Sunday, October 24, 2010

Espresso Caramel Bars

This is another recipe from Giada.  I actually first saw this on her TV show (my friend loaned me DVDs which I watched when I was home sick).  The caramel is tricky.  You have to heat is slowly and let is simmer for a bit.  Mine did not solidify correctly, so it was a touch gooey.  The flavors are decadent and the graham cracker crust makes the perfect crumbly, buttery base for rich caramel and dark espresso chocolate!!



  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 12 whole (6 ounces) cinnamon graham crackers, crumbled or 2 cups cinnamon graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
Pictured above you see two sticks of butter, a spring form pan (prepped with parchment,) and a vodka soda with a splash of cran.  A cocktail with baking can make it that much more enjoyable.  I don't recommend any more than one, however. 

I wasn't sure what Giada meant by "Espresso" Powder, so I substituted with one small packet of Starbuck's Via (which I am now hooked on!!)


  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
Chocolate Layer:
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked sea salt, optional
Special equipment: a candy thermometer
For the crust:
Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round springform panwith parchment or waxed paper. Spray the paper and the sides of the pan with cooking spray. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the graham crackers and sugar. Process until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Add the melted butter and blend until the mixture forms into clumps. Spread the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing gently to form an even layer. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the crust is golden. Cool for 15 minutes. 

*Note: I misread these instructions and forgot to but a baking sheet under my pan.  Butter dripped all over the inside of our oven and I had a heart attack that I was going to start a fire.  Learn from my mistakes.  Use a baking sheet under any spring-form pan!!

Pulse the mixture lightly.  Don't just run the machine or the crumbs will be too fine.

Use a gentle touch, when pressing the bread crumbs down

For the caramel:
While the crust is cooling, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of cream, butter, sugar, and water. Stir over medium heat until the mixture is smooth. Bring the mixture to a boiland cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 240 degrees F, about 5 to 7 minutes. Carefully pour the caramel over the warm crust. Cool for 20 minutes. Freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.

For the chocolate layer: 

Combine the chocolate chips and cream in a small bowl and place over a pan of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth, about 3 minutes.Whisk in the espresso powder. Remove the springform pan from the freezer. Pour the chocolate mixture over the caramel layer and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle the top with smoked sea salt, if using. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour until firm.

Allow the layers to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Using a warm, slightly wet knife, carefully cut around the edges of the chocolate layer. Release the side of the pan and remove the paper from the bottom. Cut into 1 1/2 by 1/2-inch bars and store airtight in a covered plastic container.

These taste great served with coffee for dessert (or for breakfast - I won't judge!)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pan-Seared Scallops with Butternut Squash Risotto

One of our dear friends, Brian, was in town from Florida.  Mike recently spent a weekend visiting him, and Brian is quite the chef.  I was delited when he accepted our invitation to dinner and then immediately intimidated.  I wanted to cook something special. 

Don't be decieved by the fancy presentation.  The most challenging part of this recipe is to get the risotto texture correct (practice makes perfect) and to keep your pan at the correct temperature for the scallops (nice and hot, but not so hot the butter smokes).

This was my first foray into Truffle oil.  I've had dishes using Truffle oil at restaraunts, but never used this ingredient myself.  It's expensive, but incredible.  You must go to a specialty store, like a Whole Foods.  Regular supermarkets do not carry Truffle oil.

This is a fun dish to serve when you have dinner guests.  Fun for October/November!

(Serves 4)
4 miniature pumpkins (preferably Jack-Be-Little; 3 1/12 to 4 inches in diameter)

For Risotto:
1 1/4 cups diced (1/4") peeled seeded fresh butternut squash (the original recipe calls for fresh pumpkin - preferably sugar or cheese pumpkin)
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup Arborio rice
1 oz greated Permigiano-Reggiano (1/3 cup)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

  • For Scallops:
    20 large sea scallops (1 1/2 lb), tough muscle removed from side of each if necessary
    1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh sage
    2 tablespoons white truffle oil 

    Roast Miniature Pumpkins:

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

    Roast whole miniature pumpkins in a small roasting pan with 1/2 inch water, tightly covered with foil, until very tender, 45 to 50 minutes.  Cool slightly.  Cut out tops and reserve, then scoop out seeds.  Discard water from roasting pan, then return pumpkin shells to pan and keep warm, covered with foil

    Be careful of overbaking, or the pumpkins will split

    Make Risotto While Pumpkins Roast:
    Cook diced butternut squash in a medium saucepan two-thirds full of simmering water until tender, 2 to 3 minutes.  Drain in a colander.  Bring stock and 2 cups water to a simmer in a small saucepan and keep at a bare simmer.  Cook onion in oil in a 2- to 2 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute.  Add 1 cup simmering stock and cook at a strong simmer, stirring constantly, until stock is absorbed.  Continue simmering, adding stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until the rice is tender and creamy-looking but still al dente, about 18 minutes total.  (There may be broth left over.)

    Remove from heat and stir in diced squash (or pumpkin), cheese, and butter, stirring until butter is melted.  Season with salt and pepper and cover to keep warm.

    Prepare Scallops:
    Pat scallops dry and season with salt.  Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then saute scallops, turning once, until golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes.  If scallops are not cooked through, reduce heat to moderate and cook about 2 minutes more.  Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon and discard any oil remaining in skilled (do not clean skillet).

    Cook butter in same skillet over moderate heat until it foams and turns light brown.  Add sage and cook, stirring, 1 minute.  Remove from heat and stir in truffle oil.  Season with salt.

    To Serve:
    Put each pumpkin shell on a plate, fill with risotto, and cover with reserved tops.  Arrange scallops around pumpkin and drizzle with sage butter.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Green Beans Sauteed in Olive Oil with Baby Bellas

I learned this method of preparing green beans from my friend, Maria.  Green beans grilled in oil are crispier than steamed beans and the mushrooms have a meaty flavor to them.  I recommend experimenting with different cooking oils mushroom combinations.  The version below uses olive oil and baby bellas, but Maria often will also add shiitake mushrooms for a burst of flavor.

(since this is not a written recipe, the proportions are an estimate)
2 cups green beans
1 cup sliced mushrooms (baby bellas or shiitake, or a combo)
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 Tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt
ground pepper

1/ Break of tips of green beans and rinse thoroughly.

2/ Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet on medium/high heat.  Add garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add mushrooms and grill an additional 3-4 minutes, until they begin to brown and carmalize.  Salt and pepper lightly as you go.

3/ Add green beans to pan and cook an additonal 5-7 minutes.  If beans are not cooked enough, turn down heat to medium and cook an additional 3-4 minutes (these are estimates...based on the amount of beans you want).  The final bean is crisp to the bite, but cooked through.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Pork Chops with White Beans

I got this recipe from Martha Stewart's site, and it's to die for.  Martha has you grill the pork chops, but I love them broiled.  Otherwise, I followed her notes to the T.  This is a warm, filling dish, perfect for the Fall season!

(Serves 4)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 can (15 1/2 ounces) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
4 well-trimmed bone-in pork rib chops (about 2 pounds; each 1 inch thick)

    1/ Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skilled over medium heat.  Add onion, bell pepper, and rosemary; season generously with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes.

    2/ In a small bowl, whisk together broth and tomato paste.  Pour mixture into skillet; stir in beans.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are coated evenly and sauce is thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.  Add salt and pepper in batches, tasting occasionally, as mixture cooks down.

    Directions To Broil Pork Chops:
    3/ Meanwhile, turn on broiler and move rack to top of oven.  Spread pork chops out in a broiling pan and season both sides generously with salt and pepper.  Drizzle remaining olive oil over top of meat.  Place in oven and broil for 6-8 minutes (depending on thickness of chop).  Remove from oven and cover with foil for 3 additional minutes. Serve on top of bean mixture.

    Directions To Grill Pork Chops:
    3/ Meanwhile, generously season both sides of pork chops with salt and pepper.  Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook pork (in 2 batches, if necessary) until just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side.  Serve on top of bean mixture.

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Chilled Avocado Soup

    This recipe came about a few months ago because I had a ton of extra avocado's lying around. I didn't want them to go bad, so I googled this Martha Stewart recipe for chilled avocado soup.  I adore Gazpacho, but cold soups are definitely an acquired taste.

    Overall, this recipe has a dense, buttery flavor and consistency but was honestly too rich for my taste.  If you give this one a try, I recommend cutting the serving portion in half.


    Serves 4

    3 ripe avocados
    2 cups low-fat buttermilk
    1/3 cup walnut halves
    1/3 cup fresh dill sprigs, plus more for garnish (optional)
    1/3 cup diced red onion, or half a small onion
    1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
    1 teaspoon coarse salt

    1/  Halve and pit two avocados. With a spoon, scoop out flesh and transfer to a blender. Add buttermilk, walnuts, dill, red onion, vinegar, salt, and 1 cup water and puree until smooth.

    2/ Cover the blender and refrigerate until the soup is well chilled, at least one hour. Halve and pit remaining avocado. Cut into four sections lengthwise, and then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch chunks. Divide soup among four bowls and garnish each with diced avocado and dill, if desired.