Thursday, December 30, 2010

Quick and Healthy Cream Sauce

Here's a simple way to dress pasta for a super-fast dinner. Just make a sauce of reduced fat sour cream, a couple spoonfuls of ricotta, and some milk or cream (that would be the not-so-lowfat version). Add 3 or 4 crushed cloves of garlic and some frozen peas and you have a deliciously simple meal.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Indulgence. Simple and Sweet.

When it looks like this outside...

may I suggest making some of this inside?

Cinnamon Spiced Whipped Cream:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 tsp groun cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
3 Tbs confectioner's suger and a bit of brown sugar

Spiced Cider:

warm apple juice in a saucepan with a few cloves and a cinnamon stick until the flavors are just infused. Throw in a few cardamon pods for a little something special. Vanilla extract or a tad of bourbon may also be added.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oops...forgot - that's still in the fridge?

Over Thanksgiving my mama took me to Trader Joe's and I was finally able to buy some real cheese. Oh how I love cheese. What's really wonderful is that I am no longer an overweight child so I can make myself an ooey gooey, buttery grilled cheese with (almost) no guilt and without having to dab the oil off the top before I eat it. Oh those days...

Anyway, the weekend after they left I was in my room going over slides of the respiratory system and I suddenly remembered I hadn't used the cheese yet. Oh no. Had it gone bad? Fortunately not and so I got to work making a cheese sauce to beat all cheese sauces.

I am always trying to perfect my cheese sauce - it really has to have a lot of flavor. That's key for me. So cheese and spices are very important. I always try for a semi-hard, semi-soft, and soft/tangy variety. I didn't have goat cheese one hand, so I used about a half cup of sour cream. Next a whole block of pepper-jack, and finally, a block of Trader Joe English Cheddar with a tiny bit left over for me to snack on because there is nothing as sinfully satisfying as biting into a block of cheese when no one is looking.

Too cute - tiny Tupperware for tiny cheese :0

Here's the recipe - enjoy and try experiment with your own combos.

"Good 'Ole English, nummy nummy cheddar!" in the words of Mouse on the Mayflower

- one large block pepper-jack cheese (I find the TJ brand is most flavorful and it super cheap for the amount you get)
- one block English Cheddar
- 2 cups milk
- 3 Tbs butter
- 2-3 Tbs flour
- salt, pepper, chili powder, red pepper flakes
- 2-3 Tbs heavy cream
- 2-3 Tbs ricotta

Start by making a rue. Let the butter melt under medium high, add the flour and cook quickly, stirring with a whisk. Add the milk and spices and let thicken - turn back the heat to medium. This takes about 5 to 7 minutes.

The bechemel (butter, flour, milk combo) should be thick enough that a run of the finger leaves an imprint on the back of a spoon.

If you mixture is too runny, add a slurry of 1/2 Tbs cornstarch and 1Tbs milk. Next, take off the heat and add the soft cheese and finally the pepper-jack and cheddar.

After making to sauce, you can actually freeze it for as much as a month. Let it cool to room temp before wrapping well and throwing into the freezer. When you are ready to use, try the "defrost" setting on your microwave till it's malleable, then finish reheating on the stove. Use shell pasta because it grabs the sauce nicely and cover with a breadcrumb/butter mixture before heating it in a 350 degree over for about a half hour. If you're like me and like a creamier consistancy, forego the oven, grab a bowl, and get to picking out the cheesiest shells ;)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Persian Coutlets...the recipe you've been waiting for

Coulet has been in my family for years. I remember my grandmother making them in her kitchen when I was a very small girl. You have to eat them right off the griddle, while they still have a nice crust on them. But cold is fine, too. We usually wrap them in pita bread with a little yogurt or onion and cucumber. Greek yogurt is best. And if you want, try adding a few shards of French Feta. And just fry any leftover potato bits - wasting is not an option with something this good :)

The recipe is really quite simple:

1 onion, grated - keep the juice
1 pound ground beef - a lean kind
3 to 4 grated potatoes
1 egg
ground cornflakes (for breading)
salt, pepper, garlic powder, turmeric

Boil the potatoes and grate them into a bowl

Grate the onion into the bowl as well, keeping the juice because that's where a lot of the flavor comes from

Add the meat and spices - normally, we add a Persian spice here, but the recipe is fine without it

Add the egg and mush everything together with your hands (or a fork)

Form into patties and roll in cornflakes seasoned with turmeric and salt and pepper

Fry in olive oil until they turn golden brown - because of the turmeric they will turn pretty dark when they fry, but be sure they don't burn!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Louisiana Flair - Great Food, Better Company

Every day - and I do mean every day since I moved here in August - on my way to school, I passed by a little restaurant called Louisiana Flair. At first I was a bit scared of the place because right near the window stood a mannequin and as many of you know, I am terrified of those things. Then, over time, I grew more and more intrigued. Every morning at 7am, right when I walk over for classes, I saw a man at the stove smiling and laughing with his customers. One day we made eye contact and I couldn't help myself - I smiled and waved - like we were old chums. Except we'd never actually met. Imagine my extreme happiness when he returned the favor. In a program like mine, you learn to find happiness in any place and my morning walks and waves became something I looked forward to. Every day I saw him working and every day I promised myself that one day, I'd pop in and meet him.

That day came - today. Nate, as I learned, is the owner of this special place. People come from all over Richmond to try his family's recipe for gumbo and his delish catfish po' boy. Every day the specials stand, on a chalkboard outside the restaurant, ready to be devoured by his loyal customers. Heck, on a plane to Atlanta I heard people from Louisiana commenting on how good the jambalaya is. And aren't I lucky to be living so close by? The service was wonderful - fast and friendly and so warm and comfortable. I was also able to sample some original sausage from New Orleans and it was amazing - hot a spicy and perfect for sandwiches.

I hear breakfast is pretty awesome too, so I'll have to go back. In the meantime, I'll keep myself happy grinning and waving to the kind man at the stove: my new Richmond friend, Nate.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Jump On the Bandwagon...

My brother loves pumpkin pie but I never completely fell in love with it. Something about the texture, I think. And the fact that if I wanted to eat a pie that tastes like pumpkin, why didn't I just roast some dang pumpkin? Cheesecake, though. I can do pumpkin cheesecake. One of my favorite things to do is experiment with different flavors of cheesecake until I get the right combo for the filling - I hate using only cream cheese because it is so one-dimensional and fattening. Switch to the 1/3 fat kind, add a few spoons of ricotta instead, and a dollop of sour cream and you've got an amazing concoction that will make people wonder how come there own versions are so bland.

Another way to take your dessert over the top is to find the right crust. I actually thought of this when I was about 15, so wayyy before Williams Sonoma suggested it in their 2007 Thanksgiving cookbook. For instance, if you're making a pumpkin cheesecake, forgo the traditional graham cracker and try a gingersnap version. Use shortbread cookies and spice them with the same ingredients you use in the recipe - lemon zest, orange peel, or sugared ginger, maybe?

And finally, you eat with your eyes first - so find creative yet simple ways to decorate the top (and sides) of your cheesecake. One of my personal favorites is to take pine branches, strip the tops slightly, and then arrange them around and under your cheesecakes during the winter holidays. It smells wonderful and looks even better. Just remember to wash them first. Caramelized limes are pretty on a key lime cheesecake (see a previous post), and dollops of whipped cream with a little cinnamon over the top are nice for any light-colored cheesecake, like this pumpkin one:

Yep, pumpkin is the new look for fall, so whether it's a cake, a bread, a pie, or a cheesecake, whip out those recipes, kids and embrace the craze!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Easy Orzo with Sundried Tomatoes and Garlic

For that past....well, I can't even remember how long it's been - months, let's say, I have had a pound of orzo sitting in the cupboard. I bought it with Weston many moons ago when Bush's was having a sale on pasta and we were sick of spaghetti and thought we'd be ambitious and try to make something with orzo. But here's the thing with orzo - it can't take heavy sauces - so things like Mac and Cheese or a simple meat sauce are just too overpowering. And since we both are BIG mac and cheese people, we never got around to our little experiment.

But since I am by myself now, I take great joy in tying up loose recipe ends such as this. So, thank you to Nino, the head chef of the villa I stayed at in Italy, for being the inspiration for the following recipe. I think I found the perfect meal for any occasion - from a summertime BBQ to a family gathering crowd pleaser.

FYI: this recipe makes A LOT - probably 8 to 10 servings worth so cut it in half if making for less, or invite a whole bunch of friends over for a potluck :)

What you need -

1 pound orzo - cooked in salted boiling water until just soft to the bite
2-3 large cloves of fresh garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs (or more if you'd like) good olive oil - a light, a fruity olive oil would be good, nothing too heavy
10 slices sun-dried tomatoes, packaged in oil and reconstituted in boiling water until soft
1 package cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 block feta (8 oz) - I like French - cut into medium-small cubes
juice of about 1 small lemon
1 can Northern Beans
*optional: any leafy herb you have on hand: basil or flat-leafed parsley would be best, 4 or 5 hard-boiled eggs cut into teeny pieces

Make the orzo and set aside to cool.

Add all the mix-ins - no dressing yet.

Make the dressing by whisking the lemon juice and olive oil - amount adjusted to your liking. Add the spices and pour over the pasta.

The dressing will seep into the pasta over time, so I like to do a preliminary coating and then coast with more dressing before serving, so you get two punches of flavor.


Please please please do not take this dish and throw on some of that Kraft ready-made balsamic or Italian style vinaigrette. Nothing against Kraft but it just makes the dish taste...artificial. You'd be surprised how wonderful a little olive oil and lemon juice are together.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Something Old, Something New

...oh yes. Winter is the time. The time for soup. I've gotten quite good at perfecting the art of soup, if I do say so myself. I used to think brewing up a pot of homemade goodness was such a hassle, but really it couldn't be easier so long as you have some type of stock and veggies/beans on hand.

The following is quite possibly the crowning glory of any soup I've ever made. I walked into the kitchen completely uninspired and then something amazing just happened and the following recipe was born:

What you need:

2 onions, chopped
1 cup tomato sauce (homemade is best - I always add oregano to mine, so if you're using sauce without it, add about 1/2 tsp)
3 carrots, chopped
5 potatoes, chopped
5-6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable)
1 tsp sage
salt, pepper, garlic powder
5-6 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 can cannelloni beans, not drained
2-3 pats butter and 2 Tbs oil

What you do:

Saute the onions in the oil until they are nice and almost caramelized, then add all the potatoes and carrots and saute down until the onions are almost melted and dark brown. Toss in your butter. Add the spices, tomato sauce, and stock. Put a lid on the top and cook for about 30 minutes, then add the beans (don't drain them - this helps thicken the soup). Cook another 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked a bit past their "tender" stage.

There are a few things that, I think, make this soup especially wonderful. First, it uses things everyone has on hand but perhaps never thought to put together. Second, it's cheap, and don't we all love that? Third, and most important - it is so good for you! Hardly any fat at all, brothy, and high in protein and nutrients from the tomatoes, stock, and garlic - ward of those pesky colds. The broth in itself is a thing of beauty because the butter adds another level of decadence and a wonderful viscosity not typical of your regular runny broth.