Thursday, December 30, 2010

Udon with Shiitake Mushrooms and Kale in Miso Broth

I was little nervous about making this being that it has Chinese roots and all but I have to admit it was really easy, really healthy, and really good. All things we like at this time of year. I got this recipe from a vegan cookbook which I think I kind of love (thanks for the Christmas gift, Craig).

I don't know about you but I'm watching my waistline after all the abuse I've given it this holiday season. I'm not talking about a diet, but rather, just feeding my body foods that help it recover and refuel with the good stuff without feeling like I am depriving myself. Udon soup with healthy greens and veggies, check! The broth tastes just like miso soup with the volume kicked up from the mirin and soy sauce. It's mild but flavorful and just what I'm craving this night. Too often, brothy-veggie based dishes are boring and bland. Not the case here. Super-simple ingredients result in super-flavorful returns.

Speaking of that, it's beautiful out tonight. I guess you could call it the calm before the storm since we are expecting a whopper tomorrow. The photos were taken off my back deck this evening. That view always reminds me of the "little town of Bethlehem". I'm not sure why as I have never seen Bethlehem, but it's a soothing sight so maybe that's why I associate it to that. Whatever the reason it makes me happy. I love the lights of the town and the little valley I live in nestled between majestic mountains. It's breathtaking, really. Come visit. You should experience it.

These noodles are supposed to be swimming in a little broth when you serve it, but I left my mine in the broth a little too long because, as luck would have it, my husband and I were having a riveting conversation and by the time we were done the noodles had soaked all the broth up! It was still delicious.

Udon with Shiitake Mushrooms and Kale in Miso Broth
adapted from "Veganomicon"

serves 3-4

1/2 pound fresh udon noodles or dried udon noodles
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium sized red onion, sliced into thin half-moons
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems trimmed, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ginger, minced
2 tablespoons mirin (optional)
2 1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons miso (see tip)
4 cups chopped kale (see tip)
2 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce, or to taste

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook the udon according to the package directions, about 10 minutes. When done, drain and rinse with cool water until read to use.

Meanwhile, preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion and mushrooms in the oil for 5 to 7 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and the onions are softened but still have some crunch. Add the garlic and ginger, and saute for another minute.

Add the mirin, water, and miso, and bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and add kale. Toss the mixture around with tongs until the kale had wilted. Add the noodles and use a pasta spoon to stir them into the broth for about 2 minutes.

Divide the udon and vegetables among bowls and spoon some broth over each serving.

Did you know it was good luck to eat noodles on New Years Day? It is! Go ahead and slurp away! Also, just a note, I couldn't find straight miso, so I used a miso and tofu soup mix. It was basically the same thing. TIP: The recipe is based on a strong, dark miso; if you are using a light, mellow miso, you may want to add another tablespoon or so.

TIP: I separate the leaves of kale off either ends of the tough stem so I only have tender leaf pieces. Then I soak the leaves in a bowl of water for a couple minutes to rinse off any dirt. I then remove the leaves from the water, squeezing them out as I go and placing them on a paper towel to drain, and finally, discard the water with all the grit.

Also I am trying to verify my blog with another and I need to publish this code to do it:E547BAH78JAP Please ignore, or don't. Whatever.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Roasted Beet Salad

I'm a little behind with all the Christmas madness and am in need of down time, so this is a post I wrote a couple weeks back. I meant to post it the week I made it but other things kept coming up and taking priority (It's funny how seriously I take this blog). Also, coincidentally, today, December 28th is my blog-a-versary! One year baby! I had wanted to celebrate with something a little sexier than beet salad but hey, I'll take what I can get at this point! So here it goes...flash back to a couple weeks ago...

Jeremy's heart will skip a beat when he learns we are having roasted beet salad with dinner. He loves beets. He loves me when I make beets. What? Your husband doesn't share the same enthusiasm? He just might if you make them this way...

Most people don't make beets because you have to handle them, usually peel them, and they dye your hands red. They are messy and ugly to say the least. The other reason why some people don't make beets is because they taste like dirt. There. I said it. It's out in the open and I agree with that statement. However, when you prepare beets this way, dare I say, correctly, it will take minimal effort of your part, leaving your hands stain free, and leaving you with a beet that tastes fresh and bright, if not a bit earthy. You can't totally transform the taste of beets. I mean let's get real, this recipe is not for people who hate beets, after all. No, this recipe is for people who don't mind beets and are looking for a way to make them taste good. Enter cool, sliced beets matched with herbs and vinaigrette.

I haven't gone vinaigrette crazy (I blogged about leeks vinaigrette not too long ago) but there is no doubt that a good tangy vinegar can take certain vegetables from ordinary to extraordinary. The oil rounds everything out and fresh herbs and red onion give it freshness. Beets in my opinion taste better cold or room temperature, like this salad. It helps to diffuse the dirty taste that is more foreword in a warm beet.

Roasted Beet Salad
adapted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller

1 1/2 pounds (4 large) red beets
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
about 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 red onion, peeled
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
1 tablespoon minced chives

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wash the beets and trim the stems, leaving about 1/4 inch attached. Place them on a large piece of aluminum foil and toss with 2 tablespoons of the oil, 2 tablespoons water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

Lift up the edges of the foil and squeeze together to form a packet. Place in a small baking pan and roast for about 1 1/2 hours, or until beets are tender, offering no resistance when pierced with a knife. Carefully unwrap the beets and let stand just until cool enough to handle.

Rub each beet with a paper towel to remove the skin. Cut off and discard the stems. Cut the beets into quarters, then cut the quarters crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices and place in a bowl. Season with a light sprinkling of salt and pepper. Add red wine vinegar, orange juice, and remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Toss and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. (I added a bit more vinegar as well).

Let the beets marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to a day, in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before finishing the salad.

About 30 minutes before serving, cut three or four 1/8-inch -thick slices crosswise from the onion and separate the slices (reserve the remaining onion for another use). Toss the beets with the onion, tarragon, and chives. Just before serving, check the seasonings and add additional sat, pepper, and/or vinegar to taste.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Cinnamon Apple Cake and The Stocking Exchange Party

I had a stellar idea this year if I do say so myself. It was the first week of November and I had heard a few friends talk about the holiday season in general, and more specifically about Christmas stockings. The problem was they didn't usually get one and let's face it, stockings are one of the best parts of Christmas day, right?

So I took to email and invited a few girls I know to take part in The Great Steamboat Stocking Exchange. The rules would be simple. Each person buys something to put into each of the girls stockings. The money limit was anywhere from $5 to $15 a person and you could put one or two or three (whatever you wanted) into everyone stocking. Think along the lines of Starbucks gift cards, nail polish, lip gloss, etc. The only real guideline was it had to be something you would want for yourself. Then on a weekend near Christmas we would all get together for a Christmas tea (although we ended up drinking coconut hot chocolate) and swap presents. The idea was so everyone would have a stocking to open on Christmas morning. It didn't work out that way as I seemed to be the only one wanting to wait that long. My friend Danielle was practically foaming at the mouth ready to tear into hers. My friend Kel kept dropping "tic-tac" comments about wanting to open them, which later progressed to a full on talk about the importance of not waiting. Melissa and Caroline seemed neutral about it, but I could tell they wouldn't mind opening them. I'm not sure how Rebecca felt come to think of it, but I decided to put it to a vote. We didn't even get to vote as it was explained to me that I would surely be out-voted. So, we opened them. Right then and there. Danielle was extremely delighted. And I have to agree, it was better that way. We all had fun fawning over our gifts complimenting one another on our outstanding taste. ;) A cocktail ring, one mini grapefruit body butter, a rosebud salve, lip gloss and perfume samples, tweezers that looked like little ladies and cuticle oil, and one guava body gel and hand lotion later we were happy campers. Oh, and Danielle got a wooden spoon in her stocking, compliments of me, who is tired of using heavy metal when cooking at her house. Ha ha.

I guess I should start talking about this cake now that I have gone on and on about the stocking exchange. I adore this cake because it is so unassuming yet fabulous. It is a great breakfast food because it's not too sweet and would go perfect with coffee. I love it because the cake itself is moist, but toothy meaning it feels great to chew. Is that weird to anyone? Maybe it would just suffice to say it has excellent texture. The apples are mildly spiced with cinnamon and the whole thing has a crunchy top due to a nice coating of cinnamon sugar. It's sort of coffee cake-esque but if you dressed it up with some cinnamon whipped cream it would be a fine dessert, anytime. It's made in a cheesecake pan which is a little out of the ordinary, but it makes for a handsome presentation. This is my recommendation on what to serve the family before they leave your house this holiday.

Cinnamon Apple Cake
adapted from Steamboat Seasons

1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
3/4 cup (6 ounces) block style cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 cups chopped Rome apples (about 2 large)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8-inch springform pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Beat 1 1/2 cups of the sugar, the cream cheese, butter and vanilla in a bowl at medium speed for about 4 minutes or until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Set aside. mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat at low speed until blended. Combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Mix 2 tablespoons of the cinnamon mixture and the chopped apples in a bowl. Stir the apple mixture into the cake batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon mixture. bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the cake pulls away from the side of the pan. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a wire rack. Serve warm alone or with whipped cream or ice cream.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Red Pear, Grape, Pomegranate, Pecan Salad & Christmas Card

Merry Christmas from the MacGray Family! Nice little "Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" action going on over here.

I have said it before and I'll say it again. I like salads with character. Salads with lots of flavors and textures and great dressing and this one fits the bill! So, I give you a salad with a ridiculously long name that can actually live up to it. This is festive salad. It's holiday celebration salad what with all the pecans, blue cheese and grapes, pears and pomegranate seeds. I'm a sucker for stuff with pomegranate seeds.

I served this with honey baked ham, rolls and roasted potatoes with herbs for our White Elephant Christmas party this past weekend. I didn't have to do anything with the ham or rolls but set them out, so I decided I had to put some effort into the side dishes, not that it was much. You do have to make the dressing, but it's easy and takes 5 minutes of your time and can be done way in advance. Then there is the prep. The prep is a tad extensive (seeding pomegranates is not exactly my idea of a good time) But my secret is to fill a medium sized bowl with water and to rip apart and seed the pomegranate directly in the water, picking out large pieces of pith as you go. That way you don't get red juice splattering all over your kitchen and clothes and run away seeds on your floor. Just strain the seeds into a fine mesh strainer or colander and you are ready to rock.

As for the rest of the prep, I like to cut the pears first (about 1-2 hours before I will serve the salad) and toss them in the bottom of the serving bowl with a tiny bit of the dressing so they will not brown. Then I cut the rest of the ingredients (grapes, onion, cheese crumbles, pecans and pomegranates) and add them in with the pears. I pile the lettuce loosely over the top and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve. When it's time, just toss the salad together with the dressing (you probably will not use all the dressing. See note below) and add the orange zest and ta da!

Red Pear, Grape, Pomegranate, Pecan Salad
Adapted from Country Living, October 2009

makes 8-10 servings

3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 pound red leaf lettuce
1/2 pound butter lettuce
1 pomegranate, seeded
30 large, dark seedless grapes, halved
1 medium red onion, sliced in thin strips
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
2 ripe red pears, cored and sliced thinly
1 cup toasted pecans
Zest of 2 oranges

Combine vinegar, brown sugar, salt and pepper in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugar is dissolved, about 4-5 minutes and set aside to cool. Whisk the oil into the vinegar mixture until well blended, or pulse together a few times in a magic bullet or small blender until emulsified. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Tear lettuces into 1-inch pieces and wash and drain in a salad spinner. Put lettuce in a big salad bowl and add pomegranate seeds, grape halves, onion slices, blue cheese, pecans and pears. Drizzle vinaigrette on top an toss together. Sprinkle top with orange zest. Serve.

Simplify entertaining by making the salad in advance, keeping in the fridge and dressing just before serving. One thing to note is that this salad dressing is relatively thin. It's supposed to be that way. It sort of absorbs into everything in the bowl.

NOTE: This recipe makes a lot of dressing, but it is hard to half so I left it as is. I doubled the recipe for the salad and kept the dressing amounts the same for my party and still didn't use it all.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cranberry Champagne and a White Elephant Party

So, I had a White Elephant Party last night. In short, it was awesome. I included a couple pictures from the night so you could get a feel for the party. That's my friend Melissa kissing her "Santa" husband, Shawn. And that's me in the bottom picture to the left with my friends Angie and Danielle. This party did not seem like it was going to happen in the days leading up to it. Well, I knew it HAD to happen, but people were canceling and rsvp-ing "no" left and right. (Oh, you're passing a kidney stone? Bummer. You're teaching dance lessons tonight? Dang! You forgot you were hosting bible study at your house? We will miss you! Your husband has to work till 8pm? Oh my, I really wish you could come, but, I understand. No babysitters available? really? You just started a major detox and have stuff coming out both ways? Oh, man! That's sick, but at least you have a fantastic excuse. You just want to stay home with the family? Oh. You are going to do family movie night instead? Oh. You have been too busy lately and need to be home for the weekend? OK, WTF is going on here anyway? Did I possibly pick THE ABSOLUTE WORST DAY OF THE YEAR to have this party? Wheres the holiday spirit?) And, when I thought about who, exactly was for sure going to come it made me nervous. Not because I don't love everyone, but because they all didn't know each other. There were some essential "glue" people that we not going to come to help and tie it all together. I thought it might be an awkward party. I am not a huge fan of awkward parties, let alone of throwing them, so I was sort of concerned.

With help from my sister, I decided to let it all go and just enjoy the day. I mean, I really liked everyone coming and was confident they would in turn, all like each other. Plus my best friends would be there to serve as a buffer. My sister reminded me that one of the points of having a party was so you could mingle and meet people. Uh-duh, yes. Why didn't I think of that? In the end, I preferred it just as it was. I talked longer to people I might not have if I had more people over. Even then, there are people I wished I would have talked to more because I enjoyed their company so. Originally, I had in mind a huge party with lots of people and commotion and laughter and memories. In the end, I had a party with 20 people and commotion and laughter, memories and cranberry champagne. It was perfect and merry and this Champagne was the definite drink of choice for the night. We actually ran out. Ouch, party foul numero uno! Luckily it was at the end of the night (11:30pm-ish) so it was pardoned.

This is really simple to make but I recommend it for this time of the year because it's festive and red and apparently, it makes people with little kids stay out till midnight, laughing and giddy saying to hell with the babysitter costs, let's have another!

Cranberry Champagne

makes enough for 8 glasses of champagne

1 cup fresh cranberries
4 tablespoons water or cranberry juice
1 tablespoon sugar

Combine the cranberries, water or juice and sugar together in a small sauce pan and cook over medium-low heat until cranberries have mostly all popped (about 5 minutes or so). You should have a cranberry sauce of sorts. Cool and set aside until ready to use. The mixture will thicken upon standing. Pour glasses of champagne, adding about a tablespoon of the cranberry mixture to each glass. Enjoy!

Thanks to everyone who came last night! I had a ball and can't wait to do it again!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Panamanian Pinto Beans with Ham and Rice with Coconut Milk

Panamanian Pinto Beans with coconut rice

note: this recipe is vegetarian, better yet, vegan if made without the pork.

My friend Becca wrote that she was making this for dinner last week on good ole Facebook. I wrote back something like"Um...YUM! I need the recipe". She was good enough to oblige and now I have a solid introduction to Panama cuisine that I can share with you guys!

Becca got this recipe from her Au Pair a few years back. She was Panamanian and it is a staple out there. The kind of food you make over and over through the generations..."no big deal" food, which is my favorite, especially when it's ethnic. She says it's usually served with these small red beans which we can't get in the states (or not that she knows of anyway) so she uses pinto beans. When you cook the rice with the coconut milk it get's thicker, not unlike rice pudding. Glorious things happen in this bowl!

Panamanian Pinto Beans with Ham and Rice with Coconut Milk

serves 4-5

1 package dried pinto beans
2 cups brown or white rice (or whatever you need to serve 4)
1 can coconut milk
sea salt
1 package of salt pork or ham hock (you can skip this and make it vegetarian)
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
Sea salt, to taste (about 2-3 teaspoons, at least)
a few handfuls of cilantro, chopped
lime wedges for squeezing over top

For the rice:
Make rice according to package instructions substituting 1 can of coconut milk for part of the amount of water called for and adding 1 teaspoon of sea salt. (I made 2 cups of rice. The coconut milk measured out to about 1 1/2 cups and I filled the rest of the liquid called for with water. (I needed to add more water towards the end because my rice was not cooked through and all the liquid was absorbed. My pot boiled over twice though, so, If need be, you can do that too.)

For the beans:
Place a bag of dried pinto beans in a large stockpot with enough water to cover the beans by 2-3 inches. Place the pot on a stove and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down, place the lid on and take off the heat. Let it sit for 1 1/2 hours. Alternately, you can soak the beans overnight in room temperature water before using.

Drain the beans, then fill the pot with enough fresh water to cover the beans by two and a half inches if using a wide large pot, three inches if using a smaller to medium sized pot. The beans will soak up more water and also evaporate some during the cooking process. Add the salt pork, bay leaf and 2 garlic cloves. (It is very important not to add salt to the beans until they have cooked through. It will make them tough). Simmer, covered all day (5-7 hours) until tender. Remove and discard the pork. At this point, the beans should be swimming in the water with maybe about a 1/2" of water covering them (less than that is okay). If you have more, remove some of the water. Add the chili powder, garlic salt, garlic powder, cumin, sea salt to taste, and stir. Taste the broth and adjust seasonings as necessary. It will probably need more salt. Let the beans simmer with the newly added spices for five minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary (important to taste since you will have varying amounts of water in your pot to season). 

Serve beans with a bit of their juices on top of the coconut rice and top with a generous amount of cilantro and fresh lime juice.

This is a meal within itself. I wrote the recipe with the amounts of spices I used when making this. Becca's original directions were much more relaxed. It sounded something like this: you just replace the water for the rice with a can of coconut milk, adding more water if you have to make whatever amount of liquid necessary. You will want to add sea salt. I cook the beans on the stove all day long and season them well with chili powder, cumin, and fresh garlic and serve the beans over the rice with fresh squeezed lime and cilantro.

My point in saying that is if you are comfortable, take Becca's directions and wing it. I am more comfortable following directions so that is why I included measurements here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Leeks Vinaigrette

Did I ever tell you that I meal plan every week? I do. I usually look at the coming weeks weather forecast and plan meals according to how cold or blustery and or how sunny and warm it's supposed to be and come up with meals according to that. Warm=Salads, grilled fish, etc. Cold=soups, stews, roasts and cozy sides like leeks vinaigrette. It's cold this week.

I meal plan because there is an art to cooking, and that's why I so adore it. Thought goes into which member of the family likes what, to planning time to cook, and yes, looking at the weather to make sure what I serve is going to be appropriate. Call me crazy but I don't want chili when it's 55 degrees and sunny (55 degrees in Steamboat during the winter is like summer time). So I meal plan. Sometimes shopping for a full weeks worth of food is daunting, especially if I have 3 little kids to haul to the store, so I break it up into two shorter trips for those times. I'll shop on Monday for groceries through Thursday and then go again at the end of the week.

I like to be thoughtful about food because the pace of life today is so quick, and we often feel so rushed and disconnected from one another, that it's easy to forget how powerful the ritual of eating together can be. To be able to sit at the table, passing food, sharing stories of the day, with the sense that for an hour or so, the outside world can be set aside, is a gift to embrace. Some days life is sweet, other days life can be hard, but the one thing we can always strive to do, is to partake of the comfort and pleasure of sharing a meal with those we hold dear. Thank you to the great Thomas Keller, for helping me define that in my life.

Dinner to me is almost like a love letter to my family. I'm fortunate enough to enjoy the preparation of such meals. There are other areas of my life (ahem...laundry) that are not as pleasurable for me, but I do it anyway for the same reason. It is an honor for me to be the wife of a husband I respect and adore and the mother to children I am honored enough to be around. I love them and take care of them. Of course there are nights when I don't take delight in the precision of my cutting skills while chopping vegetables. I'm tired. I'm done. I don't want to make dinner EVERY night. And I don't. But when I need to, I dig down deep and remember why I do this. That it is my great privilege to serve my family in this way. And sometimes, that includes meticulously cleaning leeks.

Leeks might not be a familiar side dish to us Americans, but to the French, it's about as everyday as it can gets. You boil trimmed leeks in very salty water until soft and toss them with homemade vinaigrette and because of the method in which you cook them, they transform from leeks with vinaigrette to something finer, to leeksandvinaigrette, rich and saucy, or so Molly over at Orangette likes to say. She got this recipe when she lived in France for college. Her host mother, Corentine, would make these weekly. I imagine she had been making them her whole life and that they amounted to nothing special in her mind...just some cooked leeks tossed in vinegar and oil. Those French just don't know how very chic they can be sometimes. Actually, I take that back. They probably most definitely do.

Leeks Vinaigrette
adapted from the blog, "Orangette" by Molly Weisenberg

2 to 3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 to 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ tsp. salt, or more to taste
6 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small to medium shallot, minced
2 lb. small leeks (about 7 or 8)

Optional garnishes
Finely chopped bacon
Finely chopped hard-boiled egg

In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon mustard, and salt. Gradually whisk in the olive oil, mixing until emulsified. Taste. This dressing should be fairly bright, and the mustard flavor should come through, but not too powerfully. Adjust as needed with vinegar, mustard, and/or salt. When you’re happy with it, add the shallots, whisking to blend. Set aside. Be sure to taste it again later, just before tossing it with the leeks, so that if necessary, you can adjust it according to their flavor.

Lay a clean kitchen towel on the counter near the stove. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and salt it well. It should taste like sea water.

While the water comes to a boil, prepare the leeks. Trim away the hair-like roots, but take care not too cut in too far; you want the leek to stay intact. Cut off and discard the dark green leafy parts, leaving just the white and pale green stalk. Starting about 1 inch from the root end, so as to keep the white part intact, cut lengthwise down the middle of the leek. (If you were to splay the cut leek open, it should look like a stubby Y.) Wash the leeks well under running water, flushing any dirt from between the layers. Boil until they are very, very tender and yield easily to a knife. Their color will become muted, and they may be falling apart a little. That’s okay. To be sure they’re done, taste one: it should taste sweet, with no trace of raw flavor. The amount of time that this will take depends on their size, but it will probably take longer than you think. Ten minutes is a good bet.

Draining the leeks as well as you can, transfer them to the kitchen towel on the counter. Blot and press them dry. (Don’t burn yourself!) While they’re still hot, put them in a bowl, and toss them with a generous amount of the dressing. Allow to cool at least slightly before serving.

These leeks are slightly sweet and oniony. They would be perfect as a side to a steak dinner, but really, anything works with these guys. We had an all veggie night where we just prepared a lot of vegetables different ways, got out a loaf of fantastic bread made by a local bakery and called it dinner. It was delicious.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mexican Pot Roast Tacos

I talk a lot about taking a casual food, such as tacos, and elevating it to a level of greatness, or restaurant quality by raising the bar with it. I don't change things drastically. After all, a taco should still be a taco in that it's something familiar and unfussy. But what takes a Mexican seasoned ground beef, iceberg lettuce and cheese topped taco from "everyday" to "wow" is what I absolutely love. This recipe is a perfect example of that. I adore this recipe because it tastes genuine, real and authentic. All the familiar flavors of Mexico are there...chilies, tomatoes, beef, cilantro, onion, chile powder and cumin, but you can't discern that from one bite. All the ingredients meld together to form something else entirely and you know, right away that it's special. It's the type of taco that you would order and come back for. The type of thing you make for your friends once and for every other time you invite them, they forever request tacos.

You top these babies with cool shredded lettuce, cilantro sprigs, lime, quesco fresco cheese crumbles and a fresh salsa. The right toppings can make all the difference in authenticity and I don't suggest you stray far from this. Somehow, throwing some cheddar on top of this beautiful roast meat would degrade it in a humiliating way. There's that drama I'm known for. No but really, stay true to the Mexican cuisine when making this, it really will make it or break it. I made a quick blender salsa to go with these (tomatoes, cilantro, onion, serrano pepper, garlic, lime, lemon, a touch of cumin and lots of salt) and it was perfect.If you must buy salas from the store, lean towards the refrigerated pico de gallo varieties and stay away from the jarred stuff which is too sweet.

Mexican Pot Roast Tacos
adapted from "Dinner At My Place" by Tyler Florence
serves 6

Pot Roast:

Extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds shoulder of beef (or pot roast)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large onion, cut into wedges
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes (or regular canned plum tomatoes)
3 dried red chilies
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

For serving:
Fresh medium corn tortillas, warmed over an open flame
3 cups finely shredded romaine lettuce
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
1/3 pound Cotija cheese, crumbled (also sometimes called queso fresco)
2 limes, cut into wedges for garnish
Fresh salsa

Drizzle beef shoulder with oil, then season with plenty of salt and black pepper. Set a large, heavy-based pot over medium-high heat. Sear on all sides until you have a nice brown crust, adding additional oil to the pan as necessary to prevent sticking. Add onion and garlic to the pot and stir until they caramelize a little and have contact with the bottom of the pot. Add tomatoes with juice, chilies, cumin, chile powder, and the 1/2 bunch of cilantro. Add about 2 inches of water to the pot. You want the liquid to almost cover the meat. Crush tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Cover and simmer until the meat is is fork tender and comes apart with little resistance, about 4 hours. Once cooked, use a wooden spoon or two forks to break apart the meat. Mix the meat with the tomato pieces and onion from the pot and add a ladle of the liquid for moisture. Discard the rest of the liquid. Season the meat with salt and pepper and add the vinegar and mix to combine.

The rule of thumb, generally, is the longer you cook this the more tender it will be. If you need this tender faster, cut your meat up into smaller pieces before searing. Just check the meat with a fork after a couple hours. If it's falling apart tender, it's ready. If it's not, keep cooking it making sure to keep a low simmer.

Seasoning the meat with the salt, pepper and vinegar once cooked is key. The vinegar is a perfect compliment to the meat, making it come alive and taste fresh. When getting ready to cook the roast, you shouldn't need to add much more than a cup to 2 cups or so of water to your pot. If you need much more you should use a smaller pot so as not to water down the spices, especially since the vegetables will generate more liquid naturally, as they cook. When I made this, I noticed the meat that was under water was more tender than the meat that was poking out, which is fine, but is just a testimony to make sure there is ample liquid in your pot. You can double this recipe easily. I used a dutch oven and crammed all the ingredients in it and I think it made for a better pot roast.

My Safeway doesn't always have a "pork shoulder" like the recipe calls for. You can use any shape or sized pot roast for this recipe, however, if it's bigger than 3 pounds, I suggest cutting your meat into smaller pieces, like in thirds so it will get tender, faster.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Italian Hot Cocoa

The snow is snowin', the wind is blowin', but I can weather the storm. What do I care if icicles form? I've got hot cocoa to keep me warm!

I took some liberties with that Christmas song. Forgive me. Don't know it? It's "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" by Billie Holiday and it happens to be one of my favorites this time of year.

I meant what I said though. I don't give one iota that it's dumping snow right now. You know why? Because I am home, nestled it it's warmth and love, slowly sipping thick and rich homemade cocoa topped with really sweet, softly whipped cream. How's that for adjective overload? Oh, I forgot to mention the best part, which is it's Italian. Everything is more fabulous with an accent.

Italians like a very dense cocoa and thicken it with cornstarch so that it attains an almost puddinglike or chocolate sauce consistency. More chocolate sauce than pudding, but you get the point. For a thinner version, add more milk, water, or half and half or mix in some strong brewed coffee or espresso.

Iv'e heard of the famous hot chocolate that you get in Paris. It's famous for the very same reason as the Italian, namely being thick and rich. The French hot chocolate you get is mostly milk and real chocolate that's been melted into it. The real chocolate (as opposed to a cocoa powder) makes it thick. American hot chocolate is mostly cocoa powder, some sugar and water or milk and very thin. the Italians, like I mentioned above prefer to thicken with cornstarch and it makes for a very smooth and velvety drink. Think decadent.

Italian Hot Cocoa
adapted from "The Joy Of Cooking"

Makes 2 1/2 cups. Serves 2

Stir together in a medium, heavy saucepan:
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch or arrowroot

Stir in thoroughly and slowly while whisking and set over medium low heat:
1 cup water
1 cup whole milk

Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat until the mixture is thickened and coats a spoon, about 10 minutes. Stir in:
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

Top each serving with:
Very sweet whipped cream

VARIATION: For and Italian Mocha, prepare Italian Hot Cocoa above, substituting 1 cup strong brewed coffee, or 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup espresso, for the water.

Make sure to cook this until it thickens up properly. It should take most of the 10 minutes to do so. In-between stirrings, a"skin" might form on top but don't worry, it will mix together easily. This is not so thick that it feels wrong drinking it. I once had some "chocolate soup" and it was too thick for my liking. This is just thick enough. Bellisimo!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chipotle Kissed Red Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

I bought a cookbook last summer called "Fresh From The Vegetarian Slow Cooker" and have made this recipe from it three times. I have not made any other recipe from that book. I guess I need to branch out, but this chili is so original and so fun I can't pass it up when I open the book. The texture varies a bit each time I make it only because I'm working with sweet potatoes. The longer it does it's thing in the slow cooker, the thicker it will be, like in this picture. If you cook this for only 4-5 hours it will be a bit thinner and the food will be more defined, Which is more ascetically pleasing to the eye. Whether you like it thick or thin, the taste is the same. People who don't usually like sweet potatoes will like them in this because as with any chili, the whole dish takes on it's own flavor and everything tastes like everything else. It's a beautiful thing.

"Vegan Craig" Is staying with us for a couple days. He was never "Vegan Craig" but rather, just Craig until a few days ago when his wife called him by that name in a text and I laughed so hard, I've been calling him it ever since. You see, Craig is vegan now. He used to be rather large and eat a block of cheese a night. Before dinner. Now he is svelte, healthy and well...vegan. This chili, coincidentally is vegan, so it was only fitting that I make this for him while he was here. He left this morning sadly. Craig is a great guest. My husband and Craig have been friends forever and he and Sally, his wife, used to live here but alas, they moved a couple months ago. Luckily they are the traveling type so we will be seeing them from time to time for sure.

I don't like to label things as being "vegan" up front, or like in the title, because I feel it turns people who are not vegan off. I like lots of dishes that happen to be vegan, but probably wouldn't have tried them out had they been labeled "vegan". You know what I mean? Maybe I am the only one with this fear.

Chipotle Kissed Red Bean and Sweet Potato Chili
adapted from "Fresh From The Vegetarian Slow Cooker" by Robin Robertson

serves 4-6

1 medium-sized yellow onion, chopped
1 medium-sized red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder, or more to taste
3 small sweet potatoes, (1 1/2 lbs) peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
One 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 (15.5-ounce) cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups water (more if necessary. You need to just cover all the ingredients with it)
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or more to taste
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, or to taste
cilantro, fresh tomato, red onion for topping (optional)

Add all ingredients except the chipotle chiles, into the slow cooker. Make sure you add enough water to just cover the top of all the ingredients. You can add more than the 2 cups of water if necessary.

Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. When ready to serve add the chipotle chilies to the slow cooker and taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary.

Serve and top with chopped cilantro, fresh diced tomatoes and red onion.

Keep in mind the chipotle chiles in adobo are pretty spicy. My kids can eat this with the 1 tablespoon recommended but they like spicy things. If you are sensitive, try adding 1/2 tablespoon first (about 1/2 a pepper) and tasting before adding more. The chipotles are what give this a pleasing smokey flavor so don't leave them out all together.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Linguine with Lemon, Garlic and Thyme Mushrooms

This is some speedy linguine. You do no more to the mushrooms than slice them, steep them in oil, garlic, lemon and thyme and toss them into hot cooked pasta. The only thing you cook is the pasta. It's sort of weird for me to not cook the mushrooms in a saute pan first, but since they sit and marinate in the lemon/oil mixture, it sort of "cooks" and softens them before you add them to the pasta. the dressed mushrooms also make a great salad, but in which case boost the quantities of sliced mushrooms (keeping other ingredients the same, and obviously you're omitting the pasta altogether) to 6 cups. If all you can find is regular button mushrooms, this pasta is still worth making- so no excuse for not, or so Nigella Lawson says, who is the creator of this recipe. Obviously, I get excited about tossing all sorts of varieties in there...Trumpet, oyster, and cremini, since I've never met a mushroom I didn't like. This is a perfect, casual weeknight supper if I've ever seen one and I'm glad to have it in my repertoire.

One word of caution that I would give is to resist the urge to add more garlic. If you are like me, the one clove for the whole dish seems puny but you have to remember it stays raw and so it is quite flavorful. Too much garlic and it will get too spicy. This is a robust pasta and is very lemony. I love that, but I mention it because not everybody does, and if that is you I recommend only using half of the lemons juice instead of the whole thing. I'm kind of from the more lemon the better camp, so this is right up my ally.

Linguine with Lemon, Garlic and Thyme Mushrooms
adapted from Nigella Lawson Express

8 ounces (4 cups) finely sliced cremini mushrooms (or a mix of any varieties)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Kosher salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 sprigs fresh thyme stripped to give 1 teaspoon leaves
1 pound linguini ( I used whole wheat)
1 bunch fresh, flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped to give 1/2 cup
2 to 3 tablespoons freshly grated Paremsan, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

Slice the mushrooms finely, and put them into a large bowl with the oil, salt, minced garlic, lemon juice and zest, and thyme leaves.

Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions and drain loosely retaining some water (see note). Quickly put the pasta into the bowl with the mushroom mixture.

Toss everything together well, and then add the parsley, cheese and pepper before tossing again. Eat with joy in your heart (Nigella's words, not mine).

*note- you want a little of the starchy cooking liquid from the pasta to go into the mushroom mixture with your pasta. The little bit of water helps to make the dish saucier because of the starch.

Well we are back from Lincoln, NE where we celebrated Thanksgiving with Jeremy's family. We all got sick while we were there. I'm happy to report that I was less sick than Jeremy but it was still no fun not being able to participate in everything and rather just sit like a lump on the couch. :( On an up note, my birthday was yesterday and we went to Cafe Diva, the best restaurant in town to celebrate with friends for dinner. There was Champagne and duck confit pizza with apple butter and gruyere, crab and tomato bisque, bouillabaisse, and gingerbread with marscapone gelato. It was a good night indeed. Oh, and I also got a manicure and pedicure. Sparkly christmas red for my toes, and a sparkly dark blue for my hands. I was feeling edgy and Paris chic, with that choice. ;)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Roasted Tomato Soup with Fresh Basil

It's just a couple days before Thanksgiving and I am writing about tomato soup. It doesn't seem right. By all intents and purposes I should be blogging about Justin Timberlake's Grandmothers Pecan Pie that I made last week, but alas, it was just so-so and I didn't snap a picture of it. So, with all that said...Tomato soup it is and a dang good one at that. This is a smack down tomato soup. If you are having a tomato soup throw down, make this one because it's everything a tomato soup should be. It's bold and rich, satisfying and creamy with subtle garlic notes. Roasting the fresh tomatoes with onions and garlic before making the soup, really develops and deepens the flavor of the whole thing. Adding the croutons is a perfect salty crunch that sends it over the edge. The bottoms soak up the soup and become soft while the top keeps it's texture. I love that.

I abide by a simple method when making croutons. Just cut your bread of choice (preferably something crusty and hearty) into bite sized cubes. Heat a skillet up over moderately high heat and add a couple tablespoons of olive oil. When the pan is hot, add the cubes of bread and season liberally with salt and pepper, tossing the whole time to be sure it does not burn. When your bread has dried out and is a bit crusty, your croutons are ready, about 3-4 minutes.

Roasted Tomato Soup with Fresh Basil
adapted from"Stirring the Pot" by Tyler Florence

serves 4

2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes (mix of heirlooms, cherry, vine, and plum tomatoes)
2 small yellow onions, sliced
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream (I scaled this back to about 1/4 cup)
1 cup croutons (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wash, core, and cut the tomatoes into halves. Spread the tomatoes, onions, and garlic onto a baking tray. (Add the cherry tomatoes whole). Drizzle with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-30 minutes, until caramelized.

Transfer the roasted tomatoes and the onions and garlic to a large stockpot. pour in any roasting liquid from the tray, about 3 cups of the chicken broth, the bay leaves, and butter. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until liquid has reduced by a third.

Remove and discard bay leaves. Add chopped basil leaves. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. You can also puree in batches in a regular blender. Return soup to low heat; add the 3/4 cup cream and adjust consistency with remaining chicken broth, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls. if you like, garnish each bowl with fresh chopped basil and croutons.

Were headed to Nebraska this Thanksgiving to celebrate with Jeremy's side of the family. A snow storm is supposed to move in the day we leave. Joy, right? Have a happy start to the holiday, be safe, and when you get tired of turkey, turn to this soup.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Old Fashioned Apple Crisp


This dessert is out of this world good and oh so comforting. It is definitely one of my personal favorites and I have Mrs. Ina Garten to thank for it. I have a lot of things to thank her for.

What you get in the finished product is apples, sweet and soft, seasoned to perfection with cinnamon and a topping that is crunchy and carmel-y tasting from the brown sugar added to it. It's really a knock out. Add some Breyers vanilla bean ice cream and whoever you are serving this to is bound to be one happy camper! I made this dessert for SK8 church so I didn't even get to have any, sniffle. But let me tell you it was shear torture smelling it. Okay, so I took a few pinches from the topping and snarfed, you caught me. It was the highlight of my day. I'm not dramatic much, am I? Seriously, I've made this particular dessert more than a few times so I know full well what I was missing.

As with most crisps, this is very rustic so it would be perfect on your thanksgiving table as a different option along with the usual pumpkin pie. It won't be on my Thanksgiving table this year, however, because I am a severe traditionalist (at least in this point of my life I am) and on Thanksgiving we have 3 different pies. Two Pumpkin, a Dutch Apple and Pecan. No ifs, ands or butts about it. But seeing as how we have Dutch apple, we will sort of get the same kind of taste as the crisp. But, you can bet your bottom dollar that I'm inviting some people over for dinner though, just so I can make this crisp. Not that you need an excuse. Only if you want to spread the love it will surely bring.

Old Fashioned Apple Crisp
adapted from "Barefoot Contessa Parties!"

serves 10

5 pounds McIntosh or Macoun apples
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. butter a 9 x 14 x 2-inch oval baking dish.

Peel, core, and cut apples into large wedges. Combine the apples with the juices, sugar and spices. Pour into the dish.

To make the topping, combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. mix on low speed until the mixer is crumbly and the butter is the size of peas. Scatter evenly over the apples.

Place the crisp on a sheet pan and bake for one hour until the top is brown and the apples are bubbly. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

In the recipe I say to peel the apples. You might be able to tell in my picture that I didn't peel the apples. That would be why there is a tinge of pink to the final product. Do what I say not as I do. Listen, I was making 5 batches of this. I can't peel 30 apples and stay sane, give me a break! But I usually do, so do it if you can. Otherwise cheat like me, it looks pretty good, and I won't tell. Also, Ina adds the zest of both a lemon and orange to her apples with the spices and sugar before baking. I omit it because I think it imparts too much of a citrus-y note in an otherwise homey dessert. If you like it, knock yourself out.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Easy Lemon Broccoli

I'm sure this is a standard method in which to cook broccoli or any vegetable for that matter, but I just winged it the other night with no recipe to refer to. I know, I'm such a little dare devil sometimes. But seriously, broccoli can be so boring and I find myself not serving it a whole lot because it's not as tasty as I'd like it to be. Not anymore. Broccoli has it's groove back in my house and it was welcomed, even by the children with open arms.

I like it this way because it's fresh and delicately flavorful with out being weighed down with butter, which some people do, or cheese. Now I'm not hating on the cheese and broccoli thing. I make a roasted broccoli with Parmesan which is a real winner, but sometimes you just want something lighter...fresher. This is it. I like to have my ingredients chopped and ready to go before I boil the broccoli. That way while it's boiling I can make my "sauce" quickly and the whole dish is ready and hot at the same time. Make this just before sitting down to dinner. It takes less than 10 minutes start to finish if you have your water boiling and waiting for you.

Easy Lemon Broccoli

serves 4-6

3 medium broccoli heads
2 fat garlic cloves, minced
zest of 1 whole lemon
juice from 1/2- 1 whole lemon, depending on your taste. (I use the whole thing)
2 tablespoons olive oil or grape seed oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 a lemon cut in half moons for garnish (optional)
Kosher salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil with a few hefty pinches of salt. This will flavor the broccoli from the inside out. Separate the broccoli heads into florets, chop your garlic and zest your lemon. When the water is at a boil, add the florets into the pot and boil for 3-4 minutes, just until the broccoli is bright green and fork tender but still has a little bite to it. In essence, don't over cook! meanwhile melt the butter and oil together in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Don't let the broccoli get brown. Turn the heat down to medium low. Add the lemon zest and red pepper flakes if using. Set the pan off the heat if need be while you strain the broccoli, so as not to burn anything. Add the cooked broccoli to the pan, and the lemon juice and lemon pieces if using. Add a pinch of salt and toss to combine either off the heat or on low heat.

If the broccoli gets too hot while tossing, it will turn brown which can make it taste bitter so that is why I say to combine everything off the heat. This is a perfect addition to a weeknight dinner with some blackened fish or baked chicken and a baked potato. There I go meal planning for you again. Sorry. You can make it with whatever you like. Fancy that!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Petite Vanilla Bean Scones

A couple weeks ago my friend Kel sent me a link for these scones from The Pioneer Woman Cooks website. She was drooling over them and said we must make them. I had to agree, they looked pretty darn good. Then, a little over a week ago Kel came to my house to catch up on a Beth Moore bible study video we had missed. She mentioned in the e-mail in which she said she was for sure coming that we should most definitely have something scrumptious to eat, like those vanilla scones...hint hint. Sweet friend that she is, offered to make them, although she didn't have vanilla beans but I knew she would be gone all day, and you see, I always have vanilla beans. So I made them, they were so good, almost like a butter cookie in consistency and taste with a glaze that tasted like Breyers vanilla bean ice cream. That being said, they were only delicately sweet. These really would be a good accompaniment to you morning coffee but are equally fit for dessert.

I have to confess, I messed up a bit. I didn't have whole milk on hand for the glaze so I substituted cream. It sounded good, but the consistency was off since cream is thicker and I had to add more and more to get it right. That meant sadly that there wasn't enough powdered sugar to cream in the ratio and so the glaze didn't harden up properly but they still tasted good! The moral of the story is use whole milk people, and you will get it right.

Petite Vanilla Bean Scones
adapted from Ree Drummond via The Pioneer Woman Cooks Website

makes 24 small scones. Serves 12

3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cups sugar
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, chilled
1 whole large egg
3/4 cups heavy cream (more if needed)
2 whole vanilla beans (note you will need another for the glaze as well)

3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cups whole milk
1 whole vanilla bean
dash of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Split two vanilla beans down the middle lengthwise and scrape out all of the vanilla beans inside. Stir vanilla beans into the cream and let it set, set aside for 15 minutes so the flavors can intermingle.

Put the flour, 2/3 cup sugar, baking powder and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Cut cold butter into pats, then add to the food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles crumbles. Alternately, you can cut the butter in the flour mixture with a pastry cutter.

Mix vanilla cream with egg, then with the food processor running pour the vanilla cream mixture in to combine with the flour mixture until it comes together. (I had to add a bit more cream to get the dough to come together). Alternately, if you have used the pastry cutter method, stir the cream into your flour mixture with a fork, gently, until it comes together.

Turn dough onto a floured surface and lightly press it together until it forms a rough rectangle (mixture might be a bit crumbly) Use a rolling pin to roll into a rectangle about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick. Use your hands to help with the forming if necessary. use a knife to trim into a symmetrical rectangle, then cut the rectangle into 12 symmetrical squares. next , cut each square in half diagonal, to form two triangles.

Transfer to a parchment or baking mat-lined cookie sheet and bake for 18 minutes, removing from the oven just before they start to turn golden. Allow to cool for 15 minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.


To make the icing, split one vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the caviar. Stir caviar into milk; allow to sit for a while. Mix powdered sugar with the vanilla milk, adding more powdered sugar or milk if necessary to get the consistency to the right thickness. It should be thick, but still pour easily. Stir or whisk until completely smooth.

One at a time, carefully dunk each cooled scone in the glaze, turning it over if necessary. that depends on if you want he whole scone coated, front and back or just the top. Transfer to a parchment paper or the cooling rack. Allow the glaze to set completely, about an hour. Scones will keep several days if glazed.

Don't make these scones without the vanilla beans, they just will not be the same. Vanilla beans impart such a lovely, luxurious flavor that you just can't get from the bottled stuff. I know they are expensive, but I usually buy them in bulk. Sure you have to spend more money but you get a ton of vanilla beans, like 25 of them at a fraction of the price, plus they keep forever, literally, if properly stored where no air can get to them. Just google "bulk vanilla beans".

Also, these in my opinion would make a great Christmas cookie since they don't puff up a ton in the oven. Just cut them into rounds with a biscuit cutter or cookie cutter instead of making them into rectangles, glaze the same way and call them a vanilla bean butter cookies. Great idea. And if you make these, I would like to get some too. :)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Authentic Enchilada Sauce and Chicken Enchiladas plus Enchilada Shrimp Soup

 Authentic Enchilada Sauce

I have been making this enchilada sauce for years. It's the first sauce I attempted and never made another one since. You know when you just nail the perfect recipe the first go around? That's what this one is for me. It's so authentic with a little smokiness and spice in the background, and a perfect balance between the tomatoes and chilis. It tastes like a little old lady living in an adobe house in central Mexico whipped this up. And if you are going to make homemade enchilada sauce, it should, right?


My Aunt Colleen is the one who introduced me to this recipe. It's from her friend Cecila. Cecilia is a gourmet chef and the owner of a catering company. She grew up in Mexico and learned how to make this enchilada sauce as a child from the servants that worked for her parents (swanky, huh?) These enchiladas are Cecilia's most popular menu item, probably in part to the sauce, but also because she wraps a hefty amount of chicken in each fried corn tortilla, bakes it to perfection with a bit of Jack cheese and tops it with a bunch of cold toppings. When I say a bunch, I'm not joking. She sets out trays of shredded iceberg lettuce, sour cream, sliced radishes, cilantro, lime wedges, avocado slices, and olives. It's the mixture of hot and cold, crunchy and soft that makes this dish special.

Enchiladas and Homemade Sauce

The sauce itself is easy. The only step needed before putting the whole thing together is softening the chilis in boiling water then removing the seeds. Next, just throw the chili's in a blender with onion, garlic and enough water to blend and puree until smooth. Add it to a pot with tomato sauce and spices and you are set to go. I usually double the recipe because this keeps so well in the freezer and I'm always excited to use it.

Enchilada Sauce
adapted from Cecilia

3 bags Pasillo or Pasilla chili's- they are shorter, darker and wrinklier than "california chili's"
(about 4-5 come in a bag)
1 onion, cut in quarters
5 coves of garlic
2 28oz cans tomato sauce
2 Tbsp tomato or chicken bullion
1 tsp salt (I added more)
optional: just a touch of cumin and oregano

Simmer pasillo chili's in a pot of water until soft (approx. 30 min.) Put a lid on the pot if you have trouble keeping the chilies underwater. Drain the chili's in a colander in the sink. Once chili's have cooled enough to touch, rip the stems off and remove seeds (I just run them under water to make quick work of it. The unwanted parts go right into the garbage disposal) and place in a blender. Blend chili's with the onion and garlic, adding 1/2 to 1 cup of water to make a smooth paste. Put the paste in a saucepan and add tomato sauce, salt, bullion, cumin and oregano if using. You can add water if you think it's too thick. It should be the consistency of spaghetti sauce. Simmer for 30 minutes. Cool completely and refrigerate until ready to use, or store in quart size freezer Ziplock bags and freeze for future use.

This sauce is foundation. The heat chili's give off is varying. If you get a spicy batch you can add more tomato sauce to make it less spicy. Mine was fine with the quantities as written, but it did have a little spice to it which I like. Taste and adjust what you need to.

Authentic Chicken Enchiladas

Assembling the Chicken Enchiladas:

Boil a chicken for 45 minutes. Remove the meat from the bone. One chicken will make one dozen enchiladas (more if you use less chicken in each one) OR buy a rotisserie chicken and remove the meat from the bones.

Fry corn tortillas in vegetable oil over medium heat on both sides, briefly. Oil must be very hot. Fry for about 30 seconds on one side, 20 on the other or until the tortilla is starting to crisp up but is still pliable enough to wrap around the chicken. Put on paper bags or towels and stack.

Dip fried tortillas in enchilada sauce (you can probably tell I skipped this step from the picture, shame same, but I usually do it and it tastes better). Wrap around a good amount of chicken. Line them up in a 9x13 pan. Pour more sauce and grated jack cheese over the pan of enchiladas and bake in a 350 degree oven until warm, about 30 minutes.

*THIS IS KEY- Serve the enchiladas with a variety of cold toppings...shredded lettuce, sour cream, sliced radishes, cilantro, lime wedges, avocado slices, and black olives. It's the mixture of hot and cold, crunchy and soft that makes this dish special.

Enchilada Shrimp Soup

Cecilia's Easy Shrimp Soup using Enchilada Sauce:

Here is another delicious main dish to make using the enchilada sauce. This soup is hearty. The ingredients do not need to be measured. Just improvise.

Saute garlic, celery and onion
Add diced potatoes, carrots and water just to cover, simmer until potatoes are cooked through
Add some shrimp bullion and or chicken bullion and enchilada sauce (enough to make a soup consistency)
At the last minute, add loads of cut up pre-cooked shrimp

Serve with oregano, jack cheese, great bread and a salad.

When I made this, I used 2 garlic cloves, 2 stalks of celery, 1 small onion, 1 russet potato, 2 carrots, 2 1/2 cups of water, 2 1/2 teaspoons chicken bullion, 1 to 1 1/2 cups enchilada sauce and salt to taste. I also used about 4-5 shrimp per person. It served 4 people. Keep in mind you may need to add more or less of these ingredients for your desired taste.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hazelnut Custard Bread Pudding

So, I know there is probably some confusion on what exactly my favorite dessert is. Heck, you probably don't care in the least, but let's just pretend for a minute, shall we? If you have been reading for a while you probably think that my favorite dessert is one of two things, either bread pudding (in most any form) or chocolate cake (not flour less). You would be right. Both are my favorite depending on the day, mood, weather and my appetite. That being said, I try to eat them as often as I can in as many forms as I can.

I made this hazelnut variety and served it to my in-laws when they came over for dinner. My father-in-law is a big lover of bread pudding like me and my husband, so really there was no other option. I had never made this particular recipe before, but I am so glad I took a chance on it because it was out of this world good! It's a basic bread pudding, not too mushy, where the integrity of the bread is not compromised but keeps it's general shape up top. Then it is covered with a blanket of warm buttery sauce that is infused with Frangelico, a hazelnut liquor, instead of the traditional bourbon. It's outstanding. Really. I ate way too much of this that night and went to bed with a stomach ache. Not hard to do, as you will see when you make this. I'm not kidding when I say that. This recipe is supposed to feed 6-8 people but four of us polished it off, no problem. If you know us, it's not that surprising.

Hazelnut Custard Bread Pudding
adapted from

Makes 8 servings, theoretically

1 Italian or French loaf or 10 slices day-old white bread or cinnamon bread torn or cut into bite sized pieces
1 cup raisins (optional)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup Frangelico (hazelnut liquor)
7 tablespoons butter, cut up

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 2-quart rectangular baking dish. Place ton bread and raisins in prepared dish; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk, the 1 1/2 cups sugar, the 4 tablespoons melted butter, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and the nutmeg. Pour over bread and raisins in prepared dish.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool slightly.

Meanwhile, for sauce, in a small saucepan, combine the 2/3 cup sugar and the flour. Whisk in water and Frangelico until smooth. Add butter. Bring to boiling over medium heat. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla. Serve warm sauce over warm bread pudding.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Apple and Pecan Salad with Vidalia-Honey Vinaigrette

I don't usually make great salads. I'm going to just admit that one off the bat. I love a good salad but I find the ones I make at home just are not that exciting. Therefore, I don't make them a whole lot. My go to side salad is lettuce, cucumbers, avocado, green onion, cherry tomato and Italian dressing. It's fine, but nothing special. I like very put together salads. Kind's who have the perfect crisp lettuce to match the dressing and a great combo of ingredients (something kinda salty, something kinda crunchy, something kinda sweet) that compliment and balance each other. Basically, the salad has to speak to me. It has to say "I have tons of flavor and I'm very interesting, try me".

That's exactly what this salad did. It spoke to me. I have always loved Vidalia onion vinaigrette's but did not know how to make one from scratch until now. It's a great dressing. Slightly sweet and tangy with a solid carmel-y, onion-y foundation that just sings. It's perfect with greens, nuts (kinda crunchy), apple (kinda sweet) and well, cranberries, which are also kinda sweet, but, you could throw in some aged cubed cheddar if you are really wanting that kinda salty element.

We ate this along side a casual soup and it just stepped up the entire dinner. This salad is homey, special and so Fall. You could also eat this alone as a main course with a dinner roll because it's that satisfying. And I don't take eating salad for dinner lightly.

Vidalia-Honey Vinaigrette
adapted from Southern Living, Oct. 2010

1/2 cup chopped Vidalia onion
3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp vegetable oil(I used 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup cider vinegar, divided
1/4 cup honey
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Saute onion in 1 tbsp hot oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, stirring often, 8 minutes or until caramel colored. Add 2 tbsp. vinegar, stirring to loosen particles from bottom of skillet. Remove from heat; cool 5 minutes.

Process onion mixture, honey, salt, pepper, mustard, 1 Tbsp vinegar, and remaining oil (I recommend adding 1/2 cup oil and tasting before adding the other 1/4 cup to see if you even need it) in a blender or magic bullet for 30 seconds or until blended. Cover and chill 3 to 24 hours.

Apple and Pecan Salad
serves 4

5-6 cups salad greens (I used a mixture of green and purple butter lettuces)
1 large honeycrisp apple, chopped
a couple handfuls of toasted pecans
1 handful of dried cranberries
a handful of cubed of aged cheddar (optional)

Toss together with the vinaigrette and serve immediately

You won't need all the dressing for the salad. Just use enough to coat the leaves nicely and reserve the rest for another time. You can use whichever salad greens you prefer, but I used the butter leaf mix plus a few handfuls of baby arugula because it's hardy and can stand up nicely to the vinaigrette. This dressing is thick and will weigh down delicate greens such as arugula alone. Butter lettuces are a perfect match for this salad.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Summer Squash Risotto with Parmesan and Sage

As I write this post, I will be leaving every couple minutes to stir this risotto, which is happily simmering on my stove this very minute. Lucky us. It smells like a bona fide restaurant in here, I kid you not. Every time I make something by Tyler Florence, as this dish happens to be, it smells like that. The man does not disappoint. His measurements are off sometimes, but if you are a seasoned enough cook, you can remedy them pretty easily. (stir count so far since writing started: 2) But I've already stirred it about 10 times.

I have had a super productive day. So far I have baked 3 cakes (without frosting), done the dishes, 2 loads of laundry, tidied up the house, taken care of my 3 kids, visited with my friend, and now I'm making this stellar dinner. I feel quite accomplished and deserving of my glass of wine. That's the best part about risotto, in my opinion. Most of the (good) recipes call for wine to be added to the rice and it's a perfectly good time to pour yourself a glass, turn the music up and stir, stir, stir, baby! (stir count: 4)

Risotto has a bad rap. Most people think it is labor intensive and in need of babysitting. Both are true, but not bad. You just have to be in or around the kitchen, then add a little liquid and stir every few minutes. It's not hard or bad. It's actually enjoyable and the vegetables roast while the risotto is cooking and honestly it's a cinch to make. It's impressive though with a wonderful wine-y, parmesan-y depth of flavor, so make it when you want to impress. Or for casual Friday night dinner like me. It can go either way. If you make risotto once, you'll make it over and over. (stir count: 6)

Summer Squash Risotto with Parmesan and Sage
adapted from Dinner At My Place by Tyler Florence

serves 4 to 6

4 small summer squash
4 small zucchini
4 pattypan squash
1 large onion, sliced
1/4 bunch fresh thyme sprigs (4 sprigs), leaves only
extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch fresh sage springs, leaves only
1 medium onion
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 750-mililiter bottle dry white wine
2 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into thirds
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Riggiano cheese
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut squash, zucchini, and pattypan squash into circles and slice onion. Set out on a roasting tray and scatter thyme leaves over the top. Drizzle with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast in a preheated oven for 20 minutes, until golden brown and fragrant (It took my veggies about 45-50 minutes to cook through, so the cooking time could vary drastically depending on your oven. If you know your oven runs a bit cooler, like mine, bump the temperature up to 375 degrees and roast until vegetable are tender).

While the vegetables roast, start the risotto. Set a large heavy-based pot over medium heat. Pour a 3-count of oil (about 3 tablespoons) into the pot and fry the sage leaves until they are crispy and crackly. Drain leaves on paper towels and set aside. Add onion to the pot and saute until fragrant and slightly translucent. Add rice and cook for 2-3 minutes over medium heat as you stir with a wooden spoon. Add the wine; cook until mostly evaporated. Begin adding broth, a little at a time, allowing the rice to absorb the broth each time before adding more. Continue to do this until the rice is tender but still has a little bite. (add water if necessary, if you use all the broth before the rice is done.) To finish, add butter and Parmigiano-Riggiano and stir to combine. Serve risotto with roasted vegetables on top.

This recipe adapts well to your preferences. Don't love zucchini? Roast butternut squash, onion and sweet potato with some spinach. Or eggplant and tomato. The possibilities are endless. Can't cook with alcohol? First of all I feel SO sorry for you, but just substitute the total amount of wine called for with more vegetable or chicken broth. It won't be AS flavorful, but you'll still rock it. Here's a little tip; you don't have to add the liquid in such small amounts. You can add about a cup at a time which will cut down the cooking time, but you will have to sit and stir the whole time, so I leave you to pick your method.