Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

Since I've joined the blogosphere some 7 months ago now, I've found some fantastic food/cooking blogs out there. There are gazillions of them yet no two are even remotely the same. I've browsed sites from all over the world ranging from gourmet to ethnic to vegetarian- even a formally trained pastry chef. I find it fascinating to see what types of things people enjoy cooking at home and its great to explore the unique styles of writing and photography too.
This recipe for Whole Wheat Apple Muffins came from one of the most popular cooking blogs I've discovered called Deb is a freelance writer, photographer AND home chef extraordinaire - pretty much the poster-child for cooking bloggers actually. She has posted HUNDREDS of recipes and honestly, I want to try every single one of them. (Probably a testament to her amazing photography skills.) This first recipe did not let me down...
The recipe is relatively simple so I made them fresh one weekday morning for a meeting. I left my stick of butter and egg out on the counter over night to come to room temperature. I followed the recipe just as she's posted it, adding approx 1/3 cup of walnut pieces to the mix as well. I used fuji apples which I peeled and diced as the very last step before folding them into the batter.
I'll go ahead and admit here that I actually made this recipe twice in the very same week! My sister was in town for the weekend and I love to bake something fresh for guests. The second go round came out a little bit better because I a) let my buttermilk sit out an hour or two to come to room temperature and b) I diced my apples a little bit smaller. I found that the cold buttermilk made my batter curdle a little bit first with the first attempt and the smaller apples were slightly more tender.
At first I was skeptical that I'd used too much apple because the batter seemed like it was almost entirely apple as I spooned it into the muffin tin- however they came out just right. The whole wheat gives them a hearty richness (healthy too!), the sprinkle of brown sugar on the top gives them the perfect crunch and the apple chunks really are a wonderful change from your average blueberry or banana muffin. I particularly like that they aren't overly sweet either.
A few important tips/tricks that I've learned from years of muffin baking:
1. Don't overmix the batter once you've added your dry ingredients or your muffins will be tough
2. Always let your butter and eggs come completely to room temperature
3. Look for recipes containing buttermilk, they are usually delicious
4. Butter AND flour your muffin tin to avoid sticking, I don't like paper liners
5. When the muffins are done baking, let cool in the pan 5 minutes, no longer or they'll be harder to get out of the pan
I might try some different variations to this basic recipe too:
*Add a struesel topping
*Add reconstituted dried cranberries or raisins
*Add or sub a mashed banana and a handful of oatmeal
*Substitute blueberries for apples and add some lemon zest
*Substitute fresh halved cranberries and add some orange zest
Yumm... can't wait to sample another recipe from!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Panko Chicken with Mustard-Maple Pan Sauce

I perused the trusty while at work Monday for quick/healthy weeknight recipe ideas and landed on Panko Chicken with Maple Mustard Pan Sauce.
I started with three Organic "Smart" Chicken Breasts and pounded each of them out to approx 1/2 inch thickness. I put the chicken breast between two sheets of plastic wrap and then pound it with a rolling pin- careful to keep an even thickness and not to tear holes in it. I then cut each of the breasts in half. I made an egg wash with one egg and a splash of water and dunked each piece first in the egg and secondly into panko breadcrumbs seasoned with kosher salt and pepper (I didn't bother with the mustard or parsley just yet.)
I pan fried each piece in some butter and olive oil- approx 4 minutes per side. Meanwhile I had cleaned some fresh brussels sprouts (cut off the bottom, remove the outer leaves and then halve lengthwise). I have officially named Brussels Sprouts my Favorite Vegetable of 2009. I discovered a great love for them last year thanks to my sister and I'm fairly confident that we'll continue our love affair into 2010. I prepare them simply- drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and roasted in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. I take them out at 15 minutes to flip them and shuffle them around. (I especially love to pick out the little crispy leaves that fall off and get really brown and crunchy... they taste like popcorn!)
As soon as the chicken was done, I set it aside and tented with foil while I made the pan sauce. I followed the recipe, it was still plenty even though I made an extra chicken breast. I reduced a mixture of dijon, whole grain mustard, pure maple syrup and chicken stock to create a lovely glaze/sauce to pour over the chicken. I actually measured everything directly into the same skillet that I used to cook the chicken- incorporating all of the extra bits of flavor from the bottom of the pan. I threw in some chopped fresh parsley at the very end.
The sauce was fantastic over the crispy chicken and accompanied by the toasty brussels sprouts and a baked sweet potato- we had a hearty, colorful, nutrient packed meal with enough for left overs the following night as well.

Ina's Brownie Pudding

John and I both have a very strong affinity for rich gooey chocolate desserts and Ina Garten's Brownie Pudding is right up there with the best we've had. This recipe is in the most recent Back to Basics cookbook and its a hybrid brownie-molten chocolate cake- souffle dessert guaranteed to satisfy even the most intense chocolate craving. It looks puffy like a souffle when you take it out of the oven, but then it falls down to create a crackly crunchy crust on top of a fudgy, brownie like center. Served just barely warm- you definitely need a scoop of good quality vanilla ice cream on top of this... a glass of red wine really kicks it up as well. The only change I made was substituting Kahlua for the framboise. I think the coffee flavor works really well with the intense chocolate. I would think a orange liquer such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau would be fantastic as well. If you're looking for an alternative to a molten chocolate cake or souffle that has to be prepared at the last minute yet something slightly more exciting than your standard brownie recipe, this is absolutely perfect.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fresh Pasta and Bolognese

For Christmas this year, John surprised me with the meat grinder and pasta extruder attachments for my Kitchen Aid mixer. We absolutely love fresh pasta with sausage or pasta with a real homemade bolognese. I was very excited about the prospect of honing my skills in this area however after reading some reviews online, I was worried that my 7 year old mixer might not be up to these new and strenuous tasks. (I read that these attachments work great but with an older model, could really strain the motor.) I decided that I'd rather trade them in for an old fashioned hand-crank pasta machine instead. We used to make pasta like this with my Mom when we were kids and even though its a little bit more labor intense, its really quite fun. So on an unusually cold Saturday afternoon, I started first with a slow cooked bolognese and then made some fresh pasta with my new toy. I decided to try a new take on bolognese. I've historically been a big fan of Michael Chiarello's quick veal, pork and porcini bolognese which is fantastic. (Though I've been avoiding veal lately for ethical reasons.) This time I landed on an Emeril iteration of a traditional bolognese ... I followed the recipe almost exactly except that I used 1 full pound of hot pork sausage and 1.75 pounds of ground beef. I then used roughly one and one half times the called-for-proportion of each ingredient. (This made a huge batch, you'd definitely need a 7+ quart pot to fit it all.) I went extremely light on the cinnamon and nutmeg too. I definitely agree with the other recipe reviews in that it adds a nice depth of flavor, but honestly, I wouldn't add them next time. (I don't like Cincinnati style chili either- if you do, you'd love this recipe. The sauce cooks for a couple of hours which gives it a richness that you just can't get from a quick recipe like the Michael Chiarello one- and the longer it sits, the better it gets. I also really like the addition of the veggies in here too, both for the flavor and the texture.
Next we tackled the fresh pasta... For this I used a Mario Batali recipe found online. I doubled it and seeing as I had large instead of extra large eggs- we used 7 cups of flour and 11 eggs total. We made a pile of the flour on the counter and then formed a well in the center with a spoon. I poured the eggs into the center and then we very carefully mixed it together with a fork - incorporating a little bit of flour at a time until it formed a sticky dough. With such a large batch, it was tricky to keep the eggs from pouring over the edges of the flour. John had to catch them a few times before they slid right off the counter- it was actually quite comical. John then kneaded the dough in one large ball-using some extra flour to keep it from sticking- until it resembled dough.
The resting step is very important. If you don't do this, the dough will be very elastic and will sieze back each time you try to roll it. We covered it with a towel and let it hang out for 25 minutes. Once it was ready, I cut the dough into little balls and started to roll it through the machine. I was so pleased, it worked like a charm! I was able to clamp it to the kitchen island to keep it from sliding away from me. I rolled each of the sheets through three times (on settings, 1, 3 and 5) before running it through the linguine cutter.

I laid each batch in a single layer, separated by clean kitchen towels untl we were ready to cook it. I then boiled it in batches (maybe 5 total) for just 3 minutes until it was al dente and tender. I drizzled each batch with olive oil and soon as it came out to keep it from sticking together in the pot. Once all of the pasta was done, I tossed it together with the hot bolognese and one ladle full of the pasta cooking water. (Again this easily serves a huge crowd, but it also reheated very nicely the next day for left overs.)

We actually enjoyed left overs the following night with Morgan and Guy alongside Guy's eggplant parmesan which was OUT OF THIS WORLD. Stay tuned... I'll be attempting to recreate it over the next few weeks and will absolutely report back if it turns out nearly as good as his.

I served the pasta with freshly grated parmesan reggiano cheese, a simple green salad and some delicious garlic bread. It was the perfect traditional Italian feast.

For the garlic bread, I used French bread (I know, ironically not Italian) and made some fresh garlic butter. I started with a few tablespoons of olive oil in a small pan over medium head. I then pressed 4 of 5 garlic cloves into the oil. As soon as the garlic started to turn barely golden brown, I added roughly three tablespoons of butter to the pan. As soon as it was melted, I removed it from the heat and spooned it over the bread. I sprinkled with kosher salt, cracked black pepper and some fresh parsley (left over from the sauce) - I then wrapped the whole thing in foil and baked at 350 for 10 minutes or so until warmed through. Yummmm.


I recently overheard someone ask John what my "go-to" dish would be and his answer was this tiramisu. Frankly, I don't agree but I can say that is generally well received- John absolutely loves it.... I start with 6 egg yolks and 1 cup of sugar in the electric mixer- beating it for 3 or 4 minutes until it is thick and pale lemon colored. Meanwhile I set a medium sized saucepan with an inch or two of water over high heat until it just starts to bubble. I turn the heat down to low and set the mixer bowl over the saucepan forming a make-shift double boiler. I cook the egg mixture for about 10 minutes until it thickens slightly- scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently to avoid cooking the eggs to the bowl. At that point I combine the warm egg mixture with one container of mascarpone cheese and whisk until combined. I like to this right away, the heat helps the cheese incorporate faster. I immediately place this mixture in the refrigerator. I clean out my mixer bowl and place it in the fridge for a couple of minutes to ensure that its cool before whipping 1 cup of cream with about 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar. Once the custard mixture is cooled to at least room temperature, I very gently fold the whipped cream in until well combined. Now for assembly... I use two package of fresh/soft lady fingers for this recipe. (You might have a couple left over.) You can normally find these in the bakery section of your grocery store. The hard lady finger cookies will also work but you'll need to let the tiramisu set up overnight to ensure they have time to soften. I mix approximately 2/3 cup of strong coffee with 1/3 cup Kahlua-dunking each lady finger lightly and layering into the bottom and/or up the sides of a dish. I've found that a large bowl or even a 9x13 glass baking dish works well. I've also made individual ones before in ramekins or parfait glasses. In this instance I used a souffle dish which was also great. I then scooped half of the custard-cream mixture into the bowl and topped with another layer of dunked lady fingers.
Finishing off with the remaining cream and then a dusting of cocoa powder over the top. TIP: I like to leave room between the edge of the dish and the top of the tiramisu (avoid filling it to the brim) so that you can cover it with plastic wrap without smudging your cocoa all over the place. I like to give this at least 4-6 hours to set up in the fridge before serving- however you could definitely prepare this a day or two in advance of serving. The layers and flavors all blend into each other over time. POP QUIZ: What does "Tiramisu" mean (roughly) in Italian?? Leave a comment!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Quick Weeknight Taco Salad

I'm sure all kids loved taco night growing up- I know Annie and I did. I can't decide if it was tacos or Kraft Mac and Cheese that we learned to cook first. I just know that there was a period of time where both of us had to stand on kitchen chairs to reach the stove- yet that did not deter us.
To this day, one of my favorite easy weeknight meals is tacos or most recently, a taco salad. John had a haircut the other night so I was trying to prepare dinner quickly so he could make it there on time. I think we pulled the whole thing together in about 16 minutes flat.
We browned one pound of ground turkey in a nonstick skillet. I typically add one package of low-sodium taco seasoning mix and a splash of water right at the end. I was out of taco seasoning so I quickly made my own iteration (ground oregano, chili powder, garlic salt, cumin, cayenne, salt.)
Meanwhile I opened a can of seasoned black beans and warmed in a saucepan on the stove.
Next I arranged iceberg lettuce on two plates. As soon as the turkey was cooked through and the beans warm, I topped the lettuce with a spoonful of each. I then garnished the plates with with:
*1 sliced fresh avocado
*2 green onions- sliced
*a sprinkle of mexi-blend shredded cheese
*a scoop of store bought pico de gallo
*a few sprigs of chopped fresh cilantro
and a squeeze of fresh lime juice at the end as well...
It's taco night for grown-ups and a healthy weeknight meal in minutes.

A Traditional New Years Day Feast

I've officially lived in the "South" for almost 10 years now and I'm a little bit embarrassed to say that this was the very first time I made collard greens and hoppin' john on New Years Day for "money and good luck" in 2010. After a fun New Years Eve night on the town, we surrendered to a day of vegging, football, some low country cookin, and a little "hair of the dog". I turned to my mom for recipes and to Publix for the best fried chicken in town. First the collards... I started with a huge bunch of collards from Whole Foods. They were absolutely beautiful, big luscious green leaves. I rinsed them well, tore the leaves away from the inner rib and then into bite sized pieces. Meanwhile I started some olive oil in a huge pot over medium-high heat and rendered the fat from about 6 slices of bacon. As soon as the bacon was crispy, I removed it. Meanwhile I threw one large sweet onion and 4 cloves of garlic into the food processor, chopped to a relatively fine dice, and added to the pot. I cooked the onion and garlic down until translucent but not yet browning before adding a pinch of red pepper flakes, a hefty seasoning of kosher salt, black pepper and then my collards. I gave everything a good toss to coat the leaves evenly with the onion mixture and then added about 2/3 of a box of chicken stock to the pot. I gave it another good stir, popped the lid on and let it go for about 20 minutes. I tossed it occasionally but let it simmer over medium heat until the leaves were tender. All in all it probably took 40 minutes or so. I finished off at the very end with some additional salt and pepper to taste and then a heft splash (probably 1/3 cup or so) of rice wine vinegar. This is my mom's secret and I think it really gives it a great kick.
Hoppin' John... Next/as the collards were simmering, I started on my hoppin' john. For those of you unfamiliar, hoppin' john is essentially black eyed peas and rice. (Its the black eyed peas that are supposed to bring you luck in the new year...they don't have to be in hoppin' john form) Seeing as I was feeling a bit on the lazy side- this rendition is not truly authentic. I used a recipe from the Boathouse restaurant here in Charleston as a base- they have a fantastic cookbook. In a dutch oven, I rendered the fat from another 6 slices of bacon. I then sauteed one diced carrot, one diced celery stalk, one finely diced jalapeno, and half of a large sweet onion, diced. Once the vegetables were tender (10 minutes or so) I added two cans of black eyed peas (rinsed and drained) and seasoned well with salt and pepper. This is where I cheated... I'm fairly confident that most self-respecting southern cooks wouldn't be caught dead using canned beans, but oh well... The Boathouse actually uses fresh peas which I'm not sure many people could actually find in the store anyway and they use the carrot, celery and onion to flavor the beans as they cook slowly in water. I thought adding the veggies to the dish would add some extra color and crunch as well as flavor in this case. I removed the bean/vegetable mixture from the dutch oven and set aside. I then cooked two cups of basmati rice per the package directions in the same pot, using half chicken stock in place of half the water. Once the rice was finished, I tossed the beans and vegetables back in. Finally, I finished it with the juice from 1.5 lemons, one bunch of chopped green onions- green and white parts- and a handful of chopped fresh parsley. This step really added some freshness and brightness to the flavors. I also crumbled some of the crispy bacon back in as well.
I crisped the Public fried chicken pieces in the oven at 300 degrees and served with our collards and hoppin' john, a little Texas Pete on the side. Happy 2010!!!!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bagna Cauda

I would venture to guess that unless your last name is Cobetto, you haven't heard of this before- but bear with me... According to wikipedia- Bagna Cauda originates from Piedmont, Italy and it translates roughly in Italian to "hot bath." My grandfather aka "Pops" and my dad have been making this forever. I remember being at my grandparents house as a little kid... I wasn't tall enough to see the kitchen counter top, but standing on my tip-toes I could reach up just enough to dunk a celery stick or slice of bread into the warm-buttery-goodness. I had no idea what it was, but I knew I loved it.
If you tried to explain this concoction to a 5 year old, I'm pretty sure they would run and hide from you, but let this be proof that ANYONE would love this dish.
Traditionally our family prepares it in a small cast iron skillet over the stove. You start with a generous swirl olive oil over med/med-high heat. You then add LOTS of peeled garlic cloves whole- I'm talking 10 cloves. If they are large you might cut them in half or quarters. You toast them slowly in the oil until they are perfectly golden brown. As soon as they start to get some color on them, you add 1 whole small tin of anchovy fillets. (You want good quality for this.) STAY WITH ME... You might think you don't like anchovies but please keep reading, I promise you this might change your mind.
As soon as your garlic is nice and golden- you add 3/4 of a stick of butter- you can just chunk it in there whole if you like and let it melt down with the toasted garlic and anchovies. Let the whole thing simmer over med-low heat (it should bubble slightly) until it all melts together and the anchovies dissolve. (They do! They dissolve completely! Leaving only the most delicious briny flavor behind. You could serve this to someone and they'd never know you had anchovies in here at all.) This might take you 10 minutes or so, you can't really mess it up.
Serve hot - we normally just serve right in the skillet -per the picture -in case we want to rewarm it as we go. For dipping you'll need sliced fresh bread and raw vegetables. The best vegetables for dunking are celery, bell peppers, cauliflower, mushrooms, and radishes. I have also done steamed whole artichokes with this as well, dunking the leaves into "hot bath" instead of lemon butter.
For the grand finale you scoop the garlic pieces up with the bread. (Mom will show you below.) The flavor is very mild having cooked through in the process of toasting. I'm telling you- this stuff is fantastic. It is the perfect appetizer for a group- its fun and delicious. Although we often make a meal of it with some cheese and Italian meats for snacking on the side... and wine...You're going to want some red Italian wine too...
This is a Cobetto family favorite that I hope you're adventurous enough to try. You'll thank me! Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Christmas in Kentucky

Dear Long Lost Readers: I apologize for the little hiatus. The holiday though packed with good cheer, fantastic food and hearty home cooking, managed to keep me away from the computer. Hopefully you enjoyed time away from yours as well! John and I traveled home to be with my family in Harrodsburg, KY for Christmas. My sister Annie and her husband Greg were there, as was my Mom's brother, my Uncle Bill and his wife Suellen. As I've mentioned before, we all love to cook and most all family gatherings are centered around food. Christmas this year was of course no exception. The menu for Christmas Dinner 2009 was as follows: *Uncle Bill's Caesar Salad (now Annie's specialty) *Lemony Mushroom Risotto *Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Cream *Steamed Asparagus Many people have a traditional Christmas dinner menu however in our house, half of the fun is designing a unique menu each year. This process has become even more interesting now that Annie is a "pescatarian." (A vegetarian that also eats fish and shellfish.) This year's menu worked great seeing as the risotto served double duty as a side dish with the tenderloin and a hearty main course for my sister. The meal preparation and cocktail hour kicked off simultaneously. We snacked on cheeses and olives and sipped on Manhattans. Seeing as we live in the very heart of Bourbon country, these are a family specialty. We normally eye-ball these but the recipe technically calls for: *1 1/2 oz Kentucky Bourbon *1/2 oz sweet Vermouth *dash Angostura bitters Shake over ice and pour into chilled martini glasses. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. It was much fun to have everybody in the kitchen cooking together. Between my Mom, Uncle Bill (the only one of us with formal culinary training and restaurant experience), Annie and myself, we were able to pull together an amazing meal in a jiffy. Uncle Bill's Caesar salad recipe is legendary. Quite frankly, I don't have the actual recipe written down. I can tell you that it is . It is a mixture of anchovy paste, fresh garlic, a raw egg, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, parmesan cheese and a hit of Tabasco. It is finished with some parmesan cheese as well. Tossed with crisp romaine lettuce, a few fresh croutons and shaved parmesan cheese, it is spicy, tart, briny, savory... there is really nothing like it in this world. The risotto was a recipe that Annie found on Epicurious. It was absolutely delicious, creamy and just al dente. My secret to perfect risotto is constant stirring-adding just a very tiny ladle of broth at a time- also I thin it with some extra broth right at the very end. The rice continues to absorb the liquid all the way to the table and you need the extra liquid to avoid a gluey-ness as it sets up. Uncle Bill and Mom studded the beef tenderloin with shards of fresh garlic and seasoned simply with salt and pepper. They seared it quickly in a roasting pan over a hot grill and then placed it in the oven at 400 degrees. After 10 minutes, they turn the oven off. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR. My grandmother's secret was to let the residual heat gradually cook the meat evenly through. Roasting in a hot oven tends to cook the outer meat much more quickly than the middle. I think we left it in for another 20 minutes or so until the thermometer read approx 125 degrees. Meanwhile, Mom whisked together some prepared horseradish, sour cream and a touch of dijon for a quick but delectable accompaniment. All in all it was an outstanding meal. We managed to leave a little room for a smattering of mom's classic Christmas cookies too. What did your family have for Christmas dinner this year??? Leave a comment and let me know!