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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Raspberry Truffle Brownies








I think these are my favorite brownies. They are quite moist and fudgy, with a chewy crust, and are rich with chocolate, raspberry jam and black raspberry liqueur. I made them most recently for my friend Brenda's birthday, and took the extras to work on election night.

The hardest thing about these brownies is baking them just the right amount of time. But the result is worth checking their doneness every few minutes. And worth every calorie.
The recipe is from www.epicurious.com. My changes are in parentheses.

Raspberry Truffle Brownies

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped*
3 large eggs
2 cups sugar*
1/3 cup (seedless) raspberry jam (sugar-free spread is fine)
3 tablespoons black raspberry or raspberry liqueur
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (miniature) semisweet chocolate chips
Powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9-inch-diameter springform pan (or 9-inch-square cake pan) with nonstick spray. Melt butter and chocolate in large saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Whisk in the sugar, jam, liqueur and eggs. (The original recipe puts eggs first on the list, but I whisk them in last so that the mixture is cool enough that they don't curdle). Stir in flour and salt, then chocolate chips. Transfer batter to prepared pan.
Bake brownie until tester (inserted 1 inch from center) comes out with moist crumbs attached, 35-45 minutes. (I start checking at 30. If it jiggles when you move pan, check again in 5 minutes.) Cool in pan on rack. Run small knife around edges of pan. Remove pan sides if in springform pan. If desired, dust with powdered sugar. Cut into wedges or squares and serve. Store at room temperature in airtight container or wrapped in plastic or foil.
*Note: You can sub part of the unsweetened chocolate with bittersweet chocolate (up to half) and reduce the sugar by 1/3 to 1/2 cup.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tortellini Salad With Sun-Dried Tomatoes









This is a recipe I make a lot. It's very flexible; sometimes I use rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes, sometimes oil-packed. Sometimes I throw in cooked chicken. I don't measure anything but the dressing ingredients. People always like it, and it's pretty easy. That's a winner in my book.
Most recently I made it to take to a double baby shower; it was for two co-workers who are due a day apart.

Tortellini Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Artichokes and Goat Cheese

8 sun-dried tomatoes (or 1/2 small jar oil-packed)
13 oz. or so dried (1 package Barilla family-sized) cheese or spinach-cheese dried tortellini
4 to 6 oz. cooked chicken, shredded (optional)
1 small jar artichoke hearts (marinated or not), drained and chopped
1 large handful fresh spinach, chopped or cut into chiffonade
4 oz. crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan (from dairy case, not green can)
3 thin slices red onion, minced (optional)

Dressing:
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 1/2 heaping tbsp. tomato paste
9 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 heaping tbsp. sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup olive oil

Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and let cool (otherwise, if you add dressing while tortellini is warm, the dressing will be soaked up and salad won't be moist enough). If not using oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, rehydrate by placing in ramekin, cover in water and nuke for 1 minute. Let cool enough to handle and chop or julienne. In serving bowl, combine cooled pasta, vegetables, cheeses and onion (if using).

To make vinaigrette, put dressing ingredients except for oil in blender or food processor. Puree. Add the oil in a thin stream with blender/processor running until emulsified and smooth. (You can also mince garlic and whisk it all, but this is faster and the dressing emulsifies better).

Combine enough dressing with salad ingredients to moisten, tossing to coat well. Chill. Let come to room temperature to serve. Use leftover dressing to remoisten as needed.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dark Chocolate Bark




This candy recipe has some flexibility, but I've made it the same way both times -- with dried cherries, candied orange peel (stock up now, it's not available in many stores year-round) and walnuts because I was so happy with the combination. I also don't really measure; I just sprinkle on a generous amount of dried fruit, nuts and ginger. I use kosher salt; maybe someday I'll splurge on some fleur de sel.

This is a Bon Appetit recipe I found on www.epicurious.com. I follow the advice of reviewers (100% of whom said they would make it again) and add more crystallized ginger and salt. My adjustments are included.

I think a tin of this would make a great holiday gift.

Winter Dried Fruit and Nut Chocolate Bark

For a sweeter treat, swap in semisweet chocolate chips in place of bittersweet.

2 cups bittersweet (60% cocoa) chocolate chips OR 1 large (17 oz. or so) bar Trader Joe's 72% dark chocolate, broken or chopped into pieces
2/3 to 1 cup mixed toasted nuts (such as walnuts, pistachios, pecans, almonds)
2/3 to 1 cup mixed dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, cherries, quartered figs, quartered apricots, etc.)(I add the candied orange peel)
6 quarter-size rounds crystallized ginger, thinly sliced and chopped
1/4 tsp. or more fleur de sel or coarse kosher salt


Line baking sheet with foil. Melt chocolate chips in medium bowl (or top of double boiler) over saucepan of simmering (not boiling) water, stirring until melted and smooth. Pour melted chocolate onto foil, spreading with offset spatula to thickness of scant 1/4 inch. Scatter nuts and dried fruit over chocolate. Sprinkle with ginger. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. (I found it helpful to press chunks lightly into chocolate). Chill until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Peel off foil. Cut or break chocolate into irregular pieces. Serve bark slightly chilled. Store in airtight container in fridge.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Extra-Crusty Baked Rigatoni with Beef Ragu







This is my version of the Williams-Sonoma recipe found on their Web site. I added the wine and tomato paste, a little water, more meat for a heartier sauce and cut some fat. Sometimes I make this with ground turkey.

This is satisfying comfort food that has proven popular at my house. It's also a good dish to take to those busy with newborns or friends who just need a break. You can assemble it in a foil lasagna pan, cover with foil and write the directions (Bake at 350, uncovered, for about 45 minutes) right on the foil.

EXTRA-CRUSTY BAKED RIGATONI WITH BEEF RAGU


1 lb. rigatoni
2 Tbs. olive oil, plus more as needed
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 lbs. ground beef round or ground turkey
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbs. dried oregano
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper
1 large can (28 oz.) peeled and chopped tomatoes plus 1/2 cup water
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1/2 cup favorite wine
3 tbsp. sugar
1 cup heavy cream of low-fat or fat-free "half and half"
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 lb. low-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup grated Parmesan or aged Asiago cheese

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 350ºF.

Bring a large pot two-thirds full of salted water to a boil. Add the rigatoni, stir well and cook until al dente (tender but firm to the bite), about 15 minutes or according to the package instructions. Drain the rigatoni, place in a large bowl and toss with a little olive oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.

In the same pot, heat the 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the beef (or turkey) and cook, stirring to break up the meat, until no pink remains, about 10 minutes. Drain off any fat. Add the parsley, oregano, wine, sugar, tomatoes and tomato paste. Use the 1/2 cup water to rinse out the tomato cans and add it to the pot. Stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the tomatoes break down and the flavors have melded, about 20 minutes. Stir in the cream, raise the heat and return to a boil (don't boil if you use fat-free "half and half." Just heat) Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper. Return the rigatoni to the pot with the sauce and toss to coat well.

Oil or spray the bottom of a shallow 3-quart baking dish. Spread half of the pasta mixture in the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella. Top with the remaining pasta, the remaining mozzarella and the Parmesan. Bake until the sauce is bubbly and the top is crusty and golden brown, about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven, let stand for about 5 minutes and serve. Serves 6 to 8.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Greek Green Beans






This may be my favorite way to eat green beans, and I usually prefer them just tender and still bright green (See the green bean recipe posted with Potato, Spinach and Feta Gratin).

This way takes an hour, but it's fairly hands off (especially if you substitute haricots verts, which don't need to be trimmed) and really satisfying. We had it with steelhead trout today, but it would also be good with meat loaf, lamb chops, baked chicken, pork tenderloin . . . anything. Joe eats green beans because, as he says, "they're good for me," but he doesn't enjoy them so much as tolerate them. These, he loved.

And they're healthful. You could easily omit the potatoes if you're starch-phobic.

The recipe is from Weight Watchers: Simply the Best. The recipe says it serves four, but those are large servings (which is fine with me; we love our veggies), so it could be stretched to six.

GREEK GREEN BEANS

1 lb. green beans, trimmed and halved (I used haricot verts)
One 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes (I added three small homegrowns)
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 small all-purpose potato, cubed (I used several small red potatoes, peeled and chopped)
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1/4 tsp. black pepper (or to taste)

In a large, nonstick saucepan, bring the beans, tomatoes, onions, potato, oregano, oil , salt and pepper to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, stirring as needed, until the vegetables are tender and the flavors are well blended, about 1 hour.

Per serving: 118 calories, 3 G. total fat, 1 G saturated fat, 1 mg cholesterol, 158 mg sodium, 22 G Total carbohydrates, 4 G dietary fiber, 4 G protein, 88 mg calcium.



This is exactly the kind of thing I love to see in my fridge: tasty leftovers . . . Though there aren't as many potatoes in it as it appears. Somehow they ended up on top. Mmmm, potatoes . . .

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Aw, nuts










I'm nuts about both of these recipes.
I like to keep some kind of flavored nut on hand because they're great as snacks, party treats or salad toppers. Recently I gave some as hostess gifts, and they were happily received. They seem especially appreciated by those who try to avoid desserts or who watch their carbohydrate intake. Also see the earlier posting on Rosemary Almonds.


Sherry-Spiced Nuts


1 egg white
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp. dry sherry or water (I've always used sherry)
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice*
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper (optional)
2 cups whole cashews (or almonds, macadamia nuts and/or hazelnuts)

Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk egg white till just a little frothy and whisk in sugar, sherry (or water), pumpkin pie spice, allspice and red pepper if using. Stir in nuts till coated.
Line a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Spread nuts on foil.

Bake for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally (Don't skip this or you'll end up with a too-dark mass of sticky nuts). Cool; break apart large clusters. Store, covered, in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks. Makes 2 cups.

From Better Homes and Gardens Holiday Appetizers magazine, 2001

*If like me you don't keep pumpkin pie spice on hand, you can make your own. For two teaspoons (I always double the cashew recipe), combine 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. ginger and 1/4 tsp. each nutmeg and cloves.


Vanilla Pecans (or Walnuts)
1 pound pecan halves
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 tbsp. corn oil
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. dried orange peel
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. cinnamon 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
2 heaping tbsp. sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Blanch the nuts for 1 minute in boiling water (not longer!). Drain well. While still hot, put in a bowl and toss with sugar and combined oil-vanilla. Let stand 10 minutes. Arrange nuts on rimmed baking tray. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, turning every 10 minutes until nuts are light brown an crispy. Don't let them burn!

Meanwhile, combine vanilla, salt, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, dried orange peel and sugar. Toss with still-hot nuts in bowl. Allow to cool, stirring occasionally. Store in airtight container.

From The Frog Commissary Cookbook by Steven Poses, Anne Clark and Becky Roller

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Blue Cheese Walnut Spread






I like to have a cheese spread around when we entertain. They're generally easy to whip up but look like more work than they are. That makes guests feel special (the way guests should feel). I most recently served these at a church game night at our house (OK, it was a month ago, but "I'm a little behind," as late co-worker Bill Bierman used to quip.)

The first recipe, for a blue cheese spread (on right in photo), is from Better Homes and Gardens' 2006 holiday Appetizers publication. It's very tasty, even when you tone down the pungent blue cheese with neufchatel (my variation). I served it with crackers, but I know it would be great with the fruit the original recipe suggests. The second recipe, also very nice, is an herbed goat cheese spread that is very flexible as to what herbs you use. I just headed for my trusty indoor rosemary "bush," the basil on the patio and my perennials. Not sure where I got that recipe, since it's an old computer printout.


BLUE CHEESE WALNUT SPREAD

8 oz. blue cheese
8 oz. neufchatel/light cream cheese (optional, but nice to add for those not totally enamored of blue cheese)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (or light margarine)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, finely chopped

Let cheese and butter stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Cut or crumble cheese into small pieces, Slice butter into 1/2-inch pieces. Place cheeses and butter into food processor. Cover and process until almost smooth, scraping downside of bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Stir in walnuts.
Transfer to small serving bowls. If desired, sprinkle with additional walnuts. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature for one hour before serving. To soften, stir well. Serve with crackers, pretzel chips, apples, pears and/or flatbread.

Makes about 3 cups. Can be halved.
NOTE: Since this post I have made it with toasted pecans and added a teaspoon or so of bourbon.... really nice.


GOAT CHEESE WITH MILLES (really only 7) HERBES


10 1/2 oz. goat cheese, at room temperature
2 tsp. finely minced fresh marjoram (I used rosemary)
2 tsp. finely minced fresh tarragon (I used sage)
2 tsp. finely minced fresh Italian parsley
2 tsp. finely minced fresh thyme
2 tsp. finely minced fresh dill
2 tsp. finely minced fresh basil
1 tsp. finely minced fresh chives (didn't have any)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Low-fat milk for thinning

In medium bowl, combine cheese, herbs and cayenne. Stir until well-blended (or use electric mixer). Add milk to thin to desired consistency. (It will thicken up a bit when chilled.)

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or more to blend flavors. Bring to room temperature before serving with crackers.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer Pasta Salad with Roasted Vegetables




This recipe makes a veritable vat of pasta salad. As much as we liked it, I knew it was too much for the two of us to eat in a reasonable time, so I trucked some to my book club potluck, and they seemed to enjoy it, too.

The recipe is from The Roasted Vegetable by Andrea Chesman. I love this cookbook. Other great recipes I've tried from it: Bejeweled Squash Cubes (perfect for winter holidays), Cider-Glazed Acorn Squash, Zucchini Chips with Feta and Herbs, Fall Vegetable Tart. There hasn't been a dud yet.

Changes I made: I used all zucchini and ancient sweets (long, slightly sweeter red bell peppers) because we don't like green pepper and I had a giant zucchini from the garden of my friend Keri. I used Vidalia instead of running out to buy shallots. No tomatoes, because my garden is poky. Skipped the olives. Used fresh mozzarella "pearls" from Sam's Club. Added Parmesan. Obviously, there's some flexibility here.


SUMMER PASTA SALAD WITH ROASTED VEGETABLES


2 small zucchini, cut into matchsticks
2 small yellow squash, cut into matchsticks
1 medium-size green bell pepper, seeded and cut into matchsticks
1 medium-size red bell pepper, seeded and cut into matchsticks
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1/4 cup "white" balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. lemon juice (fresh is best, but not necessary)
1 tsp. sugar (I used a rounded tablespoon)
Salt and ground black pepper
6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. penne, twists, ziti or other similarly shaped pasta
1 bunch (10 to 12 oz.) fresh spinach, tough stems discarded, leaves chopped
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup. brine-cured black olives such as Kalamata (optional)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
8 oz. (or more) fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan (my addition)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil/spray a large shallow roasting pan or half-sheet pan.

In a large bowl combine zucchini, summer squash, bell peppers and shallot. In small bowl whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper. Whisk in 5 tbsp. of the oil until fully emulsified. (Or, dump the vinaigrette ingredients in a shaker and shake your groove thang.) Pour 3 tbsp. of the vinaigrette over the vegetables and toss well. Arrange in a single layer on the pan.

Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally for even cooking. Set aside.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, rinse under cold running water to cool, drain again and transfer to a large bowl. Add remaining tablespoon of olive oil and toss to coat. (Note: I used to skip this step in pasta salads to save fat until I read that it helps keep the dressing from soaking in too much.)

Add the roasted vegetables, spinach, tomatoes, olives, basil and mozzarella. Toss well. Chill if not serving soon. (After you've stored it in the fridge, let it rest at room temperature for a bit to take the chill off.)

Just before serving, add the rest of the vinaigrette and toss again. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cashew Scones with Maple Butter





For some reason, this morning I decided to get up a little early and make some scones for the hubby (yeah, like I wasn't going to have one) before church.

I didn't allow tons of extra time, so I used butterscotch chips instead of the chopped white chocolate I normally use. And I didn't take the time to brush the tops with an egg wash or garnish them.

They were still yummy, just not their usual perfection.

This recipe is from Simply Scones by Leslie Weiner and Barbara Albright. (I love their little cookbooks. Together or separately they wrote Completely Cookies, Mostly Muffins, More Muffins and Totally Teabreads.)

Cashew Scones

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup. (4 tbsp.) unsalted butter, cold
1 cup salted, roasted cashews, chopped
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
3 oz. white chocolate, coarsely chopped (or use 1/2 cup white, butterscotch or chocolate baking chips)
1 egg yolk mixed with 1/2 tsp. water for glaze
1/4 cup whole or chopped cashews for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly butter a baking sheet or cover with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and distribute over the flour mixture. With a pastry blender or two knives used scissors fashion, cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Work in cashews.

In a small bowl, stir together milk, egg and vanilla. Add to flour mixture and stir to combine. It will be thick. Stir in chocolate pieces or chips.

With lightly floured hands, divide the dough into eight equal-sized pieces. Shape into balls and pat into circles on baking sheet a few inches apart (I didn't pat mine into circles this time). Brush tops with egg wash and top with cashew garnish, if using. Press nuts lightly into dough.

Bake for 15 to 22 minutes (check at 12) or until a cake tester/toothpick inserted into center of one scone comes out clean.

Remove baking sheet to wire rack and cool for five minutes. Serve warm with or without Maple Butter or remove to wire rack to cool. Store in airtight container.

Maple Butter

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp. maple syrup
1 to 2 drops maple extract (optional)

In a small bowl, stir together butter, syrup and extract until combined.
Serve immediately or refrigerate till serving time (let stand at room temperature 15 minutes to soften).

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sweet and Sour Chicken (not fried, not dyed)








Doesn't look like your typical restaurant sweet and sour chicken, does it?

No red dye; no out-of-place, overly sweet maraschinos; no breading; no deep frying. There's just flavor, and it's fairly healthful, too.

If we ate green pepper at our house, it would be a little prettier. I substituted yellow pepper, and a glance at the picture tells me red might have looked better.

The recipe is from Low-Fat Chicken Breasts by Diane Rozas, who also wrote Chicken Breasts and More Chicken Breasts, all of them affordable and stuffed with recipes.

I modified this recipe just a little, and have added those adjustments. It speeds up the cooking a good deal if you do the chopping and sauce-mixing ahead of time.


Sweet and Sour Chicken Stir-Fry

1 tbsp. light (as opposed to dark) sesame oil
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breasts (4 pieces), cut into bite-size strips
1 large or 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
4 heaping tbsp. brown sugar (dark or light)
1 1/2 cups diced fresh pineapple, juice reserved
3 tbsp. reserved juice
3 tbsp. white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar
4 tbsp. sherry
1 1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger*
1 chopped bell pepper, your choice color
1/2 cup celery (I didn't have any, so I increased carrots)
1/2 cup carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/4 cup chopped green onion, white and green parts
1 tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbsp. soy sauce

In a wok, heat the oil. Add the chicken and stir-fry until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from wok and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine sugar, pineapple juice, vinegar, sherry and ginger and stir to dissolve sugar. Set aside.

Add chopped pepper, celery, carrots and green onion to the work and stir-fry for a minute. Add the soy sauce and stir-fry just a little longer, till beginning to get tender.

Stir in chicken, pineapple, sauce and cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil. Stir constantly for two minutes or till sauce thickens and everything is done.

Serve immediately on rice.

*Fresh Ginger: I don't remember where I learned to do this, but I like to buy a chunk of fresh ginger, peel it, thinly slice and toss it in a jar with a lid. Pour in enough sherry to cover and close the lid. This keeps a long time in the fridge and I always have ginger on hand. Just dip out what you need. The sherry takes on the ginger flavor and is a good addition to other recipes, like Sesame Chicken, which I will post someday.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Importance of Reading Comprehension

Did you ever wonder what would happen if you left an instant-read thermometer stuck in your roast (or whatever) in the oven? The kind that has clear package instructions that read, "Do not leave in oven; not intended for prolonged use at that kind of heat, you idiot?"

Here is what happens:



Saturday, July 11, 2009

Potato, Spinach and Feta Gratin (and green bean side)















Holy cow. I can't believe I haven't posted in more than five months. What the heck have I been doing?

I hope my energy for such things has returned, as I am trying to wrest back control of my life from the forces of, well, not evil exactly. But I digress.

Here are a tasty vegetable casserole and a nutty green bean dish that I made this week. You could also use Yukon Gold potatoes. I sometimes substitute thyme for the parsley in the beans, which would be even better piled on a plate next to a roasted or grilled meat or fish. But Joe was content with the high vegetable count. I again rejoice that I married a man who will try anything I feel like cooking.

POTATO, SPINACH AND FETA GRATIN
www.epicurious.com, but made my way

2 lbs. baking potatoes, about 3 large (or 6 medium red-skinned potatoes)
2 10-oz. boxes chopped, frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
6 to 8 oz. feta cheese
1 1/2 cups half-and-half (low-fat is fine)
3 large eggs (or equivalent amount egg substitute)
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 2-quart baking dish, line it with wax paper, and spray the paper lightly.
Peel the potatoes (or not) and thinly slice them crosswise with a food processor fitted with a 2-mm slicing disk or with a mandolin (not the musical kind).
In a kettle of salted boiling water, cook the potatoes for 7 minutes or until just tender and drain in a colander.

Place spinach and feta in food processor. In a bowl whisk together half-and-half, eggs, salt and pepper. Add half the custard to the spinach mixture, and pulse the motor of the processor until the mixture is coarse.
Spread potatoes evenly in baking dish to make a thick layer. Pour the remaining custard over the potatoes, tilting dish slightly and pushing down on the potatoes to distribute the custard. Top with the spinach mixture, smoothing the top. Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until it is set in the middle (no runny custard).
Let cool on a rack for 2o to 30 minutes (Don't worry, it will still be hot). Run a knife around the side of the dish, invert the gratin onto a flameproof plate, and peel off the wax paper. Broil the gratin under a preheated broiler about 4 inches from the heat for about 5 minutes, or until top is golden brown, and cut into servings.
Serves 6 to 8.
For a treat, top leftover servings with additional cheese such as Havarti or white cheddar before nuking.
Green Beans with Pecans, Lemon and Parsley

also adapted from www.epicurious.com
2 lbs. green beans, trimmed, halved crosswise, or whole haricots verts*
5 tbsp. butter
3/4 to 1 cup chopped pecans
4 tsp. minced lemon peel (yellow part only)
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley (or 1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves)

Cook beans in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Drain. Transfer to bowl of ice water to cool. Drain and pat dry. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Melt butter in large deep skillet or wok over medium heat. Add pecans; sauté until nuts are crisp and butter is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add beans; toss to heat through, about 5 minutes. Mix in lemon peel and parsley; cook 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl.
Serves 6 to 8.

* Skinny green beans with French accent


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Toasted Rosemary Almonds















These are a great snack for any adult get-together. They're pretty fast and easy, too. I like to have nuts around because I have to eat five or six times a day. I haven't tried this recipe with pecans, but I'm sure it would just as good, if not better.

The recipe is adjusted from a Better Homes and Gardens special interest publication, Holiday Appetizers 2001.


Toasted Almonds with Rosemary
8 ounces (2 cups or so) unblanched almonds or pecan halves
1 1/2 to 2 tbsp. butter (no substitutes)
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 packed tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground red pepper (I use a New Mexico brand of very mild ground chilies) or to taste

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake about 10 minutes or till lightly toasted and fragrant.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat till sizzling. Remove from heat and stir in rosemary, sugar, salt and red pepper. Add nuts and toss to coat. Cool slightly before serving. Store in airtight container. Refrigerate up to a month.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Marinated Flat Iron Steak

What a lousy picture. But what a great recipe for a steak marinade. This probably isn't the steak for you if you like beef well done, because with this cut you want to go for medium rare or close to it. I like it pink, but Joe gets the ends that are cooked a bit more.

This is my adjusted version of a recipe from allrecipes.com. I increased the amount of herbs (I don't have chives on hand in the winter, while I do have my trusty giant rosemary plant, which lives in our reading room). A half teaspoon just wouldn't cut it for me. The amount of dry mustard might sound hefty, but it is not at all overwhelming. All the ingredients really meld well together and make for a juicy steak.

Do cut the steak across the grain for really tender eating.
Great with asparagus and your favorite potatoes.


2 lbs. flat iron steak
2 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary


1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh chives (optional)
1/4 cup Cabernet Sauvignon or other red wine
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry mustard powder

Place the rinsed steak in a large resealable bag. In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, wine, garlic, parsley, rosemary, chives, Cabernet, salt, pepper and mustard powder. Pour over the steak in the bag. Press out as much air as you can and seal the bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours.



Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Discard the marinade.
Fry the steak in the hot skillet for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or to your desired degree of doneness. Obviously thicker steaks will take a bit longer. These steaks taste best at medium rare. Allow them to rest for about 5 minutes before slicing thinly across the grain and serving.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Roasted Ratatouille Tart


I got this recipe from an Ellie Krieger (Food Network star) cookbook called The Food You Crave. I added the garlic and yellow pepper and upped the cheese. The crust recipe is the original. I had a 10 1/2-inch tart pan, so I increased the crust by half. Next time I'll add fresh herbs, perhaps thyme, for even better flavor. I also used slightly more vegetables then she called for. A time-saving tip would be to roast the vegetables ahead of time.

Cornmeal-Crusted Roasted Ratatouille Tart

For the crust:
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup whole-grain pastry flour or whole-wheat flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. canola oil
3 tbsp. water

For the filling:
2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Cooking spray
1 small eggplant (about 1/2 pound), cut into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
1 small zucchini (about 1/2 pound), cut into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
1 yellow pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
3 medium ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
3/4 cup. shredded part-skim mozzarella (I used 2 cups, which is an 8-oz. package)
1/4 cup. shredded fresh basil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan (I doubled this)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To make crust, combine the cornmeal, flour and salt in a food processor and pulse to incorporate. Add the butter and oil and pulse about 20 times, until mixture resembles small pebbles. Add water and pulse until mixture forms a loose dough. Remove from processor and press into the bottom and about 1/8 inch up sides of a 9-inch tart (or quiche) pan with a removable rim.

Press aluminum foil into the bottom and up the sides of the pan on top of the dough. Weight it with uncooked rice, uncooked beans or pie weights. (Don't try to use rice or beans used this way in meals. Keep them in a jar to use as weights again.) Place on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil and weights and bake for another 5 minutes (I think skipping the additional 5 minutes is fine). Remove from oven and let cool. Increase oven temperature to 400.

To prepare filling, heat 1 tsp. of the oil in a small nonstick pan over medium heat. Cook shallots, stirring, until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, adding garlic for the last minute.

Coat two baking sheets with cooking spray. Arrange eggplant, zucchini, pepper and tomato slices on the sheets in single layer (it took me three sheets) and brush with remaining 2 tbsp. oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast vegetables until soft but not browned, about 15 minutes.

Lower the oven temperature back to 350. Lay eggplant slices on bottom of tart, overlapping to fit. Sprinkle one-third of the mozzarella and some of the basil over it. Layer zucchini and sprinkle with shallots, one-third cheese and more basil. Top with tomatoes, then the rest of the mozzarella and all of the Parmesan.

Bake until cheese is melted and vegetables have further wilted, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool for 5 minutes, remove rim and cut into servings (Krieger suggested eighths, but those are pretty small servings). Serve warm.

It's pretty, tasty, and good for you if you don't go crazy with the cheese.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Making Chai. . . . . sweet

Mmmmmm, chai.

I researched chai online and tried a few versions before I felt as though I hit the jackpot. Some recipes called for more spices -- nutmeg, coriander and ginger. I also read that the spices are fat soluble, the author insisting that cream is necessary to bring out all the flavors.

Whatev.

This is my version of a Madhur Jaffrey recipe I found online. I think the flavor is fab without the fat, though it's certainly nice and rich with it. It takes a little time, but it's a lot worth it. It keeps for a few days in the fridge, so you can have it on hand to reheat in a snap. And I discovered it's quite good cold, too!


CHAI


3 cups water
1 stick cinnamon
8 cardamom pods*
8 whole cloves
1 1/3 cups milk (skim is fine) or half and half (fat-free or low-fat fine), or a combination
3 tbsp. white sugar
3 tbsp. brown sugar
6 teabags vanilla-flavored tea (I use decaf because I'm caffeine-impaired)**

Add cinnamon, cardamom and cloves to water in pan. Bring to boil, cover and turn heat to low. Simmer 10 minutes.
Add the milk and sugars and bring to a simmer again. Throw in teabags, cover and turn off heat. After 5 minutes, remove teabags and strain tea into cups or a pitcher.

*The best place I've seen to buy cardamom pods (read: best price) is World Market.
**You can use plain teabags and add a little vanilla if desired.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Lemon Blueberry Muffins




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I love muffins, and I love to make them. My go-to muffin cookbook is Mostly Muffins by Barbara Albright and Leslie Weiner. I’ve “gone to” it so often it’s now filled with stains and held together by a rubber band.

I also have a pristine copy, but I haven’t gotten around to transferring all my notes to the new one, so there it sits.

This is the muffin recipe that taught me to sprinkle the tops with sugar just before baking. It makes for an attractive, crunchy top.

In these moist muffins, stuffed with blueberries and flavored with lemon yogurt and zest, the blueberries seem to burst during the baking process and create a sort of marbled effect throughout the muffin that’s visible when you tear it open. Sometimes I add ½ tsp. nutmeg to the batter. I always use the zest from a whole lemon.

Lemon Blueberry Muffins
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
8 oz. (about 1 cup) lemon yogurt*
¼ cup lightly salted butter or margarine, melted and cooled
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 to 2 tsp. grated lemon peel (I use the zest from one lemon, about 1 tbsp.)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups fresh or thawed, drained frozen blueberries
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 12 muffin cups.
In a large bowl stir together flour, the 2/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, stir together yogurt, butter, egg, lemon peel, and vanilla until blended. Make a well in center of dry ingredients; add yogurt mixture and stir just to combine. Stir in blueberries.
Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tbsp. sugar. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in center of one muffin comes out clean.
Cool muffin tin(s) on wire rack 5 minutes before removing muffins from cups to racks. Serve warm or cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature.
These freeze well.
Makes 12 muffins.

* NOTE: The size of yogurt containers has changed in recent years. Most brands now offer 6 ounces rather than 8 ounces. I've found it works fine to use the smaller "cup" and add a little liquid. Lemon juice is perfect here.

White Bean, Butternut Squash and Chard Stew



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December was a crazy busy month, plus I was sick and very nearly useless for a week. My sister and I decided to save some money by making each other (and our respective brothers-in-law) gifts. We loved it, but it was time-consuming. So please forgive my absence.

Every now and then we get a big envelope in the mail stuffed with clippings and such from my mother-in-law. She sends me recipes from newspapers and magazines, and I need to tell her again how much I appreciate that. The ones I keep go into my 8 or 10 three-ring binders full of recipes copied from library cookbooks, printed from the Internet and torn from newspapers, magazines and catalogs.

This recipe is from a clipping sent by my mother-in-law, so it’s probably from the Louisville (Kentucky) Courier Journal. This is my slightly revised version: I wanted it to be a bit soupier, so I nearly doubled the broth, and used chicken rather than vegetable because I prefer the flavor. I’ve never made it with the expensive truffle oil and don’t miss it.

City Cafe White Bean, Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard Stew
1 medium butternut squash
1 tbsp. dried thyme
3 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 bunch Swiss chard
2 medium shallots, peeled and minced
4 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 15-oz. cans Great Northern Beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups chicken broth
Parmesan cheese
White truffle oil (seriously optional)

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Peel the squash, cut in half and scoop out seeds. Cut the squash into 1-inch cubes. Put in a large bowl, sprinkle with thyme and 2 tbsp. of the olive oil, ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper. Toss to coat squash with oil and seasonings. Place squash in single layer on baking sheet and roast 45 minutes or until browned and tender, turning once. You can do this much ahead of time and refrigerate it till you are ready to make the stew.
Wash Swiss chard well. Pinch off stems from leaves. Chop stems and leaves separately. Heat remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil in a heavy pot. Add minced shallots and garlic and chopped chard stems. Sauté until tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Add drained beans, roasted squash and 2 cups broth. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes.
Add the chopped chard leaves and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes more. Add more broth if stew seems too thick.
Serve in bowls with shaved Parmesan cheese and topped with a drizzle of truffle oil, if desired.
Serves 4.