Learning to Love Tomatoes – Heirloom Tomato Summer Pasta

August 23, 2011 § 6 Comments

I have never been one for tomatoes – you’d never find me snacking on them or making them the star of any meal. In fact, those individuals that could eat a tomato like an apple always perplexed me – why on earth would they do that? Even cooked tomatoes are sometimes too acidic for my liking – but all this changed within the last two months and I’m a new tomato fanatic. Me, tomato lover, can’t get enough of them…If my mother is reading this right now, she’s shocked.

There are two parts to my new-found tomato fanaticism. One: being vegan has definitely changed my tastes. Usually I’d crave an oozing piece of cheese pizza or a bowl of creamy pasta but not anymore. Maybe its summer but I think its more likely due to my changing diet. Eating more fruits and veggies has in turn made me want – well, more fruits and veggies.

The second reason for my new tomato cravings: I’ve finally tasted what a tomato should taste like. I’m not talking about those lifeless mealy barely red things you find at the grocery store. I’m talking about firm, juicy, bursting with fruity goodness, barely needs any seasonings, freshly picked from the garden tomatoes. I was recently treated to some tomatoes of this very nature and have been dying to get my teeth into some tomatoes similar to what I experienced, causing me to order anything that looks remotely close when I’m out and about.

No pizza or pasta for me, I’ll take the fresh tomato salad please! :-)

Due to my recent tomato cravings I’ve ordered gazpacho at every restaurant I’ve been to that has it on the menu. My favorite was a charred green tomato gazpacho that I enjoyed at Park Grille in Chicago. As I sat and looked over the menu, the waiter greeted me and informed me this gazpacho was vegan if ordered without the crab – I didn’t even tell him I was vegan! Was quite a change from my Seattle trip. Ah, Chicago, how do I love thee. The soup was delicious – refreshing with a hint of smokiness due to grilling the tomatoes and let’s face it, the view didn’t hurt either.

I drug Luis to the farmers market this weekend with one thing in mind: yup, you guessed it, tomatoes. But not just any tomatoes, I really had my heart set on heirloom tomatoes, the more colors the better. While I didn’t find any at the farmers market, I found some standard tomatoes that the gentleman assured me would be sweeter and have more flavor than those in the supermarket. On the way home we stopped in Whole Foods for some necessities and I couldn’t resist the heirloom tomatoes sitting like royalty on stands. I can be a bit cheap at times, but let me tell you, I shelled out about $7 for these beauties. I got a large heirloom with a deep purplish green and red color combo and a small carton of tiny round and pear orange, yellow, and purplish tomatoes. They looked like a rainbow in a carton.

This pasta was a take on a pasta I saw here and have been thinking about for several weeks. I loved the idea of a fresh pasta that required little to no cooking in the summer’s heat.

Given how beautifully fresh these tomatoes were, I didn’t even see the need to marinate them but I began about 30 minutes before Luis got home so they did sit a bit.

All I did was slice, toss with some nice fruity Spanish olive oil I use for special dishes like this, and add a splash of balsamic for a little kick. A little salt and pepper for seasoning, and at the last minute I added one clove of minced garlic. Honestly though, I’m not sure the dish really needed it – you could easily do without it. Sliced basil tops it off and keeps the dish light and earthy.

At first I was worried the whole wheat pasta would be overwhelming for this dish but it was all I had on hand – and it turned out to be really good. I made sure to cook it al dente to provide texture against the soft tomatoes. Boil the pasta and allow to cool before mixing with the tomatoes. This dish is delicious cool and at room temperature – providing juicy freshness on a hot summer day.

Heirloom Tomato Summer Pasta
Serves 2

Ingredients

1 large heirloom tomato
1 carton small heirloom tomatoes
2 – 3 tablespoons fruity, good quality olive oil
a few splashes of balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sliced fresh basil
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 package of pasta of your choice

Directions

  1. Bring water to a boil for pasta and cook according to package directions.
  2. Slice large tomato into several segments and smaller tomatoes in half.
  3. Toss in large bowl with several tablespoons of olive oil, or enough to generously coat tomatoes.
  4. Add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar, sliced basil, and season with salt and pepper. Toss and set aside.
  5. Once pasta is finished drain well and set aside to cool. Once cooled, serve with tomato mixture over top.

Fiesta Corn Salad with Cumin Lime Dressing

July 12, 2011 § 5 Comments

I’ve been on a recent kick of eating raw corn. That’s right – uncooked corn. Sounds kind of strange, doesn’t it. I’m an avid corn lover. Anything with corn and I’m game. Mmmmm…I’d like some creamy corn chowder right about now – yummy! Might have to find a vegan version. (Update: check out the vegan corn chowder recipe I came up with.)

So with my love for corn it’s amazing that I’ve never even thought to try it raw. But it’s so easy to cut off the cob and is surprisingly sweet and of course crisp. Now, while I love my corn, I don’t love black beans. But I’m trying to like them more with this vegan challenge. I’ve added them to my veggie bowl at Chipotle and have learned one scoop is good – two scoops, too black beany. I can enjoy a sprinkling of beans throughout my food but not a whole bundle.

I put together this salad recently for lunch and enjoyed it with some whole grain tortilla chips. Smokey cumin, sweet corn, crisp cucumbers, spicy jalapeno – everything in here works so nicely together. You could serve it as a salad or a salsa. If serving with tortilla chips just watch how much salt you add as the chip will add a lot of salt. I’ve also been adding crunched up pita chips in my salads recently which is really good and would be great here.

To make just chop up whatever veggies you’d like to include. I added red bell pepper, cucumber, scallions, and jalapeno. Red onion would work nicely in place of scallions. I didn’t have tomatoes on hand but they’d also be great here. For the vinaigrette mix olive oil, lime juice, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss and enjoy! As with many salads like this – it’s even better the next day.

Fiesta Corn Salad with Cumin Lime Dressing

Ingredients

  • 4 ears corn
  • 1 cup black beans
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 4 scallions
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • salt
  • pepper
  • tortilla chips or pita chips to serve if desired

Directions

  1. Rinse beans and set aside. Clean and cut corn from cob. Dice veggies.
  2. Whisk olive oil, lime juice, cumin, salt, and pepper. Toss in a bowl with beans, corn, and remaining veggies.

 

A New Way to Fish – Rosemary Potato Crusted Tilapia with Basil Oil

June 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

I really do love fish and I’m always looking for new ways to prepare it. I prefer salmon, grouper, and of course, sea bass, but sometimes you just need an economical alternative. Enter, tilapia. I’ve never really been a big fan of tilapia – I’ll eat it and I don’t mind it but I’ve never craved it. My husband has developed a strong liking for it so I’ve been looking for new ways to prepare it. So far, simply grilled with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and a splash of lemon has been a good way to go. Another option is sauteed with a light flour coating and finished in a parsley butter sauce. I recently saw a recipe by Giada de Laurentis for a potato crusted tilapia that looked amazing. I’m in for any recipe that involves a potato! Giada’s version called for purple potatoes and a chive basil oil. I was making this for a nice little Sunday lunch at home so I had to deal with what I had on hand – no purple potatoes or chives, but I did have new potatoes and some fresh basil.

This dish is surprisingly easy and produces a really elegant meal that takes fish to a whole new level. Giada’s recipe calls for a mandolin for super thin potato slices – I don’t have a mandolin so I just sliced the potato as thinly as I could manage. This worked fine but I think a mandolin would have helped produce a bit crispier potato which would have been delicious. However, if you don’t have a mandolin, don’t fret – just slice thinly and you’ll still be enjoying deliciously sauteed potatoes.

Once the potato slices are done, assembly is very easy. Season the tilapia with salt and pepper and then top with the potato slices. A little more salt, pepper, and some rosemary and the fish is ready to go. In an oven-proof skillet heat equal parts butter and olive oil over medium high heat. You want the skillet to be pretty hot so it gives a nice sizzle to the potatoes. I thought getting the fish potato side down into the skillet was going to be tricky but it actually turned out to be pretty easy. I found that placing my spatula over the fish and then flipping it potato side down and sliding out the spatula worked best. Once the fish is in, you pop it into a a 375 degree oven for about 15 to 17 minutes until the fish is cooked through.

While the fish cooks, make the basil oil. Simply mix chopped basil and olive oil together and a little salt and pepper and set aside. I added some more rosemary to the oil and happened to have some roasted garlic on hand which I mashed into the oil as well for a little extra flavor.

Once you remove the fish from the oven, flipping over to serve potato side up is quite tricky. After a few tries, a food scraper proved to be the best way to accomplish the task – carefully slide it under the potato while holding the top of the fish with a spatula and flip. The potato doesn’t actually stick to the fish so if it’s not held together it will fall apart. Top the fish with some basil oil and serve. I found a generous squeeze of lemon finished the fish nicely, but you could try it first without and see what you think.

As I’m coming to find – I like my own cooking a lot more than what I find in restaurants. I can assure you, you’ll like this dish and it will be very different than anything you’ll see in a restaurant – at least from what I’ve seen. Enjoy!

Rosemary Potato Crusted Tilapia with Basil Oil 
Adapted from Giada de Laurentis
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 (4- to 6-ounce) tilapia fillets
  • 4 new potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced rosemary leaves or half dried
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • roasted garlic – optional
  • Lemon wedges to serve

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Season fish with salt and pepper and top each of the fillets with potato slices until completely covered. Season with more salt and pepper and rosemary.

Heat a large, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and the butter and heat until hot. Add the fish, potato side down and place skillet in oven. Bake until fish is cooked through, about 15 to 17 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the extra-virgin olive oil, basil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. If desired, add roasted garlic.

Place fish potato side up on a plate and top with the basil oil and serve with a wedge of lemon.

Click here for original recipe.

Update: Serve with lemon meringue pie for a truly decadent summer dinner. 

Welcoming Summer – Luscious Lemon Meringue Pie

June 2, 2011 § 4 Comments

This weekend was a hot one in Orlando – the temperatures have been steadily creeping up into the 90’s for several weeks now and I’ve been in denial trying to keep our doors open for fresh air with no luck. With the heat intensifying, I’d thought for two weeks of what to do for the approaching Memorial Day weekend and to properly welcome the start of summer. We could have taken a mini-vaca but hubby had no vacation days. Could have enjoyed a pool at a local hotel but prices were insane. Last idea was to drive to the beach but in the end with the threat of traffic and our sweet dog’s puppy eyes, we decided against it. So, it was a weekend at home, which in the end turned out to be very sweet (pun intended).

My husband recently bought me a nook for my birthday. Each night he’d look at it hopeful that I’ve purchased something to verify I liked the gift. I had yet to purchase anything in a month, so with the three-day weekend as I lay on the couch I figured I might as well indulge my brain in a book rather than endless hours of television. I’ve wanted to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver ever since it came out. So, I did just that – I downloaded the “nook book” and have had my nose stuck in it every night this week. The book is just plain awesome – enlightening and inspiring with every page turn. I’m only about one third of the way through it but she already has me hooked with her tales of blossoming veggies and tender fruits. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the tastes she describes and weaves through her stories. It makes me utterly depressed at the thought of having to frequent my local supermarket and roam through its lifeless aisles. She almost makes me want to uproot my life and take up a farm – almost.

But back to reality, it was Memorial Day weekend and armed with the desire to eat local, fresh, ingredients, I found myself with an overflowing basket at the local market I visit. Now, to be sincere, I didn’t end up buying everything local. I was surprised and a little disturbed to learn that my favorite local store isn’t so local. Don’t get me wrong, it’s got some great finds but doesn’t carry quite as much local produce as I’d deluded myself to believe. But, I bought some good stock to make great meals for the weekend – and let me say it’s pretty much been one good thing after another – lentil salad, hummus and veggie sandwiches, sweet grilled corn, scrambled eggs with roasted asparagus and peppers, fresh garlicky mayonnaise, and finally last night a summer squash stir fry with jasmine rice. At the last grab in the store I threw in some fresh limes and lemons to have on hand.

My mom invited us over for a Memorial Day BBQ and I made the – at the time what I thought to be a good idea – offer to bring Lemon Meringue Pie as I’d just purchased several huge lemons. I have a tendency to do this in all aspects of my life and especially in the kitchen – signing up for things that I don’t fully understand their scale and potential. This venture was one of those. But once I’d mentioned Lemon Meringue to my mom, there was no turning back. I had to show up to the BBQ with that pie in my hands. I’ve never made a lemon custard or curd. I’ve never made meringue. I don’t like pie shells so I had already decided I’d use the graham cracker crust in Ina Garten’s Frozen Key Lime Pie recipe I recently made. With one out of three down, how hard could it be?

Well, not hard, but interesting. It was hours before the party and we were standing in line at Hollywood Studios to see American Idol Scotty (I know, corny, and yes I’m a bit of a dork). There I was thinking of the pie I had to serve in mere hours and I hadn’t even picked out a recipe. As I stood in line I scanned different recipes to see which one to go with.  I settled on a recipe from Gourmet as I was pretty sure I had all the ingredients it called for. Once back at home and needing to leave in, yes…1 hour!, I sprang into action.

You start with the crust. I loved the graham cracker crust with this but you could easily do a pie shell, pastry crust, or even no crust and serve in bowls with a side of cookies as I saw here which is a great idea. While the crust cooks you melt the sugar, salt, water, milk, and cornstarch in a saucepan. This at first appears to do nothing and I was thinking, surely I’ve left out a major ingredient. But all of a sudden it will start to solidify and get gooey. At that point, you mix in a small amount of this mixture into the eggs yolks, and then the egg mixture back into this saucepan. As you continue to stir it, the mixture solidifies into a sturdy custard-like consistency.

Then you add in the lemon and lemon zest. This recipe calls for half a cup of lemon juice but my four huge lemons actually only yielded a fourth a cup. I was worried it might not be tart enough so I compensated with a little extra zest and the resulting flavor was spot-on. Finally you fold in a few tablespoons of butter into the filling. The resulting lemon filling is glossy and looks like its bursting with sunshine. Pour this mixture into the pie shell and set aside.

Next comes the meringue. As I said, I’ve never made meringue and it’s really not so easy. You diligently whip the egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until they get firm and then slowly add in the sugar. Again, silly me, I was short on ingredients and only had one third of the sugar it called for. So I did the rest with powdered sugar. The meringue didn’t get as sturdy as I would have liked and it didn’t taste particularly great at first– but it’s all I had. So, I plopped it on top of the pie (the most fun part by the way as it oozes out of the bowl and builds layer upon layer on your pie) and into the oven it went to brown.

By this point we were to be at my parents’ house in 15 minutes so the pie came straight out of the oven and into a lasagna pan for transport – held in place by two oven mitts. I sat in the car looking at my beautiful pie, full of hope, but the meringue wobbled from side to side as the car turned. I snapped a few pics to ensure I had evidence should this by chance turn out to be a success – although at that moment it seemed highly unlikely – or in case I just wanted to prove to myself I’d made it. Once at the house, the pie got to chill out in the fridge for a few hours before we indulged. And indulge we did – it was delicious. The lemon filling had just enough tang and bite accompanied by the sweet graham cracker crust and light fluffy meringue. In fact, the meringue tasted quite perfect despite the rocky start. This pie was a winner all around and everyone agreed – a nice cool accompaniment to the hot summer days to come. I can’t wait to make it again…the only danger is now that I know how easy it really is, I may make it too often!

Lemon Meringue Pie
Adapted from Gourmet

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (10 crackers)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling

  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (I used ¼ cup and more zest)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

For the meringue

  • 5 large egg whites, at room temperature 30 minutes
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 superfine granulated sugar

Directions:

For the crust, pre-heat the oven to 350. Melt the butter. Mix with crushed graham crackers and sugar and press into pie shell. Bake 10-15 minutes until golden. Remove pie shell and increase heat to 375 to bake the finished pie.

For the filling, whisk together egg yolks and set aside. In a saucepan whisk together sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Gradually add water and milk, whisking until smooth. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently as mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat and gradually whisk about 1 cup milk mixture into yolks, then whisk yolk mixture into remaining milk mixture. Add lemon zest and juice and simmer, whisking constantly, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter until incorporated. Pour into pie shell.

For the meringue beat the reserved egg whites with cream of tartar and salt using an electric mixer at medium speed until they hold soft peaks. Increase speed to high and add superfine sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until meringue just holds stiff, glossy peaks. Pour the meringue over the top of the pie and put back in the oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool several hours before serving.

Update: Serve with Heirloom Tomato Pasta for a great summer lunch or supper. 

Happy Sundays – Buttermilk Waffles

May 31, 2011 § 1 Comment

There’s something about freshly made waffles and pancakes that transports you right back to childhood. I always loved weekend mornings growing up. My family liked to make a big deal out of breakfast – whipping up fresh pancakes, French toast, or eggs and bacon to start the day off right. We’d all be in the kitchen working together and then sit at the table lingering long after the last piece was eaten. Now off and married, I realize these weekends were very much the result of my mom. She was the one who would get this ritual started most times.

Now I’m off and married and similar to my mom, it’s me carrying on this ritual in my home. I haven’t made waffles often – partly due to effort and partly due to calories. Yes, we grow up and have to pay attention to calories and making waffles suddenly isn’t such a good idea anymore. But once in a while doesn’t hurt. My husband hasn’t ever really developed a taste for sweet breakfasts so when I make them, I’m cooking for one. So I mostly reserve my waffle cooking for special occasions when I can feed many like recently on Mother’s Day. However, some mornings you just wake up and have an itching for something delicious. That was me Sunday morning. As I sat having my morning coffee, I decided I deserved a little indulgence of happiness, even if it was just for me.  Plus I had the last few cups of buttermilk in the fridge and figured I might as well put it to good work. Buttermilk waffles it was!

As I was cooking for one, I cut the recipe in half. To be fair, I would have made even less but dividing the recipe by anything other than 2 was too complicated for a Sunday morning. (I have a handy dandy recipe divider magnet at Crate and Barrel which is one of my favorite tools in the kitchen. It helps do the math for you and is a big help.) Recipes with an odd number of eggs as this one are always tricky. What I find best is just mix the eggs separately as the recipe calls for and divide it after. Trying to “cut” an egg yolk in half is challenging. You could always make the full recipe and put the remaining in the freezer for another day. Just make sure you freeze them or pack separately and don’t put them straight into a bag or they will freeze together.

The star of this recipe is the buttermilk which makes these waffles rich and decadent. Egg whites are beaten and folded in to create a light and fluffy batter which balances out the rich, buttery flavor. These would also be great with any fruit you choose or chocolate chips if you want to really have a treat. Equally a little orange zest would be delicious in the batter and lighten it up for Summer. Today I topped my waffles with fresh strawberries and just a small drizzle of syrup – the syrup was preference. These waffles are equally delicious on their own. If you’re up to it you can whip up some fresh whipped cream with a little sugar and vanilla to top them off with – that’s what I did for Mother’s Day and they were simply divine.

I should warn you – if you don’t want to eat more than 2, quickly put them away after you serve yourself. If you make the mistake I did of leaving them on the counter, one or two more may just disappear at the result of your fingers, no fork needed.

If you like waffles and don’t have a waffle maker, you should definitely look at All-Clad’s waffle maker. It makes the perfect waffle each and every time. This recipe actually comes from All-Clad as well. It calls for you to sift the dry ingredients but honestly, I’ve never done this and never missed it. The egg whites ensure a light batter so unless you’re a perfectionist, save yourself the trouble and just enjoy Sunday morning by throwing it all together in a bowl and call it a day.

Buttermilk Waffles

Recipe from All-Clad
Makes twelve 4-inch waffles

Ingredients:

3 eggs, separated
1 ¾ cups buttermilk
8 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1/3 cup sugar
Maple syrup and fresh fruit for serving

Directions:

  1. Preheat waffle maker on medium-high heat. Preheat oven to 200°F. (the oven is to keep the waffles warm and crisp them slightly. If you like them softer and plan to serve right away you can skip this and just keep them warm on a plate with a paper towel and some foil).
  2. In a large bowl whisk together the egg yolks, buttermilk, butter, and vanilla. Mix in flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar until smooth (sift if desired).
  3. In a small bowl beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold egg whites into batter.
  4. Pour about 1/3 cup batter into each well of waffle maker. Cook until golden brown and crisp. Transfer to baking sheet and oven if desired to keep warm.
  5. Serve with fruit and syrup.

Update: See the vegan pancakes I’m whipping up on weekends these days. 

Pucker Up – Frozen Key Lime Pie

May 16, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’m not a pie girl. The fact that pies are “making a comeback” as many have put it, even appearing in weddings in replacement of a traditional wedding cake, really bothers me. I just don’t think a pastry crust with fruit filling and a little cream can even remotely compare to a decadent chocolate cake with sweet buttercream frosting. However, there are some pies I’ve grown fond of over the years. French silk and lemon meringue were my favorite pies as a kid – assuming the chocolate cake wasn’t an option of course. I recall eating them after our dinners in a Marie Calendar’s style restaurant as a little girl.  I’m not a fan of the pastry so id carefully scoop the filling, scraping the bottom ever so slightly to just “peel” off the custard, leaving behind just the crust. The resulting naked crust, stripped of its creaminess, made my family laugh every time.

The one pie I can say I wholeheartedly enjoy – crust and all – is the one and only key lime pie. I can’t recall the first time I tried the key lime pie but I believe I may have been around 12. We had moved to Florida and since my dad worked for a cruise line, we got to cruise all the time. I am pretty sure it was on one of these cruises – probably at a midnight buffet! – that I first tried what would battle the classic chocolate cake as my favorite dessert. One bite today of that creamy, tart goodness and I’m transported to that cruise ship, thousands of miles away, with the ocean breeze close by.

I’ve made Ina Garten’s Frozen Key Lime Pie several times now. I love the fact that it is a no-bake pie and uses fresh limes instead of tiny, impossible to juice, key limes. Believe me, just juicing the limes for this pie is plenty of work. I honestly can’t even imagine using real key limes. The resulting pie, even without the key limes, is full of flavor, creamy, and tart enough to make your lips pucker!

The recipe calls for 4-5 limes but I’d buy extras when you are shopping for this. The limes I used this last time weren’t ripe enough so I ended up using close to 9 just to get enough juice. I’m glad I had bought extra for my husband’s cocktails – too bad for him there weren’t any leftover. Honestly juicing the limes is the only hassle in this recipe. Other than that it’s really quite easy.

First you make the crust by breaking up the graham crackers. The easiest thing to do is to put them in a plastic bag and hit them with a rolling pin or back of a large spoon. Mix the crumbs with sugar and melted butter and press into the pie plate and bake. I recall the last time I made this pie I had the same problem that the crust didn’t quite stick together. This isn’t really a problem but if you’re looking for a more sturdy crust, add some additional butter to help bind the crackers together.

While the crust is baking make the filling by mixing the lime juice, zest, egg yolks, sugar, and condensed milk. As I said, the resulting pie is very tart. If you’re not such a fan, you can omit the zest to cut back on the tartness.

Allow the crust to cool before pouring the filling in. Freeze for a few hours until set and then top with whipped cream. Please whatever you do, DO NOT, used canned whipped cream. This is a sin in my book. If you have never made your own whipped cream, give it a try and you’ll understand why I’m adamant about this. Homemade whipped cream is deliciously rich and tastes like grandma’s house. To make the whipped cream just whip together the cream, sugar, and vanilla. Decorate the pie either by piping the cream with a plastic bag or just spoon over the top, cover, and put back in the freezer. The recipe says the pie only needs to sit several hours but I’ve found it needs at the least 8 hours, especially if you are transporting it to a party. You want the pie to really freeze all the way. The whipped cream ends up very sturdy this way – if you prefer to top the pie with the cream just before serving, that would be delicious too. This pie is the perfect start to summer!

Ina Garten’s Frozen Key Lime Pie

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (10 crackers)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 6 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tablespoons grated lime zest – omit if you don’t want the pie as tart
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (recipe calls for 4 to 5 limes but may be closer to 8-9)

For the decoration:

  • 1 cup (1/2 pint) cold heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Thin lime wedges

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl. Press mixture into a 9-inch pie pan, ensuring equal thickness. Bake for 10 minutes and set aside to cool completely.
  3. Beat the egg yolks and sugar on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment for 5 minutes, until thick.
  4. Reduce to medium speed and add the condensed milk, lime zest, and lime juice.
  5. Pour into the baked pie shell and freeze for a  few hours.
  6. For the decoration, beat the heavy cream on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until firm. Spoon or pipe decoratively onto the pie and decorate with lime. Freeze for several hours or preferably, overnight.

For the original recipe, click here.

Update: Serve with Fiesta Corn Salad with Cumin Lime Dressing and Honey-Sauced Chicken Wings for a fun game-day meal. 

Worth the Wait – Pappardelle with Shrimp, Asparagus, and Truffle Butter

April 8, 2011 § 6 Comments

When I started this blog at the end of last year, I became somewhat ravenous not only for my new culinary adventures but also writing about them. The project quickly sucked me in and I literally had to stop myself from going overboard – boring what few readers I probably have with multiple posts per week and adding unnecessary inches to my waistline. So the fact that I’ve not written in over a month (a month!) is beyond me. Granted, I’ve been quite busy. A new addition to our family, Chloe, a beautiful bassett/beagle has taken over what precious free time I had and used to devote to cooking and writing. She’s learning to dig and eat magazines and her latest adventure was eating a black ink pen on my beige couch which has been fun to deal with. Add on business trips every week followed by a nasty bout of the flu and voila – over a month has passed.

I’ve been dying to write this post since making this dinner Oscar night. I hadn’t planned on making this recipe for the Oscars, but I had truffle butter on hand that only had a few days left before going bad so I figured it was as good a night as any. It was just supposed to be my husband and me that night but at the last minute my whole family joined us so we went from 2 to 6. I’m glad too because the meal was so delicious and made plenty for the 6 of us with a little leftover to savor the following night.

Now, I’m not really a mushroom fan so the fact that I made this with a truffle sauce may be surprising – there are certain traditional dishes with mushrooms like Chicken Marsala that I love, I don’t like the mushroom itself. I think it has to do with the mushroom’s spongey texture. While I avoid most mushrooms, a few years ago I had pasta with truffle sauce. I was actually in Ljubljana, Slovenia, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I’d spent the week going through Slovenia and Croatia (a logistical nightmare but that’s another story) and saw more meat than I cared for – the traditionals and the unusuals (horse and buffalo, no thanks). Needless to say, given that I’m not a big meat lover, I saw lots of pizza – cheese pizza to be exact. We were nearing the end of the trip and we were at a little pub that had a menu full of items I didn’t eat – the only thing that even remotely caught my eye was the pasta with truffle sauce. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but it was my only option. The plate arrived, and not only was it beautiful, it was delicious. I really enjoyed it but hadn’t had it again since it’s not something you see much in the states. Sure, you see plenty of fries with truffle oil which I’ll always order if a restaurant has them to remind me of that afternoon in Ljubljana.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve this year, and we were in Whole Foods looking for something special to make for dinner. We rarely go to Whole Foods so when we do its like a mini-adventure. I picked up little splurges like Mascapone cheese, fresh roasted garlic, and a Truffle Butter. I hesitated with the Truffle Butter at a whopping $9 for a 2 ounce tub but I’d recently seen Ina Garten prepare it with Tagliatelle which looked so good, so I figured, might as well start the New Year with a little indulgence! January and February seemed to fly by and every day I’d open my fridge to see my precious $9 delicacy just waiting to be eaten. So, when it was Oscar Sunday, I figured I’d waited long enough. It was time to give this pasta a shot. I decided to add the asparagus for some veggies but the shrimp was a total last minute decision after my husband requested some protein for dinner – man was it good though. The delicate pasta with the sweet shrimp and earthy, creamy sauce was divine.

I used homemade pasta for this but store-bought pasta would work nicely here as well. The delicacy of the pasta complimented the sauce very nicely so look for a thin flat pasta. I followed a different pasta recipe than I’ve made before – this time I used Giada’s recipe which calls for more egg than usual, plus olive oil and salt. The resulting pasta was golden and silky with tons of flavor. After rolling out the pasta into the thinnest sheets on my pasta roller, I hand sliced it to make the pappardelle. The easiest way to do this is to fold the sheet a few times and then cut – make sure you flour the sheet before doing so to prevent the dough from sticking together.

Once the pasta was ready to cook, the recipe was actually really easy. If you choose to use bought pasta this cooks in just about 10 minutes after getting the water to a boil. Once the water comes to a boil, salt it and add the trimmed asparagus in just for a few minutes until tender. Remove the asparagus and add the pasta. Meanwhile, heat a pan over medium heat with some olive oil and garlic. Let the garlic infuse the oil for a minute and then add the shrimp with salt and pepper. While the shrimp cooks, cut the asparagus into one-inch bites and add to the shrimp. Increase the heat, add 1 cup heavy whipping cream (or the amount you prefer), and let boil slightly. Add in the entire tub of truffle butter – I know it sounds like a lot, but remember this is a treat! – and it will melt quickly. Turn the heat off and transfer the cooked pasta to the sauce. Top with fresh chives, parsley, and parmesan.

Perfect Game Day Food – Honey Sauced Chicken Wings

January 27, 2011 § 5 Comments

I’ve been thinking of posting this recipe since I started this blog and I can’t think of a better time than the days leading up to the super bowl. I have to admit I’m not a football fan – like, at all. Plus, I’m really not a fan of traditional gameday cuisine – chili, hamburgers, and wings don’t call my attention. So the fact I’ve actually found a wing recipe that even I crave, means it has to be really good. I really wish the pictures did these wings more justice – you’ll just have to take my word that they are really good!

We recently bought our first home, and I made these delicious wings for our housewarming party. I have one of those moms that is an extreme “over-cooker”. Whether it be dinner or even worse, a party, my mom goes all out and there’s sure to be leftovers for days on end. So, when I told her what I was preparing for this particular party, she was a bit skeptical about the amount of food I was going to be serving. In the hours leading up to the party and I was prepping these wings, I started to share her concerns, worried if they didn’t turn out I’d be in trouble. Oh well, plenty of pizza shops close by I reassured myself.

But in the end there was no need for reassurance – as everyone dove in they couldn’t stop raving about the wings. The men were literally standing at the crock pot and couldn’t stop eating them – I took this to mean it was a success. The party ended the way I like it too – virtually no leftovers – to me that’s the way to end a party.

These wings have a nice sweet but not too sweet flavor that is complimented by a little spice. I’ve made these multiple times and every time I like to cook them a bit longer so the meat is nice and tender, falling off the bone. So, I’ve never actually stopped at the designated cooking time but sure it produces an equally delicious but maybe more “sturdy” wing.

Now, a word on the actual wings – all I’ve been able to find at grocery stores is either the wing that is attached to the drumette or separate drumettes. I don’t know if I’m missing something but I cannot find wings themselves. This particular recipe calls for the wings that are attached to the drumette and for you to cut them at the joint. I did this for my housewarming party and let me tell you it was pretty brutal – I would definitely not recommend this. What I’ve done since is just cook the wings without cutting them and they are fine. They might not look perfect like at a wing joint, but they taste just the same! If you’d rather not do this, you could buy the drumettes but actually drumsticks cost the same and give you a lot more meat and taste equally as good with this recipe so I’d recommend that over the little drumettes.

I promise you, you won’t have any of these wings for leftovers! Definitely give them a try for your superbowl party!

To make the wings, line them in an oven safe dish and season with salt and pepper. Broil for about 10 minutes on each side until they are golden brown. Meanwhile, chop the onion and garlic. I sometimes just use the whole onion even though this calls for ¼ cup. In a bowl, mix together the honey, soy sauce, ketchup, red chili pepper, onion, garlic, vegetable oil, salt and pepper.

Once the wings are done – put them in a slow cooker and pour the sauce over them. Mix to ensure they are well coated. The directions call to cook them up to 2½ hours but I always cook them about 3 or up to 3½ hours. You can sprinkle with sesame seeds to serve but I’ve never even added it – they are delicious on their own.

Honey-Sauced Chicken Wings
Adapted from “Rival Crock-Pot Best Loved Slow Cooker Recipes”

Ingredients:

3 lbs. Chicken wings
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 cup honey
½ cup soy sauce
¼ cup chopped onion (I use the whole onion)
¼ cup ketchup
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
sesame seeds to serve, optional (I never need to add this!)

Directions:

1. Preheat broiler. Assemble wings on broiler pan and season with salt and pepper. Broil 10 minutes per side or until chicken wings are browned. Remove and transfer to slow cooker.
2. For sauce, combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix, and pour over wings. Ensure wings are well coated.
3. Cover and cook on low 4-5 hours or high 2-2½ hours.

Update: For great game day spread, serve this with fiesta corn salad with cumin lime vinaigrette and either a frozen key lime pie or lemon meringue pie for dessert. 

 

They Called Me Martha – The Perfect Roast Chicken

January 16, 2011 § 8 Comments

A perfect roast chicken starts with a delicate, crispy skin and ends with moist, juicy meat inside and this recipe achieves both. The skin is beautifully golden in color and flavor by brushing the chicken with a little melted butter before roasting and the pan juices from the chicken, sweet carrots, fennel, and onion keep the meat moist upon serving.

This recipe is from Ina Garten, whom I just love. Almost any recipe I make of hers is a sure win – and what’s better, she eats mostly chicken so she always has some inspiring recipe for me. I’ve now made her Perfect Roast Chicken several times and I can say, it is actually quite perfect. In fact, I recently hosted a holiday party for my girlfriends and when I pulled out my two beautiful roast chickens from the oven, one of them even called me “Martha” – as in the infamous Martha Stewart.

What makes this chicken so perfect is not only the tender, juicy meat it yields, but the simplicity in making it. Aside from chopping up some vegetables and applying easy seasonings, it requires very little effort. I think my favorite part of this dish is the fact that you stuff the chicken cavity with lemon and garlic without even a need to chop, peel, or squeeze! A simple cut in half and if it fits, it works. This chicken calls for a lot of fresh thyme, which adds a very perfumed flavor to the vegetables and sauce. If you’re not a fan of thyme you could easily substitute with rosemary or a combination of herbs of your choice.

Now, I will say – one area where Ina let me down: directions on cooking time. I am one of those “is the chicken really done?” fanatics. You’d think with as much chicken as I eat and cook I’d pretty much know when a chicken is done, but sadly I do not and I end up having to cut my chicken breasts in half when cooking to ensure they are really cooked through. So, when I watched Ina make this on TV, she made it sound so simple to determine if the chicken was done – just cut between the leg and the breast and if the juices run clear – voila, its done.

Or not… In Ina’s fairness, her recipe calls for a larger chicken so I had assumed using a smaller chicken would significantly cut down on cooking time. Thus, when I made this the first time for my family, they arrived hungry and eager, I pulled these impressive looking chickens out and they all “oohed” and “awed”. I made the cut as Ina instructed and once I saw that it was only clear juices running out, I happily covered it and let it rest for 20 minutes while waiting anxiously to try it. When I went back to carve what I was sure would be my new masterpiece, I was devastated to find nearly raw chicken at the bone. Back in the oven it had to go and my family was left waiting for another 40 minutes for dinner. In the end though, it was a delicious chicken worth the wait.

I’ve made this chicken multiple times now so I’ve pretty much got the cooking time down but the lesson learned is: Stab your chicken! No, not really. But I do like to make several cuts around the chicken just to be sure – better safe than sorry, especially when entertaining. The reason this is so important is because you really want the chicken to rest 20 minutes, so you’ve got to know its finished cooking. Once you do have the cooking time down on this chicken though, it’s indeed worth it. As I said, it takes minimal effort and yields a very elegant meal perfect for a quiet dinner at home for 2 or for entertaining for several friends. If you’re feeling really motivated, you could serve with crispy roasted potatoes or garlicky mashed potatoes, which would be a nice accompaniment.

For this recipe I have found a 3 pound chicken to work best. If I’m cooking it just for me and my husband I’ll do one chicken but if I want leftovers or cooking for several, I’ll buy two chickens. This is a great recipe to do with 2 chickens (double the veggies) and have extra leftover for a chicken noodle soup or enchiladas the next night. What’s even better is I’ve found a little market near my home where I can buy all my ingredients for about $10 – that’s for 2 chickens and all the veggies – you can’t beat that!

Preheat the oven to 425. Rinse the inside and outside of the chicken and pat dry. Cut any excess fat. Sprinkle the cavity with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Cut a lemon and head of garlic in half and insert in the cavity with a good bunch of fresh thyme. Once the cavity is stuffed, tie the legs together with twine. Meanwhile, melt a tablespoon of butter. Once melted, brush the outside of the chicken with the butter making sure to reach the sides and legs. Sprinkle the top of the chicken with more salt and pepper.

Peel and chop 4 carrots, 1 yellow onion, and 1 bulb of fennel. If you’ve never worked with fennel before, it’s got almost a licorice-like smell and adds a nice flavor to the sauce. Cut the top of the bulb so that you’re left with something that resembles an onion. I like to remove the outermost layer then just cut as you would an onion.

In your roasting pan mix all the chopped veggies with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme. Note: If you don’t have a roasting pan, you could put this in anything that will hold it, such as a large casserole dish or lasagna pan. Now, a word on the thyme – if you don’t mind it being really rustic, you could just throw a handful of thyme in whole with the veggies. My husband isn’t such a fan of this method so I skim the leaves off the stems and chop it up. Finally, add the chicken on top of the veggies.

That is it! Your chicken is done and ready to go into the oven for about an hour and a half. Keep an eye on it that the skin doesn’t burn – if the skin is getting too brown you can cover with aluminum foil. Baste a few times while it’s cooking to add flavor to the skin.

When you’re sure the chicken is done, remove from the oven and cover the pan with foil to let it rest for 20 minutes. After resting, carefully remove the chicken and lift vertically to let all the juices inside the cavity come out and into the pan. If you love lemon, you can pull out the lemon from the cavity and give it a squeeze into the sauce – be careful as it will be exremely hot.

To carve the chicken, start with the legs and wings and remove. Then cut at the center near the bone and follow your knife down the bone to remove the breast. Slice the breast as desired. Make sure you pour the sauce from the pan over the chicken as that is the key to keeping it moist and giving it unbelievable flavor. Serve hot and enjoy!

Ingredients

1 3Ib. fryer chicken
4 carrots
1 yellow onion
1 fennel bulb
20 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp. butter
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425. Rinse inside and outside of the chicken and pat dry. Cut any excess fat. Sprinkle the cavity with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Cut a lemon and head of garlic in half and insert in the cavity with half the fresh thyme. Tie the legs together with twine.
  2. Melt a tablespoon of butter and brush outside of the chicken with the butter making sure to reach the sides and legs. Sprinkle the top of the chicken with more salt and pepper.
  3. Peel and chop 4 carrots into bite size pieces, about 1 inch long. Cut 1 yellow onion and 1 bulb of fennel in slices. Add vegetables to roasting pan with olive oil, salt, pepper, and remaining thyme.
  4. Place chicken on top of vegetable mixture in pan and roast in oven for an hour and a half or until done.
  5. Remove and cover chicken with aluminum foil for 20 minutes. Carve and serve with pan sauce over the chicken.

For the original recipe from Ina Garten, click here.

Sweet Beginnings – French Toast with Mascapone and Fresh Berries

January 2, 2011 § 4 Comments

Yesterday was the first day of 2011 which I welcomed with a mixture of emotions – mostly excitement of what’s to come. I’m very much looking forward to see what this New Year has in store for me and my husband, though honestly, I can’t imagine it being better than 2010. Let me rephrase – I can’t imagine it being better than the second half of 2010. The first half of the year was a tough one. My mom was living indefinitely in Kansas City taking care of my dying grandfather who sadly passed despite our hopefulness. This sad beginning of the year led to months of organizing the closing of my grandparents home and my grandmother moving to Florida. By mid-year, our family was reunited and things started looking up. My husband and I enjoyed a fantastic two week vacation to Spain in May which unbeknownst to us at the time, started a magical trend of good things to come for the second half of the year. We both have gone through more than our fair share of trials and tribulations so to have things suddenly click in place was a beautiful thing. Among other things, we both got unbelievable job opportunities, and after almost two years of searching, we finally purchased our first home. In all this too, it was a year of taking risks – risks that are paying off beautifully.

Thus why I say it will be hard for 2011 to top all that. But I’m remaining optimistic. And most importantly, I am remembering that the life we live is the one we choose. My dad has some pretty good advice he’s drilled into my head – just two words – “Choose Wisely”. I realize now more than ever that this goes beyond what I took it to mean – its not just about choosing the right path, the right job, the right friends, etc. Rather, its about choosing to be happy each and every day, choosing to live with integrity, to define the life you want and not be afraid to go and get it. As Marianne Williamson said “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” For me, 2011 is about going for “it”, giving it all I’ve got, not settling, not giving up, and definitely not doubting myself (both in the kitchen and out ;) )

To start off the year with this great energy, I wanted a little celebration and decided to make French Toast for breakfast. I don’t know when I got out of the habit of making French Toast – I rarely make it anymore but it used to be a regular weekend event in my house growing up. I think French Toast was the first dish I really learned to make (and make well) on my own. The best was when my dad would eat it – he’s not a “sweet” breakfast guy, he’s more of a practical low-carb egg-white omelet guy, so days he’d go so far as to request my French Toast were a pretty big deal.

I was at Whole Foods the night before shopping for our New Years Eve dinner and had seen mascapone cheese. I remembered a special French Toast I had a few years ago with mascapone and blueberry and decided I’d make that as our jumpstart to the New Year and it turned out really fantastic. The French Toast had a nice crunch from the sugar coating. The mascapone adds an unexpected twist against the tart berries and eggy bread. At the last minute I added some lemon zest to the mascapone which lightened the entire dish and gave a fresh flavor. Don’t even think of adding syrup to this before tasting – its so good on its own it doesn’t require anything further. It certainly felt like a celebratory breakfast and a promising start to the New Year – Cheers!

I used a hearty French country bread from Whole Foods which I sliced fairly thick (a bit too thick in fact as the egg didn’t get all the way through the slice). I made us a generous portion – two big slices each which I soaked in the egg mixture.

I use vegetable oil for my French Toast and I like to add cinnamon both to the egg mixture as well as a sprinkle while its frying in the pan. Once the slices were done on the bottom I flipped them over to fry on the other side. At the end, I add a small sprinkle of sugar to each slice and flip for just a minute to get a nice caramelized finish. Don’t add the sugar until the very end as it will burn if left in pan too long.

Meanwhile mix some mascapone cheese with a little bit of sugar, blueberries, and fresh lemon zest. The amount of mascapone depends on how much you like – I like just a hint of it so a thin layer is enough for me. Also, the sugar is optional as I like my mascapone sweet.

Once the toasts are done cooking, remove to a paper towel to remove any excess oil and spread the mascapone blueberry mixture to one side. Top with the other slice (be sure to put it sugar side up) and add more berries such as blueberries and raspberries.

French Toast with Mascapone and Fresh Berries
Yields 2 stuffed slices

Ingredients

4 thick slices French or Challah bread
4 eggs
1/2 cup skim milk
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp sugar
vegetable oil
2 tbsp mascapone cheese
lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
2 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh raspberries

Directions:

  1. Beat eggs, milk, and cinnamon until well combined. Dip bread in egg mixture ensuring both sides are well coated.
  2. Coat large pan with vegetable oil and warm over medium heat  and add egg-dipped slices. Cook until golden on the bottom.
  3. Sprinkle more cinnamon if desired on un-cooked side before flipping and cook until golden.
  4. Sprinkle 1 tsp sugar over slices, flip, and cook for just a minute until carmelized. Remove to paper towel to drain.
  5. Mix mascapone cheese, 1 tsp sugar, 1 cup blueberries and spread mixture on two slices. Top with other slice ensuring sugar coated side is on outside.
  6. Top with fresh berries and serve.

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