Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spinach and Leek Gratin with Roquefort Crumb Topping

Here's a side dish that is a bit fancier than plain 'ol spinach. But it's still really easy. I made it even easier by wilting the spianch and then just adding the butter and leeks to the same pan. I also substituted goat cheese for the blue...adding it to the veggie mixture and letting melt in slightly before putting it in the baking dish and topping with breadcrumbs.

Spinach and Leek Gratin with Roquefort Crumb Topping
Serves eight.
From Bon Appetit.

5 tablespoons butter, divided
3 1/2 tablespoons horseradish Dijon mustard, divided
2 1/3 cups fresh breadcrumbs from crustless French bread
1 cup crumbled Roquefort cheese (generous 4 ounces)
3 9-ounce bags spinach leaves
1 8-ounce leek, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise (about 3 cups)
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Mix in 2 tablespoons mustard, then breadcrumbs. Sauté until breadcrumbs are golden, about 5 minutes. Cool briefly.

Mix in cheese.

Toss 1 1/2 bags spinach in large nonstick pot over high heat until wilted, about 3 minutes. Transfer to sieve set over bowl. Repeat with remaining spinach. Press on spinach to drain.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in same pot over medium-high heat. Add leek; sauté 4 minutes. Add cream, remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons mustard, and spinach. Toss until thick and blended, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to 7x11-inch baking dish. Top with breadcrumb mixture. Bake until bubbling, about 10 minutes.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Parmesan Herb Baked Flounder

I love fish topped with breadcrumbs and flavor enhancers. Here's a great example.

Parmesan Herb Baked Flounder
Adapted from Cooking Light.
Makes four servings.

4 (6 ounce) flounder fillets
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced green onion
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°.

Place the fish on a foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray.

Combine cheese, mayonnaise and green onion and spread evenly over fish.

Combine bread crumbs and remaining ingredients; sprinkle evenly over fish. Lightly coat fish with cooking spray.

Bake at 400° for 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Coconut Cream Pie

Here's an oldie, but a goodie. A former boss of mine LOVED coconut cream pie, and practically dared me to make one that he would like. He considered himself a connoisseur and was not going to be easily impressed by a half-hearted attempt. This one won him over. So I had to make one about once a month for us to enjoy at the office. Wish he was still around so I could bake him another one. This one's for you, Mr. Hughes.

Coconut Cream Pie
Makes one pie.

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flaked coconut
1 baked 9-inch pie shell
1 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar

Combine sugar and cornstarch in a heavy saucepan; gradually stir in milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly. Cook one minute.

Beat egg yolks; gradually stir about one-fourth of hot mixture into yolks; add to remaining hot mixture, stirring constantly. Cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Remove from heat; stir in butter, vanilla and coconut. Pour into pie shell. Cool completely; cover and chill in refrigerator one to two hours.

Whip cream and sweeten with powdered sugar. Spread onto pie and garnish with toasted coconut if desired.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mustard and Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but warehouse stores like Costco and Sam's can actually make gourmet cooking easier...and certainly more affordable.

I've been stocking up on meats at the grocery store recently...and not just chicken breasts (although them too). Gorgeous rib-eye steaks from Central Market. Huge shrimp. Pork tenderloins. And they all go in our newly purchased chest freezer in the garage.

I found myself in a cooking mood yesterday. Breakfast was an omelet with mushrooms, bell pepper and onions. Oh, and a little goat cheese. Delicious. And dinner had to be just as good. Luckily, I had a beautiful rack of lamb chops in the freezer. Here's how I prepared them:

Mustard and Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb
(The recipe as posted makes eight servings. I reduced it to one rack and served two of us with a few chops leftover for lunch.)

1 1/2 cups fine fresh bread crumbs
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint (Note: I omitted the mint.)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 frenched racks of lamb (8 ribs and 1 1/2 lb each rack), trimmed of all but a thin layer of fat, then brought to room temperature
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Stir together bread crumbs, parsley, mint, rosemary, salt, and pepper in a bowl, then drizzle with 2 1/2 tablespoons oil and toss until combined well.

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat to 400°F.

Season lamb with salt and pepper. Heat remaining tablespoon oil in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown lamb 1 rack at a time, turning once, about 4 minutes per rack. Transfer to a 13- by 9- by 2-inch roasting pan, arranging fatty sides up.

Spread fatty sides of each rack with 2 teaspoons mustard. Divide bread crumb mixture into 3 portions and pat each portion over mustard coating on each rack, gently pressing to adhere.

Roast lamb until thermometer inserted diagonally 2 inches into center (do not touch bone) registers 130°F (for medium-rare), 20 to 25 minutes, and transfer to a cutting board. Let stand 10 minutes, then cut into chops.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cocktail of the Week: Bacardi Cocktail

I've been limiting myself to one cocktail a night on "school nights" these days. So it has to count. I'm rediscovering the classics...gin martini, vodka gimlet, even a Manhattan. Here's one that uses rum as its main ingredient.

Bacardi Cocktail
Makes one cocktail.

2 ounces Bacardi light or gold rum
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce grenadine
Maraschino cherry for garnish

Shake the liquid ingredients vigorously with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the cherry.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Grilled Black Cod with Asian Glaze

Black cod (aka sablefish) is a white fish with a buttery-creamy texture (think sea bass). It feels decadent and tastes wonderful with this Asian-inspired glaze.

Grilled Black Cod with Asian Glaze
Serves four.

1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Juice of half of a lime
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 (6 ounce) skinless black cod fillets, about 1 inch thick

Whisk together the first five ingredients until well-combined and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place the black cod fillets on a large piece of foil, season with salt and pepper and spread the mayonnaise mixture evenly over the fillets to coat. Place the foil with the fillets directly on the grill, close the lid and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked to your liking and the mayonnaise mixture starts to bubble and become a shiny glaze. Serve immediately garnished with additional cilantro if desired.

Friday, April 24, 2009

To Organic or Not To Organic?

I certainly try and buy organic produce when I can (or even better buy from local farmers at the market). Sometimes though it can get pricey. I recently ran across a couple of helpful lists. One of the fruits and vegetables that you should definitely buy organic since they are most likely to contain trace levels of pesticides. The other is the group that you can get by buying conventional since they are not likely to contain the toxic chemicals.

Best Produce to Buy Organic

  • Apples

  • Bell Peppers

  • Carrots

  • Celery

  • Cherries

  • Lettuce

  • Nectarines

  • Peaches

  • Potatoes

  • Spinach

  • Strawberries

Safe Conventional Produce to Buy

  • Asparagus

  • Avocados

  • Bananas

  • Broccoli

  • Cabbage

  • Eggplant

  • Kiwifruit

  • Mangoes

  • Onions

  • Pineapples

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Crab Filled Tomatoes

Here's a bright fresh nibble for the start of summer.

Crab Filled Tomatoes
Makes 30 appetizers.

1/2 pound crabmeat
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
30 small cherry tomatoes
1 bunch chives, chopped

Rinse crabmeat and drain thoroughly.

In a medium mixing bowl, mix mayonnaise and sour cream. add crabmeat and tarragon. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Slice off the top third of each tomato. Top each with a bit of the crabmeat mixture. Chill for up to two hours. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Garnish with chopped chives and serve.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips and Walnuts

How is it that healthy habits can lead to decadence? Here's a perfect example. As I was leaving the office and straightening things up today, I came across four almost-fruit-fly-ready bananas. They had been passed up for other healthy snacks over the past several days. I offered them to my officemates for banana bread, but no takers.

Rather than dump them into my compost pile here at home though, I decided I would make banana bread. I found this recipe online. If my co-workers are lucky, I'll take them some.

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips and Walnuts
Makes one loaf.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9 x 5 x 2 1/2-inch metal loaf pan. Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Combine chocolate chips and walnuts in small bowl; add 1 tablespoon flour mixture and toss to coat.

Beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add sugar, beating until well blended. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in mashed bananas, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Beat in flour mixture. Spoon 1/3 of batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle with half of nut mixture. Spoon 1/3 of batter over. Sprinkle with remaining nut mixture. Cover with remaining batter. Run knife through batter in zigzag pattern.

Bake bread until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Steamed Salmon Salad with Grapefruit-Ginger Dressing

I've been steaming salmon a couple of times a week and having it for breakfast on a piece of toast with a little cream cheese. It's a great way to start the day. The other day I fixed an extra piece and chilled it. Turned it into lunch the next day with this yummy healthy recipe.

Steamed Salmon Salad with Grapefruit-Ginger Dressing
Makes four servings.

1 lb salmon fillet, cut in half (to fit in a steamer basket)
1 tsp ground cumin
Juice from 2 limes (about 1/4 cup)
8 cups mixed baby greens (I used spinach.)
1 avocado, thinly sliced
1 pink grapefruit, pith and peel removed, segments separated
1/2 cup bean sprouts, thoroughly washed

Grapefruit-Ginger Dressing
5 tbsp grapefruit juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger

Mix dressing ingredients in a small bowl.

Season fish with salt, pepper, cumin, and lime juice and steam in a bamboo steamer or a pot with a steamer insert until tender, about 3 minutes per side. Set aside 10 minutes to cool. With a fork, coarsely flake the fish; toss with greens and just enough dressing to lightly coat leaves. Divide among 4 plates. Arrange avocado slices and grapefruit sections on top of each salad and drizzle lightly with dressing. Top with bean sprouts.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Halibut with White Beans in Tomato-Rosemary Broth

A friend of mine needed a "date night" recipe recently, so he asked for some suggestions. This was what he ended up preparing...with impressive results. You can substitute another white fish like cod or tilapia if you'd like.

This one deserves reposting...and is in my meal plan for sometime in the next two weeks.

Halibut with White Beans in Tomato-Rosemary Broth
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine.
Serves four.
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 (6-ounce) halibut fillets
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups chopped plum tomato (about 4)
1 1/2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (16-ounce) can cannellini beans or other white beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
(My additions: 1 cup bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (plus 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese), 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley)

Preheat oven to 400°. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish evenly with salt and pepper. Add fish to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side. Remove fish from pan and place in baking dish or pie plate. Cover fish in mixture of bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons Parmesan and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place in oven and bake for ten minutes or until done.

Meanwhile, add garlic to skillet in which fish was cooked; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in tomato, broth, wine, and beans; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Right before removing from heat, stir in one tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese. Remove from heat; stir in rosemary.

Serve immediately by placing fish on top of bean mixture in rimmed bowls. Garnish with a fresh sprig of rosemary.

Food/Wine Pairing: This is one of those borderline dishes that gives you plenty of options. A Sauvignon Blanc or Albarino has the acidity to stand up to rich flavors. An unoaked Chardonnay would complement the creaminess of the white beans. And even a light Pinot Noir would work. I took the easy's summer, so we uncorked a rosé. It was the perfect balance between richness and acidity. Try it and let me know what you think.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Goat Cheese Phyllo Puffs

This is a recipe I adapted from the original. The original recipe makes four large puffs that are cut into sections for serving. I changed things around so they are individual pillows of yumminess. Perfect for your next party.

Goat Cheese Phyllo Puffs
Makes 30 hors d'oeurves.

1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed
App. 1/4 cup tomato preserves or favorite fruit preserves (I used a jalapeno jelly.)
3 ounces goat cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Unfold one puff pastry sheet on work surface. Cut along natural seams to create three strips. Then cut each strip into five pieces. Repeat with second sheet of puff pastry. You should end up with 30 rectangular pieces of puff pastry.

Working with one piece at a time, place a teaspoon of preserves and a teaspoon-size piece of goat cheese in the middle of one end of the piece. Fold the other end over and seal edges tightly with your fingers.

Place puffs on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, until pastry is puffed and golden brown.

Let cool slightly before serving. (No need for burning your guests with hot goat cheese!)

They're perfect with a glass of bubbly!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Almond Cheesecake Tarts

I'm not supposed to be eating desserts on my weight loss plan, but every now and then that sweet tooth rears it's ugly head. Just might have to whip up a batch of these. They're sweet without being cloying. And since they're in individual portions, maybe I'll have one and then take the rest to the neighbors...

Almond Cheesecake Tarts
Makes twelve individual cheesecakes.

2/3 cup almonds, finely chopped
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup sugar, divided use
1/3 cup butter, melted
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 eggs
Raspberries for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix almonds, crumbs, 1/4 cup sugar and butter together. Mixture should be crumbly. Press into muffin tin lined with 12 foil baking cups.

Beat cheese, almond extract, lemon rind, lemon juice and 1/4 cup sugar until smooth. Add eggs and beat until well-combined.

Spoon 1/4 cup filling mixture into each baking cup. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until centers are set.

Remove and cool. Chill overnight for best flavor. before serving, top each cheesecake with a couple of raspberries.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Herb and Garlic Goat Cheese Truffles

Who needs cheese balls? Me if they're these little bite-sized goodies...

Herb and Garlic Goat Cheese Truffles
Makes 24 truffles.

1-8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1-6 ounce log mild, creamy goat cheese
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
1 to 2 teaspoons minced roasted garlic
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted

Bear first three ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Stir in chives and next three ingredients. Cover and chill two hours until firm.

Shape mixture into 24-1 1/2 inch balls; roll evenly in pecans. Cover and chill at least one hour. Serve chilled.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Broccoli with Herbed Hollandaise Sauce

Here's another way to kick vegetables up a notch. And it's not just plain old Hollandaise. The herbs..especially the mint...give the sauce a wonderful bright freshness. With a spicy underpinning from the Tabasco. Lots going on here...

(Note that the recipe calls for roasting the broccoli. I steamed mine instead and still got wonderful results.)

(There is also a wonderful Hollandaise sauce mix available from Wolferman's if you want an easy way out.)

Broccoli with Herbed Hollandaise Sauce and Toasted Bread Crumbs
Serves four.
From Food & Wine.

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 slice sourdough bread (about 2 ounces), crust removed, bread torn into pieces (or 1/2 cup breadcrumbs...I always keep some in the freezer.)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds broccoli—peeled and cut lengthwise into long, thick florets
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon boiling water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chopped mint
1/2 teaspoon coarsely chopped thyme

Preheat the oven to 450°. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Skim off the foam from the surface of the butter. Remove from the heat.

In a food processor, pulse the bread to coarse crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a small cookie sheet, toss with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Bake for about 2 minutes, until golden brown.

On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the broccoli with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Arrange the broccoli in an even layer and roast for about 15 minutes, until just tender and starting to brown.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring 1 inch of water to a simmer. In a stainless steel bowl, mix the egg yolks with the tablespoon of boiling water. Set the bowl over the saucepan and whisk the yolks constantly until thickened slightly and bright yellow, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Gently reheat the butter; very gradually, whisk it into the yolks until a slightly thick sauce forms. Whisk in the lemon juice and a dash of Tabasco and season the hollandaise sauce lightly with salt and pepper. Whisk in the mint and thyme.

Transfer the broccoli to a platter; pour the hollandaise sauce on top. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs and serve.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Potato Gorgonzola Gratin

It's tax day. So celebrate your refund...or drown your sorrows...with a great meal. Put a steak on the grill, toss a salad, and make these deliciously decadent potatoes. You'll never fix plain ol' scalloped potatoes again!

Potato Gorgonzola Gratin
Makes 8 servings.
From Cooking Light.

2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
2 1/2 cups fat-free milk
3/4 cup (3 ounces) crumbled Gorgonzola or other blue cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices
Cooking spray
1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 375°.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour, and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk. Stir in the thyme. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk; cook over medium heat until slightly thick (about 3 minutes), stirring constantly. Stir in the Gorgonzola; cook 3 minutes or until cheese melts, stirring constantly. Stir in salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Arrange one-fourth of potatoes in bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray; spoon about 3/4 cup sauce over potatoes. Repeat layers twice; arrange remaining potatoes over sauce. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Cover and bake at 375° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Remove from oven; let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Prosciutto-Roasted Halibut with Fresh Thyme wrapping fish in pork may take a bit of the healthy factor away, but it sure takes the final flavor to a whole new level. A side of couscous and a salad topped with shavings of Manchego or Parmesan cheese round the meal out nicely.

And uncork a bottle of Spanish Rioja to make dinner a truly special event!

Prosciutto-Roasted Halibut with Fresh Thyme
Makes two servings.
From Bon Appetit.

2 5-ounce halibut fillets
3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
4 thin slices prosciutto
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped shallot
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 400°F. Sprinkle fish fillets with salt and pepper. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon thyme atop each fish fillet. Place 2 slices prosciutto on work surface, overlapping slightly. Place 1 fish fillet crosswise in center of prosciutto; fold prosciutto over fish fillet. Repeat with remaining prosciutto and fish fillet.

Heat oil in medium ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add prosciutto-wrapped fish, seam side down. Cook until prosciutto is brown on all sides, about 1 minute per side. Transfer skillet to oven and roast fish until cooked through, about 6 minutes. Transfer to plates.

Add shallot to same skillet; sauté over medium-high heat until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Add wine and remaining 1 teaspoon thyme. Simmer until sauce is slightly reduced, about 1 minute. Whisk in butter. Drizzle sauce over fish and serve.

Monday, April 13, 2009

French-Style Deviled Eggs

Leftover ham from Easter? Check. Too many eggs bought and boiled for dyeing? Check. deviled eggs ever.

French-Style Deviled Eggs

8 large eggs
1/3 cup minced reduced-fat ham (I used some diced prosciutto that I had in the freezer. You can buy it at warehouse stores, if you can believe it.)
1 tablespoon minced green onions
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs
Cooking spray

Place eggs in a large saucepan. Cover with water to 1 inch above eggs; bring just to a boil. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 12 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold running water until cool. Peel eggs; slice in half lengthwise. Remove yolks; discard 4 yolks. Place remaining 4 yolks in a medium bowl. Add ham and next 7 ingredients (through pepper); stir until combined. Spoon about 1 teaspoon yolk mixture into each egg white half. Top each half with 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves, if desired.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Glazed Lemon-Blueberry Poppy Seed Bundt Cake

Here's the cake I baked for Easter dinner this evening. I've already sneaked a taste. Delicious!

Glazed Lemon-Blueberry Poppy Seed Bundt Cake

Cooking spray
1 1/2 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
4 large eggs
13 3/4 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3 cups)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
3/4 cup nonfat buttermilk
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 lemons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon nonfat buttermilk
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°.

To prepare cake, coat a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray; dust with breadcrumbs.

Combine granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through salt); stir with a whisk. Add blueberries to flour mixture; toss to coat. Combine 3/4 cup buttermilk, 1/3 cup juice, and extracts. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan. (Note: I added the blueberries at the end of mixing, folding them in so they didn't get mangled by the mixer blades.)

Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan; cool on rack.

To prepare glaze, place powdered sugar in a small bowl; add 1 tablespoon buttermilk and 1 tablespoon juice, stirring with a whisk until combined. Pour glaze over warm cake; cool completely.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Cocktail of the Week: Gin and Green Tea Martini

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a fan of gin. It's an interesting spirit and, these days, different brands bring very different flavors to the table. That said, I don't drink gin martinis very often at all. It's a drink that I always say "can put hair on your chest." But I'll have a craving for one every now and then.

Here's a cocktail recipe that might have me putting gin in a martini glass more often. The gin is tempered with a bit of sweetness and some green tea. tea is supposed to have antioxidant properties. What better place for it than in a cocktail to counteract the effects of the alcohol!

Gin and Green Tea Martini
Makes one cocktail.

1 tablespoon simple syrup
2 ounces cold green tea (You can replace one ounce of the green tea with ZEN green tea liqueur if you have it...which I did.)
2 ounces gin

Shake in an ice-filled cocktail shaker and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint or basil for an extra herbal kick.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Warm Strawberry Crumb Cake

Here's a great way to use some of the strawberries that grocery stores are practically giving away these days. It can be refrigerated and served at room temperature, but is most delicioous when still warm from the oven.

Warm Strawberry Crumb Cake

3 pounds strawberries, hulled and halved (8 cups)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 1/2 tablespoons of water
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large bowl, toss the strawberries with the sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch slurry and vanilla seeds and let stand until the berries release some of their juices, about 30 minutes. Pour the fruit filling into a 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish set on a sturdy baking sheet.

1/2 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

In a medium bowl, mix all of the ingredients with your fingers until a coarse meal forms; press into small clumps.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions. Beat in the vanilla extract and scrape down the bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the batter in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk.

Spoon the batter over the fruit filling, spreading it to the edge. Sprinkle with the crumb topping. Bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the fruit is bubbling, the crumb topping is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly. Serve the crumb cake warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Spinach-Onion Salad

Here's a deliciously healthy salad. I gilded the lily a bit and added several wonderfully sweet grape tomatoes to the bowl. (I also thought about goat cheese...which would have been delicious, but was not necessary at all.) Make it a main course with the addition of a piece of steamed salmon.

Spinach-Onion Salad
Makes six servings.

Juice of 1/2 lime, divided use
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoon honey, divided use
1 red onion, sliced into very thin rounds
2 teaspoon canola (or olive) oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
8 cups baby spinach
1 tablespoon toasted sliced almonds

To marinate the onion, combine 1 tablespoon of the lime juice, the soy sauce and 1 teaspoon honey in an airtight container. Add the onion and toss to coat.

To make the dressing, mix the remaining lime juice, oil, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon honey and ginger in a small bowl.

Cover and refrigerate the onion and the dressing up to one day.

To serve, let the onion stand at room temperature one hour. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Discard the excess marinade. Add the spinach, dressing and almonds. Toss well.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Baked Eggs in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce

Eggs. Canned tomatoes. And a sprinkle of Parmesan. Isn't it great when the simplest of ingredients come together into a hearty and healthy meal? Everyday Food is fast-becoming one of my favorite recipe sources. Here's another one of their successes.

Baked Eggs in Tomato-Parmesan Sauce
From Martha Stewart's Everyday Food.
Makes four servings.

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
2 cans (15 ounces each) diced tomatoes in juice
1 can (15 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Coarse salt and ground pepper
8 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set four 12-ounce ovenproof bowls or ramekins on a large rimmed baking sheet.

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add garlic and rosemary; cook, stirring, until garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Add diced tomatoes (with juice), crushed tomatoes, and 2 tablespoons Parmesan; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 2 to 4 minutes. Season tomato sauce with salt and pepper.

Divide tomato sauce among bowls, reserving 1 cup. Crack 2 eggs into each bowl. Dividing evenly, top with reserved sauce and 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Bake until egg whites are just opaque (yolks should still be soft), 24 to 28 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Caesar Salad Dressing

I went over to a friend's place recently for a home-cooked meal of spaghetti and meatballs. I volunteered to bring the Caesar salad and decided I would make the dressing from scratch. The pressure was on though. These weren't run-of-the-mill meatballs. They were the delicious bundles of goodness that we Dallasites can buy at Jimmy's Food Store. The dressing had to be in the same league. And, with this recipe, it was. Tossed with some romaine lettuce, good-quality croutons and a little extra Parmesan, it was excellent.

Caesar Salad Dressing
Makes about 3 cups dressing. (That's plenty for two BIG salads, so I will cut the recipe in half next time.)

2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
6 to 8 anchovy fillets, minced (or substitute an equivalent amount of anchovy paste)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Worcestershire sauce
2 cups olive oil
2 tablespoons warm water, if needed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Place the egg yolks, mustard, anchovies, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice and a dash of Worcestershire into a blender or small food processor. Blend until well-combined. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow steady stream until it is fully incorporated and emulsified. Add the cheese and blend until just combined.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Red Snapper with Wild Mushrooms and Sesame

Serve these and your family and guests will thank you for the wonderful dinner they get to unwrap. Just like a great gift at Christmas!

Red Snapper with Wild Mushrooms and Sesame
Serves four.

4-6 ounce snapper fillets
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 cup sliced shitake mushrooms
1/2 onion, very thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup sesame oil
1/2 cup white wine
4 sheets of parchment paper

Preheat oven to 400°.

Working one at a time, place the snapper fillet on one side of a sheet of parchment paper and cover with remaining ingredients, making sure that you divide things evenly.

Wrap packets in parchment, sealing all seams tightly.

Bake at 400° for 20 minutes.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Savory Croissant Bread Pudding

Do you need a recipe for a big family gathering on Easter morning? This one will do the trick nicely. It's a little more complicated than some brunch casseroles, quite yummy. And hearty enough that the only other thing you might need on your menu is some fresh fruit.

Oh, and mimosas!

Savory Croissant Bread Pudding
Makes 8 to 10 servings.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
6 ounces Canadian bacon or baked ham, trimmed and diced
6 ounces hot sausage, removed from casings and crumbled or chopped
8 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 teaspoon Creole seasoning
8 cups cubed or torn stale croissants (about 8 croissants)
8 ounces grated Gouda or Fontina cheese (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 by 13 inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter and set aside.

In a medium skillet, melt 2 teaspoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions, green and red bell peppers, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the black pepper and cook, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the parsley, stir and remove from the heat. let cool.

In a medium skillet, melt the remaining 1 teaspoon butter over medium-high heat. Add the Canadian bacon or ham and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Add the sausage to the skillet and cook, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the milk, cream, 1 teaspoon of Creole seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and whisk to combine. Add the croissants and let sit for 5 minutes. Add the cooked meats, the onion mixture and the cheese and stir to incorporate the ingredients. Pour into the prepared baking dish, cover with aluminum foil and bake until almost completely set, 50 to 55 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, melted butter and 1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning. Uncover the pudding and sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top. Return to the oven, increase the heat to 375 degrees and bake until the pudding is completely set in thecenter, puffed and golden brown on top, about 20 minutes.

Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Blue Cheese-Pecan Phyllo Bites

Sometimes I think this blog should be called Life Should Be Appetizers, since I post so many of them. It's natural though. We have three or four big parties a year, and it's more likely than not that I am preparing four or five completely new hors d'oeurves for each. (It's actually kind of an expectation our regulars have!)'s one I made recently for a shindig.

Blue Cheese-Pecan Phyllo Bites
Makes 30 hors d'oeurves.

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 packages mini phyllo shells (30 shells)
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup dried cherries, snipped into very small pieces
Toasted pecans (or even better spiced pecans like these)

Place phyllo shells in a baking dish or mini-muffin tins. In each shell, place a bout a teaspoon of softened cream cheese and about a teaspoonful of blue cheese crumbles. Top with a few pieces of cherry and pecan pieces.

Bake at 400 degrees for ten minutes or until cheese are slightly melted. Slighly press on the filling in each shell to "meld" it together.

Serve warm or allow to cool and serve at room temperature.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Cocktail of the Week: Pisco Sour

A pre-dinner cocktail doesn't have to be complicated. Gin and Tonic. Vodka and soda. Or even a glass of wine or a beer.

Sometimes, however, it's nice to be a little more exotic. Maybe even head WAAAAAY south of the border.

I bought a bottle of Pisco interesting Peruvian spirit distilled from grapes. When I searched the file folder of Pisco cocktail recipes (yes...I DO have one...), I found this one. It's delicious.

And stay tuned for more. I have to use the bottle up after all...

Pisco Sour
Makes one cocktail.

2 ounces pisco
1 egg white
3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup

In a cocktail shaker, shake the egg white until slightly frothy. Add the rest of the ingredients and shake vigorously. Strain into an ice-filled highball glass.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Crab and Shrimp Salad on Cayenne Toasts

As spring arrives and summer knocks on our door, here's an appetizer to serve with a nice Sauvignon Blanc or unoaked Chardonnay. if you can enjoy them on your patio or deck with friends, all the better.

Crab and Shrimp Salad on Cayenne Toasts
Makes 60 canapes.

16 slices firm white sandwich bread (like Pepperidge Farm)
8 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
pinch of kosher salt
6 ounces medium shrimp
8 ounces crabmeat (preferably lump)
2 tablespoons minced shallot
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stack bread slices and remove crusts. Cut slices into quarters and arrange on baking sheet. Melt butter, then stir in cayenne and salt. Brush tops of bread with cayenne/butter mixture. bake in middle of oven 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. Let toasts cool. (You can make these ahead and store at room temperature.)

Heat a medium pot of water over high heat. When the water comes to a boil, add the shrimp, cover the pot and turn off the heat. Let stand for about 5 minutes or until the shrimp are just cooked through. Remove the shrimp from the water when cool enough to handle and peel and devein. Coarsely chop the shrimp and place in medium bowl.

Add crab to the shrimp along with remaining ingredients. Stir gently, and season with salt to taste.

Just before serving, mound a spoonful of the salad on each toast and garnish with dill sprigs if desired.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Grilling Tip

Here's a great Life Should Be Beautiful tip...

As every Southerner knows, it will soon be time to get ready for that all-important cooking technique of the south --- outdoor grilling!I have just found out there are many stores (not just in the South) where you can get a FREE Bar-B-Q grill! In these tough times, free, useful items are very welcome.

You can get a free BBQ grill from any of the following stores:
A&P, Albertsons, Costco, Dan's, Food Lion, Fry's, Home Depot, Big Lots, Brookshire's, Lowes, Publix, Safeway, Sam's Club, Tesco, Target, Vons, Trader Joe's, Wal-Mart, Winn-Dixie
I especially like the higher rack -- which can be used for keeping things warm! Just make sure to get a metal one... the plastic ones don't do so well.