Friday, October 31, 2008

Better than Halloween Candy...

If you like rice krispies...If you like caramel...Butter caramel, to be more precise...If you like chocolate and peanut butter....
Swirled together...
If you like chocolate icing...

Then you might think that these are better than any of the candy in your trick-or-treat bag! Find the recipe here. These are from this cookbook, which was in my Amazon cart for a while before it was released. I wish I would have given in and purchased it. I think cookbooks are my biggest weakness as far as "have to have it" kneejerk reactions. I will be thinking about this one all weekend- if I hadn't just bought two other ones this month, I would have ordered it already! Happy Halloween! Hope your holiday is wonderful!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pumpkin Cheesecake

The seasons are dictating my menus these days. Regardless of the weather outside, which changes from- 75 degrees and sunny to so foggy and cold outside I can barely see on my drive to work- it’s fall people. Fall, fall fall. The calendar is calling the shots these days regardless of what it really feels like. And in San Diego, if you went based on the weather, you would be mixed up quite a bit of the time!After the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, I just wasn’t satisfied.
I wanted to do something else with pumpkin, but it had to have cream cheese involved. I don’t know what the obsession was, but they seemed to just need each other’s company. I really liked the cheesecake brownies the other day too, but wouldn’t they have been great with a pumpkin base rather than chocolate? I love the spices, and that is such a huge part of what I think makes pumpkin so great. It accepts all those warmy mulling spices so perfectly, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. So it was set. There were prerequisites to this recipe: pumpkin, spices, and cream cheese. Enter, pumpkin cheesecake, which is a great idea on it’s own, but what if you made the two fillings separately and marbled the two together? Now, that is an idea! But what for a crust? Do you go with the classic, as a nod to the pie, or the graham, in keeping with the cheesecake? Decisions, decisions! Well, I decided to go with the graham, since it’s also kind of fall, and it has cinnamon in it, so it had to be a good compliment. I think the end result turned out great. If nothing else, it is a show stopper. The only problem is that you end up with half a can of pumpkin, and half a can of condensed milk. You could make a mini pumpkin pie with the remaining filling, you could even freeze it. You could use the half can of pumpkin for a half batch of cookies. So obviously this recipe isn’t perfect, but it’s not half bad, either!

For the crust:

1 and 1/2 packages of graham crackers

8 tablespoons butter, melted

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

For the cheesecake filling:

1 package cream cheese, softened

1 egg, at room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

the zest and juice of one lemon

a 3 inch piece of vanilla bean scraped or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the pumpkin filling:

1/2 can of solid pack pumpkin

1/2 can condensed milk

1 egg, room temperature

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor until finely ground. Press into the bottom of a 10 inch buttered tart pan with a removable base. Using the bottom of a glass or a measuring cup, press the crust into the pan until it is an even thickness around and tightly packed. Bake the crust for 10 minutes.

Make the each layer in separate bowls by including all ingredients and blending with a hand mixer until combined. Once the crust has baked for 10 minutes, start with the cheesecake layer. Pour half the filling into the crust. Then pour half of the pumpkin in the center of the cheesecake layer. Continue with the remaining halves of the each mixture, creating concentric circles. Then using a knife, swirl the fillings together. Bake for 35 minutes or until the edges of the cake have lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack, then allow the cake to set in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 day. Serves 10-12

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Jealous much?

I don't think that I get jealous all that often. I am so lucky, and I wouldn't change my lot in life, I know that I have it good. However, there are times when you just kind of ask yourself, "Hey! That's not fair, can I get in on some of that?!" I say this completely tongue-in-cheek, but when it comes to Giada DeLaurentiis, don't you kind of wonder sometimes? I mean, the tiny stature, the great accent and perfect pronunciation of beautiful Italian words, a husband that works for Anthropologie, a successful food career including some of the most loved shows on the food network, and a brand-new beautiful baby daughter, Jade. Okay, yea, I guess maybe I am a little "jelly". However, I can't get too mad, because she shares all this great stuff with us in so many ways. Her books are fantastic, her recipes well written, and her ideas unexpected. So I had to buy her new book. Hopefully some of this magic will rub off through osmosis!

The first recipe I tried caught my eye immediately. A raw salad with zucchini ribbons, asparagus, pecorio romano shavings, and a drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. It was totally an ah-ha! moment, I mean all of these ingredients are always in my fridge, but I never use them together, and I rarely use any of them raw! A fantastic combination, totally unfussy and fresh.
Using a vegetable peeler, cut the zucchini across the grain lengthwise into long ribbons. Cut the asparagus on the angle, in about 2 inch slices. Toss both together with a splash of lemon juice, a drizzle of oil (I used my favorite walnut, actually), a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Using the same peeler, shave the wedge of romano over the combination. Serve immediately.

Giada's new book definitely does not disappoint. I have about half of the recipes (if not more) flagged to try. The thing I like about it is the focus on all the fresh ingredients. The photography is beautiful, which is always good for inspiration.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ina Garten's Orange and Chocolate Cake

I needed something chocolate, but different to take to my scrapbooking event last Friday. I usually bring brownies, which everyone seems to like, but I needed a change. I needed a challenge, and wanted to try something new. Enter Ina Garten, who is a dessert expert. I like her style, and I am intrigued by her new show on the Food Network- Back to Basics. Well, if you know me, that is definitely speaking my language. I love basic recipes that I can dress up or down, depending on my mood. This cake was a winner, moist and buttery, but zingy and acidic with the lemon and orange zests. Bright and flavorful, I will definitely make this again!

First you start by creaming the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Look for bakers sugar the next time you are at the grocery store. It’s recipes like this that really benefit from a smaller sugar crystal. The result is a fluffy, whipped base for your cake, which will keep everything aloft and avoid the cake tasting dry. Also, use the sugar called for by the recipe for a dessert. Even though I am a proponent of reducing sugar, this is a cake, not a breakfast. It isn’t coffee cake or a muffin, so you need the sugar to keep the cake moist. Also, your butter should be room temperature. Bakers call this consistency “plastic”. It should be pliable and soft, but should not be oozing or melting. Best bet is out of the fridge and onto the counter for at least an hour. When you don’t have that kind of time, try your microwave on a reduced power for less than 1 minute. If it’s still too cold, turn it around before microwaving it longer. Once you have these two things down, just beat for a little bit longer than normal to get this beautiful fluffiness. About 3 minutes should do.To the butter add the eggs, orange and lemon zests, and vanilla. Beat until mixed. Then you add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk, alternating each starting with and ending with the flour. Mix until just combined, using your rubber spatula to finish if necessary. This is a thick cake batter! Pour the batter into a buttered tube or Bundt pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Then cool in the pan for 10 minutes before trying to turn out your cake onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the frosting on this, a chocolate ganache is the perfect compliment. I love chocolate ganache. Chris makes fun of me for saying the name, but I think it’s the perfect chocolate icing. Denser than icing, and less sweet, it’s a great thing to use when you just want to pour icing on the cake. It’s the perfect choice for a Bundt cake, where it would be kind of silly to frost.

Start with a cup of chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler.I added one shot of espresso...
And a half-cup of heavy cream. Heat over barely simmering water whisking to combine the ingredients.
Once melted, pour over the cake slowly, going around the circle a couple times. You could do this over a cooling rack, but then you'd lose some of the ganache. Since it is so yummy, I recommend just doing this on the serving tray, being careful to not let too much flow in one spot and run off the tray. Don't worry about getting too much in the center of the cake. It gets trapped there and is a yummy treat on the slices with a little extra chocolate. Once ganached, place the cake in the fridge so that the chocolate sets. Slice and serve.

Note: I made a couple adaptations to this recipe. I didn't use the chocolate chips in the cake. I liked it this way, but if you think that would be good, by all means use them! Also, I skipped the orange sugar glaze. I made the cake a day before my event, and everyone remarked on how moist it was. I was worried that the glaze might make it gooey or sticky, so I avoided it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Del Mar Farmers Market

On Saturdays from 1:00pm to 4:00pm there is a farmers market in Del Mar. I have seen signs for it for a long time, but I hadn't checked it out until yesterday! It was pretty small, in fact the one in Little Italy was much bigger. It could be the time of year, too. I found some good things there, and it was a nice shopping environment. The most exciting thing at this, and probably most farmers markets, were the tomatoes. They were unbelievably big, and there were so many varieties to choose from. Since I am the only tomato eater in my house, I probably went overboard. It's hard to resist when you can feel the warm weight of a fresh and fully ripe tomato in your hand and know that you won't find the same thing elsewhere. I have had good luck with Costco's Roma tomatoes, and at $3.99 for a large 2 lb. package, they are totally a steal. I was amazed at how juicy the ones from the farmers market were, I had one for a salad last night and it was fantastic. I can only imagine what kind of tomato sauce it would make, I am guessing mine won't make it long enough to end up in sauce.
This was a peppery arugula that I made into a pesto last night as well. It was much stronger than the stuff I usually get, and I am not sure it would be great as a salad green, it might be too aggressive.

Finally, I guess this is evidence that my heart is perennially in Summer, no matter what the calendar says. These hot-red/pink gerber daisies just begged not to be left there, and I couldn't resist. I think it summed up to a successful Saturday afternoon at the farmer's market.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fickle La Jolla Light

We walked in La Jolla on Sunday afternoon. I love it down there, it's so beautiful and peaceful. We were very lucky to be married there about 3 years ago. This weekend the weather was a lot like it has been the past couple days. Cold and cloudy, windy, enough that you want to wear a jacket and jeans. Even Chris wore jeans... so that is really saying something.

These are probably technically very bad pictures, but honestly, that is what the light looked like that day. It perfectly captured what kind of day it was- being outside in it made you think that you should have something simmering on the stove back home, because pretty soon you were going to want to go inside and warm up. At least that is my Arizona/California girl logic- anything below 65 is COLD. It was probably in the 60s down there. At nights lately it has been getting down into the 50s! Brrr. It's totally sporadic though. I heard on the news tonight that we are having a "Red Flag Warning" tomorrow, which indicates a high fire danger. It's predicted to be in the 80s at the coast. So you never know.This is a color photo, I promise. You practically would not even know.
So the above pictures were all taken looking to the west, and I decided to take just one looking to the east. Funny how the light plays tricks on you, huh? From this one- it's just another day in sunny San Diego.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Spooky Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

It seems that lately the combination of chocolate and pumpkin is all the rage. It's a little counter-intuitive, in my opinion. Pumpkin seems like a normal match for graham crackers, cream cheese, nutmeg, cinnamon, ground ginger, even Chinese 5 spice blend, one of my new favorites. Not, however chocolate. It's funny, it seems like there is a tipping point each year when we try to string along summer as much as possible, and finally, we give in to fall and start to really enjoy all the harvest specials. For me it happens pretty immediately, one night I am still savoring tomato salad with lemon olive oil and then the next I am ready for something like this. Once you start it's hard to stop. I have been researching all sorts of pumpkin recipes, and have a bunch flagged to try, only to find that last night, at the grocery store, they are out of solid pack pumpkin. Maybe I am not the only one who suddenly gets these cravings, and the grocery stores just can't keep up with all of our whims. I guess there is always the alternative of actually opening up a pumpkin for something other than a jack-o-lantern, but honestly, who has time or wants to spend the effort. If you do, I am sure it's a worthy undertaking, and I assume that whatever you are making is a million times better than the canned stuff that I am using, but I haven't gone there yet. So, if you can find canned pumpkin, or if you are willing to crack open one for eating, give this recipe a try. I made these for the kids in our cul-de-sac, but then I didn't see them for the rest of the weekend. So far the "kids" at work have only had rave reviews as well.

This is a recipe that was featured on the King Arthur Flour website recently.

You start with the classic cookie ingredients, 1 cup softened butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar. Cream these together until smooth. Then add 1 15 ounce can of pumpkin, 2 eggs, the zest of 1 orange or lemon (I used lemon) and 1 tsp. vanilla. This mixture doesn't look very appetizing, but once you add the flour, it all comes together.
Add the flour and spices. I usually like things spicier than recipes call for, so I used the following:
2 & 1/4 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt and baking soda, 2 heaping teaspoons cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 heaping teaspoon of Chinese 5 spice blend. This is a great addition to your spice drawer if you haven't tried it yet. It has anise, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and fennel. It adds something unexpected to this recipe and it's really tasty. Mix together until smooth, scraping down the sides of your working bowl once in a while. This should come together quickly.
To the batter (which is more like cake batter than cookie dough), add 2 cups chocolate chips.
If you have a cookie scoop, this is a great recipe to use it. If not, drop by rounded teaspoon-fulls onto prepared baking sheets. Parchment paper is very helpful here. The recipe called for a 375 degree oven, but I found that way too hot. 365 made a huge difference for me. Once baked, while still hot out of the oven, place 3 additional chocolate chips in the cookies for eyes and a mouth.
For the icing, which is really worth it, mix 1& 1/2 cups powdered sugar with 2 tablespoons milk or heavy cream. Since my cookies were small, I didn't do too much decorating, but the little border did make the face stand out a bit more. I am sure that you could make these more interesting than mine, especially given the ideas on the website above. They are yummy however you decide to embellish them!As good as these are, I am not finished in my quest for a perfect fall pumpkin dessert. I think that my ideal choice probably won't include chocolate, but maybe the chocolate part is the Halloween touch rather than the Thanksgiving touch. Luckily it seems that the season has just begun, so I will have ample opportunity to try some of the other ideas- as soon as I can find some more pumpkin! Happy haunting!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Classic Chicken Salad

I am not sure if this truly qualifies as a "recipe" but I wanted to share it nonetheless, because I find the perfect chicken salad elusive, well I did, until now! I mentioned the fabulousness of having roast chicken in the fridge, and this is another example of why it is so great. Nothing out of a can or a grocery deli case can compare to this kind of homemade salad. Chunky and fresh tasting, a perfect melding of savory flavors. Feel free to dress it up with unconventional add ins- grapes, walnuts, raisins, but keep in mind, the classic version is something special in and of itself.

Start with 1 roasted chicken breast, cut into medium dice. For those of you playing along at home that don't want to heat up your oven, try a rotisserie chicken. If you are going to use the whole chicken, double the other ingredients. To the chicken add half of a large, sweet onion and 2 ribs of celery, both also diced. I like the onion chopped a little smaller than the chicken dice. To this add a generous grinding of black pepper and salt, about a half teaspoon of each. Also add 2-3 rounded tablespoons of mayonnaise, and 1 heaping teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Mix to combine.
Finally, a sprinkling of finely chopped flat leaf parsley is the perfect finishing touch. You get the beautiful color and the zing! of the parsley brings all the flavors together.
Serve this over a classic green salad made of green leaf lettuce, purple cabbage, shredded carrot, tomatoes and a simple dressing. Skip any dressings that are mayo-based, you don't need it with the richness of the chicken salad. Like I said, feel free to mix it up, but always know that you can come back to this simple combination for success every time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Giada's Marinara

This is my favorite marinara to have on hand. I really like the basic tomato sauce that I made for you using fresh tomatoes, but this is classic red sauce. It is so much better than that stuff out of the jar, and rightfully so. All this goodness goes in there, and then you simmer for an hour. It sounds like a commitment, but honestly, you get so many things done in your kitchen or elsewhere during that time, it goes by so quickly. Plus your house smells like your Italian Grandma has been at work all day in there, so what's not to love?

This is from Giada's first (and best, in my opinion) book called Everyday Italian, just like her show. If you don't have it yet, it is a great addition to your collection. I thumbed through her new book at Costco and had to exercise extreme willpower not to buy it, her books are lovely and well written, and they don't include many weird, obscure ingredients that you have to search around for. Also, maybe most importantly, she doesn't waste your time or effort on some step that isn't worth it. So, the next time you reach for the Prego or Ragu, waltz your cart a little further down the aisle and grab two cans of crushed tomatoes and head over to the produce section for the few other things that make this sauce so great. You'll be glad you did!

Start with 2 small onions, chopped into medium dice. I opt for sweet yellow onions these days, but anything would work. I usually blend my sauce at the end, but if you wanted to leave this chunky, purple onions would be awfully pretty.
Into the pot with a little olive oil covering the bottom of the pan. I think she calls for 1/2 cup in the recipe, but I've never used that much. I didn't measure this last time, but I recall 1/3 being plenty. You just don't want your onions getting too brown, this isn't the time for that yummy caramelization that we were going for with the chicken tacos. (As much as I do love that!)While the onions cook, chop 2 carrots and 2 ribs of celery. Once the onions are translucent, add these to the pot.
In they go...While these cook, open up your tomatoes. I really like the San Marzano brand, which are imported from Italy. They seem to just be different than American tomatoes, but your sauce will blow you out of the water either way. Make sure you pick crushed, not diced or whole. 2 28 ounce cans should do it, but always feel free to add more, if you like.
There, once your vegetables have softened, it is time for the tomatoes. Just pour them in and reduce the heat and let it go for an hour.
Soon it will be bubbly and will thicken a bit. You don't really have to stir as long as you keep the heat pretty low for the hour. She recommends including a couple bay leaves during this time, and discarding them afterwards, but I usually skip that step. Once your sauce is cooked, let it cool uncovered on the stove or counter top for a little while before trying to handle it. It keeps beautifully in the freezer, and this is probably double what you need for a good pasta recipe. Use it in lasagna, spaghetti with meatballs, or whatever strikes your fancy.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

David Lebovitz' Cheesecake Brownies

So, just when I thought I had tried all the fabulous brownie variations, this one came along and totally caught me by surprise. I thought I had tried or thought of all the worthy brownie swirls- the favorites as of late being Dulce de Leche and peanut butter. This one is right up there with the others, though, and a great brownie base recipe from scratch which are hard to find. I usually think that making brownies from scratch is a waste of time, seing as the mixes are so good. If it ain't broke, don't make it more complicated, right? Well this one is straightforward and really yummy. I am sure that I will revisit this in some other variations in the near future. I have been brining the Dulce de Leche brownies into work so much that last Friday on the tour of our new building, a couple people had this comment about the oven in our much improved kitchen space: "Hey, maybe we can put Meagan's desk in here so she has easy access to bake us things!" Now that would be trouble!! Hope you had a great weekend. This recipe goes quickly, so don't be daunted to make it on a weeknight! :)

Start by making the cheesecake topping. Soften 8 ounces of cream cheese (I used the reduced fat variety called neufchatel) and add 1 egg yolk at room temperature, a splash of vanilla and 5 tablespoons of sugar.
Blend until mixed. Set aside while you make the brownie batter. Chop 4 ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (I used 3 semisweet baking squares and one unsweeted square) and add 6 tablespoons of butter, cut into pieces. Melt over low heat, stirring continuously with a silicon spatula.
As the chocolate and the butter melt, they will mix together. Make sure all chunks are fully melted before removing from the heat.
Just like this:
In the same pan, add the sugar and stir to incorporate. Then add the eggs, at room temperature. If you are anxious to make these and don't want to have to wait for your eggs to warm up, place them in a bowl of warm-ish tap water for a few minutes. They should be perfect after a little while. You don't want them to be cold, because as you add them to the warm ingredients, you don't want to cook the eggs. I am pretty sure that scrambled eggs are probably not one of the brownie add ins we want to try!

Bake at 350 degrees in the middle of the oven for about 35 minutes. Cool and cut into squares. Enjoy, another great brownie idea!