Thursday, May 27, 2010

Breakfast tart with pancetta, green onions and two cheeses

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I have a thing for kitchen gadgets... but I find many of them useless once I get them home to try them out. A couple examples are a strawberry huller I was given - I have yet to find a strawberry big enough that this gizmo will work on and really, isn't a paring knife faster anyway?? Another is a spice toaster I found - looked really cool and I do toast a lot of spices, but it just doesn't work as well as a good old pan. On the other hand, the useful ones become indispensible in my kitchen; some examples: my citrus juicer, my silicone tongs and my silicone ball whisk. The ball whisk came in handy with this particular brunch recipe.

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When it comes to whisks, a traditional whisk is great for whisking liquids, but add any solids to it and things are forever getting stuck in it. Plus, a regular whisk just never seems to get all the corners of the bowl or pan. A silicone ball whisk will get into every part of the pan and the open bottom means that chunks won't get trapped within. This particular recipe has you whisk eggs, shredded cheese, mascarpone, scallions and more. A ball whisk is perfect for the job! Check out mroe recipes with the ball whisk and other gadgets in action on the Foodbuzz Daily Special.

This is a rich tart - it's cheesy and full of flavor from the pancetta and scallions. You could very easily substitue other fillings like chopped ham, bacon, prosciutto, chives, or other veggies. Make your own crust or use a store-bought one to save time. Plus, this can be made a day ahead and then reheated in the oven for an easy brunch.

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Breakfast tart with pancetta, green onions and two cheeses
adapted from the Food Network
  • Butter, for greasing the pan
  • Flour, for dusting the pan
  • Homemade crust ofr a 9-inch tart or 1 unroll-and-bake refrigerated 9-inch pie crust
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 3 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 5 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Gruyere or Scamorza
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

breakfast-tart

Special equipment: 9-inch tart pan with removable base
Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan.
Arrange the pie crust in the prepared pan. Gently press the crust into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim any excess crust from the top of the pan. With the tines of a fork, prick the pastry in several places. Using a pastry brush, coat the crust with the beaten egg white. Put the pan on a baking sheet and bake until the egg white has set, about 10 minutes. Allow the crust to cool for 10 minutes.
In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring frequently, until brown and crispy, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain on a paper towel lined plate.
In a medium bowl, whisk the beaten eggs, mascarpone cheese, Gruyere, green onions, salt, pepper, and pancetta. Mix until smooth. Pour the mixture into the cooled crust and bake until the mixture has set and the top is golden, about 18 minutes Cool the tart for 10 to 15 minutes then remove it from the pan to a serving platter.
Cut the tart into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Cinnamon Walnut Scones: Just sweet enough

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For me, houseguests are an opportunity to try new recipes. I like to make some sort of breakfast item so that early risers have something to nibble if they get up before I make it downstairs. I saw a post for pecan cinnamon scones on Foodbuzz a couple weeks ago and I saved it. The arrival of my husband's sister and her husband provided the perfect excuse to whip up a batch. These scones have a touch of sweetness, but they're not as sweet as coffee cake. I've been enjoying the leftovers for the past two days with my morning coffee. I set out my ingredients the night before and they came together quickly in the morning. The house was filled with the pleasant scent of cinnamon - what's better in the morning???

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We have more houseguests arriving next weekend so I'll have to start sifting through more recipes... Work for some, a fun way to spend an evening for me. (It's kind of a sickness isn't it? Surrounded by stacks of cookbooks, searching tirelessly for the perfect recipe...) If you want to help save me some time, leave a comment with a recipe idea or a link back to one of your favorites. Maybe I'll give it a try for my in-laws next week.

I should note I had way too much topping so consider cutting that down. I made the full batch and will find something else to make with it in the next day or so...

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Cinnamon Walnut Scones with Streusel Topping
adapted from a post on Daydreamer Desserts

Cinnamon-Walnut Streusel

3/4 cup unsifted bleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar, sieved if lumpy
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into chunks
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts

Thoroughly combine the flour, cinnamon, light brown sugar, and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl.

Scatter over the butter chunks and drizzle over the vanilla extract. Using a pastry blender or two round-bladed table knives, cut the butter into the flour-sugar mixture until reduced to marble-size bits.

Scatter over the chopped pecans and mix them in.

With your fingertips work the mixture util moist clumps of streusel are formed, pressing and crumbling it into large and small lumps.

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Cinnamon Walnut Scone Dough

3 cups plus 2 tablespoons unsifted bleached all-purpose flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 pound (8 tablespoons or 1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cut into chunks
1 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400F.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl. Drop in the chunks of butter. Using a pastry blender or two round-bladed table knives, cut the fat into the flour until reduced to small nuggets. Further crumble the mixture between your fingertips for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Mix in the chopped walnuts.

Whisk the heavy cream, eggs, and vanilla extract in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Pour the liquid ingredients over the flour mixture and combine to form the beginnings of a dough, using a sturdy wooden spoon or flat wooden spatula.

Knead the dough together in the bowl with your hands until it forms a firm dough, 1 to 2 minutes. If the dough is too dry you can add an additional tablespoon of heavy cream.

Turn out the dough onto a very lightly floured work surface, divide in half, and pat each piece into a 6 - 6 1/2 inch round cake. With a chef's knife, cut each cake into five wedges.

Press some of the streusel topping on top of each triangle of dough, patty it down with your fingertips or the palm of your hand, dividing the topping evenly among all of the scones. Use all of the topping.

Place the scones on parchment or silpat lined cookie sheets, spacing them about 3 1/2 inches apart. Arrange five scones on each sheet.

Bake the scones for 15 - 17 minutes, or until risen and set.

Transfer the scones to cooling racks, using a wide, offset metal spatula. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Taste of summer tomato basil pasta

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With Memorial Day Weekend just around the corner, it's starting to feel like summer in New Jersey. Temperatures yesterday reached the 80s and the same is forecast for today (why do I ahve to go to the office?). It's too early for most Jersey crops, but that doesn't prevent me from wanting to savor the taste of summer. I planted a ton of basil this year and it's ready for picking. I also planted Swiss chard which we enjoyed for the first time on Wednesday. Last night, the basil was calling my name so I had to find a way to use it.

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Weeknight meals can be a challenge in any household and not surprisingly, ours is no exception. On Thursdays I'm often at the office until 6 or later so getting dinner together usually requires advance prep (or leftovers). Last night however, I found the perfect recipe: a fresh pasta sauce that can be made in less time than it takes the water to boil (a LOT less time - think 3 minutes). What's more, it's like summer in a bowl and doesn't require any cooking. One bite and both Jeff and I agreed this one was going on the list of regular pasta dishes that appears in my kitchen.

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I paired it with grilled Italian sausages, but the flavors could go with anything: grilled shrimp, chicken or pork or a juicy steak, I even considered breading some pork cutlets with parmesan and breadcrumbs to go with it, but decided to save that idea for a rainy day and use the grill instead.

I used pappardelle because I had half a package that I needed to use, but use your favorite. Also, in a moment that may shock my readers, I reduced the amount of garlic. Since it's raw, I only used 1 small clove - raw garlic doesn't not seem to mix with pregnancy too well... but have no fear, in about 8 weeks, it'll be back to a full dose of garlic (or more!) in every recipe!

Pappardelle with Checca Sauce
adapted from Everyday Italian by Giada DiLaurentiis

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1 clove garlic
1 scallion, coarsely chopped
1 small handful fresh basil leaves
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, larger ones halved
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
4 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into bite-sized pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 pound pappardelle or your favorite pasta

Put water on to boil for the pasta.

While water is heating, put the scallion and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the tomatoes, basil, olive oil and parmesan. Pulse until the tomatoes are coarsely chopped (don't puree!).

Put the mozzarella in the bottom of a serving bowl and pour the sauce over it. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. Scoop the cooked posta from the pot directly into the bowl of sauce and toss to combine. Add 1/4 cup or so of the cooking water as needed to achieve desired consistency. Serve immediately.

Note: this recipe can easily be doubled and used as a main course or to serve more than 2 people.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Island Getaway: Detente, Martha's Vineyard

With no big vacation plans this year, Jeff and I decided to take a little island getaway on Martha's Vineyard. We left early Saturday morning and came home yesterday. At this time of year, heading to the Vineyard can be a gamble: May can be cold and rainy or it can be perfect. We got perfection: sunny skies, low humidity, and temperatures in the 70s.

We roamed the quaint towns and hit a number of the island's best eateries: a couple of top-rated restaurants as well as local favorites my family has come to love over the years. Detente, tucked in a small corner of Nevin Square in Edgartown, is the top rated restaurant on the island and it's fast becoming a local favorite as well.

We went there Monday night, our last night on the Island and it was the perfect ending. We'd had plenty of good meals, but Detente is fine dining at its best. From presentation to the last bite, you can appreciate the hard work that goes into every dish. Each item on the menu is comprised of several complex flavors. For example, one first course was soup and salad. It was a lobster bisque and then next to it was a lobster salad with a tarragon aioli, and fresh seasonal vegetables. A diner at the next table ordered it and it was beautiful.

The menu, though short, has excellent variety and features the season's finest ingredients, including ramps, fiddlehead ferns, lamb, and veal. To start Jeff ordered seared scallops served with yellow tomato confiture, radish salad, and Parmiggiano. I don't really ike scallops but I had to have a taste. Cooked to perfection, they had a great crust on the outside and the added flavors from the confiture and crisp radishes were wonderful.

I chose a pork bolognese with goat cheese ravioli and pork belly crumbs. I was served a hearty pile of pork bolognese (think pulled pork, not sauce). It was surround by a basil puree of the deepest green and topped with a single egg pasta ravioli stuffed with soft creamy goat cheese. Atop the ravioli was a paper thin slice of preserved lemon and a sprinkle of crispy bit of pork belly. The tart lemon with the rich bolognese was an amazing contrast and the ravioli was simply delicious. Not a speck remained on my plate!

After a short wait, our entrees appeared. I can rarely resist halibut, so my decision was an easy one. It was served with prawns, gnocchi, asparagus and leek puree. It's like they figured out my favorite things and put them all together in a perfect combination. The dish was served on a long rectangular plate. In the center, the halibut filet sat on top of a pile of light gnocchi. Three spears of asparagus lay across the fish and a pile of frizzled leeks topped the whole thing. On either side sat a big, beautiful prawn, served with the head on (yum!). An artistic smear of dark green leak puree cross the whole plate and I could swear there was a bit of white truffle oil on those little gnocchi. The combination of textures and flavors was inspired: tender gnocchi, crispy leeks, sweet prawns... I ate just about everything on my plate (Jeff ate the rest).

Jeff's dinner was equally appealing. He chose grilled veal with a red wine reduction, ramps, potato gratin and a watercress-pancetta salad. To his delight some fiddlehead ferns also appeared on the plate. The veal was cooked perfectly: tender and juicy and it was seasoned with a spicy black pepper. The pepper contrasted beautifully with the watercress, pancetta and red wine reduction. I probably don't have to tell you that there wasn't a speck left on the plate.

We didn't have room for dessert, but the menu featured a selection of cheeses as well as a pot de creme, a trio of chocolates and a couple others that I cannot remember (probably because they didn't have chocolate!)

Detente takes reservations one month in advance so if you are booking a trip to the Vineyard, plan ahead. They book up quickly especially in the prime months of July and August, but they have added more seating this year with the addition of a second floor. The restaurant also features a wine bar, so the wine selection is excellent and the staff knowledgeable about pairing the wines with the different dishes.

Detente Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shrimp and Smokies

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Each spring, I have to remember all of our favorite grill recipes. We grill throughout the year - steaks, chicken, etc. - but during the warmer months I make more elaborate recipes for the barbecue. Of course, I picked a cold rainy day for this one, but it still tastes good! This has been a favorite for a few years now. I'm always looking for new ways to cook shrimp and I've found a few good ones in BBQ USA by Steven Raichlen.(Green Lightning Shrimp is another).

Shrimp and Smokies, according to this recipe, are skewers of shrimp and chunks of andouille sausage with red pepper. They're basted with a beer based sauce that has lemon, garlic and a few other surprises. It's easy to make (they taste good without the sauce too). I use D'Artagnan Andouille - It's super smoky and spicy and it's cooked. Uncooked andouille wouldn't work here because the shrimp cook so fast. If all you can find is uncooked, precook the sausage or cook them on separate skewers.

This also makes a great appetizer - cook them the same way, but use smaller shrimp and cut the andouille into smaller pieces.

Give this recipe a try - and let me know you're favorite summertime BBQ recipes. I'm always looking for new ones!

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Shrimp and Smokies
adapted from BBQ USA by Steven Raichlen

16 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
12 ounces andouille sausage, cut into about 16 chunks
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch squares

shrimp-and-smokies (2)For the sauce:
1 cup beer
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a knife
1 2-inch strip of lemon zest
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. dark corn syrup
1 Tbsp. liquid or dry crab or shrimp boil
4 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter cut into 1 inch chunks
Salt and pepper

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Prepare the skewers: Alternate pieces of sausage, shrimp, and pieces of pepper onto skewers until all of the food has been used. Set aside.

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Make the sauce: combien the beer, zest and garlic in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil until the liquid is reduced by half. Stir in the crab boil, Worcestershire, lemon juice and corn syrup. Boil until the liquid is reduced to 1/2 cup. Remove from heat, discard the garlic and zest. Whisk in the butter one piece at a time then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Prepare the grill for direct grilling on high heat. When ready to grill, baste each skewer with some of the sauce and grill for about 3 minutes per side, basting occasionally, until shrimp are cooked to desired doneness.

Serve with the remaining sauce if desired.

Serves 4.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jamie's Zucchini Carbonara

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I first saw Jamie make this dish on a episode of Jamie at Home. When I bought the cookbook I marked it as a "must-try". This dish makes a great main course or first course. It can also be served as a side to a simple piece of grilled meat, like lamb or beef. It's particularly good in summer when fresh herbs are available and gardens are overflowing with zucchini. Keep an eye out at your local farmer's market for yellow zucchini. Bright yellow in color, they look fabulous in this dish, but if you can't find them, use all green zucchini - it works fine too.

zucchini-carbonara

Zucchini Carbonara
from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver

6 medium green and yellow zucchini
1 pound penne
4 large egg yolks, preferably organic or free range
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 good handfuls freshly grated parmesan cheese
olive oil
12 this slices pancetta or bacon cut into chunky pieces
small bunch of fresh thyme, leave picked and chopped
a few zucchini flowers (optional)

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Halve and then quarter any larger zucchini lengthwise. Cut out and discard any fluffy middle bits and slice the zucchini at an angle into pieces roughly the same size as the penne. Smaller zucchini can simply be sliced finely. Your water should now be boiling so add the penne to the pot and cook according to the package instructions.

To make the creamy carbonara sauce, put the egg yolks into a bowl and add the cream and half the parmesan. Mix together with a fork and set aside.

Heat a very large frying pan. Add a good splash of olive oil and fry the pancetta or bacon until dark brown and crisp. Add the zucchini slices and a big pinch of black pepper. Sprinkly in the thyme leaves and give everything a stir, so the zucchini becomes coated with all the bacon-flavored oil, and fry until they start to turn lightly golden and have softened slightly.

Working quickly, draing the pasta, reserving a bit of the cooking liquid. Immediately toss the pasta in the pan with the zucchini, then remove from the heat and add a ladeful of the reserved cooking liquid and the creamy sauce. Stir together quickly. (No more cooking now or you'll scramble the eggs.)

Sprinkle in the rest of the cheese and a little more cooking water if needed. If you have zucchini flowers, tear them over the top. Serve immediately, as the sauce will become thick and stodgy if left too long.

Serve 4 as a main course or 6-8 as a first course.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lemon Bars: taste of sunshine

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For me, cooking is one of the most enjoyable activities. I love whipping up delicious concoctions in my kitchen. After a long day or week at work, it's a great way to get my mind off things (and my eyes off the computer screen.) To a lot of people, cooking is work and there will always be people who see my time in the kitchen as work - but for me, it's a hobby and one I enjoy and would never willingly give up. Might sound strange to many people - probably not my readers since most of you are foodies like me.

I guess it comes down to the saying, "to each his own". I know people who love running marathons. I don't get it. All that time and training - and all those miles... I'm all for exercising to stay healthy, just like I'm sure marathon runners are all for food to stay nourished, but marathons are to me what The French Laundry cookbook must be to others.

Anyway, I'm rambling. It's my love of cooking that always leads me to seek out new recipes and I was pretty psyched to find this one for lemon bars. In my little kitchen in Fanwood, I was able to bake up a fresh batch of sunshine. That's exactly what each of these sweet, tart bars tastes like: pure sunshine. When was the last time your hobby let you create sunshine?

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This recipe is from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook - I followed it exactly (surprising, I know!). I did have to bake mine a bit longer but I think that's just because my oven has a mind of it's own.

Lemon Bars
from the Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

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For the crust:

  •  1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
For the filling:
  • 6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemons)
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup flour
  • Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.

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Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.

Cut into triangles and dust with confectioners' sugar.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Antipasto Pasta salad

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I'm sure everyone can think of dishes that remind them of their childhood. This salad is one my mom made when I was young for parties and get togethers of all kinds. We used to have picnics at our house quite often for co-workers of my dad's and this salad frequently made the menu. As a kid, I picked out every last bit of tomato - I'm more tolerant these days. I'd try to get extra olives on my plate, too. I've made it several times for company and I've found that many people elave one thing or another on their plates - but none have ever complained.

It's easy to make, full of flavor and tastes best made a day or two ahead. It doesn't have any mayo like most pasta salads, so it's a bit healthier. Use the list of ingredients as a guide and go from there - add marinated artichokes or mozzarella - the possibilities are endless.

If you do make it a day or two ahead, check the oil and vinegar before serving - it tends to absorb a lot of it so a fresh dash of oil might be needed. Leftovers make a great lunch on the go.

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Antipasto pasta salad
  • 1 lb. small shell pasta
  • ¼ lb. provolone cubed
  • ¼ lb. Genoa or hard salami cubed
  • ¼ lb. pepperoni cubed
  • 2 green or 1 green and 1 red pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small can black olives, sliced
  • ½ cup green olives, halved
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped onion
  • 3 diced tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp oregano
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • ½ c. vinegar
  • ¾ c. olive oil

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Cook pasta according to directions on package. Allow to cool. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Make one day ahead to marinate.

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