Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Dinner No. 2

This year introduced a great tradition of Sunday night dinners with our friends Tripp, Luci, Stuart and Lee. We probably average about one Sunday dinner gathering per month which is actually quite impressive considering we're juggling the schedules of three third year medical students. So it was only fitting that we reconvened once more in 2009 for a Sunday Christmas Dinner.
The afternoon started out with an absolutely delightful surprise. The Nelsons and Saunders (and John) presented me with a gift upon arrival. I was quite skeptical, I figured it had to be a joke of some kind, everyone was staring at me rather intently while I opened the box... I was absolutely TICKLED to find...a chef's my size...that read "Maggie Lacy, Accidental Syrup"!!!!!! I all but squealed with excitement, it was easily the most thoughtful gift I've received in a long time. I may only be called a "chef" in my own kitchen, but now I look official!
*Picture with Stuart and Luci in my new jacket!
We immediately kicked off the festivities with a Holiday inspired cocktail-recipe courtesy of Dave Lieberman (used to be on food tv) I essentially followed his outline...
Ginger-Cranberry Cocktail
*1 cup ginger infused simple syrup
*2 cups vodka
*2 cups cranberry juice (100% juice preferable)
*1/2 cup fresh lime juice
*1/3 cup fresh whole cranberries
Ginger Infused simple syrup:
*1 1/2 cups water
*1/2 cup sugar
*5 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into coins
Bring to a boil and simmer until the sugar dissolves and ginger flavor infuses the syrup (about 20 minutes) Let sit for a couple of hours and then strain. I actually made this the day before and left it covered in the fridge.
I had everything mixed together in a pitcher ahead of time. The fresh cranberries were just for garnish. As my guests arrived I poured the yummy concoction over a rocks glass full of ice and topped with a little bit of soda. The drink was very festive looking and quite delicious- similar to a cosmopolitan but the ginger added a litle spicy kick. I actually wish the ginger flavor was a bit stronger, perhaps next time I'd add more fresh ginger to the simple syrup.
We started early (about 3pm) so I had some store bought snacks for nibbling. Manchego cheese and sliced sweet sopressata, shrimp cocktail, and a couple of dips. We had four additional guests of the canine variety (3 adorable labs and a sweetly spunky weimaraner) so we bundled up to enjoy afternoon cocktails on the back porch to watch them romp around the yard together.
Around 5:30pm, I served the first course. Ina Garten's Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts. I've been dying to try these from her latest Back to Basics Cookbook. They are like little mini puff pastry pizzas really. I actually decided to prepare the onion mixture for these- as well as the onion/fennel mixture for the Potato Fennel Gratin that I was serving with the main course- the day before. While I love the smell of onions as you're preparing a meal, the smell tends to linger and it wasn't exactly the ideal backdrop for a Holiday dinner party. This drastically cut back my day-of-prep-time too. I assembled and baked the tarts before my guests arrived. I then popped them back into the oven to rewarm before serving. YUMMMMY. I could make a meal of these alongside a green salad or cup of soup.

**You may notice that the pictures in this particular post are light years better than what you're used to here on A.S. That is because I had a guest food photographer, Doctor Lee Saunders, for the evening! Really amazing...

Ina cuts four circles out of the dough for round tarts and then discards the puff pastry scraps. I hated the idea of wasting delicious puff pastry so instead I cut each of the sheets into four squares. I had more than enough of the onion mixture to make eight tarts. Also, I used Roma tomatoes because they tend to have far less water to them. I didn't want them to be soggy. Next time I would put two tomato slices on each one- I went with a single slice for fear of making the filling too heavy for the pastry to carry without breaking. I think it was sturdier than I gave it credit for... I cut each one in half with a pizza roller so that they could be picked up and eaten by hand. I would say they were a hit.

For the main course I served:
*Steamed Haricot Verts with Garlic
I first made this lamb recipe for John a few year's back on Valentine's day- lamb is probably his absolute favorite. Rack of lamb always seems appropriate for a special meal and makes for a beautiful presentation- yet the cook time is only a fraction of that for a rib roast, pork roast, etc. I prepared the shallot and thyme crust and coated the lamb earlier that morning (also wanted the vinegar smell to disipate before my guests arrived.) I tripled the the recipe as I had three racks to serve eight people (3 ribs per person). I ended up with far more crumb mixture than necessary-doubling it probably would have been perfect. Note: I set the lamb out of the fridge about an hour before I intended to roast it so that it would cook evenly through.
I chose the Gratin recipe based on a recommendation from my friend Liz in D.C. She said that she made this dish for a dinner party and the guests all but licked the baking dish clean. Yowsa was it AMAZING. Again I made the onion/fennel mixture the day prior so the assembly was really quick, I actually did it with my friends there. Stuart peeled potatoes for me while I sliced them- we gave everything a quick toss together with the cream and Gruyere and into the oven it went. (It bakes for 1/5 hrs though). As soon as the gratin was finished (it was toasty brown, bubbly and smelled like HEAVEN) I put the lamb into the same hot oven.
While the lamb was roasting, I quickly steamed some haricot verts. I started with a generous swirl of extra virgin olive oil in a dutch oven over med/med-high heat. I then pressed 5 cloves of garlic into the pan. I gave it a quick stir and then almost immediately tossed in my beans. I seasoned with salt and pepper and continued to toss everything together until the beans started to turn bright green. I then added a few tablespoons of water to the pan and covered it with a lid to steam for 3 or 4 minutes. As soon as they were tender but still crisp, I transferred them to a serving plate and tented with foil.
The lamb reached 140 degrees after approx 25 minutes. I set it on a cutting board covered loosely with foil to rest for 10 minutes. I turned the oven down to 250 and put my gratin and beans back in to warm. The lamb was perfectly medium-rare and the side dishes made a fantastic combination of decadent and fresh. Even my pickiest of eater-friends enjoyed the meal. It was classic but still had a layer of originality with the additions of the fennel in the gratin and the unique crust on the lamb.
Throughout the evening we enjoyed "three" AMAZING bottles of wine. The first was a magnum of a California Sangiovese from Muscardini Cellars that Tripp and Luci brought back from a recent trip to Napa-Sonoma. It was absolutely perfect with the tomato and goat cheese tarts AND the lamb. The spiciness worked nicely to cut through the richness of the gratin too. The second bottle was a Chateau Damase Bordeaux that Tripp and Luci received as a gift from Tripp's parents- also spectacular. Thirdly, we opened a 2005 Sonoma-Loeb Cab that Stuart and Lee had given John for his birthday a few weeks back...Needless to say there was much Holiday cheer shared by all.
Last but not least we made room for dessert- Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake. My Mom has been making this cheesecake for years. We often make one for Thanksgiving. It always reminds me of the Holidays and it easily serves a crowd. I actually made the cheesecake two days earlier as it keeps very nicely in the fridge.
After 7 hours of eating, drinking and being merry, our guests (furry and otherwise) were headed home with full bellies. Merry Christmas Friends! Love you guys and can't wait to ring in the New Year with you next week... Lots to celebrate in 2010!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Seeing as we're getting all of our carbs in these days (and then some) by way of cookies, pies, and other holiday treats- John and I were looking for a waistline friendly weeknight dinner Monday. John suggested we try Chicken Lettuce Wraps, PF Chang's style. I perused some recipes online for inspiration and then we just made it up as we went along.
The filling:
*One pkg of Organic Smart Chicken tenderloins sliced into little pieces
*A generous 1/2 cup of white mushrooms, chopped
*One bunch of green onions, green and white parts, finely sliced
*One can of diced water chestnuts
*Three cloves of garlic minced
*1/2 tsp of grated ginger (from the bottle)
*drizzle of sesame oil and olive oil
The sauce:
*2 T rice vinegar
*2 T soy sauce
*1 tsp sesame oil *3 T chunky peanut butter
*1 tsp (more if you're bold) Sriracha hot chili sauce
*3 T brown sugar **Whisk it all together- microwave for a few seconds if you have trouble getting the peanut butter to incorporate...
I actually made the sauce first so that it was ready to throw in as I stir-fried the filling. Next I used a large non-stick skillet and started with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and a drizzle of olive oil over med-high heat. I first added the garlic and ginger and then quickly added my chicken pieces, stirring immediately to keep the garlic from burning. As soon as the chicken was JUST cooked through, I removed it from the pan.
Next I added a tiny splash more oil to the same pan and then sauteed the mushrooms, scallions (I saved a few of these for garnish) and water chestnuts for about one minute until just starting to soften. I then returned the chicken to the pan and added all of the sauce. (You should still be on med-high heat and will get some serious sizzle action.)
The sauce began to thicken a little bit as it cooks, the brown sugar helps it to caramelize a little. As soon as everything was evenly coated and beginning to brown (2-3 mins) we were done. We cut a head of iceburg lettuce in half, removed the core and then separated the lettuce leaves, carefully trying not to tear them. Put a generous scoop of the filling inside a lettuce cup as you serve. (For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, you eat them taco style.)
This was super easy- surprisingly light and very very yummy. I served some steam-in-the-bag frozen broccoli on the side. I toasted it quickly in a saucepan with a drizzle of sesame oil, one minced garlic clove, a little salt and pepper. This recipe would easily serve 4 as we had left overs again the following night. Note: the Sriracha heat pairs nicely with a cold beer.

Derby Pie Take 2

Seeing as the first Derby Pie didn't make through the night of our dinner party Friday- I was inspired to make a second pie on Sunday. I decided to try a slightly different approach this time. As I mentioned, the first pie was not quite as gooey as I was hoping for and there is nothing more deliciously gooey than my mother-in-laws amazing pecan pie. John goes CRAZY for it... so I pulled out her recipe as the base for a new Derby Pie creation.
I used a Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust again (they come in packages of two). Claudia's filling calls for:
*1/2 stick of melted butter- cooled
*3 eggs
*1 cup of dark Karo syrup
*1/2 tsp vanilla
*1/2 cup white sugar
*1/2 cup chopped pecans (coarsely)
I then added 1 T of bourbon and 1/4 cup of semi sweet chocolate chips, Derby style. (General rule of thumb: everything is better with chocolate *and most things with bourbon*.)
Because the last pie got a little too brown (and Claudia's recipe doesn't specify to)- I decided not to blind bake the shell this time. I baked the pie at 350 for 40 mins or so until it was beautifully golden brown. Unfortunately, though this pie was scrumptiously gooey as I was hoping, and the flavor was FANTASTIC- once we got in there I realized it was slightly undercooked this time. The inside did not set up all the way as it normally is when Claudia makes it and the bottom of crust was still slightly "raw".
Perhaps the third time's a charm? It did occur to me that she uses dark metal pie plates and I was using a glass one. I might try bumping the temp up 25 degrees as well or maybe just adding 5 or 6 mins of bake time. We're getting closer....

Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday Dinner No. 1

night John and I hosted the first of two 2009 Christmas dinner parties at our house. Having a dinner party on a Friday after work is always a little bit challenging given the time restraint, so planning the menu required a little creativity. I recently purchased Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris cookbook which I LOVE and I've been eyeing the Roasted Pork Loin with Green Peppercorn Sauce recipe. I concluded it would be perfect for a crowd, would require minimal prep time and would make for a nice presentation. You can find the recipe here.
Alongside the pork, my mother suggested a recipe she'd found with my Pesca-tarian sister in mind- a Butternut Squash and Kale Bread Pudding. (She's a vegetarian that eats fish and shellfish, finding vegetarian main dishes packed with extra protein is tricky.) I'd never made anything like it before, I was very intrigued. Besides what's not to love about butternut squash and what's not to love about bread pudding- surely the combination would be a success. Sure enough, it worked very nicely as a fall side dish. A starch and veggie in one too- which saved me some additional preparation.
I was having 6 guests for dinner. I tasked them with appetizers and wine so we started with a selection of salami and cheeses that they'd brought. I wanted to make a festive cocktail to kick off the night as well. After all it was a Friday and who doesn't look forward to a chilled cocktail after a long work week?? I perused some recipes on and settled on a Lemon-Basil Vodka Gimlet. Y-U-M-M-Y! I made the syrup earlier in the day (I halved the recipe as it was written) and then mixed the syrup, lemon juice, and vodka before serving. I topped them off with a splash of club soda and a basil leaf. The basil flavor was subtle yet added a little something special. I ended up trying one with gin too and I actually think I might have liked it a little better. I'm not typically a gin drinker (I ran out of vodka at the end) but the lemon and soda really mellowed the flavor and the basil worked nicely in there as well.
While my guests were finishing up cocktails and opening the wines- my pork was ready to come out of the oven. While it rested, I made green peppercorn sauce right in the roasting pan over the stove. (I followed Ina's recipe exactly- because her dishes are perfection.) We had a bit of an issue with the pork roast unfortunately- we had a really hard time finding the joint into which we could cut to separate the chops. I was really looking forward to serving the chops on the bone- the presentation is so elegant. However in the interest of time, my best slicing knife and eating hot food- John decided to cut the loin off of the rib bones before slicing into individual chops. We had difficulty finding the joint where you can slice through the bone holding all of the ribs in place to separate them. The inner ribs (quite a bit larger than the ends) were cooked to perfection- an ideal medium temperature. The outer, smaller chops were on the dry Fortunately a generous dousing of the green peppercorn sauce (and the gimlet cocktail starter) helped disguise that fact!
I assembled the bread pudding as soon as I got home from work. (I actually roasted my butternut squash and cleaned my kale in advance that morning.) I baked the casserole before the pork and then put it back in the oven at 350 to rewarm as soon as the pork came out. Per the other reader's reviews/suggestions, I made a few changes to the bread pudding recipe:
*used whole milk instead of half and half
*added 5 cloves of minced garlic in with the shallot before sauteeing the kale
*used half gruyere and half cheddar cheese
*tossed a generous tablespoon of chopped fresh sage and 5 or 6 springs of fresh thyme with the squash before roasting
*added three springs of fresh thyme leaves to the milk mixture before soaking the bread
*used slightly less bread (approx 8 cups)
*added 2 extra eggs to the custard
Having enjoyed great company, delicious wine and a tasty meal- we were missing only one thing... dessert. I called upon an old family favorite recipe- Kentucky Derby Pie. I used my grandmother's recipe (simple made even simpler by way of a Pillsbury unroll-and-bake pie crust.) I blind-baked the pie shell at 350 for about 8 minutes just until it started to puff but was not yet starting to turn golden brown.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, I whisked together the filling:
2 eggs, slightly beaten 1 cup sugar ¼ cup flour 1 stick butter, melted and cooled 1 cup pecans 1 cup chocolate chips 1 tsp vanilla1 T Bourbon
I transferred the filling into the shell and placed back into the oven for 40 minutes. Luckily I checked on it around 30 minutes and noticed that the shell was slightly over-brown so I threw my aluminum pie shield thingy over it (you can cover loosely with tin foil if you don't have one of these). I later realized that I'd really over cooked the whole pie slightly. It still tasted delicious however the consistency was almost cookie-like. It's really supposed to have a goo-factor to it. I whipped some fresh cream to serve over top of the eight, fairly large slices, and there wasn't a single bite left at the end of the meal...I guess you could say it was a hit!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Lesson in California Cabernet Savignon

Meet Greer Scoggins. Brother-in-law and California Cabernet Savignon Guru Extraordinaire. As you can see from the picture he was in.his.element the Saturday after Thanksgiving as we gathered for some family fun. Who wouldn't be while sipping phenomenal red wine in his pjs watching Florida beat the tar out of Florida State?? (In great company might I add.)
Greer and Melissa have a gorgeous home in Milton, Georgia- a suburb of Atlanta near Alpharetta. Greer has recently completed the construction of a spectacularly beautiful wine cellar and bar in their basement - which happens to be where we began our tutorial on Amazing California Cabs over Thanksgiving weekend. Per my last post, we had a family pizza party that night which in retrospect hardly seems like a worthy backdrop for a wine tasting of this caliber- but I'm not complaining. (Mind you it was Nate and me that decided to make pizza, we would have stepped it up a few notches if we'd known what Greer was planning for the wine menu.) I wish I could tell you more about these wines other than the fact that they absolutely knocked our socks off- I'll try to share a few tid-bits about each...
The first was a Niebaum- Coppola Rubcon, 1999. This is a cabernet-blend wine from Rutherford, CA-the winery/vineyards is now called Rubicon Estate. From my research it received 94 wine spectator points and currently sells for just around $100/bottle. Let me just tell you it is WORTH EVERY PENNY. I found a great quote on the website..."When Francis Coppola set out to craft a world-class proprietary red wine using historic vines of the famed Inglenook property he found Caesar's march on Rome- 'The Crossing of the Rubicon'- an appropriate metaphor in its implied 'point of no return'." I found this particularly interesting because as Greer pointed out, the wine is very reminiscent of an old world red in richness. It was absolutely delightful. I could be happy to sit and just sniff it. This is truly a special wine- would make a fantastic gift or celebratory bottle for a big occasion. John and I are planning our very first trip to CA wine country in May- this will absolutely be on the short list of must-see places.
Next up was the 2006 Darioush Cabernet Savignon Caravan also from the Napa Valley. The 2006 is a blend of 76% Cab, 15% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec that spends 22 months in two-thirds new French oak. YUMMY. This one was also amazing- I don't have as much tasting experience at this price point but I'd agree with Greer's sentiment that this $35 bottle actually drinks like a much more expensive wine. I also read that this particular vintage should get even better over the next 2-3 years. I love the idea of buying some now to stash away- however I don't know if I trust myself not to open it- patience is not my thing.
The next wine was the 2006 Obsidian Ridge Cab. With 89 points from WS, it was listed among the top 100 wines of 2008 by the San Fransisco Cronical. This wine was also fantastic. Tasting Notes (according to Named after the famed black marble-like soils called Obsidian, this fairly priced Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County, made by Michael Terrien, reveals plenty of potential. Attractive red and black currant fruit intermixed with notions of damp earth, licorice, and spice box are found in this round, juicy, seductive, medium to full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. It is ideal for drinking over the next 5-6 years. Approx $25
Last but certainly not least (we clearly had our buzz on at this point) Greer opened a bottle of the Sebastiani Cab from the Alexander Valley. This is Greer's "go-to" cab for everyday drinking. At $15-$20 a bottle, its not necessarily in my every day drinking category just yet- but I do hope that one day it will be! It is truly an excellent wine- Wine Spectator gave it 89 points and said "One of the best bang-for-your-buck producers is Sebastiani; its Alexander Valley 2006 doesn't disappoint." According to the website it also won a Silver Medal at the 2009 Sonoma County Harvest Fair - I would imagine that the competition isn't too shabby at that particular event.
I feel compelled to add- because I find it kind of funny- that while Greer is the high-end California Cabernet guru, Melissa is the Chardonnay-under-$10-a-bottle-guru. Opposites attract I guess?? Her favorite last time we visited was the Clos du Bois Chardonnay. I can also attest that this is a great bottle as it happens to be a favorite at my girl's night here in Charleston (I can also attest that it has caused many-a morning after headache amongst my friends.) Melissa's latest favorite is the Cupcake Chardonnay which as I've just read was labeled one of the Best Buys of 2008 by Wine Enthusiast magazine.
Nate and Melissa a few "cupcakes" in..
Love you guys! Thanks again for having us and for the fantastic tasting tour of the new wine cellar! Hope we get a chance to do it again soon...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Post Turkey Day Pizza Party

John, Nate and I were in Georgia for the Thanksgiving holiday with the Lacy family. We had a fantastic pizza party at our brother and sister in law's house (Greer and Melissa) on Saturday night. We always have a blast when we all get together considering we share an intense love for delicious food and great wine. My favorite kind of family get-together's are those where we casually eat (I like to call it grazing) and sip throughout the evening. It allows you to enjoy the food and the company at a leisurely pace. In short, it extends meal time...and who doesn't love meal time??
We started out with some cheese and nibbles:
Costco Spinach Dip and Pita Chips
Saga Blue Cheese
Baked Brie topped with Apricot Preserves and sliced almonds (a recent favorite)
BBQ Meatballs
Though we could have easily made a meal on this alone, we moved on to a pizza course later in the evening. Nate and I took over in the kitchen where we collaborated on four fantastic creations.
First up was a simple Margarita pizza. We used Pillsbury thin crust pizza dough and topped it with a thin layer of Contadina tomato paste (another Ina Garten tip that I've adopted. The paste is sweet/tart and has a concentrated tomato flavor- and the "paste" texture means you avoid soggy crust from a liquidy sauce.) We then layered slices of fresh mozzarella cheese and sliced roma tomatoes and baked it on a pizza stone (oven at 500 degrees) for about 8 minutes. The ticket is a piping hot oven and the stone really creates a super crispy crust. You have to keep an eye on it though because it goes from golden and crispy to burnt fairly quickly. We pulled it out of the oven, topped it with fresh basil and sliced into smallish squares so that everyone could sample.
We prefer the eat as you bake method. My parents have been doing this since I was little. You bake the pizzas one at a time and everyone has a small piece of each one while its piping hot. It can be hard to restrain yourself on the first couple, but its worth it if you can pace yourself.
Next up was the "meat lovers" pizza for the boys. Tomato paste, sweet Italian sausage, pepperoni and fresh mozzarella. We did this one on a cookie sheet in a second oven as an experiment. As compared to cooking the first pizza directly on a stone, it was actualy suprisingly similar. We were still able to get a crispy crust which is good to know.
Thirdly- a mushroom, goat cheese, thyme and arugula pizza. This one was probably my favorite, mostly because I absolutely adore mushrooms, goat cheese and arugula. Make a pizza out of them and you're sure to have a winner. I did a garlic oil base instead of tomato sauce. I rougly chopped (into large chunks) about 5 or 6 cloves of garlic and toasted them slowly in some olive oil in a skillet until golden brown. I also added 6 or 8 springs of fresh thyme to the oil while it was hot as well. The oil is then infused with garlic/thyme flavor..hmm. I brushed the crust generously with the oil before layering the sauteed mushrooms (browned slightly in olive oil with some fresh thyme, salt and pepper), the goat cheese crumbles and the toasted garlic pieces . While the pizza was baking, I very lightly dressed some fresh arugula with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. We then piled it atop the pie before slicing and serving.

Lastly- Nate assembled the grand finale pie. He baked the crust topped with the tomato paste and fresh mozzarella first. As it came out, he topped the pizza with paper thin slices of prosciutto de parma and more fresh arugula. The crispy crust, tangy tomato flavor, salty-chewy prosciutto and peppery arugula was a heavenly combination for sure.

Utterly STUFFED by this point, we managed to make room for a small sliver of Publix tiramisu with our last glass of vino. I'd never tried the Publix version before- it was actually quite good. It is more cake like- than pudding like, it has less of the mascarpone cream and it is very heavy on the coffee flavor which I love. It was just the "pick me up" (Tiramisu means pick-me-up in Italian) we needed to get us home after a fantastic day of eating, drinking and being merry.

Note: The wine selection for the evening- courtesy of Greer's phenomenal wine cellar was OUTSTANDING. It deserves a post of its own so stay tuned.

I wish I had this BEAUTIFUL kitchen to cook all of the time!! Someday...

Ina Garten's Blueberry Crumb Cake

Most of you know how much I love Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) Whenever I'm looking for something classic, decadent and delicious, she's my go-to girl. I wanted to bake something for my Habitat for Humanity committee meeting this morning and I'd considered the standard blueberry muffins, banana bread, etc. however I was in the mood for something a little different. Perhaps a little known fact: I am rather passionate about breakfast pastries. If I could eat a warm flaky croissant, a super sized crumbly muffin or cheese danish every morning for the rest of my life...I'd be in HEAVEN. This regimen however is not particularly kind to the thighs/waistline- this is really unfortunate. Thus when I do indulge, I want to make it count. I'm so glad I branched out because I think Ina's Blueberry Crumb Cake recipe turned out beautifully. (You can follow the link to the recipe in case you're confused.) I followed Ina's instruction exactly except for one minor change. I was out of lemons so in place of the lemon zest, I added 1/2 tsp almond extract. It gave the cake that little extra something. I've switched to using organic cane sugar in place of processed white sugar most of the time and I think it might actually sacrifice a bit of the sweetness. I sprinkled the top of the cake/streusel topping with some extra cane sugar before baking. It added a little extra sweet kick as well as a crunch. I baked the cake in a 9 inch springform pan versus a plain round one. It makes for a nicer presentation of the whole cake seeing as you can't actually turn the cake out out of the round pan without losing your streusel- you'd have to cut your slices in the pan and then serve them. I would also say that this recipe serves 8-10 generously (Ina's recipe says 6-8) and that I bet it would freeze really well too. Its nice to have something special on hand for breakfast when you have overnight guests. Thank you Ina, for yet another wonderful addition to the portfolio of delicious homemade goodies.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ginger-Maple Glazed Salmon with Spaghetti Squash and Green Beans

I was trying to get one last healthy meal in before the Thanksgiving Holiday last week, so I had John pick up some wild salmon and fresh green beans from whole foods. We were busy packing for our trip so I was looking for something that would be easy to prepare and relatively light so as to not slow us down. There is a time and a place for a big yummy meal and a glass of wine that leaves you with no choice but to veg on the couch for the evening but this was not it. I didn't have much in the fridge so I had to improvise a little bit. I had a spaghetti squash that I'd been meaning to use up so I got that roasting in the oven first. I cut it in half length-wise, drizzled it with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. I placed it on a cookie sheet lined with foil (cut side up) and roasted it in the oven at 425 degrees for about 35 minutes. In the meantime, I made a glaze for the salmon: 1 tablespoon of Balsamic vinegar 1 tablespoon of olive oil 2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup 1 tsp dijon mustard 1 tsp of grated ginger Pinch of salt and some fresh black pepper I whisked it together and then poured carefully over the salmon filet (approx 2/3 of a lb)- reserving one spoon full. I let it sit for 15 mins or so while I snapped the green beans, spooning the glaze back over the top from time to time as it ran off into the baking dish. When the timer read 12 mins on the squash, I put the salmon in the oven to roast alongside it. I steamed my green beans in the meantime as well. At about 6 minutes, I pulled the salmon out to brush with the last of the glaze. (I would definitely check the salmon around 8 or 10 mins, I don't think I ended up letting it go the full 12 mins.) I shredded the spaghetti squash with a fork and then added some butter and some salt and pepper to taste. It really is a great side dish- one that I don't make very often but really enjoy when I do.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sour Cream Chicken

This has been a family favorite recipe as long as I can remember. This chicken served with steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes would easily have been titled my favorite meal for at least 6 years of my life. Its still way up there, I’ve since decided there can no longer be a single favorite . The recipe is easy, can be made ahead, is kid friendly, and is amazing left over cold the next day. My Mom got the recipe from a friend back before we moved to Saudi Arabia which was in 1985- although I recently stumbled upon it in the Colorado Cache cookbook which is what teased my taste buds for it last week. (Famous junior league of Denver recipe collection from back in the day) I set the book out on the counter as I was leaving for work in hopes I could sweet talk John into making it while I was at work that day... (it worked.) The marinade is very easy and you can let the chicken go for an hour or two or even overnight if you have the time. I like to cut the chicken breasts in half lengthwise before marinating- the portions are more reasonable and you can shave off some of the cooking time. I’ve done this with chicken tenderloins as well which is super fast. Marinade/Coating: ½ pint sour cream ¼ cup lemon juice 1 T Worcestershire sauce 4 tsp celery salt 2 tsp garlic powder 2 tsp paprika ½ tsp pepper When I got home from work, I seasoned some panko bread crumbs (I used almost 2 cups I think, more than I would have thought) with salt and pepper. I dredged each of the chicken pieces (you want to leave as much of the gooey marinade coating on them as possible) in the crumbs and placed them on a cookie sheet lined with foil and sprayed with Pam. I then drizzled the chicken ever so lightly with olive oil to help them brown in the oven. The recipe calls for melted butter but I didn’t feel like melting any... it crisped up nicely and olive oil is technically the healthier choice too. I baked the chicken at 350 for approx 35 minutes, checking ever so often to avoid over cooking. I served the chicken hot from the oven with steamed broccoli doused with fresh lemon juice (a must with this dish in my opinion) and some twice baked potatoes that I had left over in the freezer (thanks Tripp and Luci!). I can honestly say that I’ll be making this again very very soon as my tummy is grumbling as I type. I’d be tempted to double the recipe too- as I said earlier, this makes great left-overs and is delicious served cold should you be looking for picnic ideas. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage-Brown Butter and Herb Grilled Chicken

Again I find myself extremely behind with the posts... the Lacy family travel agency is still buzzing with interview and work travel. I haven’t yet posted a great easy recipe from over a week ago now... We had our good friends Taylor and Alden over for Sunday dinner. I’d picked up some Whole Foods Butternut Squash Ravioli (frozen) and some other accompaniments to put together a great fall meal. I absolutely love squash/pumpkin of all kinds. My favorite way to prepare ravioli with a sweet filling like butternut squash is with a simple sage-brown butter sauce. The combination of sweet and savory is absolutely fantastic- and it really could not be any easier unless you bought your sauce in a jar. I cooked the ravioli per the package instructions (they only took 3 minutes so I had to work fast) and made the sauce at the same time. In a large skillet I melted ¾ of a stick of unsalted butter. I let it go over medium heat just until it barely started to turn a light golden brown. I then add two tablespoons or so of fresh sage leaves -sliced into a chiffonade, a hefty pinch of kosher salt, and some freshly cracked black pepper. I stir it all together, the sage starts to crackle just barely, the butter browning a bit more, and that’s it! The smell is HEAVENLY. Taylor commented that it smelled like sausage when he walked through the kitchen- the sage really packs a punch. I drained the ravioli and then tossed it in the skillet with the butter sauce and served immediately. I then plated it in a pasta bowl topped with freshly grated parmesan reggiano cheese. This is a fantastic meal in itself, I served it with a mixed green, goat cheese and cranberry salad and some fresh Italian bread- however I wanted to add some protein given we had guests for dinner. I had a package of three chicken breasts that I halved lengthwise, rubbed with olive oil, kosher salt, pepper and some herbs de Provence. I let it sit for a couple of hours in the fridge. John then grilled the chicken just before we were ready to eat. I sliced the chicken and plated it on top of the ravioli. The herbs de Provence added a little something extra, tying in nicely with the flavor of the fresh sage.
Our guests brought a bottle of Estancia Cab which was fantastic and we later opened a Sur Malbec as well. Both were big and rich, perfect on a cool fall Sunday evening alongside pasta dinner.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hummingbird Cupcakes

Recipe adapted from Joy of Baking
*1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
*1.5 cups all-purpose flour
*1 cup packed light brown sugar
*1/2 teaspoon baking soda
*1/4 teaspoon salt
*1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
*1 large egg plus one white, lightly beaten
*1/2 cup canola oil
*1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
*half of an 8 ounce can crushed pineapple, barely drained
2 medium sized ripe bananas- mashed
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place the rack in the center of the oven. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.
2. Toast the walnuts on a baking sheet oven for about 8 minutes in the oven-until lightly browned and fragrant. Let cool and then chop finely in food processor. Set aside. 3. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and ground cinnamon. Set aside.In another large bowl, mix together the eggs, oil, vanilla extract, pineapple, mashed bananas, and finely chopped pecans. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until combined. Fill the muffin tins with batter, about 3/4 of the way up. I only made 10 so I put a 1/2 inch of watre in two tins left empty so that the heat would distribute evenly. Bake for about 18 or 20 mins or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. 4. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then remove the cupcakes from the pan and set on rack to cool completely before frosting.
Maggie's Go-To Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 pkg cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 stick butter, softened to room temperature
approx 2 cups confectioner sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Start with the cream cheese and butter in the mixer. Cream until blended and smooth- scrape down the sides and around the bottom of the bowl once or twice to avoid lumps. Then add vanilla and sugar- mix until combined and fluffy, just a minute or two. Fool proof and delicious on ANYTHING.
I made these cupcakes on Sunday because I had some ultra-ripe bananas sitting around. I usually make banana bread but we had friends coming to dinner so I needed a dessert idea instead. I halved a layer cake recipe for Hummingbird Cake (I've already halved it for you above) which I think would have come out great IF... I hadn't put baking powder (very likely expired baking powder at that) into the batter in place of baking SODA. Rookie mistake... I'm ashamed. Nonetheless the flavor was great, they were just a little on the dense side. I lovingly referred to them as "PuckCakes." (as in hockey puck) On the bright side I see this as an excellent excuse to make these again really soon.

Slow Roasted Halibut with Salsa Genovese

I wanted to make a special dinner Saturday night to welcome John home from a long, crazy week on the interview trail. I did a loop through Whole Foods Saturday afternoon and they had the most amazing fish selection. They had some beautiful red grouper fillets, fresh halibut and some wild Alaskan salmon... it was very hard to chose. I ended up with the halibut per the recommendation of the Whole Foods Fish Man. They also had some wild caught stone crab claws which I couldn't pass up... we had some recently at Joe's out in Las Vegas and I've been dreaming of them every since! I decided to try a Michael Chiarello recipe from his Easy Entertaining cookbook-"Slow Roasted Halibut with Salsa Genovese"- I really love his California/Italian style of cooking. Its simple food prepared authentically with great fresh ingredients. I followed the recipe exactly for roasting the fish and I made a smaller batch of the salsa genovese since I was only cooking for two- I halved the recipe. I didn't have any asparagus on hand so I actually served the fish with sauteed garlic spinach- one of John's favorites. I realized that the halibut was barely undercooked as I was plating it (the filets were really thick)- but 20 seconds in the microwave and they were perfectly flaky. Other than that- the recipe was marvelous. Simple, fresh and light. (I actually used the left over Salsa Genovese two days later as a spread on some grilled mozzarella and tomato sandwiches, it was very very tasty.) We enjoyed the crab claws as an appetizer. I steamed them lightly and served them with some lemon-butter for dipping. To drink- we sampled a bottle of Elk Cove Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and it was FANTASTIC. I'm starting to study up for our Oregon/California trip we're planning for May!!! I'll be documenting my Willamette Pinot experiments for your reading pleasure over the next few months...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mom's Chicken Divan

Many of you know that the lack of posting activity is largely due to the fact that John is currently on the interview trail. He has 18 interviews in an 8 week period at residency programs up and down the East coast... needless to say that leaves little time for leisurely dinners at home these days. I had my brother-in-law Nate over this week for a casual weeknight dinner and I decided to make one of my favorite comfort food dishes of all time. I'm not really a "casserole" kind of girl, but this one is exceptionally fantastic. Chicken divan is a classic chicken and broccoli casserole. Mom's is kicked up with some curry which makes all the difference. I started with two rotisserie chicken breasts and one large bunch of fresh broccoli. I cut the chicken into cubes and then roughly chopped the lightly steamed broccoli (including a few inches of the stalks.) In a bowl, I whisked together the following: 2/3 can cream of chicken soup 1/4 cup mayo 1/4 cup evaporated milk 1/2 tsp curry powder generous grind of black pepper I gently tossed the chicken and broccoli in with the sauce mixture until evenly coated and then I transferred everything to a medium sized baking dish coated with cooking spray. The best thing about a casserole of course is the crispy crunchy, golden brown topping- so I made a generous amount of it. I mixed 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs with 3 tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese. I added some extra cracked black pepper to the mix as well. I spread the crumb mixture over the casserole dish and then lightly sprayed the top with cooking spray to help it toast. I baked the casserole at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until golden and barely bubbly. I served the chicken divan with some wild and brown rice on the side. I can honestly say that I ate this for lunch AND dinner again the following day. I definitely enjoyed it, a sprinkle of nostalgia made it taste even better than I'd remembered. Love you Mom. xo

Braised Pork Tacos

To carry on with my braising kick- I decided for Halloween that I would braised a pork shoulder, low and slow, "carnitas"style. (Sadly for the trick or treater's, I was not planning to share.) We were planning to be out and about visiting some friends so I decided I could cook the pork in the crock pot, it'd be ready to go when we got home for a late dinner. I purchased a 6 lb bone-in pork shoulder from Harris Teeter which was far more than I needed, but that's what they had. In my large dutch oven, I heated a few tablespoons of oil over medium high heat and browned the pork on all sides. I then transferred the pork to my crock pot which is thankfully, quite large. Into the same dutch oven (leaving all of the brown bits in the bottom from the pork) I sauteed some onion and garlic. (I had chopped one large onion and four garlic cloves together in the food processor.) Once the onion started to look translucent, I added: 2 tablespoons Ancho Chile Powder 1 tablespoon regular Chile Powder 1.5 tablespoons Cayenne 2 tablespoons Cumin 5 bay leaves I mixed the spice mixture into the onions and then added approximately 4 cups of water. I cooked the mixture for 10 minutes or so- letting the flavors start to marry together- before pouring it over the pork shoulder in the crock pot. I set the crock pot to high and cooked the pork for one hour. I then turned the crock pot down to low heat and let it go for another 6 or 7 hours. By the time we were ready to eat- the pork was perfectly tender and falling off the bone. I turned the crock pot off and let the meat cool some in the braising liquid before shredding the meat with a fork. I transferred the meat to a large dish and ladled some extra sauce over it- not so much that it was swimming, just to add some extra flavor. We served the pork with some classic store-bought taco fixins. Corn tortillas, pico de gallo, guacamole, shredded cabbage, and Monterrey jack cheese. They were juicy and absolutely scrumptious. I actually got the idea from Tyler Florence's Pot Roast Taco recipe- he braises beef shoulder in a similar way. Definitely a keeper make-ahead recipe. More exciting than your average ground beef variety taco but still easy to pull together to feed a crowd or a few tipsy candy-giver-outers!