Wednesday, March 25, 2009

With Spring Comes Change...

Hello friends.

I have some big news that brings even bigger changes. I have moved my blog to There you will find a beautifully designed site, thanks to the incredibly talented Kaytlyn of Beneficial Design, plus many other user friendly options. I hope you will visit me there from now on! If you recieve my updates in a feed, please reset to reflect this new site. You will have the option (finally!) to subscribe via email if you mosey on over.

Many thanks,


Monday, March 23, 2009

This is Not a Muffin

I know it looks like a muffin, but it's actually an Individual Blueberry-Coconut Pound Cake. In my book, that's much better than a muffin which, in all my baking adventures, I have never made. I would blame my lack of muffin baking on my lack of interest in breakfast, but that hasn't stopped me from making coffee cake, scones, or granola. Sometimes I just can't explain myself.

Anyway, this is one of those recipes where it just makes so much sense to double it. It takes no extra effort and all you need is two muffin tins. Or even 1 regular size and one mini-size. Take the ones you aren't going to eat right away, wrap them well in foil, and put them in the freezer. Then you have a homemade dessert for the next time people drop by unexpectedly. Or for the next time you just need to pull one or two out just for you.

Individual Blueberry-Coconut Pound Cake

Makes 9

This is the original recipe, i.e. not doubled.

1 stick (
1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
cup sugar
2 tsp. freshly grated lime zest

2 large eggs

5 tbsp. heavy cream

1 cup flour

tsp. salt
cup plus 3 tbsp. sweetened flaked coconut
cup blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour 9 (1/2 cup) muffin cups. (
DN: I sprayed mine with Pam.)

Beat together butter, sugar, and zest until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in cream, then flour and salt, on low speed until just combined. Stir in 1/2 cup coconut and gently stir in blueberries.

Spoon batter into cups and smooth tops. Sprinkle tops with remaining 3 tbsp. coconut. Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out clean and edges are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Invert onto a rack and cool.

DN: If you plan to freeze some, wrap them well in foil, then place in a plastic bag - like those you find in the produce department at the grocery store.)

Teasing You with a Tart

It's a beauty isn't it? It was delicious too. I want to share this recipe with you all, but I can't just yet.

You see, this tart has issues. Crust issues and filling issues. It doesn't have flavor issues which is why I'm even willing to give another chance.

This recipe comes from one of my all time favorite cookbooks,
Fields of Greens, written by Annie Sommerville, the chef at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco. It is a book I turn to when I want to make something special. The recipes are not difficult, but many require a fair amount of work. In my experience, that work has always been worth it because the payoff is something truly special and delicious. And the recipes always turn out.

The crust she suggests you use is a yeasted tart dough. I have used it for other tarts in this and Sommerville's other book,
Everyday Greens, and I have decided that it's just not for me. It's easy to make and work with, but I don't like the texture. I expect my tart crust to be crisp, as a foil for the creaminess of the filling. The yeasted dough felt like I was eating tart filling on top of a slice of bread.

I had some
galette dough in my freezer so I decided to try that. It wasn't quite right either, not crisp enough for me when made in a tart pan, although plenty crisp when used for the galette. Clearly, I need another option.

The biggest tinkering challenge I have ahead of me is the filling. The proportions are way off in this recipe - something I find very surprising coming from this extremely reliable cookbook. There is about one and half times too much filling so that, even though I held quite a bit of it back, it started to run over the top and outside the tart pan (read: onto the floor of my oven.) Yes, I had a baking sheet in there to catch the drips, but I was making two tarts and the baking sheet wasn't quite big enough to catch all the goop. Side note: you know how high end cars (like Porsches) famously don't have cup holders? My high end (Viking) oven does not have a timer or a self-cleaning option. Sigh.

So the recipe makes too much filling, and what it does make is too runny. Normally, if a recipe gave me this much trouble, I would just write in bold letters, "DO NOT MAKE AGAIN" in my cookbook. But this was really tasty and the flavor is haunting me. There is Gruyere cheese in there and chervil, people. This tart deserves another chance.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Crowd Pleasing Cake

There are many tastes I remember from childhood, but most of them are tastes I don't taste anymore. My mom's stuffed cabbage, her fried sole with a fresh squeeze of lemon, meatloaf eaten with lots of ketchup, barbecued chicken. All things she made regularly and made well. All things that are no longer a part of this vegetarian's diet. (Or hers for that matter. She went veg a few years after I did.)

Like me, my mom likes cooking and baking equally well and she made lots of yummy treats over the 18 years I spent in her house. This cake was a staple and probably the thing she made most frequently. As a child, I had problems with it. And truthfully, as an adult I struggle with it a bit too. You see, I like nuts. I like them alone and I like them in savory things, but I don't like them all that much in sweets. Never in ice cream, and I prefer them to be absent in cookies, brownies, cakes, what have you. I make an incredible nut tart around the holidays and the only reason I know it's incredible is because people have told me so. I have never tried it.

I make this cake because other people don't seem to share in my uncertain feelings about nuts. People LOVE this cake. Everyone from the very young to the very old feels passionately that it is the best coffeecake. Who am I to argue? For me, it does have some very redeeming qualities. There are the chocolate chips of course and lots of struesel topping. The cake part has a full cup of sour cream in it so it is very moist. It can be made a day in advance and it also can be frozen for up to a month. Most of all, it is truly a crowd pleaser and it's great to have a few of those in your cooking or baking arsenal.

What are your crowd pleasers?

Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

Serves 10-12


1 cup sugar

cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sour cream

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

tsp. salt
1 cup chocolate chips

cup chopped walnuts


cup flour
cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa
tsp. cinnamon
cup (1/2 stick) butter, chilled, and cut into small pieces
cup chopped walnuts
-1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a tube pan (also called an angel food cake pan). In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter at medium speed until lightened in color and well-combined. Add eggs, vanilla, and sour cream, beat until mixed well. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and mix until just combined. Mix in chocolate chips and nuts by hand. Scrape batter into pan.

For the struesel: In a medium bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa. Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or your fingers, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips, then sprinkle on top of the batter.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Place on rack for 10 minutes. Carefully turn cake out on to rack upside down, then using another rack placed on the bottom of the cake, re-invert to right side up. Allow to cool completely.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pasta with a Side of Memories

I made this pasta the other night to go with the garlic bread and roasted tomato caprese. Although this is only the second time I have made it, I can honestly say it is a favorite of mine. It has so many delightful flavors and textures and it is very versatile. Parts of it can be made in advance, and the whole dish can be made a day ahead without suffering any ill effects.

This dish comes from a cookbook called
From the Earth to the Table which was written by John Ash, one of the pioneers of California wine country cooking. This cookbook is not vegetarian, although over half of the recipes are meat-free, and it is one that I turn to over and over, especially when I am craving exceptionally fresh and flavorful food. Ash has a fabulous restaurant in Santa Rosa - just north of the Napa Valley - where I was lucky enough to have a lovely, if solitary, meal.

I'm sure we all have some time in our lives that we would like to, if not forget, then to go back and live differently. Mid-1998 to the end of 2000 was like that for me. I went through a messy divorce, began a relationship with a not-so-good guy, and worked at a job that I hated. In March of 2000, I quit my job and took a road trip to clear my head. First, I went to Arizona to visit the not-so-good guy, but after that the trip got much better. I spent a few days in L.A. with my dear friend Karen, I flew to Mexico on a free ticket, and once back in the States, I slowly meandered my way up the West Coast enjoying the incredible scenery on offer.

For the most part, I ate very cheaply, but I did splurge at John Ash. I dressed up, brought my book, and treated myself to a nice dinner. I don't remember what I ate, although I do remember that I was blown away by how fresh and tasty everything was. I remember that I was reading
The Grapes of Wrath - savoring every word on the page - and I remember that I wished I had a date across the table from me. I did not wish it was the not-so-good guy.

A week or so later, I arrived back in Seattle. It took me another month or two, but I did break it off with the not-so-good guy. A few months later, I met my husband who has been a wonderful dinner date every since.

A few words on the recipe. The first time I made it, I used fresh cranberry beans that I bought at the Farmer's Market. Sadly, I don't have any left in my freezer, so I just used good canned cannelini beans and they blended in beautifully. Ash suggests that the sun-dried tomatoes are optional, I think they are essential both for color and flavor. I made some changes that I won't bore you with, just personal preferences. This pasta is really a beauty because it is great at room temperature as well as hot.

For the pesto, you will want to roast about 3 large cloves of garlic. To do so, place the unpeeled cloves on a small piece of foil, drizzle them with olive oil, fold them up in the foil packet and then put them in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes. A toaster oven is perfect for this if you have one. They should feel soft to the touch. Squeeze the garlic out of the skins and proceed with the recipe.

Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower and Parsley Pesto

Adapted from
From the Earth to the Table
Serves 6

You can make the pesto five days and roast the cauliflower one day before you finish the pasta.
Slicing the cauliflower (as opposed to just breaking it into florets) give you more surface area for caramelization - a good thing.

1 medium cauliflower (2 pounds or so), sliced
1/2 thick vertically
Olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. tubular shaped pasta, such as penne or rigatoni

Parsley Pesto (recipe follows)

cup pitted Kalamata olives
cup sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained

Thinly shaved or grated Parmesan cheese for garnishing

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle both sides of the cauliflower lightly with olive oil, then liberally with pepper and salt. Arrange on a single layer on a baking sheet. Put in th eoven ad roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is lightly browned and tender. Break into large irregular pieces and set aside.

In a large pot of lightly salted boiling cooking water, cook the pasta until just al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss the hot pasta with the Parsley Pesto, cauliflower, olives, tomatoes, and beans, adding a bit of the reserved water if the mixture seems to dry. Top with cheese and serve warm or at room temperature. (
Can be made one day ahead. Allow to cool completely and then store, covered, in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving or reheat until it is warm.)

Parsley Pesto

Makes a generous cup

4 cups packed fresh parsley leaves and tender stems, coarsely chopped

1 tbsp. roasted garlic

2 tbsp. pine nuts

2 tbsp. Parmesan or Asiago cheese

Grated zest of 1 lemon

cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the parsley, garlic, pine nuts, cheese, lemon zest, and olive oil in a food processor or blender, and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

An Ina Kinda Day

I have four of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks in my collection and I use them with surprising regularity. If you are new here, I am a vegetarian - something Ina definitely is not. Like not even close. But I love her books and love her recipes. I use many of the dessert ones and also get a lot of mileage out of the soup, salad, and vegetable chapters.The dinner I made last night contained two recipes from her latest book, Back to Basics.

Do you remember the garlic bread from your childhood? The one I remember is from some "Italian" restaurant in the suburb of Seattle where I grew up. My parents are transplanted New Yorkers and I think the hardest part about moving West was the loss of good Italian food and good bagels. (It has gotten better, but we are by no means close to what NY has to offer.) We would go to this restaurant and my brothers and I would chow on garlic bread which consisted of styrofoam-like bread, slathered with butter, and liberally sprinkled with garlic salt. There may have even been some green can Parmesan cheese on there for good measure. Needless to say we loved it, but there is no way I would eat that now.

This is real garlic bread. Ciabatta bread, a heady concoction of lots of garlic, parsley, and fresh oregano sauteed with salt and pepper in a good amount of olive oil, and a very restrained amount of butter - especially for Ina. This is baked in the oven for only 10 minutes - just enough for the all the flavors to mingle and for the bread to get nice and warm - not enough to toughen the bread. In true Ina form, this recipe is found in the Vegetables section of the book!

The other recipe I made yesterday was for this Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad. For me it was one of those - why didn't I think of that?! - moments. Here in Seattle, we are fortunate to have amazing produce. We get incredible spring asparagus and peas, summer berries that people all over the country would pay a fortune for, and wild mushrooms all fall. We do not, however, get good tomatoes. If you grow them yourself, you can get a decent tomato now and then, but I have never experienced the New Jersey tomato. If I did, I think I would cry.

I love tomatoes so I eat them anyway. But Caprese salad never did much for me. Mozzarella doesn't have that much flavor, so if your tomatoes are tasteless, why exactly would you eat it? Enter Ina and her good idea to roast the tomatoes. That way, you can concentrate the flavor and give it a little boost with olive oil, salt, pepper, a little sugar, and a little balsamic vinegar. Eating this last night really was a revelation and a recipe I will make again and again.

Garlic Ciabatta Bread
Adapted from
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
Serves 8

To make my cooking healthier, I always add a minimal amount of oil when I am sauteing. For this recipe, you will want to add more - perhaps not the full
1/2 cup called for in the recipe, but at least 1/4 cup. You want the garlic and herbs nice and moist so they can be easily spread on the bread.

6 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

cup fresh parsley
2 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves

1 tsp. kosher salt

tsp. freshly ground black pepper
cup olive oil
1 large ciabatta bread

2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the garlic, parsley, oregano, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until finely minced. (
DN: A mini food processor is perfect for this if you have one.) Heat the olive oil in a medium saute pan over low heat. Add the garlic and herb mixture and cook for 3 minutes, until the garlic is tender but not browned. Remove from the heat and set aside. (DN: You can leave this for several hours if need be.)

Cut the ciabatta in half horizontally, running a serrated knife parallel to the board. Spoon the garlic mixture onto the bottom half and spread the btuter on the top half and place together.

Bake the bread for 5 minutes, then unwrap and discard the foil. Bake for another 5 minutes. Slice crosswise and serve warm.

Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad
Adapted from
Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
Serves 6

This is essentially a simple salad so the components are very important. If you have access to very fresh mozzarella, now is the time to splurge. If you live in Seattle, DeLaurenti makes their own and it is amazing. Also, use your best olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, even your best sea salt. You will taste the difference.

12 plum tomatoes

1/4 cup quality olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 1/2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp. sugar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

16 oz fresh mozzarella

12 basil leaves, julienned or chopped

Sea salt

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan, cut sides up, in a single layer. Drizzle with the olive il and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with the garlic, sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Roast for 2 hours until the tomatoes are concentrated and begin to caramelize. Allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature. (
DN: These can be made up to 1 day in advance. Allow to cool and then store in the refrigerator. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.)

Cut the mozzarella into slightly less than 1/2 inch thick. If the slices of mozzarella are larger than the tomatoes, but the mozzarella slices in half. Layer the tomatoes alternately with the mozzarella on a platter and scatter the basil on top. Sprinkly lightly with sea salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Homemade Peanut Brittle

(Is it just me, or does this piece of brittle look like a reversed Minnesota?)

When I made the
Peanut Brittle Caramel Crunch Ice Cream Pie the other night, I opted to make my own peanut brittle. This was partly because I feel compelled to do such things, partly because I wanted to have some left over, and partly because this recipe is so incredibly easy.

It may not be traditional, but it is fast and the results are incredible. I have no idea where I got this recipe - all I know is that I copied it out of one of my mom's recipe books after eating it at her house. All you need is a bowl, a spoon, a baking sheet, and a microwave. Oh, and an oven mitt. You'll definitely want one of those.

Peanut Brittle

Makes about 1 pound

1 1/2 cups unsalted dry roasted peanuts

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

pinch of salt

1 tbsp. butter

1 tsp. vanilla

1 1/4 tsp. baking soda, measured into a small bowl

Butter or spray baking sheet. In microwave-proof bowl, combine peanuts, sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Microwave on high until mixture bubbles vigorously, about 6 minutes. Using and oven mitt, remove mixture and stir in vanilla and butter. Return to microwave for another 2 minutes. Again using oven mitt, remove bowl from microwave. Working quickly, add baking soda to candy and stir briskly - mixture will foam. Immediately pour onto prepared sheet and spread as thinly as possible with the back of the mixing spoon or a spatula. Let stand until cool, 30-45 minutes. Break into pieces.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Peanut Brittle and Caramel Crunch Ice Cream Pie

I could tell you a few things about this pie. For example, it weighed well over 6 pounds - I wouldn't know exactly how much because my kitchen scale tops out at 6 and I was too lazy to carry it upstairs to the bathroom scale. Another thing I could tell you would be that making it reminded me of making bread. Time consuming but without a lot of hands-on time - just babysitting time.

But all you really need to know is in the title of the post.

If you took a look at my "Desserts" notebook, recipes I have been cutting out of magazines for the past 16 years, you would notice a heavy bias toward chocolate. I do have those "other" recipes that jumped out at me for one reason or another and this is one of them. The crust is a basic graham cracker crust with some crushed peanuts thrown in. Then you have a layer of ice cream drizzled with peanut butter, homemade caramel sauce, and (my added touch) homemade peanut brittle. On top of that you have another layer of ice cream which is also drizzled with peanut butter, caramel sauce and peanut brittle around the edges.

This pie typifies me as a baker. After I globbed the peanut butter and caramel sauce on the top, I realized that I could done it much more artfully. I could have smoothed the peanut butter better and could have piped the caramel on top in a crisscross pattern - how lovely that would have looked! Note to self for next time. Artisitc is not my game, delicious is, and this was truly extraordinary. No one complained about the gloppy looking top.

Peanut Brittle and Caramel Crunch Ice Cream Pie

Adapted from Bon Appetit

Serves 8-10

In shopping for the ice cream, I found out that Haagen Dazs has a new line of ice creams called "Five". Each flavor only has five ingredients making the flavor more pure and actually lower in fat. I was thrilled with the vanilla - you could see the flecks from the bean throughout the ice cream.

Caramel Sauce

3/4 cup whipping cream

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

2 tbsp. (1/4 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

3/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup light corn syrup


9 whole graham crackers

1/4 cup (packed dark brown sugar

5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup roasted cocktail peanuts

3 pints premium vanilla ice cream, slightly softened

5 tbsp. natural style creamy peanut butter

1 cup coarsely chopped peanut brittle

For the caramel sauce:

Place cream in a small saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Bring just to simmer. Mix in butter and sea salt; set vanilla cream aside.

Stir sugar, 1/3 cup water, and corn syrup in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until syrup turns deep amber, brushing down sides with wet pastry brush and swirling pan occasionally, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in vanilla cream (mixture will bubble). Set sauce aside.

For the pie:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 9-inch diameter pie dish with foil. Finely grind graham crackers and brown sugar in processor. Add butter and vanilla; blend until moist crumbs form. Add nuts; blend just until finely chopped. Using plastic wrap as aid, press crumbs firmly onto bottom and up sides of foil-lined pie dish. Freeze 15 minutes.

Bake crust until brown, about 15 minutes. Freeze 1 hour. Using foil, lift crust from dish; carfully peel off foil. Return crust to pie dish. Drizzle 1/2 cup caramel sauce over bottom of crust. Freeze 30 minutes. Spoon 1 1/2 pints ice cream into crust; smooth top. Drizzle 3 tbsp. peanut butter over, then 2 tbsp. sauce. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup brittle. Freeze 1 hour. Spoon remaining 1 1/2 pints ice cream over; smooth top. Drizzle 2 tbsp. peanut butter over, then 2 tbsp. sauce. Sprinkle edge of pie with 1/2 cup brittle. Freeze 4 hours.

(Do ahead: Pie can be made 3 days ahead; tent with foil and freeze. Cover and chill remaining sauce.)

Cut pie into wedges. Rewarm sauce and pass separately.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bringing the Tropics Home

Last week, my little family and I went for a vacation to Kauai which is one of the islands in Hawaii. As I wrote about here, it is a good idea to get out of the Seattle gray skies and drizzle at least once each winter to keep your sanity - if possible. We have had more sun this winter than usual, but also more cold and a LOT more snow. Suffice it to say that I was really ready to see the sun and to have it be warm.

But it was not to be. Kauai is the "rainy" island and we were staying at the "rainy" end of it, but usually that just means that, in the midst of sunny 80 degree days, rain clouds periodically pass by and drench you. I'm OK with that. Our week was a little different. Some kind of storm system was settled over the islands last week and we had colder than usual temperatures, quite a bit of rain, and a lot of wind. Oh, and not much sun.

We still had a lovely vacation - we were all together in a nice place and the boys got to play on the beach and even stick their toes in the water. We went to an incredible park with the best play structure that any of us had ever seen. Randy and I got a babysitter one night and went out for dinner. And each night at 5pm, we would venture over to the bar for happy hour and the cocktail of the day. The boys were particularly fond of pineapple and guava juice. We were particularly fond of anything with rum.

It was really so nice to be away from our stressful and busy lives back home. It felt luxurious to just sit for a while - and not at the computer! I finished 2 1/2 books and it would have been 3 if I had not chosen Salman Rushdie's latest. He is a tough read.

Now that we are back, I find myself missing the tropics - even if the tropics weren't that tropical for us this year. I wanted to re-create some of those flavors for my clients this week and found the most amazing soup. This tropical gazpacho is quite different than the
gazpacho I make gallons of each summer. Most of the vegetables, along with some bread, are all pureed together. Here is the kicker - there is pineapple in there too. It may sound weird, but I assure you the flavor is fantastic. The pineapple doesn't overpower, just lends a slight sweetness and yes, tropical-ness. I would encourage you to taste as you go and what you think it needs. I added additional pineapple and it's juice, plus more lime. I served this soup with Sweet Potato Roti and Golden Basmati Rice Pilaf.

Tropical Gazpacho
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites

Serves 4-6

4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

1 English cucumber, peeled and seeded

1 medium red pepper, diced

1 small red onion, diced

2 medium tomatoes, diced

1 cup canned unsweetened pineapple chunks in juice

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

generous pinch cayenne, or more to taste

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 1/2 cups crusty bread, crusts removed, torn into chunks

3 cups tomato juice

salt and pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor, combine the garlic, 1/2 the cucumbers, 1/2 the bell peppers, the red onion, 1/2 the tomatoes, the pineapple and its juice, vinegar, cayenne, cumin, bread chunks, and tomato juice and puree until smooth. (
DN: If you do this in the blender, it will be quite full. Be sure to hang on to the top when you turn it on.)

Transfer to a bowl, then stir in the remaining vegetables. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Chocolate, Hazelnut, and Ginger Biscotti

I often get asked how I plan menus for the my clients. Do they request certain things? Do I have an existing list that they choose from? The truth is, no - I just bring what I feel like making and they eat it. It's a pretty ideal situation because it allows me to be creative and also indulge any cravings I might have. Those cravings can come from just something I am in the mood for, from seasonal ingredients, or from trying to recreate a flavor I enjoyed.

Last week on our vacation, Randy bought some macadamia nut and ginger biscotti at a little bakery on Kauai (macadamia nuts - as you might imagine - are everywhere in Hawaii). They were hard as rocks so I didn't have more than a bite, but it got me craving a chocolate ginger biscotti I made years ago. I love chocolate, I love ginger, and the combination here is intoxicating. These are quite crisp - they have no butter - but they have an incredibly rich taste.

A few notes about this recipe. If there is a Trader Joe's near you, buy your crystallized ginger there. It is very soft and easy to chop. I used to buy it in the bulk section of grocery stores and always found it to be stale and fibrous. Make sure to chop the hazelnuts nice and fine - it will facilitate the slicing later. This dough is very sticky, so I recommend keeping your hands moist while you work with it - either by using cooking spray or water. Finally, the recipe calls for drizzling the white chocolate over the finished cookies. I can never get white chocolate to a "drizzling" consistency so I just dunked half in the melted stuff. Can anyone help me out here? What is the white chocolate secret??

Chocolate, Hazelnut and Ginger Biscotti

Adapted from
Bon Appetit
Makes about 25

2/3 cups flour
1 cup sugar

cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda

tsp. salt
4 large eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
cup hazelnuts, toasted, husked, chopped
cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

6 oz. good-quality white chocolate (such as Baker's or Lindt)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift first 5 ingredients into mixing bowl. Add 3 eggs and vanilla; beat until blended. Stir in chocolate chips. nuts, and crystallized ginger (dough will be firm). Sprinkle a little cocoa powder on a work surface and either spray your hands with cooking spray, or run them under the faucet. Turn dough out onto work surface and divide in half. Form each half into a 12-inch log. Transfer logs to prepared baking sheet, spacing 3 inches apart. (
DN: You can also use two separate sheets.) Flatten each to 2 1/2 inch wide log. Whisk remaining egg in small bowl to blend. Brush logs with some of the beaten egg.

Bake until logs are dry looking and firm to the touch, about 30-35 minutes. Cool logs on baking sheet(s) 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Transfer logs to cutting board. Using serrated knife, cut logs crosswise into scant
1/2 inch slices. Place slices, cut side down, on large baking sheets. Bake until firm, about 15 minutes. Transfer biscotti to racks and cool completely.

Stir white chocolate in top of double boiler set over barely simmering water until melted and smooth. (
DN: If you don't have a double boiler, just place chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set that over the water. Just be sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water.) Remove from over water. Place biscotti on rack over baking sheet. Dip one half of each biscotti in white chocolate. (Can be made up to 2 weeks ahead. Store in an airtight container.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Making Ravioli Easier

I have a few mental lists rattling around in my brain and I often think I need to write them down somewhere. Since most of them have to do with food, the most logical place to do so would be here. I have the Tools I Can't Live Without list. I have the Desert Island Cookbooks list. I have the Top 10 Hated Tasks in the Kitchen list. And I also have the Things I Need to Learn How to Make or Do list.

On that last list, you would find sourdough starter, croissants, puff pastry, fondant covered cakes, homemade ice cream - but at the very top of the list, you would find homemade pasta. I know pasta isn't hard to make (neither is ice cream for that matter), it's just something I haven't committed to yet. I don't have the right equipment and I just haven't wrapped my brain around trying it. Maybe I fear that once I try it, I will never be happy with dried again. Maybe I'm just a little lazy in the pasta department.

Before we left for Kauai, I got it in my head that I wanted to make ravioli for my clients. I love ravioli but I hate ordering them in restaurants. In my experience, you pay $18 for four two-bite pillows that inevitably contain butternut squash, ricotta and sage, and are swimming in a brown butter sauce. Yes, that kind of ravioli tasted good the first time I had them and now I am
over it. So, when I found this recipe that sounded like it just might be the perfect flavor combination, I had to try it. I know that, in a pinch, you can use won ton wrappers as a stand-in for fresh pasta and so I decided to give it a whirl.

I have to say, I was really happy with how this turned out - and believe me when I say that I am my own worst critic. I could of course tell how this dish would be transcendent with fresh pasta, but the wrappers worked really well and were an incredible time saver. They are more toothsome than pasta but so easy to work with. The filling had just the right amount of crunch, creaminess, and savory flavor and the sauce was the perfect accompaniment. I am kind of hot and cold on roasted red peppers and wasn't sure how I would feel about a sauce that starred them. But it was subtle enough to let the flavors of the ravioli shine through, but assertive enough not to just be red sauce.

Goat Cheese Ravioli with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Adapted from The Farm to Table Cookbook

Makes approximately 24 ravioli, serving 4

For the ravioli:

You will not use all the won ton wrappers, but the leftovers can be wrapped and frozen for next time.

2 packages won ton wrappers

8 oz. fresh goat cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1/4 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, minced

1/2 basil leaves

1 egg, beaten

For the roasted red pepper sauce:

You can, of course, use jarred peppers here. If you are going to roast your own, do three large ones and if you have left over, just add them to your next salad. They keep well in the refrigerator for days.

2 cups roasted red peppers

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. lemon juice

2 tsp. good quality balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp. warm water

Cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Lightly flour a baking sheet and set aside.

2. Combine the cheeses and hazelnuts in a medium mixing bowl.

3. On a cutting board, lay the basil leaves in a stack with the stem ends toward you. Roll the leaves cigar-style and thinly slice them into ribbons. Add to the cheese mixture.

4. Have the won ton wrappers, the cheese filling, the egg wash, a pastry brush, and a pastry cutter (or small sharp knife) ready in front of you. Take one wrapper at a time (be sure you have one because they stick together) and place it front of you. Spoon approximately a tablespoon of filling into the center of the wrapper and flatten it slightly. Brush the egg wash over all the exposed surface of the wrapper, and top with another wrapper. Push out any air bubbles.

5. Using the pastry cutter or the sharp knife cut off the edges so that you either have squares or rough circles. Be sure to not cut into the filling at all, just excess wrapper. Place ravioli on the baking sheet as you work and sprinkle lightly with flour.

6. To prepare the sauce, in a blender mix the bell peppers, oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and water until smooth. Season with the cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the sauce to a small saucepan and gently warm over medium-low heat. (
The sauce can be made up to two days in advance. Cover and refrigerate.)

7. Bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle boil. Gently drop the ravioli into the water, allowing 6 ravioli per person. (You may have to cook the ravioli in batches to avoid overcrowding.) Cook until the ravioli float to the surface and the pasta is tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the ravioli and divide among plates. Top with the warm sauce and serve.