Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kale Cranberry Almond Salad

Okay, I have a new addiction.  And it's to kale.  I know, I know, you were thinking I was going to say dark chocolate or Gruyere cheese or ribeye steak.  Don't worry, I'll probably develop an addiction to them in due course.  But right now it's kale.  I think kale is still making big headlines at the market because it has been unbelievably god-awful cold for so long this year.  Last night it got down to 35°F, and it's APRIL.

But I digress.  Kale.  In a salad.  With crunchy almonds and sweet-tart Craisins.  And an orange vinaigrette.  This stuff is amazing.  I think you could probably even get kale non-believers to jump on the bandwagon.  And unlike loads of chocolate and cheese and steak, you can eat a big bowl of this and not feel the least bit guilty.  And kale doesn't wilt!  Double bonus!

Kale Cranberry Almond Salad

½ cup canola oil
¼ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup orange juice
1 tablespoon minced shallots
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 large bunch of raw curly leaf kale, washed, stemmed, and torn into pieces
½ cup (2 ounces) slivered almonds
½ cup Craisins
4 tablespoons crystallized ginger, chopped if large chunks
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together the first six ingredients.  Toss with the remaining ingredients in a large bowl.  Eat.

Makes 1 to 4 servings, depending on level of willpower

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Vikalinka: Black Forest Cake

This year my mom decided she wanted a different kind of chocolate cake.  Something more interesting.  Something like a cake that takes several hours and has three different parts.  ::sighs::  But I can't turn her down.  And I especially can't turn her down if it's Black Forest Cake.  Yes, it gets put in caps.

I found this recipe on the internet, where I joined the hordes of gawkers swooning over the beauty that is a boozy cake.  I had never gotten one to work in the past, mostly because the cherry filling starts to ooze out the sides through the whipped cream, making the cake look like it's bleeding to death.  Not appealing.  But this cake just uses boozy cherries in the middle with no cornstarchy syrup.

Black Forest Cake
Adapted from Vikalinka

For the cake:
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups granulated sugar
¾ cup cocoa powder
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
½ cup canola oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the filling:
2½ cups whipping cream
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brandy
1 vanilla bean
3 teaspoons powdered gelatin
3 tablespoons cold water

2 (14½-ounce) cans tart cherries in water, drained, soaked in ¼ cup kirsch for an hour

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter and flour two 8-inch cake pans.

In a large bowl of a stand mixer, sift flour and cocoa.  Add sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla, and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Pour the batter into the prepared pans.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

In a 1-cup glass measuring cup, combine gelatin and cold water. Let stand for 2 minutes. Place the measuring cup in a microwave and heat for 15 seconds until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
Run a sharp knife along the length of a vanilla bean, open it, and with a blade of a dull knife, scrape out the seeds.  In a large mixing bowl, beat whipping cream, sugar, vanilla bean seeds, and brandy on medium speed while gradually drizzling gelatin mixture over cream mixture. Continue beating cream mixture until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight up). Adding gelatin to the filling gives it more stability.

Drain the cherries, reserving the kirsch.  Set aside 8 cherries for decoration, if desired.  Cut each cake layer in two to make four layers.  Brush each layer with the reserved kirsch, and then fill with the cream filling and cherries. Leave ¼ of the cream filling for the sides and the top.  Cover the sides and the top of the cake with the cream filling.

Decorate with reserved cherries.  Chill in the fridge for the cream filling to set. Keep refrigerated.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Cook's Illustrated: Blueberry Almond Streusel Muffins

I've been on an almond kick lately.  I think it started back around Christmas when I made almond bars and they practically melted in my mouth.  Now I want to put almonds on everything.  EVERYTHING.  Okay, maybe not everything, but anything that works.  And since I had a container of blueberries in my fridge, that anything was muffins.

I've never really gotten a recipe from Cook's Illustrated to turn out as fabulously as everyone claims they do.  They always seem just...meh.  This one was definitely different.  Probably the best blueberry muffin recipe I've ever made.  They come out tender with a crunchy top.  Note: Immediately shove some in the freezer so you don't end up making a pig of yourself.

Blueberry Almond Streusel Muffins
Loosely adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

6 ounces (½ pint) fresh blueberries, picked over
1⅛ cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup almond meal
2½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted, browned, and cooled slightly
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
Streusel Topping
Sliced almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Prepare standard muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray or liners.

Whisk flour, almond meal, baking powder, and salt together in large bowl.

Whisk sugar and eggs together in medium bowl until thick and well combined. Slowly mix in butter and oil until combined. Whisk in buttermilk, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Using rubber spatula, fold egg mixture and blueberries into flour mixture until just moistened. (Batter will be very lumpy with few spots of dry flour; do not over mix.)

Using a cookie scoop or large spoon, divide batter equally among prepared muffin cups (batter should completely fill cups and mound slightly). Sprinkle streusel and almonds evenly over muffins.

Bake until muffin tops are golden and just firm, 17 to 19 minutes. Cool muffins in muffin tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 15 muffins

Streusel Topping
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons melted butter

Combine ingredients until it is the size of peas and set aside. Add additional flour to achieve correct consistency, if needed.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Shiva Indian Restaurant: Saag Paneer

I can't even remember when I first started eating Indian food.  I'm sure a friend dragged me to a buffet and pointed at what wasn't too scary for a naive white girl.  But it was a revelation.  Indian food is so complex...so full of spice (and not just the hot stuff)...that it hits your tongue like a little nuclear bomb.  Yes, I think it's that good.

I always look for saag paneer when I visit an Indian restaurant, and I just can't seem to make it through a home-cooked Indian meal without making a pot for the side.  Except for the side turns into enough-for-lunch-for-a-week.  Not that I mind.

Saag Paneer
Adapted from Shiva Indian Restaurant in Houston, TX

1 large onion
6 cloves garlic
1 ounce fresh ginger
1 (1-pound) bag frozen chopped spinach
1 cup plain Greek or Indian yogurt
½ cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 cup heavy whipping cream
6-8 ounces paneer, cut into small cubes
1½ to 2 teaspoons salt, to taste
Pinch of sugar

Grind the onion, garlic, and ginger into a fine paste.

In a medium saucepan, combine the paste, spinach, yogurt, buttermilk, and spices.  Simmer at medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes.  Pour the spinach mixture carefully into a large food processor or blender.  Process until the spinach is creamier and no longer chunky, 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Pour the mixture back into the pan.

Add the whipping cream and simmer the mixture for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the spinach has a thick, creamy consistency.  Add the cheese, and simmer for 5 minutes until warmed through.  Season with salt and a pinch of sugar if the spinach is too sour.

Makes 6 servings

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Shrimp Dip and Costco's Artichoke and Jalapeno Dip

Who has a girl's night out scheduled tonight?  I DO!  Wow, that was a little overenthusiastic.  I think I'm just so fed up with all of the bad dates I've been going on that I need some time with the girls.  We're going to drink, watch movies, and eat a ton of dip.  My friend has already promised me some super fabulous seven layer dip, so I had to figure out my contribution.

So, the shrimp dip is based on a recipe my grandmother handed down to my mother.  I have no clue where she got it from, but it's pretty darn delicious.  I tweaked it a little bit with some dill and lemon, but otherwise, it's the same darn thing.   The other dip I made is based on that luscious artichoke and jalapeno dip you can buy in tubs at Costco.  Alas, I don't have a Costco card, so I had to find another way to ease my craving.  I looked up the ingredients on the label, and knowing that they all go in weight order, I managed to pull off something pretty incredible.  I've listed the weights along with the approximate measurements, because honestly, the weights are probably more accurate.  Good excuse to go buy a cheap kitchen scale.  Totally worth it.

Shrimp Dip

6 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon fresh chives, minced
1 tablespoon jarred pimento, minced
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
1 cup sour cream
¼ cup finely chopped green onion
1 (4-ounce) can tiny shrimp, drained
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce (or more if you like it spicy)

Blend together cream cheese, chives, pimento, sour cream, green onion, and shrimp. Add mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce. Mix well. Sprinkle with parsley flakes.

Note: The original recipe called for 1 (3-ounce) package of cream cheese with chives and 1 (3-ounce) package of cream cheese with pimento. Both products have been discontinued, and the recipe above reflects appropriate substitutions.

Makes 8 servings

Artichoke and Jalapeno Dip

1 package cream cheese (8 ounces)
1½ cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (6 ounces)
¾ (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained (6 ounces)
½ cup mayonnaise (4 ounces)
¼ medium onion, cut into small chunks (2 ounces)
3 tablespoons pickled jalapeno slices (1½ ounces)
2 cloves garlic (¼ ounce)
1 teaspoon cornstarch (¼ ounce)
1 teaspoon sugar (¼ ounce)
1½ teaspoons lemon juice (¼ ounce)
1 tablespoon fresh dill (⅛ ounce)
Sea salt, to taste

Combine the cream cheese and mayonnaise in a food processor and process until smooth.  Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until mixed, but still chunky, or to desired consistency.

Makes 8 servings

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How Sweet Eats: Pan-Crisped Salmon with Dijon Cream Sauce and Garlic Panko Crumbs

I was wandering through my local supermarket last night, and I came to the fish department.  Now, I normally just keep walking since the prices tend to be high and the fish to be old, but I happened to glance down.  And what did I see?  A mismarked beauty of a salmon fillet.  The dang thing was only $6.99 a pound.  For sockeye.  You bet I bought that sucker.  But then comes to the problem of how best to cook such a marvelous find.

I quickly scrolled through my Pinterest files (you have no idea how helpful this is), and I came upon this beautiful recipe I had pinned some time back.  The salmon is cooked simply, and the sauce is just a basic mustard cream.  But put it all together, and it's really very yummy.  This is doing fish right.

Pan-Crisped Salmon with Dijon Cream Sauce and Garlic Panko Crumbs
Adapted from How Sweet Eats

1½ tablespoons unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, minced (divided)
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
1 pound salmon filet
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small shallot, diced
2 tablespoons freshly chopped sage or 1½ teaspoons dry rubbed sage
¼ cup dry white wine, such as Chardonnay
¾ cup low-fat evaporated milk
2-3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Prepare the breadcrumbs first by heating a small saucepan over medium-low heat and adding 1 tablespoon of butter. Add in 2 minced garlic cloves and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant, then stir in breadcrumbs well, tossing for a minute or two until the mixture is combined and slightly golden. Set aside.  When slightly cooled, stir in the chopped parsley.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Season the salmon with salt and pepper, then place in the skillet (skin side up, if the salmon has skin) and cook until opaque in the center and golden on each side, about 5-6 minutes for salmon that is 1-inch thick. If you use salmon with skin, simply cook it skin side up the entire time. Remove the salmon and set aside.

Add the remaining ½ tablespoon of butter to the hot pan, along with the shallot, garlic, and sage. Stir well to coat, then cook for 1 to 2 minutes until sizzling, then add in white wine. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, allowing it to bubble and slightly reduce, then whisk in the evaporated milk and Dijon mustard. Continue to whisk and cook while milk bubbles on the sides and thickens, stirring for a minute or two. Taste and season additionally or whisk in a bit more Dijon if desired.

Serve salmon immediately, drizzled with Dijon cream sauce and then topped with breadcrumbs.

Makes 2 to 4 servings

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Spaghetti Squash and Smoked Gouda

I was in the store the other day, and the lady in the checkout line behind me noticed I had a wedge of smoked Gouda.  She proceeded to tell me about the amazing fabulousness of smoked Gouda mac and cheese, and I practically had to wipe the drool off my chin by the time she was done.  For someone who hated that orange Kraft stuff as a kid, mac and cheese certainly has me in its thrall now.

I figured if I was going to stuff my face with cheese sauce, I could at least try to be a teensy bit healthy about it.  That and the fact that a spaghetti squash I had purchased was giving me the evil eye from the second shelf of my fridge for not using it quickly enough.  This dish is not the same as the real deal, but it's still pretty fantastic.

Spaghetti Squash and Smoked Gouda
Very loosely adapted from Thomas Keller

1 medium spaghetti squash
4 ounces applewood smoked bacon, cut into batons
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour
1½ cups whole milk
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of white pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
4 ounces smoked Gouda, shredded
Green onions, sliced, for serving

Cut the spaghetti squash in half, scoop out the seeds and discard them. Put one half of the squash, cut side down, on a ceramic plate, and microwave on HIGH for 6 minutes. Test squash to see if it is soft enough to shred with a fork. If not, continue microwaving until it is done. Repeat with the second half of the squash. Set aside.

Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Set aside.

Add butter to the bacon fat left in the skillet. Lower the heat to medium. When the butter is melted, add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Sprinkle with the flour. Allow the roux to cook for a minute or two, but do not let it burn or brown. Slowly whisk in the milk. Bring the mixture to a simmer and add the salt, white pepper, and cayenne pepper. Lower the heat to medium low and continue to stir until the mixture thickens.

Add the Gouda cheese and stir until the cheese is completely melted. Fold in the cooked and shredded spaghetti squash.

Makes 4 servings

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Jeffrey Steingarten: American Coconut Layer Cake

I'm always looking for a bigger, better coconut cake.  My mom's recipe is pretty darn good, and the filling cannot be topped.  But I hate baking with Crisco.  I want a butter cake, not a shortening cake.  And I want a buttery icing, not an egg white icing.  After searching and searching, I finally found this beauty by food writer Jeffrey Steingarten.  It's adapted from a cake in one of Paul Prudhomme's cookbooks.  So you know it's amazing and authentic.

I kept to the recipe in almost every way except for the filling.  I needed my Grand Marnier pudding filling.  It's my favorite part of the cake.  Or used to be.  Now it sits serenely in between buttery layers of sweet coconut goodness that doesn't shame it at all.  Oh, and I actually cracked a coconut for this.  I'm sure my downstairs neighbor thought I was murdering someone, but I was so worth it.

American Coconut Layer Cake
Adapted from Jeffrey Steingarten

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon fresh baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup heavy cream, chilled
2 cups sugar (superfine)
4 large eggs
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch chunks and allowed to soften to room temperature
1 cup evaporated milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups shredded coconut (divided)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Using room-temperature butter, grease and flour three 8x2-inch round cake pans. To be extra safe, you may also line the inside bottom of each cake pan with circles of parchment paper. Note: The custard filling needs to be made several hours to a day in advance to be chilled.

In a medium-size bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Pour the heavy cream into two- to three-quart metal or glass bowl and put it into the freezer along with a medium-large whisk. Let them chill between 30 and 45 minutes. In a large bowl of a stand mixer, combine the sugar and eggs; beat on low speed until smooth, about one minute, pushing sides down with a rubber spatula. Add the butter; beat on low until mixture is creamy and light colored, about three minutes. Beat in the milk and vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture, about 1 cup at a time, beating after each addition just until smooth and pushing sides down as needed. Then beat on high speed for about one minute more, pushing sides down. Remove the bowl of cream and the whisk from the freezer, and whisk, by hand, until the cream has gone just past the soft-peak stage. Carefully fold the whipped cream into the cake batter, using a rubber spatula. Divide the batter evenly between the three cake pans and bake in the middle rack of the oven, until the centers spring back when lightly pressed (and the layers just begin to pull away from the pans), about 18 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make the glaze, following the recipe below. Then make the frosting and remove the custard filling from the refrigerator. Stir 1 cup shredded coconut into the chilled custard filling.

Remove the cake pans from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Then, using a knife, loosen the outsides of the cakes from the pans. Invert the pans onto wire racks and eject the layers from the pans by gently pounding and shaking the pans. Once the layers have cooled for another 15 minutes, use a long, sharp knife to slice each layer in half horizontally. Brush the glaze over the top surface and sides of one layer, a little at a time and using one-sixth of the glaze (about 2½ tablespoons) for each layer. Make holes in the cake so the glaze can sink in. (A dozen holes in each layer should do it; you can use either a small knife or a roasting fork, which you’ll twist a little after you insert it.) Immediately (before glazing another layer) spread one-fifth of the filling on top of the glazed layer, extending it to about ½ inch from the edge. Then place another layer on top and repeat procedure of glazing and spreading on filling until all the layers are glazed and all but the top layer have filling spread on them. Let the cake cool thoroughly, then frost the top and sides. Sprinkle the remaining 2 cups of shredded coconut all over the cake. Let sit at room temperature for between four hours and two days (so that the cake absorbs the sweet, moist coconut flavors) before slicing.

1½ cups canned coconut milk, unsweetened and pure
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the coconut milk and the sugar in a two-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Continue boiling until glaze reduces to one cup, about five minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into a glass measuring cup.

6 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon evaporated milk
4 cups powdered (confectioners’) sugar, equal to the contents of a 1-pound box, sifted

Combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on high speed until creamy, about one minute. Turn speed to medium and beat in milk and 1 cup of the sugar, pushing sides down with a rubber spatula. Beat in the remaining 3 cups of sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing until smooth before adding more. If the frosting becomes too thick for the mixer, do the last bit of mixing with a spoon.

4 large egg yolks
2 cups whole milk
½ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup cornstarch
3 tablespoons orange-flavored liqueur (such as Grand Marnier)

In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, with a wire whisk, mix well all of the ingredients until well blended. Over medium heat, cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Cover the custard’s surface with waxed paper; refrigerate until well chilled, about 1½ hours.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Simply Recipes: Green Beans with Tomatoes and Bacon

So when our nasty winter ice storm hit about a week ago, I finally managed to get out of my apartment on about the fourth day and made my way to the local Walmart.  The place looked like it had been turned upside down by a swarm of locusts.  Luckily I have no desire for most of the crap on the aisles.  I was checking out the produce.  Not much to pick from there either, but some beautiful crisp green beans.  I mean, why buy fresh when there's a can a couple of aisles away, right?

After fighting off the only other person in the store who wanted some, I raced home with my treasure.  And then realized I had no idea what I was going to do with the darn things.  I've actually spent this long trying to figure it out.  But this recipe is a delicious way to take some fresh beans and turn them into genuine Southern braised beans.  Soft, salty, sweet.  It hits all the right buttons.

Green Beans with Tomatoes and Bacon
Adapted from Simply Recipes, originally from The Pioneer Woman

4 slices thick cut bacon (about 4 ounces), cut into 1-inch segments
½ large onion, diced (about ¾ cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pounds of fresh, firm green beans, stem ends trimmed
1 (14½-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 large sprig fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
 to ¼ teaspoon of cayenne

Place the bacon pieces on the bottom of a large, thick-bottomed pot. Heat on medium heat for several minutes until the bacon fat begins to render.  Add the chopped onions to the bacon. Cook a few minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic (if using) and cook a minute more. Drain off any excess fat.  Add the green beans to the pot. Add the canned tomatoes and their juice. Add a sprig of thyme to the pot. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cayenne.

Cover the pot and lower the heat to low. Simmer for an hour, or until the beans are cooked through and tender, stirring occasionally.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Mom 100: Bacon Wrapped Shrimp

I'm all about quick appetizers that come out tasting better than they have any right to considering how little time and effort you put into them.  It's called culinary laziness.  I want minimum effort, maximum flavor.  That's pretty much what I got with these shrimp.  But you have to use those big, juicy Gulf shrimp.  Not those nasty things that they dig out of polluted rivers in China.  I promise you can taste the difference.  Gulf shrimp are sweet and tender and awesome.

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp
Adapted from The Mom 100

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound jumbo Gulf shrimp (16/20 pound), shelled with tails left on
4 ounces applewood smoked bacon, sliced lengthwise into ½-inch strips

Preheat the broiler, and place the cooking rack about 4 inches below the heat source. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray, or line with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, paprika, and pepper. Add the shrimp and toss until they are coated with the seasoned olive oil.  Wrap each shrimp with a strip of the bacon, spiraling it up the shrimp until the shrimp is encased. Place the shrimp on the prepared baking sheet.

Broil for 3 minutes, until the tops are crispy, then turn and broil for another 3 minutes until the other side is browned.