Saturday, December 31, 2011

Balsamic Beans

Silky cannellini beans enhanced by the sweet tang of balsamic vinegar, these make for a new twist to an ordinary side dish.

Ingredients

15 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp agave nectar
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup stock

Start by reducing the balsamic on a medium flame until it starts to thicken, be careful not to burn, as the vinegar thickens sugars develop and it can burn quickly.  Once it has reduced and thickened slightly, turn the heat to low, stir in the stock, agave and add the bay leaf , and then add the beans and simmer until heated through, about ten minutes.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Baked Three Cheese Macaroni with Peas

Lemony thyme sets off a classic bechamel, which is swirled into a mixture of mozzarella, sharp cheddar and parmesan creating a decadent cheese sauce, that beautifully compliments fresh peas.  Sprinkled with bread crumbs, then baked until golden and bubbly, this makes an indulgent vegetarian entree or unforgettable side dish.

Ingredients

half pound macaroni
1 cup fresh peas
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1/4 cup grated parmesan
2 tbsp flour
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp thyme
1 1/2 cups milk
olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and cook the macaroni as specified on the package, drain and set aside.

In a deep sauce pan, melt the butter and thyme, stir in the flour and cook until a nutty aroma develops, about one or two minutes.  While whisking, slowly add the milk and continuing to whisk until the mixture starts to thicken and bubble.  Turn off the heat, mix in the cheeses and fold in the macaroni and peas.  Pour into a baking dish, top with breadcrumbs and drizzle with olive oil. then bake until bubbling and golden, about 20 minutes.  Let sit 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Whole Wheat Noodles with Chicken & Sugar Snap Peas


In keeping with the idea that it’s time to lighten things up after all those rich holiday meals and treats, my throw together meal for this week is Whole Wheat Noodles with Chicken & Sugar Snap Peas.  I make variations of stir fry’s all the time, either making special trips to the market to pick up ingredients, or using what I have on hand, in the pantry, freezer and refrigerator.  This meal focuses on sesame marinated; boneless, skinless chicken breasts stir fried with trimmed sugar snap peas, in a spicy garlic sauce served over whole wheat noodles (i.e. thick spaghetti.)  


1 ½ cups sugar snap peas, ends trimmed
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (free range, organic preferred)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
sriracha
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
2 ½ cups chicken stock
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp cornstarch
½ cup unsalted, roasted peanuts, chopped

Start by slicing the chicken breasts into half inch pieces, and marinating for at least an hour in a mixture of the sesame oil with rice wine vinegar.  Allow your wok to heat up a few minutes of medium high, add the chicken and stir fry until cooked through, remove and set aside.  Cook the noodles as specified on the package.  Add and bring the stock to a boil, mix with the soy sauce, sriracha, garlic, honey, carrots and bell peppers, and bring to simmer.  Mix the cornstarch with hot water until dissolved, then slowly drizzle into the sauce while stirring, toss in the snap peas, celery, chicken, and then let simmer 5 minutes until the vegetables are crisp tender.  Toss with the cooked noodles and top with peanuts for crunch.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pumpkin Praline Mini Bundt Cakes

Just as cupcakes are all the craze, mini bundt cakes offer the same excitement in my book!  Honoring the fall flavors of pumpkin, nutmeg and cinnamon, these incredibly moist cakes are jazzed up with a topping of brown sugar and pecans, adding sweet, crunchy texture.

Recipe makes 6 mini bundt cakes

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
15 ounce can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
chopped pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar, light or dark is fine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream together the sugar and eggs, then incorporate the pumpkin puree, salt, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Once mixed, add the flour 1/2 cup at a time until fully absorbed, sprinkle chopped pecans and brown sugar into the bottom of six individual sized mini bundt tins, then evenly distribute the batter to fill each tin three quarters of the way full.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean.  Let cool 15 minutes before removing from the tins.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Toffee Apple Pie Minis

Sweet flaky vanilla bean pastry is filled with tart granny smith apple slices spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, then topped with a rich layer of indulgent toffee.  Served a la mode or with a dollop of whipped cream and these mini pies will knock your socks off!  This recipe yields 12 pies.

Ingredients

Homemade or store bought short crust pastry
2 14 oz cans of condensed milk
6 granny smith apples
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
juice from one lemon
1 tbsp sugar

To make the toffee; remove the labels from the condensed milk cans, then cover with water in a large pot and boil for three hours.  ** It is very important to make sure the cans remain covered with water to avoid them from exploding!! ** When finished, remove from the pan open the cans and allow the mixture to cool.

Roll out the short crust pastry to ¼ inch thickness then over a standard size muffin tin and work dough into each slot, cutting away any excess.  Blind bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Peel and slice the apples, then toss them in a bowl with the lemon juice, tablespoon of sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Fill eat crust three quarters of the way full, then finish baking the pies for an additional 15 minutes.  At this point the apples should be just tender and the crust lightly golden.  Dollop one to two tablespoons of the toffee onto the top of each pie and finish baking 8 to 10 minutes until the top is bubbling and the crust is golden brown.  Allow to cool on a wire rack at least 15 minutes before serving.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Lemon & Thyme Chicken Linguine

Bone in chicken breasts, braised in a light sauce flavored with lemon and thyme thickened with a touch of cream, then tossed with whole linguine and zucchini.

Ingredients

2 bone in chicken breasts
2 lemons, one zested
3 zucchini, sliced into half moons
3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 celery rib and leaves, from the very center, chopped
4 tbsp fresh thyme, leaves picked
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup low sodium chicken stock
¼ cup sour cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pecorino romano for topping

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter with the olive oil to prevent it burning, season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper then cook until brown, remove from the pan and set aside. 

Add the chopped celery with leaves, parsley and garlic, saute until tender, stir in the stock, lemon juice and thyme, bring to a simmer, return the chicken to the pan and cook covered for 15 minutes.  At this point, the chicken should almost be cooked through but, still need a little more cooking time.  Add the zucchini, parsley and lemon zest then continue to cook until the zucchini are tender and the chicken is cooked through, about 10 to 15 more minutes. 

Remove the chicken and let rest 10 minutes before removing the meat from the bone, slicing and returning to the pan.  [Note: It is your choice to leave the skin on or remove it based on your own preference.  I remove the skin using it only to render flavor for the sauce.]  Bring salted water to a boil and cook the linguine to al dente, stir in the sour cream and allow the sauce to lightly simmer until the linguine finishes cooking.  Once the pasta is ready drain, and add it directly to the sauce tossing over medium high heat until evenly coated.  Serve with a sprinkling of pecorino romano.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Fudge

Recently, I have been exploring a new interest, candy making, nothing too fancy, just creating my own versions of classic candies I enjoy mixing it up with the flavors I love.  I have mentioned my love for chocolate more than once, so it should not be surprising that fudge is one of the candies on my ever growing to make list.  My version highlights the flavors of mint and chocolate with my love of candy canes.  A take on peppermint bark, I flavor rich dark chocolate fudge with pure crème de menthe extract, then finished it by topping with crushed candy cane pieces for texture and crunch.  Not only does the mint add fresh flavor to the decadent fudge but, it also goes along perfectly with the holiday season.

This is probably one of the easiest fudge recipes you will come across, and was adapted from a milk chocolate fudge recipe that has mingled throughout my family’s recipe boxes for years.  No need for temperature control or beating ingredients, I’ve tasted many homemade fudge recipes, and none are a fool proof as this, coming out perfectly smooth every single time. 


Ingredients

14 oz can of condensed milk
¼ cup unsalted butter
2 ½ cups dark chocolate, 60% or 70% cocoa preferred
4 candy canes, crushed

Over a double boiler; melt the condensed milk, chocolate, butter and extract together stirring continuously.  Once the mixture melts together it will start to thicken quickly, keep stirring, and when the mixture reaches the consistency of thick fudge pour into a parchment lined 8 x 8 inch pan.  Using a spatula, spread the fudge evenly then top with the crushed candy canes, cooling completely on a wire rack, and then refrigerating until set about 3 hours.  Cut into squares and enjoy!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Oatmeal Apricot Cherry Bars


Oatmeal cookies are one of my favorites.  Mix in some sort of dried fruit with nuts and it’s all I can do not to eat the entire batch!  I was given a selection of preserves as a gift, and while looking for a creative way to use some thought up this recipe.  

Starting with a buttery oatmeal cookie base, I spread a mixture of apricot and black cherry preserves over top, then add chewy dried apricots, sweet sour dried cherries, toasted pecans and white chocolate chips.

Ingredients

½ cup brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour plus, ¼ cup for topping
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature plus 4 tbsp for topping
1 cup quick oats
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon
½ cup dried cherries
¾ cup dried apricots
½ cup apricot preserves
¼ black cherry preserves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Start by creaming together the butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon, then add the flour, baking soda and oats, working the dough until everything is thoroughly mixed.  Once combined, press evenly into a parchment lined 8 x 8 inch pan and bake in a preheated oven for 25 minutes.  In a bowl, work the remaining flour and butter together to form a paste, then chop and mix in the dried apricots and cherries.  At this point, the cookie base should be lightly golden but, not quite finished cooking.  Remove from the oven, spread the preserves evenly across, drop spoonfuls of the crumble over top and sprinkle with the pecans and white chocolate chips.  Bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes until golden, allow to cool completely before removing from the pan, and then cut into squares or bars to serve.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Toasted Walnuts

One of Italy’s best comfort dishes enhanced with the flavors of winter; rich and cream risotto intertwined with roasted butternut squash dusted with sage and nutmeg, then sprinkled with toasted walnuts for crunch and topped with pecorino for a salty bite.

Ingredients

one butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp dried sage
olive oil
½ cup walnuts, toasted in a dry pan
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pecorino for topping

Preheat oven to 400-degrees. 

In a roasting pan toss butternut squash chunks with nutmeg, sage, salt, pepper and just enough olive oil to evenly coat, then roast until tender about 20 to 25 minutes.  Once cooked remove from oven and allow cooling slightly, then tossing together and topping each portion of risotto evenly sprinkling with pecorino.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chicken Cutlets

Chicken cutlets are what I call the Italian version of fried chicken.  Crispy and light, these are great served with lemon wedges and a salad or dressed up served on top of pasta with marinara.  While the old tried and true method of pounding the chicken breasts works great, I have found that the Coleman Natural Split Chicken Breasts make these so much easier to make.  


1½ cups flour
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups bread crumbs, seasoned to your liking
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
olive oil (not extra virgin) or vegetable oil for frying

Start by dipping the each chicken breast into flour, then into the egg and evenly coat with seasoned breadcrumbs.  Let the coated cutlets rest for about 15 minutes before frying.  In a frying pan, heat the oil until it turns thin.  You will know that it is ready when a small amount of flour sprinkled in quickly starts to bubble; fry each cutlet until golden and completely cooked through, then lay on a cookie rack to drain and sprinkle each with a little salt.  Serve with lemon wedges. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

French Onion Dip

Inspired by a love of the classic french onion dip recipe, simply flavored with a packet of dry soup mix. Slowly cooked, caramelized onions seasoned with sage, and a savory touch of Worcestershire, then swirled into a tangy mixture of sour cream and cream cheese.  This is amazingly rich dip is great to serve at parties, or even just to have on hand for snacking with fresh veggies, thick cut potato chips or my personal favorite, sour dough pretzels.

Recipe yields about 4 cups of dip.

3 yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups sour cream
16 oz cream cheese
1 tbsp onion powder
2 tsp Worcestershire
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp rubbed sage
Salt to taste
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil

To caramelize the onions; start by melting the butter on medium heat with the olive oil, once melted add the sliced onions and sprinkle with salt.  Cook onions on medium low heat, stirring every 15 minutes, for an hour or until the onions turn brown in color and have a nutty aroma.  Add the minced garlic and allow cooking until soft, turn off the heat, and stirring in the Worcestershire, onion powder, sage and black pepper, then letting cool to room temperature.  Whisk together the sour cream and cream cheese until light and fluffy, then fold in the cooled caramelized onions and season with salt to taste. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Almond Roca

Buttery, with a salty sweet bite, Almond Roca has to be one of the season's greatest sweets!  You only need a few ingredients to make this homemade treat and this recipe yields enough for an ample crowd.

Ingredients

1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, light or dark is fine
3 stick unsalted butter
3 tbsp dark Karo Syrup
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cups bittersweet chocolate buttons
3/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

* As the mixture melts and begins to boil it will expand, using a larger pot then you think you will need is highly recommended to avoid the sugar boiling over, and unnecessary burns.


In a large, deep sauce pan on medium high heat; melt together the sugars, butter, Karo syrup, extracts and nutmeg until the mixture reaches 275 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Then pour the mixture onto a parchment lined cookie sheet (with sides) making sure the mixture is even spread, place on wire racks and allow to cool completely, about 45 minutes.  Melt the chocolate over a double boiler then evenly spread over top and sprinkle with sliced almonds.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Another Pasta Creation

This is a light, throw together Thursday pasta created from items I already had on hand in my fridge and pantry.

Ingredients

1 box whole wheat penne
2 cups cherry tomatoes
¾ cups marinated artichokes
¼ cup sliced green olives
½ cup bread crumbs
one onion, peeled and chopped
one carrot, peeled and chopped
15 oz can cannellini beans, rinsed
1 tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried basil
one clove garlic, minced
½ low sodium vegetable stock
shredded parmesan
olive oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper

Boil the penne in salted water to al dente as instructed on the package.

In a pan; sauté the onions until browned then add the carrot and continue sautéing until tender but, left with bite in the center, add the garlic, thyme, basil, red pepper flakes, artichokes, sliced olives, cherry tomatoes and stock, season with salt and pepper, then continue to sauté for about 10 minutes.  In a separate pan, lightly toast the breadcrumbs until golden.  Last, stir in the cannellini beans and top with the toasted breadcrumbs and shredded parmesan to serve.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dutch Apple Pie

Growing up one of my absolute favorite desserts was the apple pie made by my Great Grandmother Ruby, and to this day I wish so much that I would have gotten this recipe from her before she passed away.  The filling of sweet tart apples, usually fresh from the trees in her yard, combined with the buttery flaky pie crust made this the most amazing apple pie recipes I have had to date. 

For Thanksgiving this year I took on the task of making the desserts, and knew an apple pie would have to be in the lineup.  I’m not normally a fan of crumb toppings, the sandy texture with the overly sweet bite just doesn’t compare to a double crust in my book.  So, I wanted to create a topping for my dutch apple that I could also enjoy, and that would compliment my attempt at recreating the filling from Great Grandmother’s recipe. 

Pie Ingredients

one 9 inch deep dish pie shell
6 granny smith apples, peeled and cut into eighths
the juice and zest of one lemon
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
¾ cups dark brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp cornstarch

Topping ingredients

¾ cup flour
¼ cup oats
2/3 cups pecan pieces
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup unsalted butter
½ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the pie filling; combine the apples with the lemon zest and juice, spices, sugar and corn starch, mix until completely coated and set aside while making the topping.

For the topping; pulse the flour, sugar, salt, 1/3 cup of the pecan pieces and the butter together until it forms a rough crumb mixture, pour the mixture into a bowl then mix in the rest of the pecan pieces and the oats.

By the time, the apples should have macerated creating a little juice, give the filling a good mix and pour into the pie shell.  Evenly distribute dollops of the crumb mixture over the top of the apples, then press to spread evenly over the top.  It is okay if the crumb doesn’t cover every inch of the top of the pie.  Bake on a cookie sheet in a preheated oven for one hour or until the crust and top are golden, then allow the pie to cool for at least 45 minutes before serving to allow the filling to set.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Risotto Three Ways

Cooking My Way Through Jamie Oliver's Food Writings

Recipe 7            RISOTTO BIANCO

Jamie's basic risotto recipe, Risotto Bianco, gives you the basis for one of the most versatile dishes, and being considered a fast food in Italy they are quite simply made, then dressed up with whatever local fresh meat or produce is found in the market.  To be honest, I learned how to make risotto on the back of an arborio rice package several years ago, and while that method worked fine the flavor of Jamie's recipe has made it a tried and true recipe in my kitchen.  Here is the recipe for Risotto Bianco or White Risotto along with a few variations demonstrated in Jamie's Italy.  Remember these are just a couple of the many ways this can be dressed up and flavored for example, try my version of LINK Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Toasted Walnuts

Ingredients

one risotto bianco (LINK)
one butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp dried sage
olive oil
½ cup walnuts, toasted in a dry pan
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pecorino for topping

Preheat oven to 400-degrees. 

In a roasting pan toss butternut squash chunks with nutmeg, sage, salt, pepper and just enough olive oil to evenly coat, then roast until tender about 20 to 25 minutes.  Once cooked remove from oven and allow cooling slightly, then tossing together and topping each portion of risotto evenly sprinkling with pecorino. with toasted walnuts.  Risotto isn't a dish to be intimidated by, it is one to be enjoyed.


Ingredients


4 cups stock
2 tbsp olive oil
5 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 gloves of garlic, minced
1 cups risotto
2 wineglasses of dry vermouth or white wine
4 oz. freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Heat stock in a sauce pan and in a separate pan, heat olive oil and three tablespoons of butter, add the onion, garlic and celery sauteing slowly on medium low until tender.  Once the vegetables have softened, turn up to heat to medium, add the arborio rice and toast until fragrant continually stirring.


2. When the rice becomes translucent, add the vermouth or wine, keep stirring allowing the alcohol to evaporate and cook into the rice.


3. Once the rice has soaked up all of the alcohol, continually stirring, add your first ladle of stock and a good pinch of salt to season.  Adjust the heat to a simmer to avoid the rice cooking too quickly.  As the rice absorbs the stock keep adding ladles and slowly stirring to allow the starches to expel resulting in the rice becoming creamy and rich.  As this happens taste the rice checking the texture, you want it to be cooked through but, not mushy.  Keep adding ladle fulls of stock as they absorb into the rice until fully cooked.


4. Remove the risotto from the heat, add the grated parmesan and remaining butter stirring well, then cover and allow the risotto to sit a few minutes before serving.

risotto bianco con pesto
White Risotto with Pesto

For this recipe; simply make your risotto bianco and top with Jamie's Pesto.

risotto ai funghi e prezzemolo
Roasted Mushroom Risotto with Parsley

Ingredients

one risotto bianco
about 1 cup of wild mushrooms, cleaned and torn
one bulb of garlic cloves, peeled and halved
a small bunch of fresh thyme
1 tbsp butter
a small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
one lemon
parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400-degrees

Start making your risotto bianco, when you come to stage three in an oven proof pan, saute the mushrooms in olive oil then toss with the garlic and thyme and roast about 6 minutes.  Once the risotto bianco has set, stir in the parsley, roughly chop the mushrooms and sprinkle on top, squeeze a little lemon juice and give a final grating of parmesan.  Serve immediately. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Baked Chocolate Tart

By now, you’ve probably noticed I am a HUGE fan of chocolate, in the form of bars, melted, in custards, cakes, warm cozy drinks... for me the list goes on and on.  So, when I know I need a chocolate fix this tart is my go to recipe, and is an adaptation of Jamie Oliver's Baked Chocolate Tart from his book, the Naked Chef.  The short crust pastry is flaky, and tender which complements the super indulgent buttery chocolate filling with the addition of orange zest that adds a subtle citrus flavor that I love.  To serve, I top off the slices with a dollop of fresh whipped cream enhanced with orange liquor and finished with orange zest making this a superb dessert unlike any other chocolate tart recipe!  The addition of orange flavors in this dessert are my nod to the classic Italian inspired combination of orange and chocolate, the two married together create an unbelievable heightened flavor the chocolate.

This tart easily serves 10 to 12
For the chocolate tart you will need;

one 10-inch short crust pastry with the zest from one orange added, I use Jamie Oliver’s Recipe 
4 eggs
¾ cup unsalted butter
8 ounces of good quality dark chocolate pieces, 70% or more cocoa preferred
3 tbsp unsweetened good quality cocoa powder
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
4 tbsp agave syrup
sliced almonds
3 tbsp sour cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and start by blind baking the pastry until just set about 12 to 15 minutes, remove from oven and set aside while preparing the filling, then lower your oven temperature to 300 degrees. 

In a double boiler, or heat proof pan over simmering water, slowly melt together; the chocolate pieces, butter, agave syrup and vanilla mixing with a spatula until smooth, then remove from the heat and set aside.  In a bowl, cream together the eggs and sugar, once fluffy, add the sour cream, salt, and cocoa powder until thoroughly combined.  While whisking continuously drizzle the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until completely combined, pour into the tart shell, sprinkle the top with the almond slices and bake for 45 minutes.  The top of the tart should become crackled.

For the whipped cream;

2 cups heavy whipping cream
zest of one orange
1 tbsp orange liquor
3 tbsp confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste

Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, or a hand mixer; beat the heavy whipping cream on medium then increasing to medium high until it reaches soft peaks.  Add the orange zest, vanilla bean paste, orange liquor and confectioners’ sugar, and then beat until the mixture doubles in volume and holds stiff peaks.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Guest Post: Christmas Chocolate Truffles by Joseph Morris

Is there any other chocolate treat that’s as luxurious as a truffle?  With a rich dark chocolate on the outside and a luscious creamy filling on the inside, they definitely beat stale sugar cookies.  


This recipe makes 30 large truffles.

Ingredients

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, 
chopped finely

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1/4 cup brandy

1/2 cup cocoa powder, finely chopped nuts, and/or toasted coconut, for coating truffles

8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely

Directions

1. Put the 10 ounces of chocolate and butter in a medium-size bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir the mixture, then microwave for another 30 seconds.

2. Heat the cream and corn syrup over medium heat until simmering. Then add this to the melted chocolate and let stand for 2 minutes.

3. Gently stir the mixture with a rubber spatula, starting in the center and working out to the edges until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the brandy, then pour into a square baking dish and set in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

4. Use a melon baller or ice cream scoop to spoon the chocolate onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Put the baking sheet back in the refrigerator for another 30 minutes.

5. While waiting for the mixture to cool, put the cocoa powder, nuts, and/or toasted coconut each in its own pie pan or bowl and set aside.

6. Put the other 8 ounces of chocolate in a mixing bowl on a heating pad, or in a double broiler. Stir the chocolate occasionally and continue heating until the chocolate is about 90 degrees F. Maintain the heat and don’t let it go over 94 degrees.

7. Take the truffles out of the refrigerator and roll them into balls with the palms of your hands

8. Dip an ice cream scoop into the warm chocolate and turn it upside down to remove excess. Carefully place the truffles into the scoop one at a time to coat them. Then put them in the cocoa powder, nuts, coconut, or other desired topping if you wish. Make sure you move each truffle around in the coating and leave it there for 10-15 seconds. Then move it onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

9. Once all the truffles are coated, let them set in a cool dry place for an hour or put them in an airtight container in the fridge. They are served best at room temperature.

Now that you have the basic truffle recipe, you can experiment with other flavors like white chocolate, mint, mocha, orange, almond, pistachio, rum, or even chili! To make them more festive, you could decorate them with Christmas sprinkles or powdered sugar to look like snow.


Joseph Morris has been a professional chef for over 20 years. He also owns the site Culinary Arts College for students interested in getting a degree in culinary arts.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Foodbuzz 24x24: Oh My Omelets!

Foodbuzz 24 x 24 - 24 meals in 24 hours... bloggers from around the world, selected by the submission of proposals, create and hold dinner parties on the same night, then present the details on their blogs giving readers insight into their culinary creativity.  Needless to say I was more than excited when I received notification that my proposal had been selected for the November 24 x 24 feature!!

After a run of marathon eating during the holidays, we lighten up dinner in my house with a menu of omelets and mimosas.  Everyone creates their own omelets from a variety of toppings that include veggies, meats and cheeses.  Simple cheese, to the combination of spicy chilies with a mixture of meats, egg whites with mushrooms and thyme, the varieties are endless and washing it down with a light, crisp mimosa made with fresh squeezed orange juice and spumante, what could make for a better no-so-common dinner?!  


Create Your Own Omelets
Meats: ham, sausage, bacon, chorizo
Vegetables: bell peppers, chilies - fresno red and jalapeno, spinach, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, broccoli
Cheeses: parmesan, jack, cheddar and mozzarella

Sides
Home-Style Potatoes
Mini Quiches: bacon cheddar, chorizo chilie, mushroom thyme and spinach with jack

Drinks
Mimosas
Bloody Mary's

Making omelets shouldn't at all be intimidating, I use a few simple tricks that results in turning out a perfectly light, fluffy omelet every time no fail!

To make a basic three egg omelet using whole eggs or egg whites; start by whisking your eggs together with a couple teaspoons of cream or milk, [This is to keep the eggs moist when cooking so less is better otherwise your eggs will become runny.] and whisk as much air as you can until the mixture becomes aerated, the eggs should lighten in color and the mixture should increase in volume.  When making omelets I like using a heavy bottom omelet or non-stick pan.  Heat the pan on a low flame about five minutes before adding the eggs, and saute your toppings using clarified butter, a little olive oil or cooking spray.  Once the toppings have cooked slowly add the beaten eggs, cover the pan and allow to cook just until the eggs start to set on the bottom, then using a spatula run along the edge all the way around to ensure the omelet isn't sticking, and at this point I also like to swirl the pan allowing the uncooked egg on top to fill in the spaces on the sides, then allow the omelet to cook covered for a few more minutes.  Once the omelet starts to rise, this is the point where I like to add the cheese and any other toppings such as chilies, fresh herbs, cover once again and cook just until the cheese melts.  Using the spatula as a guide turn out the omelet onto a plate and serve immediately.

I can think of no better side dish to an omelet than home-style potatoes, there is something about the combination of butter crisp potatoes, onions and bell peppers that kicks off a breakfast inspired meal such as this one perfectly.  My recipe for home-style potatoes, using only a few ingredients and is super simple to make and packed with flavor.

six russet potatoes
one yellow onion, peeled and chopped
one green bell pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter
olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

I like using a cast iron skillet when making home-style potatoes or hash browns primarily because they disperse heat more evenly than other skillets, which allows them to cook evenly, resulting in a crispy outside and smooth, buttery inside.

In a cast iron skillet, start by melting the butter along with equals parts olive oil.  Once heated through, start browning the onions and potatoes, when tender and the potatoes start to brown, add the bell pepper and cook until the potatoes are crisp.


These mini quiches are all very easy to make, using the convenience of puffy pastry and making them in muffin tins allows everyone to have a taste of each without over indulging.

To prepare the crusts; allow the puff pastry to thaw in the refrigerator a few hours or even over night before using.  Rolling each sheet of puff pastry to the desired thickness, then using a four inch cookie cutter (or glass) cut enough rounds to fill standard sized muffin tins.

Flavorings for quiches, traditional and not-so-traditional are endless and the ones I chose to serve a good mixture of both from mushroom with thyme and parmesan, to chorizo with chilies, bacon cheddar and spinach with jack cheese.

Last but, most certainly not least we cap off our meals.. and the night with mimosas and bloody mary's, both of which are really easy to make and the perfect beverage to go along with our breakfast for dinner feast!  For the mimosas using asti spumante adds a subtle sweetness that I really like but, they can be made with any variety you prefer, even using prosecco is a great addition to this refreshing beverage.  Mimosas are best made using two parts spumante to one part fresh squeezed orange juice.  

Mimosa Recipe 
Serves 1

Two parts asti spumante sparkling wine
One part fresh squeezed orange juice

Bloody Mary Recipe
Serves 1

1 ounce vodka
3 ounces tomato juice or bloody mary mix
3 to 4 dashes Tabasco®
1 dash worcestershire sauce
half ounce lime juice
a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
a dash of A.1. optional

Serve over ice in a salt rimmed glass.

The focus of this dinner is to keep it simple so as to have more time to spend with friends and family, playing games or watching movies, and just spending time together.  The menu is straight forward, with home cooked items, tasty and not complex, down home and relaxing.  Enjoy!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Lemongrass Infused Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I found inspiration for the flavors of this soup from an episode of Anthony Bourdain's a Cook's Tour where he visited Thailand.  There was brief mention of a "Pumpkin Lemongrass soup" as he and his boss at the time dined together at the end of their trip.  For me, the thought of pumpkin and lemongrass combined together sounds delicious, and while never trying them together, the combination stuck in my mind which inspired me to come up with a recipe as a way of experiencing those flavors.  The addition of lentils, I felt, would add a heartiness to the soup, with the idea that it could be used as the main focal point for a dinner rather than just a starter.  The ingredients are pretty straight forward and meld together very well.


Ingredients


2 medium size butternut squash, sliced in half, seeds removed
one stalk lemongrass, outer leaves removed and bruised
32 ounces low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
3/4 cup puy lentils, picked through and rinsed
one head of garlic
2 inner celery stalks with leaves, chopped
1 small onion, peeled and chopped fine
one bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp fresh thyme
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Start by roasting the butternut squash drizzled with olive oil in a preheated 400 degree oven for an hour, then turn off the heat and allow to rest in the oven.  Bring the stock with the bay leaf and lemongrass added to a boil, then turn off the heat and allow to steep until ready to use.

In a heavy bottom pot; saute the chopped onion and celery seasoning with salt and pepper until tender, scoop out the butternut flesh and add the pot, along with the roasted garlic, season with cayenne, sage and nutmeg, then allow to lightly saute for a few minutes.  Strain the stock over the pan, and mix to combine, bring to a boil then lower heat and allow to simmer until the lentils have cooked.  In the same sauce pan used to heat the stock, bring water to a boil then cook the lentils until al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes, rinse with cold water to stop them from cooking.  Using an emulsion blender blend soup until smooth, finish by seasoning with salt and pepper, then stirring in the butter and lentils.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Slow Cooker Pot Roast & Roasted Yukon Potatoes

This is a really simple recipe for pot roast cooked in a crock pot set to low for 8 1/2 hours that comes out tender and flavorful every time, no fail.  In addition to seasoning the meat with salt and pepper, I like to give it a good rub with Italian seasoning and packaged minced garlic packed in olive oil which gives the meat excellent flavor.

Ingredients
 3 to 4 pound chuck roast
the stems from one bunch of parsley
one onion, peeled and quartered
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
8 peppercorns
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
minced garlic
Italian seasoning
2 tbsp minced garlic
salt and freshly ground black pepper
15 oz can diced tomatoes

Preheat your slow cooker on high for 30 to 45 minutes to get the heat going.  Scatter the onion, carrot, celery, parsley stems, pepper corns, bay leaf and tomatoes on the bottom of the pot.  Season all sides of the roast liberally with salt, pepper and a good sprinkling of Italian seasoning, then rub with the minced garlic.  Place the roast on top of the vegetables and tomatoes then drizzle with worcestershire, cover, turn heat to low and allow to cook for about 8 hours checking every couple of hours for tenderness.

I like to drain the left over juices, skim off any excess oil from the top then reduce it down on medium high flame, thicken with a slurry of one tablespoon cornstarch and one tablespoon hot water, then finish with a pat of butter.  The seasoning will be concentrated so make sure to taste the gravy before adding any additional salt.
Potatoes are a classic accompaniment to pot roast, any potatoes are fine but, I like using Yukons simply because I love their texture and buttery taste.  The trick here to get a crispy coating keeping a moist smooth center is to preheat your oven and roasting pan to 400 degrees.  To make the roasting process quicker, I par boil the potatoes whole until cooked no more than half through, then cut them into chunks, season with salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder, drizzle with olive oil then dot with butter, and roast at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.  Simple and delicious!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Spicy Tomato Hash

Towards the end of the week, our fridge is usually filled with no so full portions of various ingredients used the previous weekend through out the work week.  Last night, I decided would be a throw together kind of meal, using simply what I had on hand, throwing away the task of grocery shopping for components to make dinner.  A great way to use up odds and ends left over ingredients is to make my Spicy Tomato Hash.  Buttery crisp potatoes, spiced with red pepper flakes and thyme, are bulked up with the addition of sliced baby bella mushrooms and sweet peppers, that are brightened by the bursts of fresh tomatoes scattered through out, then topped off with a lightly fried egg.  Now, putting this hash together is probably one of the simplest in that I do everything is one pan, even at times eating out of the same pan it was cooked in to avoid dirtying dishes… I know very lazy of me.


For this version, I used the following ingredients;

a handful each of baby bella mushrooms, sweet peppers, and cherry tomatoes
1 potato, rinsed, skin left on
1 free range organic egg
about ½ tsp each of dried thyme and red pepper flakes
butter
olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Anytime I am cooking home-style potatoes I like using cast iron, the regulation of heat allows the potatoes to cook evenly and crisp up perfectly.  So, in a cast iron skillet, melt a little butter with olive oil (or grapeseed or vegetable or...) on medium heat.  For the potatoes, use whatever kind you like best or already have on hand, in this case I am using russets, rinse the potatoes thoroughly and slice into quarters lengthwise, then cut each into quarters and chop into ¼ inch pieces, add to the pan, season with the thyme, salt and pepper and toss to coat evenly in the butter and oil.  Allow the potatoes to fry until golden and tender partially covering the pan if necessary, they should take about 10 minutes to cook through.  Next, clean the mushrooms, removing the stems if tough and thinly slice, do the same with the sweet peppers removing any seeds, then toss them into the pan with the potatoes and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. At this point, I added the red pepper flakes.  Last, throw in the cherry tomatoes and sauté just until the skins start to blister.  Pour the hash onto a plate to cook slightly.  In the same pan, crack your egg(s) and gently fry just until the egg white has set, flip once then immediately turn out over the hash.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Peas with Onions and Thyme

While I will be the first one to say "pass the butter!", when it comes to cooking, I am not one to drown the food I cook in unnecessary fat as a means of adding flavor.  I find that staying authentic, and enhancing other elements of a dish can create flavor profiles unlike what is accomplished by adding loads of butter or oil.  Something as simple as a side dish of peas, is dressed up by addition of slow cooked onions, bringing out their natural nutty sweetness, then enhancing the flavors even further with the lemony fragrance of thyme.

3 cups of organic sweet peas
1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp unsalted butter
olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper


In a large, deep sided pan, melt the butter with a little olive oil [to keep it from burning]; add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook slowly until they begin to caramelize.  They should smell fragrant and nutty by this point.  Add the thyme and garlic and allow to sauté just until the garlic softens, then add the peas and stock, simmer for 15 minutes and serve.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I absolutely love the cool, rainy weather that comes along with the fall season because it paves the way to try all of the warm, cozy recipes I have wanted to try.  One I know you will love is my Chicken Tortilla Soup, flavorful and comforting, I top each bowl with chipotle dusted crispy tortilla strips and serve jalapeno cheddar mini corn bites on the side. 

Ingredients

2 bone in, skin on chicken breasts
6 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 cups hot water
15 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
4 pasilla peppers
4 jalapeno peppers
1 yellow bell pepper
2 green bell peppers
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large white onion, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen is fine
15 oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 bay leaf
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp thyme
½ tsp pimenton
1 tsp chipotle powder
2 to 3 avocados, peeled and cut into cubes
Corn Tortilla, cut into small strips
3 to 4 limes cut into wedges
cilantro
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  In a small roasting pan; lightly coat the poblano and bell peppers with olive oil, cover with aluminum foil and roast until tender.  Remove from the oven and put into a zip lock bag then allow to rest 5 minutes before peeling and removing the seeds, cut the peppers into strips and set aside.

In a bowl, toss the tortilla strips lightly with olive oil and season with chipotle powder, then bake until crisp, set aside on a plate lined with paper towel or on a cookie rack to keep crisp.


Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Drizzle chicken breasts with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then roast until cooked, about 45 minutes to an hour.  When finished cooking, set aside and allow to cool completely.  Then remove the meat from the bone, and remove the skin, then shred the chicken using two forks.

In a large pot, heavy bottomed preferred; sauté the chopped onion, carrots and garlic on medium heat and once tender, add the thyme, cumin, pimenton, tomatoes, stock and hot water, season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Stir in the kidney beans, corn and chicken, allow soup to simmer another 10 minutes, season with salt and pepper to taste.  Top each bowl with the crispy tortilla strips, cilantro, avocado and a lime wedge.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spicy Chocolate Ganache Cake

A few weeks ago while at a BBQ with family and friends, I was given a chili dark chocolate truffle which inspired me to experiment with recipes to come up with my version of those flavors, a chocolate dessert kicked up with the flavors of chili.  This recipe came about by simply flavoring my basic chocolate recipe with the flavors of cinnamon and cayenne pepper.  With a mild sweetness, and hint of spice that hits the back of your throat at the end, this cake recipe hits a home run.

Cake
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, sifted
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3 eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbsp unsweetened dutch processed cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup hot water

Ganache
2 cups semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp agave or honey
1 tbsp confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixer using the whisk attachment; cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in one egg at a time until completely mixed.  Switching to a paddle attachment; stir in sour cream, vanilla, cocoa powder, salt and cinnamon.  When thoroughly mixed, add flour half cup at a time then turn paddle to 4 speed and beat in hot water.  Last, stir in chocolate chips.  Pour into a 9-inch buttered and floured spring form pan and bake for 1 hour, leaving the oven door closed.  Let cake rest 20 minutes before removing spring form pan side then allow to cool completely before glazing.

To make the glaze; bring one cup of heavy cream to a simmer, remove from heat and add chocolate, vanilla, one teaspoon cayenne pepper and honey then allow to sit 10 minutes.  Using a whisk, blend the mixture until smooth then add the confectioners sugar.  Taste to glaze and adjust spice with cayenne pepper to taste.  Pour over cake then top with mini chocolate chips.  Allow the glaze to set by refrigerating the cake for 30 minutes before serving.