Friday, February 26, 2010

Lobster salad with avocado, pesto and tomato vinaigrette


Lobster is one of those foods that makes any day feel like a special occasion. We're lucky enough to live in an area where we can get Maine lobsters any time of year, often for less per pound than the cost of deli meat. Usually I simply steam them and serve with drawn butter and corn on the cob. But I found a recipe for a lobster salad with Avocado, pesto and tomato vinaigrette and it's simply divine. Big fresh flavors from tomatoes, pesto and sherry vinegar combine with creamy avocado and succulent lobster for a first course that will impress any guests.

Make the pesto mayonnaise and tomato vinaigrette a day ahead to save time. The leftover pesto mayo makes great chicken salad - just toss a few spoonfuls with some rotisserie chicken and pile into pitas or on your favorite bread with sliced tomato, baby arugula and some shaved parmesan cheese.

Lobster Salad, Avocado, Tomato Vinaigrette
adapted from The BLT Cookbook by Laurent Tourondel

Tomato Vinaigrette
3 Tbsp. Extra Virgin olive oil
1/4 medium onion, diced
3 tomatoes, chopped, plus 1/4 cup diced
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. sherry vinegar
1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pesto Mayonnaise
1 egg
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
3 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 garlic cloves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 Hass avocados, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 large tomatoes, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 lobsters, cooked and cooled, meat removed from the shells
1 cup baby arugula leaves

To make the tomato vinaigrette
In a medium saucepan, heat 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the chopped and diced tomatoes, thyme and sugar. Stir, cover and cook until tomatoes begin to soften. Remove from heat, discard stem from thyme sprig, and transfer the mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Process until well blended.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Discard the solids. Add the vinegar and Tabasco. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours. This can be made a day or two ahead.

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To make the pesto mayonnaise
Place the egg in a small saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil . Turn off the heat; cover and let stand for 2 minutes.

Scoop out the egg into a blender. Add the mustard and red wine vinegar. With the motor running, slowly add the grapeseed oil in a thin stream. Blend until creamy and smooth. Transfer to a bowl.

Put the basil, cheese and garlic into the blender (you don't have to clean it in between). With the motor running, add 1/4 cup of olive oil in a thin stream. Blend until thick and smooth.

Scrape the pesto into the bowl with the egg mixture and stir to combine. If making ahead, cover and refrigerate. Remove from refrigerator and stir well about 15 minutes before using.

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Make the salad
In a bowl, toss the avocados, tomatoes, onion, vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. Arrange the salad on 4 dinner plates. Top with some of the arugula. Arrange the lobster on top of the arugula. Spoon the tomato vinaigrette around the salad and the use a small spoon to drop pesto around the outside.

Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Ultimate Rigatoni with Vodka Sauce

There seem to be as many variations of vodka sauce as there are Italian restaurants. Some are smooth; others have chunks of tomatoes. Some add peas and prociutto; others add sausage; still others add chicken or shrimp. The same goes for vodka sauce recipes, making it hard to choose one.


Find an updated version of my favorite vodka sauce on my new blog, white plate blank slate.

With more than 100 cookbooks in my collection, I like to "consult my friends" when choosing a recipe for something with a lot of variations. By "consult my friends", I mean that I check with Mario, Giada, Jamie, Ina, etc. I pull out a pile of cookbooks and compare the recipes. The result is inevitably something of my own making, combining the elements of each that I like. Thus the approach that led me to the ultimate vodka sauce...

This one has everything my husband and I love. It's rich and creamy, but has a definite tomato taste, with little bits of tomato throughout. Jeff likes meat, so it has sausage AND prosciutto. I like the color and texture peas add, so you'll find those in there, too. Try this sauce, but make it your own. Prefer chicken? Brown some chunks of chicken instead of the sausage. Like it smooth, use crushed or pureed tomatoes. Just don't forget the cheese...

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Another thing that makes this the ultimate rigatoni with vodka sauce is homemade rigatoni. Flour, eggs, semolina and a little water turn into delicious fresh pasta using my new toy: the Kitchenaid Pasta attachment for my stand mixer. It takes 30 minutes start to finish and it's worth every second - but purely optionsal. The sauce rocks even without homemade pasta.

Now, onto the recipe for my ultimate rigatoni with vodka sauce... buon appetito (from this Irish girl!)

Vodka Sauce

serves 4
4 thin slices prosciutto, chopped
4 Sweet Italian sausages
2 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of Italian seasoning (or oregano if you don't have Italian seasoning)
1 can diced tomatoes in juice
1/2 cup vodka (cheap stuff is fine here, save the Grey Goose for martinis!)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup lowfat milk
2 Tbsp. tomato paste (or more to taste)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to sprinkle on top
1/3 cup frozen peas, thawed

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Heat a medium nonstick frying pan over medium high heat. Cook the prosciutto until just starting to brown around the edges. Transfer to a plate. In the same pan, squeeze the sausage out of the casing into the pan in bite-sized chunks. Discard the casings. Cook the sausage until browned on all sides and cooked through. Drain on a paper towel.

In a large skillet over meidum-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and saute until the onion is translucent. Do not brown. Add the garlic and Italian seasoning and continue cooking for 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes with their juice and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the vodka and simmer 5 minutes. Add the cream, milk, Paremsan cheese, and tomato paste. Stir until the tomato paste is absorbed into the sauce. If the sauce is too light, add more tomato paste. Stir in the prosciutto and cook until the sauce thickens slightly.

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Stir in the sausage and peas and cook until heated through. Note: As this cooks, it gets thicker. If it gets too thick, stir in a tablespoon or two of the pasta water to get the desired consistency. Season to taste - with the cheese, prosciutto and sausage you likely won't need salt. But I like to add some fresh black pepper.

Serve tossed with homemade rigatoni (below) or your favorite pasta. Top with extra grated Parmesan cheese.

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Homemade rigatoni (optional, of course, but yummy!)
Recipe based on the one from the Kitchenaid pasta press instruction book

3 large eggs
2 Tbsp. water
2 3/4 cups sifted all purpose flour OR 2 1/4 cups sifted all purpose flour PLUS 1/2 cup semolina
pinch of salt

Break the eggs into a glass measuring cup. If the total amount is less than 3/4 cup, add a little water to get to that amount.

To measure the flour, sift the flour first, then measure 2 3/4 cups - this is to ensure the right consistency.

Put the flour, salt and semolina (if using) in the bowl of the stand mixer. Attach the flat beater. Turn to speed 2 and gradually add the eggs and 2 Tbsp. water. Mix 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and exchange the beater with the dough hook. Knead on speed 2 for 2 minutes. Remove dough from bowl and knead by hand for 1 minute.

Pass walnut sized pieces of dought though the pasta press using the rigatoni attachment.

Cook in boiling water 4-5 minutes or until cooked through.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Quick and easy Vietnamese: Chicken Stir-fried with Lemongrass and Chile

Chicken is one of those things that's easy to always make the same way, so I'm always on the lookout for new recipes. This one appears in my go-to Vietnamese cookbook: Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen. It comes together quickly which is perfect for a weeknight. If you're pressed for time, chop the vegetables in the morning or the night before. Otherwise, this dish can be made is the time it takes rice to cook (and I used Jasmine which cooks in 15 minutes).


A key ingredient is lemongrass. For those unfamiliar with it, you can find it in Asian markets and some supermarkets. A stalk is about 14-16 inches in length and it's yellow-green in color. A caross section toward the bottom will show a bit of purple. Be sure to remove the outer layer and then chop fine - it's fibrous so chopping will ensure that doesn't impact the texture of your dish.

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The list of ingredients might seem odd: Madras curry powder is typically in Indian food, coconut milk in Thai. But, believe me, it comes together in a uniquely Vietnamese way. If you like heat, leave the seeds and ribs in the chile. For a milder stir-fry, remove them. The original called for chicken thighs, but I had breasts in the fridge so I used those. This makes enough for 4 with rice (or, in our case, 2, with leftovers!)

Chicken Stir-fried with Lemongrass and Chile
adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen

1 1/3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
2 1/2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 Tbsp. Canola or other neutral oil
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 large Jalapeno, or other hot chile, chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and finely chopped (about 3 Tbsp.)
1 red bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch squares
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
Chopped cilantro, to garnish

In a bowl combine the salt, sugar, curry powder and fish sauce. Add the chicken and toss to combine. Set aside to marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.

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In a wok or large skillet, heat the oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the shallot, chile, and lemongrass and stir-fry for about 1 minute. Add the chicken to the mixture and stir to coat with the aromatics, then let it cook undisturbed for about 1 minute until nicely seared. Flip the chicken over to sear on the other side.

Add the bell pepper and coconut milk and lower to a simmer. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking. As the coconut milk reduces it will simmer vigorously. The chicken is done when the coconut milk is barely visible. Check the seasoning and add more salt if desired.

Serve with steamed rice, such as Jasmine, and sprinkle with cilantro.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Restaurant review: Ristorante Da Benito in Union, NJ

It's been awhile since I posted a restaurant review. It's not that we haven't been going out, we've just been hitting our favorites - Emma's for pizza, Ginger Sushi, and Splash of Thai. But Valentine's weekend came along and Jeff decided to take me to Ristorante Da Benito in Union, NJ. He'd read about it in the Star-Ledger and it got rave reviews so we made a reservation and headed out.

Upon entering we were seated in the small dining room by the charming maitre d'. The dining room is fairly modern with a small bar. A large screen tv and the paraphernalia over the bar seemed a bit out of place in the otherwise upscale surroundings. Customers around us were dressed in everything from jacket and tie to jeans and sweatshirts. We landed in the middle and I'd say we had hit the right note for attire.

We were promptly served water and bread with delicious olive oil, as well as two small bruschetta topped with a vegetable and cannelini bean mixture. A nice start to the meal, the bruschetta was full of flavor and the creamy texture of the beans combined nicely with the crunchy bread and surprisingly good tomatoes (it is February, after all!)

We shared two appeatizers: one a cold stacked grilled eggplant, tomato and goat cheese. It had some baby arugula and was topped with a few caramelized onions. Drizzled around the plate were an aged balsamic and extra virgin olive oil. The flavors were fresh and bold - I loved the tangy goat cheese with the creamy eggplant! Our second appetizer was a special: a portabello mushroom cap filled with minced veal. This was served warm over baby greens. It, too, was delicious, but topped with a bit too much marjoram. The luxurious texture of the minced veal helped me past that small imperfection, however.

Entrees were served quickly. Mine was a bowl of homemade pappardelle with bolognese. It may have been the best bolognese I've ever had. I would say there was a bit more sauce than I would have preferred, but every bite was delicious. Jeff ordered veal over Swiss chard with white wine, grape tomatoes and ricotta salata. The veal scallopine were cooked to perfection - fork-tender, but a bit caramelized around the edges. I particularly liked the Swiss Chard - so many places put a heap of Spinach (I love Spinach, but was very please to see something different). All in all, both dishes were outstanding.

The menu features a number of pasta dishes as well as several veal, beef, chicken and fish entrees. There was also one lamb dish on the menu.

Our final decision on Ristorante Da Benito is that it was a nice change for a special occasion, but we'll stick with Bel Paese in Cranford when we want Italian - it's closer to home, less expensive and the food is superb. But if you're in Union looking for a nice evening out, you wan't be disappointed.

Restaurant da Benito on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kicked up salad: Crispy prosciutto, baby beets, and field mushrooms

Salads are one of those things my husband can usually take or leave. So I've made it my personal challenge to occasionally present him with an unusual salad that I hope will dazzle him into loving salad as much as I do. OK, maybe dazzle is too strong a word, but I do enjoy making unusual salads to complement our meals. Last weekend, I got a couple of steaks for dinner and was making simple potato pancakes. To add some flare (and vegetation) to our carnivorous feast, I chose Curtis Stone's Salad of Crispy Prosciutto, Baby Beets and Field Mushrooms from his book, Cooking with Curtis. The book is divided by season and each section features a few ingredients. The prosciutto section definitely caught my attention. The gorgeous crispy slice also caught my husband's attention: mission accomplished!

This is a great accompaniment to a simple meal. It went great with our grilled steaks and would go equally well with another grilled meat or fish. It's hearty and packed with flavor: sweet beets, salty prosciutto, earthy mushrooms, and a little tang from some sherry vinegar. My modified version follows... (If you can;t find baby beets like, me, use a few small ones and just cut them before serving. Just know that your roasting time will be a little longer...)

Salad of Crispy Prosciutto, Baby Beets and Field Mushrooms
2 bunches baby beets or 4 small beets
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices prosciutto
2 portabello mushroom caps, each cut into 6 strips
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
1 shallot, finely diced
bunch of baby arugula

Preheat oven to 350F. Lay the beets on a roastingtray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in hot oven for 20-25 minutes or until tender. Remove from the oven and keep warm. (If using larger beets, peel the skins off the roasted beets once they've cooled a bit.)

Place the prosciutto in a large non-stick rying pan and allow it to go crispy. Once crispy, turn it over and remove it from the pan. Leave to cool until required. Using the same pan, add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook in the excess fat from the prosciutto for 2-3 minutes. (You may need to add a little extra butter or olive oil.)

Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside. Add the shallot to the pan and cook for about 1 minute. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the sherry vinegar and olive oil. Pour the dressing over the arugual and toss gently. Arrange the arugula, beets and mushrooms on 4 plates. Top each with a piece of crispy prosciutto.

Serves 4.

Monday, February 15, 2010

An Ad Hoc Valentine's Day: Roasted Monkfish over Leeks and Romesco Sauce

My love affair with Ad Hoc at Home continued this weekend as I prepared Thomas Keller's Roasted monkfish with baby leeks and Romesco Sauce. Romesco is a Spanish sauce made with tomato, red pepper, bread, and a few other ingredients. It's a sauce I've made many times before, typically served on grilled scallions. Keller's recipe was slightly different so I tried his for a change. It was delicious - a bit sweeter than my other recipe.

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I couldn't find baby leeks, so I got some regular leeks, trimmed the roots leaving the bottoms intact so the leeks didn't fall apart and then follow the recipe in Ad Hoc for Baby leeks. The fish I did exactly as he said, but cooked mine a bit longer - the pieces of fish were quite thick as you can see from the picture. Flown in fresh that morning, this was the best monkfish we've ever had. I thank both my fish guy who special ordered it for me as well as Chef Keller!

Pair this fish with other sides or sauces if you prefer. It's a great preparation that would go nicely with any number of combinations. Bottom line, follow Keller's method and you simply can't go wrong! I cut the recipes in half and made a few modifications, so my version are below. The fish is exactly Keller's but with half the ingredients. The others I modified a bit...

Roasted monkfish
adapted from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller

2 8-ounce monkfish tail fillets
Canola oil (to coat the pan)
Kosher salt
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, smashed, skin left on
3 medium rosemary sprigs
Romesco sauce, warmed (see below)
Baby leeks (see below)

Remove the fish from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Heat some canola oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until it just smokes. Season the fish with salt then place it in the pan, presentation side down (the rounded side). Cook until the first side is pale golden. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to the pan and let it melt. Add the second tablespoon and let that melt (adding them at the same time could lower the temperature in the pan). Once the butter has browned, tilt the pan and baste the fish as you continue to cook it until it is a rich golden brown on the first side, 1-2 more minutes.

Turn the fish over and cook, basting continuously with the butter, until it is a rich golden brown on the second side, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary to the pan, and continue to baste the fish as the aromatics flavor the butter. Cook until the temperature in the center of the fish is 145F. (Keller says 1-2 minutes, mine took about 5).

Spread the Romesco on a plate. Top with a few leeks. Then place the fish on top. If you want, finish with some good extra virgin olive oil and Maldon Sea Salt.

Baby Leeks

12 baby leeks, or 4 regular leeks, trimmed and halved lengthwise so they don't fall apart
3 Tbsp. chicken stock
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice water bath. Set out a cooling rack and line with paper towels.

Trim the dark green parts from the leeks and rinse well under warm water. Blanch the leeks for about 6 minutes until just tender. Immediately transfer to the ice water bath to cool, then place on the rack to drain.

Remove the outer layer from each leek. Bring the stuck to a simmer in a medium saute pan. Whisk in the butter one piece at a time to make an emulsification. Add the leeks and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Romesco Sauce

1 dried sweet chile (I used New Mexico, but Nora or Pasilla would also work)
3 plum tomatoes, cored and halved lengthwise
1/2 red bell pepper, cored and seeded
1/2 onion
1 garlic clove
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil
3 crustless 2-in cubes country bread
1/8 cup slivered almonds
1 Tbsp. sherry vinager
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
3/4 tsp. piment d'espelette (I used a pinch of cayenne and a pinch of smoked paprika instead)

Preheat over to 400F.

Remove the seed and stem from the chile. Put it in a small bowl, cover with warm water and soak for 30 minutes.

Put the tomatoes, bell pepper, onion and garlic ina roasting pan and toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Turn the tomatoes and pepper cut side down. Roast for one hour, until the vegetables are well-browned with some charring. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.

Remove the skins from the tomatoes and pepper. Discard the outer layer of the onion. Reserve any liquid in the pan.

Heat some canola oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the bread and toast until browned on all sides. Remove from the pan. Add the nuts and toast until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer to a plate.

Drain the chile. Put it in a blender with the tomatoes, pepper, onion, garlic, and reserved liquid. Blend until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes about 1 cup. Refrigerate covered for up to 2 weeks.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Study in White: Coconut Cake

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barefoot-contessa-coconut-cake (3)As a blizzard blasts the east, it's no surprise I have white on my mind. Wet snow clings to every tree and just when it appears to slow, another blast of snow falls. The only vehicles on my road today have been plows (and my poor husband leaving for work).  It's supposed to continue into the night, so Jeff will be firing up the snowblower when he gets home. To be sure snow isn't the only white he sees, I decided to whip up Ina Garten's Coconut Cake. Much more comforting than any snowstorm, this cake is flavored with vanilla and almond extracts, as well as plenty of coconut. The cream cheese frosting adds another layer of flavor... and whiteness!

This recipe appears in Barefoot Contessa At Home. Find her original Coconut Cupcakes in her first cookbook. Whether you go for bite-sized or the whole shebang, this is a delicious cake - moist, flavorful and all-around satisfying. Perhaps a mug of hot cocoa on the side...? We shall see...

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As you might guess, I made a few modifications. I added a bit more almond extract to the frosting and reduced the butter to 1 1/2 sticks. I also reduced the amount of powdered sugar - I used about 2/3 pound. I added a bit at a time until it got to the consistency and sweetness I like. I had more than enough to frost the cake - I actually had about 1/2 cup leftover. Oh! Watch the cooking time for the cakes. Mine were done after 40 minutes. I'd start with 35 minutes or so and see how they're doing. These cakes are dense so you really don't want them dry (I used dark metal non-stick Calphalon cake pans).

Coconut Cake
From Barefoot Contessa at Home, by Ina Garten
also available on
  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
For the frosting:
  • 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip!).

To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.
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Monday, February 8, 2010

Another winner from Chef Keller: Chicken Mar Y Muntanya

I think I'm in love... with a cookbook.

It's rare that my husband raves about a chicken dish. We like chicken, but it seldom gets the comment, "This is one of the best dinners you've ever made." Saturday night, I once again turned to Chef Keller's ad Hoc at Home and my husband sang the chef's praises throughout the meal. He's even looking forward to leftovers tonight!

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Full of big Spanish flavors, this is a great winter meal - it'd be a sure winner for a dinner party. I stuck pretty close to Keller's recipe. I couldn't get Piment d'Espelette in time, so I used a little cayenne and a little smoked paprika. I also left out the mussels since my husband is allergic to them. I did have piquillo peppers (go figure!), but a roasted red pepper would make a fine substitution. You could also add lobster, clams or veggies other than green beans and it would taste great.

My one caution (which I rarely heed myself) is read the recipe all the way through before you start. Brining the chicken gives it amazing flavor and keeps it deliciously moist, but you need to do some advance work to make the brine, cool it and then soak the chicken for 12 hours. I halved the rice recipe, but with all the leftover chicken, I may need to make some more. Also, my chicken took longer to cook - it was a little bigger than 4 pounds, so just be sure you cook it thru!

Note well: For some of teh Spanish ingredients, look on La Tienda. Piment d'Espelette can be found on amazon. And my all-time favorite chorizo is d'Artagnan.

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Chicken Mar i Muntanya
with shrimp, mussels, green beans, piquillo peppers, and chorizo
From Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller
  • One 4-pound chicken
  • 1/2 recipe Chicken brine (see below), cold
  • 12 extra-large shrimp (12-15 count), shells on
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Piment d'Espelette
  • Canola oil
  • Saffron rice (see below), warm
  • 4 piquillo peppers, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
  • 1 cup thin green beans (haricots verts), blanched
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock, warm
  • 1 Spanish chorizo sausage (about 4 ounces), cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
  • 18 small mussels, preferably Bouchot or PEI (I didn't add these, but feel free!)
  • Flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • Fleur de Sel 
Cut the chicken into 10 pieces. Pour the brine into a container large enough to hold the chicken, add the chicken, and refrigerate for about 12 hours (no longer, or the chicken may become too salty).

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse under cold water, removing any herbs or spices sticking to the skin. Pat dry with paper towels, or let air dry. Set aside.

Without removing the shells, using a small pair of scissors or a paring knife, make a shallow cut down the back of each shrimp from head to tail. Gently open up the shrimp and, with your fingers or the paring knife, remove the vein. Rinse the shrimp under cold water.

Combine 4 cups water and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons salt in a medium bowl and stir to dissolve the salt. Add the shrimp to the brine and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Remove from the brine, rinse, and drain on paper towels.

Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of Espelette. Heat some canola oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the dark meat skin-side-down, lower the head to medium-low, and cook until the skin is a rich golden brown and crisp, about 8 minutes. (If you turn the chicken too early, more moisture will be released from the meat and you will not get the crisp caramelized surface you are looking for.) Turn the pieces and brown for another 6 minutes, or until golden brown on the second side. Remove from the heat, transfer the dark meat to a plate, and set aside.

Return the pan to medium-high heat and add more oil as needed. Add the breasts skinside-down and cook until the skin is crisp and golden brown, about 8 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook for about 5 minutes, until almost cooked through. Remove from the heat.

Spread the rice in the bottom of a large heatproof serving dish or baking dish. Arrange half the piquillos and half the green beans over the rice. Tuck the dark meat and the breasts into the rice, pour the stock over the ingredients, and put the dish in the oven.

Heat some oil over medium heat in a frying pan large enough to hold the mussels in one layer. Add the chorizo and cook until browned and crisp on the edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the chorizo to a plate and pour off the excess fat, leaving just a coating in the pan. Add the shrimp to the pan and sauté until just cooked through, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer the shrimp to a plate.

Add the wine to the pan, bring to a boil, and boil for 30 seconds. Add the mussels, cover the pan, and cook until the mussels have opened, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Arrange the chorizo, shrimp, and mussels in the baking dish; set aside in a warm spot.

Return the frying pan to the heat, add the remaining peppers and green beans, and heat through. Arrange them over the chicken and shellfish, garnish with parsley leaves, and sprinkle with fleur de sel.


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Chicken Brine
  • 5 lemons, halved
  • 24 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch (4 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bunch (1 ounce) thyme
  • ½ cup clover honey
  • 1 head garlic, halved through the equator
  • ¼ cup black peppercorns
  • 2 cups (10 ounces) kosher salt, preferably Diamond Crystal
  • 2 gallons water
Combine all the ingredients in a large pot, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill before using. The brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

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Saffron Rice
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • ¾ cup finely chopped onion (cut just smaller than a grain of cooked rice)
  •  Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 cups (about 14 ounces) short-grain rice, preferably Calasparra
  • 2 ¾ to 3 ½ cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat until hot. Add the onion and season with a sprinkling of salt. Reduce the heat and cook gently for 3 minutes. Add the saffron. Reduce the heat to very low, and cook for another 2 minutes; do not brown the onions and saffron. Add the rice and cook over medium heat, stirring often, to toast the rice for 1 to 2 minutes.
Add 2 ½ cups of the stock, stir once, scraping the sides of the pan if necessary, and cover with a parchment lid (see page 120). Bring the stock to a simmer and simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary, for about 8 minutes, until most of the stock has been absorbed. The rice will still be firm. Gently stir the rice, scraping it up from the bottom, and reduce the heat to very low. Add an additional ¼ cup of stock, cover with the lid, increase the heat, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 3 minutes, until the stock is absorbed. Taste the rice and, if necessary, continue cooking, adding up to ¾ cup more stock ¼ cup at a time, as necessary, until the rice is almost tender and the final addition of liquid is almost absorbed. Turn the heat to low to allow the rice to absorb the remaining liquid, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and serve hot.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Best. Brownies. Ever.

Two words: Thomas Keller. For those familiar with the man who's arguably the greatest chef in America, it should come as no surprise that I've titled this post as I have. For those unfamiliar with him, consider these brownies a tasty introduction. Rich, fudgy, and simply divine, I'll never make another brownie recipe again. 

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This recipe appears in Chef Keller's latest cookbook: Ad Hoc at Home. I was fortunate enough to meet the chef at a book signing in November; he's friendly and encouraging to cooks of all skill levels. If you're intimidated by The French Laundry, check out this book. This recipe alone is worth it.

A couple of notes on the recipe: I used a glass pan and I dusted it with cocoa instead of flour to avoid any white on the outside of my brownies. (And really, why not add more cocoa?) I also had to bake them quite a bit longer than 45 minutes so have your cake tester ready. Finally, alkalized cocoa may sound unusual, but I was happy to find that the cocoa I had in my pantry from Penzey's was alkalized. So check your label. Finally, I didn't have 61% to 64% chocolate on hand so I use 3 ounces 67% and 3 ounces semi-sweet.

Now quit reading and make these brownies. (Get a glass of cold milk ready, too.)

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from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup alkalized cocoa powder
1 tsp. Kosher salt
3/4 pound unsalted butter, cut into 1 Tbsp pieces
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla paste or extract
6 ounces 61% to 64% chocolate, chopped into chip-sized pieces
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9-inch baking pan (Chef Keller recommends silicone, but glass or metal will work fine.) Set aside.

Sift together flour, cocoa powder and salt; set aside.

Melt half the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Put the remaining butter in a medium bowl. Pour the melted butter over the bowl of butter and stir to melt the butter. The butter should look creamy, with small bits of unmelted butter, and be at room temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, mix together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until thick and very pale. Mix in the vanilla. On low speed, add about 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then 1/3 of the butter, and continue alternating the remaining flour and butter. Add the chocolate and mix to combine. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a cake tester or wooden skewer poked into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. If the pick comes out wet, test a second time, because you may have hit a chocolate chip: then bake for a few minutes longer if necessary. Cool in the pan until the brownies are just a bit warmer than room temperature.

Run a knife around the edges if not using a silicone mold and invert onto a cutting board. Cut into 12 rectangles. Dust the top with powdered sugar just before serving.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A good day for soup: Mom's Ham and Corn Chowder

I awoke this morning to a couple inches of fresh snow. It didn't last long but it looked beautiful clinging to the trees. It was perfect weather for a nice hardy, rustic soup. Mom's Ham and Corn Chowder would be perfect! This soup is really easy - chopped onions, potatoes, and ham combined with canned corn, stock and cream. It will warm you up for sure.

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I used new potatoes so I left the skins on to make it even easier. I also cut the recipe in half. It still makes a good sized batch, plenty for two of us and a cup for Dad. (We trade food - he brought fresh fish from Massachusetts, I gave him soup!) Finally, I used 1 cup of half and half and one cup of 2% milk to cut the fat a bit. It still tastes fantasic!

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Ham and Corn Chowder

1 large onion, chopped
1 stick of butter (8 Tbsp.)
5 large potatoes peeled and diced
1 thick ham slice, diced
2 15 oz. cans of creamed corn (preferably Green Giant)
2 12 oz. cans of corn, drained
4 c. chicken stock
4 c. half & half

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In a large pot, melt butter. Add onion and sauté until clear. Add potatoes and ham a sauté 3 minutes. Add broth and simmer until potatoes are soft. Add creamed corn and drained corn. Add half & half and salt and pepper to taste.


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