Monday, November 21, 2011

Pumpkin Pecan Praline Pie:


Scrambling here a bit!  Have been out of town, back then away again and now I back!  Just in time to get organized for Thanksgiving; I hope!
Yesterday I started experimenting with pies.  You see we are a family of four and I just can’t do four pies for the four of us.  Well I guess I could but it does seem a bit over the top don’t you think?


So when pecan is one favorite and pumpkin is another I suddenly started wondering what it would be like to combine the two.  So I decided to try making a thick creamy pumpkin pie and topping it with a thick layer of pecan praline crumble.


Oh la la la la!  What a hit!  AND since I was experimenting I didn’t even bother to make my own crust so it was also quick and EASY!
I started of with Farmers Market Organic Pumpkin in a can…how easy is that?  I follow their basic recipe for the mix with a few changes in the spices.  Then I mixed a crumble topping and when the pie was just set…on went the topping and back into the oven for 10 minutes.  What came out is heaven in a pie shell!


Pumpkin Pecan Praline Pie:
1  15 ounce can Farmers Market Organic Pumpkin
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice
½ teaspoon salt
1   14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs beaten
1  9 inch deep dish pie shell ready to bake (that’s right I did not pre bake the crust)


Crumble:
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons dark corn syrup
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
Pinch salt
Crumble Method:
Mix all crumble ingredients together and set aside
Pie Method:
Mix pumpkin, spices, eggs and milk together.
Pour into pie shell
Bake at 425 for 15 minutes
Reduce heat to 350 and bake 35 minutes or until just set
Top with praline crumble and return to oven for 10 minutes
Remove from oven and cool completely.







Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gravlax from the Minimalist


Years ago there used to be a wonderful restaurant just down the road from where I lived in West Hollywood called Scandia.  Just west of Doheny Blvd., it was one of those places that gave the feeling you were surrounded by Hollywood history and indeed you were! 

I loved sitting in the huge red leather chairs; so comfortable you just knew you’d be staying a long while and not care that you were forty years younger than most of the patrons!  I also loved that one actually dressed for Scandia; no matter that everyone in LA was relaxed and casual, at Scandia men were required to wear coats and ties.

I always started my meal with Gravlax described on their menu as ‘the great salmon of the north cured in the old Viking way.”  This cured salmon dish is exquisitely simple, so tender it practically melts in your mouth and brilliant served as is on toast with just a few drops of lemon or with a light tangy dill sauce.

Now, I’ve found just the perfect recipe for Gravlax that rivals the dish I used to enjoy at Scandia.  It is from the Minimalist and it is so easy anyone can now serve Gravlax as good as one of the greatest LA restaurants of all time!  These days I'm serving it as an appetizer with lemon and toast or as a starter salad.


THE MINIMALIST'S GRAVLAX

Time: 10 minutes, plus 24 to 36 hours' refrigeration

1 cup salt

2 cups sugar

1 bunch dill, stems and all, chopped

1 2- to 3-pound fillet of salmon, pin bones removed.

1. Mix together the salt, sugar and dill. Place the salmon, skin side down, on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Cover the flesh side of the salmon with the salt mixture, making sure to coat it completely. (There will be lots of salt mix; just pile it on.)

2. Wrap the fish well. If the temperature is below 70 degrees, and it is not too inconvenient, let it rest outside the refrigerator for about 6 hours, then refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours more. Otherwise, refrigerate immediately for about 36 hours.

3. Unwrap the salmon, and rinse off the cure. Dry, then slice on the bias.

Yield: at least 12 servings.

For dill sauce:
2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
6 tablespoons virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons sour cream
6 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill  
Directions:
Mix the mustard, sugar, and vinegar in a bowl.
Beat in the oil a little at a time until well blended.
The sauce will thicken rapidly and must be stirred vigorously.
Finally, add the sour cream and plenty of finely chopped dill.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Oh-So-Good-N-Easy Crab Cakes


I have a confession to make; I never order crab cakes in a restaurant!  You see, I adore crab cakes and used to order them all the time.  But for some strange reason, three times in a row I got sick right after eating them.  Now the strangest part of all is that I had ordered them in different restaurants in different states!  But the end result was the same; I just can’t bring myself to try another restaurant crab cake!

Do you have any foods like that?  Ones that you have absolutely no luck ordering in a restaurant?  Maybe it’s not a dish that made you ill but something the restaurants never get right? Please tell me I’m not the only person with this kind of problem!

So, I was looking through my brand new “The Essential New York Times Cook Book” by Amanda Hesser and came across a recipe for Crab Cakes Baltimore-Style and instantly had an overwhelming desire to whip us some crab cakes!  Ok, here’s the amazing coincidence; I had bought an 8 ounce container of fresh crab earlier in the day.  I figured it was destiny that I should make crab cakes.

I did have to alter the recipe slightly because I was missing a couple of ingredients and being lazy, I just figured it would be easier to improvise and take my chances rather than go all the way back to the market!  I also mixed Blue Cheese Dressing and Rooster Chili Sauce to serve on the side rather than the Remoulade Sauce that was recommended.

Crab Cakes

Ingredients for 6 small crab cakes:
1 beaten egg
¼ cup finely chopped celery
½ cup crushed saltines
1 teaspoon country Dijon mustard
Pinch red pepper flakes
½ cup finely chopped sweet onion
¼ cup finely chopped red pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt and a pinch of white pepper (this is to taste)
8 ounces fresh crab
¼ cup bread crumbs or panko
3 T. vegetable oil

Combine all ingredients except the bread crumbs and oil
Gently form 6 patties of equal size
Dredge them in the bread crumbs
In a non stick skillet over medium heat add the oil and cook the cakes 2-3 minutes on each side.
Drain on paper towel and serve over shredded lettuce tomatoes and with a spicy sauce or condiment of your choice.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Valentine Day Wellington


For Filippo’s birthday I surprised him with dinner out at a beautiful Italian restaurant in Sarasota.  Filippo is from Italy so you can understand when I say his all time favorite cuisine is Italian.  Needless to say he was more than pleased at the thought of a really wonderful Italian meal and so was I!  The restaurant is lovely inside, even has a separate bar to enjoy an aperitif before dinner which we both thought would be fun to take advantage of on our next visit.

Oops, we kind of got ahead of ourselves with jumping ahead to a second visit!  There will be no second visit.  Every dish was at best, a disappointment and at worst not edible.  We’ve been together over twenty five years and I have never seen Filippo not finish a veal cutlet, that is until this birthday dinner!  It was burned on one side and over cooked on the other, which they hid under a pile of arugula and tomatoes.  Enough said!

That dinner was the catalyst for creating the dish I am posting today; “Happy Birthday Wellington”.  We’ll forever remember the disappointing meal we were served for Filippo’s birthday and actually we did have a wonderful time together celebrating his special day.  But I still wanted to do a birthday dinner that we could share and actually eat!  Something fancy because it is to celebrate someone special; something with mushrooms because Filippo adores them and something I could organize and prep at least partly beforehand so I could spend time with my special guy!

“Happy Birthday Wellington” is what I created.  I’ve made Alton Brown’s Pork Wellington and it is fantastic; you can find the recipe on line at Food Network.  “Happy Birthday Wellington” is a bit fancier; caramelized onions with dry vermouth sit atop a 2 inch slice of pork tenderloin that has been browned on both sides.  They are wrapped in puff pastry, baked and then served surrounded by shitake mushrooms that have been sautéed in butter and garlic with a white wine/ chicken stock and fresh oregano sauce.

Here’s how to create Happy Birthday Wellington for your special someone.

Ingredients: (For Two) prep 20 minutes bake 20-25
1 small onion thinly sliced
¼ cup dry vermouth
½ cup low sodium chicken stock
4 T. fresh oregano chopped
2 pieces pork tenderloin, each 2 inches thick
1 sheet puff pastry

4 ounces shitake mushrooms
2 small cloves garlic
¼ cup white wine
¾ cup chicken stock
4 T. butter divided
2 T. olive oil

Method:

Pre heat oven to 425
In large nonstick pan over high heat brown onions stirring constantly about 10 minutes
Add vermouth and reduce until almost gone
Add chicken stock and oregano, reduce until sauce is thick
Remove from heat and let cool




In a preheated non stick frying pan sear both top and bottom of the pork tenderloin over high heat
Remove pork and set aside fry pan for sautéing the mushrooms
Cut the puff pastry in a two circles large enough to cover the pork tenderloins.
Place ½ of the onion mixture on each puff pastry
Top each with one tenderloin




Bring the puff pastry up around the sides and bottom of the tenderloins.
Turn over and place on a non stick baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, the puff pastry will be nicely browned.
Let the tenderloins rest for 5 minutes before serving with the mushrooms and sauce
When the tenderloins have been on the oven for 15 minutes start the mushrooms
Sauté the mushrooms and garlic in 2 T. butter and olive oil over medium high for 5 minutes
Add ¼ cup wine and reduce by half
Add ¾ cup chicken stock and reduce by half
Add 2 tablespoons butter and fresh oregano, mix butter in well.
Place one tenderloin on each plate and surround with ½ mushrooms and sauce.
Serve and enjoy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Traveling Quiches


I started making Traveling Quiches for our Sunday Family Outings.  The kids love, love, love them! For me the ability to make different flavors in one batch is awesome!  These quiches are great hot or room temperature so you can easily send them off to school for a healthy lunch alternative.  Now I always use non fat grated cheese to keep the fat content down and if you want you could use an egg substitute or just egg whites.  One other little “mommy” tip,  I often would hide a bit of veggies in the quiche and the kids never noticed!  Try a tablespoon of sautéed zucchini in each muffin tin or some peas and carrots or even a bit of steamed and chopped broccoli!

First up is my favorite and the one that I use most often for grown up picnics at the beach.  The combo of tomatoes, pesto, prosciutto and mozzarella is wonderful, light but still very flavorful.

Second Traveling Quiche, or whatever you want to call it to make your kids interested, is so incredibly simple.  Ham and cheese; I think this is the one that got my kids hooked in the first place.  From then on it was easy to add more ingredients.

 Ingredients:  for 12 Traveling Quiches
1 package buttermilk refrigerator biscuits (I buy lower fat)
1 cup non fat greek yogurt
4 eggs
Pinch nutmeg


For 6 Ham & Cheese Quiches
3 slices deli ham
1 cup grated non fat cheddar cheese

For 6 Prosciutto Pesto Quiches:
1 ½ teaspoons pesto
3 sun dried tomatoes finely chopped
½ fresh ripe tomato chopped
3 slices prosciutto chopped
1 cup grated non fat mozzarella

Method for Traveling Quiches (Prosciutto & Pesto)
Pre heat oven to 350
Coat muffin tins with non stick spray
Split each biscuit in half through the center
Roll out biscuits to 1/8 inch thick

Place biscuits into muffin tins so they cover the bottom and part way up the sides
Chop three slices of prosciutto and divide between the muffin tins
Finely chop the 3 sundried tomatoes and divide between the muffin tins
Drizzle 1/8 teaspoon of pesto in each muffin tin
Whip together 1 cup non fat Greek yogurt, 4 eggs and a pinch of nutmeg
Divide evenly between muffin tins
Divide non fat shredded mozzarella evenly between muffin tins
Finely chop 1 ripe seeded tomato and top each muffin tin evenly
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes



Method for Ham & Cheese Traveling Quiches
Line muffin tins with biscuit dough as directed above.
Cut the ham into quarters and put two quarters in each tin
Divide the yogurt mixture evenly between muffin tins
Top with grated cheese
Bake for 20-25 minutes in pre heated 350 oven
Serve warm, hot or room temperature.








Wednesday, September 7, 2011

It's so easy to spoil the ones we love; Mediterranean Poulet


My Husband’s Favorite Chicken

I really can’t think of anything other than my husband’s favorite chicken because, well… that’s exactly what it is!  Hot out of the oven, for picnics at the beach or cold right out of the fridge, he absolutely loves it!  Me?  Oh I’m crazy for anything this easy that makes me a star in the kitchen and truthfully I love spoiling Filippo!  After all, he's the BEST husband in the whole world!

Five minutes of prep in the morning is all this dish takes before it marinades until you are ready to pop it into the oven for 30-40 minutes. Then, just pull it out of the oven and serve.  Can you think of anything easier?  Let me know if you do please!

Ingredients:
1 whole chicken cut up (about 4 pounds give or take)
1 lemon juiced, zested and cut into 8 pieces
1 long sprig fresh rosemary finely chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
½ cup olive oil




Method:
Place all ingredients into a zip lock bag or plastic container
Refrigerate until ready to use; minimum of 2 hours maximum of 24 hours
Pour everything into an oven safe baking dish (I use one that can go right to the table)
Bake in preheated 450 degree oven for 30-40 minutes
Enjoy with your favorite sides.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Porcini Fries

Porcini Fries

Yes oh yes there is something so marvelous about potatoes and porcini together.  Kind of like rosemary; just one whiff and I’m ready to eat a little something!

So I took the same idea I used for Spanish Fries and turned it into Porcini Fries. We are not talking fried porcini.  This is potatoes cut into French fries, flavored with porcini powder and baked.  Oh yes one other little flavor explosion; fresh grated parmesan lightly (or not lightly if you are like my daughter Marina) dusting the fries hot out of the oven.

Ingredients: (for 2 servings)
1 baking potato per person ( for two servings you will need 2 potatoes)
1 T. of olive oil per potato
¼ t. Porcini Powder per potato
¼ t. salt per potato
1-2 T. Fresh grated Parmesan per potato

Method:

Pre heat oven to 450
Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Scrub your potatoes and dry.
Cut lengthwise in half, then in half again and again until you have 8 slices from the half.
Repeat until all the potatoes are sliced.
Dry well with paper towels.
Toss potatoes in a large bowl with olive oil, porcini powder and salt to coat well.
Lay in SINGLE layer on the parchment paper.
Bake for 12-15 minutes and turn potatoes.
Bake for 10 minutes and turn potatoes again
Bake another 1-4 minutes
Divide into two bowls and sprinkle with parmesan

Serve hot.
FYI: The Porcini Fries are not this dark in reality!  Lightly browned is how they came out; I just managed to flub the photos and well, they were gone before I noticed!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Spanish Fries


Like fries?  Oh ya me too, big time!  But I’m really not good totally inadequate at deep frying and hate find the smell of the house afterwards a bit unpleasant.   OK, there are tons of frozen fries at every market but then I feel guilty because they are so greasy and after reading the labels, well I like to be able to pronounce what I’m eating.

So after lots of taste testing, a myriad of possible combinations later  I finally came up with Spanish Fries.  Baked not fried so that’s a good thing right?  But, not just thrown into the oven; oh no not this home cook.  That would have been just too simple; to tell the truth I tried that method and it fell a bit flat.

Here are the ingredients and the method.  You’ll only need 5 minutes at the most for prep, a sheet of parchment for your baking sheet for easy clean up, a bit of olive oil, salt and Spanish Sweet Paprika, oh yes, and baking potatoes!
You are going to LOVE these and they are soooo easy, the paprika give them some zing while the olive oil gives them just enough fried feeling to keep the most ardent french fry person happy.  Also they just happen to be a super healthy and filling after schoool snack!

Ingredients:
1 baking potato per person
1 T. of olive oil per potato
½ t. Spanish Sweet Paprika per potato
½ t. salt or less per potato

Method:

Pre heat oven to 450
Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Scrub your potatoes and dry.
Cut lengthwise in half, then in half again and again until you have 8 slices from the half.
Repeat until all the potatoes are sliced.
Dry well with paper towels.
Toss potatoes in a large bowl with olive oil, paprika and salt to coat well.
Lay in SINGLE layer on the parchment paper.
Bake for 15 minutes and turn potatoes.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Serve hot.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Prosciutto Mozzarella Pesto Tomato Panini


I guess it should be no surprise that Marina asked sooooo verrry nicely for another Panini today!  OK have to admit, it’s also no surprise that I immediately said yes and went about making one of my Husband’s favorite’s.  Hey, that way I could make two people hap hap happy!!!

It’s amazing how well the four strong flavors of the prosciutto, mozzarella, pesto and tomatoes marry together!  It’s like they were long lost friends who found themselves together after a long period of time, but are able to take up right where they left off.

I usually have pesto in the freezer; I make a huge batch then freeze small amounts in plastic bags so it is on hand.  No problem to use your favorite store bought version; it certainly saves time!  I also had chopped tomatoes with fresh basil and garlic marinating in olive oil on hand.  Just substitute with sliced tomatoes.  Panini are imminently flexible; that’s one of the things I love about them.

Speaking of flexible, your bread choice can be a variable as your fillings.  My favorite is thick sliced country bread or the light airy baguettes I use to buy at Super U in France.   I like thick sliced bread because it seems to toast better and the filling warm faster.  Sometimes a thick crust will get too brown before the fillings are ready; just something to look out for.  Today I had a heavier mini loaf that held the fillings to perfection, cooked just right and was actually long enough to cut three small Panini; one piece each for Marina, her friend Jacob and my husband Filippo.
Ingredients: for 2-3 people
Four slices thick country bread or 1 small baguette
4-6 slices prosciutto
4-6 slices fresh mozzarella
¼ cup pesto
1 chopped tomato
Method:
Spread pesto on both slices of bread.
Layer on the mozzarella, tomatoes and prosciutto.
Spray or paint the outside of each slice of bread with olive oil.
Grill over medium high heat until bread is toasted and cheese begins to melt.
Flip and toast the other side.
Slice and serve warm or room temperature if you are in the mood for a picnic!

OMG Panini

OMG Panini
In my last post I made slow cooker whole chicken and gave some of my standard dishes using the leftover chicken. Well Marina surprised me by coming home (if you’ve ever visited here before you KNOW how much I adore having my kids around) for the Labor Day weekend!  Yahoo and first thing I did was to make her something to eat.

She absolutely adores Panini so I started rummaging around the kitchen to see what I could put into one.  First thing I found was the leftover chicken so I decided to build from there.

I would normally use thicker sliced bread for a Panini but this is all that I had and it worked just fine!
Oh by the way, in case you don’t realize it, Panini is simply the Italian word for sandwiches.  Don’t you think it sounds so much more fun, exotic and creative when it goes by the name Panini?  I do too.  I mean, when I hear sandwich I can’t help but relate back to my school days of peanut butter and jelly, or bologna with mustard on Wonder bread. Whereas from Panini I seem to expect sophistication and layered flavors geared toward my adult tastes.  Egad, when I write this down I sound a bit weird even to myself?

Oh yah, back to the chicken Panini. 
Ingredients for 2 persons: 2 large panini


1 cup (give or take a bit, the measure does not have to be exact for a sandwich) cooked chicken
6-8 ounces sliced Fontina (or any other mild semi soft cheese; Havarti, Mozzarella, Emmenthaler, Swiss)
1 avocado peeled and sliced
4 slices Italian Pancetta cooked until crisp (or 6 slices American bacon cooked until crisp)
½ cup chopped fresh tomatoes marinated in olive oil with fresh chopped basil and garlic. (If you don't have time you can just use sliced tomatoes but this combo really is great with the avocados and chicken!)
4 large and thick slices Italian or French Country bread
A sprits of olive oil (I keep a sprayer of olive oil for toasting bread and lightly coating pans) (You could use butter if you wanted but in that case don't butter the top slice until you are ready to flip the panini or the butter will just stick to your weight.)
Method:
Lay out your top and bottom bread slices next to each other.
Build your sandwich in layers as follows:
Slice of bread
Cheese slices
Avocado Slices
Chicken pieces
Chopped tomatoes
Avocado slices again
Pancetta or bacon
Cheese slices again
Slice of bread
Slightly spray both sides of bread with olive oil, you certainly can use flavored olive oil; roasted garlic would be nice.
Place in preheated Panini, grill or frying pan and top with a weight. (You can top the Panini with foil and use a smaller pan for the weight if necessary)
Grill over medium high about 4-5 minutes or cheese is melting and bread is toasting.
Flip Panini over and grill until the other slice of bread is toasted.
Slice in half and serve.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Crock Pot Whole Chicken

Yesterday I posted one of my favorite comfort foods which I hope you have a chance to try soon!  Another favorite food of mine is chicken.  Oh I know how borrrrrring!  Well that may be true if you are in a rut.  But if you keep changing your chicken recipes and plan ahead just a tad, you’ll be able to get 2 meals from one chicken, have your own stock and take it easy on chicken dinner night number two!

I'm talking basic whole bird crock pot chicken; so easy and you'll be able to have chicken soup, chicken salad or even chicken tacos the next day!  Seriously, your prep for the crock pot chicken is maybe ten minutes and you don’t have to look at it again for 7-8 hours.  I’ve got to tell you how perfect this is for those days when the kids have after school activities and you are the chauffeur!

I’ve organized a zucchini tomato gratin and oven roasted new potatoes to go along with the crock pot chicken. 
The gratin is double sized so that I can use the veggies in a frittata or country omelet giving me another super quick and easy dinner!

Ingredients for Crock Pot Chicken:

1 3-4 pound chicken

½ lemon

Fresh herbs: rosemary and parsley 2 branches each, fresh thyme and oregano 6 stems each (these amounts are very flexible; sometimes my herbs are abundant and I use more sometimes I need to stretch them a bit)

1 tablespoon salt

3 Tablespoons olive oil

Take the whole chicken and wipe it dry with paper towels.  I do not wash the chicken because of the chance of contaminating your kitchen with small splatters.  Any bacteria will be eliminated in the cooking process.

Stuff the cavity with 1/2 lemon and ½ of your fresh herbs. Rub chicken with olive oil and salt, place in crock pot on low for 7-8 hours.

Remove from crock pot to platter and serve with zucchini/tomato gratin and rosemary roasted potatoes.  Both dishes can be baked at the same time and are super easy to put together.

Ingredients for the gratin:

3 zucchini

1 onion

3 tomatoes

1 cup bread crumbs

1 cup grated parmesan

½ cup vegetable or chicken broth

2 cloves garlic

4 T. butter melted

Method:

Slice the zucchini, onions and tomatoes

Chop the garlic very fine

Layer a baking pan with the onions, zucchini and tomatoes.

Pour the stock over the veggies

Sprinkle with the garlic, cheese and bread crumbs in that order

Top with the butter

Bake for 45 minutes in preheated 400 degree oven



How to use the bones (leftover carcass) for chicken stock or soup.

After dinner, remove all the meat from the bones (and skin if your family does not eat it) and return the bones (and skin) to the crock pot along with 1 each: onion quartered, carrot peeled and rough chopped and one stalk celery rough chopped, 1 bay leaf, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper plus 5-6 cups water. 

Cook on low overnight and you have a lovely chicken stock ready when you wake up.

Pour the stock through a strainer and discard the veggies. 

Chill in the fridge until you get home from work or the fat has risen to the top and solidified.

Remove fat and discard.

From here you can add finely chopped veggies (carrots, beans, onion, zucchini) uncooked rice or potatoes for the starch and any remaining chicken meat.

Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until the veggies are cooked (the smaller you chop your fresh veggies the faster this soup will be ready) and serve with crusty country bread slices topped with grated cheese that has been melted under the broiler.