Friday, October 29, 2010

Truffle Brownies

Hi there! I wrote this post back in June...June 29th actually, so I am posting this 4 months to the day after the fact. Why? Because I am currently on a much needed vacation in Denver alone with my husband, where we are doing whatever we want, when we want. Ahhh, this is the life...

Truffle brownies don't sound like something I would usually gravitate toward. I'm just now learning that I really like brownies in general. I used to think I didn't. Probably becuase they are overdone and so cliche. Also, a cop-out dessert for so many who use the box kind. I'm not trying to hate on boxed brownies, but they are not very "me". Sure, Ghiradelli got me through a few sad nights when I was about 8 months pregnant and craving brownie sundae's, but usually I'm a from scratch sort of girl.

The other thing is I used to think I didn't really enjoy dense and rich chocolate desserts. I don't much care for flourless tortes or chocolate molten lava cakes. So, when I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit for this rather dense, fudgy brownie with chocolate frosting on top and ran, literally ran to the kitchen to make them right away, I was quite surprised. I thought "well, this is odd". Then as I was measuring the sugar, I began to realize that one of my favorite desserts as a teenager was always brownie sundaes. Then, another startling revelation...My favorite dessert in the world (on most days) is a big piece of chocolate cake with chocolate icing. And, I always order a chocolate shake at In-N-Out burger. And, whats that dessert I love at that restaurant? Chocolate velvet pudding cake, is it? Hey now, maybe just becuase I don't care for certain rich chocolate desserts, doesn't mean I don't like them all together. Sometimes I don't think I know myself at all!

This particular species of brownie would fall into more of the fudgy catagory with a bittersweet, rich chocolate ganache on top. The recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate to be used for both the brownie and the topping, but if you are someone who likes their chocolate desserts a little more on the sweet side, I suggest you use semi-sweet chocolate for the ganache frosting. I used walnuts but they are optional.

Truffle Brownies
adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped and divided (or chips)
11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsley chopped
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Position rack in the center of the oven a preheat to 350 degrees. Line a 9x9x2 (I used a square 9" cake pan, but an 8x8 glass pyrex dish would work) with foil, leaving overhang (this is so you can lift the brownies out of the pan later for good cutting) Spray foil with nonstick vegetable spray. Combine 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate and butter in a meduim bowl. Set bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and stir until chocolate and butter are melted and smooth. Alternately just combine the butter and chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave in 30 second increments, stirring between until melted. Set melted chocolate mixture aside until lukewarm, 5-10 minutes.

Whisk sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and salt in alarge bowl to blend. Whisk in chocolate mixture. Stir in flour, then chopped toasted walnuts. Transfer batter to prepared baking pan. Bake brownies until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 26-28 minutes. Transfer pan to a cooling rack and let brownies cool completely. Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add remaining 6 ounces chocolate to hot cream and let stand 5 minutes to soften, then whisk until melted and smooth. Pour chocolate ganache over brownie sheet in pan and spread to cover completely. Let stand at cool room temperature until topping is set, about 4 hours. Can be made 1 day ahead. cover and store at room temperature.

Using foil as aid, lift brownie sheet from pan. Fold down foil edges. Using a large sharp knife, cut brownie sheet into 25 squares, wiping knife with hot moist cloth after each cut. Arrange brownies on a platter and serve.

Makes 25 squares

The key to perfectly moist, fudgy brownies is not to overcook them. As soon as the tester comes out with moist crumbs attached, remove the pan from the oven. My brownies were not done at 26 minutes, but at 29 minutes, they were perfect. If you are using an 8x8 pyrex pan, your brownies will be thicker and will need to bake slightly longer, but make sure you check them at the 30 minute mark.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Roasted Potato Leek Soup

Roasted Potato Soup

When the weather starts to get chilly I undoubtedly turn to my good friends, soup and stew to help bring me comfort. I make all different kinds and am always trying new recipes. I love potato soup and I make three different versions of it regularly in the cold months. The three versions I make fall into different categories: humble and casual (the usual suspects, potato, onion and bacon boiled to together) the crowd pleaser (a baked potato variety with skin and all the fixings) and a fancy schmancy pureed one with leeks, wine and lots of cream. That's the one I'm talking about today.

I didn't know potato soup could be elevated to such a high place. This version is without a doubt the most flavorful, complex, restaurant quality one that I've made. It does require a few extra steps, such as roasting the potato and leeks in the oven before pureeing and finishing it off, but trust me, it's simple and well worth it. It does take some time though, so make sure you start dinner at least an hour before you want to serve. Then, as the potatoes are roasting measure out all the other ingredients so they are ready to go when you are. I don't know about you but I hate having to stop and grate 1/4 cup of cheese while my soup is bubbling away waiting for me to hurry up already. You can also make the optional fried shallots to garnish while the potatoes are roasting. If you prepare ahead of time, you can be done in just over an hour from start to finish. Most of that time is to allow the potatoes to cook through.

This soup calls for a strange ingredient as far as potato soup is concerned: arugula. I'm not sure why, other than it adds pretty little green flecks throughout, that people will probably mistake for leeks. It does look gorgeous, while adding to the nutritional value so I always use it. You can't taste it at all, and like I said, people will take them for leeks so if you need to sneak some veggies into certain people in your family this is an ingenious way! Win-win!

Roasted Potato Leek Soup
adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
serves 6 to 8

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
4 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned of all sand (4 leeks)
1/4 cup good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups baby arugula, lightly packed
1/2 cup dry white wine, plus extra for serving
6 to 7 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup heavy cream
8 ounces creme fraiche (or sour cream)
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
Crispy shallots, optional, for garnish (recipe to follow)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Combine the potatoes and leeks on a sheet pan in a single layer. Add the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss to coat the vegetables evenly. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, turning them with a spatula a few times during cooking, until very tender. Add the arugula and toss to combine. Roast for 4 to 5 more minutes, until the arugula is wilted. Remove the pan from the oven and place over two burners. Stir in the wine and 1 cup of the chicken stock and cook over low heat, scraping up any crispy roasted bits sticking to the pan.

in batches, transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor (*see note) fitted with the steel blade, adding the pan liquid and about 5 cups of the chicken stock to make a puree. Pour the puree into a large pot or Dutch oven. Continue to puree the vegetables in batches until they're all done and combined in the large pot. Add enough of the remaining 1 to 2 cups of stock to make a thick soup. Add the cream, creme fraiche (or sour cream), 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and check the seasonings.

When ready to serve, reheat the soup gently and whisk in 2 tablespoons white wine and the parmesan cheese. Serve hot with an extra grating of parmesan cheese and crispy shallots, if using.

* be sure to use a food processor to blend the soup. If you use a blender it will cause the potatoes to get gummy. They are fickle things!

Crispy Shallots

1 1/2 cups olive oil or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 to 6 shallots, peeled and sliced into thin rings

Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat until it reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer (or until hot)

Reduce the heat to low, add the shallots, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until they are a rich golden brown. the temperature should stay below 260 degrees. Stir the shallots occasionally to make sure they brown evenly. Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon, drain well, and spread out to cool on paper towels. Once they have fried and crisped, they can be stored at room temperature, covered for several days, if not using right away.

So, the recipe calls for creme fraiche, as you can see, but I have made it both that way and using sour cream to substitute. There is no big difference, so use the sour cream if budget is a concern to you (and who isn't it a concern to?) But, there's no doubt that creme fraiche is special so use that if you are feeling fancy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Apple and Sharp Cheddar Grilled Cheese Monte Cristo with Maple Mustard

Apple, Cheddar maple Monticristo

It is done. There is snow on the ground in here, probably never to melt again before Spring. *sigh*. I'm not ready. I was outside 2 days ago, soaking up the warm autumn light, admiring trees with yellow leaves and bushes with red berries and it was so bittersweet because I knew what the weather forecast said. I knew a storm was coming. The next day I awoke to gray clouds and overcast skies with rain coming later in the day and lasting into the night. This morning I woke up to a white haze and a blanket of snow across the whole valley. There was enough for my kids to make a respectable snowman outside, who they named "Jolly" and while it was cute indeed, I just don't think I'm ready for this.

Apple, Cheddar maple Monticristo

I like the snow, don't get me wrong. I just wish It wouldn't fly until after Halloween every year and then abruptly stop after New Years. Instead, it usually starts in the beginning on October and doesn't begin to thaw until April, and even then, isn't officially gone until June. we have long winters in the mountains. We are blessed with more than our share of bluebird days (where the sky is bright blue, the sun is shining, the snow is crisp and clean and the air bitter cold), which gets us through. The other thing that gets me through is having an arsenal of comforting meals that are hearty on a cold day. When it's nasty out, I like to cook, and cook and cook, so it works out. It gives me something to do with purpose, while you wouldn't want to be outside anyway. I am homebound, so I might as well make the most of it, ya know? On days like today I love making soup and stews, chili's and the like while I also like to braise things, slow bake and therefore draw out the process. I love it. The world just seems like a better place when you have something bubbling away on the stove for dinner, hot chocolate heating up for the kids when they come stomping in from the cold, teeth chattering and noses red. And, a little hot lunch. Again, something hearty, warm and out of the ordinary does the trick on days like today. This apple, sharp cheddar and grilled cheese monte cristo with maple mustard...yes, you heard it right people, this sandwich is perfect and takes little effort for big results. I use the honey crisp apples because they are sweet and crunchy and in peak season this time of year. They are also a perfect match for sharp cheddar.

In the picture I took of the sandwich It looks chock full of apples. It would probably be better with only one layer of them, but I love apples, so what can I say? This is a monte cristo, not just a grilled cheese, because after you have assembled your sandwich you roll the whole outside in some egg, thinned out with a little milk and spiced with a bit of cinnamon, like you would french toast. Then you cook it in a skillet until the egg is cooked through in the bread and becomes custardy and then cheese is melted inside. The result? Perfection.

Apple and Sharp Cheddar Grilled Cheese Monte Cristo with Maple Mustard
adapted from Rachael Ray

Yield: 2 sandwiches, or 8 appetizer bites/snacks

4 1/2-inch thick slices good quality bread
2 tablespoons stone ground mustard
2 teaspoons dark amber pure maple syrup
8 slices sharp cheddar cheese
Honeycrisp apple, thinly sliced (McIntosh or Gala work too)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup half-and-half or whole milk
freshly grated nutmeg
a generous pinch of cinnamon

Combine the mustard and maple syrup together and stir to combine. Build 2 cheese and apple sandwiches. I used enough cheese to cover the bottom of the bread, with a layer of apples and more cheese on top with a layer of the maple mustard on one half.

heat a griddle pan over medium-low heat.

beat the eggs with the half-and-half or milk and season with nutmeg and cinnamon. Turn the sandwiches in the egg and cook in butter melted on the hot griddle pan. Grill the sandwiches until deeply golden and the cheese has melted.

Cut sandwiches into triangles or four square pieces to serve.

If you are not much into the maple mustard, you can substitute for prepared fig spread. The sweetness compliments this just as well. Well, I'm off to finish the rest of my day doing exactly what I have suggested here. I going to make us a big pot of chili, brew some peppermint tea and let the good times roll!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

No Bake Cheesecake (no jello, thankyouverymuch)

Yes it's true. You can have cheesecake without the hassle of baking and the addition of a Jello starter kit that (dare I say it?) actually tastes like a respectable cheesecake. Some might even prefer this to a classic baked cheesecake for it's creamy texture. It's thick and rich tasting strongly of sweetened cream cheese and cream, which is very reassuring since that is exactly what's in it. A few drops of lemon juice in the filling help it to taste fresh and lighter than it is, which is nice.

This was a Sk8 church dessert. It was a perfect pick because the filling could be doubled easily and make two cakes at once, plus it only took about 5 minutes to make. OK, maybe 6, but that's all. What had me sold though was that you could make it in advance (I made them that morning) and it could be sitting in the fridge all day just waiting for you to dump some fruit on top and call it dessert. Since I didn't know which fruit topping 16-18 year old hoodlum skaters would prefer (I say that with all due respect), I made sure to have a nice assortment. I made a couple fresh raspberry sauce topped ones, which is shown in the picture and I will include in the recipe. I also kept one plain for all the purists and I have to admit I cheated and unleashed some canned pie filling over the others in blueberry and cherry. I was specifically warned against this. I watched the episode in which Nigella Lawson made this and she pleaded with us to not use pie filling. Instead, she wanted us to use cherry conserve, which is different from jam, and since we don't live in Britain, hard to find. Pie filling it was. You can choose whatever you would like for your dessert.

No Bake Cheesecake
Adapted from Nigella Lawson

Yield: 1-9" cheesecake

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 10 crackers if making your own)
2 tablespoon sugar
3/4 stick soft unsalted butter
10 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
1 (10-ounce) jar black cherry spread, pie filling, or fresh raspberry sauce (recipe to follow)

Blitz the graham crackers in a food processor until beginning to turn to crumbs, then add the sugar and butter and whiz again to make the mixture clump. if using graham crackers crumbs, you can use a bowl and wooden spoon to mix the butter in, with the sugar added.

Press this mixture into a 8 or 9-inch spring form pan or a pie plate. press a little up the sides to form a slight ridge.

lightly beat the cream in a bowl of an electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Take whipped cream out and place on a separate plate and set aside. Wipe the bowl clean (or not) and use it to combine the cream cheese mixture.

Beat together the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice in a bowl until smooth. The lightly fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture. (I stirred with the mixer on low until it combined all the way after folding just to make sure it was well incorporated).

Spoon the cheesecake filling on top of the crust and smooth with a spatula. Put in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight. When ready to serve, un-mold, if using a spring form pan, and spread your desired topping over the top.

Fresh Raspberry Sauce: Optional

1 cup red jelly (not jam) such as currant, raspberry or strawberry
3 half-pints fresh raspberries

melt the jelly in a small pan over low heat. In a bowl, toss the raspberries and the warm jelly gently until well mixed. Arrange the berries on top of the cake.

I used a pie tin to make this cheesecake instead of the traditional spring form pan. You can use either. The only reason I choose it is because I needed multiple cheesecakes for Sk8 church and only had 1 spring form pan.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Chorizo and Black Bean Soup with Avocado Cream

This is black bean soup at it's finest. I recently had a black bean soup at Winonas, a local restaurant in our area and it was very good. So good that when I came back with a friend I ordered it again, had her try it and together we tried to figure out what was in it. After some debate we settled on the fact that there must be a huge amount of jack cheese in it to get that kind of flavor and texture. A heck of a lot. Figures. The reason someone (me) would make black bean soup at home is because it's supposed to be healthy. If it's not, why would I waste precious calories and dairy intake on black bean soup? Bring on the French onion, the garlic cheesy mashed potatoes with a cup of cream, but bean soup. You get what I'm saying? I like black bean soup alright, but it A) better taste good and B) Not be riddled with calories. I'll save that for another meal, thank you. Or even better, dessert!

This soup fits my criteria perfectly. There is just enough heft and background flavor from the fat of the smokey chorizo and just enough richness from the avocado cream (which contains a bit of sour cream) to elevate this soup to a whole new level. It's good and warming and satisfying all the while being healthy for you (well, about that...I took the pretty picture with the chorizo rounds as garnish on this soup just as the recipe says to do, but before I ate it, I took them off, thus making the dish that much healthier). If you are a meat eater, go ahead and leave it on, but if you don't mind you can leave it off without missing anything. All it's flavor is in the soup anyway and doesn't need it to carry any flavors. If you are not a wasteful person this will be hard for you because it means all you will use the package of chorizo for is to render it's fat and since the recipe calls for Spanish chorizo, it's not a whole lot. Worth it though. Very worth it.

Please make sure and buy Spanish chorizo (or Italian sausage or Kielbasa will work too) and not Mexican chorizo. Spanish chorizo tends to be clean, containing only respectable parts of the pig while the Mexican variety can contain nasty things like lymph nodes, as my friend Danielle found out earlier this week. That's all I'm saying on that. Buy Spanish people! Spanish! If the label does not distinguish clearly, it's easy to tell which specimen you have. Mexican chorizo will be squishy, look like ground beef and render TONS of fat. Spanish chorizo is sausage or hot dog like, comes in links and is firm and cured.

Chorizo Black bean Soup with Avocado Cream
adapted from The Rachael Ray Show

Yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 pound cured chorizo, casing removed and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
2 serrano peppers, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Salt and ground black pepper
3 14-ounce cans black beans, drained
3/4 to 1 quart chicken stock, depending on desired thickness
2 ripe avocados
1/2 cup sour cream
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup (about a handful) cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Place a large saucepan over medium-high heat with 1 turn of the pan of olive oil, about 1 tablespoon. Add the chorizo to the pan and cook until crispy, 4-5 minutes. Remove from pan and reserve.

Add the onion, garlic, serrano, paprika, some salt and pepper to the pan, and cook until the onions are tender, 5-6 minutes. Add the black beans and chicken stock to the pan, and bring the liquids up to a bubble.

Ladle a couple o scoops of the soup into the bowl of a food processor, or blender (I used a stick blender) and process until smooth. Return the pureed soup to the pot and keep warm.

After pureeing the beans rinse the food processor bowl out and return it to the base. Remove the pit from the avocados and scoop them out into the bowl along with the sour cream, lime zest and juice, and process until smooth.

Serve the soup topped some avocado cream and reserved crispy chorizo and cilantro.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pumpkin Bread and Blogging

Pumpkin Bread

I'm new to this whole blog thing. I've only been writing for 9 months. I started writing and keeping this blog as a way to get to know my relationship to food better, to understand how I cook, what I cook in a given year and also to chronicle all of this so my kids could read it someday. Also, I thought it would be pretty cool if someone outside my immediate circle read my stuff because it would mean I had something legitimate to offer. Usually, I put that aspect of blogging on the back burner. I write for me and that's that. Sometimes I'd sit to write (usually when I have been un-inspired and not in the mood) and thought "Why write? No one is going to read it anyway". But then I'd remember I was doing this for me. A self discipline and an outlet that I, most of the time adore. It sparks my creativity and gives me time to reflect. However, I couldn't help but start to wonder why other blogs I read had 50 followers, 100 followers, 750 followers, 1000 followers, and so on and why I had a meager 15, (One of whom is myself, how did that happen?) and five of whom probably read regularly. I didn't much mind this but I got curious as to how this happens and thus, I started to fall down the rabbit hole of the blogosphere.


The above picture is a shot of my computer/desk area. It's where I blog.

It's confusing guys, really. So the first thing I learned came from my friend Kel who said over breakfast, "OK, here's how you get followers...Read other people's blogs, comment and follow with a link to your blog" OK, fine. Simple enough. Except, I think I really only have an interest to read a limited number of blogs, so I wasn't sure how far that could take me. The second thing I learned was that there is this un-spoken, (or maybe it's is very spoken) rule that if you follow someone else's blog, (unless said person is a celebrity in the blog world) they should return the favor and follow you. If you are a celebrity you don't have to follow the "little people" because you have enough followers and don't need them. HA! Petty, even online! Here's the problem with that one for me; I'm not a fake person in real life (at least I don't think I am) and the same is true on the Internet. I'm not going to follow your blog to just get you to follow me. I understand why other people do this and yes, it actually works, but it's not authentic to who I am. I want people to read because they want to, not out of some bloggy obligation. In return, I'm only going to follow your blog if I like you and like reading what you have to say. I'm not going to follow you if I don't read what you publish. I just don't see the point. I don't have enough time or energy to devote to reading hundreds of blogs everyday, so why follow? I understand why other people might have other motives for doing this and that everyone has another way to look at it. This is just my opinion. I personally believe if you are good at what you do, are authentic, entertaining and know your stuff, people will follow. People are attracted when you genuinely have something to offer.

Then there's the argument that in order for people to actually know you are out there you need to market yourself to some degree. I hate this. Hate it! I couldn't sell you a $100 dollar brand new Aston Martin, let alone get you to read my blog. But I understand the necessity in this step if you want to expand your options, build friendships and create a network. So, I have no idea what I'm doing (I'm still in the process of this step) I tried to join this one network where people can find my blog and I can claim my blog (the name escapes me, but I remember it was something like "techno- something" Techerati, or something). Anyway, it's like a google for blogs, I think. Don't quote me on that. I also joined blog frog and I'm still confused as to what it does, but sometimes when I check out other peoples pages it lets them know I was there and leaves my information so they can find me and my stuff if they so choose. Then there's a blogroll and I'm still not sure what this is either. I tried to install one. It didn't work. I'm horrible at technical computer things, you know.

Pumpkin Bread

Who knows if will this will bring me more followers, and frankly, I'm too tired to actually find out at the moment. Following or commenting, I believe, is your civic duty if you have read someones blog more than a few times. That way they know you are reading. It lends support. It shows you like them, etc. It's just like how I believe that if you watch "Dancing With The Stars" every week for example, it's your duty to vote for who you are rooting for. It just is, and I can't help but think it. I have a friend who watches the show religiously and NEVER votes. You know who you are. I can't stand it! But I still like you...

There's also something called "Wordless Wednesday". Am I not supposed to blog on Wednesdays and instead just share a picture of food? I think not. And what's with the give-aways? I'm not complaining, but is the point to get more followers or more comments? Is it to gage how many people read your material? Or is it just that your love language is giving gifts and you just wanna express your gratitude like that? Also, how do you pick the winners? Do you play favorites?

I also just found out you can check your "stats" on your blog. To find out how many people have viewed your site that day or week or month, etc....yes, it's taken me this long to figure that out, (and I think it doesn't really know everything anyway because my husband said he read a blog of mine and it didn't show up as the page being viewed...weird) but none of that matters because what I found out is that completely random people read my blog! They really do! I had no idea you all were out there! I had like 55 hits this week alone (hundreds in the last couple months) on my recipe for spanakopita. That may seem like small potatoes to most of you, but to me it's thrilling! I found it odd however that the overwhelming majority of people were only viewing my spanakopita recipe and upon further investigation I discovered I was getting all these hits because my recipe is linked to some phyllo dough website (or maybe it's a Greek website?) for reasons completely unknown to me (how did they find me?) Maybe I should cook with Phyllo dough more often? OK, but aside from that I also learned that in the last week, 1 person from Sweden looked at my site, 2 people from China, 1 person from Italy, 15 from Brazil, 10 in South Africa, a couple from Alaska, and it's just so exciting. People I don't know reading my recipes. My stories. I'm beginning to understand why people are hungry for followers. There's a weird sense of accomplishment that comes from that and I love it. Of course all these people could have just glanced at my site, decided it was lame and moved on. Who knows? None of them are following me. I have one lone person who I do not know that currently follows me. But you know what? One is one. One is good. And I love comments/interaction so the more the better. I can start with one.

So In conclusion, I will still write for me and I will still only follow people who's blogs I'm interested in reading. And between those two things, perhaps I can wrangle a few more genuine followers...are you out there?

Let's talk Pumpkin Bread. Tis the season! This one bowl wonder makes 2 loaves, is incredibly tasty and moist and is ideal to give away to friends wrapped in parchment paper like in the picture above. It's equally as good to hog both loaves to yourself with a big mug of apple cider or buttered rum.

Pumpkin Bread
adapted from Paula Deen

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
1Cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
4 large eggs
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour *see note
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease 2 (8x5-inch) loaf pans. In a medium bowl, beat pumpkin, oil, water, and eggs at medium speed with an electric mixer (or wooden spoon) until smooth.

In a separate medium bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Gradually add to pumpkin mixture, stirring to combine.

Pour into pans, and bake for 1 hour, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. let cool in pans 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

*I used 1 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour and used all purpose flour for the rest of the 2 cups. Just to attempt making this a bit healthier.

This bread bakes up beautiful and big, puffing very handsomely on top. It's a show off.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Beef and Pineapple Pops with Parsley Sauce

My Husband told me today that he thinks I was happier when I ate meat. I told him that it wasn't true but he wasn't buying it. I guess I don't buy it either. He told me all I had to do was read my blog because every time the word "vegetarian" came up it was never in a positive light. Plus every time I make meat for some other lucky soul, I get a little too excited about it. Listen, I can't help it. It's true that I submit to vegetarianism, or pescotarianism (spelling?), or whatever the correct word for it is, begrudgingly. I'm not exactly thrilled with it. But, it's also true that I care about my health and well-being and let's face it, meat is like #1 on the no-no list if you want to avoid things like cancer and heart disease. Plus I genuinely like vegetarian food. So I'm kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. Really, I most like the term "all things in moderation" because I can live that. I'm pretty moderate as is, and have little trouble keeping things that way. I enjoy a glass of wine, but one is plenty. I love dessert, but a couple bites can suffice. And, I love a big juicy medium rare steak, ribeye, filet mignon, prime rib, you name it. However, I don't want it every night by any means. I'd like it maybe once every two weeks, but I'd settle very comfortably with once a month. The problem lies in not being able to have it at all. That will and has made me crazy.

Jeremy has suggested I go back to making meat with dinners once in a while. He doesn't understand that when I make dinner I make it for him (and the whole family). But really, I enjoy making something he loves. That's what's so delightful about making food for someone. If I made a roast chicken for example, with salad and a baked potato, Jeremy would be completely gracious, satisfied and comfortable passing on the chicken and just eating the side dishes for dinner. What he doesn't get is that it would be a waste of a meal to me. Sure, I'd get to eat the chicken, but I would have no one to enjoy it with, or to talk to about it and tell me how great it is and that is what it's all about to me. I might as well just eat some potatoes and salad for dinner...So that's what I do. I eat salad, and vegetable soup and vegetable chili, salmon, quinoa and stuff like that. I still get excited for many pasta dinners because most of them were either meat free to begin with or the meat is not missed. In any case, I can tell my husband feels bad about how his food choices effect my passion for cooking and eating (my best qualities if you ask me, ;) and also how much it is an issue between us. I understand he wants to be healthy. I understand he feels great and I really don't want him to feel bad, but we both can't get what we want, you see? I'm begging him to eat meat once in a while, because when we are talking one serving a month (even once a week) it's not going to effect your overall health. Think about how much meat you consume in an average week. No really, play along a minute. A serving counts as the bacon you have with your omelet or the ham on your sandwich, or the pork chops for dinner. I bet your bottom dollar it's A LOT. That's why cutting it down to only one serving every once in a while is a big deal. I get it, but I still joke with him and say all I am going to ask for on my birthday is that he go to a steak house with me and enjoy some without complaint. All things in moderation, ya know? Even if it's great moderation.

Well, all that aside, I made Jeremy grill these beef and pineapple pops last week. Again, they were not for us, but part of that appetizer thing I catered for the Young Life wives. However he had to grill it non-the-less and get this...he actually licked the meat juice off his fingers and said it tasted good (maybe there is hope)?! I went one step further than him (surprise, surprise) and popped the tiniest piece of the meat into my mouth. Just enough for a taste really, and I'm telling you it was awesome. I've made this before, over a year ago and the interplay between the sweet grilled pineapple, the savory and tender meat along with the fresh and vibrant sauce is just unbeatable. I made these appetizer style on small bamboo wooden skewers, but they are equally fit for dinner along with some veggies or salad, or rice or anything you little heart desires. I would stay away from potatoes though, unless they are herby roasted ones, because they can tend to be too heavy for this dish and you don't want to weigh it down.

You might wonder why you would "waste" fillet mignon on kabobs. Oh! it's not a waste! it makes the most succulent and luxurious kabob you've ever had. Plus it does not take much meat per person so it's actually more cost effective than you would think. Try it. You'll like it.

Beef and Pineapple Pops with Parsley Sauce
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

Serves 20 beef pops

For the Parsley Sauce:

3 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon crushed chili flakes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

For the Beef Pops:

1 1/2 pounds beef fillet, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 40 cubes)
1 (2-pound) pineapple, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 40 pieces)
20 (8-inch) wooden or bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes
salt and freshly ground pepper

For the parsley sauce: In a bowl of a food processor, blend together the parsley, garlic, vinegar, chili flakes, sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper until smooth. With the machine running, gradually add the olive oil until incorporated. Place half of the mixture in a medium bowl. place the remaining mixture in a small serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until redy to serve.

For the beef pops: place the beef in the medium bowl with the parsley sauce. Toss well until the beef is coated with the mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours.

Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or pre-heat a gas or charcoal grill. thread the skewers starting with a piece of pineapple, then a cube of beef. Repeat with another piece of pineapple and another cube of beef. Continue with the remaining skewers. Grill the skewers for 2 to 3 minutes each side (for medium rare) or until desired doneness. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve, arrange the beef pops on a serving platter. Drizzle with the remaining reserved parsley sauce or serve the sauce on the side as a condiment.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Chocolate Pudding Pie

Chocolate cream pie is one of those things where if you asked me what I wanted for dessert at a restaurant, I'd probably never order it. It's also one of those things where the thought of it is appealing, but not enough to get me to want to make it too often. Alas, it is also of of those things that when I do make it, it's enough to send me over the edge and I can hardly wait until the dang thing sets and I can eat a huge slice. Somewhere during the pie making process, chocolate cream has the amazing ability to go from a so-so dessert in my mind to the grand master, mac daddy, ultimate rich, most luxurious dessert in history. Maybe this is because every time I've ordered it at a restaurant it's not that good. It's usually too chocolaty with a bland crust and much too sweetened whipped cream. At home though, this dessert rocks out. I have a really good recipe. The grand master, mac daddy, ultimate, most luxurious recipe in history if I do say so myself.

This time I started out with a pre-made frozen pie shell (Marie Calendars). I usually make my own crust, but I had this one on hand and needed a pie on the fly. If this is your case, or if you are the type of person who absolutely would not make homemade pie without a pre-made crust, go this route. I recommend Marie Calendars brand as it has much more flavor and thickness than those sad rolled out refrigerated pie crusts that taste like cork-board. After you bake your pie shell, you let it cool while you make the chocolate pudding. This step requires some whisking over the stove on your part, but it doesn't take long, and besides, it's so satisfying to see the cocoa and milk thicken up all of a sudden so it's worth it. After it's thickened you dump a bunch of chopped chocolate into the pudding mixture to melt and what you are left with is pure chocolate cream loveliness. The thickener I use is cornstarch (instead of a weighty egg yolk and cream custard) and it works like a charm and also makes it very slice-able come serving time. It aggravates me when I slice a cream pie and the filling sags and oozes out. This pie yields nice clean slices while still managing to be soft in texture. I keep calling it "chocolate cream pie" for the association but it is better called "chocolate pudding pie", as it originally is, but the name initially threw me off, and it is essentially chocolate cream, just not as heavy. Don't let what looks like a long recipe deter you. Remember, I'm including two recipes, for the filing and the pie dough. It's simple to make and this pie comes together rather quickly...Think 7 minutes and one sauce pan (after the pie shell is baked)

Chocolate Pudding Pie
adapted from Gourmet, via Smitten Kitchen

One recipe "Perfect Pie Crust" (recipe to follow) baked and cooled, or a Marie Calendars frozen pre-made pie shell baked per the instructions and cooled.

Perfect Pie Crust:
makes 1 pie crust. For double crust pies, double the recipe

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) very cold unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/6 cup very cold vegetable shortening
4-5 tablespoons ice water

Dice the butter and return it to the refrigerator while you prepare the flour mixture. Place the flour, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and shortening. Pulse 8-12 times, until the butter is the size of peas. With the machine running, pour the ice water down the feed tube and pulse the machine until the dough begins to form a ball. If you need to add another tablespoon of water to achieve this, do it. Dump out onto a floured board and roll into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into an 11-inch round, then fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold overhang under and crimp edge decoratively. Prick bottom and side of shell all over with a fork, then chill shell 30 minutes. While shell chills, preheat oven to 375 degrees with a baking sheet on middle rack. Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake on a baking sheet until pastry is set and edge is pale golden, about 25 minutes. Carefully remove weights and foil, then bake shell on a baking sheet until pale golden all over, 15 to 20 minutes more. Cool shell.

Pudding Filling:

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not more than 60% cacao) finely chopped
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup chilled heavy cream

bittersweet chocolate shavings for garnish (optional)

Whisk together cornstarch, 1/3 cup sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then gradually whisk in milk (make sure you add the milk slowly to the dry ingredients whisking the whole time to avoid lumps). Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, then boil, whisking two minutes (mixture will thicken). Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and vanilla until smooth.

Pour filling into cooled shell and chill, it's surface covered with wax paper (if you want to prevent a skin from forming...I skipped this), until cold, at least two hours.

Just before serving, beat cream with remaining two tablespoons sugar ( you can use powdered sugar if you prefer) until it just holds soft peaks. Spoon onto pie plate and garnish with bittersweet chocolate shavings, if you are feeling fancy. You can store it with the whipped cream on top in the refrigerator for up to an hour or two before serving.

This pie is equally good in the Summer months as well as into Fall and Winter. It's cocoa-y and chocolaty and rich but not too sweet. It's cold, but hearty and homey making it the perfect choice any season.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lemon Roasted Chicken with Croutons

Lemon Chicken with Croutons

You know when people ask you "What's your favorite smell?" And usually responses are something like "night blooming jasmine" or "red roses" or "sun tan lotion." Not me. No, My answer is a roasting chicken in the oven right as you are about to take a sip of cold champagne and the bubbles are tickling your nose and you smell both things at once, harmoniously blending, for a split second. For now though, let's focus on the chicken. I have said it before and I'll say it again, "a roasting chicken in the oven is the best smell in the world". This still stand true for me, no doubt about it. There might be other meals I (might) enjoy more, but none who's aroma could stand up as well.

I haven't roasted a chicken in over 8 months. Blame it on the vegetarianism thing. I have not really eaten meat in over 7 months except for the occasional cheat out at Cafe Diva (if the duck tacos are on the appetizer list, you get them. Vegetarian or not.) Also, I've had the occasional prociutto bite on a cheese plate, but other than that, were talking nada. Meat free. Then, last Friday rolled around and I was making dinner for a lady who had hurt her shoulder and had two small children and could not cook very well by herself, given her injury. As I thought about what I should make, a very happy realization washed over me as I thought about how I could seize this opportunity to make some meat, by jove! And that's exactly what I was going to do. Not just any meat. I was going to roast a chicken dang it! I was weirdly excited by this. I really was. I lovingly took the bird out of it's wrapper and gave it the royal treatment. I'm telling you, not more than 5 minutes after putting that sucker in the oven my house smelled euphoric, and oh, how I missed that smell! Hot chicken fat and lemon, onions and olive oil can have that affect, and oh, how it had its way with me! You can keep your roses and sun tan lotion. I'm taking chicken, hands down. Make this chicken this week and see what I'm talking about. The aroma is pure magic.

If you have never roasted a chicken before, never fear, I have a fool proof method down pat. All you need to do is buy a chicken that is between 4 and 5 pounds. If you do that, you will be golden. Why? If you cook a 4 to 5 pound bird at a certain temperature for exactly 1 1/2 hours (1 1/4 hours if your oven runs really hot) it will be cooked perfectly, no questions asked. If you don't know how hot your oven runs, just check the chicken after 1 1/4 hours, by piercing the skin with a knife between the leg and thigh. if the juices run clear, you are golden. If they have a pink tinge to them, put it back in the oven and roast till the 1 1/2 hour mark and check again with the other thigh. It should be totally cooked through. If it's not, you likely picked a bird that weighed a little over 5 pounds and would have to cook it longer. Make sure you then follow the instructions for "resting" and you will be a very happy camper.

The croutons for this is just some french bread cubed up and sauteed in olive oil, salt and pepper. It seasons the bread and toasts and dries it out so when you slice the chicken on top the juices get absorbed in the bread and it is possibly the best weeknight dinner you could ever have.

Lemon Roasted Chicken with Croutons
adapted from "Barefoot Contessa In Paris"

serves 4

1 (4- to 5-pound) roasting chicken
1 large yellow onion, sliced
Good olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 lemons, quartered
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
6 cups (3/4- inch) bread cubes (1 baguette or round boule)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Take the giblets out of the chicken and wash it inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers. Toss the onion and wedges from half a lemon with a little olive oil in a small roasting pan. Place the chicken on top and sprinkle the inside of the cavity with salt and pepper. Place the lemons inside the chicken. Pat the outside of the chicken dry with pepper towels, brush it with the melted butter, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken.

Roast for 1 1/4 hours to 1 1/2 hours (I recommend roasting for 1 1/4 hours if the chicken is between 4 and 4 1/2 pounds, and 1 1/2 hours if it is between 4 1/2-5 pounds.) or until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and the thigh. Cover with foil and allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. (The onions may burn, but the flavor is good.)

Meanwhile, heat a large saute pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil until very hot. Lower the heat to medium-low and saute the bread cubes, tossing frequently, until nicely browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add more olive oil, as needed, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. place the croutons on a serving platter. Slice the chicken and place it, plus all the pan juices, over the croutons. Sprinkle with salt and serve warm.

I don't know how authentically French this is, but while Ina Garten (the writer of this recipe) was in Provence, a friend made this dish for them, and to her it is the essence of French country cooking. A simple roast chicken is sliced onto a bed of warm croutons so they soak up all those delicious juices. Um, yeah, sounds pretty appealing Ina, and it tastes even better. Trust me, I've made a few of these in my day.