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29 December 2010

Leg of Lamb and Christmas Eve Dinner...

I am a creature of habit. I am usually with my family on Christmas Day, opening gifts and drinking coffee with rum and snacking on chocolate chip cookies. However, with the way the last year has gone, it would be one of the few times, I would not be with my family and there would be no Christmas Day celebration. My in laws like to get out for Christmas, preferring instead the quiet rain of Monterey to the "affair" of Christmas. I do not blame them. Steven and I had the house to ourselves to spend a quiet Christmas together.
As a family, we opted instead to have Christmas on Christmas Eve with a very French inspired dinner. I marinated a leg of lamb for 3 days in white wine, dijon, lemon and shallots, rosemary, thyme and mint.
When planning a beautiful meal, timing and preparation are everything. I put all my ingredients into their little bowls, portioned out exactly. It makes things go quick and you're not pulling out a bunch of stuff from the cabinet or fridge.
It's called "Mise en Place" (meese in plas) and it is the one thing each chef is responsible for, setting up their own prep. If you do a lousy job, or someone steals from you... it can hinder your whole shift when working the line on a busy night. So, set your mise and don't let anyone mess with it. Also hide your towels and extra aprons. 

Christmas Eve Dinner 
"Are You Game?" Rubbed and Roasted Leg of Lamb with Zinfandel-Rosemary Gravy
Garlic Whipped Potatoes
Oven-Roasted Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts with Shallot butter
Mascarpone Chai Cheesecake

This is for a 4 1/2 pound boneless leg of lamb.

Marinade:

2 lemons, zested and squeezed (1/4 c juice)
1 cup white wine, Pinot Gris or Chardonnay
2 ea shallots, sliced
1/2 c dijon mustard
1 tbsp, finely chopped rosemary, 
1 tbsp, finely chopped thyme
3 tbsp finely chopped mint leaves
1 tbsp "Are You Game" seasoning from Pollen Ranch
1/2 c olive oil

Mix all ingredients together and place in ziploc bag with Lamb, allow to sit for 24-72 hours, in the refrigerator, turning over every 12 to make sure it is throughly marinated. The longer you marinate, the better... especially if you are serving people who are "scared" of lamb and claim it's "too gamey" (Whatever). 

When you are ready to roast, remove from fridge and let get the chill off. Heat the oven to 400, remove lamb from marinade and dry off. Then, dry rub the roast with:

2 TB "Are You Game"
2 TB freshly chopped mint leaves
2 TB freshly minced garlic

I placed the roast directly on the oven rack (see pic above) and below I placed a baking pan to catch drippings, to which I also added:

1 c. Zinfandel
1/2 c lemon juice
3 rosemary sprigs
1/2 c beef stock 

This is going to reduce as well as catch all the loveliness that will be dripping off the leg of lamb and make your gravy base. 

Let your lamb roast for about 1 1/2 hours, checking the temp with a meat thermometer, until the internal temp is right at 135F, then pull it out, set it on your cutting board and cover with foil. Allow the roast to rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing. Let it go to 145F for a medium roast. Try not to overcook it, unless you are cooking for people who like their meat "done".

Take your oven pan, strain ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce by 1/2, add in 1 TBSP dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Turn off heat and whisk in 2 TBSP unsalted butter. Taste, taste taste. Adjust flavors and consistency. You can add a slurry of cornstarch and cold water (1:1 ratio) if you need to thicken the gravy. 


Now, I am not going to sit here and give you all my secrets. I mean, garlic whipped potatoes and oven roasted veggies are not rocket science and are fairly easy. If you require a recipe, ask and I will be more than happy to personally share my techniques. With the proliferation of food blogs and online material, I think you can find a plethora of recipes for those. I am also not posting a recipe for my cheesecake. I have to keep some things private, and one day someone will PAY me millions for that recipe... this is all you get:

Not planning on anything for New Year's Eve. 2011 should be an interesting year. It is already one full of HOPE and CHANGE. I am excited to continue this blog and working on new stuff to bring you. I will actually have a kitchen of my own and space to work. So, with that I close this blog of 2010. There may be one more before the year's end... but I am so unpredictable, and who knows what will happen in the next few days. Well, signing off for now... 
Eat Well, Live Happy!

Chef Constance Bearden.
Peace

09 December 2010

With Whisk and Knife!: Baking Season Continues-with Fennel Pollen

With Whisk and Knife!: Baking Season Continues-with Fennel Pollen: "The weather is dark and dreary with intermittent rain and fog... ah, the Central Valley of California winter. This is also perfect..."

Baking Season Continues-with Fennel Pollen

The weather is dark and dreary with intermittent rain and fog... ah, the Central Valley of California winter. This is also perfect baking weather! The oven on making the kitchen all toasty and the windows get condensation, allowing my weird cat to lick them. The smell of baking permeates the house too... whether it's chocolate chip cookies, or cake.. the smell of baking sugar, eggs and flour is just comforting. More so comforting to me, it the smell of anise, or fennel. As an Italian American, I love love love this smell. It reminds me of my heritage, of cousins and big bowls of pasta and my grandmother, in her wheelchair, making cannoli and pizzelles in their small apartment kitchen in Vista, California. THAT smell, of anise and fennel, more than most, makes me miss being a child at Christmas.
This afternoon, I decided to make biscotti, the twice baked hard cookies that come in those wrappers sitting on the counter at your local coffee place. But mine, are better. They are made from scratch and most of all love. I can't help it, there is too much history behind this particular recipe. I also have another biscotti recipe too, that aren't typical "biscotti"... but those come later. I also am using a new flavoring, Fennel Pollen. (wha..?) Yes, it's true. I made a friend and I am utilizing organic, local, and sustainable fennel pollen from Pollen Ranch. And, as it turns out, it is wonderful!! There is a certain flavor from the pollen that just takes these cookies to "another level"... more gourmet, more... um... just MORE. 

Recipe...
credit to my grandmother, Josephine Altieri

Preheat oven to 375

Spray a sheet pan with non stick spray or grease, 
or use parchment paper

1/2 cup shortening, melted
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 TB Fennel Pollen
1 TB Vanilla extract
3 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 TB baking powder

Mix together shortening, sugar, eggs, pollen and vanilla. Beat well, until light. Sift together the flour and baking powder and add to the egg mixture in batches, mixing well after each addition. It will be a very stiff dough, so don't think that you did something wrong. Divide and form into 2 logs, press down to 1/2 inch thickness. Bake the logs 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown and firm to touch.
Remove and allow to cook until you can handle them. Slice crosswise on the bias using a serrated blade. Place cut side down back onto baking sheets and place in oven for 5-7 minutes per side until lightly toasted. 
Remove from oven, allow to cool and place in air tight container for up to 2 weeks. 
You can also melt some chocolate and coat these particular biscotti.

 They are, yes, relatively plain, but great with your espresso in the morning. They also travel and ship well...in time for the holidays!!
I have more recipes coming... especially this weekend and next, so check back often!

Buon Natale!!



06 December 2010

The beginning of the Baking Season

I call it the Baking Season. It's the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas when I stock up on flour, sugars, and all the necessary items to bake, a lot. I make pies, rum cakes, cheesecake, but mostly I bake cookies. I will bake a cookie a day, especially in the 2 weeks before Christmas.. which means it started yesterday. I pulled out my tattered and well worn culinary school textbook "On Cooking, v.2" and found the recipe for "Spiced Oatmeal Cookies" with my little penciled in notes along side of it. The recipe had called for orange juice concentrate and I had made a note to use strong brewed chai tea instead, and to use all dark brown sugar instead of the standard white granulated. This is a really great cookie, and they keep and travel well too. And what a way to start off a dreary Sunday morning but with the magical smells of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg...with coffee brewing in the back ground!



The Recipe
Adapted from On Cooking 2nd Edition Recipe 32.37


2 cups dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups shortening
2 eggs
2 TB strong brewed chai tea
1 TB lemon juice
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
2 cups oats, old fashioned
1 1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 325F. Cream together shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. If you are having an issue with the brown sugar clumping, place it in the microwave for a few seconds to warm it and it will incorporate into the shortening better. Add eggs, tea and lemon juice and beat until well incorporated and fluffy.
Blend flour and spices together in a separate bowl and add them in batches to the creamed mixture. Mix in oats and raisins. Portion the dough, walnut sized drops, onto parchment paper covered or lightly greased cookie sheets and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown around the edges. Store in air tight container if they last longer than a day... 

Feels like you're right there, huh?

Since this is the first cookie of the "Baking Season" I will be reporting on more traditional Italian cookies too, like biscotti and pizzelles.. because I found my pizzelle iron. Took me 2 hours on a rainy day digging through all the boxes in my storage, but I found it. Enjoy these Spiced Oatmeal Cookies with a glass of milk or as breakfast with your coffee...


30 November 2010

Just holiday rambling....

Thanksgiving was pretty quiet around here. I spent 3 days prepping and configuring food items in the fridge and oven and in 20 minutes it was all gone, albeit well enjoyed. 

I love setting myself up. Makes things go smoothly, quickly and organized.

I am thankful this year. Maybe more so than in other years, I just felt like it, there is no real reason to be.

It was very traditional, although we also had a ham. I de-boned the turkey and cooked just the breast. I made dressing, similar to my Grandmothers (kinda heavy, like bread pudding)...which I didn't know about until my Aunt Pat brought it up via email... although, I did not include raisins in it. (I am a raisin snob, they belong in cereal and the occasional cookie.) Steven made his candied yams... sliced and piled up with layers of butter, pecans, brown sugar and topped with marshmallows. (reminiscent of Anna potatoes). 



We also had Brussels sprouts with bacon, mashed potatoes and 3 desserts: pumpkin-apple butter pie, pecan pie and a pumpkin roll. 
There was a great deal of food for 5 people, but my in laws took food to their shut-in people and we shared with others. I was disappointed in my pie crust, which ended up tough but tasty. I think I over worked it..in fact I am sure I did. Minor mistakes from someone who should know better. Steven is always on me to do better. But, sometimes, in the heat of it, you do what is good enough, especially if you are the only one doing it and there is a ton of other crap you are trying to accomplish and you are out of ingredients. It happens. It happens in restaurants all the time. But, there, you MAKE it happen. Run to the store, do it over and do it right. At home, you get lazy and since being out of work has dwindled the bank account to nil, it is hard to justify doing it over. 
Christmas is coming. It is my favorite just barely above Halloween. It of course has to do with food.
Cookies mainly.. which in the coming weeks will be my focus. I have a list of recipes to try, including pistachio biscotti and damn it....I have to find my pizzelle iron! Arrrrgh! But, there are cookies to be made. 
Anyhow, this Christmas... I will make cookies and we will eat them. 
Thanksgiving is the beginning of the baking season for me, no matter if I am working or not... This is the time of year to bake and I will do so... I am going to try new things, products and flavors, and I'll let you know how that goes. This year, despite the depression, I will bake my way through, and put love in it, because that is all I have left.

23 November 2010

Carnitas-left of center

Here in the rural town of Hughson, California, we have one (real) grocery store for 6000 people. It's a La Perla Mexican market, with a meat counter. Steven and I sometimes walk down there and pick up a burrito from the kitchen they also have in the back, full of typical Mexican cuisine, or grab an empanada with custard or apple. My favorite is the meat counter though, they have all sorts of cuts of pork, beef and chicken or they will cut whatever to your specifications. I have found that kitchen Spanish or remembering your high school Spanish is good enough to get through ordering your meats.
I love pork. It is probably my favorite medium as far as meat goes. (pause for insight) Oh, yes, the pig. And I love what Mexicans do with it. Boil, roast, braise, with some sort of thick sauce and salt and maybe brown it in manteca, mix some nuts, chilis and chocolate...okay anyhow, I love it. I am going to go off on a tangent if I don't tell my story... and since this is Thanksgiving week, I don't have a lot of time to sit here and write... there are pies that are not going to make themselves.
So, we go down to La Perla and I get exactly what I want, 4 pounds of pork shoulder. Steven has been begging for carnitas... slow braised shoulder that is then roasted in the oven after shredding it. Since I received those samples from Pollen Ranch, I have been chomping at the bit to use the "Big Devil" spice mix. I love spicy stuff, and when you open the tin of this mixture, it smells hot (and will cause you to sneeze, a lot, do not inhale too deeply like me). So, I pulled out the crockpot... and put this little ditty together:

4# pork shoulder
1 1/2 fat tbsp Big Devil
1 tsp kosher or sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil

Rub the outside of the pork with the salt and Big Devil and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Place olive oil in skillet and brown the exterior of the pork shoulder golden brown, be careful when handling hot meat in hot oil.
In crockpot:

1 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup apricot nectar (Kerns)
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp Big Devil
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp garlic
1/2 white onion, sliced

After you have browned the meat place in crockpot on HIGH for 6-8 hours. Go do something else....leave it alone.
When you return, heat oven to 400, remove meat from crockpot with tongs and place on sheet pan, or in a large bowl. Be careful, it is hot and is going to fall apart. You can reserve the crockpot juices for another use (soup, more meat braising etc.) Anyhow, take 2 forks and pull it apart until it is however shredded you would like. Place in oven for 20 minutes to render off any other fat left and to crisp the ends of the shredded meat.

Now, you have carnitas. Do with it what you like, put it in tacos, burritos, make sopes or tortas, whatever, just enjoy it! The flavor of this meat is so good... there is this sweetness from the apricot nectar, but then residual heat on the back of the tongue from the Big Devil...and the crunch of the overcooked (burnt) ends of meat... Oh Joy!

I also picked up some crema at La Perla too, which is Mexican sour cream but with a brighter, fresher taste. I mixed a tablespoon of Big Devil and a tablespoon of apricot preserves into about 4oz or crema and came up with a little awesome-ness to tie everything together too... and I would use that on anything if given the chance.
 Have a Happy Thanksgiving Everyone, don't overwork or over-stress, just over eat!

... may your Turkey breast be moist, potatoes well whipped and gravy, smooth as glass! 

12 November 2010

Pollen....

I mentioned on my last post that I had received some samples of dill and fennel pollens as well as a pollen/spice mixture called "Big Devil". Usually when you hear the word "pollen" images of sneezing fits and Kleenix piles come to mind, at least for me. But not this stuff.... after preparing dinner tonight I have a new respect for dill.
I have always like dill things: relish, pickles..etc, but the actual herb, it has always made me wince. Too grassy feeling in my mouth and I always felt like I was having to spit something out. But using the pollen gave me all the flavor of dill without all that grass.
I chose to do salmon basically because I wanted something simple and it said on the back of the package that it was excellent with salmon. I love wild caught sock-eye salmon, mostly because I like the texture. Wild caught is firmer and less fatty.
I made a compound butter out of lemon zest, kosher salt and the pollen and placed it in the freezer to firm up while the salmon cooked. I heated up a 12inch cast iron skillet in the oven (450) and seasoned the salmon: sea salt, a generous spoonful of pollen, drizzle of olive oil and lemon zest...
Once the skillet was hot, I swirled some butter in the pan and placed the salmon in, meat side down. Placing it back in the oven for 7 minutes. Heating the pan would get me the caramelized crust I wanted immediately and get the salmon cooking quickly. I made my red rice and steamed some broccoli...
What came next was pretty awesome...
I removed the salmon from the oven...the dill pollen, salt and lemon zest had carmelized to the meat, giving off this toasted dilly buttery aroma.. yes, aroma! The house still smells late into the evening...

Okay here is the recipe:

4 each, 6oz salmon, skin on
4 tbsp dill pollen, available HERE
2 tsp kosher or sea salt
zest of one lemon
Coat salmon with ingredients and place meat side down into hot cast iron pan and into a 450 degree oven for 7 minutes...

Compound butter:
4 tbsp butter, unsalted
1 tbsp dill pollen
1/2 tsp kosher salt
make sure the butter is room temperature and mix ingredients together. Place on piece of plastic wrap and roll into a tube, place in freezer while salmon cooks. After salmon is cooked, remove butter  from freezer, slice a piece off and place on top of hot salmon..it will melt slowly as you enjoy the salmon. (see above photo, in front of the lemon)

I have pork shoulder that will be getting the "Big Devil" treatment next week... I think I am going to go kind of Jamaican with that meal... but we shall see... Big ups to the folks over at Pollen Ranch for the samples.  I am looking forward to whatever else I make next....

10 November 2010

Bread

I have been in the mood for bread baking. The weather has changed and it seems that having the oven on is a good thing. It makes the house warm and inviting without having to have the heater blasting...plus you get the house all smelly with yeasty goodness!
Alas, bread baking has escaped me. The last two things I attempted with yeast, failed. Well, the focaccia wasn't bad, it just wasn't like I remembered. Then I attempted these Parker House rolls in the latest issue of Saveur, a recipe by Tom Colicchio. Well, they ended up like hockey pucks! I followed the recipe to the letter, but, sometimes stuff just doesn't work out. Anyhow, so I have been disappointed with the whole yeasty thing.
I found a new site: yummly.com for recipes and such. It is a pretty cool site, mainly geared towards the home cook... which is totally cool with me, because what did I start as but a home cook? I did not get to be an Executive Chef without first understanding how to feed my family.
Well, I had some molasses, basically enough for one recipe and that would warrant me purchasing more, and I had whole wheat flour... so I made this awesome Molasses Bread. No yeast involved and something that would make the house smell... seasonal.
Needless to say, this was an extremely easy recipe, quick to go together and something tasty to get me out of this funk.

Molasses Bread
found here

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar (I used brown)
1/2 cup molasses (it says "dark" but I don't know of "light" molasses)
1 1/2 cup milk (skim)

Preheat oven to 325, spray a 9x4in loaf pan with non stick spray
Sift  first 4  ingredients together, mix wet ingredients together in separate bowl. Gradually add dry to wet. Mix well, pour into prepared pan and into the oven for 1hour 20 minutes. Cool for 10 and turn out onto rack.
I tasted it right out of the oven... and I was sorta disappointed that I didn't add any ginger. But, I wrapped it in plastic and let it sit overnight on the counter, and needless to say, the next morning, it was full of sheer awesomeness! The outside had this super chewy texture, gummy sorta but in a good way and the way it was so molasses-y.. very dense and dark. It tastes great slathered in butter or cream cheese, or with peanut butter and flax seed (helps lower cholesterol, I am over 40, you know).

Oh, and I am still searching my storage unit for my pasta roller and pizzelle iron... I so need them BEFORE Christmas! But I did take 4 boxes of just pure garbage and turn it into one. Slowly, I am going to get my life in order.

By the way...I am on the Twitter, "chefconstance" if you want to follow my amusing real life tweets. Also, I made a new friend, PollenRanch.. they have sent me samples of Fennel Pollen, Dill Pollen and a rub/seasoning mix called "Big Devil", there is habenero and red chile gound up in it and WOW! it made me sneeze!! So, stuff to play with and talk about...YEA! Got me all giddy when I opened the mail today! More up coming on that fo'sho'...

20 October 2010

A Lull...

I haven't posted in a few weeks, for that I apologize, for you see, things are not stable in my life.
Since I have not cooked for money in a over a year, it is very hard to go into the kitchen without some serious planning. And since my computer died and I turned 40, things have not been going as I have planned.

I had the last tomato last week. Warmed from the Indian Summer Sun, the skin somewhat thick and tough, it was still juicy and full of flavor. Knowing it was the last of the season, I ate it on toasted whole wheat with butter and mayonnaise, and lots of black pepper. It was amazing.

There are 3 bags of flour waiting for recipes in the refrigerator. Remember I said stuff about "Pop's" and banana box groceries? Well, I picked up King Arthur flour for $1 a bag... and how could I resist?
My mother in law owns a bread maker... but I see no use in that. Just another thing to have to wash. So, I made foccacia... It is never as good as what we made in culinary school...all liquidy pouring it out onto the well oiled sheet pan..puffy and almost breathing. I couldn't get it that way...I think since Autumn has come it was too cool in the house for a proper raise and I ended up with a less flattering foccacia. But, it's good enough to eat!! So, today I will be picking up some prosciutto and a nice Malbec or Tempranillo and we will dine al fresco with the sun setting behind us in our tiny little northern Cali town.... I will get back to some more serious stuff next week. I am menu planning as we speak  blog.

Here's a question: what would you like to see? I can do just about anything... if there is a recipe you're having issue with or a technique you can't quite get down... ask me. I am here to help. But for now.. keep on keeping on. And if someday, someone (like a great co. as Sodexo) hires me... I will keep blogging.

25 September 2010

Tuna Pasta-Don't be hatin' on my pasta!!

I have been discussing eating on the cheap, a lot. Growing up we didn't have a lot, my parents raised 5 of us on one income. My mother, while a great baker, was not a tremendous cook. She could make all the staples of  a good Italian household as well as hearty American comfort foods, but things were pretty average. We didn't eat out much, if we did, it was someplace good. I didn't have McDonald's fries until I was in high school.
One of the things my mom made was Tuna Pasta. This is a meal that you can make a crowd and spend almost under $5. Now, I know there are those of you who just turned your nose up and said "eww, tuna pasta?" Ahh, bull. I am sick of people putting this particular dish down before they even try it. Let's just figure, tuna in red sauce is a magical thing. It's way freakin' cheap (especially if there is a 99cent store close by), filling and leftovers can be eaten cold! There's reason enough! And, being Catholic, it's good for Fish on Friday.
I am just going to post it... you make it and then let me know.


Tuna Pasta

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
2 tbsp red onion, fine diced (optional)
1 can tuna, albacore, in water, drained (or if budget is super tight, use the chunk light tuna in oil)
1 8oz can tomato sauce
1 4oz can tomato paste
1 can of water each (12oz)
salt and pepper
crushed red pepper (optional)
8 oz dry macaroni (small pasta shapes: elbow, bowtie, ditalini,etc)

Place olive oil in saucepan and heat. Add garlic, onion and Italian seasoning to hot oil, stirring, do not allow garlic to burn, but just become soft.  Add tuna and mix well, infusing the tuna with the dried herbs. Add in the tomato sauce and water, heat to a soft simmer and allow to cook. Add salt and pepper. Taste. Add more seasoning if needed, or more salt and pepper. Let cook for 15 minutes, thicken a little and let flavors meld. The sauce isn't supposed to be a thick rich sauce. It is supposed to be light. Cook pasta according to package instructions and your taste, I like mine al dente. (a little chewier).
Toss with sauce and serve with a little side salad and Parmesan cheese! If you want it a little heartier, add another can of tuna. You can also stretch this by adding a can of peas or garbanzo beans... or omit the tuna altogether and add the veggies, of course then it is a vegetarian/vegan meal.
Eating is an adventure. Don't be scared to try new things, shop in ethnic markets, or buy cheap.

16 September 2010

Ice Cream Sandwiches

Lately, I have been creating frozen desserts like crazy, there are currently 5 in the freezer right now: nectarine sorbet, vanilla frozen yogurt, peach-sour cream ice cream, sweet cream vanilla and my latest creation, coconut with toasted cashews and caramel ribbon. The last one was made because I got some cashew butter... I know, what does cashew butter have to do with coconut ice cream? Well, when one gets an idea to make ice cream sandwiches, you have to wonder, what flavors shall I create?

I know I have mentioned the fact that I shop at "Pop's"... they have what is called a "banana box groceries". When you are a broke ass you find whatever you can to do what you want.  I love this place because I can buy pounds of baking chocolate for $1 each... Ghiardelli, Lindt, Callebaut. Or King Arthur Flour for a $1 for 5lbs. Just check dates and make sure there are no bugs. I have found cane syrup, Madagascar vanilla, commercial grade chicken stock concentrate... um.. anyhow, lots of great stuff. This is how I come to make interesting things, like cashew butter cookies.

Needless to say this was decadence at it's height for the summer.. I have made some pretty awesome stuff, but as far as OMG! these take it...maybe it was the chocolate ganache?

I searched the internet for a good cookie recipe.. as I have misplaced the best PB cookie recipe (from Park View School Home Econ Class...1983) and I found what I thought may be the right one. It wasn't.
So I adjusted the recipe for what I wanted and came up with this:

Cashew Butter Cookies

16 oz jar cashew butter
4 eggs
1 1/2 cup sugar (am sure brown sugar would make it better)
3 TBSP corn syrup or honey
2 cup flour
1 tsp coarse salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup toasted cashews

Oven at 375.  Whip together your cashew butter, eggs, sugar and corn syrup. Whisk together your dry ingredient  and add a bit at a time to the wet. The mixture is going to be sticky! Seriously. Drop by spoonful onto greased cookie sheet, bake 10 minutes. If you want nice consistently sized cookies, get a scoop.
Remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack while still warm. Store in air tight container, good for a week at room temp.

We tried these cookies at first using this recipe (Cashew Butter Cookies).. the flavor wasn't right and it didn't have enough sugar and there was no salt. In fact the cookie reminded me of those almond cookies you can get at Chinese restaurants... but more like cashew chicken than cookie. They are a good cookie, but for use elsewhere and not in ice cream sandwiches.

The coconut ice cream is a simple affair, utilizing what I had available. I found a number of recipes that called for coconut cream, which I didn't have but coconut milk, I had 3 cans.. and I love evaporated milk in ice cream, especially fat free. There is something about it that gives the ice cream good texture and mouth feel despite being fat free. Anyhow, this is a really easy and quick recipe... and if you have some Malibu Rum (or coconut flavored rum), I recommend adding it.. really heightened the flavor of the ice cream especially after the chocolate bath.

Coconut Ice Cream


1 13-oz can fat free evaporated milk
1 13-oz can Thai coconut milk
2 TB coconut flavored rum
1 TB vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup, shredded sweetened coconut, toastedStir all ingredients, except shredded coconut, together in bowl, and chill for 45 min to an hour. Stir before putting in ice cream freezer. Place in and freeze according to manf. directions.. about 3/4 through of the process, pour in the shredded coconut and allow to mix in. Place in freezer safe container...unless you are going to make sammiches, then you need to fill the cookies before you freeze the ice cream. Then place said cookies with ice cream in freezer while you make the ganache.

I made about 14 cookie sandwiches. Made a simple ganache:

1/2 c. chocolate, semi sweet, chopped small
1/2 c heavy cream
splash of vanilla

 in a double boiler, stir til chocolate melts... then start coating.
 I rolled the edges in some toasted cashews and coconut for decoration.
 Now, I have to bake other cookies, or maybe some sort of cake and fill the middle with one of those frozen concoctions I still have in the freezer.

11 September 2010

Lemon...nuff said

I read other food blogs, and I see how they all work out of similar cookbooks, and chat up each other. I have cooked very little from other blogs, utilizing them mainly to get ideas about how I should do mine. Which can be hard sometimes trying to find my voice and choosing what to discuss. But, Lemon is something that I love to work with, savory or sweet, it is one of my favorite flavors, ever.
Anyhow, this is a big time shout out to Patricia @ Technicolor Kitchen! (Brazil) Thank you for this recipe... yes, I tweaked it some: less sugar and added zest in the crust, but this is the lemon bar recipe I have searched for all my life.
I have yet to find a seriously tart lemon bar recipe until now... this makes your mouth sour.. and I LOVE IT!

Tangy Lemon Lime Bars

Crust:
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour
zest of 1/2 lime 
zest of 1/2 lemon

Topping:
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 eggs 
zest of one lime and one lemon.
¼ cup strained freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup strained freshly squeezed lemon juice
powdered sugar for dusting, optional

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8x8in square with aluminum foil leaving an overhang on two opposite sides. Butter the foil.

Start with the crust: in a medium bowl, combine melted butter with sugar, vanilla and salt. Add flour and mix until just incorporated. Press dough evenly over bottom of pan. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until crust is fully baked, well-browned at the edges and golden brown in the center.
Now, the topping: while crust is baking, stir together sugar and flour in a large bowl until well-mixed. Whisk in eggs. Stir in zest and juices. 
When crust is ready, reduce heat to 300°F, slide rack with pan out and pour filling onto hot crust. Bake 20 to 25 minutes longer, or until topping no longer jiggles when pan is tapped.

Remove from oven to a wire rack to cool completely. Lift up foil liner and transfer bars to a cutting board. Using a long, sharp knife, cut bars into 16  bars and sift powdered sugar over bars, if desired. Stored in an airtight container, bars can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Makes 16 

There will be more lemony recipes coming too. Lemon is my kryptonite... but I don't care for lemonade (figure that one out), but a glass of Lemoncello over ice!! W00T!
Thank you again to Technicolor Kitchen as well to Alice Medrich’s "Pure Dessert"
from which these originally came.

Best Lemon Bars, Ever!

10 September 2010

Late Summer Fruit and a Breakfast Bread Pudding

This summer has been great as far as fruit goes. Peaches have been a little late because of the weather being so cool. However, nectarines have had a longer season than usual, providing us with fruit that is juicy and sweet like seriously, candy. Everything has gotten to stay on the trees a little bit longer.
I love making bread pudding. It is a good way to clean out the fridge, freezer and take all the bits of bread ends sitting on the counter and make something really tasty. Also, by using up bits of dried and fresh fruits and whatever bread there is, it makes for a fun texture as well as flavorful recipe.
I wanted something a little more breakfast-y because I was going to friends for brunch, so the addition of cream cheese, cinnamon, nutmeg and maple syrup pushed that envelope. And, letting it soak overnight made it firm and easily servable after baking the following morning.

Overnight Breakfast Bread Pudding with Nectarines

One loaf white, Italian or French or sourdough bread, sliced
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 c. maple syrup
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
7 eggs
1/2 pint heavy cream
1 c milk
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups nectarines, sliced thinly

Butter a 13x9in pan. Mix together cream cheese, brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg. Place one layer of bread slices on bottom of pan, spread cream cheese mixture over bread, Place another layer of bread and another layer of cream cheese spread and another layer of bread. Mix together eggs, cream and milk and pour over bread. Chill and allow to sit for 4 to 24 hours. Remove from cooler, preheat oven to 350.
Top with brown sugar and nectarines and bake for 1 hour. uncovered. Serve with side of bacon and a dollop of Chantilly cream (which is lightly whipped cream sans sugar) Or a drizzle of caramel, like I did here.
Nectarine Bread Pudding

All these recipes are original... my own creations. I do take ideas from others, but by the time I have figured it out, most of what was has morphed into what is now mine. Feel free to share...

06 September 2010

That Chicken is a JERK!!! or sometimes we are lazy and it shows...

I shop on the cheap. I buy the meat that's in the clearance pile, about to be expired. Sometimes there is some seriously good deals in there! Don't be scared if the sell by date is today or tomorrow. Get it home, repackage it and freeze it or use it immediately. I have gotten veal paillards, ground lamb and NY steaks out of there and made some brilliant meals! Recently I came across some whole cut up chickens... for 50% off.  So I piled 4 of them in my cart and toted them home.
Yesterday, I decided to pull one out and make some Caribbean Jerk.. well the one I went for came out of the freezer and landed hard on my toe, this was the one I was going to JERK!! Thought my toe may have been broken, but a bag of frozen corn later, it is fine, bruised but workable.
When I make jerk I use a  Jamaican recipe that I acquired from Jamaican Eats magazine. This time, not so much. I used a sauce from World Harbors, maker of various sauces found in the grocery store. I prepped the chicken, trimming off the excess fat and placed it all together in a ziploc bac and in the fridge for almost 10 hours.
While Steven grilled the chicken, I prepared sweet potato and plantain frites and mango rice.
I love my mango rice. It always turns out well, whether I cook the mango in the rice or add it after (Steven's preferred method). I will post that recipe, because I was lazy with the Jerk and trust me, it showed.

Mango Rice

1 c. white rice, jasmine or basmati
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp butter
1 shallot, minced
1/8th tsp ground allspice
1 ripe mango, diced

Place butter in sauce pan, melt and saute shallot til translucent, add mango and rice stirring to coat with butter. Add in chicken stock, bring to boil, cover, reduce heat to simmer and allow liquid to cook out of rice. Serve.
or you can cook the rice without the mango and add it fresh to the rice just before serving. I like to do that too, maybe chop up some cilantro and a squeeze of lime too. Really has an island flavor to it.

jerked chicken, broccoli, sweet potato and plantain frites and mango rice
I was not happy with the way dinner turned out actually. The jerk did not permeate the chicken like I had hoped, and I overcooked the broccoli. But, in addition to successes I should talk about failures too. I liked the way the chicken LOOKED almost like tandoori. When I do my jerk again, I will do it the right way, and not be lazy.

31 August 2010

Eating on the Cheap

I love short ribs. Several years ago, the year before Steven and I moved to Texas, I was working as a consultant for a restaurant owner. I was making just enough money to pay the bills with little left over. My best friend had just moved out of the too big house we had rented and Steven moved in. He is awesome at being frugal. Because of Steven is why we still have a savings account. (albeit dwindling) Anyhow, he is an excellent grocery shopper too. We used to comb the aisles at WinCo late at night for deals. We'd buy the meat that had one day left and veggies that were packed in the $1 for 5# area. During this very trying time together, just learning to live together and how to adjust...we created some great dishes. One of them was Braised Short Ribs.
I had cooked short ribs before this, but always at a restaurant. Always with a bevy of ingredients on hand. That time I had a cheap bottle of red, a little soy sauce and some limp ass carrots... By far the best short rib recipe I had ever made. So, tonight, I will be making my cheap ass short ribs. Going back to a time in our relationship when all that mattered is that we had each other, I had a job making ends meet and we had a roof over our head. Which is more than I can say for now...altho' now we have a saving account, I have unemployment and we are living with family.

Cheap Ass Short Ribs:


flour
salt and pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh garlic
6 carrots, rough chopped, do not peel
5 stalks celery, rough chopped
1 yellow onion, med or 4 shallots, large dice
3/4 c. soy sauce
3 cup bold red wine
8 meaty beef short ribs
any herbs you have, thyme, basil, Italian seasoning, bay leaves
Oven @ 350


Dredge the short ribs in flour, season with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in heavy dutch oven, brown short ribs all the way around. Remove and hold on plate. Add a little more oil to pan and sweat the veggies til onions are just transleucent. Try not to brown. Pour in soy sauce and red wine. Allow to deglaze the pan just slightly, scrape all the the goodness from bottom of pan. Place short ribs and any herbs you have on top and cover. Place pan in oven and allow to cook for 2 1/2 hours, until the meat separates from the bone. You can then strain the liquid, but it on to boil, reduce it by 3/4 and you have this luscious sauce that is very concentrated.

Serve with a big ass green salad and some bread. Or mashed potatoes...like I did here.

20 August 2010

Still messing

I feel like I am still searching for my voice. I haven't really cooked a lot this week and mostly it has been stuff that is fairly easy and not too photogenic: mahi with peach-avocado salsa, pan roasted chicken with cauliflower and thyme potatoes. I made peach cobbler with peaches from the corner stand.. but haven't really been in the mood. I plan on doing some menu planning and getting this all going next week...yea, we'll see.

13 August 2010

finding my voice

It has been Mexican week this week;  I made fajitas and Chili Verde and hubby and I ate at our favorite little taco shop too. I love Mexican food. Well, let me break it down even further... I love California-Mexican food. Spending 2 years in Texas made me really appreciate the difference in Tex-Mex and Cali-Mex. To my taste buds, Cali-Mex is far superior.
Fajitas are a Tex-Mex creation too.. however, I make my own seasoning, grill the meat quick over a hot flame, slice it and finish it in cast iron. The veggies are sprinkled with the seasoning stir fried in the cast iron before the meat... the meat will pick up all the love that the veggies leave in the pan. Honestly I do it this way because the electric stove just doesn't have the flame power the grill does..may take an extra step, but so worth it.

Fajita Seasoning:

1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup cumin
1/4 cup chili powder
1/4 cup garlic powder
1/4 cup coriander
1 tbsp smoke/mesquite seasoning powder (pick any brand of rub, Weber, Schilling etc)
1/4 cup kosher salt
mix together and keep in airtight container
limes
just rub whatever meat you are going to use (appx 1 tbsp per piece) with the seasoning and allow to sit 20 minutes before grilling. Grill quickly and squeeze limes over meat while grilling. Slice thinly (no more than 1/4in) on the bias and transfer to hot cast iron skillet. Toss with fajita veggies (zucchini, red and green bell peppers and onions thinly sliced) while finishing and serve with warmed flour tortillas. Cooking is not rocket science.. it is fun! you just have to find your own voice.