Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Pastries from Shatila Bakery & Cafe


When Shane came back from his trip to Detroit, he brought home a box of pastries from the Shatila Bakery and Cafe. Now, I'll be honest, the type of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean desserts they make --"tissue-thin pastry swabbed with rich, pure butter, enfolds crunchy fresh nuts and a sweet sugar syrup" -- really aren't my thing.

Having said that, even I can tell that these are really good. Light, flakey, crunchy with plenty of butter, the Shatila folks are not skimping on quality.

The sweet that hooked me is the ballourie (or as I like to call it, the hairy-looking white thing). It's a "lightly baked shredded filo and chopped pistachio [pastry] kissed by a hint rosewater." But it's not kissed by rosewater; it's having an adulterous relationship with it. A bite into the ballourie awards you with crunch and rosewater flavor. Yum! It's fabulous. Who knew? (Ok, maybe you did. But I didn't.)

Take a look (and place an order) on their website:
Shatila Bakery and Cafe.

Baked Blueberry Shortcake


Last fall, Carolyn and I compiled and edited a charity cookbook. We asked parish members to submit their favorite recipes, had the Sunday School kids draw illustrations, pulled it all together in Publisher, printed and assembled it in-house, and sold it for $3 a pop.

When we started, we weren’t really sure if A) anyone would contribute recipes or B) anyone would buy the cookbook. Naturally, we were wrong on both counts. We sold out, earning $270 for Happy Tails.

This recipe is adapted from the Peek-a-Boo Cake recipe in our Fall Favorites Cookbook. (The fruit filling -- cherry, blueberry, or raspberry -- peeks through the top of the cake, hence the “peek-a-boo.”)

The cake is mildly sweet with a good vanilla essence (it should, doubled the amount of vanilla). It's not as dry as a shortcake nor rich as a poundcake but somewhere in between. It complements the fruit very well.

It's that fruit that makes this cake taste so seasonal. I’m not usually a canned pie-filling fan but I was pretty impressed with Comstock’s More Fruit Blueberry; it was suprisingly fresh tasting. The amount of fruit was a bit sparse in spots given the size of the cake so next time, I’ll increase the amount to 31 oz. (1 ½ cans).

One thing that concerned me with the original recipe was the lack of leavening: no baking powder or soda in sight. (Was that an editing error? Maybe.) Carolyn floated a theory regarding the eggs: with so many in the batter, you don't need leavening. I'm not sure about that but she was the science major, not me, so perhaps I should defer.

Still, I threw in a teaspoon of baking powder and a ¼ teaspoon of salt. Fortunately, everything seemed to come out all right.

Maybe it’s the blueberries – which I love — but this speaks of late afternoon summer picnics to me. It’s good warm or cool, with or without a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Baked Blueberry Shortcake
2 c. sugar
1 c. butter, softened
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla*
3 c. flour
1 ½ cans blueberry, raspberry, or cherry* pie filling (recommended: Comstock/Wilderness)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Grease a 9x13-inch glass baking dish. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing to combine. Add vanilla. Gradually add flour and blend well.

Spread 75-percent of the batter into the pan. (Note: batter will be very thick, almost like a cookie dough.) Top with pie filling, then dot with remaining batter. Bake for approximately 50 minutes, until golden brown.

*If using cherry, substitute 1 tsp. almond extract for vanilla extract.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Marinated Flank Steak


In the Northern Hemisphere, summer is upon us. Get your ass outside, build a big fire, and grill some meat.

This is The Martha's recipe. She offers so many good things to eat, like this marinated flank steak. (Your marshmallows, Martha, I could do without.)

I completely forgot to make the sauce, seasoning the final result with salt and pepper (and, depending on the bite I was taking, a little basil garlic butter). Delicious.

Marinated Flank Steak

6 garlic cloves, minced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 quart apple juice
¼ cup whiskey or scotch (optional)
2 Tbsp. whole-grain mustard (I used a whole-grain Dijon)
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for grates
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. hot sauce, such as Tabasco
2 flank steaks (about 1 ½ pounds each), pricked all over with a fork

In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, whisk together garlic, 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper, apple juice, whiskey (if using), mustard, oil, Worcestershire, and hot sauce. Add steaks, and turn to coat; marinate at room temperature, turning occasionally, for an hour, or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to a day.

Lift steaks from marinade onto a platter; set aside. Make sauce: Place marinade in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until thickened and reduced to about 1 cup, 20 to 25 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat grill to high; lightly oil grates. Place steaks on grill. Cook, turning once, until well browned and cooked to desired doneness, 6 to 8 minutes per side for medium-rare (130 to 135 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

Transfer steaks to a cutting board and tent with aluminum foil. Let rest 10 minutes before thinly slicing against the grain. Serve with sauce.
Serves 8.

Grade: A

Monday, May 29, 2006

Slew of Memorial Day Picnic Sides

As a courtesy to you, I went through the hardship of trying out these recipes -- Basil-Garlic Butter, Grilled Corn, and Doctored Baked Beans -- yesterday so you might use them today. I know; such sacrifice and hardship is hard to believe.

In all seriousness, I hope you’re Memorial Day is a warm and sunny one, spent in the company of great friends and beloved family. And lots of fabulous food.



Basil Garlic Butter
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh, chopped basil
Salt to taste

Place all ingredients in a Ziplock bag. Knead until well combined. Using a rubber spatula, scoop out butter and place in a ramekin, smoothing the top. Garnish with basil leaves. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap before placing in the refrigerator.

Serve with corn on the cob (see below), spread on dinner rolls, or place a pat on a nicely grilled steak.

Grade: A+

˜˜˜˜˜



Grilled Corn on the Cob
4 ears of corn

Peel back the husks of the corn without removing them. Remove the silks and recover the corn with the husk. Soak in large pot of cold water for 30 minutes. Preheat grill to medium. Remove corn from water and shake off excess. Place the corn on the grill, close the cover and grill for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with basil garlic butter.

Grade: A+

˜˜˜˜˜



There's a reason baked beans are served in that little earthenware pot.

That's the only way they photograph well.


Doctored Bush’s Baked Beans
1 16oz. can Bush’s Baked Beans, Country Style (I don't think these are vegetarian...)
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. whole grain Dijon mustard

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until brown sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Serve hot.

Grade: A+

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Homemade Marshmallows


Remember Martha’s old show, Martha Stewart Living? One day, she showed the audience how to make marshmallows.

That’s the same day I went, “OK. She’s officially lost her mind.”

Marshmallows never seemed like anything but a vehicle for other flavors to me. Dip them in chocolate: delicious. Mix them with butter and Rice Krispies: tasty. Shape them into little chicks and cover them with neon colored sugar ... well, if not great, then at least visually appealing.

But to make them from scratch seemed asinine. What, and put the Jet Puffed people out of business?

But now, years later, I find that marshmallows are no longer the understudy; they’re the star. Gourmet versions are popping up all over the place and, let’s face it, those damn snowflake ones Martha floats in her hot cocoa are attractive.

So here I am, making marshmallows.

It’s not a hard recipe, just time consuming. Like fudge, you have to cook the sugar over low heat until the crystals dissolve, washing down the sides of the pan with a damp pastry brush from time to time. That took a loooong time, but perhaps that’s because I cooked it over very low heat.

Once dissolved, the heat gets cranked up and you wait for the temp to hit 245-degrees F. Again, time consuming but not hard.

From there, the syrup is poured into the gelatin. Once that happens, a scent, not unlike wet dog, is released. (Hot wet dog. Like when your dog goes in the lake on a really humid day and, on the drive home, that damp musky smell stinks up the whole car.) Fortunately, after 15 minutes of whisking at high speed, the smell dissipates and you’re left with something akin to Marshmallow Fluff. I’m guessing that if you took that mixture and put it into an airtight container, it would remain soft. (I would have set a bit aside to experiment with that idea, but the thought occurred after I was finished.)

The cream poured fairly easily into a (disposable aluminum) pan with the help of a rubber spatula. I didn’t press it down with my hands; the spatula (sprayed with cooking spray) did a fine job smoothing out the top. Then, I sprinkled the top with powdered sugar and waited.

The next day they were ready to cut and eat. I found the cut sides to be a bit sticky, so I threw several in a paper bag with some powdered sugar and shook them. The sugar adhered to the sticky sides.

And the taste? Eh. They’re still marshmallows. They're fresher and less artificial-tasting than those you buy at the store, but in the end, nothing really special. They are good covered in chocolate -- melt in your mouth tender -- but most marshmallows taste good in chocolate anyway.

From a culinary perspective, I don't I see the point in making them from scratch. But as a science experiment, it is kind of neat.


Homemade Marshmallows

2 1/2 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 c. light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Combine gelatin and 1/2 cup cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer with whisk attachment. Let stand 30 minutes.

Combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a small heavy saucepan; place over low heat, and stir until sugar has dissolved. Wash down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to dissolve sugar crystals.

Clip on a candy thermometer; raise heat to high. Cook syrup without stirring until it reaches 244-degrees F. (firm-ball stage). Immediately remove pan from heat.

With mixer on low speed, slowly and carefully pour syrup into the softened gelatin. Increase speed to high; beat until mixture is very thick and white and has almost tripled in volume, about 15 minutes. Add vanilla; beat to incorporate.

Generously dust an 8-by-12-inch glass baking pan with confectioners’ sugar. Pour marshmallow mixture into pan. Dust top with confectioners’ sugar; wet your hands, and pat it to smooth. Dust with confectioners’ sugar; let stand overnight, uncovered, to dry out. Turn out onto a board; cut marshmallows with a dry hot knife into 1 1/2-inch squares, and dust with more confectioners' sugar. Makes about 40



Grade: C (not really bad but what’s the point?)

This marshmallow was redeemed by chocolate.

Gentle Reminder: Retro Recipe Challenge


Just a reminder: the deadline for the first Retro Recipe Challenge is only two weeks away!

Here are the details for our first challenge: make any kind of recipe first published between 1920 and 1975. The point here is to find an old recipe and have fun creating it. When possible, cite your source, the year it was published, and take photos! (
Here’s an example.)

Post your results on your blog and then submit your link to
LauraRebeccasKitchen@gmail.com . All submissions need to be in by June 9 at 11:59pm EST.

I hope you'll join in -- I can't wait to see what you've cooked* up!


*I almost wrote "coked" up there. Maybe we can do that for a 1980s recipe retrospective.


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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Save the Internet: "Bipartisan Victory in the House"

Good news From SavetheInternet.com:

Bipartisan Victory in the House

The broad, nonpartisan movement for Internet freedom notched a
major victory today, when a bipartisan majority of the House Judiciary Committee passed the “Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006″ — a bill that offers meaningful protections for Network Neutrality, “the First Amendment of the Internet.”


Read the rest here.

Garlic, Pepper, and Onion French Bread Pizza

Garnished with a bit of green onion.



I’m currently addicted to two things: LOST* and Wegman’s Veggie French Bread Pizza. I don’t have a Hawaiian production unit but I do have a kitchen, so I recreated the latter.

The recognizable parts of the Wegman’s pizza are bread, mozzarella, red onions, peppers, cheddar, and margarine. With the exception of the last two ingredients, that’s what I used.

The result has a very fresh taste, so it doesn’t taste exactly like the Wegman’s frozen version. But it's good. And it’s very good to eat while watching a 2 hour season finale.

(Dharma Initiative) Garlic, Pepper, and Onion French Bread Pizza

6-inch loaf/piece of French bread, cut in half horizontally
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Garlic salt
Pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
1 Tbsp. finely chopped bell pepper
¾ c. Mozzarella, grated
Olive oil
2 tsp. Romano cheese, grated


Preheat oven to 400-degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil and place bread on it, cut side up.

Place butter and garlic in a small sauce pan; melt butter over low heat, allowing the garlic’s flavor to infuse the butter. Using a pastry brush, brush bread with melted butter and garlic. Season with pepper and garlic salt to taste.

Top each piece with a ¼ c. of mozzarella; then sprinkle with pepper and onion. Top with remaining mozzarella. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with Romano cheese.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.


Grade: A-

*Did anyone see the statue last night and think: “YOU DAMN DIRTY APE!”


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Save the Internet PSA



Save the Internet: Click here




FYI, everybody:



Dear SavetheInternet Blogger,

Tim Karr of Free Press and the SavetheInternet Coalition here. A critical vote is going down in Congress right now and we need you and your readers to get phones ringing off the hook on Capitol Hill.

The House Judiciary Committee is beginning to "mark up" a good Net Neutrality bill at around 11am (EST) this morning. Then they're going to vote on whether to bring it to the full floor. Many in the Committee are being pressured by AT&T, Verizon and other major telcos to vote down the net neutrality provisions in this bipartisan bill.

Below are the members who need to hear from you and your readers to support this important bill. Urge them to support the Sensenbrenner-Conyers "Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006" (HR 5417) in the Judiciary Committee -- and to support it without amendment. (Saying without amendment is key as the telcos want to re-write it in a way that guts Internet freedom).

Here are the members who need to hear from you and your readers right now:

Marty Meehan (D-Mass. 5th)
Phone: (202) 225-3411
Fax: (202)
226-0771
http://www.house.gov/writerep
martin.meehan@mail.house.gov

Howard Berman (D-Calif. 28th)
Phone: 202-225-4695
Fax: 202-225-3196
http://www.house.gov/writerep/

William Delahunt (D-Mass. 10th)
Phone: (202) 225-3111
Fax: (202) 225-5658
William.Delahunt@mail.house.gov


Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas 18th)
Phone: (202) 225-3816
Fax: (202) 225-3317
http://www.jacksonlee.house.gov/feedback.cfm?campaign=jacksonlee&type=Let%27s%20Talk

Bobby Scott (D-Va. 3rd)
Phone: (202) 225-8351
Fax: (202) 225-8354
http://www.house.gov/writerep/

Chris Van Hollen (D-Md. 8th)
Phone: (202) 225-5341
Fax: (202) 225-0375
http://www.house.gov/writerep/

Maxine Waters (D-Calif. 35th)
Phone: (202) 225-2201
Fax: (202) 225-7854
http://www.house.gov/waters/IMA/issue.htm

Mel Watt (D-N.C. 12th)
Tel. (202) 225-1510
Fax (202) 225-1512
http://www.house.gov/writerep/

Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y. 9th)
Phone: (202) 225-6616
Fax: (202) 226-7253
weiner@mail.house.gov


Robert Wexler (D-Fla. 19th)
phone: (202) 225-3001
fax: (202) 225-5974
http://www.house.gov/writerep/

Howard Coble (R-NC 6th)
phone: (202) 225-3065
fax: (202) 225-8611
howard.coble@mail.house.gov

Elton Gallegly (R-CA 24th)
phone: (202) 225-5811
fax: (202) 225-1100
http://www.house.gov/writerep/

Bob Goodlatte (R-VA 6th)
phone: (202) 225-5431
fax: (202) 225-9681
http://www.house.gov/goodlatte/emailbob.htm

Steve Chabot (R-OH 5th)
phone: (202) 225-2216
fax: (202) 225-3012
http://www.house.gov/chabot/email.html

Dan Lungren (R-CA 3rd)
phone: (202) 225-5716
fax: (202) 226-1298
http://www.house.gov/lungren/feedback.shtml

William Jenkins (R-TN 1st)
phone: (202) 225-6356
fax: (202) 225-5714
http://www.house.gov/writerep/

John Hostettler (R-IN 8th)
phone: (202) 225-4636
fax: (202) 225-3284
john.hostettler@mail.house.gov

Mark Green (R-WI 8th)
phone: (202) 225-5665
fax: (202) 225-5729
mark.green@mail.house.gov

Ric Keller (R-FL 8th)
phone: (202) 225-2176
fax: (202) 225-0999
http://www.house.gov/writerep/

Your help on this is critical. Please call now.

Thank you,
Tim Karr
Campaign Director
Free Press
SavetheInternet.com


P.S. - For updates throughout the day, visit
http://www.blogger.com/www.SavetheInternet.com.
Also, you & your readers can watch the hearings live at
http://judiciary.house.gov/ (scroll down below the calendar to live webcast link).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Crab Salad Redux

See the first crab salad recipe here.



Here are the flavors you’ll find at a New England Crab Shack, all heaped upon a buttered English muffin. Close your eyes, take a bite, and imagine sitting at a little café by the water.

The sun beats down, but you’re shaded by an oversized yellow umbrella striped with white. Condensation forms on your plastic cup of iced tea, dampening the napkin tucked beneath it. Darting between nearby tables are seagulls looking for discarded crusts or, if they’re lucky, a piece of fish. If you listen hard, you can hear the ocean over the din of chatting diners.

Enjoy your lunch.

Crab Salad

4 oz. crabmeat, picked over
1 Tbsp. finely chopped scallions
1 Tbsp. finely chopped bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow)
1 Tbsp. finely chopped celery
2 tsp. lemon juice
¼ tsp. lemon zest
1 to 2 Tbs. mayo
Salt and Pepper

1 English Muffin, split, toasted and lightly buttered
1 Bibb lettuce leaf, torn in half

In a medium bowl, combine crab, scallions, pepper, celery, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add mayo, mixing to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Top each English muffin half with half a Bibb lettuce leaf. Place spoonfuls of crab salad on top of each muffin half, garnishing with a bit of lemon zest or pepper slice. Serve with lemon wedge. Serves 1.

Grade: A

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cake Decorating: Hawaiian Island Cake


My Favorite Plum's Cooking for Children gives me an excuse to brag about this Hawaiian Island Cake. I made it two summers ago for Sadie's Hawaiian Luau-themed birthday. We rented a small pavilion at Seneca Lake State Park, handed out fabric flower leis, and decorated with a blow-up palm tree (Oriental Trading Company), Shane's old surfboard, and tropical plates and cups. When the kids weren't gorging themselves on cake and chips, they ran around in the nearby "Sprayground."*

The
recipe uses a cake mix (although there's no reason you couldn't make a batter from scratch) baked in an 8-inch, one quart ovenproof bowl and an 8-inch round cake pan. I used two mixes for a taller cake, resulting in three layers: the rounded top, and two 8-inch layers. I used the extra batter for some cupcakes.

I did make the
buttercream from scratch. Separating a quarter of the frosting to tint blue, I used the rest to frost the top and middle layers of the cake. To illustrate water, I used the blue frosting, then added sour gummy fish for more visual appeal. The cake was topped with a crushed graham cracker-beach, the shoreline delineated with blue and green M&Ms. (I wanted to use that sugar candy molded in the shape of rocks, but couldn't find them.) Everything was finished off with plastic palm trees, hula dancers, paper umbrellas (all found on eBay) and an "Aloha Sadie" written in purple gel icing. Cake slices were accompanied by (what else) Hawaiian Punch.

After all that sugar, we let the kids burn it off by whacking the stuffings out of pinata.

*The very same spraypark that, the following summer, was host to a cryptosporidium outbreak. Whee! Summer fun.

Outrageous Triple Chocolate Cookies



This recipe is based on Martha Stewart's Outrageous Chocolate Cookies. They're amazingly good -- the kind of recipe you make to enthrall other people with your baking prowess.

The recipe popped into my mind after trying Green & Black's white chocolate. I don't like white chocolate but, after getting a rave review on Candy Blog, I wanted to give it a try. I'm so glad I did! It's fabulous: creamy and sweet with hits of vanilla, visually illustrated by flecks of vanilla bean. Once I tasted it, I knew I had to work it into a recipe.

Hence this adaptation: Outrageous Triple Chocolate Cookies. The batter derives its chocolate flavor from melted semisweet, which is pushed over the top by bittersweet and white chocolate chips studding the dough. The white chocolate provides a nice counterpoint to the rest of the cookie's intense chocolate flavor (not that there's anything wrong with that).

It's a decadent cookie; one easily satifies a hard core chocolate craving.

That is, until you reach for another.

Outrageous Triple Chocolate Cookies

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2/3 c. all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2 large eggs
¾ c. packed light-brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 oz. dark chocolate chunks or chips (recommended Ghirardelli 60% Cacao
Bittersweet Chocolate chips)
6 oz. white chocolate, chopped (recommended: Green & Black’s White Chocolate bars)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Heat chopped semi-sweet chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl in 20-second increments, stirring between each, until almost melted; do not overheat. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla on high speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low; beat in melted chocolate. Mix in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in chocolate chunks. (Note: Don’t worry if the batter seems thin. It should look more like a brownie batter than a cookie dough.)

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough 2 to 3 inches apart onto baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are shiny and crackly yet soft in centers, 12 to 15 minutes. Do not bake the cookies to a crisp; they are meant to be soft and chewy.

Cool on sheets 10 minutes; with a thin metal spatula, transfer to racks to cool completely. Store them in an airtight container at room temperature for two to three days.

Makes 2 dozen.
---

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Monday, May 22, 2006

New England Crab Melts

I can't help but think that this pic will be in the 2050 edition
of The Gallery of Regrettable Food. It's tasty but it just has that look.


Shane is attending a training session in Detroit and the kids are at their mom's place.

I am home alone.

WHEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh, all right. There are lonely moments. Like when I have to choose which side of the bed to sleep in, and then decide to stay right in the middle. Or how I don't have to continually clean out gobs of toothpaste from the bathroom sink.

But those hardships aside, I'm using this as an opportunity to try some new recipes (among other things...). I'll be focusing on cooking smaller serving amounts: food for either one or two.

To that end, this first recipe has been adapted from the current issue of Everyday with Rachel Ray, entitled "New and Improved New England Crabby Melts" and serves 4. I halved the recipe and changed the name.

This is good. Before tasting it, however, I expected something else so, when I did bit into it, I was a sort of disappointed. I prefer the taste of "traditional" seafood salad flavors: lemon, some bell pepper, a touch of mayo, accentuating that lovely sweetness from the crab. Next time, I'll go with those flavors.

But back to this recipe: there's a bit of heat from the hot sauce and Old Bay, tempered by the English muffin base. The watercress provides a nice backdrop and the Gruyere adds a hit of creaminess. And the crab -- well, crab is always good.

It's very pretty; it would be perfect for a casually elegant spring ladies' lunch. (Served with a nice Chardonnay or, for something a bit stronger, a fizzy lemonade with a touch of vodka?)

New England Crab Melts

1½ jarred roasted red peppers, drained
Salt and pepper
Juice from half a lemon
½ tsp. hot sauce
1½ to 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
6 oz. fresh crabmeat
1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1 rib celery from the heart, finely chopped
1 sprig tarragon, leaves stripped and chopped (no stems)
1½ scallions, finely chopped
2 standard-size English muffins, split
Unsalted butter softened, for buttering muffins
1 cup watercress, chopped
½ cup shredded Gruyere cheese

Place peppers in bowl of food processor and season with the salt and pepper. Add lemon juice and hot sauce, then turn on processor. Add olive oil in a thin stream and process until smooth.

Preheat broiler. Using your fingers, check the crabmeat for bits of shell. In a medium bowl, combine the crab and Old Bay seasoning. Add celery, tarragon and scallions to the crab and toss with the red pepper dressing. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

Toast the English muffins under the hot broiler, then lightly butter them. Top with a small handful of watercress, followed by a scoop of the crab salad. Pat down the salad a bit, then top with a handful of cheese. Return to the broiler and allow the cheese to melt, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

Serves 2.

Grade: B+ (Higher if I hadn't had that standard seafood salad taste in my head before eating.)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Sour Cream Pound Cake

The cake isn't actually levitating; it's just on a cooling rack.
But it would be cool if it had metaphysical powers.


I love Everyday Food; it's my current favorite foodie mag. I especially love their "Sweet Favorites" section, which features reader submitted favorite dessert recipes.I had a sweet craving after dinner last night, so I thought I'd whip up this month's Sweet Favorite: Sour Cream Pound Cake.

It's a simple recipe -- really just throwing things in a mixer, and then into the pan. But the final result is ... eh. Not great, not bad just ... eh. It's got pleasant vanilla flavor but it's not particularly rich or buttery. It does weigh a lot, but that doesn't come across in the flavor.


Certainly, I may have screwed something up. Shortly after I added the first egg, the batter looked "broken" -- you know, that separated, curdled look. If I recall correctly, that happens when you over beat the butter, but I don't think I did.


The recipe says it should take 75 to 85 minutes to bake but by that point, my cake was still soupy inside. I finally took it out after 107 minutes, and it remained damper around the ring than I would have liked. (I could have left it in the oven, but I was losing patience by that point.) I also baked this in a silicone bundt; could that have impacted things so dramatically?


If you make it, let me know how yours turns out. I'd like to compare notes.


Sour Cream Pound Cake

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3 c. flour, spooned and leveled
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2½ c. sugar
6 large eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 c. reduced-fat sour cream (why they're skimping on calories in the sour cream after adding butter, sugar, and eggs is beyond me.)

Preheat oven to 325-degrees. Butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan (though it's clear from the magazine's photo they used a decorative bundt). In a medium bowl, which together flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until light. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Then add vanilla and beat until well combined.

With mixer on lowest speed, add flour in three parts and sour cream in two, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat after each addition until just combined.

Spoon batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with a rubber spatula. Tap pan on counter to let batter settle. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out cleat and cake is golden brown, 75 to 85 minutes. Let cool in pan for 20 minutes, then run a metal spatula around the inner and outer edges of the pan. Invert onto a cooling rack and cool completely.


Grade: B

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Farfalle with Asparagus, Sugar Snap Peas, Prosciutto and Parmesan

Made with locally-grown asparagus from
Pederson Farms in Seneca Castle, NY.


From the 4/96 issue of Bon Appétit comes this recipe for Farfalle with Asparagus, Sugar Snap Peas and Parmesan, which will hopefully qualify for Asparagus Aspirations. (Kevin mentioned a number of duplicate recipes and, let's be honest, this one isn't exactly novel or exotic. It is, however, very good.)

I wanted to gild the lily a bit, so I threw in about 2 ounces of sliced prosciutto and topped everything with some thin shavings of Asiago cheese. If I may say so, it was a good idea.

One of my favorites things about a good dish is not only its wonderful flavor but the memories and places eating it will conjure up. The tastes in this pasta dish -- especially the asparagus -- assert that spring is really here, with all the blossoming plants, nesting birds, and sunny days it brings.

Farfalle With Asparagus, Sugar Snap Peas, Prosciutto and Parmesan

1 pound asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 pound Farfalle (bow-tie pasta)
1/2 pound sugar snap peas (or snow peas), trimmed
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 oz. Prosciutto, halved lengthwise and cut into slices
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 ounces)
Additional freshly grated parmesan cheese

Add asparagus to large pot of boiling salted water and cook until just crisp-tender. Transfer to bowl of cold water using slotted spoon. Cool asparagus slightly and drain.
Add pasta to same pot of water and boil until just tender but still firm to bite. Add sugar snap peas and boil 2 minutes. Add asparagus and heat through. Drain well.
Return pasta-vegetable mixture to pot. Add oil and toss to coat. Add prosciutto and 1/2 cup cheese, tossing to distribute. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, passing additional cheese separately.

Serves 4.

Grade: A-

Net Neutrality



Save the Internet: Click here


While I completely missed the boat on
not posting this past Tuesday, I tried to redeem myself by sending a letter to the FCC:

Dear Chairman Martin, Commissioner Copps, Commissioner Adelstein, and Commissioner Tate,

I am deeply dismayed -- but not surprised -- by the media conglomerates' current move in pushing for an end to network neutrality. As the FCC's mandate to protect the public airwaves has been applied to non-premium television delivered via cable or satellite, I can see no reason why this mandate should not be applied to the Internet -- the people's Internet. Allowing media companies to create "tollbooths," act as Internet gatekeepers, and discriminate what I can or can not easily access online is a direct violation of the mandate.

You are well aware that this desire to end network neutrality stems solely from the desire to add yet more money into the pockets of companies such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. Their desire to increase profits by restricting the public's access to the public's "airwaves" runs directly counter to the FCC's purpose.

Please keep in mind your mandate and do not allow this to happen. I have already contacted my representatives -- Senator Clinton, Senator Schumer, and Representative Boehlert -- regarding this matter.

Thank you for your time,



Please contact the FCC and tell them to maintain and enforce Net Neutrality! (Feel free to use the above, though make sure you change the names of your senators and representatives to reflect your municipality.) We don't need another public resource co-opted by multi-billion dollar companies.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tea & Sympathy's Spicy Ginger Cake



There is something about this cake that demands it be eaten along with a good cup of tea. As it is served in the Tea & Sympathy teashop, that makes a lot of sense.

It is amazingly delicious. The inside is sticky and soft, packed with sweetness and ginger spiciness. The edges are firmer (though still sticky) and carmelized, almost like a buttery candy. The color is simply gorgeous: a medium golden brown.

Eating it makes me feel like I’m at Tea & Sympathy, sipping vanilla cream tea out of a pretty little cup. In the background, the waitresses are affectionately teasing each other, and silverware clinks gently. I’m at a small table, bumping my knees against my husband's while fighting him to get the last morsel of custard-drenched ginger cake.

Since our trip to Toronto was just cancelled (nothing like having a training company cancel a session only 5 days before it's supposed to start...), I need a little tea and sympathy -- and a slice of ginger cake.

Tea & Sympathy's Spicy Ginger Cake

2 c. all purpose flour
2 Tbsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 c. dark brown sugar
4 eggs
1 stick butter, softened
1 ½ c. golden syrup

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Butter and flour a 13 ½ x 4 ½ x 4-inch loaf pan (I baked this in a 13x9 pan). Mix together dry ingredients. Mix in eggs, one at a time. Add butter, followed by golden syrup. Bake 40-45 minutes. The cake may sink slightly but will still taste fantastic.

Grade: A+

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Grilled Sweet Onion & Tomato Salad

Grilled Sweet Onion & Tomato Salad, right,
accompanied by Sweet N Spicy BBQ Glazed Pork Chops, and an ear of corn.

This comes from Wegmans Menu magazine. I can't believe how good it is: the onions' sugars caramelize over the grill's heat, bringing out the Vidalias' natural sweetness. (Alone, they would be a wonderful topping for a good steak.) That's accentuated by the sugars found in the balsamic vinegar and the grape tomatoes, while the basil adds a hint of brightness. Delicious.

What a nice way to trick yourself into eating vegetables.

Grilled Sweet Onion & Tomato Salad

2 Vidalia onions, peeled and cut crosswise 1/2-inch thick
2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pint grape tomatoes, stems removed, rinsed and halved
12 medium basil leaves, torn or cut in thin match-like strips
2 tsp Wegmans Balsamic Vinegar
8 Metal grilling skewers (if bamboo, soak 1 hour before use)

Clean grill with wire brush; using a soft cloth, coat grill lightly with vegetable oil. Preheat grill on medium heat for 10 min.

Run two parallel skewers, approximately 1-inch apart, through each sliced onion chunk, lollypop-style. Brush with 1 1/2 Tbsp oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Grill onions, turning once, 10-12 minutes, until streaked with grill marks.
Transfer onions to cutting board; cool slightly. Remove skewers, cut onions slices in half and place in serving bowl; toss to separate layers.

Add tomatoes, basil, and remaining oil and vinegar; toss. Serves 4.

Grade: A+


Sweet N Spicy BBQ Glaze

Looking at the back of a Lyle's Golden syrup* bottle and improvising a bit, I came up with the following sauce. Brush it on your meat of choice (best with chicken or pork, I think) just before it's finished cooking. Reserve leftover sauce for serving alongside the grilled meat.

Sweet N Spicy BBQ Sauce

2 Tbsp. soy sauce
¼ cup Golden syrup
¼ cup tomato paste
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
¼ tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. five spice Chinese powder

Combine ingredients in a small bowl, mixing thoroughly. Grill meat and, just before the meat is fully cooked, brush with sauce. Cook for few additional minutes to set sauce.

Grade: A+

*I found it next to the corn syrup and molasses in the baking aisle.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Skillet Lasagna




I had seen a recipe for Skillet Lasagna in one of the food magazines (Everyday Food?) but I couldn’t find it either in hard copy or online.

I did find this recipe, and using ingredients I had lying around, adapted it.

It’s actually pretty good. The consistency of the noodles are a bit different than a baked lasagna –- chewier, but it's not an al dente issue -- and it’s definitely saucier (eat it with some crusty Italian bread).

But it didn’t take too long to make – maybe 30 minutes – and it was very satisfying.

Skillet Lasagna
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 pound ground turkey
1 small onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove (or 2 small ones) minced
3 oz uncooked pasta (I used about 8 full size lasagna noodles, broken into 1-inch pieces)
1 ¼ c. water
1 tsp. dried basil
½ tsp. dried oregano
Pinch of garlic salt (more or less to your taste)
22 oz pasta sauce (any variety)
1 cup shredded mozzarella (more or less to your taste)
½ c. ricotta cheese (more or less to your taste)

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add turkey and onion and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add garlic. Continue occasional stirring until turkey is no longer pink.

Stir in remaining ingredients except cheeses. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally; reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered 10 to 18 minutes or until pasta is tender, stirring occasionally (cook time will depend upon the type of pasta you’re using)

Place dollops of ricotta on top of the pasta-meat mixture and bring heat to medium to heat ricotta through. Once warm, sprinkle with mozzarella and allow to melt. Garnish with fresh basil and parmesan, if desired.

Grade: A-

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Pecan Cinnamon Muffins



I was cleaning out my kitchen cabinets – more of an archeological dig, really – and rediscovered the “Totally Muffins Cookbook.” Sue, my mother-in-law, picked this up for me at a garage sale (along with two sets of pristine, still-in-the-wrapper giant muffin tins. It was awesome. I later went to the same sale and bought an almost new chicken rotisserie for $20).

The big change I made from the recipe listed in the book and below was the type of flour used. I was running low on all purpose but had a full bag of self-rising flour, so I used that instead, omitting the baking powder and salt.

The muffins baked up a bit pale. They could have used more topping to give them a richer hue. That said, these are tasty with a nice, tender crumb, though I’d like them to have more of a cinnamon and sugar punch. If I make them again, I’ll increase both, perhaps adding some brown sugar to the batter. I’d also like to see what would happen if I used glazed pecans instead of the plain in the batter as well.

As always with muffins, the tops are the best part.

Pecan Cinnamon Muffins

1 cup pecan halves
1 ¼ tsps. Cinnamon
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 stick butter, softened
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. sour cream
1 Tbsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt.

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Spread pecans on a baking sheet and toast in oven, 7 to 9 minutes. While toasting, grease muffin tins or line with paper cups.

Roughly chop 75-percent of the pecans and set aside. Finely chop the remaining pecans and mix with brown sugar and ¼ tsp. cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside for topping.

Cream together butter and sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, sour cream, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones, stirring only until the flour mixture disappears. Gently fold in roughly-chopped pecans.

Fill muffin cups with batter and sprinkle each with a generous amount of topping. Bake approximately 25 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Let cool five minutes, then remove from pan. Makes 12-14 standard size muffins.

Grade: B


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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Announcing Retro Recipe Challenge #1!



RRC #1 Challenge has been posted. Please take a look!


One of my favorite sites is The Gallery of Regrettable Food. Such loving care seems to have been put into each recipe – but the results are just appalling.

When did
benedictish frankwiches seem like a good idea? Why?

Let’s find out.

Here’s the challenge for round 1: make a dish of any kind from a recipe first published between 1920 and 1975. Unlike the Gallery of Regrettable Food, your creation does not have to be gross. It can be utterly beautiful and absolutely delicious. (But if it’s gross, that’s OK too; frankly, I’m kind of curious to see someone make aspic.)

The point here is to find an old recipe and have fun creating it. When possible, cite your source, the year it was published, and take photos! (
Here’s an example.) Post your results on your blog and then send me the link between now and June 9. I’ll post the round up shortly thereafter.

Looking for resources? Try these:

The Food Timeline

Fanny Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cook book

Peggy's Antiquated Recipes: The Twenties

Some searching and digging is required, but it take a look at
Uncle Phaedrus: Consulting Detective + Finder of Lost Recipes

I've also had luck doing Google search for "Recipes" plus the decade (e.g.,
Recipes 1930) .

Don't forget to peruse your local library, scour some garage sales (I found a 1960's cookbook published by the Alabama Peanut Producers Association...), and dig through your Mom's or Grandma's (or Dad or Grandpa's) bookshelf.


Let’s party like it’s 1955 – get cooking!


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Friday, May 12, 2006

Food Destinations: Seneca Lake, New York State


We interrupt this regularly scheduled recipe blog for the following restaurant rundown. Maki over at I was just really very hungry is hosting a Food Destinations carnival and the following is my entry.

The Finger Lakes are booming. We’ve got the lakes, wineries, forests, waterfalls, farms, arts, crafts venues, and culture, attracting more and more tourists each year. (Really, you haven’t lived until you’ve spent a spring day sailing on one of the lakes, a summer morning swimming beneath a waterfall, or a crisp fall afternoon sipping wine and taking in the color. The winters, however, you should spend in Florida.)

As more and more people visit the region, more and more restaurants are popping up. Some you’ve heard of – the Moosewood Restaurant ring any bells? – but I’d like to highlight some of spots that aren’t as renown; spots that I love. The follwong four spots are all situated around Seneca Lake, the "heart of the Finger Lakes."*


Moving from New York City to a rural area was not easy, but one restaurant got me through those nights of missing great NYC food: Ports Café. With an emphasis on using local ingrediants, Ports is a popular destination featuring entrees ranging from a shrimp boil to smoked spare ribs to a bacon cheddar burger. Not only do they have an extensive menu but each night features numerous (five to ten, I’d guess) additional specials to choose from -- bacon wrapped filet mignon and apple and cheddar topped pork chops make frequent appearances.

I almost always order the Winter Night Salad to start – a combination of mixed greens, apples, dried cranberries, glazed walnuts, and gorgonzola crumbles tossed in a raspberry vinaigrette. Delicious. Two years ago , however, I was fortunate to taste their blueberry red wine (cold) soup, finished with a bit of crème fresh and lemon zest. It was so good that, two years later, I’m still thinking about it. (I’m sure it will be back on the menu, I just haven’t been there when blueberries are in season.)

The one thing Ports doesn’t do so well is desserts. It’s not that they’re bad, but spend your calories elsewhere. In the summer, you won’t have to go far. Adjacent to the restaurant is a burger shack also owned by Ports. They serve great hard and soft ice cream – I recommend the soft-serve vanilla root beer float. (You can get great grilled sandwiches and French fries at the shack, too).

Fox Run Vineyards is home to a wonderful café run by chef Frank Caravita (a very nice acquaintance of ours). The café is a great lunch spot. You can choose from a number of gourmet sandwiches at their deli counter and eat them cold or grilled. Those can be accompanied by a number of Fox Run wines or something lighter: a soda, French lemonade, a fruit spritzer. Add some kettle cooked chips or a cookie (baked daily by Frank – who knew a plain sugar cookie could be so good?) and enjoy your meal inside or, on a nice day, on the deck, overlooking Seneca Lake.

Kyo Asian Bistro recently changed owners and, by all accounts, that’s for the better. The “new” Kyo has a full bar which packs people in but the food and atmosphere keep it from becoming just a watering hole. Girl-drink consumer that I am, I like the KyOto Sake Martini, made of Sake, raspberry wine, peach wine, pineapple and cranberry juice. Kyo recently introduced a “small plates” menu, similar to tapas – a number of choices (Phad Thai noodles, spring rolls, Miso, etc) in tiny, tiny portions to either whet your appetite or create a mini buffet. The big plates are very good as well, especially the Kyo Drunken duck rubbed with “Chinese 5 spices” and served in plum sake sauce with sesame-crusted rice cakes. Their Maki Rolls, sushi and sashimi are also very good. For dessert, I usually order the Banana-Walnut Spring Rolls, which are filled with walnuts, banana and toffee bits, fried, and served with caramel-run sauce and banana ice cream.

My new favorite is Dano’s Heuriger on Seneca. A Heuriger (HOI-rigger) is sort of an upscale Vienneise pub, though it’s not at all formal or stuffy (you can wear blue jeans and a clean polo shirt and fit right in). The space is somehow both elegant and comfortable. Chef Dano Hutnik, his family, and staff work hard to make you feel that you’re their guest whom they want to see satisfied. The kitchen is completely open; when walking in from the parking lot, you can see Dano and his staff buzzing around their immaculate kitchen. As for the wait staff, they’re impeccable. Not only do they cater to your every need, they do so with an easygoing air and smile. Between orders, Dano will come out into the restaurant and say hello to each table, perhaps sharing a joke with his honored guests.

But let’s face it: we’re here for the food. And Dano’s does not disappoint. I have yet to taste anything that wasn’t superb. There are so many wonderful things to eat that I can’t possibly do them all justice here. Shane’s favorite is the weiner schnitzel: tender veal pounded thin, breaded and fried to perfection. All it needs is a squirt of lemon juice and it’s ready to devour. I’m crazy for the red cabbage, horseradish beat salad, and the pork shank. The pork is so tender and succulent that it falls off the bone. It will be gone before you know it. We both love the liptaur, a zippy, salty cheese spread that tastes great on everything, especially the freshly made bread. For dessert, there are many choices but you can’t go wrong with the fruit struedel (the flavors change frequently) or – my personal favorite – the linzer torte, made with a hazelnut crust and vibrantly flavorful raspberry preserves. The pastries are created by Karen Gilman, Dano’s wife, and if you’re bored (though between the food and the gorgeous view of Seneca Lake, I doubt you’ll have time to let your mind wander) you can debate who does a better job in the kitchen.

Dano's Heuriger on Seneca.


If all this sounds good, book yourself into one of the many B&Bs, scout the wine trail and make sure you stop and eat at Ports, Fox Run, Kyo, and Dano's (especially Dano's). Enjoy, and bon appetite.

*Almost everything here calls itself the "heart of the Finger Lakes," so take that with a grain of salt.



Many thanks to Maki for hosting this event!

Donna Hay's Caramel-Filled Biscuits




For the third Hay, Hay, It’s Donna Day! the challenge was to make cookies having two colors and two flavors – a very good challenge.

My choice, Caramel-Filled Biscuits with added chocolate, unfortunately, did not come out to my liking.

Here's my gripe: the cookie is buttery, sandy, and soft – like a tender shortbread. (If you’ve ever eaten a Mexican Wedding Cake, you’ll know what I’m talking about.) My mother makes something very similar at Christmas and it’s the one type of cookie that I completely avoid. The difference here is that the corn flour in the dough adds the occasional bit of hard corn meal, which seems to run counter to the rest of the cookie’s texture. Maybe the corn flour I bought wasn’t milled well enough.

The cookie is filled with a sweet caramel made from Sweetened Condensed Milk. The last time I used SCM, I had trouble getting past its cheesy smell. (You have to get very close to it to pick that up.) I ran into the same problem here. I know, however, that that is completely my problem. I had so much caramel left over that Shane ate it for dessert. And breakfast.

To combat these challenges, I threw in vanilla extract to both the batter and the caramel, but I don’t think it made any difference. What did change things was the melted chocolate I piped into and on top of the sandwiches. That’s my favorite part.

I’d like these a lot better if:
The caramel was omitted
The cornflour was replaced (with AP flour?)
The cookies were baked thinner
The cookie was filled and topped solely with chocolate, OR filled with a raspberry jam and topped with chocolate.


I’m looking forward to doing another Donna Hay recipe soon because they sound so good. (Honey and sesame prawn stir-fry? Yum.)

But I’m staying away from this one.

Donna Hay’s Caramel-filled Biscuits

Cookie:
2 sticks plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ c. flour
1 c. cornflour
1 egg.
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Filling:
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
4 Tbsp + 1 tsp. butter
2 Tbsp. golden syrup (or light corn syrup)
½ tsp. vanilla extract

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

Combine the butter, sugar, flour, cornstarch, egg and vanilla in a stand mixer until a smooth dough forms. Roll tablespoons of the mixture into balls and place on lined baking trays. Flatten the dough slightly and place the trays in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or until firm. Preheat oven to 350-degrees F.

Bake the biscuits until lightly golden, 10 to 14 minutes. Cool on racks.

To make the filling, combine the condensed milk, butter, vanilla and corn syrup in a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of boiling water. Let cook 10 to 15 minutes until the caramel is thick, stirring occasionally.

Place chocolate into a microwave-safe plastic zipper bag (like Ziplock) and seal. Microwave at 30 second intervals at 30- to 40-percent power until chocolate is melted, mushing the chocolate between “zaps.”

Cool the caramel for 10 minutes (though it took mine much, much longer), then spoon onto the flat side of a cookie. Snip a small corner off the chocolate-filled plastic bag, and using it as a pastry bag, place dollops of chocolate the flat side of another cookie. Sandwich the cookies together and repeat. To decorate, drizzle chocolate on top of each cookie. Allow to cool and become firm before eating.

Yeilds 12 cookie sandwiches.


Grade: C (much higher if this is your kind of cookie)


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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Eggplant Parmesan




Martha’s recipe for baked eggplant parm is delicious, and easy to make to boot.

We paired the dish with a bottle of Candoni Wines' Candoni D.O.C.G., and a good hunk of bakery fresh bread. After the wine was finished, we wrapped the meal up with a fresh salad tossed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

All this was done al fresco -- of course.

I am full, sleepy, and a tiny bit drunk: perhaps the definition of a very good meal.

Baked-Eggplant Parmesan

Olive oil for baking sheets
2 large eggs
¾ c. plain dry breadcrumbs
¾ c. finely grated Parmesan, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. dried basil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 large eggplants (2 1/2 pounds total), peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
6 cups (48 ounces) store-bought chunky tomato sauce or Chunky Tomato Sauce (see recipe below)
1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 375-degrees F. Brush two baking sheets with oil; set aside. In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together eggs and 2 tablespoons water. In another bowl, combine breadcrumbs, 3/4 cup Parmesan, oregano, and basil; season with salt and pepper.

Dip eggplant slices in egg mixture, letting excess drip off, then dredge in breadcrumb mixture, coating well; place on baking sheets. Bake until golden brown on bottom, 20 to 25 minutes. Turn slices; continue baking until browned on other side, 20 to 25 minutes more.

Remove from oven; raise oven heat to 400-degrees F. Spread 2 cups sauce in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange half the eggplant in dish; cover with 2 cups sauce, then 1/2 cup mozzarella. Repeat with remaining eggplant, sauce, and mozzarella; sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted, 15 to 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 8.

Chunky Tomato Sauce
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans (28 ounces each) whole tomatoes
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic, stirring frequently, until translucent, 2 to 4 minutes. Crush tomatoes into pan; add oregano. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Grade: A

Parmesan Fritters

Boil, boil, toil, and trouble. Gas burner burn, and fry pan bubble.

When I was a kid, my dad used to make chicken cutlets all the time. Not chicken parmesan (though I’d have happily eaten it) – just chicken, breaded with breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, some herbs, salt and pepper. He’d fry them in some olive oil and the house would be perfumed by the delicious Italian scent.

Better yet, there would frequently be leftover breading mixture, which he would turn into “cheese balls.” He’d add an egg to the breading, making it into a paste, and fry it alongside the chicken.

The result was heaven: a fried little goodie with a crispy crust yet tender middle, packed with the salty, tasty zing of Parmesan.

I made some today with the leftover breading for my eggplant parmesan. They’re just as I remember – delicious.

My kitchen is now filled with that same Italian perfume. And I am a happy woman.

Parmesan Fritters

1 c. of Parmesan cheese
¾ c. unseasoned breadcrumbs
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. dried basil
Salt and pepper
1 to 2 eggs (start with one)
1 to 3 Tbs. water (start with one)
Olive oil for frying

In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together an egg and a tablespoon of water. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring to combine. You should have a dough of medium wetness – not too wet (add more parm), not too dry (add more water or eggs) – that’s a bit sticky. Roll dough into small balls; they should be larger than a shooter marble but not nearly as big as a golf ball.

Pour olive oil into a heavy duty pan until it’s about ½-inch deep. Heat over a medium flame. Drop one ball into the oil to ascertain temperature. If the oil is of the right temperature, it shouldn’t bubble too much (or not at all). Add a few more balls into the pan, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Cook each side until a deep golden brown, approximately 3 minutes. Flip and repeat.

When finished, the ball should have a nice, crisp exterior and a tender, fully cooked interior – not wet or gluey.

Best enjoyed warm, but cold out of the refrigerator is delicious too.
Grade: A+

Spatulatta.com Wins James Beard Award




From NPR.com:

Pre-Teens Win James Beard Web Award
Michele Norris talks with Isabella and Olivia Gerasole, Chicago sisters who won a James Beard Foundation Award for their Web site,
spatulatta.com. At ages 10 and 8, the sisters are the youngest people to win the prestigious award. Their site is geared toward teaching kids how to cook.


There is something really wonderful about an 8 year old and a 10 year old winning a James Beard Award.

Wonderful. Terrific. Lovely.

No. I don't feel old. Why do you ask?


Or jealous. No. No.

Of a 10 year old? Ha!

Nor an 8 year old. No, no. That's silly.

...

Stop looking at me that way.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Reduced Fat Macaroni & Cheese


Summer is almost here so, yesterday, I tried on a pair of shorts.

They were ... tighter than I remember them to be.

So either clothes are now shrinking during winter storage (which I'm not ready to rule out) or writing a food blog causes one's ass diameter to increase. (Damn you food blog! DAMN YOU!)

Hence, this Cook's Country recipe for Reduced Fat Macaroni.

The words "Reduced Fat" don't make anyone's mouth water but in this case, it should. I'm very impressed -- creamy with great cheese flavor. The family demolished it last night.

No one will know that it's lower in calories; you can pass it off as artery-clogging goodness. I wish I'd made a double-batch so that it would be ready to go for dinner tonight.

Reduced Fat Macaroni and Cheese: you can have your comfort food and eat it too. And fit into your summer shorts.

Reduced Fat Macaroni & Cheese

Topping:
1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Mac-n-cheese:
½ cup shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar (3 oz.)
½ cup grated Parmesan
½ cup part-skim ricotta
1 Tbsp. plus ½ tsp. salt
½ lb. elbow macaroni
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1½ Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. powdered mustard
2½ c. skim milk
½ tsp. Tabasco (optional)

For the topping, toss bread crumbs with butter and set aside.

In a food processor or blender, process cheddar, parmesan and ricotta until no large pieces remain, one to two minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position. Bring 4 quarts waters to boil in a Dutch oven or pot over high heat. Add 1 Tbsp. salt and macaroni, cooking until tender, 7 to 9 minutes. Drain macaroni and leave in colander.

In the now empty Dutch oven/pot, heat butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour and mustard and cook, whisking until smooth, about one minute. Whisking constantly, slowly add milk and Tabasco and bring to a full boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking frequently, until mixture becomes slightly thicker than heavy cream, two to four minutes.

Remove pan from heat and whisk in cheese mixture and ½ tsp. of salt until cheese is melted. Add pasta and cook, stirring constantly over medium-low heat, until mixture is steaming, two to three minutes.

Transfer mixture to a broiler-safe 8-inch-square baking disk and sprinkle with bread crumb mixture. Broil until crumbs are a deep, golden brown, two to four minutes. Rotate pan, if needed, for even browning. Cool two minutes and serve.

4 as a main course; 6 as a side.

Grade: A

Road Trip!


Shane & I are headed to Toronto in about two weeks. I'm really excited -- I've never been there before, even though it's only 4 hours away. So, if you've got any recommendations -- restaurants (of course), museums, music venues, shops, etc. -- please let me know!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Mango Ginger Buttermilk Ice Cream


Another ginger recipe, adapted from our foodie lord and savior's website: Martha Stewart.com There, MS has a recipe for Nectarine Ginger Buttermilk Ice Cream but since nectarines aren't in season, I substituted mangoes.

This was a very easy recipe to make -- made all the more easy with assistance from friend and sous chef Jenny (Thanks Jenny!!!) -- with summer-worthy results.

It's a very fresh and bright flavor; the vibrancy of mangoes burst through with each bite. It's not very creamy (more like a sherbet than an ice cream) but I can't help but think that this consistency better compliments its tropical flavors.

The presence of ginger isn't very strong here. I detected its bottom note several times but I don't know I'd be able to pick up the ginger flavor if I didn't know it was there. For me, not the biggest fresh ginger fan, that's fine. But if you're looking for more of that ginger punch, I'd increase the ginger to a full teaspoon and taste the mixture (before and after adding the buttermilk and half-n-half) to see if you want to add more.

This isn't a terribly sweet dessert, which is not to say that it's at all sour. The sweetness accurately mirrors what's found in a ripe mango, I think. It's sophisticated; a nice finish to a light supper of Salade nicoise or grilled prawns.

Mango Ginger Buttermilk Ice Cream

3 ripe mangoes
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice(about 2 large lemons)
1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 and 1/2 c. low-fat buttermilk
1 c. half-and-half

Prepare mangoes for use, discarding skins and pits. Place in a food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl, and add sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice, and ginger. Whisk to combine, cover, and let stand for an hour.

If desired, pass mango mixture through a strainer into a medium bowl (if unstrained, you may have small chunks of mango in your final product). Add buttermilk and half-and-half, whisking to combine. Transfer to an ice-cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. If necessary, do this in two batches, keeping remainder of ice cream base refrigerated while the first batch is freezing.

Makes about 2 quarts.

Grade: A

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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Burgers and Baked Onion Rings



Sometimes you have such high hopes for a meal. You go to the store, carefully select your ingredients, get home, set up your mise en place, and cook.

And then, when everything is in front of you, and you take your first bite – well sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it’s not, and some it’s OK.

This is OK. We’re full and sated but not jumping through the roof with joy.

With the burgers, I didn’t make the patties thin enough so between that and the very high flame, they didn't cook evenly.

I’d like to try this recipe again – the flavor was good, but as they were well done, I’m sure they could be better. (They remained moist.) I always have trouble grilling meat. I need to get an instant read thermometer.

***

I love onion rings. FRIED onion rings.

For what they are, they’re good. But baked onion rings will never be mistaken for the real thing. I guess it isn't fair to compare them to fried -- they're not in the same league. (Baked = minors. Fried = majors.)

Having said that, the ones Michael Chu at Cooking for Engineers made look a lot better than mine, so perhaps something went awry for me.

I'm not going to bother with these again. For the amount of effort, the results aren't worth it.

Both recipes come from Cook's Country magazine.

The Ultimate Burger

8 strips bacon
1 to 2 slices of white bread, crusts removed & discarded, cut into ½-inch pieces
¼ cup milk
1-1/2 lbs. ground beef (85 to 90-percent lean)
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
2 large garlic cloves, very finely minced
Veggie oil for grill rack

Fry bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp, 8 minutes. Transfer bacon to plate lined with paper towels. Save bacon for another purpose. (Bacon bits for salad? Topping your burger for extra burger goodness?) Spoon 3 Tbsp. bacon fat into heatproof bowl in refrigerator until ready to use.

Place bread in small bowl and add milk, allowing mixture to sit for 5 minutes. Using a fork, mash bread and milk until if forms a smooth paste.

Break up beef into small pieces in medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then add garlic, bread paste, and bacon fat. Lightly knead together so that ingredients are well incorporated and mixture forms cohesive mass. Divide meat into 4 equal parts. Using hands, toss each portion of meat back and forth to form a loose ball, then gently flatten into ¾-inch patties.

Oil grate and grill burgers over very hot fire, without pressing down on them, until well-seared on both sides, 7 to 10 minutes. Serves 4


Oven-Fried Onion Rings

30 saltine crackers
4 handfuls kettle-cooked chips
2 med. Yellow or Vidalia onions cut into 1/2-inch wide rings
¼ c. flour
½ cup buttermilk
1 large egg
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ c. flour
2 Tbsp. veggie oil

In a food processor, process saltines and potato chips to the size of your choosing (play it safe and don’t go to big or small).

Combine the buttermilk with 1/4 cup flour, cayenne pepper, egg, salt, and pepper to form batter.

Preheat oven to 450-degrees F. Take each onion ring and drop it into the flour, tapping off the excess. Then drop the ring into the buttermilk batter. Lift the ring out of the buttermilk (you use a chopstick or kebab skewer) and place it into the saltine-chip mixture. Spoon the coating around the ring until it's well coated and then lift it (using another chopstick or skewer) to a plate. Repeat until all the rings are gone or you get bored with the process, which ever comes first.

Pour oil onto baking sheet and place in the oven for 8 or 9 minutes. Carefully pull out the pan - it should be lightly smoking - and tilt it so the surface is evenly coated with oil. Placed onion rings onto the pan, making sure none are touching, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Pull out the pan, flip all the rings over and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes. When finished, both sides should be golden brown.


Burger: B (With better grilling techniques, A range)
Baked Onion Rings: B- (ketchup helps...)


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Friday, May 05, 2006

Ginger Scented Pecans


By itself, ginger is not one of my favorites. I like ginger snaps, gingerbread, spice cakes, etc. but I always leave pickled ginger on my sushi board and can't fathom why anyone would want to eat crystallized ginger. There's something about its pungent scent that hits my nose the wrong way. It's like those old Warner Bros.' cartoons where characters get into sneezing fits at the mere whiff of pepper -- that's me with ginger.

Therefore, participating in this month's Sugar High Friday (theme: ginger) presented a bit of a challenge.

I have another idea up my sleeve (Will I get to it? Who knows.) but, for the first try, I've got Ginger Scented Pecans from MarthaStewart.com. Her copywriters write:

Sweet and spicy, these ginger-infused pecans are not only an enticing accompaniment to a drink before dinner but an excellent gift as well. Slip them inside cellophane floral bags, and seal the bags with linen twine. Toasting the nuts not only crisps them; it also releases their essential oils, bringing out their fullest flavor. Use only the freshest nuts you can find, and discard all broken pieces.

They were a snap to make; from start to finish, the whole thing took about 35 minutes, including cooling time. The only snag I ran into was the amount of honey, water, and oil to be used. The original recipe's proportions evaporated in no time, so I wound up doubling the amount of liquid and stirring constantly until all the liquid was gone (those changes are reflected below).

As for the taste: holy crow, these are pecans good! They've got a gentle sweetness from the sugar and honey, a subtle zing from the ginger, and a rich butteryness from the toasted pecans, all heightened by a whisper of salt. They would make great gifts -- delicious, pretty, and easy.

Of course, no one is going to eat this batch but me. I want to make sure -- over and over -- that they're really worthy of gift giving.

It's what Martha would want me to do.

Ginger Scented Pecans

5 c. pecan halves
1/2 c. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground ginger
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. water
2 tsp. canola oil

Preheat the oven to 325-degrees F and place nuts in a single layer on two rimmed baking sheets. Toast until nuts are fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through cooking. Meanwhile, combine sugar, salt, and ginger in a small bowl, and set aside.

Combine honey, water, and oil in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, and add roasted pecans. Cook, stirring consistently, until all of the liquid has evaporated, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to a bowl, add sugar mixture, and toss until well combined. Spread nuts in a single layer on a sheet of parchment paper to cool.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 week.

Grade: A+

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