Friday, July 12, 2013

S'more Crispy Treats

It's prime time for camping and other outdoor shenanigans. You can actually watch the beautiful night sky, relax in the sun, hike to new places. And it's kinda awesome to escape from the city for a few days.

Camping season also gives you an excuse to channel your inner 12-year-old and enjoy a sweet, chocolatey s'more. But they're not the most graceful dessert to put together. 

The last time we went camping, half of our graham crackers crumbled on our trip out to the sight and I burned just about all of the damn marshmallows. So, I played with an idea to make life a little easier and bring these tasty treats out of the "campfire needed" category. 

Now you can bang these out whenever this odd craving creeps up. Because it's a little weird to try and toast a marshmallow over a candle in your kitchen (not that I've ever tried that or anything . . .). 

Ingredients
  • 1 (16 oz.) box Golden Grahams cereal
  • 1 (10 oz.) miniature marshmallows
  • 5 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips, chilled
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions
  1. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat.
  2. Add the marshmallows and stir until the mixture is completely melted and smooth. Remove from heat.
  3. Immediately add the Golden Grahams in two batches, stirring carefully to evenly coat the cereal with the marshmallow creme but not crush the grahams.
  4. Mix in the chilled chocolate chips, then pour the mixture into a 9x13 baking dish lined with parchment paper.
  5. Press the cereal into the pan with your fingers. Allow the bars to cool and set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  6. Cut into squares and enjoy.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese

Although most people think of roasting root vegetables in the fall, I LOVE a good summer beet salad. And roasted beets are my favorite. Tender, sweet, flavorful. So, once the local beets start popping up in June and July, I turn up the oven (and turn down the AC).

This simple salad brings together all sorts of goodness: the sweetness of the beets, the creaminess of the goat cheese, the peppery arugula, the crunch of the walnuts, and the brightness of the lemon vinaigrette. It actually IS a wonderful summer salad. Start roasting.

Ingredients
  • 2 large or 4 medium beets (mix sizes and varieties for additional color and flavor)
  • 4 cups arugula, washed and dried
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
  • juice of one lemon
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Wash and dry beets. Trim the tops and roots with a knife.
  3. Lightly drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Wrap each individual beet in aluminum foil.
  4. Place on a baking sheet in the oven and cook, undisturbed, until tender (about 60 to 90 minutes, depending on size).
  5. Once cool, peel the beets by simply rubbing the skin off. Thinly slice or cut into chunks.
  6. Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant.
  7. In a large bowl, combine the arugula, sliced beets, toasted walnuts, and crumbled goat cheese.
  8. In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the juice of one lemon, one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt and black pepper. Taste to adjust the seasonings.
  9. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss to coat.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Lavender Blackberry Scones

Last weekend, my friend Nicole and I escaped the city for a little rural Virginia fun. We spent the morning picking lavender at a little farm south of DC (emphasis on little). We soaked in the beautiful weather, dodged bees (and a heard of other pickers), and basked in the gloriously fragrant field. It was a strange, but a lovely way to spend a Saturday morning.
The English lavenders, which we harvested, have a sweeter fragrance and are great for cooking. It adds a floral  sometimes peppery note  to dishes, making it great for both savory and sweet recipes. To use culinary lavender fresh, pick it when most of the buds are still partly closed. Thoroughly rinse the blooms by immersing them in water to remove any insects or soil. Lay the flowers gently on paper or cloth towels and dab dry. Remove the lavender buds and blooms from the stems by rubbing your fingers from the base of the stem to the top removing the flowers as you go.

(To dry lavender for culinary use, snip the stems off the plant just after the flowers. Hang the stems upside down  in a warm, dark, dry spot. Let them dry for at least a week, or longer depending on the humidity in your area. Once dried, remove the buds and store in an airtight container in a dark, dry place for up to a year.) 
If for some reason you don't have a random lavender farm in your area, don't fret. Many stores sell dried lavender in their spice sections. Just look around. And remember that dried lavender will be more strongly flavored than fresh lavender. So if you are substituting dried lavender for fresh, you may want to use one third to one half the amount of dried lavender in your recipes.
Ingredients
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lavender (1 tablespoon dried)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup cold buttermilk
  • 1 cup fresh blackberries
Lemon Curd
  • 2 lemons
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • pinch of salt

Directions
  1. Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, lavender, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  
  4. Cut in butter (using your fingers or a pastry cutter) until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Work the butter into the dry ingredients until some of the butter flakes are the size of peas and some are the size of oat flakes.    
  5. In another bowl, combine egg and buttermilk and beat lightly with a fork.  
  6. Add to flour mixture all at once, stirring enough to make a soft dough.  
  7. Fold in the blackberries.
  8. Turn out onto a floured board and knead about 15 times.  
  9. Roll or pat out into a 1-inch thickness. 
  10. Cut into 2-inch rounds using a round cutter or cut into 2×2-inch squares. Reshape and roll dough to create more scones with excess scraps.    
  11. Place on the ungreased baking sheet.
  12. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown on top. Serve warm with lemon curd.
* This recipe is adapted from Joy the Baker.

Lemon Curd
  1. Zest the 2 lemons, being careful to avoid the white pith.
  2. Juice the lemons (should yield approximately 1/4 cup). Set aside.
  3. Using a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse the sugar and zest together until the zest is very finely minced into the sugar.
  4. In a large bowl, cream the butter and beat in the sugar and lemon mixture. 
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt. Mix until combined.
  6. Pour the mixture into a 2 quart saucepan and cook over low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly. 
  7. The lemon curd will thicken at about 170 degrees F, or just below simmer. 
  8. Remove from the heat and cool. Store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to two days.
* This recipe is adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Cream

This classic dish requires only a few basic ingredients, but really packs in some great flavors. This meal can be dressed up or down and is great for most occasions, whether it's a Tuesday night or an Engagement Party, like it was for this particular event.

The meat is briefly seared to add color and flavor, then finished off in the oven. The bold flavor of the horseradish and the brightness of the lemon balance out the creaminess of the sauce, complementing the beef. A nice indulgence, from time to time.

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 lb. beef tenderloin, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Horseradish Cream
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2-3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions
  1. Season the beef with salt and pepper, then cover with plastic wrap.
  2. Allow the meat to come to room temperature.
  3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium to medium-high heat.
  5. Sear the beef in the skillet until it is browned on all sides, about 2-3 minutes per side.
  6. Transfer the skillet to the 425 degree oven.
  7. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest end reads 125 degrees, about 10 minutes.
  8. Let meat rest on a cutting board for 30 minutes. 
  9. Meanwhile, combine mayonnaise, horseradish, and lemon juice in a small bowl. 
  10. Thinly slice beef and serve with sauce.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Virginia Ham & Provolone Sammies

If you've ever been on Pinterest, you have probably already seen this recipe . . . and probably didn't pay much attention to it, like me. But, after I tried them at a party, I'm a convert. And, again, they are easy to throw together and great to have for just about any spread.

It's the comfort of a ham and cheese sandwich, but with a kick. The seemingly odd flavor combinations come together to make something special. Tangy, savory, a little sweet.

Ingredients
  • 1 package of 12 Hawaiian Sweet Rolls
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1/4 lb. unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 teaspoons poppy seeds
  • 1/2 lb. shaved Virginia ham
  • 8 slices provolone cheese

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a small skillet, melt the butter.
  3. Add the onions and sauté for 2 minutes.
  4. Stir in the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and poppy seeds into the mixture. Simmer for 5 minutes on medium-low heat. 
  5. As a group, slice the rolls lengthwise and place bottoms on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
  6. Spread half of the butter mixture over the roll bottoms, followed by the ham and cheese slices.
  7. Top with the other half of the rolls.
  8. Spread the remaining butter mixture over the top of the rolls.
  9. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate until ready to bake.
  10. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes until the rolls brown and the cheese melts.
* This recipe is adapted from the Beyer Beware website.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Herbed Mushroom Tartlets

These tasty bites are simply and savory. They are a great addition to a buffet or brunch spread.

Ingredients

  • 3 pints mushrooms (creminis, oysters, porcinis, portobellos, shiitakes), cleaned and chopped
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 2 packages of frozen mini phyllo tart shells

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Heat the butter over medium heat in a large skillet.
  3. When the butter has melted, add the mushrooms, shallots, and garlic and sauté until tender. As the vegetables soften, sprinkle in the salt, pepper, and thyme. Once tender, let the mixture stand until cool.
  4. In a large bowl, fold the mushroom mixture into the cream cheese and stir until thoroughly combined.
  5. Spoon one tablespoon of the filling into each frozen mini phyllo tart shells and arrange them evenly on a large baking sheet.
  6. Bake at 375 degrees F for 15-18 minutes.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mustard Marinated Shrimp

Forget shrimp cocktail. Try this spicy and tangy mustard marinade for your next dinner party. Sarah P. introduced me to this recipe and it's a staple at most Mott-family events now.

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup capers, drained
  • 2 1/2 lbs medium Gulf shrimp, cooked and peeled

Directions
  1. Blend the the vinegars, black pepper, dry mustard, red pepper flakes, and salt in a food processor on low speed for a few seconds.
  2. Slowly add in the oils, continuing to blend until the mixture thickens slightly.
  3. Add the parsley, garlic, green onions, and capers, pulse to combine.
  4. In a large boil, pour the marinade over the shrimp and coat thoroughly.
  5. Cover and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days.
  6. Drain the marinade from the shrimp and serve chilled.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Engagement Party Menu

My sweet sister-in-law is getting married! Have I mentioned that already? Lydia and Tim will tie the knot in December. Jared and I (and all of the rest of the family and friends on both sides) are just a little bit excited and ready to get the party started.
Lyd and friends
Now that we're more than a year out from our own wedding and all of the details and vendors and budget, I no longer want to plug my ears and hum something mind-numbing when people talk about wedding planning. In fact, it's kind of fun to be helping out and looking at pretty dresses and flowers when you don't actually have to make decisions about them. 
And I'm, of course, all for celebrating the bride and her wonderful groom-to-be. What better way to start than with an engagement party? An excuse to try new recipes and eat and drink with family and friends (plus it forces us to actually clean the apartment and make things look nice). 
The brothers: Greg and Tim
So, Jared and I hosted a very festive bunch this past weekend. It seemed like everyone had a great time and enjoyed the tasty spread. The crowd dispersed close to midnight and we went to bed with full bellies and happy hearts.
Brie and aged gouda and humboldt fog. Oh my.
The Engagement Party Menu

Pomegranate Champagne Punch
The Barns Viognier, Virginia
The Barns Petit Verdot, Virginia
Freshly Brewed Sweet Tea with Lemon

Cheese and Olive Plates

Lemon Bars

More of these lovely recipes coming soon . . .

Monday, March 18, 2013

Dark Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Baileys Irish Buttercream

Top o' the morning. I brought these into the office today to make our Monday a little more bearable. The deep, rich flavor of the beer complements the dark chocolate and makes for a dense and moist cake. Topped with the sweet, boozy Baileys Irish Cream frosting. This combination is beyond delicious and one of my new favorite chocolate desserts. Which is saying a lot.

Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 cup Guinness Extra Stout
  • 1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs
Baileys Irish Buttercream
  • 1/2 lb unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup Baileys Irish Cream
  • 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
  • 5 cups confectioners' sugar

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan.
  3. Whisk in the Guinness, cocoa, and vanilla extract. Remove from heat.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and baking soda.
  5. Pour the Guinness mixture onto the dry ingredients, then whisk in the eggs.
  6. Pour evenly into greased cupcake pans.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
  8. Allow the cupcakes to cool before icing.
* This cake recipe is adapted from the Global Table.

Baileys Irish Buttercream
  1. Cream together butter and shortening until smooth.
  2. Slowly add the milk, Baileys, sugar, and vanilla extract.
  3. Continue beating on medium speed until smooth and creamy.
  4. Spread or pipe generously on top of the cupcakes.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Supper - Beef and Guinness Stew

Happy St. Patrick's Day! This crock pot recipe is great for parade revelers and bar crawlers. Start it early, forget about it for the day, return home to a hot, tasty meal.

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 lbs. beef chuck, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 large onions, halved and cut into slices
  • 2 strips of bacon, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 bottle (12 oz.) Guinness draught
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 lb. carrots, cut into large chunks
  • 1 lb. fingerling potatoes

Directions
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, pepper, and one teaspoon of salt.
  2. Lightly toss the beef in the seasoned flour. Pat off any excess and reserve the remaining seasoned flour.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
  4. Brown the meat in batches, 2-3 minutes per side. Set aside on a plate.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onions to the skillet. Cook until tender for 5-10 minutes.
  6. Transfer the onions to a preheated 5- to 6-quart slow cooker and lay the beef on top.
  7. Add the bacon to the skillet and cook over medium heat until cooked through.
  8. Add the garlic, thyme, oregano, rosemary, basil, and reserved flour. Cook for 3 minutes.
  9. Stir in the remaining one teaspoon of salt, ancho chili powder, brown sugar, and beer. Simmer, stirring, until slightly thickened (about 5 minutes).
  10. Add the carrots and potatoes to the slow cooker.
  11. Pour the sauce over the beef and vegetables. 
  12. Bury the bay leaves in the sauce, cover, and cook on high for 4-5 hours, or on low for 8-10 hours.
  13. Remove the bay leaves. Stir in the parsley before serving.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday Supper - Lasagna alla Bolognese

My kitchen adventure continues . . . as I now tackle the rest of the lasagna. Thanks to the previous recipe, a bottle of wine is open and looking a bit lonely. So, I grab a glass, or two, to assist in the process then jump into the next steps. Noodles, béchamel, noodles, assembly.

Note: I had never made noodles before. Believe me, this is less daunting once you are a half bottle into the process.

All of the time and energy (and flour all over the place) is totally worth it, though. This was absolutely the best lasagna that I have ever had. Made all the more delightful when you can say that it is made from scratch. So, take an afternoon and enjoy the experience.

Ingredients

Lasagna
  • full amount Ragù alla Bolognese recipe
  • lasagna noodles
  • béchamel sauce
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup mozzarella cheese, freshly grated
  • 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Noodles
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, unbleached
  • 3/4 cup semolina flour
  • 2 large eggs
Béchamel Sauce
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, unbleached
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

Lasagna
  1. Prepare the bolognese sauce and set aside or allow to simmer on low heat.
  2. Begin to make the pasta dough.
  3. After the pasta dough has rested, cut the dough ball into four equal pieces. Leaving the remaining dough under the bowl, take one of the pieces of dough and flatten it with the palm of your hand. This will make it easier to initially push it through the machine.
  4. Pat both sides of the dough with flour. Start coaxing the dough through the largest opening of the pasta machine (No. 1 on mine). Fold dough lengthwise into thirds, and rotate 90 degrees. Pass through the machine two more times.
  5. Keep feeding the dough through the rollers, moving the size notch up one number higher each time. Pat the strips of pasta with flour to avoid sticking.
  6. Continue to roll dough through ever-finer settings, 2 passes each, until sheet is almost translucent (No. 6 on my machine).
  7. Repeat this process for each of the four sections of the pasta dough.
  8. Cut sheets in to 13 inch strips. Transfer lasagna noodles to a drying rack for 1 hour.
  9. Prepare the béchamel. When done, keep it warm in the upper half of a double boiler over very low heat. Stir occasionally to prevent a film from forming.
  10. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  11. Fill a large bowl with ice water. 
  12. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook 2 to 3 noodles at a time for 90 seconds.
  13. Using a wire-mesh skimmer, transfer noodles to cool water, and swirl a few times.
  14. Place cooked noodles on a parchment-lined baking sheet until ready to use, placing a piece of parchment between layers.
  15. Thickly smear the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish with butter and one tablespoon of béchamel.
  16. Line the bottom of the pan with a single layer of pasta strips, allowing no more than 1/4 inch overlap.
  17. Combine the bolognese and the béchamel and spread a thin coating of it on the pasta.
  18. Sprinkle on some of the grated cheeses, then add another layer of pasta.
  19. Repeat this process, building up at least six layers of pasta.
  20. Sprinkle the top-most layer with the remaining cheeses and dot with butter.
  21. The lasagna may be complete up to two days in advance up to this point. Refrigerate under tightly sealed plastic wrap.
  22. Bake on the uppermost rack of the oven for 5-10 minutes at 400 degrees F.
  23. Increase the heat to 450 degrees F and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, until a light, golden crust forms.  (Do not bake longer than 15 minutes total).
  24. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
* This recipe is loosely adapted from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

Noodles
  1. Place the semolina and regular flour into a food processor bowl. 
  2. Add the eggs, then pulse the ingredients until a ball starts to form. 
  3. Add more flour or semolina if it seems too sticky. 
  4. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky, about 5 minutes.
  5. Let the dough rest under a bowl for at least one hour.
Béchamel Sauce
  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the milk to medium low, bringing the milk just to the verge of boiling.
  2. While the milk is heating, melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. 
  3. Once melted, turn the heat to low and whisk in the flour. Cook, while stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Do not the flour to become colored. Remove from heat.
  4. Add the milk to the flour and butter mixture 1/4 of a cup at a time. Stir steadily and thoroughly until all of the milk is smoothly incorporated.
  5. Place the pan over low heat, add the salt, and cook until the sauce is as dense as thick cream. Stir constantly.

Ragù alla Bolognese

So, I got a bit of a wild hair this past weekend. I decided that I was going to make lasagna completely from scratch. Sauce, noodles, everything. I got up this morning, went to the grocery store, then hauled up in my tiny kitchen for the rest of the day.
First order of business, a delicious meat sauce. I highly recommend this one. Traditional recipe, simmered for four hours. The bolognese works perfectly in a lasagna or simply tossed with spaghetti and topped with grated Parmesan.

Ingredients
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 2/3 cup celery, chopped
  • 2/3 cup carrot, chopped
  • 1 1/4 pound ground beef chuck
  • 1-2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 (28 oz.) can imported Italian plum tomatoes, torn into pieces, with juice

Directions
  1. Add oil, 3 tablespoons butter, and chopped onion in a heavy 3 1/2 quart pot and turn heat to medium. Cook and stir onion until it has become translucent.
  2. Stir in the chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add ground beef, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble meat with a fork, stir well and cook until browned.
  4. Add milk and let simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add fresh nutmeg and stir.
  5. Add wine and let it simmer until it has evaporated. 
  6. Add tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When tomatoes begin to bubble, turn heat down so that sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface.
  7. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. While sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it will begin to dry out and the fat will separate from the meat. To keep it from sticking, add 1/2 cup water as necessary. At the end of cooking, however, the water should be completely evaporated and the fat should separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.
* This recipe is adapted from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Travel Bites - Key West

After the chaos of the wedding week last year, Jared and I planned a road trip honeymoon through the Florida Keys. We flew to Miami, rented a car, and made our way down to the zero mile marker on Highway 1. This year, we returned to Key West for a long, tranquil weekend. It was warm, sunny, and weird. Just like we remembered.
For our first night back in town, we strolled around Old Town people watching and enjoying the weather. We stopped in at Santiago's Bodega for delicious tapas and sangria. It was a feast of cherry-hoisin glazed beef short ribs with orange-miso slaw; shrimp and chorizo skewered and pan-grilled with minced garlic; and cayenne-spiced potato croquettas with house ground prosciutto and provolone cheese served with scallion cream.
Sadly, they were out of the saganaki (haloumi cheese sprinkled with oregano and flambéed with brandy, served with pita bread), but it was probably for the best. Too many other tasty bits to try.
The next morning, we did the tourist thing and checked out the Hemingway House. Our feisty guide told us tales of the writer's stormy past - from loves and divorces to inspirations for novels and wild gaming. 
We traipsed around the beautiful estate for a while after our tour, and one of the six-toed cats befriended Jared (much to his dismay). The little beast made himself comfortable, even as my charming husband cursed and tried to push him away. A cat after my own heart, being perfectly sweet and infuriating all at once. Maybe we should have taken him home.
That evening, we walked down to Camille's for dinner. The wait staff there is eclectic and quirky. The decor is hippie-island chic with a nod to female power. The menu changes daily with food that is local and fresh. It's an odd little joint in the best way possible. We happened upon it during our trip last year and returned this year to find it just as strange as usual.
And, thankfully, just as tasty as we remembered. I ordered the Ahi tuna ceviche and seared swordfish, enjoying every mercury-laced bite. Jared went for the spaghetti with clams and white wine butter sauce. Lovely.
We spent the rest of our trip biking around the island, discovering new beautiful neighborhoods, touring the old fort, and relaxing in general. But we had one last culinary venture on our list for the weekend . . . and it was Better Than Sex. No really, that's the name of the restaurant.
This saucy little late night spot does nothing but desserts. And my sweet tooth finally met its match. The vibe is a little sultry and a little seedy. Rich textures and dark corners where some patrons were getting a little too handsy. Voyeuristic entertainment aside, this place is decadent and amazing. Our desserts of choice? The Chocolate Grilled Cheese: Danish brie cheese and dark Belgian chocolate grilled on home-style buttered bread kissed with cinnamon and sugar and served "snuggled up" against a shot of strawberry champagne soup. And the "Between My Red Velvet Sheets" Cheesecake: touted as velvet creamy love fluffed up to perfection. "You'll be floating on Cloud 69 from your first nibble." Get some.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Grilled PB & Banana Sandwich

Now that Lent is in full swing, I figure a meat-free Friday post is appropriate. This little twist on a classic is the perfect way to cap off my work week. Comfort food, book, bed. Looking forward to my quiet, relaxing evening.

Ingredients

Sandwich
  • two slices of bread (I used a loaf of oatmeal-honey wheat)
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon honey butter
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 1 small banana, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon good honey (optional)
Cinnamon Honey Butter
  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons good honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

Sandwich
  1. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. 
  2. Spread cinnamon honey butter on one side of each slice of bread.
  3. On the other side of each slice of bread, spread the peanut better.
  4. Drizzle with honey (optional).
  5. Arrange the sliced bananas evenly on the peanut butter side of one slice of bread, then top with the other slice of bread (cinnamon honey butter side out).
  6. Note: I prefer creamy PB with sliced banana, but crunch PB with mashed banana would work well too. I wouldn't go with creamy PB and mashed bananas, though. The sandwich would lack a bit in texture.
  7. Grill the sandwich on medium heat until the peanut butter is slightly melted and gooey and the bread is golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.
Cinnamon Honey Butter
  1. Combine the butter, honey, cinnamon, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  2. Refrigerate after initial use.


Monday, February 18, 2013

Traditional King Cake

So, I know that this is blasphemy, but I made a couple of post-season king cakes this weekend. First of all, it was my mother-in-law's birthday yesterday and her only requests were brunch with the family and a king cake birthday cake. And you just don't question a birthday cake request.
Typically, king cakes are reserved for Mardi Gras season,
but we're gonna go ahead and make a few exceptions here.
Secondly, one year ago today, Jared and I walked down the aisle, made it legal, and sealed our newly minted marriage with a giant tiered king cake. Instead of doing the traditional choking down of the year-old frozen, crusty wedding cake, we decided to bake our own king cake this year. And every year, from now on, in honor of the anniversary. In the process, hopefully we'll land on a recipe that becomes our new favorite.
The Anniversary Cake
For the first attempt, I found a recipe courtesy of one of my favorite Louisiana chefs, John Besh. While I'm sure that a better baker could have yielded better results, my cakes were a bit of a bust. They looked great and tasted ok, but they were dry and tough . . . thanks in large part to my over-kneading the dough. Oops. Better luck next year, I guess.


Ingredients
  • 1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110°F
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 5 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • several gratings of fresh nutmeg
Icing
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Purple, green, and gold decorative sugars

Directions
  1. For the cake, pour the warm milk into a large bowl. Whisk in the granulated sugar, yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of the flour, mixing until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved.
  2. Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the remaining flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg and fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a large rubber spatula.
  3. After the dough comes together, pulling away from the sides of the bowl, shape it into a large ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes.
  4. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a draft-free place to let it proof, or rise, for 1 1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough between your palms into a long strip, making 3 ropes of equal length. Braid the 3 ropes around one another and then form the braided loaf into a circle, pinching ends together to seal. Gently lay the braided dough on a nonstick cookie sheet and let it rise until it doubles in size, about 30 minutes.
  6. Once it's doubled in size, place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake until the braid is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
  7. For the icing, while the cake is cooling, whisk together the powdered sugar, condensed milk, and lemon juice in a bowl until the icing is smooth and very spreadable. If the icing is too thick, add a bit more condensed milk; if it’s a touch too loose, add a little more powdered sugar.
  8. Once the cake has cooled, spread the icing over the top of the cake and sprinkle with purple, green, and gold decorative sugars while the icing is still wet.
* King Cake recipe is adapted from John Besh's My New Orleans: The Cookbook.
Happy (belated) Birthday Sarah P!!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Supper - Seared Venison Backstrap with Mushroom Risotto

This meal is always a favorite. The tender, rare backstrap pairs nicely with the creamy, subtle flavors of the risotto. Perfect comfort food for a regular evening or a lovely dinner with friends. Pour yourself a glass of Côtes du Rhône Rouge and enjoy.

Ingredients

Seared Venison Backstrap
  • 1 2 lb. venison backstrap
  • 1/2 cup Allegro marinade
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Mushroom Risotto
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 2-3 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 pint mushrooms (creminis, oysters, porcinis, portobellos, shiitakes), cleaned and sliced
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated 
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

Directions

Seared Venison Backstrap
  1. Marinate the meat in the Allegro for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.
  4. Sear the meat until browned, about 2-3 minutes. Turn and brown for an additional 2 minutes.
  5. Place skillet into the preheated oven and cook until medium rare, about 5-10 minutes depending on thickness.
  6. Allow meat to rest for 5-10 minutes.
Mushroom Risotto
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a large cast iron pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the shallots and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes.
  3. Stir in the rice. Heat the grains for 1 minute.
  4. Add 1/2 cup of hot broth and lower heat until barely simmering. Continue to stir constantly.
  5. As the liquid is absorbed, add more broth in small amounts.
  6. Continue the process until the rice is slightly tender. 
  7. In a separate pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of butter.
  8. Add mushrooms and sauté until soft.
  9. Stir the mushrooms into the risotto.
  10. When the rice is almost completely cooked, add heavy cream and stir slowly until absorbed.
  11. Remove from heat and stir in cheese, fresh herbs, and pepper.