Thursday, December 22, 2011

Soft & Chewy Gingerbread Men

Decked with friendly smiles and swirls of snowy royal icing, gingerbread men are an iconic symbol of the holiday season. The deep molasses flavor of gingerbread is warm and festive in itself, but the spiced aroma of a freshly baked batch, and the familiar sugary designs on the doll-like cookie cutouts are what truly make it feel like Christmas.

Though it always looks so appealing, the problem with gingerbread is that it is often break-your-teeth-status, hard as rocks. I don’t know about you, but when I’m presented with a delicious little man cookie that smells like cinnamon and sugar, I’m tempted to bite the head off of it. And when I can’t? What a tease! A lot of recipes are designed to make the cookies sturdy enough to be used as tree ornaments and decorations, which is perfect if that is what you want to do. However, if eating the cookies is what you’re after, soft & chewy is the way to go.

In search of a cookie that fit the right criteria, I came across this blog featuring the recipe for Thick and Chewy Gingerbread Cookies by Baking/Cook’s Illustrated. With the description of “the perfect man,” I could not resist. As I am often very careful when it comes to baking, I followed the recipe exactly, and the cookies turned out awesome! Just look at them. They’re adorable and best of all, soft and chewy; the texture makes it so easy to savor all the deliciousness that gingerbread has to offer.

I decorated my gingerbread men simply and traditionally with standard royal icing made of confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, and egg whites. Because of the stigma attached to eating raw egg and getting salmonella, most royal icing recipes these days will call for meringue powder or egg white powder instead—both pricier alternatives that require a trip to a craft or specialty store. I’ve seen so many recipes like this, that I actually questioned myself for wanting to use real egg whites. Listen, people have been making royal icing with egg whites for years. The chance of getting salmonella from pasteurized eggs is already incredibly low; factor in the ratio of sugar to egg whites, and your risk is even lower.

You won’t be able to hang these soft gingerbread cookies on your tree, but they are too good to be used as decorations anyway. For many, the gingerbread man is the personification of sweet holiday memories. Baking them is a fun project to share with the ones you love, and they make thoughtful gifts as well. They are just the kind of cookies that are sure to put a smile on Santa’s face!

A gingerbread man once said, that you can take anything from him, just “not the buttons; not my gumdrop buttons!” The inspiration to all of my gingerbread aspirations, Gingy! :

Here is the recipe. It is not mine, just one that I recommend. :-)

Soft & Chewy Gingerbread Cookies
Recipe edited. Obtained from; Thick and Chewy Gingerbread Cookies, Baking Illustrated
Yield: About 20 Cookies
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened slightly
- 3/4 cup molasses
- 2 tablespoons milk
- Royal icing for decorating
• In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and baking soda until combined, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture and process until mixture is sandy and resembles very fine meal, about 15 seconds. With food processor running, add molasses and milk; process until dough is evenly moistened and forms a soft mass, about 10 seconds. (This step can also be done in an electric stand mixer; mix the dry ingredients, cut the dough into the flour mixture by hand, and then mix in the wet ingredients).
• Divide dough in half and roll into ¼ inch thickness between two sheets of parchment paper. Place in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes, until firm.
• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
• Once the dough is firm, cut out cookies using a gingerbread man cookie cutter. Place on prepared baking sheets spacing cookies 1 inch apart. Bake until centers are just set and dough barely retains imprint when touched very gently with fingertip, 8 to 11 minutes. Gather scraps; repeat rolling, cutting, and baking until all dough is used.
• Cool the cookies on the baking sheets about 2 minutes. Using a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Decorate as desired with royal icing.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

40 Clove Garlic Chicken

I know what you’re probably thinking. “Forty cloves of garlic? That’s a lot of garlic!”

Yes, forty whole cloves. Seems like a whole lot of bad breath, a whole lot of peeling, and a whole lot of time trying to get the smell off your hands. At least, that was my first reaction. The sound of having so much of this one particularly pungent ingredient could either turn you on or off. At first glance, it seems that forty cloves just might be pushing the limits of aromatic enticement, even for the smelliest of garlic lovers.

Turns out, this dish is not nearly as intense or as in-your-face garlicky as the name might first imply. And that’s a good thing. That’s because after the cloves are evenly browned in the pan, they are braised along with a seared, whole cut up chicken, reducing them to rich, slightly nutty, sweet versions of themselves that melt into a tasty paste, similar to roasted garlic. You can eat the whole cloves and not even get garlic breath.

So did I peel every clove? Psht. No. Why would I do that, when the grocery store sells whole pints of em’ already peeled? Unlike the chopped garlic in the jar, which has a funny, unnatural smell/taste to it, it is still fresh garlic. I don’t care what kind of culinary purist you are, whether or not you sat there and peeled each clove will not be evident, nor will it make a difference in the dish. There is a trick to quickly blanching the garlic in boiling water to make peeling easier (see original recipe link with recipe), but I personally don’t want to do that either. Save some time and use pre-peeled.

Speaking of the original recipe link, I referenced Ina Garten’s well-reviewed Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic recipe for this dish. She’s not my favorite, but her food is good. Plus, it’s always fun to impersonate her while cooking. “Yeess, I’m going to be bringing to this to a faahbulous picnic in the Hamptons. My wonderful husband Jeffrey’s gonna love it.”

I wanted to alter the recipe more, but it seemed so good on its own. I especially love the addition of Cognac. The main difference in my recipe is that I used cloudy apple cider instead of white wine. Not that I have anything against white wine—apple cider was just more convenient at the time and it worked out deliciously. The chicken came out so tender; it was amazing with the rich garlic clove sauce (made by thickening the cooking liquid). It was great the first time with mashed potatoes, and the leftovers with couscous were even better. I bet you Jeffrey loved this one!

40 Clove Garlic Chicken
Derived from Food Network, Ina Garten, “Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic
Yield: 4 servings
- 40 cloves of garlic, peeled ( I purchased pre-peeled ones from the grocery store)
- 1, 3-4 pound chicken, cut into pieces
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- 3 tablespoons Cognac, divided
- 1 ½ cups cloudy apple cider
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
• Clean and thoroughly dry the chicken. Season the pieces liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the butter and oil in large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sauté the chicken in batches, skin side down first, until nicely browned on both sides, about 3-5 minutes. If the fat is burning, turn the heat down to medium. Transfer the chicken to a plate and reserve.
• Add the garlic to the pot. Lower the heat and sauté 5-10 minutes, turning often, until evenly browned. Add 2 tablespoons of the Cognac and the apple cider. Bring to a boil, scraping the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pot with the juices and sprinkle with the thyme. Cover and simmer on the lowest heat for about 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
• Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm. In a small bowl, whisk together ½ cup of the sauce and the flour, then whisk back into the sauce in the pot. Raise the heat; add the remaining cognac and the cream. Boil for 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the garlic over the chicken and serve hot.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Soup's Still On; Mexican Meatball Soup

Two weeks of soup for you. I guess it’s a testament to just how much of it I’ve been eating. It is that time of year, and I just can’t help myself. Not only have I been making a lot of soup lately, but it seems to be a reoccurring lunch theme as well. A nice cup of soup warms me up, pretty much satisfies my hunger for the rest of the day, and it’s cheap!

I heard Dr. Oz saying on the radio the other day that eating soup is one of the best things for you because it’s loaded with nutrients, is often packed with veggies, and fills you up so that you don’t overeat. And who questions Dr. Oz? Obviously, I don’t think he’s talking about rich creamy soups, but hearty vegetable and squash purees and low-sodium broths are great choices for the above reasons. I’m thinking that there are also bonus points if it’s homemade. If health is what you’re after, there’s no better way to control what you’re eating than by making it yourself.

This week I made Mexican Meatball or Albondigas soup. It was an idea that I came up with for a recipe variation at work, and it sounded so good that I was inspired to make it myself. It is not as traditional as most of the recipes that I found; for example, I left mint out which seems like a key ingredient in some of the more customary versions. But this is mine.

In this recipe, small half beef/half chorizo meatballs swim in a flavorful tomato-based broth with white rice. The soup is spiked with a little lime juice and jalapeno for extra depth and spice, and is seasoned with garlic, paprika, cumin, and fresh cilantro. It is a full meal in itself and is perfect served with tortillas or bread to soak up all the tastiness.

P.S. I hope that everyone has a great Thanksgiving! Check out my Thanksgiving sides post from last year with ideas and recipes for dishes such as cranberry relish, buttermilk biscuits, homemade apple sauce, sourdough and chestnut stuffing, and more!

Mexican Meatball Soup
Yield: 8 servings
- ½ pound ground beef
- 12 ounces chorizo sausage, removed from casing
- 1 egg
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- ½ cup chopped carrots
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 jalapeno, seeded & minced
- 1/3 cup lime juice (about 3 limes)
- 1, 15 ounce can tomato sauce
- 2 ½ quarts chicken broth
- ½ cup uncooked rice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
• In a medium bowl, mix together the ground beef, chorizo, egg, salt, pepper, cumin, garlic powder & cilantro until well incorporated. Form into ping pong-sized balls and refrigerate.
• In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Sweat the onions and carrots, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeno, cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute.
• Add the lime juice, tomato sauce, and chicken broth to the vegetable mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce to a simmer and season the broth with the salt, pepper, paprika and cumin. Add the rice and the meatballs one at a time. Simmer the soup, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes until the rice and the meatballs are cooked through.
• Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Add the cilantro right before serving.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Soup's On

Everyone always asks me, what is your specialty? Or what is your favorite thing to cook? I’ll usually reply with something like, “I enjoy cooking more than baking” or “I just like being in the kitchen.” I don’t give a straight answer because I don’t have one. Mostly, I’ll simply answer, “everything.” But one thing I will say, when it comes to my favorite things to cook, soups are at the top of my list.

Building layers in the pot, starting with the basics and working up to the complexities, stirring it up, tasting, adjusting, making it perfect; it’s so many of the things that I love about cooking, all in one simmering pot of liquid goodness. From elaborate crystal clear consommé, to the most uncomplicated puree soup like this simple potato leek, I enjoy the comfort that soup brings me when I’m making it and when I’m eating it.

Soups are on everyone’s mind at this time of year. There is really nothing quite as cozy on a chilly day than a stick-to-your-ribs potage to warm you from the inside. This is a classically prepared vichyssoise, only not-so-classically, I serve it hot. It’s smooth, flavorful, substantial, and I feel, just a little homier when ladled into a bowl with some steam coming off the top. It’s always a crowd-pleaser as I’m pretty sure that most people can agree that anything potato is amazing.

Garnish this soup with a few snipped chives or make it baked potato-style with sour cream, crumbled bacon, and shredded cheddar on top. Another great thing I love about soup? A pot can make enough for a crowd, plus enough for lunch the next day, and maybe even the day after that. So enjoy it any and all ways, each time you reheat.

P.S. If you'd like, please check out the Media page for my recently published article on “The Healthiest Meal on Long Island.” Thanks. :-)

Potato Leek Soup
Yield: 10 servings
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 large leeks, chopped
- 4 stalks celery, chopped
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 1 ½ pound potatoes, peeled & diced
- 2 ½ quarts chicken broth or stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 12 oz half-and-half
- Snipped chives
- Salt and pepper, to taste
• Heat the oil in a large pot. Sweat the leeks, celery and onion until tender and translucent.
• Add the potatoes, stock and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until the potatoes begin to fall apart, about 25-30 minutes. Discard the 2 bay leaves.
• Puree the soup until smooth in a blender. Return the soup to the pot and bring back to a simmer. Remove from the heat and finish with the half-and-half. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately topped with snipped chives.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tailgating with Beer-Braised Sausage

I am not into football. I don’t know how to play, I watch it and I have no idea what is happening. One thing that I do know about football, are game day snacks and foods: wings, pizza, melted cheese, bacon, dips, grilled meats, and lots of beer to wash it all down. Yup, it’s the kind of stuff that makes you feel proud to be an American.

Apparently, it is the beginning of football season, and to celebrate the “kick-off” to another year of hiking, punting and slamming into each other on the field, or whatever it is they do out there, here's my tailgate contribution.

You’ve got to love tailgating. Beer in one hand, Buffalo wing in the other, it’s a time for relaxing, basking in the good vibes of team spirit and getting schwasted in a parking lot. Seeing as I’m not the biggest sports fan, the pre-game tradition is one I’ve never personally took part in, but would never pass up if I got the chance. Who cares about the game? I’ll root for any team you want me to, just pull me up a lawn chair next to your trunk.

If you’re real serious about tailgating, you’ve got to have one of those little mini grills going. For some reason, whenever I think about this my internal smell-o-vision tunes straight to sausage and peppers cooking. While I may have never tailgated myself, I have walked by them you know, and sausage and beer stick out to me as two major players. With this in mind, I came up with the idea to make a beer-braised sausage and onion dish, amped up with apples and thyme. A little fall inspiration in there too!

The beer mellows as it cooks, infusing the sausage, onions and sweet apples with delicious flavor, for a game day meal that really scores. It is simple, comforting, and can be served on a roll for optimal parking lot enjoyment.

Beer-Braised Sausage & Onions with Apple
Yield: 4 servings
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
- 1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
- 3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup beer
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
• Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and cook, turning occasionally, until well-browned all over, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Slice the sausages in half, if desired.
• Sweat the onion in the pan, add the apple and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to lightly brown and the apple begins to soften. Add the vinegar and beer, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze.
• Bring liquid to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add the sausages back to the pan along with the thyme. Cook until the liquid is slightly reduced, about 25 minutes. To thicken further, whisk a few tablespoons of flour into a few tablespoons of water, and slowly whisk into the liquid until you reach the preferred consistency. Serve on a roll, if desired.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Addicted to Crack...Pie

My name is Marisa, M-A-R-I-S-A, and I’m addicted to Crack Pie.

I had heard about how great it was; the oddly, but soon-to-be discovered, aptly named confection of David Chang’s famous Momofuku Milk Bar bakery was talked about on the streets and in the media as outrageously delicious and indescribably addicting by all those who’ve gotten a taste. “Just one bite” they all said, one bite is all it takes.

Curiosity lured me in. I had seen Anderson Cooper and Martha Stewart rave about Crack Pie on TV and read articles like love letters, waxing poetic about its irresistible amalgamation of ingredients. But more persuasive than any of these things was learning that to get their fix, Crack Pie fiends are willing to pay the $44 price tag for a pie—almost 100 of which are sold every day, by the way. I didn’t know what was in it or what made it so apparently delicious, but was convinced that it had to be something special.

A block away from where I work, Madison Square Park hosted a really fantastic month long food fair called Madison Square Eats, where a bunch of different vendors gathered to share some of the city’s tastiest offerings. The last day was Friday but over the course of its run, I made my rounds, getting Pretzels from Sigmund Pretzel Shop, pizza at Roberta's, macarons from Macaron Parlour, barbecue pork buns from Fatty Snack, and finally tasting Wafels & Dinges.

Nestled into the tiniest spot of Madison Square Eats I found Momofuku Milk Bar. After looking over the menu of such noted sweets as cereal milk soft serve and compost cookies, I bought my first slice of Crack Pie. It came in a little cardboard box, too small for the average pie slice, branded with it its criminally delectable name and a little TM; yup, it’s trademarked.

I brought it back to my desk thinking like a fool that I could take “just one bite” and bring the rest home. It’s an ordinary, not very attractive-looking triangle of pie with confectioners’ sugar dusted on top. I took that tell-tale bite just to see what all the fuss was about, and mid-chew, just as I began to wrap it up and put it away, it happened. Something came over me; I needed to eat the entire thing right then and no one was going to stop me.

With simple star ingredients like brown sugar, sugar, and butter, inside of a toasted oat crust, Crack Pie is rich like flourless chocolate cake, but without an ounce of chocolate in sight. It is buttery and sugary, and it is addicting. Everything that everyone said about it was true; it seems to have the ability to not only make you want more, but to want to share it with everyone you could. Since my first taste, over the course of two weeks I’ve returned back not once, not twice, but three times to have and share a slice.

The demand for Crack Pie is so high that they ship it across the country. Get your taste today. Or try to make your own with this adapted recipe from the LA Times.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Apple, Bacon, Cheddar, Maple Pie

When you think about apple pie, what are some of the first things that come to mind? Perhaps it brings out thoughts of waving American flags, fireworks and memories of smiling grandmas in their aprons; or if you’re like me, hungry behemoth visions of nothing but a big fat slice of pie with vanilla ice cream slowly melting over the top—with only one spoon. How dreamy…

I don’t know about you, but one thing is for sure, I’ve always thought of apple pie as a dessert. And up until now, apple pie was only a dessert. But the all-American sweetie pie just got a little savory; with some help from its friends bacon, white cheddar, and maple syrup, it becomes better suited as a meal than an afterthought.

It still looks like an apple pie and features some of the sweetness and classic flavor elements that we all know and love; it’s got cinnamon, spice and everything nice, but it’s also got the smokiness of bacon and the creaminess of cheddar and heavy cream, all wrapped up cozily inside of a pastry crust. Part pie, part quiche without the eggs, it’s perfect for lunch with a salad.

If this doesn’t say fall, I don’t know what does. And who wouldn’t want an excuse to have pie as the main course? I’d never tried or even heard of a savory apple pie before but when I came across this recipe, I knew that all had to change. Just something to keep in mind: this particular pie is still pretty sweet, and one thing I will recommend is to make sure that it is cooled thoroughly before eating so that you end up with a nice slice rather than a sloppy mess.

I love making pies, especially double crusted ones. I find it very relaxing and in the end you have a homey comfort food that clearly shows off in taste and presentation how much love you put into it. My favorite kinds of pies (in order) are pumpkin, blueberry, of course apple, and coconut custard. What are yours?

Apple, Bacon, Cheddar, Maple Pie
Adapted from Family Circle, Maple, Apple & Cheddar Pie
Yield: 8 Servings
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup butter
- 1/3 cup shortening
- 7-8 tablespoons water
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 5 medium McIntosh apples, peeled & thinly sliced
- 1 ½ cups (6 ounces) shredded white cheddar cheese
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 6 slices cooked bacon, chopped
- 3 tablespoons white raisins
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 egg, whisked
• In a bowl, stir together flour and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter and shortening until the mixture resemble coarse meal with pea-sized pieces. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon cold water over the mixture and toss with a fork. Repeat, using 1 tablespoon of cold water at a time until all of the dough is moistened. Divide dough in half and form each into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, flatten 1 dough ball and roll into a 12-inch circle; wrap the dough around the rolling pin, and unroll into a 9-inch pie plate; ease the dough into the plate, being careful not to stretch.
• Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. For the filling, stir together sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Add apples; toss to coat. Add cheese, 4 tablespoons of the maple syrup, bacon & white raisins & stir to combine. Add the filling to the dough-lined pie plate and drizzle with the cream.
• Roll out the second half of the dough into a 12-inch circle & cut a small hole in the top; lay on top of the filling, trimming off any excess. Fold the top edge of the top crust under the bottom pastry & crimp edges. Brush the top with the egg & cover edge of pie with foil to prevent browning.
• Bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20 minutes more until the pastry is golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and brush with remaining maple syrup. Cool 1 hour or more. Serve slightly warm.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Filling Up on Chocolate and Red Wine

Transcending the limits of place and time, food can take us anywhere we want to be, all while sitting stationary at one single table. It can be our roundtrip passport to all of the countries and places in the world, or the time machine back to our great-grandmother’s kitchens; and sometimes, food can even be our spaceship, shooting us far beyond the surface of this earth like an express ticket to the heavens. Such is the case with red wine and dark chocolate.

Props to Koci at the blog, La Kocinera, and her lovely strawberry paté de fruits. I had never heard of the sugar-dusted jellies before seeing them on her blog, but I was instantly drawn to them. The idea of homemade gel candy really spoke to me because it reminded me of something I love to eat very much: chocolate covered raspberry jelly rings.

If you’ve never had them before, think chocolate covered gummy bear. And if you’ve never had a chocolate covered gummy bear, you need to get on that ASAP. We have a slight obsession with jelly rings in my family—like a go through two boxes in two days kind of slight obsession. And they are usually waiting right at the grocery store counter, so there is no avoiding them. Oh well!

As soon as I saw those lovely paté de fruits I pretty much immediately envisioned them being dipped in chocolate. I thought to myself, “I could make my own jelly rings!” Then, I had a gastronomical flashback of eating a Jacques Torres Grand Cru fine red wine and dark chocolate truffle, and suddenly, I remembered the jar full of coarse pink Himalayan sea salt in my cabinet. Can you tell where this is going, yet? Yep, dark chocolate covered red wine and raspberry jelly candies—with sea salt.

They start out like this: Sugar coated gummies

And end up like this:

What I made was not exactly paté de fruits, but something similar: a variation of Lemon Gumdrops as found in The Essential New York Time Cook Book: Classic Recipes for a New Century, by Amanda Hesser. The red wine and dark chocolate combination is so deeply indulgent and the few grains of sea salt on top make it even more so. A tablespoon of seedless raspberry preserves adds a touch of sweetness, but if you prefer a deeper red wine flavor, use two tablespoons of red wine in the gelatin mixture and eliminate the raspberry all together.

The inner gummy texture contrasts with the outer chocolate coating for a fun candy, that is a lot lighter than a truffle would be. Beware, these can be consumed in dangerous amounts—but they are definitively a trip to heaven every single time!

Chocolate Covered Red Wine & Raspberry Jelly Candies:
Yield: about 40 pieces
- 4 packets powdered gelatin
- 1 cup water
- 2 ½ cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon red wine
- 1 tablespoon seedless raspberry preserves
- 10 ounces dark chocolate
- Coarse sea salt
• Butter an 8-inch square baking dish. Dissolve the gelatin in ½ cup water and let stand for 5 minutes.
• Combine 2 cups sugar and the remaining ½ cup water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly and washing down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water to prevent crystallization. Add the gelatin and continue boiling and stirring until the mixture thickens, about 15 minutes.
• Add the red wine and raspberry preserves and boil for 5 more minutes. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish and let set up for about 1 hour. Once set, run a knife around the rim of the gelatin to help release the entire mold from the dish; place on a cutting board dusted with sugar.
• Put the remaining ½ cup sugar in a shallow bowl. Butter a large chef’s knife and cut the gel into squares; coat the pieces with sugar to prevent them from sticking as you would flour on dough.
• Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pot with only a ½-inch of water (double boiler). Once the water comes up to a boil, remove the pot from the heat and stir the chocolate until smooth.
• Place the gelatin square on a fork and dip into the chocolate until evenly coated; tap the fork to let any excess chocolate fall through. Line the chocolates on a baking sheet and sprinkle each with a few grains of coarse sea salt. Refrigerate to set the chocolate.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Focaccia Bread + Tomato Confit = Love

The term “confit” usually describes a meat that has been slowly poached and preserved in its own fat. You have probably seen or heard of goose, pork, or the most common, duck confit. When this method is applied to meats, the result is melt-on-the-tongue tenderness. But this word can also be used to describe vegetables that are prepared and stored in oil in a similar way. Tomatoes are a perfect example.

Once quickly blanched and shocked to remove the skin, and the seeds are taken out, the tomatoes are laid out on a tray with seasonings and aromatics such as garlic and herbs, and then doused with olive oil. To balance the bitterness and acidity, a dusting of confectioners’ sugar is powdered over the top. As with meat confit, they are cooked low and slow until tender. The oil, which has been nicely infused from cooking, is then poured over the tomatoes to store under refrigeration, allowing them to marinate and become even better tasting over time.

I once read an article where confiting tomato was described as something like, “cooking the life out of it.” In a way, this is true, and I would never suggest applying this method to garden fresh summer tomatoes. But now that summer is coming to an end, it may just be the best way to make a not-so-great tomato taste amazing. Rather than sucking the being from a tomato, it incorporates new life, bringing flavor to what is otherwise lacking out of season.

Tomato confit (and its oil) can be used in a number of ways, either as the star ingredient or a base for something else. My favorite is baked on top of focaccia bread:

Having only a few basic ingredients and a short list of steps, both focaccia and tomato confit are incredibly simple—in essence. I’m not going to lie, they both take forever to make. Between having a total three hours rising time for the focaccia and the arduous peeling and seeding of the tomatoes for the confit, each requires a whole lot of patience and love. But in the end, I can promise you that your efforts will resonate in the taste.

I usually make this tomato confit focaccia for the holidays when there are already a ton of other things going on in the kitchen. All of the rising and confiting happens in the background between getting a bunch of other things done, and before you know it the bread is coming out of the oven. You can bake it in either a small sheet tray or a round pie pan; I prefer the round shape because you can slice it like a pizza and everyone gets a wedge or two. With all the right elements in place—tomato, garlic, olive oil and delicious bread—the taste is very similar to pizza as well.

You can use the tomato confit as an actual pizza topping, or for a great appetizer or snack, serve as is in a bowl with the oil and spoon it on top of fresh or toasted bread or crostini. As I mentioned earlier, it can also be a used as a base for soups, sauces, or vinaigrettes. To make a vinaigrette, puree about ¼ cup of the tomatoes in a food processor with a splash of sherry vinegar and a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, then add the oil in a slow stream; season with salt and pepper.

Asparagus with tomato confit vinaigrette.
However you choose to enjoy your tomato confit, it is smart to always make a ton in advance, especially since it takes a while to make. It will keep for at least a couple of weeks in the fridge and the flavor will only get better over time—if it even lasts that long. Chances are you will go through this pretty quickly.

Here are the recipes for the confit and the focaccia. The yield for the confit is estimated and as for the focaccia, I apologize that my recipe is all in grams.

Tomato Confit:
Yield: about 2 cups
- 10 plum tomatoes, blanched and shocked
- 4-5 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
- About 1-2 cups olive oil
- Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
- Salt and pepper to taste
• Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Peel, quarter and seed tomatoes and lay them out flat on sheet tray(s). Sprinkle garlic slices and thyme leaves evenly over the tomatoes; season with salt and pepper. Pour the olive oil over the tomatoes until they are all submerged. Dust confectionary sugar over top of the entire tray.
• Place the tray(s) into the oven carefully as not to spill any of the oil. Cook the tomatoes until they appear to be slightly shriveled or dried up, about 1 hour. *Keep an eye on them for the first 15 minutes or so. If the oil appears to be getting too hot, you may need to lower your oven, which will result in increased cooking time.
• Remove from the oven and cool. Spoon tomatoes into an airtight container and cover completely with the olive oil from the pan. Refrigerate. Serve as is with bread/crostini, or bake on top of foccacia bread.

Focaccia Bread:
Yield: 1 loaf
- 20 grams yeast
- 75 grams warm water (105-155 degrees Fahrenheit)
- 17 ½ grams sugar
- 112 ½ grams bread flour
• In a small bowl, whisk yeast with the warm water.
• In a stand mixer, mix flour and sugar on low speed until well incorporated. Add the yeast mixture until a pliable but sticky ball forms.
• Put the ball into a lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly; let rest for 1 hour in a warm place until it doubles in size.
- 200 grams warm water (105-115 degrees Fahrenheit)
- 85 grams olive oil, plus extra for oiling the pan
- 42 ½ grams sugar
- 15 grams salt
- 227 ½ grams bread flour, plus extra if needed
• Oil 1 half sheet pan or a round cake pan.
• In the bowl of the stand mixer, add the warm water to the sponge with olive oil, sugar and salt; mix on low speed, slowly adding the flour in parts. Continue to add more flour if needed, until the dough is smooth and no longer sticks to the bowl.
• On a lightly floured table, roll the dough into a ball; cover with a lightly damp kitchen towel and let rest for 1 hour until doubled in size.
• Once the dough has doubled, slice an “X” into the top and spread it out into the prepared oiled sheet pan, lightly punching down the dough with the tips of your fingers as you go. Add toppings at this stage such as caramelized onions or tomato confit. Tightly wrap the pan with plastic and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour.
• Set the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the bread dough into the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Brownies Have More Fun

There’s nothing quite like a homemade brownie to give sight to all that is right in the world. No matter if you prefer them chewy and dense or soft and cakey, the rich chocolate center of a freshly baked brownie can lighten up the worst of days and make the best ones even better.

With the addition of both chocolate and peanut butter chips, this Hershey’s brownie recipe pays delicious homage to the genius flavor combination of the Reese’s peanut butter cup—another simple taste experience that can right all wrongs.

I made them a couple of weeks ago while stuck inside the house during the anticipation of hurricane/tropical storm Irene’s visit. Through all of the news hype and mandatory evacuations happening only a few miles away, I figured everyone could use a brownie.

Full of chocolate goodness and smooth peanut butter surprises on the inside, with a respectable crackle on top, each bite of the cakey brownies instantly deafened the sound of the harsh winds rapping against the windows. And I can tell you that the craving for these perfectly simple dessert bars lingered long after the last crumb was devoured and the storm had washed away.

So whether there is something you want to forget for a few minutes or something that needs celebrating, have a brownie and add peanut butter: it is a recipe for deliciousness that never fails—unless, of course, there is something wrong with your taste buds and/or brain ;-).

Here is a good place to start:

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Brownies
Recipe adapted from Best-Loved Hershey’s ® Recipes, Publications International, Ltd., 2006
Yield: about 36 brownies
- ¾ cup cocoa
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2/3 cup butter, melted and divided
- ½ cup boiling water
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup peanut butter chips
- ½ cup milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips
• Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan.
• Stir together cocoa and baking soda in a large bowl; stir in 1/3 cup butter. Add water; stir until mixture thickens. Stir in sugar, egg and remaining 1/3 cup butter; stir until smooth. Add flour, vanilla, and salt; blend thoroughly. Stir in chips. Pour into prepared pan.
• Bake 35-40 minutes or until brownies begin to pull away from sides of pan. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Cut into squares.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Olive Oil: The Wonder Fat

Olive oil is a many splendored thing.

Did you know that when taken in the proper dosage, extra virgin olive oil can be as good a dressing for you as it is your salad? Rich in vitamins and antioxidants, its various properties have been found to help prevent a myriad of ailments from hangovers and wrinkles, to heart disease and certain kinds of cancers.

Here is an article I wrote that was recently published in a brand new Long Island health and wellness magazine called Raw Beauty. In it, olive oil expert and author of the book, The Passionate Olive—101 Things to do with Olive Oil, Carole Firenze, and Controller of Veronica Foods Company/Delizia Olive Oil, Leah Bradley, tell us all about how olive oil is made and processed, what exactly the “extra virgin” label means, and various benefits the fat can provide to our bodies, inside and out.

Here is a recipe (if that’s what you want to call it) that just wouldn’t be the same without a healthy dosage of EVOO: marinated feta cheese. It’s a quick and easy appetizer/snack that is especially great to put out for company with assorted olives and crostini. The creamy cubes of feta cheese saturated with bright lemon and smooth extra virgin olive oil flavor are hard to resist.

I’ve never measured ingredients for this, so here is just a basic guideline. I’d say that this is more of a quick, throw-it-together kind of dish more than a follow-a-recipe one, anyway. Adjust as you please!

Marinated Feta Cheese:
- 1, 8 oz block feta cheese, cut into medium-sized chunks
- 1 lemon zested and juiced
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
• In a small bowl, mix together the lemon zest and juice. Slowly whisk in olive oil to form a basic vinaigrette. Add dried oregano and pepper.
• In a medium bowl, add the feta cheese and toss with the vinaigrette until well-coated. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grilled “Ratatouille” Pizza

I’ve had a lot of different food jobs; from my first to my current, normal to abstract, I’ve always worked in the field in some way. From country club server and kitchen extern to restaurant cook, food shopper and beyond, there’s been a little bit of just about everything in my culinary-laced work history.

Perhaps the most desperate and thankfully short-lived job for me was working at a kids’ cooking school. Based out of a multi-colored former KFC kitchen, the small business taught cooking classes for children as young as three years old. It was as impossible as it sounds.

There were step stools in front of the sinks, only plastic knives, and worst of all, a CD of kids’ party music that played songs like “The Name Game” and “Love Shack” on repeat, class after class. As I mixed jugs of Kool-Aid, I could have only hoped for a Chrysler as big as a whale to get me the hell out of there.

I was overqualified and underwhelmed, but it was a job with flexible hours that put a few bucks in my pocket while I was still in school. And it did involve being in a kitchen—somewhat. I worked there for such a short amount of time that I often completely forget about it until something triggers a memory, like whenever I hear “Love Shack,” or whenever I make pizza dough.

It all came back to me while I was working on this pie. I used to make pizza dough mostly every day there, sometimes twice a day, and it was the best part of that job. As one batch got pounded into oblivion at the hands of hyperactive five year olds, another would quietly rise on the counter.

As I molded my pizza dough into a crust on my kitchen counter, I suddenly had a newfound respect for the silence in the room. Then, I went out into the pouring rain and fired up the grill.

You see, it rained almost every day last week, and it rained hard. But I was dead set on my all-grilled pizza concept. Everything would be grilled: the toppings, the dough, everything. Of course, when I actually had time to make the pizza it was pouring. So I slipped on my wellies, threw on my rain coat and hood, and grilled with an umbrella. I’m just that much of a badass, I guess.

Thanks to the movie, we all know that ratatouille is a traditional French vegetable stew. Ignoring the technicalities, I named this “Grilled Ratatouille Pizza” because all of the veggies that I grilled for my pizza are ones that you will commonly find in ratatouille.

Grilled sliced eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, red onion and red bell pepper are layered decoratively on a grilled whole wheat crust over roasted red pepper tomato sauce and melted Asiago cheese. Finished with basil from the garden, every bite of this fresh pizza was worth standing out in the rain for.

Grilled “Ratatouille” Pizza:
Yield: 1 Pie
Red Pepper Tomato Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil plus about ¼ cup for grilling vegetables
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 4 red peppers: 2 roasted whole, peeled and seeded, and 2 fresh cut down on all sides for topping
- 3 large tomatoes, quickly blanched to remove skin, seeded, and roughly chopped
- Handful of fresh basil, divided
Pizza Toppings:
- 2 large zucchini, sliced thin
- 2 large yellow squash, sliced thin
- 1 eggplant, sliced thin
- ½ red onion, peeled and halved
- 1 pound whole wheat pizza dough
- 1 cup shredded Asiago cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
• For sauce: in a small pot, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium high flame; add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the tomato paste, roasted peppers and tomato and cook until the juices release, about 5 minutes. Add half a handful of torn basil leaves to the mixture and season with salt and pepper. Pulse in a food processor until smooth.
• Heat the grill to medium high and clean well. In a large bowl, toss all of the pizza topping vegetables with ¼ cup olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill all vegetable slices on each side until they are soft and with grill marks; set aside on a tray.
• Pound out and stretch pizza dough to form a fairly thin crust—it does not have to be a circle. Lay the crust on the grill grates and keep a watchful eye. The dough will have a nice char, but you will need to spin it once or twice as not to burn it. When one side looks crispy and well-browned, flip the dough over. Each side takes about 4 minutes.
• On the cooked side of the dough, pour on red pepper tomato sauce and spread out evenly. Sprinkle with a layer of Asiago cheese. Continue to keep an eye on the crust, giving it a slight spin if needed to keep from burning. Turn off the grill and arrange the vegetables on top of the cheese. Garnish with fresh torn basil leaves, slice and serve.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Greek Salad Bites

My favorite way to eat hummus is straight up as a dip with pita chips. It is so addicting. I usually prefer to make my own as it gives me the freedom to add as much or as little lemon juice or tahini paste as I like. And it’s so easy—with just few quick pulses in the food processor, you’re done.

In the past, I’ve tried store brand hummus and have never really been happy. As with any pre-made product, you always compare it to homemade. Is it really worth buying when you can just as easily make it? Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I recently received a coupon to purchase a Sabra Hummus product. I’m not blowing smoke when I say that this stuff is really good; creamy and with just the right balance of that classic chickpea, garlic and tahini flavor mix, it tastes as close to homemade as I’ve ever tried. If you’re pressed for time or even just feeling a little lazy, it’s worth it.

The Tastemaker Program allows Foodbuzz Featured Publishers to opt-in to try various food and kitchen products to taste, test and review, and with Sabra Hummus there was added incentive. By creating an original recipe with Sabra brand hummus and posting it on my blog, I am entered for a chance to win a free trip to the Foodbuzz Festival in San Francisco this fall and have my recipe featured during their Friday Night Festival Cocktail party.

At the store, there were so many hummus options to choose from, including Sabra’s two new Basil Pesto and Buffalo Style flavors. But to give me more freedom in my creation, I stuck with the classic.

Since I wanted to incorporate my personal favorite way to enjoy the chickpea dip, I built my idea on having a pita chip base smeared with hummus. From there, Greek Salad Bites were born. I topped the hummus/pita chip base with a mini Greek salad with small diced tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamata olives and feta cheese mixed with a basic vinaigrette.

They are simple, familiar, and pretty addicting!

P.S. 100th post! Woo hoo!

Greek Salad Bites:
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced small
- 1 medium cucumber, seeded and diced small
- 8-10 each kalamata olive, pitted and diced small
- ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 bag pita chips (or homemade)
- 1 tub Sabra classic hummus
• In a medium bowl, combine diced tomatoes, cucumber, olives and feta cheese.
• In a separate small bowl, make a vinaigrette by slowly whisking extra virgin olive oil into red wine vinegar. You should only need several tablespoons to create an emulsion and thicken. Add oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Pour vinaigrette over vegetables and cheese; mix until well incorporated.
• Lay out several pita chips at a time and spread about a teaspoon of hummus on each chip. Top with Greek salad mixture and serve.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lucky Lavender Ice Cream

I like everything about lavender; the color, the smell, the taste; even the word “lavender” itself sounds elegant. The blue-purple shade of its buds is one I’d choose to paint a room with, and the sweet, clean notes of lavender’s perfume attract me to any soap or candle that holds its scent.

When it comes to the gentle aromatic taste of lavender, the immediate and best idea that comes to my mind is to turn it into ice cream. I tried the fragrant flavor for the first time last year and have been dreaming of making it myself ever since.

Without its pretty flowers lavender resembles rosemary, but all accusations are squashed at the first sniff. To sweeten and flavor the ice cream base, I added simple syrup which I infused with several of the spiky sprigs. For a little extra sugar, I also mixed in a couple of tablespoons of honey.

Now, I wouldn’t say that lavender ice cream is the type you’d eat piled high on a waffle cone three scoops at a time (save that for peanut butter ice cream); it’s more of a light palate cleanser after a heavy meal. The softness of the herb served frozen makes for an after-dinner treat that defines refreshing.

The only thing that is more refreshing than lavender ice cream is to finally say that I got a job. Yep, after over a year of searching and trying, I got my first, “real world” big girl job as Jr. Cooking Editor for a publishing company in NYC. Can I get a “Hell Yeah!”? I start in a week.

While writing this post, I found out that lavender is said to represent luck. Now that I think about it, it was only a day after I purchased my lavender plant at the farmers’ market and planted it that I got the call to interview for the position; coincidence? Maybe not! I knew I liked this stuff…

Lavender Ice Cream:
Yield: About 5 cups
- ½ cup simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar brought to a boil)
- 4 large sprigs fresh lavender
- 1 cup milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- Pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons honey
• In a small pot, add lavender sprigs to simple syrup and bring to a boil to infuse. After the syrup has come to a boil, turn off the heat and let the lavender continue to steep until the syrup has become detectably fragrant, about 10 -15 minutes. Remove lavender.
• In a medium bowl, whisk together the infused simple syrup (cooled) with milk, heavy cream, honey and pinch of salt. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, or overnight.
• Add the mixture to an ice cream machine and prepare according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Short and Sweet: Carrots and Roasted Beet Salad

Long story short, I just got all my wisdom teeth yanked. I’m finally starting to snap out of the very unpleasant anesthetic aftermath and painkiller fog and am slowly but surely picking my butt up off of the floor, where it has been dragging for the past couple of days.

Whether or not you needed to know all that is debatable, but it does explain why I’m keeping this post to the minimum. Plus, I just heart my descriptive words; and here come the analogies…

As I sit here frustrated from a lack of snacks and/or solid foods with a face like Don Vito Corleone and a taste in my mouth like Hannibal Lecter, I’m thinking pleasant thoughts of sunny Sundays at the farmers’ market and technicolor beets.

Drawn to their vivid descriptions, I could already envision their “golden” and “candy striped” presence on my plate before I even cut into them.

[Raw golden and candy stripe beets]

Inspired by a nicely executed, simple dish that I had at a restaurant, I roasted the beets and combined them with shredded carrots for a really light summer salad that I topped with feta cheese, chives, and a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and cherry balsamic vinegar.

[The combination of yellow and candy stripe beets make for a beautiful presentation, even though after roasting the candy stripe beets they kind of bleed into no-stripe light pink--still pretty though! For an even more colorful appearance, I would add red beets too.]
Salads like this are the best. Easy peasy. The roasting and peeling are the hardest part when it’s hot out; I roasted these babies in a heat wave (granted, it was in the morning…and in the AC), and it was totally worth it for the tasty results that came at dinner.

Roasted Beet and Carrot Salad:
Yield: about 4 appetizer size salads
- 3 bunches of small-medium-sized beets (in an assortment of colors if desired)
- 2-3 medium-sized peeled carrots, peeled into curly strips with a vegetable peeler
- Feta cheese
- Fresh chives, chopped for garnish
- Good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Good quality balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
• Preheat oven to 425 degree Fahrenheit. Cut the tops off of the beets and lay them out on a foil-lined sheet tray. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, until all are fully coated.
• Depending on the size of the beets, roast for 45 minutes- 1 hour or more, until they are fully cooked. Remove from the sheet tray and place into a bowl covered with plastic wrap for 10-15 minutes to help loosen the skin. Peel the skin off of the beets and slice thin. (This step can be done a day ahead).
• On a small plate, arrange the beets so that they are slightly overlapping each other. Top with carrots strips, feta cheese and chives. Season with salt and pepper and lightly drizzle the top with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sour Cherry Shortcake, Goat Cheese Cream on Top

Since I have so many great photos, I’m going to do things a little differently with this post. With only a few poetic words, I’m going to tell my story through images--like A Cook’s Book picture book. How artsy of me, I know. A short explanation of the dish follows.

I visited the Farmers' Market and what did I see? 
Beautiful sour cherries, that seemed to say, "Pick me!"

So gorgeous and glossy, they didn’t look real
I wondered: do they make this color in heels?

I grabbed them, paid, and stowed them away
I could hardly wait to get in my kitchen and play.

Then I found goat cheese, but what are those specks?
Fresh ground black pepper and lemon zest flecks!

From one of the smiling vendors all lined in a row,
I bought a cute lemon sour cream pound cake, wrapped with a bow.

When I got home and looked at my loot;
There were berries and cherries and veggies that root.

A huge bunch of carrots, bright orange and fun;
I brought them home to share with my bun.

There were squash and herbs that smelled like perfume
What on earth would I make or do?

I took a moment to sit and smell the flowers
With so many ideas I could sit there for hours.

All of my thoughts went back to those gems,
Those bright red cherries, with their long slender stems.

A cherry shortcake is what I decided,
Where cherry compote, pound cake and goat cheese collided.

A twist on a classic and I liked it a lot;
Sour cherry shortcake, goat cheese cream on top.

The goat cheese cream for this shortcake was really experimental. In the electric mixer, I added sour cream, confectioner’s sugar and butter to the black pepper and lemon goat cheese. My goal was to sweeten the goat cheese without losing its great flavor, while also creating a more stable, whipped consistency. In the end, the cream tasted good but could have been a little thicker.

Now that I think about it, perhaps the goat cheese didn’t need to be sweetened at all. If I had more, it would probably have tasted just as good, if not better, to just whip it smooth and lay it on thick between the layers of pound cake and sour cherry compote.

I’ve provided the recipe for the compote. With a little bit of Grand Manier added at the end, it is delicious. If not used in shortcake, it can also be enjoyed over ice cream or yogurt, and even on savory chicken and pork dishes.

Sour Cherry Compote:
Yield: 1 cup
- 1 pint sour cherries, stemmed and cleaned over a bowl to catch any juice
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon Grand Manier or other orange-flavored liquor
• In a medium sauce pot, mix sugar and cornstarch together, then add water and mix until smooth. Add cherries and any juice to the pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Boil for 2 minutes then drain cherries in a sieve set over a bowl and set aside.
• Return the juice to the pan and simmer for about 5 minutes until thickened. At the last minute, stir in the Grand Manier. Pour syrup over the cherries and cool.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Grilled BBQ Pizza

As if good old oven baked pizza is not delicious enough, there is also grilled pizza.

Stepping into the pizza arena with flames blazing, the ingenious grilled pie makes its mark, “one upping” the classic slice with its smoky essence and char striped crust.

The best part about grilled pizza is that it can easily be made at home, cheap and for no trouble at all. Conveniently at the helm of your backyard grates, you can produce a pie with flavor and crunch reminiscent to those made in wood-burning brick ovens.

Like a culinary canvas for creativity, pizzas are a fun addition to the grilled fare of summer. Play around with different toppings to make personal pies, share a pie with friends as an appetizer, or cut larger slices for a meal. As two things that are often enjoyed communally, hanging out around the grill and eating pizza go hand in hand.

When making grilled pizza, you can start from scratch or purchase the dough; I found mine at Trader Joe’s. Seeing that floppy ball of dough resting somewhere near the cheese is what originally set the light bulb off to make my grilled maple barbecue chicken pizza with cheddar.

Once you stretch and shape the pizza dough, it goes directly over a medium high grill and cooks for about four minutes on each side until it is crisp and cooked through. After you flip the crust, assembly begins on the cooked side while the bottom half gets its turn over the flames.

Sweet homemade maple barbeque sauce made with quality syrup and whole grain mustard gives this pizza great flavor. A small part of it is tossed with the tender shredded chicken topping while the rest is ladled onto the crust as the first layer and base of the pizza. Sharp yellow cheddar is then sprinkled on top and slowly melts as the shredded chicken and scallions are added.

A pizza, topped with barbecue sauce, prepared on the grill--I’d say it’s just about the most perfect convergence of Italia and Americana there is.

Grilled Maple Barbecue Chicken Pizza with Cheddar:
Yield: 1 pie
For Maple Barbecue Sauce (Yield: 1 cup):
- 1/8 cup maple syrup
- 1/3 cup cider vinegar
- 2 heaping teaspoons of whole grain mustard
- ½ cup ketchup
- 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 4 heaping tablespoons light brown sugar
- A dash of hot sauce
- ½ cup water
- Salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
- 2 whole chicken breasts or thighs with skin removed
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1-2 cups salted water
- 1 pound, homemade or purchased ball of pizza dough
- 2 cups shredded sharp yellow cheddar
- ½ bunch scallions, thinly sliced
• For barbecue sauce: in a medium pot, whisk all ingredients together. Simmer for 15 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally.
• In another medium pot, cover chicken breasts with 1 cup chicken stock and 1-2 cups salted water (or however much is needed to cover). Bring liquid to a boil and reduce to a simmer; simmer until the chicken is fully cooked and tender. Remove chicken from the cooking liquid and using two forks, pull in opposite directions to finely shred. Mix shredded chicken with about ¼ cup of barbecue sauce—you want to use enough sauce to coat the meat while still making sure you have plenty for the crust.
• Heat the grill to medium high and clean well. Pound out and stretch pizza dough to form a fairly thin crust—it does not have to be a circle. Lay the crust on the grill grates and keep a watchful eye. The dough will have a nice char, but you will need to spin it once or twice as not to burn it. When one side looks crispy and well-browned, flip the dough over. Each side takes about 4 minutes.
• On the cooked side of the dough, pour on barbeque sauce and spread out evenly. Sprinkle with a layer of cheddar cheese. Continue to keep an eye on the crust, giving it a slight spin if needed to keep from burning. Top the cheese with the saucy chicken and finish with a sprinkle of sliced scallions. *Towards the end, you may want to lower the grill and let the pizza sit for a few minutes to make sure that the dough is cooked all the way through on the inside and to get the cheese nicely melted.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Nuts about Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Peanut butter ice cream is my latest obsession.

I’m pretty much always craving ice cream, but lately it’s been all about the peanut butter variety, and I know exactly what got me started on this kick.

It all began not too long ago when I first tried the creamy peanut butter ice cream flavor at Five Pennies Creamery in Rockville Centre, New York. The old-fashioned style parlor makes all of their ice cream and Italian ices from scratch, along with a variety of other fun treats like smooth Coney Island custard, Brooklyn egg creams, ice cream pies, and this mix of soft-serve custard and Italian ice, called a Cyclone:

Five Pennies has been in business for just about a year now. I visit often; whenever I’m looking for a sweet ending (or middle) to a nice day, it always hits the spot. The old-school feel of the shop along with all of their delicious homemade flavors make me light up like a little kid. Of course, I always scour the tubs to see if creamy peanut butter is on the day’s menu.

You know how sometimes you’ll get the urge to stick your finger (or if your more civilized, a spoon) into the peanut butter jar just to get a taste. Chances are that after you get that taste, you’re probably going back for more. Peanut butter ice cream is kind of like that, only colder and sweeter—and maybe sometimes with Reese’s Pieces or chocolate chips mixed in. It is so very…desirable.

I recently made my own peanut butter ice cream for the Fourth of July. The recipe described it as one of the easiest, richest flavors you could make. Rich it most definitely is, super smooth and creamy too. I added peanut butter chips and semi-sweet chips, and I was in heaven. It was almost as good as Five Pennies. A must-try for those who have ice cream machines.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream
Recipe adapted from Cuisinart, Recipe Booklet for Automatic Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker, “Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream.”
Yield: about 6 cups
- 1 cup quality smooth peanut butter
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 large handful peanut butter chips, optional
- 1 large handful semi-sweet chocolate chips, optional
• In a medium bowl, use a hand mixer on low speed to combine the peanut butter and sugar until smooth. Add the milk and mix on low speed until the sugar is dissolved, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours, or overnight.
• Add the ice cream base to an ice cream machine and prepare according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. When mixture is just about ready, add peanut butter and chocolate chips, if using. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and freeze for about 2 hours. Remove from freezer for about 15 minute before serving.