Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Wishing everyone a happy and safe Halloween! May your day be filled with fun tricks and sweet treats!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween Treat: Frosted Pumpkin Cake

In honor of my husband’s favorite holiday, and for everyone who is looking for a festive Halloween treat, I decided to bake something with pumpkin. My latest issue of Cooking Light included a recipe for pumpkin cake with a cream cheese frosting. My favorite pumpkin treat will be posted later in November, but I do love the combination of a cream cheese frosting with pumpkin.

I had my Kitchen Aid stand mixer out ready to go when I realized that I had less brown sugar than I thought I did. I only had one-half of a cup of brown sugar, and was in need of the other half to make this recipe. Instead of making friends with a neighbor, I drove the 20+ miles (one-way) to my sister’s house to get ½ cup of brown sugar. (Okay, I also really wanted to borrow a dress from her, and my excursion lent it’s way to a little playtime with my equally adorable nephew and niece.)

A while later, I was back in my kitchen with my ½ cup of brown sugar in a plastic baggy and I was ready to bake cake! My cake batter seemed really thick. It was difficult to spread out in the pan, so you can either take your time and really work at smoothing it out, or just let it bake unevenly (which I’ll shamelessly admit that I did). While it was baking I wondered if I’d need to do it over with less flour, but it turned out very dense and moist.

I decorated the cake with some Halloween candies. While I did this recipe in celebration of Halloween, it would also work for Thanksgiving. You could garnish with some chopped pecans (or even toss some pecans in the batter for a little crunch).

Frosted Pumpkin Cake
(From Cooking Light; November, 2009)
* 10.1 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 ¼ cups)
* 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
* 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
* ¼ teaspoon salt
* 1 cup packed brown sugar
* ½ cup butter, softened
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
Cooking spray

* 2 tablespoons butter, softened
* ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
* 1 (8-ounce) package 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
*2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F.

To prepare cake, weight or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk.

Combine brown sugar, ¼ cup butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, to sugar mixture; beat well after each addition. Add pumpkin; mix well. Fold in flour mixture. Spread batter into a 13 x 9-inch baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely in a pan on a wire rack.

To prepare the frosting, combine 2 tablespoons butter, ½ teaspoon vanilla, and cream cheese in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until combined. Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until well combined. Spread frosting evenly over top of cake.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Less is More: Kate's Lemon Pepper Pappardelle Pasta with Basil

Years ago before there was a Trader Joe’s in New York City, my husband used to hear about the fun food store all the time from his friend and colleague who had grown up in Los Angeles. His friend would rave about Trader Joe’s specialty products that could only be purchased at TJ’s, and not found anywhere else. We really couldn’t understand at that point what the big deal was – there were plenty of grocery and specialty stores on each block of Manhattan!

When we were finally acquainted with the Trader Joe’s shopping experience, it became apparent why this friend was hooked. The stores have a vast selection of organic food, fresh and inexpensive produce, copious vegetarian options, cheap yet distinctive wine, and unique specialty items (where else can you buy a box of microwaveable Indian dinner for two for abut $3?).

Trader Joe's is now a weekly stop in my grocery shopping line-up. This summer I tried one of the Trader Joe's original products, Lemon Pepper Pappardelle Pasta. I made a delectable sauce to go with it, that in retrospect had too many layers that buried the flavorful pasta. I purchased the pasta again and have had it waiting on deck in my pantry for a night when I had nothing else planned.

I cut out a lot of the ingredients I previously used and simplified it. We ended up with a more pure and delicate pasta, that was just as good as my previous attempt, but gave the pasta the full spotlight. This was also another excuse to use my Myer Lemon Olive Oil. (For the record, my first version included the following ingredients with the addition of sun-dried tomatoes, shallots, white wine, and scallops.)

Kate's Lemon Pepper Pappardelle Pasta with Basil
* 1 (8 oz.) package Lemon Pepper Pappardelle Pasta
* 3 tablespoons Meyer Lemon Olive Oil*
* ½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated; plus more for garnish
* ½ cup fresh basil, chopped
* ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
* Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
* Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and cook pasta per instructions on package. Drain pasta (but do not rinse) reserving ½ cup pasta water. In a large bowl, combine pasta with remaining ingredients. Add pasta water to moisten, if necessary. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with more cheese.

**Note - If you don’t have lemon olive oil, I would recommend using extra-virgin olive oil along with 1 teaspoon of lemon zest (or fresh lemon juice) per tablespoon of olive oil.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fried Basil: Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Butter and Parmesan Sauce

If you haven’t tried fried basil before, I encourage you to make this recipe! The herb takes on a whole new crispy form and tastes delicious after a little frying. The recipe is quite rich (it does call for a whole stick of butter), and is not the healthiest meal I make (again, the butter), but it is perfect for a dinner on a cold fall or winter night.

I double the amount of basil that Giada calls for in her recipe, and on occasion will also swap out the nutmeg for crushed red pepper flakes. Pick up some mushroom ravioli from your grocery store, add a little basil, and you’re all set!

Wild Mushroom Ravioli with Butter and Parmesan Sauce
(From Everyday Italian)
* 2 packages (11-ounce) fresh wild mushroom ravioli
* 1 cup unsalted butter
* 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves (Kate uses 1 cup)
* 6 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
* 1 whole nutmeg or 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg (Kate sometimes uses 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes instead)
* 2/3 cup grated Parmesan

Cook the ravioli in a large pot of boiling salted water until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Drain and put on a platter.

Meanwhile, cook the butter in a heavy medium frying pan over medium-high heat until pale golden, about 4 minutes. Add the basil leaves and cook until lightly fried, about 2 minutes. Add the pine nuts. Pour over the cooked ravioli. Grate 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg directly over ravioli. Sprinkle Parmesan over dish and serve.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Special Side Dish: Broccoli Florets with Meyer Lemon Olive Oil

When we returned from our vacation to California last spring I brought myself (and my family members) some souvenirs. Unfortunately, one can only fit so many bottles of wine and olive oil in a suitcase. (Not to mention the extra charge airlines are demanding per checked bag, and the further charge if you bag exceeds 50 pounds in weight – I will admit that over the past several years I’ve had several bags weigh in at 49.5 pounds!)

Among other goodies, I was able to fit a bottle of Meyer Lemon Olive Oil in my bag, purchased at the Oakville Grocery in Oakville, California. I’ve been savoring it in small amounts ever since, and one of my favorite applications is with steamed broccoli.

I slightly adapted this recipe from Giada de Laurentiis. (I found that I didn’t need as much olive oil as her recipe calls for, and I also like the addition of crushed red pepper flakes for a little kick.) If you don’t have lemon olive oil, I would recommend using extra-virgin olive oil along with 1 teaspoon of lemon zest (or fresh lemon juice).

Broccoli Florets with Meyer Lemon Olive Oil
(Modified from Giada's Family Dinners)
* 1 pound broccoli florets
* 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon olive oil
* 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Fill a large pot halfway with water. Cover and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Salt the water and add the broccoli. Boil until the broccoli is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.

Drain, transfer the broccoli florets to a large bowl, and toss with the oil to coat. Season the broccoli florets with crushed red pepper, salt and pepper, to taste, and serve.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Apples: Apple Brandy Pies with Cheddar Crust

The fall foliage is peaking around here, and we are savoring every day of fall. A couple weeks ago we spent the day visiting our favorite cider mill (a perennial favorite and local institution in the town where I grew up), and enjoyed fresh cider and spiced donuts.

We’ve been eating a lot of apples, and I’ve also been cooking with them. It seemed like the perfect time to try a new recipe that I saw.

My friend Christina was kind enough to snail-mail me a copy of a complimentary magazine that is available at her local food store in northern California. The Raley’s Something Extra magazine has a plethora of recipes, and new ways to use different grocery items. I received it in the mail from her one Friday evening when I arrived home after work. I read through the magazine no fewer than three times before the end of the weekend. (I am very thankful that she sent a copy my way!!)

While I’ve flagged many recipes in the Holiday edition of Something Extra, I decided to add a little more apple to our autumn and start off trying their Apple Brandy Pies. I sent them with my husband to his football tailgate today, and I think they’d make a nice hors d'oeuvre or addition to a dessert tray.

Apple Brandy Pies with Cheddar Crust
* 2 tbsp. butter
* 1 large green apple, peeled, cored and chopped
* 1/4 cup apple brandy
* 2 tbsp. honey
* 1 (15-oz.) package refrigerated pie crusts
* 2/3 cup finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Melt butter in a medium skillet. Add apple and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Stir apple brandy and honey into apples and cook over medium-high heat until excess liquid has cooked off; set aside to cool.

Unroll pie crusts and sprinkle 1/3 cup cheese onto each. Press cheese into crust with a rolling pin, rolling into a 10-inch circle. Cut into circles with a 3½-inch cutter. Place equal amounts of filling in each pastry circle, then brush edges of pastry lightly with water. Fold over to enclose filling and press with the tines of a fork to seal.

Place on prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Easy Any Night: Apple Cider Salmon with Israeli Couscous

Salmon is one of my favorite foods and this is one of my stand-by recipes. My husband and I really enjoy this, and it is a recipe that I go to when I have nothing planned or nothing on hand to make. I always keep frozen salmon fillets in my freezer, couscous in my pantry, and if I have a jar of American Spoon Apple Cider Grilling sauce (along with only 15 minutes of prep and cooking time), we have a great dinner! It always makes enough for leftovers, too. I’ve made this recipe with chicken breasts in lieu of salmon, when I served it for company who was not preferential to seafood.

I mentioned previously that I was a fan of the American Spoon products, and their Apple Cider Grilling Sauce happens to be my favorite and most-used product. You may be able to find their products in your local specialty store. (In New York City I was able to purchase them at Williams-Sonoma.) I like to serve this salmon over couscous. This time I used Israeli Couscous (which is not actually made from semolina like North African Couscous, but made from wheat and is more similar to Italian orzo). I have used Israeli Couscous and North African Couscous interchangeably in this dish.

Kate’s Apple Cider Salmon with Israeli Couscous

* American Spoon Apple Cider Grilling Sauce (you will use about ½ jar)
* 4 skinless salmon fillets
* Kosher salt, to taste
* Freshly ground pepper, to taste
* 2 cups Israeli Couscous
* 2 teaspoons olive oil
* 2 ½ cups vegetable broth

Preheat the oven to 450° F.

Heat olive oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add couscous and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until toasted. Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Once broth is boiling, remove from heat and cover. Let couscous stand for approximately 12 minutes, until broth is absorbed and you can fluff couscous with a fork.

Meanwhile, place salmon fillets on a foil-lined broiling pan. Season with salt, pepper, and brush with Apple Cider Grilling Sauce (about 1 tablespoon per fillet). Bake in 450° F oven for approximately 6 minutes. Turn broiler on high, and move pan to top rack in oven. Broil for 2-4 minutes, until sauce on salmon has caramelized on top.

Serve salmon fillets over couscous and drizzle ¼ cup Apple Cider Grilling sauce on top.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Apples for Him: Fresh Fruit Crisp

My husband loves apples in all of the forms they can be eaten in. I pack an apple in his lunch everyday, and he’ll gravitate towards an apple dessert whenever it’s on the menu. I don’t make apple desserts for him as much as I should could. While I also enjoy this crisp, juicy fruit in it’s raw form, if I’m going to indulge in dessert, I’d rather do it with chocolate!

This time of year is the perfect time to cook with apples, as they are everywhere! While my husband would probably prefer an apple pie (which I’ve only made for him once ... come on, what are the two of us going to do with a whole apple pie?), I opted to make apple crisp.

My apple crisp recipe is much easier than some other apple desserts (like strudel, turnovers, pies, etc.) because instead of mixing and rolling dough, you make an easy crumbly topping (this is my favorite part of the dish, which we refer to as the “goodness”). Several years ago we gave my sister one of these contraptions from Williams-Sonoma for Christmas. She has gotten a lot of mileage out of it over the past few years and seems to be cranking out homemade applesauce regularly. (Even my two-year-old nephew can help operate this appliance!) This will make your apple desserts come together quite quickly!

I made this crisp recipe with only apples, but you can use any fruit that you want – pears, peaches, etc. My mother suggested adding a couple tablespoons of Grade B Maple Syrup to the apple filling (I didn’t have any at home, but plan to try her recommendation next time.)

Fresh Fruit Crisp

For Fruit Filling:
6 or 7 apples*, sliced and peeled
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon juice

For “Goodness” Topping:
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
¾ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup butter, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Place fruit in a 2-quart casserole dish or a 9x13 pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon, water and lemon juice.

In a large bowl combine all ingredients for topping. Using a pastry blender (or a fork) mix until texture is crumbly. Sprinkle over fruit.

Bake for 25-35 minutes, until fruit is tender and topping is golden brown. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

* You can use apples, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, pears, berries, or any combination of them. Use whatever fruit is fresh, and experiment to find your favorite combination!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Brunch for Guests: Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce

Last fall my cousin came in from out of town, and brought his then-girlfriend and a couple of their friends to stay with us for the weekend. Trying to be the ever-pleasing hostess, I made them a lot of food! We had other activities planned during the day, so I only had two breakfasts with which to woo them. I had been eyeing several recipes of eggs poached in a tomato sauce, and decided to try it out for my guests. They loved it so much that I am still hearing about it over a year later.

My cousin and his girlfriend have since gotten engaged and I will be attending their bridal shower this weekend. A tradition in our family is to have guests bring a recipe to the shower to share with the couple. My cousin and his fiancée actually requested for this recipe to be my contribution to their "recipe book".

Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce is the ultimate comfort food, as it is warm, filling, and can be eaten for any meal (breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and even a late night snack!). It also comes together quickly and is made mainly with staple pantry items (feel free to omit the fresh herbs if you don't have them on hand). I make this pretty frequently for me and my husband to eat for dinner!

Poached Eggs in Tomato Sauce
1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste (preferably with Italian seasoning)
2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
1 clove garlic, minced
1 clove garlic, whole and sliced in half
Splash of white wine
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 large eggs
4 slices country bread, for serving
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper and cook for 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine. Add canned tomatoes (including the juice) and bring to a boil; season salt and pepper. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.

Gently crack eggs into tomato mixture, cover, and let cook 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, uncover, and let stand 2 to 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, use remaining olive oil and brush oil on both sides of bread slices. Lay bread slices on a baking sheet, and bake in oven for approximately 10 minutes (until bread is golden and crusty). Remove bread from oven and rub immediately rub each side of bread with halves of garlic clove.

Transfer each egg to a piece of toasted bread. Spoon over sauce, garnish with cheese and parsley, and season with salt and pepper; serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eat Your Veggies: Roasted Vegetables and Quinoa Salad

I would like to thank Christina for another great recipe! I tried her Roasted Vegetable and Quinoa Salad recipe the other day. I loved it, and my husband - the carnivore - really liked it as well. (I packed it in his lunch and he called me to tell me how much he enjoyed it!) This is a great way to get a lot of veggies in a really healthy dish, and the feta cheese adds a nice salty bite.

With it's balanced set of essential amino acids, quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") contains more protein than any other grain. It also has additional nutritional value with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. You could substitute with couscous if you can't find quinoa, but if you haven't tried quinoa before, I encourage you to do so!

Roasted Vegetables and Quinoa Salad

1 red bell pepper
3 cups vegetable stock
1 ½ cups uncooked quinoa
¼ cup balsamic blend seasoned rice vinegar (Nakano)
2 tsp olive oil
¼ tsp black pepper
2 cups chopped carrot
Cooking spray
1 3/4 cups chopped yellow squash
3 ½ cups zucchini chopped
1 cup (4 oz) crumbled reduced fat feta cheese
1 garlic clove

Preheat broiler.
Cut bell pepper in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Broil 15 minutes or until blackened. Place in a sip-top bag; seal. Let stand 15 minutes. Peel and cut bell pepper into strips.

Reduce over temperature to 500ºF.

Bring 3 cups of vegetable stock to a boil in a medium saucepan and stir in quinoa. Cover, reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

Combine vinegar, oil and black pepper in medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add carrot to vinegar mixture; toss to coat. Drain carrot through a fine sieve over a bowl, reserving carrot and vinegar mixture. Place carrot on baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 500º for 10 minutes. Add zucchini and yellow squash to reserved vinegar mixture in bowl; toss well to coat. Drain zucchini mixture through a fine sieve over a bowl, reserving zucchini and vinegar mixture. Add zucchini mixture to carrot on baking sheet in a single layer. Bake an additional 20 minutes or until vegetables are browned. Remove from oven and cool completely.

Combine quinoa, roasted vegetables, reserved vinegar mixture, cheese and garlic in a large bowl; stir well to combine. Cover and chill. Yield 8 servings (1 cup servings).