Thursday, February 25, 2010

Szechuan-Style Tofu with Peanuts

This is an extremely tasty and SPICY dish. I especially loved the tofu treatment. I think I'll be broiling tofu more often. It really gives it a lovely crispy outside without making it rubbery.

I accidentally doubled the chicken broth in this recipe. I only had 2-cup portions of homemade chicken stock in my freezer, and I didn't want to waste a bunch (the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup), so I made chicken broth by using a bouillon cube. Since the cube needs 1 cup of water, I ended up accidentally using the whole thing. It came out so well though, I'm going to modify the recipe I'm writing down here to reflect that change.

Don't get intimidated by the ingredients you may not recognize. They were very easy to find in the grocery store.

Szechuan-Style Tofu with Peanuts
A variation on this recipe by Cooking Light


Jasmine rice
1 (14-ounce) package water-packed firm tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch pieces
Cooking spray or parchment paper
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)
1 tablespoon less-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons black bean garlic sauce
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces mushrooms
1/2 cup matchstick-cut carrots
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts, chopped

Preheat broiler.

Cook rice according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.

Arrange tofu in a single layer on a foil-lined jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray or lined with parchment paper; broil 14 minutes or until golden, turning halfway through.

While tofu cooks, combine broth and next 4 ingredients (through black bean sauce), stirring with a whisk; set aside.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add salt and mushrooms; sauté 4 minutes or until mushrooms begin to release liquid, stirring occasionally. Stir in carrots and ginger; cook 1 minute. Add broth mixture; turn to high and cook until sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat; stir in tofu and onions. Serve over rice; sprinkle with peanuts.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cappuccino Cheesecake

My mother-in-law sent me a link to this blog to show me this cheesecake. The blogger uses a very long-winded method for writing down the recipe she uses, so I transcribed it in a more understandable way.

Because my mother-in-law was worried that making such a large cake for a smaller gathering would mean too much leftover cake (and really, who but the Golden Girls can eat that much cheesecake without gaining hundreds of pounds?), I made this for Jonathan's family's February/March birthday party. And it was a HUGE hit. It especially made me me exceedingly happy that Jonathan, who is extremely picky about sweets, especially chocolate ones, said that it was the best cheesecake he'd ever had. Score.

We did decide that the cocoa powder on top as a garnish was not a good choice. I ended up inhaling some of it and coughed my way through the first couple of bites of my slice, and most other people had some trouble wearing it. So no matter how nice it may make the cake look, don't bother with it.

There is a lot of scraping down the bowl in this recipe, but really, it's so worth it. It made the cheesecake light and almost mousse-like. I definitely made sure to beat the cream cheese really well before adding anything else, which I think helped too.

I will say that figuring out if this cake was done was difficult for me since I don't have that much experience with making cheesecakes. I followed the directions, but when I went to take the cake out of the oven, it just felt way too jiggly. I even went to test it with a knife, as you would with a regular cake, which is why you can see a big gash in the middle of my cake in the picture. Do not do this. From what I've read online, it is perfectly normal for the cake to jiggle a bit when it comes out of the oven. As long as the entire top moves as one unit and doesn't look too goopy, it's just fine. And don't stick anything into it, you'll ruin all the work you've done already to make sure that it doesn't crack.

Definitely definitely definitely make sure you make this a day or so ahead of time. The cooling process is important to making sure the cake is solid and the flavors are mixed properly. When it first came out and even before I put it in the fridge overnight, I smelled a lot of the Irish Cream. I was a little concerned that it would end up overwhelming all of the other flavors in the cake. But once it came out of the fridge and was ready to be served, the flavors had clearly blended a lot more.

Cappuccino Cheesecake


For crust:
1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs (you can get chocolate wafers and grind them up)
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

For ganache:
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups whipping cream, heated but not boiled

For filling:
16 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup Irish Cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
2 eggs, at room temperature
Chocolate-covered espresso beans, semisweet chocolate chips and/or Hershey's Kisses, for garnish

To make crust: Mix together crust ingredients and press into the bottom of a springform pan. Bake at 350ºF for 10 minutes. Once the crust is done, turn the oven down to 325ºF.

To make ganache: Warm whipping cream over low heat until heated but not boiling. Cover chopped semisweet chocolate with heated whipping cream, and let sit for about 5 minutes. Whisk the mixture together until chocolate is completely melted and mixture becomes smooth. Set aside.

To make filling: Put softened cream cheese in mixer and beat until very creamy, scraping down the sides from time to time. Gradually add the sugar. Scrape down the sides. Add cornstarch. Mix together Irish Cream and espresso powder, and add to the mixer. Scrape down the sides.

Add eggs, one at a time, making sure each is incorporated well. Scrape down the sides. Add the ganache, and scrape down the sides one more time. The mixture will be very loose, so carefully pour it on top of the crust in the springform pan.

Bake for 30 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave it in there for another 30 minutes. Make sure you do not open the oven during this time. After the hour has passed, let the cheesecake cool to room temperature and then refrigerate overnight.

Before serving, garnish as desired.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Oh. This is so good. Just so so so so good. Quite possibly the best coffee cake I've ever had. Moist and so flavorful. I made it for my mother-in-law's birthday dinner, but it would also be perfect for a brunch, a shower, a tea, a rainy Tuesday. Make it as soon as possible.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Courtesy of Ina Garten (The Barefoot COntessa)


12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sour cream
2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the streusel:
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

For the glaze:
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons real maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and sour cream. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is completely mixed.

For the streusel, place the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and butter in a bowl and pinch together with your fingers until it forms a crumble.

Spoon half the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup streusel. Spoon the rest of the batter in the pan, spread it out, and scatter the remaining streusel on top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. Carefully transfer the cake, streusel side up, onto a serving plate. Whisk the confectioners' sugar and maple syrup together, adding a few drops of water if necessary, to make the glaze runny. Drizzle as much as you like over the cake with a fork or spoon.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Toasted Orzo Chicken Soup

I really wanted this to have more flavor. It smelled fantastic, especially when the orzo was being toasted. But it just fell flat. I even added some dill to try to pump up the flavors a bit, but no such luck. If you can find some way to make this more exciting, I'd be so happy to hear it. It's a healthy and easy to make soup. I just wish I liked it more.

I also modified the amount of lemon zest in the recipe I'm including below. While I think the soup benefited from the lemon flavor, I think using 2 teaspoons overpowered the soup a bit, so I recommend only using 1 teaspoon.

Toasted Orzo Chicken Soup
A variation on this recipe by Rachael Ray


32 ounces (4 cups) chicken stock
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast pieces or tenders
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup orzo pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small zucchini, peeled finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 shallots or 1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped dill
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

In a medium pot, bring the chicken stock and chicken to a simmer, making sure the the chicken is entirely immersed. Lower the heat and poach the chicken for 12-15 minutes.

Heat a dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add the butter to melt. Add the orzo and cook, stirring, until deeply toasted, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add the oil to the dutch oven. Add the zucchini, carrot, bell pepper, shallots and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, 7 to 8 minutes. Return the orzo to the pot.

Remove the chicken from the stock. Skim and discard the fat from the stock; transfer the stock to the dutch oven. Chop, dice or shred the chicken and add to the soup with 2 cups water. Bring the soup to a boil and cook until the orzo is just tender, 5 minutes. Add the peas during the last minute of cooking. Turn off the heat; stir in the parsley, dill and lemon zest. Serve immediately (orzo will plump the longer it sits).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I did it! I finally made a chocolate chip cookie that didn't go flat the minute it came out of the oven. I can't tell you how disappointed I've been over the years whenever I'd try a chocolate chip cookie recipe only to have it come out looking and tasting awful. It was especially upsetting when I'd think about how my kids wouldn't think their mom's chocolate cookies were the best (hell yeah I want them to think that!).

But my culinary hero (Alton Brown) came through again. Success! I think the combination of using melted butter, bread flour, and chilling the dough thoroughly really did the trick. I chilled the dough for about 3 hours, though I think just an hour would have been fine. I also only scooped out as much dough as I needed for one tray in the oven at a time and put the rest of the dough back in the refrigerator between batches. I may have been overly cautious, but given how well these came out, I'll be doing that again the next time I make them.

Also, make sure you turn the cookies as the recipe suggests. It really did help get the cookies evenly browned. I did find that my cookies were a little on the burnt side when I baked them for the full 14 minutes, so I just baked them for 7 minutes, turned the pan, and then baked them for another 5 minutes. They came out perfectly that way.

Oh, and these cookies are referred to by Alton Brown as "The Chewy". Very accurately so, I might add.

The Chewy
Courtesy of Alton Brown


2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375ºF.

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom medium saucepan over low heat. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.

Pour the melted butter in the mixer's work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Chill the dough, then scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown, rotating the cookies after 7 minutes for even browning. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Black and White Angel Food Cake

This was better than I was expecting. Since it uses semi-sweet chocolate, it's not overwhelmingly sweet and adds such great flavor to an already great cake.

I wasn't able to find superfine sugar, so I put sugar in the food processor and tried to work it that way. I'm not sure how much good it did, but it didn't seem to make a huge difference in the cake.

Black and White Angel Food Cake
Couresty of Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa)


2 cups sifted superfine sugar (about 1 pound)
1 1/3 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
1 1/2 cups egg whites at room temperature (10 to 12 eggs)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup coarsely grated semisweet chocolate

For the glaze:
1/2 pound semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Combine 1/2 cup of the sugar with the flour and sift them together 4 times. Set aside.

Place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high speed until the eggs form medium-firm peaks, about 1 minute. With the mixer on medium speed, add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar by sprinkling it over the beaten egg whites. Beat on high speed for a few minutes until thick and shiny. Add the vanilla and continue to whisk until very thick, about 1 more minute. Scrape the beaten egg whites into a large bowl. Sift 1/4 of the flour mixture over the egg whites and fold it very carefully into the batter with a rubber spatula. Continue adding the flour in 3 equal additions, sifting and folding until it's all incorporated. Fold in the grated chocolate.

Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan, smooth the top, and bake it for 35 to 45 minutes, until it springs back to the touch. Remove the cake from the oven and invert the pan on a cooling rack. When cool, run a thin, flexible knife around the cake to remove it from the pan.

For the chocolate glaze, place the chocolate chips and the heavy cream in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until the chocolate melts. Pour the chocolate over the top of the cooled cake to cover the top completely and allow it to drizzle down the sides. If you have chocolate glaze left over, you can serve it on the side with the cake.

Enchilada Stew

The original recipe for this one was supposed to be more of a chili, but since I didn't use the chicken and ended up with a much more liquid dish, I figured I'd changed it from a chili to a stew.

I also used black beans because I like them better than pinto or kidney beans.

It's very tasty and extremely simple to make. The recommended garnishes are definitely a must too. And maybe next time I'll make some corn bread to go with it. Or maybe even just some warmed corn tortillas.

Enchilada Stew
A variation on this recipe from


1 1/2 cups prepared enchilada sauce
2 chopped celery stalks
2 (14.5 oz) cans tomatoes with seasoning (I used fire-roasted with garlic)
2 (15 oz) cans black beans, undrained
1 onion, diced
1-2 teaspoons chili powder (it all depends on how spicy you want to make it)
1 teaspoon cumin
Shredded Mexican-style cheese
Sour cream

Pour enchilada sauce and canned tomatoes into the bottom of a 6 quart slow cooker. Add beans, celery, onion and spices. Stir to combine.

Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours, or until flavors have combined.

Serve with shredded cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

Smoky Corn Chowder

Yum. Another good one for the winter. And definitely serve it with bread.

Smoky Corn Chowder
Courtesy of Real Simple


8 ounces sliced bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (if you can't find it in your grocery store, you can use substitute with 1/4 teaspoon paprika and 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 10-ounce packages frozen corn
3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup half-and-half
Kosher salt and black pepper
4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 baguete, sliced and toasted (optional)

Cook the bacon in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Spoon off and discard all but 2 tablespoons of the drippings and return the pan to medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, paprika, and red pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Stir in the corn, broth, and half-and-half and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Transfer half the soup to a blender and puree until smooth. Return to the pot and stir in ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Divide the soup among bowls and top with the scallions and bacon. Serve with bread, if using.

Pumpkin Pie From Scratch

In the Fall, I decided to try my hand at processing an entire pumpkin. It was messy and definitely labor-intensive, but the results were fantastic. Everything I made had a much more pronounced pumpkin flavor, which was just delicious in all of its forms.

For this pie, I used a store-bought graham cracker crust, but once I can get my hands on some graham flour, and once it's pumpkin season again, I'm going to try making a totally from-scratch pie. Of course, I could make normal pie crust, but I like graham cracker crusts better for pumpkin pies.

I'm also going to process a GIANT pumpkin next Fall and just freeze whatever I don't use right away. I can't believe how hard it is to find even canned pumpkin now that it's the winter.

I used this website as a basic guide for the whole process. But I kind of tweaked things here and there.

Preparing, cooking and pureeing the pumpkin:

Make sure you pick out a "pie pumpkin", not a "Jack-o-lantern" one. I used an heirloom pumpkin, which I was able to find very easily at Wolff's Apple House, a local farmer's market near us.

Once I got home, I peeled and cut up the pumpkin. This was the hard way to do it. No matter how you cook it (in the microwave, on the stovetop or in the oven), it's much easier just to cut it into manageable pieces and scoop out the flesh once it's done cooking.

Before you put it in to bake though, you have to make sure to scoop out all the seeds and pulp, just like you do when you're carving a pumpkin. And keep the seeds! They can be seasoned, roasted and turned into a tasty snack.

Once you've cut up and cleaned the pumpkin, choose your cooking method. I put mine in the oven on a parchment paper-lined cooking sheet. I baked it at 350ºF for 90 minutes until the flesh was very soft.

Once it's done cooking, scoop out the flesh and put it in a sieve over a bowl. This will drain some of the excess liquid. If you find that your pumpkin is still very liquidy, you can let it sit in the sieve for 30 minutes. Or if you want to make absolutely sure you won't have a liquidy pie, and if you have the time, you can let the flesh sit in either cheese cloth or wrapped in paper towels in a sieve over a bowl in the refrigerator overnight.

Once the flesh is dry enough for you, you can use either a blender or an immersion blender to puree it. Now you're ready to make a pie!

Pumpkin Pie From Scratch


1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional, I don't use any)
4 large eggs
3 cups pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cans (12oz each) evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract

*Note: You may substitute cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and ginger with 2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice.

Preheat oven to 425ºF.

Mix together all ingredients. Pour mixture into pie crust. Bake at 425ºF for 15 minutes, turn oven down to 350ºF, and bake for another 45 to 60 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Pear, Apple and Cranberry Crisp

This makes a ton, so be prepared to have leftover filling that you could possibly freeze and use at another time. And definitely definitely definitely leave enough time for this to cool a bit before serving. Not only will your whipped cream melt (because honestly, how could you not add whipped cream to this?), but you simply will not be able to eat it in the molten lava state that it's in when it first comes out of the oven. I served this to my in-laws, and we were all burning our mouths because we were so excited to eat it.

Pear, Apple and Cranberry Crisp
Courtesy of Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa)


2 pounds ripe Bosc pears (4 pears)
2 pounds firm Macoun apples (6 apples)
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Peel and core the pears and apples and cut them into large chunks. Place the fruit in a large bowl and toss with the cranberries, zests, juices, granulated sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour into a 9 by 12 by 2-inch baking dish.

For the topping:

Combine the flour, sugars, salt, oatmeal, and cold butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the mixture is in large crumbles. Sprinkle evenly over the fruit, covering the fruit completely.

Place the baking dish on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is brown and the fruit is bubbly. Serve warm.

Baked Penne with Fennel and Pancetta

This was a bit too cheesy. Especially in leftover form. But in small quantities, it was very tasty.

Baked Penne with Fennel and Pancetta
Courtesy of Food Network Magazine


Kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing
1/2 pound pancetta, trimmed of excess fat and diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
1/2 cup heavy cream
12 ounces penne
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 8 ounces)
1 3/4 cups grated Fontina cheese (about 6 ounces)

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 450ºF.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring, until the fat renders, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour off the fat, leaving about 1 tablespoon in the pan. Add the onion and fennel and cook until the fennel is soft, about 5 minutes. Crush the tomatoes into the pan with your hands, then pour in the juices from the can and bring to a simmer. Fill the empty can with 1/2 cup of the boiling water and add to the sauce. Stir in the cream and simmer while you cook the pasta.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain and add to the sauce. Stir in the basil and 1/2 cup Parmesan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil, season with salt and toss.

Oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Layer the pasta, mozzarella, Fontina and the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan in the dish, alternating pasta and cheese. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Bake, uncovered, until browned and bubbly, about 15 minutes.

Butternut Squash Tortellini with Brown Butter Sauce

This was a fabulous Fall dish. And it made so many tortellinis that I was able to freeze some and make the whole dish again instead of getting take-out. It definitely takes some time to make, but I thought it was well worth it.

And don't get freaked out by the amaretti cookies in the tortellini filling. It doesn't taste at all like having random cookies in the middle of a savory dish. It gives it a wonderful accent flavor and doesn't add overwhelming sweetness.

Butternut Squash Tortellini with Brown Butter Sauce
Courtesy of Giada DeLaurentiis


Squash Tortellini:
1 butternut squash, approximately 2 pounds, cubed (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
1 1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 large shallots, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
4 small amaretti cookies, crushed (about 1/3 cup)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 package small wonton wrappers

Brown Butter Sauce:
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
2 tablespoons torn fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries, or chopped dried cherries, or mixture of both
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

To make the tortellini, preheat the oven to 375ºF. On a foil-lined baking sheet toss together the butternut squash, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, herbs de Provence, salt, and pepper. Bake in the oven until soft and golden, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a small saute pan over medium heat. Cook the shallots and garlic until lightly golden, about 3 minutes.

In a food processor, combine the butternut squash mixture, the shallot mixture, and the ricotta cheese and pulse a few times to blend. Add the crushed amaretti cookies, the nutmeg, and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pulse until smooth. The tortellini filling can be made one day ahead.

To make the tortellini, lay out 6 wonton skins, keeping the remaining skins inside the package or under a very lightly dampened paper towel. Place 1 tablespoon of squash mixture in the middle of each skin. Dip a pastry brush in a little water and wet the edges of the skin. Gently fold the square wrapper into a triangle, making sure the edges are securely closed and there are no air pockets inside. Dampen the two bottom corners of the longest side of the triangle and gently bring them together, pressing lightly to secure. Place the formed tortellini on a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Before laying out another 6 wonton sheets, be careful to dry the work surface. This will help keep tortellini from sticking to the baking sheet. Continue until all the butternut squash mixture is used. There should be approximately 36 tortellini. (The tortellini can be formed, frozen on the baking sheet, transferred to a tightly sealed plastic bag or container and stored for up to six months. To cook, simply toss the frozen ravioli into the salted boiling water and cook for 4 minutes.)

To make the sauce and serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat.

Add the sage, walnuts and cranberries and let cook until the butter starts to brown, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat off and season with salt, and pepper.

Stir to combine. Then, gently place the tortellini in the boiling water and gently stir. When they begin to float they are done, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, gently spoon the tortellini onto a serving platter, Top with the brown butter sauce, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

Eh. I didn't think these were that great. I thought I could use the leftover mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cups from Halloween in a more constructive way, but these weren't nearly as good as the more traditional ones. Though if you like crispier cookies, you will probably like these.

Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
Courtesy of Real Simple


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 12-ounce package small peanut butter cups, coarsely chopped

Heat oven to 375ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat to combine. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Fold in the peanut butter cups.

Drop tablespoon-size mounds of dough 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake until light brown around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a baking rack to cool.

Quesadilla Casserole

Another recipe made in the Fall. It should definitely be eaten all on the first day/night it's made. The leftovers just didn't taste as good. It was good the first go-round though. Easy, inexpensive, and tasty.

Quesadilla Casserole
Courtesy of Rachael Ray


3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup chopped onion
One 29-ounce can black beans, drained, 1/2 cup liquid reserved
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Five 10-inch flour tortillas
8 ounces Monterey jack cheese, shredded
1 cup store-bought green enchilada sauce

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. In a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups black beans and mash into a chunky paste. Stir in the reserved liquid.

Grease a heavy, ovenproof skillet. In a bowl, combine the corn, parsley and remaining black beans. Place a tortilla in the skillet and spread with 1/3 cup mashed black bean mixture. Top with 2/3 cup corn-bean mixture and 1/2 cup cheese. Press to compress the layers. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, mashed black beans, corn-bean mixture and cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and the casserole is heated through, about 30 minutes. Transfer to the broiler and cook for 1 minute. Serve with the enchilada sauce.

Tuscan-Style Potato Soup

I made this soup back in the Fall and am only now getting around to posting about it. It's a perfect soup for the cold weather. The original recipe has you mashing the roasted garlic (YUM) and cooked potatoes with a food mill, but I just used an immersion blender (if you don't have one of these, I HIGHLY recommend getting one, they're awesome), and it worked out fine.

Tuscan-Style Potato Soup
Courtesy of Cooking Light


2 heads garlic
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups finely chopped onion, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
2 1/4 pounds cubed peeled Yukon gold potato (about 6 cups)
4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half
4 ounces pecorino Romano cheese, divided
6 ounces hot Italian sausage, casings removed
1 ounce pancetta, finely chopped
1 cup chopped kale
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Cut off pointed end of each garlic head to partially reveal cloves (do not peel or separate the cloves); place each head in the center of a small sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon oil over each head; wrap each in foil. Bake for 45 minutes; cool 10 minutes. Squeeze to extract pulp; discard skins.

Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 cups onion; sauté 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in pepper, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and potato; sauté 2 minutes. Add broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until potatoes are very tender, stirring occasionally. Add garlic pulp to pot. Remove mixture to a food mill over a large bowl and process, or use immersion blender in pot and process until preferred consistency is reached. Stir in half-and-half. Finely grate 2 ounces cheese to yield 1/2 cup; stir into soup. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add remaining 1/2 cup onion; sauté for 6 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in 1/8 teaspoon salt, sausage, and pancetta; cook 8 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble sausage.

Cook kale in boiling water for 4 minutes; strain through a sieve over a bowl, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Grate 1 ounce cheese. Combine kale, reserved cooking liquid, grated cheese, sage, and nuts in a food processor; process until finely ground. With processor on, gradually add 1 tablespoon oil through food chute, processing until combined. Ladle 1 cup soup into bowls; top each serving with sausage mixture. Drizzle each serving with about kale mixture; shave remaining cheese evenly over soup.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Soft Pretzels

We are snowed in today with a lot of soup and stew in the fridge (which I also definitely need to add to this blog soon). So I thought I'd try my hand at these pretzels I saw Alton Brown make on Good Eats a couple of months ago. And let me tell you... They are fabulous. They are a bit labor-intensive, but I think they're worth every step.

The only thing I changed from the original recipe is that I used coarse kosher salt instead of pretzel salt. The kosher-salt-covered pretzels looked and felt the same as pretzel-salt-covered ones do, and I noticed that they didn't have that intense salt flavor that pretzel salt gives, so I think I actually liked them better with the kosher salt.

I guess you could say I also changed the size since I didn't have the counter space to roll the pretzel dough out to 24 inches before twisting them up. So I made smaller ones, which made for a little less time in the oven (and even more pretzels).

One other thing that you have to make sure to do before putting the pretzels in the baking soda bath is to make sure that the dough is properly stuck together in its pretzel shape so that it won't fall apart in the bath. Just pinch the dough where it comes together. Don't worry about making indentations, they puff up in the bathing/baking process. If the dough does fall out of its pretzel shape, you can just reshape it when it comes out, and it'll solidify into its shape while it bakes.

Homemade Soft Pretzels
A variation on this recipe by Alton Brown


1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces (half a stick) unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel (or coarse kosher) salt

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface. Use a pizza cutter to cut off pieces of dough and roll out each piece of dough into a thin rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mocha Ice Cream

The Simple Chocolate Ice Cream recipe that came with my Cuisinart ice cream maker is definitely a favorite in our household. As I was food shopping this morning and contemplating what I would be making for dessert tonight for our weekly dinner with my brother-in-law, I decided to see if I could take our favorite chocolate ice cream recipe and turn it into Mocha Ice Cream. The result? Big success.

The coffee flavor is subtle, but as Ina Garten always says when she's making anything with chocolate, adding coffee definitely brings out the chocolate flavor even more. I figure too that if you want a more intense coffee flavor, you can just add more ground coffee (I only used 1 tablespoon).

Mocha Ice Cream

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process preferred)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1-1/2 cups whole milk
3-1/4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons ground coffee

Place the cocoa and sugars in a medium bowl; stir to combine. Add the whole milk and use a hand mixer on low speed or whisk to combine until the cocoa and sugars are dissolved, about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream, vanilla, and ground coffee. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Turn machine on; pour mixture through fine-mesh sieve into freezer bowl, using a wooden spoon to push through as much of the liquid as possible. Let mix until thickened, about 25 to 35 minutes. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture. If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer for about 2 hours. Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.