Archive by Author

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

10 May

That sweet potato cake that Alice made looked so good. I love cakes and breads made with vegetables such as zucchini bread, pumpkin pie or carrot cake. It’s that interesting mix of the vegetables you are used to eating as a savory dish, but mixed with sugar, butter and flour they become a delicious sweet treat.

Carrot cake is my specialty. I make it quite often and as a three-layer cake, it’s quite a special and sophisticated treat with the great spices and the tender crumb.

Carrot Cake

Last weekend, I had my friend Brittany and her two girls, Cambria and June come by for a fun sleepover at my house. After a raucous time in the pool, then a good night’s sleep, the girls helped me make a carrot cake. Let me tell you, if you ever need some great entertainment, have two little girls help you bake.

Carrot Cake helpers

We trimmed and shredded the carrots. I don’t ever bother peeling the carrots I use for carrot cake. I just wash them, trim the ends off and shred them in my trusty old (emphasis on the old) food processor.

shredding carrots

We carefully measured our ingredients into the mixer

ingredients

…paying special attention to the sugar.

sugar

After all the cake ingredients were added, we scooped the shredded carrots into the mixer. As you can see, we were quite hands on with our baking.

hands on baking

I neglected to get a photo of the baking pans that Brittany very carefully greased and lined with rounds of parchment paper for me, but here’s what they looked like filled with the cake batter.

Carrot Cake in pans

While the cakes were in the oven, we mixed up everyone’s favorite part of the cake – the cream cheese icing! It’s hard to go wrong with a beautifully creamy sweet filling and topping for this moist layer cake. It’s made up of four ingredients that you cream together in a mixer.

the icing!

We just tossed all the ingredients into the mixing bowl and started mixing. As you can see below, we had quite the poof of powdered sugar that got all over the counter. If you aren’t interested in having your entire kitchen covered in a very fine layer of sugar, you may want to mix up the cream cheese, butter and vanilla FIRST, then add the powdered sugar very slowly.

creamy icing

The next step, of course, is to taste the icing. Which my helpers were VERY happy to take care of for me.

tasters

helper!

In the meantime, the cakes were finished. They made my house smelled SO GOOD!!

cooling rack

After they cooled in the pans for about fifteen minutes, I turned them out onto a cooling rack until they were completely cool. Then began assembling the cake.

one...

As easily as…

one and done

one…

second layer

…two…

three layers

…three…

fully iced

…and voila!

carrot cake cut

cake!

Of course cake is always best shared with a friend. On the patio. On a nice day.

cake!

You can serve it immediately or put it together a day ahead of time and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight for maximum moistness.

It won’t stick around for long.

gone!

Alice?

TRIPLE-LAYER CARROT CAKE WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
From Bon Apetit

Cake
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 cups finely grated peeled carrots (about 1 pound)
(optional) 1/2 cup chopped pecans (about 1/2 ounce)
(optional) 1/2 cup raisins

Frosting
4 cups powdered sugar
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

For cake:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly grease three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pans with waxed or parchment paper. Lightly grease waxed paper. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and vegetable oil in bowl until combined. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg into sugar and oil mixture. Stir in carrots, chopped pecans and raisins, if using.

Pour batter into prepared pans, dividing equally. Bake until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and cakes begin to pull away from sides of pans, about 45 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 10-15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto racks and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic and store at room temperature.)

For frosting:
Using electric mixer, beat all ingredients in medium bowl until smooth and creamy.

Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with another cake layer. Spread with 3/4 cup frosting. Top with remaining cake layer. Using icing spatula, spread remaining frosting in decorative swirls over sides and top of cake. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate.) Serve cake cold or at room temperature.

Sweet Potato Hash

16 Apr

I was fortunate enough to be at Alice’s house for the last post – that quinoa and sweet potato combination was really quite tasty. It was so fun to be cooking in Alice’s kitchen on the other side of the world from my house, working together on a dish for the blog that we usually co-author from so far away.

I enjoyed her sweet potato dish so much that I decided to make a sweet potato  hash

1-Sweet Potato Hash 022

Hash is one of my favorite weekend dishes, I usually use leftover potatoes, vegetables and whatever meat I may have left over (see the Carnitas Hash). Topped with a poached egg, it makes for a delicious meal and is never the same dish twice. This time, I used some baked sweet potatoes that I had in my fridge, poached a chicken breast and topped with avocado, as well as the all important poached egg.

1-Sweet Potato Hash 002

First I started by bringing a pot of water to a boil and poached the chicken.

poached chicken

I chopped up some onions and sauteed them in butter in a large skillet

onions

…and promptly forgot to keep an eye on them, so they got a bit brown – but those bits taste really good!

onions, browned

Then I peeled and chopped up the sweet potatoes and tossed them into the skillet to brown as well

Sweet Potatos

After the chicken was done, I chopped that up and added it to the skillet

chicken in the hash

After everything was appropriately heated and crisped, then it was time to serve it up. I topped it with a poached egg for a special treat and because I love poached eggs. (see here how to easily poach an egg)

The slices of avocado added a creaminess that was a good balance to this hash.

avocado and egg

If you make the egg soft, then the delicious runny yolk will create a sort of sauce for the rest of the dish.

1-Sweet Potato Hash 026

Add a latte made with Australian coffee beans and voila! You have a delicious breakfast that’s good enough for company, but is just as good served on your coffee table while you and two cats watch the snow fall outdoors.

1-Sweet Potato Hash 030

Sweet Potato Hash

1/2 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 small sweet potatoes, baked, peeled and chopped
1 chicken breast, poached (see this easy method)

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and melt the butter in the pan. When the butter is all melted, add the onions and saute, stirring regularly until they are softened and lightly browned. Then add the chopped baked sweet potato and toss while allowing to brown. Add the chicken at the end, just long enough to combine and heat through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with avocado slices and a poached egg.

This is just a general starting point for hash. The beauty of this dish is you can add whatever you like or have in your fridge at that moment. I’ve made it with leftover baked potatoes, mushrooms, garlic, onions, spinach, bell peppers, cauliflower – the sky’s the limit. I like to add meat for an extra protein punch – steak, corned beef, pork, carnitas, roasted chicken, chorizo, roast beef…the list goes on and on. You can just as easily make it vegetarian by leaving out the meat and adding broad beans, cannellini, garbanzo beans, lentils or whatever your favorite bean might be. It’s great for using up leftovers without it tasting like you’re using up leftovers.

Try it, you’ll like it!

Alice, where can you go with this??

Pork Roast with Winter Fruits and Port Sauce (Dinner Party – part 2)

7 Mar

No dinner party is complete without a showcase dish. And this pork roast was just that dish. Pork roast with a fruit stuffing, wrapped in bacon and drizzled with a port wine sauce.

Plated Roast

Don’t be intimidated by this recipe, as it looks far more difficult than it actually is. It’s not a super speedy recipe, but I think any of my dinner party guests would agree with me in saying that it was well worth the wait.

First I made the filling. Chop dried apricots and prunes into small squares. Add them to a small saucepan with some of the port and cover. Let it simmer for five minutes and then sit off the heat for another 10 minutes to absorb the liquid, all the while covered.

Fruit

In a large skillet or dutch oven, melt butter over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and shallot to the butter and saute until softened, about five minutes. Then add the chopped apple, along with some salt and pepper and let it cook for another five minutes, until the apple is tender.

apples and onions.1

Add the port and fruit mixture to the onion and apple mixture and mix thoroughly. Let this mixture cool before stuffing it into the pork roast.

Fruit stuffing

I bought a very large boneless pork loin roast and cut it into three manageable chunks. Then cut a pocket through the middle of the roast – slicing a 1 1/2 inch slice through the center of the roast lengthwise, then cutting a slit up and down to make a cross shape which made the pocket expandable.

Pork loin roast

Pork pocket

I salted and peppered the roast on all sides and once the stuffing was cool, I stuffed it into the pocket I had just made. I got in there with my spoon and got as much stuffing as I could fit into each of the pieces. Be aware that it is a little messy and the filling won’t all stay inside. Save the leftover stuffing for later to make a sauce to pour over the top.

Stuffing

Once the roast is stuffed, place it fat side down in the baking dish (do as I say, not as you can see I did in my photos) and lay a few slices of bacon across the roast. Bacon makes most things better! Especially pork.

Pork squared

Place the roast into a preheated oven. It starts off quite hot – up to 500° F/260° C for 20 minutes, before it’s turned down to 325° F/160° C. Make sure you place the pan into the center of the oven, or you too may have smoke billowing through your house.

Let it roast for about 1 1/2 hours before checking it with a meat thermometer.

After pulling it out of the oven, let it rest under a foil tent for 15 minutes before slicing it up. This allows the juices to redistribute themselves throughout the meat, so you can avoid having a dry roast.

Kate_cutting

While the roast is resting, you can proceed with the directions in the recipe for the sauce OR you can do as I did and just pour the rest of the bottle of port into the sauce pan with the leftover stuffing and let it cook down and thicken up a bit. It is wonderful poured over the slices of pork roast. I dished it up into a gravy boat and placed it on the table for people to add as desired.

Once the pork has rested for at least 15 minutes, you can carve the roast into thick slices and place on a large serving platter and serve to your very hungry dinner guests.

Kate_plating

Kate, the master carver

Pork Roast with Winter Fruits and Port Sauce
(adapted from Gourmet | December 2008)
by Ruth Cousineau
Yield: Makes 8 servings

For stuffing:

1/4 pound California dried apricots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 pound pitted prunes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2/3 cup ruby Port
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small shallot, finely chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tart apple such as Granny Smith, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

For roast:

1 (6-pound) pork loin roast, at room temperature 1 hour
9 or 10 bacon slices

For port sauce (optional):

1/2 cup ruby Port
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups water, divided
2 teaspoons arrowroot

Make stuffing:

Simmer apricots, prunes, and Port in a small heavy saucepan, covered, 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes.

Cook onion and shallot in butter in a large heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add apple and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until apple is just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in apricot mixture and cool.

Stuff and roast pork:

Preheat oven to 500°F with rack in middle.

Make a pocket in center of roast by making a horizontal 1 1/2-inch-wide cut into 1 end of roast with a long thin knife, repeating from opposite end so pocket runs all the way through. Then make a vertical cut through center (forming a cross) to widen pocket. Push about 1 cup stuffing into pocket using a long-handled wooden spoon (you may need to stuff from both sides if roast is long). Reserve remaining stuffing for sauce.

Season roast with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and put in a large flameproof roasting pan. Wrap with bacon,  tucking ends under roast. Roast pork 20 minutes, then reduce oven to 325°F and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted 2 inches into center of roast registers 155°F, 1 1/2 hours total.

Transfer roast to a cutting board, reserving pan, and let stand, loosely covered with foil, 15 to 20 minutes. (Temperature of meat will rise to about 160°F; meat will be slightly pink.)

Make sauce (optional):

Skim fat from pan drippings and reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons fat. Straddle pan across 2 burners and add Port to drippings, then deglaze pan by boiling over high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, 1 minute. Strain pan juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids.

Cook shallot in reserved fat in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in pan juices, 1 1/4 cups water, and reserved fruit stuffing and bring to a simmer. Whisk together arrowroot and remaining 1/4 cup water until smooth, then whisk into sauce with any juices from cutting board.

Simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Carve roast into thick slices, serve with sauce.

Thanks again to Kyle Krohn for the great photos!!

Quinoa Stuffed Squash Rings (Dinner Party – part 1)

27 Feb

Plated dinner

This past weekend I had a dinner party. It came about because my friend Christine just finished her kitchen remodel and currently has the best dinner party kitchen around with lots of work space, a beautiful long center island and quite a few places to set out food and drink! I wanted to cook in that nice kitchen and what better excuse for a dinner party than a lovely home, good food and great friends?

Terri, Jane, Christine, Jill/Gracie, B, Kate

Terri, Jane, Christine, Jill/Gracie, B, Kate

Olive and Kevin

Olive and Kevin

Christine, the hostess with the most-ess

Christine, the hostess with the most-ess

I also had the pleasure of working with Kyle Krohn who took the photos that I’m using on these two dinner party posts. He’s quite talented and is a great instructor. I plan to keep improving my own photography with his help.

The menu was a good solid winter dinner:

Pork Roast with Winter Fruits and Port Sauce (recipe to be featured in my next post)
Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash Rings
Smashed Potatoes
Roasted Carrots
Chopped Salad
Tiny Pies

The squash rings were a new dish for me. I’ve been cooking with quinoa quite a bit recently and have found that it’s a tasty good-for-you grain that is so adaptable to many different flavors. I like the tri-color variety that I get at Trader Joe’s.

This time I decided to make a quinoa stuffing for squash. This would be a great holiday dish for one of the many US holidays that involve squash, such as Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas dinner or any random dinner really. Cutting the squash into rings allowed me to make these individual portion sizes for a larger group.

Acorn squash

I cooked up the quinoa with chicken broth according to the package. It’s very similar to rice in that you use a 2:1 ratio of liquid to quinoa.

I rinsed one cup of quinoa first, then added it to a large stock pot with two cups of chicken broth and brought it to a boil.

At that point, I turned the heat down to low and covered the pan and let it cook for 15 minutes before removing it from the heat for another five minutes.

Quinoa

I chopped an onion, a red pepper and two tomatoes and sautéed them in a separate pan. When they were all softened, I added the cooked quinoa, some dried cranberries and slivered almonds and a splash of chicken broth, along with some salt, pepper and a pinch of dried sage.

Because I like stuffed squash but wanted individual servings, I cut the acorn squash into rings. Cut them, using a sharp knife and a lot of caution, as the last thing you want as part of your dinner party is a visit from the paramedics to stitch up your finger!

Squash slices

Cut the squash in one inch (2.5 cm) sized rings and remove the seeds.

Removing seeds from squash

Place the rings on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper and spoon the quinoa mixture in them.

Filling squash

Bake at 370 F/190 C for 30 minutes or until the squash is soft.

Remove carefully from baking sheet with a wide spatula and place directly on plates.

Dinner!

The side dishes were very simply done. I boiled baby potatoes until they could be easily pierced with a fork. After letting them cool, I smashed them with a glass, put them on a roasting sheet, drizzled them with a bit of melted butter and popped them in the hot oven until they were crispy – about 20 minutes.

For the carrots, I peeled them and cut them into 2-3 inch segments at an angle just to make them pretty. Then I tossed them with one tablespoon of olive oil in a large plastic bag to thoroughly cover them. Then they too went onto a baking sheet, were sprinkled with a large pinch of kosher salt and placed into the hot oven for about 20-25 minutes, until they had some caramelized bits on the bottoms. The carrots prepared this way were so good! They were like candy.

I’ll be back for my next post with part two of the dinner party to give you the delicious stuffed pork roast recipe.

Quinoa Stuffed Squash Rings
Serves 6-8

3 acorn squash (or any other squash that can be cut into rings)

1 cup quinoa
2 cups broth, chicken or vegetable
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries or other dried fruit
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
1 teaspoon dried sage
salt & pepper

Rinse the quinoa. Add to a medium saucepan with two cups of broth and bring to a boil over high heat. When it comes to a rolling boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, let it cook for 15 minutes then remove from the heat, still covered for another five minutes.

As the quinoa is cooking, cut the squash into rings or slices and remove the seeds. Use a sharp knife and use a solid cutting board, as your knife could slip and your fingers will be in danger.

Place the cleaned out squash rings or slices onto a baking sheet covered in parchment or baking paper to keep the stuffing from sticking to the pan.

In another pan, saute the chopped onion in a tablespoon of oil until it becomes translucent.  Add the red pepper and tomatoes and let them soften for a few minutes. Then combine with the cooked quinoa, dried fruit and nuts and season with salt, pepper and sage to taste. If the mixture seems a little dry, add some broth a half cup at a time until it has achieved the consistency you would like.

Fill the squash rings generously with the stuffing. Bake at 375 F/190 C for 30 minutes or until the squash is soft.

Spiced Roasted Chickpeas

30 Jan

How good did Alice’s Chickpea Hash look last week?? I’ve resolved to keep a few cans of chickpeas in my pantry at all times just to be prepared in the event of a chickpea hash craving.

In the spirit of improving my diet steadily while still eating really good food, I was inspired to make a batch of these roasted chickpeas this week.

1-Spiced Roasted Chickpeas_in bowl

These are a nice change from the regular texture of beans, as they get nice and crunchy like snack nuts when roasted, but with all the fiber and protein of the beans. So you can snack without feeling like you’re cheating and eating junk food.

It’s an easy recipe that even the kids will love.

1-Spiced Roasted Chickpeas_in bowl w girls

…waiting impatiently to dig in!

First get your ingredients together.

1-Spiced Roasted Chickpeas_ingredients

I used an assortment of spices from my cupboard that gave it a bit of a Moroccan flavor. You can mix up this spice mix and maybe go with some chili powder or garlic salt…play with the flavors to find your favorite combination.

Place the chickpeas in a colander and rinse under running water for about 30 seconds to remove most of the goo from the can.

1-Spiced Roasted Chickpeas_rinsing4

Then pour them out onto paper towels and dry them off. I had some great help patting them dry.

1-Spiced Roasted Chickpeas_helpers2

Measure out your spices

1-Spiced Roasted Chickpeas_spices

Once your chickpeas are dry, pour them into a plastic bag with the spices and a drizzle of olive oil and shake until they are all well coated

1-Spiced Roasted Chickpeas_shaking

Pour onto a baking sheet

1-Spiced Roasted Chickpeas_on pan2

Then place in a 375°F/190°C pre-heated oven for 40-60 minutes depending on how crispy you’d like them to be. I wanted them very crispy, so I kept them in for the full hour.

1-Spiced Roasted Chickpeas_on pan roasted-001

Pour them into a bowl and let the snacking begin!

"I want THIS many!" June

“I want THIS many!” -June

Spiced Roasted Chickpeas
(inspired by this recipe and this one and this one too)

2 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 – 1 teaspoon spice mix below
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Spice Mix:
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C.
Drain chickpeas into a colander and rinse well with cold water until no more foam appears. Let beans drain for 5-10 minutes, then pat dry with a cloth of paper towel if they still look wet. While beans drain, make spice mix. This is great on roasted veggies or chicken, so make the full amount and store in a glass jar.
When beans are well drained and dried, toss with olive oil, spice mix, and salt. Arrange in single layer on baking sheet. Roast 40-60 minutes, or until they are slightly browned and make a rattling sound when you shake the baking sheet.  Serve warm or let cool.

Sautéed Cabbage with Tomato

14 Jan

Let’s continue on this roll (hehe) with more cabbage! After seeing Alice’s last dish, I was so hungry for cabbage that I went to the store and made my go-to comfort food cabbage dish – sauteed cabbage with tomato.

Cabbage plated

This is a dish that I grew up eating on a regular basis. We had a huge garden and grew a lot of cabbage and had it for lunch and dinner quite often. It’s a simple dish that is great as a main vegetarian dish, perfect as a side dish with meatloaf or roast chicken or Brazilian beans and rice and delicious heated up and topped with a poached egg for a filling weeknight dinner in a flash. If you happen to be on a veggie kick, it’s right up your alley. The only non-vegetable ingredient is the olive oil used in the pan for sauteing purposes.

Ingredients

First, chop up your onions, tomatoes, garlic and ginger

chopped ingredients

Slice your cabbage as thin as you can, by first cutting the cabbage in half

Cabbage_2

Then slicing each half very finely.

chopped cabbage

Heat up oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven.

First add your onions to the hot pan and let them cook for two to three minutes, stirring regularly, until they are softened slightly.

sauteed onions

Then add the garlic and ginger and stir before adding the tomatoes to the pan.

sauteed tomatoes

Add salt and pepper, or Arisco if you are lucky enough to have some. Arisco is a Brazilian seasoning consisting of salt, pepper, onion and garlic which adds a wonderful flavor to most savory dishes.

Arisco

When the tomatoes have softened a little – about three minutes – add a cup of water and all the cabbage.

Lots and lots of cabbage

You may want to make sure your pan is large enough…mine almost wasn’t.

Lots of cabbage

Cover the pan for about five minutes, until the cabbage has softened a bit and is reduced

covered pan

Stir for a few more minutes while it continues to cook.

sauteed cabbage

When the cabbage is cooked, but still has a little bit of a crunch, serve.

Cabbage

If you’re lucky, you’ll have a good helper like I do.

Hattie helping

If you like a little spice, feel free to add some pepper sauce.

plated_2

Alice, are you going to continue the cabbage roll?

Sautéed Cabbage with Tomato
Serves 4 as a main or 8 as a side

1 small cabbage, thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
½ inch fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat the oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté the onions in the hot oil until softened, about two to three minutes, then add the garlic and ginger and stir frequently before adding the tomatoes. Continue to stir until the tomatoes are softened, about three minutes. Add one cup of hot water to the pan and stir before adding all of the cabbage to the pan.

Cover pan for five minutes then remove cover and resume sautéing while stirring regularly until cabbage is softened, but still a bit crunchy. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

plated_5

Vietnamese Summer Rolls (rice paper rolls)

18 Dec

There’s nothing better during the holidays than a light, delicious and tasty dish as a bit of a break from all the rich food, whether you happen to be in the warm southern hemisphere or in the very cold northern hemisphere. Alice came through with a great dish last week with her lettuce wraps. And she inspired me to attempt one of my favorite foods – Summer Rolls, sometimes known as  Spring Rolls – that heretofore had been reserved for dining out at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant because they seemed too complicated to make at home. As it turns out, they are not that difficult to make and with a little practice, these rolls are just as good as they are at the restaurant.

1-Vietnamese Spring Rolls 071

I was introduced to these delicious rolls quite a few years ago by my friends Dee and Bernt and their daughter Lydia, who LOVED these rolls from babyhood. So guess who I’ll be having over to dinner soon??

You may need to get a few special ingredients such as rice paper, cellophane noodles and fish sauce to make this dish, but you can just use as much as you need for your meal and most of the ingredients will save for another making. I was able to find all of these ingredients at my local supermarket.

If you haven’t tried fish sauce, you are in for a treat. It’s pretty smelly and strong tasting on its own, but mixed with the lime juice and sugar, it becomes a tasty dipping sauce. Fish sauce can also be added to tomato sauces or meat dishes or event guacamole in small quantities to add a richness of flavor.

Vietnamese summer rolls

First, mix up the dipping sauce.

dipping sauce

Mix together the lime juice, fish sauce (which I found at my neighborhood grocery store), sugar and either Thai chili peppers or chili garlic sauce to taste. I like mine spicy, so I used a teaspoon full of the chili sauce. Let it chill in the fridge while you make the rolls. Right before serving, chop up some cilantro (coriander to those of you outside the US) and toss it in the sauce.

dipping sauce_final

Then prepare all of your fillings – chop the cucumber into matchstick-sized pieces (my matches are JUMBO)

cucumbers

Then cut your carrots the same size

carrots

Cover the cellophane noodles with hot water and let them soften for about 10 minutes while you finish your prep. Once they are softened, you’ll need to drop them into a bowl with ice water to stop them from cooking further.

cellophane noodles_add water

Halve your shrimp. I had peeled frozen, pre-cooked shrimp, so I thawed as many as I needed, removed the tails and cut them in half lengthwise.

shrimp_prawns

Once you have all your ingredients ready, fill a pie pan with warm water, pull out your rice paper and get ready to roll (literally).

rice paper

Drop a single rice paper round into the warm water, turn it around a few times with your hand. It should be softened in 15-20 seconds. I found that when it was starting to feel a bit pliable and I was able to pull it toward the middle with my fingers that it was ready.

softened rice paper

Pull the round out of the water and place it carefully on your working surface. I used my larger cutting board as my rolling surface.

Place three halves of shrimp in a row in the middle of the circle, top with the herbs, veggies, cellophane noodles and lettuce.

building_1

building_2

building_3

Then fold the bottom of the circle up and over the filling and tuck and pull the filling tight, carefully, so you don’t tear it. Tuck the sides over the ends of the cylinder and roll the rest of the way up. The tighter you get it, the easier it is to hold on to while you’re eating it.

rolling_1

rolling_2

rolling_3

Don’t overfill your roll with the ingredients. THIS is what happens when you overfill.

overfilled rolls

When you’ve made enough, it’s time to eat them! Word to the wise, don’t attempt to cut the roll in half as most of the filling falls right out. It still tastes really good, but is quite messy to try to eat and the filling keeps dropping out of the roll into the sauce.

messy plating

This makes a lovely appetizer before dinner, although at my house, this was a very satisfying dinner.

goinggoing...going...gone

Vietnamese Summer Rolls
Found on BonAppetit.com

dipping sauce
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 fresh red Thai chiles thinly sliced or 1/2 teaspoon of chili garlic sauce

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover and chill.

summer rolls
4 ounces cellophane noodles (also known as bean thread noodles)
12 8″-9″ rice paper rounds
18 cooked medium shrimp (about 10 ounces), peeled, deveined, halved lengthwise
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves plus 1 tablespoon chopped
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup English hothouse cucumber, cut into matchstick-size pieces
1 cup carrot, cut into matchstick-size pieces
12 small butter lettuce leaves

Put noodles in a large bowl. Pour enough hot water over to cover; let stand until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain. Transfer to a large bowl of ice water to cool; drain and set aside.

Fill a pie plate with warm water. Working with 1 rice paper round at a time, soak rice paper in water, turning occasionally, until just pliable but not limp, about 15-20 seconds. Transfer to your work surface. Arrange 3 shrimp halves across center of round. Top with some leaves of each herb, cucumber and carrot. Arrange a small handful of noodles over. Place 1 lettuce leaf over, torn or folded to fit. Fold bottom of rice paper over filling, then fold in ends and roll like a burrito into a tight cylinder. Transfer roll, seam side down, to a platter. Repeat to make 11 more rolls. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and refrigerate if not serving immediately.

Ginger Chicken Jook

2 Dec

Wow, Alice. That ginger rum drink was quite refreshing and will definitely be one of my go-to summer drinks.

Ginger is such a great flavor to add to both sweet and savory dishes. In this case, it’s a comforting chicken soup/porridge with an Asian bent.

Ginger Chicken Jook

A friend shared this recipe with me when I was feeling a bit under the weather last year. It’s tasty, easy and one of the best things to eat when your tummy is not quite right, sort of like the old standard chicken noodle soup.

It’s also good for cool, damp winter nights, when you’re chilled all the way through and you just need something to warm you up, something you can pour into a bowl or a large cup and wrap your hands around to warm you down to your toes. That’s what this does.

Ginger Chicken Jook 010

The ingredients are simple – chicken legs or thighs, chicken broth, water, rice, ginger, salt and pepper – and the flavor is deceptively simple. I blame the ginger.

Chop the ginger into thick slices

Ginger

No need to peel the ginger, just slice it up.

Then pour everything into a large stock pot and bring to a boil over medium-high.

Ginger Chicken Jook

Reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer for about an hour.

Ginger Chicken Jook

After an hour, the chicken will be tender, the rice will be softened and the soup will be thickened and porridge-like. Pull the chicken from the pot, cool and remove the meat from the bone.

Chicken

Return the chicken to the pot, pull out the chunks of ginger and dish up a bowl of the jook. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro and scallions, if you have them.

Ginger Chicken Jook

Enjoy.

Alice, what sort of adventure in cooking do you have for me?

Ginger Chicken Jook (Rice Porridge)

Ingredients

6 cups water
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 pounds bone-in chicken legs or thighs
1 cup long-grain white rice
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, skin on and sliced into 4 pieces
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
Pinch freshly ground white pepper, plus more as needed
Coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
Thinly sliced scallions, for garnish

Instructions:

Place all ingredients except the cilantro and scallions in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook at a lively simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rice has completely broken down and the mixture is creamy, about 1 hour.

Turn off the heat and remove the chicken to a cutting board. When it’s cool enough to handle, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces, discarding the cartilage and bones. Return the chicken shreds to the jook. Stir to combine, taste, and season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Ladle into bowls and top with cilantro and scallions.

Toffee Crunch Caramel Cheesecake

19 Nov

Alice’s dessert was so beautifully light, fresh and delicious. This dessert is not light or fresh but is delicious…and rich and decadent. As we are heading into our Thanksgiving week here in the US, it’s a time to indulge in all those rich, decadent foods that you steer clear of the rest of the year.

If you have never made a cheesecake, you might think it’s difficult but it really is not that hard. It’s involved, yes, but not difficult. You’ll make this one in three separate steps – crust, filling and caramel topping. So jump on in and give it a try.

You will need a spring form pan for this. They can be found at most house ware stores. I got mine at Target.

First, you’ll need to make the crust. This crust is a fun change from the traditional graham cracker crust – it calls for ginger snaps. I like the thin little ginger cookies that you can get at IKEA, so that’s what I used. I put them in a zipper bag and crushed them with a rolling pin. Actually, I used a wine bottle, which is what I use as a rolling pin when I can’t find mine.

Melt the butter and combine with the crushed cookies and brown sugar. Remember to pack your brown sugar into the measuring utensil to get the proper measurement.

Pat the crust mixture into the bottom of the spring form pan, making sure to get up to the edges. Then wrap the bottom and sides of the spring form pan in aluminum foil. Later you’ll be baking it in a water bath, so this prevents the water from getting into your cake.

Bake the crust at 350°F (175°C) for 14 minutes until it is slightly browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool, keeping the oven at temperature.

In the meantime, mix together your filling – the actual cheesecake part. I used my Kitchen Aid mixer to easily blend all of the ingredients.

First beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth and creamy. Then add the butter and drop the eggs in one by one before adding the vanilla.

When everything is fully combined, pour the filling over the crust and place the pan into a larger pan, adding about one inch of water to the larger pan to make a water bath. This will keep the cheesecake from cracking and will give you a beautifully creamy final result.

Bake for an hour and 10 minutes, until the top shakes slightly when jiggled and is lightly browned.

Remove pan from water bath, remove foil from pan and place hot cheesecake uncovered into the refrigerator overnight.

And now on to the caramel topping. It’s amazing to me that a few simple ingredients can make such a wonderfully complex and rich caramel!

Stir water, sugar and lemon juice in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the sugar has all dissolved, then turn up the heat to bring it to a boil. Let it boil without stirring until the syrup turns a deep amber color, about 9 minutes.

Pour in the cream and reduce the heat. Let it simmer until thickened and reduced a bit, about 8 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and let the caramel cool for about 15 minutes before pouring onto the top of the cheesecake.

Pour the caramel over the cheesecake and spread in a smooth layer. You can sprinkle some sea salt over the top for a wonderful sweet/salty flavor. If you have any of the caramel left over, it also makes for a tasty topping for ice cream.

Chop up toffee bars – I used mini Heath Bars – and sprinkle around the top edges of the cake.

Let the cheesecake chill for at least two hrs or overnight.

Remove the spring form pan ring and serve.

If you are celebrating a special occasion, you can put a candle in it and sing Happy Birthday to your dear friend before cutting into it.

Alice, I don’t know if you could handle all this richness! Where can we go from here?

Toffee Crunch Caramel Cheesecake
Bon Appétit
Yield: Makes 10 to 12 servings

Gingersnap crust:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 1/2 cups ground gingersnap cookies (about 7 1/4 ounces)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar

Cheesecake:
4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Caramel topping
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy whipping cream

4 1.4-ounce English toffee candy bars (such as Heath or Skor), chopped

For gingersnap crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray bottom of 9-inch springform pan with 2 1/2-inch-high sides with nonstick spray. Stir ground cookies, butter, and sugar in medium bowl until moist clumps form. Press cookie mixture firmly onto bottom of prepared pan. Wrap outside of pan with 3 layers of heavy-duty foil. Bake crust until firm and beginning to darken, about 14 minutes. Cool crust. Maintain oven temperature.

For cheesecake:
Beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Beat in butter, then eggs, 1 at a time, until just blended. Beat in vanilla. Pour batter over crust in pan. Place springform pan in large roasting pan. Add enough hot water to come halfway up sides of springform pan. Bake cake uncovered until filling is puffed around edges and moves slightly in center when pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Remove pan from water; remove foil. Place hot cheesecake uncovered in refrigerator overnight.

For caramel topping:
Stir sugar, water, and lemon juice in large saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until mixture turns deep amber, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush, about 9 minutes. Add cream (mixture will bubble). Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until reduced to 1 1/4 cups, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Chill until thickened but still pourable, about 15 minutes.

Spoon caramel over top of cake just to edges (do not allow caramel to drip down sides). Garnish top edges with chopped English toffee. Chill at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours.

Run knife around pan sides to loosen cake; release pan sides.

Roast Chicken

5 Nov

Those yummy leeks that Alice made last week made me think about what a great accompaniment they would be to one of my favorite dishes – roasted chicken or roast chook, as we would say in Melbourne.

Our grocery stores do a brisk business selling rotisserie chicken or roast chicken, but it’s so easy to make in your own oven and this way you know exactly what you’re getting. No weird three syllable ingredients, just real natural food without a lot of fuss.

I used Thomas Keller’s method for roasting chicken.

Just preheat your oven to 450° F and while the oven is getting up to temperature, truss your chicken or at least tuck the wings back under themselves and tie the legs together. If you want a good entertaining explanation for why you should truss your chicken and how to do it correctly, please watch the video on the link back there.

Dry your chicken really well inside and out with paper towels. The secret to getting crispy skin is to not have anything that will cause steam.

Place the chicken into a roasting pan and sprinkle it with Kosher salt until it’s well covered, then season with some fresh cracked pepper.

Then pop it into the oven for 50-60 minutes. I got some splattering and smoking, but trust me, it was well worth having the smoke detector beeping at me to achieve this great golden chicken.

When the chicken is done pull it out of the oven, toss some fresh thyme into the pan and mix it around in the juices. Then use those juices to baste the chicken.

Cut the chicken and serve with braised leeks, a lovely crisp salad or anything else your heart desires.

And voila! Delicious roast chicken with crispy skin and tender moist meat.

Simple Roast Chicken

One medium (2-3 pound) chicken
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Fresh thyme

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well with paper towels, inside and out. The less it steams, the drier the heat, the better.

Salt and pepper the cavity, then truss the bird.

Salt the chicken in an even manner, using about 1 tablespoon of Kosher salt. Season with pepper to taste.

Place the chicken in a roasting pan and when the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken in the oven.  Roast it until it’s done without basting or touching it for 50 to 60 minutes. Remove it from the oven and add the thyme to the pan. Baste the chicken with the juices and thyme and let it rest for 15 minutes in the pan.

Remove the twine. Cut the breast down the middle and serve it on the bone, with one wing joint still attached to each. The preparation is meant to be casual. If you wish, you may spread fresh butter on the chicken and serve with mustard on the side. The butter and mustard are not even necessary, as this chicken is beautifully crispy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside with a lovely fresh simple flavor.

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