Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Italian cream cake with 2 fillings - lemon curd and strawberry preserves, and lemon buttercream

Here's a pic after we cut it - don't mind the ketchup & relish in the background, we had sliders ;)

For my cooking club dinner last Friday, I needed to bring a wedding cake (or at least a mini one, to feed around 10 people).  A few days beforehand, I started doing some research into cake baking tips, cake and frosting flavors, and fillings.  I didn't want to make a chocolate cake, as I had made one for this club recently.  I thought it would be nice to incorporate lemon, to give it a light & fresh taste for summer.  I eventually decided to try lemon buttercream.  I found this recipe for Italian cream cake, which seemed like it would be like a fancier version of a yellow cake, and would go with any filling or frosting.  The recipe said it would be dense yet moist, and I thought the denseness would be good since I wanted to make a few layers but I did not want to get involved with the interior support system of wedding cakes - i.e. cake rounds, dowels, etc.  For filling, I couldn't decide between lemon curd and strawberry preserves, so I decided to use both, alternating the layers.  I have made lemon curd before, but decided to buy it for this cake, as the cake, buttercream and assembly would take plenty of time.  For the preserves, the flavor I used was strawberry vanilla, which was very good, and not quite as sweet as plain strawberry.

For the cake - for me, this yielded 1-8", 1-6", and 2-4" cakes.
  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • 2C sugar, divided
  • 1/4lb (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2C solid vegetable shortening (trans-free), at room temperature
  • 1t salt
  • 1t vanilla extract
  • 1t baking soda
  • 1C low fat buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2C cake flour
Preheat the oven to 325F. Butter and flour cake pans, then line with parchment paper.
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in 1/2C of the sugar until the mixture thickens to a meringuelike consistency. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream the remaining sugar with the butter, vegetable shortening, and salt. Scrape down the sides, add the vanilla extract and mix again.  Add the egg yolks, one at a time, (stopping periodically to scrape down the sides) until the batter is thick and well blended.
Stir the baking soda into the buttermilk.
Add the flour to the butter mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour, mixing after each addition.
Use a large spatula to gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, filling 2/3 full, and bake until the cake has pulled away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. This took about 50-55 minutes for the 8", less for the others. Cool cakes in pans for 10 minutes; remove the cakes from the pans and let cool completely.
This was adapted from a recipe on this blog, which says the original came from a Martha Stewart book.

For the lemon buttercream:
  • 6 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1/2C fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2t salt
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2C plus 2T sugar
  • 3 1/2 sticks of butter – cool but not cold
  • Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2t vanilla extract
1. Add the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, lemon zest and sugar in a double boiler and turn it on to medium heat. Whisk constantly until the mixture is thickened, light in color and hot.  The recipe said this would take 6 minutes, for me it took about 25, partially because I had trouble keeping the water at a constant simmer without it boiling.  It is important to not allow the water to come to a hard boil, or the eggs may scramble or curdle.
2. Pour the mixture into a standing mixer bowl fitted with the whisk and whip the mixture on high for about 5 minutes until it has cooled off and lightened in color to a pale yellow.
3. Once the mixture has cooled (feel the side of the bowl to make sure it’s cool) add the butter about 1/4 stick at a time, whipping until smooth, periodically stopping to scrape the sides. Then add the vanilla bean and vanilla extract and whip again.
4. If the frosting is too soft, stick it in fridge for 20 minutes or so. Then scrape it down and whip for 1 minute. For spreading the buttercream can be soft, but for decorating it needs to be more solid.
Recipe source: Eat The Love blog

To assemble the cake:
Slice the largest layer of cake (8") in half horizontally.  Put the bottom piece on a platter or cake stand and place strips of parchment paper under the edges, so you can pull them out after decorating and the platter will be clean.  Spread with lemon curd (I used an English brand called Thursday Cottage from Whole Foods).  I used about 3-4oz maybe, I didn't measure it.  

Place the top part of the cut layer on top and spread with lemon buttercream.  

Slice the second layer of cake (6") in half horizontally.  Put the bottom piece on top of the buttercream, and spread with strawberry preserves (I used strawberry vanilla from a Swiss brand called Hero).  

Place the top part of the cut layer on top and spread with lemon buttercream.   
Slice the third layer of cake (4") in half horizontally.  Put the bottom piece on top of the buttercream, and spread with lemon curd (I had intended to use lemon curd for the top but when we cut into it I realized I used more strawberry).  Place the top part of the cut layer on top and spread with lemon buttercream.  

Spread the sides of all layers with lemon buttercream.
Decorate with blueberries and cut strawberries.

I had intended to decorate the sides with basketweave buttercream but I was running low on buttercream at this point, so I just piped the edges with dots/swirls of buttercream.  I read there is a Wilton decorating tip you can buy to do the sides of the cake for a smoother, more professional look, but this was after my trip to the store so I just used an offset spatula.
If the buttercream gets too soft while you are decorating, put the piping bag in the fridge for a few minutes.
If you are piling fruit on the top layer as I did, I found it is helpful to pipe a little buttercream on the berries before placing them, so they will not roll off.

I used the second 4" cake to make a mini cake for Corey, since he was afraid I wouldn't come home with any leftovers.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Healthier Version of a Fast Food Classic

For breakfast this morning I wanted to make something easy, but different from the usual eggs or pancakes.  I decided to make a healthier version of an egg mcmuffin, which I have done before with a fried egg.  Since Corey prefers his eggs scrambled, I looked for something I could use to cook the egg in a round shape so the egg would fit on the English muffin without spilling out all over.
I found a 3.5" round cookie cutter, sprayed it and the pan with grapeseed oil spray, and let it heat in the pan over medium until it was hot.  I whisked 2 eggs with salt & pepper, poured into the cookie cutter, covered and let it cook for a few minutes until the egg was set up the sides.  Then I lifted the cookie cutter and flipped the egg.  I let it cook for another minute, topped with a slice of cheese and covered for another minute.
I used Canadian bacon which has much less fat than regular bacon, and toasted whole wheat English muffins.  Corey added ketchup to his.  We were both happy with the results.  Here's a pic-

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hot Italian Chicken Sausage Burgers!

Yesterday I was craving something like a burger, but different.  I thought about making sausage and peppers, and then thought why not make it into a burger?  I know Rachel Ray has made turkey sausage burgers on her show before, adding seasonings to ground turkey.  We always love the hot Italian chicken sausage made in house at Whole Foods, so I thought why try to recreate the flavor when it's already perfect?  The end result was perfectly juicy and spicy, and a nice change from the usual.

Here is how I made it-
Olive oil
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
1 cubanelle pepper, sliced thin
1/3lb cremini mushrooms, sliced thin
Salt & pepper
3 links hot Italian chicken sausage, casings removed
Grated parmigiano-reggiano, about 2T
Grated pecorino romano, about 2T
Chopped fresh parsley, about 2T
Sliced provolone
Bulkie rolls

Heat 1T olive oil in a large skillet.  Add onions, peppers, and mushrooms, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until softened, about 15 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.
Put the sausage in a bowl with both cheeses and the parsley, and stir together until combined.  Form into 2 patties.
Spray another large nonstick skillet with olive oil and heat over medium heat.  Add the patties and cook until browned on both sides and cooked through.  I cooked mine on the stovetop for about 12 minutes and they were nicely browned but not cooked through yet, so I put the pan in the oven for 3 minutes on 400.
Lay provolone slices on the burgers and cook, covered, just until melted.
Place each burger on a bun, and add some of the pepper mixture.
We had baked potato wedges with ours.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Success on Lightening Up a Classic - Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo

One of Corey's favorite dishes is chicken, broccoli and penne with alfredo sauce. For me, as it is usually prepared, it is far too fattening and beyond my reach anyway, since I am semi-lactose intolerant.  (By this I mean that I can eat some things like cheese in limited quantities, but never regular milk or cream sauce.)
Recently I started thinking about how to make alfredo without the heavy cream so we both could enjoy it.  I considered trying it with mascarpone which has less lactose, but with the amount the dish would require, it would still be pretty high in fat.  If it's going to be really good, I'd rather it also be reasonably healthy, since I know I'll want to make it again and again.
A few weeks ago I switched from buying soy milk for my coffee to lactose-free milk. As much as I tried to like it, and after trying several different flavors and varieties, soy milk just adds an unpleasant aftertaste that I grew tired of.  With lactose-free skim milk I can enjoy my coffee again, and cereal too!  Some people think this is strange, but I have never used half and half in coffee, only skim.  (Thanks to Diane Field for suggesting - several times - that I try lactose-free milk!)
Anyway, back to this dish.  I found a recipe for fettuccine alfredo on which calls for milk and light cream, and decided to try it with my lactose-free skim.  I couldn't find lactose-free light cream, so I bought lactose-free half and half.  I used whole wheat penne instead of fresh fettuccine, both to make it healthier and because of Corey's aversion to long pastas.  I also added chicken and broccoli, as well as garlic to both the broccoli and the sauce.
The result - excellent!  I am definitely glad I added the garlic.  Next time, I think I will save a little of the pasta water to add in at the end, which would help to make it even creamier.  I had planned to do this last night, but in my excitement to have perfectly al dente pasta, all of the water went down the drain.

Oil spray
3 boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
Broccoli, about 1lb
1 large garlic clove, minced
Olive oil
Sea salt & fresh ground pepper
3/4lb whole wheat penne
1T unsalted butter
1C skim milk
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1 1/2t cornstarch
1/4C light cream or half and half
1/2C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch of nutmeg


Spray a large pan with oil spray (such as canola) and place over medium heat.  Add the chicken to the pan and cook, turning, until golden brown on all sides and just cooked through.  Remove to a bowl.

Add broccoli, 1 minced garlic clove, 1T olive oil, and 1/4-1/3C water to a pan and place over medium heat.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook, about 5 minutes, until you can just pierce the broccoli with a fork.  Remove the cover, stir, and cook a little longer, about 2 minutes, until the water is evaporated.  Remove to a bowl.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, and return to the pot.

In a small saucepan melt the butter, add the milk and the smashed garlic clove, and bring to a gentle simmer.  Whisk in cornstarch, and continue whisking occasionally until lightly thickened. Remove the garlic.

Put it all together:
Add chicken and broccoli to the pasta in the pot and stir to combine over low heat. Pour in the milk mixture and stir. Add light cream, Parmesan cheese, and nutmeg and stir.  Season with salt and pepper as desired.  Serve immediately, sprinkled with more parmesan if desired.

Adapted from

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Baked Eggplant with Tomato Mint Sauce & Feta, over Grilled Polenta

Yesterday I decided to try out a new eggplant recipe, in keeping with my resolution to try to observe Meatless Mondays.  It came out very good - similar to an appetizer available on many restaurant menus, but a little different with the mint & feta.
The original recipe called for goat cheese, which Corey absolutely hates.  I used feta instead, which isn't as creamy as goat cheese, but it still tasted delicious.   Usually this type of dish comes with parmesan, but I thought the feta was great, especially with the mint in the sauce.  Simmering the sauce for a little while before assembling the dish made it thicker and gave it a wonderfully rich oven-roasted taste.
I served it over grilled polenta.  Recently I bought a tube of polenta for the first time.  I've always made my own polenta before, but I thought it would come in handy at some point.  It was so easy, all you have to do is slice it and grill it.
Have a look-

When I want to make an eggplant dish, I always look for eggplants that are small and without any bruises.  If this is not possible, I usually just make something else altogether.  Larger eggplants can be bitter tasting, which can be remedied by salting, but to me the smaller ones always taste better.

Nonstick canola oil spray
2 1lb eggplants, trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch-thick crosswise rounds
1 1/2T olive oil
1/2C chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28oz can Italian-style diced tomatoes
3T chopped fresh mint
1/2t dried oregano
1/2C crumbled feta
8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
Polenta tube

1. Preheat oven to 500°F.
2. Spray 2 large baking sheets with oil spray.
3. Arrange eggplant rounds on prepared sheets, brush lightly with 1T oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
4. Bake until tender and golden on both sides (about 10 minutes per side). Remove from oven.
5. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
6. Meanwhile, heat remaining 1/2T oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat.
7. Add onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.
8. Add garlic and stir 1 minute.
9. Add tomatoes with their juices, mint and oregano and simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.
10. Season with salt and pepper if needed.  (I didn't add any salt to mine, the canned tomatoes already contained plenty of salt.)
11. Spoon half of tomato sauce into shallow 2-quart baking dish.
12. Arrange eggplant rounds atop sauce, overlapping so that all will fit in the dish.
13. Spoon remaining sauce over.
14. Sprinkle cheese over.
15. Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.

While the eggplant is baking, prepare the polenta.
1. Heat a nonstick grill pan over medium high heat.
2. Slice the polenta 1/2 inch thick, as many slices as you need.
3. Add the polenta slices to the hot pan, and cook until golden brown.
4. Flip the polenta and cook until golden brown on the other side.

Place a few slices of polenta on each plate, top with the eggplant and sauce, and sprinkle with basil.

Recipe adapted from

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Quesadillas are delicious, when made without 16 guacamoles and 5 frogs

Is it even possible to make 16 different varieties of guacamole?  I guess it must be...

I haven't posted anything in a while, so I think Friday's dinner is the perfect opportunity to start up again.
Sometimes we go out for drinks with friends after we've already had our dinner at home.  However, on Friday we went out for drinks first, and then came home famished.  While not normally recommended, doing it this way can make things a little more interesting.
I was just about to start cooking dinner when Corey called to suggest going out with some of his friends from work.  We went to a small waterfront bar nearby that had somehow evaded us for the past year we've lived here.  It was a fun time, with VERY cheap drinks and a short elderly man named Mudslide Walter directing the karaoke.  Once we got home, I wasn't so in the mood for cooking anymore. Luckily I had planned a simple dinner anyway, and we were eating in less time than it would have taken to get a pizza delivered.
I should mention that I don't think Corey had been appreciating my cooking as much as usual the past few days.  On Monday, I was going to make a vegetarian dish, until I realized I didn't have the time required to roast the squash I was going to use in the dish.  So, I decided to use up some stuff I had on hand instead, and made breakfast for dinner.  I made an egg scramble with feta & baby spinach, with roasted potatoes and bacon.  For me it was very good and a nice change of pace, and I think Corey didn't mind it, although I was told that usually when he's had breakfast for dinner it has been french toast.
The next night, Tuesday, ended up being meatless Monday rescheduled, and I made butternut squash & corn enchiladas, and a rice dish with all sorts of things in it like avocado, cilantro, lime, etc etc.  This one Corey was not so happy with, but you know, you win some...   Good thing I liked it, because there were leftovers. Vegetarian main dishes are usually not well received around here unless there are eggplant, sauce and pasta involved.  Sometimes I make complicated dishes that require a lot of time and ingredients, and are appreciated more by some than others.
Which brings me to the 16 guacamoles and 5 frogs....
Corey loved these quesadillas so much.  He actually said, and I quote: "These are so good, and you didn't use 16 guacamoles and 5 frogs."  I think he was as surprised to hear it as I was.  I really only make guacamole one way, and I've definitely never cooked frogs before (although I have eaten them, and they do taste like chicken).  Anyway, I guess he just liked them because they were simple, and we're still laughing about it around here.  They were delicious, and also reasonably healthy, with spinach and mushrooms, and not a ton of cheese.
I had never actually made quesadillas before.  I had bought the tortillas the other day, and by accident bought the larger size, instead of the smaller ones used for fajitas, and so I decided to try quesadillas.
Sorry I have no photo, but as I said, we did have some drinks before, and we were starving.  But I will be making these again definitely.  Before Corey left for work this morning, he asked if we're having quesadillas for dinner haha.  (No, we're having roast chicken.)

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Cooking spray
1T oil (such as grapeseed or canola)
1 large onion, chopped
8oz button mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1t ground cumin
1t chili powder
1t dried oregano
2C baby spinach leaves, sliced into ribbons
1/2t salt
1/4t fresh ground black pepper
6 (10-inch) flour tortillas
Shredded monterey jack cheese, cheddar, or a mix
Low fat sour cream

First, cook the chicken:
1. Heat a small nonstick pan over medium heat.
2. Place the chicken in pan and cook until well browned on both sides and just cooked through.
3. Remove and cut into small 1/2 inch pieces or shred.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients for the filling:
1. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet (I used my anodized) over a medium heat.
2. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until the mushroom water is evaporated and they begin to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
4. Add chicken, cumin, chili powder and oregano and stir until all spices are incorporated.
5. Add spinach, salt and pepper and cook until spinach is wilted, about 2 minutes.

Next, assemble the quesadillas and cook them:
1. Lay 1 tortilla on a flat work surface and sprinkle with about 1/4C shredded cheese.
2. Spoon some of the chicken and vegetable mixture on top of cheese, around 1/2C, then top with an additional 1/4C cheese and another flour tortilla.
4. Using the same large nonstick skillet, spray it with cooking spray and place over medium heat.
5. Carefully place 1 quesadilla in the pan and cook 3 minutes, until lightly browned.
6. Using a large spatula, gently flip quesadilla and cook an additional 3 minutes until lightly browned and cheese is melted.
7. Repeat with remaining 2 quesadillas.
8. Slice each quesadilla into quarters, and serve with salsa and sour cream.

I was originally going to make a side dish of sauteed black beans, bell peppers and red onion to go with this.  Since we got home late I nixed it and used the peppers and onion I had already cut up with this morning's eggs.

Recipe adapted from

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Meatless Monday! Lentils with Sauteed Veggies over Quinoa

There has been a lot of press about how eating less meat is better for your health as well as the earth.  Meatless Mondays are promoted as a way to reduce how much meat you eat on a regular basis, and as such every Monday I receive many emails about vegetarian cooking.
I do like to cook vegetarian dishes, but have not gotten into doing it with much consistency.  However, yesterday I wanted to cook mostly with ingredients I had on hand.  I also wanted to go only to the local store (which will remain nameless), and which does not have such a good selection for meats.  So, Meatless Monday it was!  It also helped that Corey was going out after work.  Whenever I cook a main dish without meat, he usually says it would taste better with chicken haha.
My inspiration for my dinner came from a dish I saw on the blog Liberty London Girl.  I made quite a few changes and additions, and was very happy with the results.  With 5 ingredients from the list of the 30 healthiest foods (see my previous post Healthy Ideas - 30 Healthiest Foods), this dish is packed with vitamins and protein, and low in carbs.
Here's how it looked-

Green lentils
Olive Oil
Red onion - diced
Garlic - chopped
Mushrooms - sliced (I used baby bellas)
Chicken or veggie broth, or water if needed
Spinach (I used baby spinach)
Salt & Pepper
Lemon juice

1. Cook the lentils (I had some precooked in the freezer).
2. Rinse and cook the quinoa - I used about 3/4C, added to 1 1/2C boiling water and simmered for 15 minutes.
3. In a large saute pan, heat 1T olive oil on medium.  Add 1/2 of a red onion, diced.  Cook for about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the sliced mushrooms, sprinkle with salt, and cook for another 10 minutes.

It needed a little moisture while cooking, so I'll admit I added a little chicken broth here, but I think it still counts as meatless.  Remove to a bowl.
4. Add the spinach to the same pan and cook, covered, until wilted.  Stir while cooking to help the process.
Add the lentils (I used maybe 1C) and cook until heated.

Return the mushroom mixture to the pan, stir to combine, and cook for a few minutes.  Season with pepper.  Add the feta (I used about 3oz, diced) and stir in so it will start to melt.
5. Spoon quinoa onto a plate and make a well in the center.  Spoon the veggies over the quinoa.
6. In a small bowl, whisk together a little olive oil and lemon juice (I used about 2T each).  Drizzle a little over the vegetables.
I'll admit I did have some toasted naan with this, which did up the carbs, as you can see it the 1st photo.
The whole meal was delicious!

Do you observe Meatless Mondays?
What is your favorite meatless main dish?

Monday, April 18, 2011


This is what I made for dessert when Jen & Doug came for dinner, during her extremely brief stop at home between Bolivia and Guatemala.
It's a warm cookie bar with lots of gooey chocolate chunks.  I served it with vanilla gelato (store bought - Talenti Tahitian vanilla bean) and warm chocolate sauce (also store bought - Fudge Fatale Ultimate Chocolate Sauce).
I forgot to get a photo that night, so this is a smaller version from the following night.  I just had to have it again in order to get a photo ;-).
The recipe for the cookie bar is a secret.  If you want to try it, you'll have to come over.  Otherwise, I'm accepting orders.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How to Eat Sushi - Tips

Not that anyone is thinking about sushi this early in the morning (or maybe you are - kanpai to you), but here is a video with some tips on how to do it correctly.
Incidentally, Chow is a very useful source for recipes, commentary, and tips like this.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Pan Seared Scallops with Quinoa and Grapefruit Salad

This is a meal I thought about making on Thursday night, since Corey was out to dinner with his coworkers.  However, I decided to be lazy, and got some frozen shrimp spring rolls from the freezer at Whole Foods, which I enjoyed with some chardonnay and a couple of chick flicks I knew I could never subject Corey to.
Finally, last night, I made it.  I love sea scallops, and haven't cooked them at home in a long, long time.  I made a quinoa and grapefruit salad to go with them, a recipe I saw on   The recipe shows the salad with salmon, but it was delicious with the scallops.
There are several steps involved in making this salad - infusing the olive oil, segmenting the grapefruit, cooking the quinoa, etc.  It is certainly not something to make when you are short on time (or patience, so I was glad I didn't do it on Thursday).  It was perfect for me yesterday, since I was able to do most of it in the afternoon before Corey got home from work, so we could go for a walk before dinner, and finish it afterwards.
Here are the instructions for making the salad.  I made the whole recipe, so that I would have leftovers.

1 medium grapefruit
8 thin slices fresh ginger
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I used champagne vinegar)
2 teaspoons honey
1 small serrano or jalapeno chile, minced (with seeds for maximum heat)
2 scallions (both white and green parts), minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Make the infused olive oil:
Strip the peel from the grapefruit with a vegetable peeler, taking care not to include the bitter white pith.  (This requires a very light hand.)

Warm the grapefruit peel, ginger, and olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Remove from the heat as soon as the oil starts to bubble.  Set the oil aside to steep for 30 minutes.  Strain and reserve the oil.  Discard the solids.
2. Cook the quinoa:
Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and drain.  Put the quinoa in a small saucepan with the water and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Boil over high heat, and then reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes.  Set aside off the heat, undisturbed, for 5 minutes.  Transfer the quinoa to a bowl and fluff with a fork.  Cool.
3. Prepare the grapefruit and juice:
Segment the grapefruit over a bowl, reserving the segments and juice separately. Squeeze the juice out of the membrane into the bowl with the juice.
Cut the peel and white pith away
Cut the flesh away from the membranes over a bowl
4. Prepare the dressing:
Whisk 3 tablespoons of the grapefruit juice with the vinegar, honey, and salt to taste in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in 3 tablespoons of the reserved grapefruit oil, starting with a few drops and then adding the rest in a stream to make a slightly thick dressing. Season with pepper to taste.
5. Mix the salad:
Add the dressing, chiles, scallions, and cilantro to the quinoa in the bowl and stir to combine.  Season with pepper.

These cook very quickly, so do this last.
1. Pat scallops dry and remove the foot muscle.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil and mix to coat.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
2. Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat.  (I again used 1 of our Calphalon anodized pans - great for searing and easy to clean.)
3. Add the scallops and cook until a nice brown crust is formed, about 2 minutes.  Turn and cook until browned on the other side, another 2 minutes.

Spoon some salad onto a plate, top with some grapefruit sections and the scallops, and enjoy!
This was delicious and healthy, with plenty of protein thanks to the quinoa.  I would have liked the salad to be a little spicier.  I scraped the seeds out of 1/2 of the jalapeno, so next time I might get a larger jalapeno, and would use all of the seeds.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Quick and Easy Marinade for Steak

Last night we decided to celebrate the weather with a nice, juicy grilled steak and vegetables.  We got a sirloin steak, and to dress it up a bit I used my go-to steak marinade.
3T low-sodium soy sauce
3T balsamic vinegar
3T real maple syrup
4 garlic cloves, chopped
I like to use my immersion blender for this.  In blender cup, add all ingredients. Blend on high until smooth.  Put steak into a large ziploc bag, and add marinade. Seal and leave on the counter (at room temp) for about 15 minutes or while you prepare everything else.
Remove steak from marinade, and grill as desired.
We had grilled asparagus and yellow squash with this.
Simple, quick and delicious!
What is your favorite marinade for steak?

Here's the link for the original recipe:

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

Last night I made Chicken Vesuvio, which is chicken with potatoes and artichoke hearts in a white wine sauce.  This is a favorite of mine which for some reason I had made only a few times before, and never for Corey.  This is definitely something that will go on our "favorites" list.
The original recipe is courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis, and I made only a few changes.  I made 2 servings, and used bone-in chicken breast.  I also used canned artichoke hearts instead of frozen as per the recipe.  I love to cook with Whole Foods' 365 brand canned artichokes which are canned in water rather than the usual jarred kind which are in oil.  I like to always have a can on hand, and happened to have some in the fridge leftover I wanted to use up, which was why I wanted to make this dish.
I love to cook this way - browning everything on the stovetop, and then cooking everything together in the same pan in the oven.  I love to use our Calphalon pans for this, which are anodized with a nonstick interior.  You will see these black pans in a lot of my photos here.  They allow for perfect browning on the stovetop, are oven safe, and are so easy to clean, without any scrubbing.  Because of the material, I use less oil or a light spray of my 100% olive oil spray.  These pans brown so much better than other nonstick pans I've used before, and the nonstick interior does not peel off or scratch.

Here's a photo of the finished product:
Here's how I made it-
1T olive oil
2 chicken breasts with skin and bones
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 small red-skinned potatoes, halved
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2C dry white wine
1/2C low sodium chicken broth
1t dried oregano
3/4t dried thyme
4 whole canned artichoke hearts, excess water squeezed out, and quartered
1T unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 450.
Heat the oil in large ovenproof pan over medium-high heat.
Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper.
Add the chicken to the saute pan and cook until golden brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.
Remove the chicken to a bowl.
Carefully add the potatoes to the same pot and cook until they are golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute.

Cute little potatoes

Add the wine and stir to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pot.
Add the broth, oregano, and thyme.
Return the chicken to the pot, along with any juices from the bowl, and arrange the potatoes around the chicken.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Lookin' good

Cover, put the pan in the oven and bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes.
Transfer the chicken and potatoes to plates.
Add the artichoke hearts to the sauce in the pot.
Cover and simmer over medium-high heat until the artichokes are tender, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Turn heat to low and stir in the butter.
Pour the sauce over chicken and potatoes, and serve.

It was really delicious.  Corey's only comment was that he wanted more artichokes, and in fact he tried to steal some of mine...OK I relented.  I used a Chardonnay from Argentina for this, which worked perfectly.  A winner!

Here's the link for the original recipe:

I also made some baby spinach to go along with this.
I heated a little olive oil over medium heat, about 1t, in another 1 of these pans, added some sliced garlic and cooked for 1 minute.  Then I added some baby spinach to the pan and cooked it, turning with tongs, until wilted.  I added some grated lemon zest and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Are you going to try this? Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

1 Pot meals are great, but how about a No Pot meal? Cook your dinner in a packet!

Cook your entire meal in individual foil or parchment packets, and cleanup is a snap!  This is a great way to cook fish because it seals in the moisture, requires little or no oil, and the fish is blanketed in the flavors of the other ingredients.
Last night I made hake fillets cooked in foil packets together with several different vegetables, pesto and pearl couscous.   It was a delicious and healthy meal, and easy to put together.
The idea for this dinner started because I wanted to use some of my own pesto I have in the freezer, and also I have been a bit of a slacker regarding my resolution to eat more fish.
I thought I had tried basically every fish there is, until I saw hake at Whole Foods yesterday.  It was half the price of cod, and the fish man said it is similar (the recipe uses red snapper, but that was not available).  Since hake is pretty thick, it required more cooking time than the snapper would have.
I have this recipe from Bon Appetit:
Based on the reviews and my own ideas I decided to make a couple of changes, and only 2 servings.
I wanted couscous but didn't want to have to cook it separately, so I added it to the packets.  I toasted it beforehand, so I did use 1 pan, but only for a minute so I'm still calling it a no pot meal.  I wasn't sure how it would come out, if it would cook without being mushy, but it turned out just perfect.  Also, this gave me an opportunity to use my new walnut oil (thanks Diane!).
The finished product came out great, here's a look:
Fish & Vegetables with Pesto Baked in Foil Packets

1t walnut oil
1/4C pearl couscous
1/3C pesto
1T fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sriracha hot pepper sauce
Olive oil spray
2 handfuls baby spinach
2 6-ounce hake fillets
8 asparagus spears, each trimmed to 4-inch length
2 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 yellow squash, thinly sliced on diagonal


Preheat oven to 350°F.
Heat walnut oil in a saute pan over medium heat.
Add couscous and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted.

Blend pesto, lemon juice and hot pepper sauce in small bowl.
Prepare the vegetables.

Arrange two 12x12-inch pieces of heavy-duty foil on work surface.
Lightly spray center of both pieces of foil with olive oil.
Mound a handful of spinach over the sprayed foil.
Place 1 fish fillet on top of the spinach.
Sprinkle fish lightly with salt and pepper and spread with 1T pesto mixture.
Top with asparagus, tomatoes and squash, and then spoon remaining pesto mixture over the vegetables.
Spoon the couscous around the fish.
With colors like this, it has to be good right?

Fold sides of foil over fish and vegetables, covering completely; seal packets closed.
Transfer foil packets to a large baking sheet.

Bake until fish is just opaque in center and vegetables are crisp-tender, about 40 minutes.  To check if the fish is done, open the packet a little, push the veggies over to the side, and stick a fork in the fish.  If it flakes easily, it's done.  If not, seal it back up and put the tray back in the oven for a few minutes.
Place each packet on a dinner plate, open up, and enjoy!

Those of you who know Corey know he doesn't eat fish...he did not eat this.  He was excited to come home and see some of his favorite foods on the counter - squash, asparagus, couscous, but then the fish.  I am happy to have the 2nd packet for leftovers today.  I know people use this  method for cooking chicken, but I'm not sure I would like it that way.  Maybe I'll try it sometime.

Have you ever cooked with this method?  Let me know!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Another day, another stir-fry

Last night I made a stir-fry, similar to the one from my previous post.
Instead of steak, I used pork, and marinated it for 1 hour in a salad dressing I picked up at Whole Foods - Annie's Naturals mango dressing.  Since this dressing is fat free (it contains no oil), it didn't add anything unnecessary to the dish.
I stir-fried the pork in the marinade, and then the vegetables as well, before adding the same spicy sauce.  The marinade added a little bit of sweetness, but the finished dish was still plenty spicy.  I think it would be even better if I added some chopped mango - an idea for next time.  I also used different veggies - a red pepper, broccoli and snow peas.
Here's how I made it:
1. Cut the pork into thin strips, place in a shallow dish, cover with the mango dressing, and refrigerate for about 1 hour.
2. Slice the veggies - pepper and broccoli, cut an onion into wedges, and mince about 1T each of garlic and ginger.  Keep all of these on a board separate from each other, or in individual bowls, as well as the snow peas.
3. Make sauce: Mix together 1/4C low-sodium chicken broth, 1/4C low-sodium soy sauce, 2t rice vinegar, 1t toasted sesame oil, 1t crushed red pepper, and 1t sugar in a small bowl.
4. Make thickener: Mix together 2t cornstarch with 2T chicken broth into another small bowl.
It is important to have all of these done before you start cooking, because stir-frying is done very quickly.
5. Put rice noodles in a bowl and cover with very hot water, and allow to soak until just tender, about 7 minutes, then drain.
6. Add 1T oil to a wok or skillet (I used safflower oil, you could also use peanut or vegetable).  Add pork with the marinade and stir-fry until just cooked through, about 2-3 minutes.  Remove to a clean bowl.
7. Add onion to the wok and stir-fry until light brown, about 1 minute.  Add garlic and ginger, and then the red pepper and broccoli.  Cook for 1 minute, and then add the snow peas.  Cook for about 2 more minutes.
8. Return the pork to the wok.
9. Whisk the sauce in the bowl, and add it to the wok, mixing together with the veggies and steak.  allow the sauce to boil for about 1 minute.
10. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir until slightly thickened.
11. Mix in the rice noodles.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sweet Potatoes with Apples

This has been one of our favorite side dishes since I first made it last summer.  We had gone out to dinner at a restaurant in Oakland Beach with some friends.  Corey and I both agreed the only part of our meal we liked was the sweet potato and apple side dish, and he said that would be the only reason he would want to return. Since I preferred never to return, I decided to try making this dish at home. Luckily, we liked my homemade version even better than the restaurant's. Problem solved!
I start by baking the whole sweet potatoes, which helps to bring out the sugar, whereas I think they were boiled at the restaurant.  Also, I'm sure my version is lower in fat and calories, which is always a plus.
You only need a few ingredients (this makes enough for 4 servings):
3 Sweet potatoes
2 Apples - Empire, Macintosh, or any other variety good for baking
2T Butter
Maple syrup or brown sugar to taste
Cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or allspice to taste

First, I pierce the sweet potatoes several times, and bake at 425 until they are tender (can stick a fork in them easily).  This can take about 45-60 minutes.  Then remove them from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, peel and core the apples, and then slice into thin wedges.  Melt 1T butter in a large saucepan, add the apples, and cook until softened and golden brown.
Peel the sweet potatoes and put the flesh in a 2qt casserole dish.  Mash them, adding another 1T butter, maple syrup or brown sugar, and spices as desired. Taste and add more as necessary. Once everything is mixed together well, stir in the apples.
Cover the casserole dish and put it in the oven to heat through.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mmm Mmm Good!

I'm playing a little bit of catch up here, I made this meal days ago.  But trust me, it's worth the wait.
This dinner basically came about because I had a small amount of mascarpone left over from the mousse I made for Saturday's dinner party.  It seems as though the mascarpone people over in Italy are conspiring to get us to buy more of their deliciously creamy cheese.  It comes in 8.75oz tubs, which is sort of an odd size.  No matter that this equals a perfectly even number on the metric system, if it helps to justify buying more right?  Anyway, I needed 16oz for the mousse, which did leave a small amount left over.  So I used it for this dinner, which will inevitably lead to buying more, due to the deliciousness that resulted.
I wanted to make a simple dinner, and I had some nice thick boneless pork chops I had bought the day before.  I decided to make the old stand by of sauteed pork chops with a pan sauce, and I thought the mascarpone could take the usual pan sauce made with butter and make it really special.  I was right, since I remembered to post about it days later.  (One good thing I noticed is that mascarpone contains less fat than butter, another reason to buy more.)
So this is what I made:
Sauteed boneless pork chops with mushroom marsala pan sauce
Green beans with caramelized onions and thyme
Wild mushroom & herb rice pilaf (from a box!)

Olive oil
Sea salt
Ground black pepper
Sliced onions
Sliced shiitake and cremini mushrooms
Boneless pork chops
Green beans
1/2t dried thyme
1/2C marsala
1T mascarpone

To start, I melted a little butter in some olive oil in a large saute pan, added some sliced onions and a little salt.  I kept the burner on low, and let the onions cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, while I prepped the rest of the meal and did some other things around the house.  Once the onions were very soft, I turned the heat up to medium and let them cook for about another 20 minutes, until they were well browned.  Then I removed them to a bowl.
I sprayed another saute pan with olive oil and sauteed the sliced mushrooms until they were soft, then removed to another bowl.
I wanted these 2 things done first so that the rest of the cooking would be done quickly.
To start the pork chops, first I preheated the oven to 400.  Then I added 1T butter and 1/2T olive oil to the pan that I used for the mushrooms on low heat.  I sprinkled salt & pepper on the pork chops, and then dredged them in flour.  Once the butter in the pan was melted, I turned the heat up to medium-high.  When the butter stopped foaming I added the pork chops, and cooked for about 3 minutes on each side.
While the pork chops were cooking, I added the following to the pan I used to caramelize the onions: 1/3C water, 1T olive oil, green beans and dried thyme.  I set the pan over medium-high heat so the water would boil, and then covered to steam the beans for about 5 minutes until crisp-tender.
Once the pork chops were nicely browned on both sides, I put the pan in the oven for about 5 minutes, so the chops would just cook though.
Once the beans were tender I removed the cover from the pan, stirred in the caramelized onions, and left it to heat through on medium.
When the pork chops were done, I removed them to a plate and put the pan back on the stovetop over medium high heat.  I added the marsala along with the mushrooms and stirred them around in the pan, to get the brown bits on the bottom to loosen.  Once the marsala was reduced by about half, I removed the pan from the heat and stirred in the mascarpone.  The I poured the pan sauce with the mushrooms over the pork chops.
(I also made a box of rice, but I'll skip those details.)
This dinner was so good! The sweet mascarpone was a nice complement to the earthiness of the mushrooms.  The crisp green beans were very good with the thyme and the soft, sweet caramelized onions.  This is a dinner I'm sure Corey will be asking for soon, but I might make it again before he has the chance!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mascarpone-Zabaglione Mousse

Saturday night we went to a dinner party at Corey's coworker's house for some lovely authentic Italian food.  In keeping with the theme, I brought mascarpone-zabaglione mousse.  This is a recipe I have made several times before, but only years ago.  The recipe is courtesy of Biba Caggiano, a well known authentic Italian chef from Bologna.  In her book Biba's Taste of Italy: Recipes from the Homes, Trattorie, and Restaurants of Emilia-Romagna, she writes that this recipe comes from Trattoria del Cacciatore in the small hamlet of Frassinara, in the Parma countryside.  Of the cities I have visited in Italy, Parma is my favorite.  I imagine that anything coming from that area would be amazing - this mousse certainly is! This mousse takes some time to make, and needs to sit in the fridge for several hours, so get started in the morning.  It could be done the night before, but I think it's a little better when done on the same day.  It doesn't require a lot of ingredients, just time and attention.  The first step in making this mousse is to prepare the zabaglione, which on it's own is wonderful drizzled over strawberries.  The addition of mascarpone cheese turns it into a deliciously fluffy mousse.

6 large eggs, at room temp
1/2C granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2C dark rum
1lb mascarpone cheese
Amaretti cookies, finely crushed
Grated semisweet chocolate

To prepare the zabaglione, put the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed for about 1 minute, until well blended. Turn the machine to high speed and beat until the mixture is pale yellow and has tripled in volume.
Transfer the mixture to a large heatproof bowl, or the top of a double boiler, and set it over a few inches of simmering water.  (Do not let the water boil or touch the bowl, or the eggs will curdle.)  Slowly add the rum, beating energetically with a large wire whisk (I use my immersion blender), and continue to whisk until the eggs have doubled in volume and the mixture is hot to the touch.  According to the recipe this should take about 10 minutes, but for me it usually takes about 20 minutes.  (This is when I am thankful to have my immersion blender.)  Place the bowl over a larger bowl half-filled with ice water, and whisk for a few minutes to cool.
Put the mascarpone in the bowl of the electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, add about half of the zabaglione, and beat at medium speed just to combine.  Beat in the remaining zabaglione.  Do not overbeat.  Just as in making whipped cream or meringue, if you overbeat you will lose the airiness.
Spoon into dessert glasses.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight.  Just before serving, sprinkle the amaretti crumbs and the grated chocolate over the mousse.  (The recipe says to use either the amaretti cookies or the chocolate, but I like to use both - it just makes it that much more sinful.)

This recipe filled 6 stemless martini glasses for me, with a small amount leftover.  I think everyone enjoyed it, and it was all gone too quickly to take a photo.  Although Corey loved it, so I'm sure I'll be making it again.  It is a great dessert for a dinner party, since it needs to be done in advance anyway and is served chilled.

Those of you who know I have issues with dairy may be wondering how I can eat this mousse, but it doesn't bother me - apparently mascarpone cheese contains only a very small amount of lactose.  I also used some in our dinner last night - more to come on that.  It is high in fat, although not as high as butter, so I will have to resist the urge to keep it on hand.
I always buy all-natural free range eggs, which have a lower risk of salmonella.  I feel this is especially important here, where the eggs are basically only partially cooked.  I also used an organic lemon, since it is the zest that is needed, but not any wax or other substances :-).
When I first started making this mousse, I used this great dark rum brought to me from Haiti by my good friend Jen Costanza.  That rum is long gone and can be hard to find in stores here.  I did find it once...but not sure where.  Anyway, it is important to use dark rum, not spiced or black rum.  This time I used a new one I found - Pusser's British Navy Rum from Barbados.  I didn't want to get a really cheap one, since I suspect it may be consumed out of a glass as well.  And I try not to cook with something I wouldn't drink.

Who's going to try this?  Has anyone made this before?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Chicken with Roasted Peppers over Bulgur Pilaf

Last night when Corey got home from work, he found me roasting peppers on our gas stove
And putting them in a paper bag so the skins would come off
I think he thought I'd lost it.  He said he'd never seen anyone do that before.
Yesterday I was really tempted to make something I'd just recently made (see chicken soup, deconstructed post).  I don't usually cook the same thing only a couple of weeks apart, but it was so good...
I was, however, inspired by yesterday's post to cook with something from the list of the 30 healthiest foods.
Then I thought a bulgur pilaf sounded good, and I went to Whole Foods and got 2 whole chicken legs for a little over $2.00.  So I made roasted chicken, and had it with roasted peppers and tomato, over a bed of bulgur pilaf.
Here's what I did:
First, I roasted the peppers (see above).  I used 1 red, 1 yellow, and 1 poblano. Once they were cooled inside the bag, I removed the skins and seeds, and chopped.  I put the peppers in a bowl, and added a tomato that I also peeled, seeded and chopped.
Next, I made the bulgur pilaf.  I sauteed some finely chopped onion in a little olive oil, and then added 1/2C bulgur and stirred until it was toasted.  Then I added about 1/2C chicken broth with 1/4C water and left it to simmer while I made the chicken.
I brushed the chicken with some olive oil, and then sprinkled with coarse sea salt and pepper.  I heated a saute pan over medium high heat and then added the chicken, and cooked until golden brown on each side.
While the chicken was cooking, I cooked the vegetables.  I melted a little butter in a smaller saute pan, and then added a sliced onion, and cooked it until soft.  Then I added a minced clove of garlic and 1/2t paprika and cooked for a minute.  Next, I added the peppers and tomato to the pan, and some chicken broth, about 6oz.
By this time the chicken was all browned, so I put the pan in the oven at 400 to roast while the vegetables simmered, for about 5 minutes.
When everything was done, I put the bulgur on a plate with a little well in the middle, spooned the peppers and tomato into the well with some sauce, and added the chicken on top.
Here's a photo of the finished product:
It was very good.  I loved the texture and the nuttiness of the bulgur with the sweet roasted peppers, and the poblano added a small amount of heat.  The chicken was perfectly crispy on the outside, and juicy on the inside.  It was a nice warming winter dish, while still being healthy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Healthy Ideas - 30 Healthiest Foods

We all know we should make an effort to incorporate more healthy foods into our diets.  Here is a list of the 30 healthiest foods, according to top dietitians and nutritionists:
Whole grain pasta
Peanut & almond butters
Skim milk
Wild salmon
Chicken breast
Kidney beans
Sweet potatoes
Nonfat Greek yogurt
Black beans

Here's the link, which includes information on the health benefits for each as well as recipe ideas:
Some of these I already cook with regularly, such as mushrooms, whole grain pasta, oatmeal, and of course extra virgin olive oil.  However, since I saw this list recently, I have made a point of using some of the others more often and will be including in future posts - such as bulgur, barley, and lentils.
Which of these items are your favorites?  Are there any you like but aren't sure of a good way to prepare?  Let me know and I'll be sure to post a recipe for it soon.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Cooking for 1 - Seafood night!

I made myself a simple and satisfying dinner last night, and it was delicious!  I was cooking for 1 because, as I mentioned before, Corey will not eat fish (unless it is sushi).  A bonus is that I have leftovers for lunch today.  This dinner came about because I had some dover sole in the freezer, since I stocked up when Whole Foods had it on sale recently.
I used my favorite fool-proof method for making a quick dinner - sauteing and making a pan sauce.  This is something that can be done with any type of protein, and with a few ingredients pulled from the fridge for a pan sauce.  This is a very quick dish to make - depending on what protein you are using, cooking only takes 10-15 minutes.  Here is what I made:
Sauteed Dover Sole Fillets with a Lemon Caper Pan Sauce:
I had about 3/4-1lb of dover sole, which I sprinkled with salt & pepper before dredging in flour.  Next, I heated about 1T butter and 1/2T olive oil in a saute pan over medium high heat.  Then I added the fish, cooked a couple of minutes on both sides until light golden brown, and removed to a clean plate.
While the fish was cooking, I put the ingredients for my pan sauce in a small bowl:  6T chicken broth, 2T lemon juice, and 2t capers.  After I removed the cooked fish, I added this to the hot pan and stirred while the mixture was boiling.  This gets all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan which help to thicken and flavor the sauce.  When the sauce was reduced, I added some butter to the pan (a couple teaspoons) and stirred around just until melted.  Then I spooned the sauce over the fish.
I also kept the side dishes simple: I had this with toasted pearl couscous and roasted asparagus.
This method of cooking is included in many cookbooks, including the one by Mark Bittman which I wrote about yesterday.  You can use any kind of protein, such as chicken breasts, pork chops or fish.  For chicken breasts it helps to pound them out to an even thickness, so that they cook evenly and quickly.  For the pan sauce, you need about 1/2C liquid per 1-1.5lb protein, along with whatever flavoring you would like to use (for example chopped tomatoes, olives, citrus zest, mustard - in my case capers), and a little fat to smooth it out at the end (could be butter, cream, goat cheese).
This is one of my favorite ways to cook, because it allows for using whatever you have on hand.
Have you cooked this way before?  Do you have a favorite way to cook a simple dinner?  Let me know!

Friday, February 25, 2011

New Inspiration!

I have just received my newest cookbook: How to Cook Everything - 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman.  

I ordered it because I am on the committee for the RI Food Bank's spring event - Food Matters: An Evening with Mark Bittman.  Without any formal training, he has become a highly respected food writer and has cooked with many famous chefs.  So basically, he is one of my idols, and if I am going to meet him I should buy his book first right?
It is quite a large book - over 1,000 pages.  Mario Batali (excellent Italian chef) has said this is the only cookbook you need, you could throw out your others.  Really Mario?  You think I should throw out Molto Italiano and The Babbo Cookbook?  I doubt I'll go that far, but I can see how this new one will get a lot of use.  There are so many recipes - for appetizers, entrees, and desserts...meat and vegetarian...Italian, Asian and all-American...even how to bake bread.  I've only skimmed it, but I like that a lot of it is not specific recipes that need to be followed to the letter, but the basics of how to do things so that creativity is encouraged. His basic premise is that fancy food should be left to the restaurants.  "Everyday cooking is not about striving for brilliance but about preparing good, wholesome, tasty, varied meals for the ones you love.  This is a fundamentally satisfying pleasure."  I agree!
There is also information on tools, techniques, food safety and buying the right ingredients.  The list price is $35, but I ordered it from Amazon for just over $20.
I can already tell I will be posting a lot of cooking from this book...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chocolate Layer Cake

I made this chocolate layer cake with chocolate fudge frosting on Saturday for my cooking club, our theme for the night was Comfort Food.

(This is from Joy of Cooking.  I doubled the recipe and had enough for the 3 layer cake + a little extra.)
  • 2C sugar
  • 1/4C light corn syrup
  • 1/2C half-and-half, plus extra
  • 1/2C heavy cream
  • 1/8t salt
  • 6oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2T unsalted butter, softened at room temp
  • 1t vanilla extract
Combine 1st 5 ingredients (sugar through salt) in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute.  Brush down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in warm water (this is necessary to prevent crystals from forming on the sides of the pan which will get into the frosting and ruin the texture) and remove from the heat.  Stir in chocolate until melted and completely smooth.  (Mine didn't melt so I put it back over low heat.)
Brush down the sides of the pan again, set pan over medium heat, place a warmed candy thermometer in the pan, and cook the mixture, without stirring, until it reaches 238F, the soft-ball stage.  (A limp, sticky ball that flattens between your fingers.)  Remove from the heat.
Here's what the chocolate looks like as it's boiling, which took quite a while:

Add but do not stir in butter and vanilla.  (Stirring could cause graininess.)  Cool chocolate mixture to 110F (put some cold water in your sink, then put the pan in the sink to sit).  
Transfer the cooled fudge to the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on low speed until it begins to thicken and loose its sheen, 5-10 minutes.  Watch carefully, or it may thicken too much and become unworkable.  Once fudge begins to thicken, beat in 1T half-and-half just until blended. Let stand for a few minutes before checking consistency.  If necessary, stir in more half-and-half, 1t at a time, until the perfect spreading consistency is obtained.  (I needed to add quite a lot of half-and-half, maybe 1/4C.)  Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap.  This will keep for about 1 week at room temp, 3 weeks refrigerated, or frozen for up to 6 months.  Soften before using.

We ate half of it, and I brought the rest home to Corey and his poker group.