Thursday, July 29, 2010

CEIMB: Mango Lassi

My Craving Ellie in My Belly post this week is going to be short and sweet. This week we were to make Mango Lassi, selected by Leslie of Lethally Delicious. We have actually made Ellie's Mango Lassi in the past. It's very simple and only takes moments to put together.

Simply combine 2 mangos, 1 1/2 cups nonfat yogurt, 2 Tbsp. honey, and some ice cubes in a blender, and puree. Easy, refreshing, and good for you!

Unfortunately, this is one beverage that not many people in my household will consume. In fact, my hubby was the only one to drink the Mango Lassi. On the bright side, he did enjoy it! As for me, I just strongly dislike yogurt. I've tried it before in various incarnations, but the only way I can really enjoy it is if it's hiding out as one of the ingredients in a baked good. I think if we made this again, but substituted lowfat vanilla ice cream for the yogurt, I would drink it and love it. I've recently developed an appreciation for the taste of mango, and I would like to be able to enjoy it. I just didn't think to do the ice cream thing this time around until it was too late.

Thank you to Leslie for this week's selection! The official recipe for the Mango Lassi can be found here, on Food Network's website. You can also check out the CEIMB blogroll to see what the other members thought about this one.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Homemade Taco Shell Salad

This is one of those meals that was extra fun to make because I took several ideas from different places and kinda smushed them all together into one thing. The idea for a nice salad served in a cute little taco shell cup originally came about when I was thumbing through my latest issue of Cooking Light and saw a recipe for a shrimp salad. I had chicken to use up, so I decided to go with that instead. The recipe also used premade taco salad bowls, but I thought it might be fun to make my own. How hard could it be, I figured? Plus, I had just bought myself some ramekins, and I wanted to break them in. Sure, it would have been nice to break them in by actually baking a little cake or souffle in them, but this would do!

More on making the actual taco bowls later, though. For my salad, I just used what I had on hand (as usual). I tossed together some romaine lettuce, fresh radishes, and red onion. In the same issue of Cooking Light that I had found the taco salad in (the August issue), there was an advertisement for Kashi and they had a couple recipes in the ad. The chicken recipe they had listed really caught my eye, so I decided to use their ideas for a chicken marinade and a vinaigrette.

I sliced up my chicken into long strips, then marinated them for 30 minutes in a mixture of lime juice, cilantro, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Once they were done marinating, I cooked them on my indoor grill pan for roughly 5 minutes per side, until cooked through. While that was cooking, I made the vinaigrette.

Oh, this vinaigrette. It was so easy, so fresh, and yet it just created so much flavor. We thought it was amazing. I had to alter it slightly; it's not exactly the original version. That is mostly because the original is a poblano spinach vinaigrette, and I had no poblanos! I did, however, have serrano peppers, so I used them instead. It made the dressing spicy, but that was fine with us. If you read this blog somewhat occasionally, you've probably caught on by now that we love our spicy food!

Now, for the taco bowls. I admit I was sort of winging it, and I didn't really figure out how to do it properly until I had already made most of them. I'll tell you what I did, both right and wrong, so hopefully you won't make the same mistakes if you ever try this!

With the help of my 4 year-old son, I would take a flour tortilla, squish it down into a ceramic ramekin, and then spray it with nonstick cooking spray. A little sprinkle of salt and pepper, and they were ready for the oven (the above picture shows this method). I baked them at 350 degrees for around 12 minutes.

Well, this did work...sorta. What happened was this: at 12 minutes, the tops of the shells were crisp and slightly browned. The insides, however, were still very soft. This may have to do with the fact that my son really sprayed these a lot, so they may have been too wet. The other issue these had was that they were a little too scrunched up, so they were pretty hard to fill up with the salad. Oops.

Then I tried them a different way, and it worked much better! I flipped the ramekins over, so they bottoms were facing up. I sprayed the ramekins with cooking spray, as well as the flour tortillas. Then, I molded the tortillas to the ramekins, and they adhered pretty well because of the spray. While they baked, they maintained that nice shape, and once they were finished they were crispy throughout (though maybe they could have used an extra 4-5 minutes in the oven this way). The finished product picture below shows the bowls made the second (and much smarter!) way.

This was a fun experiment, and the meal turned out scrumptious. The salad was light and yummy, the vinaigrette was a welcome pop of flavor, and topping everything off with a dollop of sour cream and a dash of fresh salsa never hurt anything! It was a blast to eat, and I'm always grateful when I can make something that my picky son can enjoy!

The original inspiration for the taco bowl salad (titled Chipotle-Rubbed Shrimp Taco Salad) can be found here. You can find the full recipe for the Cilantro Lime Chicken on Kashi's website, here. I've included it below, since I did change it slightly.

Grilled Cilantro Lime Chicken Taco Salad
adapted from Chef Keith Snow's recipe for Kashi and from Cooking Light
makes about 4 servings

For the chicken:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced thin
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 lime, juiced and zested
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
pinch black pepper

For the vinaigrette:
2 serrano peppers, roasted and skin removed
1 cup fresh spinach, steamed for 2 minutes and squeezed to remove excess liquid
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 of a red onion, minced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
4 Tbsp. fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 heaping Tbsp. Dijon mustard
3-4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chicken broth
pinch kosher salt
pinch black pepper

For the salad:
1 head romaine lettuce, torn into pieces
1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 flour tortillas
nonstick cooking spray
salt and pepper, to taste
salsa, for garnish
sour cream, for garnish

Assemble the marinade: 1. Whisk together the olive oil, lime juice and zest, garlic, cilantro, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Combine marinade with the chicken in a shallow dish or sealable ziploc bag, coating chicken thoroughly. Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Make the vinaigrette: 1. Combine all ingredients in a blender (I used my immersion blender) and puree until smooth. Keep at room temperature until ready to use. The leftover dressing can be refrigerated (and is great on just about anything).

Make the taco bowls: 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Turn 4 ramekins or heatproof bowls over so the bottoms face up, and place them on a baking sheet. Spray each with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Take each of your 4 tortillas and, one at a time, arrange them on a ramekin or bowl so that they are draped over them. Spray the tops of the tortillas with cooking spray and sprinkle each with salt and pepper. Bake for 12-17 minutres, until crispy and lightly browned all over.

Assemble the salad: 1. Preheat a grill or indoor grill pan to medium-high. Spray with cooking spray. Cook the chicken strips for approximately 5 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
2. Meanwhile, toss together the romaine lettuce, radishes, and red onion. Divide the salad among the taco bowls, add some chicken strips to each, and drizzle with as much vinaigrette as desired. Garnish salads with sour cream and salsa, and serve.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Macarons: Victory is Mine!

Okay, confession time. Up until a few months ago, I had never heard of the French macaron. I had never even lain eyes on these fancy little confections. But being the avid reader of food blogs that I am, they couldn't escape my notice forever. Finally, I began to see the macaron popping up all over the place. It started slowly at first. Then, all of a sudden, they were everywhere! They were even in the advertisements that would appear on the sides of my computer screen. Suddenly, I wanted to know more about these cookies. What was their story?

A little bit of research told me a few things. First, I learned that macarons were sandwich cookies. The fillings could be just about anything you could think of. Each side, or shell, of the sandwich were delicate little cookies made by whipping egg whites to stiff peaks, folding some ground almonds and powdered sugar into them, and piping this mixture from a pastry bag out onto a cookie sheet in small circles. Then they are set out to rest for a while to dry out, and finally baked in an oven on a low-ish heat.

Next, I learned that although the above instructions sound easy enough to carry out, these macarons were actually temperamental little devils. I discovered horror story after horror story from people on the Interwebs who had failed, flopped, or otherwise been extremely disappointed with the final result of all their labor in the kitchen.

It turns out that the folding of the ingredients is a very tricky and exacting step in the process. Just one fold too many, and you can ruin your entire batch of macarons. Too few folds, and your under-mixed concoction can yield disaster, as well. Also crucial, gross as it may seem, is to age your egg whites before using them. A good thing to do is to separate your eggs, yolks from whites, and leave your egg whites sitting out of the refrigerator for a minimum of 24 hours, or as long as 48 hours. Bizarre, but I figured if it was going to increase my chances of producing a good macaron, I was willing to try it!

So obviously by now, you have probably figured out that I decided to try my own hand at making macarons. It sounded so complicated, so potentially doomed to fail, that I just knew I had to do it. I loved this idea of a challenge, to maybe accomplish something in the kitchen that not everybody can. I was pretty much banking on a failure my first time, but I knew I'd have fun trying!

I did my research, and then I set out to do everything meticulously, carefully, so that I wouldn't miss anything or do anything to mess myself up. The egg whites were nice and old. My almonds had been ground with my powdered sugar, sifted to remove any larger pieces of nut, and then weighed and measured right up to the gram. I set up a pastry bag with a small round tip, took a deep breath, and began to whip my whites.

I knew that, at the very least, my macarons wouldn't look absolutely perfect. I was unable to find blanched almonds, which have the skin removed from them and have a nice, uniform color. Mine had skin and that would lend a speckled effect to my shells. But it wouldn't affect the taste any and I thought maybe it would add character to mine.

As I rolled along in my preparations, I became increasingly confident. Everything seemed to be going exactly as I would have hoped. When I folded my mixture (nervously, I might add), I stopped right when it appeared to be flowing in nature, but would smooth out if you were to drizzle some from your spatula back into the bowl. I actually had to roast some veggies right after I was finished piping my macaron circles, so the macarons had the opportunity to rest at room temperature for about 90 minutes before I could get them into the oven. I worried a bit that it was too long of a resting period, but I figured it would be okay since I had read somewhere that they could rest from 1 to 2 hours.

I set my oven timer for 10 minutes, slid my first batch in, and held my breath. The moment of truth, I've heard, comes at about 5 minutes in the oven. At that point, your macarons should just start developing their "feet," that little shelf they stand on once they're baked. They rise just so, and their feet form underneath them, and they begin to look just as they should. And when I checked mine, lo and behold, the feet were there! I was very ecstatic at that point, but I knew they weren't finished baking and I didn't want to count my chickens (my macarons) before they were hatched (...or baked?).

As you can see, they did turn out great! They came out all cute and "foot"-ed, and they came off the parchment paper I had baked them on incredibly easily. The bottoms even looked perfect; they weren't hollow or cracking or anything. I do acknowledge that I need lots of practice with piping these though. The tops aren't perfectly smooth, as they should be. That could either be a result of my batter being slightly underbeaten (thus not allowing the tops to smooth out or settle on their own) or my own shoddy piping work. Either way, this was my very first attempt at macarons and my results far exceeded my expectations! They turned out delicious, with a nice delicate crunch on the outside and a soft, pillowy inside. And they're cute, too!

After some debate, Andy and I decided that for a filling, a lavender-infused white chocolate ganache would be divine. I have to say, the white chocolate may not have been the best choice. I would have liked something maybe less sweet, to complement the light sweetness of the macaron shells. A bittersweet chocolate would have worked beautifully. Overall, though, I am very proud of my maiden voyage into the world of macarons, and I hope to be able to duplicate these results much more in the future!

I couldn't have done it without reading this. It's an article detailing how to make macarons, complete with pictures and step by step instructions. It was written by a seeming macaron expert by the name of Helen for a magazine a few years back. The fabulous blog Tartelette, written by Helen, is a great resource as well. The lady knows her macarons!

I used her basic macaron recipe, which is in her article, with the exception of adding a scant 1/8 tsp. of cream of tartar to my egg whites. My white chocolate ganache recipe came from her article, as well. I just added 1/2 tsp. dried lavender to my cream, heated the cream just to boiling, and then strained out the lavender right before pouring it over the chocolate. It couldn't have been simpler. I can't wait to try out some more flavor combinations!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

CEIMB: Chicken Sliders with Warm Tomato-Corn Salad (and Israeli Couscous)

This week, Craving Ellie in My Belly is making Chicken with Warm Tomato-Corn Salad, chosen by Danica of Danica's Daily. I decided to deviate just a bit from Ellie's original recipe this time. I took a look at the chicken part of the recipe and decided I wanted to jazz things up a little. I love a simple piece of grilled chicken just as much as the next healthy-eating gal, but I took this opportunity to put a yummy rotisserie chicken to good use. I'll be using half my (albeit slightly anti-healthy) store-bought chicken for another meal this week, so I decided the other half would make some very delicious barbecue pulled chicken sliders.

As for the tomato-corn salad portion of the recipe, I didn't change a thing! This was so fresh, so bright, so colorful and flavorful and just perfect. I was fortunate enough to be able to use home-grown corn (thanks again to Andy's parents!) that was so sweet and tender, it was hard not to just eat it by the cob. The cherry tomatoes were fantastic; as I've been saying on my blog for a little while now, I have really come to embrace them when they are cooked exactly this way.

The cilantro was just enough pop for me, the lime juice was a welcome taste of acid, and as for the avocado...well, everybody enjoyed it but me! I have tried (and failed) in the past to like avocado, but so far I can only eat it if it is blended into something else. I guess I like the flavor, but not the texture. I'm admittedly weird when it comes to food textures, and I'm working on it! This group really does help with that. Look at me and tomatoes, BFFs now!

Anyway, we decided to serve the avocado alongside everything in slices. I heard that the slices were really good on the pulled chicken sandwiches, too. For my other side dish, I served a simple pilaf of Israeli couscous (a favorite around here) that went over well. My mother in-law had never eaten this before, and she loved it. We like introducing people to Israeli couscous, because everyone seems to enjoy it once they've had it. It's sort of a cross between regular, smaller couscous, pearled barley, and orzo. It's easy to make and so versatile! If you ever find it in your grocery store, I highly recommend giving it a try.

But back to the Warm Tomato-Corn Salad! It was a huge hit at our dinner table; even "the picky one" devoured it without a single complaint. That right there speaks volumes about this dish. I mean, it was veggies, and it was embraced by my 4 year-old! Thanks again, Ellie, and thank you, Danica, for the great pick! It was summery and perfect!

You can find the full recipe, complete with Danica's fun Cajun variation on the chicken, on her blog, here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Grilled Veggie Pasta

I am happy to say that this is the recipe that finally got me over my aversion to zucchini and squash. I started making this dish last summer, when veggies were plentiful and I didn't know quite what to do with them all.

Here at our house we're huge fans of Penzey's Spices, and we are fortunate enough to have a retail location about 35 minutes from home. They have a mail-order catalog which we subscribe to as well, and each issue comes full of recipes created both by home cooks and by Penzey's to showcase their products. This meal was designed to highlight the aromatic flavors of their Pasta Sprinkle and their Freshly Ground Pepper, and it accomplishes just that.

The dish is very simple, and it is very adaptable to what you have on hand in your own home. You start out by grilling an array of vegetables, cooking up a pot of pasta, and then combining everything with plenty of fresh pepper, garlic powder, Pasta Sprinkle, olive oil, and vinegar. It's unbelievably fresh, flavorful, and satisfying despite the fact that it's completely vegetarian. We made this by sauteeing the veggies in a skillet whenever we made it last summer, but now I actually own an indoor grill pan. I used the grill pan for this dish and we thought it made a huge difference! Besides giving those veggies the festive grill marks, I was able to cook the veggies until they were tender but held their shape and were still quite crisp. Since I don't like my zucchini mushy, I loved this cooking method.

I do wish the pictures were a bit more colorful for you; I just used the veggies I had here at home, and there was a lot of green and yellow going on! This dish would be great, I'm sure, with just about any grilled vegetable you can think of, but I usually use a combination of onions, bell peppers, and zucchini/squash. The original recipe, which I have provided below, suggests other veggies that would be yummy, as well. I threw in two jalapenos this time, and I loved the added kick they provided. Garden-fresh jalapenos taste so much better than their storebought counterparts! I'm being spoiled by my in-laws!

No matter what veggies you try, just make sure you try this sometime before summer's over. If I may be so bold, I declare that satisfaction will be guaranteed. And even if it doesn't work out, it'll still help you use up that summer produce!

Grilled Veggie Pasta

adapted from Penzey's Spices (Harvest 2009 issue, p. 40)

makes 4-6 servings

1 lb. dry pasta (any shape)
2 lbs. fresh garden vegetables - your choice of any of the following:
-1 small green zucchini
-1 small yellow zucchini
-1 large red onion (I had yellow)
-1 red bell pepper
-1 yellow bell pepper (I had green)
-1 small eggplant
-1 (6-ounce) package whole button mushrooms (optional, but they add great flavor)
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1-2 Tbsp. Pasta Sprinkle (a combination of basil, oregano, thyme, and garlic)
1/2 tsp. granulated garlic, divided
1/2-1 tsp. freshly ground pepper, divided
1/4-1/2 tsp. salt (optional)
1-2 Tbsp. balsamic or red wine vinegar (I use up to 1/4 cup)

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta, and preheat an outdoor grill or a grill pan to medium-high. Wash and dry all veggies, then cut in pieces large enough to rest on the grill without falling through the grating. Place veggies in a single layer on a pan and coat with the 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 tsp. granulated garlic, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Toss to coat both sides well.

2. When the water comes up to a boil, add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain and rinse very briefly. Place the pasta in a large bowl and toss with the remaining olive oil, along with 1 Tbsp. of the Pasta Sprinkle and the remaining granulated garlic. Cover and set aside while the veggies are grilling.

3. Grill the veggies in a single layer, in batches, so as not to overcrowd the pan or grill. Cook over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes, then turn them. Cook for another 2-4 minutes (depending on which veggies you're using and how large the pieces are), until the vegetables are tender but still firm enough to have a crunch. Remove vegetables to the pasta bowl and add the remaining Pasta Sprinkle, pepper, garlic, and salt (if using). Toss everything together, add the vinegar, then toss again. Divide into shallow bowls and serve.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Key Lime Bars

Some of my best summer dessert memories involve key lime pie. I just love the stuff. Normally, I'll go for the decadent, chocolatey desserts when given a choice. But key lime is one of the few fruity flavors I can never pass up. And to me, the pairing of tart, creamy key lime pie filling and a graham cracker crust is darn near perfect.

I wanted to provide something sweet for a potluck lunch Andy was having at work. I needed it to be something I could whip together quickly and easily. I bought way too many limes last week (though, sadly, they were not key limes) and inspiration hit me. A key lime pie bar! That would fit the bill wonderfully! I remembered that Martha Stewart's Cookies book had a bar cookie recipe that I wanted an excuse to make. Now was my chance.

I was very grateful for the ease of this recipe. The hardest part was separating the three eggs; I messed up and added an egg white to my already separated egg yolks. Oops! And the yolks already had the fresh lime zest added to it; double oops! So I had to toss the bowl of yolks and zest and start over again. Besides that little hiccup in the works, everything was smooth sailing. A quick graham cracker crust is baked, then cooled. Next, you pour a mixture of egg yolks, lime zest, sweetened condensed milk, and fresh lime juice on top of the crust and put the whole thing back into the oven. It bakes for another 10 minutes, and then it is cooled and chilled in the refrigerator. After that, you're ready to cut and serve!

We cut ours into 24 bars, even though Martha says you can cut 18 bars. The 24 bars seemed like they were a good size for a potluck, whereas the 18 bars would probably be better for a situation where you were only serving the bars for dessert after a dinner or something. Martha's bars were garnished with some freshly whipped cream and thin lime slices, but we just served ours plain. They were a hit at the lunch just the way they were, but I would like to serve them by the book next time; they'll be a bit prettier that way!

Key Lime Bars (or just plain Lime Bars!)
makes 18-24 bars, depending on the size of your slices

For the crust:
1 cup plus 2 1/2 Tbsp. finely ground graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp. finely grated lime zest
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup fresh Key lime juice (I used regular limes, about 4)

For the garnish:
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 Key limes, thinly sliced into half-moons

For the crust: 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a small bowl. Press evenly onto bottom of an 8-inch square glass baking pan. (I don't have a glass square baking pan, so I used a foil-lined metal baking pan, and it was fine.) Bake until dry and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

For the filling: 1. Put egg yolks and lime zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on high speed until very thick, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium. Add condensed milk in a slow, steady stream, mixing constantly. Raise speed to high; mix until thick, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add lime juice; mix until just combined.

Assemble bars: 1. Spread filling evenly over crust using a spatula. Bake, rotating halfway through, until filling is just set, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Make garnish: 1. Cut 18 or 24 lime bars. Put cream in the clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the clean whisk attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Garnish bars with whipped cream and a slice of lime. Ungarnished bars can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 3 days.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

CEIMB: Panzanella with Chicken Sausage

Wow, this is the first time I've had to write two blog posts in one day! I knew it would have to happen eventually. I had both my Martha Stewart's Cupcakes Club post to do, as well as my regular Thursday Craving Ellie in My Belly post. Phew! Fortunately, this is the kind of busy that I like to be! Having to do some extra time in the kitchen is not a problem for me.

Now, onto this week's CEIMB recipe! This week's pick was Panzanella with Chicken Sausage from Ellie's So Easy book, chosen by Peggy of Pantry Revisited. I was glad she picked this one, because panzanella is something that has always intrigued me. I'd never made it, and never eaten it until now. I love salad, and I love bread, but for some reason the idea of an actual bread salad always seemed too bizarre to me.

As it turns out, I love bread salad! In fact, we all did here at my house. My hubby and I scarfed this down, and even my picky 4 year-old thought the idea of bread in his salad was pretty cool. I used some chicken sausages from Sam's Club (and hey, by the way, I'm kinda mad at Sam's Club right now. After I got the sausage home, I removed the outer cardboard liner and discovered that it had an expiration date of May 24th! We had to return it, and buy some more, and it turned out that almost every single package in their store was past date! We found one of maybe 2 or 3 packs that were good. Argh! And don't even get me started on the Sam's Club bleach stain incident of 2 weeks ago....).

Anyway, the sausages ended up being pretty tasty! They were provolone and sun-dried tomato flavor, and I did enjoy them in the end. As for the salad, I really was surprised at how much I loved it.

I've talked several times before in various blog posts about how I have come to love roasted or burst tomatoes, but haven't yet been able to fully embrace tomatoes in their raw form. So, I made my salad with burst cherry tomatoes, and I made the rest of the salad with regular cherry tomatoes. I think it worked out well. The dressing was simple but so good, and I used half a loaf of roasted garlic fougasse (which I haven't figured out how to pronounce, but it sure is good!) bread I found at the grocery store. I loved how the bread did soak up the other flavors in the salad, but it was a nice sturdy bread that held up well to the dressing and did not get soggy or mushy at all.

So once again, Ellie Krieger has made a believer out of me! She has proven that if I merely try something I've been skeptical about, chances are I will like it very much. This one exceeded my expectations. Thank you, Peggy, for taking me out of my comfort zone! The recipe for this one can be found here, on her blog.

MSC: Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes

Wow, it's already been a month since we made those Strawberry Cupcakes? I can't believe it! It's time once again for a cupcake from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes! This month, the Martha Stewart Cupcakes Club is making Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes.

These flour-free confections were chosen by Lauryn over at Bella Baker. They are very simple to make, and don't really take much time at all as long as you have a powerful mixer. You start out by melting together some chocolate and butter. I used Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips, because I find that those work best for me when I need a good quality chocolate but don't want to pay an arm and a leg for it. While the chocolate/butter mixture cools slightly, you whip 6 egg whites in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. You add a bit of sugar while they are whipping. You want to eventually have stiff, glossy peaks in the mixing bowl.

Once the chocolate is cool enough to add egg yolks, you add the 6 reserved egg yolks (from separating the whites from the yolks) to your chocolate. Once it's all mixed together, you gently fold this mixture into your egg whites. Fill cupcake tins 3/4 full with batter, and bake!

Once they are out of the oven, the perfectly formed dome tops on the cupcakes start to sink almost immediately. Martha says that this will happen, so I wasn't concerned about it. However, when everything was said and done, mine didn't really look like the picture in the book. Martha's had gotten all crackly on top, and then the cracks had sunk into the cupcake. Mine sunk in a more uniform fashion, and were still perfectly smooth and flat on top. The process of the cupcakes shriveling a bit also had the effect of making the cupcake liners sort of pucker in a bit in places, and this made the cupcakes almost look like little flowers. It was kind of cute!

I don't know if I did something wrong somewhere along the way, and this is why they didn't turn out looking exactly like Martha's. I don't think it really mattered for the overall flavor of the cupcakes, though. They were very tasty! I haven't ever eaten a cupcake with this sort of texture before. They are light as air, as opposed to a denser brownie, but the taste is similar to that of a brownie. It's almost like eating a chocolate souffle; each bite just melts in your mouth.

We kept it simple; no garnishes or ice cream on ours. I am sure they'd be fabulous with something on top, but they were just wonderful on their own. Thanks to Lauryn for the selection this month! I don't know if I ever would have made these from the cookbook on my own, but I ended up loving them! The Flourless Chocolate Cupcake recipe can be found on Martha's website, here. Check out the MSC blogroll to see how the other bakers fared!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bucatini with Jalapeno Pesto

I know I just posted about another pesto recipe last week, but this is one is so completely different that I thought it'd be okay to post about it today. This one is not made with basil, pine nuts, or even any cheese like the last one was. It isn't like any other pesto I've ever had. No, sir, this one uses green bell, jalapeno, and serrano peppers as its base!

As soon as I read over the ingredients list for this one, I thought it just sounded too crazy to work. However, that usually just makes me want to make something even more, because I just have to see for myself if it's going to be successful. So I decided to go for it.

You start out by toasting some pumpkin seeds in the oven. When they come out, in go some bell peppers and jalapeno peppers to roast. I used a combination of jalapeno and serrano as well as the bell, because that's what I needed to use up. Once the peppers are cool, and the skin is removed, you throw them in the food processor with the cooled pumpkin seeds, some cilantro, and some garlic, and coarsely chop. Stream in some olive oil and some lime juice, add salt and pepper to taste, and that's all it takes to produce a wildly flavorful, tangy, nutty, and very spicy concoction that tastes unbelievable on pasta.

The recipe I used (which I found on the site which used to be Recipezaar, but they've now switched it over to added some halved cherry tomatoes in with the pasta and the pesto. Since I've discovered that I really love roasted, burst tomatoes, I went with that method for mine, and it was delicious. I'm sure any number of other veggies would be great in this, all tossed together with the pasta. I can see zucchini being delicious in there, asparagus, even peas. The possibilities are many for things to pair with this pesto!

Be prepared for the heat, though. This pesto is kinda killer! Granted, you can easily adjust the heat level to your liking by altering the combination of peppers you use. I love having that versatility with a recipe. I'm sure this would even work with just red and green bell peppers, and no hot peppers. However, for my tastes, I loved this just the way it was!

Pasta with Jalapeno Pesto
adapted from Recipezaar (now, recipe #13141
makes 4-6 servings

5 Tbsp. shelled pumpkin seeds
2 green bell peppers
1 jalapeno pepper
2 serrano peppers
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice, plus the zest of half a lime
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. bucatini pasta (the thick spaghetti with a tiny hole down the center)
1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes (roasted or not, it's up to you)
1/2 lime, cut into wedges

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toast the pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet for 6-8 minutes, until fragrant and crunchy. Crank up the oven temperature to 450 degrees F.
2. Place all the peppers on a baking sheet, and roast them for 20 minutes or so, turning frequently. The smaller hot peppers take only about 10-15 minutes.
3. When the skin of the peppers has blistered, remove them from the oven. Let them cool a bit (I placed mine in a glass bowl covered in saran wrap to let them sweat a bit), then pull the skin away from the flesh. Discard the skin.
4. Place the peppers in a food processor, along with 4 Tbsp. of the reserved pumpkin seeds, the cilantro, and the garlic. Blend until the contents are coarsely chopped. With the machine running, slowly stream in the oil and lime juice. Blend in salt and pepper to taste.
5. While the peppers are roasting, you can start the pasta. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot. Add the tomatoes and the pesto, and stir well to combine everything. (If you decide to go with burst cherry tomatoes, you can throw them in the oven on a separate baking sheet while the peppers roast. Simply coat them with a bit of olive oil, some salt and pepper, and let them cook for 10-15 minutes, until shriveled and bursting.)
6. Divide the pasta among shallow bowls, then sprinkle the reserved 1 Tbsp. pumpkin seeds and half the zest of a lime over each serving. Serve with lime wedges on the side.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl

Once again, the Baked cookbook has proven to me why it (and the New York City bakery these recipes come from) is so popular. I really wanted to make a coffee cake for the weekend of my birthday; it gave me an excuse to indulge! This coffee cake is definitely a splurge, with 2 sticks of butter and a 16 oz. carton of regular sour cream (the cookbook advises you not to use low-fat or fat-free), not to mention 2 1/4 cups of sugar just in the cake alone. The crumb topping is a thing of pure decadence, and pure beauty. Made with dark brown sugar and finely chopped pecans, butter, flour, and salt, it smelled like heaven while it was baking and tasted even better.

The cake turns out huge. It's made in a 9x13 baking dish, and rises all the way to the very top of the pan. I don't know if I've ever eaten a coffee cake that was so very...tall. And every last inch of this cake is moist, flavorful, and just completely yummy. If you're having a lot of people over for breakfast or need to take something to a morning potluck, this would be perfect. It could probably feed a small army.

My favorite feature of the cake, and probably the deciding factor for me to finally make it, is the chocolate cinnamon swirl contained inside. It does require a little extra work while you're filling the baking dish with the batter, but it is worth every second. You simply mix together a bit of cocoa powder with a bit of cinnamon, then add some sugar, and you've got an amazing little ribbon of goodness that darts through your cake and provides an extra little dimension of flavor with every bite. It gave me an excuse to crack open my brand new Penzey's natural high fat cocoa powder, and it did not let me down. It's fantastic cocoa; I'd never baked with anything other than good old Hershey's before this. Now that I've tasted the high-quality stuff, I don't see how I could ever go back. I've been missing out, clearly!

I recommend that you find a reason to make this cake for company sometime soon. It's classic enough to be a welcome addition to a breakfast table (or, heck, even dessert!), but it's got that kick from the cocoa to make it a bit of a conversation piece. I'm already fantasizing about the next excuse I can possibly concoct for making it again myself....

Sour Cream Coffee Cake with Chocolate Cinnamon Swirl
makes 1 (9x13-inch) cake (serves 16-24 depending on the size of your slices)

For the crumb topping:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup pecans, toasted
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1-inch cubes

For the chocolate cinnamon swirl:
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. cinnamon

For the sour cream cake:
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
16 oz. sour cream
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Make the crumb topping: 1. Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse for 5 seconds to mix. Add the pecans and pulse until the pecans are finely chopped and thoroughly incorporated.
2. Add the butter and pulse until combined. The mixture will look like very coarse sand. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator. (In my opinion, this was very important for the overall outcome of the crumb topping. I made mine the night before I assembled the cake, and having the topping in the fridge overnight made it firm enough that the crumbs were set already once sprinkled over the cake. They maintained their shape while in the oven and were large and extra bumpy on top of the cake. Yum!)

Make the chocolate cinnamon swirl: 1. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon and set aside.

Make the sour cream cake: 1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan. If you use a metal pan, the edges of the cake will be crispy (not altogether a bad thing).
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth and ribbonlike. Scrape down the bowl and add the sugar. Beat until the mixture is smooth and starts to look fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl and mix again for 30 seconds.
3. Add the sour cream and vanilla and beat just until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in three additions, scraping down the bowl before each addition and beating only until each addition is just incorporated. Do not overmix.
4. Pour one third of the cake batter into the prepared pan (I used my kitchen scale to make sure each of my thirds was even). Use an offset spatula to spread the batter evenly. Sprinkle half the chocolate cinnamon swirl mixture over the batter, covering the entire surface of the batter. Spoon half of the remaining batter over the swirl mixture and spread it evenly. Top with the remaining swirl mixture, then the remaining batter, and spread the batter evenly. (I found that the spreading part was easier if I dropped smaller dollops of batter over the whole surface, then gently spread all the dollops together. Otherwise, the spatula would pick up the batter and the chocolate cinnamon swirl with it and become a mess.) Sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the top of the batter.
5. Bake in the center of the oven, rotating the pan three times during baking, for 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. (I believe mine took 5 minutes more.) Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then serve. The cake will keep for 3 days, tightly covered, at room temperature.

Grilled Spring Onion Skewers

Here is proof that simplicity can sometimes be the greatest thing. Behold, the mighty spring onion. These came from the garden of my in-laws, and they are amazing. They're big, beautiful, and they can pack quite a punch. Not too long ago we were given a big bag full of them, and immediately I thought of an Ellie Krieger recipe I had seen in The Food You Crave.

Her recipe takes a bunch of scallions, with the topmost green parts cut off, and threads them onto skewers after coating them in a bit of olive oil. Easy, right? I added some salt and pepper for added flavor. Then, you simply grill them on an outdoor grill or a grill pan, turning them every so often, until they are soft and slightly charred. I think this makes a fantastic, unique vegetable side dish to nearly any grilled meat, and looks pretty on a plate, as well.

Since my spring onions were way bigger than regular old scallions are, I should probably have cooked them a lot longer than I did. I believe mine were grilled for 15 minutes, and they could have gone for at least another 10. They were delicious, but not grilling them quite long enough had the effect of not completely mellowing out that strong onion flavor. They were still pretty potent! However, I'm very happy to have discovered this easy side dish, and I'm sure I'll be using this technique a lot more often. It's just too simple not to!

Grilled Spring Onion Skewers
adapted from The Food You Crave
makes 4 skewers

4 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 20 minutes (I used my metal skewers)
20 scallions (I had about 16 large spring onions)
2 teaspoons olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste (Ellie's recipe does not have this)

1. Preheat the grill or a grill pan over medium-high heat.
2. Cut the roots and tops off of the onions so you have the bulb plus 1 inch of green left. Reserve your tops for another use.
3. Make a few slices into the green part of the onion so it splays out a little. Thread 5 scallions onto each of the skewers, brush with the oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and grill over medium heat until they are softened and develop char marks, about 10 minutes, turning once or twice. (If you are using spring onions, this could take about 25 minutes.)