Saturday, July 31, 2010

Grilled Ahi Tuna w/ Black Olives and Sundried Tomatoes, Served with Asparagus and Quinoa Pasta

I actually cooked this recipe for dinner over a month ago.  It's not so much a recipe, as me working again with what is in the house (combining several ingredients that I had accumulated from other recipes).  What I have learned from watching my friend Maria cook is that if you fry a piece of meat or fish in butter and olive oil and then use the leftover pan drippings with white wine, chicken (or vegetable stock) and a few add-ons (in this case - sundried tomatos and black olives) your dinner all of a sudden becomes gourmet.  This is the formula I used for what you see above.

-2 large pieces ahi tuna
-2 Tablespoons olive oil
-1 Tablespoon butter
-1/4 cup dry white wine
-1/4 cup chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
-3-4 pieces sundried tomato
-approx 1/4 cup black olives
-pasta of your choice, cooked (I found a great Quinoa pasta at Whole Foods...perfect if you want a gluten-free alternative.  You won't know this isn't regular pasta)

1/ Melt butter and olive oil in pan on med/high heat (this works best with a cast-iron skillet if you have one).  Add ahi and brown approximately 3-4 minutes.  Then turn and brown an additional 3-4 minutes.  Remove fish from pan (it should be almost, but not completely cooked through).

2/ Reduce heat to medium.  Scrape bottom of pan with wooden spoon to combine small browned pieces of chicken.  Slowly add wine, chicken stock, tomatos and olives.  Stir indgredients to combine and add salt and pepper to taste.  

3/ Bring sauce to a soft simmer and place ahi fillets back into pan.  Simmer fish in sauce an additional 5-10 minutes, checking often to avoid over cooking.

4/ Serve ahi on a bed of rice or pasta with a side of roated asparagus.  Add a generous amount of sauce to fish, sprinkle with fresh or dried parmesan and serve with your leftover white wine.

Simple Stuffed Chicken

This is not dissimilar to the stuffed chicken I posted about 2 monthes ago.  The more I cook, the more I realize how simple it is to keep a few ingredients around the house and mix-and-match different cooking techniques with these items to create new, amazing dishes.

My friend, Lisa, made this delicious stuffed chicken w/ sun dried tomatoes and goat cheese.  I used a combo of her cooking method with Giada's (who loves to fry foods in a combo of butter and olive oil) to make the easy, impressively good dish below:

(pulled from what was in my house)

-Olive oil (approx 1-2 tblsp)
-Unsalted butter (1 tblsp)
-1 Tbsp minced garlic (I was in a hurry, so used the kind you buy in a jar)
-2 boneless chicken breasts
-Left-over Trader Joe's Mushroom Risotto (approx 1/2 cup)
-Fresh Basil (approx 5 leaves, torn into small pieces)
-Shredded Cheese (I used parmesan, but mozarella or a mexican blend work well too)

1/ Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter and olive oil in a medium frying pan over med/high heat.  Add garlic and simmer for 1 minute.  Add chicken breasts, allowing each side approx 3 minutes to really brown.  In the pan, use a sharp knife to butterfly the chicken and spread the uncooked center, open-side-down for 1-2 more minutes to lightly brown.

2/ Meanwhile, combine risotto, basil and sundried tomatos in a microwavable container.  Use kitchen shears to quickly cut through all ingredients, combining them.  Add approx 1 tsp of water and microwave until ingredients are lightly heated (approx 30 sec -to-1 minute, depending on your microwave).  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add a few sprinkles of shredded cheese and combine

3/ Turn chicken breasts in pan over, so the butterflied center is facing up.  Stuff center with the risotto, basil and sundried tomato ingredients.  Take a small, extra handfull of shredded cheese and add to combo.  Lightly salt and pepper the top of stuffed chicken and place pan in oven for additional 8-10 minutes (or until cheese has melted and you are so hungry that you are over waiting).  Watch chicken closely, so that you don't overcook.

4/ When serving, lightly spoon oil/garlic mixture from pan on top of each breast.


...other stuffing combos that would be fun to try: jasmine rice with mushroom and gruyere, or mexican rice with tomato,  jalapeno and shredded 5-cheese blend.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The One, the Only, the Brookie

I've been talking about the damned thing for going on 2 monthes now, so tonight I finally made the brookie.  Originally, I discovered this recipe on Martha Stewart's website and the name (and entire concept, really) was so ridiculous I was on board from the get go.

First-things-first, you have to make the cookie dough and let it chill for at least 3 hours before using.  If you work, like I do, and have limited evening time I recommend making the cookie dough the night before you plan on baking.

Secondly, Martha Stewart has an uncanny nack for using pan sizes that are hard to find or that I have never heard of.  This recipe calls for six 4"pie tins.  If you know where to find a 4" pie tin, please fill me in.  After some searching, Mike and I found 5 1/2" pie tins at Cookin' Stuff, and they were pricy so we only bought 4.  I used a muffin tray to use up the additional dough (wielding 5 additional "mini" brookies). 

Another tip I can offer is to make the chocolate chip cookie dough disk smaller than you would think.  My cookies spread a lot during the baking and I wasn't able to get the brownie edge like Martha has in her photo.  Now that I've said my peace, please enjoy this sinfully delicious recipe:

(makes 6)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted buter, cut into 1-inch cubes, plus more for pie tins
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon dark cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72 percent cacao), coarsely chopped
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (see recipe below)
Ice cream, for serving (optional)

1/ Butter bottom and sides of six 4-inch round pie tins; set aside.

2/ In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and cocoa powder; set aside.

3/ Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water.  Turn off heat but keep bowl over water; whisk both sugars into chocolate mixture.  Remove bowl from water and let cool to room temperature.

4/ Add eggs to chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.  Add vanilla and stir just to combine; do not over-mix.  Sprinkle flour mixture over chocolate mixture.  Using a spatula, gently fold flour mixture into chocolate mixture until just a trace amount of the flour mixture is visible.

5/ Fill each prepared pie tin halfway with batter.  Place pie tins on a large baking sheet and transfer to refrigerator; let chill for at least 1 hour.

6/ Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

7/ Using a 1/4-cup ice cream scoop with a mechanical release, scoop the chilled cookie dough into six balls.  Using your hands, shape dough to form perfect balls and genlty form into a round disk that is slightly domed at the top; disks should be slightly smaller than the top of the pie tins.

8/ Remove pie tins from the refrigerator and gently press 1 disk of cookie dough into each tin of batter.  Transfer baking sheet to oven and bake until cookie is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through cooking time.  Serve warm with ice cream or at room temperature.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Strawberry and Marscapone Granita

Dessert for me almost always includes chocolate, but we had a friend over for dinner who is allergic.  This light and (somewhat) healthy dessert is easy to prepare and a real stunner.  Perfect for a warm, Summer evening.

(Recipe Makes 4-6 servings)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves, plus 1 cup finely diced strawberries
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
pinch of salt

Place 1/2 cup of the sugar and the mint in a small pan with 1 cup of water and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to help dissolve the sugar.  Let simmer over low heat for 5 minutes to steep the mint.  Then strain the mint from the simple syrup.  Discard the mint.

In a food processor, combine the 2 cups of coarsely chopped strawberries with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar.  Run the machine to puree the strawberries.  Add the mascarpone, lemon juice, and salt and process until the mascarpone is fully incorporated.  Add the mint syrup and combine.  

Pour the strawberry mixture into the 8x8-inch glass dish, cover the dish with plastic wrap, and place in the freezer.  The mixture will take about 4 hours to freeze.

To serve, use a fork to scrape the granita.  Spoon the mixture into chilled bowls.  Top with the finely diced strawberries.  Serve immediately.

Apple Thyme Martini

I was very excited to try this martini.  I used thyme from my garden and served this as a before-dinner cocktail.  To be honest, it was too sweet for my taste and the ratio of sugar-to-water in the simple syrup made the syrup very thick and sticky; so it was difficult getting it to blend with the vodka and apple juice.  If I were to make this again, I would use less sugar and less thyme, and possibly try to find more of a sparkling cider versus a standard sweet apple juice.

P.S. I don't have a melon baller, so don't judge me on the ugliness of my my apple balls.

(recipe makes 4)

10 oz vodka
6 oz apple juice
1/4 cup Thyme Simple Syrup (see recipe below)
1 large apple, peeled
4 fresh thyme sprigs

Chill 4 martini glasses in the freezer

Fill a large cocktail shaker with ice.  Add the vodka, apple juice, and thyme syrup and shake for about 10 seconds.  Divide among the 4 chilled martini glasses.

Using a melon baller, scoop out small balls of apple.  Place 3 balls of apple and 1 sprig of thyme in each glass for garnish.  Serve immediately.

(makes 1 cup)

1 cup sugar
5 large fresh thyme sprigs

In a saucepan, combine the sugar, thyme and 1/2 cup water.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce the head, and simmer until the sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes.  Take the pan off ht eheat and cool the syrup.

Any extra cooled syrup can be saved in a an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Asparagus Pancetta Lasagna

I got this recipe from Giada's Kitchen - New Italian Favorites.

It's a lighter alternative to the traditional lasagna, using ricotta, asparagus and pancetta.  I served this as part of a Summer-Themed Italian Dinner; including the following items:

Recipe says that it makes 6-8 servings.  I'd argue it makes around 10.

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
9 lasagna sheets, fresh or dried
2 (8.5 ounce ) jars sun-dried tomatoes, drained
1 1/2  cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 pound pancetta, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 bunches of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 (15-ounce) container whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/ Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the teaspoon of olive oil.  Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes for dried pasta or 2 to 3 minutes for fresh pasta.  Drain the pasta.

2/ In a food processor, combine the sun-dried tomatoes and basil.  Pulse until the mixture is combined.  Transfer to a small bowl and stir in 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese.  Set aside.

3/ In a large skillet, brown the pancetta until crisp...

Remove from the pan using a slotted spoon.  Add the tablespoon of olive oil, the onion, and garlic to the same skillet and cook until tender, about 4 minutes.  Add the asparagus and cook until tender, about 4 minutes, then transfer the mixture to a large bowl.  Add the ricotta, salt, and pepper and stir to combine.

4/ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Sprinkle some of the sun-dried tomato mixture over the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking sheet.  Place a layer of the lasagna sheets on top of the sun-dried tomato mixture and spread the noodles with half of the asparagus mixture.  Sprinkle with a third of the mozzarella cheese and a third of the remaining 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese.  Make another layer in the same fashion . Top with a third layer of lasagna sheets,  some sun-dried tomato mixture, and the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.  Dot the top with the butter.  Bake until the lasagna is heated through and the cheese is melted, about 25 minutes.

Caesar Salad From Scratch (no baking required)

A great side for baked meats or lasagna

Caesar Salad is one of those delicious items I only really get at steak houses (because it's so rich and fattening, that I can't justify the calories at home).  However, this version is lighter than most.

I started with a Caeser Salad recipe from Tyler Florence on the food network, and made a few ammendments.  The major change is not adding raw egg yolks and water.

Who knew an impressive salad could be this easy!  
My Caesar recipe is as follows:

2-3 cloves garlic
4 anchovy fillets (or approx 1/2 tsp anchovy paste)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 lemons, juiced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish (I ended up adding extra cheese to the dressing for taste; approx 2 small handfuls)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 heads romaine lettuce

1/ Put garlic, anchovy fillets (or paste), mustard and lemon juice in a blender and process for 30 seconds until the mixture is smooth.  With the blender running, pour the olive oil in slowly for the dressing to emulsify.  Add Parmesan and blend briefly until just combined.  Add a pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper, to taste; set aside (Dressing must be refrigerated if not used immediately.  Allowing dressing to sit in the fridge for an hour or two will help the flavors to better combine)

2/ Tear the lettuce into a large bowl.  Add enough dressing to lightly coat greens.  Add an extra handful or two of parmensan and toss.  

3/ Serve alone or with a few anchovies and garlic croutons.

Giant Chocolate Sugar Cookies

The infamous Brookie will need to wait until the weekend.  Too much "chilling in the fridge time" to do on a weeknight.

Instead, I handed Mike my Martha Stewart's Cookies cookbook and told him to pick a cookie involving ingredients we had on hand.  The result is as follows:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature 
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (or 1/2 cup unsalted butter), melted and cooled
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/ Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

2/ Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy.  Mix in melted shortening (or butter).  Add egg and vanilla; mix until creamy.  Reduce speed to low.  Gradually add flour mixture, and mix until just combined.

3/ Using a 2 1/2" ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets lined w/ parchment paper, spacing about 4" apart.  Bake until edges are firm, 18 to 20 minutes.  Let cool on sheets on wire racks.  Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 2 days.

Recipe is supposed to make only 8 cookies.  I made them slightly smaller and got 12.  Rich and chocolatey.  They were amazing just out of the oven!!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Chicken Piccata

Shown Here with Sprouted Brown Rice and Caprese

This recipe is soooo not healthy. Giada has quickly become one of my favorite chefs, and she likes to cook things in butter and olive oil.  The combo is very rich, buttery flavor.  The recipe below will take approximately 20 minutes and in the words of my husband, "I'd pay money in a restaraunt for this."

-2 skinless and boneless chicken breasts, butterflied* and then cut in half
-Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
-2 cups all purpose flour, for dredgin
-6 tablespoons unsalted butter
-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
-1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
-1/2 cup chicken stock
-1/4 cup brined capers, rinsed
-1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.

In a large 10 or 12-inch skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons olive oil.  When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes.  

When chicken is browned, flip and cook other side for 3 minutes.  Remove and transfer to plate.  Melt 2 more tablespoons butter and add another 2 tablespoons olive oil.  When butter and oil start to sizzle, add the other 2 pieces of chicken and brown both sides in the same manner.  Remove pan from heat and add chicken to the plate. 

Reduce heat to medium low and add the lemon juice, stock and capers.  Retrun to stove and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor.  Check for seasoning.  Return all the chicken
to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes.  

Remove chicken to platter.  Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and whisk vigorously.  Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley.

*How to Butterfly a Chicken Breast:

To butterfly a chicken merely slice place a knife into the thickest area of the chicken and cut horizontally almost, but not all the way through the breast.

 Then spread the breast open and pat down until surface of chicken is relatively even.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Trader Joe's Bean, Roasted Corn & Avocado Salad on a Bed of Red Quinoa

Makes a great side to Chicken or Fish

Taken from the back of a box of Trader Joe's Red Quinoa and amended only slightly, I'm amazed at how savory and filling this dish is.  Recomended as a side dish, I have also had this at lunch as a main course. Perfect as a bring along to a pot-luck or Summer BBQs.

1 cup Red Quinoa, cooked w/ chicken or vegetable broth
(2 cups chicken or vegetable broth - to cook quinoa)
1-15oz can Pinto Beans, drained and rinsed (I substitute black beans)
2 cups roasted white corn kernels
1 avocado, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 pint grape tomatos, halved
1/2 cup red onion, finely diced
3/4 cup Cilantro Salad Dressing (Get the Low Fat Trader Joe's Dressing)
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
Zest of 1 lime
2 tsp lime juice (I added to the recipe)
2 tsp lemon juice (I added to the recipe)
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Note: to easily dice an avocado, first roll the avocado on a cutting board to loosen the skin.  Slice in half...

Carefully make 1/4" cuts just to skin (don't cut through, like I've done here); Turn the avo clockwise and cut into squares

"Pop" the avocado out of skin, by gently pushing the skin from behind.  If the avocado is not easily releasing, use a small knife to help cut it away from the skin (this is typically a sign that your avocado is not ripe enough)

1/ Cook quinoa with broth according to package directions.  While quinoa is cooking, combine beans, corn, avocado, tomatoes, and onion.  Top with salad dressing and toss gently.  Add salt, pepper, lime zest and lemon and lime juices to taste.  Add 1/2 of cilantro and gently toss once more.  Set aside

I like to cook my Quinoa in a Rice Cooker

2/ When quinoa is cooked, toss with olive oil; add salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside to cool.  When ready to serve, spread quinoa on a large serving platter and top with corn and bean mixture.  Garnish with remaining cilantro

If the dish has to travel, you can add the quinoa directly to the bowl and toss. 

Serves 6 as a side dish.

Lemon Cake w/ Whipped Cheesecake Frosting

My friend Maria is an incredible chef.  Every time I visit her, she cooks me these delicious dinners, so I decided to reciprocate by making her this cake.  The recipe is taken directly from Martha Stewart's website, but Maria suggested using a Paula Dean recipe for cream cheese frosting, which she ammended by using Mascarpone cheese and marshmallow creme; and by adding lemon juice and lemon zest.  The result was a very dense, moist cake that had a rich lemon zing. The frosting had a softer, creamy texture and a vibrant lemony sweet flavor.

Make this and share it with people you like!  Try serving with champagne or sparkling wine.
Martha Stewart's Recipe for Lemon Cake
Prep: 15 minutes Total: 45 minutes, plus cooking  

Serves 12

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pans
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs plus 3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 lemon, thinly sliced and seeded

1/ Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour two 8-by-2-inch cake pans, tapping out excess flour. (I just used spray oil and skipped the flouring; the cakes came out with no sticking, no problem) In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest.

It's amazing how quick and easy it is to zest a lemon w/ the correct utensil

2/ In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy.  With mixer on low, beat in eggs and yolks, one at a time.  Beat in 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Alternately beat in flour mixture and buttermilk beginning and ending with flour mixture, mix just until combined.

3/ Divide batter between pans; smooth tops.  Bake until cakes pull away from sides of pans, 32 to 35 minutes.  Let cool in pans 10 minutes.  Run a knife around edges of pans and invert cakes onto a wire rack.

...and after

4/ While cakes are baking, bring remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a saucepan.  Add lemon slices and simmer 25 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer lemon slices to a waxed-paper-lined plate.  Stir remaining 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice into syrup.

5/ Using a toothpick, poke holes in warm cakes on rack.  Brush with lemon syrup.  Let cool completely.  Prepare frosting (see below).  Frost cooled cakes and top with candied lemon slices.

Note: Place the bottom cake "bottom-side up", frost center, and then place the top piece of cake "bottom-side-down".  Martha recommends tucking strips of parchment paper underneath the bottom edge of the cake to keep the cake stand clean after frosting.

Maria's Whipped Cheescake Frosting

 2 (8oz) Containers of either Mascarpone Cheese OR Cream Cheese (Mascarpone has a nicer flavor, but Cream Cheese has a thicker, sticker consistancy that is good for frosting; I'd recommend combining the two for this recipe)
3/4 cup Marshmallow Cream (we used Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Cream)
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 cups Confectioners' sugar

1/ In a medium bowl, cream together the Mascarpone (or Cream) cheese and Marshmallow cream, until creamy.  Mix in the vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Gradually add confectioners' sugar a little at a time.  Store in the refrigerator after use.