Tuesday, April 28, 2009

birds in Florence

Chicken Florentine is one of those dishes that was so popular in the 1960s. I wasn't alive in the 60s but I have it on good authority that this was popular back then. I think that usually Chicken Florentine is served as either something rolled up or made into a casserole and served at church potluck suppers around the Midwest. Don't get me wrong, I love a good church potluck in the Midwest. I just wanted something a little different -- something that was really about the chicken and the spinach and not canned soup and egg noodles. I also did not want to roll up a boneless chicken breast with a paltry amount of spinach inside that mostly wants to ooze out to freedom on a bake sheet. So, this is chicken breast, seared and then poached in a cream sauce, the cream sauce is finished with sauteed spinach and Parmesan cheese, and then poured over the chicken, topped with more Parmesan and then browned under the broiler. All in all, very tasty indeed.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

just like heaven

I don't often think about what heaven is like. I think heaven is so far removed from what I can conceptualize I just decide to leave it as something or rather someplace to look forward to. Today, I just hope there is short bread, chocolate, and toffee in heaven. Oh, and a strong cup of coffee with real cream and sugar.

Caramel toffee crunch bars
(a recipe I have but cannot cite the source from which I got it)

1 1/2 cups of AP flour
1 teaspoon of instant espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/2 cup of light brown sugar
1/4 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

6 ounces of milk chocolate - finely chopped
3/4 cup of Heath toffee bits

For the base: 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. instant espresso powder or finely ground instant coffee
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
2 sticks (8oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 oz. bittersweet or premium milk chocolate, finely chopped

For the topping:
6 oz. bittersweet or premium milk chocolate, finely chopped
¾ cup Heath toffee bits

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9x13 inch baking pan, line the pan with foil and butter the foil. Put the pan on a baking sheet.

Whisk together the flour, coffee, salt and cinnamon. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the sugars and beat for another three minutes or until the mixture is light and creamy. Beat in the vanilla and turn off the mixer. Add all the dry ingredients and mix just until the dry ingredients are almost incorporated. You’ll have a very heavy, very sticky dough. Scrape the dough into the buttered pan and, with the spatula and your fingertips, press it into a thin, even layer. I have to flour my finger tips to pull this off.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the base is bubbly. It will look as though it is struggling to pull away from the side of the pan. Transfer the pan to a rack and turn off the oven.

Scatter the chocolate evenly over the top of the hot base and pop the pan back into the oven for 2 to 3 minutes, until the chocolate is soft. Remove from oven and immediately spread chocolate over bars, using offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Sprinkle the toffee bits over the chocolate and press them down lightly with your fingertips. Place the baking pan on a rack to cool to room temperature.

If, by the time the bars are cool, the chocolate has not set, refrigerate them briefly to firm the chocolate. Carefully lift out of the pan, using foil edges as handles, and transfer to a cutting board. Trim the edges if they seem a bit thick. Cut about 54 bars, each about 2 inches by 1 inch, taking care not to cut through the foil.

Resist the temptation to eat it all.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

curry house

When I was a student in culinary school, I very much wanted to learn to make food that was outside of my culinary microcosm. I think I have said before that I turned my nose up at much of my culinary heritage which was southern, country cooking. I have of course come to my senses now and I embrace all kinds of food. Thinking back to my younger years, I recall a group of students took a trip to China and since I was dead broke, I did not get to go. I listened to their stories and looked at their pictures and video tape with much envy. I still have not been to China - heck, I've not been anywhere really. I do feel a longing to travel -- see the world, taste the food, etc. Far too much conspires against me in that regard. Far too much.

In this grisly day and age I find myself living, I think it foolish to dwell too long on what I do not have and instead look admiringly at what I do have. Yes, yes, I know it is all together hokey to say, but chin up, every cloud has a silver lining and all that!

I made Chicken Tikka Masala which, I believe, is not real Indian food but rather a creation from London curry houses. I find it utterly fascinating that different cultures have migrated from their homeland and develop a new type of cuisine in their new home. Like Italian-Americans and Chinese-Americans cook, serve and eat food that is not Italian or Chinese but is a new type of cuisine that uses food available in America and seeks to please a more American palette. I cannot be alone in this. There must be a Facebook group for people who are fascinated by the evolution of ethnic cuisine away from its country of origin, yes? Perhaps I will start one.

Back to the Chicken Tikka Masala. It is basically a dry rubbed spiced chicken, coated in yogurt and garlic, cooked and then combined with a Masala sauce. It's really very tasty and different. I also made curried peas and homemade pita bread to serve with it. I used the basic bread dough from Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day to make the pita. That book really is amazing. I should have made the naan as demonstrated on the web page but did not really think of it.

For the Chicken Tikka Masala, I used a recipe from America's Test Kitchen that you can get for free by registering on their website. I understand that they are rather picky about folks posting their recipes on the web, so I will just leave the link.

Here is the Curried Peas recipe -
2 tablesppons of olive oil
1 small Vidalia onion, diced fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of curry powder
1 teaspoon of tomato paste
1/2 cut of chicken broth
1/2 cup of plain Greek strained, full fat yogurt - I like this one
cracked black pepper

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until soft and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, curry powder, and tomato paste and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add broth and bring to boil. Stir in peas and cook, uncovered, until peas are tender, about 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in the yogurt,and salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

hoot, hoot

I made this little owl for my fabulous friend Heather. The story behind how I came to make this owl is an interesting study in something I like to call, "It's a small world-wide-web after all!" I have followed a blog called "The Scottish Cow" for a little while now. Unfortunately, it has not been updated in sometime. Andrew is busy making beer, I think. From there, I linked to a blog called "Looking In", which is fabulous in an understated, unassuming way. So, from Looking In, I followed a comment to "Polka Dot Bug" who made some really cute owls of her own... turns out Polka Dot Bug is the Scottish Cows wife??!! Yes. Small world, huh? After looking at the picture of the darling owls she made, I was inspired to make my very own original owl for my friend who loves owls. Got all that? Good!

I played around with making my own pattern and I think he is pretty cute, if I do say so myself. His name is Ollie the Owl and obviously he likes trees and is not nocturnal.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

it's my party

Why yes, that is a Pepperidge Farm chocolate fudge 3-layer cake, now with chocolate confetti topping! What can I say, I did not want to make my own birthday cake this year. Lenny made me a cake from scratch one year when we were first married and I couldn't believe the amount of chocolate he managed to get all over the house. Yes, all over the house.

I had a great birthday really. We had cake and ice cream and then Lenny beat me at games! Five times he beat me. Geez, you would think the guy could let me win on my birthday! Losing five games in a row to my husband makes me realize that some things about me have not changed birthday after birthday. I have never been very competitive. Other things that have not changed... hmmm... I think I am as sarcastic as ever. Things that have changed (for the better) - I am much more compassionate with age and I seem to fuss over the house and like cute things more and more.

On a completely different note, I may post some pictures soon of things I have made recently. I have this odd aversion to really sharing things I've made with the world. I usually give my homemade creations away as gifts but have been encouraged by others to actually try to sell them. That is a whole new world of insecurities for me but it might be a good idea to put myself out there for a little vulnerability and see what happens.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

one pan cooking

My husband was completely underwhelmed by this dish. He said he just wasn't in the mood for shrimp or broccoli so I guess it makes sense that he wouldn't like this at all since it is roasted shrimp and broccoli. I was absolutely crazy in love with this dish! The lemon, the spices, the fact that it is roasted in one pan! Washing up was so easy, you know? Ok, so I did make a pot of jasmine rice to go with it but really, a fabulous meal for two dirty pans is a complete miracle in my house!

Now, if only I could convince Lenny to love this dish.

Roasted Shrimp with Broccoli
Serves 4

1 pound broccoli, cut into bite-size florets
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon hot chili powder
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined - I took the tails off, too. I hate to have to work for my food once it is cooked!
1 1/4 teaspoons lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)
Lemon wedges, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss broccoli with 2 tablespoons oil, coriander, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and chili powder. In a separate bowl, combine shrimp, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, garlic, lemon zest, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

2. Spread broccoli in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes. Add shrimp to baking sheet and toss with broccoli. Roast, tossing once halfway through, until shrimp are just opaque and broccoli is tender and golden around edges, about 10 minutes more. Serve with lemon wedges, or squeeze lemon juice all over shrimp and broccoli just before serving.

For the life of me, I cannot recall where I got this recipe. Maybe here? I know that I added the garlic to the recipe but otherwise I had it printed out without any indication of where I got it. I don't think I have ever roasted shrimp before this, brocolli definately but not shrimp. I was very impressed with the tender little pink sea creatures that resulted from roasting them.

Friday, April 3, 2009

light and airy, warm and gooey

My list of favorite foods is topped by eggs and cheese. Chuck roast is on that list too, but that's a story for another day. I would be perfectly happy to eat eggs everyday of my life and cheese just makes me inexplicably happy. I just think cheese makes life better is all.

This was breakfast this morning. Friday during Lent equals no meat. Cheese omelets it is! I recall learning to make omelets in culinary school and the chef I took egg cookery from (yes, egg cookery was its own class. Heaven for me!) emphasizing that a proper omelet should never have any brown on it. Never. He was right, of course since brown on eggs equals burnt flavor, no matter how subtle. A good cook should be able to taste even a subtle scorching on an egg. Also, according to my chef instructor, an omelet is never flipped. Regardless of all that food snobbery, the finished flavor of a delicate cheese omelet is amazing, I think.

My husband and always call cheese omelets "omelet du fromage" in honor of his little brother, Josh. Josh visited us about 5 years ago and had apparently seen the episode of Dexter's Lab where Dexter endeavors to learn French from a record (do kids even know what records are?) while sleeping but the record gets stuck on "omelet du fromage" and that was all he could say the next day. Josh walked around our house saying "omelet du fromage" until I thought I would go mad with wanting a cheese omelet! Ah, the cheese omelet, one more fabulous culinary creation associated with Napoleon. Wouldn't it be fun to compile all of the foods associated with different historical figures? call it "Cooking History" or something like that.

Cheese omelet
3 large eggs (I know, a lot of eggs but we are not eating any meat or wheat products)
1/8 cup of heavy cream - really just a splash
1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
a few fine grinds of black pepper - white pepper is better, if you have it
1/4 cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 tablespoon of butter

Heat a non-stick pan (for a tri-folded French omelet, I use a 9 inch pan, so a Western omelet that is folded in half only, I use a 6 inch egg pan)with the butter over medium heat. Don't heat the pan and then add the butter or the butter may color brown which in turn will color the omelet brown. Whisk the eggs with the cream and salt and pepper. Once the butter is foamy and melted add the egg mixture. Using a heat proof, rubber spatula swirl the eggs around and move the pan back and forth gently. Very gently, you don't want to wear the eggs, you want to eat them. Once the edges begin to set, lift the edge and tilt the pan to pour the uncooked liquid under the omelet as it cooks... do this all around over and over until you do not have any liquid left. Add the cheese right down the center and then fold one side over the cheese. Slide the omelet folded side first onto a plate and use the pan to flip the other side over for a French omelet. Really, if you have a nice non-stick pan that isn't too hot, this should be super easy.

There are all sorts of toppings possibly, more cheese, spring onions, chives, etc, etc. I was in the mood for a cheese omelet... just the delicate balance or the light and airy eggs and the warm and gooey melted sharp cheddar. Maybe we''ll have these for dinner tonight, too!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Anniversary Strawberry Pavlova

Saturday was my 9th wedding anniversary. I cannot believe it has been nine years already. I can honestly say that I love my husband more today than the day I married him. I am a better person today than I was nine years ago, because of him. I really didn't know my husband all that well when we got married but he really did sweep me off my feet. Such a romantic, that man! I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him and that together we would be just fine. We had a small wedding in Tennessee. I lived in Ohio, he was in grad school in Boston, my family was in Florida and his family was divided between Ohio and Indiana. Tenneessee seemed like a good place to marry. We thought about eloping but then decided to invite family. I am glad we did. The wedding pictures with my dad are some of the last pictures I have of him.

The picture above is the back of my very wrinkled dress and veil. I loved those little rosettes; they were the only embellishment on an off white, matte satin, a-line dress. I loved that simple dress so much.

For our anniversary I made a strawberry Pavlova. I know that Pavlova is made with raspberries but strawberries just sounded better. I know Ina Garten makes this with mixed berries and calls it "Chantilly meringue with mixed berry sauce" or something like that. Strawberry Pavlova is so much easier to say, I think. We really enjoyed this! Pavlova is a very grown up dessert since the flavors and textures are rather sophisticated. I love it. I did not give up on my sugar free and wheat free decisions, since I made this whole thing with Splenda. Wow, I love that stuff but it is super expensive!

5 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup Splenda or fine sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups very cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
zest from 1 orange - divided in two
1 lb. fresh strawberries
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup splenda


Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and a large pinch of salt on medium speed until frothy. It is important that the bowl is clean of any fat or the meringue won't fluff and rise correctly. I sometimes wipe the bowl with vinegar to be extra sure. Add 1 cup of the Splenda and raise the speed to high until the egg whites form very stiff peaks. Whisk in the vanilla. Spread this into a 10 inch circle onto the parchment paper. It will be about 3 inches thick.

Bake for 2 hours, or until the meringue is dry and crisp. Turn off the heat and allow the meringue to cool in the oven for about 4 hours. If it cools in oven this way, it will get and stay crisp. The mantra for meringue when I was in culinary school was "dry and crisp but never brown" I think Splenda browns more easily than sugar because this browned in about 45 minutes but was not dry.

Meanwhile, cut the strawberries in half or for large ones in quarters. Combine about half of the strawberries and the water and Splenda in a small sauce pan along with half of the orange zest and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and mash with a potato masher. I think I should call my potato masher just a masher since I mash everything with it except for potatoes. Cool this sauce completely and then stir in the remaining strawberries.

I like to put the bowl and the whisk into the freezer for about a half hour before whipping the cream since a very cold bowl, whisk and cream will make very nice, fluffy whipped cream. Whip the cream with an electric mixer with a whisk. When it starts to thicken, add the Splenda, vanilla and orange zest and continue to whip until you have stiff peaks.

To serve, remove the parchment from the meringue (it should peel right off) and spread the whipped cream on it. Top with the strawberry sauce and enjoy! By the way, this doesn't keep well at all, so enjoy ALL of it with someone you love!