Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Stir Cooking Class: Ciao Sicily!

I spent last Friday evening at the fabulous Stir Cooking School in the Denver Highlands and cannot wait to go back.  It is a cooking school open to the public with a different class almost every night of the week.  It was love at first sight when I walked into the colorful space complete with a bar, demo area, and 3 separate cooking stations with top of the line tools and appliances.  I loved that the cooking station had just 6 people so we could all take part in the cooking.  Not to mention that the ingredients were all set out for us, we had our own private chef giving us instructions and answering our many questions, and doing all our dishes.  My kind of cooking!

Every class has a different theme; we were there for Sicilian night.  I was thrilled to make mussels, one of my favorite dishes, along with a shrimp and arugula-almond pesto pasta, arancini (aka fried risotto balls!), insalata misto with artichokes, shaved fennel, and balsamic vinaigrette, and lemon tiramisu for dessert.  After cooking the meal, we all dined together in an upstairs loft area by candlelight.

My fabulous cooking group (our group consisted of an adorable couple having one of their first nights out after having a baby, my friend Julie and I on a girls' night out, and an adorable mother-daughter duo - we all bonded over the event and decided we must meet up for this again soon!):

Insalata Misto with Artichokes, Shaved Fennel and Balsamic Vinaigrette

Drunken Mussels with White Wine, Tomatoes and Basil (recipe below)

Fusilli Pasta with Shrimp and Arugula "Pesto"

Tomato Arancini

Dipping lady fingers for the Lemon Tiramisu (recipe below)

Drunken Mussels with White Wine, Tomatoes and Basil

3 tablespoons butter
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 1/2 lbs mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
4 scallions, thinly sliced
4 vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
1 1/2 cups white wine
6 tablespoons butter, chilled

Melt butter in large pot with lid over high heat.  Add garlic, shallots and herbs and saute for 1 minute. Add mussels, tomatoes and scallions then the wine and cover tightly with lid and cook until steam appears, mussels open, 5 to 7 minutes (discard any mussels that do not open).  Add the cold butter, stir into the sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve with grilled bread.  

Lemon Tiramisu

6 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese, whole milk
1 cup chilled heavy cream
zest of 2 lemons
2 cups mild brewed coffee or brewed espresso, cooled to room temperature
4 tablespoons limoncello
36 crisp Italian ladyfingers
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Beat together yolks and 1 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale, about 2 minutes.  Beat in mascarpone until just combined.  Fold the ricotta into the mascarpone and yolk mixture.

Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks.  Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, then continue to beat whites until they just hold stiff peaks.  Beat cream in another bowl with cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks.  Alternating between the cream and white, fold both into the ricotta/mascarpone mixture.  Fold in lemon zest.

Stir together coffee and limoncello in a shallow bowl.  Dip 1 ladyfinger in coffee mixture, soaking it about 4 seconds on each side, and transfer to a glass baking dish.  Repeat with 8 more ladyfingers and arrange in bottom of dish, trimming as needed to fit snugly.  Spread half of mascarpone mixture evenly over ladyfingers.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Make another layer in same manner with remaining ladyfingers and mascarpone mixture.  Chill tiramisu, covered, at least 6 hours. 

Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
2 small shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, honey and shallots until well combined.  While continuing to whisk, add the olive oil in a thin, steady stream until emulsified.  Season to taste.  When I made this at home, I actually put all of the ingredients in a jar with a lid and shook it to mix, which worked well too.  

I have the other recipes - let me know if you'd like them!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Brown Butter Blueberry Muffins

Since discovering this recipe, I have made these delicious muffins several times.  While the brown butter makes them feel a little fancy to me, don't be intimidated!  The trick is just to not burn the butter.  I made mine into mini muffins, as I've taken them as a breakfast treat for work and they're a perfect size for a little mid-morning snack.  For Valentines Day, I actually made them with fresh raspberries, which was great too.  You could really substitute any berry of your choice, fresh or frozen, although the original recipe calls for fresh.  When using frozen blueberries, I tossed them in a little bit of flower first to cover them to avoid too much leaking of blueberry juice throughout the muffin.  Also, I have found that I always seem to have about twice as much topping than I need to save in the freezer for my next batch.  I have Joy the Baker to thank for these, as the recipe is from her fabulous cookbook that I highly recommend.

Brown Butter Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12 Muffins or 24 mini muffins

For the muffins:

7 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup milk
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt (don't use if already using salted butter)
2 cups blueberries

For the topping:
3 tablespoons salted butter (make sure it's cold!)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Place the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a muffin pan with paper liners (I've never had paper liners on hand - once I rubbed butter in the muffin cups then sprinkled with flour and the next time I sprayed with nonstick cooking spray - both methods worked).  Set aside.

To make the muffins, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Keep an eye on the butter.  It will melt, froth, and begin to crackle.  That's the water cooking out of the butter.  The crackling will subside and butter will begin to brown fairly quickly.  Remove from heat when butter solids become a medium brown color and butter smells slightly nutty.  Immediately pour hot butter into a small bowl or it will continue to cook and possibly burn in the hot saucepan.

Whisk milk, egg, yolk and vanilla until combined.  Add the brown butter and whisk to combine.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt (if using) in a medium bowl.  Add the milk mixture all at once to the flour mixture and stir gently to combine.  Gently but thoroughly fold in the blueberries.  Divide batter among muffin cups.

To make the topping:  combine all ingredients in a bowl and rub together with clean fingertips until crumbly.  Sprinkle topping evenly over the muffin batter in cups.

Bake 18-20 minutes until golden and crisp and skewer inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Cool muffins in the pan for 15 minutes before removing.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Muffins will last, at room temperature in an airtight container, for up to 3 days.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Crown Royal Maple Finished Whisky

I was recently invited to attend an event in Denver to celebrate Crown Royal's newest whisky, Crown Royal Maple Finished.  It was a great event, complete with a tasting and introduction by the Crown Royal Master of Whisky Steve Beal, a lesson on making cocktails by the mixologist Alex Strauss from the Bon Vivants cocktail and spirit consulting company, and a shot-making competition.  While I'm usually not a huge whisky fan, I liked the smooth, sweet finish of Crown Royal Maple.  Finn and I had fun coming up with our own shots; while we unfortunately weren't awarded the grand prize of a brand new Les Paul maple guitar, we were happy with our original recipes, which I included below.

Maple Grand Slam 

1.5 oz. Crown Royal Maple Finished Whisky
1 oz. bacon-infused vodka
1 oz. orange juice
5 dashes orange bitters

Shake with ice.  Makes 4 shots.

Finn's Maple Bacon Bar 
This was a nod of our hat to our favorite chocolate bar, Vosges Milk Chocolate Bacon Bar

2 oz. chocolate liqueur (I prefer Godiva)
1 oz. bacon-infused vodka
1 oz. Crown Royal Maple Finished Whisky

Shake with ice.  Makes 4 shots.  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze

Today I was delighted to find a new favorite Christmas cookie, courtesy of Giada De Laurentis.  The recipe was actually on the foodnetwork.com "healthy holiday cookie recipes" section.  While I'm not so sure I consider them healthy, I do think they're very delicious and would be the perfect addition to any holiday cookie tray.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze (Giada De Laurentis)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 (15-oz) container whole milk ricotta cheese
3 T lemon juice
1 lemon, zested

Glaze: 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 T lemon juice
1 lemon, zested

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl combine the butter and sugar.  Using an electric mixer beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until incorporated.  Add the ricotta cheese, lemon juice, and lemon zest.  Beat to combine.  Stir in the dry ingredients.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  Spoon the dough (about 2 tablespoons for each cookie) onto the baking sheets.  Bake for 15 minutes, until slightly golden at the edges.  Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.

Combine all the glaze ingredients in asmall bowl and stir until smooth.  Spoon about 1/2-tsp onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon to gently spread.  Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours before stacking.  

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Why does it seem like most babies are born between 2 and 5 am? Seriously.  This has been the story of my weekend on call.  I was worn out today and found myself craving homemade soup for dinner; this recipe I got from my mom turned out to be the perfect thing.  The paprika, dill, and lemon are a lovely combination.  The original recipe called for sour cream - I used greek yogurt instead and liked it.

Creamy Mushroom Soup
4 T butter
1 1/2 cups diced onions
1 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced (I used 8 oz white mushrooms and 8 oz baby bellas)
1 T fresh dill weed
1 T smoked paprika
1 T soy sauce
2 cups chicken broth (1 can)
2 cups milk (I used 1%; the original recipe called for 1 cup milk and 1 cup half and half)
4 T flour
1 t salt
ground pepper to taste
2 tsp lemon juice
2 T chopped fresh parsley
1 small container greek yogurt or 1/2 cup sour cream

Melt butter in pot over medium heat.  Saute onions for 5 minutes.  Add mushrooms and saute for 5 more minutes.  Stir in dill, paprika, soy sauce, and broth.  Reduce heat to low.  Cover.  Simmer for 15 minutes.  

In a separate bowl whisk together the milk and flour.  Add to the soup and stir well to blend.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Finally stir in the salt, pepper, lemon juice, and parsley.  Slowly add the yogurt or sour cream, one spoonful at a time.  Stir and heat slowly over low heat for 3-5 minutes.  Do not boil.  Serve immediately.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken tortilla soup is one of my faves.  Until now though, I had yet to perfect my recipe.  On Friday I got it just right when I tried Ina Garten's recipe and tweaked it just a little; I love the depth of flavor in the broth of this soup as well as the addition of fresh cilantro and avocado right before serving. This was the perfect thing to have simmering on my stove while I was decorating my tree the day after Thanksgiving, with Downton Abbey on TV.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 white onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 1/2 quarts chicken stock
1 28-ounce can crushed or chopped tomatoes
3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
4 to 6 6-inch corn tortillas
For topping:
fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
avocado, cut into cubes
grated cheese of your choice
crispy tortilla strips or chips
sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the chicken breasts in a baking dish.  Rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until done.  When it is cool enough to handle, shred the chicken.  Cover and set aside.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven.  Add onions, celery, and carrots and cook on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions start to brown.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.  Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, jalapenos, cumin, coriander, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper.  Cut the tortillas into thin strips and add to the soup.  Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes.  Add the shredded chicken and season to taste.  Serve the soup hot with the toppings of your choice (I used cilantro, avocado, and grated white cheddar cheese).  Enjoy!

(Don't you love my tree?!)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Joan's on 3rd + Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce

When I was in Los Angeles last month for my birthday weekend, we had lunch at a great place called Joan's on Third.  It is an adorable family owned and operated gourmet food market, cafe, and catering company.  I had the pleasure of meeting Joan herself who runs the business and travels the world with her family looking for great products to sell in their market.  She was absolutely adorable! They had a fabulous collection of wine, cheese and gift items and they were completely decked out for fall in the most wonderful way.

Here is a photo of me with Joan:

While there, I not only met Joan but also had the pleasure of meeting Yotam Ottolenghi, the author of the cookbooks Plenty and Jerusalem, who was there for a book signing (!).  He could not have been nicer and I could not have been happier to leave with a signed copy of Plenty!  It's a beautiful cookbook full of recipes for vegetarian dishes with the most amazing photos.  

For lunch yesterday, I made the dish that is featured on the cover of Plenty - a roasted eggplant with buttermilk sauce.  It was absolutely delicious and just as pretty as it is in the book.  It would be a great appetizer for a holiday party - we ate it by itself but it would also be great served with crusty french bread or pita. 

Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce (adapted from Plenty)
2 large and long eggplants
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon thyme leaves, plus a few for garnish (I used regular thyme)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pomegranate (I admit to buying the Pom brand seeds that are already removed from the pomegranate)
1 tsp za'atar  
9 tsp buttermilk
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish
1 small garlic clove, crushed
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Cut the eggplants in half lengthways, cutting straight through the stalk.  Use a small sharp knife to make 3 or 4 parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half, without cutting through to the skin.  Repeat at a 45 degree angle to get a diamond-shape pattern.
Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with foil.  Brush with olive oil - keep brushing until all of the oil has been absorbed by the flesh.  Sprinkle with the thyme and some salt and pepper.  Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, at which point the flesh should be soft, flavorful and nicely browned.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

If using whole pomegranates: 
While the eggplants are in the oven, cut the pomegranate into 2 horizontally.  Hold one half over a bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or a rolling pin to gently knock on the pomegranate skin.  Continue beating with increasing power until the seeds start coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl.  Once all are there, sift through the seeds to remove nay bits of white skin or membrane.  

To make the sauce, whisk together all of the ingredients   Taste for seasoning, then keep cold until needed.  

To serve, spoon plenty of buttermilk sauce over the eggplant halves without covering the stalks.  Sprinkle za'atar and plenty of pomegranate seeds on top and garnish with thyme.  Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.