Saturday, August 2, 2014

Roasted Green Beans and Hazelnuts

If you've known me in the last 18 months or so, on social or IRL, you know that I LOVE, love, love the Pacific Northwest. It's beautiful and majestic, and the restaurants there excel at making the most of local, seasonal food. Hazelnuts, marionberries and asparagus are just a few things I got to enjoy during our last two trips, both of which were in May.

For some reason, the last time I bought fresh green beans, it hit me that green beans are also big in Oregon, because I am also addicted to the epic Aaron Sorkin series "The West Wing." In the second season, the press secretary worries about losing votes in Oregon because President Bartlett doesn't like green beans.

My foodie mind went to the idea that local foods often work well together, so I had the idea of roasting hazelnuts and green beans together in olive oil, seasoned simply. It was an incredible combination. So I did it again and documented it. I made my Chicken with Shallot Cream Sauce, and instead of the long grain and wild rice mix I made for JC, I had it with the green beans and hazelnuts.

I bought fresh green beans at Publix yesterday, and I was honestly disappointed with the quality once I opened the bag, but even discarding a lot more than I expected, I still had more than enough for the recipe. So here's what to do.

  • 1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed 
  • 3/4 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped -- don't worry if some stay whole 
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Sea salt
  • Garlic Powder (I use powder instead of fresh so it won't burn and turn bitter, but a few cloves of fresh work too; just watch it carefully in the oven.) 

Heat the oven to 400. Wash and trim the green beans. Chop the hazelnuts. Spread the olive oil on a large, rimmed baking sheet. (I line mine with foil because I hate to scrub pans.) Add the hazelnuts and green beans. Sprinkle with pepper, salt and garlic powder to taste, and mix well with your hands so that everything is evenly coated with olive oil, then spread the green beans out as evenly as possible. Roast at 400 for 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Beer Cheese Soup #9


JC, who has "endured" my various attempts at beer cheese soup, with and without ham, and loves my Loaded Baked Potato soup, thinks this is the best one yet. Thankfully, I wrote down what I did before I forgot! This really is a potato soup, with a bit of ham for flavor, and the beer and cheese. It's broth-based, so not as heavy as a lot of versions. I used Magic Hat #9, which is a "not quite pale ale," according to the company website, and it was wonderful with this soup. Moving on to the recipe.....

  • 1 stick butter
  • 8 ounces finely diced ham 
  • 2 carrots
  • 1/2 medium sweet onion
  • 1 large shallot
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 12 ounce bottle good beer (something with a little body, not Coors Light or Bud, please!) 
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 envelopes Goya Ham Stock, dissolved in 2 1/2 cups water (If you can't find it, use 6 1/2 cups chicken broth)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 5 medium baking potatoes, scrubbed and diced small  
  • 2 cups grated white cheddar
  • 2 cups grated Swiss or Gruyere

Melt the butter over medium-high heat and add the ham. Brown the ham lightly, and while it's cooking, pulse the carrot, onion, shallot and garlic in a food processor or chop them very finely. Add the vegetables to the ham and stir well. Cook, covered, over medium heat, for five minutes, stirring twice. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture, and stir well. Cook, stirring constantly, for three minutes. Add the bottle of beer and mix well to combine. Let simmer a minute or two.

Slowly stir in the chicken broth and ham stock/water, plus the bay leaves and pepper. Add the potatoes. Raise the heat to high and boil 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and cook for another 10 minutes. Slowly stir in the grated cheeses until melted and remove from the heat. Top each serving with crisp, crumbled bacon if desired.



Friday, June 20, 2014

Mediterranean Spinach Dip

Hot, cheesy spinach dip -- with or without artichokes -- has become a staple on almost every chain restaurant menu in the US. I've even written a recipe for it. It's good stuff! But a change can do you good.

Years and years ago, I had a wonderful cold Mediterranean spinach dip with feta cheese at the now-defunct Cafe Tu Tu Tango in Miami's (Coconut Grove. It closed several years ago, but there's still one in Orlando.) The concept was all tapas and small plates -- before anyone else was doing it.

The Mediterranean spinach dip, served with roasted red peppers on top and pita chips on the side, was my favorite item on their menu. I liked it enough to make my own version. Rather than topping it with a couple of rolled up roasted peppers like they did at the restaurant, I diced them and threw them in. Otherwise, I think it's pretty close! This dip was created long before the Greek yogurt craze hit, so I use sour cream to make it, but if you prefer Greek yogurt, do it!

Makes a small vat, perfect for a summer party or BBQ.

  • 24 ounces sour cream, regular or light, or plain Greek yogurt -- or a combination 
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise -- I only use Hellman's 
  • 1 container herb and garlic seasoned feta cheese 
  • 2 green onions, white and green parts, sliced thinly 
  • 1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon each dried dill and oregano
  • Several grinds fresh black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt 
  • 16 oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained REALLY well 
  • 1/2 cup diced roasted red peppers (add more to taste if you want!) 

Thaw the spinach and drain it.The best way I have found to do this is to put the spinach in a plastic strainer, set over a bowl, and microwave it for a couple of minutes to thaw quickly, then use a spatula to press the liquid out into the bowl.

Mix sour cream or yogurt with mayonnaise and feta in a large bowl. Stir in onions, garlic and seasonings. Fold in roasted red peppers and drained spinach. Let chill for several hours or overnight before serving for flavors to blend.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Rockin' Red Velvet Cheesecake

Cut View of Red Velvet Cheesecake
Crosscut view of cheesecake
My good friend and colleague Rosa is that strangest of people: she doesn't love chocolate. I mean really, not at all. So when her birthday rolled around, I took that on as a creative challenge -- to make something incredible and decadent for her that didn't include chocolate (for the most part, anyway!). I did know, however, that she likes Red Velvet Cake.

Red Velvet Cake is REALLY popular in the south, especially with cream cheese frosting, which has always perplexed me, given its legendary Yankee origin story: the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, looking to make a spectacular dessert during the chocolate shortages of World War II, used a tiny bit of cocoa and a ton of red food coloring to create the Red Velvet Cake. Lore has it that there was a food company that made its name by creating and selling red food coloring, with an attached recipe for Red Velvet Cake. It originally was frosted with "a French-style butter roux icing (also called ermine icing)," according to Wikipedia, but I think that the cream cheese frosting it's usually found with now is the ideal accompaniment. 


Cheesecake before frosting
Cheesecake before frosting
So how to turn this decadence into a cheesecake? Cream cheese is already an element of Red Velvet Cake, but just coloring a cheesecake seemed a touch lazy. Instead, I returned to the successful technique I used in the orange Creamsicle Cheesecake, and bought a Duncan Hines Signature Red Velvet Cake Mix. That became the crust, topped with rich vanilla cheesecake, sweetened only with white sugar instead of brown for less of a caramel flavor, and then topped with cream cheese frosting and a sprinkle of red sugar. It was inhaled! 

I usually make a 9" inch cheesecake, but this one is proportioned for a 10" pan. To cut it to fit a 9" pan, remove 1 8 oz. pkg cream cheese, 1 egg and 1/4 cup sugar. 


Crust: 

  • 1 Duncan Hines Signature Red Velvet Cake Mix
  • 1 stick butter, melted 

Filling: 
  • 4.5 8 ounce packages softened cream cheese 
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch 

Frosting: 
  • 4 ounces softened cream cheese 
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter 
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch sea salt 
  • 1 tablespoon half and half 

Topping: Red sugar sprinkles or 2 tablespoons granulated sugar blended with a few drops red food coloring 

Directions: 

Heat oven to 350. Mix cake mix with melted butter. Pat into bottom only of a 10" springform pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray (butter flavored or plain!). Bake for 5 minutes and set aside. Fill a 9 x 13 pan with boiling water and set on the bottom oven rack. 

While the crust bakes, beat cream cheese, sugar and eggs, one block of cream cheese at a time. Beat the cream cheese until starting to get fluffy, add in sugar and then egg. Continue that process until all the cream cheese is incorporated. Stir in vanilla and cornstarch. 


Spray the sides of the springform pan with more cooking spray or brush with melted butter. Pour batter on top of crust, spreading it evenly to cover. Tap the sides of the pan to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes.

Let cool at room temperature for at least an hour before frosting.

For frosting, beat butter, cream cheese, salt, sugar and vanilla until blended. Add half and half until the frosting is smooth and spreadable, 1 teaspoon at a time. It may need more than 1 tablespoon.

Once frosted, chill the cheesecake at least 12 hours. Before serving, sprinkle with red sugar.








Saturday, May 31, 2014

Portland Pasta

Pasta with bacon, mushrooms and asparagus in Marsala sauceI love Portland. It's a great city with lots to see and do, and most importantly, the food is incredible! There's a real emphasis on local and seasonal foods there, and the local restaurants, including the range of awesome brewpubs, are creative with it. JC and I were there for 12 days, and since it was May, asparagus was everywhere. Even the regional burger chain, Burgerville, offered fried asparagus spears (think tempura!) with a garlic aioli on the menu!

One day for lunch, we went to BridgePort Brewing Company. Their daily pasta was penne with bacon, mushrooms and asparagus in a Marsala sauce and it was incredible! It was so good that I haven't stopped thinking about it since and I tried to replicate it at home last night. The results were fantastic, even if it wasn't exactly like the dish I had at the restaurant -- their sauce was thicker than mine, despite what should have been plenty of time for it to reduce, but once the pasta was added, that was irrelevant. This is really easy to make too -- always a bonus!

For four dinner entree servings:
  • 1 pound short pasta -- I use Barilla Plus and I used farfalle instead of penne 
  • 8 ounces diced bacon -- the restaurant used slab bacon, but I couldn't find it; regular bacon is fine! 
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion 
  • 1 medium size shallot, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 10 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 inch long pieces 
  • 1 cup Marsala 
  • 3 cups beef broth -- I used College Inn 
  • 1 stick cold butter 

Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Cook pasta until desired doneness and drain it. Set aside.

While the pasta cooks, cook the bacon until crispy. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Discard all but two tablespoons of the drippings. Add the onion, shallot and garlic to the bacon fat and saute over medium heat until softened. Add the mushrooms and stir well. Cook covered for a few minutes to allow the flavors to blend and the mushrooms to start softening.

Add the Marsala and beef broth, plus several grinds of fresh pepper. Raise the heat to high and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the liquids to reduce. Add the asparagus, except for the tips, and cook for five minutes. Add the tips and reserved bacon pieces and cook another 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the cold butter in pieces, whisking them in one by one. Once the butter has been incorporated, add the pasta and mix well. Serve with more fresh pepper and a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan if desired.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Creamsicle Cheesecake

Creamsicle Cheesecake
So..... it's been a WHILE -- more than a year since I last posted, because I was working so much. But this one made me decide to start up again.

My mother is a fantastic cake decorator, and she has ALWAYS sworn by Duncan Hines cake mixes as the most reliable, never fail, never fall cake mix on the market. Her wedding cakes weren't just beautiful -- they were moist and flavorful too, in an era where most resembled sawdust under the frosting. (Sorry, but I don't have pictures!) Yesterday, we were talking on the phone about a cake she'd made recently that almost been a disaster (not her fault!) and she mentioned that the cake she'd made that got the most raves was a Duncan Hines Orange Supreme cake with cream cheese frosting.... and that got my wheels turning.

On my way home, I bought an Orange Supreme cake mix at Publix (BOGO - next up is Red Velvet!) and mixed it with a stick of melted butter, then patted into a 9" springform pan, topped with a filling flavored with the zest of a large orange and LOTS of vanilla, plus a good handful of white chocolate chips. I didn't know how it turned out until I took it to the office this morning, to rave reviews -- "It really does taste like a Creamsicle!" I have to say, it was pretty darn good. So here it is:

For the crust: 
1 box Duncan Hines Orange Supreme cake mix
1 stick melted butter

For the filling: 
3 8 ounce packages cream cheese: regular, light or a blend (I used 2 light and 1 regular)
3 eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla (or more to taste!)
Grated zest of 1 large navel orange
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup white chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350. Place the top rack of the oven in the middle, and the lower rack far enough below it to accommodate a 9x13 baking pan. Fill the baking pan halfway full of water and let it heat in the oven while you make the cheesecake.

Mix the butter and cake mix. Spray a 9" springform pan with no-stick cooking spray, or rub the sides of the ring mold with butter. Press the paste of butter and cake mix in the bottom only of the pan, making it as even as possible. Bake at 350 for 6 minutes -- it will NOT be done!

While the crust is baking, beat the cream cheese, eggs, sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer. I like to do one block of cream cheese at a time, followed by 1/4 cup sugar, 1 egg and splash of vanilla. It's just easier to beat the cream cheese smoothly that way. Sprinkle the corn starch and orange zest over the batter and stir in by hand; follow with the white chocolate chips.

Spray or butter the sides of the springform pan again. Pour the batter in, smoothing it over with a spatula. Tap the sides of the pan to help eliminate air bubbles -- if your pan is still hot from the oven, use a wooden spoon to do this. Bake for 40 minutes before checking it. The cheesecake should still wobble a little in the middle -- you're really just baking it to cook the eggs. Let it cool at room temperature for at least an hour, then chill for at least 8 hours before serving.

For a beautiful presentation (which I didn't do!), top it with canned whipped cream and a little pile of curls of orange peel in the middle.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Peppermint Mocha Latte Brownies

Peppermint Mocha Latte Brownies 
I was desperate to come up something to bake at the last minute for an office birthday and was inspired  by a McDonald's billboard advertising lattes.... that got me thinking about holiday flavors like peppermint and chocolate combined. Sooooo we have peppermint and coffee-spiked brownies with a layer of fudge on them, topped with whipped cream, crushed candy canes and a drizzle of chocolate syrup, just like your favorite holiday latte. With a fantastic Ghiradelli mix as the base, these couldn't be easier to put together! 

  • 2 boxes Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate brownie mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee or instant espresso
  • 1 tablespoon peppermint extract
  • 1 jar Smucker's Hot Fudge topping
  • 4 candy canes or a handful of peppermint hard candies, crushed
  • 3 cups whipped cream (homemade is best but I used canned for easier transport - almost 2 cans) 
  • Hershey's syrup or other chocolate syrup, for drizzling 

Heat the oven to 325. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with no-stick spray. Mix eggs, oil, water, coffee, peppermint extract and brownie mix until well blended. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 40-45 minutes, checking after 40 minutes. 

Let brownies cool for 30 minutes and spread softened hot fudge topping over the brownies. Let cool completely. 

To serve, cover brownies with whipped cream, sprinkle with crushed candies and then drizzle a little chocolate syrup over the whipped cream, just like a latte!