Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Chicken Empanadas with Olives and Raisins

This is a really easy recipe for Spanish style empanadas which used wonton or gyoza wrappers for the dough. I have a really good recipe for empanada dough that uses beer given to me by my aunt, but it requires some resting time for the dough. (this is what I use when I am in a hurry). The recipe makes about one dozen large empanadas which I then cut in half and served with Arriba brand Chipotle salsa, (that is my favorite store bought salsa- I like spicy!).

I had inadvertently run out of pimento stuffed olives so I used Jalapeno stuffed olives instead. This made the filling a lot spicier- which I loved, but if you aren't a fan of spicy food you might not want to make the substitution. Pretty much every time I make the filling it changes a bit, reflecting what's in the pantry, something I left out this time which I always love is the cubed potato. (cube and boil about 1 cup of potato in salted water and add to filling).

The Wonton wrappers are square so I had to cut them into circles. I stacked about 5 together at a time, placed a small bowl for a guide over them and cut around the bowl with a paring knife. The Gyoza wrappers are usually round so you don't have to cut those and because they are smaller the recipe will yield about 24 empanaditas. While these don't really look like a traditional empanada, they have all the flavors of one without taking all day to prepare. The other thing I thought about doing with them is rolling them into a little egg roll- which would have been fun as well.

Quick Chicken Empanadas with olives and raisins

8 oz. chicken breast, diced into 1" cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
1/4 cup chopped red or orange bell pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped pimento or jalapeno stuffed olives
3 tablespoons raisins
1/2 cup white wine
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wonton or Gyoza wrappers
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1. In a large skillet over medium heat combine olive oil, chicken, onion and bell pepper. Saute a few minutes until onions start to become translucent. Add cumin, salt, pepper, and tomato paste, stir well to combine. Add garlic, cilantro, raisins, and olives and saute 3 minutes longer.

2. Add wine and scrape around edges of pan to de-glaze, (a lot of the good flavors are usually in the sticky stuff on the pan- adding liquid releases it and incorporates it back into the mixture).

Continue to cook stirring occasionally until all of the wine is absorbed. Check for seasoning, then remove from heat and set aside to cool.

3. When filling has cooled, place about 2 tablespoons of it on wonton wrappers which have been cut into circles. (read above). Brush edges of dough with the egg. Fold in half and crimp with a fork. At this point the empanadas can be refrigerated and fried later.

4. Heat 1/2 cup vegetable oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Fry empanadas a few at a time, turning them in pan until golden and lightly browned; place on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb extra oil. Serve with your favorite salsa and chopped Cilantro.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Banana Tarte Tatin with Rum Whipped Cream and Dulce de Leche Caramel Sauce

Banana Tarte Tatin is my interpretation of this French Classic. I like drizzling dulce de leche caramel over the top, it makes a great combination with the bananas and rum spiked whipped cream. I have sometimes made caramel for it, but in the interest of time I used some store bought dulce de leche and heated it in the microwave to soften it a bit. The dish comes together in under 40 minutes, including baking.

A note about store bought puff pastry- not all brands are alike. Check the ingredient label and be use to purchase the type made with 100% butter. Some of the puff pastries available commercially, have vegetable oil instead and there is just no comparison, specially in a dessert like this one. The brand I prefer is from Whole Foods, it's a little pricier than others at $10 for a one pound sheet, but well worth the extra dollars because of the remarkable results it yields. I try to use Bananas which are just beginning to speckle, if they are too ripe they will fall apart.

I used a shallow copper 10 inch skillet, but any large skillet with an oven prof handle will work fine. The tatin is best served warm, or at room temperature, it could also be served with dulce de leche ice cream. I have also made it with peaches and caramel sauce- quite yummy for the summer time when peaches are at their best.

Banana Tarte Tatin with Dulce de Leche Caramel Sauce and Rum whipped Cream
5 bananas, sliced lengthwise
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 lb frozen puff pastry (defrosted in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight)
2 tablespoons melted butter

2 cups whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon dark rum
1 jar dulce de leche caramel

1. In a large skillet, melt butter and mix with 1/2 cup sugar. Remove from heat, spread sugar mixture evenly and layer bananas face down over sugar.

2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to approximately a 14" square or circle. Transfer dough to skillet, lay over bananas and tuck in ends. Brush 2 tablespoons melted butter over dough. bake for 25-35 minutes or until golden brown, puffed and crispy around the edges. let cool for a few minutes.

3. Whip cream until soft peaks, add sugar, vanilla, and rum. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

4. Flip the tart onto a large cake patter and serve with whipped cream and caramel.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Daring Bakers Lemon Meringue Pie and Tart

This month the Daring Bakers challenge was Lemon Meringue Pie. The recipe was provided by Jen, from Canadian Baker. After reading all the reviews on the Daring Bakers website, I was a little apprehensive- it seemed like a lot of people had trouble with this recipe. Much to my surprise, I made the pie and tarts without any trouble whatsoever, I found the recipe to be good and well writen. The only part that sort of stumped me a little was the fact that the lemon juice is added to the filling once you remove it from the heat. I have never made lemon meringue pie filling in that manner before. I don't really understand the reasoning behind it, but nevertheless it still set up very nicely. Most people who had trouble with the recipe the filling is where they ran into trouble, for some it did not set. I used the blowtorch to brown the tarts and the broiler to brown the pie, I liked the way the torch browns a little better.

The filling set up well, and had a nice mix of sweet and tartness to it, but the recipe I normally use has a little cream and more butter which gives it a little bit more of a silkier feeling. The pie shell worked just fine, as of this morning it still has some crunch to it and isn't soggy at all- which for this type of pie is a very good thing. The meringue I whipped by hand in a copper bowl, it turned out smooth and shiny. I wanted to drizzle a little raspberry sauce on the plate, but ran out of time. Maybe next time.

Lemon Meringue Pie
Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie ( I made a 9" pie and 2 tarts)

For the Crust:3/4 cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (120 mL) cornstarch
5 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
3/4 cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
1/4 tsp (1.2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
3/4 cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

To Make the Crust:Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt.Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of 1/8 inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about 1/2 inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.

To Make the Filling:
Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated. Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

To Make the Meringue:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Coconut Macaroons

I have found most people have a love-hate relationship with coconut. Either they crave it and can't live without it or they want nothing to do with it. I am a coconut lover, when I was little my family used to go to the beach every weekend- and I mean every single weekend. We had coconut trees at our beach house and fresh coconut water consumed through a paper straw was the drink of choice. But, for me the best part was getting a baby coconut, drinking the water, then having it split in half and scooping out the still gelatinous coconut meat inside. In my world of food, there is not much that can top that.

So until we moved to the United States, for me coconuts were always fresh. There is nothing like a fresh coconut, but in baking there isn't that big of a difference. (Well, aside from the coconut candies, but that's a whole other story!) I have recently found unsweetened coconut which is frozen, I like to use it in cakes and custards because it doesn't add extra sweetness- and I don't like my desserts to be too sweet. But for these macaroons, I used the widely available sweetened flaked variety.

Coconut Macaroons with Orange Zest

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 14 oz bag sweetened flaked coconut
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon Orange zest
3 egg whites at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. In a large bowl combine coconut, condensed milk, vanilla, and orange zest. Mix well, then set aside.

2. Beat egg whites with a mixer or by hand until medium stiff peaks.

3. Fold egg whites into coconut mixture until egg whites are almost all the way incorpoarted. Do this gently so as to not completely deflate egg whites. I sometimes do it by hand so I control it a bit better.

4. With a cookie scoop (about 2"in diameter), scoop out spoonfuls of coconut mixture and place on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Cook for 20 minutes or until lightly golden. Store covered, at room temperature.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Being sick is no fun!

This is my other baby, Max...and this is what he has been doing since Monday afternoon. Staring at me with big sweet brown eyes. I have been feeling poorly and confined to my bed with a major upper-respiratory infection. He has been watching over me, not leaving my side, not asking to go outside, just being over all- sweet and cuddly. And of course- taking advantage of the fact I am allowing him to stay on the bed!

This also explains the lack of posts this week, but I have been on the computer pretty much non-stop so I am inspired and ready to make up for it as soon as I feel well. Which I hope is soon as I have a catering this weekend and feeling ick not conducive to great beautiful food!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sip Snap Savor at The Silver Spoon

A few weeks ago, Melissa Schilling from sip snap savor contacted me and asked if I was interested in contributing to her project. She and Philip Wartena are going on tours around the country for the purpose of writing a documentary style cookbook about what people eat at home. In her own words, "sip snap savor is is a road trip project designed to photograph and capture regular people, in their homes preparing and enjoying life's simplest of pleasures. Food."

I hosted them at the restaurant on Monday for lunch. It was a great experience, they are both full of energy and excitement about their project- and rightfully so, as I think it is a wonderful thing. Phil is a professional photographer and she is a wine and cheese instructor soon to become a published writer. We had a lunch of Shrimp Creole, then moved on to the kitchen for a while and waited for the lunch rush to end. Next they go to Austin and I can't wait to see what they discover there. I will certainly be keeping up with their project.

The photo of the spoon above was taken by Phil, he did a wonderful job and I can't wait to see the rest of the photos.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Caribbean Black Bean and Rice Salad

I am not a very big meat eater, if you have browsed the list of recipes here you may have noticed meat is not one of my main ingredients. I am not a vegetarian, but I would rather eat vegetables, fruits, and grains more so than a big steak. I make this dish fairly regularly, specially on the nights I am cooking for myself. I love to eat this over some crisp greens while still warm or chilled as a salad, specially in the summer time.

The color and flavor the Saffron imparts on the rice is wonderful. The longer the beans and peppers marinate in the dressing, the more flavorful they will become. The dish comes together in under 30 minutes.

Caribbean Black Bean and Rice Salad

1 cup uncooked jasmine rice
2 cups water (to cook the rice)
2 pinches saffron threads, about 1/8 teaspoon

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 red or orange bell pepper, diced
1 small tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 -1/2 jalapeno pepper (depending on how spicy you like it)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
1 avocado, sliced for garnish
additional cilantro leaves for garnish


1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder blend
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced

1. In a small sauce-pan over medium heat, bring water to a boil. Add saffron and rice, stir well place lid on pot and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until water has absorbed and rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Or, alternatively cook in a rice maker according to directions.

2. Make the vinaigrette by combining vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl with a whisk until emulsified, set aside. While rice is cooking chop and combine peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, and black beans. Add half of the vinaigrette and toss to combine, season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

3. When the rice is cooked, place in a medium bowl and toss with the other half of the vinaigrette while rice is still warm. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Combine rice and bean mixture and serve garnishing with avocado and additional cilantro.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mixed Berry Triffle

I really enjoy eating a good triffle, so pretty to look at yummy to eat. While a large triffle is beautiful to look at, the individual portions don't look all that great. At home, that doesn't matter as much, but at the restaurant it just doesn't work. So when I found these mini triffle bowls, I knew they would be perfect. Since local berries are out and beautiful, I made a berry triffle. I layered with cream cheese pound cake, pastry cream, whipped cream and berries. The triffle came together rather quickly, in under 30 minutes (excluding the making of the pound cake). You could if in a pinch, purchase a good quality store bought pound cake instead. The recipe would work for a large single triffle is you prefer. In the summer, I might add peaches and blueberries as well.

Notes: This pastry cream is very versatile and can be used to fill a cake, fruit tarts, or as I have used it here. It can be flavored with anything you like, this time I used Grand Marnier and vanilla. I have used vanilla beans before when making something delicate, almond extract also works well. Make sure to use a stainless-steel pan, if you use aluminum the cream with turn a grayish-brown color. The cream cheese pound cake can be found here.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

3 cups milk
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
6 egg yolks
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier

Whipping Cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream whipped to stiff peaks with 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/3 to 1/2 cup powdered sugar. (depending on how sweet you would like the cream- I don't like it too sweet).

3 pints mixed berries

1. In a heavy stainless steel pot over medium heat, bring the milk to a simmer. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the cornstarch and sugar together then add to the milk whisking occasionally.

2. In the same bowl, whisk egg yolks and about 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture. Mix together until incorporated then pour egg mixture into the pot. Whisk constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Making sure to stir well around the corners of the pot so nothing sticks.

3. Once the mixture reaches a boil, cook for 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and mix in butter, vanilla, and Grand Marnier. Once all ingredients are incorporated and butter has melted place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream. (this will keep a skin from forming). Refrigerate cream until ready to use or up to 4 days.

Assemble triffles:
layer cubes of pound cake, pastry cream and berries until full, ending with whipping cream and berries on the top. You may brush a simple syrup on the pound cake while layering.
(1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water, 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier. Heat in a small saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves, then brush over cake).

A large triffle bowl can be used instead of the mini ones, the recipe makes one large or 6 mini.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cooking With Thyme

Thyme is one of my favorite herbs, I am able to grow it year round right outside the kitchen door. The only aspect about this wonderful herb I don't particularly care for is picking the tiny leaves off the tiny stems. At the restaurant they use it in such a large quantity, my husband has a simple solution to deal with this time consuming task. (He gets Thyme in 5 lb. bags from the produce purveyor...can you imagine picking 5 lb.'s of Thyme? I can not!) The solution is to freeze it for a at least a few hours, then place the thyme over a piece of parchment to catch all the leaves, shake the stems about and the little leaves just come right off- Genius! You can then store them back in the freezer or the refrigerator in a plastic bag. That's my kitchen tip for the day, I hope it comes in useful!

This is my Mezzaluna knife, I use it when chopping a lot of herbs. Jack helps out with the chopping and with this knife I don't have to worry about his little fingers getting in the way, (they're on the handles)!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Pappardelle with Baby Cauliflower, Pine Nuts, Bacon and Parmesan

This is what comfort food is all about for me. This dish was born out of my craving for these beautiful little baby cauliflower. I spotted them at the market about a week ago and because I was rushed they didn't make it into my cart. I had been thinking about them for a week (yes, I know... it's a sickness), so when I went back to do my shopping today the baby cauliflower quickly made it into my cart. The challenge now was to prepare a dish in which they would not get lost- or mushy. I used dry Pappardelle pasta, but any shape would work fine. I could have left the bacon out, but the thought of frying the pine nuts and cauliflower in the bacon fat was too good to pass up- gotta love that bacon! baby cauliflower are a bit milder and more tender than the mature variety, but those could be easily substituted instead.

I finished the dish off with a nice nutty Parmegiano-Regianno, I love good cheese. This is my favorite kind of food, simple, quick and satisfying, you can prepare this dish in under 30 minutes. For the bread crumbs, make your own by chopping some day old French bread, place on a cookie sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes. After the bread toasts I crush it up with my hands, but you could also give it a quick run through the food processor. The recipe is cooked in parts, I keep the cookie sheet used to bake the bread out and put my cooked ingredients on it while they wait to go back in the pan. When everything is cooked I place the pasta in a large heavy pot, combine all ingredients, shave the parmesan with a vegetable peeler and top the dish with the reserved bread crumbs and cheese. I use a large pot instead of the skillet because I like to have plenty off room to toss the ingredients together.

Pappardelle with Baby Cauliflower, Pine Nuts and Bacon

1/2 lb. dry pappardelle pasta
8 baby cauliflower
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 strips of bacon, chopped
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling over pasta
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
1 teaspoon fresh Thyme leaves
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling on top
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Bring a large pot of salted boiling water to a boil. Drop the cauliflower in and cook for 2 minutes, pull them out with a slotted spoon and set aside. Bring the water back to a boil and drop the pasta in, cook until al dente, drain and set aside.

2. In a large skillet, over medium heat, heat olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add breadcrumbs and cook, stirring occasionally for a few minutes or until lightly browned.
Remove from heat and set aside.

3. In the same skillet, over medium high heat fry bacon until crispy. Remove bacon and set aside. Add onions, season with salt and pepper and saute until they begin to caramelize. Reduce heat to medium, add pine nuts, cauliflower, thyme and garlic to skillet and cook until golden about 5-8 minutes. Place the cooked pasta in a large heavy pot, drizzle a little olive oil over the pasta, just enough to coat it and add half of the bread crumbs, chopped parsley, 1/2 cup grated cheese and bacon and saute over medium-low heat until everything is heated through. Check for seasoning and serve hot, topping with reserved bread crumbs and shaved parmesan cheese.

One last note, this is my favorite Le Creuset pot- I use it almost daily!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Garbanzo Bean Soup with Israeli Cous Cous

This a light vegetarian soup with lots of vegetables and a nice broth. The weather here has been quite unpredictable, but mostly rainy damp and cold. I was craving a flavorful vegetable soup so I made Garbanzo (chickpeas) bean soup and served it with Israeli cous cous. Israeli cous cous is larger than traditional cous cous and is sometimes also called Marmaon. This soup is an easy weekday meal, it comes together in about 45 min from start to finish.

If you are using dry Garbanzo beans, soak them overnight, drain and cook them for about 45 minutes covered with water. After cooking, drain and rinse the beans and proceed with the recipe as written. I have found the only brand of canned Garbanzo beans I like is Progreso, they can sometimes be found in the Latin American section of the grocery store. The others I have tried, including the organic variety tend to be undercooked and a bit crunchy. If you want to add some meat, shredded chicken or smoked sausage would make a nice combination, you could also substitute chicken broth for the vegetable broth.

When making any soup, it is important all of the dry seasonings go in the pot early in the cooking stage. This allows the onions and other vegetables to absorb the spices, if they are added at the end they will end up just floating around the pot and the soup will not be as flavorful.

This is also my entry in the vegetarian blogging event called No Croutons Required, held by Lisa's Kitchen, you may look at the round-up here.

Garbanzo Bean Soup with Israeli Cous Cous

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion (I used Vidalia Onions)
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped zucchini
2 cloves minced garlic
2 cans Chickpeas (garbanzo Beans) well rinsed and drained or cooked dry garbanzos (see note)
1 14 oz. can Italian tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chili powder (depending on how spicy you like your soup)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
6 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cumin
sea salt to taste

Cous cous:

3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups Israeli cous cous
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1. In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, heat olive oil. Add onions, carrots, and dry spices and saute until onions are a bit caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add zucchini, tomatoes(with juice), lemon juice, garlic and fresh herbs and continue to cook for about 5 minutes longer. Cut the tomatoes in half with a wooden spoon while the soup continues to cook. If you are adding meat, add it now.

2. Add vegetable broth and Garbanzo beans, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

3. While the soup is cooking, make cous cous. In a medium sauce pan with a lid, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat, add cous cous and lightly brown (about 5 minutes). Add 3 1/2 cups vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for approximately 20 minutes or until most of the stock has been absorbed. Fluff cous cous up with a fark and add chopped mint right before serving. Serve soup with a scoop of cous cous, garnish with additional herbs if desired.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Strawberry Panna Cotta

I love Panna Cotta, it's one of those desserts that is light and oh so creamy at the same time. Strawberries are out early this year, since the week of Christmas I have been able to find beautiful local Lousisiana strawberries just about everywhere. I needed to lighten up my dessert menu at the restaurant and Strawberry Panna Cotta will be perfect- or so I hope. I had previously made a plain Panna Cotta, my favorite, with a mixed berry compote on the side and while I loved it, it did not sell very well. I think Panna Cota has since become much more mainstream so I am giving it another try.

Panna Cotta should be very smooth, the strawberries here do give it a little texure, but the flavor completely compensates for the lack of perfect smoothness. If your strawberries are very ripe, you may want to decrease the amount of sugar. When unmolding them dip into hot water for a few seconds, pull it away from the edge a bit if needed then invert onto the serving plate. They will keep covered in the refrigerator for about 5 days, after that I find they no longer taste fresh. This is a great dessert for a dinner party, it comes together quickly. I make it in the morning before work, leave them to chill in the refrigerator all day and unmold right before serving.

To make the compote: slice 1 lb. strawberries and place in a medium bowl. Add about 1 cup superfine sugar and about 3 tablespoons Port. Let the strawberries marinate for about 20 minutes, they will weep a bit and make a beautiful sauce with the port.

Louisiana berries...sweet and ripe (no white tops!)

Strawberry Panna Cotta

1 lb strawberries, (3 cups, sliced) In addition to the strawberries for the compote.
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup sugar
5 gelatin sheets
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy cream

1. remove stems from strawberries and place in blender, add buttermilk and sugar and blend until completely pureed.

2. Strain mixture using a fine sieve, discard solids. Place 1/2 cup milk in a small bowl. Bring cream to a gentle boil, add to milk, combine with a whisk. Add gelatin sheets and allow to sit for a few minutes. Whisk gelatin mixture until combined then add to strawberry mixture and whisk together.

3. Pour mixture into six 6oz molds. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours.

4. To unmold, dip mold into hot water a few seconds then invert onto serving plate. Puddle a little strawberry sauce and some fresh strawberries around each Panna Cotta.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Lemon Caper Shrimp Crostini

I find sometimes small simple meals tend to be the most satisfying. I find myself cooking for only Jack, my 6 year old and I more often than not. Jack unlike me, is unfortunately not a very adventurous eater (he's getting there though), so on these nights I am happy to have little dinners which are simple, but still yield great results. The shrimp crostini is one of them.

The great thing about Shrimp Crostini is it does not require much planning, I usually keep a French Baguette around and Shrimp are always in my freezer; frozen in 1 lb. bags ready to be pulled out and quickly defrost as needed. Basically I toast some bread, make a buerre blanc, add shrimp and maybe grill some asparagus- perfect for a simple weeknight meal.

The size of the shrimp you use doesn't really matter, I like 25/30's for this dish, but any size will work. Maybe I should explain that- Shrimp are graded by size, the numbers mean the number of shrimp per pound. The larger the number the smaller the shrimp; for example jumbo shrimp will be about 10/15 per pound while small shrimp will be 70/90 shrimp per pound. When buying shrimp at the market, be sure they look translucent, if they are head-on they (the heads) should be clear and well attached to the body (not beginning to separate from the body), they should smell like salt water- in other words not very shrimpy! (that rule applies to all seafood). Obviously the larger the shrimp, the pricier they become, there are some recipes where size matters, this is not one of them so buy what best fits your budget, or better yet- what looks best at the market. One last note about shrimp- unless you are purchasing shrimp at a dock, chances are they have been frozen- and that's ok. Fresh Shrimp of course are a treat, but shrimp do not lose much in taste or quality by having been frozen, so don't let that deter you from buying them.

Making the crostini: Slice a French Baguette into 1/2" thick rounds and lay on a baking sheet. Brush a little melted butter on bread and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. (If you really like garlic you can also add some to the butter). At the restaurant, I grill them since the grill is so easily accessible.

The shrimp crostini make for a great entree, starter or hors de ouvre at your next party. I have also tossed the sauce and shrimp with angel hair pasta for a litle bit heavier dinner. The sauce will make you want to lick your fingers!

Lemon Caper Shrimp

1/2 cup butter ( 1 stick)
1/4 cup capers
3 cloves crushed and finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp
Coarse sal de mer to taste

1. In a large saute pan melt half the butter over medium heat, add shrimp, garlic, black pepper, paprika and Thyme; cook until the shrimp turn light pink. Add lemon juice, white wine and capers and bring to a boil. Add cream, remove from heat then slowly stir in butter until it melts. Add salt to taste.

2. Serve Shrimp over Crostini drizzling with a generous amount of sauce. The recipe will serve four as a starter or two as a main dish. I sometimes garnish with Caper berries like I did here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Best Cream Cheese Pound Cake

As a little girl, I was used to always having a cake or some type of pastry around the house. It was called pan dulce, at my Grandparent's it was kept in a Tupperware box in the dining room- I was quite familiar with that box. The box always had something yummy in it and I became accustomed to ending every meal on something sweet. This is where my love of baking comes in particularly handy- to satisfy my sweet tooth.

I make this pound cake often because it keeps well for at least a week under a cake dome in the kitchen. I found the recipe in a Bon Apettit magazine a long time ago, I have made it many times since. I changed nothing about the recipe, even the baking times- which I know seem a bit odd, but I promise if you follow the directions you will not be disappointed. The grain is fine, the cake is not dense, the crust has sort a crunchy feel, it is quite versatile, and best of all it keeps well. I like it with a simple Confectioner's sugar icing and seasonal fresh fruit. I do not exaggerate when I tell you this is the best pound cake I have ever had- if you were looking for a good pound cake-look no further.

A few notes about cake making:
Ingredients should always be at room temperature unless the recipe specifies otherwise. Eggs fluff up much better at room temperature and so does butter. Most cake recipes I use begin by creaming the butter and sugar, in this case the butter, cream cheese and sugar. This is the time to beat- and beat a lot. Before you add any other ingredients the butter, cheese and sugar mixture should be extremely fluffy, this will take about 5 minutes in a stand mixer at med.-high speed. Be sure to time it, as it's much longer than you think. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl and mixing only until incorporated. Once you add the flour take it very gently from there. I usually mix with the mixer a few seconds, then finish by folding it in by hand. Following these "rules" will ensure good results for your cakes.

I don't always make an icing for the pound cake, the cake can stand on it's own. This is the recipe if you want to make one: 3 cups sifted confectioner's sugar, 1 tablespoon cream, 1 tablespoon vanilla or other flavoring. (like Grand Marnier, Bailey's Khalua, almond extract, or lemon juice) Mix together until a paste forms then add additional cream or milk to take it to the desired consistency. I usually cool the cake as directed, then after cooling for 20 minutes on the rack: I place a cookie sheet under it to catch the drippings and spread the thick icing on the cake. The icing will melt slightly and drip down the sides a bit, which looks nice.

Best Cream Cheese Pound Cake

1/2 lb unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 eggs, at room temperature
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups sifted all purpose flour

One 12 cup bundt pan

In large mixer bowl combine, butter, cream cheese and sugar and beat with paddle attachment on medium speed about 5 minutes or until very fluffy.

Add eggs one at a time, beating just until Incorporated. Add vanilla and beat to combine.

Add flour and salt and mix on low speed until just incorporated- do not over mix.

Pour batter into greased and floured pan and place in a cold oven set at 200 degrees. (yes, turn the oven on as you put the cake in). Bake at 200 for 20 minutes, then increase oven temperature to 250 and bake additional 20 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 275 and bake for 10 minutes longer. Now increase oven to 300 and bake about an hour, or until tester comes out clean. (I find setting a timer helps a lot with this cake).

Cool cake in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto rack to cool. Store at room temperature.

Serve with fresh fruit and whipped cream if desired.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Moroccan Carrot and Goat Cheese Sandwich with Green Olive Tapenade

I don't know about you, but I tend to hold on to my food magazines. This comes as a result of two things: 1. I am part pack-rat and 2. I sometimes don't have time to read them as they arrive so I save them for later. Well, I've been catching up, I found this recipe in the (I'm almost embarrassed to tell you how old) August 2002 issue of Gourmet. Which proves my case in holding on to the plethora of food magazines I own- you never know when I might find something I like in there. I think it would make a great tea sandwich, the tapenade I can eat with a spoon and the carrots are really so yummy, mostly because of the unexpected flavors.I changed the recipe a bit, (I can't help myself) but, it's definitely a keeper.

The carrots are delicious, the secret is to allow them to marinate at least 4 hours, although overnight is best. As with all recipes high quality ingredients will produce better results; use the best quality olives you can find, I like green Cerignolas. I have never found them already pitted, but it is well worth the effort of slicing them off the pit for this recipe, (or any other for that matter- they are delicious). If you don't have a mandolin, thinly slice the carrots by hand or use the slicer attachment to the food processor. When making the tapenade pulse in the food processor just until chunky, it should not be a paste. I have recently found a Goat Feta I love, the recipe called for soft goat cheese, but since I have the feta I used that instead- basically same flavor with a different texture. Both the carrots and the tapenade can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator, the carrots will keep for 3 days and the tapenade for one week.

Moroccan Carrots

2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 lb.'s carrots

1. Whisk together sugar, lemon juice, spices and olive oil in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves.

2. Slice carrots in half on the diagonal, then using a mandolin slice into 1/16" thick slices. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and blanch carrots for about 45 seconds. Drain into a colander and immediately toss in dressing. Cool to room temperature, then cover a refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. (I tried them at 4 hours, then the next day- the difference was huge. Allow them to marinate as long as possible).

Green Olive Tapenade

1 1/4 cups sliced Cerignola olives
3 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 anchovy fillet
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

goat cheese
whole grain bread

1. In a food processor combine all ingredients and pulse a few times. Drizzle in olive oil while pulsing until the tapenade is finely chopped.

Assemble the sandwich putting goat cheese on bottom layer, add carrots, then tapenade and another layer of bread.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Creamy Rum Raisin Rice Pudding

I finally feel like my life is getting back to normal after the holidays. Unless I have I catering I don't normally work on Saturdays, I feel my place is at home with my little boy. So today, we did a little shopping in the morning, made dogie treats when we got home and after that I made rice pudding. Jack is not a big fan of rice, I think it stems from my over zealous meals when he was a baby- I gave him cous cous at about 7 months and he projectile spit it all back at me. When he got a little older, he wanted nothing to do with foods that had a grainy type texture. Which is really quite a sad for I feel he misses out on such yummy foods- like this rum raisin rice pudding.

But today he totally surprised me, he was very curious when I was making it and when I finished he actually asked to try it. I tried to retain my composure and not show my shock, he tried it and said "hmmm I think I like it!" Well, needless to say I was thrilled, granted it's more creamy than it is grainy, but it's a start. My point is I think even rice haters would love this dish- it is the epitome of comfort food. Great served warm or ice cold.

Notes: Make sure to not stray too far from it while cooking and stir it often. The vanilla beans are a great addition, but if you don;t have any add a teaspoon of vanilla when you take it off the stove. The rice will continue to congeal and absorb the milk when it's cooling so stop cooking it while there still a little liquid left in the pot. The raisins will do the same so turn the heat off when almost all the rum has been absorbed. I like to use jumbo golden raisins, but if those are not available, use your favorite variety.

I entered this dish in the Comfort Food Monthly Mingle...check out the other posts!

Rum Raisin Rice Pudding

1 cup Arborio rice
3 cups milk
4 sticks cinnamon
1 can condensed milk
1 vanilla bean
3/4 cup dark rum
1/4 cup water
1 cup jumbo golden raisins

1. In a heavy medium sauce pan bring milk and cinnamon sticks to a boil over medium heat. Add rice, return to a boil then simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. While rice is cooking place the rum, 1/4 cup water and raisins in a small pot. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to simmer and cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed, (you want some left over to mix into the rice when it's finished). Set aside to cool.

3. Add condensed milk and scrape vanilla bean into the rice. Continue to cook over low heat stirring often for an additional 15 minutes or so or until rice is creamy, but still has some liquid left in the pot. Refer to photo below, it will still seem rather soupy, but in order for it to be very creamy when cool, you remove if from the heat at this stage. The rice pudding will keep for 1 week covered in the refrigerator.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Crostata della Nonna / Italian Jam Crostata

This is my grandmother's crostata, it's beautiful, tasty and most of all- very easy to make. I had some friends over for dinner and since my menu was of the Italian inclination, it gave me the perfect opportunity to make it, (not that I really needed an excuse). It was sort of a last minute affair so we made a simple one dish meal of Pasta Pepperonata with Italian Sausage, a beautiful arugula and Cannellinni bean salad and for dessert I served the raspberry crostata. This was an easy and very satisfying meal which did not require a whole lot of work. I wish I would have had time to photograph everything, but eating and enjoying the food sort of got in the way! The crostata, I had prepared the day before, so it made it to the blog.

You may use any kind of jam or preserves you like, I have used apricot, strawberry and pineapple before- they all taste really yummy. I also really like that the ingredients are simple are most likely to be in my pantry at any given time. The dough for the crostata is sort of between a cake and a pie dough. The directions may sound a little odd, but this was my grandmother's recipe and I'm not going to change it. The only difference in the preparation from hers and mine is that I use a pastry blender and she used a fork. The measurements for the flour are in grams because that is how she gave them to me, when I make it again I will measure in cups after weighing and update the recipe.

Italian Jam Crostata

300 grams all purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
150 grams cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 eggs
zest of one lemon
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons of your favorite jam or preserves

Preheat oven to 400 F

1.Butter a 9" springform pan and set aside.

2. Place flour in a large mixing bowl, make a well in the center and add the eggs. With a pastry blender or fork, start incorporating the eggs into the flour. Add the butter and work into the dough for a couple of minutes. (the dough will be in clumps).

3. Add the sugar, lemon zest, baking powder and a pinch of salt. Continue to work the dough with the fork or pastry blender until is it very crumbly. At this point I start working the dough with my hands until it starts coming together, I do this is the bowl to avoid kneading it on the counter and incorporating too much flour. Once the dough comes together it will be a little sticky.

4. On a lightly floured surface knead the dough a couple of times, then make a ball and cut off one third of it with a knife. (for the lattice)

5. Roll out the larger ball of dough into about a nine inch circle and press into the springform pan. Making sure the dough is evenly distributed in the pan. Prick the dough with a fork, then add the preserves spreading evenly.

6. Make little balls out of the reserved dough and roll each one into a strip- these do not need to be all even and perfect. Place the strips over the jam, pressing lightly at the edges to adhere them to the crust.

7. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the top is lightly golden. You may serve it warm with some whipped cream or ice cream, or by itself at room temperature. The crostata will keep covered at room temperature for 1 week. (mine never lasts that long!)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Sweet and Savory Chicken Tamales

It is a tradition in Latin America to eat tamales at Christmas, New Year's, and pretty much any special celebration. I did not have time to make tamales on Christmas eve, but today we did make tamales for New Year's Eve. Making tamales is a daunting task, but I find that if you split the work out throughout the day it makes the process a little more manageable.

This year I made both sweet and savory chicken tamales. The savory are filled with chicken, capers, green olives, potato, and peas. The sweet tamales have sugar added to the masa and are filled with chicken, potato and prunes. The chicken is actually a hen, as they are more flavorful. I took some photos throughout the process, they aren't the best, but I think they will help if you've never made tamales before. The recipe made about 3 dozen large tamales.

Notes: Maseca is the brand of the masa harina, this is the only brand I have used and it's available at most large supermarkets. The Banana leaves impart a delicious flavor to the tamales, they can be either fresh from your yard or store bought. Most Latin American or Vietnamese markets carry them, I used four large leaves for this batch. You can use any type of steamer to steam the tamales, I used a tamale steamer I have and a regular pot with a pasta colander inside, then wrapped the whole thing in foil (I couldn't find the lid). When you place the tamales in the steamer do not crowd them too much, I usually make one layer then put a few more tamales on top.

8 cups Maseca, masa harina
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 yellow onion, quartered
1/2 green bell pepper
1/2 red bell pepper
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded
1 dried chile mulato
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons salt
1 hen
1/2 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
1 medium tomato
1/3 cup sugar
green pimento stuffed olives
2 potatoes, peeled, cubed and boiled
about 1/2 cup green peas, frozen
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 bay leaves

1. In a large stock pot, sautee dried chile mulato in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat for about 8 minutes. Wash and quarter chicken and add to the pot and season generously with salt and pepper. Brown Hen over medium heat, turning occassionaly.

2. Add the tomato, bell peppers, onion, and jalapeno pepper to the hen. Completely cover with water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 1 hour 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. With tongs remove the vegetables and hen and set aside to cool.

3. With a sieve, strain the stock into a bowl. Carefully remove the oil from the top of the stock and discard. Place the vegetables in a food processor, add cilantro and process until smooth, if needed add a little stock.

At this point you will have the hen already cooked, the vegetables into a puree and the stock for the masa. This would be a good place to stop if you want to do this in parts. Everything could be refrigerated and continued the following day.

4. Shred the hen with your hands and set aside.

5. In a large pot over medium heat combine 8 cups Maseca and about 13 cups chicken stock. (if you do not have enough chicken stock add water to make up the difference). Whisk the stock into the flour, the dough should be smooth and about the consistency of mashed potatoes. Add vegetable puree, 2 tablespoons cumin, baking powder and salt. Cook the dough, constantly stirring until it starts to pull away from the sides of the pot- about 15 minutes, then remove from heat.

6. Assemple all the filling ingredients, banana leaves (wash and dry them), and aluminum foil.

7. Cut a piece of foil about ten inches long, lay it in front of you on the counter. Lay a piece of banana leaf about half the size of the foil over it. Place about 1/2 cup dough over the leaf and make a little trench for the filling. Add some chicken, a piece of ptato, some capers, peas and 2 olives. Pull the banana leaves over the dough to enclose the filling in the dough. Wrap with the foil making a little rectangular package. (be sure to not wrap too tightly so the dough can puff a little when steaming. Repeat until 3/4 of the masa has been used, about 24 tamales.

8. Add 1/3 cup sugar to the remaining dough and mix well. Continue to assemble tamales, changing the filling to chicken, potato and a prune in each. Label the sweet tamales with an "S" etched into the foil.

9. Fill steamer 1/3 full with water. Layer tamales in steamer tray or colander and steam over med-low heat for 1 hour. Allow tamales to cool and serve.

Tamales can be kept in the refrigerator for 4 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

Jack requested to have a photo of himself and I quote "posted up with all the food on the web site." So here it is...we wish you a Happy New Year!!! xx

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