Monday, March 31, 2008

The Flowers are Blooming, Asparagus are on Sale, and a Spring Pasta Dish!

Today was the epitome of Spring in San Diego. Not a cloud in the sky. And flowers blooming like crazy! So I grabbed my camera and went on a *flower-walk* this afternoon. Here are some flowers that I spied on my walk...

Many people don't think of San Diego as desert, but you can tell by the photos that we do have some desert flowers that are native to our fair city.

Now- on to FOOD. Eager to make a Spring-like dinner, I scurried off to the store in search of asparagus for my chosen dish: Angel Hair Pasta with Spring Vegetables & Red Pepper- Tomato Sauce. Bargain in the produce department... Asparagus were only a buck ninety nine a pound! Yay!!

A great, fresh pasta that had *spring* written all over it. My son picked around all of the veggies, but he didn't seem to notice that I snuck veggies into the Red Pepper- Tomato Sauce. Hee hee hee.

We served it up with a good sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan and a good shake and grind of salt & pepper. It was a perfectly light dish for such a beautiful Spring day.

And to those of you who are still experience a bit of snowfall, may I send a little warm weather your way?

This recipe can be found HERE.

Red Pepper- Tomato Sauce

Ahhhh... it's Spring in San Diego. The flowers are blooming away. The days are warm enough for short sleeves. The frogs are croaking in the canyon at night, prompting begging from my 6 year old to go frog hunting in the evenings. The neighbors are beginning to put their yappy little dog outside so it can bark to no end. The vegetable garden has been planted and has already been eaten some by some sort of mysterious creature. And a nice selection of veggies (at good prices) have been making their debut at Farmer's Markets and grocery stores.

This puts me in the mood for VEGGIES! The mission: to make a nice, light, fresh pasta sauce for dinner. Bored with marinara, I searched my cookbooks for a recipe. Dianne Rossen Worthington is a cookbook author whose style I've found that I enjoy immensely. I have her cookbook, The Cuisine of California- in which I have discovered some real recipe keepers. I just picked up another one of hers called American Bistro. Again... looks like a good one. I found what I needed within this cookbook: Red Pepper- Tomato Sauce.

A very simple sauce, a bit of chopping and then plunging tomatoes into boiling water so that I could easily peel and seed them, and I was on my way.

This sauce has just a small amount of chopped chiles in adobo sauce (found canned in the Latin area of your market.) This gives it just a little bit of umph of smoky, spice flavor. I honestly couldn't detect it much in the half chile that I put in. I would try a whole chile next time. Speaking of those canned adobos, it took me a while to realize that you could throw the extra chiles in little zips and freeze them for later use. This is super convenient when you only need one!

After simmering away on its own for a while, the mixture is ready for the food processor.

A quick whir, and the sauce is ready for pasta!

I added a good dose of kosher salt and some fresh ground pepper.

I'm off to find pasta and other veggies to accompany this delicious, fresh sauce.... And you can bet I'll be back with a pasta dish for my next post!

This recipe can be found HERE.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Daring Baker Debut

I joined a little group called The Daring Bakers this month... perhaps you've heard of them?

After being accepted into the DB group back in February, I had to bide my time and worry what sort of challenge would arise for my March debut. Would I have to make some sort of yeast creation for which I have zero talent? Might it be an exotic pastry for which I have no knowledge in preparing? Or would I find that I had to bake one of those desserts that look like they belong in the window of a Parisian bakery? Though I was frightened at the thought of being handed any one of those tasks, I also found myself hoping that I'd get one of them. See, there's something about being daring that makes this an intriguing group. If it were easy, or if I already had confidence in baking the darn thing- what's the point? I find myself cheering... Bring it on Daring Bakers! I can do it! I can bake anything! Or at least I'll try...!

This month's challenge was selected by Morven at Food, Art and Random Thoughts. She chose the Perfect Party Cake from Dorie Greenspan's must-have cookbook: Baking From My Home to Yours."Wonderful!" I thought. I can bake a cake- no problem! The challenge was going to be following the directions to a T, and deciding how to decorate the cake. Since I was hosting Easter brunch, this would be the dessert.

The cakes turned out perfectly. I chose to make mine in 8-inch pans rather than 9 as I prefer a taller layer cake. They baked up just right, lemon-scented and all, and were very easy to turn out onto the racks. They were firm enough to be handled easily but delicate enough for a nice, light cake. I found myself scraping the crumbs off of the parchment paper to attempt to get a hint of what my creation would taste like.

The layers sliced apart nice and evenly without too much effort at all. I spread my layers with raspberry jam, Dorie's buttercream and halved raspberries.

So let's talk about Dorie's buttercream recipe. Maybe I don't care too much for buttercream...It was good, but I did feel that it was far too rich for a layer cake. I had planned to frost the cake with it, but after spreading it on several layers, I decided to go with whipped cream to frost the rest of the cake.

I really feel like this was the best way to go. Buttercream all the way around might have been a bit too much after a heavy Easter brunch.

Not being a cake decorator in any sense of the word, I had no avenue to go *exotic* with this cake.

Easter screamed *raspberries!* to me, so I went the safe route with a classic raspberry decor.

Pretty ok job for a non cake-decorator, eh? My 6 year old was impressed and that's all that matters to me :)

The cake was devoured by all of my Easter guests, and I was right... the whipped cream frosting was the way to go. The buttercream provided all of the richness that was needed within the cake. The actual cake base I thought was very, very good. I would repeat the cake base recipe any time. The buttercream... I might look for something that suits me a little better. I think a lemon curd might work nicely too.

So worry for naught, this challenge has been had. Dare issued: I baked, I decorated, I served, I ate and best of all... I conquered my first Daring Baker challenge. Bring on April!

This recipe can be found HERE (or in Dorie's book, of course!)

And you can see all of the Daring Baker's HERE.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Nigella's Pear and Ginger Muffins

I'm *officially* up and around again after my hospital stay, and I'm feeling much, much better (thanks so much for all of the well wishes sent my way.)

I've definitely been in need of a little comfort around here, and nothing says comfort like a good, warm, homemade muffin. Not having quite the energy yet to cook much, I needed an easy recipe. Nigella Lawson's newest cookbook- Nigella Express- had such a recipe: Pear and Ginger Muffins. And it served another purpose too: using up that never-ending bag of pears from Costco.

Simple= whisk the dry, whisk the wet, combine, add pears and scoop into tins. There's a sprinkle of brown sugar on top. I made 6 giant muffins with this recipe, so it would typically make 12 regular-sized muffins.

They rose nicely and were super moist. With 1 teaspoon of ginger within, they definitely had a ginger flavor. Fresh pears were the way to go- they were just so delicious, especially when eaten while warm and oozing with the juicy fruit. The brown sugar gave it a crispy crust of sweetness on top.

This comforting muffin recipe can be found HERE.

And now for a THANK YOU... a couple of weeks ago, Cookie Baker Lynn sent the E for Excellence Award my way. Lynn and her blog are truly a source of inspiration for me. She has wonderful photography, delightful stories, and well-chosen recipes. Thank you Lynn for recognizing me!

This award is passed along to all of the other inspirational, excellent blogs out there. If I've ever commented on your blog, consider yourself a winner! If I've not yet commented on your blog, then comment on mine so I can have the opportunity to discover yours! My google reader is bursting with wonderful food blog talent these days!!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bunny Cupcakes

Hoppy Easter!

When I saw these Easter Bunny Cupcakes on Betty Crocker, I was quite certain I could jazz them up a bit to make a delicious Easter treat that would appeal to adults as well as children. Betty uses a box mix and canned frosting (which you could certainly do.) I made Basic White Cupcakes (a doctored up cake mix recipe) and my own Vanilla Buttercream Frosting. Here are the little goodies you'll need:

The "eyes" are from a cake decorating shop. If you have trouble finding those, you can sub anything small and round- snip off the end of a blue jellybean, etc. The noses and whiskers I was able to find in my market's bulk candy aisle- the pink noses are those little chocolate chip-shaped dream mints (again, use whatever works for you.) The black whiskers are skinny black licorice, which was still a tad too thick so I cut them in half to make them thinner. You could also use brown or black sprinkles. The marshmallows are cut in half, then cut almost in half again to make the ears- you dip them in pink sugar to create the inner-ear color.

And there you have it... little bunny cupcakes that kids go nuts over! The adults liked them too :) The cupcake tastes a bit like angel food cake, and the frosting is a yummy cream cheesy buttercream.

Perhaps these are the little creatures that have been munching on my garden already? Humph.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Easter Dessert Recipes: Malted Mousse Cake

At age 14 I secured a job in a teeny tiny family-owned fast food restaurant called The Penguin in my home town. It was the kind of place you might stop to grab a burger and a chocolate-dipped cone while on vacation. My starting wage was $2.85 an hour. Yikes! I was happy to be employed, and we were able to eat as much food as we wanted. When the managers left us to close up the place at night, we feasted on our own burger creations, dipped thick steak fries in thousand island dressing, and devoured soft serve ice cream with every flavor syrup you can imagine. Heaven for teenagers, for sure! My absolute favorite was to make a vanilla malt- with extra malt powder. Twenty something years later, I still have that affection for malt.

Whenever Easter rolls around, I become quite addicted to these malted milk eggs!

My Easter dessert choice to bake this week: Malted Mousse Cake.

This cake is almost a cheesecake. It's a bit lighter in texture, and I'd say it's more like a cross between a mousse and a cheesecake. The malt flavor comes through- not heavily. Just enough to give you a taste for it, and the malted eggs add a nice complement (as well as cute decor!)

The crust is made out of shortbread cookies, almonds and butter. I used the girl scout shortbread cookies "trefoils." You may also opt to use amaretti cookies.

It firms up after refrigeration and slices nicely. Isn't it a cute choice for an Easter dessert?

This recipe can be found HERE.

The Penguin, sadly, no longer exists in my home town. But I sure am enjoying those malt memories!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Buckwheat Blinis with Smoked Salmon and Creme Fraiche

Friends of ours hosted our gourmet group's dinner party recently on their rather large and really cool boat- The Whiskey Tango. Usually a breathtaking setting motoring through the harbor and under the Coronado Bridge, it was unfortunately an overcast evening.

It was still an amazing setting... just grey. Fun friends and some good wine made it better.

We brightened up the evening with good gourmet grub. My contribution: Buckwheat Blinis with Smoked Salmon and Creme Fraiche.

I started the blinis at home. The batter is whisked together and then given time to rise. Then the blinis are fried up... just like mini pancakes. I wrapped them in foil to keep them warm and transported them to the boat.

I assembled the rest of the appetizer on the boat- just a slice of salmon, a dollop of creme fraiche and a sprig of fresh dill. The blinis have a slightly sweet flavor that pairs nicely with the rest of the ingredients. You can certainly sub sour cream for the creme fraiche. These were a fresh, unique appetizer that all enjoyed.

The next day, I played around with the leftovers. When I made the blinis, I had kind of a tough time creating nice and perfect little pancakes. I wanted them to be perfect and they just weren't! So I used a scalloped-edge cutter to cut into the cooked pancakes. I think they look cuter, and would plate them up this way if I served them again.

Perfect for a heavy-appetizers party, they were delicious eaten cold. Warm blinis aren't really necessary. This recipe was originally published in Bon Appetit by Dorie Greenspan, and I made a few slight modifications to her recipe.

This recipe can be found HERE.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Pea- Sized Hail and a Good Comfort Food Dish!

If you have a chilly day, you must eat comfort food. It really and truly is a must. Agreed?

Hopefully my new nutritionist isn't reading this post. He might be a bit disappointed seeing as how we just met to discuss my nutritional plan last week. Since he hasn't officially given me his designed plan yet, I gave myself the go-ahead to make this comforting dinner over the weekend: Baked Penne with Italian Sausage.

This recipe comes from Cook's Illustrated's cookbook The Best Make Ahead Recipe. I really have come to trust recipes that are generated by Cook's Illustrated. They know their stuff, and since they test the heck out of their recipes- they never disappoint.

This dish incorporates both sweet and hot Italian sausage, and all other basic lasagna ingredients- ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella, marinara, & basil. I lightened it up a bit by using low fat ricotta. I also halved the recipe for my little family (and still had a ton.) Make ahead instructions are included... and you may wish to eat half and freeze half for later. It's a perfect recipe to take to a new mom or someone else in need. In this case, we were in need... of good comfort food.

And it WAS good! Comforting too. And it made great leftovers.

This recipe can be found HERE.

You may have read my post last weekend, where I was bragging about our terrifically sunny weather here in San Diego. Well, this past weekend, winter returned (temperature in the 50's) and we got some pea-sized hail. Hail is super unusual for San Diego, and the pea-sized hail was quite a surprise! We were hanging out watching TV (big time fun for old people on a Saturday night) and started to hear clinking noises outside.

Here's the accumulation on our patio furniture of the closest thing we'll ever get to snow. Very exciting for us since we don't get much variety in terms of weather!

Not to worry... we were back to sunny weather today, and I was able to go for a morning jog in shorts and a tank top. Ok, maybe if my nutritionist read that part about the jogging then I'll be forgiven for eating that good comfort food!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Parsnip Soup with Corned Beef and Cabbage

We celebrated St. Patty's Day a wee early this year. And while I'm not a master at making corned beef from scratch, I do have to say that our corned beef turned out to be amazing this year- moist, fall-apart-in-your-mouth and super delicious. I purchased what looked like a good slab of corned beef (not too much fat on it), placed it in a slow cooker, covered it with water, added the spice packet that was included in the package and threw in a bottle of Guinness. I let it simmer for a good 8 hours and it couldn't have been better.

So what do you do with leftover corned beef? If it stays moist, it's great to have the next day. Ours was still perfectly moist, but we had so much left over that I had to search for a good way to utilize it. My choice: Parsnip Soup with Corned Beef and Cabbage.

This quick and easy soup is simply parsnips, onions, and bay leaves simmered in chicken broth. A whir in the blender plus the addition of a splash of whipping cream makes it creamy. Truth be told, I forgot to add the cream and I enjoyed the soup without. I added it later, and it gave the soup a sweeter and slightly richer flavor.

The corned beef and cabbage are sliced up thinly and lightly sauteed before piling into the middle of each bowl of soup... just enough to get a good mouthful of beef & cabbage in every bite. If you don't have any freshly made corned beef, this recipe works perfectly fine with just a few slices of corned beef from the deli.

This soup was filling enough to make a main dish for two. I also made salad to accompany this after St. Patty's Day dinner. We agreed that this soup is a "keeper!"

This recipe can be found HERE.