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Monday, December 15, 2008

Chicken Manicotti with Roasted Red Bell Pepper Sauce

My sister sent this recipe to me because she thought it was really good. After preparing it for my family, I totally agree. I made some modifications, but it turned out to be a really tasty and colorful dish. Although stuffing the manicotti always gives me problems, it was well worth it. The stuffed pasta can certainly be made ahead of time, wrapped invidually in wax or parchment paper or placed in a foil-lined baking dish and frozen until needed; then, unwrap, cover with red pepper sauce, and cook as directed (may need a bit more cooking time, though).

Also, lasagna noodles can also be used. Just cook to al dente and cool in water until able to handle. Cut each noodle in half and spoon mixture into it before rolling and placing seam-side down in a baking dish.

Chicken Manicotti with Roasted Red Bell Pepper Sauce

1 (8-ounce) package cannelloni or manicotti shells (or 1 box lasagna noodles)
4 cups finely chopped cooked chicken
2 (8-ounce) containers chive-and-onion cream cheese
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
1 cup (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs (or 1/2 cup regular breadcrumbs + 1 tsp. Italian seasoning)
3/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon seasoned pepper
Roasted Red Bell Pepper Sauce (recipe below)
chopped fresh basil or parsley for garnish

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain & set aside.

Stir together chicken and next 6 ingredients.

Cut pasta shells lengthwise and spoon about 1/2 cup chicken mixture into each shell, gently pressing cut sides together. Place, cut sides down, in lightly greased baking dishes (makes more than will fill a 9x13 dish). Pour Roasted Red Bell Pepper Sauce evenly over shells.

Bake, covered, at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Garnish, if desired.

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Sauce

2 (7-ounce) jars roasted red bell peppers, drained
1 (16-ounce) jar creamy Alfredo sauce
3 ounces shredded Parmesan cheese

Process all ingredients in a blender until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides.

Recipe adapted from Southern Living

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge - Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

This month's Daring Bakers Challenge was a signature cake from Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater. The hosts for this month's DB Challenge were Dolores of Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie and Brownie, and Jenny of Foray into Food. We had to make the cake and camelized butter frosting. Making flavored caramels from Alice Medrich's recipe were optional, so I chose the option of NOT making them...too much going on this month.

Evidently, the cake is supposed to be delicate, light, and subtly flavored. Mine wasn't. It was very dense (and VERY sweet) with a straightforward taste of caramel. I don't think I did something right. Pitiful looking cake, right?

After reviewing Shuna's FAQ, I think I poured in the caramel syrup too quickly (all at once) when making the cake. The batter looked broken, and I don't think I ever achieved an emulsification again. Don't get me wrong, the cake had a wonderful flavor. The caramelized butter frosting was good, too, although I didn't really have enough to use for decorating. Together, however, I think mine would have sent someone into a diabetic coma...way too sweet!!! I think I'll definitely be baking the cake again (especially since I have some caramel syrup left over), but I will probably use a different frosting. Likewise, I may try the frosting again, but most likely it will be on a different cake.

Oh, and since the cake was so dense (and short), I decided to torte the layer into two. Bad idea. Don't do it. Just don't. But do try the recipe for yourself and see what you think!

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan. [Yeah, use a tall pan. Lining a shorter one with parchment worked, but not too well.]

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy. Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Caramel Syrup

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! ***Note: It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.*** Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.

Caramelized Butter Frosting

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream (I used 3 Tbsp)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup(I used 3 Tbsp)
Kosher or sea salt to taste (just a pinch was enough)

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into mixer bowl to cool completely.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting recipe courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon, as published on Bay Area Bites.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pico de Gallo

Since we seem to have a Mexican theme going on, I thought I should include my Pico de Gallo recipe. We used salsa until I figured out how easy it was to make this. Now, we very rarely buy salsa (though I keep some on hand for Tortilla Soup now). And, this pico is not dependent on the time of year since I use canned tomatoes. (Of course, fresh are better in the summer.) This makes quite a lot (~3-4 cups, I think) since we really like it and it keeps a few days in the fridge. Just use fresh limes if you can; you can use bottled lime juice, but it won't be as good. (The fresh limes make much more of a difference than using fresh tomatoes.)

Pam's Pico de Gallo

2 15 oz cans petite diced tomatoes, well drained!
~1/2 medium sweet or yellow onion, minced very fine (~1/2 cup or so)
3/4 to 1 whole bunch of cilantro, leaves chopped, stems discarded
juice of 2 limes (~6 Tbsp.)

Put the drained tomatoes into a bowl and mix in the onion. Add more if you think it needs it. Stir in the cilantro. Add more if needed. Then, add the lime juice, making sure there's enough to coat everything really well. Stir, stir, stir. There should be some lime juice standing in the bottom of the bowl; if not, add more. Store in the fridge until ready to use. This should be made at least a couple hours ahead of time, preferably the day before. It gets better as it sits.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Al Pastor

Mexican is so easy to get 'wrong'. Take, for example, about 95% of Mexican restaurants in the U.S. - you can't tell what you're eating because it's slathered in red sauce and cheese. The best Mexican I've ever had (not having lived close to Mexico and having somewhat limited exposure) was at Taco Roc. Story goes that the guy who started Taco Roc couldn't find any Mexican restaurants he liked either, so he started his own restaurant. I'm glad he did. Inexpensive, flavorful, and friendly. (Their agua fresca is awesome!) My favorite is their Al Pastor, a spicy marinated pork with chilies and pineapple. In fact, I liked it so much, I went in search of a recipe so I could recreate it at home. Unfortunately, like many good recipes, there are as many versions as cooks. So, here is my version that I came up with after reviewing quite a few recipes online. Taco Roc makes theirs with ancho chiles, but when I tried them, the Al Pastor didn't have much flavor. So, I'll stick to guajillo chilies.

Oh, you can use this stuff in/on anything: burritos, tacos, nachos, pizza...pretty much anything you can think of. Yum.

Al Pastor

~4 lb bone-in pork roast
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 small can pineapple chunks, drained - reserve juice ( or 4 rings)
13 dried guajillo chiles, soaked, seeded, stemmed

In a crock pot, cook the pork roast in a few cups of water overnight (or during the day). Remove the roast from the crock pot, and when cool enough to handle, shred the meat.*

In a blender or food processor, pulse the garlic, cumin, oregano, oil, pineapple juice, and peppers until mostly smooth. You can also add the pineapple if you don't want bigger chunks in with the meat. Add the chunks of pineapple and the sauce to the shredded cooked pork and simmer about 20 minutes. Let it sit overnight and reheat in a skillet.

*I've also read that you can cube/dice the pork and then cook it in the crock pot with the sauce. However, I think shredding the meat first allows for more even coating and consistent flavor.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Streusel-Topped Pear Pie

I am not a pie maker. I mostly do cakes, breads, and cookies. I think this is probably the third pie I've made since I've been married (wow, that's more than 7 years already!). My husband just isn't a big fan of pie - as in, he usually eats the filling and leaves the crust. However, I knew I had to add this pie recipe to my repertoire because he literally stuck his fork in the pie and declared, "This is the best pie I've ever had."

I used pears that were just barely ripe/still really firm and it worked beautifully. It wasn't mushy like fruit pies are typically; it had a bit of a bite to it that was great with the mild sweetness and spices. I adapted the recipe from The Good Home Cookbook, and it was the first time I've ever used tapioca. It allowed the mellow flavor of the pears to come through without any muddling with the rest of the ingredients. (Sorry...I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that.) I'll definitely be using more tapioca in the future. And so should you...in this pie. You'll be glad you did.

Streusel-Topped Pear Pie

7 medium pears, peeled, cored, sliced
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp quick-cooking tapioca
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground mace
Pre-made dough for 1 9-inch pie crust (cold)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened

Combine the pears with the sugar, lemon juice, tapioca, cinnamon, and mace in a large bowl. Let sit for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 425F (rack in lower third of oven). Roll out pie dough to 1/8 inch and fit into a 9-inch pie pan leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold & flute the edges. (Do not dock the bottom.) Spoon filling into pie crust.

Stir together the flour & brown sugar. Use a fork to mash together with the butter until crumbly. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the pie and bake for about an hour*, until the topping is golden. If the top gets too brown before the rest of the pie is done, cover with alumnimum foil and continue to bake. Serve warm or at room temp.

*Note: The original recipe instructed you to bake the pie without the streusel topping for 10 minutes at 425F. Then reduce the oven temp to 350F and bake for an additional 35-40 minutes after adding the streusel tipping. I didn't do this because evidently I can't read directions. I suppose it was a happy accident. :)

Adapted from The Good Home Cookbook

Monday, November 03, 2008

Tortilla Soup

I love Mexican food. LOVE it. And this recipe is so easy and tasty, it would be silly not to try it. Sam Zien enlightened me with this recipe on Discovery Health's show Just Cook This, and since I actually had a jar of salsa in the fridge, I had to try it. It was surprisingly good, super-easy to make, filling, and not-too-bad-for-you. I'll definitely be making this again (and again, and again...).

Tortilla Soup

16 ounces red salsa (medium hot, or whatever level of heat you prefer)
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken (ahem, rotisserie chicken!)
2 flour tortillas
1 one avocado, small dice
chopped cilantro, for garnish

Heat salsa in a sauce pan on the stove. Once it starts to bubble, add the broth and chicken and simmer until chicken is heated through, about 5 minutes.

While it's heating, cook tortillas on both sides in a hot oven or in a non-stick pan until they are crispy. Then, slice into thin strips.

Serve the soup in bowls and top with avocado, tortilla strips, and chopped cilantro.

Recipe courtesy Sam Zien

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge - Pizza!

The Daring Bakers Challenge this month was pizza. I've made pizza in the past using Alton Brown's recipe, but that was at least a year ago, so I was excited to try another recipe. This one was taken from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart and yielded 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches in diameter). I froze 2 to use later, but we had fun experimenting with the others. The dough turned out as promised...to be a thin, crispy yet chewy crust. And, it was super easy since I used my stand mixer to do the kneading work for me. I did not, however, get into the tossing of the dough. (I'm not coordinated enough for that!) So, I used Alton's pinch & turn method, which worked well for me. There's only one problem: my husband has declared that he can't go out for pizza any more since these were so good.

We did savory and sweet variations:

Sauteed Mushrooms, Wilted Spinach, & Goat Cheese Crumbles
Same as above, but with a spicy marinara sauce
Dessert: Pear Slices & Feta Crumbles with a Local Honey (would have been better with blue cheese but we didn't have any)

We'll definitely be making pizza at home again since it's so easy. I think I'll try substituting part of the bread flour with whole wheat flour next time. Mmmm.

Basic Pizza Dough

4 1/2 cups unbleached bread
1 3/4 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp Instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups ice cold water (~40 degrees F)
1 Tbsp sugar
Cornmeal for dusting

DAY ONE: Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer (or a big bowl). Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5-7 minutes - until the ingredients are distributed. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water. The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky.

Line a sheet pan with a silpat, then flour a work surface or counter. Turn out the dough on the counter and cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas). Sprinkle some flour over the dough, then with floured hands, gently round each piece into a ball. Transfer the dough balls to the lined sheet pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Cover the pan in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or up to 3 days).

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

DAY TWO: Exactly 2 hours before you want to make the pizzas, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and gently press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (~500F). Note: If you don't have a pizza stone, use the back of a sheet pan, but don't preheat it. Sprinkle cornmeal onto a flexible cutting mat. With floured hands, gently pinch the edge of the dough as you turn it; gravity will help you stretch out the dough. If the dough springs back instead of expanding, let it rest for ~5-10 minutes in order for the gluten to relax & try again. When the dough is the desired shape/thickness, place it on the cornmeal-coated cutting mat, making sure there is enough cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick. Brush the dough with olive oil and lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice, slide it onto the pizza stone, and bake for about 10 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and delicious.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Well, it's a rainy day here...not good for much of anything other than making soup and curling up on the sofa with a cup of coffee and a good book. However, I did manage to mail my BBM package today. And, I received my BBM package, too! Great timing!

My package was from July Bug in New York. She sent all sorts of goodies:

Let's see....where do I begin? How about that HUGE cookie on the left. I am SO excited about this cookie, it's not even funny. It's a Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie from the Levain Bakery in NYC. I've been admiring these cookies ever since I first saw them. Yes, they're HUGE! As in 6-ounces huge! (Yes, I'm a dork, but I wanted to show the size of this thing! Oh, and please ignore the brightness of my hand...I don't see the sun much.)

True, I'm not a big fan of chocolate, but I did eat part of this cookie. It's got a nice blend of flavors, and the walnuts (halves!) are delicious. Moist on the inside, crunchy on the outside. Yum.

Ok, enough about the cookie. On to the rest of the goodies. Behind the cookie is a festive halloween cup since July Bug loves the holiday. Continuing to the right, we have White Chocolate Peanut Butter Spread from Peanut Butter & Co, where she & her boyfriend had their first date. Next is Nutella, which will be great in my Nutella Bundt Cake or sandwiched between two chocolate wafer cookies for Christmas gifts. On top of the Nutella is the Lemony Snicket's book Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid which she says is hilarious. The colorful card is July Bug's handwritten note explaining everything in the package. The image on the card is a double exposure of 5th Ave in Manhattan and 5th Ave in Brooklyn. The two computer printouts are a description of Levain Bakery and the secret to the perfect chocolate chip cookie (a 24-36 hour "hydration time" to allow the flour and other dry goods to absorb moisture and bake more evenly). Lastly, since she knew I like white chocolate, July Bug also included a Ghiradelli White Chocolate Baking Bar. Yum. This will be awesome for shaving down over desserts.

So, many thanks to July Bug for the awesome goodies. You definitely brightened my rainy day!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Apple Date Crunch Bars

My grandmother sent a large amount of apples from her orchard to us, and I decided to adapt one of my go-to recipes for the fall fruit instead of making a traditional apple pie or apple cake. So, I tweaked my Cranberry Crunch Bars recipe and came up with Apple Date Crunch Bars! They're quite reminiscent of apple pie but don't require a fork and can be eaten for breakfast since they contain oatmeal! :) These disappeared too quickly for me to get any pictures.

Also, I'm not sure what kind of apples I used, but a Red Delicious or Macintosh would probably work well. Or, you could use a mixture of sweet and tart apples and adjust the sugar to taste.

Apple Date Crunch Bars

1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch
3/4 cup water
3/4 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 to 3 cups sliced apples (don't have to peel)
3/4 cup chopped pitted dates
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves

Combine the sugar, cornstarch, water, vanilla, apples, and dates in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in spices. Let cool slightly.

Crumb Topping:

1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, melted

Mix oats, brown sugar, flour, and melted butter until combined. Sprinkle ~half of the crumbs into the bottom of a greased 9x13 pan. Spread apple filling over the crumbs and top with remaining crumbs. Bake at 350F for ~45 minutes or until the edges are slightly brown and caramelized.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge - Lavash!

It's only my second DB Challenge, and I've already fallen behind! I should've posted on Saturday, but I was on vacation and, alas, had planned to make the Lavash when we returned. I forgot the post date was on the 27th! C'est la vie. I did manage to come up with something before October began!

So, the challenge was to make Lavash Crackers and create a dip to accompany them. Another catch? Make them vegan or gluten-free. I don't think my crackers, which turned out more like pita chips since I didn't roll the dough out very thinly, are either, but they're pretty tasty. The Red Pepper Hummus wasn't the greatest, but the Lavash would be great with the Black Bean Hummus I made earlier. Here's what I did:

Lavash Crackers

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached bread flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 Tbsp sugar (which, to my surprise, may not be vegan!)
1 Tbsp. canola oil (which also may not be vegan!)
~3/4 cup water, room temperature
seasme seeds and kosher salt for toppings

Stir together everything but the water in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook, then slowly add the water and mix until it forms a ball. You may only need 1/2 cup water...I had to use more. Knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth, satiny, and not tacky. Place in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to rise for 90 minutes or until doubled in size.

Turn out the dough onto a silpat and roll out to the desired thickness. If you want crisp crackers, divide the dough and use 2 pans. Using a pizza cutter, score the dough to form the cracker shapes. Spritz with olive oil and sprinkle on sesame seeds and kosher salt. *Note: Gently press in the toppings! I didn't do this and most fell off when I broke the crackers apart! Bake at 350F for about 25 minutes. Cool and break apart.

Red Pepper Hummus

1 can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
2 whole roasted red peppers
1/4 cup tahini
juice of 1/2 a lemon
~1/4 cup parsley
1/4 tsp kosher salt
~3 Tbsp. olive oil

Whirr everything together in food processor until smooth.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Black Bean Hummus

I was looking for a hummus recipe when I came across this one on Food Network's site. I love black beans, so I thought I'd give this a try. I accidentally left out the lime juice and didn't use nearly 3 cups of olive oil; while processing, I added just enough to make it spreadable. And I didn't have enough chili powder, so I just used what I had.

I try not to watch Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (aka Triple D) on Food Network because it always makes me hungry, which is not a good thing late in the evenings. So, I probably missed when this recipe was showcased. However, it's going in my stash of appetizers because it's really good. And different. And addictive. And not too bad for you if you eat it with veggies. And you should go make some right now.

Black Bean Hummus

1 (1-pound) can garbanzo beans
1 (1-pound) can black beans
Pinch ground cumin
About 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
About 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chili powder
Pinch ground coriander
Pinch ground cinnamon
About 3/4 teaspoon tahini
Olive oil - about 1-2 cups, however much you want to use

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Add the ingredients to a food processor and process in batches. Blend until smooth. Serve with pita chips, tortilla chips, or veggies.

Adapted from Greg Auten (co-owner of The Penguin diner)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers Challenge - Eclairs!

Well, I finally gave in and signed up to be one of The Daring Bakers. Now I have an excuse to bake! (Like I really need one...at least the challenges are just that - recipes that I wouldn't normally bake. Goodbye comfort zone!)

My first challenge was, I must admit, a little disappointing because of the amount of chocolate in the recipe(s). However, I was signed up to bring the snack for Sunday School, so I had a willing panel of tasters. I think I adhered to the spirit of the challenge...following the base recipe (pâte à choux) and taking some culinary liberties where allowed (had to keep a chocolate element).

Overall, I think they turned out well, at least for my first foray into making pate a choux. The tasters' feedback was quite positive, so they must not have been too bad. :) I was going to make another batch, but alas, home improvements have taken up more of my time than baking in the last few weeks. But I have lots of ideas for future pastries, so stay tuned!


Pierre Herme's Cream Puff Dough (pâte à choux)
Chocolate Sauce
Chocolate Glaze
Pastry Cream

Pierre Hermé’s Cream Puff Dough
Recipe from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé (makes 20-24 Éclairs)

1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup water
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature

In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan, bring the milk, water, butter, sugar and salt to the boil. Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, add all of the flour at once, reduce the heat to medium and start to stir the mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon. The dough comes together very quickly. Do not worry if a slight crust forms at the bottom of the pan; it’s supposed to. You need to carry on stirring for a further 2-3 minutes to dry the dough. After this time the dough will be very soft and smooth.

Transfer the dough into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or using your handmixer or if you still have the energy, continue by hand. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each egg has been added to incorporate it into the dough. After you have added the first egg, the dough will separate; but, don't worry! As you keep working the dough, it will come back together again. In the end the dough should be thick and shiny and when lifted it should fall back into the bowl in a ribbon. The dough should be still warm. It is now ready to be used for piping éclairs (or cream puffs, which would also be yummy). (Note: Shape the dough immediately. It can be frozen up to a month once piped and then baked as needed.)

For the Pastry Cream, I admit, I cheated. I added some vanilla bean seeds to some instant vanilla pudding and then mixed it with about 1/2 a tub of whipped topping. Not too bad, actually. However, next time I'll add a touch of vanilla extract instead.

Pastry Cream
a la Pam

1 package vanilla instant pudding
2 cups cold milk
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
~4 oz. whipped topping

Stir together the milk and vanilla. Add the pudding mix to the milk and allow the pudding to set up in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Then, gently fold in the whipped topping. Chill for at least an hour; overnight is better. Pipe onto/into éclairs as desired. (I didn't cut mine in half as directed since I had a filling tip for my pastry bag.)

The Chocolate Sauce was supposed to be part of the glaze for the tops of the eclairs, but I improvised (it was early Sunday morning, after all) and used it to make a kind of super-chocolate ganache with chocolate chips. I had also forgotten to get heavy cream at the grocery store, so I had to modify (read: butcher) Pierre Hermé's recipe to get the sauce done.

Chocolate Sauce
adapted from Pierre Hermé

1 cup half and half
1/2 cup whole milk
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup sugar

Place all ingredients into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and continue stirring until the sauce thickens (i.e., when it coats the back of the spoon...it may take a while to get thick).

Chocolate Glaze
also a la Pam

1/2 cup Chocolate Sauce
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Heat both ingredients slowly in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Spread on the tops of the eclairs with an offset spatula. If made ahead of time, simply reheat in a double boiler until spreadable.

Assembling the Éclairs

Slice the éclairs horizontally, using a serrated knife and a gently sawing motion. Set aside the bottoms and place the tops on a rack over a piece of parchment paper. (Or, just fill them with a filling tip on a pastry bag like I did.)

The glaze should be barely warm to the touch (between 95 – 104 F). Spread the glaze over the tops of the éclairs using an offset icing spatula. Allow the tops to set and in the meantime fill the bottoms with the pastry cream by piping or spooning the pastry cream into the bottoms of the éclairs. Make sure you fill the bottoms
with enough cream to mound above the pastry. Place the glazed tops onto the pastry cream and wriggle gently to settle them.

The éclairs are best served as soon as they have been filled.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Red Velvet Cake

I guess since I've made Red Velvet Truffles, I should share my recipe for Red Velvet Cake. I love this cake; it's probably my favorite cake, especially with the cream cheese frosting, and it's really easy to make. Mmmmm.

Red Velvet Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp. red food coloring
1 Tbsp. white vinegar

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter & flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Beat the butter & sugar & vanilla in large bowl until creamy (at medium speed). Add eggs one at a time until just blended after each addition. Gradually add the dry ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk, food coloring, & vinegar. Pour half the batter in each pan. Bake for 23-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool cakes in the pan for 10 minutes and then turn out onto racks. Cool completely before frosting.

Beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until smooth. Graudally add sifted confectioner's sugar and beat until fluffy. Frost cakes as desired.

Recipe from Cakes! 1,001 Classic Recipes from Around the World

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Red Velvet Truffles

These Red Velvet Truffles are so simple to make! True, they're a bit laborious (any kind of truffle is, right?), but they're definitely worth it. Plus, the recipe yielded quite a few truffles. Originally titled "Red Velvet Cake Balls" on Bakerella's blog, I just can't bring myself to call them that. It just sounds...well... too blunt. Mine certainly aren't fancy, but they're really tasty and not as sweet as you'd expect. I made the mistake of putting mine into the fridge to firm up and taking their picture too soon - hence the condensation you can see on the chocolate ones. Of course, I preferred the ones dipped in the white chocolate, but that's okay. My husband said he'd take care of the rest of the chocolate ones. :)

Red Velvet Truffles

1 box red velvet cake mix (bake in a 9x13 cake pan)
1 16 oz. can cream cheese frosting
1 package chocolate bark (regular or white chocolate)

1. After cake is cooked and cooled completely, crumble into large bowl.
2. Mix thoroughly with 1 can cream cheese frosting. I found it easier to fold and mash it together instead of stirring alone. Either way, it's messy.
3. Roll mixture into quarter size balls or use a mini ice-cream scoop like I did and lay on cookie sheet.
4. Chill for several hours in the fridge or put into the freezer for about an hour.
5. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave.
6. Using a toothpick, dip the balls in chocolate, tap off extra, and lay on wax paper until firm.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Marinated Lamb Chops

I made these grilled marinated lamp chops for my husband's birthday dinner this year, and they were really delicious. I started out with thick-cut lamb chops (~1-inch), and the flavor was really great after a 2-hour soak in the marinade. We'll definitely be making these again!

Marinated Lamb Chops

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lemon, zested (about 1/2 teaspoon)
1 lemon, juiced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano leaves, or 2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 (6 to 8-ounce) lamb loin chops (thick-cut is better), trimmed of all visible fat (to avoid flare-ups on the grill)

In a small bowl stir together the first 7 ingredients. Put the lamb chops in a sealable plastic bag and pour the marinade over them. Move the chops around in the bag so the marinade coats them well. Marinate for at least 1 hour; I marinated them for 2 hours.
Grill or broil the chops for 5 to 7 minutes per side for medium rare.

Recipe adapted from Ellie Krieger

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Onion Lotus

This isn't a recipe so much as it is a technique. I know the photo looks like it came from the original Better Homes & Garden New Cook Book, but I first saw it on Robin Miller's Quick Fix Meals on FoodNetwork, though I think she chopped them up and used them in another dish. These are really great and can be used in various dishes or served as a side dish. Variations are endless; this could be done with any type of onion (shallots, cipollini, red, etc) and can be roasted with any flavors (i.e., balsamic vinegar, any number of herbs, spices, etc).

Onion Lotus

onions (however many and whatever kind you want)
olive oil
other seasonings/flavors (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Peel the onion, leaving the root end intact. Carefully cut the onion vertically (from pole to pole) into 6 sections, being sure to leave the root end intact.* Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for ~45-60 minutes or until the onions have 'bloomed' and are soft. Serve as a side or refrigerate for up to a week and use in other dishes.

*Note: You may need to trim the root end a bit so the onion will sit/stand straight on the pan and not roll around. Just be sure that you leave enough so the sections won't separate.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Almond-Orange-Apricot Crescent Rolls

I usually take Rachel Ray's recipe with a grain of salt, so to speak, because her taste is not the same as mine. However, I've tried two of her recipes recently that have been really good and will go in my collection. I usually can't stand refrigerator rolled breads (i.e., biscuits, crescents, etc), but these were awesome. I probably let mine sit out on the counter too long before cooking, but they were really delicious. They're easy and don't require lots of ingredients, so give 'em a try. They're great for brunch; I served it with a Mushroom, Onion, and Cheese Fritatta.

Almond-Orange-Apricot Crescent Rolls

1 package store bought crescent roll dough (recommended: Pilsbury brand)
1/4 cup apricot preserves or all fruit spread (I used Apricot-Peach Jam)
1/4 cup orange marmalade
1 egg
Splash of water
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/4 cup sliced almonds, 2-ounce sack from baking aisle

Preheat oven to package directions and roll out dough on a nonstick cookie sheet. Cut and separate dough into perforated triangles. Combine the apricot jam or fruit spread and the orange marmalade in a small bowl. Place bowl in microwave and cook on HIGH 15 seconds to loosen the preserves. Beat egg with water to thin it out a little for an egg wash. Use the back of a teaspoon to spread a thin layer of apricot-orange jam across each piece of dough. Roll crescents up, brush with a little egg wash and coat with sesame seeds and almonds. Bake to package directions until deep golden in color. Serve warm.

Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Banana Maple Tart Tatin

The first is actually a dessert, since that's generally what I'm drawn to in terms of recipe searches, but it's so simple, fast, and tasty I had to include it. And, it's almost sugarless (except the sugar in the puff pastry and the natural sugar in the maple syrup). If you don't have a vanilla bean, you could probably add 1/2 to 1 tsp real vanilla (no imitation stuff here) instead. Enjoy!

Banana Maple Tart Tatin

1 sheet (about 7 ounces) frozen puff pastry
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 vanilla bean, split
2 to 3 bananas, thickly sliced (1/2 to 3/4 inch)

On a floured surface, roll the pastry out a bit to even out the any folds and make it a touch thinner. Cut a 10-inch circle of dough from it, prick it, and keep it chilled.

Preheat oven to 425F.

Place a heavy 9 or 10-inch metal cake pan (I used a cast iron skillet) on the stove on a large burner and turn the heat onto medium. Add the butter and warm to melt it. Meanwhile, scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean. Add the maple syrup and vanilla bean & seeds and bring to a boil stirring a bit. Remove the vanilla bean. Take the pan off the heat and place the banana slices in the pan decoratively in concentric circles to cover the whole bottom of the pan. Place the pastry over the bananas to cover them, tucking the pastry down along the inside of the pan. Later, during baking, the pastry will shrink to fit the pan.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. Let cool in the pan 30 minutes then warm the bottom of the pan on the stove for a minute and turn the tart out onto a serving platter.

Recipe courtesy Gale Gand

Recipe Rut

I've been in a rut in terms of cooking recently, so I finally decided to go through my plethora of cookbooks for meal ideas. That, in combination with some recipes I've seen on FoodNetwork in the last few weeks, have inspired me to try some new things. I'm so glad I did (as is my husband!)! So, I actually have some recipes to post that I've added to my repertoire. Yay!

Also coming...recipe photos and an updated searchable menu for this blog! (I know...it's about time...) :)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Blogging By Mail: Long Overdue Post

Wow, time does fly, doesn't it? It seems like yesterday that I received my BBM package, but then, we left for vacation, returned, got busy again, and I have neglected to post until now about the goodies that Meghan from A Craving for Perfection sent to me. So, my apologies, Meghan...without further adieu, here's the good stuff!

From left to right, clockwise: decorative Asian take-out boxes, smoked salmon, mint chocolates from the Seattle Space needle, Trader Joe's Harvest Blend mix (including Israeli couscous, chickpeas, and lots of other yummy things), a Coast Guard chocolate bar (in front of the mints & couscous mix), cookie cutters (butterfly & flower), recipe cards, a letter detailing all of the goodies, US Coast Guard magnet, blue Japanese Bento box with chopsticks and cloth cover, a pink heart-shaped onigiri maker (used to shape rice), and cupcake/muffin liners in the middle.

I had already begun to play this CD that Meghan sent and forgot to put it in the picture with everything else. I love the songs she chose...most are food-related and just plain fun to listen to. I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

So, to sum up evertyhing, I loved the BBM package! Chocolates...devoured; couscous mix - haven't tried yet but very excited to be able to try some Israeli couscous; salmon will be enjoyed by my husband as I don't like fish (though I will try a small piece); will be using the cupcake liners soon; cookie cutters are perfect since I collect metal cookie cutters; take-out boxes should make great cookie-delivery-devices,; and the bento box and onigiri maker are awesome...I have seen them online, but now I have one to use for my son (when he gets a little bit bigger). Oh, and the magnet is on my fridge. :)

Thank you Meghan! Sorry it took me so long to post, but everything was great!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Banana Nut Pancakes

Wow...I didn't realize it had been so long since I last posted. Time flies when you have a little one. :)

So, in an attempt to have a quick, hearty, and yummy meal, here's what I've come up with. Simple, scrumptious, and speedy. (Not to mention only one skillet to clean!) Yum.

Banana Nut Pancakes

2 cup Bisquick
2 eggs
1 cup milk
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans, but walnuts would also be good)
Olive oil (or butter) for frying
Maple syrup for serving

Toast nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes until fragrant.

While the nuts are toasting, mix the Bisquick, eggs, and milk. Add mashed bananas. Add toasted nuts.

Add some olive oil (or butter) to the skillet (still over medium heat) and pour batter into ~4-inch circles (or whatever size you happen to like). Cook until golden, brown, and delicious on both sides, and enjoy with real maple syrup.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Italian Dressing Mix

I wanted some Italian Dressing for a marinated salad, but I realized that I didn't have any on hand. So, I found out how to make my own, and it's much better than what I used to buy. :)

Italian Dressing Mix

1 Tbsp garlic salt
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 Tbsp white sugar
2 Tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp celery salt
1 Tbsp salt

In a small bowl, mix together the above ingredients. Store in a tightly sealed container.

To make the Dressing:

2 Tbsp dry mix
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 Tbsp water
2/3 cup canola or olive oil (or a combination)
Grated parmasean, ~ 2 Tbsp, or to taste

To prepare dressing, whisk the dry mix with vinegar and water. Let sit for 5 minutes. Then, whisk in oil. Add some grated parmasean and serve.

From AllRecipes

Friday, January 11, 2008

Orzo with Roasted Garlic, Red Peppers, & Spinach

I know it's not a clever title, but it was delicious! In fact, there weren't any leftovers at all. I got the idea from a side dish we had at Macaroni Grill, but I think mine was better. (Hey, my husband said it was "restaurant quality.") :) This recipe should feed 4, but if you're really hungry (like we were), it will only be enough for 2. Of course, it can easily be doubled as well.

1/2 box orzo pasta, cooked & drained
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. roasted garlic, minced or smashed into a paste consistency
2 to 3 Tbsp. roasted red peppers,julienned
1 cup spinach, large chiffonade

In a saute pan, warm the olive oil and roasted garlic on low heat for a couple of minutes. Then, turn the heat up to medium/medium-low and add the roasted red peppers. Stir to combine. Add the drained orzo and stir to coat pasta. Just before serving, add the spinach, stir to combine, and serve.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Roast Chicken Rub

I've been roasting a lot of food recently...potatoes, green beans, carrots, onions, chicken, etc., etc. It's tasty and incredibly easy. I tried a rub last night on some roasted chicken, and it was fantastic. The original recipe is for a make-at-home rotisserie chicken, but I just had leg quarters, and it worked great. I also used smoked paprika instead of sweet paprika, but either would be fine. I lifted the skin and put the rub on the meat as well as on top of the skin before drizzling with olive oil to roast. Delicious!

*Update: You'll notice there's no salt in this rub. The original called for 2 tsp. salt, but it was far too salty after I made it again. So, salt the chicken as a separate step; otherwise, it will be way too salty.*

Roast Chicken Rub

1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. ground thyme
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder

Sprinkle on chicken skin and between skin and meat (or on skinless chicken). Drizzle olive oil over skin and roast at 400F for about 30 minutes or until done.

Original 'Rotisserie-Style Chicken' recipe from "In the Kitchen with Mary & Martha: Cookin' Up Christmas"