Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sweet Coffee House Scones

This is not your typical dry, stick in your throat, scone.  Moist and flavorful, this comes together easily, and without the use of heavy cream, since it's seldom something I have on hand.  This makes approximately 16 scones, and the batch is large enough to split into two flavors for a bit of variety.  My current favorite is toasted almonds (or hazlenuts) with dried apricots.  My two girls like triple chocolate chip, and my husband is a traditionalist with currents or raisins and a little cinnamon. 

INGREDIENTS
  • 3 to 3 1/4 cups flour (depends on whether your mixins are wet- blueberries, raspberries, etc.)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • milk and sugar for topping

 DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Mix flour (start with 3 cups), baking powder, salt, sugar and brown sugar, until well incorporated.
  3. Cut the butter into tiny pieces and mix into the flour mixture (you can also use a food processor for this step or your hands if you work quick). Keep cutting in the butter until you incorporate the butter into the flour and it looks like it's the consistency of cornmeal.   
  4. Add the milk, sour cream and vanilla extract, and mix to form a dough. If dough is too wet to work with, add a little more flour till you have a moist dough, but it's workable. Add your mix ins and mix till well distributed. If you have a wet mix in like blueberries, you may need to add a little more flour.
  5. Cut dough in two (or cut in two before adding the mixins if you want two flavors) and shape into 2 rounds, 1/2 inch thick. Baste the top with a little milk and then sprinkle with sugar. Cut each circle into 8 wedges. Separate slightly to help them cook. Cook for approximately 17 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through in the middle. Enjoy!

    Saturday, March 13, 2010

    Mediterranean Chicken Panini


    This is a very flavorful panini.  It was a bit of an experiment that came about when I had few ingredients on hand.  Amazingly enough, not only did this work, it was by far one of the best paninis I've ever come up with.  The flavors are bright and vibrant, and compliment each other nicely.

    INGREDIENTS

    1 lb boneless skinless chicken, cooked and heated
    6 tablespoons olive tapenade
    1/4 lb chorizo sausage, sliced thin (the cooked &cured deli kind-not raw)
    1/4 lb sharp provolone cheese
    1 tomato, sliced
    8 slices bread of ciabatta, saloio, or Tuscan pane (thin slices)
    olive oil

    DIRECTIONS
    1. Heat your panini press or pan to med. high - high. Brush one side of each piece of bread with olive oil. Cut the chicken into thin strips.
    2. Place bread, olive oil side down. Place a layer of provolone, then spread a thin layer of olive tapenade. Add a layer of chicken, a layer of tomato slices and then a layer of the chorizo. Top with another piece of bread, olive oil side out. Repeat for additional sandwiches.
    3. Place sandwich on pan or press, cooking till both sides are golden brown (with a pan, you'll need to flip the sandwich). Cut in half and serve immediately.
    NOTES

    For the chicken, feel free to use any cooked chicken you may have-- rotisserie chicken would work fine, though I usually cook mine in a bit of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and oregano.  For the chorizo, be sure that you do not use the raw kind, but instead use the kind that can be found in the deli are and is already cooked and cured.  If you can't find that kind of chorizo, the deli style pepperoni can be substituted in a pinch though it won't be as spicy. Also, you can always add the tomato after the sandwich has been cooked if you're worried about the bread getting soggy.  The amounts recommended are estimates, and will vary depending on the size of your bread.  I hope you enjoy it!

      Friday, March 5, 2010

      Apple & Pear Crisp with Cranberries and Pecans


      Every time I make this the entire house smells of apples, butter and cinammon.  The quintessential comfort food, this is far better than just an apple crisp, since the pears add an aromatic sweetness that's unexpected while the cranberries balance it out with a tartness.  But it's that hint of pecan in the buttery crisp topping that pushes this desert over the edge.  This is my own recipe though I make it regularly for the restaurant I work at, and I'm proud to say people come in looking for it.

      INGREDIENTS
      2.5- 3 pounds of apples- a tart variety (I use empire)
      2 pounds of pears (I use Bosc- be sure they're ripe for maximum flavor)
      1/2 cup dried cranberries
      3 tbs. flour
      3 tbs. sugar
      1 tbs. cinammon

      Topping:
      1.5 sticks of salted butter (room temp.)
      1 cup flour
      1 cup brown sugar
      2/3 cup sugar
      1 cup old fashioned oatmeal
      1.5 cups pecans, roughly chopped
      2 tbs. vanilla extract
      1 tbs. cinammon

      INSTRUCTIONS
      1. Peel, seed and cut apples and pears into bite size chunks.  Place fruit in a oven safe pan (approx. 9"x13") and toss in the cranberries, and the few tbs. of flour, sugar and cinammon.  Give a quick mix.
      2. While preheating the oven to 350 degrees and making the topping, toast the pecans for about 10 min.
      3. For the topping, mix all the topping ingredients (as listed above and including the pecans) until thoroughly mixed.  Mixture should be moist enough that it sticks together easily and is almost dough like in consistancy.
      4. Top fruit with buttery topping, making sure to crumble it on as best as you can.  Once all the fruit is covered, place in the oven for approximately 50-60 min.  Topping should be golden brown and fruit should be just getting bubbly. Serve warm, topped with icecream.
      NOTES

      This really isn't an exact science, and you can easily eyeball the amounts and play with the recipe.  The only thing I'd recommend is sticking with a tart apple to prevent it from becoming too sweet.  When adding the topping, try and get as uneven a texture as you can since it will give you more surface area to be crisped.  Also, the riper the pear the more "pear" flavor it will have, so if you can buy them ripe or let them sit for a few days to ripen, you'll get far more flavor.  Hope you enjoy!

      Thursday, February 11, 2010

      Mexican Street Food -- Beef on a Stick (or Not)

      Ever watch those cooking shows where they travel the world and sample the local cuisine?  It seems like no matter where they go-- be it Asia, Africa, or South America-- there's always some street vendor cooking up tasty looking meat on some sort of stick, grilled on a flat top or over an open flame.  Sometimes it's chunks, but more often it's ground and liberally seasoned, so that they can make use of the tougher cuts of meat and scraps.

      Here's my version, inspired by the streets of Mexico.  Quick, easy and tasty, this is great on it's own or wrapped in fresh tortillas.  I threw into it what I happened to have on hand, but this is a very flexible recipe and you can easily make it your own.  Don't have an ingredient or want to use something else-- no problem.  As long as there's meat and generous seasoning, it should be great, though I will say I think the sour cream is a must since it keeps the meat tender and moist.

      INGREDIENTS

      1.5 lbs ground beef (I used 85%)
      1/2  cup sour cream
      1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
      generous pinch of oregeno
      1/4 tsp. thyme
      1/2 tsp cumin
      Dash of cayenne
      1 minced clove of garlic
      the juice of 1/2 a lemon
      salt and pepper (according to your tastes, but on the liberal side)

      a few tbs. oil for cooking in if using a pan (optional)

      INSTRUCTIONS

      1) If you are planning on grilling these and using bamboo skewers, then soak the skewers in water for at least 20 min.  However, the skewers are not absolutely necessary, and if you decide to cook these in a pan, the skewers will only get in the way.  To skewer or not-- the choice is yours.

      2)  In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients until incorporated (except for the oil used in the pan).  Taking a small handful of meat, roll it into the size of a small sausage (about 3-4 in. long and an inch wide).  Continue until all the meat has been rolled into lengths.  If using the skewers, squeeze the meat around the skewer.

      3)  If you are planning on cooking these in a pan, heat the oil in a nonstick pan over med. high to high heat.  If cooking on a grill, preheat to med-high.  Cook the meat lengths on one side, and then once browned, turn and brown the other side.  Make sure the meat is thoroughly cooked before removing from the heat.

      4) Serve either in a tortilla or on its own, with a side of fresh salsa, guacamole, and queso. [The picture here includes a mango salsa I made after roasting some anaheim peppers and a bit of fresh guacamole.]

      NOTES

      This can easily be made with any type of meat, and you could also add some fresh cilantro or mint to give it a fresh taste.  Also, the spices can easily be changed to a different flavor profile and region (cumin, garlic and mint for Middle Eastern; curry, ginger, garlic, turmeric and garam masala for Indian, etc.)

      Quick and very easy!  Hope you enjoy.

      Tuesday, February 9, 2010

      Chocolate Espresso Flourless Torte

      Just in time for Valentine's day! Who can say no to chocolate? And trust me when I tell you this is a chocoholic's dream come true.  Extremely dense and rich, a little goes a long way, and even better-- this is easy to make.  A definite favorite at the restaurant I work at.  The recipe comes from In the Hands of a Chef  by Jody Adams of Rialto Restaurant.  Please note-- this makes A LOT considering how rich it is-- 1 9 inch torte or approx. 22 mini cakes (standard muffin tin).


      INGREDIENTS

      3 sticks (3/4 pound)   unsalted butter
      1 cup   sugar
      1 cup plus 2 tbs.   espresso or very strong coffee
      12 oz. (1 bag)   semi sweet chocolate (in pieces)
      1/4 lb (4- 1" squares)   unsweetened chocolate (in pieces)
      6   large eggs (room temp.)
      6   egg yolks (room temp.)

      DIRECTIONS

      1)  Over low heat, melt in a sauce pan the butter, sugar, and coffee. [I have used instant coffee in a pinch and just made it extremely strong-- about 3 tbs of instant coffee for the amount of water required.]  Once butter has melted, add in both kinds of chocolate, making sure not to bring it to a boil.  Remove from the heat, and whisk until smooth and silky.  Set it aside and let it cool.  [The recipe calls for it to sit at room temp for at least 12 hours, but I've let it cool all of half an hour and haven't had any problems.]

      2)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Cut a piece of round parchment paper to fit inside of a 9" cake pan. [I use the nonstick aluminum foil. LOVE that stuff!]  Grease sides and bottom with butter or baking spray.  This cake WILL stick to even a non stick pan, so grease liberally.  [As an alternative, I have used a muffin tin, but haven't had great success with keeping the cakes from sticking, though you could also bake and serve it in a ramekin and just skip the parchment/foil in the bottom.]

      3)  Beat the eggs and egg yolks until just mixed-- not foamy.  Stir in the chocolate mixture.  Pour the batter into your baking dish/pan of choice.  Place in a large roasting pan, and pour enough water into the roasting pan so that the water comes almost half way up your baking dish.  Carefully slide into the oven.

      4)  Bake approximately 50-60 minutes for the 9" cake pan, and approximately 18-20 for a muffin tin or custard cup size-- you may have to play with the time depending on the size of your baking container.  The batter should be set, but still have a slightly wiggly center.  Remove from roasting pan and let cool for at least an hour.  If possible, let it rest overnight, if possible, in the fridge.  When ready to serve, invert onto a serving platter.  Sift with a little cocoa powder for presentation [optional].

      MY NOTES

      This is a very rich cake so a little goes a long way.  You may want to serve with some vanilla or coffee ice cream. 

      Regarding the chocolate mixture, make sure you do cook it long enough that all the chocolate does melt.  Also do NOT put the mixture in the fridge to cool, if you choose to let it sit.

      I'll post updates if I find a way to keep the cakes from sticking in the muffin tin.  I did try cutting out little mini circles of non stick foil and putting them in the bottom of each tin, but in some cases the foil floated away from the bottom, leaving me with a slightly uneven bottom.  I'll try it again, and perhaps just push down the foil to see if that ends up working out.

      IDEAS

      I'm awfully tempted to switch out the coffee for milk or cream to lighten up the flavor as an alternative.  I'm also curious to see what a little bit of flour might do to the mix (only about 1/2 cup or so).  I'll let you know how any experiments turn out.

      Monday, February 8, 2010

      Welcome to my Cooking Blog!

      I wanted to welcome you all to my new blog.  I've thought about writing a cooking blog for some time now.  Though I spend most of my time chasing after my two girls or writing (I primarily write romance), I also spend a fair amount of time cooking.

      I love experimenting in the kitchen, and I hope to share with you not only recipes, but also what seemed to work, what didn't work so well, and any other thoughts I had during the process.  It seems like as of late, I've been scouring through recipes and experimenting even more than usual, since I'm now working part time at a new restaurant.  There's no doubt this will offer up some inspiration.

      For the most part, I tend to wing it when I cook-- not too unlike my writing really.  But I promise to do my best to keep track of measurements so that you'll have an accurate recipe to follow.  Though I prefer to cook savory over sweet, my recent job has me baking more than I ever thought possible.  The recipes have been great, so I think there will be a wide variety offered in the postings.

      So let the cooking begin!  Thank you for stopping by and happy cooking!