Thursday, March 31, 2011

Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Pancetta

I'm a sucker for melty, cheesy, toasty, crunchy, baked pasta. This penne dish with roasted cauliflower, heaps of fontina cheese, crisp pancetta and a savory creamy garlic tomato sauce checked all of those boxes for me. Perhaps not ideal nearing swim suit season (I keep reminding myself that it's rapidly approaching despite the recently chilly temps)- however the splurge was well worth it.

Serves 6 Ingredients:
- 1 pound of penne pasta
- 1 head of cauliflower
- 4-6 ounces of diced pancetta or bacon
- 1 to 1 1/2 jars of your favorite marinara sauce
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 4 large cloves of garlic, minced or grated
- 4 sprigs of fresh thyme (or half a teaspoon of dried)
- 1/3 cup freshly chopped parsley
- 2 cups of Italian Fontina cheese (could substitute mozzarella), grated
- 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

Cut the cauliflower into florets- drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast on a baking sheet at 375 degrees for approximately 35 minutes (until tender and golden brown.) This can be done in advance.

Boil the pasta per package directions. After draining it- toss it back in the pot with a drizzle of olive oil to keep it from sticking together. Set aside. Pour cream into a large sauce pan over medium low-heat.

Add the grated garlic and simmer for 5 minutes or so until warm and fragrant. Don't let it boil. Add 1 to 1/2 jars of marinara to the saucepan and cook together for another 5 minutes until warmed through.

Toss the cauliflower and half of the cheeses (save the other half for the topping) into the pot with the cooked pasta.

**Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the sauce to serve alongside the past. Pour the remaining sauce over the pasta and then add the parsley and thyme. Toss together with a large spoon and then transfer to a buttered/sprayed baking dish. (roughly 9 x 13 in size). You could also freeze half of the pasta at this point as well if you're cooking for 2. (John and I ate left overs for days..)

Top the pasta with the remaining cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until melted and brown.

If making ahead of time, you can freeze or refrigerate the baking dish covered tightly with foil and plastic wrap. Bake covered with foil for an extra 15-20 minutes if its cold when it goes into the oven.

While the pasta bakes, cook the pancetta or bacon in a skillet over medium heat with a drizzle of olive oil until crispy and brown. (About 4 minutes) Spoon the cooked bits onto a paper towel lined plate to drain. Serve the pasta with a spoonful of the extra sauce in the bowl and ateaspoon or so of the pancetta/bacon bits over the top.

By the way if you think you don't like cauliflower- you probably haven't tried it roasted versus the boring old boiled-to-death variety. It's truly delicious and adds the perfect element of toasty flavor and texture to the pasta. And don't skip the fresh parsley! You'll be glad its there.

Adapted from recipe found on

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

Nothing says Happy St. Patrick's Day like Guiness, Jameson Whiskey, Bailey's Irish Cream... or if you like Irish Car Bomb "shots", an explosive combination of all three! In this case, stout chocolate cupcakes, filled with an Irish creme ganache and topped with a fluffy Bailey's butter cream are DECADENT and delicious (and far less likely than the beverage version to leave you with a headache the next day.)

Makes 24 cupcakes

Cake Recipe:
2 sticks of butter
1 cup of Guiness
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the Guiness and cocoa powder until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool. Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sour cream until smooth and creamy.

Add the butter, cocoa, Guiness mixture and mix well. Slowly add the dry ingredients with the mixer running on low- mix until just combined. Scraping down the side of the bowl at least once. Fill muffin lines 2/3 of the way with batter- bake for 14 minutes. (Rotate the pans in the oven half way through the baking time.)

While the cupcakes bake- make the ganache filling:

4 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon Bailey's Irish Cream

Shave/chop the chocolate with large knife. Transfer to a glass bowl. Heat the heavy cream in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat until barely simmering. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for 3 minutes to melt the chocolate. Whisk until smooth (microwave for 10-15 seconds if you still have lumps of chocolate.) Add the butter and Bailey's and whisk until smooth and shiny. Transfer the ganache to a piping bag and cool in the refrigerator until it sets up to a thick frosting-like texture.

I used a piping tip with approximately a quarter inch diameter opening to punch out the centers of the cupcakes. This made the perfect little cranny to hold the ganache.
Once the ganache was thick enough to pipe (maybe 20 minutes or so in the fridge)- I piped a small amount into each. The ganache is quite rich- so you don't need much. If you're not a big chocolate person, you might omit the filling all together. (You could actually do a white chocolate Bailey's ganache as an alternative.)
  Lastly I made the Bailey's Irish Butter Cream:

1 1/4 sticks (or 10 tablespoons) of butter, softened to room temperature
1/3 cup of cream cheese, at room temperature
1 box (3-4 cups) of confectioner's sugar, sifted to remove any lumps
3-4 tablespoons of Bailey's Irish Cream Liquor
(You could add a splash of Jameson if you like- I didn't have any on hand.)

Beat the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer for 5-6 minutes until light and fluffy. (Both MUST be completely at room temperature.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula once or twice. Add the sugar and liquor and beat for another minute or two until light, fluffy and well combined. Spread or pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes.

The fluffy white icing almost looks like the head on a draft Guiness beer. These are fantastic but not for the faint of heart. You certainly don't taste beer- rather the Guiness gives the chocolate a complex richness. The ganache gives a little extra dark chocolate zip and the fluffy Bailey's scented frosting is just YUMMY!

It would be great on a white cake spiked with a little Bailey's or even Kahlua. Could White Russian Cupcakes be next?! I'll have to work on some more cocktail - cupcake conversion recipes...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Brown Butter Soda Bread

First let me say that while I tackle a lot of things as far as cooking and baking- I don't do bread. Anything that calls for yeast scares me to death. I definitely plan to address this fear later in my cooking life but I'm just not there yet. That said- I'm thrilled to share an EASY soda bread recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit that even I mastered on the first try.

Seeing as it is St. Patty's Day Eve, I wanted to make something festive to accompany my mom's corned beef and cabbage dinner. had a slew of recipes for Irish Soda Bread to chose from- frankly soda bread can be heavy, dry and boring but I decided to give it a go based on the stellar reader reviews.
Ingredients: (Makes two loaves, serves 10-12 people)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter
3 1/2 cups flour (I used 1 1/2 cups white and 2 cups wheat flour)
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (I substituted dried)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon of freshly cracked black pepper
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg white with a splash of water (beaten with a fork)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Swirl it around for 3-4 minutes until barely golden brown- remove from the heat and set aside.
Mix the flour through black pepper together in a large bowl.

Add the buttermilk and melted butter and stir together with a fork until evenly incorporated. Turn the dough out onto a well floured board or countertop. Knead briefly (I did exactly 7- as suggested- turning the dough, folding in half and pressing forward with the palms of my hands each time.) Form the dough into a ball - cut it in half with a large knife or pastry cutter - and then form the halves into two balls.
Place the dough 5 inches apart on a an ungreased baking sheet. Then brush the beaten egg white over the tops and sprinkle them with kosher salt and some extra black pepper.
Lastly, score an "x" into the tops wit a sharp knife for a rustic but official-bakery-looking presentation.
Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden brown.

Move to a rack and cool for 30 minutes before slicing. Serve warm with lots of butter (honey is good too) - if made ahead, reheat gently before serving.

My very first bread baking experience! This is really really yummy and honestly it took me less time than a batch of cookies. The outside is crunchy and the inside is suprisingly fluffy and moist. I can't wait to try some different variations of this recipe. You could add raisins and nuts, dried berries, various herbs or even cheeses to this. Mini loaves would be festive too.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

I've just returned from a week in sunny Mexico with John and I still have warm weather, tropical fruit and umbrella drinks on the brain. This pineapple upside-down cake that I made recently for a friend's mid-winter luau party is a great way to create your own "tropical holiday" moment- even if its at home in your own kitchen.

I borrowed this cake recipe from Gourmet Magazine circa 2000- adding a few twists of my own along the way. It is surprisingly simple to make yet the presentation is fun and elegant at the same time.


1 container of fresh pineapple - peeled and cored**
1 1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons of dark rum
1 maraschino cherry- optional

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 tablespoon of dark rum
1/2 cup unsweetened pineapple juice**

**Fresh pineapple is absolutely recommended for this. Instead of peeling and coring a whole one yourself (and buying extra juice)- look for the peeled and cored -whole piece of pineapple in the clear plastic container in the produce section of your grocery store. Slice the pineapple into 1/3 inch slices and then cut all but one of the slices into quarters. AND SAVE THE JUICE from the container to use in the cake.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

First Make the Topping: Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the brown sugar and simmer over medium heat for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Next add the rum and cook for one more minute until incorporated. Pour half of the caramel mixture into a lightly greased 9 inch springform pan. (See the Gourmet recipe link for the cast iron skillet version.) Save the other half of the caramel sauce for serving. Next arrange the pineapple pieces over the caramel layer: I used a whole slice with a cherry in the middle and then the quarter slices in concentric circles. Some tiny pieces around the edges.

Lastly prepare the cake batter:

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Beat butter with an electric mixer until fluffy- gradually beat in the sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Next add the vanilla and the rum. Gently mix in half of the flour, then the pineapple juice, then the other half of the flour mixture Mixing slowly until just incorporated. Spoon the batter over the pineapple and caramel in the pan.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing the sides of the springform pan and inverting the cake onto a cake plate. If any of the pineapple pieces stick to the pan, just pluck them off and place them back on the cake.

The cake is fairly rich and serves 8-10 people easily. I put a little scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side and then drizzled it with the left over caramel rum sauce. (Reheat it gently before serving.)
Looking for more sweet treat ideas this week? Check out the collection growing on fellow blogger's site "Sweet as Sugar Cookies"

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hominy Grill Chocolate Pudding

I'm hooked on Food TV's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate Show" lately. Favorite episodes include Best things Garlic and of course Best things Chocolate... I jumped on the opportunity to try Hominy Grill's (one of our favorite Charleston, SC haunts) Chocolate Pudding recipe per Alton Brown's glowing reccomendation. Fortunately for me (and John) someone had posted it online This baked pudding is rich, decadent and perfect in its simplicity.

Recipe makes 6 portions

8 ounces of good quality bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
4 cups heavy cream (I used whole milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Chop the chocolate and set it aside in a large glass bowl. Whisk 1/4 cup of the sugar in another glass bowl with the egg yolks. Mix the remaining sugar, milk/cream and vanilla in a sauce pan and bring to a gentle boil. Add a cup or so of the warm cream mixture to the bowl with the egg yolks and whisk well.

Pour the remaining cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth and melted. Add the egg mixture and salt to the chocolate bowl and mix well. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool. (I let it go over night.) When ready to cook- preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Pour the chocolate into 6 ramekins (that hold 2/3 cup each).

Place the ramekins into a large baking dish or roasting pan and fill the dish with water so that it reaches half way up the ramekins. Bake for one hour and then let cool at room temperature for 30 minutes before refrigerating for another three hours. Serve with some freshly whipped cream, shaved chocolate or fresh berries.

Delicious with a glass of a big red wine. These are also a great make ahead dessert as they keep for 2-3 days in the fridge. Thank you Hominy Grill for sharing!