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.

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!

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.