Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Celery Bisque

In this economy it seems wrong to be wasteful, which is why I needed to find something for my bunch of celery that was slowing fading in my fridge. I saw this recipe on Epicurious, and thought it would be perfect.
It has a subtle celery flavor, nice and mellow, balanced by the sweetness of the leeks, and is creamy because of the addition of the potatoes. It also asks for cayenne pepper-, which is brilliant. The original recipe calls for crème fraiche to be swirled on top, but I just used some heavy cream and mixed it in after pureeing.
Instead of stilton toasts (I am not a fan of blue cheese…) I made some croutons that were coated in olive oil, cayenne pepper and sea salt- it added great crunch and texture to the soup.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lemon Cupcakes & Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes

A friend asked me recently to make some cupcakes for her to take to work. I, of course, said yes, and set about deciding what to make. I was also a little strapped for time, so I made a big decision- I would use cake mixes, and just jazz them up. I know what your thinking… ‘Really? A Cake mix? What kind of cook would not make it from scratch…’

I know, I know, but really- they are so good, and easy, and it’s all about the frosting anyway, right?

I decided on a Chocolate Raspberry, and a Lemon Cupcake.

For the Chocolate Raspberry, I took a milk chocolate cake mix and made it to the specifications, however I added some raspberry puree (thawed frozen raspberries, pureed and strained) in place of half the water. This added a subtle raspberry flavor to the chocolate cake.
I decided to do two frostings- first, I made a chocolate frosting by adding melted chocolate to softened butter, and powdered sugar to taste. For the raspberry Buttercream, I added raspberry puree, a little red food color, butter and powdered sugar to taste. I piped the chocolate frosting on first, followed by a rosette of raspberry frosting. Damn Tasty.

Milk Chocolate Raspberry Cake with Chocolate & Raspberry Frostings

For the Lemon cupcakes, I took a vanilla cake mix, and substituted some fresh lemon juice and some lemon oil, for half the water. I also added 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon zest to the batter. The cake tasted zesty and lemony, but not overpowering- just a hint of lemon to compliment the frosting.

The frosting I made with equal parts Butter & Cream Cheese then added powdered sugar, lemon and lime zest, and lemon oil- as well as some limoncello liquor that I had in the freezer. I made it completely by taste. It was really good, if I do say so myself!

Lemon Vanilla Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese

The finishing touch was to make some candied lemon zest.
Simply strip the zest from the fruit- using either a peeler and then cutting them into thin fine strips, or use a citrus zester-, which peels it off in thin strips. Place the strips in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let it sit for 30 minutes then drain. Heat 2 cups sugar and 1-cup water in a small saucepan, cover and boil. When the sugar is dissolved, add the zest, reduce heat to medium low and cook, uncovered for 10 minutes. I pulled out the zest and placed them on a piece of parchment paper- discarding the syrup, and let cool. Wile they were still sticky, I dusted them with white sugar so they are sparkly.
As you can see from the pictures, they look pretty good!

Double Chocolate Pudding

I hate to admit it, but I often by those Jello Chocolate Pudding snacks from the supermarket, they are just too good- and only 100 calories.

I decided to make some pudding myself- not the 100-calorie kind, but something to have when the chocolate craving kicks in- (which is often!).
I have a recipe that I found in Food and Wine Magazine, and it seemed to fit the bill, easy, chocolaty and rich. Perfect!! The chilled and finished pudding was really good, but not what I was originally intending. It was much more dense and fudgy, than light and silky- more like a super rich chocolate mousse. It was great- but I am going to try and find a recipe that is lighter, so it can be more of a snack, as opposed to a dessert, but I will be making this one again for sure!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Smoky Tomato Soup

Sometimes there is nothing better than a bowl of hot soup. As the weather gets cooler, it is the first thing on my mind to cook- they are relatively simple, full of flavor, they warm the kitchen and my stomach, and they are an easy meal to have around as they take only minutes to reheat, and often taste better the next day. So, I found a recipe in Food and Wine magazine that intrigued me, firstly, because believe it or not, I have never made tomato soup and secondly, it calls for smoked pimenton, which is an ingredient that I have never used.

The recipe is basic; onion, garlic, tomatoes, water and the pimenton, finished with a touch of cream. It sounded too easy!

I am often wary of making sauce or salsas with fresh tomatoes that have not been roasted before hand, so that was a modification that I made. I cut the tomatoes in half, drizzled with olive oil and black pepper and set them in a 350 degree oven for around one and a half hours. I did not want the moisture sucked out of them, just roasted enough to concentrate their flavor so my soup wasn’t lacking in depth.

The Roasted Tomatoes

A quick sauté of onions and garlic (I added 4 extra cloves!!) then add the pimenton- and this is where the soup comes alive. It adds such richness and depth of flavor, that I can’t believe I have not discovered it sooner. It amps up the tomato taste and has an underlying smokiness that is subtle and yet unmistakable at the same time. You then add the tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf and a little water and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Blend, puree, add a little cream to cut the acid, and voila- a soup that warms the soul!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey Ice Cream

I had a banana that was nice and brown and on the cusp of being thrown out, and decided to try a recipe I had tucked away for a while. It comes from the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Cook Book which I have never used before (strange considering how much I love ice cream...). The recipe is different in that it is a no cook base- so yes, that means there is a raw egg in the mix.I also only made a half batch, which works out perfect, because this is not an ice cream that holds up well after a couple of days. It is best eaten on the day it is made... which is not a problem in our house! The recipe was extremely easy- it took no time at all. The only modification I made was to melt the dark chocolate and then drizzle it in the churning ice cream maker in which it freezes immediately and marbles throughout the ice cream. It is really important to have banana's that are very ripe and with brown spots as this will create that really intense banana flavor. Enjoy!!!
The Finished Product

Monday, October 13, 2008

Roasted Garlic Soup

The weather is getting slightly cooler here in perennially sunny San Diego, so it seemed natural to want to make a nice hearty soup. I looked through my cookbooks, and came across a recipe for Roasted Garlic Soup in the Emeril’s Potluck Book. It looked simple enough, and you can't go wrong with roasted garlic.

I halved the recipe as it was just for the two of us, and I served it with some Grilled Gruyere and Ham sandwiches, and a Baby Green Salad with Pecan Crusted Sautéed Goat Cheese.

The soup had wonderful flavor, a lot like a French Onion Soup, but with the added richness of roasted garlic. I made a few changes, like adding a little white wine to deglaze the pan, and instead of pureeing the soup in the blender I used my handy dandy Breville hand blender, but next time I would strain the soup through a sieve in order to have a smoother texture. Marc didn't mind the chunky bits of onion and garlic, but I wasn't all for it. The Soup worked great with the salad and sandwich and with some tweaking, this is a great recipe!

Emeril’s Roasted Garlic Soup

4-6 large Red onions (3.5 pounds)
Cloves from 2 large heads of garlic, peeled
2 shallots, peeled
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs Emerils Original Essence (I used Cayenne pepper only)
6 c. Chicken Stock
2 tsp. finely chopped sage
2 ts. finely chopped fresh thyme
3/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 c. Heavy Cream

1: Preheat oven to 400F. Combine onions, garlic and shallots in roasting pan (single layer). Add the olive oil and essence and toss to coat. Roast until well browned, about 1.5 hours.

2: Remove the pan from the oven and set over two burners on medium low heat. Add two cups of chicken stock, the sage, thyme and salt and cook for 10 minutes, scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

3: Transfer mixture to a blender and puree until smooth.

4: Scrape the puree into a large pot over medium low heat. Add Remaining four cups of stock and the balsamic vinegar, stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and stir in the cream. Serve.

Goat Cheese Salad

Make a vinaigrette from Dijon mustard, honey, lemon juice and olive oil. Season with Salt & pepper. Toss in mixed greens to coat.

Roll balls of goat cheese in chopped pecans and sauté in olive oil until warmed through and nuts are toasted. Serve over baby greens.

The Onions in the pot after deglazing

The Finished Soup...

And with the Grilled Ham & Cheese and Goat Cheese Salad

Friday, October 3, 2008

Banana Cupcakes

I finally found the perfect banana cake recipe.

I have tried quite a few, but most end up tasting like banana bread- which is not all together bad, but not my desired result when trying for cupcakes!

Banana bread is typically more dense and nutty- but a good banana cake should have intense banana flavor and a light and golden texture.

I can't entirely recall where I found this recipe- but I have been using it for a while now, with great results. The only issue Marc has with this recipe is that it makes A LOT, and he has a hard time refraining from just one or two- (you can halve it to make 12).

I have been using a brown sugar and Rum cream cheese frosting, but I am still working on the proportions (I melt butter with brown sugar to form a thick caramel, add dark rum, and let cool to just warm. I add that to cream cheese and beat until fluffy). I want it to have more rum flavor so I am looking into a rum extract. However, this banana cake recipe would be great with a peanut butter frosting, chocolate frosting, or whatever you think would work well.

Try it and let me know what you think!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Melting Moments

Back home I used to make these great cookies called 'Melting Moments'. I am not entirely sure of their origins, but they are very popular in Australia. They are essentially- a flavored butter filling sandwiched between two shortbread cookies. The cookies are very light in color and have a fork indentation on top (kind of like American Peanut Butter Cookies). They are traditionally flavored with lemon or passion fruit. As I had some passion fruit puree at home- I decided to make a batch.

The shortbread is sooooooo easy- a monkey can do it- but alas- the recipe I had was BASIC- and I should have had the warewithall to add Vanilla or Lemon- but I didn't, so I was left with an okay cookie- just not excellent.

The passion fruit filling is great, but as the puree gives the filling so much liquid, you cannot add too much. This is where I think Lemon is the better choice. Zest in the cookies and in the filling would enhance the flavor without making it bland or runny.

Another change for next time would be to make my cookies a little thinner- they are so tender that the two cookies together is harder to eat and thus I end up making a big mess!

Overall though, this cookie is GREAT and reminds me of home- which is more than I can ask for!

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Ultimate Banana Cream Pie

As my Boyfriend was approaching his 30th birthday, he mentioned that in lieu of a birthday cake, he would love a Banana Cream Pie. I of course, would happily oblige! Then the slight panic sets in, as I have never made a Banana Cream Pie that I have been truly in love with. They are all good after all (how can it not be?) but not the right balance of flavors and textures that I like to have.

Cream Pies are awesome- they are mostly unheard of in Australia, but my American Born mother would indulge us once or twice a year with one… chocolate, Coconut or Banana…
It was always done from scratch, with a great flaky pie crust, vanilla custard layered with fresh slices of banana, and slathered with a slightly sweetened vanilla whipped cream. They were divine, but I wanted to up the ante!
Marc prefers a graham cracker crust to the pastry crust (ugh- it should be relegated to cheesecakes and key lime pie’s, but it’s his birthday not mine…) so I have a flashback to a delightful dinner at the Bally’s Steakhouse in Vegas, where they serve their Banana Cream Pie in a Crunchy Pecan Crust. Everyone at the table that night LOVED it, so I thought I should give it a shot. I decided a mixture of pecans, Nilla Wafers, sugar and melted butter would do the trick, and boy, was I right. I hate to gloat, but *seriously people*, it was awesome. It was crisp and flavorful; I am already having dreams about a macadamia crust with Coconut Cream Pie, and Hazelnut Crust with a Chocolate Cream Pie… I may never go back to ordinary pie dough………..
As for the filling; while the idea of vanilla custard with bananas sandwiched in between is fine, I wanted actual banana flavored custard, and Gale Gand has just the one.
Top the whole pie off with rum spiked vanilla whipped cream and you have a damn great pie.
The pictures really don’t do it justice (I am still learning about food photography…) but when I served each slice I topped them off with slices of banana to finish the dream!!

The Cooked Crust

Keep in mind that my crust recipe is an approximation. I made it up as I went along. If your crust seems too dry, add more melted butter, or if it seems to wet, add more crushed Nilla wafers and pecans. The sugar, I have realized is not necessary, as the nilla wafers are sweet enough, but it worked for me!

The Banana Pudding

The Finshed Pie

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mario Batali's Gnocchi

I must admit, I love anything from Mario. When I was working in professional kitchens, the one place I really wanted to apprentice was Babbo in New York. Is had not come to fruition, but maybe one day!!! I simply adore his approach to cooking, and if you have never had the opportunity to eat in one of his restaurants, just watch 'Molto Mario' on the Fine living channel to become addicted to italian philosophy. I am half Italian myself. My fathers family is from Calabria, and I grew up with the most amazing italian food courtesy of my Grandmother (she and my Nonno are in my profile picture!).

So I have been dreaming of perfect gnocchi, and Mario is my go to guy, so I opened my Babbo Cookbook and got started. I decided to pair it with a classic basil pesto and some crusted pork milanese.

Well, a few things here... Mario says that the gnocchi will take as much flour as it can, meaning, it will stop absorbing it when it has had enough. If it it humid (which it is), it will take more flour than when on a dry day. The idea is that the more you make it, the more you know what it is supposed to feel like, and you can live without the recipe. As it was my first time, I worked it the best I could, but it did seem to take more flour than was called for in the recipe. But they worked out beautifully!!! Perhaps a little soft, but they didn't fall apart, and in the fragrant basil pesto, they were delish!!!!!!! I will surely be making this again, and can't wait to use up the rest of the dough today for round two!

p.s- the cheesecake is better the next day, as it gets moister, but still not my fave.

The Basil Pesto

The Gnocchi before being cooked

The finished product- Crusted Pork Milanese, Potato Gnocchi in Basil Pesto

Monday, September 8, 2008

Toffee Crunch Caramel Cheescake

Well, here I am- a former pastry student, a former pastry cook and believe it or not, I have never made a cheesecake. I even used to work at a restaurant with Cheesecake right in the name! I have eaten every different kind of cheesecake, lemon, Chocolate, Peanut butter... but truth be told, it is never something I would order off a menu, or have ever felt the need to bake, but it was the first real season football game, and I was cooking a feast! My Boyfriend had always raved about how much he loves cheesecake, so I though, 'Today will be the Day'!!

So I found a recipe I had saved from Bon Appetit from January 2005, and decided to give it a go.

Photo Courtesy of Bon Apetit

Well, truth be told, Marc loved it, as did our friend Jeff, but I wasn't all that fond. I found the toffee 'sauce' on top sets up and was not hard like a toffee, but not soft like caramel sauce. Kind of like melted candies- this didn’t work for my taste. The cheesecake itself was a little dry, if that is even possible. I am someone who loves the creamy texture of no bake cheesecakes, more akin to a cheesy mousse, so that could be why I was not thrilled. The one part I loved was the gingersnap crust- I will definitely be making that part again! The boys did love it though, so I guess I will have to resume my search for MY favorite cheesecake. I will keep you posted!