Friday, December 30, 2011

Ham and Potato Gratin

Ah… Comfort Food… When it comes right down to it, is there anything better than comfort food? Don’t get me wrong, I love trying new, gourmet stuff! And I love experimenting with new recipes and trying different things. But, some days, you just NEED comfort food. I could eat sushi every day of the week and never get sick of it, but I don’t know if that can be considered comfort food… It always makes me happy, though! This time, what I’m talking about is honest-to-goodness, I-remember-when-I-was-little-and-my-mom-used-to-make-this comfort food. Toasted cheese sandwiches with the American cheese slices (always two) and a little bit of butter on the outside to make it brown really nicely, and always a bowl of hot tomato soup to dip your sandwich in. Mom’s extra creamy homemade potato soup with chunks of potatoes and ham. Now that’s some comfort food!
For me, potato gratin falls into the same category. When I eat it, I think of fond memories and get the warm fuzzies. I remember my mother making it when I was younger, but had shied away from it as an adult until just recently, opting for the bland substitute they offer in the red box on the grocery store shelf. I’m not sure why I didn’t make it myself before, but am going to guess it had something to do with the ease and length of preparation. Slicing 2½ pounds of potatoes is quite a daunting task when one doesn’t own a mandaline! (If you don’t already have a good one of these, I would highly recommend getting one. I have the Oneida brand one, from Kohl’s, and it works so well for cutting anything – I especially love the crinkle cutting side for making my own waffle fries. Whichever one you choose, be sure that it comes with different blades so that it is more efficient for and useful to you.)
When looking for the recipe I wanted to use for my potato gratin, I tried a few of them and eventually came up with this one after changing the one that turned out the best for me. I tried ones with Half & Half (which I don’t recommend because the milk and cheese will curdle more easily, leaving you with a weird gloppy mess) and ones with heavy cream. I tried one with different seasonings. I tried layering the potatoes and pouring the cream over them (which doesn’t work out that well for sufficiently coating all of the potatoes). The base that I used is Tyler Florence’s recipe, and then I added a few things and altered a few of them. The fresh thyme in this recipe is truly amazing! When I’m stirring the cream mixture before assembling everything, I like to try to make sure some of the thyme leaves fall off and stay in the sauce. And I like a little more flavor going on in my base, so I added some bay, shallots, and then a little more garlic, which I put through my garlic press - pressing garlic releases more of the juices than simply chopping it, plus it’s fast and easy! After all was said and done, this turned out to be the best potato gratin I’ve had.

Printable Recipe

3 c. heavy cream
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 shallot, chopped
6 garlic cloves, pressed
Salt and pepper, to taste
2½ lb. russet potatoes, cut into ⅛-inch thick slices
1 (16 oz.) pkg. diced ham
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Preheat the oven to 375°. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat up the cream with the thyme, bay leaf, chopped shallot, pressed garlic, salt, and pepper, stirring occasionally. When the mixture is heated, remove and discard the thyme and bay leaf and set the cream aside.
In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, cream mixture, diced ham, and ½ cup of each of the cheeses. Mix until all of the ingredients are thoroughly combined and then divide the potato mixture evenly between four gratin dishes, dividing any remaining cream mixture between the dishes. Set the gratin dishes on a cookie sheet and cover each one with aluminum foil; bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Remove the foil from the gratins and sprinkle with some more of the remaining cheeses; broil until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Salted Caramel Cheesecake

I LOVE cheesecake. So much so that it’s been my birthday cake for the past 11 years! It started out with my best friend making me a Cherry No-Bake Cheesecake for my 20th birthday, and it’s a tradition that stuck because I love it so much. Over the years it’s evolved into real cheesecake, but there is still usually cherry in it somewhere.
After cherry cheesecake, I would have to say that this is my favorite cheesecake. I came up with the idea to make this the cheesecake of the week at my work, and I’ve made it a couple times since, for private parties and such. It always goes over well! Who doesn’t love the age-old combination of salty and sweet?!
The cheesecake base is just a very simple recipe, as it should always be. I don’t know what the deal is with some recipes calling for you to add flour and a bunch of other stuff, but it’s really not necessary. The graham cracker crust is also pretty straight-forward, except that I don’t always add sugar to mine. I’ve never actually measured how much of those ingredients I use, but I would guess the measurements I listed are accurate. I don’t like an overly dry nor an overly greasy crust, so I only mix enough butter until it just holds together when you press it with your fingers. The caramel sauce is also very basic, but quite delicious. When you put everything together, and then top it with the Fleur de Sel, which you HAVE to use, it’s so amazing! I like to put a little of the caramel sauce on top of the cheesecake and set it back in the refrigerator to cool on top of the cheesecake, saving the rest to drizzle on top, but either way is just fine.
My favorite part about this cheesecake recipe is that the base is so perfect you don’t need to mess with it very much. If you want to have fruit in it, simply warm some berries with a little sugar and lemon juice until they’re softened, then puree the berries and swirl them into the cheesecake. If you simply want it to be another flavor, add that flavor to the already-made batter. I’ve made so many delicious variations from this one base recipe, I can’t even remember all of them… And they always turn out wonderful!

Printable Recipe

3 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, room temperature
1 c. sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 Tbsp. vanilla

Graham Cracker Crust:
2 c. graham cracker crumbs
6-8 Tbsp. butter, melted

Caramel Topping:
10 Tbsp. butter
⅔ c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
⅔ c. heavy cream
3 tsp. vanilla extract
Fleur de Sel

For the cheesecake: In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar and cream cheese together until well combined. Slowly mix in the eggs and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Allow the cheesecake batter to sit overnight. (Mix in any flavorings before leaving it to sit overnight, making sure that any additions are also room temperature before being added.)
Preheat the oven to 325°. Prepare the graham cracker crust by mixing graham cracker crumbs and butter until just moistened; gently press the mixture into the bottom and partly up the sides of an assembled springform pan. Pour the cheesecake batter over the graham cracker crust.
Place the filled springform pan into a large pan and fill the outside pan halfway with water. Place the pan into the preheated oven and bake until the cheesecake is almost set in the middle, about an hour and a half. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let it continue to sit in the water bath for about a half hour. Remove the springform pan from the water bath and place in the refrigerator to continue cooling.
For the caramel topping: Place the butter, brown sugar, and heavy cream in a medium saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves; increase heat to medium and bring to a boil, allowing the mixture to boil for a couple minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Cool slightly and spoon over the cooled cheesecake. Sprinkle the cheesecake with fleur de sel just before serving.

Friday, November 25, 2011

White and Green Asparagus Gratin

I love asparagus. Steamed. Sauteed with a little butter. Simmered in a cream sauce. However one makes it, I am not opposed to eating it. Just recently, I happened to find some white asparagus at my local market, and it was on sale for the same price as the green stuff! Needless to say, I couldn't pass it up... I had never worked with the stuff before, but I had seen it around (for, usually, a pretty penny) at the stores more than once or twice. Being that it was always more expensive than the green variety, as is the purple variety, I hadn't been able to justify splurging on something that I wasn't sure about. But, since I now found it for the same price, I couldn't very well walk on by!
White asparagus is actually the same species as green, but it's usually kept covered under soil or mulch so that it won't be exposed to the sun, thereby maintaining it's white color. Blah blah blah, chlorophyll borophyll... While doing my research, I did read that the white asparagus is supposed to be more woody than the green and so you are supposed to peel the very outside before preparing it. When I made this recipe, I used it peeled and unpeeled, just because I was curious if it really made a difference, and I didn't notice anything different in the texture. I think that if you let it sit around for a long period of time, then it would start to become woody and tough, much like the green stuff, but if you use it right away it's just fine.
When looking for recipes to use the white asparagus in, there didn't seem to be very many... Or, at least, not many that were truly unique. I've had gratins on the brain for a while now, though, since I insisted on having 6 new gratin dishes! (In my defense, they're not all the exact same! Two of them are black with white polka dots - LOVE!!, two of them are dark blue, and two of them are light blue! :-) You may remember the lighter blue ones from my post about the Chocolate Cherry Crisps...) I had originally considered using a recipe by one of my favorite fellow bloggers, Kevin from Closet Cooking, but decided, in the end, to go with a different one that I had found via the New York Times Diner's Journal blog, written by Elaine Louie. The version that she blogged about was much more grand than mine, but I really wanted to asparagus to be the one and only star of the dish. I used the recipe she posted as a guideline, and then just made it what I really wanted it to be. The sauce part was really what I was most interested in, and it was AMAZING!! I'm not sure if I didn't reduce it as much as I was supposed to, but the sauce wasn't very thick at all... That is really of little consequence, though, as we just dipped pieces of fresh, yummy bread into it to soak it all up. Who doesn't like that?!
I made two batches of this recipe, one the day before and one the day I made it, and they came out with equal results. So, if you're planning to make this for a holiday dinner, it's definitely easy to prepare ahead of time! I left mine sit out at room temperature so that it would have a similar cooking time as the ones I made the same day, but I mixed everything and arranged it in the gratin dishes ahead of time. You could also easily make this in a larger baking dish, making sure to check the asparagus for doneness and all of that, but it may take some extra time. But, I'm sure you could certainly find a way to justify buying a couple of gratin dishes of your very own, too... ;-)

Printable Recipe

1 c. heavy cream
2 shallots, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme, bundled together
¼ c. dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ bunch green asparagus; trimmed and cut diagonally into ½-inch slices
½ bunch white asparagus; trimmed, peeled, and cut diagonally into ½-inch slices
1⅛ c. grated Parmesan cheese
¼ c. panko bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. melted butter

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, shallots, thyme, and wine; place over medium heat and simmer until reduced by half, 20 to 30 minutes. Discard the thyme bundle and season the cream mixture with salt and pepper.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the asparagus, reduced cream, and 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese; mix well and place in two individual (approximately 16 ounce) gratin dishes, or other equal-sized ovenproof baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the tops of the asparagus. In a small mixing bowl, combine the panko bread crumbs and melted butter; sprinkle the bread crumbs on top of the dishes. Place the gratin dishes on a baking sheet, set in the oven, and bake until the asparagus are tender, the sauce is bubbling, and the bread crumbs are golden brown, 6 to 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Traditional Italian Tiramisu

Oh, Tiramisu… How I love thee!

I know that there are some (crazy) people out there who do not share my love of this heavenly “pick me up” breakfast snack dessert, but anyone who’s ever had a good tiramisu knows exactly how I feel. I don’t even like coffee unless there is enough sugar and creamer mixed in so that it doesn’t even taste like coffee anymore! But I looooove tiramisu…
I found this recipe in a copy of Cook’s Illustrated Italian Favorites magazine, which I came across at one of my local grocery stores, and was immediately entranced. You can also find the recipe on their website, but you need to be a paying member to access most of their content. I would highly recommend checking them out, especially if you are newer to cooking, as they do offer a lot of good advice and information about many cooking subjects. One of the important things they covered was how to properly dip the ladyfingers in the espresso and rum mixture so that you don’t end up with a soggy dessert – rolling the ladyfingers across the surface of the espresso mixture rather than submerging them in it.
The only thing that I changed about their recipe was the mixture of strong coffee and instant espresso powder, as I don’t think it’s much of an inconvenience anymore for people to find some brewed espresso. There are so many coffee shops that will make the amount you need for the recipe, and at a rather decent price, so there’s really no need to spend a lot of money on the fairly expensive instant espresso. Or, if you own a French coffee press, you can buy regular espresso and brew it in that, which is what I did for this recipe… I have a French press travel mug that I bought for making tea, which also worked out really well for brewing the espresso. My travel mug has two fine strainers which did a pretty good job of keeping the ground espresso in the mug, but you could easily remedy any issues you might have by running it through a coffee filter. Another option is just letting it sit after brewing until it reaches room temperature, and then any particles will settle to the bottom and can be easily discarded. If you don’t want to mess around with any of that, you can also ask them to grind your espresso a little more coarse than normal, which will ensure the grounds stay trapped under the strainer. It’s entirely up to you!
When it comes to the mascarpone, you definitely do not want to try substituting anything else. Cream cheese is NOT the same thing, and will yield different results… It is also important to know that when you’re working with mascarpone it doesn’t behave the same as cream cheese. Mascarpone is much more delicate and requires a little bit more attention and care – if you forget about it and leave it out at room temperature, there’s a very good chance it will break and be un-useable in most recipes. Therefore, you should leave the mascarpone in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it and return it to the refrigerator if you’re going to be completing other tasks.
I made this tiramisu for my family’s Thanksgiving get-together, as my mama will be in Italy over the holiday, and everyone loved it! Mama may be a little bit biased, siding with me and all, but she said this was the best tiramisu she’s ever had. Even better than what she’s had in Italy! Who am I to disagree with her?! We’ll not say anything about partiality and a mother’s love… ;-)

Printable Recipe

2½ c. prepared espresso, room temperature
9 Tbsp. dark rum
6 large egg yolks
⅔ c. sugar
¼ tsp. table salt
1½ lb. mascarpone cheese
¾ c. cold heavy whipping cream
14 oz. ladyfingers
3½ Tbsp. natural cocoa
¼ c. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, grated

Stir the espresso and 5 tablespoons of the rum in a wide bowl or baking dish; set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks at low speed until just combined. Add the sugar and salt and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow, 1½ to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula once or twice. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of rum and beat at medium speed until just combined, 20 to 30 seconds; scrape bowl. Add the mascarpone and beat at medium speed until no lumps remain, 30 to 45 seconds, scraping down bowl once or twice. Transfer mixture to large bowl and set in the refrigerator to keep cool.
In the now-empty mixer bowl (no need to clean bowl), beat the cream at medium speed until frothy, 1 to 1½ minutes. Increase speed to high and continue to beat until cream holds stiff peaks, 1 to 1½ minutes longer. Using a rubber spatula, fold one-third of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture to lighten, then gently fold in remaining whipped cream until no white streaks remain. Set mascarpone mixture in the refrigerator again to keep cool.
Working one at a time, drop half of the ladyfingers into the coffee mixture, roll, remove, and transfer to 13 by 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. (Do not submerge ladyfingers in coffee mixture; entire process should take no longer than 2 to 3 seconds for each cookie.) Arrange soaked cookies in single layer in baking dish, breaking or trimming ladyfingers as needed to fit neatly into dish.
Spread half of the mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers; use rubber spatula to spread mixture to sides and into corners of dish and smooth surface. Place 2 tablespoons of cocoa in a fine-mesh strainer and dust cocoa over mascarpone.
Repeat the dipping and arrangement of ladyfingers; spread remaining mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers and dust with remaining 1½ tablespoons of cocoa. Wipe the edges of the dish with a dry paper towel, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 6 to 24 hours. Sprinkle with grated chocolate, if using; cut into pieces and serve chilled.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pommes Frites with Truffle Oil, Parmesan, and Parsley

French fries... Patates frites... Pommes frites... What's the difference?! Well, technically, I guess there really isn't much of one. They all mean the same thing - pieces of deep-fried potatoes. However, after having fries like this while in Milwaukee a few weeks ago, I've researched "pommes frites" and found that they are usually a more gourmet fry, and that there is a traditional format for them. French fries here in America can mean any kind of potato that is deep fried, while "pommes frites" generally refers to a long, slinly sliced strip of potato that is deep fried. In addition, the "pommes frites" are most often served with something a little more ...upscale... than ketchup. Not that there is anything wrong with ketchup on fries!
I had these fries, or something very similar to them, while staying at the Ambassador Hotel in Milwaukee with my cousin for a concert a few weekends ago. These were served in the bar area, Envoy, as a part of their menu, along with several other delicious options, and were very good. If you ever get the chance to stay in the area, it's definitely worth it! And don't let the prices scare you away... I believe these cost around $8 at the restaurant, but you did get a giant pasta bowl full of them!
And while I do prefer to cut my own potatoes and make the fries myself, I would like to note that there are a couple of options if you don't like to mess around with stuff like that, or just don't have the time. McCain and OreIda both make a very good, thin-cut fry that would work wonderfully in place of the freshly cut potatoes.
As for the truffle oil, there aren't a whole lot of gourmet shops near where I live, in Green Bay, but I have found this, and many other goodies, at the TJ MAXX near me. When looking for truffle oil, whether it be white or black, you want to be sure that you're getting real truffle oil, and not just something that smells like it. So, you want to be sure that you look for a product that says it is infused with truffles or truffle extract, and shy away from products that are only made with "truffle essence." Also, you want to be sure to store your truffle oil in a cool, dry space away from direct sunlight so that it does not cause your oil to turn rancid or lose precious flavor.

Printable Recipe

2 large russet potatoes, cut into ¼" by ¼" fries
Oil, for frying
1 -2 tsp. white or black truffle oil
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh parsley

To make the fries, preheat a deep fryer or kettle of oil to 350°. Begin by "par-boiling" the cut potatoes in the hot oil just until they are cooked through and limp; transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and cool. Meanwhile, increase the temperature for the oil to 375°. Once the oil is heated, return the fries to the hot oil and cook again until the fries are crispy and light golden brown; transfer to a fresh paper-towel lined plate for just a moment to drain some of the oil and sprinkle with a little salt.
Once the fries are drained, transfer them to a large bowl and drizzle with just a little bit of the truffle oil, tossing to coat; drizzle with a little more of the truffle oil and toss to coat again, until the flavor is to your liking. While the fries are still hot, sprinkle them with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and parsley and toss to coat again. Transfer the fries to a serving dish and finish with more freshly grated Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Eggplant Parmesan Sandwiches

The original idea for this sandwich was inspired by a similar sandwich I had at a vegetarian restaurant back home several years ago. I recently checked out their website, and I couldn't find the sandwich on there anymore so am thinking they probably no longer even serve it. I can't remember all of the aspects of the sandwich I had then, but I remember it being pretty amazing! It might sound strange to some of you guys, but I am actually more fond of fruits and vegetables than pretty much anything else. (The only thing that's better than fruits and vegetables is bacon, but that's in a class all by itself!!  :-)) As a child, I was a VERY picky eater and didn't even eat barbecued ribs or any of that stuff until after I was an adult. In fact, I distinctly remember going to KFC with my mother and brothers and sisters and all of them getting the drumsticks while I would not eat anything but the breast meat. I'm still a selective eater, but my tastes have definitely evolved since growing up - I'll most likely try anything at least once!

Anyways, I had entered this recipe in a sandwich contest, but it wasn't chosen so am sharing it with you! You'll have to forgive the picture quality for this picture, as I was house-sitting at the time it was taken and didn't have my little studio set up then... But you can still see the yumminess!

Because I have been trying to eat healthier, I also wanted to say that the eggplant for this sandwich could very easily be oven-fried rather than pan-fried, if you're looking for a healthier option. Simply spray both sides of the breaded eggplant lightly with canola oil and place it on a baking sheet in a preheated 400 degree oven or under a preheated broiler, turning once, until the breading is crispy and the eggplant cooked through. Then, assemble the sandwiches as you would normally! If you are interested in making it any healthier, you could also use egg substitute for the whole eggs, or even substitute some, or all, of the whole eggs with 2 egg whites per whole egg.

Printable Recipe

3 beaten eggs
1 c. flour
¾ c. Italian bread crumbs
¼ c. panko bread crumbs
¼ tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. dried parsley, crushed
½ tsp. dried basil, crushed
¼ tsp. dried oregano, crushed
1 medium eggplant, sliced on the bias to ¾” - 1" thick
2 ciabatta rolls
Olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
Oil, for frying
Freshly shaved or grated Parmesan cheese
8 leaves fresh basil
2 Tbsp. basil pesto
½ c. Tomato Basil pasta sauce
Roasted red peppers
¼ c. shredded mozzarella cheese

Place the eggs, flour, and bread crumbs each in 3 small bowls. Add the salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the eggs and whisk to combine. Season the bread crumbs with the parsley, basil, and oregano and stir with a fork or your hands to thoroughly combine. Dip eggplant slices in egg, then in flour, dip back in egg and then in bread crumbs. Transfer the eggplant pieces to a rack or to paper towels to let them dry slightly before frying.
Preheat the broiler. Slice the ciabatta rolls in half horizontally, brush the insides with a little bit of olive oil, and toast under the broiler just until they’re golden brown. Remove the rolls from under the heat and immediately rub with the peeled garlic. Set aside.
In a deep, heavy skillet or deep fryer heat ½-inch of vegetable oil to 375°. Fry the eggplant pieces, in batches if necessary, for approximately 2 - 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain.
To make the sandwiches, arrange the bottom pieces of the rolls on a work surface and spread 1 tablespoon of pesto evenly over the cut surface. Sprinkle with the freshly shaved Parmesan cheese. Lay two basil leaves over the top of the Parmesan and pesto, followed by ⅛ cup of the pasta sauce. Arrange one of the fried eggplant slices on top of the sauce, one per sandwich, and then top with the remaining basil leaves and strips of the roasted bell peppers. Spread the remaining sauce between the sandwiches, topping them with the cheeses. Place the prepared sandwiches under the broiler just until the cheese melts, and then remove from the oven and top with the top half of the roll. Makes 2 sandwiches

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Zucchini Breakfast Skillet

Wow!! I can't believe I've been away for so long!

First, I would like to thank all of my faithful readers for sticking with me during the past couple of months. It's been quite hectic! And, second, I would like to apologize for being gone so long. At the beginning of September, I moved back into my own place after housesitting for my family during the summer, and so have been working on getting all of my stuff unpacked again (especially all of my precious kitchen stuff). Not to mention, I've been working around 50 hours per week at my new job, and trying to work out and get in better shape again afterwards with my fellow chef, so have been trying to juggle my time there. And, I didn't have internet until the beginning of this week, so that didn't help either!

But, I'm finally back!  :-)

This recipe is another one that I found in a copy of Food Network Magazine that I had picked up at the store, the same one as the Heirloom Tomato Pie I just had to make, so you might have seen it floating around the internet already. But, maybe you haven't!
I especially like this dish, because I'm trying to be more conscious of my diet and want to get back into shape, and this is such a great dish. You don't even feel like you're missing out on everything! Of course, I did change a few things, but I did keep the recipe very much the same as the original... For myself and my family, we like things a little spicy, so I added two jalapenos instead of the one. And I used the special yummy cheese (Morel Mushroom and Leek Jack) I found instead of pepper jack or cheddar. And probably more scallions...  :-D
The great thing about this recipe is that it really is very easy to customize to your liking. If you want it to be a complete breakfast, you could add some bacon to the skillet as well. Served with a couple slices of toast, it's the perfect breakfast!

3 lb. summer squash and/or zucchini
Kosher salt
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
6 large eggs
½ - 1 c. grated pepper jack or sharp white cheddar cheese

Grate the squash into a colander using the large holes of a box grater (or use a food processor fitted with the shredding attachment). Toss with 1 tablespoon salt, then let drain in the sink, 30 to 40 minutes. Roll the squash in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible.
Preheat the oven to 375°. Heat the olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Set aside 3 tablespoons scallion greens. Add the remaining scallions (white and green parts), the jalapeno, and salt to taste and cook until the scallions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the shredded squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 7 minutes. Stir in the parsley, nutmeg, and pepper to taste. Cook until the mixture is slightly dry, about 1 more minute. Remove from the heat and let cool, 5 minutes.
Spread the squash evenly in the skillet. Make six 2½-inch-wide indentations in the mixture with the back of a spoon; put ½ teaspoon butter in each one. One at a time, crack each egg into a small bowl and pour into an indentation; season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with the cheese.
Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the egg whites are set and the yolks are cooked to desired doneness, 10 to 12 minutes. Scatter the reserved scallion greens on top.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"7 Facts" Blog Game

There is a fun game going around the food blogging community called "Seven Facts." If you get tagged by someone, there are seven questions you have to answer using previous posts from your blog. I was tagged by Isabelle, from Isabelle at Home. Thanks for tagging me, this was fun!

Here are my seven answers based on my previous blog posts and experiences. Click on the recipe title to be taken to the recipe link!


1. Most Beautiful Post(s): Caprese Salad (or Skewers)

This was probably the hardest decision I made in this game... I'm not saying that I'm the best chef, nor that I make the best food ever, but I've noticed that the quality of my pictures has been improving since I first started blogging.

With this, though, it really was a tough decision. I've made some really yummy things in the past year, and some of the stuff turned out really awesome, so it was hard to choose just one... But, I did get it narrowed down to only two, even though I wanted to do four of them! I LOVE Caprese salads more than just about anything. It's the combination of fresh ingredients and flavors, and the little bit of crunch from the pine nuts (in mine), that just send it over the top. And the scallops with the risotto was so divine, I just had to include that too.  :-)

Since this was the easiest one to choose, based on Blogger's nifty little gadget that tells what my most popular recipes are, this was the first one I completed. Technically, the nifty little gadget says that it's another one of my posts, Trio of Sweet Potato Fries, but I don't know where they're getting that... While all of my fries turned out yummy, there really were not very many comments on them. Unless they count how many times people are viewing them. Maybe?


This was my contribution to the National Day for Ribs and Bacon. What a great day that is!!


Okay, so I don't know if these were actually controversial, but when I was writing up the recipe for them, I imagined all kinds of New Englanders would somehow find my little blog, and this recipe, and attack me like a pack of dogs on a three-legged cat. It's not the traditional lobster roll format, but it's kinda similar... I like that they toast the outsides of the split-top hot dog buns they use for the rolls. And that's what I meant by the style of this sandwich...

...Even now, I can still see ferocious fangs! :-|


4. Most Helpful: Honey Ginger Salmon

This is another one of those recipes that didn't get a lot of attention, because it was back in my earlier days of blogging, when only my real-life friends were reading what I wrote. I had recently been told by a fellow blogger about another post that they found especially informative, but I did pack a whole lot of information into this particular post. I try to be as informative as possible when writing up my blogs, so if I forget something or you know something I don't, please feel free to bring it to my attention!


5. Post That Was Surprisingly Successful: Fish Tacos with Fresh Strawberry Salsa and Chipotle Crema

Perhaps it's because I have so many friends who just can't get their minds around the concept of fish tacos, but I was pleasantly surprised by how popular this was with my fellow foodie bloggers. Apparently, when people hear "Fish Taco," they think of a regular chicken or beef taco, only with fish, with the same spice mixture and everything. *Shudder* I suppose if that were my preconceived notion, I would have a hard time getting past that too... But, they really are very yummy!


6. Post That Didn't Get The Attention It Deserved: Tarragon Chicken Salad

This is, by far, my favorite chicken salad recipe. The "problem" was that I posted this at the beginning of my blog, when I was just getting started with all of this, and so not a lot of people really saw those earlier posts. One of my residents gave me this recipe, and she was so happy when I would make it and bring some in for her... She was always watching Food Network, especially Barefoot Contessa, and then telling me all about what she saw "Contessa" make in hopes that I would make it and bring some for her! She was a dear, sweet lady.


7. Post I Am Most Proud Of: French Onion Soup

I am the most proud of this post/recipe, because it was one of my first real attempts at making a recipe my own and it's been so successful. Everyone I've ever made this for raves about how good it is, some even going so far as to say it's the best French Onion Soup they've ever had! This was one of my papa's favorite things, and he absolutely loved it, so this holds a special place in my heart...


Thank you so much to Isabelle for including me in this fun game. And now to choose 7 of my favorite food blogging friends to play too... These guys have shown me so much love and support, I can't even begin to thank them enough. Be sure and check out their pages!

Becca at It's Yummilicious
Chelsea at Sprinkles of Parsley
Kelly at Eat Yourself Skinny
Chef Dennis at A Culinary Journey with Chef Dennis (I'm still wanting to call it by your old name!)
Janet at From Cupcakes to Caviar
Christina at Sweet Pea's Kitchen
Amy and Tiffanie at Chicks Who Love To Eat

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Caprese Salad (or Skewers)

Does anything say summer more than fresh garden tomatoes? Well, besides grilling out, picnics at the beach, water sports, and all of that… But, if you are anything like me, even a little, grilling out doesn’t necessarily indicate summer, as I do that all year ‘round. But, tomatoes are a clear indication of summer. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never seen real, delicious, ripe tomatoes in the middle of winter! (I am seriously of the opinion that someone in my community needs to build a greenhouse to grow fresh produce for all of us during the winter months. It could be like a community co-op kind of thing, where you have to pay so much for the privilege of going there or something, but I think it would definitely be worth it. That’s another story, though…) And how could you not feel in a summery mood with such a beautiful, fresh salad like this? I honestly don’t think it’s possible…
Now, I realize that there are about a million of these “recipes” floating around out there, and about a hundred different ways to arrange them, but these are my little concoctions. I’ve even seen stacked Caprese salads! While visually stunning, it seems to be a waste of time and energy… I mean, you can’t eat a giant stack like that without having to disassemble it and everything before eating it. And I like to enjoy my masterpieces just as they are!! But, the fact of the matter is, pretty much every Caprese salad is the same thing. And that’s just fine with me! These things are so delicious, it doesn’t even matter.
One of my recent favorite ingredients is a balsamic reduction. Yes, you very well CAN make your own reduction, and if you want to I am more than happy for you to do just that. However, these days, I have slightly less time for stuff like that… And there are so many genuinely great products on the market, it seems silly to slave over a hot stove all day when you can have someone else do that for you! The only thing I would highly recommend is that you look for a balsamic reduction that says it’s a product of Italy. Not saying that other people don’t know how to make a good reduction or anything, but it’s a well-known fact that Italians know a thing or two about good balsamic vinegar. The one that I use, and really like, is called Cream of Balsamic and is imported by Isola Imports, which a local gourmet cheese store in my area carries. These guys have a lot of really great products, so I would definitely recommend checking them out, when you have time! (And, no, I am not being paid to say that, nor have I received any other kind of compensation for telling you about them. It’s just a great product and I want to share it with all of you! :-))
As for the basil, that is my favorite herb and I probably overuse it, according to some people’s standards. So, I didn’t give an amount for that, because I want you guys to use as much or as little as you like… The same goes for the pine nuts; use as much or as little as you like. And here’s the thing about pine nuts - they taste TERRIBLE if they’re not fresh! I’m sure other nuts are very much the same, but I can’t remember having any other nuts after they’ve gone rancid. And, for some reason, pine nuts are more susceptible to this than others. If you’ve ever been so unfortunate as to have eaten a rancid pine nut, it will make you dislike them more than just about anything. But, they’re really not so bad if they’re fresh! So, I make it a point to take all nuts and stuff like that from the very back of the shelf… The stockers at the grocery store rotate all of the stuff, so the freshest product is always in the back. With highly perishable stuff (even milk and cheese), I prefer it to be as fresh as possible. Even if people do look at me like I’m some kind of crazy lady for digging all the way to the back of the shelf! :-D

Now, for the skewers, I just bought two containers of tomatoes from the grocery store, one of plain red grape/cherry tomatoes and the other the yellow variety. It never hurts to be colorful! When I bought my mozzarella, I hadn’t had plans for what I was going to do with it (it was on sale), so I bought the container of small ones. For this, if I was planning in advance, I probably would have gotten them a little bit bigger, but it’s more than easy to make do with what you have. And you can arrange them on the skewers however you’d like, and even do more on one skewer, but I thought they looked rather pretty this way. You could cut the basil up and alternate it between layers of mozzarella and tomatoes, though… Or you could decide to only do one tomato and one mozzarella per skewer… Whatever you would like to do with your skewers will be more than okay. Be creative! :-)

Printable Recipe

2 large red (or heirloom) tomatoes
2 heirloom tomatoes
16 oz. fresh mozzarella
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Balsamic Reduction Sauce
Fresh basil, chiffonaded
Pine Nuts
Salt and pepper

Slice the tomatoes approximately ½-inch thick and set aside; slice the fresh mozzarella to the same thickness and set aside. To arrange the Caprese salad, place one of each of the tomato slices together and arrange however you wish, followed by one slice of mozzarella. Continue arranging the tomatoes and mozzarella until you have no more left or run out of room on the plate. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the tomatoes and mozzarella, followed by a fair amount of the balsamic reduction. Sprinkle some fresh basil and pine nuts over the top of the salad, followed by the salt and pepper just before serving.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Roasted Garlic Aioli

How many recipes are out there for aioli? Hundreds. Thousands. Probably millions. And the one thing I’ve seen in almost all of the recipes, no matter the source, is that you have to do things very precisely or your aioli will not come together. Something about mixing it too long or something, I don’t know… But, I can tell you this - I have tried to make aioli in the past, and it did not come together no matter how long I pureed it in the stinkin’ blender. And I actually did follow the instructions, to the letter, that time! :-)
It wasn’t until I started working at my new job, Fetaz Bistro, that I learned the real secret to making aioli. Now, mind you, this is not the exact recipe for how they make theirs, and I will not divulge that information, but I think the technique is important to know. If you want to try all of the different aioli concoctions at Fetaz, you're just gonna have to stop there whenever you're in the Green Bay area! First of all, contrary to what other recipes state, don’t add anything to the eggs at the beginning of the process. I don’t know if the garlic reacts with the eggs or whatever, but I remember pureeing the crap out of my previous aioli attempt (where I was told to add the garlic, salt, and pepper to the eggs) to no avail. But, somehow, when you start out with just the eggs and oil, it comes together perfectly every time. You really only mix the eggs for a few seconds before starting to add the oil, but you will immediately be able to see that it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing. No curdled eggs and oil. No weird grainy egg messes. Just perfectly smooth and creamy aioli. Then, when the mixture has come together, add the rest of the ingredients. This is the part where you can play around with flavors and stuff…
Another thing that's important is that you need to make sure you have plenty of eggs in the blender before starting. If you try making aioli in any normal blender with only one or two eggs, it isn't going to come together like it's supposed to. I don't know exactly what the problem was when I tried to make aioli before, but it just did NOT work. It could be that nearly every recipe only calls for one or two egg yolks... It could be that there was too much going on with the egg yolks and they were rebelling... I don't know. But, I do know that this method has worked every single time I've ever done it.
Now, it is important to remember that an aioli is not a true aioli without garlic. I like using the roasted garlic because it’s not as overpowering as fresh garlic, and it’s so yummy. If you would prefer, feel free to use fresh garlic. But the garlic needs to be in there, however you choose to incorporate it! I may or may not have cheated and bought the already peeled garlic cloves and roasted those (in a small, oven-proof container at 375° with some olive oil, salt, and pepper for an hour or so, until the garlic is a little brown and nice and soft)... ;-)
Now, if you can’t find pasteurized eggs and have an aversion to using raw eggs, you can use the store-bought mayonnaise as a (poor) substitute and get a very similar outcome - one of my friends did this, not knowing what he was actually making, and was more than happy with the results. He’s more chefy than he knew! :-) However, considering that many people eat sunny-side up eggs and raw cookie dough without any adverse effects, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it isn’t going to be any more unsafe to eat the raw eggs in a sauce that you’re merely going to spread on your sandwich. It’s not like you’re going to eat it by the gallon or anything (and I’m sure I’ve eaten at least that much raw cookie dough), so I feel pretty safe eating it. Not to mention, it sure is tasty!

Printable Recipe

6 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1⅔ - 2 c. canola oil
1 lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 heads garlic, roasted

Combine the egg yolks and whole eggs in a blender container, cover, and puree on medium speed just until the eggs are beaten and combined. Remove the cover from the pour spout and slowly drizzle the canola oil into the eggs in a steady stream until the mixture comes together and thickens. Turn the blender off and remove the cover. Pour the freshly squeezed lemon juice into the blender, sprinkle the mixture with salt and pepper, and add the cloves from the roasted garlic. Replace the cover and puree until the garlic is chopped up and everything is thoroughly combined.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Chocolate Cherry Crisps

Have you ever looked at a picture of food and thought, “I NEED some of that!”? Well, that’s what happened with this… I am an email subscriber for the food blog part of White On Rice Couple, and they posted this last week. Right away, I knew I was going to have to make it! Good thing cherries are on sale… ;-)
Some of you may know, I’ve been working 3 jobs for the past couple of weeks, so this was no easy feat. Thankfully, I am now only working 2 jobs, so will have a little bit more free time to cook and blog again! But, working all of those double shifts all week didn’t thwart my cooking efforts at home… I am more than a little grateful that this was an easy recipe and didn’t take a whole lot of time, because I was able to put it together after getting home from my second job at 9:00PM and before heading to bed so that I could get up for work again at 9:00AM. I even took some to work for everyone for breakfast! :-) I must have been more energetic than normal that night, because I also made two different kinds of aioli while the crisps were baking… (I’ll tell you all about them later!)


Of course, I did do a few things differently when I made the crisps. The original recipe was just one big dessert, which is all well and good. But, I recently acquired a couple of really cute gratin dishes (Thank you, Kohl’s cash!) and wanted to put them to good use, so figured this would be a great way to break them in! I did use the recommended amount of chocolate when I made these, except I used semi-sweet instead of dark, but afterwards decided that a little less would be better. While I do love chocolate, I also love cherries and it seemed like the cherry flavor was masked too much by all of the chocolate. Despite what some people might say, you CAN have too much of a good thing!
Also, I really like nuts in my crisp toppings, so added some of them. It’s kind of funny, because I’m house-sitting for my mom while she’s jet setting around the world, and thought of the nuts at the last minute. I eagerly scoured her kitchen cupboards looking for some walnuts, to no avail. Then, I opened up the refrigerator and in the door found the container of chopped hazelnuts I had brought over for Thanksgiving (or maybe it was Christmas) dinner last year! SCORE!! Not that I am biased or anything, but it was quite tasty… :-D

Printable Recipe

¾ c. (100 g) all-purpose flour
¼ c. (50g) packed dark brown sugar
½ tsp. (3g) salt
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) (115g) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 c. (90g) old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
¼ c. chopped hazelnuts, almonds, or walnuts

2 lb. fresh cherries, pitted and halved
¾ c. (180g) semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
¼ c. (50g) granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. (45g) flour

Preheat the oven to 375°. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, and salt. Pinch the butter into the flour, using your fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture is the texture of coarse meal. Add the oats, and use your hands to toss and squeeze the mixture until large, moist clumps form. Transfer to the freezer to chill while you prepare the filling.
In another large bowl, toss the cherries with the chocolate chips, sugar, and flour. Divide the mixture between 4 (0.5-quart) gratin dishes (or transfer the mixture to a shallow 2-quart baking dish), and sprinkle with the topping mixture. Place the gratin dishes on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden and bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes (45 to 55 minutes for the larger baking dish). Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Makes 8 servings (or 4… Whatever! Lol)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fresh Cherry and Seared Sesame Tuna Salad

Now that summer is fully upon us here in Wisconsin, I don’t feel so inclined to actually cook a whole lot for meals. Especially when I spend the majority of my days now in a hot work kitchen! I just have to say… If you think 80° and humid is bad, try standing in front of a wood-fired pizza oven set at 490° AND include the humidity! Or stand over a flat-top stove or grill in that weather! Suddenly, 80° and humid sounds kinda nice… Lol
The heat aside, though, I really do love what I’m doing now. And I want to take the time to apologize to all of my readers for not posting much lately… I started a third job this past week, so I feel like I’ve been running around like a crazy person. I even had to start putting my schedules for all three jobs into the calendar on my cell phone, because I was having such a hard time keeping track of everything! But, I put my two-weeks notice in at one of the jobs, so after this coming Sunday, I will be on a regular schedule and will have a little bit of free time to myself. This means, a little more time to get back to blogging! YAY!!
Also, the past week and a half has been a little hectic around here anyways… My sister is a biology teacher at a high school where we live, and she takes her students to Belize every summer for a week and a half to study the rainforests and all that good stuff. Her husband goes with to help chaperone, so my mom and I watched their two boys while they were gone. Thankfully, Aunt Joanne came to town, from the twin cities, to help out! Believe me, it was definitely needed!!
Being that it’s been so hot and humid out, salads always sound good and so I made this yummy treat one night while we were watching the boys. Mama had taken the boys …somewhere… and then took them to the park to wear them out, and I made dinner while they were gone. The boys had one of their favorites – crescent roll hot dogs – and I made this salad for mama and myself. Everything tasted so fresh, and it definitely hit the spot!

Printable Recipe

Sesame Cherry Marinade:
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
2 c. 100% Montmorency cherry juice

Cherry Vinaigrette:
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. 100 Montmorency cherry juice
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. honey
Pinch salt
¼ c. olive oil

1 (8 oz.) tuna steak
1 oz. sesame seeds
Mixed salad greens
4 oz. crumbled Feta cheese
½ lb. fresh Bing cherries, halved and pitted

For the Cherry Vinaigrette: Mix all of the ingredients well, except the olive oil, in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking continuously, until it is well incorporated. Set aside until ready to use.
For the tuna: Mix the marinade ingredients together and coat the tuna steaks with the marinade, cover tightly, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Heat a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, remove the tuna steaks from the marinade, coat with sesame seeds on both sides, and sear them for a minute to a minute and a half on each side (even a little longer if you want the tuna less rare). Remove the tuna from the pan and slice into ¼-inch thick slices.
Arrange the salad greens in a bowl; sprinkle some of the Feta cheese and halved cherries on top of the greens, top with the sliced tuna steak, and drizzle with vinaigrette.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Squash Blossoms Tempura with Shrimp

Happy Anniversary, to me! Can you believe it?! It’s been one year today since I first started blogging!!

Because it’s such a special day, I HAD to make something extra special for the event! I’d been wanting to make stuffed squash blossoms for a couple of years now, but just never got around to doing it. Most of you probably don’t know this, but I had been a certified nursing assistant for around 6 years before pursuing my dreams of becoming a chef. And, if you know anything about CNAs, you know that they don’t usually get a lot of free time… I can’t even tell you how many double shifts I worked over the years, or picked up extra hours in addition to my regular shift. Needless to say, this kind of work schedule is not exactly conducive to making yummy treats like stuffed squash blossoms! Or going to farmer’s markets to find said blossoms!
Well, now that I’m working in the food industry, I usually start work in the morning and then get done mid-afternoon, which works out perfectly for the farmer’s market on Wednesday evenings on Broadway in Green Bay. The market opens to the public at 4:00PM, and is two blocks long by two blocks wide with live entertainment and tons of vendors! Broadway is closed off for two blocks, and then a cross street (Hubbard) is closed off, so vendors line up facing the sidewalks (which are wide) and then patrons can walk around the entire radius to check out the goodies. It’s really a very nice setup… Especially considering they even have a wine and beer tent! This IS Wisconsin, after all!! Lol
So, last week Wednesday, my mama and I went to the farmer’s market and had a really nice time! We even found this new-ish, eclectic restaurant, called Three Three Five, that mostly does catering for private parties but is also open on Wednesdays during the market hours. I had the most amazingly refreshing lemonade I think I’ve ever had, a Basil Ginger Lemonade, and then we had an asparagus dish and also an heirloom tomato salad with…wait for it…cherry wood smoked bacon! The presentation was absolutely beautiful, and you could really see the love that went into Chef Chris’ work. I always enjoy admiring the work of fellow foodies! Not to mention, he was a total sweetheart and called his connection with one of the local markets and had them save the last of their heirloom tomatoes for me so that I could make my Heirloom Tomato Pie!! Thank you, again, Chris!

But, back to squash blossoms…

Until Wednesday, I had never even seen them at any of the markets I’ve gone to, so I was pretty stoked to find them when not even looking for them. And they were fairly inexpensive as well, which is always a bonus… So, as soon as I saw them, I scooped up a bunch of them and gave the lady my three dollars! I suppose I could always plant my own zucchini, but I’m not a very patient person. I have three tomato plants (one heirloom, one grape, and one beefsteak), all of which have fruit on them, but none of them have ripe fruit, and the anticipation could just about kill me! Every day, I go out to check on them, but have yet to see any redness going on. I think they’re doing it on purpose… ;-)
Needless to say, I’m not so sure that I could handle any other plants. Although, I would only need one zucchini plant (maybe) to pacify my new love for these little beauties! If you’ve never had a stuffed squash blossom, I would recommend trying it. What’s the worst that can happen?! The flowers themselves really don’t have very much flavor, so whatever you stuff inside them needs to have flavor. And the tempura is great, because it’s so light that it doesn’t overpower anything else and is perfectly crispy. I had intended to make my own tentsuyu, but ended up getting some from a local Japanese restaurant instead after having so much difficulty finding the dashi stock anywhere in Green Bay. If you can make it yourself, feel free to do so! If you can’t find the stuff for it, though, you can usually buy it from a Japanese restaurant, which is just fine. Either way, you should definitely try this!
I had guests from out of town for dinner, and they couldn’t believe how good these were. They live near San Francisco and had never had them either, so I’m glad that we were all able to share the experience!

Printable Recipe

½ lb. raw shrimp, shelled, deveined, and roughly chopped
½ tsp. sesame oil
½ tsp. salt
White pepper
½ egg white
8 zucchini flowers
Tentsuyu (Tempura dipping sauce)

Tempura Batter:
¾ c. all-purpose flour
½ c. rice flour
¼ c. cornstarch
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1½ c. cold club soda

To make the shrimp filling: Add the shrimp, sesame oil, salt and white pepper to a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the egg white and continue stirring until everything is thoroughly combined and the egg white is coating everything well. Set aside until needed.
Remove the stigma from the center of the zucchini flowers. Spoon the shrimp mixture into a piping bag and gently pipe the shrimp filling into the zucchini flowers; twist the petal tops to enclose the filling.
Prepare the tempura batter: To make a crisp and light tempura batter, make sure you use ice cold club soda. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl, then whisk in the club soda until the batter is smooth. (You may cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 hour.)
Heat oil in a deep fryer to 350°F. Lightly dip the zucchini flower in the tempura and deep fry in hot oil until the tempura is light golden and the shrimp filling is cooked through, turning occasionally. Keep warm and continue to deep fry the rest of the zucchini flowers. Serve immediately with tentsuyu.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Heirloom Tomato Pie

This recipe is definitely not one of my own creations, as I’m sure many of you probably already know, if you’re an avid foodie like me and are captivated by anything food related. It’s like those people who are attracted to shiny things! Food is my shiny thing. :-)
The recipe for this lovely little “pie” comes straight from the glossy pages of Food Network magazine. There was a picture of this on the cover of the most recent edition, and I swear it was taunting me as I was trying to grocery shop. Every time I would go down an aisle and pass it in the checkout stands, I stopped and drooled for a few seconds! The picture on the cover is the only reason I even bought the stinkin’ magazine!! But, I’m glad I did, because there are some really good recipes in there.
Since the farmer’s markets have been back, I’ve been frequenting them often in hopes of finding some beautiful heirloom tomatoes specifically for this pie. Well, on Wednesday, I was a lucky girl indeed! Not only did I manage to find enough little beauties for this pie, but we enjoyed some in salads that night too! However, because of the amount of work required to make this, I didn’t get around to it until last night. And, we had guests from out of town, so it turned out to be the perfect opportunity… I had some more guinea pigs! ;-)
I will have you all know, there was not even a single crumb of this stuff left in the pie plate by the end of the meal. I had promised one of my coworkers that I would bring him some the next time I worked, but that’s not gonna happen now! Next time… Of course, you all know me, so I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. Because I worked in the morning, I opted to use an already prepared pie crust to save on time. (Honestly, I hate rolling out pie crust anyways, so it wasn’t a hard decision for me. Pillsbury is pretty darn good at making pie crusts that taste a lot like homemade, and it’s less frustrating for me, so I go with that instead…) I also did some research, and found that Manchego cheese is ridiculously expensive, so opted for a similar substitute which I really love, Parmesan. And, because this is Wisconsin, you KNOW I didn’t stick with their measurements for cheese! Lol
Actually, at work last week, I was given the opportunity to try a new cheese, Morel Mushroom and Leek Jack, which was really good. So, imagine my surprise and delight when I found it at my local market! I had been telling my mama and sister about it for a few days (and a couple of my friends, too), so decided to pick some up. I cut up some for everyone to sample, and then grated some to mix in with the other cheeses. It was sooooooo good! The heat from the oven helped bring out some of the mushroom and leek flavors, which really complimented the rest of the dish. Of course, if you can’t find it or don’t like mushrooms or leeks (onions), don’t worry about it. Use whatever you like best or something you want to experiment with! And, if you’d like, you can find the original recipe, complete with a crust recipe, on the Food Network website.

Printable Recipe

2 prepared 9-inch pie crusts, unbaked
¾ c. plus 3 Tbsp. shredded Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2¼ lb. mixed heirloom tomatoes
Sea salt
¼ c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
¼ c. mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
3 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
½ tsp. dried thyme
Freshly ground pepper

For the crust: Place one prepared crust, rolled out into a circle, on your work surface, top with the 3 tablespoons of freshly shredded Parmesan cheese, and place the second crust on top of the cheese; roll the crusts out together into a 13-inch round. Transfer the dough to a 9½-inch deep-dish pie plate. Fold the overhang under itself and crimp the edges; pierce the bottom of the crust all over with a fork and refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°.
Line the crust with foil, then fill with dried beans. Bake until the edges are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and continue baking until golden all over, 10 to 15 more minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Make the filling: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until they are caramelized, about 25 minutes. Let cool. Meanwhile, thinly slice the tomatoes; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of sea salt in a colander. Let the tomatoes drain, gently turning occasionally, about 30 minutes. Place the tomatoes on a clean kitchen towel or paper towels to dry off some of the liquid.
Increase the oven temperature to 375°. Combine the remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan, the mozzarella, Monterey Jack, mayonnaise, breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons each chives and parsley, the thyme, ¼ teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper, and the sautéed onion in a bowl; spread in the crust. Arrange the tomatoes on top of the cheese mixture and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with pepper. Cover the edges of the pie crust with foil or pie crust shields and bake until the tomatoes are browned, about 50 minutes. Top with the remaining 1 tablespoon each chives and parsley.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Seared Sesame Tuna Steaks

Aunt Joanne, this one's for you! :-)

I got the idea for this awesome recipe while watching Food Network one evening (imagine that), and seeing Alton Brown do something very similar. He actually had an entire tuna loin, which I had been unable to find until recently, and he grilled his. I believe he also used more wasabi powder in his, which you are more than welcome to do, but if you’re serving it with something like wasabi mashed potatoes or drizzling a little bit of wasabi aioli over the top, I think it’s best to use the wasabi in moderation. My fellow sushi lovers can attest to the fact that too much wasabi can definitely be a bad thing!
What I really like about this recipe is that the marinade adds a little bit of flavor to the fish. If you buy really good fish, tuna included, it should never smell fishy or “off”. Sometimes, if you buy frozen fish, it has kind of a weird smell, but you can easily remedy that by soaking the fish, any fish, in milk for an hour or so. The acid in the milk absorbs any added smells and tastes… Now, keep in mind, if the fish is bad, there’s no saving it! Please, do not ever try to revive old/bad fish by soaking it in milk, because it’s not going to work and you (or your dinner guests) could possibly suffer from food poisoning. Nobody wants that!
For those of you who don’t know about tuna, I just want to say that, yes, you ARE supposed to eat it rare to medium-rare. In fact, if you overcook it, I’m guessing it will taste very much like that dry stuff you buy in a can at your local market, which needs some mayo to make it taste good. You can ask just about anyone, and they’ll tell you that eating rare meat is not generally something I do. I was at dinner with my best friend and her mom and ordered a hamburger that was still very pink in the middle, and I couldn’t even eat it after seeing that. I don’t generally care for steaks because I don’t like them to have any pink in them, which means they usually end up on the tough side. I’m not the kinda girl to condone eating raw meat, at all! But, this time, I will most definitely emphasize how imperative it is. The important thing to remember is that you need to make sure you’re buying sushi-grade tuna, which is most generally always eaten without being cooked at all. Anything given the sushi grade has to be of very high quality, so the chances of getting sick from eating it are slim to none. I’ve eaten uncooked, rare, or medium-rare tuna on many occasions, and have yet to get sick as a result. Try doing that with chicken! ;-P

Printable Recipe

1 c. dark soy sauce
1 c. honey
¼ c. dry wasabi powder
2 (app. 8 oz.) sushi-grade tuna steaks
¼ c. white sesame seeds
¼ c. black sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. canola oil
Wasabi aioli, optional

In a non-reactive (glass) bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, honey, and wasabi powder. Place the tuna in a glass baking dish and pour the sauce around the fish, moving the fish around to coat evenly. Marinate the tuna up to 4 hours, turning the steaks halfway through marinating. Remove the tuna from the marinade and discard the marinade. On a plate, combine the sesame seeds and coat both sides of each tuna steaks with the seeds, pressing gently so that they adhere.
In a non-coated or cast iron frying pan, heat canola oil on medium heat and place the tuna steaks in the frying pan when the oil is hot. For medium rare steak: cook for 2 - 4 minutes, flip and cook for another 2 - 4 minutes. Slice the tuna against the grain and serve drizzled with a little bit of wasabi aioli. Makes 4 servings

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Baby Back Ribs with Bourbon-Bacon Chipotle Barbecue Sauce

So, Saturday was the National Day of Ribs and Bacon!! That’s the BEST national day EVER!!!!

When I got the invite from a friend on Facebook to participate in this day, of course, there was NO way I could turn it down! I freakin’ LOVE bacon!! And ribs are pretty darn great too! Since it’s such a special day, I got the idea that the two really ought to be combined, in order to fully utilize all of the day’s potential. ;-)
I’ve had this awesome rib rub recipe that I’ve been using for a couple of years, but I decided to make it extra special for this day. There’s this really great little spice store near where I live, and I had been in there for some black sesame seeds for a different meal. I can never help myself so I walk around the store every time I’m in there… Well, I thought I had hit the jackpot that day!! Not only did I pick up the smoked paprika that I needed, I also found some chipotle powder and some really special Applewood smoked sea salt! These would definitely have to be incorporated into my ribs…
Now I needed to get some bacon in there! I did a Google search for Bacon Barbecue Sauce, and I was intrigued by one that came up called Bourbon-Bacon Barbecue Sauce. It was perfect! Of course, the chipotle powder needed to be in there too, and I added my special sea salt, but I kept it very much the same. For the best results, let the sauce sit for a couple of days after making it so that the flavors have time to develop.

Of course, if you aren’t lucky enough to have a spice store near you, don’t worry about it… (But you CAN order products from The Spice and Tea Exchange website, if you really want! :-D) If you’re not feeling so inclined to hassle with trying to find the specialty spices I used, or don’t like spicy food, you can simply omit them (chipotle powder) or use the plain kind (sea salt). I’ve used this recipe many times, without the two special ingredients and it turned out great, so there’s no need to stress about it. Also, this time, I added the garlic and onion powder to my rub, which I’ve not usually done in the past. It turned out great, though!

Printable Recipe

6 Tbsp. smoked sweet paprika
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
2 Tbsp. ground coffee
3 tsp. Applewood smoked sea salt
2 tsp. pepper
½ tsp. chipotle powder
3 full racks baby back ribs
Olive oil
Bourbon-Bacon Chipotle Barbecue Sauce, recipe follows

Combine the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl. Prepare the baby back ribs the night before; take off the white membrane on the back of the ribs. Place the ribs, meat side up, on heavy duty foil, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with the dry rub, pressing the rub gently into the meat to help it adhere. Seal the foil tightly into a packet around the ribs. Keep the ribs in the refrigerator until baking time.
Turn the oven on to 225°. Place the aluminum package of ribs on a cookie sheet and place the cookie sheet in the oven. Slow cook the ribs for 3½ to 4 hours. Towards the end of the baking time, preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium heat (or set oven to broil, if cooking indoors) Remove the ribs from the oven and foil. Baste the ribs with barbecue sauce and place on the grill to cook for an additional 15 - 30 minutes, turning and basting frequently. (If you have a doubt if the ribs are cooked, try taking a toothpick and poke the meat. If the toothpick comes in and out easily, then your ribs are ready to enjoy!) Once the ribs are cooked through and nicely coated with barbecue sauce, remove them from the grill. Serve the ribs with some additional barbecue sauce on the side, if you’d like.

Bourbon-Bacon Chipotle Barbecue Sauce:
½ c. small-dice bacon
½ c. finely diced red onion
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 c. ketchup
½ c. apple cider vinegar
½ c. packed dark brown sugar
¼ c. Worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp. bourbon
2 Tbsp. dark or robust molasses (not blackstrap)
2 tsp. chili powder
1 - 2 tsp. chipotle powder
1½ tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ground mustard
Applewood Smoked Sea Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the bacon in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a small bowl; set aside. Reduce heat to medium low, add the onion to the pan, and cook in the bacon fat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 to 60 seconds more.
Whisk in the remaining measured ingredients and season with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir in the reserved bacon and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened and holds a line on the back of a wooden spoon when you drag a finger through it, about 25 minutes. Season the sauce with additional salt and pepper as needed. Store barbecue sauce in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

While paging through an older magazine of my mama's, I came across something that would be perfect with these ribs - Bourbon Smoked Pepper, Sea Salt, and Paprika!! You can buy each spice individually in tins or bags, or even as a set in the tins! How awesome is that?! Too bad I hadn't read the article sooner, because that would have been perfect with these... But, if you wanna go check out the products, and even order some of your own, you can find them on Bourbon Barrel Foods' website! If you get them before I do, be sure to tell me what you think!


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Seared Sea Scallops with Pistachio and Parmesan Risotto

This dinner came about after having picked up one of those recipe cards from the grocery store one day, and not being able to get the idea out of my head. I don’t even remember which grocery store I picked the card up from, but I was immediately intrigued by the Scallops with Pistachio Butter… The card comes from the Try-Foods International company, who probably prints practically every recipe card you ever see in the grocery store and I couldn’t probably tell you for sure, as I have a ton of them! I’m such a sucker for anything cooking related, it’s not even funny… For example, I was recently at one of the local hospitals with a friend who was going through a difficult time, and we went to grab something for lunch when we passed a book fair thing going on in the lobby. I THINK they had other books there, but I can’t remember because I only saw the cookbooks! I bought two of them that day, like I really need any more… ;-)
Then, while thinking about what to go with it, I thought a risotto would go really well. My friend Becca, who’s actually taken classes towards a culinary arts degree, had come over not too long ago and showed me how to make risotto, so I was feeling pretty confident in myself! Not confidant enough to wing it with my very own ideas this time, though… Since the scallops were going to be served with a pistachio butter, I really had my heart set on also having the pistachios in the risotto, so that’s what I searched the internet for. And I came upon this recipe! I think the guy who wrote up the recipe might have some issues, and I don’t even know if he would want me to link back to him since I didn’t follow his recipe EXACTLY, but he does deserve credit for the base recipe I used. (*Thinks to herself, “I hope I’m not getting myself into trouble!”*)
Anyways… You guys know me, so you know I don’t do anything the way I’m supposed to anyways! First of all, when it comes to this recipe, I certainly can’t see spending good money on blue cheese, when I really don’t like the stuff… I don’t care how expensive it is, moldy cheese is moldy cheese!! Secondly, I really don’t think it’s necessary to spend an exorbitant amount of money in order to get good products, nor to achieve high-quality results. And, lastly, what in the heck good is a recipe if it’s carved in stone and you can’t do anything else with it?! So, if the guy who wrote that is offended by me changing his recipe, then I’m sorry. As far as I’m concerned, recipes are only guidelines and there aren’t many of them that I treat with any special attention or affection. Except for that of my sacred, beloved Oatmeal Cherry and White Chocolate Chip Cookies! :-)

One of my favorite things about living in a larger city is the accessibility of all kinds of ingredients. If you really don't have a lot of money, you don't need to spend a lot of money... For example, I could buy a huge container of Arborio rice, but then I would have to worry about storing it so that the oils in the grains don't turn rancid. Because I wouldn't use that much rice in a short period of time, no matter how good the dish (I have a hard time eating the same things over and over), it's much more convenient for me to buy it by the pound. The organic/natural section at my local grocery store has giant dispensers where you can buy all kinds of stuff by the pound, including red and white quinoa, Arborio rice, granola, granola bites, oatmeal, different nuts, and all kinds of stuff. And, the liquor department sells little bottles of probably 50 different wines, including one from one of my favorite local wineries, so you really only have to get as much as you need for one recipe. Unless you're like me and drink a glass or two while you're preparing the meal!

Printable Recipe

½ lb. Arborio rice
⅛ c. olive oil
½ c. finely chopped Vidalia onion
1 clove garlic, minced
¾ c. chardonnay
1 c. chicken stock, warm
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
½ c. roasted, unsalted pistachios, chopped
4 oz. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1½ lb. large sea scallops
Pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
½ c. butter or margarine
⅓ c. finely chopped pistachios
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

If the scallops are frozen, be sure to thaw, rinse, and then drain them well on paper towels. (If at all possible, it is best to buy dry-packed scallops, as they will not retain as much moisture and will be easier to sear correctly.)
For the risotto: In a medium sauce pan over medium to medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and cook for a couple of minutes until they sweat; add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, approximately 1 minute. Add the rice and toast, stirring constantly, as it cooks for a couple of minutes. Slowly add the wine and cook until it is completely reduced, stirring frequently. When the wine is completely gone, start adding the stock, a little at a time, and cook until the rice absorbs the stock, stirring once after each addition of stock; repeat until all of the stock is absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter, roasted pistachios, and Parmesan and gently stir it all together thoroughly.
For the Scallops: Preheat a cast iron skillet and stainless steel frying pan drizzled with olive oil over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the dried scallops and place them in the skillet, letting them cook for 3-4 minutes without touching, moving, or turning them. (This is necessary to sear them properly.) After the scallops have browned nicely on the first side, flip them and leave them to cook again for 3-4 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the pistachio nuts and parsley. Remove the scallops from the skillet, serve over prepared risotto with steamed asparagus, drizzle with pistachio butter, and serve immediately.