Friday, January 30, 2009

The 'Ten Random Things About Me' phenom.

Anyone who's on Facebook or reads blogs has seen this running rampant on the World Wide Web - the thing where you're supposed to list anywhere from 10 to 25 random things about yourself, in a supposedly embarrassing yet deep down self indulgent and satisfying epistolary exercise. Here's mine (kept to 15, to keep from boring you:)

1. If I could live in any movie, it would be Urban Cowboy, and I'd alternate between the roles of Sissy and Pam, depending on my mood.
2. I was once in a commercial for Austin's KLBJ radio station (classic rock), where I was the only non-stripper among the 12 or so girls featured. I had the logo painted on my back.
3. I have loved men with long hair since I was 12. Exhibit A? My husband.
4. I have upwards of 200 cookbooks and counting. I literally can't stop myself from buying them. They're my 'shoes.'
5. I also have a strange addiction to buying various shades of nail polish (usually pink or red), yet never paint my fingernails and only paint my toes twice a year.
6. I love wine. Really, really, really.
7. If I wasn't married to my husband, I'd be married to the drummer from Kings of Leon. Only he wouldn't be allowed to speak, since anything he said would be bound to disappoint my rock and roll fantasy of him.
8. I am a classic horror movie buff, which leads to the fact that...
9. I've seen Rosemary's Baby 67 times and counting.
10. I work with my husband. We literally sit next to one another day in, day out, and have for ten years.
11. I sometimes fantasize that I'm a burlesque dancer, a la Dita Von Teese, only all of my shows are done with the lights out.
12. I love cooking and feeding people (shocker, I know.)
13. I look up Austin realty at least once a week and pretend I'm buying a house there.
14. I hate politics.
15. I have 4 horses, one of which was my first real horse (not a pony) whom I've had since I was 10. I'm now 31.

Consider yourself tagged, and send me your list!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Oatmeal Crusted Chicken with Cauliflower Pumpkin Puree and Hericot Vert

Andrea Immer's book, Everyday Dining with Wine, is destined to become one of my favorites. Wine + Food is a no brainer for me, but Andrea and I also share a bizarre passion for crusting chicken cutlets in new and interesting ways.

Admittedly, I didn't try the wine pairing which I know is the whole point of the book, but we were getting up at the crack of dawn to fly to LA and I was trying to be good. Of course I fiddled a little with the recipe- adding toasted walnuts to the oatmeal crust. I mean, she said the whole point was to play off the subtle spices and textures of an oatmeal cookie, so why not?

It should also be mentioned that this dish needs quite a bit of salt to bring out the nuttiness and sweetness of the oatmeal crust. I know this to be true for cooking and baking in general, but it still freaks me out that a pinch of salt here or there in recipes makes the difference between 'eh' and 'holy #$(%*(!!!'

Oatmeal-Crusted Chicken with Gewurztraminer Pan Sauce
Recipe adapted from Every Day Dining with Wine and adjusted to serve 2.

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
teeniest pinch ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt + extra for seasoning raw chicken
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper + extra for seasoning raw chicken
1/4 cup toasted walnuts

1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3/4 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoon butter + 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup Gewurztraminer (or any white wine - I used Vermouth)

Combine the oats, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and walnuts in a food processor and grind to a medium powder. I don't like it to be too fine, and prefer to see a chunk here or there of a walnut or oat. Remove to a shallow bowl or pie plate.

Whisk the egg and water together in another shallow bowl, and the flour in yet another. (To save on washing, I cover my flour bowl in plastic wrap, then just discard.)

Trim any fat or tendons from the chicken. One at a time, place a chicken breast in a large ziploc or in between two sheets of plastic wrap and gently pound with a flat meat pounder to an even 1/2 inch thickness.

Preheat oven to 325.

Cover a small cookie sheet in two layers of aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray. This will be used to set your chicken breasts on once you've breaded them, then the second clean layer will hold them to bake off in the oven.

Meanwhile, set up your breading station - putting the bowls in order of flour, egg wash, oatmeal crust, and finally your cookie sheet. Season your chicken cutlets with salt and pepper on both sides. Then, one at a time, dredge your chicken breast through the flour, getting both sides, then the egg wash, then the oatmeal crust being sure to press both sides in to get a good coat. Let your chicken sit on your cookie sheet while you get your pan ready.

Heat the butter and olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet. When the butter begins to foam, add the chicken, being sure to give each piece some room. Cook about 3-4 minutes per side, just until golden brown. Carefully transfer to your cookie tray (having discarded the top layer of foil) and bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add your wine to the still hot pan and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan (use a wooden spoon here.) Cooking until the wine has reduced by half - about two minutes. Add the remaining teaspoon of butter, stirring in well. Season lightly with salt and pepper, pour over the chicken and serve immediately.

Quick note - I actually found that my pan I cooked the chicken in had too many burned bits to make the reduction in. So I cleaned it, then sauteed some green beans in olive oil and butter, removed them with a slotted spoon, and added my wine to reduce before stirring in the final 2 teaspoons butter. It was delicious!

Cauliflower Pumpkin Puree
• This was something I made up when I was pottering around my kitchen and goes with this chicken like peas and carrots.

1 large head of cauliflower, cut into small florets and tough stems removed
1 box (32 oz) low sodium chicken or vegetable stock plus 1 cup water
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
small pinch nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
good amount fresh cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons half and half
2 tablespoons honey
pinch cayenne pepper

Bring the chicken stock and water to boil in a large lidded pot. Add the cauliflower, lower the heat to low, and put the lid on. Continue simmering the florets until they are fork tender - about 20 minutes. Allow to cool for ten minutes, then either strain the cauliflower, reserving the stock, or ladle out the majority of the stock leaving the florets in the same pot. You just want about 1/4 leftover stock with the cauliflower to puree it easily.

Stir in the pumpkin, spices, salt and pepper. Use a hand blender (or add all the contents to a food processor) and blend until pureed to the consistency you desire. You may want or need to add more of the reserved stock if it becomes too thick. Finally, either stir or blend in the 2 tablespoons of half & half. Taste for salt, adding any more if necessary to highlight all the lovely flavors. Serve warm.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pasta with Bacon, Pecorino, Artichoke, and Black Pepper

Calling all food nerds out there. Are you a Giada or a Lidia?

While there's no shortage of celebrity chefs associated with Italian food (not to snub you Mario), I personally tend to think of either Giada DeLaurentiis or Lidia Bastianich. While maybe not as legitimate a chef as Lidia, I have to credit Giada with opening my eyes to Italian food beyond red sauce and pasta (what can I say - I'm a Texas girl...) In fact, it was watching early episodes of Everyday Italian that actually got me into the kitchen in the first place. Her easy breezy, laid back California way of talking you through a recipe (i.e. 'you can do it - it's not that hard') was exactly why I liked her show all those years ago when I was too scared to turn on my Cuisinart, preferring instead for it just to sit on my counter and look pretty. So I have a special place in my heart for her (I even went to her book signing when we lived in Minneapolis. She seemed very sweet, despite the plethora of pervs hovering to get a look at her 'girl's', which she had under safely under wraps in a turtleneck.)

But lately, I lean a little more towards Lidia Bastianich. I swear, that woman could prepare pigs' eyes and find a way to make you drool over them. Her show on PBS picks up where Food Network's glossy but simplified cooking shows leave off (again - I'm not snubbing it - Food Network is entirely responsible for my learning and loving to cook.)

But Lidia can literally conjure up Italy in your living room, talking about the sights and smells and people in a way that makes you want to say damn-it-all and hop a plane there right away. (Instead, I end up going into my kitchen to putter around, but maybe one day I'll book that ticket!)

This dish is based on a black pepper and pecorino pasta she made on Lidia's Italy recently. I changed it up a bit, but the spirit of Lidia was with me all the way, encouraging me to savor every smell, every taste, and texture. (And don't even think of using that gray, dried up pepper powder in the back of your pantry. Fresh cracked makes the dish!)

So as Lidia says: Tutti a Tavola…a Mangiare!

Pasta with Bacon, Pecorino, Artichoke, and Black Pepper

8 oz bite sized pasta such as bow tie or cork screw (I used Colavita Radiators 69 which was great)
2 heaping tablespoons kosher salt for salting your pasta water
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 slices best quality bacon, snipped with kitchen shears into little 1/4 inch pieces (I use Apple Gate 'Sunday' bacon which is nitrate free and is excellent)
8 oz frozen artichoke hearts, preferably thawed a little
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 a cup grated pecorino romano + 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon shredded Parmesan
couple of ladles of pasta water
1-2 teaspoons fresh cracked black pepper, or to suit your taste

For garnish:
extra pecorino or parmesan
extra fresh cracked pepper
fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Heat a large pot of water over high heat, bringing it to a boil, but hold off adding your pasta to it until directed to do so. Meanwhile, start your bacon frying over medium heat in a large, rimmed skillet in the 2 teaspoons olive oil. Fry, stirring frequently for about five minutes, until the bacon has begun to crisp and brown. Add your artichokes to the bacon and as they begin to cook, break them up a little with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking, stirring every so often, for about 10-12 minutes until some of the edges begin to brown just slightly.

At this point, add the salt to your boiling pasta water, stir to bring back to a boil, and add your pasta. Going back to your artichokes and bacon, add the 1/4 cup of white wine and scrape up all of the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking over a low simmer until the majority of the wine has evaporated - about 7 minutes or the time it takes your pasta to cook to al dente.

Using a spider or slotted spoon, strain the pasta and add it to your bacon and artichokes. Stir in your cheeses, along with a ladle or two from your pasta water to help create a sauce and help the cheese to melt in. Stir in your fresh cracked black pepper (as much as you want - its earthy weightiness is lovely against the sharp tang from the Pecorino) and taste for salt (I didn't need any but this is a personal thing.)

Serve with a choice of garnishes, or all three.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Old Fashioned Cheese Logs

These retro goodies reconfirm my theory that the more white trash the recipe and the more classic, the more people like them. I have my mom to thank for these. She found them in an old book of hers and brought them out of retirement this past holiday season with great success. What I love about them is that you can make them days ahead and keep them in the fridge. They actually taste better the more they sit, and the garlic mellows to a benign state that even garlic haters will find delicious.

Because they're brimming with all that tanginess from the cheeses and spices, these beg for a glass of wine - red or white - or an ice cold beer. (And sorry I don't have a picture of the finished product. The one I quickly took of them over the holidays, rolled in red chili powder, looked a little offensive...)

Old Fashioned Cheese Logs

2 pounds shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Worcheshire
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups pecan pieces
Chili powder - 3 or 4 tablespoons to roll the logs in, to coat

Assorted crackers to serve with.

Combine cheese, garlic, Worcheshire and cream cheese in a bowl; mix well. Stir in 2 cups pecans. Shape into 4 logs, 1 inch in diameter and 12 inches long. Chop remaining pecans. Roll each log in chili powder. Wrap each log in wax paper and cover with foil. Refrigerate overnight to blend flavors.

Serve with a butter knife, allowing guests to slice into rounds and smear on crackers.

Makes 4 logs.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Roasted Campari Tomatoes with Parmesan, Fresh Herbs, and Crouton Crumbs

These are lovely. Everyone has a version of these in their repertoire and I bet they're all equally delicious. I like using Campari tomatoes because they're fun to serve and eat (you can put 3-4 on a plate versus one large one.) They would even make great little appetizers as you can easily eat them in one bite.

By the way - do you have one of these old school baking dishes with the blue pattern on the side? Every time I pull this out, friends always say the same thing - "My mom had one of those!" I can't remember if I got ours from my mom or Kris's, but it's still a workhorse in my kitchen!

Roasted Campari Tomatoes with Parmesan, Fresh Herbs, and Crouton Crumbs

8-10 Campari tomatoes (little golf ball sized tomatoes, stems removed and halved horizontally)
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
1/4 cup crouton crumbs (I use Pepperidge Farm seasoned croutons, bashed a little in a ziploc)
1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs (2 large basil leaves minced with some minced flat leaf parsley)
Olive Oil (about 2 tablespoons)
Fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease an 8 by 8 baking dish and set aside.

Using a small spoon, gently scoop the flesh from the halved tomatoes and discard. You don't need to scrape them completely dry - just remove the majority of the pulpy flesh so they won't leak too much in the oven and become soggy. Set them side by side in your prepared dish on their bottoms, filling the dish but not squishing them to make them fit. You may not need all of the tomatoes depending on their size, or you might need a couple more.

Add the Parmesan, crouton crumbs, and minced herbs to a small ziploc, seal and shake to combine. Fill your tomatoes with the mixture - about a teaspoon or so per tomato. Drizzle all of the tomatoes with olive oil being sure to get some over each of the crouton crumbs and parmesan so they brown, then sprinkle fresh cracked pepper over the top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until tops are golden brown.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ginger Miso Soup with Spinach and Tofu

It was 48 degrees in our apartment this morning. Not as bad as the 7 degrees outside, but still, not anyway way to live. The saddest part is, our apartment is actually really nice. It just has old windows that come standard with its pre war charm and negative insulation, hence the ice fishing shanty temperature.

So what else was I to do but make soup? This is a variation on a recipe from a Marie Claire "Crisp" cookbook. It's actually an incredible little book, one that I would definitely grab in the event of the God forbid house fire. (I woke up to find two giant fire trucks in front of our building at 3 am this morning. Apparently all was fine, but it did leave me with nightmares of running out of the house into near negative temperatures, using my cats as blankets.)

If you've never had miso soup, I'd advise starting with a more basic version, sans the ginger, as it brings its distinct warming presence full on in this soup. But of course, that's just what we needed today.

Ginger Miso Sour with Spinach and Tofu
Serves 5.

32 oz low sodium vegetable stock (or if you're not vegetarian chicken stock)
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
4 Shitake mushrooms, tough ends removed and sliced length-wise into thin slices
8 paper thin slices fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, peeled and given a tap with the side of your knife

2 tablespoons light miso paste
6 oz firm tofu, cut into small cubes
4 green onions, halved lengthwise and chopped into 1/4 pieces

3 oz fresh baby spinach leaves

Add the stock, wine and water to a large soup pot and put it on high heat bringing it to a boil. Add the cinnamon stick, Shitakes, ginger and garlic and reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick then add the miso, stirring to allow it to melt in, then the tofu and green onions. Let simmer another 10 minutes. Add the spinach leaves and stir just until wilted (it won't matter taste wise if you let it simmer all day - it just serves prettier if the leaves still have a bright green to them.) Remove the garlic clove before serving and the ginger slices if desired.

Quick note - this would also be great with sugar snap peas and or chicken instead of tofu.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Porcini and Pine Nut Chicken with a Light Pasta

Extra Virgin is one of my favorite restaurants in the West Village and probably the city, right around the corner from us on Bleecker. My favorite thing to order there is the Porcini Crusted Chicken with Pea Risotto and Truffle oil. The only problem is - it gives me a food hangover. Although it's a chicken dish, there's enough love in it (i.e. truffle oil and God knows what else) to sink a small battleship.

So I've recreated it - Meat and Potatoes style - simplifying the ingredients and lightening it up substantially. In fact, I'd better call it an 'homage' rather than a recreation, as their chef would probably be horrified by what I've done!

You do need a mini prep (food processor) or a clean coffee grinder to make the Porcini dust, which despite its distinct odor, is incredibly delicious. I'm even going to say you could skip the Porcini all together, if you couldn't find it in your area. I buy them here at an Italian specialty shop inside the Chelsea Market and you can also order them online.

One word of warning - seasoned breadcrumbs are usually pretty salty, hence my only adding a small pinch of salt to the mixture and skipping salting the chicken before coating. If you know your brand isn't salty, then be sure and season the chicken with a little salt before spreading the mixture over. You can make the pasta included below as a side dish in the time the chicken bakes, which proves even more how much they were made for one. Enjoy!

Porcini and Pine Nut Chicken
Serves 2.

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 heaping tablespoon of dried porcini mushroom powder (1/3 cup of dried Porcini mushrooms ground in a food processor or coffee grinder to a fine powder should yield a heaping tablespoon)
1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
small pinch each salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 350. Cover a small cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Place your toasted pine nuts in a small Ziploc bag and gently bash with the flat end of a meat mallet or the bottom of a can of tomatoes. You just want to break them up into crumbles, not smash them beyond identification. Add your porcini powder, bread crumbs, and salt and pepper to the bag, seal, and shake vigorously to combine well.

Place your chicken breast cutlets on your prepared cookie sheet, then spread the bread crumb mixture evenly over the chicken, covering completely and making sure the sides are coated. Drizzle evenly with the olive oil (you just want to give a good, thorough scattering of oil over the top, not drown them. In fact, if anything, they will still look a little dry when you put them in the oven as the porcini dust and breadcrumbs soak up the oil at a terrifying rate.) Cook for 22-25 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken and how aggressive your oven is.

Cherry Tomato, Basil, and Feta Pasta
Serves 5.

1/2 pound rotini (cork screw) pasta
small handful of kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus one teaspoon
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
couple handfuls washed fresh basil leaves
2.5 oz feta cheese crumbles

Set a large pot of water over high heat heat to boil. Once it does, add the salt stirring in, then your pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente, usually 8 minutes, but consult your package directions to be sure.

Meanwhile, heat up 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large rimmed skillet over medium high heat for one minute. Add your tomato halves and season well with salt and pepper. Lower heat to medium and stir frequently, while the pasta cooks. Once the pasta's ready, use a strainer to add it to the tomatoes. Stir in the extra teaspoon olive oil as well as the basil leaves and feta crumbles. Taste for salt, adding any if necessary, and serve.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Herb Coated New York Strips with Home Made Cheese Fries

A true meat and potatoes meal, with a slightly zen twist. Fresh herbs and lemon zest lighten up the heavy meatiness of the New York Strip in this dish. I grew up with mostly dried herbs - I think most people in suburban America did. But as an adult, I have become addicted to the taste of fresh herbs and the liveliness they add to almost anything, including fresh flat leaf parsley which I wouldn't even touch a few years ago.

Since I was roasting the potatoes for quite a while, I did use dried chives so they wouldn't burn, but you could snip over some fresh after they've had their cheese bath.

Herb Coated New York Strips
Serves 2

quick note - these are great on an outdoor grill but in the winter work well indoors on a grill pan over the stove

1 New York Strip steak - large enough for two - nice and red with respectable marbling
small handful fresh washed Italian (flat leaf, not curly) parsley, minced
4 basil leaves, minced
pinch of fresh rosemary leaves, minced (about 1/4 teaspoon)
a sprig of fresh mint, leaves removed and minced
zest of 1/2 a lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher or sea salt
fresh cracked black pepper

In a small bowl, mix your minced herbs with the lemon zest and olive oil. Place your steak on a small, foil lined baking sheet and spread the herb mixture over, coating every nook and cranny of the steak including both sides. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Oil your grill grates with peanut oil if outside, or spray an indoor grill pan with nonstick spray if cooking indoors. Turn grill onto medium high heat, or your stove top to medium high letting the pan get nice and hot.

Season both sides of the steak with salt and pepper, and grill about 8 minutes per side, lowering heat to medium after the first few minutes (always takes a bit longer on an indoor grill pan for me - closer to 11 each side for medium well.) Remove and let rest for ten minutes before splitting with a loved one.

Home Made Cheese Fries
Serves 2 plus second helpings.

2 small Russet Potatoes, washed, dried and cut into wedges
3-4 tablespoons olive oil - enough to give all the wedges a good coating as well as the bottom of your pan
Sea salt and pepper, for seasoning
2 teaspoons dried chives
1/2 cup shredded white or regular sharp cheddar
1 teaspoon fresh or dried chives for garnishing

Preheat your oven to 400. Add your potato wedges to your largest rimmed baking sheet and season well with salt and pepper. Douse them in the olive oil - you want to make sure they're all coated in it, but not swimming. Space them out on the pan so that they each have their own breathing room - at least 3/4 of an inch from one another - or they won't crisp. There should be some extra oil on the bottom of the pan but not a swimming pool. Sprinkle over the 2 teaspoons of dried chives and put in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the sheet and check one of the bottoms of the wedges to see if it's turned golden brown. If it has, carefully flip all of them over, rotate the sheet, and put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes lowering the oven to 375. If it's not golden yet - put it back in for another 5 or so minutes, until they cooperate, before proceeding with the flipping. You will know when the potatoes are ready - or better yet if you don't taste one. If they're not that perfect crunchy on the outside and soft as cake on the inside then keep baking them. The thing with potatoes is, you can't rush them. Sadly, they call the shots.

Once they're cooked and golden, remove them from the oven and place a nice handful into oven proof bowls. Top with your shredded cheese and return to the oven for 5 minutes, until the cheese has melted. Carefully remove and top with extra chives (you could also sprinkle over some cooked bacon if you feel like celebrating.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake

Alright, I promise I'm not secretly working for McCormick, despite having posted two of their recipes. It's just that I had the same ingredients leftover from my New Year's Rum Cake, and noticed this recipe was similar. You can probably guess what happened next...

Yes - it's embarrassing to say I made the damn rum sauce and drowned that poor chocolate chip baby in booze. It was Kris' idea, I swear. I think he'd drink it as a soup if I wasn't looking. McCormick recommended a simple vanilla glaze, which I've included below, but apparently we couldn't use it because there wasn't any rum in it.

Anyway, this cake was delicious, with or without the rum sauce, and will be a new go to staple. (I'm beginning to think I should have labeled this blog "The Bundt Queen"...)

Apologies for the hideous picture. I had people over and was too self-conscious to have a full-on photo shoot.

McCormick's Vanilla Rich Chip Cake

1 package (18 1/4 ounces) yellow cake mix
1 package (4-serving size) vanilla instant pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
4 eggs
1 tablespoon McCormick® Pure Vanilla Extract
1 cup chocolate chips (I used 2)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat all ingredients, except chips, in large bowl with electric mixer on low speed just to moisten. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes.
2. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into greased and floured 12-cup Bundt pan.
3. Bake 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack. Cool completely. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar or drizzle with Vanilla Butter Glaze (recipe follows), if desired.

Vanilla Butter Glaze: Mix 3 tablespoons butter, melted, 2 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, 3 tablespoons water and 1 1/2 teaspoons McCormick® Pure Vanilla Extract until smooth. Let stand 3 minutes or until thickened.

Parmesan Crusted, Stuffed and Chicken-Fried Filet Mignon

It may have been snowing all day here yesterday in NY, but my kitchen was filled with the flavors of summer. We had (deep breath here...) Parmesan Crusted, goat cheese, basil, sundried tomato and lemon stuffed fillet mignon for dinner. As I write this, I wish I'd made extra so I could have it for lunch was dreamy.

I know - I know - not exactly light fare. But I told you, I was already getting bored with all that healthy stuff. And now that we've covered a few healthful recipes for the New Year, we can get back to having fun! In moderation, of course...

By the way, I overheard a debate over the definition of 'chicken fried' versus 'country fried' recently, and felt a little embarrassed I didn't have my facts down on the subject, being a Texan and all. Here's a little lesson on the topic, from Wikipedia:

Chicken fried steak
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Chicken fried steak (also known as country fried steak) is a piece of beef steak (tenderized cube steak) coated with seasoned flour and pan fried. It is associated with Southern U.S. cuisine and hospitality. Its name is likely due to chicken fried steak's similarity in preparation to fried chicken, though the dish is also similar to the classic Viennese dish Wiener Schnitzel, a tenderized veal cutlet, coated with flour, eggs and breadcrumbs and fried.

The precise origins of the dish are unclear but many sources attribute its development to German and Austrian immigrants to Texas in the nineteenth century who brought recipes from Europe to the USA: Wiener Schnitzel.[1] The German preparation, of course, is different but the similarities are obvious. Lamesa, the seat of Dawson County on the Texas South Plains, claims to be the birthplace of chicken fried steak, as does Bandera, TX.[2]
Chicken fried steak is among numerous popular dishes which make up the official state meal of Oklahoma.[3][4]

Apparently, the only difference between chicken fried and country fried is that in 'country frying', no egg wash is used. Another food geek nugget - did you know that chicken fried chicken is just fried chicken off the bone, versus 'fried chicken' that still has its little limbs? And of course, there's always DEEP frying, but that's another subject all together.

These would actually be great for company, as you can bread them earlier in the day and keep them in the fridge before frying up. Just be sure to remove them about a half hour or so before cooking so that the filling gets nice and molten when cooked.

Parmesan Crusted, Stuffed and Chicken Fried Filet Mignon
Serves 3.

3 small filet mignon steaks, a good half inch thick or a little over
3 oz goat cheese mixed with 1 heaping tablespoon cream cheese
3 large basil leaves, minced
3 large sundried tomatoes, minced
zest of one small lemon (half a teaspoon or so)
salt and pepper
3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs mixed with 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan and 1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
Olive oil
Egg wash - one egg beaten with half a cup of milk or half and half
couple tablespoons flour for dredging

Make your cheese stuffing by combining the goat cheese, cream cheese, lemon zest, sundried tomatoes, basil and a pinch of salt together with a fork. Set aside.

With a pairing knife, cut a slit in each filet, going along length-wise and stopping 1/4 inch before you cut through the other side. You want to make little 'pockets' to hold as much of the filling as possible. Stuff with the filling - as much as you can without it falling out when pick them up - about a tablespoon and a half - depending on the size of your fillets.

Continue the breading process by sprinkling some flour over your steaks, then rolling them around in it for a bit to give the entire exterior a light coating. If you're cooking right away, preheat your oven to 350 and heat up large nonstick skillet over medium high heat with a tablespoon of oil and enough olive oil to coat the entire bottom of the pan.

Set up your panko/parmesan/pepper bowl next to your egg wash bowl. When your oil is hot, begin breading by giving each fillet a quick dip in the egg wash (coating all sides) then the panko mixture, pressing in to get a good coating. (If you're not making right away, you can put them on a small cookie sheet sprinkled with more of the panko coating to rest on, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)

Add the steaks to your pan, getting a nice sear on each side - about 2-3 minutes per side or until golden brown. Using tongs, GENTLY stand them on end to sear the narrow edges, turning as needed.

Transfer (careful not to squeeze out the cheese) to an aluminum lined baking sheet sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake for ten minutes (when clear juices begin to run out - it's time to take them out!)

Tip 1: You want your oil HOT, so give it a few minutes to heat up before adding the steaks. If it's not hot enough - you'll know. You won't get that hissing sound, and the meat will kind of sit there, soaking up all the oil getting weighed down and soggy, versus 'crisping' and getting that nice brown crust you want.

Tip 2: If making ahead, cover a small cookie sheet with two layers of foil. The first will hold the steaks in the fridge (which you discard after frying.) After frying, just put the steaks back on the same cookie sheet to put in the oven. Less washing up!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken with Rosemary Dust

My friend Ryan made an awesome appetizer for New Year's Eve - prosciutto wrapped scallops. Ryan's a great cook, and if God forbid the economy truly goes tits-up, he and I will open a taco cart. Anyway, you really couldn't ask for anything better with a crisp glass of white wine or champagne than these scallops - they were yummy. And when I took a bite, I knew right away there was more to them than just being wrapped in prosciutto. I asked him and he said the trick was to grind rosemary up in a coffee grinder to make a fine powder and use it to marinate the scallops along with tons of lemon zest and olive oil.

Two weeks later, I tried this trick on chicken as a main dish. And while I think I prefer the flavor combo with the sweet little scallops, it was pretty tasty...and fairly healthy too (btw, the healthy dishes are about to take a hiatus for a while - I'm getting bored!)

Remember - rosemary is one of those herbs that adds incredible flavor in moderation, but get too crazy with it and your dish will taste like a medicine cabinet. I love the trick of making it into a powder because it rids it of its woodiness. Having hefty little leaves, they can be hard to chop finely with even the sharpest of knives.

Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken with Rosemary Dust

4-5 small chicken breasts/cutlets, halved if necessary (you can make as many or as few as you like, but it's best that you have enough that when laid side by side, fill your baking dish - mine was 9 by 9 and this recipe reflects this amount)
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, blitzed to a fine powder in a coffee grinder or mini prep food processor
2 tablespoons olive oil
zest of one lemon

5-6 slices of prosciutto to wrap each piece of chicken (1 per smaller pieces, up to 2 for larger)
1/4 cup pinot grigio

Combine your rosemary, olive oil, and lemon zest in a small cup and dump into a Ziploc bag along with your chicken, smushing around a few times to make sure each piece has made contact with the delicious ointment. Put in the fridge overnight, or at least 6 hours.

Preheat your oven to 350 and spray a 9 by 9 baking dish with nonstick spray.

Remove the chicken from the bag and gently pat dry with paper towels (doesn't need to be bone dry, just remove the excess moisture.) Wrap each piece with prosciutto - you want as much of the chicken covered by the pink prosciutto as possible, to flavor it while baking as well as prevent it from drying out.

Lay each wrapped piece of chicken side by side in your baking dish, touching but not overlapping. Pour over your pinot grigio and bake for 20-22 minutes. As you can tell from the pictures, the 'cooked' chicken doesn't look all that different from the pre-cooked, as the prosciutto will not get crispy because the moisture from the wine prevents this. So if you're in doubt, take it out and cut one open to see if the chicken's know how I feel about overcooking chicken and pork - little pieces like this will be as tough as shoe leather!

Tip: Prosciutto is a pain to work with once it becomes a little warm - which only takes a few minutes out of the fridge. I like to stick mine in the freezer for a couple of minutes before wrapping the chicken - it stays together better than way, and I get to remain a lady without having to cuss at it.

Sauteed Pears, Fennel, and Brussels Sprouts with Vanilla Bean and Pinot Grigio

I really debated posting this one. I know many of you will think I'm crazy for putting vanilla bean into vegetables, but let me remind you that vanilla is a very mild, very food-friendly flavor, good in all sorts of dishes, and not just sweets.

I searched the web, wanting to give a bit of history on this, and indeed found many people talking about using vanilla in savory dishes. Here's just one example from another blog:

I served this with prosciutto wrapped chicken, and almost ate all of it before I even touched the chicken. Kris on the other hand...not so much. I thought I could sneak the fennel by him by burying it in with the pears and brussels sprouts, but he detected it on the first bite, curling his nose up at it and not touching it again.

I didn't bother telling him that I'd put vanilla bean in it - I just ate his serving. Two days later, I ate the leftovers as a cold veggie salad, and it was even better. I don't know how to describe it - it's on the verge of being sweet (the vanilla and pear combo is just the slightest bit remniscent of a pear crumble), but before it becomes too sweet, you get a bite of the nutty brussels sprout and a mellow licorice kick from the fennel. Of course, if you absolutely hate fennel, you could replace it with sweet onion, sauteeing the same way.

I guess I'll have to make this one when Kris is out of town. I'm already craving it again!

Sauteed Pears, Fennel, and Brussels Sprouts with Vanilla Bean
Serves 3-4

1 (9 oz) package of fresh Brussels Sprouts, docked (tough ends removed), loose leaves removed, and cut in half, length-wise
1 Pear (I used a Bosc), cut into one inch cubes
1 Fennel bulb (the 'heart' of the fennel only), stalks and tough outer layers removed, sliced into rings, then halved
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 a vanilla bean (see link below if you've never done this)
1/2 cup Pinot Grigio or other dry white wine
1 teaspoon butter, optional

See how to scrape a vanilla bean here:

Heat up olive oil and butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add your pear and vegetables, season with salt and pepper, and saute, stirring occasionally 12-15 minutes until they've begun to soften (you can put your top on your pan to quicken this a little if you're in a hurry.) Add your wine and vanilla bean, stirring in thoroughly. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute, then reduce heat and simmer until the majority of the wine has evaporated. Stir in additional butter at end if desired.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The underated, under appreciated Carrot Cake

Last post from my beloved Texas trip - my nephew's birthday cake. As I mentioned before, we all looked at each other when he politely requested it for his birthday like, "Carrot Cake? What's wrong with this kid? What about chocolate or even a lemon cake?" But the laugh was on me when I nearly dove into it head-first, hours later, after dinner.

Maybe it's because I'm not a huge sweets person and the plethora of spices gave my mouth something to think about. Maybe it's because cream cheese frosting would taste good on a car tire. Or maybe I should just stop debating it all together, and accept the fact that carrot cake is my new part time lover.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

3 sticks, plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temp
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Cream Cheese Icing:
8 ounces cream cheese
1 stick unsalted butter
1 (1-pound) box confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup drained canned pineapple
1 cup shredded coconut, to press on the outside

rind of one orange, cut into long strips and twisted into 'curls', presented in a fan on top to make a star shape

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter 3 (9-inch) cake pans with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer. Add the sugar, and beat. In a medium bowl or on a piece of parchment, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt, and mix well.

Add the dry ingredients, alternating with the eggs, beating well after the addition of each. Add the vanilla extract and mix. Add the carrots and beat on medium speed until well incorporated, about 2 minutes. Fold in the coconut and nuts. Divide between the 3 cake pans and bake until set and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest in the cake pans for 10 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, remove from the pans, and let cool.

For the Frosting: In a large bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar gradually, beating constantly. Add the vanilla and pineapple.

When the cake is cool, place 1 cake layer on a cake plate or stand. Spread the top with cream cheese frosting and top with a second and third cake layer, spreading the icing between each layer. Spread the icing around the sides of the cake, gently 'press' in shredded coconut, and let harden slightly before serving. Garnish with orange rind and cut into wedges, to serve.

The Mysterious Case of Orange Bread

In honor of the Horns defeating Ohio State, I bring you...Orange Bread!

I had never even heard of Orange Bread until I was home for the holidays. My nephew Joseph's birthday is the day after Christmas (bless his heart) and it was a treat to be there for that.

The birthday boy had some very specific birthday wishes.

#1 Orange Bread for breakfast
#2 Chicken fried chicken for dinner
#3 Carrot Cake for his birthday cake
#4 OR - scratch all the above in exchange for dinner at Truluck's in downtown Austin;)

Orange bread? Carrot cake? What a budding little foodie! As for the chicken fried chicken, well, that's not a bad choice either in my opinion...

As I watched my niece and sister assemble the orange bread, I learned that it's not a yeast bread or even a quick bread. In fact, it's made from canned biscuit dough, which you spread with cream cheese in little sandwiches before standing on their ends to form a 'ring' in a bundt pan.

You might want to cover your heart and arteries' eyes before reading the rest of the ingredient list...but as a birthday treat, I think it's worth the jolt of cholesterol.

Orange Bread

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes


3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped or whole pecans
1 Tablespoon grated orange rind
2 (11-ounce) cans refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, cut into 20 squares
3/4 cup butter or margarine, melted and placed in a shallow bowl or pie plate
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons orange juice


Combine sugar, pecans, and orange rind in a small bowl; set aside.

Separate biscuit dough into individual biscuits; gently separate individual biscuits in half. Place a cream cheese square between the two halves, and pinch sides to seal each back together. Dip in butter, and dredge in reserved sugar mixture. Stand biscuits on edge in a lightly greased 12-cup bundt pan, spacing evenly. Drizzle with remaining butter, and sprinkle with remaining sugar mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes or until golden. Immediately invert onto a serving plate.

Combine powdered sugar and orange juice; stir well. Drizzle over warm bread. Serve immediately.

Yield: one 10-inch coffee cake

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Recession Chicken

I am very suspicious when I see recipes with very few ingredients, but I assure you - this is as cheap and as easy and as delicious as I say it is - cross my heart. Of course - you can't over bake the chicken - or it will be stringy and dry and I can't be held responsible for that, my love.

Finally, I know it's an old adage, but as this recipe proves, some of the best things come from being forced to cut down and improvise. Though if you compare me to Sandra Lee I'll shoot you dead.

Recession Chicken (Crispy Parmesan Baked Chicken)

1 cup Pepperidge Farm Seasoned Croutons
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
salt and pepper
2 generous tablespoons olive oil
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (pounded out a little if ridiculously thick - no more than 1/2 an inch at their widest)

Preheat your oven to 350.

Meanwhile, place the croutons in a large ziplock bag, seal it, and bash them with either the flat side of a mallet, a frying pan or the bottom of a heavy can (i.e. a can of tomatoes or beans.) You don't want to make a crouton powder - you just want to make crouton crumbs, breaking them up a little. Add your parmesan to the bag and give a good shake to combine.

Grease a baking sheet with a rack on it (you could make your own by placing a cooling rack on a baking sheet) and grease well with nonstick spray. (A good tip is to line the bottom with aluminum foil, so you only have the rack to clean afterwards.)

Place your chicken breasts on the rack a few inches apart and season with salt and pepper. Carefully sprinkle over the crouton/Parmsan mixture, distributing it as evenly as possible covering the entire surface of both breasts.

Drizzle evenly with the olive oil (a tablespoon per breast - maybe a hair more if your chicken is really big.)

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, until tops are golden brown and chicken is cooked through (my chickens were really big and this was the perfect amount of time - if yours are small, I'd check them at 18-20 minutes.)

Chili Night to ease back into the work week with the Horns.

There is nothing sadder than returning to real life after the holidays. Every second that goes by on this last Sunday of freedom seems to taunt me, as if I could be doing more interesting or exciting things to make the most of it. But as we have friends coming over tomorrow night to watch the Texas Longhorns play Ohio State on the Fiesta Bowl, I'm making chili.

Yes, it's ANOTHER riff on a Nigella recipe, and it's unique in that it has dark chocolate in it. No one will ever know, and if you have a foodie-phobic crowd coming over you can omit telling them as well as remove the cardamom pods before you serve it (though I like discovering their floral bite in my bowl.)

What your guests don't know won't hurt them and all they'll think is that it tastes damn good.

2 large Vidalia or other sweet onion, chopped into smallish dice
2 fat garlic cloves, minced
Plenty of kosher or sea salt to season as you go along
6 cardamom pods, gently bruised with one of your tomato cans
2 heaping tablespoons of cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (feel free to up this if you like more of a kick)
1 cinnamon stick
1 dried ancho chili
3 pounds lean ground sirloin
2 (26 oz) cans whole peeled tomatoes
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 (15 oz) can red kidney beans, juice and all
1 cup red wine
2 oz good quality dark chocolate, chopped or broken into chunks (I like Godiva)

Tortilla chips or Fritos, for serving
Sour cream
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese

In your LARGEST dutch oven (there's a lot of food here, but it freezes beautifully), add about 4 tablespoons of olive oil, or enough to thoroughly coat the bottom. Bring to medium heat for a few seconds, letting heat through, then add your onions. Season well with salt and pepper, and cook until softened, about 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garlic and cook another 2 minutes.

Using your wooden spoon, scoot the onions over to one side clearing an empty space to 'toast' your spices (this is a Lydia Bastianich tip to enhance flavor, and I love it.) Then add your ancho chili, red pepper flakes, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon stick to the cleared space, giving each of them their own little space. Let them 'toast' for 3 minutes - you can spread the cumin and coriander out a bit so it toasts evenly. Stir in all of the spices, incorporating them well into the onions.

Add your ground sirloin, breaking up with your wooden spoon so it can begin to brown. Season WELL with salt (remember you have a ton of meat in there - I do about a tablespoon of kosher salt during this step.) Stir occasionally and continue to cook until all the meat has browned, about fifteen minutes.

Add your whole tomatoes and their juice, and stir in the tomato paste. Use your spoon to break up the tomatoes, then gently stir in the beans and red wine. Raise the heat and bring the chili to a simmer. Stir in the chocolate pieces until they melt into the chili.

At this point, you want to simmer the chili over low heat with the cover partially on for an hour and a half, stirring every so often to make sure the bottom isn't burning. However, I've served it after just a half an hour's worth of simmering with no complaints.

Taste for salt before serving and adjust accordingly. (This is also an excellent thing to make the day before a party, then just heat up gently on the stove or in the oven on 350 with the lid on for 30-45 minutes until heated through, possibly stirring in a little low sodium chicken stock to loosen it if it's become too thick.)

Remember to remove the stem of the ancho chili and the cinnamon stick. Serve with bowls of sour cream, sharp cheddar cheese, and tortilla chips or Fritos for people to dress their chili as they please.

Sticky, Spicy, Sweet Pork Chops

A Meat and Potatoes Foodie original!

Sticky, Spicy, Sweet Pork Chops
* This marinade would also be great on two juicy New York strips.

2 bone-in, center cut pork chops, about 1 " thick
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup Maker's Mark or other good bourbon
3/4 cup coke
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or a little more if you really like heat
small handful cilantro sprigs, washed
salt and pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together the molasses, bourbon, Coke, lemon juice, chili powder, ginger, and red pepper flakes until molasses has fully dissolved and incorporated into the mixture. Stir in you cilantro sprigs.

Add the marinade to a large ziploc bag as well as the pork chops. Seal well and turn over a couple of times to make sure the chops are well coated. Place in the fridge in a shallow bowl (in case the bag leaks) overnight, or at least for 6 hours.

Preheat your oven to 350.

Remove the chops from the marinade (reserving) patting dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.

Heat up a grill pan on your stove top over medium high heat. Spray with nonstick spray, then grill the chops for 3 minutes per side, just until you have nice, dark grill marks. Remove to an aluminum lined baking sheet, also sprayed with nonstick spray, and bake in oven on 350 for twelve minutes.

Meanwhile, add 1/3 cup orange juice to a medium sized pot along with the reserved marinade. Bring to a boil and boil down to 1/3, JUSt until it has become thick and syrupy. This may take slightly longer than the time the chops take in the oven, but you'll need to let the meat rest for a few minutes anyway. Reducing a sweet sauce like this is one of those things that just when you think it's not going to happen - it happens all at once - so be careful not to leave it alone or it will burn and stick to the bottom of the pot.

Serve drizzled over your chops with fresh cilantro snipped over.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Flexible Pasta with Stewed Tomatoes, Basil and Fresh Mozarella

Of all the things I make, I think this is Kris' favorite. And maybe mine too. It is so satisfying and comforting but you don't get that comfort food hangover after eating it like you would a pasta with cream sauce or say...a bacon cheeseburger.

And a the name says, it's very flexible. You can use spinach or arugula instead of basil, walnuts instead of pine nuts or skip adding nuts all together, or parmesan cheese instead of cubed fresh mozzarella, though you won't get the fun of stretching out the warm cheese and wrapping it around your fork.

I've made it skipping the step of sauteeing the stewed tomatoes and just dumping them in as well as skipping the garlic when I've been out, and it's still divine.

Natalie - this reminds me of the pasta we used to get at Romeo's in know when we were exhausted from studying so hard...

Pasta with Stewed Tomatoes, Basil and Fresh Mozzarella
Serves 5-6.

3/4 pound of bowtie pasta (you can use any kind)
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry
1 (28 oz) can stewed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano or Muir Glen), drained, plus 1/4 cup of the tomato juice from the can
3 fat garlic cloves, smashed with the back of your knife
1 small ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
zest of one small lemon
Olive oil (1-2 tablespoons)
salt and pepper

Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Get out another pan - a large, rimmed one that can fit all of the pasta and sauce later - dump in the stewed tomatoes and garlic cloves and bring up to low-medium heat. Season with salt and pepper and let come to a gentle simmer, stirring now and then to keep bottom from burning. Ideally you want to simmer the tomatoes and garlic for 8-10 minutes so that the garlic gently infuses the sauce, but again, it's up to how much time and effort you're up to at that particular moment.

When your pasta water has come to a boil, stir in 2 handfuls of kosher or sea salt, then the pasta. Cook 7-8 minutes just until al dente. Before transferring, fish the garlic cloves out of your tomatoes and throw away. Then using a spider or slotted spoon, strain and add the pasta to your tomatoes, along with a couple of tablespoons olive oil and another pinch of salt. Stir in your lemon zest, basil, mozzarella and pine nuts.

Serve warm.

I use lemon zest when I'm craving something bright and fresh. But you can grate in some fresh nutmeg into the simmering tomatoes before you add the basil an earthy, comforting scent, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes for a little kick, or knock yourself out and try all three.

I like the texture of whole, peeled tomatoes, but you'll need to break them down a little. I find the easiest way to do this is to give them a few snips with kitchen shears just before I add them to the pan (while they're in the strainer.) You could always use your wooden spoon to 'mash' them a little once they're in the pan, but you risk a closet full of tomato-Pollacked shirts.

Raspberry Cinnamon Muffins with Orange Zest and Walnuts

I got some nifty little cookbooks this year for Christmas and I will be writing about all of them sooner or later.

But first up is one called Tasting the Wine Country, sent to me by my mom in law, Charlotte. The raspberry cinnamon muffins from the Gaige House Inn in Glenn Ellen, CA caught my eye right away, and I fiddled a little with the recipe, adding walnuts and vanilla extract and using orange zest instead of lemon zest, which Charlotte would appreciate.

Remember not to over mix the batter when making cakes or muffins. I never knew this as a child, and once made a loaf of banana bread as solid and dense as a square of sidewalk cement because I had mixed the hell out of the batter thinking I was really being thorough. When I threw it out in the compost heap, even the squirrels wouldn't touch it. Come to think of it, it might be there to this very day...

One more thing - this is a fairly healthy muffin, with only 4 tablespoons of butter and using sour cream instead of oil (you could even attempt light sour cream, for extra New Year's points.)

Raspberry Cinnamon Muffins with Orange Zest and Walnuts

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons salted butter, melted
2 teaspoons orange zest
l egg
1/3 cup mashed or blended strawberries or raspberries
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1 cup raspberries (it says to use fresh but I used frozen for this and the blended ones above and it worked great)

Preheat oven to 350 and grease or butter a 12-cup muffin pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon and baking powder and set aside.

In a large bowl, or a Kitchen Aid mixer, combine the sour cream, butter, egg, vanilla extract, zest and mashed berries. Add the dry ingredients in two batches, mixing until just combined each time. Gently fold in the whole berries and walnut pieces and distribute the mixture evenly into your muffin pan.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of muffins comes out clean. Don't over bake! Remove to cool on a wire rack so they don't become soggy.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year's Resolution Pasta

One of my sisters made a lovely little side dish when I was back in Texas. She cracks me up, as she will only cook vegetables that she can chop with her handy 'chopper.' She was also adamant about the fact that she only likes sauteed vegetables that are cut into uniform, tiny little pieces. I nodded along thinking 'to each their own' until I took a bite.

She was right - the sauteed zuchinni, squash, and asparagus were delicious in these little half inch dices. They were perfectly sauteed but still had a little crunch to them. I made the same side dish as soon as we got home and used the leftovers in a light pasta dish I thought fit the bill of what we all want this time of year - less 'excess' in our diets and healthier livers.

I personally don't make New Year's resolutions, but eating this made me feel just the tiniest bit ahead of the game, which is nice given the fact you never know what Karma has in store for you.

New Year's Resolution Pasta:

3/4 pound spiral pasta (you could use any pasta you want)
2 heaping tablespoons kosher or sea salt, to salt your pasta water
2 small zuchinni, cut into small, half inch dices
1 medium yellow squash (half in dices)
8 asparagus, trimmed of their 'woody ends' and cut into half inch pieces
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
olive oil
salt and pepper to season
dash nutmeg
3 oz goat cheese, broken up into bits with your fingers, plus extra if desired for serving
1/4 cup pistachios
2 large handfuls fresh basil, washed and patted dry (roughly chopped if desired - I leave them whole)

In a medium saute pan (NON stick if you have it), heat up a couple of tablespoons olive oil. Add your zuchinni, squash, garlic and asparagus, season with salt and pepper and a tiniest pinch of nutmeg, and saute stirring occasionally (should only need about 15 minutes.) You can remove the garlic at this point of give it a chop and keep it in - it's up to you.

Meanwhile, heat up a large pot of water over high heat for your pasta. When it comes to a boil, add your salt, stir well, then tip in pasta. Cook until al dente, about 8 minutes, then strain with a spider or slotted spoon adding it to your sauteed veggies. Add a little more olive oil (about a tablespoon) and the goat cheese stirring until it begins to melt in. Add a ladle full of your pasta water to help create a sauce and ease the melting process, then your basil and pistachios.

Taste for salt, adding more if necessary, and serve with extra goat cheese crumbled on top.

Nigella's Pan Seared Salmon with Mirin Soy Glaze

I have dreams about this salmon. When I first read the recipe in Nigella's Express cookbook, I had serious doubts it would work. Marinate for 3 minutes? Dump it all in the pan and then it's done?

Well, I guess there are little miracles in life. And for me, this is one of them...right next to the Marc Jacobs coat I got for Christmas;)

Mirin-Glazed Salmon
Serves 4.
Serve with rice and/or pan sauteed snap peas and/or asparagus and mushrooms for a complete meal.

1/4 cup mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 (4 oz) pieces of salmon, preferably wild and cut from the thick part of the fillet so that they are narrow but tall rather than wide and flat)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 scallions, halved

Mix the mirin, sugar, and soy in a shallow dish that will hold all of the salmon and marinate the salmon in it for 3 minutes on the first side and 2 minutes on the second. Meanwhile, heat up a large non stick skillet on the stove over medium/high heat.

Cook the salmon (NON skin side first) in the hot, dry pan for 3 minutes (she says 2 but I like my salmon more cooked.) Turn it over, pouring in the marinade and cook for another 3 minutes.

Remove the salmon to your serving plate, and add the rice vinegar to the marinade still on the stove. Stir all together for a few seconds over medium heat until bubbly and 'sticky', then pour over the salmon and garnish with scallions.