December 16, 2008

Brie is Proof That God Loves Us and Wants Us To Be Happy

I love brie cheese so much that I normally can't make any recipes with it because I usually end up eating it prior to cooking with it. However, for a recent get together, I used all the willpower I had and didn't eat the brie right out of the fridge so that I could make a baked brie appetizer.
My baked brie looked a little ugly because I was impatient with the puff pastry, but the looks are more than made up for in the gooey, sweet, savory, perfect flavor!

Baked Brie

½ Package (i.e., 1 sheet) Frozen Puff Pastry
1 egg
¼ cup dried cherries or cranberries chopped into tiny pieces
¼ cup toasted pecan pieces
¼ cup honey
½ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary)
1 teaspoon hot water
1 small- to medium-sized round Brie cheese

Thaw the pastry sheet at room temperature until it's easy to handle (about 1 hour).

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When defrosted, unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface and roll the pastry sheet with a rolling pin to seal any cracks in the pastry that may have occurred if you were impatient and unfolded it before it was ready (like I did). Be sure to roll it well (not like I did) if you want it to look pretty.

Stir the diced cherries or cranberries, pecan pieces, honey, rosemary and hot water in a small bowl. Spread the cherry mixture into the center of the pastry square and then top with the cheese round.

Beat the egg in a small bowl with a fork and then brush the edges of the pastry with the egg.

Begin wrapping the pastry over the cheese, trimming the pastry as needed to avoid too much dough in one place. Press the edges together to seal the pastry. Place the wrapped cheese seam-side down on an ungreased baking sheet and then brush the pastry with the beaten egg. If desired, decorate the top with pastry scraps (don’t forget to brush the decorations with the egg.)
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is deep golden brown. Let stand for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve with crackers or thin slices of French bread.

Cowboy Caviar: A Little Work, Alot of Flavor

I love having company over but I hate being stuck in the kitchen when I would rather be visiting with friends and family so I rely on some easy make-ahead appetizers to keep everyone happy and "unhungry" when they come over for an afternoon visit.

One favorite I rely on is my black bean dip, affectionately named, Cowboy Caviar. It's super easy and is always a big hit at home, at tailgates and at potlucks. Give it a try at your next gathering....

Cowboy Caviar*

1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1 small can chopped olives, drained
1 small onion, diced
1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1-2 teaspoons lime juice
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼teaspoon chili powder
¼teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup tomatoes, diced
½ cup Monterrey Jack or cheddar cheese, grated

Spread the cream cheese onto bottom of a serving plate (a 9 inch pie or quiche plate works nicely). Meanwhile, mix the beans, olives, onions, lime juice, oil and spices together and spread evenly over the cream cheese. Top with the diced tomatoes and Monterrey Jack cheese and garnish with chopped green onions, if desired. Serve with tortilla chips.

*Make at least 2 hours in advance of serving so flavors have time to meld.

December 08, 2008

Recession-Friendly Hostess Gift

It’s that time of year again—which means parties, parties and more parties. Yay!! But all those bottles of wine we've been bringing to the hostesses have really begun put a dent in our Christmas fund, so when an invitation arrived in the mail the other day, I vowed that instead of dropping more cash at the liquor store, I would take the time to make a nice homemade gift to bring the hostess. I chose to make caramel popcorn and put it in a pretty Christmas tin.

It was so easy and sooo budget friendly-I hope the host and hostess liked the treat halfway as much as the Husband and I liked celebrating the season with all our friends on Saturday night.

Caramel Popcorn

½ cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
¼ cup corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
10 cups popped popcorn (from 2/3 cup kernels)
Optional ingredients:
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts
1 to 2 1-Oz. semi-sweet chocolate baking squares
1 to 2 1-Oz. white chocolate baking squares

Pop popcorn in an air popper or in a large pot over the stove top and set aside in a large bowl. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 250. Next, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Once the caramel mixture is boiling, boil without stirring for 4 minutes. Remove the caramel sauce from the heat and stir in baking soda and vanilla. Pour the caramel in a thin stream over the popped popcorn (and peanuts, if using), stirring gently to coat.

Place the coated popcorn in a large (or two medium) shallow baking dish(s) and bake in preheated oven, gently stirring every 15 minutes, for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. (For added sweetness, drizzle caramel popcorn with a tiny bit of dark or white chocolate or both!)

December 05, 2008

Don’t Let This Great Pumpkin Pass You By

It’s usually difficult for people to admit to their flaws, but I have no issues admitting one of mine: My pies suck. No matter how many times I try, no matter how closely I follow a recipe, they're simply inedible. You would think that with a mom who is known to “make the best pies in the world,” I’d be able to come up with something halfway decent but so far, I’ve had no such luck.

That’s why I was thrilled when I came across a recipe for a delicious pumpkin pudding. It’s basically a piece of pumpkin pie, without the baking, the hassle and for me, the disappointment. This pudding is also a relatively healthy way to end any fall or winter meal and the best part is that it can be ready in about 5 minutes.

Quick Pumpkin Pudding (inspired by Health Magazine)

2 cups pumpkin puree (fresh or canned)
¼ cup low-fat cream cheese
2 Tablespoons low-fat vanilla yogurt
2 Tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Cinnamon, nutmeg, mint leaves and whipped cream for garnishing.

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until combined. Add additional honey and spices to taste. Divide into 4 ramekins and garnish with cinnamon, nutmeg and mint leaf.

October 20, 2008

Is it possible to fall in love with food?

I love fall foods, especially, butternut squash. I also love cooking indulgent, yet easy meals on Sundays and making a dinner that covers both bases is exactly what I did last night. I made butternut squash risotto-a dish that was a huge hit and left both of us feeling a lot like George Costanza's date in that hilarious Seinfeld episode about the risotto she ate...........
mmmmmmmmmmmmmm mmmmmmmmmm mmmmmmmmm One bite and you'll be ready to move in! :)

Chef’s note: When you make this, you’ll be standing at the stove for a while so be sure to have a glass of wine close by before you start.

Butternut Squash Risotto

Caramelized Squash
1Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
12/ large butternut squash, peeled, and diced into 1/4-inch cubes
Dash salt
Dash pepper
1 Tablespoon brown sugar

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Cup minced onion (I used red onions but white onions will be fine)
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup Arborio rice
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

To gently caramelize the squash: Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter and oil together over medium heat in an oven-safe sauté pan. Add the squash cubes and season with a dash of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is slightly tender, about 4 minutes. Add the brown sugar and gently stir until the sugar is well-incorporated but not burning, about 3 minutes. Place the sauté pan in the oven and cook the squash for 10-15 minutes, until cooked through but not mushy. Set aside.

Meanwhile, to make the Risotto: Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the rice, stirring constantly, until the rice is coated with the oil and it turns a milky opaque white color, about 2 minutes.

Deglaze the pan with the wine, stirring constantly, and cook until the wine is completely reduced and absorbed by the rice. Slowly add about ½ cup of the broth at a time, stirring more or less constantly through each addition, until all the stock is almost completely absorbed by the rice. This should take about 20-25 minutes.

Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the caramelized squash, the Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley and prepare to be completely satisfied.

September 29, 2008

A Garden Grows in Baltimore

The Husband and I are huge chili aficionados, and a few years ago, we were lucky enough to be judges at the National Kidney Foundation’s Chili Cook-Off in Washington, DC. We tasted some mighty fine chili as judges and have been working on our winning recipe ever since. We almost have our wining recipe for red chili down pat, but since it’s not winter yet, we opted for a bowl of green chili last night to help use up the plethora of peppers I harvested from my rooftop garden.

According to the International Chili Society, green chili is only competition-worthy if you use only green chilies but I think purely green chili looks a little bland, plus it was impossible to time the garden harvest just right, so I used mostly green, but some ripened, red chiles in this dish.

The recipe is a little involved but the end result is totally worth it!

(Mostly) Green Chili
[Chef's Note: Don't overlook this recipe just because it's not that photogenic! It's really good.]

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and ground black pepper
3-5 medium Jalapeño peppers (stems, seeds and white pith removed and cut into pieces)
3-5 Serrano pepper (stems, seeds and white pith removed and cut into pieces)
3 Poblano peppers (stems, seeds and white pith removed and cut into large pieces)
2 Anaheim or Cubanelle peppers (stems, seeds and white pith removed and cut into large pieces)
1 large sweet onion, cut into large pieces
3 cloves garlic
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 (14.5-ounce) can Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1½ cups chicken broth
1/3 cup masa flour (or 20 crushed tortilla chips)
Juice of one lime
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
Sour cream, scallions, lime wedges, fresh cilantro and fresh diced jalapenos for serving.

Wearing gloves or working very carefully, remove and discard the ribs and seeds from the Jalapeño, Serrano, Poblano and Anaheim chiles. In a food processor, pulse the chiles, onions and garlic for about 15-20 times. Set aside.

Meanwhile, season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large pot over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the chicken and cook without moving it until the outside is golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

Adding additional oil to the pot, if necessary, add the pepper/onion/garlic mixture and cumin to the pan, and reduce the heat to medium. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, about 10 minutes.

While peppers are cooking, add ½ of the can of beans and ½ cup of broth to a food processor and process until smooth, about 20 seconds.

Add the bean/broth mixture, the remaining broth, the masa flour (or tortilla chips) and the seared chicken breasts to the pot and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the remaining beans and continue to simmer, uncovered, until beans are heated through and chili has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.

Using tongs, transfer the chicken to cutting board and shred it, or alternately, slice it very thinly.
Stir in the shredded chicken, lime juice and cilantro into the chili and return it to a simmer. Add salt and pepper as needed and serve the chili with sour cream, diced onions, diced jalapenos, fresh cilantro and lime wedges.

How to Be a Man Magnet

Lesson 1: Make my “It’s Raining Men Dip.” The minute you put this on the table, every man in a 50-mile radius will be at your house drooling over this delicious concoction.
If you already have a man, try the recipe anyway. This’ll keep him happy for a long time to come! This dip is perfect for Super Bowl Sunday, or any football day for that matter.

It’s Raining Men Dip
(aka Buffalo Chicken Dip)

1 8-ounce package cream cheese
½ cup blue cheese salad dressing (Ken’s brand is best)
½ cup Buffalo Wing Sauce (Sorry, Frank, but Ashanti brand is the best)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2-3 cups shredded cooked chicken (from a grocery store rotisserie chicken)
2 scallions, sliced (green parts only)
Celery Sticks and Tortilla Chips for Dipping

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the cream cheese into a medium-sized microwave safe bowl. Microwave the cream cheese for 45 seconds to soften it slightly. Whisk in the salad dressing, Ashanti Wing Sauce, Salt and Pepper until smooth. Stir in the shredded chicken until just coated (over mixing here will make your shredded chicken gummy). Spread the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate and drizzle the top with additional wing sauce, if desired. Bake the dip for 15-20 minutes, until mixture is heated through and edges are bubbly. Cool slightly and top with sliced scallions. Serve with celery and tortilla chips.

September 08, 2008

“I’m Sweet Enough Already”

That’s my silly excuse for never eating dessert. Though, the truth is, I just don’t have much of a sweet tooth and I really don’t like to bake all that much. However, every once in a while, I feel a hankering for some cake and this Reduced-Fat Lemon Blueberry Bunt Cake is my a standard “go to.”

I really made the cake for myself the other day, but I was nice and shared some with my mom, the Husband and my office girlfriend. They all gave raving reviews. See what your friends and family have to say, that is, if there are any leftovers after you cut yourself a generous piece.

Reduced-Fat Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake

Cooking spray
2 Tablespoons sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1¾ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
4 large eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (16-ounce) container Reduced-fat sour cream
2 cups blueberries (Fresh or Frozen)

¾ cup powdered sugar
1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a Bundt pan with cooking spray and dust it with the 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and then set it aside. Meanwhile, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Place 1¾ cups granulated sugar, butter, and rind in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 2 minutes). Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition (about 4 minutes total). Beat in the vanilla and the sour cream. Add the flour mixture slowly and beat at medium speed until it is just combined. Gently fold in the blueberries. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for about 20 minutes and then remove the cake from the pan. Cool completely on wire rack. To prepare the glaze, combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice, stirring well with a whisk. Drizzle over cooled cake.

September 05, 2008

Useless Holiday or Culinary Inspiration?

August is National Goat Cheese Month so in honor of this ever-so-important US holiday, I featured the delicious heirloom tomatoes I bought at the Baltimore Farmer’s Market in a modern caprese salad.

I know you’re thinking that I haven’t blogged in a month and this is all I came up with, but I’ve been away from home more than I have been there this summer so this is it for now. Excuses aside, this is a very yummy salad and I suggest you try it while fresh tomatoes are still available.

Goat Cheese Caprese Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

3 medium-sized fresh tomatoes (heirlooms if possible)
1 cup of fresh basil leaves
A small log of your favorite goat cheese
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons White Wine Vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Process the basil, olive oil and vinegar in a blender or food processor on low until everything is combined (about a minute), scraping down sides of mixer bowl as necessary. Drizzle the dressing over alternating layers of sliced tomatoes and sliced or crumbled goat cheese. Sprinkle salad with salt and pepper to taste.

August 05, 2008

Twist and Shout!

Soft pretzels are an awesome Sunday afternoon “snacktivity” to do with kids of all ages.

The twisting was a little challenging at first, but the shouting obscenities came easy when I added the baking soda to the hot water too quickly and had a 3rd grade baking soda volcano explode all over the stove (and floor, and myself, etc.). The pictures of the mess are entirely too embarrassing to post here, but the pretzels were worth the clean up effort.

The pretzels are great right out of the oven but they also store well in the freezer. The frozen pretzels make a fun accompaniment to a quick weeknight dinner salad.

Soft Pretzels:
1½ cups warm water
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 package active dry yeast
3 ounces butter, melted
2½ teaspoons kosher salt
4½ to 5 cups all-purpose flour

3 quarts water
¾ cup baking soda
2 whole eggs, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
Coarse sea salt

Line 2 half sheet pans with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. Combine the water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the dough hook until combined. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Add the salt and flour to the bowl and mix on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and continue mixing until the dough is smooth and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl, about 3 to 4 minutes. If the dough appears too wet, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Remove the dough from the bowl, place on a flat surface and knead into a ball with your hands.

Oil a bowl with a little bit of vegetable oil and add the dough to the bowl, turning to coat it with oil. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Bring the water to a boil in a small roasting pan over high heat and add the baking soda SLOWLY!!!!!!!

Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a flat surface. Divide the dough into about 10 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope measuring about 18 inches and shape pretzels by shaping each rope into a “U”, crossing the two sides of the “U” over each other and twisting and pressing the ends down on the pretzel.

Boil the pretzels in the water/baking soda solution, 2 at a time for 30 seconds, splashing the tops with the warmed water using a spoon. Remove with a large flat slotted spatula.

Place 4 pretzels on each baking sheet and brush the tops with the egg wash and season liberally with the salt. Place into the oven and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden brown.

Remove to a baking rack and let rest 5 minutes before eating. Dip into desired sauces.
To reheat: Place frozen pretzels in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes, or until heated through.

July 09, 2008

Buried in Berries

Picking berries is one of my favorite summer activities. I’ve been doing it for as far back as I can remember with my mom, grandma, and even my great-grandma. I didn’t have any help picking from the old folks (sorry, mom!) this year but I had a record harvest nonetheless….22 pounds of strawberries and 16 pounds of blueberries!

I made some fresh jam with some of the strawberries and froze the rest of the strawberries for my favorite breakfast treat, smoothies, and pancakes and muffins in the fall.

Easy Strawberry Jam

2 cups crushed strawberries
4 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl
3/4 cup water
1 box Sure Jell Fruit Pectin
5 (1-cup) containers (washed and dried thoroughly)

Crush strawberries thoroughly, 1 cup at a time. Measure exactly 2 cups prepared fruit into a large bowl. Stir in sugar and let stand 10 minutes (stirring occasionally).

Mix water and pectin in a small saucepan. Bring to boil on high heat, stirring constantly. Continue boiling and stirring 1 minute. Add to fruit mixture and stir for at least 3 minutes or until sugar is dissolved and no longer grainy.

Fill the containers immediately to within ½ inch of tops. Wipe off top edges of containers and immediately cover with lids. Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours. Jam is now ready to use. Store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks or freeze extra containers up to a year. Thaw in refrigerator before using.

With some of the blueberries, I made the Husband’s favorite, Blueberry Turnovers.

Blueberry Turnovers

1½ cups flour
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening, solid vegetable, chilled, cut into small pieces
4 Tablespoons ice water

2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon water
1½ cups blueberries
1 Tablespoon sugar

1 egg, slightly beaten

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and salt together. Using a pastry blender, cut shortening and butter into the flour mixture until coarse crumbs form. Stir in water, 1 Tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork until a soft dough forms. Shape into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 1 hour.

To prepare filling, dissolve the cornstarch in the water. In a medium saucepan, heat the blueberries and the sugar over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil. Add the cornstarch mixture, stirring constantly until thickened. Remove from heat and cool .

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

On a floured surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll dough to a 1/8" thickness. Cut out about 5-6 6" circles. Spoon the filling evenly into the center of each circle, careful not to overstuff the pastry rounds. Fold the dough over the filling and then press the edges together with a fork to seal.

Place turnovers on baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg. Sprinkle pearled sugan on top if you have it. Bake the turnovers until golden brown about 30 minutes. When done, transfer the turnovers to a wire rack to cool.

Garnish with fresh blueberries and mint sprigs.

June 19, 2008

No Freedom Fries Here

In Paris, crepes are basically street food, but here in Baltimore a few nights ago, they were a delicious dinner for deux.

I’ve been on a quasi-vegetarian kick recently so I sautéed some baby Portabella ‘shrooms and onions for my crepes and made the Husband Turkey, Cheddar and Apple Crepes. Oui, oui, oh la la, Bon Apetit…Whatever the French say, I don’t know, but I do know that these were a quick and easy meal.

Finally, despite the French-themed dinner, we complimented the meal with some good California Chardonnay. We try to Buy American as often as possible and encourage you to do the same!

Savory Crepes Deux Ways

1 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon cooking oil
¼ teaspoon salt

Assorted Fillings:
Turkey Breast (Turkey Cold Cuts from the deli are fine)
Sharp Cheddar Slices
Apple Slices (sliced very thin)
Sautéed Mushrooms and Onions
Swiss Cheese Slices

Combine all ingredients in a blender container. Cover and blend until smooth.

Heat an 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat and when hot, spray with cooking spray. Next, pour 3 Tablespoons of the batter into the center of skillet. Lift the pan up and rotate and tilt it to spread the batter over the bottom of the pan (work quickly). Return to the heat and cook for about 1-2 minutes (until light brown and ends lift up easily). Turn over with a spatula, (or by hand if you have tough fingers) and cook the second side for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Slide the finished crepes onto paper towels while you’re cooking the rest of the batter. When all crepes are done, layer the fillings into center and roll/fold the crepes and sprinkle the crepes with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Makesabout 8-10 crepes.

June 12, 2008

Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti

I saw these giant beans in the store the other day and knew that these were something I wanted to try.
The beans were time consuming to prepare-- you need to peel them, boil them and then peel them again--but in the end, they were worth the effort. Thanks for the inspiration, Hannibal Lecter, but we didn’t eat a Census Taker’s liver with the beans--Salmon sounded a little more appetizing.

Seared Salmon with Sauté of Fava Beans, Fresh Corn and Tomatoes

2 Wild-Caught Salmon Filets
Spice blend made from ¼ teaspoon paprika, ¼ oregano, ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder and 1 dash of cayenne pepper.

¾ cup of fresh, shelled, fava beans (from about 10-12 pods)
1 ear of fresh white corn, kernels cut off the ear
2 ripe Roma tomatoes, diced
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375. Dry the salmon filets with paper towels, and sprinkle them with the spice mix.

Meanwhile, heat about 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat and sauté garlic and onions until onions are lightly browned.

While onions are cooking, heat an oven safe sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add some olive oil, and when the oil is almost smoking, add the salmon filets, skin side up. Let cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until the salmon easily lifts from the pan. Using a metal spatula, gently turn salmon filets over and place the pan in oven for about 5 minutes.

Next, add corn, fava beans, tomatoes, and a few dashes of salt and pepper to the sautéed onions and garlic, and stir mixture gently until heated through.

Serve with some crusty bread, and of course, a nice Chianti. Hannibal Lecter sucking noises optional.

May 26, 2008

It's Officially Summer!

I don't care that it's not June 21. It's Memorial Day Weekend, which means that it is officially summer in my book. Also, in my book, summer is synonymous with burgers, and in a water city like Baltimore, it was fun to kick off the summer season with a Fresh Tuna Burger and Mini-Corn Cakes.

Tuna Burgers with Green Curry, Ginger and Mango Dipping Sauce

1 pound fresh tuna steaks, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup diced red and green bell peppers
2 scallions, sliced (green and white parts) 1 small carrot, grated
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons Soy Sauce 1 teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil 1 teaspoon Ginger Oil 1 egg, slightly beaten
Salt and pepper
Pulse tuna cubes in a food processor about 8-10 times (do not over process or you will end up with a nasty tuna paste). Add ground tuna to bowl of chopped veggies and gently stir until everything is well-distributed. Form mixture into patties and grill on a flat-top griddle for about 4-5 minutes per side.

Green Curry, Ginger and Mango Dipping Sauce
(Inspired by Bobby Flay)
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
1 Serrano pepper, coarsely chopped (seeds and white pith removed for less heat)
2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste
3 ripe mangoes, peeled, pitted, and coarsely chopped
1 cup water
3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 Tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
1 Tablespoon honey
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, and Serrano chile and cook for 1 minute. Add the curry paste and cook for 2 minutes. Add mangoes and water, stir well, and cook until the mango is soft, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let mixture cool slightly and then transfer it to a blender. Add the lime juice, cilantro, and honey and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Spoon a dollop of the sauce on each tuna burger.

Save the leftover sauce for topping tacos, scallops, chicken, fish or even use it as a salad dressing. This sauce lasts in the fridge for weeks.

Mini-Corn Cakes

1 15 oz can sweet corn
1/3 cup milk
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons sugar
3 scallions, sliced (white and green parts separated)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup yellow corn meal
1/4 cup flour
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and coat a mini muffin pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients until they just come together and drop rounded tablespoons of the batter into the greased muffin tin. Bake for 9-11 minutes. Remove from pan and serve with a tiny dollop of reduced-fat sour cream and green parts of scallions.

March 31, 2008

Back to Basics

March has been a crazy month for me so I've been looking for some easy things that I could prepare that don't require alot of time or make alot of dishes. These three recipes to follow fit the bill.

Curried Israeli Cous Cous Salad and Grilled Romaine

1 cup Israeli Cous Cous (Look in the Kosher section. Once you find it, you'll be hooked. It is sooooo good. I currently have 4 boxes in my pantry so I always have some on hand.)

1/4 white onion, minced
1/4 cup dried apricots, diced
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup dried currents
3 scallions (green parts only)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon curry powder (depending on the strength of your curry powder)
2 Tablespoons plain, low fat yogurt
dash garlic powder
dash onion powder
salt and pepper to taste

Preapre Israeli Cous Cous according to package directions. If your package is in Hebrew and you can't read the directions, just cook it as you would pasta omitting the salt. Drain and rise it slightly when done. Add all the other ingredients to the drained and rinsed cous cous and stir until mixed through. Place it in the refrigerator in a covered bowl for about 30 minutes to take the edge of the heat off. This dish is best served at room temperature to slightly chilled. Serves 4.

Grilled Romain is a favorite at my house. It sounds weird but it is awesome and takes alot less time to prepare than a salad.

Slice a Romaine Lettuce Heart in half lengthwise. Drizzle the cut side with olive oil and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Place the cut side down on a heated grill pan (or outside grill) and let it sit for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and diced Roma tomatoes. Delish! Serves 2.

Serve the two above dishes with a garlic and rosemary crusted grilled chicken breast. mmmmmmm.....

Finally, here's a French onion Soup Recipe that I SWEAR tastes better than any French Onion Soup I've had in Paris.

French Onion Soup

4 White Onions
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Butter
1 teaspoon sugar
6 cups Beef Broth
1/2 cup dry red wine
Dash soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

4 slices French bread
1/2 cup mozzarella or fontina cheese (grated)

Heat butter and oil in a pot over medium heat. Slice the onions into thin strips and add them and the sugar to the heated pot.

Turn the heat to medium-high and stir the onions until they're slightly covered with the oil and butter. Let them sit in the pot and begin to caramelize. (Stir them every 10 minutes or so until they're done. This should take about 25-30 minutes.)

Once the onions are really caramelized, add the broth, red wine, soy sauce and salt and pepper. Heat through.

Toast the French bread and top it with the shredded cheese.

Broil the cheese-topped toasts for about 2 minutes, until gooey and bubbly.

Place in soup bowl and ladle the soup over the toasts. Oh la la...perfect for a rainy Sunday.

March 21, 2008

Apologies and News

So I have been a major slacker for a while. Sorry!! I do have a few excuses though...

First was the vacation in Mexico (check out my pics here)....

Next, I got really busy at my day job.....

Finally, the Husband tore his Achilles tendon and required alot of my attention. (He hasn't revovered yet but is getting better)

However, loyal readers and decdicated cooks, I will be back in the swing of things shortly.

In the meantime, it seems that I have won a recipe suggestion contest at Birches, a restaurant in my neighborhood that was bestowed the honor of one of the 12 Exceptional Restaurans in the Mid-Atlantic by Gourmet Magazine . Birch's will be featuring my modern take on Spaghetti and Meatballs on their menu tomorrow through next Friday.

Birch's is located at 641 South Montford Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21224. Their phone number is 410.732.3000. BE THERE! (Reservations are suggsested)

Happy Easter!

February 13, 2008

Cookie Love?

I bake my “Love Cookies” for the Husband every Valentine’s Day but this year, the Husband had to share his Valentine’s gift with my unofficial Valentine, Warren Brown of Food Network fame.

Warren recently did a cooking demonstration in Baltimore to promote his new Cake Love bakery that opened in my neighborhood and I figured that I would show him some love and welcome him to Baltimore by sharing some of my special cookies with him.

During a break in the demonstration, I introduced myself to Warren and gave him the cookie I made for him. He didn’t actually eat the cookie right then but he and a couple of others watching the demonstration did say “Ohhhhh.....very nice!!!”

I don’t know if Warren ever ate the cookie, but if he did, I think he’ll be joining the Husband in asking for my “Love Cookies” next Valentine’s Day too.

Here’s the recipe for your Valentine but if you don’t have the time to make these before tomorrow, stop by a Cake Love near you for some cupcakes instead.

Jackie’s Ultimate Love Cookies
6 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Mix dry ingredients and add a little at a time to butter mixture. Mix until flour is completely incorporated and the dough comes together.

Chill for 1 to 2 hours then roll dough to desired thickness (which for me is ¼ inch, or as thick as a DVD case) and cut into shapes. Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 350 for 10 to 12 minutes or until just beginning to turn brown around the edges.

When cool, ice with royal icing and let the cookies air dry for about an hour.

Jackie's Royal Icing
3¾ cups sifted confectioners' sugar
3 T meringue powder
6 T warm water (add 8 T of warm water if you want flow consistency)
Drop of light corn syrup

Beat all ingredients in a stand mixer for 4 to 5 minutes. Add coloring by hand. Makes 3 cups.

February 07, 2008

Scone or Tea Biscuit? Whatever you call it, it was good!

I’m not much of a baker, nor was I a fan of scones, but when I came across this recipe, I figured I would give them try since the Husband loves baked goods. I was making lunch when these came out of the oven, and they looked so good, I put the lunch stuff away and just had scones instead! I’m so glad I tried them out. Here’s the recipe for you. I hope you find them just as enjoyable as I did.

Lemon-Blueberry Scones

3¼ cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 Tablespoon lemon juice plus enough milk to equal 1 cup
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 egg white
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 400. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl (you can use your stand mixer bowl.) Add the butter and if using a stand mixer, mix on very low for about 3 minutes until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. If you prefer, use a pastry blender or fork. Once butter is combined, gently pour or stir lemon-juice-milk mixture, lemon peel and egg into the dough. Mix for 1 more minute on low or until a doughy mess is formed. Turn off the mixer and remove the bowl. Add the blueberries and mix by hand until the berries are well distributed.

With VERY floured hands, turn dough out onto a floured, parchment lined counter top. Divide the dough in half and pat half of the dough into a 7-inch circle on one end of the parchment paper. Repeat, with remaining dough, spacing 2 inches apart. Brush with egg white; sprinkle with sugar. Cut halfway down but not through each circle, 6 wedges for each round. Slide the parchment paper with dough onto a baking sheet.

Bake for about 18-22 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire rack to cool slightly. Pull apart at cut lines. Serve warm or at room temperature on the same day you bake these.

January 30, 2008

Souper Suppers.....Fresh & Fit

I’ve been trying to make super healthy meals recently because bathing suit season for me starts waaaaaaay early this year—Valentine’s Day to be exact. The Husband and I are taking a romantic mini-vacation to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and if I’m not going to be tan when I get there, I may as well try to be thin. :)

Now I’m not one to “ohhh” and “ahhh” over diet food but this soup and salad combo was so pretty and tasty that I didn’t miss the extra calories at all. Now lets just hope that I can keep up this healthy eating for 2 more weeks……Wish me luck!

Crab and Veggie Salad with Carrot-Ginger Vinaigrette

Carrot-Ginger Vinaigrette
½ pound carrots (3 medium), chopped
1/8 cup water
¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
3 tablespoons peeled fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon sherry
¼ cup peanut oil

In a blender, combine the carrot, water, vinegar, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, shallot and sherry and puree. While the motor is running, drizzle in the oil until incorporated. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Once the dressing is made, steam one bunch of King Grab Legs in a steamer basket fitted inside a large pot. Meanwhile prepare a salad by tossing romaine lettuce, halved cherry tomatoes, carrot ribbons (made with a vegetable peeler), sliced onions, currents and pine nuts together. Top the salads with crab meat and then dress the salad with a few tablespoons of the dressing.

Butternut Squash Soup

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, diced
1 large onion, diced
½ granny smith apple, peeled and diced
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
6 cups chicken stock (divided)

In a large pot heat the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook until slightly translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the squash, apple and enough stock to cover and then bring to a simmer and cook until squash is tender (about 25 minutes). Once the squash is tender, place the soup in a blender and puree (work in batches if necessary). Return to pot and reheat. Add extra stock to reach desired consistency. Stir and season with salt and pepper and garnish with a tablespoon of minced red bell peppers and a clove of roasted garlic.

January 29, 2008

Beans beans, They're Good for Your Heart...

Childhood jokes aside, these bean burritos are el mejor. They’re a staple at my house becasue they're easy and healthy. I always make sure to have a few in the freezer for those nights when I have zero inspiration or for when my yoga class runs over and I get home too late to start something. They’re so good and I like that they’re meat free--it’s nice to give the cows, pigs and chickens of the world a break once in a while.

Bean Burritos
(inspired by none other than Martha S.)

¾ cup brown rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced (ribs and seeds removed, if desired)
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon paprika (I use smoked paprika)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 small can tomato paste
3 15-oz cans beans (I used pinto beans this time but sometimes I use black beans or a mixture of black beans and pinto beans), drained and rinsed
1 15oz can of corn, drained
1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
8 burrito-size flour tortillas, 10 inches each (use whole wheat tortillas for added fiber)
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Salsa and sour cream, for serving

Cook the rice according to package instructions; set aside to cool slightly. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, jalapeno, and spices. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the tomato paste, and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Then add the beans and 1½ cups water. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 12 to 15 minutes.

Add the corn; cook to heat through, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in scallions.

When the bean mixture is slightly cooled, heat a tortilla in the microwave for 15 seconds.

Then mound ¼ cup rice, ¾ cup of the bean mixture, and ¼ cup of the cheese on one side of tortilla (towards the bottom).

To assemble, starting from filled end, fold and hold in sides and tightly roll into a bundle, tucking in any loose ends as necessary. Place on a baking sheet, seam side down, and repeat with the remaining 7 tortillas.

Serve immediately, with salsa and sour cream, or wrap them individually in plastic and aluminum foil and freeze for up to 3 months.

To heat from frozen, microwave the (unwrapped) frozen burritos for about 4-5 minutes and let them cool slightly before serving. If you want a crispy tortilla, you can microwave the (unwrapped) frozen burritos for 2 minutes and then bake them on a baking sheet at 375 for 10 minutes.