Monthly Archives: February 2010

Vanilla poached pears with ginger cookies and champagne gelatto

Pear-fection

One of my favorite things about cooking is finding flavor compliments. I recently planned this little dessert around a deliciously spicy cookie, Ina Garten’s Ultimate Ginger Cookie. The cookie is thick and soft and incredibly flavorful, with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger. Amazing.

On her show, Ina paired the cookies with farm-fresh peaches. Peaches aren’t exactly in season right now, so I went with another flavor I love with ginger: pears. Firm Bosc pears that I poached (per Alton Brown) with a vanilla bean and white wine, then reducing the liquid into a smooth syrup.

Finally, I added something creamy: champagne gelatto, which I bought at Fresh Market (I don’t have THAT kind of time). Another creamy ice cream would be good, such as amaretto or vanilla. Get creative!

The result was a lovely and elegant dessert that would be beautiful to serve at an Oscar party.

Let’s start with the cookies…

Spicy Ginger Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1 extra-large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped crystallized ginger (6 ounces)
  • Granulated sugar, for rolling the cookies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and salt and then combine the mixture with your hands. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar, oil, and molasses on medium speed for 5 minutes. Turn the mixer to low speed, add the egg, and beat for 1 minute. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat for 1 more minute. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the crystallized ginger and mix until combined.

Scoop the dough with a large spoon, roll each cookie into a ball and then flatten them lightly with your fingers. Press both sides of each cookie in granulated sugar and place them on the sheet pans. Bake for exactly 13 minutes. The cookies will be crackled on the top and soft inside. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 1 to 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Now, for the pears…

Vanilla Poached Pears

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle white wine (pick one with fruity, pear flavors)
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 4 firm Bartlett, Anjou or Bosc pears, peeled leaving the stem intact

Place the white wine, water, sugar and vanilla bean and pulp into a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.

Slice a small piece off the bottom of the pears, so they stand up. I don’t have a mellon-baller, so I didn’t core them. But you could! Decrease the heat to medium low and place the pears into the liquid, cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the pears are tender but not falling apart. Maintain a gentle simmer. Remove the pears to a serving dish, standing them upright, and place in the refrigerator.

Remove the vanilla bean from the saucepan, increase the heat to high and reduce the syrup to approximately 1 cup of liquid, approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Do not allow the syrup to turn brown. Place the syrup in a heatproof container and place in the refrigerator until cool, approximately 1 hour.

To serve it all, place the pear on a nice dish, then spoon over the syrup. Add a couple of cookies and two scoops of gelatto or ice cream.

Can you see the vanilla seeds? I love those!

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Curried pork chops

This dish is so easy, you can make it after coming home from the bars late one night. Not that I would know….

It is basically a curry marinade that would work awesome with all meats, including chicken, shrimp, tofu, whatever. You marinate the meat and then bake it and serve it over rice. Easy! Just be sure to adjust the cooking time so you don’t overcook your meats. The taste is really yummy.

I got this recipe from my Thai cookbook.

Curried Pork Chops

Ingredients:

  • 2 T canola oil
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 2 T red curry paste (I used Taste of Thailand)
  • 2 T honey
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 pounds pork chops
  • Lime wedges, for serving
  • Cooked brown rice, for serving.

Whisk oil, soy sauce, curry, honey and salt in large bowl. Add pork and toss to get the curry all over. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight. Or not…

Preheat oven to 350. Place chops in baking dish, pouring sauce over the top. Bake for 20-30 min., until tender but cooked. Serve over rice, spooning over more sauce and garnish with lime wedges (squeeze over the meat, if you wish).

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Lemony pasta with roasted shrimp

Pasta perfection

My boyfriend said this recipe was a pasta that women will love. Translation: it was light, with delicate flavors and a skinny pasta noodle. He prefers robust, puts-hair-on-your-chest pastas that are heavy and rich. But this pasta includes shrimp, and in my opinion, shrimp have a delicate flavor that is easily overwhelmed by robust flavors.

The citrus in this dish was not sour at all, and instead was more like an essence of lemon that met perfectly with the shrimp, which I roasted with garlic and olive oil.

In brief: I absolutely loved it! I suppose I’m always uneasy with recipes that only have five ingredients, but the balance of flavors matched perfectly and it was such an elegant dish. Really, I would make this for a first date (what are those?). It impressed me by its simplicity, yet the flavors were complex. Not bland at all.

I have made a capellini and shrimp dish before and wasn’t wowed. But I have the solution: GOOD SHRIMP! Jesse bought these fresh, wild-caught shrimp at Fresh Market (a bigger Whole Foods) because he wanted to use the shrimp de-veiner-peeler tool that he bought me for my bday. But of course you don’t need any fancy utensils. This method of cooking shrimp is easy and really enhances the flavor. I will always cook shrimp this way in the future.

Before I post the recipe, let me note: never question Ina Garten. She wrote this original recipe, and if she says 2 tsp of kosher salt, you better do exactly that. She tests her recipes a dozen times, so she knows exactly what she’s doing. Don’t believe me? Read the comments about her recipes on FoodNetwork.com. They are always rave, which is how I came upon this one. However, even perfection needs a tweak or two. I’ve changed it a bit based on my preferences (the original recipe has no garlic!).

Lemony pasta with roasted shrimp

Ingredients:

  • 1.5-2 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • EVOO
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 lb. angel hair pasta
  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 2 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • Chopped parsley, to garnish
  • Shaved Parm-Reg, for garnish

Method:

Preheat oven to 400.

Toss shrimp with 1 T olive oil, garlic, a little less than 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp cracked pepper. Spread in an even layer on a sheet pan and roast for 6-8 min., until just pink and cooked through. You will smell it when it’s ready. Set aside.

Meanwhile, put a pot of water on to boil for pasta. When boiling, add a handful of salt and a glug of olive oil, then the whole box of pasta. Stir and cook until al dente, about 3 min.

While the pasta cooks, make the sauce: heat butter and 1/4 c. olive oil in a large skillet. When all melted, add zest, juice from the lemons, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper and 1/2 c. of the pasta water.

Drain the pasta and add to the sauce and mix to combine. Add the shrimp and toss together. Top with extra zest, parsley and Parmesan cheese to taste.

This dish reminds me of airy sun dresses – sweet and sunny. It is delish! As I said, trust in Ina – she knows her ingredients and her seasonings. This one will impress. Serve with toast, salad, a crusty bread and a crisp glass of white wine.

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Penang curry

Make-you-own Thai takeout

My favorite place to find new cookbooks is the Barnes & Noble discount section. There, I find all sorts of beautifully photographed books for all cuisines. Recently, I picked up “The Big Book of Thai Curries” by Vatcharin Bhumichitr. It is food porn for Thai lovers.

I used this new book to make a Valentine’s Day dinner for my sweetie, who happens to love penang curry with tofu. The cookbook is authentic enough to have recipes for making the curry from scratch – but I don’t have a mortar and pestle, and I’m lazy. So I just bought some red curry from Whole Foods. I also picked up a box of firm tofu, a can of coconut milk, basil and fresh kaffir lime leaves (fun fact: the book tells me that kaffir limes have very little juice and they look like really bumpy limes).

I could not believe how yummy this dish turned out, and so close to what I’ve been ordering at Thai restaurants. Maybe most Thai restaurants use store-bought curries, too? (Another fun fact: the biggest difference between Thai and Indian curries is that Thai curries are “wet” or fresh, and Indian curries are dried)

I’ve rewritten the recipe to our liking and availability of ingredients…please try this if you don’t have any aversion to coconut milk (it can upset some people’s tummies)!

Chicken-tofu penang curry

Ingredients:

  • 1 can coconut milk (not low-fat)
  • 2 T canola oil
  • 2 1/2 T red curry paste (I used Thai kitchen)
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced thin
  • 1 package extra firm tofu, drained and cubed
  • 3 T fish sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 4-5 kaffir lime leaves, depending on size
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 20 basil leaves, chopped or torn (about one large bunch)
  • Cooked white or brown rice (start this first because the meal cooks quickly)

In a medium nonstick skillet, heat 4 T canola oil and add tofu, browning on all sides. Beware of splatter! When done, set aside.

In a small saucepan, gently heat coconut milk until steaming and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 2 T oil. Add curry paste and stir-fry 2 min. Add chicken and stir-fry until lightly cooked, about 5 min. Stir in tofu, coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar. Mix for 2 min. Add lime leaves, chilies and basil. Stir until basil is wilted and the flavors are combined, 5 min. Taste to see if it needs more sugar.

To serve, spoon rice on a plate or bowl and top with the curry. Garnish with extra basil leaves. (And do not eat the lime leaves). This serves 4-5.

I hope this book helps me get over my fear of Asian cooking – I already have a pork recipe picked out for later this week, so stay tuned!

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Peppermint heart marshmallows

Sweet hearts

Awwww, shucks. It’s Valentine’s Day again! I know a lot of people hate this holiday, but let me tell you that I Love You. Whoever you are, I hope you tell at least one person today, “I Choo Choo Choose You,” with a picture of a train attached.

From my Funny Valentine

Now on to why I bought a candy thermometer: marshmallows!

I don’t really like marshmallows, but I’ve been obsessed with making them ever since I watched Martha Stewart do it. Using a powerful KitchenAid, you whip gelatin with sugar and water until it becomes a glossy, creamy, ooey gooey cloud that eventually hardens enough to slice into smaller clouds of happiness.

For Christmas, I received both a KitchenAid and a candy thermometer, so I was able to make these peppermint-scented marshmallows that I cut into heart shapes. Say it with me, “Awwww!” I wanted to dye them pink, too, but “someone” used all the red food coloring making fake blood for Halloween and then tried to tell me that yellow and blue mixed together makes red…

And here’s what I think about making your own marshmallows: it’s really pretty easy. You boil the sugar until it gets to a certain temp, then whip it in with the gelatin. Add flavorings, whip some more, pour it out, cool, slice and you’re done.

They taste so much smoother and softer than the kind at the store. For these, the peppermint was pretty strong, so leave it out if you’re not a fan.  Vanilla alone is a great flavor.

I found this recipe here:

Peppermint Heart Marshmallows

Ingredients:

  • Shortening for greasing
  • Powdered sugar for dusting
  • 2 1/2 tbsp Knox plain gelatin (a little less than 4 packets)
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp red food coloring
  • 1 tsp peppermint extract

Directions:

1. Grease a 9X13 dish with shortening and dust with powdered sugar the same way you would flour cake pans. Set aside.

2. Whisk attachment in place, combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup cold water in the mixing bowl. This needs to sit for 15 minutes. So, while you wait…

3. In a medium-sized saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, salt and 1/2 cup of water over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. (about a 1 minute)

4. Turn the heat up to high and stick your candy thermometer in. Heat on high until the temperature is between 242 and 248 degrees F. NO STIRRING. 10-14 minutes. When between 242 and 248, remove from heat.

5. Back to the mixer, turn speed on to low and slowly pour the sugar mixture into the gelatin mixture. Increasing the speed one setting at a time for about 10 seconds each, eventually get to the highest setting on your mixer. The mixture will triple in size and be shiny and smooth; 10-15 minutes. When it’s done, keep the speed on high and add in the vanilla and peppermint extract.

6. With a spatula, spread evenly into your prepared pan. Dust with more powdered sugar and use your fingers to spread it around, if needed. Leave uncovered for about 8-10 hours, or overnight.

7. Cover a cutting board with powdered sugar and plop out the giant marshmallow onto it. You can loosen the sides with a knife. With a small heart-shaped cookie cutter, dipped into powdered sugar every time if necessary, cut out the heart shapes. Roll the sides in the powdered sugar so there are no sticky parts left. If you just want to make square marshmallows, dip the knife in powdered sugar and cut to desirable size, again rolling the sides in powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container.

These are perfection in a mug of hot chocolate, or even in coffee!

Happy V-day, friends! xoxo

Bacon salted fudge

Never thought I’d see those three words together on this blog. I am, however, the new owner of bacon salt, which my dear Oregonian friend gave me for Christmas. I’ve been hunting for ways to use it, which brings me to Giada.

She makes a cinnamon-chocolate fudge in which she sprinkles a little kosher salt on top. I watched her do this and needed to make it immediately. Went online and the recipe had quite the rave reader reviews, so I printed it out.

It was simple and easy, as all fudge really is, and I love the addition of cinnamon. Adds a warmth to the dark chocolate. Oh, and then I sprinkled bacon-flavored sea salt all over the top.

This would be a wonderful treat to make for your Valentine this weekend. Or, let’s be honest, for the most important person in the world: me. Just kidding — you. I cut mine into squares and keep them in the freezer for longevity’s sake.

Bacon-salted fudge:

Ingredients

  • Butter, for greasing the pan
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 pound (about 2 cups) bittersweet (60 percent cacao) chocolate chips or chopped coarse
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, at room temperature
  • Bacon salt, or kosher salt or any other kind of gourmet salt you can find

Directions

Butter the bottom and sides of an 8 by 8-inch baking pan. Line the pan with a sheet of parchment paper, about 14-inches long and 7-inches wide, allowing the excess to overhang the sides. Set aside

In a medium glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the condensed milk, cinnamon, and vanilla. Stir in the chocolate chips and butter. Put the bowl on a saucepan of barely simmering water and mix until the chocolate chips have melted and the mixture is smooth, about 6 to 8 minutes (mixture will be thick). Using a spatula, scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle with salt, if desired. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours until firm.

Run a warm knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the fudge. Remove the fudge to a cutting board. Peel off the parchment paper and cut the fudge into 1-inch pieces. Store refrigerated in an airtight container or freeze.

Chubberific

Enjoy, chocoholics! xoxo

Key lime cheesecake

The perfect bite.

How you know a cheesecake is good in one bite:

  1. The flavor is so pungent that your mouth starts salivating uncontrollably.
  2. The creaminess melts in your mouth like ice cream.
  3. It is so rich that you become full way too soon.

This dessert was one of the first things I learned to cook in college, and now it occurs to me that it’s kind of a weird recipe. Is cornstarch a normal ingredient for cheesecake? I don’t know, but it’s still delicious. I love tart citrus flavors mixed with the rich sweetness of cream cheese. And the gingernap crust is a natural compliment of flavors.

I made this for our Superbowl supper, but it’s probably more appropriate in summertime, when you can find real key limes. I, of course, just used fresh limes. Please don’t use bottled lime juice!

Key Lime Cheesecake

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. ginger snap crumbs or graham cracker crumbs, or a combination of both (grind in food processor)
  • 6 T unsalted butter, melted
  • 24 oz. cream cheese, softened (I used 1/3 less fat)
  • 1 c. white sugar
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 T grated lime zest (one lime)
  • 2/3 c. lime juice (about 6 limes)

Heat oven to 350.

Combine cookie crumbs and butter, press into bottom of springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then set aside. Cover bottom of pan with tin foil and place in roasting pan or large baking dish (for the water bath).

Lower oven to 300.

In a large bowl, beat with electric mixer the cream cheese, sugar, lime peel and cornstarch until smooth and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, until just smooth. Add key lime juice with mixer on low, finish mixing by hand. Pour batter into prepared crust.

Pour hot water around the cheesecake, coming halfway up the sides. Place the whole thing in the oven and bake for 60-65 minutes, until just set (still a little jiggly in the middle). Turn off the oven, open it a crack and leave cheesecake in for another 30 min. This will prevent it from cracking…

Look, ma, no cracking!

Remove to the fridge to chill overnight. Slice with a warmed knife and serve!

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

p.s. Stay tuned for more Superbowl treats!

Focaccia with balsamic onions and rosemary

A couple big differences exist between this homemade focaccia and the focaccia you buy at the store. Whereas those I’ve purchased are thick, spongy and oily, this homemade recipe yields a thinner bread with a crunchy crust. It still tastes delicious, but it is definitely different than I was expecting.

I’ve made this recipe before, and this time, I added onions caramelized with balsamic vinegar and fresh rosemary. Very tasty, especially when dipped in garlic-infused olive oil and more balsamic vinegar.

Focaccia with balsamic onions and rosemary

Ingredients:

  • 2 packages active dry yeast ( 5 tsp)
  • 1 3/4 c. warm water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3/4 c. EVOO
  • 5 c. flour, plus more for kneading
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp coarse sea salt
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 2 T EVOO
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • balsamic vinegar

Dissolve yeast in warm water, whisk in sugar and let stand until foamy, approx. 5 min. Pour into large mixing bowl and add 1/2 c. olive oil, flour and kosher salt. Mix at low speed with dough hook (or wooden spoon) until dough is smooth and elastic, 7 min.

Turn dough out on floured board and knead for another 5 min., adding flour to keep it from sticking. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Put in warm place to rise – it should double in size (I put mine by the fire). If you are making this ahead, punch it down after it rises and place in fridge. Bring to room temperature before shaping.

Pour remaining 1/4 c. olive oil on half-sheet pan. Turn dough into pan and press evenly to all sides. Cover the pan loosely with a dry kitchen towel and let rise again in warm spot, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, thinly slice 2 yellow onions and add to hot frying pan with olive oil, over medium heat. Saute until dark brown and caramelized, about 12 min. Add 2 cloves of chopped garlic and 1 T fresh chopped rosemary. Add 1-2 T balsamic vinegar and stir until everything is thick and caramelized. Season with salt.

Preheat oven to 450.

Sprinkle onion mixture over dough and dimple the surface with your fingers. Sprinkle sea salt over the top.

Bake until golden brown, 20-30 min. Transfer to wire rack and let cool in the pan. Cut into squares and serve warm. For a soft bread every time, microwave leftover slices for 20 seconds.

For anyone who is interested in a great baking book that has beautiful pictures and instructions, here is the book I’ve been using, and loving, “Essentials of Baking” from Williams-Sonoma:

Enjoy the weekend, friends! Do you have your Superbowl menu planned? I know I do…xoxo

Mac & Cheese

Growing up, we didn’t have homemade macaroni & cheese. We didn’t like it – instead, we begged mom for the Kraft kind in the blue box, which I’m sure pained her. I’d like to think that my newfound appreciation for homemade mac & cheese shows just how much I’ve matured.

The beauty of mac & cheese is you can make it almost any time, if you have cheese, butter, milk and some sort of short noodle. Jesse made this the other night with leftover rigatoni noodles, which I would highly recommend, along with penne or anything else hollow to catch all the oozing cheese. Other items we already had: some cheddar cheese, Parmesan, 1% milk and unsalted butter. Oh, and some bread I made.

Ah-mazing. Sharp cheddar cheese is my friend – but if you have gruyere and fontina, all the better. He also added chipotle chilies in adobo, which gave it a spicy, smoky flavor. Finally, breaking my claim that melted cheese is the only acceptable crust, he ground up nice bread to become crumbs that he sprinkled on top, along with some paprika. See how liberal you can be with this recipe? No wonder mothers have been making it for ages.

The leftovers are long gone and I’m still wishing we could have some more. And to my dear friend Cari, yes, it is even better than the frozen Beecher’s mac & cheese we ate when you were here (that stuff is crack in the frozen-food aisle).

J-Mac & Cheese

For the topping:

  • 3-4 slices of sandwich bread
  • 1/4 c. grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper

For the pasta:

  • 1 pound pasta (penne, rigatoni, etc.)
  • salt
  • 8 oz. cheese (we used sharp cheddar, but I would also recommend some combination of gruyere and fontina), grated
  • 2 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp flour
  • 1 1/2 c. milk (or heavy cream)
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1-2 chipotle chilies in adobo, minced

Grind bread in food processor until crumbed, then mix with Parmesan, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat oven to 500 degrees. Bring large pot of water to boil. Add pasta and handful salt and cook until very al dente, still with a bite. Meanwhile, mix the cheeses in a big bowl and set aside.

Melt  butter in small saucepan over medium low, whisk in flour for 30 seconds, then whisk in milk until no lumps remain. Increase heat to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce to medium and simmer 1 min until it becomes a thickish white sauce. Stir in 1/4 tsp salt and pepper.

Drain pasta, leaving slightly wet. Pour pasta on top of the cheese, then pour on the cream mixture. Cover immediately and let stand for 3 minutes. Working from the bottom (cheeses) up, stir until cheeses are melted and mixture is thoroughly combined. Add chipotles to combine. Transfer to a baking dish, 13×9 inch, and sprinkle evenly with breadcrumbs, pressing down a little. Sprinkle with paprika as desired.

Bake until golden brown and bubbly, 7 min. Serve immediately, or let it cool a bit and then dive in. Melted cheesy goodness…

This is absolutely comforting and good for a crowd – or just yourself. Enjoy, friends! xoxo