Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Preparations

I spent most of the day in our warm kitchen preparing the baked goods for tomorrow's Thanksgiving dinner. Usually I like to throw in a few new recipes/ingredients, but this year I am sticking with our customary fare.

I made two pumpkin pies complete with "leaf" decoration.

I use the recipe from the Libby's pumpkin can as I find it has the best combination of spices. Most recipes call for nutmeg in the custard, but for some reason I find it doesn't mesh well with the other spices (cinnamon, ginger, and cloves) in the pumpkin pie.

Confession: The other day I made a pumpkin pie using a different brand of canned pumpkin. I was in a hurry so I used the recipe on the back of the can. Not paying too much attention, I was throwing all of the ingredients into the bowl... the spices, pumpkin, evap milk. But because I didn't read the recipe carefully, I missed the fact it was supposed to be sweetened condensed milk. Therefore, that pie was sans sugar. Good, but not really dessert-like. Oops.

I was paranoid today about the sugar. No worries; this time around there is SUGAR!

My other traditional endeavor, which I decided to carry on this year, was two loaves of herb-braid bread.

My friend, Emma, taught me how to make these beautiful, regal loaves in college and I've been creating them for our Thanksgiving feasts ever since. The bread has dried rosemary, thyme and marjoram. I find it quite delectable. They are the only yeast breads that I can ever pull off successfully.

I have to share my lunch today.

It was a sweet potato topped with cottage cheese and cinnamon!

I've been watching Jenna over at Eat, Live, Run lunch on these for the past week and I decided it was imperative that I try it considering it contained two of my favorite ingredients: sweet potatoes and cinnamon! I was hesitant at first because I am not a huge fan of cottage cheese, but with the cinnamon on top, it was out of this world! (I even ate a little extra cottage cheese after I finished the potato garnished with some cinnamon. I suppose cinnamon makes everything taste stupendous! ;-))

It is SO easy to make:
The sweet potato bakes in the oven for about an hour or in the microwave for about 6 minutes...but make sure and poke some holes on top first! Then slice into the skin and stuff it with some wholesome cottage cheese...and don't forget the cinnamon!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Raspberry Shortbread Tarts

I made these for the first time last year for our annual Holiday Tea. They didn't remain on the platter more than 10 minutes. Again, for a Christmas party I attended, and they were met with the same response. I'm whipping up a batch tonight for a housewarming get-together I am attending tomorrow. Only time will determine their fate....

Will they ever even make it out of the house?? ;-)

I'm going to take you on a step-by-step journey through the process of making these delectable morsels....

Raspberry Shortbread Tarts

Ingredients ~
For tarts:
1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. flour
2 T. cornstarch
1/8 t. salt

For lemon cream filling:
one 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
one 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
1/3 c. lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1 t. vanilla extract

First, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, with your dough attachment, cream the butter and sugar together.

Next, add the dry ingredients and mix on slow until just incorporated.

Bring the dough completely together with your hands and then divide into 36 small, round pieces. Place them into the compartments of a mini-cupcake pan.

Press your thumb into the center of each morsel and form it around the sides of the cup. I find it easiest if your hands are a little moist. This helps keep the dough from sticking to your fingers and making a mess inside the cups.

After molding the dough to the cups, place the tray into the freezer for about 10 minutes. This helps the shortbread set so that it does not melt into a blob at the bottom of the cup when you place it in the oven to bake.

Place in the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes. Halfway through cooking time, poke a fork into each shortbread in order to decrease puffiness in the center.

They are slightly brown around the edges when done. After removing them from the oven, let them sit at least 10 minutes to cool in the pan. They should slide easily out of the holes. I usually attempt to turn them with my finger and if anything is stuck, it effortlessly loosens without causing crumbs. Cool the shortbread tarts on a wire rack.

While the shortbread is cooking, mix together the cream filling after washing out your bowl. After softening the cream cheese with the mixer, add the remaining ingredients and mix until smooth.

Place the cream filling into an airtight container and place in the fridge. It is best to make the cream at least the day before in order to let the lemon mingle with the cheese and milk. Trust me; it is always better the second day. :-)

To assemble the tarts, take one of the shortbread shells and fill it with about a teaspoon of the lemon cream. Don't assemble your tarts until the day of; otherwise, the cream tends to make the shortbread a bit soggy. Place a piece of your favorite fruit on top. I'm using raspberries and blueberries this time, but I have also used strawberries and kiwis in the past.

Use your culinary imagination to create wonderful flavors!

The only criteria is that it has to be tiny enough to fit on the mini tart....

Someone is in for a special treat tonight. :-)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

English Cheddar Shortbread

One of the zippiest flavors amongst the many varieties of cheeses is a sharp English-country cheddar. It ranks right up there with the greatest of the French fromages, and for me, that is saying a lot.

Although, the cheese I used for these biscuits is technically Irish, the flavors from the various countries of the British Isles tend to be similar. In fact, the original recipe is actually called Scottish Sharp-Cheddar Shortbread...but who's counting? :-)

I used Dubliner Cheese, a sharp, white cheese. It is very dry; it crumbles a bit when you attempt to slice it. It is apparently riddled with calcium lactate crystals. Why....I cannot tell you. It is delicious on crackers or thinly sliced in an omelet adorned with fresh tomatoes. I also like to grate it over top of my salads, especially when accompanied by slices of Gala apples. This cheese pairs very well with almost any variety of apple.

I had a large 2 lb. block of this scrumptious cheese in the fridge that was begging for some attention. I discovered this recipe at epicurious and decided to give it a try:

Irish (Scottish/British) Sharp-Cheddar Shortbread

1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper
pinch of cayenne
8 oz. sharp white cheddar, shredded
1 c. all-purpose flour

Using whisk attachment on your mixer, blend butter, salt, pepper and cayenne together on low speed until just mixed. Add cheddar and flour, mixing on low just until dough sticks together. Bring together completely with your hands and wrap in wax paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4 in. thickness and cut out with biscuit cutter or top of a glass. Place on either greased cookie sheet or one lined with parchment paper.

Bake until golden around the edges, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes on sheet. Then, place on rack and let cool the rest of the way.

The cheddar biscuits were a perfect complement to my black bean soup. Pure buttery, cheesy goodness. They had a certain melt-in-your-mouth perfection about them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chocolate Peanut Butter

Chocolate flows in deep, dark, secret waves, a river to ignite my mind and alert my senses...

There exists a fathomless chasm within me that yearns to be filled with two things: chocolate and peanut butter. I discovered an ideal satiation (transient, of course) of this desire yesterday.

Chocolate peanut butter.

One of the nut grinders at Whole Foods contains both peanuts and chocolate. It comes oozing out untainted by any other foreign, unwelcome ingredients in all its nectarous splendor. I grabbed a tablespoon of it to munch on as I finished up my grocery shopping, and then stopped back for a small tub of it to bring home.

Last night, I slathered it on Golden Delicious apples. Today, it served as an adhesive for my bananas on my open faced sandwich....

Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Apple Upside-Down Cake

One of the greatest gifts Frenchwomen possess is the ability to cook simply and nutritiously, yet maintain a richness of flavor unsurpassed. Take a peek at La Tartine Gourmande's blog and you'll see what I mean. Her recipes always call for a variety of fresh, classic ingredients that when combined astound the senses. I have yet to be disappointed. I discovered this recipe for Apple Upside Down Cake a few weeks ago, and I've made it three times already. It is that good.

I was intrigued by the use of olive oil and plain yogurt in a cake. It increased the density of the cake and gave it a nuttier flavor. I would definitely like to experiment further with these ingredients in other baked goods.

I substituted 1 teaspoon vanilla extract for the vanilla bean and used a cup of regular flour instead the other flours suggested. I also added 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the cake batter. I always find a way to incorporate an extra bit of my beloved cinnamon!

And it paired perfectly with that scoop of vanilla ice cream....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

寿司 -- SUSHI

Dining on sushi for birthday celebrations is swiftly becoming a tradition at our house; it has certainly been the most requested over the past year. Although it can't be just any sushi....we only eat the best: MIKUNIS!

For my last birthday, I went there with a group of eight friends and we ordered a boat. That's right: they literally placed a boatload of sushi on the table for us to devour.

She looks a little intimidated, yes?
...well, we ate it all. :-)

I wish I could learn how to make these beautiful rolls! Although, I am told that women cannot become sushi chefs because our hands are too cold. What if we wore gloves...?

It took me a while to warm up to the idea of eating sushi at first. Both the fact it was fish and the fact it was raw turned me off. I eventually got over my fear, and now I can't get enough of the delectable, cylindrical morsels! I always end up leaving the table stuffed!

We went a little more low-key tonight. Dad brought it home in take-out containers. We were not greeted in Japanese by sushi chefs upon entering the dining area, nor were there warm bowls of Miso soup waiting at the table to whet our appetites, but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

Here's the line-up of sushi we sampled in honor of Jonathan's birthday tonight.

Roll call, please!!

Peter Pan

Marilyn Monroe


Happy Birthday, Jonathan!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pear and Apple Cobbler

We have a plethora of pears and apples residing in our kitchen. So in an attempt to use up some of them before they go the way of the dinosaurs, I whipped up this delicious pear and apple cobbler. Wonderful complement to our Sunday brunch. Oooh, the flavors of the autumn harvest....

Pear and Apple Cobbler

4 apples (Golden Delicious worked splendidly!)
4 pears (I used Bartlett.)
1/4 c. flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. salt
apple juice

2 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
4 t. baking powder
1/2 c. milk
1 egg
5 T. butter, cut up

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Peel, core and slice the pears and apples into 1/2 in. slices. Place them in large bowl with flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Mix well. Then, place in the bottom of a 9x13 in. baking dish. Pour enough apple juice to cover the bottom of the dish.

In another bowl, mix flour, salt, baking powder, milk and egg together. Cut in butter and mix with your fingers. Knead about 15 times. Flour a clean surface and roll out dough to about 1/4 in. thickness. Cut out your favorite shapes and place on top of apples and pears in baking dish.

Bake 25-30 minutes. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sugar and Spice....

I can't help myself.

I'm already jogging to carols and dreaming of candy canes and gum drops. It doesn't help any that the stores are already stocking up on decorations and goodies. Walk into just about any place and you will be greeted by a robotic Santa Claus or illuminated reindeer. Yet, for some strange reason, I am in the mood for all of this. Guaranteed, though, that by the time Christmas actually rolls around it will have worn out its welcome. Too much of a good thing tends to make you sick.

But for now I will revel in the festive holiday culture that begins to engulf us. I made Snickerdoodles this morning, our traditional family Christmas cookie. Gooey cinnamon and sugar goodness.

And yesterday I discovered this Gingerbread Coffee at Trader Joe's.

They had it sitting out on the testing table. I poured myself a petite tasse and promptly fell in love. I am not big on coffee but the ginger, cinnamon and cloves notes had me at 'hello.' It is delicious with a splash (or more if you are like me...I'm more the latte drinker) of half-and-half or milk.

I can't wait to try it with a freshly baked gingerbread man....mmmm.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Black Widow Bean Dip

This is a fun dish I made for a Halloween party. I layered, from the bottom up, salsa, grated cheese, sliced olives, and refried beans. Then, placing a bit of sour cream in a sandwich-sized ziploc, I cut off a corner in order to pipe a 'web' for my spider. His body was made out of whole black olives, 1/6 slices laid end to end for his legs, and a pimento retrieved from a green olive in the fridge in order to make him a black widow. It was served with a big bowl of tortilla chips.

Halfway through the night the poor spider lost his life....

Who says you can't play with your food?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Chocolate with Flair

What could be better than a scrumptious bar of chocolate?

How about one with peppered with exotic morsels!

I discovered Dagoba's chocolate bars not too long ago at the Whole Foods Market. The bars come in an array of flavors including Roseberry, Chai and Lavender. Right now I am savouring the Beaucoup Berries which has cranberries, cherries, and vanilla layered within the 74% cacao dark chocolate. The richness of the chocolate is accented with sweet tones of fruit.

I don't do boring.

This chocolate will definitely add an element of zing to your life. Perhaps this was the nectar of the gods....

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Butternut Squash Risotto

I picked up a butternut squash at the pumpkin patch when I went roaming with my brothers there a few weeks ago. I've never cooked with one of these before, but I imagined they were similar to cooking with other types of squash.

Risotto is a dish I am becoming better acquainted with these days. It takes a bit of time, attention and patience but is certainly worth the effort. The use of white wine in its preparation gives it a sweet tinge of flavor particularly delectable.

This recipe is by Ina Garten, a fantastic culinary genius on the Food Network. I omitted the saffron simply because I don't have any. I imagine it would be a wonderful addition and would give it a brighter, orange hue. Hopefully, next time....

Butternut Squash Risotto

1 butternut squash (about 2 lbs.)
2 T. olive oil
Salt and Pepper
6 c. chicken stock
6 T. butter
2 oz. pancetta, diced
1/2 c. onions (or shallots)
1 1/2 c. Arborio rice (10 oz.)
1/2 c. dry white wine
1 t. saffron threads (opt.)
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds and cut into 1/2 in. cubes. (Peeling and cutting one of these babies was quite a chore for me...any tips on how to do it efficiently?)

Roast your cubes of squash on a large cookie sheet drizzled with about 2 T. of olive oil and tossed with 1/2 t. salt and 1 t. pepper. Cook at 400 degrees F for about 25 minutes. Make sure to stir a couple times through roasting process.
Mine came out of the oven oh-so-yummy looking. I couldn't help stealing a few bites. :-)

While your squash is roasting in the oven, heat your chicken stock in a small saucepan and let simmer. (Notice my chicken stock on the back burner where it belongs.) In a large pot, melt butter and saute the onions and pancetta over medium-low heat. Cook for about 5-10 minutes, until the onions are translucent, not browned. Then add risotto, coating with butter. Add wine and cook for about 2 minutes. If cooking with saffron, add it now and a cup of the stock.

Allow the stock to cook into the risotto, then add another cup of chicken stock. This takes about 3-5 minutes each time. Be sure to stir frequently to prevent it from sticking/burning to the bottom. Continue in this way until all the stock has been cooked into the risotto and looks like so. It should have the consistency of creamy rice.

Although there is no cream used in the making of risotto, you will notice it has a creamy texture. This is due to the slow-boiling process with incremental additions of stock which allows the starches to be released slowly. Arborio rice has a bit more starch than regular rice. And its the starch which makes it smooth and gooey. (It also does this to your spaghetti noodles when you cook them too long...) The more patient you are with adding the stock, the creamier your risotto will turn out.
After removing the risotto from the heat, add the squash and parmesan cheese. Serve warm.

I enjoyed my risotto with a slice of leftover pork chop and applesauce I had made the night before. Don't you just love the flavors of fall?