about it. In that small size I can create all kinds of flavor and texture profiles. I can make batches of dough and bake just a few or the whole thing, reserving what's left in the freezer for another day.

I grew up the daughter of a chocoholic and so my earlier experience with cookies revolved around chocolate ones, homemade and store-bought (Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Mystic Mints -my personal fave- and of course Girl Scout thin mints). It wasn't until I was older that I discovered there were other cookies to try that weren't chocolate. What a revelation! Now, I am my mother's daughter, and chocolate is close to being my middle name, but I was delighted to have my cookie world blown wide open when I discovered some non-chocolate alternates. In school, under the tutelage of cookbook author and talented teacher Nick Malgieri, I discovered his amazing recipe for snowball cookies, which I like to call Russian Tea Cakes. Crumbly, buttery and fragrant from the toasted pecans, they just melt away in your mouth instantly. The other cookie I came to love were his cantuccini, a Tuscan biscotti that is really crunchy and wonderful. I made both of those when I had my pastry shop in Tustin, CA. Rosie's Bakery in Cambridge , MA introduced me to another wonderful cookie, a buttery, delicate dough I cut out into hearts usually and sandwich with raspberry jam and dust with powdered sugar. I always called them Raspberry Jewel Hearts. Unbelievable! In my first job out of school I learned about Rugelach. Oy vey! They are so good- those little flakey cream cheese pastries rolled around cinnamon-sugar and nuts (I'll admit I make a brownie filled version that is really my favorite...what can I say?). I've since gone on to discover other non-chocolate favorites like snickerdoodles ( I have a pumpkin variation that is to die for!), oatmeal scotchies, lemon sugar cookies, ginger crinkles, gingerbread (beats the heck out of sugar cookies for decorating and eating any day of the week...a shame it is seen only at Christmas!) and many more.

These days I do all of my baking at home for friends and family and it includes a lot of chocolate in the form of brownies, chocolate chip cookies, M&M chocolate Chip Cookies-a top seller at my last business- (love these last 2 straight from the freezer!), my own Glazed Maple Oatmeal Walnut cookies and a family favorite we call Cocoa Snaps, which aren't snappy at all but rather fudgy with a nice crackle on top.

Just this past Christmas I came up with a sandwich cookie variation using gingerbread that got rave reviews. I always use Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe for gingerbread. It is the best! I rolled out the dough, cut out 36 small 2" rounds and placed them on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Out of half of the rounds I cut out a 1" center making rings. I sprinkled the rings with turbinado sugar for sparkle, texture and crunch and baked those off. Once cooled, I made a lemon glaze with enough powdered sugar, fresh lemon juice and the zest from a lemon just to make it spoon-able but not too liquid-y. After stacking a ring cookie on a solid round, I filled the hole with the lemon glaze. Then let them set to firm up the glaze, about 1 hour. They are really pretty and the lemon ginger combination is a winner! Try it! Once I figure out how to add photos to the blog, I'll show you just how beautiful they are!

I can go on and on about cookies and I am sure this won't be my last word on the subject. I think I hear my mixer and chocolate chips calling me now!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Homemade Applesauce

I grew up in Upstate New York where apple picking was a highlight of my childhood. My parents favored Macintosh apples at the time, and we would pick several bushels each fall. Most of them were meant for eating straight up which we all did with gusto. However, my mother would create apple magic by transforming others into a wonderful-cinnamon laced, slightly chunky applesauce. Coming home from school to that smell filling our kitchen was nothing less than heavenly. I now live in Colorado where there are plenty of wonderful apples but not any u-pick in my area. Nonetheless, I have made cooking applesauce a tradition in my home, and my family happily gobbles it up. I usually make a large batch hoping to freeze half for later (I never did learn how to can, so the freezer is my big-batch friend). I might start with a dozen or so apples, Fuji being my apple of choice, or more recently, a mix of Fuji and Honeycrisps. I peel and slice them on this great peeler I picked up at Williams-Sonoma a few years back. I put them in a big pot, add a cup of apple cider (when I have it) or water, throw in a plump vanilla bean which I have split and scraped into the apples and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Once the apples are good and tender -some may even have fallen completely apart- I remove the apples from the heat, take out the vanilla bean and puree the whole thing in my food processor or with my immersion blender. Then I taste it for sweetness, adding at the most 1 tablespoon of sugar and give it a sprinkle of cinnamon to taste. Careful there...too much is not a good thing! Many times I even throw in a handful of frozen or fresh cranberries to the pot along with the apples, which once pureed gives the sauce the most beautiful rosy hue. My kids love to eat it hot from the pot, but it lasts a good week in the fridge. It brings me back home every time I make it and makes me have that same cozy feeling I had as a kid. Try it with pears too! See if you can get some over-ripe ones for cheap, omit the cinnamon and just use the vanilla bean. I doubt you'd need any sugar at all. You might even want to squeeze in a few drops of fresh lemon juice to balance the sugars. The pear version happens to be my family's favorite, but for me homemade applesauce is the dish that says fall and all is well in the world.