Thursday, November 29, 2007

Oldies but Goodies

I've posted these recipes before, but they were such a hit recently--one at the Halloween party and one at our Thanksgiving spread--that I thought they were worth a repeat.

Corn Dip

1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
12 oz. grated Cheddar (or Mexican-style) cheese (So easy when you buy pre-grated from the grocery store)
1 small can chopped green chiles
2 cans Mexi-corn (includes red and green pepper), drained
2 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed and finely diced

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving.

Makes about six cups.

Shrimp Dip
This dip can be served cold or warm. You can also substitute one pound of crab meat for the shrimp if you'd like. I serve it with round wheat crackers.

1 package (8 ounce) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 pound cooked shrimp, shells and tails removed (Help yourself out and buy the frozen pre-cooked shrimp in a bag.)
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 onion, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
2 dashes of Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
Juice of 1/2 lemon

In a double boiler over simmering water, blend cream cheese and butter. Stir often to keep cream cheese and butter from separating. Add shrimp, onion, seasonings and lemon juice. Blend with spoon until smooth. If serving warm, serve immediately. If serving cold, chill in refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Some Quick Environmental Tips

Here are a few more ways you can do your part to protect our environment:

  • Don't throw out those old shoes. You'd be surprised what a good cobbler can do with them. A new sole or set of heels and a reconditioning and they're good as new. Especially great for men's classic shoes. If that won't work for you, donate them to charity. Someone else can see some good out of them and you keep them out of the landfill.

  • Who needs a treadmill? Take a REAL walk instead. You won't use electricity and you'll have the opportunity to observe lots of great things around you, instead fo the television at the gym that's always tuned to the sports channel.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Champagne and Pomegranate Cocktail

Pomegranates are back in stores. I love that you can buy them and get ther red pearls of flavor out yourself rather than just settling for bottled juice. Here's a great cocktail to use them in.

Champagne and Pomegranate Cocktail

1 sugar cube
1 fluid ounce pomegranate juice
3 fluid ounces dry sparkling wine
Pomegranate seeds, optional

Place a sugar cube in the bottom of a champagne flute. Pour the pomegranate juice over it, then the sparkling wine. Drop a few pomegranate seeds into the glass. Serve.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mushroom-Hummus Crostini

Seems that life has been so crazy busy these days that I am emphasizing the simple part of my Life Should Be Beautiful philosophy. Not quite to the level of that annoying semi-homemade Sandra Lee, but simple enough. Here's a great way to dress up the wonderful hummus you can buy at your local grocery or gourmet market. Something easy to whip up for that impromptu cocktail gathering.

Mushroom Hummus Crostini
Serves 8.
From Andrea Immer's A-List

1 whole wheat baguette, sliced thin
Olive oil
1 pound small shitake (or cremini) mushrooms, sliced very thin
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 cup hummus
1 tablespoon chopped parsley for garnish (optional)
Sherry vinegar for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush both sides of the baguette slices with olive oil and toast in the oven until beginning to brown, about 10-12 minutes. Watch carefully to make sure they don't overcook. Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy wide skillet; cast iron is ideal. When the oil is heated, add the mushrooms, spreading them evenly in the bottom of the pan to prevent crowding. Sprinkle with dried thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Cook the mushrooms, stirring occasionally until they are cooked through and becoming brown and crisp on the edges. (the crispness is important!) Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Spread hummus on each of the toasted bread slices and then spoon some of the mushrooms on top of each. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and a few drops of the aged sherry vinegar, if using.

Food/Wine Pairing: Andrea suggested (and shipped) a hearty rosé from Australia for this recipe. The 2003 Boggy Creek Vineyards. Delicious. With bottle age, it was a more robust redder rosé. I am furiously looking online for more. But there's other matches to try. The heartiness of the mushrooms, toast of the baguette and earthiness of the hummus cry out for a red. But not a big one. Maybe the newly released Beaujolais Nouveau. Or your favorite fruity American Pinot Noir. Or maybe even a spicy Syrah. Try several with your guests and you've got a party.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: Cranberry Daiquiri

You've had a day of turkey, family and football. How about one more taste of cranberries? But in a cocktail. Saw this on CNBC today courtesy of Gramercy Tavern. Looks tasty to me...

Cranberry Daiquiri

For one drink, shake in a cocktail shaker with ice:
2 oz. dark rum
1 oz. cranberry syrup*
1 oz. fresh lime juice

Serve up, garnished w/ small spoonful of the cranberries

To make cranberry syrup and garnish:

Heat 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to form clear syrup. Add zest of 1 orange and 2 cinnamon sticks and bring to boil. Add 1 cup fresh cranberries and cook just until they start to pop.

Remove from heat & add 1 ½ cup white rum.

Quickly chill down cranberries and syrup in an ice bath.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cranberry Chocolate Cakes

I am always a fan of a twist on the traditional. Here's a dessert with Thanksgiving ingredients, but unexpectedly rich results. Might be a great addition to the dessert buffet. And it is wonderful enough that you can save for some other time in the holiday season if you'd like. Complicated, but well worth the effort, it was a hit when a friend prepared the recipe for our pot-luck wine dinner last year.

From Gourmet magazine

1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting molds
1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons bourbon
7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not more than 60% cacao if marked),chopped
1/4 cup pecans, toasted and cooled
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
1 teaspoon confectioners sugar plus additional for dusting
Special equipment: parchment paper; 4 (4- by 1 1/4-inch) tartlet molds with removable bottoms or 4 (8-oz) ramekins (4 inches across and 1 1/4 inches deep)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Cut out 4 rounds of parchment paper to fit just inside bottom of each mold,then set rounds aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter, then brush molds with some of it. Line bottom of each mold with a round of parchment and brush parchment with some melted butter. Chill molds 5 minutes (to set butter),then brush parchment and side of each mold with more melted butter. Chill molds 5 minutes more. Dust molds with flour, knocking out excess, and set aside.

Simmer cranberries and 1/4 cup bourbon in a small saucepan over low heat until cranberries are tender and bourbon is absorbed, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Melt chocolate and remaining stick butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes.

Pulse pecans with flour (2 tablespoons) in a food processor until finely ground, being careful not to process to a paste.

Beat together yolks and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Add chocolate mixture and beat until just combined, then stir in pecan mixture and cranberries.

Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl using cleaned beaters until they just hold stiff peaks. Fold one third of whites into chocolate mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Divide batter among molds (they will be very full), then put molds in a shallow baking pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted into center of a cake comes out with tip wet and remainder of pick dry, about 25 minutes. (Batter will rise above rims but will not spill over.)

Transfer cakes to a rack and cool in molds 30 minutes. (Cakes will continue to set as they cool.)Beat cream with confectioners sugar and remaining 2 teaspoons bourbon in a small bowl using cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks. Remove side from each mold, then slide each cake from bottom onto a dessert plate, discarding parchment. Lightly dust each cake with confectioners sugar and serve with a dollop of bourbon whipped cream.

To make a single, larger cake, the batter can be baked in a 9 1/2-inch round tart pan with a removable bottom, about 25 minutes.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A New Morning Ritual

Life has been crazy lately. Not always beautiful, and certainly not simple. I have sworn to myself that I am going to get back on track as we step through the holidays. More cooking, more delicious wine, a cocktail or two, and a concentrated return to philosophies that I know make life better and more beautiful.

And, of course, a beautiful day always starts as you wake up. So, in this season of being thankful, I'm going to try a ritual I read about in a magazine recently. As I wake up, rather than dreading my workout or the meeting later or the clothes that need to be washed, I am going to make a mental list of five things I can be thankful for. Hopefully it will be a nice reminder of how beautiful life really is. And, by doing it every day, I'll be looking for new and different things each time I think through it.

Try it...what's first on your list?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Roasted Figs with Crispy Prosciutto and Blue Cheese

It's interesting to watch trends in food. I'm not talking about big the proliferation of tapas/small plates and the exploration that some chefs are doing with more "scientific" preparations. I like seeing what new ingredients and ingredient combinations rear their heads. Last summer I ripped out several recipes for zucchini "carpaccio"--very thinly sliced raw zucchini with a variety of toppings.

More recently, I've started to see recipes with various combinations of roasted figs, prosciutto and cheese--either blue cheese or Parmesan. They got my mouth watering. So, when Andrea Immer Robinson provided a recipe as a pairing with one of her A-List wine shipments I thought I would try it.

It was a wonderful collision of flavors: richly sweet figs, funkily salty blue cheese, and crispy prosciutto--an elegant riff on the bacon we're more used to. The recipe below was delicious, but could be even easier. Grab a jar of fig preserves (heat if you'd like to), spread on some flatbread and sprinkle the blue cheese and prosciutto pieces on top. Come to think of it, it would probably be good with plain ol' non-crispy prosciutto as well. On small crackers of some sort, it would make an elegant canape for your upcoming holiday parties.

Roasted Figs with Crispy Prosciutto and Blue Cheese
from Andrea Immer Robinson
Serves four.

6 firm-ripe figs, quartered
2-3 ounces prosciutto slices
2 ounces blue cheese (I used Maytag), crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper
Flatbread or cooked pizza crust

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Oil two baking sheets or spray with nonstick spray. Arrange the figs on one baking sheets and lay the prosciutto slices on the other. Place both pans in the oven and bake until the figs are tender (about 20 minutes depending on the firmness of the figs) and the prosciutto slices are crisp and brittle (about 15 minutes). Watch both pans carefully and remove before over-cooking.

When the prosciutto slices are done, remove then to paper towels to drain and cool.

If serving as a starter or "salad" (or even as a cheese course before dinner), place the roasted figs on serving plates and cool slightly. Or spoon onto flatbread or crackers. Sprinkle with cheese and season with black pepper. Crumble the prosciutto slices on top. And enjoy.

Wine Pairing:
The wine Andrea sent with this one was a South African red--2003 Simonsig Pinotage, Stellenbosch. Figgy and tarry with a touch of pepper, it was a perfect match for this recipe...and the take-out lasagna we had afterwards. At $30, it's worth looking for.

By the way, I want to again encourage you to sign up for Andrea's A-List. The wines and recipes are always wonderful, and you have the chance to explore wines you'd likely never otherwise taste. Plus you get the bonus of Andrea's wonderful, NON-overblown descriptors. For example, she described the Pinotage as having a Band-Aids and Mercurochrome nose. Know what? She's right!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thanksgiving with a Lighter Touch

I don't know how...but Thanksgiving has snuck up on me this year. Luckily, we're being hosted by our various families and won't have to prepare the whole feast. Just an appetizer or two and my other half's famous cornbread and sage dressing.

I ran across this recipe the other day though and might add it to the list. Cranberries definitely make it Turkey Day worthy, and its lightness might just make it a welcome ending to an otherwise delicious, but dense, meal.

Cranberry Cream Pie

From Real Simple magazine.
Serves eight.

1 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup sugar
5 ounces shortbread cookies
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) roasted almonds
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 8-ounce package frozen cranberries, thawed
1 1/4-ounce packet unflavored gelatin
2 cups heavy cream

Warm the orange juice and sugar in a small pot over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Transfer to a large bowl and refrigerate until just cool, about 30 minutes.

Pulse the cookies and almonds in a food processor until finely ground. Add the butter and pulse to combine. Press the cookie mixture evenly into the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan.

Clean the food processor, then add the cranberries and 1/4 cup of the cooled juice and puree. Sprinkle the gelatin over the remaining juice and let stand for 1 minute. Stir until the gelatin dissolves. Add the pureed cranberries and stir to combine.

Beat the cream in a medium bowl using a whisk or electric mixer until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the cranberry mixture until well combined. Pour the cranberry cream into the crust. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours.

Tip: The Cranberry Cream Pie can be made up to 2 days in advance and kept in the refrigerator until serving.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hot Crab Dip

This was a big hit at our Halloween party. Definitely worth trying as you plan your holiday entertaining menus.

Crazy Hot Crab Dip

Serves about 8.

1 head of garlic (to make 2 teaspoons roasted garlic paste)
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon mince chipotle (or green chile)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup sharp white Cheddar cheese
1/3 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
(1/4 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese for topping)
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked clean

Pita chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To make garlic paste: Use a sharp knife to cut off the top third of head of garlic. Drizzle with olive oil. Wrap in foil and roast about 45 minutes, until very soft and golden. Let cool, then squeeze out paste from garlic cloves. Set aside 2 teaspoons of garlic paste for use in dip; reserve the rest for another use.

In medium bowl, combine mayo, cilantro, chipotle, lime juice, roasted garlic paste and Worcestershire sauce, and mix well. Stir in grated cheeses until well-mixed.

Serve with pita chips or crackers.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Halibut with Grapefruit and Rosemary

I've been eating lots of fish these day in the interest of health. Here’s a recipe that combines a firm fleshy white fish with citrus and fresh herbs. And since the citrus used is grapefruit, it's a perfect recipe for Ruby Red grapefruit becomes more plentiful in your grocery store.

Halibut with Grapefruit and Rosemary
Serves 4.
From Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food.

2 ruby red grapefruit
1 sprig plus 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 skinless halibut fillets (6 ounces each)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat broiler.

With a vegetable peeler, remove 4 large strips of zest from one grapefruit, avoiding bitter white pith. Cut into slivers; set aside.

Peel and cut both grapefruit into segments; set aside. Squeeze membranes into small sauce pan. Add rosemary sprig; sugar; grapefruit zest, ½ cup water, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Boil 8-10 minutes, until syrupy.

Rub fillets with olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Broil until opaque throughout, 7 to 10 minutes.

When syrup is done, discard rosemary sprig. Add syrup and chopped rosemary to bowl with grapefruit segments. Toss gently; place on top of fish and serve.