Friday, February 29, 2008

my ever-evolving recipe style

You will notice, if you link to some of the older recipes on the other blog, that my recipe writing style can be loose.
As I have been putting more recipes in here, things get a little tighter and a little more clear as far as ingredients and instruction go.
I also like to give suggestions on altering a recipe or how I might try to change it up a little the next time I make it.
The photography is also improving with the newer posts.
That makes me very happy. I like producing a good picture almost as much as I like producing a good meal.
But shooting food is tough, especially when it is just in the kitchen and with no extra, special lighting.
And you have no idea how many pictures I will take of a dish now to get just the right shot.
I think I took about 20 pictures of that chocolate cake to get one I was really happy with.
So this blog really is a labor of love for me in all ways.
I don't post here every day, but when I do you can sure it is something I am proud of and something I think people will really enjoy.
Happy eating.

rustic apple tarts

From the other blog...

These individual APPLE TARTS are made using frozen puff pastry as a base, so that cuts down on the work involved in making a pate brise.

I have made the pate brise, and it is not difficult, but it does add to the time it takes to achieve pretty much the same results as just getting the frozen stuff.

Sorry, Martha.

And I have made the tarts with plum, peaches and pears, too. All yummy.

oatmeal-pecan shortbread

Here is another one from the other blog.

I made these on a whim one night after work.

I have been going through appetizer recipes to plan a party menu and was just in the mood to cook something.

I pretty much always have the stuff on hand to make basic shortbread.

The pecans and oatmeal were a departure for me. But a very tasty departure.

Plus it allowed me to cut the amount of flour in the shortbread.

I took them to work where they were a big hit.

They are a nice nibble with coffee or tea.

Oatmeal-pecan shortbread

2 cups flour
2/3 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
6 tablespoons sugar
1 cup butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Mix flour, sugar and oats.
Cut in butter. I use my hands. it is messy, but that way I get a good mix.
Mix in pecans.
Mix until it resembles fine crumbs and starts to hold together.
Form mixture into a ball.
On floured surface, roll dough out to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thickness.
Cut into rounds (or whatever shape you fancy). I used 1.5 inch scalloped circles.
Place 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheet.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until bottoms just start to brown.

Cool on wire rack.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

chicken pomodoro

Here is a link to a recipe for a great chicken recipe: chicken pomodoro.

There also is a fun thing on making little baskets out of Parmesan cheese that you can put salad in.
It is from the other blog, posted before I got this one up and running.

I want to try to go through and find the food things I posted there and get them at least linked here.

The thing is, you have to scroll down past the part about my new table.

But trust me, it is worth it for that chicken.

totally decadent potato-leek soup

For me, potato soup is the ultimate comfort food.

I like to make a big pot of it, laced with cream and herbs and leeks, on a cold day.

The first bowl usually gets the royal treatment: garnished with sour cream and a bit of shredded sharp cheddar.

The rest goes into single portions to be frozen for later.

Growing up, I looked forward to winter when I knew my mom would make potato soup.

She makes an excellent potato soup.

I like to think of my version as mom's potato soup, but on steroids.

Oh, and I like leeks. A lot.

So my version is loaded with them. Which is why it looks a little greener than most potato soups.

But I love the mild oniony flavor of leeks.

So here is my totally decadent potato-leek soup:

1 pound bacon, diced

3 leeks, sliced including white and green parts*

4 stalks of celery from the heart of the bunch, sliced including leafy tops

4 cloves of garlic minced

6-8 russet potatoes, peeled and diced

5 cups chicken broth

4 tbs butter

1/4 cup flour

1 tbs dried tarragon

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro



cook bacon in large pot, then set aside

in drippings, cook leeks and celery over medium heat about 10 minutes, until softened

add garlic and potatoes; toss to coat

cook on medium heat about 5 minutes

add chicken broth cover and cook until potatoes are tender, 20-30 minutes. cooking time will vary based on the size of the potato pieces

off the heat, use an immersion blender or hand mixer to lightly puree the potato mixture (I like to leave a few chunks of potato)

in a separate sauce pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat

add the flour, cooking for 1-2 minutes, whisking constantly

add the cream and tarragon, stirring constantly until cream begins to boil and mixture begins to thicken

pour flour/cream mixture into potato mixture and stir well

add the reserved bacon pieces and cilantro and stir

the soup can get pretty thick, so I use more chicken broth to get it to a consistency I like (which is usually still fairly thick)

salt and pepper to taste

if you want to be really decadent, garnish with a dollop of sour cream or a bit of grated cheddar cheese.

*tip for cleaning leeks: place the sliced leeks in a large bowl of water and use your hands to break up the rings. let soak about 10 minutes and any grit will fall to the bottom of the bowl. use a slotted spoon to strain the leeks, being careful not to stir up the grit at the bottom of the bowl

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

chocolate-rum cake

When it comes to baking, I don't mess around with recipes. Especially when baking cakes.

I can improvise on pretty much anything, but baking is trickier than a pasta or soup or meat dish.

If you don't do it just right, you can ruin a lot of great ingredients.

So when I find a good recipe, I honor it by not trying to get creative.

And this chocolate-rum cake recipe is not just good, it is freaking GREAT!

It is from a Bon Appetit special issue on the Caribbean from April of 2006.

When I make this, I serve it with homemade whipped cream (I like to add a hint of almond extract) and fresh berries.

This time I made a raspberry puree. The raspberries had a bit of tartness that worked well with the sweetness of the cake.

Chocolate-rum cake
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon dark rum
9 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
15 tablespoons butter (2 sticks minus 1 Tbs) cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
6 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 cup chilled whipping cream

Preheat oven to 300.

Butter and flour 9-inch diameter springform pan.
Boil 1/2 cup of rum in heavy small saucepan until reduced to 2 tablespoons, around 3 minutes.

Place chocolate and butter in a saucepan and melt over low heat, stirring constantly.

Cool slightly.

Whisk 1 1/2 cups sugar, egg yolks and reduced rum into chocolate mixture.

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.

Fold 1/3 of egg white mixture into chocolate in saucepan, then fold that mixture into remaining egg whites.

Sprinkle flour over the batter and fold in until just blended (don't over mix) and then transfer batter into prepared pan.
Bake cake until top puffs and cracks and tester inserted comes out with very moist crumbs, around 45 minutes.

Cool completely in pan before trying to remove outer ring.

Can be made 1 day ahead, cool and store covered tightly at room temperature.

To serve, whip cream with 1 Tbs sugar and a bit of almond extract. I add a bit, tasting as I go until I get the right amount for my taste.

For the raspberry puree, I used an immersion blender to puree a small package of fresh berries and then strained out the seeds by pressing the puree through a fine mesh strainer. Once the seeds were removed, I stirred in about a tablespoon of sugar.

This is also great with any type of berry.

Monday, February 11, 2008

mushroom-sage bread pudding

I love the sage bread pudding that Restaurant Christine serves as a side dish to their prosciutto wrapped filet mignon medallions.

So I wanted to try making my own version, with the addition of some mushrooms.

heat oven to 375

1 tablespoon butter
2 cups chopped brown mushrooms
1 chopped maui onion
1/4 cup dry white wine
4 cups sourdough bread cut into small cubes
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk or whole milk
1/4 cup chopped, fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
6 ounces grated Swiss cheese

Melt butter in sautee pan.

Add mushrooms and maui onion. Season lightly with salt.

Cook for about 3 minutes, then add white wine.

Cook until wine is reduced and mushrooms and onions just start to brown.

Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, sage and black pepper until blended.

Fold bread cubes into egg mixture to coat.

Gently mix in cheese.

Press bread-egg mixture into 8x8 inch baking pan so that all bread is submerged in egg mixture.
Let sit for 15 minutes so bread can absorb egg mixture.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, rotating once, until egg is set.

Place under broiler for 3-4 minutes until top starts to get brown and toasty.

Serve immediately.

My thoughts on this dish: Wow. I wanted an alternative to a potato or rice or pasta as a starchy side dish and this was a good one.

It was hearty and cheesy and the mushrooms and sage gave it a nice earthy flavor. I probably could have skipped the rest of the meal and just had the bread pudding for dinner.

Which I may do tonight with leftovers.

And I may make this as the main dish casserole for my next Sunday stampers group.

The manfriend went back for seconds and was tempted to go for thirds. Instead he took some leftovers home with him.

I can see this as a standalone brunch dish or as a great side to any kind of meat. I know it goes with the fish and steak. I bet it would be a great substitute to stuffing with a roasted chicken or as a side for any kind of pork roast or tenderloin.

And really, inspite of all the steps, this was a pretty easy dish to make. Most bread puddings are.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

I love a good, cheap Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir is one of those good wines to have in the house.
As a red, it can pair with most meats nicely. As a lighter red, it can even work well with fish and light pastas.
One that I have been enjoying lately is the Mirassou Pinot Noir, 2006.
I found this at my local market on club discount at $6.99 a bottle. Even at the full price of $9.99 a bottle, this wine is a bargain.
I have recently paired it with the asparagus-prosciutto risotto, a basic spaghetti in red sauce with meat and mushrooms, the fish in garlic sauce and even just when I want a glass of wine for the sake of having a glass of wine.
The price tag was the first thing that caught my eye.
The second thing was the label. Yeah, I am a sucker for nice label graphics.
So how does it taste? Well, the fact that I bought one bottle at $6.99 and then, after trying it, went back and bought 6 more bottles, is a good indication that it does not suck.
Anyone who knows me knows that while I like cheap wine, I like GOOD cheap wine.
Sorry. I am not a fan of the two-buck Chuck they sell at Trader Joe's.
But I digress...
The 2006 Mirassou Pinot Noir is a fruity wine without being a sweet wine. There are lovely notes of berries and jam.
It has a hint of spice or pepper on the finish, which I love. But it is still smooth going down.
This wine does not fall flat as soon as you swallow it like some Pinots. There is a good finish that lingers, but is not a bitter or chalky aftertaste.
All in all, this is one of the nicest Pinots I have had since my trip to Oregon in 2004.
This is a California Pinot, with Mirassou being based in Modesto. Not exactly a chic wine-country address.
My guess is the grapes are from some other part of the state and the facility is in Modesto because real estate is cheaper there than in Napa or Sonoma or even Santa Barbara counties.
So, the gist of this is, if you like Pinot, get thee to your nearest market (Ralphs has it cheap if you are in SoCal), wine shop or liquor store and see if you can find it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

fish in garlic-herb sauce

I wanted to make this with halibut, but the market was out of halibut. So I tried cod. And while it tasted good, I did not like the texture of the cod.
So I will try it again another time using halibut. It probably would be good on salmon, too.
The key here is the sauce (sooooo easy to make).
The manfriend liked the sauce so much, he said he could pour it over just about anything and eat it.

So, here you go, easy baked fish in a simple garlic and herb sauce.

1/2 cup mayo
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried dill
1 tablespoon dried tarragon
1 tablespoon salt-free seasoning mix of your choice
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 pieces pieces of fish such as halibut or salmon. I like the boneless, skinless filet pieces.

heat oven to 450
whisk together all ingredients except fish
place fish in a baking dish and pour the sauce over the top
bake 15-20 minutes or until fish is flaky in the middle (timing will vary based on thickness of fish, so keep an eye on it)

I served this some of the sauce poured over the fish and garnished it with lemon slices.
For sides, I made simple steamed broccolini and sauteed potatoes.
The sauce was great on the veggies, too.

It seems like pretty much any dried herbs or seasoning mixes will do. I tried to keep the salt down though. Fresh herbs probably would work, but obviously the dried are a bit easier and that is what I had on hand.

I may try making just that sauce to use as a simple alternative to hollandaise sauce over veggies.

Hmm... I just had another thought... maybe a sort of gratin of shredded carrots, zucchini and other squashes, a little red onion... pour the sauce over it and bake...
Great. I have barely finished my tea and I am already thinking about next week's dinner.

Monday, February 4, 2008

strawberry-cream cheese muffins


These are definitely best warmed up a little so the cream cheese can get melty again.

preheat oven to 400 degrees

2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons sugar (for coating the cream cheese)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

6 tablespoons cold butter cut into small pieces

1 cup chopped strawberries (I used fresh. I would think frozen would work if they were thawed and drained)

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk

1 egg

4 ounces cream cheese cut into 12 cubes

12 paper muffin pan liners

line a 12-cup muffin pan with papers then spray lined pan lightly with non-stick spray

stir together flour, 3/4 cup sugar,baking powder, baking soda

cut in butter with pastry blender (I used a potato masher) until mixture is crumbly

stir in chopped berries

in separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk and egg.

gently stir buttermilk mixture into flour mixture until just combined.

divide batter evenly among 12 muffin cups

place 2 tablespoons of sugar in a small dish and dip each cube of cream cheese to coat

press cheese cube into center of each muffin, but do not fully submerge the cheese, the top of the cube should be visible

sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar evenly over tops pf muffins

bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown (toothpick inserted into doughy part should come out clean - do not insert toothpick into cheese to check doneness)

cool muffins in pan for 10 minutes before removing

store leftovers in refrigerator

pineapple coffee cake

This coffee cake recipe did not include a crumbly topping.
Now, in my humble opinion, it ain't coffee cake unless it has a crumbly topping.
So I improvised one. I will do my best to describe how I made it.

This recipe also calls for canned pineapple in syrup. I had fresh pineapple, so I used only half the sugar called for in the original recipe. I will note my modifications in **( )**.

preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 cup corn oil
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt

1 large can crushed pineapple in heavy syrup
**(fresh cubed pineapple - about the equivalent of a whole pineapple)**
1/2 cup granulated sugar
**(1/4 cup granualted sugar)**
3 tablespoons corn starch

Crumbly top:
brown sugar
chopped pecans

for filling:
combine ingredients, heating until bubbly, then set aside.
**(to break down the pineapple, I cut the larger cubes down into small pieces then mashed them down with my potato masher)**

for crumbly top - this is all by feel for me; it is about the texture of the crumbles:
combine about 1/2 stick of butter with 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup chopped pecans.
using fingers, mix until large crumbles are formed (measurements are approximate)

for cake:
beat together oil and sugar
add eggs, then vanilla

sift together dry ingredients.
add dry ingredients, a little at a time, to the egg mixture.
put 3/4 of the batterin a 9x3-inch pan
sprinkle pineapple filling over top of batter
put remaining batter on top of filling
sprinkle crumbly topping over cake
bake 30-40 minutes, or until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into a doughy part comes out clean.

This cake was very moist and lightly sweet as I made it. I am not sure how much sweeter it might be with canned fruit.
Since most fruited coffee cakes have apple in them, the pineapple was a nice new flavor in there.
The cake is good at room temperature, but even better when it is warmed up a bit.