Monday, September 26, 2011

Heirloom Tomato and Fresh Mozzarella Salad

Too pretty to not share... This is what's going on at work.
I've been using champagne vinegar and a pear infused white balsamic.
Basil is always great with this salad, but so is mint and oregano- even all three together. Ricotta salata is a great alternative for the mozzarella, or even a pepper crusted chevre.
Use a good quality olive oil and coarse sea salt and pepper. Squeezing out the last little bit of summer... I LOVE it! :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lemon Currant Scones

I made currant scones and lemon curd for a baby shower this past weekend.  Making scones and finger sandwiches reminded me of my tea room days.  About 20 years ago, my former restaurant, The Silver Spoon started out as a gift basket shop with a tea room.  I miss afternoon tea, the ritual of it and the dainty delicate food.  My tea used to consist of three courses, sandwiches and savories, the scone course which consisted of a scone, tea bread, jam and lemon curd and pastries and chocolate for dessert.  Afternoon tea food is perfect for baby and bridal showers.  If you are looking for ideas for this type of menu, click over to Facebook under Gourmet Girls- there are a lot of recent shower photos there (there is a link to Facebook in the side bar). Scones were always my favorite, you can find the recipe for these under currant scones in the index.  They come together quickly and are a great addition to a baby or bridal shower menu.  When I have an early morning event to prepare for, I prepare as much as I can the day before with dishes that either are enhanced by being made ahead or which can be partially made.  I made the scone dough and cut out the shapes on Saturday, wrapped and refrigerated them and then brushed them with cream and baked them about an hour before the party on Sunday.  Planning party menus in this way always makes entertaining more enjoyable and stress free.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chocolate Filled Doughnut Muffins

I have yet to meet someone who claims to dislike a doughnut.  For some reason though, (probably the fact they are laden with oil), I just really don't eat them much.  I found a recipe similar to this in the last issue of Donna Hay, I find that magazine one of the best food publications.  Their styling is absolutely amazing and the recipes are usually easy to make and well written.  I had a little epiphany of sorts while making these, I'm almost embarrassed to tell. When I bake I mostly measure by weighing the ingredients.  I have been doing this for years, I can easily say that aside from my 12" chef knife that my scale is the one thing I cannot live without in the kitchen. 

If you are familiar with using a scale, then you know that to tare is to re-set the scale to zero even when something is on it. For example, if I measure butter I'll set the mixer bowl on the scale, tare it and then add the butter to whatever weight it's supposed to be.  I then usually weigh the sugar, but by this time the bowl is already on the mixer with the butter in it so I get yet another bowl and do this process all over again. The point to remember here is that I have been in the food business for oh, almost 20 years and as a result I felt really dumb because it took me this long to figure this out. Just yesterday I realized that I don't have to weigh the sugar (or whatever the next ingredient to be added to the bowl) in a different vessel. I can tare it all over again, with the butter already in it, bringing the scale to zero and weighing the next ingredient. It was like the light came on in my brain, when doing this before I had been adding in my head or sometimes even on a piece of paper to get the right number of ounces and pounds when adding additional ingredients so I would come up with the correct cumulative total- a series of my own little math puzzles- every single day! When weighing in ounces it was always more challenging than grams because they weren't round numbers- I could go on and on about this. So let me tell you what an epiphany this is indeed.  While I am quite pleased with myself for figuring this out,  I've been also shaking my head at myself for a whole day; wondering if I'm the only one out there that didn't do this. 

Anyhow, about the muffins, they have a large crumb and I find they are best eaten while still warm or re-heated for a few seconds in the microwave. When making the second batch, I changed the recipe a bit. The one below has my adjustments, mostly in the way they are mixed.  The magazine version had you add the vanilla with the butter and sugar, but I feel that makes them not as light and airy because the sugar and butter don't have a chance to get really fluffy when liquid is added to early. The muffins are cake-like, so the batter should be treated as so.

Chocolate Filled Doughnut Muffins

160 grams butter, at room temperature
165 grams sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
450 grams all-purpose flour, sifted
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons buttermilk

1 cup sugar
1 tablespoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons melted butter, for brushing

Chocolate filling:
1/3 cup whipping cream
80 grams dark chocolate, finely chopped

Heat cream in a small saucepan until simmering, add the chocolate and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1. In mixer bowl, combine butter and sugar.  Mix on medium speed until very light and fluffy.

2. While butter is mixing, sift together the flour and baking powder. I do this over a piece of parchment paper which I then make into a cone to add to the mixture.  Set aside.

3. Add the eggs one at a time to the butter and sugar, scraping the bowl between additions. Add the vanilla and mix until combined.

4. Add half the milks and flour mixture and blend until just combined.  Do not over mix.

5. Spoon half of the batter into lightly greased muffin tins. I used a medium sized ice-cream scoop.  Then make a small hole in the mixture and divide the chocolate filling among the 12 muffins- it's important to try to keep the filling mostly inside the hole, that way the chocolate doesn't ooze out while baking. Scoop additional dough on top of the chocolate.   Bake 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

6. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.  When the muffins are cool enough to handle, brush with melted butter and coat with the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lemon Pepper Roast Asparagus

It feels like the beginning of a new season.  This is not indicated by the weather (it's still hot as well, hell), but instead by how busy I've been at work.  Business slows a little over the summer around here, July would have been the opportune time to satisfy my wonderlust- (noted!). About a week and a half ago, my books started filling up.  I went from doing a whole lot of piddling around to non-stop cooking in a matter of days.  This was one of last weekends dishes, super easy to make and a standby. No measurements needed, use coarse sea salt and use it generously.

Lemon Pepper Asparagus

Fresh Asparagus, trimmed
grated fresh lemon zest
olive oil
coarse ground black pepper
sal de mer

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Place asparagus on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and lemon zest.  Roast approximately 20 minutes or until barely tender. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dark Chocolate Truffles

I have this bad little habit... it's called chocolate. I require it. Every day, around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, then after dinner and on occasion, in the middle of the night. I don't need a lot of it, but it does have to be good quality and as of late of the darker variety.  I am actually eating chocolate now as I type, I've had a long day and chocolate has this remarkable ability to make it all better. In addition, I read somewhere that certain polyphenols in cocoa and chocolate are thought to have an anti-oxidant affect, just like the polyphenols in red wine.  This of course makes me feel better about eating it, not that I was really needing an excuse.  When I don't have truffles lying about I've been eating these great little 100 calorie bars for Bissingers chocolates, they are wonderful. However,  I seldom eat just one little bar so I just as soon indulge in what I really want and eat a truffle.  

In my effort to have more chocolate lying about, I've been on a truffle making frenzy. I came up with a good base then have been changing the liqueurs I use as flavoring.  Today I made Amaretto, Champagne (my very favorite so far), and Framboise.  I am no chocolatier, tempering chocolate is something that I have not really mastered and acquiring a tempering machine is nowhere in my near future.  As a result my truffles are simple and easy to make, a sort of modified ganache which I then roll in cocoa powder.  I'm using Callebaut dark chocolate right now since I just happen to have a 10 pound block of it at work, but any high quality chocolate high in cocoa solids and low in sugar will work fine. I have not tried using milk or white chocolate yet, but have a feeling the cream ratio will be a little different. (I'll keep you posted).  As for the flavorings, next on the list is Frangelico, Grand Marnier, Corvousier, and Bailey's. With white chocolate I think limoncello and Calvados are going to be amazing. I also want to make Lavender infused dark chocolate truffles, oh, and sea salt, and chili. Clearly I could go on and on here, the combinations are endless. I would love to hear your combinations!

Dark Chocolate Truffles

21 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1-1/3 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup liqueur of your choice (see above)

Cocoa powder, powdered sugar or other desired topping.

1. Combine chocolate and cream in a large heat proof bowl.  Set bowl on a bain marie over medium low heat.  Whisk occasionally until chocolate is melted and combined with the cream. 

2. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.  Once it begins to solidify, place in the refrigerator and chill for at least several hours or overnight.  The chocolate should be thick and easily scooped with a small ice cream scoop.  (I used a small scoop to keep an even size). 

3. Scoop out a ball of chocolate then roll between your palms until perfectly round.  Place in on a plate generously filled with the topping of your choice, I used cocoa.  Roll the truffle until generously covered.  

Friday, August 5, 2011

Roast Tomato Tartine

I don't know about you, but I would rather eat several little meals than one or two big meals a day. This roast tomato tartine is one of my favorites- a couple of these with a glass of red wine is a perfect dinner for me. I use a cast iron skillet to roast the tomatoes with garlic, rosemary and olives. I like the olives to get a little crunchy and the tomatoes to char a bit. All the flavors come together and the olive oil left in the pot with the little bits of black pepper and salt is amazing to dip bread in. I have made this as an appetizer which in reality is what it is, but when cooking for myself this is my entree. The recipe as I have written it yields about 8 tartines, whatever I have leftover is always delicious the next day as well. If you want to make more, it doubles easily- just be sure to use a large enough pan so that everything touches the bottom of the skillet.

I use French Goat Feta which I purchase at Whole Foods, any mild goat cheese will work very well. The olives are seasoned pitted cerignolas or whatever green seasoned olives I have on hand, use your favorite olives, oil cured olives would be great too. For the bread, I use sourdough slices, but French bread would be great as well. I do not peel the garlic before roasting so it doesn't burn, I squeeze it out of it's shell once cooked and spread it on the bread. Oh, one last can skip the bread and toss with angel hair pasta- yum!

Roast Tomato Tartine

1 pint mixed cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup seasoned green olives
8 garlic gloves (not peeled)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large sprigs fresh Rosemary (fresh Thyme can be substituted)
freshly ground black pepper
Coarse sea salt

4 oz. french Goat Feta
8 thin slices sourdough bread

1. preheat oven to 450 F.

2. In a cast iron skillet, toss tomatoes, olives, garlic and Rosemary with olive oil. Generously season with salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring once half way through.

3. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees, place bread slices on top rack and bake for 2 minutes, flip bread over and bake 2 minutes more.

4. Spread goat cheese on toasted bread slices. Squeeze one garlic clove on top of goat cheese and top with roasted tomatoes and olives. Garnish with additional rosemary or Thyme.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Chocolate Mocha Cake with Vanilla-Espresso Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I have a new obsession: Swiss Meringue buttercream!  I am so utterly pleased with it and don't know why it has taken me this long to discover it.  Swiss meringue is nothing new, just a new discovery to me. So much easier and faster to make than Italian Meringue buttercream, which is what I have been using for all my wedding cakes.  Most of all I think you will find it is very user friendly, even if you don't really know what you're doing.

The differences between the Swiss buttercream and the Italian version are mostly in the cooking method.  The Italian version requires you boil sugar and water to 238 degrees, soft ball stage.  While this is not really a problem, it does take considerably longer to make.  I found the Italian version is fluffier at the start and has about 20% more butter in it, but in the end I can't imagine the difference being monumental.  The Swiss version has a larger egg white to butter ratio and delightfully comes together in 10 minutes or less.  Temperature is everything in both versions- they both tend to look curdled while beating and can either be too soft or too stiff, all of which can be easily corrected by continuing to beat.  I added instant espresso powder to the basic vanilla version, if you omit it, you can then flavor it with anything you'd like.  I have not made a chocolate version, but I am assuming it would work well also.  Lastly, make sure the mixer bowl and whip are both clean of any greasy residue before beginning.

2- 9" chocolate cake layers- recipe found here

1 recipe Swiss Vanilla-Espresso Buttercream (makes approximately 5 cups)

Swiss Vanilla-Espresso Buttercream

6 egg whites 
1 cup granulated sugar (200 grams)
340 grams unsalted butter (3 sticks), at room temperature
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 2 teaspoons of boiling water

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer combine sugar and egg whites.  Place over a pot of simmering (not boiling) water and whisk until mixture reaches 160 F or without a thermometer until all sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot. 

2. With the whisk attachment beat meringue on medium-high speed until thick and glossy. (tip: after adding sugar to egg whites, you cannot over beat them). 

3. Slowly add butter a little at a time until well incorporated.  The mixture may look curdled at this point (I promise it will pull back together), continue to whip until light and fluffy.  Add flavorings and beat until well combined.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Stuffed Courgettes (Summer Squash) in Chunky Tomato Sauce

Call me strange, but I am obsessed with globe zucchini. Surely everyone has some sort of food obsession, right?  Of course. Stranger though, is the fact that globe zucchini are not what is pictured above.  Let me tell you, these are some elusive little darlings around here this summer, particularly when I need them. I saw them at the farmer's market two weeks in a row, but of course last Wednesday they where nowhere to be found.  I've been cooking dinner for the no sugar-no flour person and it came up in conversation he likes middle eastern food. (You can read about all the diet restrictions in the meatball post- and lest I forget to tell... he claims I have thrown him under the bus in the foodie world. Nonsense). Anyhow despite his claims and in my effort to please him I made stuffed courgettes for dinner, without the rice of course.  I used the recipe my middle eastern grandmother used to make, one of my very favorites.  I changed the recipe a bit, watercress would have not made an appearance in hers. I also omitted the rice and did not put whipping cream in the tomato sauce.  While it was a bit different from the original it was still delicious and maybe healthier.

Surprisingly to me the rice was not missed in the recipe at all, if you want to add it though, add 1 cup cooked rice to the cooked meat.  I left the sauce very chunky to help give substance and was pleased with the result. Any summer squash will work fine as a substitute for the zucchini.  Butternut squash would be delicious and hearty in the fall, I would just pre-cook it for a while before filling.  Eight ball or Globe zucchini are much smaller, if you are lucky enough to find them you'll need about 8.  

Stuffed Courgettes

4 large summer squash
1-1/2 lb. ground veal
1/4 cup diced prosciutto
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
3 garlic cloves, finely diced
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1 bunch watercress, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano (loosely packed)
3 Tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
2 eggs
olive oil, to drizzle over stuffed squash before cooking
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Slice the tops or sides off the squash, being careful to remove it in one piece- these are the lids.
Carefully scoop out the flesh with a melon baller or grapefruit knife. Reserve some of the flesh (about 1 cup) for the filling. (I try to save flesh from the sections with less seeds). Place hollowed out squash in a baking dish and set aside.

2. In a large saute pan over medium heat, heat about 3 tablespoons olive oil and cook onion until translucent, add celery and prosciutto and saute until onions are lightly golden.  Add garlic and reserved squash flesh and saute 2 minutes longer.  Add veal, breaking any large chunks of meat up gently and cook stirring occasionally until meat is browned.  Add watercress, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper and cook until watercress has given its water out and wilted.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.  Taste meat and adjust seasonings.

3. In a large bowl, beat eggs lightly with a fork.  Add meat and mix thoroughly.  Stuff the squash with the meat mixture, place a lid on each one and return to the baking dish.

4. Pour the tomato sauce around the stuffed squash in the baking dish.  At this point, you can either refrigerate until ready to bake, or place directly in the oven.  Bake uncovered, in a 350 F preheated oven for 30 minutes. Serves 4.

Chunky Tomato Sauce

3 (28-ounce cans) whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1. In a large stock pot, cook onions in oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, approximately 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes longer.

2.  Stir in tomatoes and their juice, salt and black pepper.  Simmer sauce, uncovered, until slightly thickened, about 40 minutes.  Add oregano and taste for salt.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Recipe: Healthy Banana Blueberry Muffins with Oat Bran

As a general rule, I am quite a positive person.  But when the heat index outside is over 105 degrees for what seems like forever, I tend to crack.  It's just miserably hot everywhere, in the kitchen, in the car, on the porch. I was just sitting outside as I do every evening and even at 10 o'clock at night it is still HOT. How is that possible? Don't answer that- I now how it's possible, it's just exhausting.  Not even the beautiful summer vegetables are making the heat wave worth it. (ok, that's not true, but still- I do wish it would cool off, even just a little and for more than an hour).  Okay, I'm done whining now.  On the bright side, the rain has cooled things off even if it's only while water drips from the sky and it's been a welcome reprieve.  As a result,  I can turn every oven on at the same time and it's bearable.  So you see, there was a purpose to the weather talk.  I've been waiting for it to cool off so I could sample batch after batch of muffins to come out with the perfect one and not get heat stroke while I do it. Task complete.

I am by no surprise very particular about my muffins. The perfect muffin criteria: they should be moist, but not soggy, substantial but not dense, only slightly sweet as they are not cupcakes and in this occasion made with whole grains and healthier than usual.   I used fresh blueberries since they are still in season, but frozen blueberries will work as well.  When baking and using frozen berries, it's always best to leave them in the freezer right up to the moment you need them.  I find they defrost quickly and once they do, they have the tendency to become soggy, and turn whatever batter they go into a sort of pink-blue color.  I also coat the berries in a little bit of flour before adding to the batter to keep them from sinking to the bottom, this applies to fresh or frozen. 

Notes: I use an ice cream scoop to evenly divide the batter in the muffin pan.  My scoop holds about 1/3 of a cup.  I find this is the easiest way to make uniformed sized muffins. Stir gently, the batter should be a little lumpy.  The bananas should be very ripe, and mashed completely so as to give as much moisture as possible.  The muffins are not very sweet at all, a nice addition if you like them a little sweeter would be about a tablespoon of honey. I baked them in muffins cups, but I think next time I will just grease the pan, they did stick a little to the papers.

Healthy Banana Blueberry Muffins with Oat Bran

1-1/4 cups flour
1 cup oat bran
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup skim milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 mashed bananas
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Additional sugar for Sprinkling tops of muffins if you wish.

1. In a medium bowl, mix flour, bran, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together.

2. In a separate bowl, mix all remaining ingredients except for the blueberries.

3. Combine wet ingredients with flour mixture and stir just to blend.  Add blueberries and mix lightly.
Divide batter evenly in paper lined muffin cups (see note). Sprinkle tops with sugar and  bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Store at room temperature.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Recipe: Rice Cakes with Chicken Paillard and White Wine Caper Sauce

Some days at work are just non-stop. I am multi-tasking from the second I walk in the door in the morning with a deadline so closely upon me it sometimes makes my head spin.  Because I am a single mom, I don't have the luxury of getting to work at 6 a.m. like most people in my industry.  I walk in at 8:30 after carpool and coffee. Yes, I have to have coffee.  And yes it has to be from my coffee shop- it's a non-negotiable.  Anyhow, you could say it's a bit of a rush to get lunch for 50 out by 10 a.m. in order to be delivered and served by 11.  But, I'm not complaining, it does not bother me in the least-  I actually like the adrenalin rush I get out of working under pressure. Yes, I know the immense satisfaction I get from this is a little sick.  But, I simply love what I do and how I do it.  Every single day. If I was to describe my dream job, it's the one I have.  I feel blessed to have it.  I would not change a single thing.

Today was a little different, my lunch order was only for 12 people and it was not due until 11:15.  I can probably cook lunch for 12 people with my eyes closed at this point.  I made the order which included herbed rice pilaf and chicken Paillard with a white wine caper sauce, a caprese salad, roast baby squash and cowgirl cookies.  I finished so far ahead of schedule I unexpectedly had the rest of the morning to play in the kitchen; I had to sit there and wait for the runner to pick it up anyhow.

I made extra herbed rice so I could make rice cakes.  I Then had to also make more chicken, but only because I needed it for the pan drippings.  The chicken was only the means to an end for the sauce, the wine must deglaze something in the pan after all.  All I really wanted to eat was the rice cake and the luscious creamy sauce. Don't worry, I know you people eat meat and poultry.  I included the chicken recipe too since I put it in the photo.

Did I ever tell you how much I love butter? Butter, it makes everything better.  Yes, every single thing.  I realized just now how indulgent my use of butter was when I had to write the recipe down. If you must, you can omit half the butter in the rice pilaf, but I'm not doing any such thing.  

When pounding the chicken breasts to flatten them, I find it cleanest and easiest to put them in a plastic bag, close the bag and pound away.  This keeps all that raw chicken stuff from getting everywhere it's not supposed to be.   I made the rice this morning and chilled it for about an hour before forming the patties, but you could also do this with leftover rice from the night before.  Lastly, what does Paillard mean? It is a French method of cooking in which the meat is flattened, therefore tenderizing and allowing it to cook very quickly.

Chicken Paillard with Herbed Rice Cakes and White Wine Caper Sauce

Rice Cakes
1-1/2 cups Jasmine rice
3 cups water
1/4 lb. butter
1/4 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs such as chives, rosemary, lemon thyme, oregano, basil and mint.
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
2 cups Panko bread crumbs

1. In a medium sauce pan bring the water and half the butter to a boil.  Add the rice stir briefly and cover the pot with a lid.  Reduce the heat to simmer and cook approximately 20 minutes or until the water is absorbed.  

2. Remove the rice from the heat and allow to cool a few minutes.  Mix in the herbs, additional butter and parmesan cheese.  Salt to taste and place in the refrigerator to cool.

3. Once the rice is completely cool, form into patties. Place breadcrumbs in a shallow bowl or plate.  Whisk the egg in a small bowl until slightly foamy and dip each rice patty in the egg mixture then place onto the plate with breadcrumbs and coat both sides well.

4. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Fry the rice cakes about 3 minutes on each side.  Place on a paper towel lined plate and set aside until the sauce and chicken are ready.  You can also place them in a 200 degree oven to keep warm.

Chicken Paillard
4 - 6-7 oz. Chicken breasts, trimmed 
1 tablespoon fresh Rosemary, chopped
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Plastic Bag and a Mallet.

1. Place chicken breasts in a plastic bag two at a time and pound to about 1/4" thickness with a mallet.  Remove from bag and season with Rosemary, salt and pepper.

2. In a large skillet, over high heat, heat olive oil until hot but not smoking.  Add chicken breasts and saute about 4 minutes on each side, turning only once until cooked through and golden brown.  Remove from the skillet, cover and set aside.  Do not wash the skillet.

White Wine Sauce
1 cup white wine
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup capers

1. In the same skillet the chicken was cooked in, over medium-high heat, pour 1 cup of wine.  Cook for about 2 minutes, it will boil and cook most of the alcohol out. Scrape the pan with a small whisk while the wine is simmering.  Add the butter and capers and whisk to combine.  Add cream and whisk in, then season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.  The sauce will thicken a little once it cools down a bit.
Serve over the rice cake and chicken. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Looking for Meatballs!

Recently while I was being schooled on the food rules of a special someone, I nearly swallowed my tongue.  He says, "no flour, no sugar". What?? How can someone not eat flour or sugar? I'm also thinking he has no idea how many dishes have 'hidden' flour- specially since he doesn't seem to cook.  Just ask someone allergic to gluten, it eliminates more dishes than you can imagine. The list of forbidden foods seems endless. Granted, this works quite well for him, but how I'll ever be able to cook under these constraints is beyond me at that point.  It's a good thing he could not directly see my face as he informs me of this... I'm sure it wasn't a good look.  In the few days that have passed, this is sinking in and I now have a brand new formidable challenge.

I make meat balls- really, really good meat balls. The kind of meat balls that leave you wondering how my mostly non-meat-eating self pulls this off.  Well, it is one of the few meat concoctions I eat and I am Gourmet Girl after all, right? Right. But, Gourmet Girl and all, I am still no magician. (Oh, forgot to tell you- no grains, no rice, no potatoes, no dairy. The only consolation is that butter is allowed- thank God).  Somehow meatballs come up in this conversation and he informs that he likes those a lot.  I'm thinking well, you must like them really tough and solid as a rock, but I don't say that- I just sit there, listen, smirk and ponder.  Then I say my meat balls don't have breadcrumbs, he gets all excited.  Then I remember, yes thats because they have cubes of real fresh bread, real bread which is also soaked in real milk.   Not so good.

At this point you might be wondering what is this all about, clearly there has not been some epiphany on my part and a recipe to follow.  Well, this is about my search for a good meatball recipe which has been made by a real person, which does not come from a "diet" web site, and which most importantly tastes amazing and is juicy and moist but has no bread or milk.  I'm desperate here and that leads me to desperate measures... asking you, my dear readers to help me out.  You can email me or leave your perfect recipe in the comments, I will share whatever the finished product is.  The last time I asked for help with a recipe you came through gloriously- caramel icing.  I am absolutely positive there is someone out there with a grain-less, non-dairy, perfect meatball which does not taste like sawdust.  I'll be waiting!

It did occur to me I could possibly use dehydrated carrots.  Anyhow, just a thought.

I made the meat balls, I just omitted the bread, milk, and cheese. And guess what? They were totally fine, all that stressing out over nothing.  Now granted, they were never side by side by the "real" version but good enough.  He approved, all's well.
I'll post the recipe this week when I make them again and actually have time to photograph the little darlings. Thank you for all your comments- very helpful, specially the mushrooms- I'm implementing that when I make meat loaf again.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Baby Shower Pastries

What I made at work today! :)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Recipe: Old Fashioned Southern Pound Cake

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about cake.  Vanilla pound cake to be exact. This happens particularly often around 3 o'clock in the afternoon when I'm in need of a sugar fix. Yes, I am addicted to sugar, I guess the first step is admitting it, I doubt it will go further than that.  Usually this affliction only occurs in the afternoon. (ok, that was a lie, but a little white one).   This thinking obsessing about cake led me to work and tweak this recipe.  It is a personal conviction of mine that we all need a simple vanilla cake in our repertoire.  I wanted a cake that would stand on it's own, not needing to be iced or topped with anything at all.  Although, I will tell you I did stray just a little and only once (so far), and topped it with Amaretto Peaches, more on those later.

True Pound cake is made without leavening, which means it gets it lift from creaming eggs, sugar and butter. This is an easy process, but one you must be patient with.  Butter must be at room temperature and must be whipped with the sugar for a minimum of 3 minutes- time it! Creaming the butter and sugar on high speed with turn the mixture from grainy to soft and super fluffy, the color should also lighten a shade or two. Don't rush this process, the more you beat it the better.  Once you add the flour though, it's a whole different story- mix as lightly and little as possible so it does not become tough.

A note about measuring ingredients.  The original recipe, called for 3-1/2 cups of flour, but when I weighed it, it turns out it's only 3 cups.  My point is that with flour in particular, the way you put it in the measuring cup, either by scooping it or spooning it in has a lot to do with the outcome.  If you scoop the cup into the flour  it packs it in more, spooning it is looser and therefore less flour in the cup.  I think this is sometimes the problem when recipes don't turn out the way you expect.  Most cookbooks seldom tell you what method is used. My advice is get a scale, if you don't have one then scoop the flour for 3 cups or spoon it to yield 3-1/2 cups. For future reference in any of my recipes when there is no weight given (I will fix that soon), I always scoop.

1 lb. sugar (2 cups)
1 lb. butter, softened (4 sticks)
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 large eggs 
1 lb. all-purpose flour (3 cups) See note above.
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees

Grease and flour a 10" tube pan

All ingredients should be at room temperature

1. In the bowl of a large mixer, cream the sugar, butter and salt until very light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and crapping the bowl between additions. 

2. Add the flour to the butter mixture alternating with the cream.  Beginning and ending with the flour.  Stir until just incorporated, making sure to not over mix.  Remove the bowl from mixer and stir in vanilla and nutmeg to combine.

3. Spoon the batter into the pan and spread evenly.  Bake for 1 hour. Rotate the pan and bake an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

4.  Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes. Unmold and serve either warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Recipe: Light Tuna Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

Some days you just want a salad. Particularly on days when the heat index outside is 105 degrees and your Air Conditioner goes kaput. I woke this morning to a somewhat muggy house, only saved from heat stroke by the fact that I had set it to the polar setting before going to bed. But, it was my lucky morning after all, for lots of reasons- one being the A/C repair man was already at my neighbors. Yes, there is a God.  Turns out the unit was broken due to user error- Oh, I'm supposed to change the filter EVERY month?! Got it.  Anyhow, I left for a while and upon my return it was still mildly hot.  Turning on my mammoth stove for any reason whatsoever today was out of the question.  Tuna salad day it is.

I usually am not a fan at all of tuna salad... mayonnaise and fish? No, thank you.  My version is usually composed of what's on hand and it never ever includes mayonnaise.   I had a good trip to the farmer's market this morning which yielded vine ripened Creole tomatoes, small crisp cucumbers and a beautiful array of peppers.   I used white Albacore chunk tuna packed in water- it smells and tastes less of cat food.  Sherry vinegar is a favorite of mine, milder than balsamic and slightly sweet.  Today I used salted capers, normally when cooking with them I rinse them, but since the kitchen shop has been out of my precious salt de mer I tossed them straight in the bowl.

The salad is quite easy to assemble, use whatever vegetables you have on hand, arugula and celery would have complemented it well.  The dill in my garden went to seed so I pulled it out last week, it would have also been a very good addition.  I found little Creole onions at the market this morning, they are slightly sweet and spicy; red onion is what I normally use.  I like this salad a little tart so I used the juice of almost a whole lemon, I suggest you taste as you go.

Tuna Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

1 large can white Albacore chunk tuna, packed in water.
1 lemon
1/4 cup Sherry vinegar
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salted capers, about 1 tablespoon
1 Tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons Creole onion, minced

Bell Pepper

1. Drain tuna and place in a small mixing bowl, all vinegar, olive oil, parsley, and onion and mix well.
Add capers and freshly ground black pepper taste for flavor and add lemon juice as needed.

2. Slice tomatoes, peppers, and cucumber. Arrange on a plate and drizzle with additional lemon juice or vinegar and season with salt and pepper before placing tuna salad on top.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Recipe: Pimm's Cup

With the fourth of July holiday right around the corner, I thought I would share my favorite porch drink. There isn't anything else I would rather drink on a hot summer afternoon than a Pimm's cup.  When the dog days of summer seem endless... these help get you through.  In my mind it is the epitome of the perfect summer drink- next to mint juleps and mojitos, but we'll talk about those another time.  Even when there is nothing of substance in my refrigerator, you can count on one thing- I'll always have the makings for these.

Pimm's No. 1 cup is based on gin and tastes subtly of spice and citrus, it mixes very well with lemonade and fruits. I use ginger beer because I'm not a fan of really sweet drinks,  but if unavailable you can substitute with ginger ale.  You can also make them in a large batch in a pitcher, omit the ice and pour Pimms, ginger beer and lemonade in thirds into the pitcher.  Refrigerate until ready to serve and pour over ice.

Pimm's No. 1
Ginger beer
cucumber, sliced

Fill a large tumbler with ice.  Add pimm's to the ice until 1/3 of the ice is covered.  Add equal parts lemonade and ginger beer.  Garnish with cucumber slices and lemon. Stir and serve.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Easy Refrigerator Sweet and Spicy Pickles

What to do on a Saturday when it's entirely too hot to paddle the lake, I don't have a big party to cook for and the thought of being idle is not a good one? Make pickles!  I really have been wanting to make these since last summer, but time just got away and then Kirby cucumbers were out of season.  Kirby cucumbers are small and have small seeds, they are great for pickling since they are naturally crisp.  I played around with my recipe a little and made both traditional with dill and a south of the border very very spicy version.  You could tone down the spiciness by removing the jalapeno all together or just using the flesh without core and seeds.

Refrigerator pickles keep for about a month, covered and chilled.  Make sure the jar is clean and dry when you begin.  It's best to mix the vinegar in a non-reactive bowl, either plastic or glass.  The sugar cuts down on the acidity, adjust to taste.  The traditional version, for which the recipe is for are sort of sweet-spicy.  I had a lot of cilantro well on its way to seed in the garden so I used it on the second batch.  I added cumin, cilantro sprigs, and a ripe red jalapeno, seeds, core and all. HOT!

I made these to serve with sandwiches, particularly pulled pork sandwiches with slaw... coming soon!

Refrigerator Pickles

3 cups vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 teaspoons coarse ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dill seed
12 whole cloves
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
4 bay leaves
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
fresh dill sprigs (optional)
8-9 kirby cucumbers, sliced 1/8" thick

1. Mix vinegar with sugar, salt, peppers, dill seeds, cloves, and bay leaves until sugar dissolves.

2. In a large jar, layer cucumbers, onion and jalapeno.  Pour vinegar solution over the cucumbers.  Refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Recipe:Zucchini and Pesto Puff Pastry Tart

Today is the beginning of my official return to blogging! Really, I promise this time.  With that in mind, it is also the beginning of summer, fresh vegetables are aplenty and I have a plethora of posts in my head.   I made this zucchini tart so I could experiment with store bought puff pastry.  And let me tell you, there is a significant difference between ordinary not all butter puff pastry and Dufour puff pastry.  I've made puff pastry from scratch, roll, add more butter, fold, roll and repeat- about a hundred times. I did not have my home-made version next to it, but truly- once baked I could not have told the difference.  What I figured out was that some of the other brands have additives and are not 100 percent butter, Dufour is nothing but flour, water, butter. I never said it was low fat- but if you're going to make puff pastry, lets do it right please.  To make this lower in fat, the zucchini can be placed directly on a lightly greased glass pie pan, layered with the mozzarella and then more zucchini with pesto and herbs on top.  Maybe I'll make that another day, (like right before having to hop into my bathing suit!).  As for today though, we're going with the yummy all butter version.

Defrost the puff pastry in the refrigerator, its best to keep it somewhat cool at all times.  If you want it a little more golden brown, you can add an egg wash right before baking.  I used zucchini because it's what's in season, but I think some beautiful heirloom tomatoes or asparagus would work nicely as well.
If I was using tomatoes, I would just slice them thickly and not saute them.  For asparagus, I would lightly blanch them if they are thick or saute just a little if pencil thin.

Zucchini and Pesto Puff Pastry Tart

1/2 cup homemade pesto (recipe in index)
2 small zucchini or summer squash, sliced
1 package Dufour puff pastry, defrosted (I found it at Whole Foods)
Olive oil
coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Assorted Herbs (I used thyme, basil, oregano and parsley)
2-3 large balls freshwater mozzarella

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

1. Roll out puff pastry on a parchment covered baking sheet.  With a sharp knife or pastry cutter, score all around the sides of the rectangle, one inch from the edge.  This will make the sides puff up higher and give the appearance of a crust.

2. In a large saute pan over medium high heat, heat olive oil until almost smoking, a couple of minutes.
Place zucchini in pan, season with a little salt and pepper and lightly brown on both sides.

3. Arrange zucchini evenly over pesto on puff pastry shell.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until shell is puffed ad very light brown.  Remove from the oven and top with freshwater mozzarella slices and about half of the fresh herbs.  Continue to bake until cheese has melted and crust is golden brown.  Remove from oven and top with additional fresh herb chiffonade and drizzle a little more pesto on top if desired. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Easter Ducklings Filled with Strawberry Jam

This post is from March of 2008, yes- recycling again.  I sure have come a long way with yeast, specially after the king cake madness I just put myself through. Visit my Gourmet Girls facebook page for some photos, there's a link in the sidebar.

Easter is probably my favorite holiday, I find it so much more relaxed than Christmas. Jack, my little boy and I have already boiled and colored eggs a few times and have had a great deal of fun doing it, I am not as busy at the restaurant at this time of year so I get to enjoy the holiday. Last week we were in Whole Foods and they had some little bunny shaped breads. They were just precious, but their flavor was lacking- specially for a 6 year old who was expecting something more than just bread. So I set out to make the ducklings, filled them with Strawberry jam and Jack loved them! Next time, I might also add cream cheese to the filling.

One of my cooking goals for this year was to overcome my hesitation (alright-fear) to work with yeast. I have been reading a bit about yeast and have really come to understand it a lot better and as a result had no trouble at all with the yeast in the recipe. I have included the weight measurements as well, because I think most of the trouble I was having with breads in the past had more to do with the amount of flour I added than with the yeast itself. I was producing tough bread, weighing the four has helped that issue out tremendously. A scale has become such an essential tool in my kitchen, I don't know how I ever baked without it. If you don't have a scale, lightly spoon the flour into the measuring cup.

I have written then recipe out in more steps than usual, I wanted to make sure anyone could understand it- even me!

Easter Ducklings

1/4 cup sugar (60 g)
1 cup warm milk (110 F)
2 pkgs. active dry yeast
3 1/3 cup all purpose flour (500 g)
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2/3 cup strawberry jam

For Decorations:

A paste made out of 1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar and a little lemon juice (about 1 teaspoon) and dried currants. Royal icing flowers or fresh pansies for decorating the ducks- if desired.

1. In a medium bowl, stir 1 teaspoon sugar into milk and sprinkle with yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes or until frothy. Stir gently.

2. Sift flour, remaining sugar and salt into a large bowl and set aside.

3. Stir butter into yeast mixture. Lightly beat in one egg.

4. Pour yeast mixture into flour mixture, combining to make a dough.

5. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until soft and elastic, it should no longer feel to sticky. The should should be fairly soft when the kneading is over.

6. Place dough in a large bowl that has been rubbed with a little vegetable oil and cover with a dish towel. Set in a warm place around 78 F and allow to rise for about an hour or until doubled in volume. (I made these in the restaurant's which is quite warm- the dough doubled in about 35 minutes).

7. Remove dough from bowl, flatten out on a floured surface with your hands then roll out gently with a rolling pin to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out 10 rounds with a 3" cookie cutter for the bodies. Cut out 5 smaller rounds for the heads and 5 small ovals for the beaks.

8. Place one egg yolk in a small bowl and beat a little. With a small pastry brush, brush egg yolk on the large rounds. Add about 1 teaspoon strawberry jam to 5 of the large circles. Place another large circle on top and pinch the edges to seal together. Making sure to pinch well so the jam does not leak out during baking.

9. With a little egg yolk, glue heads and beaks to the bodies. Place ducklings on a greased cookie sheet and set aside in a warm and draft free place to rest for 15 minutes.

10. Brush all ducklings with egg yolk and place in a 425 F oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Mardi Gras Cream Cheese filled King Cake

This is a post from 2008... so yes, since I'm not posting right now- I am recycling! I thought it might be of current interest.

Stemming back to the 1700's, King Cakes are the traditional celebratory cake of Mardi Gras. Originally king cakes were served at Mardi Gras Parties and the king cake held a bean inside instead of a plastic baby. When served, the "lucky" person having the bean on their plate was named the king or queen of the party, and was then responsible for holding the next Mardi gras party which would include all the guests present at the party where the bean was found.

Living in South Louisiana, I have eaten more than my fair share of King cake. The bakeries make them in just about every flavor imaginable. The most popular are Praline and cream cheese, which is my favorite. Up until today I had not made my own king cake, but a few days ago I stumbled across this Swedish Ring at Tartelette and knew it would be perfect for my cake. I used the dough portion of her recipe and adapted it to make my king cake, then filled it with cream cheese.

I am not an avid yeast user, so making bread which uses yeast as it's leavening always makes me a little nervous. I followed her directions exactly, but the first batch of dough turned out a bit dry. I made a second batch with less flour and it was perfect. We emailed back and forth and she confirmed it was the flour, she had forgotten to write to add the flour in stages. Since the first I made this I have learned to add  flour slowly- you can always add more, but can never take it away.

Cream Cheese filled King Cake

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast or 1 package instant yeast
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter softened (1/2 stick)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon nutmeg
grated zest of one lemon (1 tablespoon)
2 1/2 cups flour

10 oz. cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
colored sugars (green, purple and yellow)

1. Heat milk to 105-110 degrees in a small saucepan over low heat. Place milk in the bowl of a standing mixer, add yeast and stir to combine. Allow milk mixture to rest for about 10 minutes or until frothy.

2. Beat the egg in a small bowl and add to milk mixture. Then add 2 1/2 cups flour, butter, sugar, salt, nutmeg and lemon zest. With the dough hook on low speed, mix until dough comes together. The dough will be slightly sticky, not too wet. If the dough seems very moist you may add up to 1/2 cup additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time. (having made my dough twice using both amounts of flour, I found less flour worked best as I incorporated a little extra flour when kneading it by hand).

3. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes until dough is soft and smooth. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Allow dough to rise in a warm and draft-free place for about an hour, or until doubled in size. (Since it is quite a cold day today and my house is a little drafty I turned on the oven and sat the bowl on the range).

4. Make filling by beating the cream cheese, vanilla, and sugar together with a mixer until fluffy then set aside.

5. Lay dough on lightly floured surface, punch down and roll into a 20" by 10" rectangle. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly on one half of the dough, then fold other half over to cover. Pinch dough together to seal in cream cheese. Make a ring and pinch ends together, the ring can be a circle or oval. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rose for 45 minutes.

6. In 375 degree oven bake king cake for 20 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove from oven and set a side to cool. I add the bean at this point by making a small slit underneath the cake with a paring knife.

7. Mix icing ingredients together and whisk until smooth. Drizzle icing heavily over king cake, and while still wet, sprinkle with colored sugars.

Happy Mardi Gras!!

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