Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Recipe’

Baby W was born at 11:57 pm last night, after 42 hours of labor. There was time to make cake as well.

IMG_5133

Mini Blueberry Bundt Cakes

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup 2% low-fat milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Lemon Icing

  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons 2% low-fat milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

In a small mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in the egg, milk and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir into creamed mixture. Fold in blueberries.

Pour into three 4 inch bundt pans coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 350 for 25 to 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

For icing, in a small bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, milk and lemon juice; drizzle over cakes. Garnish with additional blueberries if desired.

NOTE: If using frozen blueberries, do not thaw before adding to batter.

Read Full Post »

There’s nothing like the anticipation of a new baby.

We had a baby shower for my sister a few weeks ago, and as expected, it was full of food, handmade gifts and more onesies than you can shake a stick at. By special request, I made his and hers diaper bags from Anna Maria Horner’s book, Handmade Beginnings. Erm. Have I mentioned that I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew when it comes to special occasions? (You’ll notice that there’s been a distinct lack of posting regarding my ongoing wedding planning. Suffice it to say that there will be several posts in September/October forming a grand unveiling of the sheer extent of my event-planning mania).

Point being, these were not easy patterns, at least not for me. On the upside, I learned so much more about my sewing machine, zipper installation, and why it is a bad idea to substitute poly/nylon strapping for 100% cotton strapping if you have any intention of ironing your work. Ditto for the plastic zipper. I also learned to despise working with Peltex II ultra-firm interfacing, while simultaneously falling in love with the little zippered pouch. And did I ever form a close relationship with my seam-ripper…

First up: “The Dad Bag,” for stylish metropolitan dads-on-the-go.

IMG_4998

I used an upholstery weight fabric for the outside (Also polyester. Really, what was I thinking? Let’s just say this bag is not flame retardant). For ease of sewing, I’d recommend actually reading and following the book’s instructions, and use a cotton home deco weight. Don’t even get me started on the interfacing. I think my sewing machine is still trying to forgive me.

IMG_5000

The bag is lined with a grey print from Robert Kaufman’s “Metro Living” collection, which I was very happy with. Inside the bag is a series of elastic loops for holding bottles and whatnot.

IMG_5003

Also included is a matching changing pad — a nice good size — that can be folded and stored in the front zipper pocket.

IMG_5006

Next up: the “Here We Go Bag” for Mom

IMG_5010

For my sister’s bag, I used an assortment of prints from Sandi Henderson‘s Meadowsweet line. Prior to picking out fabrics, I put together a quick fabric “style quiz” for my sister to help determine her tastes in modern quilting fabrics. Sandi was a hit, along with Jennifer Paganelli. Hmm, wonder if I can figure out how to make an online version of the quiz, just for fun. Why exactly are quizzes so irresistible, anyway? Another mystery of life…

IMG_5013

The design features box-pleated pockets on the outside (another successful learning experience for me!), a divider on the inside (less successful), and then I added a couple of simple inside pockets.

IMG_5012

This pattern also comes with a changing pad, although much smaller than the one that went with the Dad Bag. Hopefully not too small to be useful? I improvised piecing together a couple different fabrics for the front — mostly wanting to stretch out the brown print, which I only had a fat quarter of!

IMG_5016

The bag has an elastic loop in the upper left corner to hold the changing pad, but I decided to make a changing pad/diaper/wipe pouch as well, following this tutorial from Craft Buds. I liked the all-in-one aspect that allows you to just pull out the pouch and run to the ladies room without bringing the whole bag, if need be. I picked up a little plastic baby wipe holder for the inside pocket, so she can take just a small amount of wipes out with her. I might make it just a tad larger next time around (1/2 inch extra would do), as it’s a little snug once it’s fully loaded.

IMG_5015

By this time, I was in a full-on accessory crafting fury, and decided to try my hand at a zippered pouch to hold Desitin and the like. A quick Google search turned up a super simple tutorial by Skip to my Lou, and I was on my way. This was by far the easiest, and therefore most instantly rewarding, part of the whole sewing adventure. (Although piecing the front of the changing pad was fun too…) I see many more zippered pouches in my future — in fact, one for me is already in progress.

IMG_5032

And one more gratuitous shot of the full suite:

IMG_5035

Moving on to the shower itself: On Saturday, I hosted an informal BBQ shower for friends, featuring asparagus wrapped in prosciutto (a new family favorite), Italian and barbecue chicken style strombolis, Italian sausages with peppers and onions, hamburgers with Vermont cheddar, fruit salad, tortellini salad, and of course, cake and beer. I was, of course, a bit preoccupied with managing all the food, so didn’t get any photos, unfortunately. My mother and aunts threw the formal family brunch the next day, and while I can’t take credit for the food at that event, I was free to snap photos that are well worth the look! They truly outdid themselves:

IMG_5038

Olive Cheese Balls. These things are truly addictive. I think I single-handedly ate half a tray.

IMG_5046

Lemon-Parsley Gougeres

IMG_5050

Tomato Stuffed Peppers

IMG_5051

Simple green salad

IMG_5052

Prosciutto, mozzarella, and fruit salad

IMG_5053

Roasted Potato Tart with Fresh Tarragon, Sautéed Mushrooms, and Melted Gruyere, from Once Upon a Tart

IMG_5098

Chocolate Crackle Cookies

And finally, the pièce de résistance:

IMG_5101

Lady Baltimore Cake

Yeah, that whole getting carried away thing? It runs in the family.

And then…

And then your sister goes into labor, and the real meaning behind her pregnancy starts to hit home. A new life is making its way into the world. There’s going to be a new member of the family you already love so much.

But then time drags on, and nothing happens. You wait. You do what you always do, and keep your hands busy. You make a lasagna to take to the hospital. Seven in the morning crawls into seven at night, and you find yourself pacing, impotent to help. You eat the lasagna. You chat with family on the phone, send anxious text messages to the hospital. Bedtime comes, and you finally fall asleep, waking every two hours to glance with blurry eyes at your phone to see if a message notification has popped up. You wake up the next morning, and find yourself deliberating on whether you should write a blog post, or bake a little birthday cake. Blog or bake cake, blog or bake cake. And you realize that both options seem silly in the context. You decide that blogging at least lasts longer, and has less chance of being incidentally eaten. You find yourself reminiscing about your childhood, remembering your sister by your side through every step of your life. And you think of her in the hospital, in pain, and maybe, just maybe, shed a tear or two while you write.

I cannot wait to meet my new niece. I’ve been beset by a single image of holding her and feeling her wrap her hand around my finger for the first time. I love you already, Baby W. But for now, I wait.

Read Full Post »

Chicken Galliano

Chicken Galliano

I must start with an apology. No, not for dropping off the face of the planet for the month of April — I reserve the right to do that occasionally as the wedding-planning gods see fit. However, I apparently did not take step-by-step photos of the preparation of this meal. So, you’re just going to have to take my word that this dish required painstaking preparation, carefully honed culinary skills, blood, sweat, tears, and a promise of my first-born.

OK, not really. It’s actually a relatively unfussy dish. The most difficult part was obtaining the Galliano. It’s not the type of ingredient they carry at my usual  townie liquor store attached to a Tedeschi’s. Nor is it the type of thing that you can find in nip-size bottles, so be prepared to spend a good $30+ on a specialty ingredient.

A bit of a forewarning for those of you who, like myself, have not experienced Galliano prior to this recipe: the stuff is odd. Galliano is an Italian liqueur that is made from a blend of no less than 30 herbs and spices, and is best known as one of the key ingredients in the classic mid-century cocktail, The Harvey Wallbanger. It’s BRIGHT yellow and comes in a nifty bottle (these things are important, you know).

According to Wikipedia, “Galliano is marketed as an ‘ideal marrying ingredient’, which adds no intrusive flavor, but serves to deepen and give character to other ingredients, both ordinary and exotic. ” I personally could not disagree more. It added an unusual, quite distinctive taste to the recipe — strong anise flavor, and floral vanilla overtones. You may like it, you may not. Caveat emptor.

Fortunately for me, Mr. Manly liked it. Phew. Remember the “Mikey likes it” Life cereal commercials from the 70s/80s? Yeah, Mr. Manly is kinda like that.

I did, however, make one concession to Mr. M’s palate. My big discovery this year is that oftentimes his dislikes have less to do with flavor as they do texture. Seriously, this was a huge discovery for me, because texture is much easier to manipulate than flavor, which can often only be changed by way of outright omission. My kingdom to be able to cook something with peas in it! So, to avoid the dreaded rubbery wormlike texture of (gasp!) mushrooms, I minced them. Crisis averted. Have I mentioned how much I love mushrooms? This is groundbreaking, indeed.

Finally, can I point out the similarity to Chicken Saltimbocca? Chicken, prosciutto, cheese, pan sauce with alcohol… I love the way minor variations on a theme can create a totally new dish while using familiar methods of preparation.  Needless to say, the difference in cheeses and sauce and the addition of mushrooms drastically changes the taste of the dish. Chicken Galliano has a very complex flavor due to the Galliano, an earthy depth brought on by the mushrooms, and an extra richness due to the creamy goat cheese. It tastes like nothing I’ve eaten before. So why don’t you try it and let me know what you think? I’ll be at the bar drinking a Harvey Wallbanger…

Chicken Galliano
from Saveur Magazine, issue 131

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded 1⁄8″ thick
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 12 tbsp. herbed goat cheese, softened
  • 6 thin slices prosciutto
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled
  • 10 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced (or minced)
  • Flour, for dredging
  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 1⁄2 cups chicken broth
  • 1⁄4 cup Galliano liqueur
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
  • 4 cups cooked rice, for serving

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working with one breast half at a time, spread one side with 2 tbsp. goat cheese and top with one slice prosciutto; roll into a tight cylinder. Using kitchen twine, tie chicken roll 1″ in from each end. Snip off excess twine.

Heat 3 tbsp. butter in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, without stirring, until browned, 4–5 minutes. Stir mushrooms and continue cooking until softened, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate; wipe out skillet. Put flour on a plate; dredge each chicken roll in flour. Heat 2 tbsp. butter and the oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, turning, until browned and cooked through, 12–14 minutes. Transfer chicken rolls to a plate. Add broth and Galliano to skillet; boil, stirring, until sauce has reduced by a third, 4–5 minutes. Return mushrooms and chicken to skillet; cook, turning to coat in sauce, until warmed through, about 5 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a platter. Remove skillet from heat; swirl in remaining butter to make a smooth sauce. Spoon sauce over chicken; sprinkle with parsley. Serve with rice.

SERVES 4 – 6

Read Full Post »

This post is part of an ongoing series on Italian cookery, affectionately known as “The Spaghetti Capers.”

IMG_3537

You may remember that I previously professed my love for Barbara Lynch, with promises of more posts to come. I don’t remember when I first took a special interest in her career — I want to say it was after Sportello was featured in Saveur magazine, and I learned of her Italian venture? I was already an avid fan by the time she was featured on the cover of the Boston Globe magazine (great article — I encourage you to read it!); and was therefore thrilled when I stumbled across her segment on the Cooking Channel where she walks the viewer through the recipe for Ricotta Gnudi.

Ricotta Gnudi! What, you may ask, is ricotta gnudi, anyway? From what I’ve read, gnudi is, much like it sounds, the Italian word for nude. Can’t wait to see what kind of readers are going to stumble across my blog now that the words “nude Italian” are on here… Essentially, gnudi are akin to ravioli filling…with nothing enclosing them; instead, you roll them out like gnocchi. However, unlike gnocchi–or “little sinkers” as my grandfather always calls them–gnudi are absolutely pillow soft and light. It’s like eating happy little Italian clouds (channeling my inner Bob Ross).

The best way to make ricotta gnudi, of course, would be to make your own ricotta. My cheesemaking party plans have been stymied for the past year, however, so I was more than happy to use the fresh ricotta from Narragansett Creamery instead (see prior raves here and here).

Shall we kick off this gnudi party, then? Start by mixing together your ricotta with some flour, an egg, parmesan, salt and white pepper.
IMG_3472

Your dough will be super sticky and a little tricky to work with. This is a good thing — this is why the gnudi will be light and airy.
IMG_3473

Next, gently roll out your dough by hand into a log and cut into bite size pieces. Hard to work with = messy. This is OK. Embrace the mess. (That’s actually one of my mantras for the year…but that’s another story).
IMG_3505
Roll the pieces into balls and use a gnocchi board or back of a fork to make ridges on each piece. Note: I tried the fork method, and was highly unimpressed. I have since bought a gnocchi board and look forward to using that for future batches.

Once all your gnudi have been formed, place them on a tray and freeze them.
IMG_3509

In the meantime, start your sauce. I must say, like most Italians, I’m partial to my grandmother’s sauce. Disregard the fact that it’s actually my grandfather, not my grandmother, who is of Italian descent. Doesn’t matter. It’s my Noni’s sauce we’re talking about! That said, Barbara Lynch’s sauce is so easy and most excellent. And since the recipe is, well, a recipe and not a splish-splash of this, that, and the other, I expect I can make it with more consistent results. This may be my new go-to sauce.

Start by sautéing your veggies in olive oil. Note that it’s killing me a little inside not to add carrots, because I always add carrots to my sauce.
IMG_3513
Next, add your tomatoes and wine and simmer.
IMG_3517
Time to cook the gnudi! Carefully lower the gnudi into a pot of boiling water; I used a slotted spoon to avoid splashing. They don’t take long to cook at all, and the cool part is that they float to the surface when they’re done — it’s like nature’s turkey timer: POP! Done!

IMG_3524

I had to cook them in batches, so I just transferred the cooked gnudi to the pan of sauce to stay warm while I cooked the rest of the batches. Nothing left to do after that but spoon into bowls, top with some fresh basil and parmesan, and enjoy. It’s so good and well worth the mess. I’ve actually got a smile on my face just thinking about them.
IMG_3534
 
Ricotta Gnudi
from Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition, by Barbara Lynch

  • 1 lb. fresh ricotta
  • 1 c. flour + additional
  • 1 lg. egg
  • 1/3 c. finely grated Parm-Reggiano
  • 1 T. kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 c. Odd Fellow Marinara Sauce

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, 3/4 cup of the flour, the egg, cheese, salt, and pepper. Use a wooden spoon to mix ingredients together well. Lightly flour your work surface and a baking sheet for holding the shaped gnocchi. With floured hands knead the ricotta mixture briefly; it will be quite wet and sticky at this point. Dump the mixture out onto your work surface.

Cut off a piece of the gnocchi dough and try rolling it into a 3/4-inch thick log. If you can’t get it to roll, add a little more flour to the dough and try again. You want as little flour as possible to keep these together so the resulting gnocchi will be light and ethereal. Cut the log into 1-inch pieces and then into little balls. If you have a gnocchi board, hold it at a 45-degree angle over your floured baking sheet and roll each ball down the length of it to give the gnocchi grooves. As the gnocchi nears the end of the board, let it drop onto the baking sheet. If you don’t have a gnocchi board, hold a fork, tines facing down, and roll the ball down the length of the tines. Repeat until all of the dough is rolled and cut. Freeze the gnudi, about 1 hour. (Because they are so soft, they are much easier to handle so do this even if you plan to use them soon.)

To serve, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a gentle boil. In batches, drop the gnocchi into the water and cook until they float, about 1 to 2 minutes. As each batch cooks, remove them with a slotted spoon and keep them warm or transfer them directly to the sauce they are being served with.

Odd Fellow Marinara Sauce
also from Stir

  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ½ t. crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
  • 1 (28-oz.) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • ½ c. dry white wine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2-3 basil leaves

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is just tender but not browned, about 8 minutes.

Add the wine, increase the heat to moderately high and cook for a few minutes longer, until reduced by half. Add the tomatoes with their juice and ½ teaspoon salt. Simmer for 5 minutes, stir in the basil and season with pepper and additional salt, if needed. The sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Read Full Post »

I mean, really — aren’t all dinner parties “parties with benefits” in the end? You get to eat the great food AND keep the leftovers. Which is particularly nice when the leftovers include a bottle of Bailey’s. But let’s start at the beginning…

I invited my sister and her husband over for dinner last night, and presented them with the following menu options to pick from:

Menu 1

Menu 2
*Recipe is the same as the one in the link, with the following alterations, made by my grandfather: Omit fennel seeds & Sambuca. Double amount of pistachios, and substitute 1 c. chopped dried apricots for the figs. Increase the amount of flour to 2.5 c. Can substitute orange zest for lemon zest.

Menu 3
Unanimous prize-winning “Jo’s is the best” Brownie Pudding & homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

Menu 4

Can you tell I had asparagus that needed to get used up?

And the winner…

IMG_4764

MENU #1!

Except…oh, except…that french bread recipe did NOT work out at all. Two attempts and 12 CUPS of wasted flour later, I moved on to Plan B, which was orecchiette pasta with some homemade pesto I put in the freezer at the end of the summer. Save! I’m afraid the asparagus appetizer got eaten up before I thought to bring out my camera, which is probably the finest testimony to the success of that recipe you can get. So let’s just look at those gorgeous scallops again instead.

IMG_4763

The salsa was great, the scallops good, and the pasta heavenly, especially in the middle of this dreary winter. I still need to refine my scallop searing technique (I found a great tutorial here that I need to reread before my next attempt). I couldn’t find satsuma oranges, so I substituted tangerines for the juice and zest, and used blood oranges for the whole segments, because, well, they’re just so gosh darn pretty to look at, don’t you think?

IMG_4761

As for the cupcakes….they were AMAZING. And I clearly need to take a cake decorating class. Let’s recap: The recipe starts by melting two sticks of butter in Guinness. I pretty much don’t see how anything that starts like that can end badly. This eventually turns into Guinness Stout Cupcakes, which I made extra chocolatey by using an extra-dark cocoa powder. Next, you scoop out the centers (technically you should use a 1″ cookie cutter or an apple corer, but not owning either, I made do with a small melon baller).  After (ahem) “disposing” of the centers, you fill it with a chocolate whiskey ganache, made with Jameson’s of course. Next up? Yup. Top it off with Bailey’s frosting. My only edit to the recipe is that it calls for 3-4 cups of confectioner’s sugar for the frosting, and I probably only got through 2 cups before the frosting hit its saturation point.

IMG_4767

My sister thought the stout/yeasty beer flavor in the cupcakes was strong; the rest of us wanted it even stronger. The ganache filling was TO. DIE. FOR. I may or may not have eaten it by the spoonful while in the process of filling the cupcakes. The frosting was definitely on the sweet side (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”), and the Bailey’s flavor was perfect. In making these, I, of course, always went with the higher suggested amount of booze whenever it gave you an option in the recipe. And drank the leftover stout. And ate the leftover chocolate. And disposed of the cupcake centers in my stomach. And licked lots of wooden spoons and spatulas and paddles and fingers and… I’m going to change the name of my blog to “The Hygienic Chef.”

So, which menu would you pick if you were coming over to dinner? I’m pretty much dying to try them all, myself…


Read Full Post »

IMG_4401

How is it possible that I don’t yet have a tag for “chocolate” after 10 months of blogging? Consider that remedied with today’s post, and hopefully many future posts will follow suit. Before I get into the Mexican Chocolate Tart, though, I thought I’d do a pictoral recap of Thanksgiving. Credit where credit is due — the ONLY thing I contributed to Thanksgiving dinner was the chocolate tart — the rest of these lovely photos showcase my amazing aunt’s efforts.

For starters, we had a crudite of radishes, celery and black olives; my grandmother’s famous Pepper Clam Dip; and crostini topped with goat cheese and orange-fig preserves (below). The crostini were fabulous, easy…and therefore highly recommended for your next party!

IMG_4434

For me, the star of the show this year was the turkey itself. Incredibly moist with perfectly golden skin…Yum.

IMG_4428

And then there’s the stuffing. Stuffing will ALWAYS be my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner. This year, my aunt shook things up a bit, and in addition to her usual sausage and water chestnuts, added a medley of dried fruits — cranberries, blueberries, cherries, and plums. Delicious!

IMG_4452

On to potatoes. Rules for good mashed potatoes:

1. Use cream. If you’re gonna do it, do it all out.
2. Use a ricer. No more gluey potatoes!
3. Use horseradish. Yum.

Rules for FANTASTIC mashed potatoes:

1. Do all of the above…then add pancetta. Oh wow.

IMG_4453

For the artistic component of the program, may I present Bobby Flay’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranates and Vanilla-Pecan Butter.

IMG_4468

There was, of course, also gravy, squash, creamed onions, and (ahem) cranberry sauce, but those don’t make for nearly as exciting photos, so let’s move on to the pies, OK?

My family generally likes to go for a minimum 1/2 pie-to-person ratio, and I think we outdid ourselves this year. All the usual suspects were there: pumpkin, pecan, chocolate, pumpkin cheesecake….

IMG_4489

…and apple. Second only to blueberry in my personal hierarchy of pies.

IMG_4492

Finally, I brought my spicy Mexican Chocolate Tart, featuring Taza Chocolate from Somerville, MA. I originally made this tart for a holiday pot luck last year, and fell in love with the recipe. A forewarning: while it’s amazingly and utterly delicious, it’s also very rich. So this recipe gets filed in both the “Impress Your Guests” AND the “Eat Only Once A Year” categories of my mental recipe box.

We start by preparing our pecans for the top of the tart. Mix the sugars and spices with an egg white, and stir in the pecans.

IMG_4312

Place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake for about 20 minutes (or less). The recipe says 30 minutes. It LIES!  Once toasted, we just put the pecans aside for later and start in on the crust. It’s a simple crust of cookie crumbs, a hint of cinnamon, sugar, salt and melted butter pulsed together in a food processor. Here’s what mine looked like after being mixed up.

IMG_4320

Pat it into the pan (recipe calls for a tart pan with a removeable bottom — I don’t have one so here we go! No big thang.) Bake for 20 minutes. Here it is cooling. Notice how super neat and perfect my edges are 😉 Again, it doesn’t matter. It’s chocolate and it tastes good. And THAT matters.

IMG_4344

Prepare your filling while the tart cools. The recipe calls for an imported Mexican chocolate like Ibarra, but I simply couldn’t resist trying to incorporate a more local ingredient, so I headed down to Formaggio Kitchen to pick up some of Taza Chocolate’s Mexicano Chocolate Discs. The recipe calls for 3.1 oz., but Taza’s bars come in 2.7 oz packages, so I had fun playing a little mix-and-match, and used 2.7 oz of the cinnamon discs and the guajillo chili flavor for the remaining 0.4 oz.

Once you’ve made your filling, you just pour it into the pie and chill for 20 minutes or so for it to set. Now it’s decorating time! Use your pecans to create a pattern of concentric circles on the top of your pie. I start off by dividing the pie into quadrants as shown and then fill it in from there.

IMG_4382

IMG_4389

IMG_4391

Now comes the hard part. You need to chill your pie for 4 hours before serving. Oooh, waiting is hard. The worst part is, once you unveil your pie, you will very quickly only have this remaining:

IMG_4507

It really is wonderful…and popular. The cayenne in the pecans gives it a subtle kick, while the cinnamon in the filling and crust adds a spicy warmth to the tart. The texture of the filling is a cross between a truffle and fudge — dense, chocolately, melty. I’m really sad it’s all gone.

Mexican Chocolate Tart with Cinnamon-Spiced Pecans
from Bon Appetit, Feb 2007

Pecans

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1 T. light brown sugar
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/8 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 c. pecan halves

Crust

  • 1 c. chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (about half of one 9-ounce package cookies, finely ground in processor)
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 t. salt
  • 5 T. unsalted butter, melted

Filling

  • 1 c. heavy whipping cream
  • 4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 (3.1-oz.) disk Mexican chocolate (such as Ibarra), chopped*
  • 1/4 c. unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, room temperature
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. salt

* If you can’t find Mexican chocolate, you can substitute semi-sweet chocolate and cinnamon, 1/2 t. cinnamon per each oz. of chocolate. I did this the first time I made this recipe and it came out great!

For pecans:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Whisk all ingredients except pecans in medium bowl. Stir in pecans. Spread in single layer on sheet, rounded side up. Bake until just browned and dry, about 30 minutes (*OR LESS! I did 20 minutes). Cool on sheet. Separate nuts, removing excess coating. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

For crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Blend first 4 ingredients in processor. Add melted butter; process until crumbs are moistened. Press crumbs into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom, to within 1/8 inch of top. Bake until set, about 20 minutes. Cool on rack.

For filling:
Bring cream to simmer in medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolates; whisk until melted. Add butter, 1 piece at a time; whisk until smooth. Whisk in vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Pour filling into crust. Chill until filling begins to set, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Arrange nuts in concentric circles atop tart. Chill until set, about 4 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover loosely with foil and keep chilled.

Read Full Post »

IMG_3460

Is it really a digression if you start a conversation with an off-topic point? Hmm. Perhaps instead it’s just good old-fashioned rambling…

I’ve noticed over the past year of learning the ropes of blogland that many bloggers choose to protect the privacy of their loved ones by either referring to them with an initial or giving them some sort of pseudonym. By this logic, my fiance would become “[N]” or perhaps even “Mr. Crafter.” If you know “[N]” at all, you are no doubt doubled over laughing at the thought of him ever being referred to as “Mr. Crafter.” Having his privacy protected, on the other hand, is very much up his alley. That said, I think for the sake of this post, I will simply call him Mr. Manly.

Mr. Manly is, well, manly. And patient. Let’s just say that pretty much the entire premise of this blog is outside his area of expertise. But he has perfected the fine art of nodding and saying “yes dear” whenever I go off on a tangent about fabric, is incredibly skilled at turning a blind eye to the ever-growing craft area taking over the corner of our living room, and has, on multiple occasions, driven me all over God’s creation to search out a much-needed specialty ingredient for one of my cooking adventures. Most importantly though, he can EAT.

Mr. Manly has a birthday today. (Is it just me, or is this starting to sound like a children’s book? Mr. Manly woke up one fine Sunday morning to sunshine streaming through the bedroom window. He leapt out of bed, ready to face the day. After a twenty minute rant about the civil war, he proceeded to the kitchen to make Mrs. Manly her favorite breakfast of Eggs Benedict, fresh cinnamon buns, and a tall glass of Diet Coke. “My dear Mrs. Manly — can I please take you shopping at the mall now?” asked Mr. Manly… Oh wait. That’s not a children’s book, that’s fantasy.) Moving on… Moving on…

To celebrate his birthday, I, of course, will be making one of Mr. Manly’s favorite meals. Meal of choice this year? Chicken Saltimbocca. (Cue end of very long rambling-intro-digression.)

What I love about Chicken Saltimbocca is that it’s one of those meals that is so incredibly quick and easy, yet tastes and looks like something from a restaurant. What I also love is that you don’t really need a recipe; to be honest, I do it differently every time I make it. Sometimes I use thin pieces of chicken, sometimes whole breasts. Sometimes I roll them up, sometimes I leave them flat. Heck, sometimes when I’m feeling particularly lazy, I don’t even bother properly layering anything, and I just throw it all into a pan. In my book, pretty much any combination of cooked chicken breast, prosciutto, sage, Fontina cheese, and pan sauce can be called “Saltimbocca”. Italian culinary purists will tell you that a true Saltimbocca doesn’t have cheese in it (they’ll also remind you that it should be done with veal and not chicken); many Italian-American cooks will tell you it ought to be breaded. Since we’ve got to start somewhere, though, let’s take a look at a specific iteration I made a little while back, shall we?

This particular go round, I started with boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets. They happened to be on hand. I also happened to have on hand the best prosciutto in the world — the prosciutto cotto from Salumeria Italiana. To start, layer each piece of chicken with a slice of Fontina cheese, a slice of prosciutto, and a sage leaf.

IMG_3432

Next, roll the chicken up into a not-so-neat bundle, and secure with a toothpick.

IMG_3433

Salt and pepper the chicken bundles, then heat a skillet (preferably metal for a nice sear), add some olive oil, and put in your chicken. Cook in batches if needed so as not to overcrowd the pan.

IMG_3437

Especially with cutlets, your chicken will cook FAST. As in, just a few minutes per side. By the time you have a nice golden sear all around, the chicken will be cooked through.

IMG_3442

Note that in the picture above, it is NOT cooked all the way through yet — see the raw area in the piece on the left? Photo was taken just after flipping. Do also note the drool-inducing gob of melted cheese making its way out of the center of the piece on the right, however.

When fully cooked, remove the chicken from the pan, and set aside (you can cover with foil or put in a warm oven if you want to do it properly and keep it warm — I’m usually too lazy). Now it’s time to make your pan sauce. Start by deglazing your pan with either sherry or Madeira cooking wine. I don’t remember which I used this time — depends on which bottle I happen to grab first. For newbie cooks, “deglazing” simply means adding a little liquid to the pan you just used and cooking it over medium heat while scraping up all the little bits of caked-on meat left in your pan. It will make your sauce yummy. What’s nice about Saltimbocca is that usually you get not only little bits of chicken in your sauce, but also chunks of prosciutto. Keyboard is getting drooled on again…

IMG_3449

Start with a little liquid at first to loosen the bits of meat from the pan, and then add more as it starts to cook down. I like to also add some butter for flavor and a slightly thicker texture. You can also add a little flour or arrowroot starch if you like a thicker sauce.

Now, assemble the chicken on a plate, drizzle with sauce, and garnish with a pair of sage leaves. Enjoy!

IMG_3452

The original recipe I based this on is below; I’m afraid I can’t credit it properly as it was passed on to me by my Mom. You’ll see it is a bit different than what I’ve just described. Bottom line, no need to be fussy — just go with it!

I think this may be my most hunger-inducing post to date. Luckily for me, it’s time to go make some Birthday ‘Bocca.

Chicken Saltimbocca
serves 4

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves (~5 oz ea)
  • 4 oz Fontina cheese, thinly sliced
  • 6 oz prosciutto, thinly sliced
  • 16 large fresh sage leaves
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 c. Madeira

Slice the tenderloin (small flap of meat) off the chicken breast halves; set aside. Cut each breast on the bias into 3 medallions. Place tenderloins and medallions between two layers of plastic wrap and pound to 1/16″ thick. On each piece, layer a slice of Fontina, half a slice of proscuitto, and a sage leaf; secure by threading a toothpick through the layers. Sprinkle underside of each with salt and pepper.

Melt 1 T. butter in a skillet over high heat. Saute half the pieces, chicken side down, until golden, 2-3 minutes. Turn and cook 1 minute more. Remove from pan and keep warm. Repeat with 1 T. butter and remaining chicken. Remove and keep warm.

Pour Madeira into skillet and let reduce slightly, about 1 minute. Add remaining 1 T. butter and cook, swirling pan, until sauce thickens, about 30 seconds. Pour sauce over chicken, remove toothpicks, and serve immediately.

Notes: I’ve substituted other types of cheese before and it was still good, if different. Likewise, feel free to substitute sherry, Marsala, or white wine for the Madeira. Oh, and one last tip: Unlike the photos above, I’d recommend using non-colored/dyed toothpicks to secure your chicken. Just take my word on this one.

Read Full Post »

Tomatoes’ Last Hurrah

Am I the only one who refuses to acknowledge that we’re halfway through fall? In my mind, as long as the farmer’s market is open, it’s still summer. Sort of. Just turn a blind eye to all the squash and pumpkins and lack of corn and tomatoes, and you’re all set…

Before I move on to the second great love of my life (food, of course), some news about my first love, and an explanation as to why I’ve gone missing from blogging for the past few weeks:

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!

Reverting to my usual calm demeanor now. Wow, I can’t even type that with a straight face. Exciting stuff. No date set/wedding details as of yet, but suffice it to say good food will be involved.

Before I move on to new things, though, let’s hang on to the summer farmer’s market for just a moment longer. In the midst of being overrun by tomatoes, I ran across a recipe for Pasta with Baked Tomato Sauce, here and here. For my version, I did a combination of the two recipes, relying on heirloom grape tomatoes and torchio pasta from Italy. (As an aside — I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m not really that good of a cook…but I sure know good ingredients, and they make all the difference. Thanks, Mom!)

Check out how BEAUTIFUL these tomatoes are!

IMG_3770

Ready to cook now? Preheat your oven to 400° F. Start with some good fresh tomatoes of your choice, halving, quartering or generally chopping as needed to end up with pieces no larger than 1″ square. Place in a single layer in a glass baking dish with some olive oil.

IMG_3772

Top with equal parts panko and grated Parmigiano, a few cloves of diced garlic, salt & pepper, then bake for 20 minutes. Start a pot of water and cook your chosen pasta according to the package directions in the meantime.

IMG_3792

Now for the fun part. Once your tomatoes are done cooking, use a fork to mush your roasted tomatoes and breadcrumbs together. If you’ve used an heirloom variety, you will have a great time playing with color.

IMG_3796

Finally, mix in the cooked pasta, add some chopped fresh basil, and serve with passed Parmigiano. Gorgeous! And best of all, easy.

IMG_3809

In a final swan song, I also whipped up my grandmother’s Tomato Casserole and put it in the freezer to have as a special treat for my birthday in late January. Recipe below…

IMG_3231

Escalloped Tomatoes Somerset (Tomato Casserole)

  • 3 c. diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1 c. common crackers, rolled (can substitute oyster crackers or saltines)
  • 3 T. diced onions
  • 2 T. diced green peppers
  • 1/2 c. diced celery
  • 1 c. common cheese (i.e. cheddar), cut fine
  • 1/4 c. melted butter
  • 1/4 t. paprika
  • 1/2 t. salt

Make sure that everything has been chopped FINE. Combine all ingredients and turn into a buttered casserole dish. Bake at 350° degrees for 20 minutes.

As an aside, a Google search for “Scalloped Tomatoes” will bring up many, many iterations of an Ina Garten version of this casserole, as poularized by Smitten Kitchen. It looks fine and all (almost a combination of the two recipes here?), and who am I to argue with a Contessa, but… she’s wrong. This is the recipe to make. Because my grandmother makes it. And NO ONE can argue with my grandmother.

Ah. OK, maybe I can move on to squash dishes now that I’ve got all that tomato goodness out of my system. Just as soon as I get back from the beach. Isn’t denial wonderful?

Read Full Post »

OK, so everyone make their own batch of pesto? No? Just jump down to the previous post for the recipe. Don’t feel like it? That’s OK too. You can go ahead and just look at the pictures. I won’t judge.

As a back story to this, you should first know that I have been completely and totally OBSESSED with tomato, basil, mozzarella sandwiches this summer. It’s one of the only recipes of which I will confidently stand up and say that you will find no version better than mine. I’ve tried caprese sandwiches in restaurants and margarita versions in sandwich shops…nope. Mine’s better. It’s better than the version they sell at the Iggy’s stand, even.

IMG_3671

Now, it’s a sandwich, so I can’t take credit for it based on my culinary prowess or anything like that. It’s all about the ingredients. For the best sandwich ever, follow these steps exactly. You’ll notice that you’re at a distinct disadvantage if you don’t happen to live in the Boston area.

1). Bread: Must be Iggy’s Francese. No other bread will do. I’ve tried it. The ONLY acceptable substitute I’ve found is the Concord loaf from Hi-Rise Bakery in Cambridge.

2). Tomatoes: Fresh farmer’s market tomatoes. In August. The sandwich just doesn’t taste the same in September, and certainly not October. Sigh. I like it equally well with a standard tomato or an heirloom variety. The heirloom will be a little sweeter, the red will impart more traditional Italian flavors. Place two thick slices (about a quarter inch) on your bread.

IMG_3251

3). Fresh mozzarella: I strongly recommend Narragansett Creamery for your mozzarella. Don’t get me wrong, I love Fiore di Nonno just as much as everyone else, but Narragansett’s mozzarella is just in a category of it’s own. Get the balls in water if you can — they will be the softest, creamiest mozzarella you’ve ever had. And with that, I just started salivating. Put 2-3 quarter inch slices on top of the tomatoes.

4). Fresh basil: top your mozzarella with 4-6 leaves basil.

5). Dressing: another key. First, drizzle liberally with extra virgin olive oil. I tend to use a basic Filippo Berio — but I’m sure it would be even better if you had a nice expensive gourmet olive oil. Christmas is coming if anyone wants to buy me some 😉 Next, drizzle balsamic glaze over the sandwich. I use Blaze and I swear by this stuff. Need to order more as I’m running low after this summer. It’s fantastic on roasted zucchini as well.

IMG_3267

6). Sea salt: also key! Any brand will do I suppose, so long as it comes in a grinder. You want the big chunks you get that way. Sometimes I’ll also do a little bit of fresh ground white pepper as well, but that’s completely optional.

IMG_2649

If you’re feeling kindly towards your meat-loving significant other, you can also make it with bacon, but that’s really just gilding the lily. Either way, serve with plenty of napkins.

IMG_2657

Um. Hungry Crafter? That’s wonderful, and it looks delicious, but… I thought you were going to talk about what I should do with this pesto I just made? Ah yes. I get a little excited when I talk tomato, basil, mozzarella. I needed to do it justice. This is going somewhere, I promise.

Now that you understand the depth of my sandwich obsession, you can understand what it means for me to fiddle with perfection. But fiddle I did! As soon as I made the pesto, I knew there was one thing I had to try right away. Tomato, pesto, mozzarella sandwich. Grilled.

IMG_3756

For this sandwich, I simply slathered some pesto on one of the slices of bread, layered on the mozzarella and tomato, and got ready to grill. No need to drizzle with oil, as there’s oil in the pesto; no need for salt, as the parmesan in the pesto provides enough of a bite. No Blaze, either — I wanted to let the pesto flavor shine. I did, however, use a pastry brush to dab some olive oil on the outside of the bread prior to grilling, to ensure a nice golden brown crunch.

IMG_3762

The verdict? Sometimes perfection is worth messing with.

IMG_3763

OK, so we’ve put pesto on a sandwich, we’ve eaten it on bread for snacks… How about a meal? Simplest thing ever: Boil water. Cook some pasta. Stir in pesto. Send your tastebuds on a trip to heaven.

IMG_3834

My only recommendation is to use a pasta shape that will hold the sauce well — think ridges and cupped shapes. See how you get little pockets of pesto with the Farfalle Rotonde? Be sure to pass some grated parmesan at the table as well. There’s no such thing as too much cheese.

Read Full Post »

What a great food year it’s been! I’ve discovered that I do in fact like fennel and chowder (and fennel chowder), learned better ways to chop peppers and onions, explored the wonders of the fava bean, eaten my first zeppoli, developed an unhealthy obsession with Iggy’s Francese bread, and forever banned Vlasic pickles in favor of Claussens. As an aside — seriously? I have been MISSING OUT for years! I had no idea the difference between the shelf-stable, ho-hum excuses for pickles you find in the middle aisles of the grocery store compared to the crunchy, tasty, lip-smacking goodness of a pickle from the refrigerated deli section! If you haven’t made this discovery yet, RUN, do not walk, to your nearest grocery store and do a taste test. May I never eat those things I used to call “pickles” ever again. Pickle rant aside…What’s the point of all this, you may wonder? On to my latest revelation: I like pesto! When it’s done right, that is.

IMG_3743

It all started with the basil, of course. After sampling several vendors, I can safely say that the Siena Farms stand is THE place to get your basil if you frequent the Copley Square Farmers Market.  For one, their bunches are big, full, and include more stems in each bunch than most other stands. More importantly, they’re the only stand I’ve found that give you the entire stem — including the root! What this means is that your basil — kept in a cup of water on your kitchen counter — lasts twice as long as a bunch without the roots.

Inspired by the abundance of basil (and emboldened by my many new taste acquisitions of the year), I decided that I needed to give pesto another shot. I do love basil, after all; it was the pine nuts that made me squeamish before. For this adventure, I knew I didn’t want to mess around. I wanted to go to a proper authority for the recipe to get the best pesto possible. In my mind, this means one thing only: the good folks over at Cook’s Illustrated. If you’re not familiar with them, they approach recipe writing like scientists, doing lab test after lab test until the final recipe is perfected. They did not let me down.

Classic Pesto

Abridged from Cook’s Illustrated, The Best Italian Classics

  • 1/4 c. pine nuts
  • 3 med cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 2 c. packed fresh basil leaves
  • 7 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 c. finely grated Parmesan cheese

Toast nuts in a small, heavy skillet over med heat, stirring frequently, until just golden & fragrant, 4-5 minutes. Set aside.

IMG_3722

In same pan, toast the garlic cloves, shaking pan occasionally, about 7 minutes. Cool, peel, and chop.

Place basil in a large ziploc freezer bag, and use meat pounder or rolling pin to bruise all leaves.

IMG_3729

Combine nuts, garlic, basil, olive oil & salt in a food processor; process until smooth.

IMG_3735

Transfer mixture to a small bowl and mix in the Parmesan; add salt as needed to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and use within 3 days.

IMG_3739

It was so very, very good. As in, it’s all I can do to keep myself from running back out to the market and buying out their entire inventory of basil so I can make this by the bucketful. I was talking pesto with my mom prior to trying out the recipe, bemoaning how most jarred pestos tend to be overly oily at best, cloying in taste at worst. Not this pesto! Even the resident picky eater of the house liked it, and we happily slathered it on bread (Iggy’s Francese, of course) as snacks in between using it for meals. Next blog post: what we DID with the pesto! Get your food processors out and make some up so you can join in the fun!

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: