Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Whazz Up?

It has been a flurry of activity around here for months.  Here's what I've been up to:

  • Apparently I was passed up on the May 21st rapture.  That's ok.  I have more Real Housewives series to catch up on.
  • I did a 3-day juice cleanse.  I was hungry. I lost 3 lbs (which was not my goal) but BONUS.  My life was not transformed in the way some have written about.  I did feel like it helped me to get back on track following a Disney week-long diet of foods I don't usually eat. And I reaffirmed that beets are on the very short list of foods I can't choke down even if my life depends on it.
  • I've decided to take up drinking bourbon.  (Not as a hobby, just on occasion.) Every interesting cocktail recipe I see lately contains bourbon.  
  • Speaking of bourbon, this is my new favorite grown-up milkshake to serve at parties...
Vanilla Caramel Bourbon Milkshake 

Serves 1-2
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups premium vanilla ice cream
2-3 tablespoons pourable caramel sauce1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon

Mix in blender and serve.
    • I've gone viral!!!  I did a few months of work testing products and creating recipes for Duncan Hines commercials and campaigns.  If you go to the Duncan Hines Facebook page you can watch the commercial.  After the commercial you can click on any of the desserts and watch videos of me demo'ing some tips and techniques.  To find me, look for these "kitchen timer" icons...

     Click and there I'll be...

    Don't I look joyful and perky?  Don't judge.  I was very excited to show home bakers how easy some of these professional techniques are to do at home. 

    • I also developed new burger recipes for Vlasic pickles.  Click here and try some of these recipes out.  My personal faves are the Zesty Garlic Guacamole Burger and the State Fair Fried Pickle Burger.  My family loves the BBQ Bread and Butter Burger.
    So there you have it. (Which I say far too often in these videos.  Not really the catchphrase I dreamt of being associated with...) That is what I've been busy with.  How's things with you?

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake

    Some days you may feel all high falutin' and fancy pants.  You may want to execute a beautifully complicated elegant dessert with glazes and chocolate curls and gold leaf.  Other days you may want to put on your ripped jeans (or just stay in your pj's), snarf down something sweet and keep it real.  This recipe is for you my friend.  It's from one of my favorite bakers, the boys behind Baked ExplorationsNot to be all bossy but GO GET THIS BOOK. You won't regret it.

    The cake has a caramel-y flavor from the dark brown sugar and a wonderful oatmeal cookie vibe from the oatmeal and cinnamon.  The recipe says you can serve it as a breakfast treat without the cream cheese frosting...to which I say "You don't know me very well, do you?"  Make the frosting.  The cake is great the day of but even better the day after you make it.

    I confess, I tried to go a little fancy pants on you by turning it out of the pan and trying to cut perfectly neat and perpendicular rectangles of cake just to impress you.  Yeah.  That didn't work so well.  So don't do that.  Who do I think I am anyway?  So I'm back to keeping it real. And eating it out of the pan with a fork.  Sorry, was that a little too real for you?

    Deliciousness before beauty

    Post-fork apocalypse

    Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cake w/ Cream Cheese Frosting
    Ever so slightly adapted from Baked Explorations
    Yield: 1 9 x 13 inch cake

    8 ounces milk chocolate chips
    1/2 t Scotch, bourbon, or rum or favorite liquor
    1 1/2 cups plus 2 T all-purpose flour
    1 c rolled oats
    1 1/4 c boiling water
    1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into cubes
    2 eggs, beaten
    3/4 c sugar
    1 1/4 c dark brown sugar, packed
    1/2 t salt
    1 t baking soda
    1 t baking powder
    1 1/2 t cinnamon

    5 T unsalted butter, softened
    5 1/2 ounces cream cheese, at room temp
    2 c confectioners sugar
    3/4 t vanilla
    a small pinch of salt
    1. Preheat oven to 375F.  Using baking spray (or butter) coat the sides and bottom of 9 x 13 baking pan.  Boil the 1 1/4 cups of water.
    2. In a small bowl, toss chocolate chips with the liquor.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of flour over the chips and toss until coated.
    3. Place oats and cubed butter in a large bowl.  Add boiling water and wait 30 seconds. Stir to melt butter and moisten oats. Set aside for 30 minutes.
    4. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, sugars, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon.  Fold in cooled oatmeal mixture and stir until well combined.  Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour and the chocolate chips. Gently combine.
    5. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes.  Cool cake completely in pan before frosting.
    6. To prepare frosting, mix butter and confectioners sugar in a standing mix or using a hand mixer.  When completely combined, add the softened cream cheese and vanilla and pinch of salt. Combine until smooth.
    7. Spread frosting over cooled cake and refrigerate to set up before serving.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011

    Miso Soup

    It's New York Restaurant Week!  I had big plans, people.  Big plans.  Reservations at four-star restaurants.  And then the snows came. Again. And Again.  Old Man Winter can bite me.  Big plans canceled and instead, my girlfriends and I stayed local and went for sushi.  I tried to drown my sorrows in miso soup. 

    I brainwashed my children early to learn to like Japanese restaurants.  I could eat sushi everyday so I needed to get them on board.  It wasn't difficult when we started with miso soup.  In fact, it wasn't until years after they had been ordering it that they asked "what is the green stuff in the soup".  Well kids, that would be seaweed.  "Umm...ok."

    Miso Soup is very simple to make at home.  There is one rule: never boil it.  The most taxing part may be finding the two main dashi ingredients, bonito flakes and kombu.  I found both at my local Whole Foods.  You may even find it in the international food aisle of your grocery store or a local Asian market.

    I used white miso in this soup and the flavor was lighter and sweeter than at my favorite Japanese restaurant.  I think I would try brown miso next time for a richer "umami" flavor to the soup.  Speaking of umami, Chef David Chang says you can substitute raw bacon for bonito flakes to render the same umami flavor.  I love that guy.  He'll find a way to put pork in anything.

    If you'd like to read two very in-depth interesting articles about kombu, check out this link and this link.  In the meantime, warm up with miso soup.

    Miso Soup

    2 quarts of water
    1 and a half pieces of kombu
    3/4 cup bonito flakes
    1/2 cup white miso
    firm tofu, cut into small cubes
    1 scallion, light green part only, thinly sliced

    1. Put kombu in 2 quarts of cold water.  Bring water and kombu to just under the boiling point.  Do not boil the water.  Turn off the heat and remove the kombu.

    2.  Add the bonito flakes and let steep in the water for 5-7 minutes.  Pour the whole mixture through a strainer lined with cheesecloth.

    3. Pour the strained broth back into your pan and turn on heat bringing the liquid to just under boiling again.

    4. Mix one cup of the hot broth with the 1/2 cup of miso.  Whisk until all lumps are dissolved, then pour miso into dashi broth.

    To serve, add tofu and scallions.  You can also chop up nori and add it to the soup.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Top Chef Restaurant Wars, Up Close and Personal

    Photo from www.bravotv.com

     My husband and I were guests for last night's Top Chef All-Stars Restaurant Wars episode.  The twist this season was that diners ate at both restaurants and the winners we determined solely by diners' votes.  It was interesting to watch the show and see what was going on behind the scenes in the kitchen, as we were only privy to what we were experiencing in the dining room that night.

    It was also surprising to see how different people's reactions are to the same food, personalities and presentation.  As my 6-year-old says "You don't know MY tastebuds!"

    Here are my impressions from the night (which up until now I couldn't talk about less I risked death, dismemberment or law suits)....


    Didn't really understand the concept.  It didn't evoke any sort of strong theme or through-line during the meal.  It was as if the chefs decided what they each wanted to make and then barreled on through.  There wasn't anything really unique or unusual about their menu or point of view.

    We were excited to see Tiffany as front of the house cuz' who doesn't love them some Tiffany?!  We asked about her recent marriage, if she had time for a honeymoon, etc.  While she was friendly, she did seem nervous and distracted.  Our table (which then became the Judges' table when we switched restaurants) was turned in such a way that I was straddling a table leg throughout the meal.  We called Tiffany over and suggested she may want to turn the table before the judges sat there, as the lovely Padma will not feel beautiful straddling a table leg in her hot Little Black Dress.  I did not see them take our advice.  Tsk, tsk.

    We ordered two of everything on the menu and shared with our party of four. 

    Tiffany's Egg & Asparagus Salad-my last meal on Earth would include a runny egg, so I was looking forward to this dish with the chorizo, egg, asparagus, etc.  This dish was soooo salty, none of us could eat it.  Watching the show, I wonder if it was the salt/sugar cure for the egg yolk that did it.  Unfortunately, it was inedible for our table.

    Angelo's Fluke Crudo-I loved this dish.  I thought it was well-balanced and one of my favorite dishes of the night. Grapes and a peppercorn vinaigrette and lemon zest...nice.  Although, I think it's time Angelo got off the crudo train soon.  It seems to be his fallback dish.

    Mike's Lamb and Cauliflower Puree-Our lamb was also a bit cold and undercooked for my husband's taste but the cauliflower puree was freaking amazing.  Had we not been on camera, we would have licked the plate.  Or maybe we did and they edited it out.

    Mike's Pork Belly, Octopus & White Bean Puree-This was my very favorite dish of the night.  It had everything in one bite-creamy, chewy, smoky, silky, etc.  Contrary to what the judges thought, ours was well-seasoned. 

    Antonia's Oxtail Gnudi-Yes, it was a bit salty but not nearly as salty as Tiffany's egg dish.  Too bad because this could have been excellent.  Could she have saved it with more acid?

    Marcel's Roasted Monkfish-I remember almost nothing about this dish other than after one bite I willingly passed it off to the other diners at my table.  And of course it came with FOAM!  When the plate was presented to us we all said "Must be Marcel's."  Dude, you have totally played out the foam thing.  Move on.  Or pair it with Jamie's scallops. The judges' comments about the monkfish were, "It's like baby food." Ouch.

    Marcel's Duo of Peaches with Coconut FOAM!-What was this?  It was all flash and no substance.  Yes, cool to see a smoking, icy bowl coming toward your table but this was so bland and awful tasting.  He used tapioca pearls in a tasteless, watery coconut FOAM (aargh!!!)  that felt like eating fish eggs and glue.  Blech!  And if you know me personally, you'll notice it was me who commented on desserts being the Top Chef kiss of death.  Who will be brave enough to make dessert?  Oh, Marcel.  The one interesting note on this dish was the use of the apricot-sized unripened green peach.  I'd never seen that before and it inspired a lot of discussion at our table.  I believe Tiffany told us it came from Japan? 

    Photo from www.bravotv.com


    Concept: Very fun, tongue-in-cheek concept for Bodega.  Even the menu was funny and irreverent with its descriptions of the menu items.

    Service: What can you say about Fabio?  He could sell ice to an Eskimo.  There is no better pick for a front of the house person than him.   I think great service and a great atmosphere can greatly impact your dining experience and even elevate the taste memory of the food.  We felt like he spent a lot of time at our table talking with us.  I think he showered that same attention on everyone.

    The Mojito Cocktail-This was not great.  It was watered down and lacked any punch.  We took a few sips and then switched to wine.

    Dale's All That and a Bag of Chips-Yes, please.  Potato chips with fried rosemary and sea salt.  These were amazing.  I could have made a meal out of these.  In fact, we asked Fabio for another bag and he happily brought us one.  The presentation was fun too.  Literally a plastic vacuum sealed bag of chips that he cut open at your table.

    Richard's Can of Tuna-Again, funny presentation but not memorable for me.  In fact, watching the show last night, I had no recollection that crispy deep-fried chicken was part of that dish.  I know the judges loved this dish.

    Richard's Chicken Fried Cod-I remember the brussel sprout "kraut" underneath but the fish underwhelmed me.  Full disclosure: I'm rarely blown away by cod except for Nobu's Black Miso Cod.

    Dale's-Bacon, Egg & Bread dish-I loved it when Anthony Bourdain said "This is perfect stoner food."  Again, a runny egg-key to my heart.  But for me, the homemade ketchup was a little overpowering and threw the dish off balance.

    Trey's Pork Shoulder with Grits and Corona Lime Sauce-This was good, hearty, soul-satisfying food and the Corona flavor was very clear.  Everyone at our table unanimously enjoyed this.

    Fabio's Amaretto Cake with Cappucino Mousse- I am so sorry Fabio, but I do not remember this dessert.  Let's just chalk it up to the amount of Terlato wine consumed by this point.  Or the fact that we were laughing and having such a good time at Bodega that I didn't give your dessert it's due attention. Um...the judges liked it.

    Carla's Blueberry "Pie"-Whootie who!!!! The blueberry compote on this was so delicious I asked Fabio for the recipe and he gave it to me.  There was a crispy sugar and cinnamon coated puff pastry triangle and ice cream-- a deconstructed Blueberry Pie.  A great way to end the meal.

    The Scorecard:

    Service-Bodega, hands down.  Fabio is the king.

    Concept-Bodega.  Funny, interesting, consistent.

    Food-Here's where it gets interesting.  We taped this episode about 3-4 months ago so my memory is not crystal clear on every aspect of each dish.  But, the food I remember most is the crudo, the cauliflower puree, the pork belly and octopus, the potato chips and the blueberry "pie".  That adds up to 3 dishes for Etch and 2 for Bodega.

    So what weighs more heavily, service and atmosphere or stand-out dishes?  After a lot of back and forth, I gave my vote to Etch.  Because if I could return to that restaurant just to eat the pork belly, cauliflower puree and crudo again, I would. 

    What I took away from this experience was that food is subjective to one's taste; the people you are with during the meal; your mood.  Not to mention the fallible human who may have over-seasoned my plate before sending it out and under-seasoned yours.  I was surprised to see how different the judges felt about some dishes I loved and vice versa. 

    The judges are paid to be critical.  I, on the other hand, empathize with the chefs.  I imagine they feel as I do.  Everytime I cook for someone I want them to love it.  I want to pour all the joy, love and comfort I can into my food and give it to them as a gift.  It's hugely disappointing when it's not received in the way you intended it.  As someone I know supposed, "Carla cooks with love.  Marcel cooks like a dick." 

    I think critics opinions and restaurant reviews are a good starting point, but you really need to judge it for yourself.  Because one man's baby food may be another man's monkfish. With FOAM!!!!

    To see photos of all of the evening's food click here.

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    Pork Belly on Steamed Buns with Gojujang Sauce and Pickled Cucumbers

    If you haven't eaten all of your pork belly yet and haven't grown weary of my pig jokes...I know, I'm asking a lot.  I have another recipe for you.  Pork Belly on Steamed Buns with Gojujang Sauce and Pickled Cucumbers.  What is gogjujang you may ask?  It is a fermented red pepper paste from Korea.  It's a little spicy plus sweet and smoky and I can't get enough of it lately. 

     Now, here's the thing.  You'll probably only find gojujang at an Asian grocery store or I'm sure you could order it online.  Once you've acquired it, make this sauce below.  Make it a lot.  Use it for these pork belly buns and then make more and toss it with noodles. Bake or fry some chicken and slather it with this sauce. Use it as a dip for egg rolls or dumplings. Add it to your scrambled eggs.  You get the idea.

    There are many recipes out there to make your own steamed buns but I bought mine at the Asian market in the freezer section and thawed, then steamed them in a bamboo steamer.  And although the package says you can microwave them instead, don't.  Trust me, they are not good.

    The final element, the quick pickled cucumbers add the acid and crunch that the pork belly needs.  And these are so dead simple, they'd make a great side dish at any meal. 

     Here's a thought.  Serve these Pork Belly Buns at your Super Bowl party.  People may miss some of the game when they take a bite and their eyes roll back in their heads.  But that's a risk you'll have to take.  And let's face it, they could get buffalo wings and sliders anywhere.

    Pork Belly on Steamed Buns with Gojujang Sauce and Pickled Cucumbers

    1. Take pork belly slices out of refrigerator and let come to room temperature.  Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat.  Warm pork belly slices in the heated pan starting with fat side down first.  Then turn to warm sides of pork belly, 2-3 minutes.  Do not cook the belly, just warm it.

    2. Fill wok with an inch of water and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Set bamboo steamer over wok.  Line steamer with a piece of wax paper and fill with steamed buns.  Do not let them touch each other.  Put lid on steamer and steam for 10-15 minutes.

    3.  Slice open steamed buns down the center of the top of the bun, rather than on the side of the bun.  Fill with warmed pork belly, gojujang sauce and pickled cucumbers.  Serve immediately.

    Slow-Cooked Pork Belly
    Recipe here

    Gojujang Sauce
    5 cloves of garlic
    1 1-1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
    3T gojujang paste (Korean red pepper paste)
    1T honey
    3T soy sauce
    1 1/2T rice vinegar
    1T sesame oil

    In a food processor chop garlic and ginger.  My tip: Turn the food processor on and then drop the garlic and ginger down the feed tube and watch the magic happen.  Add gojujang, honey, soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil and whiz until combined.

    Pickled Cucumbers
    2 small Kirby or baby seedless cucumbers, slice 1/8 inch thick
    1T sugar
    3/4T kosher salt
    2T rice vinegar

    Combine sliced cucumbers, sugar and salt in a bowl.  Mix and let sit for 5-10 minutes.  Rinse salt and sugar off cucumber and pat dry.  Add rice vinegar and serve immediately or keep refrigerated for up to 4 hours.

    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    Slow Cooked Pork Belly Part 1

     Pork belly.  It's cheap, it requires almost no supervision and the result is luscious and porky and versatile.  You'll need to plan ahead with this recipe as you need an overnight cure in the refrigerator, 5-6 hours of cooking time and then overnight again in the refrigerator.  But really, the prep and cooking of it is very hands off.  You could even go see a movie or two while it's transforming itself in your oven.  Insert Public Service Announcement here: Just don't go see Black Swan or 127 Hours before you come home and try to eat. You're welcome.

    I bought this pork belly at a local Asian market.  I looked for the thickest piece they had with a nice layer of fat on top.  If yours comes with the skin on (which mine did), just get it really cold and then slice that tough layer of skin off, leaving as much fat behind as you can. 

     Here's a fun fact I learned from Chef David Chang: save the cooking liquid that's left in the pan after cooking the pork belly.  Refrigerate it and then take off the solid layer of fat that rises to the top.  Use that as a flavorful cooking fat (like bacon grease or duck fat).  What's left at the bottom is liquid gold known as "pork jelly" that can be added to soups and sauces to really beef up, or should I say, pork up the flavor.

    Your new BFF, pork jelly.
    Once you cook the pork belly, you will cover it and compress it with a weighted pan in the refrigerator overnight.  This will compress the meat and melting fat into one compact bite full of flavor.  After that, go hog wild!  My pork jokes are killing you, huh?

    See this is why I couldn't work out this day.  Really.  I felt like such an oinker.
    Once you've cooked the pork, I suggest one preparation below Part 1-Maple Glazed Pork Belly.  Part 2 will be Steamed Buns with Pork Belly...coming soon.  Because the pork belly is so rich, a little goes a long way and you may want to serve something acidic, bright and crunchy with it to balance the richness.  Try not to pig out!  Gotcha again.

    Pork cubes, awaiting their maple bath.

     Slow-Cooked Pork Belly
    2.5 to 3 pound slab of pork belly
    1/4c brown sugar
    1/4 cup kosher salt
    3 sprigs of rosemary
    3 sprigs of thyme, leaves stripped off

    Pork Belly Cubes with Maple Glaze
    Slow-Cooked Pork Belly 
    3T maple syrup

    1. If skin is still on pork belly, refrigerate until very cold.  With a sharp knife, slice the skin off of the pork belly, keeping as much of the fat intact.

    2. Mix brown sugar, kosher salt and thyme leaves together and rub over all sides of the pork belly.  Place pork in a pyrex or roasting pan that is about the same size as the slab of pork belly.  You do not want a lot of room around the meat, you want a close fit.  Tuck the sprigs of rosemary underneath, on top and around belly.  Wrap in pan in plastic and refrigerate for 6-24 hours.

    3. Preheat oven to 250 F.  Remove meat from refrigerator.  Unwrap pork belly, rinse or brush off salt and sugar cure and place back in your pan.  Do not dump out whatever liquid has accumulated during your cure. Note: I did not rinse or brush off my salt and sugar and my pork belly was somewhat salty.  I was ok with it but you may want to brush or rinse it off depending on your salt tolerance.

    4.  Cook in oven, uncovered for 5-6 hours.  You can baste it occasionally with the liquid in the bottom of the pan if you'd like.  After 5 hours, test with a fork.  It should be very tender.  Not falling apart but you could cut it with a fork. 

    5.  Once out of the oven, let cool in same roasting pan then cover dish with plastic wrap.   Put a pan on top (I used a loaf pan) and weight it down.  Literally.  I used a 10 lb. hand weight.  Refrigerate overnight.  You are trying to compress the pork belly. 

    6.  Remove from refrigerator and slice while cold.  I cut half into large 2 x 2 inch cubes and sliced the rest. 

    7.  Return the slices to the refrigerator for our upcoming pork buns recipe.  Let the cubes come to room temp.  Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. 

    8.  Brush the top of the pork belly cubes (the fat portion) with maple syrup and put them fat side down in the heated pan for 1-2 minutes. Next turn cubes on all 4 sides to warm them briefly. You are not trying to cook the belly further, just warm it.  Serve at once. 

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    5 Minute Huevos Rancheros

     Our public school has been closed for tomorrow based on impending weather reports.  Not a flake in the sky yet and we have a snow day.  Yipee!!!!!  That means my kids do not have to perform their superstitious please-let-there-be-a-snow-day-tomorrow rituals of: wearing pajamas backwards, putting a spoon under the pillow, a penny on the window sill and flushing an ice cube down the toilet.  And no, I am not kidding.

    What better time to sleep in, raid your pantry (cause you are not driving to the store in that snow) and have a lazy breakfast?  This breakfast is for the truly lazy.  It will take you about 5 minutes to make.  I never get tired of eggs for breakfast: poached, scrambled, soft-boiled, fried, etc.  But if you are a little sick of the old standby egg preparations, try this.  This is another "no-recipe recipe".  I did not have any beans on hand but if you have any black or refried beans, throw them into the mix.  Sop up the runny egg and sauce with soft tortillas or crusty bread or sprinkle some tortilla chips on top.

    I may or may not have eaten these right out of the pan.  We don't need no stinkin' plates.

    Gratuitous runny yolk shot.

    5 Minute Huevos Rancheros
    Serves 1-2

    1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes in juice
    3T of your favorite salsa
    1 or 2 eggs
    shredded cheese
    soft tortillas or tortilla chips

    Heat tomatoes and salsa in a small skillet until bubbling.  Crack your eggs and nestle them into the sauce.  Let the eggs cook, basting the tops with the tomato salsa until  the yolks are done to your liking.  Top with shredded cheese and cilantro.  Serve with beans, rice, tortillas or toasted bread. 

    Saturday, January 8, 2011

    Kitchen Sink Skillet Cookie

    Remember those giant chocolate chip cookies you could get at the mall for a birthday or party?  Are those places still open or did they go the way of Orange Julius?  I always wanted one of those.  I thought of them the other day when I got a request for chocolate chip cookies but I wanted to shake it up a bit.  I mixed up my dough with anything I could find in the pantry and plopped it into a 10-inch cast iron skillet. 

    I call these Kitchen Sink cookies because you can use up any leftover ingredients you may have on hand in them.  I used coffee grounds, chocolate and butterscotch chips and if I'd had any leftover pretzels or potato chips I would have crushed those and dropped them in too.  Below is what I used, but feel free to play with the recipe, just don't exceed 1 1/2 cups for your mix-ins.  If your skillet is well-seasoned, the baked cookie will easily come out when you flip it.  If not, cut and serve right from the pan. Slice it into wedges and serve alone or warmed with ice cream.

    Kitchen Sink Skillet Cookie
    Serves 16
    2 cups of flour
    1 egg
    3/4 c butter at room temperature
    3/4 c brown sugar
    1/2 c sugar
    1 t baking soda
    3/4 t salt
    2 t vanilla
    1/4 c butterscotch chips
    1/2 c Guittard semi-sweet chocolate super cookie chips
    1/4 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
    3T coffee grounds

    1. Preheat the oven to 350F.  In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt together.

    2.  Combine butter and sugars with mixer.  When well mixed, add egg and vanilla. Once egg and vanilla are incorporated, add dry ingredients and mix just until flour disappears.

    3.  Gently incorporate your mix-ins (chips, chocolate, coffee grounds, nuts, etc.) Bake in a 10-inch cast iron or oven safe skillet for 40 min.  Let cool completely before cutting or turning out of pan.

    Thursday, January 6, 2011

    Garlic Soup

    Don't be afraid of Garlic Soup.  This is a traditional Castilian soup, the Spanish version of matzoh ball or Grandma's chicken soup.  Despite garlic being a main ingredient, it is really mellow and comforting. The flavor of the paprika shines through so use a good Spanish paprika.  Plus, if what they say is true about garlic being a good fighter of colds and viruses, you're in business.  Not to mention warding off the neighborhood vampires.

    Sopa de Ajo or Garlic Soup
    Makes 6 cups

    3 T olive oil
    6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
    2 T white wine
    1/2 T sweet paprika (Spanish paprika, por favor-pimenton de la vera )
    2 cups rustic bread torn into small pieces (toasted or not?)
    4 cups chicken stock
    2 eggs, beaten

    1. Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large saucepan.  Add the garlic and gently saute until light golden brown, about a minute.  You don't want to burn the garlic so watch it carefully.
    2. Add the wine and cook another 45 seconds.  Then add your paprika and cook for a minute more.
    3.  Add the chicken stock and bread and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, turn down to a simmer.  Simmer for 8-10 minutes.
    4.  Add the eggs and gently fold them in to the soup.  They will form longs strands (like in an egg drop soup).  Simmer gently for 2 more minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

    Tuesday, January 4, 2011

    Roasted Eggplant with Saffron Yogurt

    The tree is laying sadly out by the curb and the Christmas decorations have been put away.  Spring is a long way off. The gym parking lot is filled with those "resolutioners" who will be gone by March but will take all my parking spots in the meantime.  It's a good thing I'm not bitter. 

    I need a little ray of sunshine which I found in eggplant, pomegranates and saffron and yogurt.  The dish is beautifully balanced with the smoky eggplant, peppery arugula, the acidic lemony yogurt plus you get the pop of the pomegranate seeds and the crunch of pine nuts.  Served with roasted potatoes, it makes a great meatless meal.

    This recipe is adapted from Ottolenghi The Cookbook which is filled with gorgeousness.  If you are of the vegetarian persuasion or just want to feel exotic AND healthy, give this cookbook a whirl.  In the meantime, I've converted the recipe from grams and Celsius to US measurements. For my method of seeding a pomegranate without making your kitchen look like a crime scene, click here.

    Roasted Eggplant with Saffron Yogurt
    Adapted from Ottolenghi The Cookbook
    Serves 4

    2 medium eggplants
    2T olive oil plus more for roasting eggplant
    6 oz. non-fat Greek yogurt
    2T Meyer lemon (regular lemon is fine too)
    1 garlic clove, crushed
    small pinch of saffron threads
    3T very hot water
    1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
    4 cups arugula
    3T pine nuts
    kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

    1. Preheat oven to 425 F.  Cut eggplant into 3/4 inch slices.  Brush both sides with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.  Roast on a baking sheet for 20 minutes then turn over slices and bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown.  Set aside and let cool.
    2. Crush the saffron threads and combine with 3T of very hot water.  Let sit for 5 minutes.
    3. In a small bowl, combine yogurt, lemon juice, 2T of olive oil, garlic and a generous pinch of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.  Add the saffron liquid, first straining the threads out of it and whisk all ingredients together.
    4.  Plate a few slices of eggplant with the arugula, pine nuts and pomegranate seeds.  Drizzle with the saffron yogurt.

    Note: Eggplant can be roasted up to 3 days ahead.  Let it come to room temperature before composing salad. 

    Saturday, January 1, 2011

    Goodwill Towards Men

    My munchkins slept in until almost 10:30a.m. today.  Whoa. So far this 2011 thing is working out quite nicely.

    As you all go forth into the new year and be the wonderful people that you are...I have something to start you off on the right foot.  It's a website called: www.mealtrain.com

    It's a way for a group to organize meals for families/people in need.  If you know someone who has suffered a loss, has an illness, is recovering from surgery, has a new baby, etc. this is a great tool.  Friends can log on and choose a date to deliver a meal and give details of what they'll be delivering. It will email a reminder of when and what you've signed up for.  The recipients can also list their dietary restrictions, likes and dislikes.  It is a fabulous organizational tool for helping your neighbors.  And I know you're the kind of people who do that.

    Here are some ideas that make great "deliver and reheat" meals for such occasions.

    Italian Easter Pie
    One Pan Sausage and Chicken Bake
    Pasta e Fagioli Soup

    And one final idea, breakfast for dinner.  Deliver this Baked French Toast with some roasted potatoes and grilled sausages.  Kids and kids at heart will love it.  Now go forward and do good things.

    Note: This is a Paula Deen recipe so fair warning-it's delicious but healthy? Not so much.  You could make this without the praline topping and substitute fresh fruit or a fruit compote on top.  Alternatively, make half the amount of praline topping to sprinkle on top.  Or just make it as is and live a little.

    Baked French Toast w/Praline Topping
    Serves 10 
    From Paula Deen, Paula’s Home Cooking

    1 loaf French bread (13 to 16 ounces)
    8 large eggs
    2 cups half-and-half
    1 cup milk
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    Dash salt
    Praline Topping (recipe follows)
    Maple syrup

    Praline Topping:
    1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
    1 cup packed light brown sugar
    1 cup chopped pecans
    2 tablespoons light corn syrup
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well.

    1. Slice French bread into about 20 slices, 1-inch each.  Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. You can deliver it with cooking instructions below or continue to cook it yourself.

    2.The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread Praline Topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden. Drizzle with maple syrup.