Saturday, June 27, 2009

Penne Al Cavolfiore

It was another Friday night and I wanted to take it easy, but I was thinking that I should try to make something a bit more nutritious than hot dogs. However, I wanted something so easy that others could make the same dish without the need of a recipe. Here are just a few guidelines for an awesome pasta dish. You're good to go.

Along with the kale I bought at the farmer's market this week, I noticed that cauliflower was beginning to make an appearance. I snatched some up right away.

Cauliflower, like kale, is best cooked in the oven. I tossed it in some olive oil and salt and put it in the oven at 400 degrees until it looked like this (I'd say it was about 30 minutes).
In a pan I heated 2 tablespoons of olive oil and threw in 4 cloves worth of minced garlic and a hearty pinch of red pepper flakes. Once that was starting to smell nice, I added the juice and zest of one lemon, and about a half a cup of white wine.

Finally I tossed in a pound of cooked penne rigate and the cauliflower along with a little choped fresh parsley (not shown).
My portion was tossed with a generous amount of pecorino cheese. My cheese-hating, lactose-intolerant husband preferred his plain.

Then I sat back and enjoyed, remembering that a dinner without large slabs of meat or without chocolate can still be delicious.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Summer Tradition is Back - Sweet Treat of the Week

Those lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer are back (well, at least on the calendar they are ). While summer isn't generally thought of as the best time for baking, it's perfect for me. When summer comes I have a much looser schedule and more evenings free. There are no dance classes, no play rehearsals, and fewer commitments to anything. I can always set aside an evening to bake something.

This is my third summer of baking weekly. The first summer I just baked whatever I felt like baking. Last summer I decided to give my baking a theme. I decided to only use recipes I found on people's blogs. Baking that way was a wonderful experience. I baked things I found on the blogs I read regularly (how can I not bake from Emily's blog after all?) but my regulars led me to other blogs as well. Thanks to the blog-buddies-of-blog-buddies I discovered new blogs, new recipes, and made new blog buddies of my own.

Although I think it was a great theme, I find myself compelled to take Sweet Treat of the Week in a different direction this summer. There is something I need to do.

My brother and sister-in-law gave me this book for my birthday three years ago: Chocolate Chocolate by Lisa Yockelson. They know me well. Chocolate is, after all, one of my favorite things on earth.

This book is so big and so full of chocolate recipes, it's totally intimidating. There are many variations on your basic chocolate cake (layer cakes, cupcakes, and sheet cakes) and then several more variations on frosting. Don't even get me started on the chocolate-coconut cake variations (and the chocolate-coconuts bars and cookies, etc.). There are brownies galore and every type of bar cookie imaginable. How could I make it all? How do some of these endless cake and cookie recipes actually differ from each other?

This is my summer to find out. Each week I am going to make a recipe from this book. I've made a few things out of it in the past, so this summer I will make sure that I make something I have never made before. It's going to be hard to decide exactly what I will bake because I have so many choices, but I will force myself to choose. I will try to make a variety of cookies, cakes, brownies, and bars.

There will be one exception. Next week is my company picnic and I found the recipe I wanted to use in the annual bake off months ago. It's from the blogs rather than from a book. (Any guesses as to who's blog? It's probably not difficult.) I feel a little guilty not baking from the blogs since there have been so many good recipes out there lately, but I feel like I need to conquer this book.

So what did I make this week?

This is a Chocolate Buttermilk Cake. It's a simple sheet cake that uses unsweetened dark chocolate and cocoa in the flavoring and it has buttermilk rather than milk as the liquid. It was a childhood favorite of Yockelson's. It's a very simple cake that I fancied up by using Scharffenberger chocolate. The frosting I can only describe as a combination of fudge and buttercream. It's super rich and dense. As you can see, the frosting layer is as thick as the cake.

Would you like a closeup?

(I will be kind to the author and request you email me for the recipe rather than my stealing it and copying it here.)

The verdict? It was very popular at the office. Half my company was out of the office for a conference today, so there weren't many people around and yet they still managed to finish the large amount of cake I had brought in. I was even asked to make another one for the company picnic.

Personally, I thought it was good, but not terribly special. I'm wondering if the midnight sheet cake would be better, or the sheet cake with sour cream instead of buttermilk.

But the company picnic will be a whole different story

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Little Kale Magic

Leafy greens. I know they're good for me. I know I should eat a lot of them. I know that they are very easily accesible at the farmer's markets in the spring and early summer. I just can't get into them.

Don't get me wrong. I don't dislike them the way I dislike peas, but I can't get excited about them. They either taste too bitter or just sort of vegetal to me. I need tons of garlic to make them taste good. The one way I truly enjoy greens is in pasta dishes mixed with ricotta cheese. That doesn't go over well with Sir Pickypants, Lord of Lactose Intolerance. Nonetheless, I buy them because I need variety in my veggies and they are so easy to obtain this time of year.

This weekend I purchased some kale at the farmer's market.

I don't mind kale. Taste-wise it's neither too bitter nor too bland. I don't like the texture though. I have always found it tough. I never liked chewing through those leaves.

But what if I didn't have to chew so hard?

Last night I discovered a magical things known as CRISPY KALE. Now when you make something "crispy" it tends to mean you are likely to make the taste and texture of just about anything delicious. Crispy kale is easy to make and the leaves melt in your mouth.

No recipe needed. All you need to do is:

1. Heat oven to 350.
2. Trim stems from kale and toss with salt and olive oil.
3. Lay on a baking sheet in thin layer and stick it on the lowest oven rack.
4. After 10 minutes, give them a flip and then cook until the leaves are delicate and cripsy.

Light, salty, crispy vegetable bits. It's like eating potato chips, only it's actually good for you.

That's a lamb chop on the plate. You know the veggies are good when I'm more excited about them than I am about the meat!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sugar High Fridays - Strawberry Almond Scones

I recently experienced a very happy combination of events.

First I had a major scone craving. I really wanted to make some scones. While shopping for my scone ingredients, I came across a container of dried strawberries. I thought it would be really fun to put them in my scones.

Not long after I decided to make the scones (but before I actually did make them) I found out that this month's Sugar High Friday has a theme of nuts and fruits. Well a theme about nuts and fruits is right up my alley, no? ;-) It's hosted this month by Mansi of Fun and Food, a charming and very educational blog showcasing vegetarian dishes, Indian food, and easy tasty desserts. It's been a long time since I last participated in a Sugar High Friday (or a blog event of any kind for that matter). I decided I would use it to showcase my scones. All I needed to do is add some nuts to them.

I used a basic scone recipe and substituted a third of the flour with almond meal and added a couple of almonds on top along with those strawberries.

The suckers were HUGE. I cut them into eighths, but the next time I make these, I will definitely cut them in smaller wedges, or perhaps cut them with biscuit cutters and make round scones.

They were very well received. My husband couldn't get enough of them.

Strawberry-Almond Scones

1 cup almond meal
2+ cups all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter
1 egg beaten
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup milk
1 cup dried strawberries
Whole almonds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease a baking sheet.

Mix together 2 cups of flour, almond meal, salt and baking powder.

In another bowl mix the egg, milk, almond extract and lemon zest.

Put butter and flour mixture in a food processor and pulse until it forms coarse crumbs.

Remove from the food processor and carefully stir in strawberries. Then gently stir in the milk and egg mixture. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead briefly. You may need to add a bit more flour is dough is really sticky.

Roll out into a circle and cut into 8 (or more) wedges. Place on baking sheet and press some whole almonds onto the top of each scone. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Baking for a Cause

Thanks for all your patience and kind notes. You, my readers, are the awesomest! The recital (not a competition, just a performance thank goodness) was full of bluffs, blunders, errors, and miscounts, but my family in the audience told me it looked great. I had one tap routine and one jazz routine. My husband surreptitiously took video of the tap routine and is threatening to put it on YouTube.

So after spending all of Saturday practicing and practicing and practicing and then performing Saturday night (followed up with a grilled cheese, waffle fries, and a chocolate egg cream at the diner afterwards), my busy time was not up yet. My office is doing a fundraiser for the American Cancer society. We're participating in the Relay For Life on Friday and we had a Monday morning bake sale.

Every bake sale has cookies and brownies, so I like to do something different.

I made a cherry-almond pie. You can get the recipe from the Williams Sonoma website.

I also made a blueberry buttermilk cake. I saw this recipe on both Stacey Snacks and Smitten Kitchen. The recipe is supposed to be made wiht raspberries, but I had a glut of blueberries in the house and decided to use them instead.

The pie was a big hit and sold out by the end of the day. I even purchased a slice for myself (I found the almond flavor a bit lacking). The blueberry cake was less popular, although one of our analysts who was out of the office yesterday said today he would buy all leftovers, so it will be gone this morning.

I'll also be doing the ACS Relay for Life. If anyone is interested in sponsoring me, I'll post the link.

Friday, June 12, 2009


It seems I've left up a post about hot dogs for a week.

I hate neglecting my blog like this, particularly as I made some butt-kicking scones over a week ago and have yet to post the recipe or the photos, but I've been a bit busy lately. I have a dance performance this weekend and I'm rehearsing every night. That means I don't have much time to blog or to even cook anything more interesting.

I hope to return this blog to normal next week.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Casual Fridays

Although it's not officially summer yet, we have passed Memorial Day on the calendar and it is June. Considering all that, the weather should be somewhat summer-like. We should have sunshine and I should be able to walk around in a sundress or a pair of shorts and feel totally comfortable.

Alas, that is not to be. This "spring" and "summer" here in New York have consisted of a few warm, sometimes even hot, days scattered between long periods of cold and rain. On a particular early June day I was regretting that I didn't take a sweater to work with me. I put the heat on in my car when driving home. It doesn't not feel like summer in any way shape or form.

Still, it's Friday night and I want a nice, easy, casual dinner. I don't want to work too hard. I don't want to think too much (of course not thinking much is a habit of mine anyway). I just want to throw some food together that tastes good. I'm not averse to throwing a few health concerns out the window while I do so. Rather than look out the window at the rain, I want the kind of food that can help me imagine a summer day at the beach, eating at some little beachside dive. I wanted to eat food that evoked sitting at a picnic table overlooking the ocean with cold beer and the smell of grill smoke lingering.

We'll call it Casual Friday.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love hot dogs? I really love them. I swear one day I'm going to Coney Island and entering the annual hot dog eating contest. If people didn't stop me, I don't know how many I could eat in one sitting. As a picky child, they were often the only thing I would eat. You can tell me all of the nightmares about what's in them, and I'd still eat them. (I don't eat crustaceans because they're scary, but I'll eat hog dogs. Go figure.)

So guess what my casual Friday meal was? Dogs and Kraut of course! The dogs were cooked on the grill pan and I heated the sauerkraut in the microwave! Now that's easy living.

Of course Sir Pickypants will have none of that. He may not love the dogs, but he sure loves the rolls. He is a potato roll lover extraordinaire. Well, what goes into hot dog buns besides hot dogs and other assorted sausage-type products? Lobster!

Too bad I couldn't find any lobster meat. I could find pre-made lobster salad, but where is the fun in that? I decided to do something similar with shrimp.
No recipe necessary here. I just boiled the shrimp with some bay leaves and peppercorns. Then I mixed 1/4 cup mayo with the zest of one lemon and the juice of a half a lemon. I mixed in some chopped fresh tarragon and a little salt and pepper. I mixed this dressing with the shimp and toasted the bun with a little butter.

He is certainly getting his fill of crustaceans this week!

On the side I meant to make a potato salad, but completley forgot to buy potatoes.

I did make a nice tomato and cucumber sad. This was a mix of campari and small heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers dressed with basil, oregano, red wine vinegar and olive oil.

Dinner was delicious and the sun came out the next day. Now maybe summer will stick around a little longer.

Shhh...Don't Tell Him

My husband does not like peppers.

Or so he says.

He will avoid them in salads. He won't eat pepper heavy dishes like fajitas (or if he does, he'll pick the peppers out). I'm convinced that he has an unfair prejudice against peppers. He doesn't understand what they taste like and how much he'd like them if he did.

Feeling this way, I'm not against employing a few covert tactics. I have been known to cut up peppers really small so he can't pick them out. I'll even puree them.

One time I made a red pepper soup for a dinner party. He didn't know what it was until I served it. He finished the bowl. He didn't eat the leftovers, but he finished his first portion.

A few weeks ago I made a chicken with roasted pepper sauce. I didn't tell him what the sauce was. He simply ate the chicken and told me, "That was a really good sauce." HAH! I knew it. He likes the taste of red peppers!

Last night I was having a major craving for tortellini and decided to make them for dinner. I was thinking I wanted some kind of creamy sauce on them. Tomatoes just weren't speaking to me. I wanted something else. I remembered the chicken in red pepper sauce. Hubby liked it. Why not make a similar sauce for my tortellini.

My recipe isn't terribly original. You have probably seen many sauces like this before. You probably have a similar one in your own recipe box. I'm posting it anyway. I just feel like it.

I added some roasted asparagus to make sure we get our greens in. I roast the asparagus because that's the only way I like it. Feel free to saute it with your onions and garlic.

He liked the pasta, but wasn't as enthusiastic as he was about the chicken. Do you think he's on to me? I won't tell him if you won't.

Tortellini with Red Pepper Cream Sauce and Asparagus

4 red bell peppers
2 bunches asaparagus, trimmed
Olive Oil
1 onion
4 cloves of garlic
1 handful fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 Tbl dry sherry
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper
2 9 oz packages of tortellini

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Coat peppers and asparagus with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place on baking sheets. Roast asparagus for 10-20 minutes depending on how crispy you like it. Roast peppers for about 20-30 minutes or until skins blister.

Chop asparagus into pieces and set aside. Put peppers in plastic bags. Wait a few minutes and then remove the skin. Chop into pieces.

In a skillet heat some olive oil and cook the onions and garlic until soft. Add the basil. Add the peppers and stir it all around to coat. Add the sherry and let everything cook down for another minute or two.

Transfer to a food processor and puree until smooth. Mix in the heavy cream.

Cook tortellini according to package directions. Drain and toss with sauce and roasted asparagus.

Serve with grated parmesan if you like.