Sunday, December 25, 2011

Fudgy Fudge with Stella

Last Christmas is a bit of a blur to me. I was so focused on my daughter (who was one-year old at the time) and I wanted to avoid my extended family because I didn't want to explain to them why my husband wasn't with us again for Christmas (he was not with us the previous year either when Stella was only 3 months old) and, truthfully, I just wanted to hang out with my daughter and avoid the world and not have to explain anything to anybody about my failed marriage. Yadda yadda know the rest.

This Christmas has been quite wonderful, to tell you the truth. Stella is two-years old now and I can now see the world through her eyes...and it's a wonderful world filled with great people and beautiful places. I gasp when she gasps. If she sees a Christmas tree or an inflatable Santa Claus atop someones house her excitment becomes infectious. I love that she understand the concept of Christmas and she knows that it's "Baby Jesus's" birthday. And I love, love the fact that she LOVES to help me in the kitchen. She's a really good beater of anything: eggs, pancake batter, soup, but her forte is in helping me wash the dishes! So she inspired me to make this fudge with her. We made it on Christmas Eve to bring to my sister-in law's house today, Christmas Day. It's a packaged "Fudge Making Kit" from the makers of Carnation evaporated milk that I bought because, as most of you know, I suck at baking or at anything having to do with desserts. It's really a simple kit and it's good to have your toddler help you in smoothing out the fudge (the entire recipe take place on the stove top, so probably not a good place for a toddler to be!).

The recipe below is just in case you want to make the frudge from scratch and not from the kit, like I did. This recipe comes straight from the Carnation Evaporated Milk website, so I'm sure it's going to be delish!

Carnation Famous Fudge

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup (5 fl.-oz. can) NESTLÉ® CARNATION® Evaporated Milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 1 1/2 cups (9 oz.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

LINE 8-inch-square baking pan with foil.

COMBINE sugar, evaporated milk, butter and salt in medium, heavy-duty saucepan. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring constantly, for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

STIR in marshmallows, morsels, nuts and vanilla extract. Stir vigorously for 1 minute or until marshmallows are melted. Pour into prepared baking pan; refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm. Lift from pan; remove foil. Cut into 48 pieces.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Sweet, Tart and Spicy Tomato Jam

Someone once told me that divorce is like a death in the family and that you need to go through the five stages of loss in order to get over it. Stages such as denial,  anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance. I think I was over my divorce and "accepted" it a long, long time ago, but I was stuck in a funk with cooking. I didn't divorce cooking, but somehow I felt like I did. And as much as I love cooking I just couldn't (or wouldn't) go to the kitchen and cook something out the blue, or even follow a recipe. I needed a foodie therapist.

This year, during Thanksgiving week, my daughter was in Minnesota for a couple of weeks so I took advantage and took a mini vacation to San Francisco. There I met up with two of my favorite friends from Boston, Gracie and Kerry, who are also major foodies like me. Perhaps it was their company, perhaps it was the crisp San Francisco air, or perhaps it was all that wine we drank, but I began to realize that I needed to start cooking again, not because it was the only way to get my "mojo" back, sort of speak, but because I truly, truly love being in the kitchen and cooking, experimenting, tasting...oh, the tasting!

This little gem of a recipe is from the blog, injennieskitchen, and I stumbled upon it via my friend, Gracie, who made the tomato jam for us to enjoy for Thanksgiving. Once I tasted the jam I knew I had to make it. I took it upon myself to triple the recipe (bad idea) and instead of the 3 hour cooking time, it was actually more like 4 1/2  hours. So take it from me, don't double or triple, just follow the recipe below and it will come out great. I did add a little cayenne pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon) when I made mine, and it gives it just a slight spicy edge. Also, try to use a variety of tomatoes like Roma, Heirloom, yellow and grape tomatoes and don't forget the tart apple. You really need it in order to create a bit of pectin for your jam. Lastly, I did cut down on the sugar by about 1/2 cup for my tripled batch and it still came out sweet and tangy.

The way I love to use this jam is by smearing a little goat cheese on crostini and top with the tomato jam. Also, other ways to use it is as a relish on a burger or just place a dollop of the stuff on top of some cottage cheese. Happy cooking, my friends!

INGREDIENTS (makes 1 1/2 to 2 pints)

  • 3 1/2 lbs tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup finely diced tart green apple

Put all ingredients in a 2-quart pot. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until thickened and jam-like consistency, about 3 hours. Transfer to sterilized glass jars and store in refrigerator for up to two weeks, or use a hot-water canning bath for 15 minutes for long-term storage.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Egg and Toast

Sometimes you find yourself awake on a Sunday morning, slightly hungover from the previous night's wine that you just had a bit too much of, and the last thing on your mind is making a huge breakfast. All you want is a hot cup of coffee and a little egg, a little toast and some aspirin. 

This morning I found myself in that predicament so I made this recipe because to me this is the simplest, fastest way to combine egg and toast and it's quite good. The best part is that you only need two main ingredients!

INGREDIENTS (serves 1)

  • 1 slice white bread
  • 1 egg
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Butter

First get yourself a biscuit cutter or round cookie cutter (or use a glass) and make a hole in the middle of your piece of white bread. Set aside.

In a small non-stick pan, melt a little butter on medium low heat. Meanwhile, break open your egg and gently pour it in a small dish or shallow cup, try not to break the yolk.

Place your slice of bread on the pan and with a steady hand, pour the egg into the middle of the hole in the bread. Cook for about two minutes, depending how much you want your yolk to cook though. I love mine a little runny. As it cooks, season with salt, pepper and a little marjoram.

With a plastic spatula gently lift the bread and turn over to finish cooking on the other side. About another minute or so. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pastina with Peas and Carrots

As of late, my daughter (who is 20 months-old) has been a picky eater. I know that she eats a lot of organic fruits and veggies and proteins at daycare, but when she's home with me she gives me attitude and doesn't particularly like the food I give her. I don't know if she's doing it on purpose because she knows I'll give in and just give her mac and cheese or some cereal with soy milk (which she LOVES for some reason). So yesterday I was determined make her a healthier dinner that I hoped she would eat and I am glad I did take that extra time to make her this pastina with peas and carrots recipe.
I watched Giada make this a long time ago on a Food Network show, and I finally found the recipe here. Unfortunately, I could not find pastina, nor the mini-farfalle at my grocery store, so I just used penne pasta, which I cut in half after it had cooked so that it wasn't too big for my daughter.

The recipe is ridiculously easy. Using frozen sweet peas is the key and I am not entirely a fan of mascarpone unless it's on tiramisu, so I used 3/4 cup cream cheese and 1/4 cup mascarpone instead. Also, I only added a small amount of basil for Stella's portion, but added the rest of the basil for the adult version (as well as some freshly ground pepper). This is quite a nice pasta dish with lots of veggies and good textures. Next time, though, I definitely am going to try to use pastina.

INGREDIENTS (makes 6 small servings)
  • 1/2 pound (8 ounces) pastina or other small-shaped pasta, such as farfallini
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, about 7 minutes. Add the carrots and stock and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the peas to the pan and cook for 2 minutes until the peas are warmed through and the carrots are tender.

Stir in the cooked pasta.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the cheeses. Stir until the mixture is incorporated and forms a sauce. Add a little of the reserved pasta water to make sauce to your prefered consistency (optional). I didn't have to use any additional pasta water, however.

Season with salt, to taste. Transfer to a large serving bowl and garnish with chopped basil.

Stella's portion

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rustic Mixed Berry Crostata

I have become a Fresh and Easy groupie. If you don't know what Fresh and Easy is, it's a wonderful low-cost food market where they make a lot of their foods organically and sell fruits and veggies at pretty much farmer market this place is wonderful for someone who is on a budget, like me! The only problem is that sometimes they have such great deals like a bag of grapes or a box of strawberries for .98 cents!

Anyway, last week I found I had a container of blueberries, a pound of strawberries and some blackberries in the fridge and there is only so much berries Stella and I can eat, so I decided to make this crostata before the berries spoiled. The original recipe was in the NYT and they only used strawberries, so my only change was combinining a variety of berries. I have to say this is pretty much the easiest baking I've done. A crostata is basically like a free form pie, so there no wrong or right way to do it. And, yes, it did get a little messy on my part but sometimes that the fun part, specially when I have my 20-month old helping me.

Pastry (makes two crostatas)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Grated rind of one lemon (optional)
  • 2 sticks (1/2 pound) very cold unsalted butter, diced
  • 6 tablespoons ice water

Place flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Pulse a few times to blend. Transfer to a bowl, add butter and mix with your fingers to coat the butter with the flour. Return to processor; pulse 12-15 times. With processor on, add ice water. Continue pulsing until dough is just about to come together.
Turn dough out onto a well-floured cutting board. Roll into a ball, cut in half and form two disks. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about an hour. (Freeze one disk for later use).

  • 1 ½ – 2 pounds (roughly two quarts) of strawberries, rinsed, hulled and thickly sliced, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, or any combination of berries you prefer.
  • ¼ to ½ cup sugar, depending on sweetness of berries
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • Squeeze of lemon juice

Mix ingredients together. Drain any extra liquid just before using.

To assemble:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Roll pastry disk into an 11-12 inch circle on a lightly floured board. Dough should be approximately 1/8 inch thick.

Place dough on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Mound berry mixture in center of dough, leaving a 1½- inch border. Fold pastry over fruit, pleating it to make a rough edge. Don’t worry about cracks; some juice will leak out during baking.

Brush crust with a beaten egg mixed with a bit of water.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes, then carefully transfer to a cutting board. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Piggies in a Blanket

I feel so bad that I have not been cooking much lately. I guess you can say I'm in a bit of a funk. And yes, my friends, the rumors are true: my husband left me and my daughter so these past 19 months have been quite a roller-coaster ride, but in the end me and my baby girl have survived. And now that my daughter is almost 2 years old I'm beginning to notice in her how much she likes helping me in the kitchen and she specially loves baking.

My daughter's daycare has potlucks every 3 months or so to gather all the families and hang out and just have a good time. The theme last week's potluck was "camping food." And since I'm not a big camper I decided to make pigs in a blanket from scratch. Perhaps this is not typical camping food, but I figured since they were "mini" pigs in a blanket the kids would just love to pick them up and eat them. And they sure did! I used turkey lil' smokies for my recipe, but you can use pretty much any type of hot dog and just cut them down to size. I'm thinking next time I may have to try them with some Fenway Franks because those are truly my favorite hot dogs!

Ingredients (makes about 18 - 22 pigs in a blanket)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 18 miniature hot dogs, such as lil' smokies or cut down regular-sized hotdogs

Pre-heat oven to 400ºF.

Grease a large baking sheet.

Sift the dry ingredients (flour through salt) into a mixing bowl. Rub the butter pieces into the dry ingredients until mixture is crumbly. Stir in cheese until evenly distributed.
Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the buttermilk. Stir well with a wooden spoon. Let the dough sit for 3 minutes.

Sprinkle the dough with flour and stir once or twice then turn out onto a well floured counter.
With floured hands, pat the dough into a 15 by 7 inch rectangle, trimming the sides if necessary to get a true rectangle.

Using a pizza cutter, slice the rectangle into thirds horizontally then slice each third into thirds vertically, this will give you 9 small rectangles. Slice each rectangle diagonally into two thin triangles.

One at a time, roll up the sausages in the triangles. Place pointy side down on greased cookie sheet.

Bake for 12 to 13 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on the sheet for 3 minutes then tranfer to a wire rack. *Note: mine took 15 - 18 minutes to fully cook through, but that is because I don't have a very good oven. Just an FYI to check for doneness before serving.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Ricotta and Dill Seed Bread

I have a fascination with baking and with people who do well in baking mainly because I am so bad at it. Baking truly is a science and perhaps that may be why I fail at it most of the time. I'm more of a cook that experiments with a dash of this there, with a bit of that here, but in baking you have to be precise with your measurements and follow directions and wait. There's always that waiting time that also frustrates me a little. So I leave the baking up to the experts out there however if there is one bread that I can make, and make well, it's this delicious dill seed bread.

The original recipe that I learned from my mother-in-law, Kay, is here, and I was determined to make it again today since it's been so darn cold in San Diego lately (I get baking urges when the weather turns drab in my neck of the woods). But I did not have any cottage cheese, which is what the original recipe calls for, so I used ricotta cheese instead and the bread came out slightly tangier, softer, but still absolutely delicious. The best part about this bread is that it tastes so good toasted in the morning with a slather of butter, but it's also quite good by itself. My daughter even like the bread! This recipe is definitely a keeper!

INGREDIENTS (makes 1 loaf)
  • 1 pkg. Or 2-1/2 t. Dry yeast
  • ¼ c. Warm water
  • 2 T. Sugar
  • 1 c. whole milk ricotta cheese, room temperature
  • 1 T. Minced onion
  • 1 T. Melted or softened butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 t. Dill seed (not weed)
  • 2-1/4 to 2-1/2 c. (or slightly more) flour
In a small glass bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and add the sugar to proof.

In a separate large bowl combine the ricotta cheese, minced onion, butter, egg, salt, baking soda and dill seed; add the proofed yeast to the mixture.

Now start adding the flour one cup at a time; you should add enough flour to allow the dough to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Knead for 10 minutes (I highly recomend you use a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment for this part).
Let dough rest in a warm, draft free area and allow the dough to double in size, about an hour.

Once the dough doubles in size, punch the dough to expel the gasses. Shape dough into a loaf and place on a greased (or spay with PAM) cookie sheet and allow to double in size again. Brush the loaf with a mixture of egg and milk, and sprinkle with a little kosher salt (optional).
Bake at 350 F. until dark golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes. This will be a soft bread, that you can cut up and use as toast or as sandwich bread. It's truly quite unique and great tasting.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Plum Tart

I had a bunch of new recipes I made during the last few months and I was about to post them when, poof!, all my pictures disappeared. All my food porn is gone! I just have to figure out a way to recover them, so instead I made this dessert tonight. 

I watched the Barefoot Contessa make this a few weekends ago on the Food Network and it looked ridiculously simple. And it is. A couple of notes, though: 
  1. Use very ripe (almost over ripened) prune plums. The more ripe they are, the more juice they'll give out making the tart sweet and tart at the same time. 
  2. I made mine in a cake pan and my plum tart was a little over-cooked, so for sure I recommend a tart pan. I think I need to invest in a good tart pan for myself.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), diced
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 pounds firm, ripe Italian prune plums, pitted and quartered lengthwise

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine the flour, walnuts, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter and the egg yolk. Mix, either by hand or with an electric mixer, until crumbly.

Press 1 1/2 cups of the crumb mixture in an even layer into the bottom of a 9 1/2-inch springform or tart pan. Arrange the plums in the pan, skin side down, to form a flower pattern; begin at the outside and work your way in.

Sprinkle the rest of the crumb mixture evenly over the plums. Bake the tart for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it's lightly browned and the plum juices are bubbling. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and transfer the tart to a flat plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.