Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Banana Cake - My Way - Dorie Greenspan



One of the things I like best about Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home to Yours is how she encourages experimentation.  This recipe is a classic example - I used coconut milk, dark rum, and shredded coconut in my dense and delicious creation.  Dorie offers many options for icing - including none.  I filled my 2-layer cake with Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce from Trader Joe's, then covered it with Cream Cheese Frosting.


Cream Cheese Frosting
Allow 1 8-ounce package Cream Cheese and 1 stick Butter soften.
Then whip them together in a stand mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Slowly add 3 1/2 - 4 cups Powered Sugar.
Mix in 1/2 teaspoon Almond Extract and 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract.
Add more Powdered Sugar one Tablespoon at a time, if needed, to reach desired consistency.
Makes enough frosting for a 2 layer cake, 9" x 13" cake, or 24 Cupcakes.
Enjoy!

Freesias & Alstroemeria from our garden!  (Yes, already!)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Grilled New York Strip Steaks with Pinot Noir Reduction Sauce, Baked Potatoes, and Grilled Asparagus


Normally, I order the recipes on my blog starting with the main feature, but I decided to run this one on a timeline,  The total time to prepare this meal is about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Baked Potatoes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Scrub & dry potatoes.
Piece several times with a fork, then wrap them in foil.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours.
Serve with your choice of toppings.
We used: butter, shredded cheese, sour cream, chives, and bacon bits.





Pinot Noir Reduction Sauce
Pour a bottle of Pinot Noir into a medium sauce pan
Add:  10 peppercorns and a bouquet garni with 1 Tablespoon Herbes de Provence wrapped in cheesecloth and tied with string.
Place over low heat and let simmer for 1 hour, or when reduced by half.
Strain peppercorns out and remove bouquet garni.
Serve in a gravy boat to pour over steak.

Grilled New York Strip Steaks
Remove steaks from packaging and place on tray.
Sprinkle with fresh ground salt & pepper on both sides.
Let rest for about a half an hour.
Pre-heat grill and sear steaks, then move them off direct heat and grill for 5 - 10 minutes per side, depending upon your preference.
Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Grilled Asparagus
Clean one bunch of Asparagus, snapping ends off
Place in foil.
Drizzle with Olive Oil, Lemon Pepper, and Salt.
Seal packet and roast over indirect heat for 10 minutes a side.

Enjoy!

Sandpiper at Surfers' Knoll, Ventura, CA

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Caramel Popcorn with Peanuts and Chocolate ~ Baked Sunday Mornings

Ta-dah!
The corn...

This week's Baked Sunday Mornings challenge is for this amazing confection:  Caramel Popcorn with Peanuts and Chocolate.  It seems like it should have a superfluous name like "Extreme Caramel Corn"!  Despite its pedestrian name, this snack has something for everyone:  popcorn, caramel, peanuts, milk chocolate and dark chocolate.  It's crunchy, chewy and silky - I love foods with texture.






the caramel...

The thing is, I probably would never have tried this recipe if it weren't for this group, but now that I have, I'm sure I'll make it again.  It would make a wonderful homemade gift in a little Christmas bag.

John & I were reminiscing about making popcorn balls when we were kids.  People used to make them in all colors for all occasions, and I always liked them.  It's a shame that getting a homemade treat on Halloween is so taboo these days, because they were always my favorite.  But, I digress...

and, the chocolate!

Like most good things, this popcorn isn't at all difficult to make, it just takes time.  I borrowed an air popper from my sister-in-law (I'm paying her back with half a batch).   Just before we started to make this, I re-read the recipe & ran up to the store to buy disposable aluminium roasting pans because I couldn't bear the thought of soaking & scrubbing caramel out of a roasting pan until my knuckles were raw - and I'm really glad I did.  So, that is my best tip when making this incredible treat!

We'd love to have you join us as we journey through Baked Explorations!

Love at first bite!
Enjoy!

My brother & I were amazed to see this beautiful swan at the beach in Ventura!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Braised Beef Short Ribs Over Pappardelle

This is a wonderful dish to make on a weekend.  We prepared the meat and sauce, placed it in the oven, went out for a few hours and returned to a house filled with wonderful aromas and meat ready to be pulled from the bones and shredded.  It really couldn't be much easier and produced a thick sauce layered with flavor.  It's hearty, rich, and filling.



Braised Short Rib Sauce

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Remove 3 1/2 - 4 pounds Short Ribs from package and sprinkle with Salt and Pepper on both sides.
In a large Braiser,over medium heat, add 2 - 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Brown ribs on 4 meaty sides
While the ribs are browning, finely dice 2 yellow onions
Remove from pan
Saute onions and 4 cloves garlic, minced - we use Dorot frozen Garlic - it saves so much time & keeps my hands from smelling like Garlic for 3 days!
When onions begin to soften, stir in one 6-ounce can Tomato Paste
Then add 1 cup Red Wine (we used Sangiovese) and deglaze pan
Stir in 1 28-ounce can Crushed Tomatoes
Add Short Ribs to sauce in pan.


Prepare a bouquet garni of 2 Star Anise and one Bay Leaf tied in cheesecloth and nestle it into the sauce in the middle of the pan.
Cover pan and place on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven.
You may want to place a foil-lined baking sheet on the shelf below the Braiser to catch drips.


Let bake, undisturbed, for 3 hours.
Remove from oven and spoon fat off top of sauce before stirring.
Remove Short Ribs from pan and discard bouquet garni, bones, and excess fat.
Shred meat, return to pan, and stir.




At this point, you can keep the sauce in the oven until you're ready to cook the pasta.
We used Pappardelle, because we like the way the pasta stands up to the thick sauce, but you can use any kind of pasta you like.  This sauce would also be excellent for Lasagne.


We recommend that you only cook as much pasta as you plan to serve and make fresh pasta when serving any left-over sauce.  We found 8-ounce packages of Pappardelle at Trader Joe's.


Placed cooked pasta in bowl, ladle on sauce, and top with Parmesan cheese.




Buon Appetito!


Artichoke growing in our garden

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Valentine's Day Dinner for Two! Cheese-topped Onion Soup, Filet Mignon with Parmesan Butter, Lobster with Lemon Butter, Twice-baked Potatoes, Steamed Green Beans and Chocolate Truffle Tartlettes


We celebrated Valentine's Day a bit early because John has to be out of town.  As you know, I belong to 3 on-line cooking groups - two of them had recipes scheduled that fit in perfectly with our menu, so I made them a bit early.

For a starter, we made Dorie Greenspan's Cheese-topped Onion Soup.  It was terrific, and not at all difficult, but it takes time to caramelize the onions to get the color & flavor just right.  We laughed our way through delightful strings of melted cheese and bites full of soggy bread and soft, pungent onions.

Next, we had plates full of delicious Filet Mignon with Parmesan Butter from Williams-Sonoma The Cook and the Butcher, Steamed Lobster Tails with Lemon Butter, Twice-Baked Potatoes, and Steamed Green Beans.

Steamed Lobster Tails
Cut the lobster tails up the underside with kitchen shears, then steamed them for 15 minutes.  We pulled the white meat from the shells and dipped it in Lemon Butter - 1 stick of butter melted with 1/4 cup lemon juice.

Twice-Baked Potatoes
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Scrub 2 Russet Potatoes and dry them
Wrap the potatoes in foil and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and allow to cool until they can be easily handled - about 20 minutes.
Using a sharp knife, cut then in half and cut the rounded ends off so they can stand up.
Using a grapefruit spoon, remove the center of each potato, scraping in a circular motion, and leaving about 1/4 inch of potato attached to the skin.
In a medium bowl, blend the cooked potato with:
3 Tablespoons Butter
1/4 Cup Sour Cream
1/4 Cup Shredded Cheddar Cheese
2 Tablespoons Bacon Bits

When filling is completely blended, refill the potato shells, mounding the tops.
Return the potatoes to the oven for about 20 minutes until they are lightly browned on top.


Steamed Green Beans
Rinse and cut fresh Green Beans
add about 1 inch of water to a medium saucepan 
Add green beans, salt and pepper.
Cover and boil for about 10 minutes until they turn bright green & are easily pierced with a fork

We served all of this with Mosby Winery's Stellini di Moscato - a lightly sweet sparkling California wine.

For dessert, we had Julia Child's Chocolate Truffle Tartlettes!  And, they were fabulous with fresh strawberries!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Chocolate Truffle Tartlettes ~ Tuesdays with Dorie ~ Baking with Julia




After I graduated from college, I moved to San Diego and took a job at Neiman-Marcus.  I was a poor graduate student, but every once in awhile, I splurged on a huge $3.50 truffle at the N-M candy counter.  It would last me a couple of days as I savored the richness of every nibble.  These tartlettes are reminiscent of those lovely treats!

I'm a little early with this Tuesdays with Dorie post because I wanted to make these beautiful Chocolate Truffle Tartlettes for Valentine's Day dessert.  They are a choco-holics idea of heaven!  The pastry is light in texture, but full of chocolate flavor.  The truffle filling is named perfectly - it has the smooth, creamy texture of high-end truffles and just melts in your mouth!  In place of the Biscotti, I used Heath Bits o' Brickle Toffee Bits.  The chocolate flavor dominated the toffee flavor, but the toffee bits still added some texture.

This is a first-rate dessert that's easy to make and is certain to impress the lucky recipient!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Cheese-topped Onion Soup ~ French Fridays with Dorie ~


I'm a bit early with this post, but we wanted to include this soup in our Valentine's Day dinner menu.  When John was in college, French Onion Soup was one of his staples.  I lived in the dorms & ate in the cafeteria, so didn't have much chance to cook, but this is one of the dishes John perfected that was easy and affordable.  But, I do remember the French Club hosting a dinner party and making French Onion Soup for about 30 people and the piles of onions we chopped.  And after all that, we had to serve the meal, too!  I started college as a French major, but switched to English my Junior year.  I continued to take advanced French courses and learned enough to order food and find my way around Paris on my own, but I still read and understand French better than I speak it.


The secret to this soup is the slow process of caramelizing the onions which takes about an hour & a half over very low heat.  The onions are then infused with wine and chicken broth.  We always keep Penzey's soup bases on-hand - they're flavorful, easy to store, and easy to use.

This is not a first-date soup!  It's fabulous, but the cheese strings make eating it a bit of a messy affair!  The French bread and melted cheese on top make for a perfect flavor and texture combination.


This version takes a bit longer than John's standard French Onion Soup, but I think we just graduated from his college staple!  We will definitely enjoy Dorie's Cheese-topped Onion Soup again, and again!

Bon Appetit!

The only thing as comforting as a hot bowl of soup is a snuggley cat!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Whoopie Pies ~ Baked Sunday Mornings


This week's Baked challenge is for Chocolate Whoopie Pies filled with Swiss Vanilla Filling.  Although these delightful cakes are a staple in the North-East, neither one of us had ever had them before.  The cakes were easy to mix together by hand.  One of the most interesting things for me about our "Baked" experience is all the different frostings, fillings, and sauces we've learned to make.



 The Swiss Vanilla Filling looked like marshmallow cream while the egg whites and sugar were being whipped together, but then, as the butter was added, it turned into the lightest, fluffiest buttercream I've ever made.

The cake was lighter than I expected and the filling was delicious.  These are quite addictive!





Enjoy!

Snowy Egret @ sunset - Shelter Island, San Diego, CA

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chicken and Asparagus Risotto


I can't believe how long it's been since we've made risotto - it seems like we used to make it all the time.  This recipe is for a creamy version that's delicious and easy to make.  Like most good things in the kitchen, it just takes a little time and patience.

In a deep skillet, over medium heat, saute:
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 small Onion, diced

When Onions begin to soften, stir in:
1 Cup Arborio Rice
Continue stirring until rice is lightly browned

Add 4 Cups Chicken Broth in 1 Cup increments, stirring until almost completely absorbed in between additions.

Then stir in:
1 Cup White Wine (We used Vouvray because we had an open bottle.)
1 Bunch Fresh Asparagus, cut diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces
2 Cups Cooked Chicken, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 Tablespoon Capers
1 teaspoon Sunny Paris Seasoning
Salt and Pepper, to taste

When liquid is absorbed, and vegetables and chicken are headted through, finish with:
1/4 Cup Cream
1/2 Cup Parmesan, shredded
Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. 
Stir before serving.


Print this recipe
And, you can always add more cheese!

Buon Appetito!


Gang of Pelicans, Shelter Island, San Diego, CA
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