Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Breakfast

Was I ever surprised to beat my kids out of bed Easter morning! When they seemed still sound asleep, I decided to treat myself and the dogs to an early morning walk, which is kind of like a meditation when the air is still and quiet. I enjoyed the spring sounds of the red-wing black birds and occasional meadowlark as we walked along, and then the icing on the cake was a fox spotting. It was a great way to start the day, second only to the breakfast we had that morning. It is so rare that we all eat breakfast together. We are a household of 4 different schedules and routines. Easter morning was so much fun with all 4 of us together, with no immediate agenda and we shared lots and lots of laughs. Of course that only made all the food taste even better! I have been on a cook-book reading frenzy, specifically those dealing with sandwiches and paninis. Somewhere along the way I got the inspiration for my Easter morning breakfast of scrambled eggs with tomatoes, green onions and feta on sauteed wilted spinach. It was scrumptious and beautiful and it fueled our bodies for a leisurely bike ride later in the day.

Easter Egg Breakfast

serves 4-5

12 large eggs

1/2 c. milk

generous pinch each of kosher salt and coarse ground pepper

1/2 c. crumbled feta

12-14 grape tomatoes, cut cross-wise into thirds

3 green onions, sliced thinly, white and light green parts only

5 oz fresh baby spinach, trimmed and pre-washed

1. In a medium bowl, mix together eggs, milk and salt and pepper. Preheat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Spray with PAM and add a tablespoon of butter to skillet. When butter is bubbly, pour in egg mixture.

2. Cook eggs, stirring gently occasionally to make nice large fluffy curds of scrambled eggs.

3. When eggs are almost set, with some liquid still visible on top, stir in feta, green onions and tomatoes. Fold together until finished cooking. Set aside.

4. Meanwhile heat another skillet over medium heat. Give spinach a quick rinse then toss into hot skillet, just to wilt, stirring to evenly cook, about 30 seconds.

5. Evenly distribute spinach onto 4 plates, top with egg mixture and serve with a slice of grilled country bread, if desired. We enjoyed Irish bacon with our eggs, which was also amazing tasting from Oscar's Smokehouse in upstate New York (we had a ham from there for dinner later on....incredible!).

Friday, April 2, 2010

What is it about cupcakes?

I've always had a sweet tooth and when I was younger cake certainly fell into the category of sweets I loved. As I got older however, cakes fell low on my list of beloved sweets, something I could easily pass up. In the last few years, there has been a cake revolution, specifically a cupcake revolution. The craze has gone wild. There are even cupcake bakeries which sell nothing but those little hand held cakelets. While I think they are a fun small means of creative expression, I was still not bitten by the cake bug. Then this year, my daughter wanted cupcakes with cream cheese frosting for her birthday cake. So I got out my trusty chocolate cake recipe and did a test run, because she wasn't really sure she would like the cream cheese frosting after her request was placed. So we did a trial run, and she gave them the thumbs up. Turns out they were really quite delicious, and the white and dark contrast was visually pleasing, too. Her birthday came and went and with it the chocolate cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.

Recently we were invited to spend a glorious weekend skiing with my husband's work, 30 people in a great big house on the slopes of Copper Mountain here in Colorado. Each family takes a turn with a meal and we were assigned a lunch. So I thought it would be something fun to add cupcakes as my dessert. I packaged up the cupcakes and icing separately and piped on the frosting right before serving. This cream cheese frosting is so great because it actually pipes on better cold. Perfect! I thought the cupcakes would be well-received, but they were swooned over! I felt like a dessert hero for the day! So, in spite of the fact that I'd choose another sweet over a cupcake pretty much any day, I was clearly in the minority on that trip. Give them a try and see what your friends and family think. Maybe you'll get to be the dessert hero at your next gathering. The cake recipe **makes about 24 standard cupcakes, filling 2/3 the way and baking at 350 degrees F for about 12-15 minutes, until just moist crumbs stick to a toothpick inserted into the center. DO NOT OVER BAKE! The lovely cream cheese frosting follows, from one of my favorites, Ina Garten.

Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Parties

12 oz. cream cheese, softened

8 oz. unsalted butter, softened

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

16 oz. powdered sugar, sifted

I like to make this in my food processor, but a mixer will also work well.

1. Combine butter, cream cheese and vanilla in bowl of food processor fitted with metal blade. Process in short bursts until smooth and well combined.

2. Add powdered sugar to mixture in bowl. Pulse in very short bursts initiall until almost combined , then a few longer bursts to enusre all is mixed well. Use immediately, or scrape into a bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed. You may have to increase recipe by one half to have enough for 2 dozen cupcakes depending on how much frosting you'd like on each.

Note: if using for carrot cake, add a little orange zest. If using to frost banana cupcakes, try just a touch of grated lemon zest. Experiment to your liking!

** High altitude directions for cake: decrease sugar to 2 cups, decrease baking soda and baking powder to 1 1/8 tsp each, increase flour by 1 Tbsp + 2 tsp and add 2 Tbsp unsweeend applesauce to milk.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Caramel Ice Cream Nirvana

I have been on an inexplicable frozen dessert journey in recent months. Funny thing is I have pretty much given up eating sugar. With 2 kids at home though, it isn't realistic to expect my home to be sugar-free. Happily I am enjoying the process of creating sweet treats as much as ever. I do taste what I make, happy to see how everything is turning out, as any reasonable cook would. The other day I borrowed a couple of ice cream books from my local library. One, entitled Ice Cream with the tag line Delicious ice creams for all occasions by Pippa Cuthbert and Lindsay Cameron Wilson, caught my eye. I barely got a few pages into it when my attention was drawn to the simple recipe title, Caramel Ice Cream. The author tagged it "divine." Besides being ultra simple to make, it came out so beautifully caramel-ly and deliciously divine. It deserves every superlative I could come up with to heap upon it. I think ice cream nirvana is most appropriate. And whereas my resolve to be healthy and not consume sugar intentionally has been tested since I made that decision, this ice cream completely sabotaged me. I enjoyed several generous spoonfuls, every bite a smooth and delicious dream. I'm not sure I have the need for any other recipe.

Caramel Ice Cream
adapted from the book Ice Cream,
by Pippa Cuthbert and Lindsay Cameron Wilson
1 c granulated sugar (200 g)
6 Tbsp water
1 plump vanilla bean, split
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1 c. 2% milk
6 large egg yolks

In have saucepan combine sugar and water. Scrape the seeds from vanilla bean into sugar mix and add in vanilla pod. Cook over medium heat, washing down sides of pan, as needed until sugar is a dark amber color. Remove from heat and carefully pour in cream, being careful as it will tend to bubble up. Return mixture to heat and cook, stirring constantly, until caramel is completely dissolved. Stir in milk and and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, whisk eggs yolks. Temper egg yolk mixture with some of hot caramel cream, whisking constantly. Whisk yolk mixture back into hot cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Strain into a bowl set in ice. Remove vanilla bean and put it into cream mixture. Cool completely, stirring occasionally, then chill, covered, over-night. Remove vanilla bean, stir ice cream base and churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. Transfer mix to a freezer container and freeze.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Snow Day

We are getting our first real snow storm of the season. The kids even got sent home early from school today. Such glee! Colorado weather can be so funny. March is on record as being our snowiest month most years. I was so excited to have a snowy day because I thought that gave me one more chance to have chili! Light spring cooking can wait! I have tweaked this recipe a little here, a little there, and I am as happy as can be with it now. I make it alternately with beef or ground turkey. I like both versions equally well. I had ground turkey in the freezer so that made my choice easy this time. There are a lot of variables you can play with to spice it up or down so it is easy to make it suit your taste. We like it in the mild to medium range if I know my kids will be eating it. Otherwise I prefer it to have a solid medium zip to it if I don't have to be concerned with whom I am sharing it. Sometimes I use the mild green chiles in a can or I might use some fire-roasted Big Jim's or Poblanos for a little more heat that I roast myself or get from the farmer's market (I keep a stash in the freezer). I like to add black beans and corn because the contrasting colors are really pretty in the bowl and the veggies just make it even healthier for you. I cook it for hours but it could cook for as little as 90 minutes and still be great. Of course, the next day's leftover's are even better...if you still have any. Serve it hot, over cooked rice or not, with all the usual toppings- sour cream, cheese, maybe some diced avocado, fresh cilantro or onion and warm, freshly baked corn bread. I can't wait for dinner!

My Favorite Chili

2 1/2 pounds ground turkey or lean ground beef
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cups fresh diced onions
4 teaspoons minced fresh garlic, peeled
1 c. shredded carrot, chopped fine
1 green bell pepper, seeded, stemmed and diced
1-2 tsp. dried red chili flakes, or to taste
1 1/2 Tbsp ground cumin
1/4 c. chili powder (doesn't contribute to heat really)
1- 28 oz can diced tomatoes in juice, coarsely pureed
1 -6 oz can tomato paste
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 1/2 c. chicken broth (substitute beef broth if using ground beef for meat)
1 -15 oz. can black beans or pinto beans, rinsed and drained (optional)
1/2 c. fire-roasted diced green chiles (from a can or your favorite)
salt and pepper to taste
2/3 c. frozen corn (optional)

Season meat with salt and pepper. Brown turkey or beef in in heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (such as enameled cast iron). Remove meat to a bowl using a slotted spoon. Wipe out fat. In same pot, pour in olive oil. Heat until hot but not smoking. Stir in onion, garlic, bell pepper and carrots. Cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Stir in cumin , chili flakes and chili powder. Cook and stir for an additional 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent seasoning from scorching. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, diced green chiles, broth and beans of your choice. Season lightly with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Bring to a boil. Partially cover, reduce heat and simmer on very low heat for 90 minutes to 3 hours (I prefer the longer cooking time), stirring occasionally. Stir in corn during last 20 minutes of cooking. When chili is thickened and reduced it is just right! Serve straight from the pot with your favorite toppings.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tuscan White Bean and Rosemary Soup

Looks like the cooler temperatures are here to stay for a bit. I am unearthing a few more cool weather recipes for you. I mentioned this soup in an earlier post. All of us, including the kids, love this soup. We have been eating this one for quite a few years. I adapted it from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I am a BIG Ina Garten fan. I absolutely love her cookbooks. They are beautiful and the recipes in them are very good. I have not tried anything of her's that didn't turn out- always tasty, always well written recipes. This soup is no exception. It is heavenly and scented with just the right amount of rosemary. I have made it in the crock pot and on the stove top with equal success. You can't go wrong. We like to serve it with Parmesan fricos. If you haven't tried fricos, here's your chance to be a kitchen super star. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line your baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat mat. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon sized portions of shredded Parmesan cheese (the better the quality the better the frico) onto baking sheet about 2 " apart. Pat the cheese flat. Seeing the mat or paper underneath the cheese is good so you get a more lacey frico, bake for 5-8 minutes until light golden. Remove and let cool. It's like a grown-up cheeze it! Great in place of croutons in salads, too. But now for the soup!

Tuscan White Bean and Rosemary Soup
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

5 c. canned drained and rinsed Great Northern White Beans or Cannellini Beans
1 c. diced fresh onion

1 tsp minced fresh garlic
2 tsp fresh rosemary, stemmed and chopped
6 c. chicken stock or vegetable stock (I always use chicken)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic until translucent. Stir in remaining ingredients bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes (alternately you can cook 6-8 hours on low in your crock pot). Right before serving, remove bay leaf and puree soup to a chunky-creamy consistency with an immersion blender, or puree carefully in batches in a regular blender, filling blender no more than half-way in order to avoid a very hot soup explosion. Serve with warm crusty bread and Parmesan fricos.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Beef Stew and Biscuits

Alas, it was too good to be true. Our warm 60 degree plus days of the past couple of weeks were chased away by strong winds and falling temperatures. I guess winter isn't quite through with us afterall. With a chill in the air, I immediately think of tummy-warming comfort food so I got to work making a red wine beef stew I like to call Cabernet Beef along with biscuits from scratch. My kids are crazy about biscuits and love to slather them with butter and drizzle them with honey. It is an occasional treat that makes everyone happy. The beef stew is really simple and can be altered in many ways. Sometimes I put in mushrooms, sometimes potatoes, sometimes carrots. The constants are stew beef and pearl onions. If I don't include potatoes I usually serve it over mashed potatoes infused with garlic and enriched with half and half, cream cheese and sour cream (good doesn't even begin to describe these potatoes. I'll give you that recipe another day. Those are the my good friend the Queen's mashed potatoes). But back to the cooks all day long in the crock pot, filling the house with a delicious warmth and aroma that is hard to beat. The biscuits, on the other hand, come together at the last minute as long as your oven is already hot. They are cream biscuits which I first discovered thanks to Sara Moulton's long gone "Cooking Live" show on the Food Network (if you never saw that show, she is an amazing teacher. I learned so much about cooking from her). I think, however, that the iconic James Beard is the one usually credited to bringing Cream Biscuits to light. They are light and fluffy. Heavy cream is used as the liquid, and due to the fat content, doubles as the butter, too. You can jazz them up with some fresh herbs if you wish, but I usually make mine plain.

Cabernet Beef

2 lbs stew beef
1 1/4 c. pearl oninons (frozen or blanched and peeled)
1 tsp. concentrated beef base
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
1 tsp minced fresh garlic
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 c. dry red wine, like a Cabernet
1/2 c. low sodium beef broth
12 mini (1 .5" diameter) gold fleshed potatoes, scrubbed clean (optional)
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)

Mix cornstarch together with red wine and beef broth. Set aside. Place all remaining ingredients into your crock pot. Pour in wine-cornstarch mixture. Cover crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until beef is very tender. Serve with warm biscuits.

Cream Biscuits
adapted from Gourmet Magazine

1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. cake flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1-2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (optional, dill, thyme, parsley and rosemary are good choices)
1 1/4 c. heavy cream
1 egg

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Into a medium bowl, sift together, flour salt and baking powder. Stir in fresh herbs, if using. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in cream). Stir the mass just until a dough forms. If mixture appears too dry , you may need to carefully drizzle in some additional cream. Gather dough into a ball and knead gently 4 or 5 times on a lightly floured surface. Pat dough out to 1/2 " thickness. With a 3" floured cookie cutter, cut out biscuits, pressing straight down without twisting. Release biscuit to a parchment covered baking sheet. Gather up scraps and pat down again until you have cut out 8 biscuits. Beat egg with 1 tsp water and pinch of salt. Brush tops only of biscuits lightly with egg wash. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until biscuits are golden. Serve warm or at room temp with butter and honey.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


March has come and nearly gone, and I haven't posted in a long while. It would seem I haven't been thinking about nor eating any food. Au contraire! I have been on a frenzy of cooking and baking, but then don't get around to writing about it. I have also been reading stacks and stacks of all kinds of cookbooks thanks to a wonderful inter-library loan program we have here in Northern Colorado. I have been sucked in by them and as a result not writing either. My stack is pretty high at this point with more on hold arriving soon! One of the ones I just borrowed is Dessert Fourplay by Johnny Iuzzini. I just made his recipe for invert sugar so I could make his vanilla bean ice cream. It came out divinely....really smooth, great mouth-feel. We topped it with homemade hot fudge, of course. I also made his Chocolate-peanut ganache on p. 152 which I used as a filling for my girlfriend's birthday cake this weekend. It was yummy in a nice moist chocolate cake, typical American birthday cake style. I topped it with a round of chocolate fans for a nice flourish. I made the BBQ beef Brisket from the February/March 2009 issue of Cook's Country magazine in the crock pot and that came out yummy, too. They presented this method of cooking it which was supposed to simulate using a smoker/grill combo. It was interesting to try and fun to taste the final product. It was quite tasty. The left-overs became beef tacos the following night. On a cooler night one evening we had Tuscan White Bean and Rosemary Soup, one of my very favorite stand-bys from my now shuttered business. Warm, crusty bread and Parmesan cheese fricos (my daughter adores these!!) are the only thing it needs to make a nice meal. In the dessert realm, I made one more batch of Cannelle et Vanille's Blood Orange Sorbet with the last of the blood oranges I could find in my market. This has become my kids absolute favorite. And with good reason , it is simply extraordinary in every way. That had me go on a sorbet making frenzy with grapefruit, strawberry-banana and David Lebovitz's Chocolate sorbet from The Perfect Scoop, also getting churn time. All were marvelous except the strawberry-banana one which tasted too much of banana and was too sweet. Back to the drawing board on that one. I just borrowed Frozen Desserts from the library, too by Francisco Migoya of the Culinary Institute of America in hopes of learning how to correct that. I would like to try Green Apple next as I once had it at Julien Restaurant in Paris and it was amazing, like taking a bite from a fresh, juicy Granny Smith apple. Oh, so yummy! Let's not forget all the crepes I have been making. My daughter, S., went to a friend's to spend the night. The friend's mom made crepes for breakfast. S does not like pancakes. She loved the crepes. So off to work I went making batches of them. Since they freeze so well, it is easy to have some to reheat quickly later on. S. liked them best with nothing more than a sprinkling of powdered sugar. My son, A. filled his with sliced strawberries and fresh whipped cream. Too much fun! But alas, it is Spring and it is getting time to lighten things up, so tonight I grilled Citrus Marinated Mahi-Mahi and it hit the spot nicely. Here is the recipe. I think you might like it, too.

Citrus-Marinated Mahi-Mahi

4- 6 oz. Mahi Mahi filets, boneless, skinless
1/4 c. Extra virgin Olive Oil
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
zest of 1 lemon, 1 lime and 1/2 orange
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 c. orange juice
1/2 tsp Tamari or low-sodium soy sauce
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine everthing except fish in a non-reactive bowl. Pour marinade over fish in a ziploc bag. Marinate for 20-30 minutes while pre-heating grill. Clean and oil grates of grill to prevent sticking. Remove fish from marinade and grill over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes a side until cooked through.