Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Eight or Less is a plus!

Photo © 2003 Tim Turner. All rights reserved
Yesterday's post has awakened my sweet tooth. I want chocolate. I want coconut. I want them now. And, I don't want to slave over a hot oven (it is summer after all). 

In 2003 Gale Gand and Julia Moskin created a wonderful book -- "Gale Gand's Short and Sweet: Quick Desserts with Eight Ingredients or Less". There on the cover is exactly what I've been dreaming of. (In fact, I'm such a state of bliss I just dangled a participle).


Chocolate-Coconut Macaroon Pies Recipe

For the coconut cups
  • Heaping 3/4 cup sugar
  • Scant 1/2 cup egg whites (from about 3 large eggs)
  • Scant 2 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut, such as Baker’s

For the ganache filling
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • A few toasted almonds, chopped


Make the coconut shells
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

2. Stir the sugar, egg whites, and coconut together until completely combined. Place a spoonful into each of 24 nonstick mini-muffin cups or individual tart molds and press the “dough” into the molds to create little coconut cups. Bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Let the coconut cups cool completely in the pans, then gently remove. You may need to run a knife around the rim of the cups to loosen. (The coconut cups can be kept at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)

Make the ganache filling
3. Place the chocolate in a bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan just until boiling, then pour it over the chocolate and let it rest for just 1 minute. Whisk gently until the chocolate is completely melted, and then keep whisking until the mixture is smooth and glossy. (The ganache can be covered with plastic wrap pressed directly against its surface and refrigerated for up to 5 days; rewarm the ganache in the microwave or in a bowl set over simmering water until it’s pourable.)


It doesn't stop here. Think of the possibilities! Instead of the chocolate ganache, perhaps lemon or coconut cream pudding. Or fresh fruit.

Just one word of caution -- don't fill these crisp coconut shells and then refrigerate them overnight. They'll become a little less crisp. If you don't plan to use them immediately, just cover and set them aside for a day or two, and then fill just before eating.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Do you remember "Payday"?

Photo: BettyCrocker.com
Today I'm going to reveal a family secret. It's something I've never fully understood, but over the years I simply came to accept the fact that...........my sister didn't like chocolate.

Shocking, isn't it?

But she did love candy--molasses mint chews, Dots, Jolly Ranchers, licorice whips, and Payday candy bars. Ahead of her time, Florence loved the contrast of sweet and salty. I thought about that today as I was shopping in the bulk foods section of our grocery store, and saw salted peanuts on sale.

For the uninitiated, the Payday candy bar is a creamy log of caramel surrounded by crunchy, salty peanuts. I'm in the mood for something sweet and I'd like to make something that replicates the flavor of a Payday, but candy-making on a hot summer day in July sounds just about as wacky as, well as not liking chocolate. Betty Crocker has a great recipe for "Easy Salted Peanut Chews". I'll give you her recipe, and then my version:

Betty Crocker's "Easy Salted Peanut Chews"
One pouch (1 lb. 1.5 oz.) Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie mix
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon water
1 egg
3 cups miniature marshmallows
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter or margarine
2 tsp. vanilla
1 bag (10 oz.) peanut butter chips
2 cups crisp rice cereal
2 cups salted peanuts

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray bottom only of 13x9-inch pan with cooking spray.

In large bowl stir cookie mix, oil, water, and egg until soft dough forms. Press dough in pan using floured fingers.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until set. Immediately sprinkle marshmallows over crust; bake 1 to 2 minutes longer or until marshmallows begin to puff.

In a 4-quart saucepan, cook corn syrup, butter, vanilla and peanut butter chips over low heat, stirring constantly, until chips are melted. Remove from heat; stir in cereal and peanuts. Immediately spoon cereal mixture over marshmallows. Refrigerate 30 minutes or until firm. Cut into 9 rows by 4 rows.


Yum! My version does not rely on a package of cookie mix; I would rather make my own peanut butter cookie dough, and so that's exactly what I did:

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda

Cream together butter, peanut butter and sugars. Beat in eggs.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir into dough. Press dough into pan as instructed above, and proceed with the remainder of Betty Crocker's recipe.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's not dessert, but risotto's a piece of cake

Photo: Wikipedia.com
Are you familiar with "risotto"? If you peek at Wikipedia, they will tell you that "Risotto is a class of Italian dishes of rice cooked in broth to a creamy consistency. It is one of the most common ways of cooking rice in Italy."

Yes, it is cooked rice, and it is a bit more complicated than Minute Rice from a box, but it's also far more satisfying. Last October 2nd, I helped you make pumpkin risotto. Today we'll make a mushroom risotto, just like the one I cooked yesterday for my husband for our anniversary.

But first, let's talk about the rice. The most important part of risotto is the rice. Don't run to your cupboard and grab a box of Uncle Ben's or a sack of generic long-grain rice. It won't work. You need a short-grain arborio rice. Arborio rice has a higher starch content and remains firm (al dente) when cooked--that is exactly what you want and need for a proper risotto. Risotto is creamy, but not mushy. The grains remain gently "toothy" but are enveloped in a creamy cloak which results from the mixing of the starch with the liquids in which the rice simmers.

Mushroom Risotto
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup minced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced (I used button and cremini)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 to 4 cups hot broth (chicken, vegetable, or mushroom)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese

In large frying pan melt 1 tablespoon butter with olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is soft, about 2 minutes. Stir in mushrooms and cook until lightly browned (3 to 4 minutes). Stir in thyme.

Add 1/4 cup of the wine and cook until wine is absorbed. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add rice, pepper, and remaining 1/2 cup white wine. Stir to insure that rice does not clump together and cook until wine is absorbed. Add 1 cup broth, reduce heat to low, and stir until broth is almost absorbed. Continue to add broth, 1/2 cup at a time and stirring until rice is creamy and tender but still firm in center. This should take about 15 to 18 minutes.

Stir in mushrooms.

Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan and mascarpone cheese.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be

Photo: Oxmoor House
Today is the most perfect day. The sun is shining, birds are singing and I'm happily baking in my kitchen. But even if the skies were dark, I would still be happy. Today is our 30th wedding anniversary, and I can't remove the smile from my face. I thank God for the wonderful husband He brought into my life three decades ago.

Baking? Yes, of course. I love my kitchen and I love to cook and bake (as you know). Husband and I could go out for a wonderful dinner, but in the end we'd spend so very much money just so that someone else washes the dishes. I don't intend to sound smug, but I rarely find a meal at a restaurant that exceeds what comes out of my own kitchen.

Our menu tonight is a spinach salad, mixed mushroom risotto, Dungeness crab, and chocolate cheesecake. I baked the cheesecake early this morning (they're best if they have at least 8 hours to chill). So let me share that recipe (from Cooking Light Magazine) with you, and perhaps tomorrow we can do the risotto together:

Triple Chocolate Cheesecake
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon margarine (not tub margarine)
1 1/3 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs
cooking spray
3 tablespoons dark rum (optional)
3 1-ounce squares semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup chocolate syrup
1 8-oz. block nonfat cream cheese, softened
1 8-oz. block Nefchatel cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place first 3 ingredients in a bowl; beat at medium speed of a mixer until blended. Add crumbs; stir well. Firmly press mixture into bottom and 1 inch up sides of an 8-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 10 minutes; let cool on a wire rack.

Combine rum and chocolate squares in the top of a double boiler. (I used water place of the rum). Cook over simmering water 2 minutes or until chocolate melts, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; add chocolate syrup, stirring until smooth.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Place cheeses in a large bowl; beat at medium speed of a mixer until smooth. Add 1 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons cocoa, vanilla, and salt; beat until smooth. Add rum mixture; beat at low speed until well-blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Pour cheese mixture into prepared pan; bake at 300 degrees F for 40 minutes, or until almost set. Combine sour cream, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 2 teaspoons cocoa; stir well. Turn oven off, and spread sour cream mixture over cheesecake. Let cheesecake stand for 45 minutes in oven with door closed. Remove cheesecake from oven, and let cool to room temperature. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.

Use your imagination. Perhaps a simple dusting of powdered sugar, a dollop of whipped cream, or fresh berries.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Taming the fiery beast

Radishes. Whenever I see red radishes, I think of my mom. She loved fresh radishes and spoke fondly of her childhood on the farm, plucking tiny young radishes from the earth, rubbing them briefly on her sleeve to remove the dirt, and eating them warm from the ground.

In our home, there was never a green salad on our table without slices of radish. They always appeared in her potato salad. And a "special occasion" dinner was never without a plate of carrots, celery, and radish "roses".

Honestly, I never cared for them. Too hot and peppery. 

Today is Tuesday, Farmers Market Day in my town. Local farmers were displaying ripe berries, rhubarb, spinach, peas. And radishes. But not the red-hot veggies of my childhood. These were enticing little pastel globes--light and dark pink, white and bluish-purple. And, they called to me, they lured me, and before I could come to my senses I found myself walking home with a plastic bag of these lovely little roots.

I washed one and took a bite--it was wonderfully crisp and sweet, but still had the peppery bite I remembered. I know that one way to tame the heat of garlic is to cook it slowly--either roasting or with a brief saute. So I wondered if the same could be done with radishes.

Roasted Radishes
1 bunch (about one pound) assorted small radishes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, melted
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Wash the radishes. Cut off the root ends and the tops, leaving about 1/2 inch of the stem. Dry and then place in a shallow baking dish. Drizzle oil and melted butter on top, and then sprinkle with sea salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Bake in preheated oven 10-15 minutes.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pizza for dessert

Photograph by Antonis Achilleos

I adore fresh berries, and so I really LOVE this time of year. Today at the produce stand we have strawberries and raspberries. In just one more month the strawberries will be gone, but will be replaced by blackberries and blueberries.

And in my native garden we have salmon berries (they look like orange raspberries), huckleberries (a wild blueberry), and thimbleberries (look like a strawberry but have a unique taste all their own).

Early this morning I picked up several boxes of raspberries at the local produce stand. They are wonderful as a snack or tossed upon a bowl of cereal. But I was in the mood for something different today. So I browsed through my cooking magazines and found this wonderful recipe tucked into a small corner of a page in the Italian Foods issue of the Food Network Magazine.

Raspberry-Almond Pizza

Preheat a baking sheet in a 450 degrees F oven.

Roll out 1 pound pizza dough into a 12-inch round. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake on the hot baking sheet until golden, about 8 minutes.

Brush with 1/4 cup raspberry jam, then bake 2 more minutes. Cool slightly.

Beat 1/3 cup mascarpone or cream cheese with 3 tablespoons powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp. vanilla. Spread over the pizza and top with raspberries, toasted almonds, and powdered sugar.

Hmmm, what other combinations could we come up with? What about strawberries, strawberry jam, and a sprinkle of shaved dark chocolate in place of the almonds. Or blueberries, blueberry jam, and a bit of lemon zest? That's what a love about cooking. Don't think of a recipe as one of the Ten Commandments. Use it as a suggestion, a guide, or an inspiration.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Chicken salad -- healthy doesn't have to be boring

My older daughter and I invited a dear friend over for lunch today. I knew that I would not have much time to prepare a meal, so came up with something I could make the night before. Toni loves chicken and fresh veggies so why not a chicken salad?

Most restaurant chicken salads are laden with full-fat mayonnaise. Yes, creamy is dreamy, but I'd rather be able to actually taste the chicken and experience the crisp textures of nuts, fruits, and veggies.

 Carb Diva Chicken Salad Sandwich

3 cups diced cooked chicken
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp. fresh minced rosemary
2 tablespoons fresh minced chives
1/3 cup non-fat mayonnaise
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper

Combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl. Cover and chill at least one hour to allow flavors to blend. Spread on bread of your choice. My personal favorite is honey oatmeal.

Note: This is such a versatile recipe. Other things you could add (or substitute in place of an ingredient you don't have on hand or don't care for) are:

  • fresh minced tarragon
  • sliced seedless grapes
  • crumbled bacon
  • chopped tart apple
  • chopped fresh cherries
  • pumpkin seeds
  • chopped smoked almonds
  • shredded cheddar or Swiss cheese

Monday, July 4, 2011

We can carbonara just like Olive Garden!

Photo: Olive Garden

They've done it again! Olive Garden is teasing us with visions of puffy pillows of ravioli bathed in creamy parmesan sauce alongside crisp boneless chicken cutlets. "Carbonara Ravioli with Chicken" will be available for a limited time during these warm summer months. Or maybe not. If we can make our own....

So, what is carbonara? Typically, carbonara is a main dish made by tossing hot cooked pasta with beaten eggs, cream, and a bit of cheese. The heat of the pasta cooks the eggs and creates a silky sauce which is then fortified with the addition of crisp cooked bacon and additional cheese.

So, how can be translate that into a stuffed pasta?

Carb Diva's Carbonara Ravioli with Chicken
4 slices bacon
2 tsp. olive oil
2 large shallots, minced
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon (generous) ground black pepper

Prepare the filling:
  • Place bacon in cold skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon to a plate on which you have placed a double thickness of paper towels. When cool enough to handle, crumble the bacon and set aside.
  • Wipe the skillet clean. Add 2 tsp. of olive oil and minced shallots. Cook over medium heat until the shallots begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook 30 seconds more. Remove from heat and place shallots/garlic mixture in a small mixing bowl.
  • Into the same bowl add lemon peel, salt, pepper, and mascarpone cheese. Stir until well combined. Add the bacon and stir gently until bacon is evenly distributed. Cover and chill one hour.

2 cups all purpose flour
2 eggs
4 tablespoons water

Prepare the pasta:
  • Place 2 cups of all-purpose flour in the bowl of a food processor.
  • Add two whole eggs and pulse until mixture looks like coarse crumbs.
  • With processor running, slowly pour in 4 tablespoons of water.
  • Process until dough forms a ball.
  • Remove dough from food processor and let rest for about 10 minutes. Cut dough into two equal pieces. Roll out each piece by hand to a 9x24-inch rectangle, or use a pasta  machine to form your dough

    NOTE: If you do not want to make your own pasta, there is an alternative. Purchase one package of gyoza (dumpling) wrappers. Gyoza are similar to won tons, but a bit thicker and are usually sold in the same place where you obtain won tons--some stores have them in the produce section, or with tofu and natural foods. If all else fails, visit your local Asian market.

    Assemble the Ravioli:
    • Place your rolled pasta sheets onto a work surface. Cut each 9x24-inch sheet into 24 three-inch squares.
    • Using a pastry brush, lightly dampen the surface of 24 of the pasta squares with cold water.
    • Place 1 tablespoon of the filling into the center of the 24 dampened squares of pasta.
    • Place the remaining squares on top.
    • Press the edges with your fingers to seal, and then use a fork or ravioli cutter to decorate and more firmly seal the edge of your ravioli.

    4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts - OR - 8 chicken tenders
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1/4 tsp. ground pepper
    1/2 cup all purpose flour
    1 cup panko bread crumbs
    1 whole egg, beaten

    Prepare the chicken:

    • Season the chicken breasts or tenders with salt and pepper.
    • Place the flour on a square of waxed paper.
    • Drop the chicken pieces on the flour and toss until all sides of the chicken pieces are coated with flour.
    • Place the panko bread crumbs in a shallow plate.
    • Place the beaten egg in a shallow plate.
    • Place the flour-coated pieces of chicken in the beaten egg and turn over to coat all sides.
    • Remove the egg-coated chicken pieces from the plate and place in the panko breadcrumbs. Toss to coat.
    • Heat a large skillet to medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil.
    • Place the panko-coated chicken pieces in the skillet and cook about 4 minutes per side, or until golden brown and cooked through (slash the thickest portion of chicken with a knife to look at the interior--there should be no pink if it is cooked through).

    1 tablespoon butter
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1 tsp. grated lemon zest
    2 tsp. flour
    1 cup low-fat (2%) milk
    2 tablespoons low-fat cream cheese
    3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping

    Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook about one minute. Add the lemon zest and flour and cook, stirring constantly, about one minute. Gradually stir in the milk and whisk, stirring constantly, until thick and smooth. Remove from heat. Add the cream cheese and parmesan cheese; whisk until melted.

    Chopped fresh tomatoes and fresh parsley.