Monday, December 17, 2012

It's a Marshmallow World in the Winter

When it comes to Christmastime coziness, what could be better than a steaming cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows? A steaming cup of hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows, that’s what! And maybe some whipped cream, too.

I don’t know what Christmas is like in places with warm winters like California or Hawaii, though I imagine it involves surfing Santas wearing Hawaiian shirts. Man, I’d like to experience a little Mele Kalikimaka someday. But even if the snow is fake or only in your dreams, I’m sure there is always hot chocolate around the holidays. And where there is hot chocolate, there must be marshmallows. It’s a simple rule to follow.

Not to diss good old Jet-Puffed, but they can’t even be compared to the real stuff. Homemade marshmallows are softer and sweeter, with a creamy melt-in-your-mouth smoothness that the store bought kind simply cannot provide. Soaked in a mug of hot cocoa, real marshmallows soften into a gooey, sticky layer of fluffy goodness—so much dreamier than from the bag, or worse, those Lucky Charms nuggets that come in the hot chocolate packets.

Gourmet marshmallows are a thing now, you know. A lot of bakeries have started selling the squishy squares as a specialty. The marshmallow makers at Three Tarts Bakery of New York City are even calling them “the new cupcakes.” I can see that. In fact, I was recently lured to the marshmallows at Three Tarts Bakery in the Plaza Food Hall. At just a dollar a piece, it was hard to walk past the jars of colorful, fresh marshmallows, which come in flavors like raspberry, espresso, and rosemary-chocolate. Williams-Sonoma also sells some pretty good ones.

Below is a basic marshmallow recipe that I tried from The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser. It’s pretty straightforward, though they are not something that you can just whip up real quick. They do require some standing time; once for a couple of hours to set before cutting, then again overnight to dry the surface a little. The recipe is for traditional vanilla-flavored marshmallows, but you can substitute peppermint oil or any other flavoring of your choice.

So get with it already! Whether you buy some or make your own, try homemade marshmallows for yourself. Without them, your hot chocolate will forever be incomplete.

Merry Christmas! Love, Marisa.

Have fun with your marshmallows; cut them into shapes other than squares. I used a small star cookie cutter for some of mine, then dipped them into chocolate and stuck them on candy canes to make delicious and festive holiday swizzle sticks.

From The Essential New York Times Cookbook, Amanda Hesser
Yield: 36 squares
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 packet powdered gelatin
- 1/3 cup water
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup light corn syrup
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or other flavoring of your choice)
1) Sift together the cornstarch and confectioners’ sugar into a medium bowl; mix well. Lightly butter an 8-inch square baking pan and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch mixture. Tilt the pan in all directions to coat the bottom and sides. So not shake out the excess.
2) Blend the gelatin with the water in a small saucepan and let soak for 5 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and stir over low heat until the gelatin and sugar dissolve.
3) In a mixer, combine the gelatin mixture, corn syrup, salt and vanilla and beat on high speed for 15 minutes, until peaks form.
4) Spread the gelatin mixture over the bottom of the prepared pan and smooth the top. Let stand for 2 hours, or until set.
5) With a wet knife, cut the marshmallow mixture into quarters and loosen around the edges. Sprinkle the remaining cornstarch mixture on a baking sheet and invert the marshmallows onto it. Cut each quarter into pieces, and roll each in the cornstarch and sugar mixture.
6) Place the marshmallows on a rack and cover with paper towels. Let stand overnight to dry the surface slightly. Store in an airtight container; the marshmallows with keep for up to a month.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Green Bean Casserole Makeover: Green Bean Poutine

Green bean casserole—you can love it or you can hate it, but you can’t ignore it. In its most classic form, the iconic muddle of frozen green beans, cream of mushroom soup and crispy French onion strips has been making an appearance on holiday tables for years. For this post, I gave the famous recipe from the back of the soup can a well-overdue new look.

I first tried poutine, a glorious Canadian specialty of gravy-covered French fries dotted with cheese curds, during my visit to Quebec in September. Thinking back on its rich, so-bad-for-you-but-who-cares-its-delicious deliciousness got me inspired to make a green bean poutine with fried green beans. It is a green bean casserole that you can eat with your fingers!

I won’t say that my dish is fancy, but it is made up of some fancy-sounding stuff like, “velouté” and “tempura.” I’m also not going to claim that it’s “good for you” just because it’s made with green beans; the beans are still fried and covered in gravy, though I’m pretty sure it has fewer calories than the lard-fried French fry version. And I also won’t say that it’s very photo-friendly, although I did get it to look pretty damn good if I do say so myself.

To make the poutine, I stuck with all of the key elements of the green bean casserole that we all know and love/loathe and put my own spin on them. For the gravy, I made my own “cream of mushroom soup” with a mushroom velouté (a thickened stock similar to gravy) made with homemade mushroom stock, white wine and assorted mushrooms. For the fried green beans, I crushed French onion strips and incorporated them into a tempura batter along with some cold club soda to make the beans nice and crispy. The gravy is ladled onto the fried beans in a bowl and topped with toasted almonds, parsley, and chunks of semi-soft queso blanco cheese. Yum!

Green Bean Poutine:
Yield: 1 big bowl, or 3-4 small bowls
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ shallot, thinly sliced
- 8 ounces assorted mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour, plus 1 cup, divided
- ¼ cup white wine
- 1 ½ cups mushroom stock**(homemade or store bought vegetable stock)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ cup finely crushed French’s French fried onions
- 1 ½ cups cold club soda
- ½ pound string beans
- Peanut oil (or other neutral oil) for frying
- Queso blanco (other other semi-soft cheese), cubed
- Sliced almonds, toasted
- Parlsey, roughly chopped
1) To make the mushroom velouté/gravy: Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook until soft. Add ¼ cup flour and cook 1 minute more, stirring continually. Add the wine and stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until thickened, about 15-20 minutes.
2) In the meantime, make the tempura batter: Combine the remaining 1 cup flour, cornstarch, crushed French fried onions, and club soda in a large bowl and mix well.
3) Heat the peanut oil in a fryer or about 2 inches up in a wok or small saucepan until a bit of the batter sizzles when dropped in. Dip the beans into the batter a few at a time, then fry in the hot oil until crispy and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Top the fried green beans with mushroom gravy, cheese, almonds, and parsley. Serve immediately.
** To make homemade mushroom stock, remove the stems from the mushrooms and add to a small pot with about 1 quart of water. Simmer for 45 minutes and strain.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Chocolate-Covered Apples to Ease the Pain in Sandy's Aftermath

I hate to dwell on the negative and would rather just talk about happy chocolate-covered apples, but I’d be remiss to ignore Hurricane Sandy. I’m sure you’ve all seen it on the news—the intense flooding, totaled cars, wind damage, and in many cases, complete destruction caused along the East Coast in the wake of the rare forces of nature that combined to create what was deemed to be the perfect “Frankenstorm.”

Here on Long Island, those in unaffected areas but left in the dark thought that having no power for days was the worst of it, until they could finally turn on their televisions and computers. Yeah, waiting on line for gas for four hours sucks, and being without power is inconvenient, but the apocalyptic scenes of familiar places and nearby towns under water or crumbled away as ash brought a humbling realization: For some, it really is the end of their world.

Long Beach.

In New York City and its boroughs and along the Jersey Shore, so many people have been left in need. Even more heartbreaking, is thinking of the people that lost their lives, and the residents of small seaside towns like Breezy Point, Queens, which have been flattened beyond recognition. Parts of Long Island really got hit hard. Many are suffering from flood damage that no sand bags would have ever held back, and just a few minutes away from me, the city of Long Beach is devastaed. This article written by a Long Beach local, describes the storm as it tore through the area and all that it left behind.

I feel extremely lucky, guilty, and completely in awe of the fact that while I did not even lose power in the storm, so many others close by lost everything. That while I’m sitting here writing this, the National Guard is distributing meals to families without food in the towns I drive through almost every day. And where I enjoyed the beach, the restaurants, and the boardwalk just a few months ago, there are people standing in their businesses and living rooms, knee deep in sand and water, wondering where to begin, if they even have a house or building left to stand in at all.

For New York and New Jersey, this isn’t the first time we’ve faced disaster. Although it will take some time, we will rebuild and come back stronger than ever. If you would like to help, please donate to the American Red Cross. If casting my tiny voice to whoever reads this to help with the relief effort is all that I can do for now, that makes me feel a little better.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling down I like to eat chocolate. Needless to say, I’ve been eating a lot of chocolate lately. Like these chocolate-covered apple slices topped with toasted coconut and melted caramel. They will definitely help to lift your spirits.

Caramel apples are a staple of fall and I love them, but I never eat them off of the wooden stick that they come on; I cut them into slices. So I said to myself, why not put the slices on a stick? Great idea! But it turns out that chocolate adheres better to sliced apples than caramel, so that’s why they are chocolate-covered instead. Anyway, they are much easier to eat than the traditional whole candy-coated apple, and you don’t lose the fun of eating off of a stick—because everyone loves food on a stick.

Chocolate-Covered Apple Slices:
Yield: 16
- 2 Granny Smith apples
- 1, 12 ounce bag semisweet chocolate morsels, melted
- ½ cup toasted coconut
- ½ cup wrapped caramels, unwrapped and melted according to package instructions
- 16 wooden skewers
1) Slice each apple into 8 equal slices; skewer and thoroughly dry each slice. If the apples are going to be sitting around for a little after being sliced, toss them with a bit of lemon juice to keep from browning.
2) Dip the skewered slices into the melted chocolate. Roll half in the toasted coconut, and decorate the other half with the melted caramel. Place on a parchment-lined sheet tray and refrigerate until set.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fall Comfort Food: Butternut Squash Risotto

A large Japanese maple tree stands on my front lawn with leaves that slowly fade from green to a beautiful bright shade of orange in the fall. Outside of my bedroom window, I can see the top just beginning to make its transformation. Every year I watch as it becomes more vivid and even more breathtaking with each day. To me, it is a picture-perfect vision of autumn. At the end of its cycle, when the entire tree is cloaked in orange, its leaves cast a fiery red glow inside of the house at sunset. Then, like clockwork about a day or so before my birthday in mid-November, the last leaf falls.

Like the leaves that are changing outside my window, butternut squash brings a similar bright orange color and comfort that is quintessential of the season. Similar to a sweet pumpkin and incredibly versatile, it is my favorite winter squash to cook with. In the past, I've made butternut squash-filled homemade tortellini and roasted curried butternut squash, but I've never used it to make risotto. So with squash being this month’s theme for the Five Star Makeover Group, I decided I would try just that.

The risotto is made in the traditional way, along with the addition of roasted butternut squash puree and diced roasted butternut squash for flavor and color. Considering the minimal ingredients and preparation, risotto really is one of the easiest dishes you could make; you just need to be prepared to stir it for about 25 minutes! All that elbow grease is important because it develops the starch in the rice and makes it nice and creamy. To make it even creamier and more delicious, the “secret” is stirring in extra grated Parmegiano Reggiano cheese and butter at the end. 

The dish is garnished with goat cheese and toasted shelled pumpkin seeds. And rolling with the theme, I served it in yet another squash—mini pumpkins! The pumpkins aren't necessary and perhaps they are even a bit confusing, but I think they are kind of fun. It’s definitely a festive-looking presentation if you’re hosting a fall dinner.

P.S. For my Long Island readers, check out this recent article I wrote about Seasons 52, the newly opened restaurant in Roosevelt Field.

Butternut Squash Risotto
Yield: 6 side dishes, 4 main
- 4 mini pumpkins (optional)
- 1 butternut squash, diced small
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 4 ¾ cups chicken broth, heated to a simmer in a medium saucepan
- 3 tablespoons butter, plus ¼ cup, diced
- 2 small shallots or 1 large, finely chopped
- 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
- ½ cup white wine
- ½ cup fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
- ¼ cup shelled pumpkin seeds, toasted
1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut off the tops of the mini pumpkins, if using, then hollow out and clean thoroughly; set aside.
2) Lay the diced butternut squash on a sheet tray and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, until evenly coated. Roast for 30 minutes, tossing at 15 minutes. Divide the roasted squash evenly in half.
3) While still warm, add half of the squash to a food processor. Add ¼ cup of the simmering chicken stock and puree until smooth; set aside.
4) Melt three tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until tender. Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter. Add the wine and simmer until almost completely absorbed. Add ½ cup/4-ounce ladleful of the simmering chicken broth, stirring vigorously and continuously, until all of the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add the broth in ½ cup/4-ounce ladlefuls, making sure that each addition of broth is absorbed by the rice before adding the next. Continue the process until the rice is tender and the mixture is creamy, about 25 minutes. With the final addition of broth, add the reserved squash puree.
5) Reduce the heat to low. Add the parmesan cheese, ¼ cup dice butter and salt and pepper to taste; stir until the butter is completely melted. Fold in the reserved roasted diced squash.
6) If using, fill the hollowed pumpkins with the risotto. Garnish with the crumbled goat cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chocolate Spider Webs

With Halloween creeping up on us, here’s a delicious treat that’s not at all tricky to make. Mini devil’s food cakes topped with chocolate spider webs are a fun project that you won’t mind getting tangled up in.

Chocolate lovers, these devil’s food cakes are for you! With lots of cocoa powder and coffee in the batter, they are dense, rich and super chocolaty. If you’re not a huge fan of rich chocolate desserts or have another favorite chocolate cake recipe, by all means use it. I won’t tell anyone if you use a box mix. ;-)

The cakes are topped with smooth cream cheese icing that drips down the sides, giving them a look that is not only temptingly luscious but spooky in a melting candle wax kind of way. I used orange juice to loosen the icing and make it drippy, which imparts a nice citrus note as well. Though it doesn’t really show up too well in the photos, I also mixed in a little orange food coloring to make the cakes look more “Halloweeny.”

For the chocolate spider webs, all you need is one cup of melted semisweet chocolate morsels, a piping bag, parchment paper, and a tiny bit of artistic flare to freehand the spider web shapes. See instructions and photos below:

 1) Cut out a piece of parchment paper large enough to fit a whole or half sheet tray. Place the parchment paper over the open end of a muffin pan and trace the circles with a pencil.
 2) Draw a spider web inside of each circle. It’s easy: just create several spiky concentric circles and connect them with straight lines.
 3) Place the parchment paper on a sheet tray. Trace the chocolate over the pencil lines using a piping bag with a small tip or a small hole cut off the end.
 4) Refrigerate until the chocolate is completely set. Carefully peel the chocolate spider webs from the parchment paper to remove.

Once the spider webs are ready, top the fully cooled and iced cakes with your creepy creations and watch them come to life. I hope that you enjoy this fun technique!

If you’re interested in more Halloween treats, don’t forget to check out my Spooky Skull Cookies. Happy Halloween!

Chocolate Spider Web Cakes:
Mini Devil’s Food Cakes with Cream Cheese Icing & Chocolate Spider Webs
Yield: 1 dozen mini cakes
Dry Ingredients (measure by weight):
- 10 ounces granulated sugar
- 4 ½ ounces cake flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 3 ounces cocoa powder
Wet Ingredients (measure by volume):
- 3 eggs
- 4 ounces vegetable oil
- 4 ounces buttermilk (to make your own, combine 1 tablespoon lemon juice with 1 cup milk and let stand for 5 minutes
- 4 ounces coffee
- 1, 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
- 1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
- ¼ cup orange juice
- Orange food coloring (optional)
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 12 cup muffin-tin with cupcake liners.
2) In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the dry ingredients. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix on medium speed until well-blended. Add the batter to the prepared muffin cups.
3) Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the cakes completely. While the cakes are cooling, prepare the icing.
4) For the icing, combine the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar in an electric mixer and mix on medium speed until well-blended and smooth. Add the orange juice to thin. Add food coloring if desired.
5) Remove cupcake liners from the cakes, if desired. Spoon the icing over the cooled cakes, allowing it drip decoratively over the sides. Top with chocolate spider webs (instructions above). 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Lemon-Lime Bars

I know, I’m a little late with this. But who says lemon bars should only get their glory in the summertime? Maybe you’re like me; when the summer comes to a close, I will deny and put off the inevitable for as long as I can, every day willing the season to last just another day. But of course, the mornings get chillier and the nights end earlier. Mother Nature wins again.

Like going out without a sweater in October or trying to get away with wearing sandals while other people are already wearing boots, let’s try to hold on to summer for as long as we can with these bright and sunny lemon-lime bars! Unlike the former, there are no rules or uncomfortable consequences and no one will think you are ridiculous when you enjoy lemon bars all year round.

These are traditional lemon bars, but they are made with equal parts lemon and lime juice and zest. They have a refreshing key lime pie feel to them. The tangy smooth custard is contrasted by the crunchy crust which, by the way, is made with Nilla wafers, so you already know it’s good. I can see myself eating these bars outside on the patio on the hottest day of July, or inside with a hot cup of tea while it’s snowing in January—there’s no season for delicious! But there is definitely a season for flip flops…

Lemon-Lime Bars:
Yield: 12 bars
- ¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for dusting
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 10 vanilla wafer cookies
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon each lemon zest & lime zest
- ¼ cup lemon juice & lime juice
- 2 large eggs
- 1 egg white
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat an 8-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
2) For the crust: place 2/4 cups flour, confectioners’ sugar, salt and vanilla wafer cookies in a food processor. Pulse until the cookies are finely ground. Add butter and pulse several more times until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes until lightly browned. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
3) Combine the sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour, lemon and lime rind and juice, eggs and egg whites in a medium bowl. Whisk until smooth. Pour the mixture over the crust. Bake for 20 minutes until set. Cool completely, then cover and chill for at least 2 hours. Cut into bars. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tea Cakes Fit for a Princess

I love a good tea party. With fancy tablecloths, clinking silverware, chitchat and tiers of tiny cakes and finger sandwiches, they are how little girls pretend to be ladies, and often how grownups pretend to be, too. I hosted a tea party for the ladies in my family a couple of years ago, which we still talk about today.

I enjoy the tradition of tea very much. First of all, because I am a tea drinker. I find the warming calm of a cup of tea much more invigorating than the jittery slam of energy that comes from a cup of coffee (though that does come in handy sometimes!) I also like an excuse to put on a dainty dress and a string of pearls and act fancy every once in a while, and because when foods are smaller as they are with tea, they are more fun and always seem to taste better.

My mom and I have spent many a special occasion (or just because) at tea times and cute little tea houses. They are a nice change of pace from the average daily hustle and are always so enjoyable. Every once in a while it’s good to take a cue from the folks in England and stop in the middle of the day for a spot of tea. Don't you agree?

These are mini princess cakes. Princess cake is a Swedish cake, also called prinsesstårta. It’s traditionally a regular-sized cake made of layers of sponge cake, pastry cream, jam, and stiffly whipped cream that’s topped with thinly rolled out marzipan. I skipped out on the jam and made them mini for a perfect little tea time petit four. Some were muffin-sized, while others mini muffin-sized just to be even cuter.

For something so small, the process that went into making these tiny cakes was pretty lengthy, but well worth it. Tea time is special and these are definitely special as well. The sugary almond marzipan, the airy sponge cake, and the fluffy whipped cream and pastry cream inside, combine for light, sugary bites of heaven. Topped with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and decorative sugar flowers, they are just the type of thing I personally would delight in seeing on a tier of tea snacks.

Princess Tea Cakes:
Yield: 12 muffin-size cakes or 24 mini muffin size cakes

Sponge Cake:
- 3 eggs, separated
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups sugar, divided
- ½ cup warm water
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 12 count muffin tin or 24 count mini muffin tin with nonstick spray.
2) In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs until slightly thickened. Gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating continually until thick and lemon-colored. Blend in the water, vanilla, lemon zest and juice. Add the dry ingredients; mix well. Transfer to a large bowl.
3) Clean the mixing bowl, then add egg whites and cream of tartar and beat on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time on high, until stiff glossy peaks form and the sugar is dissolved. Gently fold ¼ of the egg whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining whites.
4) Spoon into the greased muffin tins. Cut through the batter with a knife to remove any air pockets. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the cake springs back when lightly touched. Immediately invert the pan onto a cooling rack. Cool completely.
5) Run a knife along the edges of each muffin cup to carefully release the cakes.

Pastry Cream:
- 8 ounces milk
- ¾ ounce cornstarch
- 1 ounce sugar
- 2 ¾ ounces egg yolks (from about 4 eggs)
- ¼ tablespoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
1) Heat 6 ounces of milk in a sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
2) Meanwhile, combine the cornstarch and the sugar in a medium bowl. Add the remaining 2 ounces of milk, the egg yolks and vanilla and stir with a whisk until smooth.
3) Temper the egg mixture by adding about 1/3 of the hot milk to the bowl, stirring constantly with a whisk. Return the mixture to the remaining hot milk in the saucepan. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring vigorously with the whip, until the pastry cream comes to a boil and the whip leaves a trail. Shut off the heat immediately and stir in the lemon zest.
4) Pour the pastry cream into a large shallow container or bowl. Placed plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream and cool over an ice bath.
5) Store the pastry cream, covered, under refrigeration.

Whipped Cream:
- 8 ounce heavy cream
- 1 ounce confectioners’ sugar
- ½ tablespoon vanilla extract
1) Whip heavy cream to soft peaks. Adds sugar and vanilla and whip until stiff peaks.

- Sponge cake
- Pastry cream
- Whipping cream
- Confectioners’ sugar
- 10 ounces marzipan
- Food coloring of choice
- Decorative sugar flowers
1) Use desired food coloring to color the marzipan to your liking. Dust the table with confectioners’ sugar and roll the marzipan out into a thin sheet. Add more sugar if needed to keep the marzipan from sticking to the table.
2) Slice each sponge cake horizontally to make two layers. Pipe a bit of bit of pastry cream onto the first layer, then cover with the second layer. Top the second layer with a dollop of the whipped cream.
3) Cut out circles of the marzipan with a cookie cutter large enough to cover the cakes. Gently place the marzipan over each cake and form it around, being careful not to squish the whipping cream.
4) Add a few drops of water to a tablespoon of confectioners’ sugar to make a royal icing/sugar paste. Dip the base of the sugar flowers into the mixture and adhere to the top of each cake.
5) Sprinkle the cakes with a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar and serve.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Fried Feta Cheese with Fig and Brandy Jam—Opa!

Saganaki—it sounds to me like some kind of sushi, but it’s Greek. Meaning, “little frying pan,” saganaki refers to a number of Greek dishes that are cooked in just that. Among all different kinds, there’s shrimp saganaki and sausage saganaki, but the most popular—and it’s not hard to see why—is cheese saganaki. Oh yes, it’s fried cheese, and I’m not talking mozzarella sticks.

Cheese saganaki is a traditional Greek meze, or small plate. Similar to Spanish tapas or Italian cicchetti, meze can be served like appetizers before a big meal or with a table full of other meze to be shared with friends and family for a social eating experience that is entirely its own. Though I often dream of enjoying many meze on a cliff side of Santorini, my only experience with them so far has been making Zucchini Feta Fritters.

When making saganki, it is best to use a cast-iron pan and firm cheese (preferably Greek) so that it can stand up to the high heat of frying, while also yielding a slight melt. There are many fancy options that fit this description; halloumi and feta are two of the more easily accessible. Of course, I used feta. If you read Cook’s Book often, you may have noticed that I put feta on/in almost everything. I don’t even realize that I’m doing it.

After rinsing the cheese under some cold water and simply dredging it in some seasoned flour, there is some fun showmanship that goes along with making cheese saganaki. Many restaurants that serve it will often prepare it tableside, adding brandy and a squeeze of lemon at the end and shouting “Opa!” for a flambé finale. Come on now, you know I had to do that. In addition to putting on a good show, the brandy and lemon also add nice background flavor.

I made a fig and brandy jam to dip the cheese in and it was an everliving nightmare, so I hope that you enjoy it. It took me three tries before I got it right. The first batch tasted awful, and the second batch was hard as a rock (overcooked). But, looking on the bright side it helped to make the final final result that much sweeter. Listen to me, I’m such an optimist. Bet no one in near proximity of my second batch fail would have thought that. On that note, don’t catch me when I’m in “chef mode.” You have been warned.

The jam really did come out good though. The fig and brandy flavor was a great compliment to the “Opa!” brandy added at the end of the saganaki, and was also a great contrast to the salty cheese and the lightly breaded fried coating. Bon Appétit! Or as they say in Greek, Kali Orexi!

Cheese Saganaki
Yield: 2 Servings
- 1, 8 ounce firm feta cheese block, split if necessary to ½” thick thickness, halved into 2 triangles
- All Purpose flour for dredging
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ounce brandy
- ½ lemon
1) Rinse the cheese under cold water and dredge in the flour to coat.
2) Add the olive oil to a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, and heat over medium-high heat. Add a sprinkle of flour into the oil to test that it is hot enough; it should start to sizzle. Add the cheese and sear on one side until nicely browned, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip and sear other side.
3) Remove the skillet from the heat and add the brandy. Carefully ignite the brandy with a lighter (shouting, “Opa!” optional.) Squeeze the lemon over the cheese. Serve with Fig and Brandy Jam.

Fig and Brandy Jam
Yield: about ½ cup
- 5 fresh figs (if black figs, peel the skin, leaving just a little for color)
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- ½ teaspoon butter
- ½ teaspoon brandy
1) Mix all of the ingredients together in a small glass bowl or measuring cup. Allow to sit for about 30 minutes to allow the figs to macerate.
2) Add the mixture to a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook until thickened and slightly reduced, about 6 minutes. Transfer the jam to small bowl or jar to cool. Tastes great served as a dip with firm cheeses, especially chunks of Parmigianno Reggiano.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Chorizo Mac and Cheese

It is as excessive, indulgent and downright delectable as it sounds. Finely chopped smoky, spicy chorizo sausage is cooked to render out the fat, which then serves as the base for a rich and gooey cheese sauce of melted Parmigiano Reggiano, Cheddar and provolone cheeses. The sauce cozily blankets perfectly cooked pasta, hiding the pleasant surprise of tasty chorizo bits inside. And what would a proper homemade macaroni and cheese be if it didn’t have a toasted, buttery breadcrumb topping? Please. This ain’t no blue box blues.

Nope, chorizo mac and cheese is clearly not for anyone who is on a diet, but it is for everyone who loves treating themselves to cheesy comfort food deliciousness once in a while. For a second I kind felt like I had to feel guilty about making it, but then I kind of didn’t at all. If making chorizo mac and cheese is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

Here is a guilty confession: for a second, while rendering all that chorizo, I had a quick vision of myself on an episode of Epic Meal Time, the YouTubers famous making and devouring creative meat-loaded recipes topped with bacon strips and bacon weaves, and rack up calories like you wouldn’t believe. Popping and sizzling, the chorizo smelled so good as it oozed all of its wonderful fatty goodness into the pan. And then I added butter, milk, cheese and pasta. It kind of made me want to make a video of myself shoving my face with it.

Chorizo Mac & Cheese
Yield: about 10 servings
- 1 pound fusilli pasta (or other), cooked al dente
- 2 links chorizo sausage (6-7ounces), casings removed, finely chopped
- ¼ cup onion (about ½ medium onion), small dice
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus two tablespoons
- 6 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups milk
- ½ cup shredded Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 cup shredded yellow cheddar
- 1 cup shredded provolone
- 1 teaspoon dry yellow mustard
- Nutmeg, salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ cup unseasoned breadcrumb
1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2) Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook, stirring frequently, until the fat renders out. Add 6 tablespoons of butter and stir until melted. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 3 minutes.
3) Add the flour and cook, stirring continually, for about 1 minute. Add the milk. Bring to a boil, using a whisk to stir continually. Reduce to a simmer and cook, whisking, until thickened.
4) Reduce the heat to low. Add the cheeses and stir until smooth. Add the mustard along with the nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste and cook for 1 minute.
5) Add the cooked pasta to the cheese sauce; toss to coat. Pour the pasta into a 7x11-inch baking dish.
6) Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the melted butter to the breadcrumb; mix well. Top the mac & cheese with the breadcrumb. Bake 10 minutes, or until the breadcrumb is toasted.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Watermelon Gazpacho

When it comes to warm weather fare, there’s isn’t much as refreshing as a bowl of cold soup. It’s a great choice for a light lunch, and an even better introduction to a warm summer night’s dinner. Because it is a seasonal dish, I find that it is best enjoyed “in” the season, al fresco on a patio or deck, or even just with the doors open.

We all know gazpacho; the tomato-based raw vegetable soup is probably one of the most widely recognized and commonly spotted chilled soups on menus. Putting a little bit of a twist on the original, I made a super-summery gazpacho with watermelon. There is no cooking involved and minimal prep, but it feels elegant and tastes gourmet.

After blending a mixture of raw cucumber, red bell pepper, shallots and extra virgin olive oil in a food processor until almost smooth, I stirred in pureed and strained watermelon. Viola—soup! Inspired by the salty/sweet combination of watermelon and feta salad, I added fresh mint, a bit of lime juice and red wine vinegar to season, and added a hefty spoonful of feta cheese for garnish. Watermelon and cucumber are a great compliment to one another (and p.s. they taste way better than they smell as body splash).

For some, cold soup can be kind of weird. We’ve all been conditioned to think that soup is supposed to be hot, so when a spoonful of chilly puree hits our lips our first reaction is to want to send it back. If you’ve never tried it before or have been turned off by cold soup in the past, I think this watermelon gazpacho may be a game changer. Its bright pink color and smooth, tangy flavor is similar to salsa.You'll love how easy it is, and you don't even have to turn on the stove a little bit. It’s perfect for those days when it’s just too hot to chew.

Watermelon Gazpacho
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 cucumber, peeled & seeded, roughly chopped, plus ¼ cup small dice for garnish
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded & roughly chopped, plus ¼ cup small dice for garnish
- ½ shallot, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- About 10 mint leaves, torn
- 2 cups seedless watermelon, pureed & strained, plus ¼ cup small dice for garnish
- Juice of 1 lime
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Crumbled feta cheese for garnish
1) Add the cucumber, bell pepper, shallot and olive oil to a food processor; pulse until almost smooth. Add the mint leaves; pulse until finely chopped.
2) In a large bowl, mix the pureed vegetable mixture with the strained watermelon puree/juice. Stir in the lime and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3) Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with small dice cucumber, red bell pepper, and watermelon. Sprinkle the feta cheese on top.

Check out my watermelon gazpacho, featured on Yummly's list of 10 Juicy & Refreshing Watermelon Recipes!

Certified Yummly Recipes on

Sunday, June 17, 2012

In the Kitchen with Karl Ehmer

I was recently given a generous amount of Karl Ehmer products to try. For those who are unfamiliar, Karl Ehmer is a brand of high-quality meats, specializing in sausages, smoked meats, and deli meats. They make a number of great products, but are most well known for their superior sausages. Following the standards of traditional German recipes, Karl Ehmer’s artisanal approach to their products provides a taste that stands out above the more mainstream brands sold widely in grocery stores.

I guess you can say I was full of bologna (ha!). Actually, bologna, chorizo, bratwurst, andouille, chicken sausages, and more! All so juicy and flavorful, each tasted as it were hand crafted by a butcher who really knew and cared about what they were doing. I think that is something special to be said for products that can be found at a reasonable price right at the local specialty shop or deli. To get that quality and care is an unfortunate rarity in a time when the local mom and pop butcher shop up the block is being chased away by big name wholesale warehouses like Costco and BJ’s.

So, what to do with all these sausages? Make a bunch of delicious and easy recipes, of course. Since I couldn’t choose just one, I made three recipes featuring three different sausages. Inspired by my trip to New Orleans a few months ago, I immediately thought to make Jambalaya with the andouille. Traditional in flavor and ingredients, my jambalaya is simplified and uncomplicated with plenty of substance and just enough spice.

Easy Jambalaya

Anything with chorizo is pretty much a winner to me. I love its deep red color, its garlicky flavor and its kick. Two things that happen to go especially well with chorizo are eggs and potatoes. Put them all together and you have a delicious, authentic-style Spanish tortilla. Unlike the flat round corn and flour Mexican tortillas we are familiar with making our tacos with, in Spain, a tortilla or tortilla de patatas, is a potato omelet made in a skillet, very similar to a frittata. To make my recipe, a mixture of thinly sliced potatoes, eggs, and diced chorizo is cooked until set, flipped, cooled and cut into either small portions for a starter or wedges for a meal. I cut mine into small squares to be served as appetizers. It’s like an update to the mini quiche.

Potato Chorizo Tortilla

Now that it’s grilling season, I made an extra little something special that’s perfect for the summer: Beer-poached chicken sausages with beer-braised sauerkraut. Chicken sausages are immersed in a batch of bubbling seasoned beer to infuse them with flavor and juiciness for several minutes before they are branded with crisp toasty grill marks on the barbecue. As the sausages are grilling, the poaching liquid is used to braise sauerkraut with spicy whole grain mustard for topping. For cookouts, I also recommend the Karl Ehmer hotdogs (which are especially good topped with a bit of spicy hot stuff!)

Beer-Poached Chicken Sausages with Beer-Braised Sauerkraut

Karl Ehmer products can be found in specialty and ethnic food stores all over New York, and in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey. If you’re lucky, you may even have one of the Karl Ehmer German butcher shops near you. Their products can also be purchased right from their online store. For more on Karl Ehmer, visit their Facebook page.

Easy Jambalaya
Yield: 4-6 Servings
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ pound Karl Ehmer Andouille Sausage, sliced into rounds
- 1 cup chopped onions
- Cup chopped celery
- ½ cup chopped green bell pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups seeded and diced tomato (about 3 medium tomatoes)
- 2 scallions, sliced, divided
- 1 ½ cup long grain white rice
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- ½ tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ pound medium shrimp, cleaned and sautéed
1) In a small bowl, mix the oregano, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper.
2) In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, lightly sauté the sausage. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate; set aside. Add the onions, celery, and bell pepper to the drippings in the pan and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more.
3) Add the tomatoes and half of the scallions and cook until the tomatoes just start to break down, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice. Add the stock, seasoning mix, Worcestershire, hot sauce, thyme and bay leaf. Season the broth with extra salt and pepper to taste, as needed. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce to a light simmer, cover and cook 20-25 minutes, or until the rice is just about tender. About 10 minutes before the rice is done cooking, add the sautéed sausage and shrimp to the pot to heat through.
4) Remove the bay leaf from the rice. Serve the jambalaya in bowls. Garnish with the remaining scallions.

Potato Chorizo Tortilla
Yield: Makes about 30 appetizers
- Olive oil
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1 pound potato, peeled and thinly sliced
- 6 ounces Karl Ehmer Chorizo, casing removed, finely diced
- 5 eggs
- ¼ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Fresh cilantro, chopped for garnish
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2) Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and potato and cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool, about 10 minutes.
3) In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, cheese, salt and pepper until smooth. Add the cooled onion and potato mixture and the chorizo to the egg mixture; mix well.
4) Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pour in the egg mixture and smooth the surface, pressing the potatoes and onions into a smooth, even layer. Cook for 5 minutes, shaking the skillet occasionally, until the bottom is set. Use a spatula to loosen the side of the tortilla. Transfer to the oven and cook for about 10 minutes, until completely set.
5) Place a large plate over the top of the tortilla and carefully invert the skillet and plate together so that the tortilla drops onto the plate.
6) Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet and swirl around. Carefully slide the tortilla back into the skillet, browned side up and gently warm. Run the spatula around the tortilla to tuck in the edge.
7) Let the tortilla sit in the pan for about 10 minutes, then carefully transfer to a cutting board. Let stand 10-15 minutes more. Cut into small squares and serve as appetizers with toothpicks. You may also cut the tortilla into wedges to serve as an entrée.

Beer-Poached Chicken Sausages with Beer-Braised Sauerkraut
Yield: 4 Servings
- 3 cups lager-style beer, divided
- 1 pound Karl Ehmer Chicken Bratwurst
- ½ teaspoon salt, divided
- ½ teaspoon black pepper, divided
- 1 pound bagged sauerkraut, drained
- 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
- 4 hot dog buns
1) Pierce each sausage several times all around with a fork.
2) In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the beer to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add the sausage with ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cover and poach sausage for 5-7 minutes. Remove sausage and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
3) Bring the reserved cooking liquid to a boil. Add the sauerkraut, mustard, and the remaining salt and pepper. Return to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. In the meantime, grill the sausages until slightly crisp.
4) Serve the sausages in hot dog buns, topped with the sauerkraut.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mango Paradise

Picture yourself in a tropical paradise lounging in the sunshine beside crystal blue water. The light salt water breeze brushes gently through your hair, as you drink out of a coconut, your feet buried in the warm white sand. Peaceful and serene; there is not a sound but the waves drifting over the shore, and maybe some steel drums playing in the distance. Welcome to Marishky—your island escape.

Dinner is now being served, courtesy of chefs Marisa, Alisha, and Kym. Because it is mango season, we have a special menu in store for you that will feature the delicious tropic fruit as the theme ingredient. Your first course: Mango shrimp ceviche served over plantain and chorizo mofongo, with a mango ginger puree. Highlighting island flavors of seafood, lime, mango and plantains, the light starter simply speaks of a sunny beach; for even if you are not in a tropical paradise, you will certainly feel like it.

For this post, I worked  together with a team of other bloggers to design a unique “restaurant” and menu focusing on a chosen featured ingredient. And so Marishky, a mash up of efforts put in by myself and talented food bloggers Alisha of The Ardent Epicure and Kym of Free Spirit Eater, was born.

For our mango paradise-themed menu, each of us was responsible for a different course. As you can see, I made the appetizer. Mango itself has a very tropical essence, but I wanted my entire dish to evoke a sense of exotic lands and warm weather. Ceviche and mofongo are both Latin preparations that originate on islands—perfect!

Along with adding diced mangos to the citrus-marinated shrimp ceviche, I tossed it with a sweet and smooth mango ginger puree that I made from a cooked mixture of fresh mango, lime juice, grated ginger and sugar. I also served some of the puree on the side to eat with the mofongo. I learned how to make mofongo last year from a Dominican chef whose restaurant I was profiling; this was the perfect occasion to try it out for myself. Mofongo is a mash of fried green plantains, squished together into a delicious mess with garlic, butter and traditionally, pork cracklings; I added chopped cooked chorizo sausage to mine instead. The plantain chip on top is a just a fun garnish for a nice little crunch.

Check out Alisha's post for her delectable (vegetarian) entree:
Crispy Polenta and Black Bean Cakes with Herb Flower and Pineapple Mint Pesto and Coconut Crusted Mango Fries

Check out Kym's post for her lovely dessert:
Mango Chai & Pomegranate Chive Gelees w/ Honey Poached Radish on Raspberry Quinoa Cakes

Mango Shrimp Ceviche
Over Mofongo with Mango Ginger Puree

Mango Ginger Puree
Yield: 1 cup
- 2 mangoes, diced
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup lime juice (2 limes)
1) Add the mango, sugar, ginger and salt to a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mango begins to break down, about 5 minutes. Add the lime juice and cook stirring occasionally, until it is slightly reduced, about 15 minutes.
2) Puree the mixture in a food processor until smooth. Set aside ½ of the puree for the ceviche and reserve the rest for serving.

Mango Shrimp Ceviche
Yield: 6-8 appetizer servings
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 pound small shrimp (or medium, chopped), cleaned
- ½ medium onion, diced
- ½ cup peeled, diced cucumber
- ½ cup peeled, diced jicama
- 1 mango, diced
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- ½ cup mango ginger puree
- 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1) Bring 1 quart of salted water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of lime juice. Add the shrimp, cover and let the water return to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat, set the lid askew and pour off all the liquid. Replace the cover and let the shrimp steam off the heat for 10 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a large bowl; cool completely. Toss the shrimp with the remaining ½ cup lime juice; cover and refrigerate for about an hour.
2) Add the diced onion, cucumber, jicama and mango to the bowl with the shrimp. In a small bowl, whisk together the hot sauce, olive oil, and ketchup; pour over the shrimp. Add the mango ginger puree; toss to coat. Add the cilantro. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately.

Yield: 5 appetizer servings
- 4 ounces chorizo sausage, casings removed, finely diced
- 2 unripe plantains (green or just yellow), sliced into rounds
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 6 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
1) Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and cook until slightly crispy, about 3 minutes.
2) Heat the vegetable oil in a deep skillet, deep-fryer or wok over medium-high heat. Fry the plantains in the oil until soft; remove and drain on a paper towel.
3) Mash the plantains while still warm. Add the softened butter, garlic, salt and pepper, and continue to mash until smooth.

To serve: Mold the mofongo in a small cup or ramekin and release onto a plate. Spoon the mango shrimp ceviche over the mofongo. Serve the remaining mango ginger puree on the side. Garnish with a plantain chip, if desired.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dining in New Orleans

I knew I loved New Orleans long before I ever got there. Before I ever strolled the colorful streets of the French Quarter, before I ever caught a set of Mardi Gras beads, and before I ever tasted a muffuletta sandwich, I had fallen in love with just the idea of it. Intrigued by the culture, spirit, and especially the food that the city is known for, New Orleans had long been on the top of my mental checklist of places to go.

Mardi Gras float and beads at Mardi Gras World, a mardi gras museum within one
of the warehouses where they make mardi gras floats.

I recently visited The Big Easy for the first time, and already I can’t wait to go back. It is everything you’ve heard about; from the mayhem of Bourbon Street to the cool, charming, jazz-filled streets that lay just beyond it, there is truly no place like it.

Bourbon Street
A quiet side street in the French Quarter

With an unwavering party spirit that’s always in full effect, New Orleans is a world full of character, deeply steeped in history and tradition. Beneath every iron laced balcony of the French Quarter and every bead-draped lamppost and stoplight, there is a story to be told. Near the famous Jackson Square, music echoes, psychics read tarot cards and street performers perform. If you’re lucky, you may even catch one of the many spontaneous parades that break out in celebration of marriages or debutantes.

Beads on a Royal Street streetlight, a wedding parade, & Jackson Square.

Nothing speaks louder of New Orleans culture than its spicy, Cajun and Creole-influenced cuisine, heavy in fresh-from-the bayou seafood. I used to imagine what it would be like to eat authentic dishes like crawfish etoufee and gumbo right in the unique city where they were born. Then, one day I blinked my eyes, and there I was with a warm beignet in my hand and powdered sugar all over my shirt. It was certainly a culinary daydream fulfilled.

You will notice there are a few must-tastes that I did not taste (i.e. catfish po’ boy). In four days, I may not have been able to eat everything, but I damn well tried. Here is my food-filled adventure in pictures. As they say in NOLA, laissez le bon temps roulette or let the good times roll…

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Homemade Flour Tortillas for Cinco de Mayo

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

To celebrate, I wanted to share with you a recent video I made on how to make homemade flour tortillas. Towards the end of the video, I also demonstrate how to use the tortillas to make vegetable quesadillas.

Prepared from a short list of common ingredients (flour, shortening, salt and water), you won't believe how easy tortillas are to make from scratch—and they’re cheap, too! You don't need to use a tortilla press or any fancy equipment, just your hands, a rolling pin, and a cast iron skillet. If you want to reduce prep time even further, simply add all of the ingredients to a food processor and whirl away. After rolling the dough into flat discs, the best part is watching it squirm and bubble in the hot skillet as it dries out, instantly morphing, Hulk-style, into a bona fide tortilla.

There are so many uses for homemade flour tortillas. In addition to quesadillas, they are the base of many of our favorite handheld Mexican foods like burritos, tacos, fajitas, and enchiladas. Granted, flour tortillas are a little more Tex-Mex than Mexican. Corn tortillas are what you will commonly find in traditional dishes such as Mexico City street tacos, and are considered more authentic to Mexican cuisine. Corn tortillas are also a bit healthier, but it’s Cinco de Mayo and we’re celebrating.

If you come here often, you know that Mexican food is one of my favorites. Here are a few more recipes that are perfect for Cinco de Mayo:

Mexican Meatball Soup
Pico de Gallo & Guacamole
Margarita Sorbet
Tequila-Flamed Mangoes

Thursday, May 3, 2012

We All Scream For Ice Cream

Cook’s Book is featured on the blog, Rhapsody à la crème. Visit to read the interview and to see some more fun pictures!

The author of the blog, Tricia, is one of my friends from high school. She’s a talented fashion illustrator who blogs about clothes, trends, the fashion world and other fashionable things like her cool designer internships, food, and me! Ok, whatever. But you have to admit, I can still vogue and work it with a spoonful of ice cream in my mouth lol.

That’s cotton candy ice cream, by the way, with rainbow sprinkles and as per Tricia’s request, a few gummy bears on top. Who am I to argue with gummy bears?

The photos were taken at Five Pennies Creamery in Rockville Centre, a cute old-fashioned ice cream parlor that makes a variety of delicious homemade frozen treats every day. Last summer, I wrote about my particular obsession with their peanut butter ice cream and how it inspired me to make my own.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cooking with Michael Symon

In the foreword of Michael Symon's Book, Live to Cook, Bobby Flay writes, “Michael Symon is cooking…that means the aroma of sizzling pork is in the air!”

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend an evening cooking and dining with celebrity chef Michael Symon, and as nothing less would be expected from a chef with the words “Got Pork” tattooed over his heart on a banner carried by two piggy angels, the scent of sizzling pork goodness laid gloriously in the air that night. The star Cleveland chef and restaurateur, Iron Chef and co-host of daytime food talk show, “The Chew,” was cooking juicy breaded bone-in pork chop Milanese, and that was just one of the delicious dishes that he made.

A friend of pork is a friend of mine. And clearly, Chef Symon and I are BFFs now.
The intimate event was hosted by Bounty paper towels for a select group of bloggers, media, and two lucky Facebook fans, who won an expense paid trip to New York City to meet Michael simply for “liking” the brand’s page (not a bad idea if you’re interested in similar perks in the future!). The “Bring it! Dinner,” as it was called, took place a few stories up in a bright orange open kitchen in a Manhattan loft, where Chef Symon led an engaging interactive cooking demo, with a full dinner following. The most fun for me was getting to tie on an apron and participate in making zucchini fritters or keftedes with feta and dill. Standing in a room full of cooks learning from an accomplished chef made me feel as if I was in culinary school again—a feeling that I very often miss.

In the beginning of the evening, Chef Symon noted that he does not endorse too many products, but joined with Bounty because it is something that he uses in both his personal and professional kitchens every day; not just for cleaning up, but as a tool. When making the fritters, we grated the zucchini right onto a sheet of paper towel and then used it as a makeshift sieve to squeeze as much of the moisture out as possible. Zucchini contains a lot of moisture; making sure that it is fairly dry is important when making fritters, because the less flour that needs to be added to the batter, the better it ultimately tastes.

You may not see them as more than something to dry your hands with, but paper towels are very handy kitchen tools. Absorbent towels are always an effective way to drain oil from fried items. They are also a great way to keep certain foods fresh and eliminate waste. Have you ever noticed that fresh herbs are often sold in amounts way larger than what you need for one recipe? Wrap them in lightly dampened paper towels and refrigerate to help them to stay fresher longer. The same thing goes for salad greens (lay the towel on top of loose greens like spinach or mesclun).

While frying pork chops at the front of the bright orange kitchen, Chef Symon answered questions and discussed his approach to food and cooking. “Local is my first goal,” said the chef, who builds relationships with farmers and suggests that the number one products to buy organic are milk, eggs, butter and cheese. His recipes are made up of short ingredient lists to highlight the natural quality and freshness of the food itself. Salt, pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon are mainly all that’s ever needed to season or enhance.

As often reflected on his menus, Chef Symon’s also got some good culinary genes. With a Greek and Sicilian background, he first discovered his love of food and cooking in his mother’s kitchen, making dishes like baklava and lasagna. Even as a celebrity chef and restaurateur with several restaurants, Mom’s lasagna still remains at the top of his list. “Food that brings me back to my childhood is always my favorite food,” said Symon.

Crispy Gnocchi with Morel mushrooms and Spring Peas. The lightly toasted, fluffy ricotta gnocchi were the hands down favorite at my end of the table.

Zucchni Fritters with Feta and Dill. Served with a light Greek yogurt sauce for dipping.

Pork Chop Milanese with Arugula and Tomato Salad

Delicious! It’s not every day an Iron Chef cooks you dinner. The best thing about Chef Symon is that you can tell that he is crazy about what he does. He can’t even hide it if he wanted to. His passion for food bursts out of him like his contagious laughter. In the hour or so that we spent with him, I felt that he was more chef than “celebrity chef.” The entire time he was genuinely smiling and laughing; as he says, “living to cook,” and loving it.