Monday, June 15, 2009
The interactive luncheon was held at the gorgeous Wynn Resort. This event was a lot of fun. Each table had a chef assigned to assist/direct the table in preparing each course. Our Chef was Joseph Leibowitz from Alex. Here is a not so great and out of focus photo of Joseph and I.
The lunch consisted of 5 courses and 5 expertly paired wines. Each course was created by a different acclaimed Wynn or Encore Chef. Each Chef presented how to prepare the course at the head of the room. At the same time, Chef Joseph assisted our brave table mates prepare the various courses. I REALLY wanted to cook the 2nd from last course, but another woman at the table beat me to it. My only excuse for losing the opportunity is that the delicious food and wine had dulled my cat like reflexes dramatically. The last course was prepared by Frederic Robert, Executive Pastry Chef, Wynn/Encore.
So here is the menu... You'll want a napkin close by to catch the drool.
Chilled Lobster with Spring Vegetable Crudites and Lemon Vinaigrette
Terlano, Sauvignon Blanc, Quarz, Alto Adige, Italy 2007
Sauteed Sea Scallops with Porcini Mushrooms
Planeta Cometa, Sicilia, Italy 2007
Spring Gnocchi with Peas and Prosciutto
Vincent Girardin, Rully, Vieilles Vignes, Burgundy, France 2006
Marinated Squab Breast, Caramelized Japanese Eggplant
Couscous with Fresh Mint and Pistachios
M. Chapoutier, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, La Bernardine, Rhone, France 2005
Crispy Chocolate Dome
Domaines Schlumberger, Gewurztraminer, Vendanges Tardives, Cuvee Christine, Alsace, France 2000
Each course was bursting with flavour and absolutely delicious. I wish I could have had 2nds (3rds even) of everything. The wine was also wonderful. The pairings really showed how the flavour profiles of both food and wine are enhanced when properly paired together. It also made me wish I had a Master Sommelier on staff! Speaking of which... each table had it's own Master Sommelier. I unfortunately did not catch the name of ours. Here is another, poorly taken photo (have I mentioned that I regret taking my point & shoot with me to the event instead of my DSLR?).
One of my lunch companions was Shaena Engle, from The Divine Dish. Shaena is, among other things, a free lance food and travel writer. I really enjoyed speaking with her about her travels and the different restaurants she has dined at. Shaena is the person who recommended eating at Dos Cominos! I owe her big time for that recommendation. Everyone else at our table was also really friendly, outgoing, and just great dinning companions. I think that helped make the event so much fun.
Vegas Uncork'd has already set the dates for 2010 - May 6th through 9th. I'll be keeping an eye on the event schedule. I really REALLY hope I can go again next year. And this time, not procrastinate and be able to participate in more than one activity/event!
Now, as previously promised... Here are one of the recipes from the luncheon. I've made this twice since returning from Vegas. It is awesome. So print it off, run to the store, and make it for your friends and family this weekend. They'll love you for it!
Spring Gnocchi with Peas and Prosciutto
Recipe by Marc Poidevin, Switch
2 cups semolina flour
2 tbsp fine sea salt
3 tbsp warm water
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup diced fresh prosciutto
1/4 cup diced leeks
1/2 cup fresh spring peas, shucked
1/2 cup fresh pea shoots
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix the flour, salt, olive oil, egg and water until thoroughly mixed. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Roll the dough into a small strip (like a play dough snake); then cut into small pieces about the size of a quarter. Mold the small pieces on the back of a fork. Refrigerate the gnocchi on a lined sheet pan for an hour before cooking. Cook the gnocchi 20 minutes in salted water. Toss with a little olive oil and allow to cool down on a sheet pan.
Blanch the peas very quickly in salt water and reserve. Cook the prosciutto very slowly until brown and then add leeks, peas and pea shoots. Add the chicken (or vegetable stock) and butter. Once butter is combined, add the warm gnocchi. Stir in Parmesan cheese and serve.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Our first drool inducing meal was at B&B Ristorante which is located at the Venetian. We really liked the comfortable and intimate atmosphere of B&B. Everything on the menu sounded delicious, so it was hard to decide what to order. To make life easy, they did offer two different tasting menus. But we decided to chose our own courses instead. I chose Calamari Seppie Fritti as my appetizer, Goat Cheese Tortellini for my first course, and the Whole Grilled Branzino as my second course. Every bite of every course was heavenly. I cleaned my plates. And I was so full at the end I couldn't even consider dessert. If I had room, I would have had the Blueberry Crostata though!
The next memorable eatery was Dos Caminos at the Palazzo. This was not one of the restaurants on our "to eat at list." Earlier in the day, at my interactive luncheon, a woman at my table highly recommended we check out Dos Caminos. And you know how much I love Mexican, so how could I not check it out? This was probably one of my favourite meals. We saw Blue Man Group, and then went to Dos Caminos. I was frickin' starving by the time we arrived. I practically inhaled their guacamole and fresh chips. The guacamole was fantastic! I don't know if it's because the avocados were fresher, or what. But it was the best guacamole I've EVER had. We also had a delicious assortment of salsas that varied in heat. I was having a hard time deciding what to get as everything sounded awesome (do you see a common theme here?). But then I saw it...the Conchita Pibil...slow roasted suckling pig, with sauteed plantains, habanero pickled onions, and achiote sauce. This photo was taken with my point & shoot and doesn't quite do it justice...
The pork was so tender it fell apart at the slightest pressure from my fork. The flavour was unbelievable. Words cannot describe how good it was. Hell, I'm drooling right now thinking about it!
One of our last meals was at Burger Bar which is located at Mandalay Bay. Basically, you make your own burger at this place. You chose the type of roll, the meat (3 different beefs, lamb, turkey, and vegetarian), then you chose your toppings from the garden, the grill, the ocean, the dairy, the farm, etc. Some of the more expensive options were Kobe Beef, Black Truffles, and pan-seared foie gras. Here's my burger...
I went with a more traditional burger consisting of ciabatta bread, Hereford Beef burger, topped with blue cheese, bacon, and sauteed oyster mushrooms. For my side, I got the sweet potato fries. I'm sucker for Sweet Potato fries and these were hands down the best I've had. The burgers were monstrous, cooked perfectly (I wanted mine medium), and absolutely delicious. I left wishing we had a local Burger Bar. I guess 5 Guys will have to do.
The last memorable place, I didn't have an actual meal at, but a snack. It was Jean-Phillipe Chocolates and Patisserie at the Bellagio. The shop features a free standing, floor-to-ceiling chocolate fountain. It's apparently the largest chocolate fountain in the world. You can see a photo of it if you go the above link. Unfortunately, it is enclosed by glass. I really wanted to stick my head in and drink! The shop had fresh made crepes, your normal baked goods like muffins, scones, plus fresh made gelato, and the most beautiful pastries I've ever seen. They were like little edible works of art.
Napoleon Cake (3rd photo, dessert on left) is one my favourite desserts, so when I saw it on the shelf, I knew it had to be in my belly. The pastry cream was light and was pefectly sweet, the puff pastry was flaky, and tender. It was perfect.
We enjoyed eating at quite a few other places, but these were our favourites. I went to Vegas for the food, and I was not disappointed. Next post I'll tell you about the Vegas Uncork'd Interactive Luncheon I attended.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Part of the reason I haven't posted recently is we recently spent 6 nights in Las Vegas. We arrived in Vegas on May 6th a little before noon and headed to New York New York. Check in was a bit of a fiasco. Apparently, Orbitz booked us not one, not two, but three hotel rooms and then canceled ALL of them. Of course, we had no idea this happened. So it was nice surprise when we tried to check in and were informed that we did not have a reservation. This is not the surprise you want when you've been awake since 4:00am EST and just completed an 8 hour flight! We called Orbitz 'Customer Service' and became increasingly frustrated with the situation. Thankfully the hotel manager also called Orbitz and managed to get everything fixed for us.
The rest of our time in Vegas was awesome. The weather was great; sunny with a high of 97*F with 0% humidity. I never realized just how much I disliked humidity until this trip. We gambled (won some, lost some) and I discovered a love for Blazing 777s slot machines! We also saw two shows, Blue Man Group, and Penn & Teller. Both were great! We also took in the free "shows" the hotels offer, like the Pirate Ship battle at Treasure Island, and the Bellagio Fountains.
We also took a day trip to the Grand Canyon. We were picked up from our hotel and driven to a small airport. From there we took a 30 minute flight to the West rim which is located on the Hualapi Indian reservation. It was a clear day, so the view from the sky and ground was absolutely breathtaking! You could see forever...it was awe-inspiring. I think I took over 200 pictures in the 4 hours we were there. I just couldn't get over how beautiful it was.
The Hualapi Tribe had displays of different types of housing set up, as well as members on site to answer questions about the tribe and the Grand Canyon.
A family was also present to share some of their tribes different dances and songs.
The Grand Canyon's splendour is breathtaking. Photographs cannot do it's beauty justice. If you've never visited, I suggest you make time to at some point. You won't be disappointed.
Our visit to the Grand Canyon was a highlight of our trip. But it wasn't the only one. We dined at and ate a lot of amazing food. I also had the opportunity to check out a Vegas Uncork'd event. But I'll get into that tomorrow... Oh, and I promise to include a recipe too!
Saturday, April 25, 2009
We recently celebrated Easter twice. This year the Christian Easter fell on April 12th and the Eastern Orthodox Easter was on the 19th. I grew up celebrating the Eastern Orthodox Easter, so to keep my families traditions alive, we celebrate both. I know, we have it really tough...
Easter was always one of my favourite holidays when I was growing up. And this wasn't because of all the chocolate. It was because this was the one time of year my mother would make Tsoureki, or Greek Easter bread.
Tsoureki is a sweet bread that is similar to brioche. It's what my family always eats for breakfast on Easter Sunday. I always helped my mother make tsoureki on Holy Saturday. The dough is left to rise at least twice, so it is an all day event!
This year my mother couldn't visit me for Easter. So I decided I would attempt to make Tsoureki for the first time alone. I'll be honest, I was a little freaked out! I always watched while my mother did 90% of the work. It was always my job to fetch items for her, grease the baking pans, and to apply the egg wash. Plus, as you know from a previous post, I am not a baker.
In order to make the bread I needed my mother's recipe. Unfortunately, it was in Ontario with her and it is written in Greek. I had asked her to translate it and have my brother email it to me. But she kept forgetting to do the translation. On Holy Thursday she offered to translate it over the phone. This seemed like a bad idea to me. I am not a patient person, plus I imagined I would end up with a piece of paper filled with gibberish and I'd be back to square one. So I did the next best thing and went online and tried to find a recipe that "sounded right." I found two, read them to my mother, and she selected the recipe.
On Holy Saturday I dragged myself out of bed at 6 a.m. and began activating the yeast. The yeast takes one hour to proof, so I set an alarm and went back to bed (I was tired!). Last year we had issues with the yeast. So I was relieved when I woke up and found the yeast bubbling away and gassing up the place.
I then began mixing all the ingredients to make the dough. The dough has to be kneaded until it is smooth and no longer sticks to your hands, or about 10 minutes.
The dough is then placed in a large bowl, covered with a towel, and left to rise for about two hours. After it is risen, the dough is punched down, removed from the bowl and separated into 6 balls. Each ball is cut into thirds. Each strip is rolled until it is about 12 - 15 inches long (imagine playdough snakes) and then braided. The braided dough can then be placed into a loaf pan, or curled into a circle and placed in a round pan. At this point you can choose to push a dyed egg(s) between the braids. My family never did this, so I skipped this step. The bread is then covered and left to rise for another two hours, or until doubled in size.
The risen bread is then brushed with an egg wash. At this point you can sprinkle the bread with seasame seeds or almonds (I passed on this step). The bread is then baked at 360*F for about 30 - 40 mins, or until the bread is golden brown. And this is where I made my rookie mistake(s)...
First of all, for some reason, I thought it would be okay to bake all 6 loaves at the same time. Unfortunately, the loaves on the top rack began to brown rather quickly. So after about 15 minutes, I had to rearrange the loaves. After another 10 minutes the bread was was VERY brown. Had I left the bread in 5 more minutes it would have burned! And man, would I have been pissed off.
The good news is the bread tasted awesome. It didn't taste exactly like my mother's, but it was close enough. We enjoyed it on Easter Sunday with a hard boiled egg. It was delicious.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Remember when we were kids? Life was simple. It was easy. And it was fun. Then we grew up. Now we have jobs and responsibilities - we get caught up in the daily grind and worry about things that do not matter. We let little things annoy us, and let our frustration build until we're Bill Foster just trying to get home to our little girls birthday party....
I digress. I think there should be a balance. So I'm going to try and strike that balance. And I think the key is keeping it simple. Not everything in life has to be overdone, filled with complicated steps, layers and processes. Complicated does not always equal excellence.
Some of my favourite recipes are quite easy to throw together. They do not utilize expensive kitchen gadgets, difficult/precise techniques, or exotic spices, and hard to find ingredients. They're made with ingredients that compliment each other. So when you taste it, you taste each ingredient alone and collectively. They're just simple. Here is an example of what I'm talking about...
Propper Blokes' Sausage Fusilli
Adapted from Cook with Jamie
2 heaping tsps fennel seeds
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 lb 6 oz quality sausage
1 tblsp dried oregano
4 oz white wine
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 lb 2 oz fusilli or penne pasta
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tbsp butter
4 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese + extra for serving
small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Smash the fennel seeds and red pepper flakes with a pestle and mortar (or bash it between some plastic wrap with rolling pin) until coarsely crushed. Put this aside.
Heat a splash of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Squeeze the meat out of the skins and into the pan, breaking it up with the back of a spoon. Fry the sausagemeat for a few minutes until it starts to brown and the fat has rendered slightly, then crush it once more so it looks like coarse mince.
Add the fennel seed and red pepper mixture, turn heat down to medium, and cook for about 10 minutes until the meat is crisp, and golden brown and slightly caramelized.
Stir in the oregano. Add the white wine and scrape up all the tasty bits. Allow the wine to reduce by half. Add the lemon zest and juice. Turn the heat down to low while you cook the pasta according to the package instructions.
When the pasta has cooked to al dente, drain and reserve some of the pasta water. Toss the pasta into the skillet with the sausagemeat. Give it a quick stir, then add the butter, Parmesan cheese, parsley and a few spoonfuls of the reserve pasta water. Taste and check for seasoning. Serve immediately with extra grated Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
It's for all these reasons I get excited (yes, excited) when I come across a recipe that is for two. 2 (two) delicious servings. It's perfect. There is no halving, no remembering to halve, and no disappointment when the meal is prepared and you know it doesn't taste or look half as good as it would had you made the full recipe. Plus, a lot of two servings recipes are quick and easy.
One of my favourite two serving recipes is Tomato and Parmesan Strata. This recipes isn't awesome just because it is two servings and delicious. It's also quick, easy to prepare, and most people have all of these ingredients on hand.
Tomato and Parmesan Strata
Adapted from Cooking Light
2 slices whole wheat bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3 large egg whites
1 large egg
1 cup chopped seeded plum tomato (about 2 medium)
2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375°.
Place bread cubes in a 1 1/2-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Add spinach and garlic; sauté 2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Remove from heat.
Combine thyme, salt, black pepper, egg whites, and egg in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk. Stir in the spinach mixture and tomato. Pour egg mixture over bread cubes in baking dish; sprinkle with cheese.
Bake at 375° for 20 minutes or until set; let stand 5 minutes.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
I went to bed that night and had Mexcian cuisine dancing through my head. I awoke to be confronted by the strongest and most unsatiable craving I've ever had. I wanted Mexican food. I wanted it bad. Unfortunately, it took nearly two very very long weeks to get my fix. Finally, we went to Los Tapatios and feasted. And it was everything I had hoped it would be.
Here is a recipe, that while it is not authentic, it captures a lot of the delicous flavours of Mexican cuisine. Plus, it's healthier for those of us watching what we eat.
Chicken Tamale Casserole
Adapated from Cooking Light
1 cup (4 ounces) preshredded 4-cheese Mexican blend cheese, divided
1/3 cup fat-free milk
1/4 cup egg substitute
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp ground red pepper
1 (14 ¾ oz) can cream-style corn
1 (8 ½ oz) box corn muffin mix (such as Jiffy)
1 (4 oz) can chopped green chiles, drained
1 (10 oz) can red enchilada sauce (such as Old El Paso)
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
Preheat oven to 400°.
Combine 1/4 cup cheese and next 7 ingredients (through chiles) in a large bowl, stirring just until moist. Pour mixture into a 13 x 9–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.
Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until set. Pierce entire surface liberally with a fork; pour enchilada sauce over top. Top with chicken; sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup cheese. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until cheese melts. Remove from oven; let stand 5 minutes. Cut into 8 pieces; top each serving with 1 tablespoon sour cream(optional).
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
This morning I decided I would make a dinner in honour of him. A few posts ago I described a polenta my Dad used to make. Like I said before, if I had to choose a last supper, this would be it. It's polenta mixed with bacon and feta cheese. Sometimes Dad would add onion and parmesan to the mix. That is how I made it tonight. It was delicious. And just like my Dad used to make. I think if he were to taste it, he'd be proud.
Tomislav's polenta with bacon and feta cheese
1 1/2 cups coarse ground corn meal
1/2 lb slab bacon
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
2 handfuls of crumbled feta
1 handful of grated parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350*F.
Heat a 10" cast iron skillet over medium heat. While skillet and oven heat, cut bacon into small cubes and finely chop onion. Add bacon to skillet and stir occasionally.
While bacon cooks pour 1 1/2 cups of water and 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth into a medium pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add polenta and remaining water and broth to a bowl. Stir to combine and set aside.
When the chicken broth and water comes to a boil, add the onion to the skillet and lower heat to medium-low. Stir occasionally. Then slowly add the polenta mixture to the pot and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for about 15 minutes. When bacon is caramelized and onion is translucent, strain fat and set aside.
Remove pot from heat. Add bacon mixture to polenta, stirring until combined. Pour half of this mixture into the skillet. Sprinkle with a handful of feta cheese. Pour remaining polenta bacon mixture into skillet. Top with remaining feta cheese and parmesan. Pour heavy cream over top (optional).
Bake in oven for 40 - 45 minutes, until polenta is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 - 15 minutes before serving.
Friday, March 20, 2009
It is also the Lenten season, so we've been eating a lot of fish. We haven't tried the Wegman's Friday fish fry. To be honest, I'm not patient enough! In the same time I'd waste standing in the insanely long line, I could have battered and fried my own fish. Plus, fish is healthy for you. Why waste that by battering and frying it? I find it also masks the flavour of the fish, not enhance it. So we've been mixing it up with different fish and cooking methods.
Grilled Tilapia with Smoked Paprika and Parmesan Polenta
Adapted from Cooking Light
4 cups fat-free milk
1 cup quick-cooking polenta
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 oz grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tblsp olive oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 (6-ounce) tilapia fillets
Bring milk to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually add polenta, stirring constantly with a whisk. Reduce heat, and cook 5 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly; stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese; cover and keep warm.
Heat a large grill (I used a regular frying pan) pan over medium-high heat. Combine oil, paprika, garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a bowl, stirring well. Rub fish evenly with oil mixture. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add fish to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I wish I could be this adventurous with baking. I attempted to make a guitar shaped cake for my husband's birthday. My plan was to make a decadent chocolate cake, cover it with vanilla butter cream, and then a chocolate ganache. Unfortunately, my plan was foiled when the cake would not release from the pan and fell apart. This happened despite following the pans instructions - Thank you Wilton! The cake itself was delicious. So I made a delicious chocolate trifle instead.
My baking skills have been improving. This past summer I mastered making pies from scratch. My favourites were Blackberry Apple and Blueberry. Prior to becoming pie savvy, the only baked good I could make with consistent good results was banana bread. My banana bread never comes out too dry, or too moist. It's always perfect. And it should be, since I've been making it for as long as I can remember!
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup sugar
6 tblsps butter, softened
3/4 tsp lemon zest
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/4 cups ripe bananas (2 - 3), mashed
All ingredients should be at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350*F. Grease 8.5 X 4.5 loaf pan.
In a small bowl whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add the sugar, butter, and lemon zest to the bowl of your mixer. Beat on medium speed until creamy. Add the eggs and bananas until incorporated. Then add the dry ingredients in about 3 parts, beating until smooth after each addition.
Pour batter into greased loaf pan. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the certain comes out clean. Cool slightly, then remove from loaf pan. Cool completely before slicing.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Chicken and Mushrooms in a Garlic Wine Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light
4 oz uncooked medium egg noodles
1 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
2 tblsp all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 tsp salt, divided
1/4 tsp black pepper, divided
2 tblsp olive oil, divided
1 tblsp bottled minced garlic
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and keep warm.
Cut chicken into 1-inch pieces. Place chicken breast halves in a shallow dish. Combine 1 tablespoon flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, stirring well with a whisk. Sprinkle flour mixture over chicken; toss to coat.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan; sauté 4 minutes or until browned.
Remove chicken from pan. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan. Add garlic, tarragon, and mushrooms to pan; sauté for 3 minutes or until liquid evaporates and mushrooms darken.
Add white wine to pan; cook 1 minute. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon flour; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in broth, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper; cook 1 minute or until slightly thick, stirring frequently.
Return chicken to the pan. Cover and simmer 2 minutes. Uncover; cook 1 minute or until chicken is done. Stir in noodles; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon cheese.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
This year I had a hard time deciding what to make for dessert. Then I watched an episode of Barefoot Contessa where Ina made a chocolate gelato. I watched Ina prepare the gelato and I drooled. I had to make it for our Valentine's Day dinner.
The recipe calls for not one, not two, but three types of chocolate; bittersweet, unsweetened cocoa powder, and Baci chocolates. And the deliciousness doesn't stop there, it also calls for Kahlua - my favourite liquer. The gelato is decadent, creamy, and down right delicious. I'm drooling a little thinking about...
Deeply Chocolate Gelato
Courtesy of Ina Garten
2 1/4 cups whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 large egg yolks
2 tbsp Kahlua
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Large pinch kosher salt
8 Baci chocolates, roughly chopped, optional
Heat the milk, cream, and 1/2 cup sugar in a 2-quart saucepan, until the sugar dissolves and the milk starts to simmer. Add the cocoa powder and chocolate and whisk until smooth. Pour into a heat-proof measuring cup.
Place the egg yolks and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and very thick. With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the hot chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Pour the egg and chocolate mixture back into the 2-quart saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. A candy thermometer will register about 180 degrees F. Don't allow the mixture to boil!
Pour the mixture through a sieve into a bowl and stir in the coffee liqueur, vanilla, and salt. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the custard and chill completely.
Pour the custard into the bowl of an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's directions. Stir in the roughly chopped chocolate, if using, and freeze in covered containers. Allow the gelato to thaw slightly before serving.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
My favourite was his polenta. My father would get a chunk of uncut bacon from our butcher. He would chop the bacon and cook it in a cast iron skillet. While the bacon cooked, he would make polenta. To the polenta, he would add the cooked bacon, and a handful (or two) of crumbled feta cheese. He would mix this until combined and season to taste with salt and pepper. Then the polenta mixture was poured into the cast iron skillet (with the bacon fat goodness). He would then bake it until golden brown. He always served it by the slice (like a pie) with a dollop of sour cream. I know my quick and dirty description does not do this meal justice. I will say this, if I had to choose a meal to have as my last dinner, this would be it. Hands. Down. No second thoughts. It is THAT good.
Unfortunately, my parents also cooked food that was unappetizing to my brother and I, like head cheese, cow tongue, and brain. They also fried a lot of fish. And I HATED the smell. I don't know what they did to make the fried fish smell the way it did! I don't know if it was the type of fish (fresh perch and cat fish), the batter, the type of oil, or all of the above. When my parents fried fish I would shut myself in my room, stuff towels under my door, and open my window (even if it was -30 degrees Celsius outside). It was THAT bad of a smell. I swore off fish until 2004 when I was forced to eat at Joe's Crab Shack. I decided to stop being irrational and give fish a chance. I had a peanut crusted Mahi Mahi. My first bite was a hallelujah moment. Fish actually tasted good, and more importantly, it didn't smell!
Italian Fish and Veggie Pockets
Courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis
1 lemon, zested
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 1/2 pounds sugar snap peas, stemmed
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 orange bell pepper, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 teaspoons olive oil
4 (4-ounce) trout fillets, skinned (or other fish about 1/2-inch thick)
8 thin slices lemon
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl mix together the lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
Lay out the 4 sheets of aluminum foil. Place 1/4 of the sugar snap peas, 1/4 of the yellow bell peppers, and 1/4 of the orange bell peppers on each sheet of foil. Over each pile of vegetables drizzle 2 tablespoons of white wine, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and gently toss.
Top each pile of seasoned vegetables with a piece of fish. Sprinkle the fish with some of the reserved lemon zest mixture. Top each fish with 2 slices of lemon.
Fold up the foil into an air-tight packet. Place the foil packets in the oven and bake for 15 to 18 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Sprinkle the fish with mint just before serving.
Monday, February 23, 2009
So this meal predates my (un?)healthy obsession with all things food. I was living in a studio apartment. My kitchen, if you could call it that, had one foot of counter space. Barely any cupboard space. The fridge sort of blocked the doorway, so you had to enter sideways. The fridge door opened into the hallway. The oven door, when pulled open, came within one inch of hitting the wall. So ya, my "kitchen" was small. Very small. It made cooking a hassle. And if you know me, I hate hassles.
So back to dinner at Pasta Plus. I read over the menu and thought the Gnocchi Verde sounded good, only I didn't know what Gnocchi was. I asked our waitress and I remember she described them as potato dumplings, like little potato pillows. I was sold. My dish came and I fell in love immediately.
Four years later my love for Gnocchi has not wavered. I'm now living in Endicott, NY, where we have quite a few excellent Italian places who all have great Gnocchi dishes. When I cook it at home I use the vacuum packed Gnocchi. It's as fresh as your going to get without making your own. Which is something I've been meaning to do, but haven't had time. I think it looks like fun, and I really like the idea of having freshly made Gnocchi at home.
Brown Butter Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts
Adpated from CookingLight.com
16oz package vacuum-packed gnocchi
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, minced
10oz package fresh baby spinach
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 oz finely shredded Parmesan cheese
Cook gnocchi according to package directions; drain.
Heat butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts to pan; cook 3 minutes or until butter and nuts are lightly browned, stirring constantly. Add garlic to pan; cook 1 minute. Add gnocchi and spinach to pan; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts, stirring constantly. Stir in salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Side note: If you ever find yourseful in Laurel, MD, I highly recommened Pasta Plus. The food is bloody amazing!
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Since I cannot hibernate, I've been making the best of it by eating comfort foods. Cooking meals that include widely available, relatively in-expensive, ingredients like lentils, apples, and squash will make you and your bank account happy. The other night I made this recipe, and paired it with a mash of butternut squash and apples. This meal made me forget about my dreams of hibernation.
Apple Braised Chicken
Adapted from Weight Watchers
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 lbs uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 large onion, sliced
2 medium apple, firm, cored and sliced (I used Granny Smith)
1 cup apple cider
1 cup fat-free chicken broth
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cornstarch
In a large skillet, warm oil over medium-high heat. Toss chicken with flour in a medium bowl, patting off excess. Place chicken in skillet and brown well on both sides. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
Reduce the temperature to low and add onion to skillet. Sauté, stirring often, until onion is tender and lightly browned.
Stir in apples, cider, chicken broth, salt, ginger and chicken. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Then transfer chicken, onions and apples to a serving dish.
In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 2 to 3 tablespoons of pan juices. Combine cornstarch mixture with remaining pan juices, whisking constantly. Simmer for one minute. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.
Mashed Butternut Squash and Apples
Adapted from Weight Watchers
20 oz butternut squash, fresh, peeled and cubed
2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into small pieces*
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Place squash, apples and cider in a shallow microwave-safe baking dish or container; sprinkle butter over top. Cover and microwave on high until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Mash until smooth, but chunky; stir in thyme, salt and pepper.
*You'll probably notice in the photo that I failed to peel the apples. This is what happens when you do not fully pay attention. Neither Dan or I noticed the skin. I think most of it was pushed to the bottom of the dish while I was mashing. So maybe this was a time saver? ;)
Friday, February 13, 2009
This past Monday it was a double birthday. The baker in our office made her famous apple crisp (so delicious). Since quite a few folks in our office are trying to lose weight, I decided to make a healthful baked good so everyone could join. I scoured Cooking Light, Food Network, Weight Watchers and a few of my cookbooks for a recipe. I finally settled on Banana Muffins with Tart Lemon Icing. I love banana bread, lemons, and icing. So how bad could combining all those things into little packages be? They turned out to be better then I thought. The tart yet sweet icing was perfect. I would make it again and drizzle it over strawberries, or angle food cake, and use it to ice a banana loaf. Hell, I'd even eat it by the spoonfuls, it was that good!
Banana Muffins with Tart Lemon Icing
Adapted from Weight Watchers
1/2 cup sugar
5 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp Pure Vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup fat-free skim milk
4 large ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest, or more to taste
1 tsp Pure Vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line 18 muffin holes with paper liners, or spray muffins holes with nonstick spray.Place sugar and butter in a large bowl; cream with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; beat until thoroughly mixed.
In another large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add half of flour mixture to butter mixture; beat well with mixer. Add milk and remaining flour mixture; beat until batter is combined and then gently fold in mashed bananas.
Spoon batter into muffin holes/liners about 3/4 full. Bake until muffins start to brown and tooth pick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Allow muffins to cool in pan for about 2 minutes; remove to a wire rack and cool completely before icing.
Meanwhile, combine icing ingredients in a medium bowl; beat with an electric mixer until creamy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Ice cooled muffins; cover and refrigerate any uneaten muffins.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
I was always my Mother's helper when she made crêpes. She used an 10" cast iron skillet that was perfectly seasoned. The first crêpe she made was usually a bust. She would adjust her temperature and I would snack on the malformed crêpe. One by one, her perfectly formed crêpes would be tossed on a plate for me to fill. We always filled the crêpes with either jam (strawberry, raspberry, grape), or sugar. Occasionally she would let me use Nutella. My mother always made sweet crêpes. I had never had a savory crêpe until last year. It was good, but I prefer sweet.
Crêpes are not difficult to make. They are made from a simple batter and cook quickly. You do not need a special crêpe pan - I use an 10" nonstick skillet with curved sides. You will need a spatula to flip. Or, if you are skilled enough, you can flip them using the pan and a flick of your wrist. I managed to do this on my third attempt (so proud). It's too risky though, so I will stick with using my spatula!
1 cup of flour
1 cup of milk (2% is best, but will work with skim)
1/2 cup water
1/2 stick of butter, melted
3 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
Combine all of the ingredients in a blender. You will want to blend until the batter is smooth (scrape down the sides if necessary). Place the batter in refrigerator for 1 hour (this allows the batter to set).
Heat 10" nonstick skillet over medium heat. Either spray the pan with cooking spray, or add some butter to the pan. Once the pan is hot (the spray, or butter should not be smoking) remove the pan from heat, and pour 1/4 cup of the batter onto the pan. You'll want to quickly tilt/rotate the pan so that the batter spreads evenly over the bottom, then return it to the heat. Cook until the crêpe bubbles and the underside is lightly browned. Gently flip the crêpes using your spatula. Cook until second side is lightly browned (not even 30 seconds). Slide crêpe off onto pan. Repeat until batter is gone.
To fill the crêpes, spread (or sprinkle if you're using sugar) 1-2tbsp of your chosen filling onto the crêpe and roll. You can also make a cake by spreading each crêpe with a thin layer of jam, and then layering them. Sprinkle with sugar to finish.
Side note: If you live in the Binghamton area you have to visit Crêpe Heaven in Johnson City. The food is simple, fresh, made from scratch, affordable and pretty damn tasty. The coffee is also rocking, they even serve Turkish Coffee. The owner is always there and is super friendly. So please, go eat there. You will not be disappointed!
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Pork chops + fresh sage + Parmesan cheese + Bread crumbs = A very happy Tacha.
Parmesan and Sage-Crusted Pork Chops
Adapated from Cookinglight.com
1 (1 1/4-ounce) slice white bread, torn into pieces
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
2 large egg whites
4 (4-ounce) boneless thin-cut pork loin chops, trimmed
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
Working with one pork chop at a time, dredge pork in flour, shaking off excess. Dip pork into egg white mixture, allowing excess to drip off. Coat pork completely with breadcrumb mixture. Set aside. Repeat procedure with remaining pork, flour, egg white mixture, and breadcrumb mixture.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan, swirling to coat. Add pork; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned and done.