Friday, May 30, 2008

VTV: Spinach

Another week, another vegetable. This week it’s spinach, one of my all-time favorites. How many ways have I cooked spinach over the years?

Here is one of my most requested recipes.

Chicken and Spinach Soup

4 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless

1 pound washed spinach or 1 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach (defrosted) or half of a 16 ounces bag of frozen chopped spinach (easier and doesn’t need to be defrosted)

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

3 cups chicken broth

½ cup sour cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Simmer the chicken breasts in about 3 cups of water until tender and use the cooking liquid as part of the chicken broth. You can either leave the chicken breasts whole, or, as I prefer, shred them into bite-sized pieces.

If using fresh spinach, chop coarsely. (It will cook quickly when added to the soup.)

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour, and cook for a few minutes. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth, a little at a time, stirring constantly until smooth and thickened. (This is a velouté sauce, and it will only be slightly thickened.) Add the chopped spinach, the rest of the chicken broth, and the chicken breasts. When heated through, remove from the stove and stir in the sour cream. Season to taste.

Serve with rolls, toast, fresh bread and a salad. Serves 4.

This is my offering for Vindicate the Vegetable, created by Nina of Love, Sweet Love.

BBD10: Breakfast Breads

Among the several blogging events in which I participate, I really look forward to Bread Baking Day. It’s exciting to anticipate what the next monthly challenge will be. I know. Get a life. But, there’s nothing better than fresh, homemade bread, so I’ll take any excuse opportunity I can to bake some.

BBD #10 is being hosted by Melissa of Baking a Sweet Life, and her theme this month is Breakfast Breads. There are lots of possibilities here.

For this challenge, I ended up baking two different breads. Not because I was ambitious or an over-achiever. Nope. The fact is that, while I was looking forward to tasting Oatmeal Breakfast Bread, I was disappointed in it. This is unusual for several reasons. First, it is full of delicious ingredients – oatmeal, applesauce, and dried fruit; and secondly, it comes from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours. It should be good. But it was heavy and just didn’t have the right zing to it. Also, while I baked it longer than the recipe stated, it still seemed underdone in the center.

So, based on the results of the first bread, I decided to return to a yeasted breakfast bread. Again, there were so many choices, and it took me nearly all month to decide. Monday was a major bread baking day, and one of the recipes was for this challenge: breakfast cinnamon crisps

Now, these turned out fantastic. Even though I didn’t give any away this time, they kept disappearing. My in-home taste-tester said she actually liked them better than the brioche sticky buns.

I’m sending both of these over to the BBD challenge, and I’ll provide the recipe for the better tasting one. Thanks to Melissa for hosting and to Zorra for creating this great event.

Breakfast cinnamon crisps

6 ounces milk

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup butter

½ teaspoon salt

1 1/8 teaspoons active dry yeast (or ½ a package)

1/8 cup warm water (110 to 115 °F)

1 egg

3 cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup softened butter

¾ cup sugar

1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon

Combine milk, ¼ cup sugar, ¼ cup butter, and salt in a saucepan. Heat until butter is nearly melted, then remove from heat and cool to lukewarm.

Sprinkle yeast on to the 1/8 cup warm water; stir to dissolve; and let sit a few minutes to proof.

Combine egg, 1 cup flour, milk mixture, and yeast in mixing bowl. Beat for 1 minute at low speed, the 2 minutes at medium speed, until mixture is smooth.

Mix in enough remaining flour, a little at a time, to make a soft dough that is easy to handle.

Turn onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Round into a ball, place in a greased bowl, and turn over to grease top.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 ½ hours.

Turn onto the board, cover, and let rest 10 minutes. Roll into a 20x13” rectangle.

Combine the ¾ cup sugar and 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon.

Spread the rectangle with half of the softened butter and sprinkle on half the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Fold in half and roll again to a 20x13” rectangle. Spread with the remaining softened butter and the remaining cinnamon sugar. Fold in half again and roll out to a 20x13” rectangle.

Starting at the wide side of the rectangle, roll up like a jelly roll. Seal the seam well. Even up to 20” by stretching the roll, if necessary. Cut into 1” slices. Place on greased baking sheet and flatten slightly by pressing down and gently pulling outward from the center of each slice. Sprinkle any remaining cinnamon sugar on the tops of the rolls.

Cover and let rise for about 30 minutes. Bake at 400 °F for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool. Makes about 20 rolls. (Recipe can be doubled.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Herbed Baked Eggs

You’d think I’d have enough to keep me busy, but no. A new blogging event surfaced and caught my attention. This would be the Barefoot Bloggers, created by Tara of Smells Like Home, and showcasing recipes by Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. Since I love many of the recipes she shares, I thought I’d go ahead and give it a go.

For the first event, Tara chose Herbed Baked Eggs, a quick and easy recipe. I love eggs in any way, so this was a great choice. I made them for dinner last night for me and my daughter. I had all the fresh herbs – the rosemary was picked only minutes before preparation – and all the other ingredients as well. My daughter thought the fresh rosemary added the perfect touch. This will definitely become part of my repertoire, especially for nights when a quick meal is required.

Depending on how firm you like your eggs, I would estimate cooking time at between 5 and 10 minutes. We like ours on the runny side, so 6 minutes was about right.

Herbed-Baked Eggs

source: Ina Garten, Barefoot in Paris (2004)

Yields: 2 servings

  • 1/4 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan
  • 6 extra-large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Toasted French bread or brioche, for serving
  1. Preheat the broiler for 5 minutes and place the oven rack 6 inches below the heat.
  2. Combine the garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and Parmesan and set aside. Carefully crack 3 eggs into each of 2 small bowls or teacups (you won’t be baking them in these) without breaking the yolks. (It’s very important to have all the eggs ready to go before you start cooking.)
  3. Place 2 individual gratin dishes on a baking sheet. Place 1 tablespoon of cream and 1/2 tablespoon of butter in each dish and place under the broiler for about 3 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Quickly, but carefully, pour 3 eggs into each gratin dish and sprinkle evenly with the herb mixture, then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Place back under the broiler for 5 to 6 minutes, until the whites of the eggs are almost cooked. (Rotate the baking sheet once if they aren’t cooking evenly.) The eggs will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven. Allow to set for 60 seconds and serve hot with toasted bread.

Will the real Poilane come forward

This month the Bread Baking Babes tackled the poilâne-style miche from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice. While I’ve made more than half the recipes from that book, I hadn’t yet made that particular bread.

I had a slight head start because my starter was happily bubbling along, so my first step was to create the barm. Wow. That mixture really took off, which got me all excited. Closer to the final result now, I made the firm starter, which was successful as well.

Then, I reached the actual bread stage. The dough rose, then I created 3 boules and laid them in proofing baskets. Because it was late, I put them in the refrigerator to retard overnight. The next day, I removed the baskets and let the boules warm up for the final rise. Well, after 6 hours there was nary a bit of movement. Nada. I pondered why this happened, since all was proceeding normally up to that point. I baked them anyway, even though I knew instinctively that they would fail. And, they did. If I threw one of these loaves at you, and it hit you, you would drop dead. A healthy murder weapon.

Now, there’s nothing more frustrating for me than having a bad bread-baking experience, so after checking with Mary aka Breadchick, I proceeded to plan B.

Several days having passed, I removed my big bowl of barm from the refrigerator to let it warm up. Luckily, it was still very much alive. Rather than create the firm starter, I skipped that step and went directly to Go, putting the luscious barm into the whole wheat flour/salt/water mixture. I kneaded this by hand since my industrial-strength KA was being a bit contrary, then put it in the proofer to rise. Which it did beautifully. Then I divided it into just 2 boules this time, and they also rose nicely, in just about an hour.

This time the bread was a success. Who knows why? I’ve used a firm starter before, but this time it just failed to perform. And, actually, I like the feel of putting the barm directly into the flour mixture. There is still barm remaining, so I plan to make another related recipe from Reinhart’s book.

So, after two attempts, I will send the results over to the BBBs for their perusal. The Kitchen of the Month for May belongs to Sher of What Did You Eat?, so be sure to check there for all the instructions.

Then I'll figure out what to do with the killer loaves.

Opera Cake update

Decorators beware!

When I decorated my Opéra Cake, I never considered the consequences of cutting it for eating. ;)

And, I assure you, it was totally unintentional!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers' May Challenge

Since I joined the Daring Bakers last year, I eagerly look forward to the first of every month to see what the designated challenge will be. For May, it was constructing an Opéra Cake – a multilayered dessert with almond-based genoise, flavored syrup, rich buttercream and mousse, covered with a shiny glaze. Traditionally, Opéra Cakes are made a chocolate and coffee flavor combination; however, the rules for this challenge decreed a light-colored and light-flavored cake. So many options! This was truly a challenge!

I went back and forth among several flavor ideas – lemon, orange, strawberry, cherry, almond. Finally, I decided to make a non-fruit version, ending up with a Grasshopper Opéra Cake (or Grasshopéra Cake), which uses the traditional flavors of crème de cacao (clear variety) and crème de menthe (brilliant green variety).

Now, I suppose I could write about how challenging this challenge was, but, in truth, it was just a cake. A cake with a lot of steps, but a simple cake nonetheless.

So, the bottom line is that all the individual parts came together easily and perfectly, and the final assembly was, well, a piece of cake. I’d love to make this again, using the chocolate-coffee combination, since the white chocolate version was more sweet than I prefer. But I enjoyed the experience and this cake would certainly be a show-stopper for any occasion.

A big round of applause goes out to the May selectors: Lis of La Mia Cucina, Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie, and Shea of Whiskful. The cake is also dedicated to Barbara of WinosandFoodies for Living Strong.

Opéra Cake

This recipe is based on Opéra Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

For the joconde

(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)

What you’ll need:

•2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans (Note: If you do not have jelly-roll pans this size, do not fear! You can use different-sized jelly-roll pans like 10 x 15-inches.)
•a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)
•parchment paper
•a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer
•two mixing bowls


6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds (Note: If you do not want to use almond meal, you can use another nut meal like hazelnut. You can buy almond meal in bulk food stores or health food stores, or you can make it at home by grinding almonds in the food processor with a tablespoon or two of the flour that you would use in the cake. The reason you need the flour is to prevent the almonds from turning oily or pasty in the processor. You will need about 2 cups of blanched almonds to create enough almond meal for this cake.)

2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

2.Preheat the oven to 425◦F. (220◦C).

3.Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

4.In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.

5.If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

6.Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).

7.Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

8.Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.

9.Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

10.Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

For the syrup

(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan


½ cup (125 grams) water

⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavoring of your choice (i.e., vanilla extract, almond extract, cognac, limoncello, coconut cream, honey etc.)

1.Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.

2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the buttercream

(Note: The buttercream can be made up to 1 month in advance and packed in an airtight container. If made way in advance, you can freeze the buttercream. Alternatively you can refrigerate it for up to 4 days after making it. To use the buttercream simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan

•a candy or instant-read thermometer
•a stand mixer or handheld mixer
•a bowl and a whisk attachment
•rubber spatula


1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

¼ cup (60 grams) water
seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (Note: If you are flavouring your buttercream and do not want to use the vanilla, you do not have to. Vanilla will often enhance other flavours but if you want an intense, one-flavoured buttercream, then by all means leave it out!)
1 large egg

1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)

1.Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.

2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.

3.While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.

4.When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!

5.Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).

6.While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.

7.With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.

8.At this point add in your flavoring and beat for an additional minute or so.

9.Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

For the white chocolate ganache/mousse (this step is optional – please see Elements of an Opéra Cake below)

(Note: The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a mixer or handheld mixer


7 ounces white chocolate (I used Ghirardelli white chocolate premium baking bar and had no issues with melting.)
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liqueur of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)

1.Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.
2.Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.

3.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
4.Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.
5.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.
6.If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

For the glaze
(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan or double boiler


14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)

1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.

3.Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

Note: I placed the cake in the freezer while I prepared the glaze to make sure the ganache/mousse layer was thoroughly solid before pouring the warm glaze.

Assembling the Opéra Cake

(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.

Step A (if using buttercream only and not making the ganache/mousse):

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about one-third of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread another third of the buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde. Spread the remaining buttercream on top of the final layer of joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Step B (if making the ganache/mousse):

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about three-quarters of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up.

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Before serving, trim all four sides of the cake to expose the various layers. It’s best to use a long, heated, serrated knife.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

The Elements of an Opéra Cake:

Joconde: The base of an Opéra Cake is a thin sponge cake that is made using nut meal, traditionally almond meal (finely ground blanched almonds).

Syrup: The joconde is flavoured with a sugar syrup that can be flavoured to suit your tastes.

Buttercream: The first two layers of the joconde are covered in a rich buttercream. This particular buttercream is made with a syrup, eggs and butter.

Ganache/Mousse (optional): In some recipes, the final layer of the joconde is covered in a ganache or mousse. While not hard to make, this makes the recipe quite involved. We are giving Daring Bakers the option of either using the buttercream to cover the final layer or, if they’re feeling up to it, to go ahead and make the ganache/mousse.

Glaze: The final step to an Opéra Cake is the glaze that gives the cake a very finished and elegant appearance.

Monday, May 26, 2008

TWD: Gone in a Flash

This week’s TWD challenge was a return to brioche, this time in the form of pecan honey sticky buns. I was hoping they would taste as good as the brioche snails we made in March. So, looking forward to their deliciousness, I prepped the dough on Saturday evening and made the buns, themselves, on Sunday morning. Sadly, I have to report there is not a pecan sticky bun left. They were that good. I’m going through withdrawal. The last two disappeared this morning and even a whole day old, they are still delicious.

I only made half the brioche recipe this time, using one egg and one egg yolk in place of 1 ½ eggs. We had a chilly spell in southern California this weekend, so it took forever for the butter to soften. I finally placed it in the oven while my proofing cycle was going and that did the trick. And I used 2 kinds of honey – a light, mild honey a friend had given me, and a darker honey from Germany. When combined, there was just enough, so I was able to free up some pantry space.

Oh, and for flipping out the sticky sticky buns? Non-stick tin foil is just the ticket.

I gave six buns to my next-door neighbor. Ha ha – her 9-year-old son thinks I’m a goddess! When I called yesterday, I got her voice mail, so I left a message about still-warm sticky buns. Within minutes the phone rang, and she said she had heard a rumor that there were fresh sticky buns. It seems her son had been listening while I left the phone message, and immediately went outside to get his mother and tell her the news.

While I’ve never been a big fan of sticky buns in general, I have to say this one is a winner.

Thanks to
Madame Chow from Madame Chow’s Kitchen for choosing this addicting recipe. Now, go drool over all the buns from the TWD bakers.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

VTV: Grated Carrot Salad

This week’s featured vegetable is the carrot. I guess I can’t do the stir-fry again, right? It did contain carrots as well as broccoli.

So, here’s a quick and easy way to showcase carrots – a grated carrot salad. It’s great for improvisations, too. This time, I mixed one grated carrot with equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream – just enough to moisten the carrots. Then I added a pinch of Kosher salt, a pinch of sugar, a squeeze of lime juice, and some currants. If I have dried cranberries, I will use them, and, of course, there are always raisins and drained, crushed pineapple, depending on mood and availability.

This is my offering for Vindicate the Vegetable, created by Nina of Love, Sweet Love.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Weekend Cookbook Challenge 28: TV Cooks

On occasion I will cook a dish more than once, especially if it becomes a family favorite. This has been my pattern for years and years. I mean, how could you eat the same few meals, day in and day out, without variation? As they say, so many recipes, so little time.

I look for my inspiration from a variety of places, including my cookbook collection, the Internet, and, of course, television. Having access to the Food Network has always been one of my cable-TV requirements. Sometimes it takes awhile to get familiar with the Food Network TV personalities. Take Rachael Ray, for instance. A lot of people pan her, but, frankly, if you can get past the giggles and the slang, she does have some quick and delicious meal ideas. It took me some time to become accustomed to her style, but I have added quite a few of her dishes to the list of family favorites.

Several years ago, she featured her version of nachos – Super Nachos. Wow. It was an instant hit. My daughter just returned from her year at college, and this was one of her first requests.

So, since this month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge (#28) is featuring TV cooks, I thought I would offer this as my entry. I usually make my own tortilla chips, but it’s delicious either way. Hope you all enjoy it. A big thank you to Sara at i like to cook for being the hostess this month.

Super Nachos
(adapted from Rachael Ray)

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves 4

2 bags corn tortilla chips in 2 colors or different flavors, such as blue corn, red corn, yellow corn, lime flavored, chili flavored or black bean chips -- pick 2 favorites

(Or make your own. My recipe is below.)

Pico de Gallo Salsa:
4 vine ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped, for medium to hot heat level
1 small white onion, chopped
1/4 cup, 2 handfuls, cilantro leaves, finely chopped -- substitute parsley if cilantro is not to your liking

Beef and Beans Topping:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound ground sirloin
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dark chili powder
1 1/2 teasponns ground cumin
2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper sauce, giving you medium to hot heat level
1 can black beans, 15 ounces, drained

Cheese Sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
3/4 pound pepper jack cheese, shredded, about 2 1/2 cups

Additional toppings to choose from, optional:
Sour cream
Chopped scallions
Chopped black olives
Diced pimento
Sliced avocado, dressed with lemon juice
Hot pepper sauces

Combine salsa ingredients in a bowl and set aside for flavors to marry.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add oil, garlic, onion and peppers to the pan and saute 2 minutes, then add meat and crumble with wooden spoon. Season meat with salt, chili powder, cumin and cayenne pepper sauce. Cook meat 5 minutes, then stir in beans and reduce heat to low.

In a medium sauce pot, melt butter and add flour to it. Cook flour and butter 1 to 2 minutes over moderate heat, then whisk in milk. When milk comes to a bubble, stir in cheese with a wooden spoon. Remove cheese sauce from the heat.

Divide chips evenly among the four plates.

Pour cheese sauce evenly over the chips and top evenly with beef and beans and the pico de gallo. Serve immediately as is or, garnish with your choice of extra toppings from the toppings list.

Home-made Tortilla Chips

6 corn tortillas

Brush both sides with oil; stack and cut into sixths. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and season with salt to taste. Bake at 350 degrees (F) for 12-15 minutes, or until crisp and golden.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Blogger 411 Meme

Thank you, Caitlin, for asking me to do a meme. It’s my very first, so I wanted to be thoughtful about my responses.

1.Why did you start your blog?
I had played around with the idea of having a blog for awhile, but it wasn’t until I joined the Daring Bakers that I actually committed.

2. How did you come up with your blog name?
Ah, I’ve been asked that a fair number of times. I raised two daughters on my own, and even while working outside the home, I believed in cooking healthy meals from fresh ingredients every night. Now, if you’ve looked at my blog, you’ll get some idea of my philosophy. I don’t do processed foods, and rarely do take-out. So, at dinner, I would present the latest tasty and healthy meal, and both girls would look at it and go “Eeeewww, gross!” And then gulp it down.

It became a standing joke after awhile that when I finally opened my restaurant, I would call it Judy’s Gross Eats.

It was only natural. ;)

3. Do your friends and family know about your blog, and what do they think?
My family and friends know about the blog. Some are regular viewers; some are too busy to remember; one or two don’t have computers (hard to imagine). A few of my friends use it to keep track of me. My regulars give me occasional feedback. Ha ha: the fiancé of one friend can’t understand why I don’t weigh 300 pounds.

4. How do you write posts?
I write rough drafts in my word processor, then tweak them. Because I work in an area of the publishing world, I am very conscious about spelling, grammar, essay construction, etc. Plus, sometimes I think faster than I can write, so I want to be sure I include all my thoughts, and I have a tendency to be too brief, so I usually need to say more.

5. Have you ever had a troll or had to delete unkind comments?

Not yet, thankfully.

6. Do you check your stats or care how many people read your blog? If you care, how do you increase traffic?

Yes. It’s the nerdy part of me. I love looking at where people live, what time they log in, what they look at, if they leave a comment. And the cute little flags. And the bar graphs. And especially the maps.

It is interesting to note that ISP locations can be inconsistent, though. The same viewer could be from one of two places, according to each statistics provider, so for some people, I’m not totally sure where they’re from.

Also, some providers give the ‘corporate’ location. I had someone from a president’s office look it my blog. Break time, maybe?

Oh, and the ones I really laugh at are people who are looking for ‘gross’ foods. Must be quite a shock when they look at my blog.

Had enough?

So, just for fun, I’m tagging the following people, if they wish. I’d really choose everyone, but the list would be way too long.

Noskos of Living the Life

Natalie of Burned Bits

Jaime of Good Eats ‘n Sweet Treats

Mary of The Food Librarian

Rebecca of West Coast Kitchen

Monday, May 19, 2008

TWD: Madeleines

For many years I have carried around one dozen individual madeleine molds, hoping that someday I would have occasion to use them. That day finally arrived. This week’s TWD challenge was madeleines, chosen by Tara of Smells Like Home.

I don’t remember where or when I purchased them, but I knew I had to have them. I’m sure that others have tried to persuade me to toss things I don’t use, but, like cookbooks, a girl can never have too many baking tools. So, the tins remained.

This time I made only half a recipe and I let the batter refrigerate for about 24 hours. It filled about 8 tins, but, in future, I would spread it out among 10 to 12 because a few overflowed and the rest were almost too full. Perhaps that is why there was no bump. It’s worth investigating.

While the cookies were light and delicious, I was somewhat underwhelmed. All the hype over the years had me convinced that these were special cookies with a mystique all their own. They were good, but not spectacular. For science, it might be worthwhile to try several different recipes and compare -- is it the recipe or the cookie itself that disappoints?

Be sure and visit the other TWD blogs and see how everyone fared with their own madeleines.

Traditional Madeleines
(Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
½ cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon (I used a combination of lemon and orange zest)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Working in a mixer bowl, or in a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the eggs to the bowl. Working with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together on medium-high speed until pale, thick and light, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. With a rubber spatula, very gently fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the batter and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours, or for up to 2 days. This long chill period will help the batter form the hump that is characteristic of madeleines. (For convenience, you can spoon the batter into the madeleine molds, cover and refrigerate, then bake the cookies directly from the fridge; see below for instructions on prepping the pans.)

GETTING READY TO BAKE: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter 12 full-size madeleine molds, or up to 36 mini madeleine molds, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. Or, if you have a nonstick pan (or pans), give it a light coating of vegetable cooking spray. If you have a silicone pan, no prep is needed. (my silicone needed the prep) Place the pan(s) on a baking sheet.

Spoon the batter into the molds, filling each one almost to the top. Don’t worry about spreading the batter evenly, the oven’s heat will take care of that. Bake large madeleines for 11 to 13 minutes, and minis for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are golden and the tops spring back when touched. Remove the pan(s) from the oven and release the madeleines from the molds by rapping the edge of the pan against the counter. Gently pry any recalcitrant madeleines from the pan using your fingers or a butter knife. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature.

If you are making minis and have more batter, bake the next batch(es), making certain that you cool, then properly prepare the pan(s) before baking.

Just before serving, dust the madeleines with confectioners’ sugar.

Makes 12 large or 36 mini cookies

Serving: Serve the cookies when they are only slightly warm or when they reach room temperature, with tea or espresso.

Storing: Although the batter can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, the madeleines should be eaten soon after they are made. You can keep them overnight in a sealed container, but they really are better on day 1. If you must store them, wrap them airtight and freeze them; they’ll keep for up to 2 months. (I thought they tasted just as good on Day 2.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Broccoli goodness

I’m lucky to have a family that loves vegetables. Of course, each person has a few dislikes, mostly of a textural nature, but overall I can’t complain. As a child, I always had a vegetable garden, and whenever possible, I had one as an adult, too. I really wanted to plant one this year, but over the winter, my garden area was overrun with gophers and rabbits, so I will have to figure out how to work around them.

For a few years, I participated in a local CSA program. Each Thursday I would pick up the week’s selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, and then come up with recipes, sometimes creative, sometimes not, that featured the vegetable du jour, so to speak. Most vegetables were familiar to me, but occasionally there was something new. I still have yet to find a way to make kohlrabi edible.

Recently, I came upon a blogging event that focused on vegetables, Vindicate The Vegetable, created by Nina from Love, Sweet Love. I discovered it during eggplant week, but it was too late to enter. Geez. I have the best eggplant recipe, too!

So, I kept an eye on the blog, and this week, the vegetable is broccoli, one of our favorites. Near where my mother lives, about 90 minutes north of me, they grow two things: strawberries and broccoli. Nothing beats fresh broccoli, anytime of year.

I’ve made the following recipe for years, adapting it to suit my tastes, so I hope you enjoy another way to eat broccoli.

Pork, Broccoli, and Carrot Stir-Fry

1/3 cup water

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons white wine (or water, if you wish)

1 to 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, or 1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch

½ teaspoon minced, peeled garlic

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

10 ounces lean boneless pork loin, trimmed of fat, and cut into ¼ x 2-inch strips

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 cups raw broccoli florets

2 cups sliced carrots (on the diagonal is nice)

1 cup sliced onions

In a small bowl, mix the water, soy sauce, wine, ginger, cornstarch, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Add the pork; cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, if possible. After marinating, drain liquid, reserving it.

In a wok or large skillet, heat oil over high heat; add pork and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, or until meat has lost its pink color. Add the vegetables and stir-fry 2-3 minutes longer, until the broccoli is bright green and crisp-tender. (Note: sometimes I will quickly par-cook the broccoli and carrots (1-2 minutes) before adding them, so they won’t overcook or remain raw.) Add the reserved soy sauce mixture and cook another 50 seconds or so until thickened.

Serve with brown rice or whole wheat pasta.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Cool Sorbet

Many years ago I recall that Baskin-Robbins made an ice cream that combined the flavor of chocolate and oranges. Mandarin Chocolate, I think. Normally, I like my chocolate unadulterated, but I do remember that I liked that particular flavor. So, I went on a search for a similar recipe, and found one right under my nose, so to speak.

Browsing through The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz, I came upon Chocolate-Tangerine Sorbet. Simple and perfect. (And my tangerine tree is loaded with fruit.)

So, for this month’s version of Sugar High Friday (Citrus), hosted by the wonderful Hélène of Tartelette, I offer a cool treat – a little bit chocolate and a little bit tart – served in its own cookie cup.

Chocolate-Tangerine Sorbet
(adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz)

1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups tangerine juice

In a medium, nonreactive saucepan, heat the water and sugar, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat.

Whisk in the chocolate until it's melted. Whisk in the tangerine juice.

Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker.

Serve in cookie cups, if desired.

Makes about 1 quart.

SHF was created by Jennifer from The Domestic Goddess. Always fun to see what's being cooked up.