Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sweet Potato Salad

I'm always looking for different ways to serve vegetables or sides for warm, summer barbecue dinners. I must have been watching Bobby Flay last summer when he prepared this. I made it right away and liked it a LOT. It's not difficult to prepare, although you do have to bake (or cook somehow) the sweet potatoes, then you pare them, slice and grill them, along with the green onions, then make the dressing and toss it together. It can be served hot, room temp or chilled, and it keeps for about a week.

Grilled Sweet Potato and Scallion Salad
Recipe By: Bobby Flay of the Food Network
Servings: 8

4 large sweet potatoes
8 whole scallions
3/4 cup olive oil -- divided use (1/4 cup for grilling, balance for dressing)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup Italian parsley -- coarsely chopped

1. Bake potatoes in a 350 oven for about 40-50 minutes until JUST barely done. Remove and allow to cool, then peel and cut into 1/2 inch lengthwise slices.
2. Preheat grill to high. Brush potatoes and scallions with 1/4 cup oil and arrange on grill. Grill potatoes for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until just tender. Grill scallions until softened and marked. Remove scallions from the grill and cut into thin slices.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup olive oil, the mustard, vinegars, and honey. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Add potatoes, scallions, and parsley and toss until potatoes are well coated. Transfer to a platter and serve.
Per Serving: 264 Calories; 21g Fat (68.2% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 59mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 4 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
To view a printable file click on the title at the top.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries

If you haven't ever had Panna Cotta, you're missing a big treat. And, if you've never had it, it's hard to describe: it's not custard; it's not like mousse either; it's not clotted cream; nor is it like a pie filling. But it is creamy, yummy. I guess you'll just have to try it to find out. I've had it out and I've made it before, although this time I made it in muffin cups. I wanted to use ramekins, but I didn't have enough for the family crowd we had over. A shopping expedition to Target didn't yield any ramekins, either. I wasn't about to drive to Williams-Sonoma just for ramekins. So I bought this new-fangled kind of silicone muffin tin. Each of the silicone cups are removable and they slide easily into their custom muffin tray. Since they're small, however, I filled them right up to the top, which yields one half cup. So because of that, the recipe made 12 pannas using this recipe.

Strawberries are at their peak and waning, so I wanted to use berries with it. In the past I've made a Joanne Weir recipe for panna cotta, but I thought I'd try Ina Garten's recipe instead, which uses more yogurt. Dave and I are stuck on Fage yogurt (Trader Joe's, $3.60 low fat). It's a strained (thicker) yogurt. It comes in non-fat, low fat and full fat. Interestingly, I had a hard time getting the pannas out of the muffin cups - you might not know the difference if you've never had this - the blobs of panna aren't as perfect as you'd have at a restaurant. But, it made no difference whatsoever in the taste.

It's very easy to make (must be made ahead, though) and spends some time resting in the refrigerator. An hour before serving the berries were sliced and balsamic added and the black pepper. Actually, since I wasn't sure people would really like the pepper, we added it as a garnish on the berries rather than adding it to the berries in the bowl.

A note about the balsamic - I'm embarrassed to tell you that I have at least 4 bottles of balsamic vinegar on my pantry shelf. One bottle is cheap. Not very good either, but I use it in salad dressings or marinades only. Another is a middle grade, a bit thicker in texture and much more tasty. I use it in cooking when I know I'll be able to tell the difference. A third bottle is a very expensive one, an aged balsamic I bought in Italy from a unique little shop that only carried wine and balsamic - it's the cream of the crop, is almost the consistency of a light syrup. You could sip it from a spoon it's so good. That one is reserved for the occasions when a drizzle is truly a garnish on a dish that prides itself on the balsamic quality. And, I had a bottle of pear balsamic on my shelf too. I don't even remember where I got it, but I took a tiny taste before using it to see if it was appropriate for this dish. Since this was a fruit dessert, I thought it would be ideal. Loved it. Will I make this recipe again? You betcha.

Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries
Recipe: Barefoot Contessa at Home
Servings: 8

1 package unflavored gelatin
3 cups heavy cream
2 cups yogurt -- plain, whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 whole vanilla bean
3/4 cup sugar
8 cups strawberries -- sliced
5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar -- good quality
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper -- yes, really
fresh grated lemon zest

1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin on 3 T. of cold water. Stir and set aside for 10 minutes to allow gelatin to dissolve.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of the cream, the yogurt and vanilla extract. Split the vanilla bean and use the tip of a knife to scrape the seeds into the cream. Heat the remaining 1 1/2 cups cream and the sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Off the heat, add the softened gelatin to the hot cream and stir to dissolve. Pour the hot cream-gelatin mixture into the cold cream-yogurt mixture and stir to combine. Pour into 8 (6-8 ounces) ramekins or custard cups and refrigerate uncovered until cold. When the panna cottas are thoroughly chilled, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
3. Thirty minutes to an hour before serving, combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar, sugar and pepper. Set aside at room temperature.
4. To serve, run a small knife around each dessert and dip the bottom of each ramekin quickly in a bowl of hot tap water. Invert each ramekin onto a dessert plate and surround the panna cotta with strawberries. Dust lightly with freshly grated lemon zest and serve.
NOTES : Splenda or other surgar substitute may be used in lieu of the sugar in this dish. I used a fruit balsamic (pear in my case) rather than regular. Just don't use a cheap grocery store balsamic as it's too harsh. Buy one bottle of "good" balsamic to use for special occasions, and this is one of them. You can also do a different proportion of heavy cream to yogurt if you use the thicker Greek yogurt, Fage. Greek yogurt is very creamy already, so you can use 3 cups of that with lesser of the heavy cream. It may be a bit harder to get out of the ramekins, however, as yogurt doesn't "gel"-up as easily as heavy cream. In that case, you may choose to serve this in the ramekin.
Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 519 Calories; 36g Fat (59.8% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 48g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 130mg Cholesterol; 91mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 1 Fruit; 1/2 Non-Fat Milk; 7 Fat; 2 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
To view a printable recipe, click on title at top.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cha Cha Cha Jerk Chicken

The Los Angeles Times' Food Section happens to be one of the better ones in the country. Maybe I should qualify that. It used to be one of the best. So few major newspapers are devoting money and staff to the sections anymore, but you can access the food sections of many newspapers on the net now (click on this link for a list of newspaper food sections available online). But this recipe was in the "good old days," when the food section was quite large. The recipe comes from a restaurant in Los Angeles called Cha Cha Cha and was printed about 7-8 years ago. I've never been to the restaurant, but I guess they do a lot of highly seasoned Caribbean foods, this being one of them. Jerk seasoning was new to U. S. cooking circles back then, and having never had it, I was intrigued to try it. It's been a summertime regular ever since. And I want you to read the nutritional analysis this time (a very good-for-you dish).
You need to have a sizable repertoire of herbs and spices in order to concoct the herb/spice mixture. I make it up in quantity. I think I've read that once you combine herbs or spices their lifetime diminishes considerably. My stash of this mixture is from last summer, so I hope it lasts a few more months.

The chicken breasts are marinated in a combination of the herb/spice mixture, canned pineapple juice, orange juice and Worcestershire sauce. Ideally for 24 hours, but I've done it in far less when I haven't planned ahead to make this. It's very simple once you have the dry mix ready; I always marinate meat/chicken/fish in a plastic bag - one of the freezer types so there's no chance of puncturing it. Or at least very little chance of a chicken bone or something poking a hole in the bag. When I am unsure about how safe the bag is, I'll put it into the bag, then in a large plastic bowl. Just in case.

The only other info about this chicken that is different is how it's cooked. It is done on direct heat, but after grilling for a fairly short time on the grill, you remove the breasts and slice them into strips, dip in the marinade again, then finish cooking. The batch pictured above didn't get that last step because the head griller had already turned the meat over and it was deemed "too late" to do the slice. So we just slathered more of the marinade on it and allowed it to cook that way. It's very moist as long as you don't overcook it. Remove the chicken when it reaches about 150-155 degrees, allow to sit a few minutes then slice and serve. Discard the marinade as it's contaminated. You could boil the marinade down if you wanted to and make it a sauce, but it might take longer than you have to devote to it since the chicken cooks in nothing flat. I'm going to try that sometime. The chicken is extremely low in fat because the marinade has no oil in it at all. None. So it's just the fruit juices that help it retain moisture. Our family from Placerville was here, and they deemed it good. My daughter Dana has made this a few times and recommends buying the pineapple orange combination juice (Dole makes it) instead of using separate canned juices. Makes good sense to me. I may stock up on that, because I never have pineapple juice on hand.

The original recipe called for double the ingredients for the marinade, but I've been perfectly happy with a smaller quantity and if it's marinated in a plastic bag, you can turn it over and back, and all the chicken is in contact with the liquid.

Cha Cha Cha Jerk Chicken
Recipe : From the restaurant by that name in L.A.
Servings : 8

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons chili powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons minced garlic
4 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 cloves garlic -- minced
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 cup orange juice
1 cup pineapple juice
8 boned and skinned chicken breast halves, tender removed

1. Prepare the dry mixture first.
2. In a large heavy-duty plastic bag, combine the dry mixture, adding the fresh garlic, Worcestershire sauce, orange juice and pineapple juice. Mix it up a bit, then add the chicken breasts. Seal the bag and marinate overnight if time permits, turning the bag a few times in that time.
2. Remove chicken from marinade and drain briefly, then place on grill heated to medium heat, and cook about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat (jerk chicken is always cooked twice). Cut each breast half in half lengthwise and use a brush to apply more marinade to each piece. Return to grill and cook until chicken is cooked through - about 4-5 minutes, brushing frequently with more marinade to keep it moist.
NOTES : Be sure to read this recipe all the way through before you begin. It is best if allowed to marinate for 24 hours, although I've done it in 6 hours (not as good!). When I make up the herb/spice mixture, I prepare a 4x batch, and store in small plastic bags with a label inside. It's a bit of a nuisance to make the mixture as there are so many different ones. But, this is a very tasty dish and worth the effort. If you add more marinade to the chicken during the grilling time, be sure it COOKS, since the raw chicken was marinated in it and it will contain raw-chicken bacteria.
Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 193 Calories; 2g Fat (9.7% calories from fat); 29g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 68mg Cholesterol; 772mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 4 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 1/2 Fruit; 0 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
To view a printable recipe, click on the title at the top.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

White Wine Vinaigrette

On previous posts I've mentioned the cooking school in San Juan Capistrano, Our House, South County. It's been in business several years now, but unfortunately the owners are planning (trying) to sell it. Perhaps it will remain a cooking school and event venue; perhaps not. I am very sad to contemplate the closure of Our House.

What's unusual about it? It's particularly charming for a variety of reasons. It's owned by 3 people: Carole & Craig (a couple) and Sarah. Read more below about them, or go to their website (link above):
  • Carole is very talented, creative and fun. She MC's the "show" so to speak, talking about the food. She knows how to stage tables and serving, and has quite a knack for decorating. And maybe more than anything, she buys lots of house kinds of stuff that are placed all over the house and the barn - items that are for sale. Things we never seem to see in other stores. Things I buy. Lots of things I buy.

  • Sarah, her cohort in crime, so to speak, is as cute as can be. Scottish by birth, Sarah was hired by Carole & Craig as a nanny, many years ago. The children are now grown and mostly gone, but Sarah has stayed. Sarah also became the family cook, chef, and bottle washer, most likely, but she's a complete member of the family. She and Carole have a wonderful repartee.

  • The recipes they do are usually easy, but very high on flavor.
  • They serve plenty of food - you never go away hungry, that's for sure. And usually they serve at least 2 desserts, sometimes 3, with one being a take-away one to remember them by.
  • The summer barbecue classes were great fun - Cherrie and I included our husbands, and we invited our son and his wife also. We all had a good time.

Carole & Sarah try to serve people something to eat soon after arriving for the class. The room for the students (it's all a demonstration class) is festively decorated, Carole and Sarah talk about the food, prepare some part of it, then the helpers whisk plates of food in front of us. One of these days I'm going to write up something about why it is I go to cooking classes, but that will be another day . . .

The subject here is salad dressings. I guess I'm a sucker for one more recipe. I don't much like bottled dressings. Whether it's the additives they have to include to give them shelf life, or something else, but they never seem to taste anywhere near as good as home made salad dressings. I do have one bottled one I keep in the refrigerator - Brianna's Blush Wine Vinaigrette - but I only use it when I'm out of home made and don't feel like making any. Carole & Sarah made this vinaigrette at the last class, and I enjoyed it very much. It has a little bit of honey, which makes it different than most totally savory vinaigrettes. That tiny amount of honey makes a big difference in the overall taste of the dressing. I've made it twice since then, and like it a lot. It's not necessary to use the blender - I make it in a lidded jar and just shake it up. Just mush up the garlic well - you don't want chunks of it, especially if it hasn't been allowed to sit and mellow for several hours or overnight.

White Wine Vinaigrette
Recipe: Our House, South County cooking school
Servings: 8

1/4 cup Champagne wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 whole garlic clove -- minced
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup olive oil salt and pepper to taste
In a lidded jar combine all ingredients and shake vigorously. Taste for seasoning. Store in refrigerator.
Per Serving: 125 Calories; 14g Fat (95.2% calories from fat); trace Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 24mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 2 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
For a printable recipe click title at top.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Apricot Ice Cream

The extra, beautifully ripe apricots were languishing in the refrigerator, so I needed to use them up. I made a small batch of ice cream using David Lebovitz's recipe from his book, The Perfect Scoop. I've mentioned his cookbook before - click here for my previous post about his Roasted Banana Ice Cream. I'm fortunate to have a wonderful ice cream machine that doesn't require you to freeze the bowl first - it's a commercial style machine made by Cuisinart - but manufactured for the home kitchen. I've been in love with this machine since Dave bought it for me about 3 years ago.

I read several other recipes before I decided which to use. But, everything I've had and heard about Levobitz's recipes led me to believe that his would be especially good. First you poach the apricots in a little water, add sugar, puree them in a blender, and add heavy cream, a hint of almond extract and another hint of lemon juice. I don't think I've ever made a recipe that called for 3 drops of any kind of extract - food coloring yes, extract, no. Hence the almond flavor mostly disappears in the mixture. The same with the lemon juice. It calls for a few drops of lemon juice, but my recipe program doesn't allow for "a few" as a measurement, so I changed it to 1/2 teaspoon, although I added more than that since I just squeezed a bit - probably more like 2 teaspoons at least. Then I poured it into the machine and 50 minutes later it was done. I didn't even chill the mixture first as it says in the recipe. So, how is it? Sinfully delicious. The intense apricot flavor slides right on through in your mouth. We haven't technically eaten it yet, although I licked the beater just to make sure it was okay (grin).

Apricot Ice Cream
Recipe By :The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
Servings: 5

1 pound apricots -- fresh, very ripe
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
3 drops almond extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1. Slice open the apricots, remove pits and any brown spots or stems, then cut each apricot into sixths. Cook the apricot pieces in water in a covered, medium, nonreactive saucepan over medium heat until tender, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in sugar until dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
2. Once cool, puree the apricots and liquid in a blender of food processor until smooth. Taste a big spoonful; if there are any small fibers, press the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove them. Stir in the cream, almond extract and lemon juice.
3. Chill mixture thoroughly in refrigerator, then freeze per manufacturer's directions.
Per Serving: 282 Calories; 18g Fat (55.1% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 65mg Cholesterol; 19mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Fruit; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 3 1/2 Fat; 1 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
To view a printable recipe, click on the title at the top.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Chicken with Artichokes & Olives

I don't suppose this looks all that appetizing, does it? I forgot the lemon zest and chives garnish, which really helps, but I'll tell you, the recipe is very good. I attended a cooking class some years ago taught by Nicole Aloni. She's a well-known caterer and cookbook author among the Hollywood set. She worked for many years as the catering director at the L.A. Music Center, then opened her own business. Her reason for writing cookbooks was a statistic: that 98% of people love the idea of giving a dinner party, but only 2 % of people enjoy doing it. So, she decided to write books about how to entertain.
Her first book, Secrets from a Caterer's Kitchen ($12.89 on Amazon), is mostly about how to plan a dinner party. The logistics, the recipe decisions, the serving aspects, decorating ideas, and most importantly how to plan ahead so you aren't cooking in the kitchen the entire day of the party. And there are lots of recipes in there too. Subsequently she published another cookbook, called Cooking for Company (also $12.89). It's more along the food-only line, with over 200 pages of recipes for entertaining. All with the idea that you want to do as much advanced prep as possible.

So now, back to the cooking class. She prepared a meal that night that was relatively easy, but high on flavor, and definitely with the do-ahead factor. I like to entertain. Surely I'm not in the 2% of that statistic. And generally I enjoy the cooking too, although as I've gotten older I find that standing and prepping food for 7-8 hours the day of a party is getting harder. My feet hurt. My back hurts, etc. So I do try to make some things ahead. And I also try to buy store-bought something - usually the appetizer - rather than make it myself. So, this recipe is a good one for that.

This dish is an easy one to make, and I'd say this dish has Greek origins. The recipe didn't say. You'll notice a long list of ingredients. Don't be put off by it - nothing in the list is a problem - except the preserved lemon. Most people don't have that on the pantry or refrigerator shelf. I bought mine at Sur la Table, although other better grocery stores should carry it too. Or if you have a Middle Eastern market near you, they'll surely have it at half the price. Preserved lemons are ones that have been packed in salt and left to sit for a couple of months.
Most Middle Eastern cooks make their own. I tried it once, but because I'd never had them before, I wasn't sure if mine turned out correctly and have never bothered to make them since. If you're interested, and you have a bountiful lemon tree, you might want to make them - they're certainly easy to do - click here for a recipe. You never use much of the finished preserved lemon - they're quite pungent and very tart. And salty. So it's almost like a garnish, although this is put into the sauce itself. You wouldn't want to use it as a garnish - for all those same reasons - too pungent, tart and salty.

You make a savory sauce - broth, balsamic vinegar, shallots, Dijon, tarragon, preserved lemon and kalamata olives. It has bitter overtones with the Dijon, balsamic, kalamata olives and the preserved lemon. That's the part that can be done ahead. Be sure you use low sodium broths, though, because you reduce the broth to half and it will be very salty - way too salty - if you use regular sodium broths. Then you grill the chicken breasts that have been marinated in balsamic vinegar for a couple of hours, and once finished, you slice the chicken into strips. And serve it with some kind of carb - like linguine or rice - because you want something to soak up the sauce as well as what you spoon over the chicken. The recipe is also very low calorie and low fat, but as Nicole said that night - "it's so good - you don't need to tell anybody that."

Chicken with Artichokes & Olives
Recipe By: Nicole Aloni, author and caterer
Servings: 8

1 1/2 cups beef stock -- reduced sodium
3 cups chicken stock -- reduced sodium
2 1/2 pounds chicken breast, no skin, no bone, R-T-C
5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 pounds artichoke hearts -- frozen, defrosted
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup shallots -- minced
5 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 1/2 ounces kalamata olives -- pitted, minced
3 tablespoons fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons Preserved Lemons -- chopped

2 Tablespoons lemon zest
4 tablespoons chives -- minced or parsley

1. In a large saucepan, combine the beef and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Continue to boil until reduced by half (about 2 cups) and set aside.
2. Trim the chicken breasts of any excess fat or skin. Pound the thicker ends of the breasts so they're more evenly thinner. Set in a shallow bowl or plate and drizzle on about 2 T. of balsamic vinegar and rub into the breasts. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
3. In a medium sauté pan over medium heat cook the shallots in butter until translucent, about 4-7 minutes. Add the reduced stock, mustard and vinegar and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Make sure to whisk the ingredients well so the mustard is disbursed evenly. Add the artichoke hearts with the olives and tarragon and simmer gently for about 5 minutes. Add the preserved lemon pieces, remove from heat. You can make this ahead to this point and refrigerate. Just rewarm the sauce when you're ready to serve it.
4. Preheat the barbecue grill to medium high. Dust one side only of each chicken breast with freshly ground black pepper. Place chicken pepper side UP on the hot grill. Cook for about 8 minutes on the first side, turn and grill an additional 3-5 minutes. The flesh should slightly give when pressed.
5. Slice the chicken breasts diagonally into 2 or 3 pieces. Top each chicken breast with a generous ladle of sauce and garnish with lemon zest and chopped chives.
Serving Ideas : You will want to serve this with some kind of starch that will absorb the wonderful sauce - like fettucine or rice. If serving this on a buffet, cut the chicken into chunks small enough so they don't require a knife to cut and top each chicken piece with a bit of sauce and garnish with the chives, lemon zest and additional kalamata olives. Put more sauce on the side so guests can ladle more to suit their tastes.
NOTES : This dish doesn't have striking prettiness since it's kind of beige all over, so it's important that you garnish with ample lemon zest and chives to give it some color. This is a very healthy dish - but you don't have to tell anybody that.
Per Serving: 313 Calories; 11g Fat (31.1% calories from fat); 37g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 92mg Cholesterol; 1810mg Sodium. Exchanges: 4 1/2 Lean Meat; 2 1/2 Vegetable; 1/2 Fruit; 1 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
For a printable recipe, click on title at top.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Roasted Apricot Almond Cake

This is the height of apricot season, folks. I bought a small flat of them at Costco last week, and I mean to tell you, they are perfect. I let them sit out on the kitchen counter for 3 days and they reached the peak of ripeness. Half I used in the above cake, and the other half are in the refrigerator and I may try apricot ice cream. In any case, I'll cook those remaining apricots today or tomorrow before they're over the hill. As you probably know, apricots have a short time of perfection. Too green and they have no taste. Too ripe and they're mushy and they go downhill in rapid order from there. So, remember this recipe, either right NOW, or wait until next year.

Another cooking instructor who has provided me with any number of favorite recipes is Tarla Fallgatter. Here's a blurb I found about her on the internet:

Tarla Fallgatter is a well-known Orange County caterer, chef, teacher, restaurant consultant and kitchen tool manufacturer. She trained at Paris' Cordon Bleu, La Varenne, and Ecole Lenotre cooking schools, and was the first foreign woman to cook in the kitchens of Maxim's. She has traveled to over 60 countries throughout the world, "sampling" the local cuisine. She markets her "Tarla" all-copper rolling pin in fine cookware shops.
Tarla currently teaches at the Irvine Fine Arts Center (fairly elementary classes), at A Store for Cooks, and she also teaches a private group of wives who live in Coto de Caza (a very upscale, gated neighborhood in south Orange County). My friend Cherrie was invited to attend one of those classes about 5 years ago through a friend of hers, and as a substitute, I'm invited too. I can choose to attend or not. This recipe came from one of the Tarla classes I attended.

So, I have a funny story to tell about almond paste. When I went to make this the other day, I knew I had some almond paste. I found 3 boxes. How about that. All imported from Denmark. All hard as rocks. (Now you also need to know that at the class about this cake, Tarla told all of us that we couldn't substitute marzipan for almond paste - okay - got that - and she told us that almond paste doesn't store well. It's not that it spoils. It gets hard, and there's no recovering it once it gets that way.)

Okay, so I have these 3 boxes in my pantry. No dates on any of them. Guess what? All hard. Uhm. What do I do. I really didn't want to make another trip to the store, so I thought - maybe I can recover the almond paste. I'll put it in the microwave with a bowl of hot water and let it steam a bit. Surely that would help, right? Wrong. Five minutes later all I got was hot, hard almond paste. My dear hubby saved the day - he said he'd go to the market for me. Here's what almond paste looks like.
Ideally you bake the cake and the apricots at the same time (saves energy, obviously). So I got the apricots all ready to roast, then I went to work on the cake. Cautions about the cake:

1. make sure you use an 8-inch cake pan, not 9-inch (cake will be too shallow).
2. make certain you finely chop or tear off almond paste pieces - you don't want little nuggets of almond paste in the cake.
3. don't forget the parchment paper step in the cake pan - it needs it - even in a nonstick pan.
The apricots are easy to make and the sauce is delish. The cake is extremely moist and the almond flavor is not subtle - it's right there - but that is what makes the cake so good. Try it.

Almond Cake with Roasted Apricots
Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter
Servings: 8

4 ounces unsalted butter -- room temperature
Additional butter to grease pan
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup almond paste -- broken in small pieces
1 tablespoon orange zest
3 large eggs
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup creme fraiche -- plus sugar to taste
3 teaspoons powdered sugar
8 sprigs mint leaves
1 cup almonds -- use sliced almonds, toast half of them
10 whole apricots -- firm, ripe, halved, pitted
1 whole vanilla bean -- split lengthwise, seeds scraped
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup Amaretto -- or apricot brandy

APRICOTS: Place apricot halves in a large baking dish and gently toss with vanilla bean and the seeds, with the honey. Pour 1/4 cup water over and the Amaretto and toss again. Bake along with the cake, until the apricots are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, 15-20 minutes. The timing will depend on the ripeness of the fruit.
ALMOND CAKE: Preheat oven to 325°. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan (do not use a 9-inch pan as it will be too flat). Line with parchment paper and additional butter on the parchment paper.
Cream butter and sugar in food processor until fluffly. Add almond paste and beat until smooth and fluffy. Add the orange zest and eggs, one at a time. Beat until well blended. Mix flour, baking powder and salt together and pulse in. Scrape mixture into the prepared pan, smooth top and sprinkle 1/2 cup untoasted sliced almonds on top. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and pulling away from the pan. Remove and set on a rack to cool.
In a small bowl combine the creme fraiche and a little bit of sugar. Invert the cake onto a cake plate and peel off parchment paper. Turn the cake back over again so the almonds are on the top. Lightly dust with sifted powdered sugar. Cut the cake into 8 pieces and put on plates. Top each slice with the roasted apricots, a dollop of creme fraiche, then sprinkle the top with the additional sliced almonds, and decorate with mint sprigs.
Serving Ideas : Instead of creme fraiche, you could also use lightly sweetened whipped cream.
NOTES : You need to use fresh apricots for this. Choose firm ones, but still ripe. And don't overbake them.
Per Serving: 561 Calories; 35g Fat (55.8% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 53g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 137mg Cholesterol; 128mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 1/2 Fruit; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 6 1/2 Fat; 2 Other Carbohydrates.
To view a printable recipe, click the title at the top.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hash Brown Casserole

Doesn't look like much, does it?
A chicken breast smothered with sour cream and crushed canned onion rings? Yuk.
A piece of white fish with grated carrot and sprinkled with toasted pine nuts? Yuk.
It's actually a potato side dish that's really flavorful. Really decadent.
And did I say easy? Oh, yes.

I had a similar dish at some friends a week or so ago (thanks, Penny, for the idea). I liked her casserole so well that I searched for it on the internet. Found a number of variations, and most of them contain a similar list of ingredients: frozen hash brown potatoes, defrosted, sour cream, chopped onion, cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup, grated cheddar or sharp cheddar cheese, potato chips or corn flakes and butter.

I found several versions at and finally selected this one because it suggested sharp cheddar cheese, AND it listed a half of a package of dry ranch dressing mix. I also added some fresh rosemary from my garden. I think this casserole needs the sharp cheddar, not mild cheddar, for the extra flavor boost along with the Ranch dressing mix.

Because I'd never made it before, I more or less followed the directions. I did add the rosemary. (We were having barbecued butterflied leg of lamb, so I thought the rosemary would be a nice complement.) I also cooked the onions first, which wasn't mentioned in the original recipe. And I cut down on the amount of butter by about half.

The finished dish was wonderful. Next time I will try it with low-fat sour cream, the reduced fat soup, but I don't think I'll stint on the cheese. It took about 7-8 minutes to put together the ingredients. I finally used my hands to mix it up - it just seemed easier than fumbling with two big spoons. It's a little awkward getting the soup and sour cream to mix in thoroughly. You don't want clumps of condensed soup anywhere. Then you pour it into a casserole dish, add 45 minutes to bake, and it's done. This may have been the first time in my life I ever bought frozen hash browns, but they sure did make it simple. I'll definitely make this again for a big crowd. I doubled the recipe and it served 9 for one meal and probably would serve another 4-6 for another meal.

Hash Brown Casserole
Source: with changes
Serves 8

2 pounds frozen hash brown potatoes
6 T. melted butter, divided use
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup Cream of Chicken soup, or Cream or Mushroom
1 pint sour cream
1/2 package powdered Ranch dressing mix
1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

2 cups crushed potato chips or Corn flakes
(and remainder of butter)

1. Defrost potatoes.
2. Saute the onion in a little olive oil until tender but not browned.
3. Preheat oven to 350. Combine in large mixing bowl the potatoes and half the butter. Add the sour cream, soup, grated cheese, rosemary and Ranch dressing mix. Mix gently but thoroughly without breaking up the potatoes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed (it doesn't need any salt, in my opinion). Pour into a buttered 3 quart casserole. Topping: mix remaining butter with either potato chips or Corn flakes and sprinkle over potatoes. Bake for 45 minutes, or until potatoes are done.
To view a printable recipe, click on title at top.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Ina's Pesto Pea (Spinach) Salad

Sorry about the blurred photo. I enhanced it as much as possible in my photo program, but this is as good as it gets. We had the family for dinner to celebrate Father's Day, and I quickly snapped this and didn't check it before shutting off the camera. When you do a close-up with a digital camera, it's harder to keep perfectly still, so I try to be very conscious of that when I finally click the shutter.

But, that doesn't mean the salad isn't wonderful. I saw Ina Garten demonstrate this on her food network program, probably 2 years ago. It's from her book, Barefoot Contessa at Home. Maybe the peas and spinach seem like an unlikely combination, but it sure works. Over the years I've used pesto in pasta dishes, of course, and to dollop on the top of certain soups, and as a dip, but never would have considered it as a salad dressing. I had some homemade pesto in the refrigerator, so this was a simple dish to throw together. Trader Joe's carries a baby spinach, which is preferable here. Regular spinach is just too big for a salad - the pieces are too large without cutting them. I suppose you could do that, but the baby spinach just makes it so simple. I do tear off some of the larger stems, but most of them stay in the salad.

I find this salad goes so very well with a grilled dinner - chicken, steaks, pork chops, even fish. I hate to sound redundant, but this salad is SO simple. You just have to toast the pine nuts (I use a nonstick frying pan) and I caution you if you haven't done this before - watch the pan very very carefully or they will burn. Pine nuts contain a high percentage of oil, so they burn very rapidly. I keep pine nuts in the freezer at all times, so just remove what you need for a meal.

And, the other thing I do is add more Parmesan cheese (that's my addition to Ina's recipe). Often, I believe, when you buy ready-made pesto, it doesn't contain as much cheese as your own homemade variety, so I add some to the salad itself. It adds some color contrast too.

Pesto Pea (Spinach) Salad
Recipe: Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten
Servings : 4

2 cups frozen peas -- baby peas, if possible
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 1/2 cups spinach leaves -- baby spinach, if possible
4 tablespoons pesto sauce
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1. If you're in a hurry, run hot water over the peas; otherwise, defrost them in the refrigerator for several hours.
2. Toast the pine nuts in a frying pan until golden brown. Watch them carefully as they burn quickly.
3. Place the spinach leaves in a salad bowl. Sprinkle with peas. Add pesto and toss. Sprinkle Parmesan and pine nuts on top and serve.

Serving Ideas : Is a GREAT addition to a barbecue dinner. The original recipe doesn't call for the Parmesan, but I just added a little bit on top and thought it was a nice addition NOTES : If you want to make Ina Garten's pesto for this: In a food processor combine 1/4 cup walnuts, 1/4 cup pine nuts and about 9 medium garlic cloves, peeled. Process for about 30 seconds. Add 5 cups of basil leaves, 1 tsp kosher salt and 1 tsp black pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour in 1 1/2 cups good olive oil through the feed tube and process until the pesto is finely pureed. Add 1 cup Parmesan cheese and puree for about 30 more seconds, stopping once to scrape down the sides. Pour into a tall container and float a little olive oil on top and store in refrigerator. Makes about 2 cups - a lot more than you need for the salad recipe. This salad likes a generous amount of pesto - the tendency is to not do enough. However, there's a fine line - don't add too much, either. So, taste as you go.
Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 171 Calories; 10g Fat (52.3% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 6mg Cholesterol; 245mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 1 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.
For a printable recipe, click on the title at the top.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Scharffen Berger and all things chocolate and then a Banana Caramel (& Chocolate) Cake

When I was in Berkeley 2 weeks ago Cherrie and I went on a tour of the Scharffen Berger chocolate factory. It was just a few blocks from our hotel near the waterfront and my GPS drove us right to the door in the industrial section of town. The factory itself was a big surprise - it's quite small. Having once visited the Nestle plant in Pennsylvania, I was expecting something dramatic, especially with the panache garnered by the Scharffen Berger line.

As I think I explained before, John Scharffenberger (spelling intentional) came to some reknown as a winemaker. After a couple of decades producing some very fine sparkling wine (a favorite of mine, his to be specific), he sold the business. Then he was approached by Robert Steinberg, a friend, and now his partner in Scharffen Berger, and they decided to start a chocolate manufacturing company, but only producing a high quality - European style - product. They purchased European, i.e. old, equipment. They wanted to capitalize on the known Scharffenberger name, but John had sold the rights to it with the winery. So, they merely added a space beteween the n and the b and made it into Scharffen Berger. It wasn't quite building a business in a garage, but close to it.

They don't make chocolate every day. Although likely some pieces of equipment are running most days. The roaster (the red thing right) was in a separate room (warm and if running, very noisy). The building probably isn't 300 feet long and about 200 feet wide, and not only housed the factory floor, but offices, a restaurant and a store. Did I spend money in there? Well, to be sure. Did we taste chocolate? Oh yes, indeed. Probably the most important thing I learned there was about how to eat a piece of chocolate: put it into your mouth, hold it on the middle of your tongue, up against the roof of your mouth, and allow it to completely melt on your tongue. Don't chew. Don't move it around. You'll savor the flavors far better, and it'll last longer besides. Kind of like how you taste wine.

To the left is the photo of the cocoa bean crusher. A huge cauldron - I mean huge - of swirling, melting chocolate and the crusher rolling around in the middle. So, it was on a blog a few months ago that I read about a recipe in the new cookbook published by the Scharffen Berger partners, The Essence of Chocolate. Liking chocolate as I do, I made it and oh - my - goodness.
What flavor. Not all that difficult. I like bundt cakes, and this one doesn't require anything but the cake itself. It does have a caramel sauce that is poured over the hot-out-of-the-oven cake, but otherwise, nothing else. No garnishes, although you could serve with a bit of vanilla ice cream. It's rich enough, however, as it is. I will include the nutrional information about the cake, but for heaven's sake, whatever you do, don't read it. I'm going to put it in the smallest type available on this blog .

Banana Caramel (Chocolate) Cake with Caramel Sauce Recipe :Essence of Chocolate by Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger.
Serving: 12 - I think it will serve at least 16

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped pecans
3 ounces chocolate -- broken into small pieces (size of chips)
3 whole bananas -- diced

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tbsp. whole milk
4 tbsp. unsalted butter -- cut into pieces

1. Butter and flour a tube pan or a bundt pan that can hold 12 cups. Preheat the oven to 350°.
2. Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt and baking soda).
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the eggs, oil and sugar. With the paddle attachment, mix on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure that the sugar has been incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and mix for another 30 seconds. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients a bit at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl every now and then to ensure everything is incorporated. Once the dry ingredients have been added, remove the bowl from the stand mixer and add the pecans, chocolate and bananas. Gently fold them in with a spatula or a wooden spoon. Don't over mix.
4. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes and then test the cake to see if it's done by poking a toothpick or cake tester into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, it's done. If not, bake the cake for another 5 to 10 minutes. In my oven, this cake took 55 minutes.
5. About 5 to 10 minutes before the cake is done, make the caramel by combining all the ingredients in a small pan. Bring to the boil and stir occasionally to ensure that it doesn't burn. Let it boil for about 5 minutes and then turn off the heat. The caramel needs to be thin, so add more milk if needed. Once the cake is out of the oven, poke holes all over the cake with a skewer. Immediately pour the caramel over the cake, stopping every now and then to let the caramel sink in. If the caramel pools in spots, poke more holes to allow it to sink in. Gently push cake away from sides to add more caramel.
6. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack. Once it's cool, loosen the cake from the sides of the pan and then unmold it onto a plate. If most of the caramel pooled on the top (in the pan) you may want to turn the cake back over so the wide side is on top.
NOTES : Note from Carolyn: I think the caramel is too thick - it doesn't drip down into the cake like I think it should, so I've been adding more milk to the sauce so it's thinner.
Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 595 Calories; 36g Fat (52.7% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 67g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 64mg Cholesterol; 308mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 1/2 Fruit; 0 Non-Fat Milk; 7 Fat; 3 Other Carbohydrates.
To view a printable recipe, click title at the top.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Yep - that's it! Roasted Poblano Asiago Soup

Remember a couple of weeks ago I posted about my dinner visit to Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena? And I showed a picture of the soup Cherrie and I had that night that we thought was so terrific - Tomatillo, Poblano and Asiago soup? And I researched on the internet and found a recipe from Stephan Pyles restaurant in Dallas?

Here's what Cindy's soup looked like:
Here's my soup: Well, I'm here to tell you, this is very close if not one and the same. It looks the same. It tastes just about the same. And I'm a very happy camper, because now I can make this soup in a big quantity and freeze it like I do with most of my soups.

So what's different at all? Well, the waitress at Cindy's told us they sauteed the tomatillos for one thing. And they use masa to thicken the soup. I hunted all over in my pantry, but didn't have any. I didn't have any fine grind corn flour either (other than cornstarch, and I was certain that wasn't what we wanted here). I did have polenta and cornmeal, but they're both too coarse. So I used the regular flour called for in the recipe. And she thought there wasn't any cream in it, but this soup (with milk and a little cream) looks JUST like theirs, so I'd say they did. Make sure you don't get a single poblano chile seed in the soup - it won't puree very well.
If I changed anything next time I make it, I will use less cheese. Asiago has a slightly bitter taste on the palate, and I think less would be an improvement. I only had a little over 1/2 pound, and the recipe called for 10 ounces. I think it has ample at that, and could easily be reduced, so I've changed the quantity in the recipe below. Asiago melts into the soup well - it's doesn't become stringy and difficult as some cheeses can do when added to hot soups. I did quick/flash fry the tomatillos first. A little olive oil, a hot burner and they browned in a hurry. Tomatillos have a lot of water in them, so once that was rendered out, they reduced to small pieces. I also sauteed the onion with the tomatillo, then the poblanos before adding any of the liquid. I've changed the recipe to that effect. I also didn't strain the soup. I think the little bit of texture tastes just fine. I blended it well, though, so it wouldn't have to be strained.
I can tell you I love simple soups, and this is one. You're not likely to have all the ingredients on hand, however, but this one is certainly worth a trip to the market to buy the poblanos, the tomatillos, Asiago cheese, spinach and cilantro. Oh, yes, I'll be making this again. Most definitely. Soon.
Roasted Poblano-Asiago Cheese Soup
Recipe adapted from one by: Chef Matthew Dunn, Stephan Pyles (restaurant), Dallas Servings : 6 Makes about 7 cups

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter -- at room temperature
2 whole poblano chiles -- roasted, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 whole onion -- chopped
3/4 pound tomatillos -- husked, rinsed, chopped
3 cloves garlic -- chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk
1 cup spinach -- cleaned
4 ounces Asiago cheese -- grated, or more to taste
1/2 bunch cilantro -- chopped
Salt -- to taste
Fresh ground pepper -- to taste
1. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour and butter with a fork until the flour is totally incorporated.
2. Place the poblanos, onion, tomatillos, garlic, chicken stock, cream and milk in a pan and bring to a boil. Whisk in the flour and butter mixture and continue to whisk until lumps of flour disappear. Cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens. While stirring, add spinach, Asiago cheese and cilantro and continue to cook for 30 seconds. Transfer to a blender in batches and blend until completely smooth.
3. Strain through a medium strainer back into the heavy pan, season with salt and pepper and keep warm. Ladle the soup into warm bowls and garnish with tortilla strips and Pico de Gallo, if desired. Or sprinkle with additional chopped cilantro.
Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 317 Calories; 24g Fat (66.8% calories from fat); 10g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 76mg Cholesterol; 899mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 1/2 Non-Fat Milk; 4 1/2 Fat.
To view a printable recipe, click on the title at the top.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bacon & Tomato Dunk

At least 15 years ago I attended a cooking class taught by Michele Braden, and bought one of her cookbooks at the class, Fast & Fabulous Hors D'Oeuvres (the book is out of print, unfortunately). I have no recollection as to what items she demonstrated for the class, but I remember being very pleased with the wide variety of recipe ideas in the cookbook. I've made a number of things from the book in the ensuing years, but this one I've prepared umpteen times.

What's unique about the cookbook is that each recipe offers three options. First, there's a Fast one. Then she gives you a Flashy method, and lastly, a Fabulous presentation. At the time, I suppose, it was her little corner, or niche to make her cookbook different. From what I read now, anyone not amongst published authors who wants to submit a cookbook for possible publication must have something very creative and unusual, otherwise it will never get past the first editor.

So back to the Dunk. Wonder why this little number is called a Dunk? Once Braden began cooking as a young adult, she definitely didn't like the word "dip." It conjured up the ubiquitous onion dip or clam dip etc. So, she decided to elevate the genre of appetizer to a new level, and calls it a Dunk. Whatever it is, dip or dunk, this particular one will make you think you're having a part of the BLT. Just no lettuce, and you either dip/dunk a cracker into the mixture, or spread it on toast, or even celery. It's the BACON, however, that makes this. The original recipe calls for 5 slices of bacon (to make about 1 1/2 cups of dunk). If you're using thick-sliced, obviously reduce the amount. And I've found that I can use considerably less bacon and still get the flavor. If you hand chop the bacon, every bite will have a bit of bacon in it, so don't leave the bacon in larger pieces. And whatever you do, don't just whiz up everything in the blender or food processor and think it will work. It doesn't. You lose all the texture and it becomes a very loose liquid. Not pleasant. Trust me on this, okay? Sometimes I just make it by hand rather than mess up the blender.

In the case of this recipe, Braden's recommendation for FAST was to prepare up to 4 days in advance and refrigerate. The FLASHY preparation includes using pita chips, crackers and garnishing with minced green onions, parsley, more chopped tomatoes and bacon. For the FABULOUS method, add avocado, stuff it into raw mushrooms or cold hollowed-out potatoes. Normally I just use pita chips from Trader Joe's, or the little bite-sized toasts, although I usually do garnish the top with some minced tomatoes and a little bit of extra bacon.
As noted in the recipe, I have made this with low-fat mayo, but it just doesn't taste all that good. If you're going to splurge and have a little bit of bacon - go for the gold and use Best Foods mayo. Enjoy.

Bacon & Tomato Dunk
Recipe By :Michele Braden, Fast & Fabulous Hors D'Oeurves, 1992
Servings: 6
5 slices bacon
2 medium ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup mayonnaise -- Best Foods brand or homemade
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons green onions -- coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons parsley
1. Cook bacon until crisp, drain on paper towels and cool. Chop into very small pieces and set aside.
2. Combine in a food processor the green onions and parsley and process until it's a fine mince. Scrape out into a medium bowl.
3. Cut tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds as much as possible. Process the tomatoes in the food processor until they are minced, but not pureed. Pour out into the same bowl and add the mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Add the bacon and stir it into the mixture, then cover, and refrigerate for up to 4 days. It's best if allowed to chill for at least 8 hours.
Serving Ideas : I have made this with low-fat mayo. I'd be lying if I said it's "just as good." It isn't, but if you crave a BLT, it will satisfy. Serve with baked pita chips, crackers, or baguette slices, toasted. You may garnish the dunk with minced onions, parsley, additional minced tomatoes or crumbled bacon.
NOTES : This dip/dunk is sinfully delicious. If you are using thick sliced bacon, use about half the number of slices. Don't overblend or it loses its appeal, and if you have any leftovers, it's delicious on leftover pasta or rice, or even as a salad dressing.
Per Serving : 172 Calories; 18g Fat (90.2% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 11mg Cholesterol; 209mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 1 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates.To view a printable version, click on the title of this posting.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Pat Conroy Cookbook - Recipes of My Life

Earlier this month my friend Cherrie and I visited the CIA-Greystone (the Culinary Institute of America) in St. Helena, in the Napa Valley. It's an imposing and impressive building and contains a restaurant open to the public for some meals. There were no classes offered that day, but guess what? The CIA store was OPEN. We must have spent at least an hour wandering all the little nooks and crannies, and left a hefty amount of money in their coffers. But stuck back in a corner was a discount/sale table of cookbooks. I leafed through a few that I don't have, saw some that already reside on my own shelves, but this book just jumped out in my hands. Ever had that happen?
I've read most of Pat Conroy's fiction - Beach Music, The Water is Wide, The Prince of Tides and others. Most are set in various places in the South and conjure up scenes of towns and harbors that, at the time I read them, I'd never been. He calls Beaufort, South Carolina his home, although now he lives near Atlanta most of the year. He's had several wives, but seems to care about all of them (surprising). Thumbing through this cookbook/memoir I saw lots of recipes, typical Southern fare (shrimp salad, beaten biscuits, grits, etc.) but I also saw stories. Here's the Amazon link for the book. It's only available in hardback, but used copies through Amazon start at $2.92. If you're a Pat Conroy fan - and you love to cook - you'll thoroughly enjoy this read.

Conroy is a lyrical writer - he's generous with the adjectives and adverbs wrapping every thought. I admire his choice of phrases sprinkled throughout. Each chapter is about a food subject - like oysters, Vidalia onions or a mentor in his life, of which there were many. Conroy was an Army brat, and has very few words for his fighter-pilot father, who wasn't much of a parent to him. It's surprising that he became such an avid cook since his mother didn't really enjoy cooking, but he does credit her with his love of writing. She encouraged him every inch of the way. He'd never had fish (except fish sticks on Friday nights) until he was an older teen because it was never served at home. But an accomplished cook he did become, and he obviously thoroughly enjoys sharing recipes and the unique flavors of the Low Country.

He writes, in effect, his autobiography through the course of the book. Each chapter begins with a very descriptive section about food, or how a specific person opened his mind and palate to new experiences. Then he follows up each chapter with a series of recipes relating to the story. You follow him through his junior high and high school years, college, then early marriage, and so forth. And he gives lots of praise to those people who steered him down a particular path.

I just loved reading this cookbook. His stories are magical, in a way. Several of the chapters brought tears to my eyes as he described some of the loving, giving people who helped him chisel a life for himself. He failed, so the speak, as a teacher, but finally began to write when there seemed nothing else he could do, with no source of income and a wife and several hungry children at home. Thank goodness he did take the risk, because he writes a very entertaining story, whether it be fiction or cookbooks.
I read on somebody else's blog that there probably should be a 12-step program for people like me who have a cookbook obsession. Ever heard of one in your neighborhood? If so let me know when and where it meets, 'cuz I probably ought to be attending.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Classic Brownies (aka: the Best Brownies Ever)

I'm an avid reader of Cooks Illustrated. The magazine, founded and edited by Chris Kimball, is about recipes, of course, but the interesting difference is the fine tuning the developers do with each and every subject. Now you can buy special book editions of Cooks Illustrated recipes.

I've been a magazine subscriber, though, for probably 20 years. They take no advertising whatsoever, and each issue is about 24+ pages long. Each contains maybe 10 articles altogether, so it's not overwhelming. They take a subject -- like cabbage, let's say, or brownies in this case -- and they not only develop the recipe or a group of recipes, but the writer explains the process in great length and detail. I like that - I enjoy reading about the trials and errors. That may not be for everybody, however. So they talk about the ingredients process, sometimes the chemistry behind food combinations, and explain why using something in the recipe didn't work and how she/he/they finally found the "right" recipe. Of course, it's just their opinion, but I've rarely been disappointed by any of C.I. recipes. They also do taste tests of canned or bottled items - like tomatoes, (Muir Glen won the last time they tested them) or paring knives, or pie crust shells. That kind of thing.

So, back to brownies. This recipe was printed in April, 2004. The recipe developers and authors, Erika Bruce and Adam Ried, worked on this recipe for awhile to come up with their combination. After reading the article I just had try it. I was doing a dinner party that weekend for a fairly sizable crowd, and wanted something like finger food for dessert. The brownies were prepared, baked, and about an hour before the guests arrived I carefully cut them up and delicately balanced rows of them on an elevated cake stand and covered them with plastic wrap so they wouldn't dry out before people got around to eating them. People began to arrive and someone oohed and aahed over the large stand full of brownies. She reached in and grabbed one and ate it right then. She was in ecstasy, she said. So, someone else had to have one. Then someone else. About a third of the brownies were gone before I'd even served appetizers (*$%!+$). But the consensus was that these were the best brownies. Do I agree?Absolutely. I've made them several times since then, just not recently.

So when I was telling my younger daughter, Sara, about the creation of my blog a couple of months ago, she immediately piped up and said,"Mom, the Best Ever Brownies have to go on your blog." Now she's an affirmed chocoholic from wa-a-ay back. But, this being 2007, I'd almost forgotten about them, lo these many years ago (3). Since I had a hankering for some chocolate today, and I'm meeting my friends Joan, Janet and Darlene later this afternoon for coffee, I thought I'd surprise them with a little treat. We have a new Peet's that's opened up about 4-5 miles away (we have another one closer, but it's small). The new one is large and has lots of outdoor seating. And it's not that crowded yet. I do love Peet's coffee - they have a corner on the foam market in my book. I know, some people don't like or want foam, but I love it. Theirs is dense and flavorful. Always. We buy our regular drinking coffee from Peet's and have for years. I make espresso mostly, but Dave drinks Peet's Decaf Sumatra nearly every day.

These brownies aren't all that unusual, really. If you put the ingredients side by side with other brownie recipes you might not find much difference. It probably has more eggs - 4 - and not a lot of flour (although it is cake flour) which gives them a bit of a chiffon texture, so they're not as cakey as some. There is a punch of chocolate in these, but they make 24, so really 6 ounces isn't all that unusual. The color of the finished brownie is more like cocoa, or milk chocolate, but there isn't any of either in the brownies. The chocolate flavor is certainly there, but it's not like these are dense or chewy.
I've used Ghiradelli chocolate and Lindt too. And now I really like using Scharffen Berger. But in'04 people hadn't gotten into designer chocolate like they have now. When I entered the recipe into my recipe program I noted back then that I didn't have any unsweetened chocolate (which is what it calls for), so I'd used Valrhona dark instead and cut down on the sugar. Funny thing. I didn't have any unsweetened chocolate today, either, so I used Trader Joe's Bittersweet (it's a Belgian chocolate) and reduced the sugar by about 1/3. The pan preparation is a bit unusual - you line the pan in both directions with foil (leaving the edges hanging over the sides, which you use to grab ahold of when you're removing them), then spray the foiled pan with baking spray (the kind that has both oil and flour in it). I forgot to sprinkle the pecans on the top of these, as directed, but mixed them into the batter instead. Whatever you do, don't overbake these, and it's easy to do. I rely on my handy-dandy cake tester whenever I bake. My oven runs a few degrees hot, so I always cut down the temp by at least 5 degrees, sometimes 10, and reduce the baking time. These took 27 minutes today at 315 degrees.

You could make a half of a recipe, which might be less dangerous to have around. These freeze nicely, however. See how long these last in YOUR house! And Sara, these are for you.

Classic Brownies (the best brownies ever)
Recipe By :Erika Bruce & Adam Ried
Source: Cooks Illustrated, 4/2004
Servings: 24
4 ounces pecans -- chopped
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate -- chopped fine
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 325°. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8 inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 x 9 inch baking dish (preferably glass), pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edge. Cut 14-inch length foil and, if using extra-wide foil, fold lengthwise to 12-inch width; fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick baking cooking spray. If using nuts, spread nuts evenly on rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until fragrant, about 4-8 minutes. Set aside to cool. Whisk to combine flour, salt and baking powder in medium bowl. Set aside.
2. Melt chocolate and butter in large heatproof bowl set over saucepan of almost simmering water, stirring occasionally, until smooth. (Alternatively, in microwave, heat butter and chocolate in large microwave safe bowl on high for 45 seconds, then stir and heat for 30 seconds more. Stir again, and if necessary, repeat in 15-second increments; do not let chocolate burn. When chocolate mixture is completely smooth, remove bowl from saucepan and gradually whisk in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, whisking after each addition until thoroughly combined. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, folding with rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth and homogenous.
3.Transfer batter to prepared pan; using spatula, spread batter into corners of pan and smooth surface. Sprinkle toasted nuts (if using them) evenly over batter and bake until toothpick or wooden skewer inserted into center of brownies comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 30-35 minutes. Cool pan on wire rack at room temperature about 2 hours, then remove brownies from pan by lifting foil overhang. Cut brownies into 2-inch squares and serve. Store leftovers in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days (they won't last that long!).

NOTES : The first time I made them I didn't have the unsweetened chocolate, so I used Valrhona dark, which doesn't have as much sugar in it as some chocolate. In the same article the writers did a taste test of chocolates and the tasting team preferred Ghiradelli Bittersweet best. In 2nd place was Lindt Dark Chocolate. However, both of those contain sugar, so reduce sugar in the recipe if you use them.
Per Serving : 226 Calories; 14g Fat (51.6% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 51mg Cholesterol; 73mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 2 1/2 Fat; 1 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
To view a printable file, click on title at the top.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Baby Backs in Peanut Butter Slather

It seems that I'm on a Hugh Carpenter roll. Maybe I'd better buy his cookbook, Hot Barbecue, since I've prepared several recipes from that cookbook and like them all. Yesterday was a beautiful Southern California day, perfect for a backyard grilled dinner. Since Dave is a diabetic, I tend to not prepare sweet barbecue sauces except on rare occasions. And that's probably why I was attracted to this recipe because it has a limited amount of sugar in it. (And, in fact, I forgot to add the honey to the recipe at all, but next time I will.) I remember when I attended the grill class and these ribs were prepared for everyone - I enjoyed them then, and we enjoyed them yesterday. The ribs came from Niman Ranch, and they've been in my freezer for several months from an order I placed with them back then. If you've never had any Niman Ranch meats, you're in for a treat. Only available by mail order or phone, they raise very healthy animals, no antibiotics, no hormones. Although, their bacon (which is excellent and contains no nitrates or nitrites) is available at some Trader Joe's, and occasionally you can find their pork chops there also. If you get on the Niman Ranch email list, they'll tell you when meats are on special. Find a friend who will order as well and the shipping will be less that way. These ribs were exceedingly lean. Maybe not healthy-lean, but certainly better than any ribs I buy locally.

First you make a sauce/marinade: peanut butter, soy sauce, Hoisin, ginger, garlic, sherry and some Vietnamese chili sauce, among other things. You marinate the ribs in the sauce for an hour or two. Or three, or up to 8 hours. The sauce isn't hard to make - whizzed up in the blender - then you pile the ribs into plastic bags with the sauce and just let them stew in the refrigerator. Really very easy.

Carpenter has developed his own method for using the grill. He likes high heat at first, then you lower the temperature to let meat settle in for some long, slow cooking. This method is very similar to the Ribeye Steaks with Amazing Glaze that we made several weeks ago. Click HERE to refer to that recipe.
We sat outside overlooking our beautiful view of the California coast, under our new pergola, in the shade, sipping on a magnificent bottle of 2002 Iron Horse Alexander Valley T Bar Vineyard Merlot. We watched blue jays swoop down to our small table and grab little pieces of corn chips, while the ribs were slowly baking. The birds seem almost tame, as they would come within about 6 inches of my hand to pick up crispy pieces I'd toss their way. We've seen these birds before. They may even have a nest somewhere on our slope as they'd dive just over and down behind the foreground palm tree in the photo. Very entertaining. And very peaceful and relaxing. Off in the distance in the photo is the Pacific Ocean, looking toward Long Beach and Palos Verdes. It's about 10 miles to the ocean, although it's kind of hazy out in the distance. What a lovely end to a nice weekend.

Baby Back Ribs with Spicy Peanut Butter Slather

Recipe By:Hugh Carpenter, "Hot Barbecue"
Servings: 4
1 pound pork backribs
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons chili sauce -- hot, Vietnamese
6 whole garlic clove -- minced
1/4 cup fresh ginger -- finely minced
1 tablespoon grated lime rind
1/4 cup green onion -- minced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro -- minced

1. Prepare the marinade by combining all ingredients in a blender and whiz until smooth. Makes 2 1/2 cups.
2. Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs. Ideally, ask your butcher to do it for you. Alternately, use a small paring knife and gently nick the membrane, then grab it quickly with your fingers and gently pull it off completely. This allows the marinade to penetrate the meat. If you don't remove the membrane, absolutely none of the marinade with reach the back side of the ribs. Sometimes a paper towel will help you to grab the membrane.
3. Place the ribs in the sauce. You may use a large plastic bag or shallow metal tray. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes, but no more than 8 hours.
4. Preheat the grill to medium - 400-425°. Place ribs on the grill, away from direct heat source (charcoal or gas), then reduce heat to about 300° and allow to cook slowly for about an hour, maybe longer. Ribs are done when you look at the end of the bones and the meat has begun to shrink away from the bone. Remove from grill, turn up on edge and slice off one rib to check for doneness. Cut each rib the same way and serve immediately.
Serving Ideas : Serve with cold salads or a cold vegetable.
NOTES : You can make these in the oven also - if so, bake at 250° or 275° (low and slow) for about 90 minutes. It's very difficult to remove the membrane. Sometimes I've just not been able to accomplish the tedious task, so I usually poke some holes in the membrane but not enough that the rib section might fall apart.
Per Serving: 643 Calories; 41g Fat (58.2% calories from fat); 22g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 58mg Cholesterol; 1764mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Grain(Starch); 2 1/2 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 7 Fat; 2 Other Carbohydrates. To view a printable recipe click on the title at the top.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

"Hot as Haiti" - a drink

It seems that alcoholic beverages of all varieties are very much in Vogue again. And with variety like we've never seen. Everything from alcoholic smoothies, to the be-all, end-all Martini. My friend Linda T's daughter Kris introduced me to this drink on Christmas Day, 2006, at her mother's home in Carlsbad. We were en route to our daughter's home in Poway to celebrate Christmas Day and dinner, and stopped for a brief visit. Kris was bartender for the day, and was offering two mixed drinks: one made with Pimm's, or this one, a rum-based drink with fruit juices. I opted for the latter, and have enjoyed this cocoction numerous times in the ensuing months. As long as you have the ingredients on hand - tangerines, limes, ginger ale, and mint, you're in business. Normally I'm out of tangerines and limes, maybe even ginger ale, so I need to plan ahead. Currently we're out of tangerine season here, so I've used orange juice, and particularly like the color when I've used blood oranges. I've used sugar-free ginger ale and added Splenda to sweeten the drink, with no appreciable change in flavor. It's the fruit juices and mint that travel through, and the rum is subtle, as long as you don't overdo it.

Kris got this from a little cookbook of drinks, Highballs High Heels - a Girl's Guide to the Art of Cocktails (currently out of print). This is very refreshing drink and will make a really nice break in a warm, almost hot, sunny Southern California afternoon. The picture was taken in Linda's kitchen a few weeks ago when I spent a very fun weekend with her in Carlsbad. She remembered that I had enjoyed the drink and provided the ingredients, so we both had one. What fun! Thanks, Linda. Thanks, Kris.

Hot as Haiti
Source: Linda T's daughter Kris
Author: Highballs High Heels - a Girl's Guide to the Art of Cocktails
2 pieces lime, seeded, 1-inch wedge
2 pieces tangerine, seeded 1-inch wedge
1 tablespoon sugar
6 whole ice cubes, or 6-8 cubes crushed
1 oz. dark rum
3 oz. ginger ale, chilled

Place the lime wedges, tangerine wedges, and sugar in bottom of an 8 ounce double old fashion glass or a thick, heavy bottom glass. Muddle the mixture until juice is extracted and the sugar dissolves. Add enough ice to fill the glass. Pour in the rum, and top with ginger ale to serve.
Per Serving: 257 Calories; 1g Fat (2.3% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 53g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 14mg Sodium. Exchanges: 2 Fruit; 1 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
To print just the recipe, click the title at the top.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Tex-Mex Jicama Salad

A week or two ago I mentioned Hugh Carpenter, a very talented chef, author and restaurant consultant. I think his name cropped up in the Los Angeles Times Food Section one year (this was back in the mid-80's) because he was consulting with several new restaurants, helping them develop their menus and specifically the food. Back then he was really into Asian food, but was one of the early advocates of fusion - Asian fusion - Pan-Asian, or Pan-Californian. We zipped up to L.A. on several occasions to try the food in these restaurant establishments and were very interested in the food combinations and layers of flavor. He lives up in wine country, but must spend some time in L.A. So when Carpenter began teaching at the Bristol Farms facility in South Pasadena, I drove up there to take some classes. I was impressed. He's a very engaging, entertaining guy, high energy and skinny as a rail. Still is. He must not eat a lot of the food he prepares, or else he's one of those kind of guys who has a very natural high metabolism. His wife, Teri Sandison, was there with him, and we learned that she helped in the kitchen, but her angle was pottery. More than one of the Carpenter cookbooks contains nothing but his wife's plates, platters, bowls, etc. and she's listed as a co-author.

This recipe was from one of the classes, although it could have been from a more recent one rather than years ago. I'm not sure, nor do I know which of his cookbooks this is from. I've made it several times, and it seemed very appropriate today since we're going to an afternoon barbecue with a group of friends. All I do know is that it's tasty. I happen to love watercress. It has a peppery tang that dances on my tongue. It's a little difficult to find these days . . . I don't know why, but it is. The salad is different (because of the jicama, the watercress, and the abundance of pecans), crunchy (also because of the jicama), and the dressing is a cloud of flavor with every bite (unique because of fresh lime juice and honey). But you just gotta use the walnut or pecan oil. Under no circumstances should you substitute olive oil or even vegetable oil. Actually I don't think I've ever seen pecan oil, but walnut oil isn't too hard to find these days. Just remember to keep the oil in the refrigerator - it doesn't have a long shelf life at room temp. Give yourself ample time for all the chopping and mincing. I think it takes about an hour from start to finish, but it's good to chill everything before actually serving, so if possible, allow an extra hour for that.

Tex Mex Jicama Salad
Recipe: Hugh Carpenter, cookbook author
Serving Size : 4

1 pound jicama
2 cups watercress
1 whole red bell pepper
1 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup lime juice -- freshly squeezed
3 tablespoons walnut oil -- or pecan oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon hot chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 whole garlic clove -- minced
2 tablespoons cilantro -- chopped

1. Advance Preparation: Preheat oven to 325°. Using a knife, trim off the jicama skin - hold the jicama on it's edge and slice away pieces of skin. This is much easier than using a potato peeler. Cut the jicama in small julienne pieces. You want about 4 cups total. Place in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Wash the watercress, discard any tough ends, and refrigerate. Char the red pepper over a gas flame or under the broiler. Just cook until the skin is charred on all sides. Transfer to a plastic bag, seal and set aside for 10 minutes. Then rub away any skin, stem it and cut into matchstick sized pieces. Refrigerate.
2. Place nuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 15 minutes. In a small bowl combine the lime juice, oil, honey, chile sauce, cumin, salt, garlic and cilantro. Refrigerate. All of the above can be done up to 8 hours in advance.
3. To serve: In a large bowl combine the jicama, watercress, red pepper, and nuts. Stir the dressing and pour over the jicama, then toss until evenly coated. Transfer to a salad platter or on individual plates.
Serving Ideas : Good with grilled meat. Since I have trouble finding watercress I have used arugula and it was just great.
NOTES : The dressing is sensational, and could also be drizzled on grilled salmon or halibut. Since jicama has very little taste, it's the dressing you DO taste. Give yourself plenty of time to julienne the jicama and red bell pepper. If you don't have Asian chile sauce, use some kind of hot sauce to give it a kick.
Per Serving: 361 Calories; 29g Fat (67.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 281mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 5 1/2 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
Click on the title at the top to print just the recipe.