Saturday, March 7, 2009

ChiliFest 2009

Thank you everyone who came to our First Annual Chili Fest! Sorry the post is two weeks late; thanks for your patience. Chili Fest was a raging success. We had six chilis - three vegetarian and three meat - plus cornbread, desserts, beer, and wine. The thirty or so people we packed into our tiny apartment voted on a veggie and meat chili winner, but everyone agreed every dish was delicious.

Here's the insane chili paste I made with a combo of hot hot dried and fresh peppers. My fingers were burning for days.

All the accoutrements: chili paste, chopped hot peppers, red and green sweet peppers, avacado, sour cream, cheese, lime, and adobo.

Peter's Team ATM killer Lucha Libre meat chili.

Some of the veggie chilis (including a family recipe and Keegan's winning chili).

My meat chili - secret ingredients included dark beer and chocolate.

And don't forget the desserts! Lindsay made heavenly mini chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter icing.
And Vicky made the best carrot cake with cream cheese frosting I've ever eaten. This picture does not do it justice.

Excuse the poor and missing pictures - I was so busy eating, I practically forgot to document the night! Again, thanks everyone for coming; this will definitely be an annual event. I heard lots of discussion about possible future food-centered activities. Can't wait. Bake-off, anyone?

Highlights from the Past Few Weeks

Since I'm so behind, rather than bore everyone with whole posts about every meal I've made in the past few weeks, here are the highlights!

I love rice and beans. They're cheap, healthy, and packed with goodness. And, there are plenty of ways to dress them up. Rather than go my normal Mexican route here, I added some Indian spices for an almost Biryani rice and beans. Cook jasmine rice. Cook onions and garlic with your favorite selection of beans and add spices like curry powder, cumin, chili powder, etc. I also added mixed raisins and almonds, and had mango chutney on the side. Delish.

I barely even remember what I put in this salad. There was lettuce, grilled chicken, roasted beets, candied pecans, and parmesan cheese. And maybe pears. It had a lot going on, but tasted great.

Our favorite Italian restaurant, Sapore, is long gone, but I often miss their simply done pasta dishes. Here I tried to recreate one by making a spinach pesto and mixing it with ricotta.

A few years ago Evan and I took a cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education. It was awesome, and one of the recipes that I was surprised to love and use often was for bread pudding. It's an incredible use for slightly stale bread - it turns it into a delectable dessert!

Almond Bread Pudding with Warm Bourbon Sauce
Adapted from ICE

Bread Pudding:
2 eggs 3/4 cup sugar
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (I didn't have so just used extra tsp vanilla)
1/2 cup currants (I left this out)
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces stale French bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick (any loaf of bread will work, I used a baguette)

Warm Bourbon Sauce:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
3 tablespoons half and half
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup bourbon

For the Bread Pudding:

In a bowl combine the eggs, sugar, milk, cream, butter, vanilla and almond extracts, currants, almonds, and nutmeg. Whisk to blend well. Put the bread slices in a large bowl and pour the egg mixture on top. Let stand, turning the bread as necessary, until the bread is soft and saturated with the custard mixture, about 30 minutes. Arrange the bread slices in 2 layers (I only did 1 layer) in a lightly greased 8-inch square or round baking dish and pour any unabsorbed custard mixture over the top of the bread. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, up to 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 350F. Bake the bread pudding until the custard is set and the top is lightly browned, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

For the Warm Bourbon Sauce:
Combine the sugar, butter, and half and half in a medium saucepan over lw heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat. In a smal bowl, stir 1/4 cup of the hot sauce with the egg yolk until well blended (this tempers the egg so you don't scramble it). Pour the mixture back in the pan with the remaining sauce, stirring constantly over medium-low heat. Remove from heat. Cool for about 5 minutes then stir in the bourbon to taste.

To Serve:
Place a piece of bread pudding on a plate and drizzle with the warm bourbon sauce. Whipped cream would be a nice substitute or addition as well.

Brie, Kale, and Mushroom Omelet

As has been the pattern lately, I haven't had time to post entries in a timely manner. But better late than never! I made this omelet quite a few Sunday ago at this point, but it was super tasty and worth mentioning.

Saute the kale (I used lacinato) and mushrooms until wilted (don't overcook).

Beat 4 to 5 eggs together and pour into a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Once the eggs start to cook put the brie, followed by the cooked vegetables, over half of the eggs.

When the eggs are set, flip half over the vegetables.

Cook for another few minutes until the middle is set. Cut in half and serve on a plate with the remaining sauteed vegetables.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Recipes to Rival: Fresh Ricotta

This month's Recipes to Rival Challenge was brought to us by laurendc of I'll eat you. The challenge: to make fresh ricotta, and then to make something delicious with that fresh ricotta! A recent Bon Appetit featured homemade ricotta and I was meaning to try it - this presented the perfect opportunity. And you know what - it's so easy! This is definitely something I'll be doing from now on. I made half the recipe provided and it tok about an hour, but with very little labor.

1/2 gallon milk
1 pint buttermilk

Place buttermilk and milk in a pot, heat on med-low heat until it reaches 185 degrees.

It will begin to separate into curds and whey. Be sure to stir occasionally to make sure no curds stick to the bottom and burn. You will see that as the temperature approaches 185, the whey becomes clearer as the curds coagulate more.

Pour the curds into a cheesecloth lined collander. Tie the ends of the chesecloth together and hang for 10-15 minutes. I was out of cheesecloth so transferred curds from pot to a paper towel-lined colander. Allow to strain for about 15 minutes. Remove from the cheesecloth and place in an airtight container.

Some tips:

You can use milk that has been pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized. Ultra pasteurization heats the milk too much, and de natures the proteins that form curds. You will not get cheese from ultra pasteurized milk. Sorry.

Make sure your pots and other equiptment are very clean before starting

You can make any amount as long as you stick to a 4 parts milk to 1 part buttermilk ratio.

To use my ricotta I made one of my favorite, yet most simple ricotta dishes - a crostini with ricotta and honey. Simply toast some bread and spoon on ricotta and honey. Fresh and delicious.

Daring Bakers February Challenge: Flourless Chocolate Cake

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

This month's Daring Bakers Challenge was a flourless chocolate cake. It was far easier than any chocolate cake recipe I have made, and resulted in a rich, decadent dessert. I baked mine in ramekins, which produced perfectly portioned mini chocolate cakes. I brought them to a dinner party last night along with fresh whipped cream and strawberries.

Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time: 20 minutes

16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped (I used 10 ounces bittersweet and 6 ounces semisweet - delicious!)
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs

1. Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often. (I melted the chocolate and butter separately in the microwave and mixed them together. Worked perfectly).
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.

7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.

8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C

9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold. Serve with fresh whipped cream and strawberries, or your favorite ice cream. Shown here is mocha ice cream.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Baked Ziti and Blackened Black Fish

By a fluke of scheduling I didn't have to work Thursday night so I got to cook! Evan had a yen for baked ziti and I was glad to oblige. Keegan and George came over as well, and Keegan brought some black fish, which is a local grouper. When Evan and I were coming home from our honeymoon in Barbados over the summer, we had a layover in Jamaica and we purchased a bunch of spices in the airport. One such spice, pictured below, Keegan won in a poker game. He decided to finally use it (one of the first ingredients, by the way, is MSG).

Keegan had two large fiillets and coated the fish in the cock flavored seasoning.

Then he cooked the fish in a little olive oil until it was blackened on the outside. There were even a few flame-ups...

As our first course, we each had a piece of blackened black fish with a salad. The fish was tender and delicious. The seasoning was powerful and terrifically savory.

In the meantime, I made garlic bread. Simply slice a baguette in half, then in half lengthwise. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter and mix in chopped garlic and about 1 tablespoon olive oil. Brush this mixture on the bread, wrap it up in tin foil, and bake in a 350-450 oven for about 10-15 minutes until warm and crispy (in this case I baked it alongside the ziti).

I made two baked zitis - one vegetarian and one with meat. With the exception of the meat, the recipe is the same for the two (which I adapted from Martha Stewart).

1 pound ziti rigate or penne
2 cans (24-26 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes with juice2 cups part-skim ricotta
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 poundlean ground beef
1 1/4 cup grated parmesan
2 pounds shredded fresh mozzerella

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook pasta until al dente. Put about 1/3 of canned tomatoes in a sauce pot to cook. In a larger saucepan cook the beef, breaking it up, until browned. Add the remaining tomatoes and juice and simmer on low.

In a small bowl, combine ricotta, egg, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and half the mozzarella; season with salt and pepper. Mix the some ziti with each sauce. You should have two baking pans, one large and one small. Spread about half the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. Top with ziti, then ricotta mixture and remaining sauce. Sprinkle with remaining parmesan, mozerella, and ricotta mixture.

Bake until the top is slightly browned and the sauce is bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve and enjoy! The leftovers reheat brilliantly as well.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

In the winter time I love my slow cooker. It's true. I haven't entered into the realm of making lasagna and cookies using the device. Rather, I appreciate my crockpot for allowing me to slow cook stews and other meat dishes with my busy schedule. I can plug it in in the morning and come home to delicious stew. Perfect.

For this stew I simply threw together cubed stew meat, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, carrots, red wine, beef stock, rosemary, salt, and pepper. I put it on low before I left for work and came home to find tender meat and satisfying flavors.

Because I didn't have time to sear the meat first in the morning, I threw it in a hot pan for a few minutes when I came home. Then I deglazed the pan with a little red wine, added some butter, and drained the liquids from the crock pot into the pan to reduce the sauce. This makes for a thicker, heartier stew.

Return the thickened sauce to the crock pot and mix to combine.

Serve in large bowls and enjoy! Pair with the red wine you cooked with, or a cold dark beer.