Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Destination Dinner - Stir Fry

There is something about having a secret that I love. I spend all day thinking and scheming about something all the time knowing that my husband is non the wiser. I enjoy running about from store to store gathering ingredients for a special meal that only I know about. There's no rhyme or reason to when or why I make a special meal...the idea just sneaks into my mind and doesn't leave until I act on it. Sometimes I will supress the urge for a day-two at the most before I give in.
Pre-parenthood this used to include a table for two with candlelight in the bedroom, indoor picnics next to the fireplace, or outdoor bonfires. Now it is more of a rush job when most of the prep work is done during naptime and even still I rarely finish in time so I have to block Joseph's view of the kitchen as he enters and usher him and the little one out of the room to allow me a little extra time to put the finishing touches on dinner.
Last night's asian destination dinner was the most hectic surprise dinner I've made to date. I think I had to do a full body block to prevent Joseph from getting a sneak peak as I tried to hand over Gabe's dinner. Not quite the quiet, romantic atmosphere I was going for...but it was still worth it. His expression was priceless as I pulled out the platter of california rolls I had hiding in the fridge. He could not believe I had made sushi, his favorite, for dinner.
Although it was a long process for one roll of sushi, I had a great time trying my hand at this artform. I even think it turned out okay for my first attempt and I might even have to buy a bamboo mat to make the rolling go a little easier. (I actually used a couple layers of tinfoil with a towl underneath.) As you can see from the picture, I do need to work on my slicing skills. Getting the blade of the knife to go through without any drag was challenging and my slices certainly were not consistent in size - but the taste was there!

Beef Stir-fry

1 lb beef sliced thin
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 cloves garlic
fresh cracked pepper
1/2 onion, sliced in rings
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 cups broccoli

Marinate the beef in the soy sauce, garlic, and pepper for at least 30 minutes. Saute the beef in 2 tablespoons oil for 1 minute on each side. Remove from pan. Add in remaining ingredients and any remaining marinade and saute for 3-4 minutes or until desired doneness. Add in beef and serve over rice.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Pizza with Tomato, Ricotta, Prosciutto, and Arugula

This is a tasty alternative to take out pizza.  It comes from a great cookbook, Simple Pleasures, which has given me a surprising number of stellar meals in the past month or two.  Give it a try!

Pizza with Tomato, Ricotta, Prosciutto, and Arugula
adapted from Simple Pleasures by Alfred Portale

All-purpose flour, for dusting the work surface
1 1/4 pounds raw pizza dough
Olive oil
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup pizza sauce
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1/4 pound Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
1/3 pound thinly sliced prosciutto di Parma
2 cups arugula, stems removed
6 basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade

The original recipes calls for grilling the flattened and sauced pizza dough at 425 degrees for 1-2 minutes however this doesn't work in January, so I brushed the dough with olive oil and seasoned it with salt and pepper and then baked at 500 degrees until puffed and removed before any color developed on the edges.

Spread the pizza sauce lightly over the surface and distribute spoonfuls of ricotta (or fresh mozzarella) around the surface of the pizza. Scatter the Parmesan cheese over the top and bake in the oven for 3 minutes.

Remove and arrange the prosciutto slices and arugula attractively over the pizzas. Drizzle with olive oil, top with basil, and season with salt and pepper.

Pizza Sauce
2/3 cup tomato paste
2 T olive oil
2 t finely chopped rinsed anchovy fillets
1/2 t finely chopped garlic, mashed with a pinch of salt
1/2 t dried oregano
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper
1/4 t crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 t coarse salt

In a medium bowl combine all of the ingredients.

Pizza Dough

¼ cup white wine
1 cup warm water
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp. salt
½ Tbsp yeast
In a bowl combine everything except flour. Let mixture sit for 4-5 minutes. Next, stir in flour ½ cup at a time until mixture comes together and forms a ball. Continue adding flour until the dough is not sticky. Turn out onto floured counter and knead until dough forms a smooth ball. (2-3 minutes) Rub a small amount of olive oil on dough and place in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and then a towel. Place in a warm spot for 1-2 hours. Dough should double in size.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Shrimp Risotto with Sweet Peas and Leeks

This week I'm working from Alfred Portale's (Gotham Bar and Grill's Acclaimed Chef) Simple Pleasures a cookbook that I picked up from the library. I chose it, along with 3 other books, in a matter of minutes as a friend of mine was playing with the little one downstairs. This method of simply ripping down a few cookbooks without much time to ponder has been mostly hit and miss. Lately I seem to have been missing a lot. However, this one seems interesting with it's colorful pictures and stripped down recipes. Yesterday I chose two or three recipes that I wanted to try and went out to gather ingredients. This risotto was my first choice and it sure is a keeper.
It turned out so good that I thought I would submit it to Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by Tomato. This weekly event features recipes containing vegetables and herbs as the focus and this dish fits the bill. The leeks are spotlighted in this wonderful risotto and the opportunity to use a variety of herbs such as parsley, chervil, and basil make it fun to prepare. The leeks in this dish lend a delicate onion flavor. They also have a nice texture and proved to be a great way to sneak in a veggie (not that I really need to "sneak" them in)for my 13 month old who isn't yet able to handle bold flavors.

Shrimp Risotto with Sweet Peas and Leeks
adapted from Simple Pleasures

2 quarts Chicken Stock
Coarse salt to taste
1 cup frozen peas - fresh when in season
4 small leeks, white and green parts only, thickly slices, rinsed, and drained
2 T olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
2 t finely chopped garlic
1 t coriander
2 cups Risotto Rice-Canaroli or Arborio
1/2 cup dry white wine
12 to 14 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 T unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped chervil - I replaced this with basil (a suggested variation)
4 t fresh lemon juice (I omitted this for person preference.)

Pour the chicken stock into a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Keep the stock at a low simmer.
While the stock is heating, bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl halfway with ice water. Add the peas to the boiling water and blanch them for 1 to 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the ice water to stop the cooking and set their color.
Add the leeks to the boiling water and cook until tender, 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the leeks to the ice water. Drain the vegetables and set them aside.
Warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium-low heat. Add the onions and saute for 2 minutes. Then add the garlic and coriander, and cook for another minute. Add the rice and saute until coated. Add the wine and cook, stirring until it is almost completely absorbed, 3 minutes.
Add about 1 cup of simmering stock to the rice. Cook for approximately 2 minutes, stirring often, until the stock is almost completely absorbed. Gradually add more stock, a cup at a time, stirring gently until it is absorbed by the rice before adding the next cup. After about 15 minutes taste the rice which should be firm yet cooked through. It should take a total of 18-20 minutes total.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saute pan set over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, add them to the pan, and saute until firm and pink, about 3 minutes.
Add the peas, leeks, and shrimp to the risotto. Stir in the butter and cream. Stir in the lemon juice, parsley, and chervil. Season to taste.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007


We make these doughnuts every year on Father's Day.  They are always a hit.  Some years we dust them with powdered sugar or a cinnamon and sugar mixture and some years we serve them as doughnut holes we raspberry or chocolate dipping sauce.  It is a treat that the kids and my husband look forward to each year.  Half a recipe makes more than enough doughnut for a family of four to eat.

Cake Donuts
adapted from BREAD for Breakfast
I halved this recipe and it made a dozen doughnuts plus doughnut holes.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 T baking powder
1 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t baking soda
3/4 t salt
1 large egg plus 2 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
3 T melted butter
1/3 c sour cream
1 c buttermilk
1/2 t vanilla extract
About 1 quart vegetable oil for frying
(1 T vanilla powder - I omitted this)

In a medium bowl, stir together the all-purpose and cake flours, baking powder, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt.
In the workbowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer, cream the egg, yolks, and sugar on low speed until thick and lemon colored, about 1 minute. Add the melted butter and sour cream and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. On low speed, add the dry ingedients in 3 separate additions, alternating with the buttermilk and vanilla extract. The dough will be very soft. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 2 hours (I refrigerated overnight and they were fine). This chilling before frying prevents the dough from absorbing too much oil while cooking.
Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead a few times, like for biscuit dough, just until it holds together, and keeping it as soft as possible. With a rolling pin, quickly roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Do not add too much flour or over-handle at this point or the donuts will be tough. Cut the doughnuts out using a doughnut cutter. (I used a drinking glass and a cap from a gluestick that I thoroughly cleaned and dipped in flour.)
In a deep heavy 4-quart pot, pour the oil to a depth of 2 inches. Heat to 375 degrees. Place a clean brown paper bag on a baking sheet at the side of the stove to drain donuts. Carefully test the oil with a scrap of dough; the oil is hot enough when it puffs immediately. Carefully slide 2 or 3 pieces of dough off a metal spatula into the hot oil. Don't crowd them. Turn a few times with a slotted spoon; cookuntil golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Remove with slotted spoon and drain. Cool to room temperature.

I am sort-of a purist when it comes to doughnuts. I like them plain or sugared, no nuts, no glaze, no fillings. So we rolled ours in powdered sugar and cinnamon and sugar.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Individual Sausage and Egg Casseroles

These individual casseroles were very tasty and a nice diversion from the sweet breakfast items that we usually indulge in during the weekend. They were quick to assemble and once in the oven I had time to clean up the kitchen before eating.

Individual Sausage and Egg Casseroles
1/4 lb italian sausage
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
4 eggs
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups cubed bread

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Brown sausage in a skillet. Add in onion and bell pepper after the sausage has rendered a little fat. While the sausage browns, grease two ramekins and layer in the bread and cheese. In a bowl combine eggs, milk, salt, and pepper; mix thouroughly. Pour egg mixture over bread and cheese. Top with browned sausage mixture. Bake for 45-50 minutes.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Koosa - Stuffed Squash

Koosa is the middle eastern name for this dish which we know as stuffed squash. This is a very traditional meal and one that we eat often at family get togethers.  It is often served alongside stuffed grape leaves because the same stuffing can be used for both dishes.  I had cut the beef in the traditional way, but you could substitute ground beef or lamb just as easily.


1 cup raw rice
2 t salt
1/2 t allspice
3/4 t cinnamon
1/8 t pepper
1 1/4 lb ground or minced chuck roast (or lamb)
12-14 small to medium squash or zucchini
1 lb can of tomatoes or tomato sauce (I used canned diced tomatoes.)

In a bowl wash rice in cold water and drain. Add salt, spices and stir well. Add meat and mix with hands, adding some cold water to help mix (if needed). Set aside and prepare squash.
(This filling also works well to stuff cabbage or grape leaves.)
Wash, stem, and scoop out each squash. Leave sides about 1/8 inch thick. Stuff the squash with the filling leaving a little space for the rice to expand.
Place a layer of pulp, onions, or meat at the bottom of the pot to prevent the squash from scorching and then layer in the squash. Add the tomatoes and enough water to barely cover. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook on low heat for 50-60 minutes or until rice and squash are tender.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Zucchini Bread

These make for a very quick, easy, and yummy breakfast. The nutmeg adds a spiciness and warmth to the muffins that I really like. I baked these in mini-loaf pans however it works in 2 regular loaf pans or muffin tins as well. (This recipe also lends itself to being halved very easily.)

Zucchini Bread
adapted from Paula Dean

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t salt
1 t ground nutmeg
2 t baking soda
1 t ground cinnamon
2 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 c vegetable oil
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 c water
2 cups grated zucchini
1 c chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, nutmeg, baking soda, cinnamon, and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil, eggs, water, and zucchini. Mix wet ingredients into dry, add nuts and fold in. Bake in 2 standard loaf pans, sprayed with nonstick spray, for 1 hour, or until a tester comes out clean. Alternately, bake in 5 mini-loaf pans for 45 minutes.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Overnight Waffles

These overnight waffles make breakfast time quick and easy. The batter is prepared the night before and left in the refrigerator until morning. When the time comes all you have to do is heat up the waffle iron and pour. I did go a step further this morning and I made a healthy alternative to syrup by using up some frozen strawberries for a delicious sauce.

Overnight Waffles
adapted from Better Homes and Garden The New Cookbook

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 T sugar
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground cinnamon (optional)
1 3/4 c milk
2 eggs
1/3 c cooking oil

In a large mixing bowl stir together flour, sugar, yeast, salt, and cinnamon. Add the milk, eggs, and oil; beat until thoroughly combined. Cover loosely and refrigerate overnight.
Stir batter. Pour 3/4 cup batter into a preheated lightly greased waffle iron. Cook per waffle iron instructions. Repeat with remaining batter.

Strawberry Sauce

2 1/2 cups chopped strawberries (frozen or fresh)
1/4 cup sugar (I actually prefer it a little tarter so I cut down the amount used)
1/4 c water
2 T cornstarch

Place all ingredients in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Allow mixture to simmer for 2 minutes and then remove from heat. Pour sauce into a food processor or blender and puree.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Gabe's Ultimate Soup

While visiting our parents during the holidays we were reminded of how rare it is to see a toddler spit out sweets in favor of things like grape tomatoes. During one holiday party our son's eating habits were the topic of conversation. Many commented on how lucky we are and went on to share stories about this or that child that only ate pizza or hamburgers for months on end. Indeed we have a "good little eater" and today's meal was one of his ultimate favorites. Meaning he ate his share, pushed the strawberries aside, and ate another half serving before stopping.

Minestrone Soup

1 12 oz can of white beans such as Great Northern
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound pancetta (Italian cured pork belly, available at Italian markets and specialty foods shops) or sliced lean bacon, chopped
3 T olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 large carrots, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
1 rib of celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
2 zucchini, scrubbed, halved and cut into 1/2-inch rounds
16-ounce can whole, peeled tomatoes (I seeded and squeezed each one in my hands before adding to the soup)
4 1/2 cups chicken broth (preferably low-salt)
1 2-inch hunk of parmesan cheese rind
2 cups of any small pasta
freshly grated Parmesan, garlic bruschetta, and dry-cured sausages as accompaniments

In a heavy kettle cook the pancetta in the oil over moderate heat, stirring, until it is crisp and pale golden, add the onion, and cook the mixture, stirring, until the onion is softened. Add the carrots, the celery, and the garlic and cook the mixture, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the broth and simmer the soup, covered, for 1 hour. Add the beans, zucchini, and pasta and boil for 10 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

This soup can be made days in advance (it actually enhances the flavor) and kept covered and chilled. Reheat the soup, thinning it with water or more broth as desired. Serve the soup with the Parmesan, the bruschetta, and the sausages. Makes about 10 cups, serving 6 to 8.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bucatini with Shrimp Skewers and Pesto

Tonight's dinner comes from a cookbook put out by Williams-Sonoma simply called Pasta.  It turned out very tasty and I really enjoyed the shrimp skewers.

Bucatini with Shrimp Skewers and Sicilian Pesto
adapted from Williams-Sonoma Pasta
1/2 cup blanched almonds
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
24 fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

3 T extra virgin olive oil
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 t cumin
salt and pepper
1 pound shrimp
1 lb bucatini

To make the pesto, combine the almonds, garlic, and oilve oil in a blender or food processor and grind to a coarse paste. Add the basil and process until just blended. Add cheese and salt to taste. It should have some texture.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Heat a grill pan over high heat.

Meanwhile, combine the oilve oil, lemon zest, juice, cumin, salt, and pepper to taste in a lratge bowl to make a marinade. Shell the shrimp, leaving the tails intact, and devein them if the vein is visible. Add the shrimp to the marinade and miz well. Thread the shrimp on 4 long metal skewers.

Generously salt the boiling water, add the bucatini, and cook until al dente, 10-12 minutes.

Meanwhile, sear the shrmip skweres on the grill pan or in a broiler without moving them until they start to turn pink, 1-2 minutes. Turn and cook the other side until evenly pink, 1-2 minutes.

Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Put the pasta in a bowl. Pour on the pesto and toss, adding a few tablespoons of the cooking water to loosen the sauce, Serve the pasta alongside the shrimp.

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