Archive for ‘Recipes’

October 15, 2013

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad

The way I get myself over the loss of something… in this case, the warm, comforting embrace of Summer… is to consider what I am looking forward to next.  Chilly days and cozy nights, pumpkins and squash, and the beautiful deep colors of the falling leaves that are echoed in the change in my wardrobe.  Lush sweaters, leather jackets, textured cords, hats, knits, scarfs and my favorite of all, boots!!   You never see me procrastinating to pull out the sweaters or prepare the house for fall.  The time for reflecting on the year and gearing up for a strong finish does not escape me.

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On a cool Thursday night, after weighing our dining options, my mom and I slide into one of the wooden banquettes of the local Italian eatery Pizza Antica.  A generous bowl of warm, salted focaccia with rich olive oil is set on our table as we relax into our booth and peruse the menu.  When I came across the warm Brussels sprout salad I didn’t need to keep reading. With the onset of cool, autumn weather brings us Brussels sprouts at the peak of their growing season.  By the end of summer I’m anxious to dig into fall’s harvest and at farmer’s markets the landscape shifts to display a new array of deep reds, yellows and creamy whites. Gone are the strawberries, corn and stone fruits of summer; in their place, root vegetables, squash and cold-weather tree fruit emerge. It’s an exciting time of transition, and also a delicious one.

This salad is a celebration of fall and combines all that is good in the world – bacon, Brussels spouts, garlic and homemade croutons for a variety of flavors and textures.  The nutty flavor of the pan-fried sprouts is complemented beautifully by the smoky bacon, creamy egg and chew of the toasted bread.  Everything is brought together with a light, garlic vinaigrette which compliments the tender sprouts without overwhelming the dish.  This recipe was inspired by Pizza Antica, and I encourage you to adapt it as you go.  Sometimes I throw in some toasted almonds for crunch or top it with finely grated Parmesan cheese.

Ingredients

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad

  • 1/2 slab bacon (9 slices of pre-cut bacon)
  • 4 tbsp. extra light extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tbsp. for croutons
  • 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 slices sourdough bread, cut into 1/2″ squares
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 lbs. Brussels sprouts
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Vinaigrette

  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra light extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Method:

  1. First we’ll make the vinaigrette and set it aside for later.  To make the vinaigrette, soak the garlic, shallots, and thyme in vinegar for roughly 45 minutes.
  2. After soaking, slowly whisk in the oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and reserve covered.
  3. Preheat oven to 300°F for the croutons.
  4. Toss cubed bread with light extra-virgin olive oil and toast in the oven for 20-25 mins until golden brown and crispy.  Allow to cool to room temperature and set aside.
  5. Cut bacon into 1/2″ squares and cook over low to medium heat until almost crisp; drain off the fat and set aside.
  6. In the same pan you cooked the bacon, heat 2 tbsp. light extra-virgin olive oil.  If you have some remaining bacon fat leave it in the pan and just add any extra oil as needed.  The extra light olive oil has a higher smoking point so if you don’t have it, replace it with canola oil.
  7. Sauté sliced onions over medium-high heat until golden brown, two minutes before you remove it from the heat add the garlic; drain and set aside.
  8. In a small saucepan, cover the eggs with cold water and bring to a low boil.  Once boiling remove from heat and cover.  Let the eggs stand in hot water for 8-9 minutes.  Then run cold water over eggs to stop the cooking – this will give you hard-boiled eggs with a firm yolk.
  9. Peel eggs and dice finely (about the size of a small pea) and reserve covered in the refrigerator.
  10. Clean the sprouts by removing the first few dark leaves and discarding. Cut off the stem, and separate the leaves one by one. When you get to the light green center and can’t pull off the leaves, either slice the heart very thin or reserve for other uses.  Peeling the leaves is definitely the best way to make this salad, but if you are short on time you can also shred them in a Cuisinart.  It will save you at least 30 mins but you won’t get the same texture.
  11. In a large sauté pan, heat remaining extra-virgin olive oil until almost smoking and add sprouts leaves; toss until wilted (about 3 minutes), season with salt and pepper.
  12. Add reserved onions and bacon and warm until hot.
  13. When hot, add vinaigrette and toss to distribute evenly.
  14. Add croutons and chopped eggs and toss to incorporate.
  15. Serve!

Recipe sourced from http://www.pizzaantica.com/

 

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October 5, 2013

Grains of Paradise and Cayenne Oatmeal Cookies

Living in Houston I’ve learned that Texans LOVE spicy, hot food.  They serve everything with a side of Tabasco or hot salsa that makes your forehead sweat, and it’s already hot enough without the spicy food.  Eggs, steak, salads, burgers… everything is bursting with heat.  I spent my first few months in Houston downing gallons of milk every time I attempted to conquer the red salsa at our local Mexican restaurant.  Sadly, I never succeeded.  But in an effort to enbrace my new home I’ve tried to incorporate some spice into my classic recipes to satisfy my friends cravings.

Grains of Paradise and Cayenne Oatmeal Cookies

The thing I like about these cookies is that they don’t immediately smack you in the face with heat, it gradually hits at the end and lingers ever so slightly.  I didn’t want to mess with a classic too much, but I do think this takes a traditional oatmeal cookie to a more grown up level.  The cranberries add to the chewy texture of the oats and give it an added sweetness needed with the earthy spices. I purposely left out cinnamon, usually a staple in oatmeal cookies, as I didn’t want it to mask the other spices. 

The secret ingredient in these cookies is grains of paradise, a spice native to West Africa. I crushed the grains with my mortar and pestle which released the most heavenly aroma — a combination of black pepper, cardamom, coriander and citrus with a lingering scent of something floral and woodsy.  If you crack one between your teeth, the flavor follows in much the same order as the aroma.  If you only get one thing from this recipe I hope it’s an introduction to this wonderful spice.  The floral, peppery flavor is going to make a wonderful addition to just about all your favorite foods.  Your grilled steaks, fish, vegetables and potatoes will thank you.

If you’re looking for something a little more special, pop two cookies in the oven at 350 for a few minutes and add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you have a perfect ice cream sandwich. 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (more if you are adventurous)
  • 1 tsp. grains of paradise
  • 1 tsp.  baking soda
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped and toasted
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups traditional Quaker Oats (not quick cook)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F
  2. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. This helps the cookies crisp by being closer to the heat source or at the very top where the heat accumulates.
  3. Place nuts in a small pan and toast on medium heat for 5-7 minutes.  As soon as they become fragrant take them off the heat and space them on the side to cool.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cayenne, grains of paradise and salt thoroughly and set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, beat butter, white and brown sugar, and vanilla until the mixture changes color and becomes a smooth, pale white… this is what you want so you have light, fluffy cookies.
  6. Slowly add the flour mixture and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until well incorporated.
  7. Add oats, pecans and cranberries and stir until mixed well.
  8. Scoop dough on to ungreased cookie sheets, I use a mini ice cream scoop to make it easier.  I also spray the spoon with pam so the dough doesn’t stick.
  9. Bake for 8-10 more minutes until the cookies are golden brown
  10. Let the cookies cool on pan for 1 minute before placing on wire rack.
  11. Enjoy!

 

July 22, 2013

Butternut Squash and Mushroom Lasagna

Pasta carbonara, pizza Margherita, and a fresh panzanella salad.  I love classic Italian dishes, but sometimes I like to experiment.  I had to make a vegetarian dish for a dinner with friends, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to take a new look at lasagna, traditionally interweaving layers of pasta, ricotta, ragù, béchamel, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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But let’s take a step back. Many of you might be remembering that dire lasagna from church potlucks – soggy pasta and waterlogged ground beef.  I recall separating the pasta and pulling out clumps of tacky ricotta, while trying to remove the cracked fluted edges of noodle from the top layer.  Please, try not to associate frozen lasagna with a freshly made version – it’s not even comparable.

The key to this lasagna is the pasta, which lends a wonderful texture and coarseness to the dish.  Its chewy, dense consistency reminds me of traditional Italian pastas, perfectly al dente with a slight bite.  What I love about this dish is it’s combination textures from creamy ricotta, silky butternut squash, and an earthiness from the crimini mushrooms.  The luscious combination of ingredients can stand up to one another, and among all the flavors I can still pick out subtle hints of nutty parmesan.

This recipe is inspired by one I found in an old copy of Bon Appétit.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup salted butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 pound crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, diced (about 3 cups)
  • 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 5 1/2 cups)
  • 1 14-ounce carton vegetable broth
  • 4 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped and divided
  • 4 tablespoons fresh sage, sliced and divided
  • 3 15-ounce containers whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 4 cups mozzarella cheese, grated and divided
  • 2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated and divided
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 2 9-ounce package lasagna noodles.  (My favorite brand is Rustichella d’Abruzzo Lasagne all’uovo These noodles need to be boiled before being layered into your lasagna.  The original recipe calls for no cook noodles if you want to take out a step)

Method

  1. Melt butter into a large skillet over medium-high heat.  I recommend using a skillet with high sides so you can use one pan for all your steps – heads up you’ll need to simmer your squash and noodles in vegetable broth so pick a larger pan than you might think.
  2. Add onions and sauté until soft, about 8 minutes and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add garlic and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Increase heat to high; add mushrooms and cook until tender, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and then transfer the mushroom mixture to a bowl and set aside until you’re ready to assemble the pasta.
  5. In the same skillet, add squash, broth, 3 tablespoons thyme, and 3 tablespoons sage. Cover and simmer over medium heat until squash is just tender, about 6 minutes. Uncover and cook until squash is very soft but still retains shape, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Skim the squash from the skillet and set aside.  Don’t worry if it starts to fall apart a little, and discard the thyme and sage.  Keep any vegetable broth left over in the pan.
  7. Add 4 cups of water to the broth and bring to a low boil for your pasta sheets.
  8. While your broth comes to a boil, mix ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, spring onion, and remaining 1 tablespoon thyme and 1 tablespoon sage in large bowl.
  9. Mix in eggs and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  10. Once your broth is at a low boil, place pasta in broth and let simmer for 3 min.  Once slightly softened, you can turn off the heat and begin to assemble your lasagna.
  11. Brush 13x9x2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with oil. Spread 1 cup ricotta mixture over bottom. Arrange 3 – 4 noodles on top (I usually cut a few so I can cover the entire dish). Spread 13/4 cups ricotta mixture over noodles. Arrange 1 1/3 cups squash mixture over. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup mushrooms and 1 cup mozzarella. Top with 3 noodles, then 1 3/4 cups ricotta mixture, half of remaining squash, 1/2 cup mushrooms, and remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Repeat with noodles, 1 3/4 cups ricotta mixture, remaining squash, and remaining mushrooms. Top with 3 noodles. Spread remaining ricotta mixture over; sprinkle with remaining Parmesan.
  12. Cover with oiled foil.
  13. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake lasagna, covered, 35 minutes. Uncover; bake until heated through, about 25 minutes longer.
  14. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
  15. Serve with a fresh arugula salad!
October 15, 2012

Rosemary Tomato Basil Soup

Tomato basil soup paired with a stringy mozzarella grilled cheese sandwich is a classic.  It’s been copied and modified a million times over and I still think the traditional rosemary scented soup and crunchy buttered sandwich makes any Tuesday night a little more special.

Soup should really be considered it’s own food group.  I pride myself in being the sole person to order a warm tortilla soup in the middle of Houston summer, or chilled cucumber-melon bisque when it’s 20 below.  (I happened to have both melon bisque and puréed corn chowder with chili oil at my wedding.)  There’s something about soup I find utterly addicting.  The combination of flavors, the variety of textures, and most importantly the crunchy garlic croutons, crispy bacon, or fresh herbs that get delicately placed on top and slowly sink into the silky, savory bisque.

The roasted, sweet tomatoes combined with the tangy bite of rosemary sourdough bread soothes the soul and takes the edge off a brisk day.  The bread gives this soup a thick texture with a mouthy richness I often find missing in perfectly velvety broths.  Aromatic sweet basil with hints of mint and pepper brighten the flavor and offer you a taste of summer just when you think fall has taken over.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 cans stewed tomatoes, 28oz
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. salted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp. Italian seasoning
  • 4 large slices of sourdough rosemary bread
  • 3/4 cup light whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • Freshly sliced mozzarella cheese for topping
  • Basil for garnish

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the tomatoes, 2 tbsp. olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.
  2. In a heavy bottomed stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  3. Add butter and red pepper flakes and sauté for 10 minutes on medium heat.  Onions should become transparent but should not brown.
  4. Add stewed tomatoes, canned tomatoes (including juice), salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning in a large saucepan on medium heat.
  5. Bring to a simmer.
  6. Roughly tear the bread into smaller pieces and add to the pot.  I break up the bread so it’s easier to spoon out and purée.
  7. Next you’ll puree the soup in small batches, so I usually remove it from the heat and let it cool a little before I begin this process.  The soup should still have texture and not be completely smooth.  The soup will not be nearly as enjoyable if it’s perfectly silky in texture.
  8. Carefully puree, along with the basil leaves in small batches. You can use a blender, food processor, or better yet, one of those handy hand-held food blenders, right in the pot.  If you use a blender BE CAREFUL!  The heat will force the top off the blender and you’ll be cleaning soup off your ceiling for weeks, or you’ll burn your hands so just fill it up half way and pulse it gently.
  9. Return to saucepan and add cream and milk, while stirring, over low heat.
  10. Garnish with basil leaves, mozzarella cheese and serve with a warm slice of sourdough bread.

For a healthier version, leave out the butter and replace the cream with non-fat milk.  Enjoy!

October 10, 2012

Black Pepper Cranberry-Walnut Oatmeal Cookies

I have an influx of oatmeal in my pantry…  every time I go to the store I seem to think I’m out so I buy more.  And of course when I get home I realize I have pounds of it!  (I’ve had the same experience with foil and butter…. )  So I needed to find some ways to get through it apart from my morning breakfast.

Black pepper oatmeal cookies with cranberries and walnuts

Thankfully, oatmeal can be used for a variety of healthy and tasty treats… granola and cookies being two of my favorites.  The change of seasons also makes me warm up to those heartier breakfasts and the cold harsh winter in Houston.  OK, harsh is probably overdoing it but we did get snow my first winter in Houston!  After a few not-so-subtle hints from my husband I finally had a free evening to bake up some goodies.

Home-baked cookies seem to be the perfect vehicle for little warm nuggets of heavenly pecan, walnut and macadamia.  It’s the perfect amount of crunch to balance the chewy exterior, and helps level out the sugary sweetness of plain cookies.  These are buttery, chewy and indulgent, and the hints of black pepper and nutmeg give this traditional recipe an interesting twist.  The tart cranberries contrast well with the black pepper and allow both flavors to spark while not overpowering one another.  You’ll friends will know they’re different, but they won’t know why…

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup butter, melted (1½ sticks)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 cups traditional Quaker Oats (not quick cook)
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts (or your favorite nut)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Method

  1. Remove butter from fridge and let warm to room temperature.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  3. Place chopped pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 8-10 mins.  When you kitchen smells like heaven they’re ready.
  4. Remove from oven and let cool on the side.
  5. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Your cookies turn out so much better with parchment paper. I don’t know why but it works and then there is less to clean up!
  6. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and black pepper; set aside.
  7. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until it becomes a light cream color and fluffy in texture.  The color should significantly change from when you start, so just turn up that mixer and let it go!
  8. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk for 2-3 minutes until light and creamy.
  9. Mix in the flour mixture until just blended.
  10. Add the oats, walnuts and cranberries and mix with a wooden spoon. Mix until just blended.
  11. Use a tablespoon and scoop out small balls of dough onto parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 13-15 minutes. Do not over bake. The edges should turn very light brown, which is sometimes hard to see in the oven light, so I think I over baked these the first few times I made them.  The centers should still be slightly soft.
  12. Let the cookies rest on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes before transferring to a cooling rack (I usually try to eat one right off the tray and always burn myself… but it’s so worth it!
  13. Repeat and enjoy!
July 11, 2012

Capellini with Arrabbiata Sauce and Grilled Chicken Breast

I can’t bring myself to buy jarred pasta sauce when it takes less than 10 minutes to make it from scratch.  It just doesn’t compare to the bright flavors of freshly made pasta sauce – and it’s not just better tasting it also better for you.

The simplest, and most authentic marinara is a quick sauce, seasoned only with onion, garlic, pepper, and, if you like, basil or oregano. The pieces of tomato are left chunky, and the texture of the finished sauce is fairly loose.  It’s that easy. Toss with your favorite pasta and you’re weeknight meal is a quick trip to Italy!  Once you have this base, with just a few adjustments, you can make a range of sauces from a few simple ingredients.

Today we’re making Capellini with arrabiata sauce.  This dish’s name – arrabbiata – comes from the Italian word for “angry” because of the spicy tomato and red pepper.  The sweet tomatoes balance the heat from the peppers and will awaken any palate.  The salty, charred flavor from the grilled chicken offsets the heat and adds an element of texture to this luscious bowl of pasta.  No need for take out tonight, make a large bowl of pasta for your family and I promise you’ll go to bed with full bellies and a full wallet. 

Ingredients

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breast
  • 1 packet Capellini pasta (angel hair)
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, 8 oz.
  • 2 cans stewed tomatoes, 16 oz.
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp. Italian Seasoning
  • 2 tbsp. red-hot chili pepper (use more or less depending on the level of heat desired)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 tbsp. Fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
  • Handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped

Chicken seasoning

  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. Italian Seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Method

  1. Place large pot of water on stove to boil for the pasta.  Once it boils lower it to a simmer until everything else is ready.  The pasta only takes 4 minutes to cook so it’s the last thing you want to do, but you want to have the water ready to go.
  2. Place skillet on medium heat and add olive oil.
  3. Saute onion, garlic, salt and pepper for about 5 minutes.  You want the onions to turn opaque; you don’t want them to brown.
  4. Add diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes and tomato paste.  Stir in Italian seasoning and red-hot chili peppers and return to a low simmer.
  5. Carefully spoon out about half the mixture and place it in a food processor.  You can also use a blender but be careful and hold the lid down tightly since the heat will want to push it up.
  6. Blend half the sauce and add it back into the skillet.  This will add richness to the sauce while still keeping some texture.
  7. Add Parmigiano-Reggiano and lower heat to low.  Now it’s chicken time!
  8. Turn grill on medium~high (350 degrees)
  9. Mix chicken spices in a small bowl and sprinkle on top and bottom of chicken breast
  10. Spray hot grill with PAM and place chicken over direct heat.
  11. Close lid and cook for approx. 6 minutes, then flip and cook another 6 minutes with the lid closed.  Chicken’s done at 165 deg. There is no rare or med rare for chicken. You have to cook it done every time! Try not to prick the breast much, it will make the juices run out and cause it to be dry.
  12. Remove chicken from grill and let it rest while you cook the pasta.  Don’t slice immediately; wait until you’re ready to serve.
  13. Return water to a boil, salt water (1 tbsp. salt) and add pasta.
  14. Stir well and let boil for 4 minutes.  Start the 4 minutes as soon as you drop in the pasta.
  15. While pasta cooks, add parsley and basil to the sauce.
  16. Drain well and reserve a cup of pasta water to add to the sauce.  This thin pasta is very delicate and will turn to mush if you over cook it.
  17. Add drained pasta directly into sauce and stir.  Add some of the pasta water if needed; it will help loosen the sauce if it gets too thick.
  18. Fill a large bowl with a healthy serving of pasta and top with sliced chicken breast.

Diverti!

April 9, 2012

Dry Rubbed Seared Salmon

It’s officially springtime, and with Easter passing I’m beginning to go through my lighter dishes to go with the change of seasons.  I get giddy thinking about fresh grilled corn on the cob, summer salads full of fresh veggies, pears, apples and toasted nuts, and most of all the selection of fresh fish in the local market.  One of my all time favorites is salmon, however, one badly cooked salmon can turn me off for months, so I have to choose wisely when I dine out.  The dry, chalky taste of overcooked salmon is one of the most devastating things you can be met with at the dinner table.  Similar to a burnt cookie, overcooked pasta, or a hockey puck steak, overcooked salmon is a major offense in my book.  But when it’s done well, you’ll want to have it every day of the week.  The beauty of salmon is that it can pick up a variety of flavors, teriyaki, garlic, white wine and butter, and its meaty texture lends itself to a variety of cooking methods.  I don’t recommend cooking Dover sole on the BBQ, but a salmon can stand up to this summer time classic.

The delicate crispy, golden crust that forms on the outside is a perfect contrast to the juicy, meaty flesh.  It’s a symbol of summer and health, and gets you on the track to looking stunning in your new summer swimsuit.

Perfect pan-seared salmon demands on a very hot pan. Use a heavy cast-iron skillet, which heats evenly. Warm the pan before you add the oil – either extra light virgin olive oil or vegetable oil; this trick allows the pan to get it really hot without burning the oil. A preheated pan also requires less oil.  Once you master this method you’ll be able to whip up a gourmet dinner in less than 10 minutes – golden brown outside and tender inside.   I like to serve salmon with a fresh mixed green salad with a tangy vinaigrette, a refreshing contrast to the rich, yet delicate fish.

Ingredients

  • 2 6 oz. salmon fillets (skin on) one per person
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, coarse grind
  • 1 tsp. lemon pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. extra light olive oil
  • 2 tsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped

Method

  1. In a small bowl, mix garlic powder, rosemary, thyme, seal, pepper, lemon pepper, and ginger.
  2. Brush the salmon with olive oil on all sides.
  3. Take the spice mixture and generously coat both sides of the salmon.
  4. Set a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. When a drop of water skitters on the surface, add the oil.
  5. Tilt the pan to coat the bottom evenly and heat until the oil is almost smoking, about 30 seconds.
  6. Place the salmon skin side up in the cast iron skillet.
  7. Cook until golden brown on the bottom, about 4 minutes.
  8. Turn the salmon and cook an additional 3 to 4 minutes on the other side.
  9. Then lower heat to medium, place lid over skillet to trap heat and finish cooking an additional 2-3 minutes.
  10. With a minute to go, add a tbsp. of butter and let is melt in the pan, spoon it over the top of the salmon right before you turn off the heat.
  11. To check if the salmon in ready, stick a thin knife in the thickest part and gently look at the color inside.  It should be juicy and barely turning opaque.  If you over cook the fish it will be extremely dry and very white in color.
  12. When salmon is cooked enough to eat safely it will lose its translucency and become opaque. It should also flake easily when tested with a fork.
  13. Serve with a fresh salad and enjoy your very healthy yet tasty dinner!

March 13, 2012

Roasted Butternut Squash and Ginger Carrots

Piping hot out of the oven, or room temperature on a sizzling summer day, roasted veggies serve as a perfect side dish to just about anything.  The variety of flavors you can unearth from diverse spices and oils allow you to adapt your dish to go perfectly with a roast chicken, seared salmon, or simply grilled steak.

The irresistible crunchy, caramelized edges, warm tender center, and rustic quality remind me of Italy.  There’s a time and place for perfectly cut vegetables, but it’s not in my kitchen.  The more time I can spend enjoying the food and less time prepping the better, especially on a busy weeknight. No need to stress yourself over perfect knife cuts – I know chefs everywhere are cringing over that statement – but honestly, as long as they’re all about the same size they will cook evenly and that’s all you need.

The fresh, clean tang of ginger contrasted with the sweetness of the carrots help brighten their natural flavor.  Garlic slowly warmed in the oven with a coating of healthy olive oil; mixed with the deep, creamy earthiness of butternut squash is a blissful combination.  The two together were simply flawless, and set side by side with a grilled steak and you’ll feel like you’re in paradise (or an Italian vacation in the middle of Tuscany).

Garlicky Butternut Squash

Ingredients

  • 2 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp. extra light olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. black truffle infused olive oil
  • 1 tsp. coarse ground salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, coarse ground
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F
  2. Wash and peel squash, and cut it into bite size squares.
  3. Place squash in a glass baking dish and drizzle with extra light olive oil.  Extra light olive oil has a higher burning temperature so I find it better for roasting.  Due to valuable antioxidants and ability to help lower total cholesterol, I always use extra light olive oil as a substitute for butter, shortening and other vegetable oils.
  4. Sprinkle with garlic, salt, ground black pepper and crushed red pepper and mix with a spoon until the squash is evenly coated with oil and seasoning.
  5. Cover with foil and bake for 30 mins
  6. After 30 mins, remove foil and continue baking for 10 minutes
  7. Just before removing he dish from the oven, turn the broiler on high for a few minutes
  8. Watch the oven, as the broiler will be hot and will burn the squash if left unattended.  It goes quickly, all you’ll need is 2-3 mins.  Once the butternut squash gets a slight golden color to the edges remove from oven and let cool for 5 mins before serving.

Ginger Carrots

Ingredients

  • 8 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 inch piece of ginger, grated
  • 2 tbsp. extra light olive oil
  • 1 tsp. course ground salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, course ground
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 1/4 chicken bullion cube

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F
  2. Place all the squash in a glass baking dish and drizzle with extra light olive oil.  Extra light olive oil has a higher burning temperature so I find it better for roasting.  Due to valuable antioxidants and ability to help lower total cholesterol, I always use extra light olive oil as a substitute for butter, shortening and other vegetable oils.
  3. Sprinkle with garlic, salt and ground pepper and mix with a spoon until the squash is evenly coated with oil and seasoning.
  4. Cover with foil and bake for 30 mins
  5. After 30 mins, remove foil and continue baking for 10 minutes
  6. Just before removing he dish from the oven, turn the broiler on high for a few minutes
  7. Watch the oven, as the broiler will be hot and will burn the squash if left unattended.  It goes quickly, all you’ll need is 2-3 mins.  Once the butternut squash gets a slight golden color to the edges remove from oven and let cool for 5 mins before serving.

March 3, 2012

Chinese Meatballs with Udon Noodles

I didn’t grow up eating meatballs; they were very foreign to me.  I was raised on Italian Bolognese, shepherds pie, and bacon sandwiches.  Yes, bacon sandwiches are just as they sound, toasted bread, ketchup, and bacon.  I simple, peasant style dish originating in the UK, and often called the “hangover cure”.   But that isn’t on today’s menu.  Today we’ll be having a much healthier meal, but just as satisfying.    OK, back to the meatballs.

My idea of meatballs was a dense, dry rock of unseasoned meat, or if you want to get even classier, those artificially tasking Chef Boyardee meatballs swimming in a thin copper red sauce – a far cry from a basic tomato sauce.  I can’t remember where or when this happened, but I eventually got over my fear.  The variety of flavor combination you can get from one simple dish never leaves you bored.  Italian, Swedish, Irish, Spanish… each culture has their own take and I urge you to try them all, and make some of your own.  Now you don’t hear of a “Chinese meatball” very often, but why not?  I incorporated all the same flavors you get in a stir fry and toss it with some Japanese udon noodles and you have a perfect fusion of flavors and textures.

Once you pop these in the oven and the aroma will envelope your kitchen.  And on those stressful days where you want the comforting flavors on Chinese takeout, you can spare the menu and the cost and whip this up in under 30 mins and you can rest easy you fed yourself a well-balanced meal.   A Rachel Ray recipe I found a few years ago inspired this dish.  The original is delicious but I wanted to switch a few things up and make it easier to cook on a school night. The original recipe can be found at the following link.  Chinese Spaghetti and Meatballs by Rachel Ray

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 3 scallions finely chopped
  • 1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger root, grated
  • 4 cloves garlic, grated
  • 2 tablespoons Tamari (dark soy sauce)
  • 2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, 1 tbsp for the meatballs and 1 for the noodles, available on the Asian foods aisle of market
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt (you’ll have plenty of salt from the soy sauce)
  • 1 pound udon noodles, you can find them on the Asian foods aisle or substitute with spaghetti
  • 2 beef bullion cubes
  • 2 tablespoons extra light olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds, available on the Asian foods aisle of market
  • 1 zucchini, julienned
  • 1 yellow zucchini squash, julienned
  • 1 scallion, finely sliced for garnish
  • 3 tbsp. cilantro, roughly chopped for garnish

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Place a large pot of water with bullion cubes on to boil for the noodles. The bullion helps flavor the noodles without overpowering your palate with soy sauce.  When it comes to a boil.  Lower it to a simmer until you put the meatballs in the oven, then it’s time to bring it back up to a boil and cook your udon noodles, don’t worry, I’ll let you know when to come back to these.
  3. Place the pork in a mixing bowl along with an egg, five-spice powder, scallions, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, sesame seed oil, salt, pepper, and panko breadcrumbs.
  4. Mix gently but thoroughly with your hands.  If you use a spoon you will likely over mix the meat and you’ll end up with tough, dry meatballs.
  5. Form 1 1/2-inch balls and place on a baking sheet.
  6. Brush the meatball with extra light olive oil and roast for 15 mins.
  7. Now that the meatballs are in, bring your water back up to a boil.
  8. Follow the directions on the noodle package.
  9. While the noodles and meatballs cook, julienne the squash and zucchini and set aside for garnish.  Roughly chop a good handful of cilantro and thinly slice 2 scallions for your garnish.
  10. When your noodles are ready, drain and return to pan.
  11. Toss noodles in 2 tbsp. olive oil and 1 tsp. sesame seed oil.
  12. When the meatballs are ready, remove from oven and assemble your dinner.
  13. Begin by placing noodles at the bottom of your bowl.  Add meatballs and slices of zucchini.
  14. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds, scallions and cilantro.
  15. Enjoy!

February 28, 2012

Chocolate Chip Nutmeg Cookies (and extra crispy coffee chocolate chip for crunch lovers)

Soft or crispy?  It’s the never-ending debate for all cookie enthusiasts.  I personally go for a soft center with slightly crisp edges, but let’s tell the truth here… any cookie is hard to resist.  Cookies bring you back to your childhood, can turn around a stressful afternoon, and usually come along with friends, family and laughter.  I wouldn’t encourage eating a whole batch, but share them with your friends after a BBQ or a day at the beach and you’ll be guaranteed a good end to your meal.

I wanted to make a twist o the traditional chocolate chip cookie.  I know, why change such a perfect thing, but I always like to try something new.  Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.  (I tried adding lemon zest into a back to oatmeal cookies to give it a zesty flavor and they came out tasting like a cookie coated in pledge.  Fail.  This one however received much better feedback.)  As a spun my spice rack I noticed my nutmeg grinder looking sadly neglected after the eggnog-filled holiday months so I decided to break it out for the occasion.  The nutty, warm scent of nutmeg mixed with the almond extract gives this ordinary cookie a flavor that makes your willing cookie takers say, “mmm, what’s in these??”.  I made these especially for a coworker’s birthday and they were a big hit.  By 10am that morning all of them were gone.

And of course they cookies always seem taste better when they’re right out of the oven.  If you miss that freshly baked taste, pop a few in the oven at 350 for 3 minutes and enjoy.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 2 1/4 cups flour (unsifted)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tbsp. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Method

  1. Pre heat oven to 375°F
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, white sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until creamy and lightened in color.  I recommend mixing it roughly with a fork so the sugar doesn’t go flying around the kitchen when you turn on the blender.  Start slow and gradually bring up to medium until it’s a fluffy, creamy consistency.
  3. Add eggs one at a time, mix on low-speed until incorporated.
  4. And vanilla and almond extract and mix on low-speed until incorporated.
  5. In a separate bowl, stir flour, baking soda, nutmeg and salt.
  6. Gradually blend in the dry mixture into creamed mixture.
  7. Stir in chocolate chips.
  8. Drop tablespoon sized balls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  9. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown.
  10. Remove from oven and let cool for 1 minute.
  11. Carefully remove cookies with a spatula and let cool on wire racks for 2 minutes before digging in.
  12. Return for seconds, and then pack up the rest for later.

If you prefer crisper cookies, here’s a tip to making them more your style.  It’s about the eggs, skipping them results in a flatter cookie with a great crunch.  Super crispy, crunchy, chocolate chip goodness coming right up!

CRISPY COFFEE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Ingredients

  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/3 cups lightly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp. cold strong coffee (save a small amount from your morning brew)
  • 2 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. anise extract

Method for Supreme Crunch

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F
  2. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. This helps the cookies crisp by being closer to the heat source or at the very top where the heat accumulates.
  3. Line two large baking sheets with foil with the dull side up.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, and salt thoroughly and set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, combine butter, white and brown sugar, coffee, corn syrup, milk, vanilla and anise. Mix until smooth.
  6. Slowly add the flour mixture and continue to stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated.
  7. Add chocolate chips and stir until mixed.
  8. The dough will be very soft.
  9. Divide the dough in half.
  10. Divide one half of the dough into 10 equal pieces, each about 1/4 cup
  11. Place 5 pieces of dough least 3 inches apart on each lined baking sheet. Use your fingers covered with a piece of plastic wrap to flatten each scoop until it is 3 inches in diameter. Remember, the cookies will spread even more as they bake so leave room!
  12. Bake the two sheets for 8 minutes.
  13. Rotate the sheets from the top rack to the bottom and from front to back.
  14. Bake for 7-10 more minutes, watching closely, until the cookies are evenly dark golden brown all over. Pale cookies will not be crispy.
  15. Let cool on pan for 5 minutes.
  16. Slide the foil with cookies onto racks.
  17. When the baking sheets are cool, repeat with the remaining dough.
  18. Cool cookies completely before snacking, stacking or storing.
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