December 21, 2011

Peppermint Twist Sugar Cookies

Sugar cookies are the quintessential cookie everyone bakes during the holidays. They tend to be a favorite since you can pull out those festive cookie cutters and decorate them in so many different ways. While I knew I wanted to add a typical sugar cookie to my cookie box, I was sure I didn't want to spend my entire weekend decorating cookies either.

Enter: Peppermint Crunch, crushed candy cane pieces that I found while shopping at Crate and Barrel. If you can't find the pre-crushed kind, you can easily buy some candy canes and crush them yourselves.

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
4-6 oz semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup crushed candy canes

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until it is smooth. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until it is fluffy.

Gradually add the flour mixture until fully incorporated and the dough is stiff. Shape into a disk and cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide into 2 or 4 equal parts. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/4" thick. Cut into desired shape and transfer to a wax or parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes, making sure to rotate the sheet 1/2 way through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.


As your first batch of cookies is baking you can melt the chocolate over a double boiler, and set aside until all cookies are baked and cooled. To decorate, simply dip half the cookie into the chocolate. Remove excess chocolate, then sprinkle with the crushed candy canes. Place the decorated cookies over parchment lined sheet and refrigerate until the chocolate has set.

December 20, 2011

Polvorones

Polvorones are one of my favorite treats I almost always get when I go to Puerto Rico, particularly during the holidays. The best way to describe them are as crumbly almond cookies, similar to a shortbread cookie but with a sharper nut flavor brought in by the use of almond meal mixed with the butter, flour, powdered sugar and other spices. Almond meal is also gives this cookies their wonderful "crumby" texture.

For those who are unsure as to what almond meal is: its' essentially finely ground almonds. Not to be confused with Almond Flour (which you can get if you sift the meal), nor by grinding the almonds to the point of extracting too many oils from them and creating Almond butter. 

Some of my favorite Polvorones are from Sweet Ann Cakes, a local bakery that sells to many supermarkets and even have small kiosks in the malls. Since I was making holiday cookies in lieu of gifts for my co-workers, I instantly knew I had to include these delectable treats. In all honesty, they were my first time baking them, and will definitely not be my last!

Ingredients:
16 tbsp butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup almond meal

In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter for around 1 minute. Slowly add the confectioners sugar until it is light and fluffy, this will take about 3-5 minutes, depending on the speed of your mixer. Add the vanilla and orange zest.

Sift the flour, and remaining spices and then blend with the almond meal. Add this dry mixture all at once to the butter mixture and gently stir until is fully incorporated into the butter mixture, but be sure not to over mix.

Form a large disc of the dough, and wrap well in plastic to refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Scoop the dough into tablespoons and roll into a ball and place on the cookie sheet, approximately 2 inches apart. Lightly press down on the dough with a spoon dipped in flour to form a 1/2" disk. Bake until the edges are lightly golden about 15 minutes.

As soon as you remove them from the oven and they are still warm, sprinkle generously with sifted confectioners sugar.  

Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies

One of my all time favorite cookies are Peanut Butter cookies. I always loved making the very traditional crispy yet chewy kinds that have you make the checkered pattern with a fork. I always loved going to parties where they made the classic cookie but topped with a Hershey Kiss. So this year, when I came across Candy Cane flavored Hershey Kisses, that I instantly thought of making these treats, but with a minty twist.

Before I actually got to baking them I decided I must test out the Kisses to make sure they weren't too minty. Actually the taste was a perfect blend of white chocolate with miniature pieces of candy cane inside. The mint taste was subtle enough that I knew they would work as a perfect topping for a classic peanut butter cookie.


Ingredients:
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 package Hersey Kisses (flavor optional)

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Get you baking sheet ready by lining it with wax paper. In  a medium bowl mix together the flour, baking soda and salt. Mix together and set aside.

In a large bowl mix the room temperature butter with both sugars until fully mixed. Add the milk and vanilla and mix until just incorporated. Add the flour mixture in small batches until all fully blended. Add peanut butter and mix. I used the crunchy kinda which I loved the added texture, but feel free to use smooth.

Roll dough into 1" balls and set about 2" apart. (You can coat with extra sugar but I opted not to). Bake for about 10-12 minutes. Top with a Hershey Kiss about 1 minute after its been out of the oven. Careful, since the chocolates tend to melt! I've had to replace the chocolates many times as I eagerly put the Kiss way too early!

December 8, 2011

DIY Taco Seasoning

When it comes to quick and easy meals, particularly when I'm in no mood to make too much of  a fuss in the kitchen i usually settle for tacos. I absolutely love tacos. Beef tacos, fish tacos, hard or soft- I don't really discriminate.

They are such an easy go-to meal which is probably why we have tacos for dinner at least once every 2 weeks. I always have tacos in my pantry, and I usually keep corn tortillas in the freezer. The only thing I never use is those taco seasoning packets that come in the taco or tortilla boxes. To be honest, I'm sure most people would have the majority of these seasonings in their cupboard, not like Monosodium Glutamate, as listed on some of those packages. The great thing about making your own seasoning mix, is you can easily adjust the flavors to work with your palate.

Ingredients:
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Chili Powder
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper (optional)

Mix all condiments in a bowl, and set aside until you're ready to make your tacos. Feel free to use whatever meat you have on hand. I happened to make Tacos this week with ground beef. As a good rule of thumb, figure the blend above to be enough for 1 lb. of meat.


October 31, 2011

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies



They say to never judge a book by its cover. How about judging a food by its name? I may be crazy to have listened to my mother, as I did by not eating a Sloppy Joe until a few years ago, and in this case not eating Whoopie Pie's until last year! In all fairness, I had only tried 2 or 3 flavors prior to baking these, but as soon as I tried them I was instantly smitten. For those of you out there, who like my mother are put off by certain words you may have a bias against, such as whoopie (possibly by associating this word with these);  and have never tried one of these delicious treats; a whoopie pie is the perfect mixture of a soft cookie sandwich, but with a cake consistency- so lets' just say its a cupcake-cookie sandwich. 
With fall swiftly approaching, I had been itching to bake something pumpkin flavored. I eventually stumbled upon this recipe, and knew it was the perfect recipe to satisfy my pumpkin craving. Even though they turned out great, I'll definitely be purchasing this mold before I make my next batch.

Cake Mixture:
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cardamon
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
Pumpkin seeds, as garnish

 Pre-heat oven to 350 F. In a medium to large bowl sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix well and set aside. In a large mixing bowl blend the softened butter with both sugars. Then add the egg, vanilla and pumpkin (I measured out of a 15 oz can). Mix for 2-3 minutes until smooth. Slowly add the dry blend at a low speed until all is fully mixed.

To get similar sizes for each layer, use an ice cream scoop or a tablespoon (measure spoon) onto parchment paper. Make sure to leave enough space between each for them to expand as they are baking. If you want to add the pumpkin seed garnish, put 3-4 over the top. Bake for about 15 minutes. Let cool.

Filling:
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup whipped cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar-sifted
1/2 tsp maple syrup
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Once the butter is at room temperature, beat the butter with the cream cheese until smooth. Slowly add the powdered sugar and blend well. If its too dry add a tsp sugar. Add maple syrup vanilla and cinnamon and beat for 1 minute.

October 24, 2011

Chicken "Mozzarella" Sammies

I love sandwiches in many different forms, but I always end up eating them during lunch. Every once in a while I'll do sandwiches for dinner, as seen here. What I end up incorporating into dinner sandwiches, are types of food I'd prepare as an entree for dinner, in order to make them a little heartier than a basic ham and cheese sandwich.


The thing about chicken parmesan that gets to me is the name. I understand that parmesan cheese is typically sprinkled over the mozzarella once its baked, but the real cheese that gives the texture and taste is the mozzarella. I always prefer using the real mozzarella di bufala, the way it melts with the marinara sauce it creates a smoothe yet rich tasting coat to chicken. When paired with the toasted bread and the cool pesto, it makes a delicious sandwhich I would make anytime for a hearty dinner.


Basil Pesto Ingredients:
1 large bunch fresh basil, about 2 cups
2 cloves garlic
1 palm-full of toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup grated pecorino cheese

Combine the basil, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until its coarsely chopped, . Add the olive oil and the cheese, hold pulse for about 10-15 seconds to fully incorporate the olive oil, but make sure not to over process as we want some texture in the pesto, not too smooth. Add salt & pepper to taste.


Chicken Parm Ingredients:
2-3 Panini loaves
4-6 chicken breast cutlets
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
2 cups bread crumbs
Salt & Pepper
1 tsp Paprika
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1 cup marinara sauce
 Sliced Mozzarella

If you can buy chicken breasts that are already flat, around 1/4 to 1/2" thick. Most times they are labeled as thin cutlets. Get 3 medium shallow bowls and place side by side. In the first add the flour, paprika and garlic powder, mix well. In the next one, add the milk, you can also use 2 beaten eggs, but I feel the milk is a little lighter. The third bowl gets the bread crumbs. (I normally start with about 1/2 the breadcrumbs, and refill as needed).  Lightly season each breast with salt and pepper on both sides, then lightly coat with the flour mixture. Then dredge into the milk, and lastly into the bread crumbs. Make sure to shake off any excess between steps.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Once all of the breasts are coated, cook over a thin layer of vegetable oil until golden in color, approximately 3-4 minutes on each side. Make sure not to over crowd the pan as the cutlets are cooking. Once all the chicken is cooked, place on a baking sheet. Put about 2 tbsp marinara sauce on each chicken and top with mozzarella slices. Feel free to use mozzarella deli slices or if you have on hand fresh mozzarella. Put in oven until the cheese melts.

For sandwich assembly, lather the bread with the basil pesto on both sides of the bread, add chicken. Then I toast the bread by cooking for a few minutes on a cast iron skillet on each side.You want to try to get the bread as flat as possible, so if you have a cooking brick, use that, otherwise, get your heaviest pan and place on top of the bread. Cook until golden and enjoy!


October 20, 2011

Braised Short Ribs

Whenever I eat out at restaurants, I tend to choose dishes that I don't "feel" I could make easily myself. For example, I rarely ever order chicken as an entree. Not that I don't love chicken, but I feel I can make some pretty great chicken recipes myself, and even premium free-range chicken is relatively cheap compared to other red meats, so I tend to cook it pretty frequently.

One of my go-to meals whenever I do eat out is Braised Short Ribs. I'm not sure what it is about this as a feature-bone in over some mashed potatoes. Regardless of the type of cuisine,the general outcome is more than stellar.

About a year ago, I ended up buying some short ribs, and attempted to do them myself. Let me tell you, not only was my initial attempt a success, but the overall process was so simple, it instantly became a favorite dish to "wow" friends for dinner. The following is a pretty simple recipe, that only really requires about 20 minutes of prep/active cook time, and the end result is more than worth every second of it.

This recipe feeds 4-5 people, but be forewarned, try to buy a little extra as you'll definitely want more!


Ingredients:
5-6 bone-in short ribs (about  4 pounds)
2-3 tbsp flour (enough to coat the ribs)
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 ribs celery, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled, cut in 1/2 lengthwise, then cut into 1/4-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 1/2 cups tomato paste
2 to 3 cups hearty red wine
2 cups water
1 bunch fresh thyme, tied with kitchen string
2 bay leaves

You want to use a pot that is large enough to accommodate all the meat, and preferably one that is oven-safe, such as a dutch oven or a cast aluminum pot or "caldero". Season each short rib with salt and pepper, then lightly coat with the flour. Coat a pot with olive oil over high heat. Add the short ribs to the pan and brown very well, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Do not overcrowd pan. Cook in batches, if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. only if you have an oven-safe pot, otherwise, you can cook over the stove top at a medium low heat for anywhere between 2-3 hours, depending on the size of the short ribs.

If you have chopped all the veggies before, you can puree them and the garlic in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Otherwise, once all your short ribs are browned, turn off the pan while you prep your vegetables.

When the short ribs are brown and have a nice crust on all sides, remove them from the pan and set aside. Drain the fat, coat the bottom of same pan with fresh oil and add the pureed vegetables. Season the vegetables generously with salt and brown until they are very dark and a crud has formed on the bottom of the pan, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook until it browns. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat if things start to burn. Reduce the mixture by half.

Return the short ribs to the pan and add 2 cups water or until the water has just about covered the meat. Add the thyme bundle and bay leaves. Cover the pan and place in the preheated oven for 3 hours, or lower the heat, cover and leave on stove top. Check periodically during the cooking process and add more water, if needed. Turn the ribs over halfway through the cooking time. Remove the lid during the last 20 minutes of cooking to let things get nice and brown and to let the sauce reduce. When done the meat should be very tender but not falling apart. Serve on large platter and pour the remainder of the braising liquid over.

September 2, 2011

Risotto Balls

I rarely make appetizers before dinner, unless I make something that requires a fair amount of prep work or that has a long cook time. This week I made a simple lemon risotto for dinner and ended up with plenty of leftovers, by plenty I mean around 2 cups of the cooked risotto. I had tried some fried rice balls, or better known as Arancini at a couple Italian restaurants, and decided to give these little fritters a shot.

There really is no science to make these. I decided to take my leftovers out about 20 minutes before cooking them, just to make sure that the rice was cold in the center after frying. Other than that all there is to it is: Take about 1 tbsp of the rice and making a little ball out of it. Dunk it into milk (or an egg wash) and then coat in bread crumbs. Fry until golden brown.

I used my basic Risotto recipe, as seen here. But the only thing I did differently was use 1 lemon, instead of 2 and I omitted the vegetables. You can definitely add peas, or other small cut veggies into the risotto as long as it stays relatively "bite-sized". Once fried, let them cool for a minute and grate some fresh cheese on top, eat immediately!

August 18, 2011

Quick & Easy Chocolate Mousse

For a few weeks I've been craving chocolate pudding, so I've been reading up several recipes and I couldn't decide which one to try out. Finally I ended up seeing this recipe for chocolate mousse, but it seemed so easy that I couldn't resist but to try it out immediately. 

While the flavor was good, I didn't like the texture I ended up with, at all. Partly may have been that I used good quality bar chocolate versus chocolate chips, but I the blender didn't get me that silky and creamy texture I was yearning for, but I enjoy the flavor. So I gave the recipe another go, but this time decided to spend an extra 5-10 minutes melting the chocolate over a double boiler. If you don't have an actual double boiler, which I don't, simply put a little water into a small saucepan and put a bowl over it, making sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl. Once the chocolate was fully melted and smooth I transferred to the blender and proceeded with the original recipe. The result once they set in the fridge for a couple hours, simply amazing. 

The other thing I did differently was use a blend of chocolate. As much as I love dark chocolate, I don't always want that rich taste. So I used about 6 oz milk chocolate and 1 oz dark chocolate with mint! The result: Amazing! The mixture was generously chocolaty flavored, but fresh and crisp from the mint. Better yet it was light and smooth, but also gave me the sense of a perfect hybrid between a mousse and pudding, which is exactly what I wanted in the first place!

Ingredients:
7 oz chocolate
1/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg



Melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Once fully melted pour into a blender. Add the boiling water and blend for 10-15 seconds. Add remaining ingredients and blend for another 15 seconds. Pour into dessert dishes and refrigerate until they are set, usually around 2-3 hours. If you're patient enough, they are even better the next day.

August 16, 2011

Not-So "Sloppy" Joe's

I had never tried a Sloppy Joe, up until a couple of years' ago. I think it may have been a combination of growing up abroad and that my mother would automatically refuse to give us anything to eat that had the word "sloppy" in its name. Either way, I was finally convinced to make one by my boyfriend who grew up eating them as a kid. I obviously had no idea what it was supposed to taste like, and pretty much all I knew of them was typical pop culture references on TV or some cooking show; so I resorted to using the dry package. I was eventually able to come up with my own version of this American classic.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup onion
1.5 lb ground beef
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. chili powder
1 8oz. can tomato sauce
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tbsp brown sugar
4 Buns (Kaiser Rolls)

Finely chop 1/4 cup of onion. Saute until translucent and add the ground beef, mix well so the onions are evenly distributed with the meat. Add the salt, pepper, paprika and chili powder and mix well. Once the beef has cooked through add the tomato sauce and mix well. At the beginning its going to seem overly liquid, but it will cook down. Once the tomato sauce has reduced in half add the Worcestershire sauce and the sugar. Cook for another 5 minutes until the mixture is a nice and saucy.

I always like to serve on a toasted bun, preferably kaiser rolls, and pair with another comfort food, macaroni and cheese. Feel free to swap out ground beef for ground turkey, the condiments and sauce are what help give this dish a huge boost of flavor.

August 12, 2011

Linguini with Lemon, Garlic & Dill Sauce

During my recent mini-vacation in Costa Rica, I had my fair share of rice & beans to last me through the end of the week. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE rice and beans but in Costa Rica, they eat them every single day for Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner! And yes, you read right, they eat the combo so much they even have it during breakfast, which is known as Gallo Pinto. Now this particular post is not about the great food I had during the trip, but more about me not being able to eat rice for about a week.

My first night back I decided to make a light and easy pasta dish, infused with different flavors that I didn't consume much during said vacation. I also knew that I wanted to make something that would be quick and only required minimum prep. My entire prep was done while I was bringing water for the pasta to a boil, and then cooked the chicken at the same time as the pasta was cooking. The picture unfortunately doesn't do the actual flavors in this dish any justice. Its light, but slightly creamy and full of bright fresh flavors that the lemon and dill bring to this dish.

Ingredients:
1 lb.chicken
1 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp. garlic
1 1/2 tbsp.fresh dill
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp.pepper
Drizzle olive oil
1/4 cup Mozzarella

Cut the chicken into 1/2 inch bite sized pieces and place in large skillet. Juice the lemons and pour right over the chicken. Finely mince the garlic and add to chicken. Mix well and season the chicken with salt and pepper. Cook over medium flame. (You can also marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for 30 minutes as well.)

Once the water has come to a full boil you can add your pasta and cook to al dente. Strain but keep about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the chicken mixture and blend well. For the mozzarella, I used Buffalo Mozzarella, the small round ones and broke them apart into small pieces and tossed it with the pasta. I used about 4 of the small balls, once broken apart is about 1/4 cup. Once the cheese starts melting into the pasta, slowly add some of the pasta water and mix frequently as this will start creating a nice light and slightly creamy sauce. Serve immediately.

For those of you who have never used reserve pasta water for thickening a sauce, i think this link is pretty helpful in explaining it.

July 31, 2011

Hummus with Jalapeño

Hummus is one of those appetizers that almost everyone loves. Its great with Pita Chips or even with veggies. I only made my first hummus a few months ago after I finally got around to buying some chickpeas and tahini. All other ingredients are basic staples in my pantry. One of my favorite store bought hummus is sabra, particularly the Jalapeno flavored one. So my take on hummus is adding some pickled jalapeño slices to add that spicy kick. Since I made this particular version for a friends party, I took it easy with the jalapeños since I wasn't sure if everyone going would love the spicier version of it.



Ingredients:
15.5 oz. can chickpeas
3 tbsp. tahini
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup water
Juice of 1 lemon
4- 6 slices of jalapeño




In a food processor, mix the fully drained chickpeas, tahini and garlic cloves with the water until ingredients start blending together. Add the salt, pepper and lemon juice and pulse a few times. Slowly start adding the olive oil until it is fully blended and smooth. Add the jalapeños and keep pulsing until desired taste.

Feel free to add more garlic or olive oil as needed. Place in bowl and sprinkle some paprika or cayenne pepper for additional heat and drizzle some olive oil over it.

July 26, 2011

Caprese Sandwich with Spinach Pesto

A few weeks ago we opted for fancy sandwiches as dinner since we had a surprise party we had to be at. We wanted something fun and simple, so we decided to make a sandwich out of a Caprese salad. We replaced the basil for spinach and made a quick spinach pesto. This is a great simple recipe that you can make in a matter of minutes, and is really very satisfying.

Ingredients: 
1 Ciabatta Loaf
4-6 oz fresh mozzarella cheese
1 tomato sliced
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
1 tbsp pine nuts
1 large garlic clove
1 /4 cup olive oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt & Pepper
1 tbsp pine nuts



First we start off by making the spinach pesto. In a food processor add about 1 1/2 cup spinach. Add 1/4 cup olive oil, and garlic clove and pine nuts and pulse until well mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Next we assemble. Slice the bread in half and spread the spinach pesto on both cut sides of the bread. Next you want to add a layer of sliced tomatoes. Next we slice the fresh mozzarella into about 1/4" thick slices and place over the layer of tomatoes. Drizzle olive oil, and a little balsamic vinegar over the mozzarella, then add a layer of fresh spinach. Close sandwich and press down. You want to cook this for several minutes on each side so the bread gets nice and toasty and the mozzarella starts melting.

July 25, 2011

Sauteed Mushroom and Shallots

After living in any given place for a long time, you can become very partial to certain flavors and methods of cooking. When it comes to steaks most of the time I prefer simple salt and pepper and grilled to perfection. But every once in a while I really enjoy a juicy steak topped by my favorite steakhouse toppers, particularly sauteed mushrooms.Feel free to use your favorite type of mushroom, I prefer cremini and button mushrooms.

Ingredients:
8 oz. Mushrooms
1-2 Shallots (depending on size)
2 tbsp butter
Salt & Pepper

With a paper towel, wipe all the mushrooms clean. Make sure you don't use a damp cloth. Mushrooms are like sponges, so we don't want to add any more moisture in them. Once cleaned, slice all your mushrooms and shallots. In a large saute pan melt the butter, and add shallots. When the shallots are translucent add the mushrooms and cook until they are golden brown. Serve immediately.

July 23, 2011

Zucchini Asparagus Salad

With the unbearable heat in NYC the last few days, I've been making lots of salads in lieu of side dishes. So I've been itching to make a fresh salad that was different than mixing some romaine or arugula with some other veggies and toppings.

I love zucchini and asparagus, and normally I eat these veggies cooked, but had recently seen this recipe on the food network and knew I had to try it out. It's so simple to make, as long as you have a little patience to get the zucchini shavings right.

Ingredients:
2 Zucchini
6 asparagus stalks 
Shaved Parmegiano Regianno
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 tbsp of Champagne/white wine

Wash and slice the zuchinni in half, length-wise. With a vegetable peeler, cut thin ribbons of zucchini until almost at the skin. With the asparagus, break off the ends. (Rule of thumb, to see where to cut the end of the asparagus hold with both hands, and put pressure on the end side of it. Where it snaps off is where you want to cut the remaining asparagus stocks). Cut on a diagonal to thin strips, maybe 1/4" thick. Mix with zucchini strips.



To make the vinagrette, add the vegetable oil, lemon salt & pepper to a small bowl and mix well until slightly emulsified. Then add a tbsp of champagne, or white wine (whatever you have handy works) and mix again until fully blended. Pour over salad, and finish with fresh shavings of Parmegiano Regianno.

July 22, 2011

Roast Chicken

A few months ago I read this article around the time Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook came out. I thought it was pretty funny that when asked what her ideal meal to win over her heart, her answer was: roast chicken, because that its almost impossible to f* up! I totally agree.

Roast chicken has to be one of my favorite comfort meals. I feel a lot of people are skeptical to dealing with a whole chicken, but in all honestly, its a cinch! The hardest part of it, is the cutting, which is really not that bad. Another reason some people veer away from making a whole chicken is they aren't sure when its done. My solution? Just buy a meat thermometer, and as long as you hit 165, you're good to go! Another way to be pretty sure, is to poke it with a knife, and if clear juices pour out vs. the pink juices, it's pretty much done.


Ingredients:
1 whole chicken
1 tbsp butter
3 cloves minced garlic
1 Lemon
3-4 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
Salt & Pepper
1 beer




Pre-heat oven at 350 F. Make sure to remove any giblets from the cavity of the chicken before you start seasoning and place in center of the pan, breast down. Take 1/2 the tspn of butter and cut into little pieces. Lift the skin of the chicken and place little bits of the butter under the skin with 1/2 of the minced garlic and rub around. *This keeps the chicken moist and helps the browning of the skin. Salt and Pepper to taste, drizzle some olive oil over and squeeze 1/2 the lemon over. Flip so the breast is on top and repeat with remaining butter, garlic and lemon. Salt and pepper this side as well and loosely sprinkle with the thyme and rosemary. Also drizzle some olive oil on top. Cut the squeezed lemons into quarters and place in the cavity of the chicken. Open the beer, can or bottle and pour around the chicken, pour the last 1/4 into the cavity of the chicken. Place in oven and cook for around 1 hour and 15-30 minutes (may vary depending on the size of the chicken as well as your oven).

You should always check on the chicken every 20 minutes or so and baste it. (With a cooking brush, dip into the liquids and brush over the chicken). This helps to keep it moist as well as enhance the coloring and crunchy texture on the skin. Once it's done, let sit for 10 minutes before you start carving it out.

 This chicken was extremely juicy, but if you like to have a little sauce to go over it, use the left over juices in the roasting pan, place in a saucepan, and add a 1-2 tablespoons of cornstarch and whisk well over low heat. Nothing beats a great home-made pan gravy!

Scalloped Potatoes

I love potatoes, pretty much in any form. But I really have always loved the combination of textures that scalloped potatoes offer. They are a mix of creamy and buttery, sometimes a little cheesy, but always finished with that crunchy layer on top.

As much as I love scalloped potatoes, I don't make them very often, at least not during the work week. (Who really wants to spend all that time peeling the potatoes, to then finely slice them?) This week I finally got around to making a batch for my cooking class, since we had already done roasted and mashed potatoes before.

What I do find when comparing my version of these potatoes to other recipes is that I tend to favor a little "lighter version". Instead of doing a typical béchamel sauce and pouring that over the potatoes, I slightly cook the potatoes with some milk and a dab of butter prior to placing in the baking pan. Then I sprinkle a little cheese over each layer. Because potatoes have so much starch in them, I simply eliminate the flour in the béchamel mixture, and when the potatoes cook with the milk, they release natural starches that naturally thicken the milk and butter as they slightly cook.

 
Ingredients: 
6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
3 Tbsp Butter
1 1/2 cups milk
3 Tbsp Creme Fraiche
6 sprigs of Thyme
4 oz. shredded gruyere cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use non-stick spray in the inside of a 3-quart baking dish.
Slice the potatoes about 1/8 inch thick . I don't have a mandoline, but you can definitely use one. I like to slice 2 potatoes a time and place in 3 individual piles to have same sized layers.

In a large saute pan, add 1 of the 3 piles of potatoes, 1 tbsp butter and 1/2 cup of milk. Salt and pepper to taste as well. Slowly start cooking the potatoes in the milk and mix constantly. When the milk starts bubbling up add 1 tbsp of the creme fraiche and 2 sprigs of the thyme. Keep cooking until the mixture thickens slightly and pour into baking dish, spreading out the potatoes evenly. Sprinkle some cheese over the top. Repeat with other 2 bunches of sliced potatoes. Bake, uncovered, until the potatoes are fork-tender, and the top layer has a rich golden color. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving. (Feel free to use more cheese between layers and on the top!)


July 5, 2011

Chocolate Brownies

I've always loved easy to grab desserts such as cookies and brownies. What's not to love about them? I've been pretty consistent at making pretty great cookies for most of my life (as its noted in my profile!), but I've always had issues with brownies.

I have tried several brownie recipes from scratch and either came up with overly gooey brownies that looked more like fudge, or other recipes that yielded dry, crumbly cakey brownies. All this failure making brownies constantly had me turn into the boxed versions to get the consistency that I always yearned for. That is until I came accross this recipe. I had seen several other blogs comment on this Bon Appetite recipe for what may of them called "The Best" brownies ever. 

So I tried them, and I most definitely agree, these are THE BEST brownies I've ever made! I followed most of the recipe, the only difference is I didn't add any walnuts. I also added some course kosher salt sprinkled on top prior to baking. I highly encourage you to try this recipe out, I've made them 3 times, and they NEVER last more than a few hours! They are everything you want in a brownie too, they are soft inside, slighly chewey and most importantly heavenly chocolatey!

Ingredients:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour


Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 8x8 or 7x11  inch metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend.

Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Sprinkle a little coarse kosher salt over the mixture. Bake for 25 minutes. Make sure to let cool for several hours before cutting into squares.

July 3, 2011

Frittata

This week as part of our weekly cooking club we took full advantage of the long weekend to make a brunch in lieu of our standard dinners. We had originally planned it as a fun "boozy brunch", but after a long night out, we ended up with fewer people than anticipated and opted for a booze-free brunch instead. The result, just as fun and so tasty. We made, possibly the best frittata possible for 2 first time frittata makers!

If you've never made a frittata, no worries- its WAY easier than making a pretty looking omelet! For those who aren't sure what a frittata even is, its essentially an Italian version of an omelet. Same basic method for cooking the eggs with whatever fillings you like, but instead of flipping it, you finish it off in the oven, which is why I think its easier than making an omelet. (I rarely make a properly folded omelet, they always end up more like a scramble). I just want to point out that it does take almost 45 minutes to an hour for the entire process, but if you've got the time and can hold off the hunger, trust me its worth the wait!
Whole Frittata

Ingredients:
8 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp papprika
5 asparagus stocks cut to 1/2 inch pieces
1 large scallion finely sliced
1/2 large tomato diced
2 slices prosciutto di parma, cut into thin strips
6-8 basil leaves, cut into thin strips
Mozzarella bufala (about 4 oz)

Pre-heat your oven to 350 F. Cut asparagus, scallions, tomatoes, prosciutto and basil leave and place in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large bowl blend together all eggs and milk. Add salt, pepper and papprika and mix well. Spray onto a large oven-safe skillet (about 10") some non-stick cooking spray. Melt 1 tbsp of butter in skillet and add egg mixture. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes for the base to set. Add vegetable mixture and spread evenly over entire pan. Mix gently into egg mixture, you don't want to beat it. 

With a silicone spatula, lift the edges of the egg mixture once it starts to set. You want to make sure the egg sets well prior to placing into the oven. Essentially the edges should lift easily, but have a little color on the edges. Place into the oven and cook for about 6 minutes. Remove after the eggs started to set slightly and then add the mozzarella cheese. You can either slice them or break up the cheese and have little dollops all around the frittata. Place back in the oven and cook for another 30-40 minutes. The time on this can really vary, but you want the frittata to puff up, and have the eggs cook thru. Remove from the oven and let sit for a few minutes prior to cutting.

Frittata Slice: asparagus, prosciutto, scallions, tomato, basil & mozzarella

Limber de Coco (Coconut Cream Popsicles)

One of my favorite things to eat while we visited my grandmother every summer in Puerto Rico, were her next- door neighbors limbers. A limber, is essentially a flavored ice pop, but my favorite has always been coconut. Traditionally they are not poured in actual ice pop molds, but made in either ice cube molds or it dixie cups. These popsicles are different to most, as they are a little creamy, with little bits of coconut texture without being overwhelmed by the coconut flakes. They also include cinnamon which should almost always go hand in had with anything coconut flavored.

Ingredients:
1 can evaporated milk
1 can coconut milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup shredded coconut flakes
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon

Place all ingredients into a blender. Don't add any ice, these are NOT daiquiris' as we'll be freezing them over night. Blend on medium for about 3 minutes. Make sure that the coconut flakes have broken down, this helps get a creamier texture. Pour thru a sieve, to have a smooth but creamy texture and pour into Popsicle molds. (Feel free to use plastic dixie cups or ice cubes too!)

If you want an "adult" version of these you could always add a tbsp of rum as a decadent treat! And if you're concerned about the waistline, feel free to use fat free or low fat options for the evaporated milk and coconut milk.

June 21, 2011

Truffle Macaroni & Cheese

Mac & Cheese, has to be one of my all time favorite comfort foods. I've had a so many versions, as well as at restaurants. I've had full blown debates over which boxed version is best Kraft vs. Velveeta? (Velveeta is still Kraft, so its a win-win for them), as well as tons of variations, lobster mac & cheese, baked, with varied cheeses. But one of my absolute favorites is truffle mac and cheese.

I had tried making a similar recipe a few months ago, but instead of using truffle butter at the beginning, I would add truffle oil towards the end. Trust me, this is the way to go! The truffle butter really infuses its flavors throughout the entire dish, and your home.

Sauce:
6 tbs truffle butter
1/2 cup flour
3 1/4 cup milk
1 sharp white cheddar shredded
1 Gruyere package shredded
1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Optional Mushrooms for filling:
2 cups sliced mushrooms
3 tbs. butter,
(Saute the mushrooms in melted butter for 5-8 minutes, set aside)

For starters, you want to bring a large pot to boil, and cook your pasta, I love the larger macaroni such as Pipa Rigate use 1- 16 oz package, and cook until slightly under "al dente". You don't want to over cook your pasta, since we are continuing the cooking process in the oven. Drain and set aside.

While your pasta is cooking you can get started on your cheese sauce. For the sauce we start with a basic roux. First we want to start by melting the truffle butter. Once its melted, we add the flour and mix until all flour has dissolved. Then we add the milk while on medium heat, and mix well into the flour mixture, we don't want any clumps of the roux. Keep mixing until the milk starts to thicken, bringing it to a light boil. (This same process is known as making a basic bechamel sauce too!) As soon as it gets to this point, take off the heat and mix in both shredded cheeses. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix well, so all cheese has melted fully and creates a creamy texture.

Mix in the pasta and mix well. Pour in either individual oven proof serving dishes, or in a large baking dish. If desired, you can add the mixture of the sauteed mushrooms, and mix into the pasta mixture. Sprinkle some breadcrumbs over the pasta if desired and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the pasta is creamy and bubbly.

June 13, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

It wasn't until Memorial Day weekend last year that I had any idea what a Rhubarb was. I had frequently read various recipes for deserts that showcased the ingredient but just had no idea whatsoever what it was. I had no clue as to its color, taste or texture, until an aunt made a similar crisp while we spent a weekend visiting. For those of you who are as clueless as I was, a rhubarb basically looks like celery, but red! Its natrually very tart, which is why its often paired with strawberries, and a healthy dose of sugar (otherwise, very hard to eat).

Below is my own adaptation of this easy and perfectly suitable desert for any spring or summertime gathering. Let's face it, crumbles are not necesarily the "prettiest" looking desserts, but they are so easy to make, and make as many variations as you please. Once you try this recipe,believe me you'll be craving it year round!



Filling:
1 1/2" cups rhubarb cut into 1" pieces
3 cups strawberries cut same to same size
1/3 cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tspn of cinnamon and nutmeg
1 Tspn cornstarch
1 tbsn Triple Sec

First you want to cut the rhubarb and strawberries into equal sizes, preferably bite sized so 1/2" to 1" tops. Set aside. In medium bowl add the sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cornstarch and Triple Sec (organge based liquor). Mix well and add the fruit mixture. Mix gently until the fruit becomes well coated in the mixture. Place in 9" pie dish or in small rammekins if you prefer to do individual portions.
 
Topping:
1/3 cup flour
3/4 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
6 tbsp melted butter
1/2 tspn cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg

I mix the dry ingredients, then add the melted butter and mix all together. Place over fruit filling mixture.
Bake in oven at 350 for approximately 35-45 minutes or until the topping is golden brown. Serve warm or to room temperature with your favorite vanilla ice cream.


May 24, 2011

Pancakes

I fondly remember weekends as a young girl, when my Dad would make his family’s pancakes. The kind he made wasn’t the thick, cake-like pancakes, but more the thin like the silver dollar pancakes.  I loved being able to tally up how many of them I could eat and would often compete with my sister as to who could eat more. Eventually the pancakes got a little bigger, but always stayed light and thin.
Ingredients:
1 Cup Flour
2 Tbsp. Sugar
3 Tsp. Baking Powder
Salt (Pinch)
1 Egg
1 Cup Milk
1/3 Cup Vegetable Oil

In a bowl sift together the Flour, Sugar and Baking Powder, add a pinch of salt.
Beat in Egg and add the milk. When all together add the vegetable oil. Pour in slowly to not make mixture too liquid. (If it does get too liquid, add some flour). Today I had some blueberries in the fridge, so I added those to the mix, about 1/2 cup. You can add chocolate chips if you prefer a sweeter version as well!

Let mixture sit for 20 to 30  minutes.

Warm skillet, and add 1 tsp butter. Pour batter in approximately 4". When the pancake starts to bubble on the uncooked side its ready to flip. For the first pancake, make sure to move around the pan to soak up most of the butter, and toss. Now you can do the same for all the other pancakes-without the tossing!


May 23, 2011

Chimichurri Sauce

Last week for my weekly cooking club/class we decided to do a simple grilled skirt steak-sans the BBQ as I don't have one in my small NYC apartment, topped with an amazing Chimichurri Sauce. As you probably picked up by now, I'm pretty partial to the tastes of Argentina. Who could blame me? Specially after living there for 9 years as a child, and still visit whenever possible. But the truth is the food is simply wonderful and fresh. All we did to our skirt steak, or as the Argentines & Latin Americans would call churrasco, was salt and pepper it. Then we cooked it with a little olive oil in a cast iron skillet to achieve the "grill" taste.

We topped our steak with the chimichurri sauce that adds a whole other dimension of flavor to any steak. Traditionally the sauce uses a mixture of parsley and cilantro, but I prefer a cilantro based sauce. I also cut back a little on the olive oil to create more of a creamy texture, rather than having the herbs linger in a tub of oil. A lot of people also add red pepper flakes to the mix, but I really believe this isn’t even needed as the garlic adds just enough heat to the sauce.

You could also use this sauce as a marinade for nearly any kind of meat or fish or vegetable- its THAT good.

Ingredients:
Cilantro-1 large bunch
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tbsp water
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)

Place all ingredients in a blender. Don't bother chopping the cilantro or the garlic. The blender does all the work for you. Mix until smoothe and creamy. Season additionally to taste.

Feel free to add more garlic or the crushed red peppers too. If its not blending enough you can always add a few extra drizzles of olive oil or water. And remember, cook to YOUR TASTE, if you don't like a particular ingredient, swap it out!

May 17, 2011

Milanesas

One of my favorite things about having lived in Miami for so many years was the amount of Latin American markets everywhere. Even our basic supermarket was stocked with great Goya products as well as specialty meat cuts such as chorizo,(sausages) from different countries, and my all time favorite: Milanesas.

My love affair with Milanesas started years ago in Argentina. They are similar to what a southerner would call a "chicken fried steak". In reality its a pretty name for a piece of meat, or chicken that is pounded flat, breaded and lightly fried. Whats amazing about milanesas is that they pretty much can go with anything. Typically they are served with fries or a salad or on a sandwich... the list could go on for days as they go with almost anything. You can also put toppings like ham,cheese and tomato sauce (a la napolitana) or a fried egg (a caballo). Today I've chosen to go with a basic milanesa, served with some cheese filled ravioli.

Ingredients:
Beef round bottom round steak (4)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Onion Powder, to taste

In separate bowls:
Flour
Milk
Bread crumbs



Start with placing one steak at a time between 2 large cuts of saran wrap. (If you have large Ziploc bags would work great too.) Pound the steaks with a meat tenderizer using the flat side until they are about 1/3" to 1/4" thick. Lightly salt, pepper and add a sprinkle of the onion powder to all steaks.

 In 3 separate large shallow bowls add flour in one, milk in the other and breadcrumbs in the third. Once the steaks are seasoned dip into the flour mixture and get rid of the excess flour. Dredge into the milk and then into the breadcrumbs. Repeat with all the individual steaks. Pan fry in a shallow pan with vegetable oil until golden on both sides. Remove and strain excess oil on paper towels. Serve immediately.