Archive for December, 2010


Bless the French and their Sauces

Alas, Christmas is over and days later, I find myself back in the kitchen trying to come up with a meal with almost zero fresh ingredients in the fridge ūüė¶ Well, thanks to Mom, I had a box of tortellini and so with that in mind, I put together a pasta dish that I would love to share. I can say that honestly though that despite the cauliflower, sausage, and tortellini, this dish would have been nothing without the white sauce.

Which white sauce, you ask? Well, there are quite a few of them and, thanks to the French, plenty of delicious varieties. Since I was limited in my ingredients, I chose to make a B√©chamel sauce and what a wonderful, tasty sauce it is! The base of the sauce is simple: milk, butter, & flour and it practically cooks itself (granted you must stir it all the while). The entire sauce thickened up for me in 10 minutes and who’d have thought nutmeg and bay leaves would go so well together? And did I mention I love milk? Love it.

So, when all was said and done, I whipped up a pasta dish using all the leftover ingredients in my fridge and this brilliant milky French sauce. If only I’d had some white cheese, like Gruyere…I could have turned my B√©chamel into Mornay sauce (because that is the only difference between the two)! Maybe next time.

As for my humble advice to all saucemakers out there, I say double the herbs and double the cracked pepper, add any cream (or half¬† & half) you have extra of to make the sauce even smoother, and of course wine! This sauce needs some wine, if not to contribute to the rich flavors already present ūüėČ

…For now I can just content myself that I have used the last of the herbs from my balcony garden, my pitiful, persevering Savory plant (yes, still clinging to life even in December). You will be missed Savory, at least until next summer…

So, I have included the simple B√©chamel Sauce recipe I used (from Cooking Light’s version) as well as the final pasta dish I ended up making last night. Very tasty, I dare say. With combinations this easy and delicious, I think we should all become daring sauciers!! That’s it, my New Year’s resolution–to make more sauces–from scratch.

What is your favorite sauce everyone? …Anyone?

Béchamel Sauce

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups milk

1/2 cup finely chopped white onion (or 2 Tbs. dried Onion flakes)

Bay leaves

2-3 tsp. ground Nutmeg

2 Tbs. butter

2 Tbs. flour (any kind)

sea salt & cracked pepper

(1) Combine the first 4 ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until simmering; cover and remove from heat, letting rest about 10 minutes until milk has slightly thickened. (2) Putting the milk mixture aside, melt the butter in saucepan over medium heat, stirring in the flour until the mixture is well blended; let bubble for less than a minute. (3) Slowly, add milk mixture to the butter mixture, stirring all the while and let it come back to a steady boil; cook for 9-10 minutes until the sauce has thickened and garnish with salt & pepper, wine, and whatever else seems appropriate!

Cheese Tortellini with Turkey Sausage, Cauliflower, & Tomatoes

Ingredients

1 package Tortellini (any)

1 head of Cauliflower

Turkey Sausage (or any substitute)

1-2 fresh Tomatoes

bunch of fresh Herbs (such as Savory, Thyme, or Sage)

olive oil & cracked pepper

(1) Wash and trim the head of Cauliflower, cutting into small to medium-sized florets. In a large covered pot, cook all of the cauliflower with some olive oil until tender, 8-10 minutes. (2) Cook pasta al dente according to package instructions; drain and combine with cooked cauliflower in the large pot. (3) Over the lowest heat setting, mix all of the pasta together with remaining ingredients. Toss the mixture with the warm Béchamel sauce right before serving and garnish with cracked pepper. Serves 4 with leftovers

Hey, does anyone know of other wonderfully tasty sauces? I wish to learn more of this art form, French or not ūüôā

12.29.10

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Breakfast for Dinner!

Breakfast is one of the more “important” meals of the day and–for those sorry few of us who aren’t morning people–it can be difficult to rouse oneself in the morning to cook up all the tasty, flavorful breakfast recipes that exist out there. Since yesterday was another day that I missed my opportunity to make breakfast, I decided to make it for dinner.

My favorite breakfast dish ever is Eggs Benedict. I mean, what can I say? There’s just something about Hollandaise sauce that makes everything in the world seem wonderful. My recipe includes veggie sausage (because we all need to eat soy some time…) and fresh avocado slices.

As for the secret to tasty Hollandaise, I discovered that it is better to add 1/2 the butter they tell you to on the sauce packet and a little more milk, a spoonful of Dijon mustard, 1-2 Tbs. dried (or fresh) Tarragon, and a splash of whatever white wine you can find. And the more cracked pepper, the better!

Eggs Benedict with Tarragon Peppercorn Hollandaise, Veggie Sausage, & Avocado


Ingredients

2 English muffins

1 Avocado, halved

1 Tbs. lemon juice

1 Hollandaise sauce packet

1 Tbs. Dijon mustard

2 Tbs. butter

1-1/2 cups milk

4 veggie sausage patties (like Morningstar)

1 Tomato, cut into thick slices

4 eggs

splash of White wine (optional)

olive oil, cracked pepper, sea salt

(1) Put the 4 veggie sausage patties in a skillet and cook over medium heat 8-10 minutes until the sausage is cooked all the way through and browned on the outside; put cooked sausage in a bowl, cover, and set aside. (2) Make the Hollandaise sauce according to packet instructions (using all of the butter). While the sauce is thickening, add the lemon juice, white wine, Dijon mustard, and Tarragon; stir until well blended. When sauce is thickened (after about 1 minute), cover the saucepan and turn off the heat. Leave the sauce covered until ready to serve. (3) Halve the english muffins and toast both sides until lightly browned. Place each of the muffin halves, cut side up, onto two plates. (4) Heat olive oil in the skillet over medium heat. Crack the eggs over the skillet and cook over until the bottom of the eggs are browned, 6-8 minutes. Season with salt & pepper and make sure the cooked eggs are separated into 4 pieces. (5) Top each toasted english muffin piece with a slice of tomato, veggie sausage, and a cooked egg. Cover the entire stack with a heaping ladleful of Hollandaise sauce and served with thin avocado slices scattered on all sides of the plate. Garnish with cracked pepper.

Serves 4

Well, that was a marvelous idea, and well worth the 30 minutes I spent assembling everything. I thought the presentation, of all things, was the most compelling part of the entire ensemble–the stack of tomato, fried egg, and veggie sausage dripping with steaming Hollandaise, scattered with Avocado slices, and covered in cracked pepper. Ahhh yes, everything good from breakfast. I suggest having just a little extra of some of these ingredients just in case; we ended up having seconds (and for my boyfriend, thirds) until everything was gone…even the Hollandaise.¬† Perhaps one day I shall make it in time enough for the morning, but, until then:

Here’s to breakfast–for Dinner!

12.21.10

Aphrodisiac Cooking

A Meal for Two

Perhaps three? The first version of this menu I created for a party I helped host for just a few of our close friends last summer. We rented the top floor in a Victorian Bed & Breakfast and insisted upon bringing and making all our own food. Since the ladies were in charge, we decided to create an erotically inclined menu that would be enough to satisfy the hunger of our guests, if not reflect the imaginative tastes of their hosts.

The night turned out so epic I was urged to distribute the menu for similar purposes…Thoughts?

The First Course‚ÄĒAppetizers

Summer Rolls w/Baby Shrimp, Fresh Ginger, Macadamia Nuts, & Avocado

I suggest to make these bad boys ahead of time, that way they simply can be covered and refrigerated until ready to serve. I served the rolls with 2 sauces I made from scratch (don‚Äôt worry it‚Äôs easy) one being Sweet & Sour and the other Garlic Soy Sauce. I list recipes for both below but these rolls can go with any basic Asian sauce. This recipe is kind of a fusion, if you will‚ÄĒpart Vietnamese and part Japanese with a few contemporary ingredients that include, among other tasty elements, vermicelli noodles, saut√©ed shrimp, diced Avocado, Macadamia nuts, and purple basil.

Owing to this colorful host of fresh ingredients, I named them ‚ÄėSummer‚Äô instead of the traditional ‚ÄėSpring‚Äô rolls. Light and wrapped in rice paper, these rolls will be transparent, a little crunchy, and very fragrant.

Ingredients:

1 cup cellophane (vermicelli) noodles                                   6 oz raw baby shrimp, defrosted

10 (8-inch) round rice paper  1 Tbs. sugar                             2 Tbs. rice wine vinegar

2 Tbs. lime juice                      1 Ts. Sriracha sauce                2 Tbs. soy sauce

bunch of Thai (purple) Basil   Macadamia nuts, chopped     1 Ts. roasted sesame oil

dash of chili flakes                  1 Ts. fish sauce                        1 Tbs. honey

1 Avocado                               1 medium Carrot                    1 yellow bell pepper

5-6 slices sushi ginger (gari)¬†¬† ¬Ĺ bunch green onions¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† 3 garlic cloves

(1)   Wash, cut, and prep all fresh ingredients; this includes peeling and shredding the carrot, dicing the bell pepper and green onions, coarsely chopping the sushi ginger and Thai Basil, mincing the garlic (well), and finally thinly dicing the Avocado (if you have an egg slicer, use that)

(2)   Rinse and cook the baby shrimp in a covered pot with olive oil or butter and wine (or beer) according to package instructions, 4-6 minutes. Remove from heat and let the shrimp cool. Halve all of the shrimp, cover, and refrigerate.

(3)   Cook the cellophane noodles in the same pot, replacing the water, according to package instructions, 4-5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water; cut up all of the cooked noodles into smaller pieces with a pair of scissors.

(4)   Combine noodles, avocado, purple basil, yellow bell pepper, ginger, green onions (set aside a dash for the sweet & sour sauce), macadamia nuts, carrot, and cooked shrimp in a bowl; mix until well blended (add a dash of vinegar or wine if in need of lubrication…)

(5)¬†¬† Add hot water to a large, shallow pan with a depth of 1 inch. Place 1 rice paper sheet in the pan and let stand 30 seconds or just until soft. Place the sheet flat on a wet wooden cutting board and arrange 1/3 cup of the mixture over half of the sheet, leaving a ¬Ĺ inch border on all sides. Carefully, fold the sides of the sheet over the filling and‚ÄĒstarting with the filled side‚ÄĒroll the paper up jelly-roll style. Gently press the seam to seal. Repeat this process until all of the noodle mixture is used (there may be extra rolls, depending‚Ķ)

(6)   Place all the rolls, seam down, on a cool plate. Cover plate tightly with cling wrap, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

(7)   To prepare the Sweet & Sour Dipping sauce, combine: rice vinegar, Sriracha sauce, honey, sesame oil, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, soy sauce, and chili flakes in bowl and stir with whisk until thoroughly blended. Serve in a small bowl beside the Summer Rolls.

(8)   To prepare the Garlic Soy Sauce, combine: soy sauce, roasted sesame oil, and minced garlic, stirring until blended. Sauces can be made days ahead and refrigerated until use.

Raw Oysters on the ¬Ĺ Shell w/Mango Red Onion Vinaigrette, Horseradish, & Fresh Cilantro

When I first made this recipe, I had never tried oysters in any form and was certainly intimidated that I had to clean and shuck the poor bastards right before eating them. But I can say now, from experience, that there is nothing like this and it is definitely worth the effort. After all, Aphrodite (the Greek goddess of love) emerged from the sea on an oyster shell and promptly gave birth to Eros, from which we get the very the word aphrodisiac. This dish is complimented by the unusual shape and incredible taste of these creatures’ slippery, salty parts. Since the flesh is served raw it is very important the oysters are bought that day of or the night before and kept cold (and alive) until shucking.

The oysters themselves will be served on the shell, filled with a sweet vinaigrette (made from mangoes, honey, and chili powder), and garnished with a pinch of horseradish, fresh cilantro, & lime juice. The oyster should be consumed in one bite and taste fresh, round, rich, with a bit of spice and salt, much like the sea…

Ingredients:

Extra virgin olive oil¬†¬†¬† ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† ¬ľ cup fresh lime juice¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† 2 Tbs. honey

Salt & Pepper                          15 fresh oysters (pick variety)                        2 Tbs. ancho chili powder

3 Ts. prepared horseradish     2 ripe mangoes                                   2 Ts. mustard

1 red onion                              1 Ts. Rice vinegar                               1 clove of garlic

Bunch of fresh Cilantro           sea salt                                                cracked pepper

(1)   Clean all oysters: rinse and scrub the shells and keep in a dish covered with a cold damp cloth while preparation is underway. Use a large platter with room to spare and fill the bottom with crushed ice, place shells on top, facing up, and refrigerate until ready.

(2)   Wash, chop, and prep all the fresh ingredients, including: finely mincing the garlic, peeling and coarsely chopping the mango & red onion, and dicing the bunch of fresh Cilantro.

(3)   Heat 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium heat; add red onion and garlic and cook 4 minutes. Add the mangoes and 2 Tbs. of chopped cilantro and cook until the mixture is soft, 8 to 10 minutes.

(4)¬†¬† Put the mango mixture into a blender. Add the lime juice, honey, chili powder, mustard, rice vinegar, a pinch of sea salt, and ¬ľ cup olive oil; process until completely smooth.

(5)   When ready to serve, shuck the oysters with an oyster knife over the sink, discard one piece of the shell. Rinse the remaining shell & replace on platter over ice; fill the empty shell with 1-2 Tbs. of the mango vinaigrette before placing the raw shucked oyster on top. Garnish each shell with a pinch of horseradish, minced Cilantro, cracked pepper, and a squirt of lime juice.  Serve immediately…

The Second Course‚ÄĒEntree

Sun dried Tomato & Chickpea Ravioli w/Prosciutto & Basil Pine Nut Pesto

I do believe that this ravioli is the best of both worlds. For one thing, it is filled with a type of ricotta cheese called Mascarpone‚ÄĒsmooth, creamy, sweet and‚ÄĒyes, Italian. Inside the ravioli is a filling comprised of crushed chickpeas, grated lemon rind, and sun dried tomatoes. And if this dish couldn‚Äôt get wonderful enough, it is served with a basil pine nut pesto (which can made days ahead of time) and includes both sweet and salty tastes. Parkinson, a 17th century author, claimed that fresh Basil could be used ‚Äúto procure a cheerful and merry heart‚Ä̂Ķwhich, as far as we can tell in certain concentrations‚ÄĒit still does. There are plenty of flavors in this recipe and plenty of textures, among them garlic, nutmeg, and of course, Basil. Again, I urge everyone to make the pasta ahead of time (and give yourself some time) and just cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.

The ravioli will served with small cuts of rolled Prosciutto, a salty, thinly-sliced aged meat (heaven, really) that will compliment the flavors of the pesto. Sprinkled with cracked pepper & grated Parmesan cheese, the dish will evoke all the rich flavors we were warned about in Italian cooking…

Ingredients:

Flour, for dusting                     1 package wonton wrappers      2 cans of chickpeas

1 bunch fresh basil                  4 Tbs. mascarpone cheese     lemon rind

Sea salt                                    cracked pepper                       1 Ts. ground nutmeg

4 garlic cloves                         3 Tbs. sundried tomatoes       6 quarts water

rolled Prosciutto (6 slices)      1 sm. block parmesan cheese            bunch fresh spinach

extra virgin olive oil                1 package pine nuts, roasted  white wine

(1)¬†¬† To make Pesto: combine ¬ľ cup olive oil, 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 Tbs. white wine, pine nuts, 3. Tbs. grated parmesan, and all of the fresh Basil and Spinach. Blend until the mixture is very smooth; season with cracked pepper and olive oil until pesto is of desired consistency and refrigerate until ready.

(2)   Next make the ravioli filling: combine the chickpeas, mascarpone cheese, minced sundried tomatoes, lemon rind, a pinch of nutmeg, salt, & pepper, and remaining minced garlic in blender. Process the mixture until it is coarsely blended.

(3)¬†¬† Place wonton sheets on a lightly floured surface and cut the wontons in half to create equal square pieces with which to make the ravioli. Place ‚Čą1 Tbs. of the mixture on one side of wrapper and press the second piece over the top, sealing the edges with a fork.

(4)   Refrigerate the ravioli until ready to cook. When ready, bring a salted pot of water to boil. Cook the ravioli 8 at a time (to prevent this from getting out of control…) about 2-3 minutes each or until they become transparent, removing them from the pot with a slotted spoon to avoid breakage.

(5)   When ready to serve, layer the cooked ravioli in small bowls with the Basil pesto. Cut Prosciutto pieces in half and roll up, placing the pieces around the pasta in the bowl, and garnishing everything with grated parmesan and cracked pepper. Serve immediately.

And the Third Course‚ÄĒDessert‚Ķ

Pan-Grilled Figs stuffed with Goat Cheese wrapped in Pancetta

& drizzled with Honey Thyme Syrup

Since dessert should always include sweet flavors, this recipe utilizes a few rich ingredients. Fresh Figs can only be found during their season (which is summer) and so if the fresh fruit cannot be acquired, then dried figs (as long as they are whole) serve as a sufficient substitute. Served warm, the goat cheese will be melting and the pancetta crispy by the time it comes off the pan. The honey thyme sauce is both sweet and aromatic, and when drizzled over the figs at the end makes for pretty presentation (but trust me, you won’t have to convince anybody).

The combined taste of the goat cheese, pancetta, and Thyme help emphasize the fruit’s bolder side as the heat serves to activate its natural sugars). The combination will be rich with flavors, warm, crispy, and did I mention sweet?

Ingredients:

4 oz goat cheese         12 fresh mission figs                           12 thin slices of pancetta

4 Tbs. honey                1 bunch fresh thyme                           3 Tbs. plain breadcrumbs

Red wine

(1)   In a bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and the softened crumbled goat cheese; season the mixture with salt & cracked pepper.

(2)   Cut the figs nearly in half lengthwise, keeping them attached at the broad end. Hollow the center slightly and stuff each fig with 1 Tbs. of the goat cheese mixture, squeezing gently to close. Wrap a slice of pancetta around each fig, but to too tightly, overlapping the ends. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook.

(3)   Mix the honey, a splash of red wine, and all of the minced fresh Thyme in a small bowl and stir with a fork until blended. Cover and set aside until ready to serve.

(4)   When ready to cook, heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a skillet on medium-high and cook the figs until the goat cheese has melted inside, turning them every 2 minutes to brown the pancetta on all sides. The process should take no longer then 8-9 minutes.

(5)   To serve, place 3-4 figs on a plate and drizzle with the honey Thyme syrup. Make sure to serve with some utensils or everyone will be leaving sticky…

Well‚Ķthat was my massive experiment with aphrodisiac cooking. I do believe all cooks (or just people who love food) should give this theme a try; it sounds silly, but consumption is always aided by the knowledge of the natural stimulating ingredients nature provides for us to cook with. I wish I could get some input on how recipes like this turned for other people, or if anyone felt inspired by these imaginative ravings. I’m definitely hungry again‚Ķ

And what would be the greatest Aphrodisiac recipe ever? I wonder…

12/17/20

Spicy Egg Salad & Watercress Sandwiches with Deli Chicken, Smoked Paprika, & Fresh Dill

Egg salad has been a classic  sandwich topper long before deli sandwiches were even popular. Our version uses lite mayo, fresh herbs, and a subtle combination of spices to create a healthier, more flavorful sandwich that is accented by its combination of fresh ingredients. Be it the afternoon tea hour or a light lunch, this recipe serves multiple tasty purposes that will satisfy (if not impress). Leftover egg salad makes an equally tasty, protein-rich snack.

Ingredients

8 slices white bread

1/4 lb. peppered deli Chicken, 1/4 inch. slices

1 bunch fresh (or 3 Tbs. dried) Dill, minced

cracked pepper

1/2 cup light mayonnaise

5 eggs

1 bunch Green Onions, thinly sliced

fresh Watercress (or green sub like Arugula/Spinach)

2 Tbs. lemon juice

2 Tbs. Smoked Paprika

Sea salt

2 tbs. Dijon mustard

(1) First, bring the eggs from room temperature to a boil in salted water over medium-high heat until eggs are medium- (not hard-) boiled; 5-7 minutes depending. Let eggs cool 10 minutes before peeling and roughly chopping them into small pieces. (2) Combine egg, mayonnaise, lemon juice, Dill, sea salt, and smoked paprika; stir until blended, cover, and chill at least 1 hour. (3) Butter all the bread on one side and lay slices out across workspace. One the buttered 1/2 of the sandwich, layer the watercress and deli chicken slices thinly across bread. On the other 1/2, spread the chilled egg salad on thickly and ress the sandwich together. Cut the completed sandwiches into halves, season with cracked pepper, and serve.

Serves 4-5

Sicilian Spaghetti with Cauliflower, Pine Nuts, & Golden Raisins

Sicilian cuisine involves the use of rich flavors while employing inexpensive, fresh fruit and vegetables as accompaniments in creating dishes that are traditional, natural, and capitalize on hearty, tasty  flavors with simplified ingredients. This version involves the substitution of chicken sausage, a low fat, high protein meat that goes well with the savory sauce.

Cauliflower!

Ingredients

4 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbs. lemon juice

3 Tbs. fresh Parsley

2 Tbs. fresh (0r dried) Thyme

16 oz spaghetti (whole wheat or regular)

1 cup white wine

1 package chicken sausage (sugg. Chicken Apple), cut into slices

1 head fresh Cauliflower (heirloom if avail.)

4 Tbs. Pine Nuts (pref. toasted)

4 Tbs. Golden Raisins

Cracked Pepper

Sea Salt

4 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

Serve with: Fresh Bread (sugg. Roasted Garlic)

(1) Wash, dry, & cut up head of Cauliflower into medium-sized florets. Fill a large pot with enough salted water to fill it 1 inch deep and put over medium high heat; add3 Tbs. White wine to water once it is boiling; place Cauliflower florets in the pot and close the lid. Steam until tender enough to be pierced with a fork, 6-7 minutes. (2) Meanwhile, cook spaghetti al dente  according to package instructions; moisten with olive oil & cracked pepper, cover & set aside. (3) Put golden raisins & 1/4 cup water in the same pot and heat raisins in simmering water just until soft, about 5 minutes. (4) Keeping remaining cooking liquid, add fresh Thyme and cut up chicken sausage; cook until just browned, 5-7 minutes. (5) Now, combine pasta, steamed cauliflower, golden raisins, & chicken sausage together in the largest pot over low heat and stir until well blended. Add pine nuts, 2 Tbs. fresh Parsley, remaining white wine, and 2 oz grated Parmesan. (6) Heat pasta mixture until warmed throughout; season with cracked pepper, sea salt, olive oil, Parmesan, lemon juice, and remaining Parsley.

Serves 5-6