Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hermit Bars

I made these hermit bars for Matthew. I sent them to him in a care package because apparently these bars hold up pretty well when mailing them to far away places. I had never heard of these bars until one day Matt told me about them. I guess these are very popular in care packages sent to the military. These bars are very easy to make and quite flavorful, too. They are a combination of a soft cookie, a fig newton and gingerbread. Usually packages that I send out to Matt tend to get there in a month, so once he gets them we'll see how they hold up and I hope he likes them!

INGREDIENTS (makes 16 bars)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup mild molasses
  • 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg white (large)
  • 1/3 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
  • 1/3 cup raisins, plumped and dried (I used 50% raising and 50% currants)
DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheet with parchment (I used foil and greased it with butter).

Thoroughly stir flour, brown sugar, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon and salt together in a medium size mixing bowl. Make a well in center of flour mixture.

In a small bowl, stir together molasses, butter, vanilla and egg white. Pour mixture into well; stir until well mixed. Stir in toasted pecans and raisins.

Divide mixture in half and shape each half into a 10×2 inch rectangle (approximately). Make sure the rectangles are spaced about 4 inches apart or more on cookie sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until edges seem browned and bars appear set and aromatic. Remove from oven and slide parchment onto a large cutting board. Slice each rectangle cross-wise into 1 ½ inch bars. Let cool completely. Recipe from CookieMadness.net

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

French Bread

I do not know what it is, but I'm in a homemade kick right now. Perhaps it's the pregnancy hormones; maybe it's my motherly love coming out; or I'm just bored. What ever it is, I've decided to start making more homemade foods, such as bread. I even made homemade sausage last week. So, depending on how my experiments come out, I may just start doing more "from scratch" cooking.

I found the French bread recipe in Suite101.com and basically, it's simple, it's easy and you only need 5 ingredients. The only hard part (if you want to call it hard) is the waiting and the kneading. This recipe is for 2 large loaves, but I made three medium loaves instead. This recipe makes a lot of bread, so just be warned. Next time, I may just make a lot of demi breads and give out as gifts.

INGREDIENTS (makes 2 large loaves)

  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • 2-1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 6 cups all purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt + more for sprinkling
DIRECTIONS

Make sure water temperature is 110 to 115 degrees F. Place water in a large bowl and sprinkle with yeast and sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes until yeast dissolves and starts to bubble. Stir in 2 cups flour and salt. Cover and let rise for 1/2 hour.

Then gradually stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. (Knead by pressing on the dough, then folding over and pressing with the heel of your hand.) Then clean the large mixing bowl, spray with oil (I used olive oil), and place the dough in the bowl. Turn it in the bowl so the dough is greased (this prevents the top from cracking as it rises).

Cover the dough and let rise at room temperature for about 2-1/2 hours, until doubled in bulk. With your fist, punch down the dough. Divide in half and place one half on a lightly floured surface.

Using a rolling pin, roll dough to a 12x6" rectangle. Starting with the 12" side, roll up tightly. Seal seams and edges by pinching. Repeat with remaining dough.

Grease a cookie sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place loaves on prepared sheet. Cover and let rise at room temperature until doubled, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Spray the loaves with a bit of water, then using a blade, made a few slashes across the top of each loaf. Sprinkle a little bit of salt over each loaf. Bake at 425 degrees F for 25-30 minutes until loaves are golden brown. Remove from cookie sheet and let cool on wire rack.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

I made this super easy meal using my homemade Italian sausage. It's ridiculously easy and the broccoli rabe adds a nice mild bitter flavor that marries well with the sausage. You can use your favorite bulk sausage with this recipe; and don't forget to serve nice crusty bread on the side to sop it all up.

INGREDIENTS (serves 4)

  • 1 large bundle broccoli rabe, about 1 1/4-1 1/2 pounds
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound bulk Italian hot or sweet sausage
DIRECTIONS

Trim ends of the broccoli rabe and cut into 3-inch pieces. Bring 2 inches water to a boil in a high sided skillet. Salt the water. Add the broccoli rabe and simmer 10 minutes, drain. Return skillet to the stove and heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage, brown and crumble 6-7 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and stir to combine.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Homemade Sweet Italian Sausage

I have been getting spoiled by my husband lately. Maybe it's because I'm carrying his child; perhaps because I'm very emotional right now; or it could be that he's just an Amazon.com addict and he loves to buy stuff from there. Anyway, he got me the food grinder attachment to my awesome Kitchenaid stand mixer and, of course, I just had to use it immediately. I decided to go the easy route and make homemade sausage, this time sober! The recipe below is a tweak between Alton Brown's recipe and a recipe by John D. Lee on HubPages.com. You can omit the paprika, but I like it because it gives the sausage a slight reddish hue.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds lean pork butt (2-1/2 pounds with bone), diced into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp. fennel seed (up to 1 Tbsp. depending on how much fennel seed you like in your sausage. I used 1 tablespoon.)
  • 1 tsp. sweet paprika
  • 2 cloves finely minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley leaves
DIRECTIONS

Using your food grinder, grind the pork. Set aside.

Toast fennel seed in medium sized, heavy saute pan over medium heat, constantly moving seeds around in pan until they start to turn light brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cool, grind seeds and combine with salt, pepper, paprika, sugar, garlic and chopped parsley in medium mixing bowl. Add pork and blend thoroughly. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Use this Italian sausage in your favorite spaghetti sauce, or instead of ground beef in lasagna. I used this sausage for broccoli rabe and sausage. Truly delish! I'll post recipe soon.

This can be stuffed inside sausage casings and grilled as well. Sausage casings can be found at most Italian grocery stores. Get a little funnel and shove the meat into the tubes; but don't push too hard, as it can be frustrating to rupture the casings as you get close to a finished sausage. When your sausage is the length that you want, twist off the ends and tie them in knots. Store in refrigerator for use within 2 to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Spaghetti with Caramelized Shallots

I haven't been watching much Rachael Ray on Food Network lately only because she had begun to annoy me (just like Paula Deen). I truly don't know what it is about these ladies that annoy me, perhaps it's that they use the same catch phrases all the time. But anyway, I digress.

What caught my eye about this recipe from Rachael Ray is that the spaghetti just looked too easy to make and it only had a few ingredients. The recipe below is for 4 people; naturally I halved it since it's just 1 and 3/8th's right now. And since I ran out of Parmigiano I used the leftover Mizithra, but next time I will definitely add the fresh Parmigiano.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 10 shallots, halved, then thinly sliced
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
  • A generous handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
DIRECTIONS

Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a high-sided skillet. Add garlic and shallots. Season with salt and pepper, then gently cook to caramelize them, 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, heat a large pot of water to boil for pasta, salt the water very liberally, then add spaghetti to rolling boil. Cook to al dente.

Add three ladles of starchy pasta water, about 1 1/4 cups, to the shallots and stir.

Drain pasta and add to shallots. Add the parsley and cheese and more black pepper, to taste. Toss 1-2 minutes for liquid to absorb and serve.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mac n' Cheese

In Chef Melissa Mayer's cooking class that I attended last week, she briefly talked about the competition she was in with the Food Network. I believe it was call "Food Network Challenge: Mac and Cheese." She didn't win, but she told us the experience was quite incredible and all the chef's were very competitive. I guess you have to be if you want to win the grand prize of $10,000.

I was inspired by the chef to try to make mac and cheese again, but I went for a more traditional one this time (no goat cheese on this one). I got the idea of adding the spinach from Lindsey, my sister in law, because she makes a delish baked ziti that she puts fresh spinach in. This mac and cheese is definitely more of a grown-up dish, and that nutmeg gives it a great, yet subtle flavor in the background. You don't have to add the spinach like I did if you want your kids to eat it!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 ½ c (9 ounces) macaroni pasta (I used short penne riggate)
  • 2 ½ c whole milk
  • half of a small shallot, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • ¼ c all-purpose flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 ½ cups)
  • 3 oz fontina cheese, grated (about 1 cup)--I used mozzarella
  • 3 oz Gruy√®re cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh nutmeg
  • ½ c fresh bread crumbs
DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 2-quart baking dish.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and boil until it is about half-cooked, tender on the surface with a distinct bite still in the center, about 5 minutes. Drain well, rinse with cold water and set aside, tossing from time to time as it cools to avoid sticking.
  3. Put the milk in a small saucepan with the half shallot, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring just to a low boil over medium heat, then take the pan from the heat and let sit to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until it foams up and has a very slight toasty smell (it should not brown), 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Strain the warm milk into the pan and whisk to blend. Continue to cook the sauce, whisking often, until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and gradually whisk in the cheeses until fully melted.
  6. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper, add the nutmeg, then add the pasta and stir to fully coat all the pasta with the cheese sauce (you can add fresh spinach or other veggies at this point).
  7. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish and sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over.
  8. Set the dish on the oven rack and lay a piece of foil on the rack below to catch any drips. Bake until the macaroni and cheese is bubbling hot and the top is nicely browned, about 40 minutes. Let sit for about 15 minutes before serving.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mizithra Cheese and Browned Butter Spaghetti

When my brothers and I were little, my dad and Elaine used to take us chichinos (our tias gave us that nickname) to the Old Spaghetti Factory on special occasions. It was probably one of our favorite places to go, next to Disneyland and IHOP. We LOVED going there and I think my brothers, Tom & Bobby, look forward to playing the Pac-Man video game they had in the lounge.

Then a few years ago this landmark restaurant was closed to make room for fancy schmanzy restaurants and high-end hotels. But luckily this year OSF re-opened (I'm thinking the economy had something to do with it). The restaurant is half the size it used to be; the charm it used to have is gone, and Pac-Man is no where to be found. But at least we have an affordable restaurant back in downtown SD. This dish is one of OSF's signature dishes. The secret is being patient in browning the butter and of course in using this wonderful Greek cheese, mizithra.

INGREDIENTS (serves 2)

  • 4 oz. butter (1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup Mizithra cheese, freshly grated
  • 1/2 pound spaghetti or angel hair pasta
  • Chopped parsley, for garnish
DIRECTIONS

First, cook your pasta in a large bowl of salted water. Cook according to package directions.

Cut 1 stick of butter into 4 pieces and place in a sauce pan. Place the pan on a burner on medium heat. Bring butter to a slow boil (about 5 minutes).

Once the butter begins to boil, stir constantly to prevent residue from sticking to the bottom of the pan. As the butter cooks, it will start to foam and rise. With a spoon remove as much foam as you can by lightly skimming it off.

Once most foam is removed, cook until amber in color (about 1 to 2 minutes). It will have a pleasant caramel aroma. Turn off the heat and remove pan from burner. Let the sediment settle to the bottom of the pan for a few minutes.

Pour the brown butter through a fine sieve into a small bowl. Do not disturb the residue at the bottom of the pan.

Drain pasta and divide into two servings. Spread 1/4 cup of Mizithra over each pasta serving. Top with 1/4 cup of hot brown butter. Sprinkle chopped parsley and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Juicy Pan Roasted Pork Chops

Believe it or not, I'm not very good at cooking pork chops. I have a love/hate relationship with this meat because I tend to either overcook it, or I don't buy the right cut and they come out tasting bland. So, I read that rib chops are better at grilling because they have a little more marbling than other cuts of pork. I found two, 1" rib pork chops on sale at the supermarket and decided to give pork chops another try. I was truly amazed on how juicy and tender they came out.

Note that most pork chop products already come with some sodium solution in them, so my brine is quite light in salt (I used Foster Farms pork chops). If you happen to buy natural, no added preservatives chops, then I would add maybe 1 more tablespoon of salt to the brine. I also let my chops brine for 3 days.

Pork Chop Brine

  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 4 cups ice water
  • 2 rib pork chops, about 1" thick
DIRECTIONS

In a one gallon resealable freezer bag or a large container with a tight-fitting lid, dissolve salt and sugar in hot water. If you are using a freezer bag, it helps to set the bag inside a large bowl in case of spills or leaks. Add garlic, bay leaf, thyme, vinegar and ice water to brine. This will cool the brine quickly. Add the pork and seal the bag or tightly close the container and refrigerate overnight, up to 3 days (I brined mine for 3 days). Just before cooking, run chops under cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Season with fresh, cracked black pepper (no more salt is needed!).

To cook, you have your choice of grilling or pan-roasting. I pan roasted my chops. First, pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.

Add a couple of teaspoons of olive oil to an oven proof skillet and heat on medium-high. When pan is hot, place your chops and cook exactly two minutes to sear. Try not to move the chops around. Turn the chops over and sear another two minutes on second side.

Next, place the pan in the hot oven to finish cooking the chops. This can take 10 to 12 minutes. If you don't like any pink in your pork, you can go up to 14 minutes, but I wouldn't go longer than that. Don't forget to wear your oven-mitt as the pan is super hot! Enjoy with mashed potatoes or even some apple sauce. YUM!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mmmm, Cheesecake!

Many moons ago I had the best cheesecake at an Italian restaurant in the North End in Boston. I don't remember which restaurant it was, but I do remember that the cheesecake slice I got was ginormous, it was extremely creamy, the crust to die for, and the sour cream topping was incredible.

I've been looking for a recipe to replicate it, and I was shocked when I found this recipe by Andrew Zimmern (actually, it's his mom's recipe) but you can understand how shocked I was to find it in his blog. This from the man that eats bull testicles and insects for lunch! Anyway, I used a 10" springform pan (lined the outside with foil) for this and baked it in a water bath for the first 40 minutes, but I'm sure if you follow his recipe below it will be just as good. I'm bringing my dad a big piece because he absolutely LOVES cheesecake and we'll see what the thinks!

INGREDIENTS

Crust:

  • 4 oz butter (one stick)
  • 2 c graham cracker crumbs (about 8 graham crackers)
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 t cinnamon
Filling:
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1⁄2 c sugar (I put in closer to 3/4 cup sugar)
  • 24 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 t lemon juice
Topping:
  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 4 T sugar.
  • 1⁄2 t vanilla
DIRECTIONS

For the Crust: Melt butter, mix with other ingredient. Press into pie plate, forming bottom and sides. Since I used a springform pan, I only pressed to form a bottom; using the bottom of a measuring cup works in evening out the crust.

For the Filling: Beat eggs and sugar and mix until well combined. Add cream cheese, vanilla and lemon juice (I also added a 1/2 tsp of lemon zest). Pour into crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Cool 1/2 hour. (I baked my cheesecake in a water bath for 40 minutes).

For the Topping: Mix all ingredients. Spread on top. Bake at 475 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Chill at least overnight to 24 hours.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Watermelon Greek Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette


I have been craving watermelon a lot...I mean A LOT, but it's still a little pricey over here. I bought a half of a watermelon instead and I just finally had to make this watermelon Greek-style salad. This is my take on Urban Solace's Greek salad they have in their menu during the summer. It is such and incredible salad and if you're ever in the 'hood, you should go to this restaurant and try it out. It's also one of the very few places that serves PBR!
You can use lightly toasted pine nuts, if you prefer, and raisins if you can't find currants. The vinaigrette makes about 1-1/2 cups, which you can use on other salads, and it also tastes good on grilled chicken or lamb.
Pomegranate Vinaigrette
  • 1 Tbsp. minced shallots
  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar (I used fig-infused vinegar)
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice (fresh squeezed)
  • 2 Tbsp. lime juice (fresh squeezed)
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses (available at specialty stores or middle eastern markets)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • tsp kosher or sea salt
  • 1 pinch fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup canola oil (I used 1/2 cup EVOO and 1/2 cup vegetable oil)
DIRECTIONS
Place all ingredients except oil in a blender and puree. Slowly add the oil to make a smooth vinaigrette.

Watermelon Greek Salad (makes one gigantic salad)
  • 3 oz. baby spinach or mesclun mix
  • 1/4 cup diced tomato
  • 1/4 cup diced cucumber
  • 2 Tbsp. currants
  • 2 Tbsp. toasted pecans or pine nuts, chopped
  • A few thin slices of red onion
  • 1 cup watermelon, cubed
  • 2 oz. crumbled feta
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate vinaigrette, or more to taste
DIRECTIONS
In a salad bowl, pour half of the vinaigrette then add the rest of ingredients, except the pecans. Top with remaining vinaigrette then gently toss, making sure everything gets a little coating of the dressing. Serve the salad, and sprinkle the the toasted pecans.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Faux Juicy Lucy

I was watching the show Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel and the host traveled to Minneapolis to taste the famous juicy Lucy at Matt's bar. Little did I know that there is another restaurant, called the 5/8's, that also has a Juicy Lucy in their menu. There is a debate about who came up with the original Lucy and where the best one is, but just to refresh your memory, a juicy Lucy is a lot of cheddar cheese stuffed in-between two hamburgers then it's pan-grilled to perfection. I was craving this wonderful burger and I came up with my own version. Of course, it wasn't as good at the one at Matt's Bar, but it definitely calmed my craving.

INGREDIENTS (makes 1 juicy Lucy)

  • 2 - 1/4 lb. hamburger patties
  • Slices of Tillamook mild cheddar cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Hamburger fixin's like onion, tomato, mayo, and pickles
DIRECTIONS

Take your two hamburger patties and flatten them down just a tad bit more to 1/4" thick. Place smallish slices of cheddar cheese in the middle of one patty, leaving about 1/8" border around the hamburger. Top it with the other patty and smoosh the sides good so that it forms a tight seal around the hamburgers.

Heat a non-stick pan on medium-high and add a teaspoon of vegetable or canola oil. Season one side of the hamburger with salt and pepper and place it on the pan, seasoned side down. Season the other side while you cook for about 8 minutes (yeah, I know it's a long time, but remember you have cheese in the middle). Turn patty over and cook another 6 to 8 minutes.

Make sure the hamburger rests for at least 5 minutes before you serve it because it's hot! Serve in a hamburger bun with a little mayo, shredded lettuce, tomato and pickles.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Spring Herb Risotto

My husband did an awesome job with our backyard, but I think my favorite part (besides the cob-oven) are all the herbs and fruit and vegetable plants he planted. So far, the grape vines, fig trees, citrus and persimmon trees and tomatoes still have a ways to go, but the herbs are going nuts out there. We have the most fragrant mint, gorgeous parsley and fresh oregano. The lettuces, basil, tarragon and chives are still babies, but I'm sure they'll be ready in another month or so.

Anyway, I borrowed a book from Lindsey over a year ago (I think she forgot I have it), called "A Handful of Herbs: Gardening, Cooking and Decorating." In it, it has great tips on herb gardening, and it also has some pretty good recipes. This herb risotto is right out of the book. This was probably my best risotto EVER! It was creamy, yet just slightly al dente, and the fresh herbs from my garden made such a big difference. I halved the recipe below, but it still made enough risotto for 2 to 3 people.

Happy gardening!

INGREDIENTS (serves 4 to 6)

  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped mixed herbs, such as chervil, chives, mint, parsley and tarragon (I used a mixture of chives, mint and parsley)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 small leeks, well washed, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine (I used a pinot grigio)
  • 1/4 cup Mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
DIRECTIONS

Put the 5 cups of vegetable stock in a saucepan and heat to a rolling boil (if you have any extra herbs, add them to the stock just to give it that extra herbaceous flavor) then lower heat to low to keep stock warm.

Add the oil to a large pan with high sides and heat on medium. Add the onion, garlic, leeks and a pinch of salt and slowly fry for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the rice and stir the mixture over the heat for 1 minute until all grains are coated with oil and glossy. Pour in the wine and boil until almost totally evaporated.

Now add 1 large ladle full of the warmed vegetable stock and simmer; stir until stock is absorbed before adding more stock. Repeat this process until stock has been used and rice is tender but firm (this will take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes).

Stir in the spinach, herbs, Parmesan and Mascarpone cheese and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, if needed. Cover the pan and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve with extra Parmesan cheese.