Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sinful Cinnamon

So often when I bake, there's chocolate involved in some way. You'd think it was my favorite food, but really, there are things I like better than chocolate ... like cinnamon!

I love, love, love cinnamon in any way, shape or form. There's something about that sweet spiciness that puts me over the edge. So when I came across a recipe for cinnamon blondies, I thought I was in heaven.

Just a few notes on this recipe ... I used a combination of brown sugar and white sugar because I was running low on brown. It's hard to say if this was a good move, but it certainly didn't hurt! It made the same sticky, sweet, caramel-y goodness to bind the ingredients together. I was totally licking the bowl!

Also, given the issues I've had with bars in the past, I was understandably nervous about under-cooking these blondies. Of course, I was also nervous about overcooking them! I think they came out just a tad underdone, but they were soft, chewy, moist and oh-so-yummy anyway!

Really, my only complaint about this recipe is that it doesn't make enough! Just 12 bars will hardly fulfill my cinnamon-y sweet tooth after a taste of these, so another batch may be in order!

Cinnamon Blondies
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Cinnamon-sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8x8-inch glass baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine butter and sugars. Heat over medium-low heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool, about 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat egg, egg yolk, vanilla, and butter-sugar mixture. Pour into bowl containing flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared baking dish. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until just set, sprinkling cinnamon-sugar over the top with about 5 minutes left to go. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars and serve.

Friday, July 29, 2011

First Fresh Fish

Cracking open a can of tuna or grilling a few skewers of shrimp is about the extent of my seafood experience. To tell you the truth, I'm not much of a seafood eater (despite having grown up next to an ocean!). I'll order the occasional crab cake, scallop or tilapia, but beyond that and a Friday Fish Fry once or twice a year, I'm not a big fish fan. So obviously, I don't cook seafood.

That's probably why Bill seemed shocked when he came home tonight, peeked in the kitchen, and said "You're making fish??" And it's probably also why I was surprised that this recipe so appealed to me. I actually saw it a week or so ago on the Test Kitchen's awesome website, The Feed, it piqued my interest, and I went back to print it today when I was making my grocery list.

The original recipe is for Potato-Crusted Halibut, but lo and behold, the Metro Market had no halibut (perhaps it's yet another sign that I should be shopping at Sendik's). I asked the woman behind the seafood counter if cod would be an o.k. substitute and she said (with complete and utter lack of conviction) "I don't see why not." I took the risk anyway.

And good thing I did! My first attempt at fresh fish (if you can call previously frozen cod "fresh") was awesome! It turned out super flaky and flavorful ... even a bit buttery, despite the fact that there's no butter in the recipe! I was super impressed and I'll be making this dish again. Maybe even with the right fish next time!

Potato-Crusted Cod
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon capers, drained and minced
1 tablespoon fresh chives, minced
Squirt lemon juice
Salt and pepper
4 fresh cod filets
1 large russet potato, peeled and coarsely grated
3 tablespoons olive oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, make tartar sauce by combining mayo, capers, chives, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Pat cod dry with paper towels. Spread about a teaspoon of tartar sauce over the top of each filet. Press an even layer of grated potatoes over each filet.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Place filets potato-side down in oil. Cook, without moving, for 6 to 8 minutes. Carefully transfer filets to baking sheets, potato-side up. Bake in oven until cooked through, another 6 to 8 minutes.

Serve with remaining tartar sauce.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Doggone Goodies

I don't consider myself a particularly entrepreneurial person, but I have to admit that I have some pretty genius ideas sometimes. And when I get to talking about them with my best work neighbor, Jenn, all sorts of creativity starts blooming!

Bill's been talking a lot lately about his desire to open a doggy daycare. Now that sounded like fun to me, but we're not canine experts. So naturally, I'm trying to steer him toward a business venture that would better align with one of my strengths. And if my two greatest passions are cooking and my dogs, homemade dog treats naturally strike a chord with me!

Jenn had the best idea for a name, which may or may not be taken, but I love it nonetheless ... Doggone Goodies! So while I spent a portion of the afternoon procrastinating, I decided to get started on some artwork for my brand-to-be ...

Perhaps it's premature to reveal my logo, since the business is truly just a pipe dream, but I couldn't resist showing off this idea. Now just don't steal it!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Easiest. Dinner. Ever.

Having been away all weekend, we didn't get around to grocery shopping. And therefore, our fridge is pretty empty (again). I really hate grocery shopping after work, so I decided to make do with what I could find in the freezer and pantry today. It wasn't much, but with a little creativity (or perhaps ingenuity?), I whipped up a super delicious and FAST dinner!

I happened to have some chicken cutlets in the freezer, some parsley-lemon mafaldine (a ribbon pasta with wavy edges) that I picked up when we were at the strawberry festival, and a half-tub of ricotta sitting in the fridge. And so I came up with ...

Chicken Cutlets with Mafaldine and Ricotta
1/2 lb. mafaldine pasta
6 chicken cutlets
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup milk
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/2 cup ricotta
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
Squeeze lemon juice
2 tablespoons Romano cheese, grated

Boil pasta. Meanwhile, heat oil over medium heat in a large skillet.

Combine flour with a few grinds of salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Place milk in a second shallow dish. Combine breadcrumbs with Italian seasoning in a third shallow dish. Working one at a time, dredge chicken cutlets in flour, dip in milk (I would have used eggs, but my refrigerator really is empty!), then coat in breadcrumbs.

Working in batches, carefully lay cutlets in hot oil. Fry, about 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until cooked through and crisp. Remove to paper towel-lined plate.

In the bottom of a medium bowl, combine ricotta, rosemary and lemon juice. Place drained pasta in bowl and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Plate pasta with chicken and top the whole dish with Romano cheese. Savor!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Holy Cannoli Napoleon Dynamite!

I've been dying to make cannoli, partly because they're on  my recipe wishlist and partly because Festa is this weekend. Now I know I've said that I don't like recipe shortcuts, but when you're trying to use up what's in the refrigerator, a shortcut or two is sometimes necessary. And when I looked at the 900 leftover won ton wrappers I had sitting in the fridge from my won ton experiment, I couldn't think of a better use than shortcut cannoli.

I LOVE cannoli, probably because I grew up with them. My grandmother would make them on special occasions, and the whole family would go nuts. I've dreamed of those cannoli for years, but I haven't attempted them because I don't have one very important tool ... my grandmother's broomstick!

You think I'm joking, but I'm not. Cannoli require a tube, used to mold the pastry shell while frying. You can buy cannoli tubes, but my grandmother didn't. Instead, my grandpa sawed off the end of an old broomstick, sanded it down, and cut custom tubes for her. I believe those sticks live with my uncle now, but I need to find a way to bring them to Milwaukee. After all, who's the one with a cooking blog??

I had the bright idea (after a couple glasses of wine) to attempt cannoli without the tubes, simply by holding them with tongs. That didn't go so well. The won ton wrappers were so delicate that dipping them into the hot oil immediately caused them to shift and float. Luckily, quick-thinker that I am, I realized I could just drop the won ton wrappers into the oil, use the tongs to flip them, and end up with sheets of fried "pastry." And you know what uses sheets of pastry ... napoleons! And so my cannoli-napoleon fusion was born.

If you're interested in a bit of history, you might like to know the origin of these two delicious desserts. Cannoli are of Sicilian origin (like me!) and the word literally means "little tubes." You'll often hear them referred to as "cannolis," but being the hobby linguist that I am, I know that's incorrect. The singular form is "cannolo."

The napoleon, surprisingly enough, has no connection to Napoleon the Italian Emperor (or Dynamite, for that matter). Rather, this pastry is of French origin and is called mille-feuille, meaning "thousand leaves." The traditional mille-feuille typically consists of three layers of puff pastry and two layers of pastry cream, topped with icing that is combed to create the pretty design on top. There's also an Italian version of napoleon (still no relation to the emperor), which often includes layers of sponge cake.

When I fused cannoli with napoleon, I ended up with this:

Cannoli Napoleon
3/4 cup ricotta
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tablespoon chocolate, grated or shaved
6 won ton wrappers
Oil for frying
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

In a small bowl, combine ricotta, sugar, vanilla, and chocolate. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth.

Heat oil (about 1 inch) in a small saucepan. (Remember that when small bubbles form around the handle of a wooden spoon, your oil is ready for frying.) Drop one won ton wrapper in oil and fry for 20 to 30 seconds, turning once. Using tongs, remove wrapper to paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with remaining wrappers.

Place one fried won ton on a plate, top with a heaping tablespoon of ricotta filling, top with another won ton, more ricotta, and a final won ton. If you'd like, drop a dollop of ricotta on top. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve.

So it's not a cannolo and it's not quite a napoleon. But it is delicious! I was worried that the won ton wrappers, intended for egg rolls and whatnot, wouldn't be sweet enough for dessert. But luckily the creamy, sweet ricotta filling solved that problem. I'll definitely be having a cannolo at Festa tomorrow night ... but I can't imagine that it will be that much better than this!

Twirled Tour: Presto Pesto!

Since we're heading down to Chicago this weekend, we don't have a lot of food in the house. And when I don't have a lot in the fridge, I typically resort to pasta for dinner. In honor of Festa Italiana this weekend, I thought I'd try something new ... and while cilantro may not be a traditionally Italian ingredient, I definitely think I pulled it off!

Cilantro Pesto
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 packed cup cilantro leaves
3 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 lb. pasta (of your choice)

Pulse pine nuts in a food processor until finely ground. Add cilantro, garlic, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup cheese. Blend until smooth. With food processor running, add lemon juice and oilve oil. Blend until well-combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, you should be boiling your pasta. When pasta is cooked, reserve 1 ladle of the cooking liquid, then drain pasta. Toss warm pasta with pesto, adding reserved cooking liquid as necessary (I only added a tablespoon or so).

Serve topped with remaining cheese.

I'm feeling pretty proud (or full) of myself right now, because this dish was AMAZING. If you read my blog often, you've probably noticed that I don't whip up a lot of my own recipes ... I tend to stick to sources I trust, like America's Test Kitchen or just about any Food Network chef. But I realize that I need to get more creative in the kitchen, and this was one attempt. Thank god it worked out!

I was unsure of my pine nut-cilantro-Romano combination, but the flavors worked somewhat surprisingly well together. I had to make a couple of adjustments because I initially went too heavy with the lemon juice, but a bit more of the salty Romano cheese mellowed out that tartness. I also had a heavy hand with the red pepper flakes (probably because Bill likes it spicy and I aim to please!), so I'll scale back next time. (The measurements above reflect that scaling back ... I probably used closer to 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes tonight).

I cannot wait to make this pesto again. Actually, I technically made it twice tonight! Bill and I were both so in love with it that I boiled a second pot of pasta to use up the leftovers right away :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

I Scream for Ice Cream! Part II

One of my favorite food memories is, of course, my first frozen custard experience. Last week when I rediscovered my ice cream maker, I told you about the first time Nicole and I visited Milwaukee and were perplexed by this frozen treat. Well, despite being hung up on when we called to inquire what it was, we made a trip to Kopp's to investigate.

The flavor that day (and this was back when they only had one flavor a day instead of two) was strawberry. Our moms were with us, and all four of us had a scoop. And all four of us intantly fell in love with this creamy, cold deliciousness!

We didn't know this at the time, but the primary difference between frozen custard and ice cream is the addition of egg yolks to the cream and sugar base. (Which, looking back on it, is obvious ... if not by the taste then definitely by the name!) I didn't know until I happened to catch an episode of "Unwrapped" the other night that there are two other things that distinguish custard from traditional ice cream. First, air is blended into the ingredients until its volume increases by about 20 percent, whereas ice cream can have as much as 100 percent air blended in (meaning half of the final product is air). Also, commercially-produced frozen custard requires a mixer that scrapes the custard from the barrel walls and out a tube into the serving container, ensuring the ice crystals formed are very small (and you thought those machines at Kopp's were just for show!). Marc Summers also informed me that the ideal temperature at which to serve frozen custard is between 15 and 20 degrees.

While my ice cream maker wouldn't give me the amount of control you need over the ingredients to make true, authentic frozen custard, I could at least get the base right. I came across a recipe that someone re-tweeted and, after a little research, determined this would yield the best base (mostly because others seemed to take shortcuts ... and I don't trust shortcuts). The strawberries in the freezer were calling my name, so I decided to recreate our original Kopp's experience (with the added bonus of crossing another recipe off my wishlist)!

Strawberry Frozen Custard
1 cup milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch salt
6 egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup frozen strawberries, thawed and chopped

In a medium saucepan, heat milk, sugar, salt, and 1 cup cream over medium heat. When milk is warm, remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes.

Pour the remaining 1 cup cream in a large bowl. Set a fine mesh strainer on top and set aside. Place thawed, chopped strawberries in a small bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator.

In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks. Slowly add 1/2 cup of the warm milk mixture, whisking constantly, to temper the eggs. Pour the warmed milk mixture into the remaining milk mixture in the saucepan and whisk to combine. Return the saucepan to medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and pour through the mesh strainer into remaining cream (if it's very thick like mine was, press the mixture that sticks to the strainer through with the back of a wodden spoon ... there's no sense wasting it!). Add vanilla extract and stir over a bowl of ice water until cooled to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Churn in ice cream maker according to directions (I followed the same steps I did for my chocolate toffee ice cream). With 5 to 7 minutes left to churn, add the strawberries. Serve fresh from the ice cream maker (which is when it tastes most like authentic custard) and store the rest in the freezer in an airtight container (but it won't last long!).

All I can say is holy cow. You know how head over heels Bill was for my chocolate ice cream? He loved this even more. I told Steph and Tiff I had a hunch it would be delicious because when I stuck my finger in the base before putting it in the fridge on Saturday night, it was so yummy that I could have polished it off then and there. Just imagine how much yummier it was when it was frozen!

Forget about the air-blending, ice crystal-prevention, and barrel-scraping! This seriously tasted like the real thing! It was super rich, ultra creamy, and had just the right berry-licious balance of sweet and tart! Now that I've got this down, the sky's the limit in terms of flavor combinations! Guess you'll have to wait and see what I come up with next :)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Oven Onion-Smothered

So it's about 900 degrees outside today ... OK, so it's closer to 90, but regardless, it's not the kind of day when you want to turn on the oven. But I had already planned on making a brisket today ... I didn't realize I should have checked the forecast first!

Originally, I had pulled out a recipe for a cranberry and onion brisket, but deciding that was too Christmas-y, I went in search of another. My Best of Cooking Light cookbook saved the day, even if it did heat up the house!

Onion-Smothered Brisket
1 (approx. 2 lb.) beef brisket
Salt and pepper
1 large onion, sliced into rings
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup beer (I used Guinness)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
6 carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
6 red potatoes, halved
6 cloves garlic

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Trim fat from brisket. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Place the brisket fat-side down in a Dutch oven. Pile the onions on top of the meat.

In a medium bowl, combine ketchup, beer, brown sugar, and Worcestershire. Pour mixture over brisket. Cover Dutch oven and cook 1 1/2 hours.

Flip meat. Arrange carrots, potatoes, and garlic around meat and spoon cooking liquid over them. Cook another 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Remove brisket from oven and allow to rest for a few minutes. Slice meat against the grain and serve with carrots, potatoes, onions, and sauce spooned over.

The brisket was super tender and flavorful, the veggies were perfectly cooked, and the sauce was way bold (but not too bold!). I think the Guinness (which just happened to be the only beer in the fridge) was an awesome choice. It gave the right, deep background for the sauce ... and my only complaint is that I didn't use enough of it! The sauce ended up cooking down quite a bit, and I wish I had made more to make my brisket super smothered!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Chicken Twice

It seems every time my dad asks me what I'm making for dinner tonight the answer is chicken. And his standard reply to that is, "You're going to turn into a chicken."

I suppose it's no secret that cluckers turn up on my menu at least once a week. But the fact is that chicken is so versatile, I never get tired of it. That versatility also makes chicken a prime candidate for weeknight dinners, when I'm often short on time but still craving (and Bill is expecting) a good, home-cooked meal.

As you'd suspect, I put chicken on the table twice this week. But it took on two very different forms! Both of these recipes are outrageously easy, making them perfect to prepare at the end of a long work day.

Honey Teriyaki Chicken
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup chicken broth
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and chopped (or grated)
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup teriyaki sauce

(The recipe didn't call for this, but I marinated by chicken thighs in 1 cup of the teriyaki sauce for about 30 or 40 minutes prior to cooking. I just feel like that gives them better depth of flavor.)

Heat grill (I used my indoor grill, same as the one I use for my awesome Hawaiian chicken). Coat grill rack with cooking spray or oil. Remove chicken from marinade and place on grill.

While chicken is cooking, bring broth and ginger to a boil. Stir in honey. When honey has dissolved into broth, add teriyaki sauce, then cook 2 minutes longer. Using a basting brush, coat chicken liberally with sauce while cooking. Grill chicken 20 minutes or until done (done being somewhere between 170-180 degrees when tested with an instant-read thermometer).

Spicy Chinese Five-Spice-Rubbed Chicken Drumsticks
6 chicken drumsticks
1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. (Yeah really, 500 degrees. I didn't even know my oven went that high.) Place the drumsticks in a large bowl. Sprinkle five-spice powder and cayenne over chicken; add generous pinches of salt and lots of pepper. Rub the mixture into wings until no more loose rub remains.

Line the chicken on a rack placed on top of a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until cooked through, browned, and crispy, turning once, about 25 minutes.

Note: These drummies were HOT! I have an issue with chicken skin, which is really where all the spice was, so I was going to peel it off anyway. But Bill's mouth may have been on fire :)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Santa Fe by Bobby Flay

For whatever reason, Bill was surfing on Sunday (ahem ... what did I say about making him a foodie?) and he printed Bobby Flay's recipe for Santa Fe Cheeseburgers. Lo and behold, we turned on Throwdown with Bobby Flay later that day and they were airing the episode in which he made them! (I have a theory that the Food Network gives prime real estate on their page to the recipes that will be airing that day, but let's not burst Bill's bubble ... he thinks it was pure coincidence!)

Anyway, he was anxious to make them so I came home to a delicious dinner yesterday. I can't say much about the process since I didn't cook them, but I'm providing the recipe (cut down to size) because they turned out so well. I'd ask Bill to guest-post, but he's not really into that (and besides, you'd miss my cheeky commentary!).

Bobby Flay's Santa Fe Burgers
1 large poblano chile
2 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and pepper
1 lb. ground chuck
2 hamburger buns, split
6 blue corn tortilla chips, crushed

Queso Sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
8 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, coarsely grated
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place chile on a rimmed baking sheet, rub with 1 tablespoon oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven until the skin of the chile is blackened, about 15 minutes. Remove chile from oven, place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let the chile steam for 15 minutes. Peel, stem, and seed chile and then coarsely chop it.

To make the queso sauce, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for 1 minute. Add milk, increase the heat to high, and cook, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in cheese until melted. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Divide meat into 2 equal portions. Form each portion loosely into a 3/4-inch-thick burger and make a deep impression in the center with your thumb (I still haven't figured out why this is, but whatever). Season both sides of each burger with salt and pepper. Cook the burgers, using the remaining oil. (Oddly enough, Bobby didn't specify how to cook the burgers ... but I think we can safely assume he meant on the grill.)

Place the burgers on the bun bottoms and top each with a few tablespoons of queso sauce, chips, and some of the poblano. Cover with bun tops and serve immediately.

Incidentally, Bobby lost this Throwdown to the guy with the famous green chile cheeseburgers in Santa Fe. I wasn't paying close enough attention to tell you what made the difference, but I suspect it was the cheese. Mr. Santa Fe melted American cheese over the chiles instea dof smothering the burger in queso. I love me some queso, but there was something so ooey, gooey and yummy-looking about the cheese melted over those chiles. Maybe I'll have to put these on my list and challenge Bill to a throwdown!

Monday, July 11, 2011

I Scream for Ice Cream!

Odd as it may seem, I don't like chocolate ice cream. But I do love my husband, so I decided to indulge his craving last night. While I was in Santa Barbara last weekend, Bill went on a Tour d'Chocolate Custard. I'm not sure what inspired it, but I believe he settled on Gille's as his favorite. So obviously, I had to show him that I could do it just as well.

For those of you who aren't familiar with frozen custard, you should be ashamed. No, seriously, I understand. It's got to be a Midwest thing, as I had never heard of it before moving to Milwaukee. True story: When Nicole and I first moved here and saw signs for frozen custard everywhere, she actually called Kopp's and asked what it was. And they hung up on her. Needless to say, I've forgiven them their rudeness!

The difference between frozen custard and ice cream deserves a whole post, so I'll save that for later. But for now, suffice to say that last night I made a chocolate ice cream every bit as good as Kopp's custard (if not as good as Gille's).

I'm not sure how useful this recipe will be, since it requires the Cuisinart Pure Indulgence Ice Cream Maker, but I'll post it anyway, along with the craving-inducing step-by-step photos.

Chocolate Toffee Ice Cream
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate-covered Heath Bar pieces

In a medium bowl, combine cocoa and sugars. Stir to combine.

Add milk and beat with a hand mixer until combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in heavy cream and vanilla.

Turn on the machine and pour mixture into freezer bowl.

Let mix until thickened, about 30 minutes. Five minutes before ice cream is done mixing, add Heath Bar pieces through the top. Allow to finish mixing.

Ice cream will be soft and creamy (just the way I like it!). For a firmer consistency, place in freezer for at least 2 hours (though I'm not sure why you would want to do that because when I pull it out of the freezer I let my ice cream sit on the counter for at least 15 minutes before I dig in, just to soften it up!).

Remember how I said I don't like chocolate ice cream? This may have changed my mind. It was deliciously rich and decadent, almost like a spoonful of truffle. I should have gone a bit heavier with the Heath Bar because they weren't laced evenly throughout. But other than that, I can find absolutely nothing wrong with this ice cream. I even found myself thinking about this ice cream all day long ... which makes it a good thing that we had a nice amount of leftovers!

I'm so pumped to try other flavors .. I'm thinking either strawberry or peaches and cream this weekend! And then .. onto frozen custard!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Gone Won Ton!

After flipping through one of my Food Network cookbooks yesterday, I got the bright idea to try two things I've never done before: work with crab meat and make won tons. It was aiming a bit high, but not too high. After all, Starkist makes a pretty handy crab-in-a-cup product that would save me the trouble of finding fresh crab in a state that doesn't touch the ocean, and won ton wrappers are widely available in the produce department of just about every grocery store (yes, even Pick 'n Save). So while I'm not typically a fan of shortcuts, I was willing to take them just to dip my toe in the water of Chinese cooking (assuming you don't count my awesome Pork Fried Rice as Chinese cooking, which I guess you could).

Anyway, the recipe below is an adaptation of one by Tyler Florence. While a teensy bit time consuming, it was so worth the trouble. (But can you imagine if I had used fresh crab and had to pick through for shells?? Or made my won tons from scratch??) Plus, I have about a million won ton wrappers left over (because they're apparently only sold in packages of about 500) so I'll be making more tonight. And possibly tomorrow. And maybe the next night.

Fried Crab Won Tons
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 shallot, chopped
1 green onion, green and white parts, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Juice from 1/2 lime
4 oz. crab meat, flaked
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Salt and pepper
12 won ton wrappers
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Vegetable oil, for frying

In a food processor, combine ginger, shallot, green onion, carrot, oil, and lime juice. Pulse until finely ground. In a small bowl, combine vegetable mixture, crab meat, mayo, salt and pepper. Stir until just combined.

Lay won ton wrappers on a clean, flat surface. Lightly brush one wrapper with egg white, then place a teaspoonful of filling in the center. Fold over to create a triangle, pressing the edges together to seal. Bring the two horizontal corners together to form a bishop's hat. Set aside and repeat with remaining wrappers. Sprinkle won tons with cornstarch to keep them from sticking together.

Heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil in a large saucepan. Oil should be about 370 degrees for frying. (But rather than checking the temperature, I just stick the handle of a wooden spoon in the oil and call it ready when small bubbles rise around it.) Using a slotted spoon, drop 2 or 3 wontons in the oil. Fry 2 to 3 minutes, turning frequently for even browning. Remove to paper towel-lined plate and repeat with remaining won tons.

Serve with soy sauce. (Careful, the filling will be VERY hot, even when the outside is cool enough to touch!)

These were awesome deep fried. The crab mixture had just the right amount of crunch and creaminess, and the outside was just a little bit tender and a little bit crisp. But this morning I remembered that I have potstickers on my recipe wishlist. And if I boil (or even pan fry) the won tons instead of deep frying them, I can definitely cross that recipe off the list! So guess what we're having with dinner tonight?!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Say Cheesecake!

It's awfully depressing to think that it's been nearly two weeks since I've been in the kitchen. A long weekend trip to Santa Barbara over the Fourth of July and another hectic work week have kept me from cooking. But I've been dying to make dozens of things on my list, and thank goodness I finally got the opportunity to cross a few off today!

I spent a good portion of the evening in the kitchen and will post all of the recipes soon, but I thought I'd start with my Mini Cheesecakes with Strawberry Sauce. I stumbled across the recipe this afternoon and remembered that I had mini cheesecakes on my recipe wishlist. That, combined with the fact that I'm allowing myself to eat dessert again now that my vacation is over, made these a must for today.

Mini Cheesecakes with Strawberry Sauce
5 chocolate graham crackers, broken
1/8 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter, melted
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
1/2 cup frozen strawberries, thawed
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place graham crackers and chocolate chips in food processor and pulse until finely ground. Add melted butter and pulse until mixture resembles wet sand. Divide mixture evenly among 6 cups in a cupcake tin. Press into bottom and two-thirds of the way up the side of each cup. Bake until set, about 8 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar, egg, vanilla and lime zest. Beat until smooth. Divide batter evenly among crusts. Bake until slightly brown around the edges and just set in the middle, about 30 minutes.

Cool on wire rack, then in refrigerator (for about 2 hours). When ready to serve, make strawberry sauce by pureeing strawberries and sugar in food processor or blender. Remove each cheesecake from cupcake tin by running a butter knife around the edges and lifting the cake out. Drizzle sauce over cakes and serve.

I have good news and I have bad news. So here's the bad news first ... I experienced two minor problems with these cheesecakes: 1) the crust was a little toasty, so I probably should have taken them out of the oven a minute or two sooner and 2) the centers of my cheesecakes caved in. I haven't figured out yet what caused the sinking, but I'm going to do a little research to see if I can figure it out and then try again.

The good news is that they tasted awesome, despite the issues noted above. They were smooth and creamy, and the lime zest really gave them a tangy kick. Plus, the starwberry sauce took them up a notch. (And paired really well with the lime! Almost like a daiquiri!) I think I need a bit more practice to perfect these, but when I do I see endless possibilities ahead of me ... Next time I might try a more adventurous cheesecake, like Oreo or toffee or something equally candy-licious (sans sauce, though).