Thursday, April 30, 2009

Seven-Layer Masterpiece

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Easy does it! Sometimes the simplest things really are the best. With Cinco de Mayo right around the corner, this recipe is a great quick fix for any Mexican craving. Crack open a Corona and prepare this dip, sit back, relax, and watch as it disappears before your very eyes. Magic!

Seven-Layer Dip
Serves 12

1 ½ cups sour cream
1 T. dry taco-seasoning mix (I generally forgo the taco mix and spike the sour cream with some cumin instead)
1 can (16 oz.) refried beans
1 ½ cups ready-made or homemade guacamole
1 cup chopped black olives
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 cup chopped red onion
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (I'll sometimes use a mix of Jack and Cheddar, which is often pre-mixed in a "Mexican" or "Taco"-style combo... any of these are fine)
1 cup chopped scallions

In a small bowl combine sour cream and taco seasoning; set aside. In the bottom of a 11x7” glass baking dish, spread beans. Top beans with guacamole, then the sour cream mixture. Spoon on olives, followed by tomatoes, onion and cheese. Sprinkle scallions on top. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with tortilla chips.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In a New York State of Mind

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New York City. It's the Big Apple, the city that never sleeps, and also the city that has captivated my heart. Cheesy, I know. But come on, New York has it all! Namely, it is a premiere dining destination. Among all the other tourist attractions, New York has some of the best restaurants and the most celebrated chefs in the entire world. Now, I have not been to most of these pricey establishments, but I have, however, dipped my toe, if you will. Some of the most famous eateries are quite reasonable in fact. The pizzas are quite affordable, even at the more trendy pizzerias. Street vendors also go hand-in-hand with the typical food of the city. Where else could a hot dog cart bring so much joy to hungry citizens? Each neighborhood brings it's own culinary niche into this ever-more-populous city. Check out this amazing book for a culinary history of the city along with some really great recipes. There's no place more food-happy than New York, New York... that's all I'm saying :o)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Adventures in Goat Cheese: Part 1

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To be honest, goats were probably put on Earth for the sole purpose of producing milk with which to make cheese. I can't really see any other obvious reason why these bearded, garbage-eating creatures haven't been snuffed out over the years through natural selection. In any case, thank you, God. Goat cheese makes me happy. Please enjoy part one of my adventures in goat cheese. Through this series of blog entries, I will demonstrate the versatility of this tangy ingredient. And here we goooooooooooooooo...

Chevre Fermier Pain (Breaded Goat Cheese)
Serves 2-4
(Adapted from Bistros and Brasseries)

4 oz fresh goat cheese
Olive oil for frying
All-purpose flour for dredging
Egg wash of 1 egg blended with 1 tbsp milk
½ cup bread crumbs, fresh if pan-frying, dry if broiling (I highly recommend frying, it's worth the extra fat and calories)
¼ lb mesclun greens
Salt and pepper as needed
White wine vinaigrette (recipe follows), or other vinaigrette of your choice

1. Cut the goat cheese crosswise into ¾ inch disks—it’s easy if you use a piece of plain dental floss to slice through the log. You’ll need one or two discs per person.

2. To pan-fry, heat oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Dredge the disks in flour and shake off excess, dip them in egg wash and then coat with fresh bread crumbs. Pan-fry until they’re nice and golden, about 2 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon or spatula and drain on paper towels.

3. To broil, coat the disks in dry bread crumbs and broil until they’re lightly browned on top, about 3 minutes. These are quite delicate and require gentle handling.

4. While the cheese is warming, season the greens with salt and pepper, and toss with the vinaigrette. Separate the greens onto chilled salad plates. Place one or two of the warmed cheese disks on top of each salad and serve.

White Wine Vinaigrette
Makes 2 cups

½ cup white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon-style mustard
Salt and pepper as needed
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup corn or safflower oil
2 to 3 tbsp minced herbs, optional

Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, about ½ teaspoon salt, and a pinch of black pepper. Gradually add in the oils until they are all incorporated and the vinaigrette is smooth and lightly thickened (as the vinegar sits it will start to separate). Alternatively, use a blender. Season with minced herbs, if using, and additional salt and pepper, if needed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A California Breakfast

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I just felt the need to share with you all how absolutely yummy the eggs I made this weekend were. You may recall my previous post about Eggs Benedict, and I'd like to offer a bit of an update. I had fresh avocados and tomatoes this weekend and knew instantly that I needed to try making some Eggs Tomavo (see the link above), but instead of mashing up the avocado as instructed in the original recipe, I sliced it thickly. What a better idea! There were big buttery bites of avocado instead of a puree, and it stood up well to the rest of the ingredients. When I closed my eyes I felt like I was right back in Cali... In any case, I just needed to share. It was too good to keep to myself :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

An Oldie, But a Goodie

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I first made this recipe circa 1999 and for many years it was one of my go-to pasta dishes. It had been a while since I'd made it, and it recently occured to me that I should bring it back out of retirement. I'm so glad I did! It's really one of those super quick and easy pasta dishes where you generally have most of the ingredients lying around (minus the mushrooms, most likely) and can whip up at a moment's notice. Gotta love it!

Mushroom Rigatoni
Serves 4 to 6
(Recipe from In Style Magazine)

1 T. olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
10 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup white wine
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 lb. rigatoni
Parmesan cheese

In saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and mushrooms; cook, stirring, 3-4 minutes until vegetables have softened and mushrooms have released their juices. Add wine; cook until evaporated, 2-3 minutes. Add tomato sauce, parsley, salt and pepper; bring to a simmer and cook 4-5 minutes. Stir in cream; simmer uncovered 2 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to boil; add pasta. Cook, uncovered, over high heat, 7-9 minutes or until al dente. Drain pasta, return to pot and mix well with sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese; serve hot.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pie Heaven

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This is quite possibly the best pie in the history of the world... no exaggeration. I've made this on several occasions with rave reviews. My friend Jamie says it's the best pie she's ever had. She and her boyfriend had Banana Cream Pie at the House of Pies in Los Angeles recently. He thought it was great, but she told him mine is better. It is. Try it for yourself! You can easily make the pastry cream in advance and store it in the refrigerator, and the pie dough also keeps well in the fridge or freezer if you want to make it ahead of time and bake off the pie that day (or even the day before). Prepare the parts in advance and just assemble the whole thing the day you plan to eat it, whip up some heavy cream and you've got yourself an impressive dessert!

Banana Cream Pie with Chocolate
Makes 8 to 12 servings
(Adapted from Tartine)

1 flaky pie crust (see below)
6 oz bittersweet chocolate chips, separated
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 T. sugar
2 1/2 cups pastry cream (see below)
2 ripe bananas, sliced into 1/4 inch-thick slices

Melt half the chocolate chips in a bowl in the microwave for 1 1/2 minutes on 50% power. Check to see if they are soft enough, if not, microwave on 50% power for another 15 seconds at a time. Stir the melted chocolate until smooth.

Spread the melted chocolate with the back of a spoon evenly over the inside of the pie crust. Don't spread it too thick or else when it cools it will make the pie very difficult to slice. Refrigerate the chocolate-coated crust until the chocolate becomes firm, about 10 minutes.

While the chocolate is setting, whip the heavy cream either with a whisk or in a mixer bowl with a whisk attachment until thickened. Add the sugar and continue to whip until it holds medium-firm peaks.

Remove the pie shell from the fridge and transfer the pastry cream into the crust, smoothing it out a bit. Arrange the banana slices over the cream, and lightly press them into the cream. Using an offset or rubber spatula, spread the whipped cream on top. Garnish with the remaining chocolate chips.

Chill the pie until the pastry cream is set, at least 3 hours. The pie will keep in the refrigerator for 4 days. The chocolate layer serves as a barrier to the pastry cream softening the crust.

Flaky Pie Crust
Makes 1 9-inch or 10-inch pie crust

1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup very cold water
1 1/2 cups + 1 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup + 2 1/2 T. unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small cubes

In a small bowl add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Keep cold in the refrigerator.

In a food processor, put the flour in the work bowl and add the small butter cubes, scattering all over. Pulse briefly until the mixture forms large crumbs and some of the butter is still the size of peas. Add the water-salt mixture and pulse for several seconds until the dough begins to come together in a ball. You should still be able to see some butter chunks.

On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a disk 1 inch thick. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or up to overnight (this dough can now be frozen in a freezer bag and then defrosted in the refrigerator the day before it is to be used).

Place the chilled dough on a floured surface and roll out 1/8 inch thick, lifting and rotating the dough to make sure it doesn't stick, and working quickly to ensure the dough stays as cold as possible. Add more flour to the board as needed.

Roll the dough circle gently over the rolling pin and then gently unroll the circle over the pie dish, easing it into the bottom and sides, and pressing gently into place. Avoid stretching the dough, as it will shrink back when baking. Trim the dough edges with a sharp knife and flute or crimp the edges if you prefer.

Chill the crust 30 minutes to an hour in the fridge before baking. This ensures the flakiest crust.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights (or dry beans if you don't have weights). Bake until the surface looks light brown, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the weights and paper and return the pie crust to the oven and bake until lightly golden about 5 minutes longer.

Let the crust cool completely before filling. The crust will keep, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for 1 week, or in the freezer for 2 weeks.

Pastry Cream
Makes 2 1/2 cups

2 cups milk (I use low-fat milk and it always turns out great)
1 tsp. vanilla extract (don't use imitation, it sucks)
1/4 tsp. salt
4 T. cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 T. unsalted butter

Pour the milk, vanilla extract, and salt into a heavy saucepan and heat over medium-high, bringing the milk just to under a boil, stirring occasionally so the milk doens't burn to the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar and cornstarch.

When the milk is ready, slowly ladle about one-third into the eggs, whisking constantly. Pour the egg mixture back into the hot milk and continue whisking over medium heat until the custard is noticeably thicker, about 2 minutes.

To check the correct thickness of the cream, dip a wooden spoon into the custard, remove it and run your finger across it. It should leave a line where your finger crossed. When the custard is thick enough, remove it from the heat and strain it into a clean bowl.

Let cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cut the butter into 1 T. pieces and whisk the butter into the cream, one piece at a time. To cool the cream, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and press the wrap directly onto the top of the cream. Once the cream is a little cooler, put it into the fridge to finish cooling. Pastry cream will keep in the refrigerator for 5 days.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

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I remember the first chicken cordon bleu I ever had. It was made with regular ham and American cheese. I remember enjoying it a lot, but looking back I can't really understand why, since the ingredients were generally sub-par. In any case, it planted a seed for chicken cordon bleu love. I recently tried Tyler Florence's version of this great dish and was really blown away. I will never try another recipe as long as I live. This is the one!! The prosciutto totally trumps regular ham and the crust is delicious! The panko really makes a difference.

Chicken Cordon Bleu
Serves 4

4 chicken breasts, skinless and boneless
4 thin slices prosciutto di Parma
1/2 pound Gruyere, grated
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup panko bread crumbs
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
Extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Lay the chicken breast between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, gently pound the chicken to 1/4-inch thickness. Remove the top sheet of plastic and lay a slice of prosciutto neatly over the top to cover the breast and sprinkle a quarter of the cheese over the prosciutto. Roll up tight like a jellyroll inside the plastic wrap. Squeeze the log gently to seal and twist both ends tight to form a nice log. Repeat with remaining chicken. Refrigerate chicken rolls for at least 1 hour to help chicken hold its shape before breading.

Season the flour with salt and pepper. Mix the bread crumbs with thyme, garlic and kosher salt, pepper, and melted butter. The butter will help the crust brown. Beat together the eggs and season so the flour, the eggs and the crumbs are all seasoned.

Remove the plastic wrap. Lightly dust the chicken with flour, dip in the egg mixture and gently coat in the bread crumbs. Lightly coat a baking pan with olive oil and carefully transfer the roulades onto it. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until browned and cooked through. Cut into roulades and serve.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Different Take on Mac and Cheese

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Macaroni and Cheese doesn't need to be a giant casserole filled with cheddery elbow macaroni, topped with a golden crust. Although I love this tradition version, there are so many great variations to the original. One of my favorite cookbooks (given to me by one of my favorite people in the world) is aptly named Macaroni and Cheese. It contains countless macaroni/cheese combinations including soups and pasta salads as well! Don't limit yourself to that infamous blue box from Kraft. This is a quick dish you can throw together in the time it takes to boil a pot of water. So what are you waiting for?

Macaroni's Got the Blues
Serves 4
(From Macaroni and Cheese)

1/4 cup pine nuts
8 oz blue cheese, such as Roquefort, crumbled
1/3 cup heavy cream or mascarpone
3 T. pesto (homemade or store-bought)
12 oz penne or fettuccine

Lightly toast the pine nuts in a heavy nonstick frying pan over medium heat until they are golden brown in spots. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile in a large bowl combine the blue cheese with the cream and pesto. Set aside.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and reserve about 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

Toss the hot pasta with the blue cheese-cream mixture, adding a few spoonfuls of cooking water to bind the sauce to the pasta. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and serve right away.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Giant Sugar Cookies

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Martha Stewart is easily one of my food idols. She's been to prison and back, and yet she still maintains a level of class and sophistication that is so clear in all of her cooking and crafting. Her book Martha Stewart's Cookies is by far one of my favorites. It's a great go-to book for all of my cookie-baking needs. These giant sugar cookies remind me of the ones you find at bakeries. They are packed full of flavor, super chewy, and HUGE! Make sure you leave a lot of space between the cookies as you bake them, or else you'll end up with one giant cookie instead of several.

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies
Makes about 1 1/2 dozen
(From Martha Stewart's Cookies)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. coarse salt
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 T. finely grated lemon zest
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 T. fresh lemon juice
Coarse sugar or sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.

Put sugars and zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add butter; mix until pale and fluffy, about 1 minute. Mix in eggs one at a time, and then the lemon juice. Reduce speed to low; gradually mix in flour mixture.

Using a 2-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets, spacing 3 inches apart. Flatten cookies slightly; sprinkle with coarse sugar or sanding sugar. Lightly brush with a wet pastry brush; sprinkle with more sugar.

Bake cookies until golden, about 15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to wire racks using a spatula; let col completely. Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Birthday Quiche

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Today is my birthday. This year, I'm sharing my special day with Jesus (it's Easter). I decided to make a fabulous brunch for my family, both to celebrate my birthday and also tie in eggs to help celebrate Easter. What more perfect concoction could marry these ideals than a flaky, buttery, eggy quiche! We all know my love for the French, so this is a perfect substitute for birthday cake. I think that birthday quiches will be the new black. What do you think?

My Birthday Quiche
Serves 4 to 6

1 1/2 T olive oil, separated
1 1/2 cups onion, sliced
1/2 lb thickly sliced ham (1 slice should be enough), chopped into cubes
1 medium zucchini, roughly chopped
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
5 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 flaky pie crust (see below)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat up 1 T. olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened. Then add mushrooms and garlic and cook until mushrooms soften and release their juices. Add zucchini and cooked until softened. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a small skillet, add remaining 1/2 T. olive oil and saute ham until it heats through and releases some of its juices. Strain juices and set ham aside.

Spoon vegetables, ham, and sun-dried tomatoes over baked pie crust, evenly distributing filling. In a bowl, beat together eggs, cream and more salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over filling and place pie dish into the oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes until quiche is set and eggs are no longer runny. Let sit for a few minute before serving.

Flaky Pie Crust
Makes 1 9-inch or 10-inch pie crust

1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup very cold water
1 1/2 cups + 1 T. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup + 2 1/2 T. unsalted butter, very cold and cut into small cubes

In a small bowl add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve. Keep cold in the refrigerator.

In a food processor, put the flour in the work bowl and add the small butter cubes, scattering all over. Pulse briefly until the mixture forms large crumbs and some of the butter is still the size of peas. Add the water-salt mixture and pulse for several seconds until the dough begins to come together in a ball. You should still be able to see some butter chunks.

On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a disk 1 inch thick. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or up to overnight (this dough can now be frozen in a freezer bag and then defrosted in the refrigerator the day before it is to be used).

Place the chilled dough on a floured surface and roll out 1/8 inch thick, lifting and rotating the dough to make sure it doesn't stick, and working quickly to ensure the dough stays as cold as possible. Add more flour to the board as needed.

Roll the dough circle gently over the rolling pin and then gently unroll the circle over the pie dish, easing it into the bottom and sides, and pressing gently into place. Avoid stretching the dough, as it will shrink back when baking. Trim the dough edges with a sharp knife and flute or crimp the edges if you prefer.

Chill the crust 30 minutes to an hour in the fridge before baking. This ensures the flakiest crust.

To parbake the crust, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line the shell with parchment paper and fill with pie weights (or dry beans if you don't have weights). Bake until the surface looks dry and pale, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the weights and paper and return the pie crust to the oven and bake a few minutes longer.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Chicken Marsala

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One of my favorite Italian dishes (that doesn't require red sauce) is Chicken Marsala. It's found on the menus of Italian restaurants everywhere, and yet it's so simple to make at home. I usually use halved chicken breasts cut into cutlets, but I've also used chicken tenders (because that's what I had) and it turned out delicious and actually even more tender than the breasts! I didn't even need a knife to cut them.


This sauce is thickened just enough without being goopy. There is nothing worse than a too-thick sauce. This is just the perfect viscosity to coat noodles serving as a bed beneath your chicken. It would also be a lovely gravy if you serve your marsala with mashed potatoes.


The ingredients are incredibly basic, and if you have chicken in your fridge or freezer, masala wine and chicken stock or broth in your pantry, the only other fresh ingredient you'd need is mushrooms.


I've made this with cremini mushrooms as well as standard button mushrooms. You could always get creative and use a variety. That's part of the fun of making this homemade, you can really tweak it to your liking with what is available to you.


If you have some parsley on hand, finish the dish with little color by stirring some in, but I've made this countless times without this flourish, and it's delicious regardless.


*Note* This entire post was updated 6/17/15.

Chicken Marsala
Serves 2 to 4 (depending on how hungry you are)

2 (6 to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in halves and pounded thin or halved and sliced horizontally into cutlets (or use actual chicken cutlets or even an equivalent amount of chicken tenders)
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, paprika, garlic powder, dried oregano, and dried thyme for seasoning
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups sliced mushrooms, such as cremini or button
3/4 cup Marsala wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Season the chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and dried herbs. Dredge chicken breast halves in the 1/2 cup flour and shake off excess.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Cook chicken for 3 minutes per side, remove and set aside. Add remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook until they are golden and release their liquid. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons flour and toss to coat the mushrooms evenly, cooking them for another couple minutes.

Slowly add the Marsala wine, mixing or whisking constantly to make sure the flour is dissolved into the liquid smoothly. Bring to a boil, scraping the pan to loosen any browned bits. Cook until the wine reduces by half and then add the chicken stock, cooking until the sauce thickens, a few minutes.

Lower the heat to medium, and add the chicken to the pan and continue to cook until the chicken is cooked through, and the sauce thickens more, about 5 minutes. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper, stir in the parsley if using, and serve immediately over pasta (spaghetti and linguine are good choices) or mashed potatoes.


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