You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2010.

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

I’m probably going to get shot for saying this, but I’m not a fan of tiramisu. So, needless to say, I wasn’t totally thrilled about this challenge. But I was determined to make it and enjoy eating it…and I succeeded at both! I was thrilled that everything (well, almost everything — more on that later) worked out and that I actually enjoyed eating the fruits of my labor. That’s right, that’s two challenges in a row that I’ve felt good about!

The challenge was comprised of three parts: the mascarpone cheese, the lady fingers and the tiramisu itself — including the pastry cream and zabaglione. It sounds like a real challenge (that’s the point, right?), and it was. But this time around, I didn’t feel like it was difficult, it was just a lot of components that all had to be done separately. I think I was working on this stupid thing for about four or five days straight before we could even eat it!

The first part of the challenge I decided to tackle was the lady fingers. When it comes to classic New York bakery cookies, these are my absolute favorite. Anytime I’m back east visiting my family or they come out our way, one huge box of lady fingers is all mine. So I was definitely going into this with mixed emotions. I didn’t know if my lady fingers would be anything like the ones I’m used to or if they would be a total failure. I stress out when it comes to “gently folding” things together because I always think I’m over mixing and will loose all the air that I so carefully beat into the thing. Anyway…the lady fingers turned out awesome. They were so easy, I couldn’t believe it! They came out pretty darn good, but not as good as anything I’ll ever get in NY.

Lady Fingers

A few days after the lady fingers were done (it was a task for me to leave them on the counter without eating any of them) I decided to tackle the mascarpone cheese. What a disaster. If it weren’t for all the other Daring Bakers’ posting their horror stories about this stupid cheese on the forums, I probably would have gotten even more discouraged than I was at the point that my “cheese” completely separated and looked like a pile of disgustingness that no one should have to look at or eat. So, as you can probably guess, I ended up using store bought mascarpone cheese like some of the other bakers because I just didn’t have the time or energy to try to make it again. (By the way, I really don’t know what I did wrong. I heated the cream over a double boiler — using a stainless steel bowl — and it never got above 165 degrees. I stood there for at least an hour, stirring, letting it sit, checking the temperature. If anyone knows what could have gone wrong, please let me know!)

The day after the mascarpone disaster, I made the pastry cream and the zabaglione. Both of these were really easy and turned out perfect (at least I think). They chilled in the fridge overnight, and the next day I was finally ready to assemble the whole thing. I combined the mascarpone cheese, pastry cream and zabaglione then folded it all into freshly made whipped cream. Next, I dipped the cookies in espresso for like two seconds (so they didn’t get too soggy) and began layering — cookies, cream, cookies, cream, cookies, cream. The (almost) finished product chilled overnight and we were finally ready to eat!

Tiramisu

I didn’t do much in the way of decorating the finished product, but I did sprinkle a little coco powder on top (which was the perfect final touch, by the way). I wanted to do something a little different for the presentation, so that’s how I ended up with wine glasses. I was pretty satisfied with the way they turned out. Nothing professional, that’s for sure, but not too bad for a novice!

Coco Dusted Tiramisu

Like I said before, I’m really not a fan of tiramisu. But seriously…this was awesome. It’s not something I would eat every day, but the taste was totally spot on. The custard layers were so flavorful and the lady fingers were the perfect texture. Aparna and Deeba did their research for this challenge, and it really showed! Thanks for a great challenge, ladies!

Recipe link: Tiramisu

When it comes to Arabic food, there’s one main ingredient that’s pretty consistent in most dishes — rice. In the old days, it was probably (don’t quote me on this) used as a way to make a small amount of food go farther — just like pasta for Italians — but today it’s just an essential part of any Arabic dish. It’s a perfect vehicle to soak up all the delicious juices that the food cooks in, especially when it comes to ruz-al-loubi.

This dish of green beans and lamb is braised in a light tomato sauce and then served over rice. It’s packed full of flavor, and without the rice, you’d loose a huge amount of that flavor.

Here’s what you’ll need:
Serves: 4 to 6
– 2 tbsp butter
– 1 onion, chopped
– 1 to 2 lbs lamb, cut/chopped into small pieces
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1/2 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp nutmeg
– salt and pepper to taste
– 1 small can tomato paste
– about 5 cups water
– 2 lbs frozen green beans (Billy’s grandma always insisted on using frozen, so we’ve never tried using fresh)

In a pot large enough to hold all the ingredients, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Saute the onion until translucent and soft, about five minutes. Add the chopped lamb to the pan and brown, stirring to insure all of the meat gets color. Next, add the garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then add the tomato paste and water, scraping the bottom of the pot to get any brown bits. Bring to a boil and add the green beans to the pot, stirring to combine. Finally, cover the pot, reduce to simmer and let cook for one hour.

While the lamb and green beans are cooking, cook one to two cups of rice and set aside. You will serve the lamb, green beans and plenty of sauce over the rice.

Ruz al-Loubi

I love the tomato sauce that the ruz al-loubi cooks in. It’s full of flavor and the rice soaks up every drop of it. The green beans always cook perfectly, as does the lamb. Everything in this dish is really juicy and flavorful, and I love the hint of cinnamon you get in every bite.

This makes a great side dish, but can easily be a full meal if there’s a lot of meat in it. Another great way to eat the green beans and lamb (can you say leftovers?) is to make a sandwich using Arabic (or Greek, because it’s way easier to find in the regular grocery store) pita bread.

While shopping at Costco (don’t you just love that store?) last weekend, we happened to see a package of frozen bison steaks. They were about the same price as the pre-packaged Costco steaks we had picked up already, so we decided to give them a try instead. They came individually wrapped in six ounce portions, which was really convenient since we do that on our own with all the meat we buy there anyway. (On a side note, if you’ve never bought meat from Costco, it’s a really good deal. They have quality meat in large packages for cheaper than traditional grocery stores, a perfect way to stock your freezer for a few weeks.) After getting home and replenishing our freezer, we got to thinking about our menu for the week and made sure to include the bison steaks.

We prepared them just like a regular steak, right on the grill for ten or so minutes (depending on how you like your meat cooked), but we seasoned pretty lightly to let the flavor of the meat really shine. We have a few more steaks, so maybe the next time we make them we’ll be a little more brave and try something creative. Suggestions from anyone who eats gamey meats?

Here’s what you’ll need:
Serves: 2
– 2 6 oz. bison steaks
– garlic powder
– salt and pepper to taste
(- for more flavor you can add steak seasoning or any other seasonings you like)

I’m not a fan of rare meat, but I know when it comes to specific meats and cuts, it’s best to prepare them as close to the rare side as you can handle them. I usually eat my steaks medium to medium-well, but told Billy (AKA, the grill master) to cook the bison to whatever he thought would be best. He came in off the grill with a pretty medium steak for me, and a medium-rare for himself. I thought mine was perfect, but he insisted that his was even more perfect. Either way, medium to medium-rare seems like a safe bet for this particular cut of bison.

Bison Steaks with Mashed Potatoes

I have never had such a tender cut of meat before. The bison just melted in my mouth with each bite. And even though we didn’t go crazy with the seasonings, the steaks were full of flavor. I didn’t taste much of a difference compared to regular steak, the bison just had a hint of a gamey taste. We served the steaks over mashed potatoes and the perfect bite, in my opinion, was a marriage of bison and potatoes. Every “meat and potatoes” person reading this blog has to go find themselves some bison steaks and try this. Enough said. Period.

I really don’t understand why this is called toad in a hole — or egg in a basket (although, that makes more sense) or whatever else it’s been called — but I suppose the name isn’t really that important. After all, it’s just the name of something you’re about to consume, presumably because it sounds good to you.

Anyway, enough bashing on whoever came up with the name of this concoction. A few years ago, I saw Paula Deen cutting circles out of bread, toasting them on a griddle, and frying an egg in the empty hole. I was intrigued…I had never seen this done before. I thought it was an awesome idea, and kept telling myself that I should try it sometime (yes, I did say I saw her make this a few years ago). Well, I finally tried it over the weekend, and I absolutely loved it!

Here’s what you’ll need:
Serves: 1
– 2 slices of bread
– 2 eggs
– salt and pepper
– about 1 tbsp butter

Using a cup or round cookie cutter, cut a hole in the middle of each slice of bread. Make sure whatever you use to cut the hole is small enough so there is some bread and crust around the hole. Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium heat. Once the surface is hot, melt the butter over the entire surface. Place each piece of toast down on the griddle and immediately crack one egg into each hole. Season the egg with salt and pepper and leave it alone until the white begins to cook. Flip the bread and the egg once the egg is about half done (just like you would a fried egg — based on how you like them cooked). It will only need to cook for a minute or two on the second side (again, depending on how you like your eggs cooked). While the eggs are cooking, make sure to toast the cutouts so you can use them to dip in the yolk. Serve with bacon or sausage and glass of juice to make a complete breakfast!

Toad in the Hole with Bacon

This was totally awesome on so many levels. It was something different, for sure, but it was also a perfect balance of eggs and toast. I’m the kind of person that has to have toast with my eggs, so for me this was a great combo. The bread got a perfect toast on it in the time it took for the egg to cook, and the yolk was the perfect consistency to sop up with the cut out piece of bread. Frying the egg in the middle of toast also made it a million times easier to flip the egg without breaking the yolk, so that was a total plus! Toads in holes will definitely be in my collection of breakfast foods from now on.

I realized like mid to late week last week that I totally didn’t post a menu. I need to set up a reminder for this post or something, because it’s easily forgotten. We did have some pretty amazing meals last week though, some of which have made it to the blog already. Those that haven’t will be posted shortly!

We have a lot of pretty simple (but delicious, nonetheless) stuff going on this week because my procrastinator self put off this month’s Daring Bakers Challenge until the last minute. SO not a good idea. I’m hoping everything goes smooth, but I might be one cranky baker by the end of the week!

Here’s what we’ve got going this week:
– Garlic Chicken Stir Fry
– Fish Tacos with Chipotle Mayo and Rice
– Steak Kabobs with Quinoa
– Pasta with Salad and Bread
Asian Salmon with Carrots and Leeks and Rice
– Roasted Pork with Spaghetti Squash and Sauteed Cabbage
– Grilled Bratwurst with Sauteed Onions and Pasta Salad

If you can’t tell (maybe the kabobs and brats gave it away?), we’re anxious for summer! We had a teaser of a week last week in terms of weather. The warm, sunny days were short-lived — it’s been dark and rainy here all day today. Oh well, our grill needs some love! Until next time, happy eating. Ciao!

When I was a kid, I loved a lot of veggies that other kids despised — brussels sprouts, asparagus, okra. In fact, I’d rather (then, and now) eat a plate full of veggies instead of meat. (The complete opposite of most Americans, right?) Fried okra has always been one of my favorites. Okra isn’t exactly something we think of making all the time, but every time we do make it I wonder why we don’t buy it more often. Okra is deliciously crunchy on it’s own, but adding a breading of corn meal to it makes it even crunchier — and quite tasty!

Here’s what you’ll need:
Serves: 2
– 12 (or so) okra pods, cut into slices
– 1 egg
– 1 cup cornmeal
– salt and pepper to taste
– 1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying

In a small bowl, beat the egg and toss the okra to coat. Let the okra pieces soak in the egg for 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the cornmeal, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and set aside. Also, heat the oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.

Remove the okra pieces from the egg bath and dredge in the cornmeal mixture. Test the oil with one piece of okra — if it sizzles when you drop it in, the oil is ready. Carefully place all the okra into the hot oil. Make sure to keep the pieces moving otherwise one side will burn. Once the coating begins to brown, reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until all pieces are golden brown and crispy. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt while still hot.

Fried Okra

This was some of the best fried okra I’ve ever had. We had never used cornmeal as the dredging vehicle before, but it worked out much better than flour (it stuck a lot better and stayed on while it was frying up). The texture from the cornmeal gave the okra a whole new dimension and added a nice crispy layer. Inside, the okra was nice and tender and burst in your mouth. Considering the only seasonings that we used were salt and pepper, the crust (and the okra itself) had a great flavor (I loved the extra salt that was added after it came out of the oil). I personally really like the texture of cornmeal, but if the grittiness is too much, you can probably mix in some flour. I wouldn’t suggest skipping the cornmeal all together though, because it really makes this version of fried okra what it is.

For our first anniversary, we spent the day in Santa Fe, which is known for some really good restaurants (among other things) in this part of the world. We hard time deciding where to grub, but we knew we wanted something different that we couldn’t get around here. We ended up at Amavi, a regional Mediterranean restaurant. Our entire meal was delicious, but one thing in particular stuck with us — our appetizer of steamed clams, mussels and Spanish chorizo. Every bite was delicious, including the crusty bread that sopped up all the juices. We were determined to recreate the dish, and this was our attempt.

Our biggest task was finding Spanish style chorizo. Mexican style (ground, uncooked, seasoned pork) is everywhere around here, but we really struggled to find Spanish style (dried, cured, seasoned pork). We ended up finding some at Talin Market, so we picked up two packages and were on the hunt for sample recipes and ideas. We weren’t sure what else was in the appetizer we h ad at Amavi other than the obvious contenders — clams, mussels, chorizo and some kind of broth. We searched for a lot of recipes, and ended up using this one we found on another food blog (which I have subsequently fallen in love with), giving it our own little spin. (I’m the only fan of mussels in our house, so we used more clams in their place.)

Here’s what you’ll need:
Serves: 4 (BTW, I’ve decided it probably makes a lot of sense to tell you how much of something you’re cooking, so I’m now including servings in my posts!)
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 onion, diced
– 3 to 5 cloves garlic, chopped
– 1 or 2 fennel bulb(s), thinly sliced
– salt and pepper
– red pepper flakes
– 1/2 tsp paprika
– 1 lb Spanish style chorizo, sliced
– 1 cup dry white wine
– 1 cup clam juics
– 3 dozen clams (you can use pre-cooked frozen clams)
– 1 cup parsley, roughly chopped
– juice of 1/2 lemon

In a high-sided saute pan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute for one to two minutes until they begin to sweat out, then add the garlic and fennel. Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and paprika. Continue to saute until the onion becomes translucent and the fennel starts cooking down. Add the chorizo to the pan and stir to combine (you don’t have to worry about cooking time here because Spanish chorizo is already cooked). We let the chorizo brown a little, but it didn’t cook for more than five minutes.

Add the wine and clam juice to the pan and bring to a boil. As soon as the wine and clam juice comes to a rolling boil, add the clams. Stir to combine and immediately cover the pan. Steam for three to five minutes, or until all the clams have opened up, discarding any that may not have opened. Remove from the heat, stir in parsley and lemon juice and serve over freshly cooked spaghetti (make sure to get plenty of juice to soak up with a good loaf of bread).

Pasta with Clams and Chorizo

This wasn’t a replica of our amazing appetizer (I think we may have been missing some kind of tomato product?), but it was pretty damn good. The fennel, which wasn’t in the original, added a great crunch and flavor to the dish. The clams absorbed all the wonderful flavors of the wine and chorizo and were perfectly cooked. And the broth…it was amazing. The mixture of wine, clam juice and lemon juice really worked well together, not to mention all the flavors it picked up from the chorizo and fennel. It made a great light sauce for the pasta and was perfect for soaking up with bread — lots of bread. We’ll definitely be making this again, but next time there will be some type of tomato involved.

Make sure to check out Las Vegas Food Adventures for this and other great recipes (and restaurant reviews). And if you’re in the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area, make sure to plan a meal at Amavi, you won’t regret it.

Despite the fact that Valentine’s Day is a totally commercialized holiday, we always seem to end up participating in all the festivities. For the last few years, though, we’ve stayed home and just made ourselves a special meal. In the last year or so, our culinary experience and perspective has changed a lot, so this year’s meal was extra special. In the midst of stuffing our faces, I told Billy that I really felt like we were in a restaurant — we pulled off restaurant quality food at home for a fraction of the cost.

We had decided a few weeks ago that we wanted to do some kind of veal dish, but hadn’t really figured out what. So we each looked for recipes that sounded perfect, and we ended up deciding on homemade ravioli. Tyler Florence has a recipe for chicken Marsala ravioli filling that sounded amazing, so we decided to substitute veal for the chicken. We made a mushroom-less version of his mushroom cream sauce to go along with the ravioli, too.

Here’s what you’ll need:
Ravioli Filling
– 4 ounces veal scallopini or stew meat, cut into small chunks
– 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
– 1 shallot, diced
– 2 cloves garlic, chopped
– 1/8 cup Marsala wine
– 2 thin slices proscuitto, sliced
– 2 bay leaves
– thyme and parsley
– salt and pepper
– 1 tbsp bread crumbs
– 1 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, divided
– 1 egg
– 1/8 cup heavy cream
Sauce
– 2 tbsp butter
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 5 sage leaves
– salt and pepper
– 1 cup heavy cream
– 1/2 leek, chopped
(the original recipe calls for 6 oz. portobello mushrooms, sliced)

The filling has to cool before filling the pasta, so make sure to account for at least 30 minutes of down-time after cooking before you’re able to fill (this would be a good time to make the pasta if you’re making it fresh).

Heat one tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat and brown the veal. After all sides are nicely browned (about 10 minutes), add the shallots and garlic. Cook for one to two minutes, until the shallot begins to sweat out, then deglaze the pan with the wine. (If you’re feeling brave, you can flambe, but it’s not necessary.) Once the wine has reduced, add the prosciutto, thyme, parsley, bay leaves and salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then sprinkle the breadcrumbs and 1/2 tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese over everything.

Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaves and transfer the mixture to a food processor. Pulse the mixture together until all the meat has broken down, then add the egg, cream, remaining 1/2 tablespoon of Parmesan and tablespoon of oil. Pulse again until everything is thoroughly combined and chill for at least 30 minutes before filling ravioli.

The mushroom-less cream sauce only takes a few minutes, so it’s perfect to start up after you drop the ravioli in boiling water. Melt the butter over medium-low heat and once it begins to bubble, add the garlic and sage leaves. Season with salt and pepper and let the garlic cook out for two to three minutes, or just until it begins to brown. (If you’re following the original recipe and using mushrooms, this is where you would add them to the pan.)

Add the cream to the pan and let it come to temperature slowly, making sure it doesn’t start bubbling around the edges. Once the cream is heated through and the sauce had thickened a bit, remove from the heat and discard the sage leaves. Stir in the leeks and toss immediately with the hot ravioli.

Veal Marsala Ravioli

This was seriously one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. The filling was perfectly moist, a little creamy, full of flavor and had a little bite from the Parmesan cheese. You almost couldn’t tell the ravioli were filled with meat since everything was processed in the food processor, but the texture was just perfect. I really don’t have words to describe how delicious these were. They honestly tasted like something you’d expect from a good quality restaurant. Uh-maz-ing. We will most definitely be making these again and again, and I think you should, too!

The sauce was creamy and buttery, and the crunch from the leeks added a great component to the overall dish. I’m not a fan of mushrooms to begin with, but I don’t even think they were necessary in this dish — they would have taken away from the flavor of the filling.

Our Valentine's Meal

Both recipes can be found on the Food Network Web site, courtesy of Tyler Florence (each is linked separately above). We got the idea for heart-shaped ravioli from Annie’s Eats. To make them, we just used a cookie cutter to cut out each heart, put some filling on one of them, brushed some egg wash all around the edge, then pressed another heart over top.

P.S. That candle in the background…Billy made it!

Usually I believe that whatever family recipes we make at home are never as good as the original, but our baked “fried” chicken is a serious contender to my mom’s. I’ve always been amazed at how she could bake chicken and it ends up tasting — and crunching — like it was fried. Well…I think Billy and I have discovered the secret. Goodbye unhealthy, greasy fried chicken, hello delicious, juicy baked chicken.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 1 whole chicken, cut up
– 2 to 3 cups buttermilk, plus more for dredging
– 2 tsp garlic powder, plus more for dredging
– 2 tsp sweet paprika, plus more for dredging
– 2 tsp cayenne pepper, plus more for dredging
– salt and pepper
– flour for dredging
– bread crumbs for dredging (we used a mix of Panko and regular, and I think that’s the secret to getting it extra crispy)

When my mom bakes chicken, she never soaks it in buttermilk first. Billy and I decided to give this a try to see if it made a difference. So, the first thing you want to do is combine the buttermilk, garlic powder, paprika, cayenne and salt and pepper in a large Ziplock bag. Drop the chicken in the bag and toss to coat. Refrigerate for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To set up a dredging station for the chicken, you’ll need three bowls or deep plates: the first with flour, the second with buttermilk, and the last with the breadcrumb mixture. Make sure to season the flour and breadcrumb stations with the same seasonings you used in the marinade.

After the chicken has been marinading, remove it from the bag one piece at a time and send it through the line of dredges. Try to use one hand for the wet stuff and one for dry so you don’t end up with more breading on your fingers than is on the chicken. Place the breaded chicken pieces on a baking sheet, bone side down. After all the pieces have been breaded, toss the baking sheet into the oven for about 45 minutes, or until all the chicken pieces are cooked through.

Crispy Baked Chicken with Homemade Fries

Crispy. Juicy. Delicious. First off, you’d never know this wasn’t fried chicken…well, maybe the no grease thing would give it away. But really, it was so amazingly crispy (I attribute that to the mix of breadcrumbs), but juicy and tender on the inside. The chicken was so flavorful, probably due to the fact that it soaked in buttermilk (how can you go wrong there, right?!) and seasonings for an hour. Really, this beats any store or restaurant bought fried chicken — and it’s 10 times healthier. Oh, and did I mention that it’s crispy and juicy? Sorry mom, but I think you’ve met your baked chicken match!

Tip of the day: don’t ever think to yourself, “Wow, I haven’t been sick in a while.” It will come back to bite you.

That said, we have some repeats going on this week because Billy and I both ended up sick last week and over the weekend, so we didn’t get to try some of the new things we were hoping to try last week. We also ended up having to cancel our Super Bowl party, which was really a bummer. So, we’re just counting on this week to end up much better.

Here’s what we’ve got going this week:
– Pasta with Clams and Chorizo
– Chicken Fried Rice
– Teriyaki Hens with Bok Choy and Potatoes
– Ravioli
– Swordfish with Lemon Aioli, Roasted Fennel and Rice

The week started off on a pretty good foot after the Saints defeated the Colts in the big game. Way to go for the underdog. I hope you all had great food and parties for the big day and are having good weeks so far! Until next time, happy eating! Ciao.