Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Looking for Caramel Cake Recipe

I have been looking for a good caramel icing recipe for some time.  I purchased a cookbook about Southern cakes, I think caramel cake is the ultimate South Louisiana cake.  Well, I made the cake and it was an utter disaster, turns out the Southern book warns the cake should not be made on a humid day?? Umm... Southern Cakes? Southern weather- did they forget?  Clearly.  Quite a sticky mess, the recipe did not work- go figure in 90% humidity almost year-round.  I continued my search as this particular was cake to be made only in the dessert. I gave up for a while until recently when someone brought it up over morning coffee and oh no,  the obsession begun all over again.

 I ran across a woman who had the recipe of the specific cake I used buy and LOVE- she had  received it as a wedding gift.  I asked for it, I am pretty generous with my recipes so I was hopeful. She could not share she explained since the lady that gave it to her asked her not to. OK- understood, I get it- she received it as a gift and was told not to share it,  I completely respect that. So the search continues...I am a bit more obsessed with it at this point, but I think my OCD has long since been established so I'm not making excuses.

 This time around, instead of posting a recipe I am actually asking for one. Specifically what I am looking for is a nice caramel icing made with brown sugar, cream, and butter.  I think it usually is brought to soft ball stage then stirred until somewhat set in order to ice the cake.  I have a great yellow cake recipe- just need the icing.  So if anyone has the recipe proportions I would be elated to have them. Oh, almost forgot- the cake I'm looking for is a two layer cake, not like the caramel cake I have in the index.   Possibly found in an old Southern cookbook or in grandmas recipe box.  Also, don't waste time on google- done that to no avail already. There is a link to my email in my profile, or maybe someone will be gracious enough to leave it in the comments.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Recipe: Steamed Mussels with Herbs in a White Wine Broth

I have been craving mussels for the longest time.  I actually had them twice in the last several weeks but neither meal satisfied me.  The first time was at a very popular restaurant in New Orleans, they were not properly prepared with a rather bland broth- I had high expectations so very very disappointing.  The second time was  better, but still seriously lacking in flavor.  So a couple of weeks ago, having not much on my agenda I set out to make them for myself.  Which in the end isn't really so surprising- sometimes with my tendencies towards perfection I have to do things for myself in order to achieve my desired result. 

Since my recent change in occupational status,  I have been taking lessons on relaxing and being idle- two new teachers, both very amusing and quite entertaining.  This is all taking place about five minutes from home in a coffee shop- the one I used to go to before work every morning and on my way home from work in the afternoon. Rather ironic- now I go there for internet access since on day 20 after the hurricane I still did not have cable or internet! (thankfully I do now).  But that's only my excuse for being there half the day, not that anyone has asked.  It's hard for me to believe that I do this, (just sit around and chat) much less admit it publicly, but it's humorous nonetheless.  I will say though, that I have in two week's time changed my attitude and am actually embracing doing nothing much at all, (I have excellent teachers).  Relaxing is an art form for these two.  It's a good thing that neither knows much about my blog or most importantly how to get here.  (they would not think this was too idle!)  In reality though, I have worked for the last 24 years, for the last 15 at the restaurant so this last month has given me the opportunity to regroup and figure things out.  The interesting thing is, I already had it figured out.  Working with food isn't out of my system just yet, all I have to do now is wait until I can make it happen.  Slowly and surely.

Being in the midst of starting a new venture after not having had a job for the last 4 weeks has been a month of many many firsts.  Some good- some not so good, some professional some personal, but as my friend O says - I'm like a cat... always landing on my feet.  It's going to take much more than the hell storm I've been through to put me in a negative place. (If ever!) Life anew- I will forever be an optimist.  Which is why I knew that eventually I would get the mussels and they would taste exactly as I was craving them.  

So the mussels... 

I love the little black ones and have done a little research.  A friend asked me the other day which type I liked best and it occurred to me I really didn't know.  But of course there is an answer for that, being as particular as I am, I may not know the name, but I do know what I like.  Turns out they are called Blue mussels- not black.  They are found on the Northern Atlantic coast of North America and in Europe and I find I like them better than the California mussels, they are a little smaller and all around tastier.  Blue mussels are most commonly used in French and Italian cuisines.

I prepared them in a light wine broth, with chopped Italian parsley and fresh Thyme.  I reduced the broth after they steamed, added a little butter and extra herbs.  They were perfect- at least for me, I enjoyed them immensely.

Ok, one last thing- when I say white wine, I mean good white wine.  If you won't drink it, please don't cook with it.  The end product is only a sum of it's parts, and as I found out today mussels are rather inexpensive (under $5 lb.).  So splurge on good wine and just drink the rest, that should not be a difficult task. 
2 lb.'s of mussels will serve four people as a starter or two as an entree. 

Steamed Mussels in White Wine

2 lb.s Blue Mussels
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 garlic cloves
2 small shallots, minced
a few sprigs fresh Thyme
about 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian Parsley
4 or 5 large fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Smash the garlic with the side of a large knife and cut it into a paste. Over medium heat, heat olive oil in a large pot with a lid, (I used a paella pan ).  Saute shallots until almost translucent, then add garlic and continue to cook for a couple of minutes.  Add chicken broth, wine and fresh thyme sprigs and bring to a boil.

2. Add washed mussels, cover and steam for 6 minutes or until mussels have opened.  Remove mussels from pan and set aside.  Bring broth back to a boil and reduce for 3 to 5 minutes.  Add parsley, basil, tomatoes and butter and cook until butter melts. 

3. Return mussels to the pan, stir and serve with hot French bread.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Recipe: Healthy Banana Bran Muffins

I live in Louisiana and while there are many reasons to make this a great place to live, the climate is not one of them. Specially on this day as we all await the arrival of hurricane Gustav. Yesterday I had lunch with friends- ok...drinks with friends while all the men where at the football game- yes on the eve of this category 5 storm LSU is still playing football at 10 am in the morning (insane!). That's the south for you- sort of the the last hurrah before the storm. We were all talking about what provisions we needed to compile for the weeks ahead since it is pretty much unknown what the effect of the storm will be. The funny thing was that every single one of our provision lists began with wine or beer...I guess we all know we will soon be stranded and having house parties will be our only source of entertainment.

So this morning I set out to get gas, wine, bread and water. The only bread available at the store was raisin bread, water was a plenty and wine was not sold until after 11 am!!! I still don't understand the reasoning behind that law. After spending half the day in a frenzy doing all this- gas was available but gas cans were not...not so good for my generator situation- maybe this is why I should have done all this on Thursday. Anyhow, now I'm home baking...the stress reliever, it's not actually the storm I'm stressed about though. Yesterday I had an abrupt career change- yup am sort of jobless and amazingly enough not too worried about it. I tend to land on my feet and do have the comfort of knowing that things in my life do tend to work themselves out for the best.

Now to the point of the post- the banana muffins. After all this is a food blog. They are the healthy version, quite moist due to the ratio of bananas and full of whole grains and bran. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Banana Bran Muffins

1 cup unprocessed wheat bran
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1- 3/4 cups mashed banana (about 4-5 small bananas)
1-1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Mix bran, flours, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk to combine.

2. In a medium bowl combine buttermilk, sugar, egg, canola oil, mashed bananas and vanilla. Whisk well until thoroughly combined.

3. Pour buttermilk mixture into bowl with flour and stir with a spoon gently- only to barely combine. Do not over mix- that is what makes muffins tough!

Spoon into muffin tins filling to the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Recipe: Seared Tuna Steak with Fresh Basil Pesto

Grilled tuna is one of my favorite staples- both for a dinner party and a quick weekday meal. I purchase sushi grade tuna frozen in individual vacumm sealed bags, I keep them in the freezer and defrost as I need them.

When tuna gets overcooked, it becomes very dry and flavorless, to make sure that doesn't happen I cook it either in a very hot sautee pan, and indor flat grill or grill it over very hot coals. I cook the tuna until the outside is seared and the inside is still raw, like sushi. The fresh pesto sauce is the perfect accompaniment.

Prepare the pesto first, you can find the recipe either below this post, or here. The tuna can be served warm or at room temperature.

2-3 pounds center cut tuna steaks
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
coarse sea salt

1. heat a sautee pan or grill until very hot over medium-high heat, 2-3 minutes. Rub olive oil over tuna and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Cook tuna for a ccouple of minutes on each side until seared, the middle should remain pink. Serve with pesto.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Recipe: Making Fresh Basil Pesto

If you have ever had freshly made pesto, you already know there is no going back to the store bought variety. I am a purist when it comes to pesto- I like to make it by hand, the way my grandmother did. Part of that for me is the fact that I enjoy spending time in the kitchen whisking, chopping, kneading and the like. I get more satisfaction out of cooking if I take the time to prepare things by hand. Granted, sometimes time does not allow such leisure, but whenever possible I take advantage of it.

As with any food, the quality of your ingredients will define your results. Make sure to use freshly grated parmesan cheese and the best extra virgin olive oil you can find. The pesto keeps covered in the refrigerator for a couple of days, but it's best the day it is prepared. Use a mezzaluna or the largest knife you have to do the chopping. I like adding everything in stages which yields little bits and pieces of everything in different sizes, more rustic- instead of a homogenized paste like you would get by using a food processor.

Fresh Basil Pesto

1 bunch basil leaves, approximately 2 cups loosely packed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup pine nuts
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled

1. Stack half of the basil leaves together and begin to chop, add some garlic, pine nuts and parmessan, continue chopping while adding a bit more garlic, basil, pine nuts and parmesan. Adding the ingedients in stages will keep the pesto a bit more rustic and chunky.

Chop until a thick chunky paste is formed.

2. Press pesto into a small bowl and cover with a couple of tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Stir before serving.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Recipe: Corn and Potato Chowder with Gorgonzola Dolce

I'm back. I took a little hiatus- life was overwhelming me. I'll leave it at that. Amazingly enough though, readership has gone up while I've been gone. I wont read too much into that.

My absence makes me a little sad- I've missed most summer foods, which are actually my favorite. Nothing is as good as cooking with freshly picked ruby red tomatoes, but corn will have to do for today. This is one of my favorite soups, specially in the summer when corn is sweet and not so starchy, frozen corn is not a good choice here- it's just never the same. The soup comes together quickly and is composed of pretty basic ingredients I am likely to have in the pantry at any given time. I like Gorgonzola Dolce crumbles as a topping, it melts beautifully and takes the flavor of the soup to a whole other level- if you are not a fan of blue cheeses, substitute a sharp white cheddar.

Corn Chowder with Gorgonzola Dolce

4 strips bacon, chopped
1 cup chopped yellow onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup flour
1-2 teaspoons coarse sea salt (depending on the saltiness of your chicken stock)
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 cups chicken stock
2 yukon gold potatoes, cubed- unpeeled
4 ears fresh corn
2 cups milk, cream, or half and half (I use whatever I have- obviously cream is best!)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 pound Gorgonzola Dolce

1. In a large heavy stock pot over medium heat, cook bacon with olive oil until crispy- about 5 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside for topping.

2. Add onions and butter and cook until translucent, they should just be beginning to brown around the edges- about 10-15 minutes. Add flour, salt, pepper, turmeric and cayenne pepper. Stir to combine and cook an additional 5 minutes, stiring to make sure mixture does not stick to the sides of the pot.

3. Add chicken stock a little at a time while whisking flour and onion mixture into stock. Add potatoes, bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until potaoes are almost all the way cooked- about 10 minutes. Add corn and fresh thyme and cook 5 minutes, add cream, half and half or milk- whichever you are using and bring back to a boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes, check seasonings then serve hot with gorgonzola dolce and bacon crumbles.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Creole Polenta with Fresh Corn

Yes, I know...2 weeks since my last post, lets just say things have been a little crazy. But, I think I will amply make-up for it with this little treat. When I make Shrimp creole, I always double the recipe for the sauce and freeze half of it before adding the shrimp. I do this because it freezes beautifully and I have found many ways to use it. Sometimes I heat the sauce and just add fresh shrimp, but this dish is one of my favorites- and oh so very comforting. I am not usually a casserole making type of girl, mostly I think they taste like mush- but this is my one true exception. If you must- it could be made in a casserole dish. I use a springform pan so it's easy to unmold and I get prettier looking pieces. An 8 inch pan will make a taller torte while a 9 inch pan will be just a little flatter- both work well, use what you have.

When adding the second layer of polenta to the pan, be sure to spoon it lightly and evenly so it does not get all mixed into the sauce. If it does- it's OK, it just looks better the other way.

1 ear fresh corn
1/2 cup chopped shallots
2 cups polenta
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 t butter
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
2 1/2 cups Creole sauce- recipe found here

1. In a large dutch oven or stock pot melt butter over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until they start to brown. Add fresh corn and dry polenta and cook while stirring for about 20 minutes or until the polenta is toasted.

2. Add chicken stock, fresh thyme and continue to cook while stirring for 20 minutes longer. Add whipping cream and cook 10 minutes longer until bubbly and thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and continue to stir for an additional 5 minutes until slightly cooled and thickened.

3. Grease 8" or 9" springform pan and pour half of the polenta into the pan and spread evenly. Add 2-1/2 cups Creole sauce to the polenta in the pan and spread evenly. Cover with remaining polenta by spooning it evenly over sauce.

4. Sprinkle 1 1/2cups grated parmesan cheese over polenta and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Cool for 30 minutes before unmolding. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lemon and Thyme Baked Ricotta with Marinated Olives

I think I have expressed my love for cheese and bread, but just in case there is any doubt this recipe should confirm my passion...specially for the cheese portion. One small confession before I go on- I don't eat a lot of meat, no particular reason, not a vegetarian- just can live without it I guess. As a result, my meals aren't really meals in a traditional sort of way, I am completely satisfied eating cheese, olives, and bread. Specially when cooking for only myself which happens more often than not these days, as Jack is perfectly happy eating mac and cheese with a stray vegetable here and there. I bought a container of organic whole-milk ricotta cheese to make ravioli, but for some reason I just haven't been in the mood to make work intensive food lately which led me to the baked ricotta. Last time I was in New York I had baked ricotta as part of an antipasto plate and I fell in love, but when I made it at home it just wasn't the same; that is, until today- it was actually better.

The first time I made the dish, I did not add enough eggs, nor did I whip them so it was a little flat and dense. As a result of that I understood I needed to make more of a souffle out of it. Second time's a charm- it was absolutely yummy, (and I say this from experience- I ate the whole thing and made quite a piglet of myself). I can already tell this is the first of many variations on this little dish- the possibilities are endless. Most any herb would complement the ricotta quite well, next time I might try sun-dried tomatoes with rosemary and possibly add non-pareil capers. As for the olives, I usually buy different varieties and mix them all together. Whole Foods has been a great source for olives since they have a wide variety in their olive bar. My current favorites are Sicilian spiced olives, which are most of what I used this time, they are just a little spicy and quite flavorful. The recipe makes 2 small 8 0z. ricotta cakes, if I was assembling an appetizer for more than four people, I would double the recipe. I don't really care for low-fat or fat-free versions of cheeses (I would rather just eat less if I was so concerned with fat content), but this is one case where low fat ricotta would work.

Baked Ricotta

1 cup whole milk ricotta
2 eggs, separated
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
grated zest of one small lemon
1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
freshly cracked black pepper and coarse sea salt

Marinated Olives

1 cup mixed olives (jalapeno stuffed, Spiced Sicilian, almond stuffed, green and black Cerignolas, and oil cured olives)
1/4 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon dried chili pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 F

Grease 2- 8oz. oven proof ramekins

1. Whip 2 egg whites to soft peaks and set aside.

2. Combine ricotta,parmesan cheese, lemon zest, 2 egg yolks, thyme, salt and pepper until blended. Add about one third of the whipped egg whites and fold gently. Add remaining whipped egg whites and fold until just incorporated.

3. Divide the mixture evenly between the buttered ramekins and bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned on top and a little puffy. (they will deflate a bit as they cool). Baked ricotta is best eaten warm or at room temperature.

4. Combine all the marinated olive ingredients and serve alongside the cheese with sliced French baguette.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tabouleh Stuffed Tomatoes

Tabouleh is one of my favorite salads, specially when tomatoes are ripe, fresh and ruby red. I like my tabouleh with a generous amount of flat leaf parsley and fresh mint. Now that the weather has warmed up, the herbs in my garden have just taken off, becoming so robust they provide a generous harvest. The Italian flat-leaf parsley specially, since it did not die down over the winter is bigger than I have ever seen it and I was able to cut off at two big bundles this morning. The bulgur is a great alternative to rice and feels a lot healthier to me when I eat it. Note that the salt quantity is for coarse sea salt, if you are using table salt use half the amount called for; Kosher salt would remain the same.

I prepare tabouleh with a little extra spice, I recently discovered Cavender's all purpose Greek seasoning. I buy the kind without MSG, be sure to read the label...there is just no need to add extra chemicals to a dish like this, but the seasoning blend is flavorful and unique. I went to the Farmer's market this weekend and found the most beautiful tomatoes which I stuffed with the tabouleh, they made a great little lunch along side some pieces of Greek feta with a little olive oil and Kalamata olives. The tabouleh is best after it marinates for a while, but I m not usually that organized to make things very far ahead or most of all patient enough to wait after preparing it. It's great as a side dish with grilled shrimp and chicken, or stuffed into a fresh piece of pita bread with a little Feta cheese.

Tabouleh Stuffed Tomatoes

1 cup bulgur (cracked wheat)
1-1/2 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Cavender's all purpose Greek seasoning
1/4 teaspoon ground Cumin
1 medium cucumber
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
1 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1 garlic clove, minced
1 mounded tablespoon minced shallot

6 medium tomatoes for stuffing

1. In a large bowl, combine bulgur, lemon juice, about 1/2 tablespoon salt, olive oil and boiling water and stir to combine. Allow mixture to rest at room temperature for about an hour or until all liquid is absorbed.

2. Peel cucumber and slice in half (longways), then quarter. You should now have 4 triangle looking pieces with the seeds at the points. Slice seeds off then chop into 1/4" thick pieces. Add cucumbers, tomatoes, and all remaining ingredients to bowl with bulgur. Adjust seasoning to taste, sometimes I add a little extra lemon juice to make the flavors pop.

3. Slice tops off tomatoes and scoop out flesh, then lay on a towel to drain a few minutes. Fill with tabouleh and serve.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Afternoon Tea Sandwiches- Dilled Shrimp and Cucumber, De Puy Lentil and Chevre, Smoked Salmon with Quail Eggs

This is the second post of a series on afternoon tea sandwiches. It's taken me a little longer than I expected to post about them because I have been insanely busy, but alas here they are. These little dainties are part of an event I catered this week, a Sip and See for a precious little bebe. I had a wonderful client with who requested dainty food for 50 ladies for the afternoon affair. J., my client was wonderful to work for. I realized in the first five minutes of our first meeting, I had met my match when it came to control issues and an overwhelming desire to strive for perfection. This is not something that happens to me very often, most people tend to be a lot more laid back. The party was beautiful and J. was very happy and appreciative with the result which gave me immense satisfaction. Having a client like her made me step up to the plate and do my job better.

When making sandwiches I don't really measure out ingredients, I tend to just make things up as I go along. So instead of writing a recipe, I'll just make a list of what went into everything. The photos are not the best, since taking them was more of an after thought once all the food was plated, but they give a general idea. I vary the shapes and breads I use to make the food more interesting, improvise with whatever breads you like and have available.

Smoked Salmon Sandwiches

Smoked salmon
pumpernickel bread
cream cheese, softened
thinly sliced red onion
boiled quail eggs, peeled and quartered
freshly cracked black pepper

Dilled Shrimp and Cucumber sandwiches

white bread cut into circles with a cookie cutter
thinly sliced English cucumber
the creme fraiche spread recipe can be found here
boiled shrimp, (20-25 count- size) sliced in half
fresh dill for garnish

De Puy Lentil and Chevre Sandwiches

French De Puy lentils boiled in chicken broth seasoned with a little cumin, salt and pepper and cooked until just tender, approximately 15-20 minutes
Softened Chevre
red bell pepper strips
white bread

Friday, April 4, 2008

Key Lime Pie / Tart

I have successfully been making a version of this pie since I was ten years old, it has been a favorite in my family for as long as I can remember. When I first started making it I used a pre-made graham cracker crust, but then later discovered how simple graham crusts were to make so I made my own. The pie can be made in a pie or tart pan which makes for a nice presentation when serving it whole. For the restaurant, presentation can be a little trickier since I serve individual pieces so I double the recipe and make it in a springform pan, this makes nice tall pieces which are then individually garnished with lime slices and berries.

The pie is best made a day ahead so it can properly chill and set in the refrigerator. If you are pressed for time though, (which I always seem to be) place it in the freezer to speed up the cooling process. For the crust I use either gingersnaps or graham crackers, they both make a nice crust. I have found Eagle brand condensed milk to be the thickest, some of the other brands can sometimes have a runny consistency and are not as rich. When I was little I could eat it straight out the can with a spoon, I refrain from that little habit these days, but needless to say I like condensed milk a lot!

A note on the key lime juice- I only use Nell and Joe's brand key lime juice, it's available at most major supermarkets and is superior to all the other brands I have tried. When key limes are available, I use freshly squeezed juice. I roll and press the limes on the kitchen counter with the palm of my hand before juicing them to make the juicing process a little easier.

Key Lime Pie

2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sugar

2 - 14oz. cans condensed milk
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup key lime juice
1 teaspoon key lime zest
berries and key lime slices for garnishing

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla or 1 vanilla bean, scraped
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Pre-heat oven to 350 F

1. In a large bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, butter and sugar. Press cookie mixture into a 9 inch pie or tart pan. Pressing firmly all along the sides and making about a 1/4 inch thick crust. Place pie on a sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

2. In a large bowl whisk together condensed milk, egg yolks, key lime juice and zest until smooth and combined. Pour into pie crust and bake an additional 20 minutes. Remove pie from the oven and refrigerate until completely cooled. (up to 3 days)

3. Once the pie has completely cooled, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Spread the whipped cream over the pie and garnish with key lime slices and fresh berries. Refrigerate pie until ready to serve.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache Filling and Frosting

I went to a dinner party last night and offered to make dessert. The hostess requested something chocolate, so I made her my moist chocolate cake. If you have not heard of mayonnaise cakes, you might be thinking I have turned into Paula Dean- I have not...I just know that mayonnaise makes this cake super moist and fluffy. I will also tell you that the type of mayonnaise you use matters. Use either Hellmann's or Duke's mayonnaise, they are unquestionably the best in my book. This is an easy cake to make, just be sure to not overcook it. As soon as the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, pull it out of the oven.

I filled and frosted the cake with a dark chocolate ganache and sprinkled it with edible gold powder. It turned out really neat, the spikes I piped onto the cake looked like they were gilded. To apply the gold powder, place some on a small piece of paper and lightly blow it onto the cake. I split the layers and brushed a simple syrup made with cognac on each layer. I filled the cake with a combination of custard and raspberries and sweetened whipped chocolate ganache. I used the custard because creme brulee is a staple at the restaurant so I always have them on hand. I would not have baked creme brulee specifically for this, instead I would have either used the pastry cream recipe found here or the chocolate mousse recipe found here. Raspberry preserves can also be a good addition.

following are the instructions for filling a cake with something other than what the cake will be frosted with. You don't want the filling to ooze from in between the layers, but at the same time you want to add plenty of filling. To remedy this, I put icing (whatever the cake will be frosted with) in a pastry bag with a large plain or fluted tip. Place the first layer on either the cake plate or a cardboard round. Pipe a "trench" all around the perimeter of the cake layer to contain the filling. Depending on the amount of filling you want to add, you may want to pipe a double layer making it about an inch and a half tall. Carefully spread the filling within the perimeter of the "trench" until even and smooth. Top with another layer of cake and repeat process until finished. Ice cake with cooled ganache, if the ganache is hard to spread, re-heat over a double boiler until it smooths out to the desired consistency. I find it easier to work with when it is about the thickness of mayonnaise, if it's too thin set the bowl over ice and whip until it hardens a little more.

Gilded Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Chocolate Ganache

2-1/2 lb.'s dark chocolate, chopped
1-1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons Cognac

2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon cognac

Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake

2- 8" round cake pans, greased and floured (9" pans can be substituted, the cake will not be as tall though).

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1- 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1-2/3 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mayonnaise
1-1/3 cup water

edible gold powder

Simple Syrup

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup cognac
Boil sugar, water and cognac together until sugar dissolves.

Make the cake:

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and baking powder; set aside.

2. In large mixer bowl with paddle attachment beat sugar, eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy on high speed, about 3-5 minutes. Add mayonnaise, reduce speed to medium and beat a couple of minutes longer.

3. Add flour mixture to batter, alternating with water- starting and ending with flour. Pour batter into pans and bake for 30-35 minutes or until cake pulls away from sides of pan and middle of cake looks set. Leave cake in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.

Make chocolate ganache:

1. In a large bowl over a double boiler, combine chocolate, cognac and cream. Whisk until chocolate is melted and all ingredients are combined.

2. Place about half the chocolate mixture in the mixer bowl and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. With the whisk attachment, beat on med-high speed gradually adding 2/3 cup sifted powdered sugar and an additional tablespoon cognac. Whip until very light and fluffy. The ganache will have hardened up and should be a spreading consistency. This will serve as the filling. Set aside until ready to assemble cake.

3. Whisk remaining ganache (what was left in the double boiler bowl) occasionally until it hardens up a bit. Set aside until the cake has completely cooled.

Assembling Cake:

Before you begin, make sure cake is completely cool- if you rush this process, everything will melt and you will have a gooey mess. (take my word for it- I've done it both ways!)

1. With a large serrated knife, split layers in half and set on a piece of parchment paper. Place the first layer on a plate at least 3 inches wider than the cake. Place about 1 cup of the whipped ganache in a pastry bag, set aside. Brush each layer generously with simple syrup as you add them to the stack.

2. The first layer will have whipped ganache as filling so spread about a 1/4" layer on. Top with the next layer of cake. Pipe a 1-1/2" tall "trench" of ganache along the perimeter of the second layer. Add custard or pastry cream making sure to contain it within the "trench" of ganache. Add fresh raspberries if desired. Top with third layer and spread with additional whipped ganache about 1/4" thick- the same as the first layer. Place top layer on cake and press slightly to seal cake. You are now done using the whipped ganache. To clarify- All ganache referred to now will be what was left in the double boiler bowl which was not sweetened.

3. Place about 1 cup ganache over cake and spread on top pushing all excess down the sides of the cake, this is the crumb coat. Any crumbs which come off the cake and stick to the icing will be covered up with the next coat. Place cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or until icing is set. (do not rush this part- it's so much easier to do it the right way!)

4. remove cake from refrigerator, add additional ganache to top of cake spreading with the spatula until cake is covered and smooth. By this time, ganache should be fairly stiff- place some in a pastry bag and pipe decoratively on cake.

5. Place a small amount of gold dust on your hand or small piece of paper. Blow the powder onto the cake until desired effect is achieved. Cakes filled with custard or pastry cream must be refrigerated.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Recipe: Lemon-Blueberry Shortcakes with Whipped Cream

This is what I do when I am stressed- I bake. I bake a lot. It relaxes me and keeps my mind off all the things which tend to stress me out since I must concentrate on the task at hand, everything must be perfectly measured and precise. I get to totally control the result- which of course gives me a great deal of satisfaction, I express a little creativity and I get a yummy sugar fix along the way- what more could I want? (actually, a great deal but I wont bore you with that today).

So enough about that- let's move on to the lemon-blueberry shortcakes. I adjusted my biscuit dough a bit by adding a little sugar to it, but they are as flaky as ever. The blueberry compote was quickly put together with a little lemon juice and sugar. I used a pint of blueberries, cooked 1/2 of them in the sauce then added the rest after the removing it from the heat. I added the berries in two additions in order to have more texture, while I wanted a sauce, I also wanted the flavor and texture of fresh berries. I always cut my biscuits with a small cutter, but you may make these as large as you wold like. I think it's hard to tell in the photo, but they are only 2" in a diameter, quite a bit smaller than usual- this of course is to justify eating more than one!


2 -1/4 cup flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for sprinkling tops
1/4 lb. butter (1 stick) cold and cut into 1/4" pieces
1- 1/4 cups buttermilk

Blueberry Compote

1 pint fresh blueberries/ divided
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest

1 cup heavy whipping cream (very cold)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 450 F


1. In a small non-reactive pot, combine 1/2 pint blueberries, 1/2 cup sugar, lemon zest and juice. Cook over medium heat stirring, just until sugar is completely melted. Do not overcook. Remove from heat and add remaining berries mix and set aside.


1. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add butter and mix in with a pastry blender until the butter resembles the size of small peas. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

2. Add buttermilk to flour mixture and mix with a fork until just combined. Scoop dough out of bowl and lay on a floured surface. (it will be quite sticky)

3. With floured hands pat dough into a 1" thick rectangle. Sprinkle a little flour over the dough and fold over from short end three times. Repeat this process three times. Cut out biscuits with a floured cutter and place on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle shortcakes generously with sugar and bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Whipped Cream:

1. In a large bowl, whisk cream, sugar and vanilla together until soft peaks form.

Assemble shortcakes by splitting in half, spooning blueberry compote and topping with whipped cream. Garnish with additional lemon zest curls if desired.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Blackberry Hand Pies

There just has not been enough dessert around here lately! Which also means I have not had enough dessert- life gets crazy sometimes. We all know what a priority sweet stuff is to me so today we are back on track with these little blackberry hand pies. I know it's not quite summer yet- actually it even isn't quite spring yet, but in 80 degree weather blackberries seem quite seasonal. A friend gave me a basket of berries and I knew exactly what I would do with them as soon as I tasted one. The recipe was inspired by one I had spied in an old Gourmet magazine, I remember thinking what a great idea the addition of grated apple was. The pastry recipe is a good one- it allows for re-rolling of the dough, it is one of the flakiest pie doughs I've had. Let the dough rest a little while before the second roll so it wont be too elastic and want to shrink back. Allow the filling to cool well before assembling the hand pies, this will keep the butter in the pastry from melting before they go in the oven. Parchment paper is a must-have for this recipe, the filling sometimes runs out of the pies making a big sticky mess. The recipe yields 8 hand pies and can be easily doubled.

Blackberry Hand Pies

1 cup fresh blackberries (1/2 pint)
1/2 cup grated apple
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar
milk for brushing tops
additional sugar for sprinkling tops

1. In a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat cook blackberries, apple, sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon. Stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 375

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Hand Pie Pastry Dough

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold, cut in small cubes
2 tablespoons shortening
pinch salt
3-4 tablespoons ice water

1. In food processor or by hand, blend flour, butter, shortening and salt until the mixture resembles a coarse meal and has some pea sized pieces of butter left in it.

2. While pulsing add water a little at a time until dough comes together when pinched in your hand. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to 1 day.

Assembling Hand Pies:

1. Roll chilled pastry out on a lightly floured surface into a 1/8 inch thick rectangle. Cut 5 inch squares or circles with pastry wheel. Place the circle in your hand and fill with about a mounded tablespoon of filling. Seal shut pressing the edges well with your fingers. Fold edges over in a decorative shape or seal with the tines of a fork. Re-roll dough scraps to make up to eight circles or squares, allowing it to rest about 10 minutes between rolling.

2. Place hand pie on parchment lined cookie sheet. When all the pies are on the cookie sheet brush with a little milk and generously sprinkle with sugar.

3. bake about 20-25 minutes until golden brown, rotating cookie sheet half way through baking. Store at room temperature.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spring Greens Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette and Gorgonzola Dolce

You may have noticed I like small meals, specially when I can make them in a small amount of time and still get something interesting and flavorful. I eat a salad almost every day, at the restaurant it is definitely my go to meal for lunch- it's a good thing to balance out all the desserts and chocolate I enjoy so much. I made this spring greens and herb salad after finding a beautiful bag of Mache' greens at the farmers market. I also added herbs from my very early spring garden. Nasturtium leaves which are quite peppery, fresh Thyme and some Greek Oregano. The Greek oregano is doing so well in it's new spot in the garden, I am having to prune it just to keep it from taking over- it's amazing. I made a Sherry vinaigrette which I love, added Thyme and garlic to it and a little honey to cut down on the acidity, then topped the salad off with some yummy Gorgonzola Dolce. The vinaigrette and the gorgonzola Dolce are also quite good with roasted or blanched asparagus.


For the salad use your favorite baby greens and herbs, here are some ideas: Mache', Frisse', Red Oak, Green Oak, baby Romaine, baby Spinach, Radicchio, Clover, and Dandelion greens. For herbs I like to add Nasturtium leaves and flowers, Oregano, Mint, Flat leaf parsley, and my all-time favorite- Thyme.

I added tomatoes and avocado because it's what I had on hand, but bell peppers, carrots, radishes, and cucumber would be great additions as well.

4 oz. Gorgonzola Dolce, crumbled

Sherry Vinaigrette

1/2 cup sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fresh garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons honey
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
Coarse sea salt

1. Combine all ingredients together in a small jar with a lid (I use a jelly jar). Shake well until emulsified. Season generously with salt and freshly ground pepper. (about 1 teaspoon sea salt and 3 turns of the pepper mill) Store in the refrigerator up to 1 week. Drizzle lightly over greens top with Gorgonzola Dolce and serve.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Cucumber Sandwiches with Dill and Creme Fraiche

The Silver Spoon, began as a tea room and gourmet food shop 15 years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago, when I used to wake every morning and make dainty sandwiches, pastries and scones. I have many fond memories of the tea room, mostly having to do with the great little sandwiches we used to make. When the restaurant outgrew the location we were in and we moved, tea service was no longer the focus and was eventually phased out. This did not exactly break my heart, preparing for afternoon tea day in and day out had become a chore. But, I've had enough of a break from it to start missing it. Well, let me clarify- I don't miss serving tea, I just miss the food; specifically the tea sandwiches. I was talking to my friend Sharman last week about the tea room days, when she suggested I post about the tea sandwiches- (what a wonderful idea!) So in light of that, I will start a tea sandwich series, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

It seems fitting the for the tea sandwich series to begin with the most classic tea sandwich of all- the cucumber sandwich. This is by far one of my favorites and I have been known to consume them in mass quantities. Like every other food I really like, it has it's rules: I like my cucumbers seedless and sliced velum paper thin. The bread must be white, soft and crust-less and the spread must be flavorful and savory. This is a sandwich I eat fairly regularly- with or without tea. The tea-less version I make for lunch is stacked with cucumbers and bread, while the Tea version is dainty and cut into shapes. My most common use for cucumber sandwiches these days are for wedding and baby showers- just the right thing when I am looking for dainty food. When my roses are blooming I either garnish the platter or sandwiches with fresh rose petals. Tea sandwiches tend to dry out quickly, they are best eaten on the day they are prepared. I sometimes cut the bread and store it in a plastic bag until ready to assemble the sandwiches.

Cucumber Sandwiches

1 Loaf white sandwich bread
fresh Dill for garnishing sandwiches
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
about 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Dill
1 medium seedless cucumber, sliced thinly

1. Remove crust from bread with a sharp knife and cut into shapes,triangles, squares, rectangles, hearts, or circles with cookie cutters.

2. Place creme fraiche, garlic powder, salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon dill in a small bowl- stir to combine. Spread lightly on bread, top with cucumbers and garnish with fresh dill sprigs. (Can be made up to 1 week ahead and stored in the refrigerator).

3. Cover with a damp paper towel until ready to serve to keep the sandwiches from drying out.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Citrus Cakeletes

I haven't been doing much posting lately as a result of a short little trip to Virginia to visit my dear friend Sharman. But, I am back, totally energized and full of ideas for the blog and work. I came up with citrus cakelet idea after looking through one of Sharman's Martha Stewart cookbooks which I fell in love with. She was sweet enough to send the book home with me, so today I set out to make the cakes. The recipe originally called for Strawberry jam, I substituted orange marmalade and added the zest of a beautiful bright orange tangelo I found at the market. For the icing, I used the juice of a couple of tangelos mixed with some powdered sugar.

Citrus Cakeletes

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
1- 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon finely grated tangelo, mandarin, or orange zest
6 tablespoons Orange marmalade or preserves of your choice

6 tablespoons Tangelo or Orange juice
1-1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed for 3-5 minutes.

2. Add egg yolks, one at a time, blending well between each one; beat until incorporated.

3. Sift flour with baking powder and salt. Add flour and milk to butter mixture and beat until incorporated.

4. Transfer the batter to a large bowl, wash the mixer bowl, then in the same mixer bowl beat egg whites until fluffy at medium high speed.

5. Fold a little bit of the egg whites into the batter at a time until incorporated. Grease and flour a jumbo muffin tin (6). divide half of the batter evenly in the tin, add a tablespoon of preserves or marmalade then cover with additional batter. Make sure the preserves are completely enclosed in the batter so it does not leak out.

6. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Cool on a rack. When muffins are completely cooled through, combine sugar and tangelo juice and spread on tops.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Daring Baker Challenge: Julia Child's French Bread

This month the Daring Baker's challenge was Julia Child's French bread. I joined this baking group for one reason- to challenge my baking skills and learn in the process. Well, I sure did both of those things this month. Being not so fond of baking bread (as a result of my numerous less than perfect results) it forced me to dive into one of the most difficult breads of all- French Bread. The recipe was a little overwhelming at first sight- 16 pages, but after reading it a few times I found that it really was not all that complicated (ha-or so I thought). I set out to make my bread last Sunday, everything seemed to be working fine and even my husband who has made plenty of bread in his time helped a little. So we prepared the oven, got it all nice and steamy and put the bread in- The result was a crunchy crusty brick! I had to laugh, because after working on this recipe for most of the day (8 hours), I expected my bread to be gloriously good and what I created was far from it.

I think I may have established this before, but just in case I have not- I am a perfectionist. A French brick just is not going to do, so I started all over again. After trying to figure out the error of my bread making ways, I gathered it was the amount of flour and the time allowed for rising. "One cannot be a slave to the clock in making bread" Julia Child says. But when one has no idea what to look for- that seems like the logical solution and I can tell you, the lady is right- my method did not work so well. The 16 page recipe did explain what to look for- but I must have a yeast impairment (yes, that's my valid excuse).

Batch number two- pictured above was much better, I do realize I do still have a lot to learn though. I changed several things between the two batches. The fist batch was made in the mixer, I have a powerful 450 watt Kitchenaid so I thought it could handle it; the recipe cautioned about mixers overheating and I knew that would not be an issue. But then, I learned this has nothing to do with power, it's all about how the dough feels and I had a hard time figuring that out when it wasn't in my hands. The first baguette was tough, looked anemic and could actually be used as a weapon it was so hard. So for now, I will leave the mixer out of the bread making.

Batch number two I made by hand- much better, I was careful with the flour additions (paranoid to be exact) and allowed the dough to rise for a much longer period of time. The bread is far from perfect but a marked improvement from the first batch. I made a baguette, a Boule, and pan d'epi - the cuts could have been much better, I found using a razor blade and making a smooth cut to be harder than I expected. But, I am going to try really hard to not get OCD about this, I will instead read up on bread making and yeast, the more I understand the chemical reactions in the process the better off I will be. If you have any good suggestions for a book from where I might gain this knowledge- please leave me a note in the comments. The bread turned out pretty well, having a decent crumb and crust. This was a great challenge, it pushed me to learn by doing things which were out of my comfort zone.

Up until now bread has been more of a vehicle to carry all sorts of yummy toppings- (mostly butter laced with fluer de sel), not the main attraction itself, but hopefully as I become a more experienced bread baker that will change. The recipe can be found here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Italian Country Rice Flan / Torta di Risso

This is another of my Italian favorites and also known as Torta di Risso. I have been working on this recipe for some time, I finally feel like it's good enough to share. Good quality Citron is sometimes very hard to find, but King Arthur Flour has it available on their web site. Do not use the candied fruit they sell at the grocery store that is traditionally used for fruit cakes. If you cannot find good quality citron, then just add some extra lemon rind in it's place.

The ratio of rice to milk may seem a little odd, but the finished product produces a rich custard like flan. After simmering at a slow boil for an hour the rice plumps up and most of the milk is absorbed. I keep the heat on medium-low and stir occasionally, scraping the side of the pot. If the rice mixture is not thick enough after cooking for an hour, continue to cook until it becomes thick like rice pudding.(it's more about how it looks rather than how long it takes to get there). I make the pastry by hand, you can use a food processor if you like. The pastry seems a little dry at first, but after all the ingredients are incorporated and while the dough is still in the bowl; I knead it lightly until it comes together into a ball. (I leave the dough in the bowl to knead so I don't have to add additional flour as a result of kneading it on the counter). For the topping, you may use lattice work or lay horizontal pieces of dough like I did (see photo). The recipe calls for an 8" spring-form pan, you could substitute a 9" pan which is a more common size. The only difference if you use a larger pan is it will be a little flatter and will cook for a shorter period of time.

Italian Country Rice Flan / Torta di Risso


2 cups (300 grams) all- purpose flour
200 grams butter (3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg


3 3/4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup arborio or other short grain rice
4 eggs
4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup chopped citron
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
grated zest of 1 lemon
grated zest of one orange
powdered sugar mixed with a little cinnamon for topping for sprinkling on top if desired

1. Sift flour into a very large bowl, then using a pastry blender, cut in butter evenly. Lightly mix in sugar and egg to make a dough. Shape into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan over medium heat, bring milk, sugar and butter to a boil. Stir in rice; reduce heat and simmer gently for 1 hour. Stirring occasionally until mixture is thick and creamy, (the milk should be almost all the way absorbed, the mixture should be very thick). Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

3. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, cream cheese, citron, lemon and orange zest and cinnamon to combine. Gradually stir into rice mixture and allow to cool.

4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out two thirds of the dough to fit an 8" spring-form pan. Cover the sides and bottom of the pan. Pour rice mixture into pan.

5. with the remaining dough, make a lattice over the rice. Bake 45-50 minutes, covering with foil if starts becoming too brown. Do not unmold until completely set. Sift cinnamon laced powdered sugar on top if desired. Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cannellini Spread / White Bean Dip

I don't know about you, but I love the versatility of good quality canned beans. Not all canned beans are alike though, and I also find that I like different brands for for different beans. For garbanzo beans I like Progreso, but for Cannellini beans I like Eden Organic which I buy at Whole Foods. I like them not only because they are organic, but also because the beans are consistently whole, perfectly cooked (not crunchy), and don't have that slimy liquid usually found in canned beans. I wanted a spread bread which would come together quickly and this fit the bill perfectly. I usually make pita bread when I make this for a party, but time did not allow for that today. Soon I will post my pita recipe- it is super easy and fun to make.

I added a variety of herbs to enhance the flavor and lemon juice for a little acidity and to make the flavors pop. I used two 15 oz cans, but only processed 1-1/2 cans in the food processor- I added the reserved beans to the dip once it was ready to give it a little texture and garnish with. When I have roasted garlic on hand, I add a clove or two- roasting the garlic makes it sweet and mellow. The recipe makes 2 cups, it keeps in the refrigerator for at least a week- but I find we usually eat within a day or two- it's quite good.

Cannellini Spread / White Bean Dip

2 15 oz cans white beans, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt (Fleur de sel)- or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh Rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme

1. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Serve with sliced French baguettes or grilled pita bread.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Asian Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce

I have been craving this salad for some time now. I have seen various versions of it in cookbooks, but the peanut dressing recipes I have seen have not appealed to me. I finally got my peanut sauce down and could not wait to make the noodle salad. I like linguini for this recipe, but regular spaghetti or fettuccini noodles would work fine as well. In the summer, I would probably replace the baby corn with fresh corn, but canned baby corn works fine in the winter. I made a generous chiffonade of mint and cilantro and basil, I needed lots of green in my salad. To make a chiffonade, roll your herbs as if you were rolling a cigar then with a sharp knife slice the "cigar".

Toss a little sesame or vegetable oil (a teaspoon or less), into the noodles after they drain, it will keep them from clumping together. Shredded rotisserie chicken would be a great addition to add some protein. I also seasoned them at the table with Siracha sauce- I like spicy. When thinning the peanut sauce for the noodles, add the water a little at a time until it's the consistency of honey.

This past weekend I went to the farmers market and found the most beautiful purple carrots, I used them here. Almost any vegetable will work well in this salad, other good additions are celery, zuchinni, squash, broccoli and spinach. I like slicing the vegetables in different shapes to add texture.

Asian Noodle Salad with Spicy peanut Sauce

1 lb. linguini, cooked al dente in salted water
1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
2 carrots (I used orange and purple), julienned
1 can water chestnuts, sliced
1 cup canned baby corn
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup mixed herbs (basil, cilantro, and mint) chopped (read about chiffonade above)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 recipe peanut sauce found here
1/4 cup chopped salted peanuts for sprinkling on top

1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk 2 cups peanut sauce with up to 3 tablespoons of water to thin it out a little bit. Add peanut sauce to noodles and vegetables and toss together until evenly coated. Garnish with chopped peanuts and herbs. Serve warm, cold or at room temperature.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Peanut Sauce / Dressing

I have been wanting to make a peanut sauce and dressing for a while now. I made my first batch yesterday and wow- nasty. I quickly found out it was, I purchased some Mae Ploy which the recipe called for at the Vietnamese market, maybe it was the brand or variety I used, but oh my goodness my finished product was umm...nasty! I think it is the first thing I have ever made that even I would not eat. Scary. This made me a little more skeptical of ingredients I am not all that familiar with, so I then decided if I did not like the ingredient outside of the sauce- it would not go in it.

I started over by mixing the ingredients I knew would work- peanut butter, light soy, dark sesame oil, and a little red curry paste. That was my base and from there I added the rest of the ingredients a little at a time until I had the right combination. I liked my finished product and my goal now is to learn more about Asian ingredients.

The Vietnamese market I shop at has a wonderful selection of sauces and noodles, the problem is the language barrier- I don't speak Vietnamese and the proprietor does not speak very much English. He has led me to some good finds though, Three Crab brand fish sauce and Kikoman Special Soy Sauce which to my surprise were both light and not as salty as others I've had. Slowly I'll figure it out- my likes and dislikes. Mae Ploy is definetely in the dislike column at the moment, but I will make an effort to find out more about it. (The Three Crab fish sauce is very good- I highly recommend it).

I made the peanut sauce for a Noodle dish I've been craving, I will post about it over the next few days. The sauce got better the next day as the flavors started to come together. Adjust the heat to taste with the curry paste, but take note- it tasted spicier the following day after the flavors came together. The peanut sauce would be great as a salad dressing or dipping sauce also.

Peanut Sauce

1 1/2 cups chunky peanut butter
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/2 cup mild soy sauce
1/3 cup Kecap Manis (medium sweet soy sauce)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

1. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food precessor and blend until smooth.
Store covered in the refrigerator.

Monday, February 18, 2008

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

After making frilly cookies for the last couple of weeks, I was craving something chunky and easy. These white chocolate macadamia cookies are crunchy, if softer cookies are more your style, underbake them by a minute or two and remove them from the cookie sheet soon after they come out of the oven. I took these to a crawfish boil today and they were a hit- everyone wants something sweet after eating lots of salty crawfish. (specially me)

Softened butter contributes to the crunchyness of the cookie, microwave the butter for 10 seconds intervals if it's coming straight out of the refrigerator. After adding the egg and vanilla, reduce the speed of the mixer so the dough does not get over mixed. Cashews are a good substitution for macadamia nuts if you prefer. Use the best quality white chocolate available, I use Callebeut and cut it into chunks with a sharp knife. Toasting the nuts at 350 F for 10 minutes heightens their flavor, just be sure to let them cool before adding them to the dough. Bake six cookies at a time on the middle rack of the oven, make sure to put cookies on a cool pan for each batch. The recipe makes 15-16 very large cookies.

White Chocolate Macadamia Cookies

1/4 lb. butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/4 cups chopped white chocolate
1 cup toasted macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 325 F

1. Place softened butter in mixer bowl,with paddle attachment, beat until light and fluffy. Add sugar and continue to beat at medium-high speed for 3 minutes, scraping the side of the bowl until incorporated.

2. Add egg and vanilla and beat for 2 additional minutes on med-low speed.

3. Sift flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder into a large bowl. Add to the butter mixture and beat on low until dough comes together. Add chocolate and nuts and blend well.

4. With clean hands, make balls of dough approximately the size of a golf ball or a little larger. Lay on parchment lined sheets and flatten out to a 2 inch circle. Place six cookies per cookie sheet (3 inches apart) and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove cookies with a large spatula and transfer to a cooling rack. Store cookies in a covered container.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Moist and Light Blueberry Muffins

What can I make for a Saturday morning breakfast when there is only one lonely egg in the house? Blueberry muffins! These are my most favorite muffins- not too dense, not too sweet and full of fresh plump blueberries. I used almost all the eggs last night for the dogs dinner- yes, I cook for my babies every night. After the dog food scare last year, I just felt uneasy feeding them the store bought stuff. Since then, both the goldens have just blossomed, all the paw licking stopped (usually caused by allergies), their coats are shinnier and all around they seem more energetic and happy. I read up on all the do's and don'ts about dog food and have not looked back since.

Back to the muffins. I use cake flour because I find it makes the muffins lighter. I gave both the weight and measurement for the flour, if you have a scale use it- I find when measuring flour specially, it is essential. I have a small inexpensive one ($30 or less), it is the most used tool in my kitchen when I bake. The scale converts grams into ounces, which comes in quite handy when I make recipes found in European cookbooks or web sites. I coat the blueberries in a little (about a tablespoon) of flour mixture before adding them to the batter, I find that step keeps them all from sinking to the bottom.

When making muffins, do not overbeat the batter, I whisk the ingredients together separately then combine them and stir just a few times to incorporate the dry and wet ingredients together. After adding the dry ingredients to the flour, use a wooden spoon not a whisk to stir together briefly. Finish combining the ingredients once the blueberries are added- and I know I will sound a little nutty by telling you this, but you should not stir more than 15-20 strokes; it is more like folding than beating and doing this will keep the muffins light and moist. I use a topping of large sugar crystals, this makes the tops of the muffins a little crunchy. When I have it, I use vanilla infused sugar (see photo). I have also used regular sugar which has been infused with vanilla. To make vanilla sugar, fill a jar with sugar, insert a vanilla pod and let it infuse for at least a week; it's great for sweetening coffee too.

Blueberry Muffins

12-1/2 ounces cake flour (3 cups)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 cup sour cream (can be substituted with yogurt)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups blueberries, (1 pint)
1/4 cup vanilla sugar for sprinkling tops
paper liners or buttered muffin tins

Makes 18 muffins

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. Sift all dry ingredients into a large bowl and set aside. In a small bowl toss blueberries with about 1 tablespoon of flour mixture and set aside.

2. Whisk all wet ingredients together and mix well.

3. Add wet ingredients to flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until just barely combined. add blueberries and mix lightly. Do not over mix.

4. With an ice cream scoop fill muffin pan almost all the way to the top. top with sugar generously and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove muffins from pan as soon as they are cool enough to handle. They will keep for 3-4 days covered at room temperature.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Rigatoni with Italian Sausage and Peppers

This is a great pasta dish, the Italian sausage gives the dish a lot of flavor. The rigatoni is robust and rustic, I finish cooking the pasta in the tomato sauce to impart more flavor to it. The dish is a little spicy, which I love, the heat can be adjusted to your taste by the amount of red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper added.

When sauteing, keep the vegetables moving by stirring and scraping the pot. Undercook the pasta by a couple of minutes and add it to the simmering sauce, it will finish cooking there and take on all the flavors of the dish. This is good dish for a weeknight meal, specially when short on time- it comes togther in 20-30 minutes.

Rigatoni with Italian Turkey Sausage and Peppers

1 lb. box Rigatoni Pasta
1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
2 Italian sausage links, sliced
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup chopped fresh Basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh Oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon pepper)
1/3 cup Marsala
1/4 cup sugar

1. Cook rigatoni in boiling water until almost al dente. ( if you start boiling the water at the time you start the sauce, the pasta will be ready at the same time the sauce is- drain the pasta and place it in the sauce to finish off).

2. In a large pot or dutch oven over medium high heat, heat olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions and bell peppers and saute until onions start to brown around the edges. Add sausage, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, continue cooking and stirring until sausage is lightly browned.

3. Add crushed tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes longer, scraping the sides of the pot with a wooden spoon. Add remaining ingredients and continue to cook over low heat. When pasta is ready, drain and add to the sauce. Turn heat to simmer, and continue to cook for an additonal 5 minutes. Serve with fresh Basil and shaved Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Raspberry Linzer Heart Cookies

Happy Valentine's Day!
For me Valentine's day usually means a very busy restaurant and lots of baking. I probably made more cookies this week, than I did for Christmas (and I made a lot of cookies for Christmas!). I've made heart-shaped cupcakes, chocolate cakes, strawberry cakes, chocolate mousse, sugar cookies, Tiramisu, strawberry tarts and raspberry linzer cookies. Tomorrow I will bake tres leches cake and make sure we have plenty of creme brulee. I made these early in the week since they are a little time consuming, but well worth the effort.

I found the easiest way to decorate these is to melt the raspberry jam and spread a thin layer on the base. Work with one cookie at a time, while the jam is still hot and press the top cookie onto the base. (to glue it together). After all the cookies have been put together, sprinkle with powdered sugar- I use snow sugar since it doesn't melt. Snow sugar can be found at baking suply store or online at King Arthur Flour, they have a great selection of wonderful flours and baking essentials. After the cookies have been sprinkled with sugar, fill the hole with more melted jam. The first time I made these, I did had not yet figured these steps out and I ended up with sticky oozing cookies which were yummy, but were a total mess because I put too much jam between them.

Raspberry Linzer Heart Cookies

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (2- 1/2 sticks or 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1-1/2 cups ground almonds
2 cups flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
rasberry jam
Powdered sugar or Snow sugar

Preheat oven to 350F

1. In a large mixer bowl, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add egg and conitnue to beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add vanilla and almond extract and mix well.

2. In a separate bowl, combine almonds, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Sowly add flour mixture to butter mixture and combine on low speed until incorpoarted and a dough forms.

3. Gather dough, (if dough is a little wet, pull it together with floured hands) then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

4. On a generously floured surface, roll half of dough out to 1/8" thickness (cookies will be thin since 2 are put together). Cut out an even number of hearts, ( I get 24 tops and 24 bottoms). Place the bottoms on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for approximately 15 minutes.

5. For the tops: place whole hearts on cookie sheet, then cut a small heart out of each. (cutting the small heart after the tops are on the cookie sheet helps them keep their shape- since the dough is a little soft, it's easier to transfer a whole heart than a heart "ring"). Bake for 12-15 minutes. Cookies just be just a little golden, the tops will cook faster than the bottoms so watch them carefully.

6. After cookies have cooled, heat the raspberry jam for about 35 seconds in the microwave. Spread a little jam on the bottoms, then gently press tops on. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, then fill the hole with additional jam. Allow the cookies to set for a little while before serving.

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