Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ginger and Pink Grapefruit Cheesecake

In celebration of National Cheesecake Day, this recipe deserves re-posting. It's been requested for my other half's birthday this weekend....

Ginger and Pink Grapefruit Cheesecake
From Bon Appetit magazine

20 whole graham crackers, coarsely broken
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

1 1/3 cups heavy whipping cream
1 (1-inch-long) piece fresh ginger, peeled, cut into very thin rounds
1 cup ginger preserves
1 tablespoon water
4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs

2 large pink or ruby grapefruits
Finely chopped crystallized ginger

For crust:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 9-inch springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Blend graham crackers and sugar in processor to coarse crumbs. Add 1/2 cup butter. Blend until crumbs hold together; press onto bottom and up sides of prepared pan.

Bake crust until beginning to color, about 15 minutes; sprinkle with chopped ginger. Cool.

Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Stack 3 long sheets of 18-inch-wide foil on work surface. Place cake pan in center. Fold foil snugly up sides of pan.

For filling:
Bring cream and fresh ginger to simmer. Remove from heat; cover. Steep 30 minutes. Strain cream.

Stir preserves and 1 tablespoon water in small saucepan over medium heat until preserves melt; strain into small bowl. Discard solids; reserve ginger jelly.

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese in large bowl until smooth. Beat in sugar, ground ginger, vanilla, and salt. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well. Add 2 tablespoons ginger jelly and beat until blended. Gradually beat in strained cream. Transfer to prepared crust.

Place cake pan in large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cake pan. Place cake in water bath in oven. Bake cake until gently set, browned on top, and beginning to crack around edges, about 2 hours.

Remove from water. Remove foil. Place hot cake, uncovered, in refrigerator and chill overnight.Store ginger jelly at room temperature.

For topping:Line large plate with several layers of paper towels. Cut all peel and pith off grapefruits. Working over bowl, cut between membranes to release segments; place on paper towels to drain. Cover with additional paper towels, pressing to absorb excess liquid.Chill, changing towels as needed.

Cut around crust. Remove pan sides. Spread 1/4 cup ginger jelly over filling; top with grapefruit, then brush with ginger jelly. Sprinkle with crystallized ginger.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Grilled Scallops with Elote Mexican Corn Salad

Elote is a great Mexican street food. It can be simply defined as roasted corn on the cob. But that basic definition leaves out all the wonderful condiments that you can (and perhaps should when given the chance) dump on it. When I go to my local Latino grocery store, I am always tempted to walk out with one of the styrofoam cups filled with charred corn cut off the cob, hot chile sauce, lemon pepper and mayonnaise that they serve from sidewalk carts.. Yum.

This recipe takes the best of those flavors and turns them into a delicious bed for plump sweet grilled scallops.By itself, it's a perfect summer supper. (And the leftover corn salad is a great cold lunch the next day.)

Grilled Scallops with Elote Mexican Corn Salad
From Food and Wine.
Makes four servings.

1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon minced red onion
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
8 small ears of corn, husked
Vegetable oil, for brushing
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon pure ancho chile powder
4 ounces cotija or ricotta salata cheese, crumbled (1 1/4 cups)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Hot sauce
12 large sea scallops
Lime wedges, for serving

Light a grill. In a large bowl, toss the garlic and onion with the lime juice and let stand for 10 minutes.

Brush the corn with oil and grill over moderate heat until charred and just tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a work surface and cut the kernels off the cobs.

Whisk the mayonnaise and chile powder into the garlic, onion and lime juice. Add the cheese and corn to the bowl and toss. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce.

Brush the scallops with vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat until nicely browned and barely cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Spoon the corn salad onto 4 plates and top with the scallops. Serve with lime wedges.

Food/Wine Pairing: You can go a couple ways with this one. A zesty Sauvignon Blanc (maybe Geyser Peak) will add an additional blast of extra squeeze of lime if you will. The other way (and my choice) is an oaky Chardonnay like Sebastiani. Chardonnay is always a good pairing with corn and the char on the corn goes well with the "char" in the more heavily-oaked wine.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Honey Simple Syrup

This is going to seem like a really simplistic post...and it is. But you'll appreciate it over the next couple of weeks when this (literally) simple syrup serves as a key ingredient in a couple of delicious summer cocktails.

Honey Simple Syrup
Take equal parts of honey and water and simmer (or microwave) until honey is dissolved. Let cool and pour into a bottle or jar. The syrup will keep in your refrigerator for up to two weeks.

(Note: You could also steep mint or even basil in the hot syrup for a few minutes for some added flavor.)

I'll post a couple of cocktail recipes that puts this to good use over the next couple of weeks. But it also would be a great way to sweeten your iced tea to stay cool over the hot summer.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cooking....How Do You Do That?

Often, when I am reporting to someone about a wonderful meal I've concocted, the person on the hearing end asks, "How did you learn to do that?" It comes up so often I've had to prepare an answer. That required some thinking, but the answer is actually pretty basic. Cooking is like much in life...a combination of art and science with a bit of experience thrown in.

I've learned the art by watching and reading and listening to others. Food magazines. TV shows. Cookbooks. It showed me techniques, ingredients and flavors that might go well together, and even highlighted the dreaded "trends" that seem to come up in the culinary world. (Zucchini carpaccio anyone?)

The science is actually more difficult for me (and most of us). There are techniques that have to be learned. Knife skills. The internal temperatures to which meats should be cooked. How to poach an egg. Those are the building blocks that become a part of any cook's arsenal--whether they are following someone else's recipe or creating one of their own.

And of course, both the art and the science get better with experience. The recipes that end up here are what I call "bloggable." There are lots that simply never make the cut--whether due to their shortcomings or mine. I've learned that if you're not failing in the kitchen, you're not succeeding either...because you're not cooking.

Interestingly enough, as I was thinking about all this, I found a passage in a cookbook that says it far better than I ever could. This is from the foreword of Chez Panisse Cooking by Paul Bertolli:

Developing skills and technique in the kitchen has much to do with practice, like any physical activity requiring coordination. Yet it seems more to the point to address the question of how one develops a feel for cooking or how to arrive at the point when the recipe can be put aside and instinct and confident intuition take over. Good cooking is in the very best sense a craft, involving the heart, head, and hands simultaneously. It is important to know what you are doing and why you are doing it, to keep your knives sharp and to teach your hands, above all, to remember that you are preparing food, not culinary artwork, that is to be savored and shared with others at your table. Cooking is a commonsense practice, not an alchemy. Listening and watching closely while you cook will reveal a richly shaded language understood by all the senses--the degrees of a simmer, the aroma of a roast telling you it is done, the stages of elasticity kneaded dough, the earthy scent of a vegetable just pulled from the ground--it is everything to mind these details. This is cooking. Following a recipe rigidly is a dry, mechanical exercise unless you re-create it yourself by asking questions along the way, remaining alert and responsive, and making judgements of your own.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Noodle Chicken Salad

This isn't the healthiest salad in the world...there's butter and oil, and the ramen noodle soup mix adds even more fat and sodium. But despite that, it's a fresh, bright Asian-style main-course salad that's perfect for the summer. And if you use a rotisserie chicken, it's pretty easy too.

Noodle Chicken Salad
From Southern Living.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.

2 (3 ounce) packages chicken-flavored ramen noodle soup mix
1 (2 to 3 pound) roasted whole chicken
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, divided
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup lite soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 head romaine lettuce, torn (I've also used Napa cabbage for this.)
5 green onions, sliced
Optional ingredients:
1 (10 ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup sliced celery
(I always use all three.)

Remove flavor packets from soup mixes, reserving 1 packet. Break noodles apart on baking sheet. Broil 5 1/2 inches from heat 4 to 5 minutes or until browned, stirring every minute.

Pull chicken from bones and coarsely chop; set aside.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add almonds and sesame seeds. Cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from skillet and set aside.

Add remaining butter and chicken to skillet and cook 4 to 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Whisk together seasoning packet, oils, vinegar, and next three ingredients in a large bowl. Add lettuce/cabbage, green onions, sesame seed mixture, chicken and noodles, tossing to coat. Add optional ingredients, if desired. Serve immediately.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Pair of Summer Chardonnays

Despite my loyal reading of Wine Spectator magazine and many ripped-out pages of Best Values and Smart Buys, I still end up going to our House Wines most of the time.

But it was time for a project. So I bought and then tasted two Chardonnays that Wine Spectator had rated in the high 80's. And (important to the Life Should Be Beautiful philosophy), both were in the $10 price range.

Both are worthy as summer sips. (And might actually be good enough to make YOUR house wine list.) Here are my tasting notes:

Hogue Chardonnay Columbia Valley 2006
Rated 88 by Wine Spectator magazine.

This one had velvety texture with a floral nose that quickly leans toward the tropical flavors of mango and pineapple. It's perfect with grilled fish or simply-prepared shrimp.

Meridian Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2006
Rated 87 by Wine Spectator magazine.

Drinking this one felt like biting into a caramel apple. But it's a Granny Smith apple. The wine is a perfect blend--both on the nose and on the palate--of rich and acidic, sweet and savory. Crisp and refreshing, it's great with grilled chicken, but, heck, who needs food? Sit in the hammock and enjoy....

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bass with Fennel over Sauteed Spinach

This is delicious and healthy.

Striped Bass with Fennel over Sauteed Spinach
From Cooking Light magazine.

(Recipe adapted to make two generous servings.)

2 cups diced fennel bulb (about 1 bulb)
1 cup diced red onion
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 450°. To prepare relish, combine first 5 ingredients, tossing well to coat. Arrange fennel mixture in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 450° for 30 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring once. Place fennel mixture in a bowl; stir in sugar and vinegar.

2 (6-ounce) striped bass fillets without skin
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. To prepare fish, place striped bass fillets on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Brush fillets evenly with 2 teaspoons olive oil; sprinkle evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Grill fish 4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork or until desired degree of doneness. Keep warm. (I have also prepared this recipe by simply sauteeing the fish on the stovetop in a little olive oil.)

2 teaspoons olive oil
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 pounds fresh spinach, trimmed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To prepare spinach, heat 2 teaspoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes or until golden, stirring frequently. Add half of spinach, and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add remaining spinach; cook 2 minutes or until wilted, stirring frequently. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Place spinach mixture on each of 8 plates; top each with 1 fillet and about 1/4 cup relish. (Refrigerate remaining relish and use on grilled chicken or even roast pork tenderloin.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Chorizo and Potato Spanish Tortilla Bites

Regular readers of this blog know that I love all things Spanish. Wine. Food. Everything. Here's an adaptation of the traditional Spanish tortilla (an egg omelet type dish, NOT like the Mexican bread product) that makes a wonderful appetizer.

Chorizo and Potato Spanish Tortilla Bites
From Gourmet magazine.

1 bunch scallions
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
6 ounces Spanish chorizo (cured spiced pork sausage), cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 lb yellow-fleshed potatoes such as Yukon Gold (about 4 medium), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
9 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
5 oz Manchego cheese, coarsely grated (2 cups)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly oil a 13- by 9-inch baking pan or dish.

Finely chop white and green parts of scallions and reserve separately. Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onions, garlic, white parts of scallions, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden, about 6 minutes. Add chorizo and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown and release oil, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to moderate, then stir in potatoes and cover skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl and cool slightly.Whisk together eggs, sour cream, cheese, scallion greens, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl, then pour into baking pan. Sprinkle potato mixture over eggs (some potatoes will stick out).

Bake until custard is set, about 20 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack to warm or room temperature. Trim 1/2 inch off each side, then cut tortilla into 1 1/2- by 1-inch rectangles. Serve on a platter with toothpicks.

Cook's note: Tortilla can be baked 1 day ahead and cooled completely, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Cut into squares, then bring to room temperature before serving or reheat to warm in a preheated 325°F oven.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wasabi Dip

Carrots. Celery sticks. Radishes. Cucumber slices. All wonderfully healthy mid-morning or afternoon snacks. But how boring can you get?

Here's a healthy, delicious dip that makes those raw vegetables something you'll actually look forward to....

Wasabi Dip
2 teaspoons wasabi powder
2 teaspoons water
1 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
3 ounces fresh goat cheese, at room temperature
Pinch of sugar
Kosher salt

In a medium bowl, whisk the wasabi powder with the water until a smooth paste forms; let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk in the yogurt, goat cheese and sugar. Season with salt. Refrigerate until chilled.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Vignette: Wine Country Soda

I finally cleaned out our pantry last weekend. It's been gnawing at me for weeks--overflowing with boxes and jars and half-eaten bags of chips, it was a disaster waiting to happen. (The good news is that there were no chemistry projects lurking in the corners.) And I found some treasures in there as well. The jar of prepared lime curd will be a perfect summer dessert tonight when spread into a graham cracker crust and topped with freshly whipped cream.

I also found the two bottles of Vignette Wine Country Soda I bought last fall when they were first released and abuzz in the foodie/wino world. Thought popping open the Pinot Noir version would be a refreshing reward after my pantry-cleaning duties. Boy, was I underwhelmed.

Billed on the label as "part wine country magic, part soda pop pleasure," the drink is refreshingly natural--containing only carbonated water and Pinot Noir grape juice concentrate. However, it didn't taste to me like much more than grape juice and club soda. I still have the Chardonnay version to try. Perhaps it will help redeem the brand and live up to some of the positive reviews I have seen online.

Have you tried it? What do you think? Post your comments below.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Chicken and Spinach Stuffed Shells

There's nothing better for dinner than a rich, filling, baked pasta dish. Lasagna. Manicotti. Stuffed shells. But who has the time? Here's a simple solution. Rotisserie chicken from the grocery (If you haven't tried one yet, you're missing out...) and jarred Alfredo sauce make this filling quick and easy.

Chicken and Spinach Stuffed Shells
From Southern Living magazine.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.

18 jumbo pasta shells
2 (10-oz.) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 cups chopped chicken (Save time and effort and use a grocery store rotisserie chicken.)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 (16-oz.) container low-fat cottage cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 (16-oz.) jar Alfredo sauce

Prepare pasta shells according to package directions.

Meanwhile, drain chopped spinach well, pressing between paper towels.

Stir together spinach, chicken, basil, and next 4 ingredients. Spoon mixture evenly into shells.

Spread half of jarred Alfredo sauce in a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Arrange stuffed pasta shells over sauce, and pour remaining sauce over shells.

Bake, covered, at 350° for 40 to 45 minutes or until filling is hot and sauce is bubbly. Remove from oven, and let stand 10 minutes.

Note: To make ahead, prepare recipe as directed through Step 4. Cover and freeze up to 1 month. Thaw in refrigerator 24 hours. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Bake, covered, for 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Cherry Crisp: A Delicious Treat

I'm eating VERY healthily these days. Lots of fruits and vegetables...with some fish now and then. But a guy has to have a treat, right? Try this. It takes advantage of the fresh cherries at the grocery right now (although pitting them was a mess...I need a gadget. Might settle for frozen next time to keep things simple.) and includes oatmeal, so has to be good for you! The almonds and almond extract in the recipe make it particularly rich and complex. Throw a dip of vanilla frozen yogurt on top and you're set with a bedtime snack that will genuinely satisfy.

Cherry Crisp
From Cooking Light magazine.
Serves 8.

6 cups (about 2 pounds) sweet cherries, pitted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray

Topping: 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4 ounces)
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375°.

To prepare the filling, combine cherries, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, cornstarch, juice, almond extract, and salt in a large bowl; toss gently. Spoon cherry mixture into an 11 x 7–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

To prepare topping, lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, oats, brown sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Cut in chilled butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in sliced almonds. Sprinkle oat mixture evenly over cherry mixture. Bake at 375° for 45 minutes or until filling is bubbly and topping is crisp. Let stand 5 minutes; serve warm.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Stuffed Eight-Ball Squash

I've been reveling in the bounty that is the farmers market these days. My morning smoothies are much better with fresh peaches or blueberries. I seem to make a pot of green beans and new potatoes every Sunday. And I seem to be having sliced tomatoes (or those wonderfully sweet golden cherry tomatoes) with every meal.

But I was stumped by the round zucchini that I kept seeing alongside the regular zucchini and yellow crookneck squash. They seemed to be too interesting to just steam or drench in cornmeal and fry. So I was thrilled to find this recipe in The Dallas Morning News. It was rich and healthy all at the same time. It's a great vegetarian meal or would be a good side dish for roasted pork or chicken. (My other half said it tasted just like Thanksgiving.)

Stuffed Eight-Ball Squash
Serves four as a side dish.

4 eight-ball squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (can substitute shallot)
1/2 teaspoon Italian herb seasoning (or thyme or oregano)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese (or Pecorino Romano)
2 tablespoons minced parsley
Salt and pepper

Fill a big pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Cut 4 eight-ball squash in half horizontally. Cut just enough of the stem end off for that half to sit flat. Trim off the end of the other half so it also sits flat. Scoop out the pulp to create a 3/8 -inch-thick shell. Reserve the pulp. Boil the shells in salted water for 2 minutes. Remove and drain.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a baking dish large enough to hold the halved eight-balls.
Finely chop the reserved squash pulp. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped pulp, onion and Italian herb seasoning and sauté until tender. Remove from heat and combine with the bread crumbs , Parmesan cheese, parsley, several grinds of black pepper and salt to taste.

Place stuffed eight-ball halves in the prepared dish and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until heated through.

Food/Wine Pairing: It might seem strange to propose a wine pairing for a side dish, but this one is a homerun. Open a bottle of rosé--the perfect summer wine--to go with this one. Maybe one of these.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Cool Picnic Ideas from Mark Bittman and The New York Times

I'm back! Life has calmed down enough (and I am inspired enough) that I can blog again. I have a backlog of things to work on this weekend...stay tuned.

Part of the heightened inspiration came from a wonderful article in today's New York Times. Writer and foodie Mark Bittman makes everything simple. (Check out his cookbooks if you haven't. Like this and this.) In today's paper, he tackles the summer picnic....101 simple ideas to pack in tour picnic basket. Click here for the full article.

Me? I'm worried about what to pack for the fireworks tomorrow night. (One of the best displays in the Dallas area is on July 3rd.) There are many tempting possibilities among Bittman's ideas....

Number 19...Cashews and Asian flavorings as a celery filling.

Numbers 34 or 35...Variations on edamame salad.

How about 46 through 48? New twists on egg salad.

But the creme de la creme looks like Number 87....the perfect steak sandwich.

Which one are you going to try? Post a comment and let me know.