Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Smoked Eggplant (Baingan Bartha)

This dish is great comfort food, and is pretty simple to make.  I first tried it at an Indian restaurant and fell in love with the smoky flavor and creamy texture.  I serve it over basmati rice, but it would be great with naan too.  If you are new to cooking Indian food, this is a great place to start!  The quantities here make enough for 2 hungry people, but it would be easy to make more. Normally, this would include some chopped tomatoes added after the ginger, but I didn't have any tomatoes on hand.

1 eggplant
vegetable oil
2 tbsp ghee
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
pinch cayenne pepper (or more, if you like spicy food!)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Grill your eggplant.  Rub all over with a little vegetable oil, then either place over a foil-lined gas burner or on a grill.  Rotate every few minutes, until all the skin is black and charred and the eggplant is soft (10-15 minutes).

Remove the eggplant from the burner or grill and cool.
Scrape off all the skin, then mash the pulp (seeds included) in a bowl using a potato masher or wooden spoon.
Heat the ghee in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.  
Add the onions and saute until golden brown, 7 or 8 minutes.
Add the ginger and cayenne and cook for about a minute, then add the eggplant puree and salt.
Cook, covered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking.
Remove from heat, spoon over rice, and garnish with cilantro

Platinum Chef Challenge!

Click here to read all about the Platinum Chef Challenge!

This is my first time participating in this great event that involves making up one or two dishes using five pre-selected ingredients. For this round, they were:


Dessert incorporating the plums and oatmeal seemed like a natural. A plum crisp came to mind first, but I wanted something a little bit fancier. I've been obsessed with my ice cream maker lately, so I decided to use it to make a sorbet. I added a little port to dress it up, and served it in oatmeal-almond buttercrunch cups. They are actually really simple to make, but they give a very sophisticated look to desserts!
With that out of the way, I had a harder time figuring out what to do with tofu, eggplant, and olives.  I have been making salad dressings with silken tofu and really liked the result, so a salad seemed like an obvious choice.  I started with herbed-roasted eggplant, tossed it with some sliced olives and roasted yellow peppers, and topped it with a creamy garlic dressing.  I felt that to balance the richness of those, it should be on a bed of arugula.  For a little more color, I added some diced tomatoes over the top.
I had a great time coming up with and making these recipes, and I look forward to future challenges!

Herbed Eggplant Salad with Creamy Garlic Dressing

2 yellow bell peppers
1 medium eggplant
8 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise
4 cups arugula
1 medium tomato, seeds removed and diced

Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Slice the eggplant into 1/2" thick rounds.  Salt likely and place on a cooling rack.  Set aside for 30 minutes.
Slice the bell peppers into 1/2" strips, and toss with 2 tbsp olive oil.  Place in a small baking dish and roast at 375 for about 2o minutes, or until soft.  Remove from the oven, and stir in the olives.
Rinse the eggplant slices and pat dry.
In a shallow dish, mix together the remaining 6 tbsp olive oil, the basil, garlic, oregano, and garlic.
Rub both sides of each eggplant slice with the oil-herb mixture, and place on a rimmed baking sheet.  Place in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until soft and slightly browned
After the eggplant comes out of the oven, let cool for about 5 minutes.
Gently toss the roasted eggplant slices with the pepper and olive mixture.
Arrange 1 cup of arugula on each of four plates.  Top with two or three eggplant slices, and some of the peppers and olives.

Then drizzle some of the dressing over the top, and sprinkle with diced tomatoes.

6 oz silken tofu
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp olive oil

Puree all ingredients in a blender.  Gradually add water until thinned to the desired consistency for salad dressing.

Plum and Port Sorbet in Oatmeal-Almond Buttercrunch Cups
(adapted from epicurious.com and Mrs. Fields Best Cookie Book Ever)

1 1/2 pounds black plums, quartered (pits removed)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup port

Mix together the sugar and water in a small saucepan.  Boil 5-10 minutes, or until reduced to one cup.  Chill.
Puree the plums in a food processor.

Pour into a strainer set over a medium bowl, and press on the solids to obtain as much juice as possible.
Add the cooled sugar mixture to the plum juice, along with the port.  Mix well, then transfer to an ice cream maker and chill according to manufacturers instructions.

Buttercrunch cups
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) butter
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/3 cup sliced almonds
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375 F and line a cookie sheet with parchment or a Silpat.
Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
Combine the butter, corn syrup, and brown sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
After the mixture boils, remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. 
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto the baking sheet, and bake for about 8 minutes, or until slightly darkened.
Remove the sheet from the oven and wait a few minutes until cookies can be lifted with a spatula but are still pliable.  Gently press into the muffin tin to form a cup shape, and allow to cool.
Repeat until you have used all the "batter."
To serve, place one or two cookie cups on a plate, and put a small scoop of sorbet in each.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Very Vanilla Cupcakes

Yes, that is a filled cupcake covered with a thick layer of pink buttercream.  Also known as heaven on a plate!

Normally I think most things vanilla-flavored are pretty boring, and not something I'd go out of my way to eat.  But yesterday, when I was deciding what kind of cupcakes to make, vanilla cupcakes with vanilla filling and buttercream just sounded perfect.  I'm still playing around with my favorite cake recipe to use when making cupcakes, but this one is nice and simple and good.

Cupcakes (Vanilla Buttermilk Cake)
adapted from Joy of Cooking
makes 12 regular-sized cupcakes plus 2 extra large (baked in ramekins)
2 1/3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 stick unsalted butter)
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 F and line cupcake tins with paper liners.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Beat the butter in a stand mixer until creamy, then add the sugar and beat 3-5 minutes, until very light and fluffy.
Add the vanilla and mix well, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each one.
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, and beat until smooth.  
Add half the buttermilk, and beat until smooth. 
Repeat with flour mixture, the rest of the buttermilk, then the rest of the flour mixture.
Fill the cupcake tins nearly to the top, then bake for 20-25 minutes (longer for the larger cupcakes), or until a thin knife inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
When cool, use a serrated knife to cut out the center of each cupcake, so you have a place to put the filling. (The cutout pieces are great to snack on while you finish the pastry cream and frosting.

Vanilla cream filling
adapted from The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
a 2" piece of vanilla bean
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
pinch salt
2 eggs
1/2 tbsp butter, softened

Bring a milk, half the sugar, and the scraped-out seeds of the vanilla bean (plus the pod) to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Sift together the rest of the sugar, the cornstarch, and the salt onto a piece of parchment. 
Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl, add the sifted dry ingredients, and whisk until fluffy.
Gradually pour the simmering milk mixture in to the egg mixture, whisking constantly, then transfer back into the saucepan (on medium heat), and whisk until the mixture boils.
Continue whisking for about 3 minutes, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of pudding.
Pour through a strainer into a bowl, and beat in the butter.
Press plastic wrap onto the top of the pastry cream and chill.
When cool, put the pastry cream into a large piping bag, and pipe into the center of each cupcake.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
1 cup butter, softened
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp meringue powder
2 tsp water

Beat the butter in a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment.  
Beat in the vanilla.
Sift together the powdered sugar and meringue powder and add gradually to the butter.
Mix on medium speed while you add the water, 1/2 tsp at a time, until you have the desired consistency.
Add food coloring as desired.

and, just because I did a triathlon this morning....

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Roasted Vegetable Canape (Canape de Escalivada)

I almost never make real hors d'oeuvres.  Instead, I usually just throw together a plate of crackers and cheese or a bowl of hummus with some vegetable sticks. I think canapes look so glamorous, that last night when our neighbor invited us for dinner, I jumped at the chance to contribute the appetizer.  These are simple and won't fill you up.  You could use bread instead of zucchini, but I like the freshness it adds. 
This is my submission for the Sangria/Tapas blogging event at Joelen's Culinary Adventures

(adapted from Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain by Penelope Casas)
1 small eggplant
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 onion, skin removed
1 zucchini
2 tbsp olive oil
juice of one lemon
1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
Flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

In a hot oven (450-500 F), roast the eggplant, bell peppers and onion (in a roasting pan) for about 10 minutes on each side, or until skin is blackened in places.
Let cool, then remove the skin and seeds from the eggplant and peppers.

Slice the onion, peppers, and eggplant into thin 1"-long strips.
Transfer to a bowl, and toss with olive oil, lemon juice, and thyme.  
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Slice the zucchini into thin slices.

To assemble, stack some of the roasted vegetable mixture onto a slice of zucchini, and garnish with parsley.  
Best served at room temperature.

(yes, the above photo was taken on a saucer - I don't have any small white plates!)

Twice-Dipped Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

I have a 9-year-old neighbor who loves cookies.  A few weeks ago, I let him borrow my Mrs. Fields Cookie Book so he could make a list of all the cookies he wanted me to bake.  (I am always happy to have excuses to bake more!)  These were on that list, and I must say, the kid is good at picking recipes!
The chocolate shortbread is rich and soft, and the two flavors of ganache that adorn the cookie are not only visually striking, but delicious as well.  I will definitely be making these again!

(adapted from Mrs. Fields Best Cookie Book Ever)
Chocolate shortbread
3 oz semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
pinch salt
2 tsp cocoa powder

1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2-4 tbsp evaporated milk (or half and half)

For the cookies:
Cream the butter in a stand mixer, then beat in the melted and cooled chocolate

Stir in the vanilla, then the flour, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt.
Mix on medium until the dough comes together and the flour disappears.
Place the dough on a piece of plastic wrap and flatten into a disk.
Wrap and refrigerate about 30 minutes, or until a small piece of dough can be rolled into a ball.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Line two baking sheets with parchment or Silpats.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and shape into 1" balls.  
With the tines of a fork dipped in water, press gently on each cookie to form ridges.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until just set.  Remove and cool on the cookie sheets.

For the ganache:
In a heat-proof bowl set over simmering water, melt the white chocolate chips and stir in 1-2 tbsp evaporated milk, until the chocolate is thinned enough to spread easily.
Using a small rubber spatula, spread some ganache over the end of each cookie, then replace on the baking sheet to set.  
Once all of the cookies have white ganache, wash out the bowl and melt the semisweet chocolate chips over simmering water, stirring in 1-2 tbsp evaporated milk.
With a small rubber spatula, spread the semisweet ganache on the opposite end of each cookie, then leave to set.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rosemary Focaccia

As a child, and I remember the first time I ever had focaccia.  It was my first foray into the wonderful world of bread beyond plain white sandwich bread and baguettes with crusts so tough I thought my teeth would break.  I fell in love on the spot with the chewy texture of the bread and the added flavor of salt and herbs on top.  When I got the indispensable Baking With Julia, Focaccia was one of the first recipes I tried. 
With the help of a KitchenAid, this recipe is quite easy - it just needs to be mixed for about 10 minutes (but would take much longer by hand).  The hardest part is waiting for the dough to chill a whole 24 hours between the first two rises and time it is baked.  
Inspired by the Pizza Bianca we had in Rome on our honeymoon, I brushed this with olive oil and sprinkled it with rosemary and sea salt before baking.  However  you can use infused olive oil, any herb you like, or even brush it thinly with pizza sauce.
Because I used a pastry brush, I'm submitting this to the July Tasty Tools blog event, which you can read about on Joelen's Culinary Adventures

(adapted from Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan) - makes 2 rectangular loaves
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (this is one envelope plus a little extra - be sure to measure it out)
1 1/4 cup warm (90-95 F) water
3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt

Whisk together 1/4 cup of the warm water and the yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer, and set aside for 5 minutes.
Pour the remaining water into a glass measuring cup and stir in the olive oil.
Whisk the flour and salt together in a medium bowl.
Stir the olive oil-water mixture into the yeast and whisk gently.
Add half the flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula.
Using the dough hook, add the rest of the flour and mix on low for about 3 minutes.  If the dough is very sticky, add flour one tablespoon at a time until the dough clears the sides of the bowl.  If it is overly dry, add a few drops of warm water and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Turn the mixer up to medium-high and mix for 10 minutes, until the dough is soft and elastic.

Transfer the dough to a floured surface and form into a ball.
Lightly grease a bowl and place the dough ball in it.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature 1-1 1/2 hours (or until doubled in size).
After the first rise, fold the dough on itself to deflate it, then let it rise again, about one hour.

Deflate the dough gently and place on a floured surface.  Using a dough scraper, cut it in half and shape each half into a ball.

Pour a little olive oil into each of two gallon-sized bags, and place one ball of dough in each bag.
Refrigerate 24-36 hours.

1 1/2 hours before you plan to bake the dough, remove the bags from the refrigerator and each ball of dough out of its bag.

Place on a lightly-floured surface and dust the top of each piece of dough with flour.  Cover lightly with plastic wrap and allow to rest for one hour

Baking the bread:
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp sea salt

Preheat the oven to 450 F.
Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment, and sprinkle with cornmeal.
Gently shape each piece of dough into a rectangle, place on a baking sheet, and brush with olive oil.

Sprinkle with the rosemary and salt.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown on top.
Cool on a wire rack, then cut into squares and enjoy!

Yellow Squash Saute with Lemon and Thyme

Summer squash and zucchini are ubiquitous at the farmers market right now.  I bought a bunch last week, intending to grill them over the weekend.  However, between meals out with friends and quite a bit of baking, I just never got around to it.  
Last night I was going through the refrigerator and found some fresh thyme.  I decided that would be nice in a yellow squash saute and put this recipe together.  You could easily double it and use one zucchini and one yellow squash, to add contrast.  If you don't have shallots, you can use onion, but I love their more delicate and subtle flavor.

Yellow Squash Saute with Lemon and Thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp chopped shallots
1 large yellow squash, sliced lengthwise in half, then cut into 1/4" slices
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
sea salt
juice of one lemon

Heat the oil in a frying pan over high heat
Add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes, or until just beginning to brown
Stir in the squash slices and season with sea salt and pepper
Saute 2 minutes, then add the thyme and cook until squash is crisp tender
Taste and add more salt if necessary
Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A story about brownies

It seems like it should be simple: buy necessary ingredients, then make brownies. But unfortunately that was not the case.  These brownies were several days in the making.  One day to buy ingredients, one day to be too busy in the kitchen to get around to making them, and then to top it all off, I made an embarrassing error.  Fortunately they were still edible and actually turned out better than I expected!
I turned to my beloved copy of "Baking From My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan which contains several brownie recipes, and elected to stick with the classic recipe.

Things were going smoothly as I melted chocolate and butter together, whisked (yes, with a whisk - I don't question Dorie - she is a genius) in sugar and eggs, vanilla, flour, and salt.  

The trouble began when I decided that rather than using walnuts as the recipe directed (I've never liked nuts in brownies), I would use chocolate chips (semisweet, of course, to go with the chocolate in the brownies).  I dumped in a handful of chips, and casually tossed the bag aside as I folded them in, then poured the batter into the pan.  After placing it in the oven, I realized I had used milk chocolate chips rather than semisweet.  I panicked, but left the brownies to finish baking.

Fortunately, it was not a total disaster!  The brownies, although not the way they normally taste, were still really good!  In the future I will make sure I slow down and read the package, but in case all you have are milk chocolate chips, don't worry... They still produce very tasty brownies!

The aftermath: stray milk chocolate chips litter the counter

Classic Brownies 
(adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
5 tbsp butter, cut in pieces
2 oz chopped unsweetened chocolate
4 oz chopped semisweet chocolate
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup milk or semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 F.
Line an 8 x 8 pan with foil and grease the foil.
Melt the butter and both kinds of chocolate together in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water.
Remove from heat and whisk in the sugar.
Whisk in the eggs, one at a time.
Whisk in the vanilla.
Whisk in flour and salt.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate chips.
Pour the batter into prepared pan and bake about 30 minutes, or until a knife in the center comes out clean.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Malteser Tray Bake

My husband found this recipe online a few weeks ago and has been begging me to make it.  It features three distinctly British products: Maltesers (like our Whoppers), digestive biscuits, and golden syrup.  Since we are moving to the UK in a few months, I figured this was an appropriate time to give it a try.  Insanely sweet, it will satisfy a chocolate-malt craving in a heartbeat!  The title is a bit of a misnomer, as the ingredients are just stirred together in a saucepan and chilled, rather than baked.
I found the ingredients at Cost Plus, but if you can't find Maltesers, you can use Whoppers.  Graham crackers can stand in for digestive biscuits, and dark corn syrup will work in place of golden syrup.  

Malteser Tray Bake
(adapted from Nigella.com)
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
3 tbsp golden syrup
1 cup milk chocolate chips
13 digestive biscuits, finely crushed
8 oz Maltesers

Melt the butter, syrup, and chocolate chips together in a medium saucepan.
Stir in the crushed biscuits and Maltesers, and mix well.
Pour into a greased 13 x 9 pan and chill until firm.  

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Farmers Market Salad with Mustard Tarragon Dressing

In my quest to make better salads, I decided to branch out in the ingredients I typically use.  I feel incredibly lucky to live in a town surrounded by farms, with two amazing farmers markets every week.  Last night I picked up a panoply of different vegetables, and I wanted to use those for a salad.  For the dressing, I took a break from my typical salt-pepper-balsamic-olive oil mix, and used white wine vinegar, and a few things I found on my spice rack.  

4 cups sliced green leaf lettuce
1/4 cup sliced red cabbage
1/4 cup sliced red onion
2 small tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 cup sliced sugar snap peas

2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 tsp finely chopped shallot
pinch salt
pinch pepper
6 tbsp olive oil

Toss together vegetables.
Whisk together vinegar through pepper, then gradually add olive oil, whisking constantly.
Add to salad gradually, tossing several times (not all the dressing will be used).
Toss well, and serve

Curry Couscous with Garbanzo Beans

I have been a huge fan of one-pot meals lately.  Not only do they minimize time spent in the kitchen, they also create fewer dishes which is a great because I do not have a dishwasher.
My cupboards are currently overflowing with leftover odds and ends of beans and grains, so I decided that before I buy anything new to cook with, I need to use those up.  I was rummaging around and came across some couscous and a can of garbanzo beans, so I decided to cook them with some vegetables I bought at the farmers market last night. I've been using a lot of turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne, cumin, and coriander lately in the Indian cooking I've been doing, so I decided to put those together in this dish, along with some fresh garlic and ginger. 
I wanted to practice my knife skills, so I made pretty small pieces, but it is definitely not essential.

Spice mix:
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 cayenne (or more, if you prefer your food spicier)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Mix together in a small bowl and set aside

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
a handful of green beans, thinly sliced (you should have about 1/2 cup of the little slices)
1 small zucchini, diced
1 small yellow summer squash, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, drained
1 tsp salt
1 cup couscous
3 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Bring the broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan.
Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the onions and cook, stirring until translucent and slightly browned.
Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for one minute.
Stir in the green beans, zucchini, squash, and carrots, salt, and spice mix, and cook for 5 minutes, or until vegetables are crisp-tender.
Stir in the garbanzo beans.
Add the couscous and mix until evenly distributed.  
Stir in the broth gradually.  
Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and wait 10 minutes.
Fluff with a fork, sprinkle cilantro over the top, and serve.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Like almost any American, I love pizza.  I was always content to buy the refrigerated dough from Trader Joe's when making it at home, but this week I had a day off and decided to make pizza from scratch.  I used Peter Reinhart's recipe (in The Bread Baker's Apprentice) for the crust, and although it needs to be refrigerated overnight, the amount of active time is very small.  This would actually be a great Monday night dinner because you can get the dough started and the sauce made on Sunday, then everything will come together very quickly for dinner the next day.
The recipes included here make enough crust and sauce for 6 10" pizzas.  However, both the dough and the sauce can be frozen and used whenever a pizza craving strikes.  I used a little whole wheat flour in the crust, because I like the heartiness it adds, but you can easily use only all purpose flour if you prefer.  
As far as toppings, the one on the left in the photo is sauteed spinach (with a little garlic and nutmeg), ricotta, and a sprinkling of mozzarella.  The one on the right is the classic Canadian Bacon and pineapple.  Use your imagination with the toppings, but remember that because the dough is so thin and delicate, two to three different items is probably all you'll want to include on each one.

4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp instant yeast (NOT one envelope!)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups ice water

The day before you plan to make pizza:
Stir together the flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer.  
Pour in the oil and water and stir until all the flour is absorbed.
With the dough hook attachment, mix on medium for 5-7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and sticky and does not stick to the sides of the bowl (it should stick to the bottom).  If it is sticking to the sides, add flour a tablespoon at a time until it clears the sides.
Place a piece of parchment on a sheet pan and lightly oil it.
Sprinkle some flour on the counter and place the dough on the floured workspace.  
With a dough scraper, cut it into six equal piece.
With floured hands, shape each piece into a ball and place on the sheet pan.  
Rub a little oil gently on each ball and cover the pan with plastic wrap.
Place in the fridge overnight.
(Alternatively, you can put each ball of dough in its own individual freezer bag with a little olive oil.  They will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months and should be transfered to the fridge the day before you plan to use them.  Then continue with the directions below)

The day you will bake the pizzas:
Remove the pan from the refrigerator 2 hours before the pizza will be baked, and lightly flour the counter.  
Transfer the dough to the counter and press into 5-6" disks as shown below:

Sprinkle with flour, mist with spray oil, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. 
45 minutes before you will bake the pizza, turn the oven on as high as it will go.  
Line a sheet pan with parchment and sprinkle with cornmeal.
Pick up one disk of dough and gently place it over your closed fists.  Stretch it slowly and carefully while bouncing it gently.  Continue until it looks something like this, and place it on the parchment:

Now you are ready to add sauce and toppings!

Red Pizza Sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1-2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
3 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tsp salt
1-2 tsp sugar

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. 
Add the garlic and cook, stirring, about 1 minute.
Add the can of tomatoes and stir in the fresh herbs.
Bring to a simmer, then add the salt and sugar.
Simmer 5 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
I am fine with chunkier sauce, but if you want yours really smooth, transfer to a blender or puree with an immersion blender.

Once the pizza is ready to go, bake for 6-10 minutes (depending on how hot your oven is).  Remove, and cool for 2-3 minutes to let the cheese set, then slice and enjoy!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

These simple cookies combine basic peanut-butter cookie dough (normally baked with fork marks on top) with a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips.  The result is a rich, soft and chewy cookie that goes exceptionally well with a glass of milk.  If possible, eat them when they are still warm from the oven.  However, they will keep well in a sealed container for a few days.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies, but the recipe is easily doubled.

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 12-oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 F
Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or a Silpat.
Stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
Mix the butter and both sugars together in a stand mixer on medium until fluffy.  Mix in the peanut butter.
Stir in the vanilla and egg, and mix on low until combined.
Add the flour mixture, and mix on low just until all the flour is no longer visible.  
Stir in the chocolate chips.
Drop by large spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets and bake 8-10 minutes, or until just set.  Remove from the oven and let cool on the sheet for 5 minutes, then eat or transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.


Paella is a great one-dish meal that can be altered in myriad ways depending on what you have on hand and what is in season.  Beginning with the components of broth, saffron, and short-grain rice, from there the possibilities are endless.  For this variety, I included green beans, two colors of bell pepper, peas, and lima beans.  I sauteed chicken and sausage in a separate pan, to suit vegetarian and meat-eating tastes.  If you are not cooking for vegetarians, mix the meats in before you put the pan into the oven.  This will feed 4-6 hungry adults, and is great served alongside a simple green salad.
Also, don't be deterred by the inclusion of lima beans.  I normally despise them, but in this dish they blend innocuously into the background and just provide another textural element that is actually really satisfying.

(adapted from Delicioso: The Regional Cooking of Spain by Penelope Casas)
4 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 tsp saffron threads, crumbled
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 lbs boneless-skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized chunks
2-3 links of sausage (1/2 lb), sliced (chorizo is traditional; I used very non-traditional andouille)
3 plum tomatoes
1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup green bell pepper, diced
1/4 lb green beans, cut in 1 1/2" lengths
5 green onions, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp paprika
1/2 cup lima beans (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
2 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 tsp sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400 F
Slice the tomatoes in half crosswise.  Remove the seeds, then grate on a box grater to remove all the flesh from the skins.  Discard the skins, reserving the pulp.
Simmer the broth, wine, and saffron in a medium saucepan. 
Sprinkle the chicken with a little salt (1/2 a tsp or so).
In a paella pan or skillet, heat 2 tbsp oil over medium-high heat.  Add the sausage and chicken and cook 5-7 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.  
Remove and set aside.
Add the other 2 tbsp olive oil and heat.  Add the green beans, and both bell peppers. 
Cook, stirring, about 5 minutes.  
Stir in the paprika and tomato pulp, then the lima beans, peas, and green beans.  Cook 2-3 minutes, then stir in the rice and sea salt.
Ladle the broth into the pan of rice and stir occasionally until most of the liquid is absorbed.
Stir in the meat, then transfer the pan to the oven.  Cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed.  Remove from the heat, cover with foil, and let stand 5 minutes, then serve.  

Thursday, July 10, 2008


I'm sorry this dish is so un-photogenic, but it really is delicious!
Although it looks like a lot of work, this recipe is deceptively simple and you will only dirty one pot and one bowl to make it (well, plus the pan you bake it in).  My mom taught me years ago that you never need to cook manicotti or lasagna before you make it, it will end up just fine after baking.  So as odd as it may seem to be piping the filling into dry manicoti shells, it really will work!

(adapted from Jamie's Dinners by Jamie Oliver)
olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
a large pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 large bunch spinach, washed and stems removed
1 handful fresh basil, stems thinly sliced and leaves roughly chopped
1 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes (do not drain)
1/2 cup water
sea salt
black pepper, freshly ground
pinch sugar
1 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese, divided
16 manicotti tubes
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 375 F
Heat a medium sauce pan over medium, and add about a tablespoon of olive oil.
When the oil is fragrant and swirls easily in the pan, add one of the sliced garlic cloves, nutmeg and oregano.
Stir for a minute or two, then stir in the spinach, a little at a time, until it wilts enough that you can fit it all in the pan.
Cook until all the spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes
Put the spinach into a large bowl to cool.  
Wipe out the pan, then add another tablespoon of oil and place over medium-high heat.
Add the other garlic clove, basil stems, the tomatoes with their liquid, and water.  
Bring to a boil and add sugar, about 1/2 a tsp of sea salt, and a pinch of freshly ground pepper.
Turn the heat down slightly to simmer for about 10 minutes, or until thickened.  Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.
Remove from heat and add basil leaves.
Squeeze out excess liquid from the spinach, and reserve in the large bowl.
Chop the spinach and place it back in the bowl with the liquid.  Add the ricotta and a 1/2 a cup of parmesan, plus a pinch or two of salt. Mix well.
Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce over the bottom of a metal or glass 13 x 9" pan
Place the ricotta mixture in a quart or gallon size ziploc bag and cut one corner.  Pipe the mixture into the manicotti shells and place on the tomato sauce in the pan.
Pour the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the manicotti.
Stir together the sour cream and 1/2 a cup of parmesan cheese, with a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper.  Stir in a little water, then pour over the top of the tomato sauce.  
Spread the shredded mozzarella evenly over the dish, then cover with foil
Bake about 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake about 10 minutes more, or until the cheese is brown and bubbly.
Remove from the oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Chocolate Sorbet

This tastes so rich and chocolatey, nobody would ever guess it only has 4 ingredients and is insanely simple to make.  It takes several hours from start to finish, but only about 15 minutes require any effort whatsoever.
Sometime soon, I want to try mint or orange chocolate sorbet by using those extracts instead of vanilla.  
NOTE: I when I first posted this, I forgot to include the pinch of sea salt.  I added it into the recipe below, and I really believe it helps enhance the chocolate flavor.

(adapted from The Essence of Chocolate by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg)
2 cups cocoa powder
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 cups water
pinch sea salt
1 tsp vanilla

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the cocoa and sugar
Whisk in the water, one cup at a time, until all lumps of cocoa disappear.  
Stir in the sea salt.
Heat to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally
Remove from heat and stir in vanilla
Cover and refrigerate until cool (about an hour or two)
Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturers instructions

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Chocolate Mocha Cake

My dad has very simple taste when it comes to dessert.  It must include chocolate, coffee, or preferably both.  For his birthday cake this year, I decided to make a chocolate genoise, which was sturdy enough for 3 layers of coffee cream filling.  I covered the whole cake with a rich and fudgy mocha frosting.  The cake was overly brown, and I didn't have time to make colored frosting to decorate with, so I threw some red sprinkles around the outer edge of the top, and just used some chocolate chips to add contrast.  
This cake is pretty rich, so cut the pieces small, but if you like mocha, you're in the right place!

Chocolate Genoise
(from The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard)
6 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) melted butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup hot water
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup cake flour, sifted 3 times

Preheat oven to 350 F
Line the bottoms of two 9 x 2" round pans, and grease the sides.
Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and bring to a simmer.  Combine the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and place over the simmering water, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to 110 F
Remove the bowl from the heat and place on the mixer.  Beat with a whisk attachment on high for 5 to 8 minutes.  The eggs will be very light and 3 times the original volume.  Turn down to medium and mix 2 minutes more.
With the mixer on low, drizzle in the melted butter and mix until incorporated.
Combine the cocoa powder, hot water, and vanilla in a small bowl and stir well to eliminate any lumps.  Fold into the egg foam using a balloon whisk.
Add the flour to the foam all at once and fold it in carefully with the whisk, just until incorporated, maintaining as much of the foam as possible
Pour into the pans, and tap each pan lightly on the counter to eliminate air bubbles.  Swirl the pans a few times so the batter comes up the sides a little.  
Bake about 25 minutes, or until the cake springs back when you indent a finger in the middle.  It will also pull away slightly from the sides of the pan.  
Let cool on a rack (still in the pans) for 15 minutes, then unmold and remove the parchment to cool completely.

Coffee Cream
(adapted from The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard)
1 3/4 cups milk (I used 1% and it worked just fine - I wouldn't use skim though!)
1/4 cup hot water mixed with 1 tbsp instant espresso powder (or 1/4 cup espresso)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp cornstarch
Pinch salt
3 large eggs, chilled
1 tbsp softened butter

Sift together cornstarch, 1/4 cup sugar, and salt.
Whisk eggs in a large bowl and add sifted dry ingredients.  Whisk until fluffy.
Bring milk, espresso, and 1/4 cup sugar to a simmer in a medium saucepan.
Drizzle slowly into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.  Transfer the entire mixture back into the pan that the milk was in.
Rapidly whisk the mixture, and allow to boil for about 3 minutes, or until it has the consistency of pudding.  
Remove from heat. 
Rinse the bowl the eggs were in and dry it. 
Strain the pastry cream into the bowl and stir in the butter and vanilla.
Press plastic wrap onto the surface and chill for several hours, until cool.

Mocha Frosting
(from epicurious.com)
10 oz semisweet chocolate, melted
2 sticks (1 cup) softened butter
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp instant espresso
1 tbsp corn syrup

Mix the vanilla and instant espresso in a small bowl.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (with a paddle attachment), beat the butter at medium-high speed until creamy.  Pour in the melted chocolate and continue to beat on medium speed.
Turn the mixer to low and add the powdered sugar, a little at a time.  
Add the vanilla mixture and corn syrup and beat on medium for about 1 minute, until uniformly mixed.

To assemble the cake, cut each layer of genoise in half.  Spread the bottom with 1/3 of the coffee cream, then place another cake layer on top of it.  Spread this layer with another 1/3 of the coffee cream.  Repeat, then place the last cake layer on the top.  Frost with the mocha frosting