Archive for August, 2009

Another batch of Wedding Cake Pops

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

It’s been a while since I posted, I know. And I’ve got some great recipes coming, up, I swear. But you’re going to have to wait another day or two for those.¬† Today, we’re headed to Iowa for the wedding of a couple of college friends, Roxy and Jordan. I’m very excited for them, and can’t wait to celebrate with them tonight, but I’m also tired. Because Leah and I were up late making these:

Totally worth it! ūüėÄ

I know you’re probably much too busy to be reading this today, but if you happen to see this, Congratulations, Roxy & Jordan!!

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Friday, August 21st, 2009

It was only relatively recently that I realized I liked Broccoli Cheddar Soup. I grew up convinced that broccoli was gross, so I never really gave broccoli soup a chance. But I had a chance to try a friend’s broccoli soup at Panera Bread one time, and I realized what I was missing.

Panera’s Broccoli Cheddar soup is rich and creamy, with a sharp cheddar cheese flavor that mellows the broccoli. When I wanted to use up some fresh broccoli in the fridge, my first thought was Broccoli Cheddar soup, and my second thought was that I wanted it to taste like Panera’s. It’s not perfect yet, but I think I did a pretty good job. (The picture’s not fantastic, but the soup was very good).

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Copycat Broccoli Cheddar Soup

  • 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon melted butter, divided
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 2 cups chicken stock or bouillon
  • 1/2 pound fresh broccoli
  • 1 cup carrots, finely diced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
  • 8 ounces grated sharp cheddar

Directions:

Saute onion in butter. Set aside. Cook melted butter and flour using a whisk over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Stir constantly and slowly add the half-and-half  to make a roux. Add the chicken stock whisking all the time. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the broccoli, carrots and onions. Cook over low heat until the veggies are tender for 20-25 minutes. Add salt and pepper. The soup should be thickened by now. Puree using an immersion blender. Return to pot over low heat and add the grated cheese; stir until well blended. Stir in the nutmeg and serve.

Top Chef Masters: Season 1

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

Though I haven’t been blogging about it every week like I did with the last season of Top Chef, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Top Chef Masters this summer. For one, the skill of these proven, seasoned chefs can’t be denied. There’s no question of “Who Deserves to Be Here.” They all most certainly do. It’s been fascinating to see how well current superstar chefs complete classic Top Chef challenges.

I’ve also really enjoyed the sense of camaraderie among the chefs. While the Top Chef contestants are usually a cutthroat bunch, the Top Chef Masters competition has been full of teamwork and mutual respect, which is refreshing after years of bickering and backstabbing on Top Chef.

That’s not to say everyone has behaved perfectly: Michael Chiarello came off as a complete jerk last week. I hope it was a trick of editing–I know that happens sometimes on Top Chef–but if not, he needs a serious attitude adjustment.

Onto the finale. Going in, I was rooting for Rick Bayless. He seemed to have the greatest combination of attitude and skills. His food always looks amazing. I kind of can’t believe we haven’t made it to Frontera Grill yet–I hear those Tongue Tacos from his qualifying round are on the menu now, and that they sell-out nightly. (Not promising that I’d order tongue tacos, but I’d be tempted, just to say I’d had them). So going in, I was really hoping he’d win the full title.

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Of course, that means I was pretty pleased with the Finale last night, as Rick was crowned (the first?) “Top Chef Master.” I thought that the finale was excellent, actually, all around. The challenge was such a perfect tool for judging these chefs: They were asked to prepare a four course meal, the first to show their first food memory, the second to show their inspiration for becoming a chef, the third to be inspired by their first restaurant opening, and the final to be a vision of where they are headed as a chef. I loved the memories and photos of the chefs throughout their life. I loved seeing what each chef created. The food looked absolutely fantastic, but was clearly a representation of each chef and who they truly are. Like every Top Chef finale before it, the producers set aside all the drama, all the last minute crises, all the extra difficulties and said to the chefs: Cook us the best meal you possibly can. And like every Top Chef finale, it was refreshing to watch them do it.

Rick Bayless was absolutely a joy to watch cook, and I’m glad he won.¬† His passion for food is inspiring, and he managed to cook with poise and respect for his peers throughout the entire season. It was great to see how much this title meant to him–not because of the fame, or even the money for his charity, but as a way to validate true Mexican cooking. I hadn’t thought about it going into the finale, but certainly the culinary world is biased towards French and Italian cuisines, as two of the greatest cuisines out there. Rick proved that his Mexican food can stand with the best of them, and even come out on top. That seemed to be the real victory for Rick Bayless.

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Carrot Zucchini Spice Mini-Muffins

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

There are two different kinds of healthy recipes. Ones that you eat when you’re trying to eat healthy, and some that are so tasty that you’d eat them anytime.

A good example of this is Diet Coke Chicken, which we discovered when my mom was doing Weight Watchers years ago. Even though it was a Weight Watchers recipe, and the initial draw was the zero-Points sauce for the tender chicken, the dish was so tasty that it became part of our regular rotation in no time.

These muffins are another example of this kind of recipe. They’re made with whole wheat flour, and sweetened with applesauce and honey. Very low fat, high in fiber, and super-moist. They taste like zucchini bread, but the last time I looked at the recipe for a zucchini bread (my grandmother makes an awesome one!) it called for a TON of oil as well as sugar. Like the Diet Coke chicken, I found this recipe looking for a healthy treat, but I think I’d make it anyway. They were that good. (Especially with a dab of cream cheese frosting).

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Carrot Zucchini Spice Mini-Muffins

Ingredients

  • 2 large zucchini, shredded
  • 2 medium carrots, shredded
  • 3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup applesauce (I used an all-natural, no sugar added)
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/2 c chopped walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a mini muffin pan by lining each cup with mini-cupcake wrappers or spraying with non-stick spray.

2. In a large mixing bowl (or in a large stand mixer) combine all ingredients and stir well. Transfer to the prepared muffin tins, filling each  cup about 2/3 full.

3. Bake for 15-17 minutes. Makes 72 muffins. One serving is 3 muffins.

Photo Teaser: Carrot Zucchini Muffins

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

I just made a big long post about these muffins, but the internet ate it, without saving a draft, and I just can’t bring myself to type it all out again right now.

So in the meantime, I’m going to tease you all with a picture of these delectable little muffins. The recipe will be posted soon.

muffin

Hasselback Potatoes

Monday, August 17th, 2009

I spotted a picture of these potatoes on Photograzing the other day, which reminded me of when I’d read about them on Orangette’s blog a few months back. They couldn’t be easier to make, and you probably have everything you need on hand. Basically, you slice a potato into thin accordion slices, tuck garlic in between the slices, and sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, and crunchy sea salt (regular salt would work, too). I also topped each potato with just a tiny bit of butter. The potatoes were simple, but tasty. They got crunchy at the edges, like shoestring french fries, or even potato chips, while the center of the potatoes stayed soft and creamy. I used yukon gold potatoes, but I think any starchy (not waxy) potatoes would work. You end up with some kind of cross between potato skins and mashed potatoes. Very tasty!

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Hasselback Potatoes

  • 6 Medium Size Potatoes
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Tbsp Butter
  • Maldon Sea Salt Flakes
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 425. Put the potato on a cutting board and trim a strip off of one long side of the potato, to create a stable base for slicing. Place the potato on the board flat side down. Start from one end of the potato, and carefully slice about 3/4 of the way through, at about 1/4 inch intervals.

Arrange the potatoes on a cookie sheet and insert the garlic in between the slits. Scatter some butter on top of each potato, then drizzle the olive oil and sprinkle some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Bake the potatoes for about 40 minutes or until the potatoes turn crispy and the flesh is soft and tender.

Gruyère, Arugula, and Prosciutto-Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Caramelized Shallot Sauce

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

One of the things that caught my eye about this recipe was the extremely high ratings on Cooking Light’s website. Of course, the prosciutto didn’t hurt, either–it’s one of David’s favorite ingredients. We also had some gruyere in the fridge. Anyway, I think the recipe has an average rating of 5 stars, and I agree wholeheartedly. The prosciutto and gruyere were rich and salty–and with such strong ingredients, you didn’t need to use much, which makes the dish healthy and delicious. The caramelized shallot sauce was great, and added just a touch of sweetness. I’ve really come around to liking shallots lately. They’re like onions, of course, but with a much more mild flavor.

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Gruyere, Arugula, and Prosciutto-Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Caramelized Shallot Sauce

For the Chicken:

  • 6¬† (4-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 6¬† (1/2-ounce) slices prosciutto
  • 6¬† (1/2-ounce) slices Gruy√®re cheese
  • 1 1/2¬† cups¬† trimmed arugula
  • 1/2¬† teaspoon¬† salt
  • 1/2¬† teaspoon¬† black pepper
  • 3¬† tablespoons¬† all-purpose flour
  • 1¬† tablespoon¬† olive oil

For the Sauce:

  • 1¬† cup¬† thinly sliced shallots
  • 2¬† teaspoons¬† tomato paste
  • 2¬† cups¬† dry white wine
  • 2 1/4¬† cups¬† fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2¬† teaspoons¬† water
  • 1¬† teaspoon¬† cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350¬į.

To prepare the chicken, place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pound to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin. Discard plastic wrap. Top each chicken breast half with 1 slice prosciutto, 1 slice cheese, and 1/4 cup arugula, leaving a 1/4-inch border around edges. Fold in half, pinching edges together to seal; sprinkle with salt and pepper. (The chicken can be prepared up to a day ahead and refrigerated at this point.)

Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 5 minutes on each side. Place chicken in a shallow baking pan; bake at 350¬į for 5 minutes or until done. Keep warm.

To prepare sauce, add shallots to skillet; sauté 4 minutes over medium-high heat or until browned. Add tomato paste; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in wine; bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until reduced to 1 cup (about 6 minutes). Add broth; bring to a boil. Cook until reduced by half (about 8 minutes).

Combine water and cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring with a fork until smooth. Add cornstarch mixture to sauce; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.

Blueberry Pancakes

Friday, August 14th, 2009

I do most of the cooking, which means most of the time, I make my own breakfast.

During the week, that means cereal at my desk at work, primarily. And on the weekends, I make myself eggs, or sometimes this bacon, egg, potatoes & cheese scramble that I really like. Maybe I’ll share it with you sometime. But that’s besides the point.

As much as I love to cook, and as much as I need breakfast in the morning, sometimes it’s hard to be motivated. That’s why, I’m here to say, I believe that waking up to a breakfast that someone else has cooked is one of the most luxurious feelings. I have been lucky enough to wake up to breakfast a few times in my life. When I was little, it was one of the best parts of staying overnight at Grandma and Grandpas house (so much so, that we’ll still ask them to make breakfast for us every now and then). And occasionally, my dad would make himself breakfast and get suckered in to cooking for everyone else on a Sunday morning. These days, it doesn’t happen often, but every now and then David will make me breakfast. When he does, it’s usually pancakes.

One fantastic weekend morning last week, I woke up to David making pancakes. Blueberry pancakes. And banana pancakes. Fantastic pancakes. He’d even had to go out shopping for ingredients–the buttermilk and the blueberries. Still, he made pancakes.

It’s probably not surprising that David makes Alton Brown’s pancakes. One of the great things about Alton Brown’s recipe for pancakes is that it starts with making your own pancake mix. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got enough mix for several batches of pancakes for later use. All you do is add eggs , butter, and buttermilk to put together the pancake batter.

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Alton Brown’s “Instant” Pancakes

To make the “Instant” Pancake Mix:

  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (check expiration date first)
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Combine all of the ingredients in a lidded container. Shake to mix.

Use the mix within 3 months.

To make the pancakes:

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 cups “Instant” Pancake Mix, recipe above
  • 1 stick butter, for greasing the pan
  • 2 cups fresh fruit such as blueberries, if desired

Heat an electric griddle or frying pan to 350 degrees F. Heat oven to 200 degrees F.

Whisk together the egg whites and the buttermilk in a small bowl. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the melted butter.

Combine the buttermilk mixture with the egg yolk mixture in a large mixing bowl and whisk together until thoroughly combined. Pour the liquid ingredients on top of the pancake mix. Using a whisk, mix the batter just enough to bring it together. Don’t try to work all the lumps out.

Check to see that the griddle is hot by placing a few drops of water onto to the griddle. The griddle is ready if the water dances across the surface.

Lightly butter the griddle. Wipe off thoroughly with a paper towel. (No butter should be visible.)

Gently ladle the pancake batter onto the griddle and sprinkle on fruit if desired. When bubbles begin to set around the edges of the pancake and the griddle-side of the cake is golden, gently flip the pancakes. Continue to cook 2 to 3 minutes or until the pancake is set.

Serve immediately or remove to a towel-lined baking sheet and cover with a towel. Hold in a warm place for 20 to 30 minutes.

Yield: 12 pancakes

Note: We’ve made these pancakes several times, and they’re my absolute favorite ones. No contest. This batch had blueberries in some, and banana slices in others, but the plain ones are just as good.

Veggie & Parmesan Brown Rice Risotto

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

I stumbled across this recipe on the Whole Foods website while I searched for cooking methods for short-grain brown rice. Accidentally, at Costco, David bought us 12 pounds of short-grain brown rice. I make baked brown rice with long-grain brown rice all the time, but I wasn’t 100% sure that the same receipe would work for short grain rice. I was trying to sort out whether I need more water or what, and instead, I learned that you can make risotto with short-grain brown rice. Makes sense, after all, since traditional risotto is made with short-grain rice.

I decided to make risotto instead of sorting out how to/whether to adjust my regular brown rice recipe. Mostly, I pushed that problem off for another day, but in the meantime, I got to eat risotto. I also got to use up a zucchini we had sitting on the counter from the farmer’s market.

I made a number of changes from the initial recipe, skipping the veggies I don’t care for (most of them!) and lightening up on the cheese, butter, and oil (we’re trying to eat a bit healthier around here). I also used Vegetable Stock instead of Vegetable broth as the original recipe called for, for a richer flavor. It worked. The risotto was delicious. It’s only problem was that it was still a bit on the al dente side. One key difference between white rice risotto and brown rice risotto: the brown rice takes longer!

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Veggie & Parmesan Brown Rice Risotto
Adapted from the Whole Foods website; Serves 6 as a main dish, more like 12 as a side.

  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 5 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 cups uncooked short-grain brown rice
  • 2 carrots, trimmed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1.5 ounces by weight) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

Method

Bring broth and water to a boil in a medium pot.  Cover broth-water mixture and reduce heat to low.

Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring gently, until toasted and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of the broth-water mixture and cook, stirring constantly and adjusting heat if needed to maintain a simmer, until liquid is almost absorbed. Repeat process, adding about 1/2 cup of the broth-water mixture each time, until rice is just beginning to get tender, about 25 minutes. Add carrots and continue process with broth-water mixture. When rice is just al dente and carrots are just tender, add zucchini and cook 5 minutes more. (If broth mixture gets low, add water as needed.)

Add cheese, butter/margarine, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Add about 1/2 cup more of the broth-water mixture to finished risotto before serving, if you like.

Note: I thought this was very tasty. I expected to have to pick out the zucchini–David likes it, not me, but was pleasantly surprised. It just all kind of melded together and tasted great. I don’t think this needed more cheese at all, even though I basically halved what the recipe called for. The only thing I could’ve done was cook it longer, but we were impatient and hungry! For just us, I’d definitely half this recipe next time. We had tons of leftovers.

P.S. Sorry for the terrible picture. My camera wasn’t charged, and I couldn’t find the charger, so I had to make do with my iPhone. But a poor picture is better than no picture, right?

Fresh Berry Cream Cheese Pound Cake

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Yum.

That’s about all I have to say. This pound cake was delicious. Moist, and tender, and sweet, but not too sweet. The recipe below makes two loaves, but I loaded one up with fresh blueberries and raspberries from the farmer’s market (about half a pint of each).

Pound cake

Cream Cheese Pound Cake
Adapted from Bakerella
.com

  • 3.5 cups all purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 6 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup milk, room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a medium mixing bowl and set aside. (It’s best if you have a sister or a cousin around to sift the flour for you. It’s much easier that way. Thanks guys!)

3. In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream the butter, cream cheese, and sugar for several minutes, until light and smooth. Add in the eggs one at a time, mixing completely after each additional egg. (It’s best if you have a mom around to help you count all 6 eggs. Otherwise you might lose track. Thanks mom!) Add vanilla and milk until combined.

4. Add flour mixture in small batches until completely combined.

5. Pour into two greased and floured loaf pans. (Here’s where I added the berries). Bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. (Mine actually took about 75 minutes–the cake with the berries took longer than the plain cake).