Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Baby Frittatas: Miniature Brunch Part II

Today,  I am going to make suggestions for a miniature themed brunch party, because I think tiny food is just perfect for brunch.  I prepared a second recipe on the small scale using my silicon muffin tray - miniature vegetable frittatas.  They were simple to make and delicious.  For a miniature brunch party (brunch on the bite-sized scale), I propose the following menu, all recipes from this site:

Mini Vegetable Frittatas (recipe below)
Sasha's Caesar Salad
Margie's Strawberries Romanoff
Sasha's Mini Key Lime Cheesecakes (yesterday's recipe for Miniature Food Part I)
Shooters of brunch cocktails (i.e. mimosas, blood mary etc.) served in shot glasses

The frittatas were very simple - first use Pam or Crisco to spray the silicon muffin tray.  Then, mix the following ingredients (of choose other vegetables more to your liking)

8 eggs, scrambled
broccoli heads, chopped
2/3 of a red pepper, diced
1 shallot, diced
1/3 of a cup crumbled goat cheese
10 toothpicks
10 grape tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Combine the vegetables with the eggs, just like if you were making an omelet or frittata.  Leave the tomatoes out for now, as they come later.  Fill the silicon muffin tray cups with the egg-vegetable mixture and make for about 15 minutes (until the frittatas are done and fully cooked, but not burnt).

When you take them out, you can scoop them out of the trays using a serving spoon, doing so carefully so as to keep the frittatas in tact.  Then, top with a toothpick and a mini tomato (I used grape tomatoes, but yellow heirloom mini tomatoes would be lovely in the summer).

You now have a delicious entree for the perfect miniature themed brunch party.  These were adorable and delicious.  Much better than making a large omelet that always disappoints when I have trouble folding it up nicely in the end.  You could make these with pretty much any vegetable you like in an omelet or frittata, and can substitute egg whites for the full eggs.

Check out my miniature key lime cheesecakes, yesterday's recipe, here.  Click here for Margie's brunch entree, of crunchy french toast.

Frittata on FoodistaFrittata

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Baby Key Lime Cheesecakes: Miniature Foods Part I

Miniature food can be such a delight.  There is a modern fascination with baby-sized food, from cupcakes ("baby cakes") to tapas or small plates, to everything else done on the miniature scale.  My posts for today and tomorrow are both going to focus on miniature scaled food - of the small bite variety.  Both projects are foods that are typically prepared in large sizes, but can be scaled down to make a dozen of the miniature version for a cute, picture perfect result.  Both of my baby-sized food recipes will be prepared the same way - by the dozen in silicon muffin trays.

All this miniature food can come together nicely as small plates for a brunch party with friends.  Thus, the inspiration behind my miniature food posts is that they would go nicely together for a mini-themed brunch.

Last night, my husband Brad and I prepared miniature (or little babies, as I call them, fondly) key lime cheesecakes.  The inspiration for this recipe was found in my newest (and quickly becoming one of my favorite) baking cookbooks - Rose Levy Beranbaum's cookbook, entitled Rose's Heavenly Cakes, which was just published in September 2009.

Rose Levy Beranbaum, who is pretty much the goddess of cake baking in the modern world, as far as I am concerned, has a recipe for Baby Lemon Cheesecakes with Lemon Curd.  I couldn't help but imagine what this would be like if it was instead flavored with key limes, so I adapted her recipe to make a key lime variation.  In addition to changing the citrus fruit, I decided that mini key lime cheesecakes would taste better with a graham cracker crust, rather than the biscuit crust that Rose used in her lemon baby cheesecakes.  Finally, I made mine a tad bit healthier than Rose suggests - I used substituted fat cream cheese and reduced fat sour cream.  Because if you are going to eat a dozen little cheesecakes, you might as well feel a little better about it . . .

Another note - if you cannot obtain fresh key lime juice, I don't advise squeezing from the tiny key limes without a juicer - you can freely substitute lime juice instead, as I have given the measurements for the lime variation as well.  You should make sure you have a silicon muffin tray (not a metal one) for this recipe, if you have aspirations of getting the cheesecakes out of the tray with ease.

Sasha's Baby Key Lime Cheesecakes (Loosely Adapted from Rose's Baby Lemon Cheesecakes)

5 T unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs (I bought a box of graham cracker crumbs)
8 oz reduced fat cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
3 T key lime juice (you need more key lime juice than the lemon juice called for in Rose's recipe, because the lemon juice is much stronger and more acidic; use 1 1/2 T if using regular lime juice)
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups reduced fat sour cream

Sasha's Key Lime Curd (adapted from Rose's Lemon Curd)

3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 1 T sugar
3 T unsalted butter
6 T key lime juice (or 4 1/2 T regular lime juice)
pinch of salt

First prepare the graham cracker crusts of the baby cheesecakes in the silicon 12-cup muffin tray.  Mix the graham cracker crust with the melted butter.  Put a little less than 1 T in each of the cups on the silicon mufffin tray, after spraying the tray with PAM.  Press down and bake at 300 degrees until set and lightly browned, about 20 minutes.

Next, prepare Rose's Cheesecake mix, with our key lime variation.  Beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium speed in your stand mixer until creamy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in the egg and egg yolks until smooth.  Add the key lime juice (or regular lime juice) and salt and beat.

Fill each of the cups with the graham crusts nearly to the top.  Put the cheesecakes in a roasting pan filled halfway up the sides with hot, near boiling water (just like when you prepare creme brulee).  Bake at 350 degrees until the internal temperature of the cheesecakes reaches 160/170 degrees F.  This is a bit tricky - you will need to use a candy thermometer to measure the internal temperature by sticking it inside one of the cheesecakes as it bakes.  The baking process took me about an hour, but it depends on your oven.  My husband was extremely helpful with this step - he deserves a lot of credit for being patient and making sure the cheesecakes came out just right.  They are done, when they bounce back when touched lightly on the top and are firm on top.

Allow the cheesecakes to cool while preparing the key lime curd, according to Rose's instructions but substituting key lime juice or lime juice, as I have indicated above.

To prepare the curd - whisk the egg yolks, sugar and melted butter well.  Add the key lime juice and the salt.  Cook over medium heat, stirring CONSTANTLY so that the mixture doesn't boil.  It will thicken and it is done when it changes into a more translucent yellowish color and starts pooling thickly when a little is dropped back form the surface.

Top the baby cheesecakes with the key lime curd, and allow them to chill for at least 2-3 hours in the refrigerator.  Then jiggle from the bottom and gently remove from the silicon cupcake trays.

These tasted great - totally delicious.  Rose you are the cake goddess, but I think I took your recipe to another level.  Oh baby (pun intended).

To make Cindy's cheesecake, click here; to make My key lime bars, click here.

Cheesecake on FoodistaCheesecake

Eric & Jenn's Kitchen in Jersey City: Sticky Buns and Bread

Hi, I'm Jenn and I'm Eric's girlfriend. He usually posts as Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City.

This is my grandmother Edna's recipe for bread or rolls and sticky buns. She has been making these ever since I can remember. She always made both because the dough is the same and when she baked, she baked enough for 3 households. She gave most of her delicious treats away, and everyone always raved about them! Though she has been making them for decades, it was only a few years ago that I learned how to do it. She didn't have any recipe written down so I diligently wrote down everything as she explained it to me. Anyone who tastes these will love them!

This recipe will make approximately 60 sticky buns with some dough leftover for bread and rolls. In this case I had enough left over for 1 round loaf of bread and 7-8 rolls. If you want more bread or rolls, just make less sticky buns!

My grandmother always made the syrup for the sticky buns first so she wouldn't forget. For this you will need:

2.5 “coffee mugs” (1 coffee mug is the equivalent to ~1 cup) brown sugar
1.25 “coffee mugs” hot water
1.25 sticks oleo (aka margarine)

The actual measurements are not critical; the ratio is what is important.

Place all ingredients in a saucepan on the stove. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat and set aside.

Like real rural Pennsylvanians, we use oleo for greasing our pans. You can use deep roasting pans or cake pans; I prefer the deeper ones because the sticky buns will expand a lot in the oven. Each rectangular pan will hold 20-24 buns.

Next, pour a little syrup in each pan, just enough to barely coat the bottom. (You'll use more of this syrup later so make sure you save at least half of it!) If you would like nuts on your sticky buns, you may now add these to the pans. We usually use walnuts. At this time you may be wondering why you'd want nuts on the bottoms of your sticky buns... but as will be described later, this will actually be the top!

Ok, now it is time to make your dough. For this you will need:

3/4 to 1 “coffee cup” sugar
3 tbsp. salt
2 quarts HOT water
2 “coffee cup” canola oil
Six 1/4 oz. envelopes Fleischmann's rapid rise yeast
5 lb. flour + enough extra until dough not sticky anymore (~ another 2 lb.)

Remember this will make a large amount of dough. You will need a huge bowl to make the dough in, and remember it will need space to rise too! You can see the bowl + dough here (notice the dough only takes up half the bowl, leaving plenty of room to rise).

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl, but only add the first 5 lbs. of flour initially. With clean hands, continually mix the dough. Add in more flour little by little and keep mixing. You will know when you have added enough flour (~ 2 more pounds) because the dough will no longer stick to your hands.

Form the dough into a ball and cover it with a piece of saran wrap and a dish towel and let rise for 20-40 minutes. I just kept an eye on it and when it was above the rim of the bowl I pounded it back down again with my fists. Repeat this process of rising (the second time it won't take as long) and pounding down once more.

Before rolling the dough, dust your rolling surface liberally with flour. Grab some dough and roll first lengthways then sideways until it is roughly 2' long by 1' wide. Estimating how much to grab takes time, I am still trying to figure out the perfect amount. I'd start with a hunk that is between the size of a softball and a small Nerf football. If you roll this out and it doesn't fit the 2' by 1' dimensions you can always remove or add more dough and re-roll it out.

Once the dough is rolled out, generously spread oleo, brown sugar, and cinnamon all over, in that order. My grandmother prefers using light brown sugar so she can tell where she still needs to add more cinnamon because of the color difference. (Dark brown sugar and cinnamon are about the same color.)

Now roll this up lengthwise into a long tube. As you roll, stretch the dough at the same time - so it's pull & stretch a little then roll, roll, roll. Keep doing this until it is all rolled up, then carefully slide a cutting board under the end and cut your cinnamony-sugary-tube of deliciousness into ~2.5" segments and place in the pans you prepared earlier.

Leave some space in between buns as they will expand! Once your pan is full, cover with more syrup. Put in oven at 350degressF for 20 min. then switch racks, bake another 20 min. Keep an eye on the sticky buns, if you added too much syrup it can flow out of the pans in the oven towards the end (huge mess!). While my grandmother never did it, I think you could place the pan on a shallow baking sheet or tray if you're concerned before putting it in the oven.

To get your sticky buns out of the baking pan, place some saran wrap then aluminum foil and then a cookie sheet or something similar upside down on top of your goodies. Then you have to carefully flip over the entire pan – this is where the top of your buns become the bottom and the bottom of the buns become the top - and hopefully your sticky buns will slide right out onto the plastic-wrap, aluminum foil-covered cookie sheet. (The saran wrap and aluminum foil make it easy to then wrap around your sticky buns to keep fresher or to transport them you can simply pick up the wrapping and move to another container if you wish.)

These are best eaten warm with some coffee or tea for breakfast, dessert, or a snack.

With the remaining dough you can make bread and/or rolls. For this simply shape the dough into balls (rolls) or round/oblong (bread) and place into a baking pan. Put oleo on top then poke some holes with a fork (since this dough wasn't rolled the holes will let air out). Bake at 350degreesF for 20 min. then switch racks and bake for another 20 min. You can bake the sticky buns and bread together if you want. Once done, put more oleo on the top to keep it from drying out as much. These are delicious to eat warm with butter or jam! To store, place in ziplock bag with as little air as possible.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Matt's Kitchen: Where To Get A Great Meal In Queens

Queens is considered by the less enlightened to be the ugly stepsister of NYC's "sexier" boroughs (read: Manhattan and Brooklyn). Sure, it does contain two airports, a giant cemetary, numerous highways, industrial sites, power stations and a number of bland neighborhoods. However, having lived there for the past six years, I can report that it easily holds its own when it comes to food. In general, Queens' best restaurants - even the highest rated ones - dispense with the interior design, fussy service and pretension, but deliver great food that is, in many cases, equal to or superior to their peers in Manhattan or Brooklyn. When it comes to Thai food, or Chinese, or Greek, or Indian, or Colombian, Queens is really the go-to borough. And the truth is this: If you are willing to venture way into Queens for a unique dining experience and an excellent meal, you get serious street cred. So let's take a look at some of the places that are worth the trip:

Tournesol (Long Island City)

We'll start out easy - Tournesol is a cute little French bistro right across the river in Long Island City. For those in midtown east, it's probably closer to you than most other parts of Manhattan - just hop on the 7 train and get off at the first stop in Queens. The menu features a solid steak frites, foie gras terrine and an excellent skate wing, among other things - plus, they run many time-tested bistro classics as their "plats du jour" - coq au vin, cassoulet, bouillabaisse, etc. The place is friendly but tiny, so make a reservation ahead of time. Honestly, you can find cute little bistros elsewhere, but this is ours and it's a good one.

La Flor Bakery & Cafe (Woodside)

This takes us further out into Woodside, where underneath the 7 platform at Roosevelt Ave. and 51st street lies La Flor - unassuming on the outside, but featuring absolutely delicious authentic and upscale mexican cooking with a smattering of French and fusion-type dishes. The brunch is a local favorite, and one of the best in Queens, but the place serves great food throughout the day, and features musicians on some evenings. They do great things with eggs here at brunch (think huevos rancheros, and variations thereof), and they serve a hearty and delicious quesadilla which features a thick homemade corn tortilla and is quite unlike other quesadillas. As far as I can tell, they do everything well here, so check it out.

Donovan's Pub (Woodside)

Further up Roosevelt Avenue in the heart of Woodside is Donovan's, a classic Irish pub that also happens to feature one of the best burgers in Manhattan. I make no claim that this is THE best burger (an invitation to a fistfight, or at least an impassioned debate), but it is damn good -a large, meaty, juicy hunk of meat that will not disappoint fans of serious burgers. Also, I should add that it is ranked number 2 in NYC in the "burger rankings" at Burger of The Month. The pub is very charming and a good place to enjoy a Guinness, a burger and some good company. I haven't eaten any of the other food there so I can't comment, but the burger is the big draw. It is right off the Woodside express stop on the 7, which is a quick ride out from Grand Central, so about as convenient as Queens gets.

Sripraphai (Woodside)

Yet another Woodside entry at 39th Ave. and 64th St., what can I say about this place that hasn't already been said? Consistently the #1 NY thai restaurant in the Zagat's survey, Sripraphai packs 'em in and serves up delicious, authentic and spicy thai dishes. It boasts a giant menu with something for just about everybody, and is very inexpensive (it should be noted that the atmosphere is clean and efficient but very much "no frills," so despite its high Zagat rating, don't expect fine dining). It is well worth a trip to Queens just to go here, but I recommend going at off hours if you are attempting a weekend dinner - that is to say, go early before the rush. The place does not take reservations and people spill out on to the street waiting for tables on a saturday night. I particularly enjoy their crispy watercress salad and the fried whole snapper in curry sauce, but just about everything is worth trying. I recommend you go with a lot of people and get a lot of dishes to share. Also, please don't just order the pad thai. It's good, but there is a whole universe out there, you know?

Taverna Kyclades (Astoria)

Astoria is a big-time food destination and is renowned for its Greek restaurants. One that I have particularly enjoyed is Taverna Kyclades, which is located way up Ditmars Blvd. at 33rd Street. This place is very popular and the crowds can be daunting - again, it is best to try going at off hours and even then you will probably wait a little while. But don't let the crowds put you off, the seafood here is absolutely delicious, you can't really go wrong. Again, it is well worth the trip just to eat here, and there are plenty of other things to do in Astoria so you can make an afternoon out of it. As with most restaurants in Queens, this is not a fine dining experience, so don't expect them to roll out the red carpet for you. Also, their website is very unassuming but don't be mislead - you will have a damn good meal and it won't be anywhere near as expensive as what you would pay for similar quality food in Manhattan.

Ali's Kabab Cafe (Astoria)

Kabab Cafe is a tiny Egyptian restaurant way up Steinway Avenue in Astoria, with only a few tables and no enclosed kitchen. All meals are prepared by Ali himself, with the help of one or two assistants, about five feet from where you are sitting. There is no fixed menu, you choose from whatever Ali is cooking that particular day. The best way to experience it is to put yourself in Ali's hands and eat what he feels like making - which includes some of the most delicious falafel and hummus I have ever tasted, as well as a wide assortment of other outstanding Egyptian dishes. However- if you do this, you will very likely be eating adventurously - Ali regularly serves up brains, sweetbreads, "rocky mountain oysters" and various other organs. So don't be squeamish. I found my meal here to be a great experience, but it is not for everyone, and it is not cheap. Basically, it's like eating in Ali's kitchen, with him at the stove. If this sounds appealing to you, check it out for sure - but again, choose your dining time strategically - a restaurant with four tables fills up pretty quick. On the other hand, if you like spacious digs, insist on choosing your selections off a menu and have a low tolerance for offal or North African flavors, then you may be better off elsewhere.

Arunee (Jackson Heights)

So, our tour moves even further out to Jackson Heights. This neighborhood is super-bustling, sort of the crossroads of Queens and possibly the most ethnically diverse zip code in the country. Within about ten square blocks you can find numerous restaurants and shops run by Indians, Peruvians, Thai, Colombians, Malaysians, Mexicans, Ecuadorians and others. There is a lot to eat here and an entire blog could doubtless be devoted to it. With all due respect to the numerous fine restaurants in this neighborhood, I am focusing on a particular favorite of mine, a small and unassuming but delicious thai restaurant on 79th Street off of Roosevelt Avenue called Arunee. This place boasts excellent and authentic thai food that is right up there with what Sripraphai has to offer. Although it seems likely that visitors to Queens will head to Sripraphai, I am adding Arunee here because it used to be my neighborhood thai joint and I have fond memories. Honestly, it is worth coming out to Arunee for the simple reason that Manhattan 's thai options are generally uninspiring and this will be a like a breath of fresh air in comparison. Likewise, if Sripraphai is a madhouse, just take the 7 train two more stops up to 82nd, walk down a couple of blocks and you're there. They do a great veggie curry here, for you vegetarians - unlike the sad offerings at a lot of other places, they load it up with a variety of different hearty veggies and tofu.

Spicy & Tasty

No culinary tour of Queens would be complete without a visit to Flushing for some Chinese food. Spicy & Tasty is located at 39-07 Prince St. off the Flushing/Main Street stop on the 7 (the end of the line). As the name would suggest, it serves seriously spicy and delicious sichuan food. It is not for the faint of heart, so if you do not like spicy foods, you may wish to skip this one. At the front of the restaurant is a refrigerator case stocked with the restaurant's cold dishes. The procedure is, you order whatever cold dishes you want up front, then they take you back to your table and the cold dishes are served quite quickly thereafter. During that time you decide what hot dishes you are going to order. One approach is to peek around at what the Chinese patrons nearby have ordered, and then order that - of course, you have to be willing to be adventurous if you do this. I've really enjoyed this place, but there are of course many different restaurants in this neighborhood, many of which are undoubtably excellent, so it is worth exploring. But if you like Sichuan cooking particularly, this is probably a good bet. Also, for you Mets fans, it is very convenient to Shea Stadium if you are hungry after the game. One word of advice is that you should Google or Mapquest it carefully before showing up, Flushing can be a little hectic and confusing once you get off the 7 train.

These are not the only reasons to come out Queens to eat, but they comprise many of the top foodie destinations. There are a few places I still have not gotten to, such as Spicy Mina's (apparently the Bangladeshi answer to Ali's Kebab Cafe), and Zumm Stammtisch, a Bavarian restaurant in Glendale that looks like a good time. And there are undoubtably others that I have not yet discovered. So don't be afraid to come out to Queens, and don't turn up your nose - there's a lot to like out here.


Sasha's Kitchen: Creme Brulee A La Bananas-Brandy (Valentine's Day Special)

I have, not surprisingly (since I usually can't resist some experimentation) started to get creative with my creme brulee torch, and after my regular creme brulee, pumpkin creme brulee, and white chocolate creme brulee, I am not nearly ready to call it quits yet.  I decided to prepare a fruit-based creme brulee to experiment with the brulee technique and flavors.  I should add that in the summer, I plan on doing the same recipe using fresh peach puree.  I figured that as long as I could keep the same egg and cream based formula, that banana puree would still make an excellent brulee as long as the mixture was basically a custard that congealed when baked.  This would allow me to top with sugar and brulee the tops with the creme brulee torch to caramelize the sugar.

This recipe was a huge success.  It tastes like a banana custard or pudding that has a brulee top - just perfect, although certainly not traditional for creme brulee at all.  It was, as my husband Brad described it, fuller and richer than the pumpkin creme brulee I prepared.  Banana puddings and custards are among his favorite desserts, and this was basically a rich and creamy banana pudding with a brulee top of caramelized sugar.  Thus, this recipe, which I invented on the fly, was a winner.  Brandy is the perfect alcohol to complement bananas, and the taste here is very subtle in balancing out the sweet fruit flavor of the bananas.

Sasha's Creme Brulee A La Bananas Brandy

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 medium sized banana, pureed
3 teaspoons brandy
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar plus 1/2 a teaspoon or so for each top

To prepare this recipe, follow my recipe for the regular creme brulee.  Mix the heavy cream and vanilla and the brandy and heat until small bubbles form around the edges, and the sugar is dissolved, as I explained in my other post.  Then, in a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks, vanilla and pureed banana.  Mix the cream mixture with this mixture.  Divide into four ramekins.

Bake the creme brulee in a metal tray filled halfway up the sides of the ramekins with very hot (almost boiling) water, as described in my previous creme brulee post.  Bake at 300 F for approximately 30 minutes until the tops are set.

Allow to chill for at least and hour or two, until topping each with sugar and using your creme brulee torch to caramelize the tops of the brulees.  This is creamiest, best banana pudding with the lovely caramelized flavor on the tops.  I consider it a genuine creme brulee since it still contains the cream, egg yolks and the brulee top.  It is the perfect finale for a Valentine's Day meal.

Stay tuned for my next two posts on miniature food - mini key lime cheesecakes, and mini vegetable frittatas - both which will be perfect for your Valentine's day brunches.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Tropical Chicken Pineapple Fried Rice

Tonight's post is going to be a bit on the short side because I am also simultaneously attempting to watch President Obama's State of the Union.  Tonight I prepared a large (two day) recipe of my secret (until now) fried rice.  Most everyone makes fried rice with shrimp - I don't like shrimp very much, and instead stuck with chicken.  In addition, my fried rice was a combination of the tropical and exotic (using sesame oil and pineapple), combined with the traditional use of the egg, onion and of course, long grain rice.

Here's what you will need to prepare my asian, but tropical inspired fried rice:

1 package empire chicken breasts, sliced into small pieces
2 cups long grain rice
1 20 oz can diced pineapple, drained
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ginger
4 eggs
1 tsp diced garlic
1 onion, diced
1 T rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
2 T fish sauce
2 T soy sauce
1 tsp sugar

First prepare the rice according to package instructions and set aside.   Scramble the egg, and saute the onion and garlic and combine.  Set this aside as well.  Saute the chicken (after cutting into small pieces) with the paprika, ginger and a bit of pepper.  Combine the rice, chicken, onion, egg and garlic in a large pot, such as a saute pan or dutch oven.

Cook with the rice vinegar, sesame oil, fish sauce, soy sauce, sugar until it has the desired fried rice consistency.  This was so good that it reminded me of the fried rice at a good Japanese restaurant such as Inatome in Long Island, a Japanese steakhouse with truly delicious fried rice.  My husband has loved their fried rice since he was a kid (even though all the women in his family won't eat there because the dining experience makes your hair and clothes reek like smoky meat).  Thus, I was attempting to make my own delicious fried rice, with a tropical taste (hence the pineapple).  Plus, no need to do the laundry immediately after dinner.  I was indeed quite successful - the dish was a success and will be served again tomorrow night.

This recipe makes plenty for a larger family, or for leftovers for a second night's dinner.  I garnished with cherry tomatoes to serve.  Now, back to the State of the Union.

Sasha's Kitchen: White Chocolate Creme Brulee (Valentine's Day Special!)

I have been preparing a number of desserts lately - including some romantic valentine's day desserts, such as red velvet cupcakes with pretty pink hearts.  In addition, as the owner of a new creme brulee torch, I have been having a lot of fun preparing different types of creme brulee.  So far, I have made regular creme brulee and pumpkin creme brulee.  Tonight, I did some experimentation, and came up with a recipe for a white chocolate creme brulee, just in time to share with our readers for Valentine's Day.  I'm not even close to done with the brulee-ing as there is surely a banana-brandy creme brulee, dark chocolate creme brulee and peach creme brulee in my future.  That's all I have for now, but the impulse to keep coming up with new and unusual flavors of creme brulee is too hard for me to resist.

White chocolate is not actually even chocolate at all, yet it is almost as romantic in its connotations as milk chocolate or dark chocolate.  White chocolate is, according to Wikipedia, actually a confection of milk, sugar, deodorized cocoa butter and egg solids.  My favorite source of white chocolate has long been the white chocolate vanilla Ghiardelli squares that we had brought back from our last trip to San Francisco.

I thought that it would adapt nicely, color-wise into a creme brulee if it was melted and mixed into the cream mixture, before adding the egg yolks.  And, I was right.

Here is what you need to make white chocolate creme brulee as the perfect (and easy) Valentine's Day Dessert (makes four using normal sized brulee dishes):

1 1/4 cups of heavy cream
1 T sugar
4 oz white chocolate
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
Chef's creme brulee torch from Bonjour

To prepare the creme brulee, heat the heavy cream, sugar and white chocolate until the cream just starts to bubble around the edges (over medium-high heat), and the white chocolate is fully dissolved into the cream solution.  You should whisk the entire time, as the white chocolate melts and goes into solution.  While you are doing this, boil a pot of water over a separate burner.

In a mixing bowl, separate out the three egg yolks and beat with the vanilla.  Add the cream-white chocolate mixture to the egg yolk mixture.  Divide among 4 ramekins.  Use the boiling water the surround the ramekins filling the tray so that the hot or boiling water goes up halfway on the sides of the ramekins.  Bake at 300 degrees for about 30 minutes until set.

Chill for one hour, and then put a thin teaspoon of sugar on top of each and brulee according to the manufacturer's instructions on your brulee torch.

This was delicious - similar to regular creme brulee but with a nice, yet subtle white chocolate touch.  I plan on making dark chocolate creme brulee very soon (likely a much more powerful and transformative flavor)!

Check out our other Valentine's day recipes from our site, including Margie's Crunchy French Toast, My homemade Italian Limoncello and My Eat Your Heart Out Red Velvet Cupcakes.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Margie’s Kitchen in Boston Valentine’s Day Special: Brunch Entrée – Strawberries Romanoff

Photos by Lena

This year, 2010, Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday and for this reason I am suggesting a menu for a Valentine’s Day Brunch. The brunch begins with Crunchy French Toast. The recipe can be found in my most recent blog [I made a correction in my initial posting: ½ cup, not 1 cup of milk]. The next entrée is Strawberries Romanoff, which looks surprisingly simple to make that one might wonder whether the addition of a liqueur and orange zest could make much of a difference to the taste of plain strawberries; they do!

I’ve looked around at different recipes and settled on a simple version by Pierre Franey from the classic “60-Minute Gourmet” Series in The New York Times. This recipe is from a second cookbook from the series titled, More 60-Minute Gourmet (page 277 “Fraises Romanoff”), with one exception, I use orange liqueur (Patron Citronge ) and not Grand Marnier (cognac and orange liqueur):
2 pints strawberries, ⅓ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (I would cut in half), peel from one small orange, ⅓ cup Grand Mariner, ¾ heavy cream (I use whipping cream which is a bit less calories—5!)
Remove the stems from the strawberries. I usually take a knife and hack off the tops but I’ve come to respect the importance of food presentation after writing in this blog. For this reason I now carefully cut the strawberries around the stems then rinse, drain, and thoroughly dry on paper towels. When dry, place strawberries in bowl (flat bottom), sprinkle with sugar, and then pour liqueur over strawberries. Add orange peel and gently mix and refrigerate; no time is specified. You want enough time to allow liqueur to penetrate strawberries, 1 hour preferably. Whip cream with 2 tablespoons of sugar (or less if you desire) just before serving. Put strawberries in separate dessert-style glass bowls. Pour residual liqueur mix over the tops of each serving bowl and serve with whipped cream. Stay tuned for my last Valentine’s Day Brunch entrée.


Sasha's Kitchen: Pumpkin Pear Soup - Another Pumpkin Soup Variation

Earlier this month, I introduced my recipe for pumpkin cashew soup, which I served at a recent seven course vegetarian dinner party.  It was such a delicious soup, that I decided it was worthwhile to do some additional experimentation with pumpkin soups, using organic pumpkin puree.  Thus, for the next soup in this series, I decided to prepare a pumpkin pear soup, using a homemade puree from fresh poached pears.

Several years ago, I used to make a delicious recipe for squash pear soup, using pureed squash and pears, so I figured that pumpkin and pear would be an equally dynamic combination.  Here is the recipe that I designed, which is a deviation from my pumpkin cashew soup, in that it is not really spicy (just a bit of smokiness from the chipotle) and leaves out much of the sweetness, to allow for the natural sweetness of the fructose from the pears.  In addition, I decided to add a bit of nutmeg and star anise to help balance out the flavors.

To prepare the pears, they need to be cooked, so you can puree them.  I chose to prepare them by a simple boiling job (essentially poaching in a pot of water with 1 tablespoon of sugar). This is quite simple, but be sure to peel away the skin from the pears first.  After about 5-10 minutes when they are soft, cut off the fruit and puree it in the Cuisinart.

4 1/2 cups chicken stock
3 cups pumpkin puree
4 pureed poached pears
4 tsp chipotle (not really spicy at all, just smoky)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 star anise
2 T maple syrup
1 cup creme fraiche or reduced fat sour cream
pumpkin seeds

To prepare the recipe, bring the chicken stock to a boil with the star anise,  Add the three cups of plain pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling) and whisk to combine.  If you think it is too thick, you can add a bit more chicken stock, and if it is too runny, you can add a bit more pumpkin puree, at any point in the process.   Next, whisk in the pureed pears, maple syrup, chipotle and nutmeg.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and feel free to adjust the other spices to suit your personal tastes.  Reduce to a simmer and stir occasionally for 15-20 minutes.  At this point, if you need to, you can add a half a cup of extra chicken broth if the soup is too thick.

Remove the soup from the heat and mix in the creme fraiche or reduced fat sour cream, to make the soup somewhat creamy.  This is key to getting the creamy and delicious flavor of either the pumpkin pear soup.  But, if you are trying to make the soup more lowfat, you could even substitute non-fat sour cream.

Serve the soup with a tablespoon or two of pumpkin seeds and a healthy sided dollop of sour cream.  This soup is smooth and delicious, and pretty healthy as well.  It's easy to see why pumpkin soups are so popular in restaurants around America this time of year.  This was one of my favorite soups that I have had in quite awhile.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Michelle's Kitchen in Toronto: Fuchsia Dunlop's Fish Fragrant Eggplants

I am currently obsessed with Fuchsia Dunlop's wonderful Sichuanese cookbook "Land of Plenty." Like me, Dunlop actually spent some significant time living in China - I in Suzhou and Shanghai, she in Chengdu at completely opposite ends of the country - so I find it very interesting that she and I both fell in love with the same dish; yu xiang qiezi or fish fragrant eggplants.

The irony is that there is in fact no fish anywhere in this dish, it is merely a Sichuanese flavor profile. It's a wonderful blend of salty, sweet, spicy and sour which many areas in Asia adore - especially the Chinese with their sense of balance. I made this last night and it is amazing! I will admit that my favorite version in Shanghai was sweeter than Dunlop's and included ground pork, however the Shanghainese love sweeter food so I think this was just an example of the changing landscape of Chinese cuisine adapting to different areas of the country. My own tiny piece of Sichuan in Shanghai!  You can find the recipe below in Dunlap's 2003 cookbook, Land of Plenty.  A link to the original recipe can be found here.

1 1/3 - 1 2/3lbs Asian eggplants (you can use regular, but you will have to salt them and let sit for 30 mins to draw out moisture. With Asian you can chop and go)
salt (if needed)
peanut or veg oil for deep frying
1 1/2 tbsp Sichuanese chili bean paste
3 tsp finely chopped ginger (I only put 2 tsp as I'm not a huge fan of ginger)
3 tsp finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp white sugar
1/2 tsp light soy sauce
1 1/3 tsp cornstarch with 1 tbsp cold water
1 1/2 tsp Chinkiang or Chinese black vinegar
4 green onion chopped thin - green parts only
1 tsp sesame oil

Cut eggplants in half lengthwise and then in 2-3 inch sections. Heat oil for deepfrying in your wok to 350-400F (it will just be beginning to smoke). Add eggplants in batches and deep fry 3-4 minutes until just turning golden and soft. Drain each batch on a paper towel.

Drain off oil save 2-3 tbsp oil. Add chili bean paste and stir fry about 20 seconds. Add ginger and garlic; stir fry another 20-30 seconds being careful not to burn the mix. Add stock, suger and soy mixing well. If you need salt add it now.

Add the drained eggplants and simmer a few minutes to absorb the flavors. Spinkle cornstarch and water mix over to thicken, then add vinegar and green onions; cooking just until onions are no longer so raw. Remove from the heat, stir in sesame oil and serve.

I made some nice basmati rice to go with this and drank a gorgeous white beer from Toronto's own Mill Street Brewery called "Wit" that has some nice citrus flavors to it which helped cut the richness of this dish. I am completely obsessed with "Land of Plenty." Definately my best cookbook buy in a very long time. I can't be in China right now, but Fuchsia Dunlop and her wonderful recipes allow me to travel there any night of the week at my table!


Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City: Hot Pot

This past weekend my girlfriend Jenn and I went to my Mom's house and she cooked 'Mongolian' Hot Pot which is one of my favorite meals. All you're really doing is cooking a bunch of meats, seafood and veggies in chicken broth but it's a great meal that is perfect for large groups of people and a fun experience.

The two keys items you need to make this happen are the 'hot pot' so that you can bring the broth to a boil (keep it covered to start), and a bunch of little baskets so that everyone can cook their food.

The actual meats and veggies used can certainly vary. This time around we used thinly sliced chicken, beef, lamb, small scallops, shrimp & fish. Normally we use monk fish or even red snapper but this time my Mom went to the Asian market and they had fish that was simply called 'hot pot fish'... It tasted similar to monk fish but wasn't. We also kept rice noodles, snow peas, mushrooms, Napa cabbage (bok choy also works great), spinach and vegetable dumplings on hand as well as lots of extra broth to keep the level high enough to cover people's baskets.

The other key item we make sure everyone has is dipping sauce. We had oyster sauce for the meats and a soy sauce based sauce that my Grandma makes really well. It's just soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, scallions, cilantro, a little sugar and sesame oil.

Another good tip is to make sure each meat has a serving fork or spoon so that people don't end up with juice from the raw meats on their eating utensils and plates or bowls. Everyone just fills their baskets with whatever meats and seafood they want and lets the baskets rest on the edge of the hot pot. We usually just throw veggies and noodles in as needed and serve with bowls also so you can make soup as you go. You can also always just throw whatever is uneaten in at the end, let it cook and have soup as leftovers.

Hot Pot is also mentioned in Kelly's entry on the best Chicago Bites of 2009

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Sushi Cupcakes - Where Art & Food Unite

For tonight's recipe, instead of preparing something focused primarily on taste, my goal was some creative design and aesthetics.  I decided that I wanted to prepare cupcakes that had the look and feel of sushi and sushi maki rolls.  It was an attempt to artistically combine two of my favorite foods - sushi and cupcakes.  I'm not the first baker to attempt to make sushi cupcakes, but I decided to prepare sushi cupcakes using my own original design.  I prepared two types of sushi cupcakes to make my 10 piece Sushi Deluxe: a five piece maki roll (california roll) and 5 pieces of sushi on rice (salmon, tuna, tamago (egg), flying fish roe and shrimp). 

There is a line when food borders on art.  I realize tonight that I have definitely crossed that line.  Art has always been one of my passions - I took AP Art in high school and have always loved painting in acrylic, oil and watercolor - my paintings usually focus on flowers though.  Tonight, I put those painting skills to good use in painting the fish for the sushi cupcakes on rolled fondant, using an array of gel based food colors.  This is the first time I have ever used fondant, as it is more commonly used in creating ornate and elaborate wedding cakes, such as by famed wedding cake designers like Sylvia Weinstock

Tonight, I learned from this project that rolled fondant is an incredibly flexible and adaptable medium, which was quite easy to work with and can allow you to do almost anything when it comes to decorating baked goods.  In the future, I plan on creating a decorative cake made out of painted, rolled fondant.

Here's what you will need to make 10 piece Sushi Deluxe Cupcakes:

* 10-12 of your favorite cupcakes (I made a 1/2 batch of red velvet cupcakes, using the recipe I posted last week for Valentine's Day)
white sprinkles (jimmies) [note - sweetened coconut would be an acceptable alternative]
* orange/red nonpareils for the flying fish roe
* rolled fondant
* gel based food colorings for painting the fondant
* watercolor paintbrushes
* foil cupcake liners
* silicon cupcake tray
* Sasha's signature frosting - click here for the frosting recipe
* optional - cupcake liners that look like sushi - I found that these were not really needed and did not use them in making this recipe

First, bake the cupcakes and allow to cool.  When the cupcakes are done baking, remove the foil liners.  Prepare the frosting, but do not color the frosting, as you are best leaving it white - the same color as rice.  Then frost the top of each of the 10 cupcakes with a spatula (my recipe made 11, but my husband ate one of them . . .)

Dip each of the cupcakes in a bowl with white jimmies.  This will resemble the sushi rice.  As a possiblke alternative, you could use sweetened coconut instead.  To make the tuna, tamago, shrimp and salmon, I rolled out a large piece of fondant using a rolling pin to the desired thickness and painted using my gel-based food colorings (which didn't require too much dilution).  I made bands out of the fondant and painted them black to resemble the seaweed.  Of these fish, I think the shrimp is my favorite.

For the flying fish roe, I added some extra frosting (about a tablespoon) in the middle of the sushi "rice" and dipped that in the red/orange nonpareils.

To make the maki roll - a california roll - I cut small squares out of the fondant, three squares for each of the five cupcakes.  I painted one green, one orange and one black.  I pressed the fondant into the cupcakes.

One of my favorite parts of this project was setting the sushi up for photographs.  My husband proposed to me several years ago, the first time we prepared homemade sushi (of the actual fish variety), so I have quite a few sushi sets we subsequently received as gifts, and used them to present the sushi photographically, with the accompanying chopsticks.

If you are interested in reading my post on how to prepare actual sushi, rather than my offbeat cupcake sushi, click here.

I really enjoyed this project immensely, in part because it was a very art intensive project that allowed me to combine my painting with my food and culinary passions.  I think these cupcakes were not as hard to make as I thought they would be, but came out exaclty as I envisioned.  I hope to do additional baking projects in the future that bring out my artistic side.  Just goes to show that food can and should be treated as an art form, just like painting or sculpture when executed properly.  In addition, I love all the bright colors and the textures of the cupcakes. 

Since starting this blog, tonight's post was one of my favorites both to execute and to write about.  I hope I made Henri Matisse, my favorite artist, proud.


Kelly's Kitchen in Chicago: Xoco

If you read my post about the best bites of 2009, you have already heard what a fan I am of Rick Bayless. I love that he is an intellectual (previously a Mexican Literature PhD student) who supports sustainable farming and regional cuisines of Mexico.

I finally had the time to get over to his new restaurant- Xoco- which focuses on Mexican Street Food. The menu has churros, food fired and grilled tortas (Mexican sandwiches). After 3 they serve caldos, or soups.

I have to say, that was the best sandwich ever! I am not a huge fan of pork but I had to try it because it looked so good. It was tender pork carnitas inside of crusty freshly baked bread, with pickled onions. Then the sandwich was cut in half and standing in a bowl of spicy tomato soup. The bright and spicy flavors with the savory meat and crusty bread were perfect in every way.

Steve had the tallgrass beef short rib sandwich with salsa verde. Also delicious. Following the sandwich, we had Mexican hot chocolate and fresh churros. Steve proclaimed it the best lunch ever and at 10% of what we spent at the fine dining restaurant Topo, a hell of a deal.

I should also add- the customer service was fantastic even though we had to stand in line for over an hour. They don't take your order until they have a seat for you. There was a woman managing the line who explained everything, handed you a number when it was your turn to order, then seated you when there was a seat.

I can't wait to go back here to try the soups!

Kelly's kitchen in Chicago: Best Chicago bites of 2009

I know this is a little late but since I am still writing 2009 on things accidentally, I figured it was a sign that it was still ok to write about this!

In 2009- I focused most of my recreation time on running: Soldier Field 10 mi race, Bank of American Chicago Marathon, Chicago Half Marathon, Rock and Roll Chicago Half Marathon, Rock and Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon, Chicago Woman's 10k, Pumpkins in the Park 5k.

I realized that most of my my fun food this year was with Steve and other friends post race or after a Saturday morning long run. With getting up every Saturday morning at 5:30 AM to run, I usually spent my Friday nights cooking pasta at home rather than going out. My list seems to have more burgers, ice cream and cased meat than usual!

So here's a top 10 list of the best things I ate in Chicago in 2009! * indicates running was involved.

10. Hot dog and Old Style beer on Wrigley Field:
Ok, this wasn't the best food ever but this was pretty cool. Each year, Wrigleyville Neighbors holds a lottery to allow a group of people onto the field for a tour and lunch. It's sort of a "thanks for letting us screw up your traffic 81 days per year" gift.

*9. Strawberry milkshake @ Stella's Diner
Stella's is an old fashioned diner with a little updated feel. It's practically across the street from me. We went here with friends after the Chicago Half Marathon. This place has huge and delicious milkshakes, as well as great burgers and other diner foods. Eating an entire huge milkshake is a rare treat for me.

8. Hot Pot @ Lao Sze Chuan in Chinatown
If you haven't tried hot pot before, you're missing out! You drop in every imaginable vegetable, meat, noodles, tofu, meatballs...etc into a huge boiling pot of spicy or mild broth and then fish it out when it's cooked. I stayed away from the tripe (not my thing) but this is an incredibly fun dish to enjoy on a cold evening with friends. Photo courtesy of flickr user alvxyz.

7. Berry Chill
This year the tart frozen yogurt grew in popularity in Chicago. I have searched far and wide for the best frozen yogurt but it was under my nose all along on State and Erie. My favorite combo: original flavor with blueberries, raspberries, and fruity pebbles.

*6. Char dog and fries @ the Weiner's Circle
I finally made it to the ubiquitous late night junk food spot- the Weiner's Circle. Famous for it's foul-mouthed, back-talking staff, we went in the daytime and found only curtious and hard working folks and delicious char-grilled goodness after the Soldier Field 10 mi race.

5. Rockit Burger- This is my favorite burger in Chicago. I had it twice in 2009! Pretzel bun, roasted fig spread, brie cheese, Wagyu beef, truffled fries on the side- totally worth $20.

4. Bobtail peppermint stick ice cream w/hot fudge- This is the best ice cream known to man. This year, I had this combo instead of birthday cake. This ice cream shop has a knack for the right amount of peppermint flavor and puts in huge chunks of peppermint candy. Another fantastic flavor is their chocolate chip merlot. It has a very mild merlot flavor with thin dark chocolate shavings and a touch of salt. Delish!

3. Tomahawk chop ribeye steak@ Rosebud Steakhouse- This is one of the classic Chicago Steakhouses. We had clams casino, martinis, table size caesar salad, creamed spinach, and thsi Flintstone-size steak. The tomahawk chop is a french-style bone in ribeye steak. A very "Chicago" cut. There are lots of fabulous steakhouses in Chicago. Maybe I will get to try out some more in 2010, such as Gene & Georgetti's or Tramanto's Steakhouse.

2. Eggplant stuffed dates at Green Zebra- This is my favorite Chicago restaurant. We went here for the first time in 2008. When we went back, I have to say, I was afraid that I would be disappointed because it wasn't as good as I remembered. Thankfully, it knocked my sock off again. This dish in particularly was amazing. Salty eggplant wrapped around medjool dates was a vegan version of chorizo or bacon wrapped dates. A creamy coconut custard and tabbouleh pilaf on the size created a perfect balance of flavor and texture. At this restaurant, vegetables take the main stage in a way I have never experienced before.

1. Lamb Mole at Topolobampo- Rick Bayless IS the Top Chef master! After he won the grand prize, Steve and I made a reservation for his fine dining restaurant: Topolobampo where he was offering his award winning tasting menu. While it was delicious and moving to enjoy the meal that told the story of his life of a chef, the best thing came off of Steve's seasonal menu. The 27 ingredient mole negro was deep, smoky, spicy, and complex over succulent and tender perfectly cooked lamb. My menu came with the mole over rare tuna, which was very good but it was absolutely divine over the lamb. Photo of rabbit mole is courtesy of flickr user DrewVigal
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