Archive | January, 2010

Cheery Chai Cupcakes

27 Jan

My brother is getting married. It’s a very exciting time for the whole family. Next weekend is the engagement party, and I’ve been asked to bring a cake. I asked my brother and his fiancé what kind of cake they would like, but they both answered one that tastes good. Hmmm… now to narrow it down.

I know my brother’s fiancé, Heather, loves chai. Just like I am an avid coffee drinker, she is an avid chai drinker. In chatting about next weekend’s festivities I suggested a chai cake. At first she wasn’t sure. Would everyone like a chai cake? Well, I proposed a taste test. I would make a cupcake version to see if the recipe worked and if the flavors would please everyone.

So the picture is the result of said experiment. Not only were the cupcakes adorable, but they taste great! They are spicy and sweet, similar to a gingerbread but with a sweet tea finish.

Heather’s still at work so I don’t have a verdict yet but I’ll keep you updated 🙂

Here’s the recipe:

Chai Spice Cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 packet instant vanilla chai
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/8 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
3/8 cup skim milk

In a small bowl,  sift the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs 1 at a time until fully incorporated. Add in the dry ingredients in 3 stages alternating with the milk.

Fill paper cupcake cups 3/4 of the way full and bake at 325 fro 25 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

For frosting:
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup cream cheese
3 cups powdered sugar
1 packet instant chai
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice

These are a unique twist on a traditional favorite. I hope they are a hit at the party!

Always thinking of the next meal (even if that meal is dessert)


A Classy Simple Soup

25 Jan

Potato leek soupI love potato leek soup. It’s filling and warms you right down to your toes. It’s a classic soup that sometimes gets overlooked when it’s time to decide what to make for dinner. My recipe is not only elegant, but easy to make.

Katie’s Potato Leek Soup:

2 large or 4 small leeks, sliced into 1/4 in pieces, dark green tops reserved
1 pound red bliss potatoes, washed, skins left on, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 tablespoons butter
5 cups leek broth (recipe below)
salt and pepper to taste
chives and bacon to garnish

Start by melting the butter in a pot. Then add the leeks and stir. Let the leeks cook until translucent. Keep an eye on them since they have a tendency to burn if not stirred every so often. When the leek are softened, add the leek broth to the pan, reserving about a 1/2 cup just in case you need to adjust the consistency at the end. Add in the potatoes and stir. Let the soup cook for 30-45 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. (You want the potatoes to slide right off a knife when they are pierced) Using a blender or an immersion blender, puree until the soup is thick and velvety. Season and garnish with chives and/or bacon. It is also great with fried onions or potato chip crumbled on top.

Leek Broth:

Dark green leaves reserved from the leeks, roughly chopped into 1 inch pieces
6 cups water

Put the leaves and the water in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and let cook for 45 minutes. Strain the liquid out and set aside for the soup.

Chef’s Note: You can use other varieties of potatoes but the texture will vary, sometimes resulting in a mealy soup texture. If you use russett potatoes, be sure to peel them

I love how versatile this soup is. You can serve it hot, or serve it chilled as vichyssoise. Either way this soup is a simple way to get your veggies in, and because of the potatoes, the soup is luscious and creamy. For an even lighter version, use olive oil instead of butter. If you want to go the other direction and make something more decadent, use bacon fat instead of the butter.

Always thinking of the next meal


Mozzarella Pulling

24 Jan

Recently, I’ve been posting in a lot of places that I’ve been doing a few demos on how to pull mozzarella. I’ve gotten a bit of interest from some of my friends and followers on how to do this. The thing is, it’s a lot easier to show than to tell, but I’ll do my best.

Here are the 89 easy steps to making mozzarella in your own home.

Just kidding, it only takes 6 steps.

Here we go, step 1: Gather your mise en place.

2 large bowls, one for the hot water and one filled with ice water
plastic tubs or plastic wrap
rubber gloves, if your hands don’t tolerate hot water well
1+ lbs mozzarella curds, cut into approximately 1 inch pieces
1 gallon water, heated to 180 degrees
5.5 oz kosher salt

Step 2: Dissolve the salt

Add the salt to the hot water and stir until the salt has dissolved.

Step 3: Add the curds to the hot water

Add the cut curds to the water and walk away. I’m telling you, walk away. Let the curds heat up gently. If you play with them too much you’ll wind up pressing, or squeezing too much of the whey out of the curds. The resulting cheese will be dry and stringy. So really, walk away. After 5-8 minutes, re-approach and start step 4.

Step 4: Start pulling

The “pulling” in this step is a bit of a misnomer. It’s really more of a gentle stretch. This is also the step that is easier to show than to tell, but here goes nothing. When the curds have become very pliable and start to look like silly putty, you want to pull a portion off the main group and start to gently press any lumps that you see into the smooth mass. stretch the cheese until very few lumps remain. Then knead the cheese into itself and form a ball. You want the top of the cheese to look smooth and free of any air bubbles. Once you’ve achieved your desired shape, move to step 5.

Step 5: Chill the cheese

Drop the formed cheese into the ice bath and allow to chill for 10 minutes. The cheese will feel as firm as the curds felt before you put the in the hot water. If you take the balls out before they are properly chilled they will sag and become like cheese disks rather than balls of mozzarella.

Step 6: Eat!

As soon as the cheese is chilled you can eat it. If you can’t eat it all right away, store it in the fridge covered in either plastic wrap, or submerged in some of the water that the cheese was chilled in. Whatever you choose, the important thing is to keep oxygen out.

Give this a try. It’s really like therapy. When you make something from scratch it gives you a whole new appreciation for it. Oh, and if you can’t find mozzarella curds, you can make the curds on your own, but it takes 5 gallons of milk to make 1 pound of mozzarella, so that’s a lot of milk and time that most of us just don’t have.

Always thinking of the next meal


Bacon, the colossal failure?

21 Jan

So, if you were unaware, 2 nights ago my husband and both wound up with an inglorious bout of the up chucks. While we still aren’t sure what it was from, we are pretty sure it was from something we ate. It landed us both in the bathroom for a night and in bed for a day and a half. While we are well on our way to recovery, somethings are still feeling a little unsure to us, including bacon.

Of course this lovelyness hit us right at the tail end of my bacon curing process. I will confess that I did not have TCM (tinted curing mixture) that is recommended for the curing process. I seemed to remember that it was only different from salt in that there were nitrates added to keep the meat red and to preserve the shelf life. So yesterday, despite some lingering nausea, I oven smoked the bacon for 3 hours and chilled it overnight. This morning I thick sliced my masterpiece and put it in the oven.

I’m currently still waiting for it to come out of the oven, but I’m nervous. It doesn’t really smell like bacon… to me it smells more like ham. Although my hubby just told me he thinks it smells like bacon. I did smoke it with alder wood, which smells more like a camp fire than hickory or applewood. I guess time will tell. It could be the lingering stages of the illness that are turning me off, or it could be that the bacon just isn’t good.

—5 minutes later—

homemade bacon The bacon is finished cooking. It looks like bacon, and the smell, well, I had temporarily forgotten that I added truffle salt to the curing mixture. So the truffle is definitely standing up to the smell of the alder wood. I did taste it, and it tastes ok. I’m not thrilled. I admittedly hold myself to a pretty high standard, but the texture seems a bit off to me. I’m not sure if I’ll try this again without the TCM. But, I will try this again.

Always thinking of the next meal


Buccantini alla finnochiona, a mouthful that tastes great!

17 Jan

A quick recipe… no real back story here. I was just in the mood for pasta and came up with this. Enjoy…

Buccantini alla finnochiona

Serves 2

8 oz buccantini pasta
1/4 pound finnochiona (fennel spiked salami)
1 bulb fennel, trimmed and julienned
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup water
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deviened
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Sauté fennel in 1 tablespoon oil until caramelized. Deglaze pan with orange juice and add in sugar. Cook until the juice is reduced. Add in the tomatoes and 1/2 cup of water. Reduce by half and puree. While the pasta is cooking, add the remaining oil into the same pan that the fennel was sautéed in and then add in the finnochiona. Let the fat render for about 2 minutes and then add the shrimp to the pan. Cook the shrimp until all the pieces are pink and almost opaque. Add the puree back in to the pan and then add the remaining water. You can add more water if you need to; you are looking for a consistency of warm maple syrup. When the pasta is cooked, toss with the sauce and meat. Garnish with a fennel frond.

Always thinking of the next meal


Blank Canvas Ravioli

13 Jan

One of my hubby’s favorite meals is ravioli. And, better yet,  he loves my version. This meal is not one that appears regularly on our table, but it gets rave reviews every time. You might be asking why it’s not a regular if it goes over so big. Well, it’s a bit labor intensive. Don’t be intimidated, it’s not hard, just time consuming.

Start with the pasta dough:

1 cup AP flour
1/2 cup semolina
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 – 1/3 cup water

combine ingredients except for water. Slowly add in the water until the dough just comes together. Knead the dough until it looks smooth. Wrap in plastic and let rest at room temperature for 45 minutes.

Here’s why these are called blank canvas ravioli. I make a filling that is cheesy and flavorful and can used as a great base for other fillings. It is also complimented well by a variety of sauces.

Blank Canvas Filling:

1 cup ricotta salada, grated
12 oz part skim ricotta cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

combine all ingredients

You can make a free-form ravioli by brushing the dough with egg wash and then using a biscuit cutter to make your desired shape. You can also use a ravioli mold. I like the mold simply because I like every ravioli to be the same size for even cooking. The free formed ravioli are great for when you want to fill your pasta pockets with larger things like shrimp, lobster or leftover chicken marsala.

My favorite sauce to top these beauties is a simple combination of roasted cherry tomatoes, olive oil and basil. The sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes match up well with the richness of the filling.

Always thinking of the next meal


Maque Choux for Two

11 Jan

Maque Choux (pronounced mock shoe) is a traditional dish from Louisiana. It’s basically creamed corn with veggies and bacon, but let me tell you, it is a show stopper of a starch. This is not your typical corn dish. It is definitely not from a can and can make even frozen corn taste like summer’s best.

Here’s the recipe:

Maque Choux

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon bacon fat
1 cup red bell pepper, small dice
1 cup sweet onion, small dice
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 small bag frozen sweet corn
1/2 cup cooked, crumbled bacon
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
4-5 drops tabasco
salt and pepper to taste

Sauté onions and peppers in the olive oil and bacon fat. Add corn and toss together. Deglaze the pan with the wine and let reduce. Add in the cream and tabasco and let reduce. When the cream has reduced enough to coat the corn, season and toss in the bacon. Serve hot.

I served this along side of roasted chicken with arugula, but it goes equally well with beef, burgers, and pork. It canstand up to spicy cajun cooking and won’t overwhelm something as mild as a chicken breast (like we had tonight.) I know I’ve been blogging recently about eating better and paying attention to what’s going into the tummy, but I did do my Wii fit today and I really believe, everything in moderation, even moderation.

Winter is a great time to try this dish. It’s filling and satisfying. It can also be easily converted into corn chowder by adding in 2 quarts chicken stock and 1 large russet potato cut into medium dice.

Always thinking of the next meal


Would you like a little cheese with that wine?

10 Jan

cheeseWe love having friends over. But we especially love having friends over that love cheese. It’s really fun to do a wine and cheese party because there is virtually no work involved. Just purchase and plate.

I love simple, clean entertaining. Our friends were due to arrive around 7:30 which put the party in the dinner hour. If you are having a cheese party a little later, say around 8:30 or earlier, for cocktails, you could omit the rest of the menu, but I wanted to make sure there was enough to eat and that there were plenty of accompaniments for the cheeses.

So here’s the official menu:

Cheese Tray: (clockwise from the top) Mahon, piccoline olives, cave aged gruyere, danish blue, feta with honey and cinnamon, and cabrales

Charcuterie Tray: Genoa salami, capicola, and duck prosciutto

Caprese Bruschetta

Rustic Apple Galette with Chantilly Cream

Yes, I realize that it might look a little intimidating, but actually it’s just a lot of fancy words for simple things. Let me explain.

The cheeses are kind of an odd combination. While my intent was to do all Spanish cheeses, I had a few in the fridge that I wanted to use up, and I picked up a few that I love without consideration for the theme. So here I was, with a mismatched combination, but it wound up working out fine. As for what the cheeses are; Mahon is a spanish cow’s milk cheese. It’s a washed-rind cheese that is washed with either olive oil or butter that is combined with a little bit of paprika for color. It tasted like an aged cheddar. It is slightly nutty and fruity with a salty bite and bit of grana (the salt crystals that combine with proteins to form crunchy bits in aged cheese.) Piccoline olive are small green olives from France that are a very fruity and pleasantly briny. Danish blue is a well known medium intensity blue that is mainly used as an ingredient. Cave Aged Gruyere is a Swiss style cheese made is France. It is nutty and fragrant. It has that wonderful tanginess that swiss cheeses bring to a party, but with a more mature finish. The feta is a French feta that is less briny than Greek fetas. Combined with cinnamon and honey, the cheese sings. It’s complimented well by the grapes and a few wheat crackers. Finally, the cabrales. Perhaps the most intense of the Spanish blues, cabrales is a cave-aged blue that can clear your sinuses if you’re not careful. While pungent, it still has a lovely smell that reminds me of Muscat grapes and honey. It can be mellowed with marcona almonds and honey.

The charcuterie plate is a fancy way of saying meats. With the exception of the duck prosciutto, the meats came from the deli counter. The duck is a specialty item that was well worth the trip to the Philadelphia Italian market. Fatty, and rich without the overly chewy quality that pork prosciutto can sometimes have.

The Caprese bruschetta was simple toasted crostini with mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, basil, and a balsamic reduction. Oh, and salt and pepper of course. I have to say they were a big hit because I only got one.

The Apple Crostata is a free form apple tart. I made my own crust, but you could absolutely use a frozen pie dough. Just peel and slice 2 apples, and toss with sugar and cinnamon. Lay the pie dough on a cookie sheet and pile the apples in the center leaving 2-3 inches around the side. Fold the edges in, pleating as needed. Brush the top of the dough with heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Serve at room temperature. To make the chantilly cream, whip heavy cream until soft peaks form, add in 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and whip until stiff peaks form. Serve on the side of the cooled crostata.

Next time you entertain, keep this simple menu in mind. Everything can be prepared within an hour and the best part, it can also be cleaned up in about 15 minutes!

Always thinking of the next meal,


I will tira-miss-u

5 Jan

I’m watching what I’m eating. I feel depressed just thinking about that phrase. Let’s face it, I love all things butter, cream and chocolate. I like salt and sugar and egg yolks. God, help me. Life is short and I want to enjoy every mouth full!

With that being said, I’m a realist. Life is short, but I don’t want it to be any shorter. I’m trying to switch up my usual cooking to be more healthy, without losing any flavor. And really, if I can, I want to add more flavor.

Tiramisu is one of my all time favorite desserts. What isn’t to love about espresso and rum soaked cakes layered between creamy, whipped mascarpone cheese and cocoa? So, how do you make this dish lighter and tastier? Start with portion size. Small portions are all the rage in restaurants. Desserts served in shot glasses make you feel less guilty but still leave you satisfied. I “plated” these little beauties in mini trifle dishes, but a tall shot glass would be a perfect substitute.

My first upgrade to this classic Italian dish was to use low fat dark chocolate biscotti instead of lady fingers. I used Martha’s recipe for the biscotti, but I substituted non fat greek yogurt for the oil. I then crumbled 4 biscotti and put 1 at the bottom of each dish. I mixed 1 tablespoon of instant espresso with a 1/2 cup of hot water and 1 tablespoon spiced rum. Spoon 1 1/2 tablespoon of the espresso mixture over the cookies.

For the cheese layer, instead of mascarpone, I combined 3/4 cup non fat greek yogurt, 1/4 cup light, whipped cream cheese, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/3 cup powdered sugar. Layer this on top of the cookies and then continue to layer until you’ve run out of ingredients. To garnish, sprinkle with any remaining biscotti crumbs and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

I know these changes don’t make this dish fat free, or super low calorie, but it is dessert and it is better than the usual. Remember the key is portion size. The double dark chocolate biscotti with take care of your chocolate craving and the creamy yogurt layer tastes like a cross between cheesecake and cannoli filling.

Give this recipe a try. It’s definitely a treat and a good way to keep on track

Always thinking of the next meal


Pork Lettuce Wraps

4 Jan
pork lettuce wrap filling

pork lettuce wrap filling

Tonight’s dinner was pork lettuce wraps. In trying to stick with the new year’s tradition of eating better and then progressively eating worse as the year goes on, I decided to make this recipe. It’s a relatively simple thing, fill a large leaf of lettuce with meat and veggies and viola, dinner.

Although very popular in American-Asian cooking, lettuce wraps aren’t really traditional. Made popular by restaurants like P.F. Chang’s, these little beauties are light and tasty.

Begin by sauteing sliced mushrooms in olive oil. When they are brown, remove them from the pan. Toss thinly sliced pork tenderloin with 1/2 cup flour, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, and salt and pepper to taste. Sear the pieces of pork and then add in 1 cup snap peas, julienned and 1 cup carrots sliced thinly. Deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar and 1/4 cup soy sauce. If you need more liquid add in chicken stock until the sauce reaches the desired thickness.

Serve in lettuce bowls. Here’s where the debate begins. I’ve had lettuce wraps with bibb lettuce, romaine lettuce and iceburg lettuce. What you’re looking for is a good cup to hold the filling. You want something that is crunchy and that won’t crack too much when you take a bite. The bibb lettuce is the best choice, but it can be expensive. Iceburg is also a great choice. It’s cheap and crunchy. Tonight I opted for romaine. Even though the shape is a little awkward, the leftover lettuce can easily be transformed into Caesar salads for lunch tomorrow.

I garnished the wraps with plum sauce and peanut sauce. The peanut sauce was not really needed. The pork and veg had plenty of flavor and the peanut flavor was a bit overwhelming.

Give this a try when you want something new to keep your resolutions in check.

Always thinking of the next meal