Archive for March, 2010

Black Bean Hummus

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

I love road trips: half the fun is the excitement of getting ready and packing some good food.  Being too thrifty to eat at restaurants for every meal and not wanting to settle for fast food (which can also get expensive), I like to pack a small cooler full of healthy goodies that will save me a wad of cash.

For my last two road trips, I have made and loved having this black bean hummus for munching.  It is a great dip with corn chips, carrot sticks, pita chips, or just about any other thing you can dip in there.  The other great thing about it is that you can make it the night before, giving the spices a chance to mingle, making this hummus even better the next day.

I like food that is spicy, so I am a little heavy on the hot chili sauce, but if you don’t go for that extra kick to keep you awake in the car, then you might want to reduce that ingredient.  This hummus isn’t just great for the road, it also makes a nice appetizer or party food that is interesting–not everybody has had, or even heard of, hummus made with black beans.

Black Bean Hummus Recipe

1 15 ounce can black beans, drained (reserve juice)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons hot chili sauce
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons onion powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  1. Combine all ingredients in food processor and purée.  Add some of reserved bean juice, about 1/4 cup, to reach desired consistency.

    Black Bean on Foodista

    Pineapple-Crusted Salmon

    Thursday, March 25th, 2010

    I love salmon fillets, so I am always looking for new ways to serve them. This pineapple-crusted salmon is my most recent (last night) discovery that makes me “want to go mmm.”  This dish was bursting with flavor, and I’m bursting to tell you about it.

    I am not a big fan of sweet salmon so I don’t go for recipes that call for a lot of brown sugar or maple syrup, and I’ll admit that I was a little nervous that this was going to be too sweet for me, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The slight hint of sweet contrasts the spicy red pepper flakes nicely, and none of this overwhelms the delicate fish underneath.  The pineapple got just a bit crusted, which made a wonderful texture.  And all this with just a few minutes of prep work with a few simple ingredients.

    Pineapple-Crusted Salmon Recipe  Makes about 3 servings.

    adapted from Stephanie Witt Sedgwick

    1 pound salmon fillet
    1 cup fresh pineapple, chopped
    1 lime, zest and juice
    1 tablespoon brown sugar
    1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
    pinch salt
    1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

    1. Combine the pineapple, lime zest and juice, crushed red pepper flakes, brown sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside for 20 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.
    2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
    3. Drizzle olive oil in bottom of roasting pan.
    4. Place the salmon in the pan, skin side down.  Top with the pineapple mixture.  Bake until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees, about 20 minutes.
    5. If the topping looks overly moist (and not crustlike), place the fish under the broiler for 1 to 2 minutes to evaporate the excess moisture.

    Chicken Cordon Bleu

    Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

    People seem to think of chicken cordon bleu as one of those fancy dishes that is hard to make and should therefore only be enjoyed at restaurants. It is true that this chicken is not great when greasy, soggy, or dry–the three most common problems that it suffers.  But my mom makes great chicken cordon bleu, and she told me the secret.  First, fry the chicken to get the outside crispy, then bake it to finish the cooking process.  Brining the chicken first gives it a little more flavor and helps keep it moist.  I like rolling the chicken in Italian style bread crumbs to add another flavor, but I bet panko would work great, too. I like to mix up the cheese, I used provolone this time, but other cheeses are just as good–monterey jack, mozzarella, etc.

    There are kind of a lot of steps to making this right, and if you are going to skimp, don’t bother.  (Wrapping in foil and putting in the freezer helps hold the chicken in shape.  If you are better than I am at rolling chicken, then you could skip this step.)  You’ll just be disappointed when you are eating a soggy breast that is losing its breading.  But, there is nothing particularly difficult to any of the steps.  Just try not to mangle the chicken while you beat it.  I can get a little carried away taking out my aggression, and that really just ruins a fine breast.  So, remember it’s a chicken, not the head of your ex.

    Chicken Cordon Bleu Recipe  Makes 2 servings

    adapted from my mom’s family cookbook Secret Ingredients

    2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (tenderloins removed, fat trimmed)
    1 tablespoon salt
    1 tablespoon sugar
    fresh cracked black pepper
    1 egg
    1 tablespoon canola oil (plus more for frying)
    1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    3/4 cup Italian style bread crumbs
    2 thin slices of ham
    2 slices of provolone cheese

    1. Brine chicken in water with salt and sugar for 30 minutes.
    2. Place each chicken breast between two pieces of wax paper or parchment paper.  Pound with meat tenderizer until approximately 1/4 inch thick.
    3. Put breasts smooth-side down .  Season with salt and pepper.  Layer 1 slice of cheese and 1 slice of ham on each breast.  Roll up.  Wrap each rolled breast in foil with ends twisted (like a tootsie roll).
    4. Put breasts in freezer for 10 minutes.
    5. Remove breasts from freezer, remove foil, and insert toothpicks to hold the breasts tight.
    6. Beat egg with canola oil.
    7. Batter the breasts by dipping in egg mixture, then rolling in flour, then rolling in bread crumbs.
    8. Place breasts on wire rack on a baking sheet for 2-3 minutes to allow coating to dry.
    9. Heat about 1 cup oil in skillet over medium-high heat.  (Oil is ready when splattering water in it sizzles.)
    10. Add breasts to oil and allow to brown for about 3 minutes.  Roll breasts over so that each side turns golden brown.
    11. Put breasts back onto wire rack on baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, until temperature reaches 155 degrees.

    Mushroom Leek Soup

    Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

    With the weekend’s sudden, and hopefully last, bout of cold weather this season, soup seemed like the perfect way to warm back up and fantasize of spring days ahead as promised by the blooming daffodils in the backyard.  I had been thinking of new ways to use the leeks still stored in the crisper and decided to rummage the kitchen and see what I could come up with.  Mushrooms, garlic, white wine–sounded like soup to me.

    It wasn’t long before the aroma emanated throughout the house. Really, mushroom leek soup may sound a little boring, but the smell wafting from the stove promised that we were in for a treat. And we were. Although the soup certainly wasn’t lacking by any stretch of the imagination, I think that kale would have been a perfect addition. I’ll try that next time. Definitely serve this one with a rustic crusty bread as I did, along with a small salad. I found myself immensely satisfied.

    Mushroom Leek Soup Recipe  Makes about 4 bowls.

    2 leeks, sliced
    2 cups sliced baby bella mushrooms
    1-2 carrots, diced
    3 cloves garlic, chopped
    2 tablespoons butter
    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    1 cup white wine
    4 cups chicken stock (For vegetarian, substitute vegetable stock)
    3-4 springs fresh thyme, chopped
    cracked black pepper
    pinch of salt

    1. Soak leeks in cold water for ten minutes.
    2. Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat.  Add olive oil, carrots, and leeks and sauté.  Add black pepper and salt.
    3. When carrots and leeks are tender, about 12-15 minutes, add mushrooms and garlic.  Cover with lid.
    4. When mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes, add wine and thyme.
    5. Simmer until wine is reduced by about half, about 10 minutes.
    6. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Then, simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes.

    Mint Chocolate Cake

    Sunday, March 14th, 2010

    My main squeeze loves some mint chocolate, probably his favorite dessert flavors, so I decided to bake him a mint chocolate cake for his birthday celebration dinner.  I wasn’t looking for anything fancy, just a quality chocolate cake that I could mint up and make pretty.

    You know what they say, “Chocolate recipes are only as good as the chocolate you put in them.”  Second best just doesn’t cut it for a birthday cake, so I went on a quest for the best chocolate I could find/afford. After lots of reading and several trustworthy recommendations (David Lebovitz included), I settled on Valrhona Cocoa Powder, which has become my go-to chocolate.

    I put that fancy cocoa in a simple cake recipe and frosted with some fluffy mint frosting, then topped that with a bit of grated Andes Creme de Menthe Thins.

    Mint Chocolate Cake Recipe  Makes 1 double layer cake, about 10 servings.

    adapted from Mark Bittman’s Chocolate Vanilla Layer Cake in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

    1/2 cup boiling water
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    3/4 cup cocoa powder
    1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    4 large eggs, separated
    1 1/4 cups sugar
    1/4 cup canola oil
    2 teaspoons peppermint extract
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    Andes Crème de Menthe, grated

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 9″ cake pans.
    2. Put the peppermint extract in a large bowl with the boiling water.  Set aside.
    3. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
    4. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites to stiff peaks.
    5. Add the yolks, sugar, oil, and vanilla extract to the peppermint water and beat until creamy and bubbly.
    6. With mixer, combine dry ingredients with the wet mixture.
    7. By hand, fold the egg whites into the batter gently but thoroughly.
    8. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans and let it settle for a few seconds.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
    9. Cool for at least 10 minutes before carefully inverting onto racks.
    10. Cool completely before frosting with fluffy mint frosting.
    11. Garnish with grated Andes Crème de Menthe.

    Fluffy Mint Frosting

    Saturday, March 13th, 2010

    If there is one thing I don’t like, it is that saccharine buttercream frosting that so many people insist on slathering an inch thick on birthday cakes.  I prefer a slightly, ok noticeably, less treacly frosting that 1) allows me to actually taste the cake underneath, and 2) doesn’t threaten to send me directly into a diabetic coma.

    That brings me to this fluffy frosting, in this case mint-flavored, that perfectly does the job of serving as, quite literally, “just icing on the cake.”  The frosting tastes a lot like a gooey marshmallow, which is no surprise, since you will know if you’ve ever made homemade marshmallows, that this recipe is not much of a detour from the one that yields those white puffs of sugar.

    To state the obvious, this frosting is the perfect topping for a mint chocolate cake.  But, that is certainly not the only place it belongs. Substitute the peppermint extract, with vanilla, almond, orange, or any other extract to create a custom frosting that will pair with the cake you’re making.

    Fluffy Mint Frosting Recipe  Makes enough to frost a double layer 9″ round cake.

    1 cup sugar
    1/3 cup water
    1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
    2 egg whites
    1 teaspoon peppermint extract
    green food coloring

    1. Stir sugar, water, and cream of tartar together in sauce pan over medium high heat.  Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat.
    2. Beat egg whites until soft peaks begin to form.
    3. Add peppermint extract and green food coloring to egg whites.
    4. Gradually add the sugar mixture to the egg whites, continuing to beat until stiff peaks form, about 7 minutes.

    Creamy Tomato Pasta Sauce

    Friday, March 12th, 2010

    “Blue prize winning recipe,” that is if you consider my mom’s culinary critiques to serve as contests.  She raves over this recipe and has threatened me within an inch of my life to give it to her, reminding me that I know the real secret to her famous tea cake cookies.  While you won’t ever get that secret out of my lips, I’ll happily share the one for this pasta sauce.  (Yes, I’m pretty sure that until that last sentence, my mom was shivering with fear that I was about to disclose the one recipe of hers that I’m forbidden ever to share.)

    Back to this creamy tomato sauce, the one that just sort of happened one night when I was feeling a little creative and lusting for a tomato pasta sauce that was  creamy, one that I could later adapt into something for that lobster ravioli that I had been musing on for several months.  And well, sometimes, the first time is the charm.  As it was with this.  I make it the same way every time, and served atop some homemade pasta it is simply irresistible.  While it may not photograph particularly well, correction, while I may not photograph it very well, this pasta has me screaming, “Mmm, mmm, get in my belly!”

    Creamy Tomato Sauce Recipe  Makes about 4 servings.

    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    1/2 shallot, chopped
    3 cloves garlic, chopped
    3 bay leaves
    2 teaspoons dried basil
    2 teaspoons dried oregano
    2 teaspoons dried thyme
    2 cups baby bella mushrooms, sliced
    pinch salt
    cracked black pepper
    1 15 ounce can tomato sauce
    1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
    freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

    1. Put olive oil and shallots in pan over medium low heat.
    2. When shallots begin to soften, add garlic, bay leaves, basil, oregano, thyme, salt, and black pepper.  Stir together.
    3. Add mushrooms.
    4. Once mushrooms begin to soften, add tomato sauce.  Stir together and allow to simmer.
    5. After allowing to simmer for a few minutes, taste and add more herbs if necessary.
    6. Stir in heavy whipping cream.
    7. Once the sauce is hot (it will cool from adding cold heavy whipping cream), serve over pasta of choice.
    8. Garnish with parmigiano-reggiano on top.

    Pommes Anna

    Thursday, March 4th, 2010

    Ok, I’ll admit it.  I was pretty intimidated by this recipe and probably wouldn’t have considered trying it if not for two things.  First, Cook’s Illustrated has a beautiful picture of it in The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook.  And second, I have been looking for ways to experiment with my brand new mandoline in my own test kitchen.  I’m definitely glad I tried it, but I wouldn’t step foot near this recipe without a lean, mean, slicing machine.  Hats off to anyone who does.

    I’ve helped you cross the first hurdle by giving you my own pics that show how stunning this dish is.  If you have a mandoline, then you’re ready to go.  If not, then this is reason enough to buy one.  If you need a little enticing, Russell’s words may get you going, “This is one for company,” which is really about the best compliment a dish can get as far as I’m concerned.

    But this isn’t just picturesque by any stretch of the imagination, these potatoes are a culinary delight.  The outer layer of potato slices is nice and crispy, and the inner layers are perfectly tender with a taste of butter.  And not just a crown of potato mush, each slice maintains its own identity, giving this dish a unique texture that makes mouths happy.

    Pommes Anna Recipe  Makes about 5 servings.

    adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

    1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
    5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
    2 tablespoons canola oil
    salt
    cracked black paper

    1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
    2. Toss potato slices with melted butter in large bowl until potatoes are evenly coated.
    3. Pour oil into 8″ cast iron skillet, and set over medium-low heat.
    4. Begin timing and arrange potato slices in skillet, using nicest slices to form bottom layer.  To start, place one slice in center of skillet.
    5. Overlap more slices in circle around center slice, then form another circle of overlapping slices to cover pan bottom.
    6. Sprinkle evenly with scant 1/4 teaspoon salt and cracked black pepper.
    7. Arrange second layer of potatoes, working in opposite direction of first layer.  Sprinkle evenly with scant 1/4 teaspoon salt and cracked black pepper.
    8. Repeat, layering potatoes in opposite directions and sprinkling with salt and pepper, until no slices remain.
    9. Continue to cook over medium-low heat until 30 minutes elapse from time you began arranging potatoes in skillet.
    10. Press potatoes down firmly to compact.  Cover skillet with aluminum foil and place in oven.
    11. Bake until potatoes begin to soften, about 15 minutes.
    12. Uncover and continue to bake until potatoes are tender and edge of potatoes near skillet is browned, about 10 minutes.
    13. Drain off excess fat from potatoes.
    14. Loosen potatoes from skillet with knife.  Flip over onto serving dish.
    15. Cut into wedges and serve.

    Brown Butter Asparagus with Parmesan

    Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

    Sure, steamed asparagus is good, but roasted asparagus is better. Hollandaise?  No, thank you.  Of course, hollandaise has its place in culinary history, but it is overdone.  People start to expect hollandaise when they hear “asparagus” and then they layer it on so thick that they can’t even taste the green goodness that should be the star of the show. Don’t get me wrong, I like hollandaise, I just don’t think it is the only way to serve asparagus.

    To switch things up a bit, I like to roast the asparagus in the oven with a bit of garlic, sea salt, lemon juice, and browned butter.  Of course, just melted butter will work, but browning it first adds more depth of flavor, so it is definitely worth the extra few minutes.  So coat those green spears in some browned butter and top it off with parmigiano-reggiano.  Instead of masking the asparagus with gobs of sauce, you’ll be complementing it perfectly.

    Brown Butter Asparagus with Parmesan Recipe  Makes 2 servings.

    1/4 pound asparagus, trimmed
    1 tablespoon lemon juice
    1 tablespoon butter
    1 clove garlic
    pinch sea salt
    1 tablespoon freshly shredded parmigiano-reggiano

    1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
    2. Brown butter on stove on medium low heat
    3. Put asparagus in baking dish.  Add lemon juice, garlic, and salt.
    4. Pour browned butter over asparagus and coat evenly.
    5. Bake until asparagus becomes tender, about 10 minutes.
    6. Sprinkle parmigiano-reggiano over asparagus.

    White Chili

    Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

    The weatherman was calling for more snow last night, so I was calling for more soup. This time: white chili, one of my mom’s greatest creations.  A bowl of this stuff will warm you up from the inside out and leave a little heat on your tongue at the same time. Add that to its heartiness, and you have yourself the perfect snowy day meal, especially if you serve it with this Mexican Cornbread. Although the forecasted snow didn’t materialize, I was sure happy that this white chili did.

    White Chili Recipe  Makes 5-6 bowls.

    adapted from my mom’s family cookbook Secret Ingredients

    6 cups cooked white beans, salted
    1 pound chicken breast
    1 4 ounce can green chili peppers, diced
    1 tablespoon chili powder
    1 tablespoon cumin
    2 tablespoons hot chili sauce
    2 cloves garlic, chopped

    1. Boil chicken until it reaches 160 degrees.  Remove from water (but reserve it) and let cool.
    2. Put beans in large pot on medium low heat.
    3. Dice chicken and add to beans.
    4. Stir in all other ingredients and simmer.
    5. If chili is too thick, use reserved water from chicken to thin to desired consistency.

    Garnish with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese.  Serve with Mexican Cornbread.