Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Chocolate Peanut Butter Whoopie Pie

I love the combination of chocolate and peanut butter.  Even more than the combination, I absolutely love a nice, light peanut butter frosting. The frosting was my favorite part of my Butterfinger cupcakes, and I suppose I have been on a bit of a peanut butter baking kick with my gluten free peanut butter cookies.

Whoopie pie - a traditional Amish dessert, is also a favorite of mine these days.  I decided it was time to make another flavor of Whoopie Pie, after having done a chocolate raspberry Whoopie Pie.  Really, the possibilities are endless and I plan to experiment with some unusual flavors.  But before I go there, it was time to make a classic chocolate peanut butter Whoopie Pie.  As i get to some of the more creative flavors (next up is Oatmeal/Caramel, I think), I will be writing my own recipes.  But I decided not to reinvent the wheel with with one and go with my "old friend" Martha Stewart.  I did adapt her recipe a bit so I could use canola oil in the cakes rather than butter or shortening, and that worked out perfectly.  I love the look of Whoopie Pies - they kind of remind me a reverse cupcake, and yes, they may not be quite as cute as those Alice in Wonderland cupcakes that I posted last weekend, but they're pretty much one of the best desserts I've ever tasted.  I thought I made a pretty big batch, but after sharing a few with friends and family, the rest disappeared very quickly - a little too quickly.  I want more!  I guess that's why the Amish farmers yelled "Whoopie" when they found these in their lunch bags.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Whoopie Pie (adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe)
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch Processed)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 T butter
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup milk (I used organic skim milk from Stonyfield Farms, not whole milk)
1 tsp vanilla

2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar

Preheat the oven to 375.  Mix the dry ingredients for the cookies (which should be more accurately referred to as mini-cakes in my opinion).  Beat the butter, canola oil and sugars until creamy in your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, for about three minutes.   Add the egg and vanilla and beat for another two minutes, before slowly beating in the dry ingredients.

Drop tablespoons onto baking sheets for the cookies, separating a couple inches apart.  Make sure to spray the baking sheets with Pam first.  Bake each sheet one at a time (I made 23 or 24 cookies total) for 12 to 14 minutes.  Then allow to cool fully.

Beat the peanut butter, confectioners sugar and butter to make the frosting and sandwich between pairs of the cookies.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City: Belgian Style Mussels

In addition to cheesesteaks, I always associate Philly with Belgian-Style Mussels because of my favorite bar in Philly, Monk's, the site of my 'first-date' with Jenn and many many other wonderful nights. This Philadelphia institution is a beer-lover's mecca. Their beer list is referred to the 'beer-bible' and boasts hundreds of beers from all over the world. Their other specialty is mussels which you order by the size of the pot, small or large. All of them are cooked in beer and they always have a handful of different options to choose from with different beers and veggies. They always serve these with Pommes Frites and good bread to sop up the broth.

Again, since I've been in Philly the past couple of weeks working a freelance gig while I try to secure a new full-time job, I decided to pay tribute to Philly with this dish. This was the second time I had tried this although the first time I turned it into risotto, which was fantastic.

Ingredients (feeds 4 as an appetizer or 2 very hungry individuals as a meal):
2 lb. bag of mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
1/4 lb bacon
1 cup of chopped leeks
3 shallots, chopped
1-2 tbsp minced garlic
1 lime, squeezed
2 bottles of belgian style beer (I used River Horse Double Wit)
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
1/2 box of sliced baby bella mushrooms
tbsp of minced cilantro

First, I cooked the bacon until crispy and set it aside to be crumbled later. I used a small amount of the bacon grease and some olive oil to saute the veggies in the bottom of a large pot. I cooked these for a few minutes until soft and then added the beer, keeping it on the heat until simmering. At this point you can add your mussels and cook, covered, checking on them until they are all opened. That's one of the great parts about cooking clams or mussels, in that you have a clear indication of when they are cooked since they open up. Don't eat them if they don't open.

In the end I was pretty happy with the results although the ones at Monk's are still better... I think that when I try these again I will probably omit the gorgonzola and use a more mildly flavored Belgian beer. One of my favorites at Monk's is DeKonick, although I don't know where to find it in Jersey City yet.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Penne Alla Vodka With Arugula

Penne alla vodka is one of my favorite pasta dishes.  It is not so healthy, I'll admit (thanks to the heavy cream, which is unavoidable).  But, it is much lighter tasting than a traditional Italian pasta sauce, so it is always an enjoyable treat.  I like to make my penne vodka with shallots and arugula, so both are incorporated into this recipe.  One of the keys in this recipe is making sure to boil away the alcohol in the vodka, so the sauce picks up a bit of the flavor.  This is an old favorite recipe of mine that I always make basically the same way.  My husband, Brad, is also a big fan of this classic dish.  It's really hard to mess this one up - the instructions are very simple and the result is always rewarding.  It's perfect for a weekday night after work, since it doesn't take a long time to prepare.  Also, there are always ample leftovers, which make for a nice lunch the next day.

Sasha's Penne Alla Vodka
2 shallots, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
2 T olive oil
1/2 cup vodka
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 3/4 cups plain tomato sauce
1-2 large handfulls of baby arugula
freshly grated parmesan cheese (to taste)
pepper to taste

First, saute the shallots and garlic in olive oil until lightly browned in a medium sized pot.  Then add the vodka over medium heat, and allow the alcohol to burn off (this process only takes about 1-2 minutes).  Then add the heavy cream, tomato sauce and a bit of pepper and simmer until the sauce has the right consistency.  Just before the sauce is done, add 1-2 handfuls of arugula, which adds a bit of bitterness to balance the flavors.  Then, toss with the pasta and serve topped with parmesan cheese.

Pasta With Vodka Sauce


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Food & Wine Pairing: Ad Hoc's Caramelized Scallops with Cakebread Cellars Reserve Chardonnay

I have very quickly become a fan of Thomas Keller's cookbook, Ad Hoc At Home.  My husband professes to dislike scallops.  Yet, every time I have made them lately, he seems to enjoy them.  My last two scallop recipes, scallops in a lemongrass coconut broth with mushrooms and scallops with a blood orange vinaigrette, were both my recipes, and were fairly complex in the ingredients that accompanied the scallops.  This time, however, I decided to prepare Thomas Keller's classic caramelized scallops and pair them with one of my favorite wines - Reserve Chardonnay from Cakebread Cellars.  This recipe is more challenging than it looks to get the scallops with the right caramelized texture, but it is also quite rewarding and showcases the quality of the ingredients used.

About a year and a half ago, my husband and I had the pleasure of visiting Cakebread Cellars and tasting many of their wines when we visited Napa Valley. Cakebread, of course, is well known as a legendary Napa winery that makes some of the best Chardonnay on the planet.  I paired the scallops with a bottle of Reserve Chardonnay that I received so kindly from Cakebread back in December that I have been saving for the perfect meal - and in my mind seafood and Chardonnay pair nicely together.  I feel that the Cakebread reserve Chardonnay is truly a special wine, and because it is my favorite Chardonnay of all time, it's sad to see the last drop all gone.  But surely it was enjoyed.  And this time, we have enough leftover for accompanying the next night's meal (saffron mushroom risotto, so stay tuned!)

I paired the Ad Hoc scallops (from one of Napa's many wonderful restaurants) with this smooth, well balanced Reserve Carneros Chardonnay for an all-California treat on the east coast.  This Chardonnay is a nicely oaked Chardonnay that has a smooth, balanced flavor.  There are hints of lemon, along with tropical flavors, pears and a bit of spice.  This wine is just the closest thing to perfection in a Chardonnay that I know and tastes lovely with seafood.  I think it would also pair nicely with my Asian/Pacific Rim Marinated Chilean Sea Bass with Papaya Salsa, given the tropical fruit undertones in the wine.  I love the way the oak in the wine (they age the wine in French oaks, as I recall) balances out with these tropical flavors and the pear aroma.

The scallops, simple but elegant, are quintessentially Keller -  showcase of fresh, ingredients prepared in an uncomplicated way that showcases the scallop, pure and simple, rather than blending its flavor with other complicated ingredients (which, in my opinion is often nice, as well).  Because of the simple elegancy of this meal, it paired so well with the Chardonnay because it allows the taster to focus on the flavors of the scallop and the wine.  Plus, I love just about anything caramelized, so a caramelized scallop is just genius in my eyes.

Ad Hoc's Caramelized Scallops  
2 cups Kosher salt (plus more to taste)
2 cups hot water
8 cups cold water
12 U7 sea scallops (or about 1 3/4 lbs of local fresh scallops)
2 T clarified butter
1/2 lemon

I will note that i used regular scallops rather than U7 scallops because they were a fresh catch at my local fishmonger.  They were good but they absorbed the salt a bit faster than the larger U7 scallops so it was just a tad saltier than I might have preferred, due to the brine.  Next time, I will purchase U7 scallops like Keller suggests, but cut the recipe in half if I am only making it for two people again.

First, combine the salt with the hot water to prepare a brine.  Stir to dissolve the salt.  Add the cold water next.  Add the scallops to the brine and let stand for 10 minutes (and only 10 minutes so the scallops do not become too salty).  I might have suggested five minutes if you are using smaller scallops than U7.

Heat the clarified butter in a large frying pan over medium heat until it begins to smoke.  Season the scallops lightly with salt (and if you are like me, a bit of pepper).  Add the scallops to the pan, making sure they do not touch each other.  Cook without moving the scallops until golden brown for about 3 and a half minutes on each side.  Serve them simply with a bit of lemon juice on each scallop.

Scallops on FoodistaScallops

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Lemongrass Grilled Strip Steak

I will have to preface this recipe by saying that although it just looks like a slab of meat, it was a great marinade and a delicious thai inspired steak.  I was inspired by my old (but beloved) Caribbean and Pacific Rim cookbook, to create a lemongrass flavored marinade for steak.  My recipe is totally different from the one in the cookbook, but stays true to two things used to flavor the steak: soy sauce and lemongrass.  You can use either fresh or dried lemongrass for this recipe and I recommend fresh lemongrass if you can get your hands on it.  I used a nice organic cut of strip steak for the recipe, which was lean and absorbed the flavors well.

I marinaded the steaks overnight, which gave them a wonderful strong flavor from the marinade.  This wasn't intended as we wound up saving the steak for a day due to some last minute dinner plans.  I took the steak out of the marinade after about 10-12 hours though so not to over-marinate it.  I like how this worked out - the soy and pineapple juice made for a lovely marinade, with flavors of both lemongrass and cilantro.

Sasha's Lemongrass Grilled Strip Steak
2 organic strip steaks
2/3 cup of soy sauce
2/3 cup pineapple juice
5 T lime juice
5 T minced lemongrass
1 T sesame oil
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 jalapeno, diced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1 T brown sugar

To prepare the steaks, it is very simple.  Just combine the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl and marinate the steaks overnight (or for at least 5 hours).  Then, use a grill pan to grill the steaks to your liking.  I'd suggest serving with potatoes, fried rice or a salad.  I like this dish with a first course of a homemade Caesar salad.  My husband had his with an egg served sunny side up, which worked nicely, he said.

Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City: Bacon Cheesesteak

I've spent the last week or so working and staying in Philly, so I figured what better way to celebrate than by making a cheesesteak. Sasha and I started discussing our fond memories of cheesesteaks from college in Philly and both wanted to try our hands at recreating the experience at home (hers is here). The 'best cheesesteak' in Philly is always a hot topic for locals. The most visited are probably Pat's and Geno's in South Philly, which face-off across the street from each other and honestly taste pretty similar. Then you've got Tony Luke's where his steaks are a little thicker and he now has a location in Citizen's Bank park. At any of these you'll find late night drinkers lining up by the dozen ordering 'whiz-with' (your cheese choice, cheese-whiz, american, or provolone, and then whether or not you want fried onions). I personally always went with American cheese and onions. Another place I loved getting cheesesteaks is actually on Princeton's campus near my Mom's house in central NJ and is called Hoagie Haven. 'Haven' definitely isn't a typical cheesesteak but they offer things like a cheesesteak with bacon or another one of my favorites, the buffalo chicken cheesesteak (I may have to tackle this one soon as well).

So in making my own at home, I decided to go with the bacon cheesesteak.

2 large italian hoagie rolls
.9 lbs of thinly sliced top round
half a vidalia onion, sliced
half a box of sliced baby bella mushrooms
1/5 lb. of deli-sliced white american cheese
1/4 lb. of bacon

One of the reasons the cheesesteaks in Philly are so good, in my humble opinion, is that they use the Amoroso bakery's rolls. I thought about doing this while staying at my friend's in Philly just so I could use these rolls as well but found some decent rolls in Jersey City and went with them. I did hollow out the inside to remove some of the 'fluff' and lose some of the extra carbs because you know I've gotta watch all those calories while making a sandwich with bacon, steak and cheese... Anyway, first I cooked the bacon until crispy and set it aside. I removed the bacon grease and sauteed the mushrooms and onions in olive oil with a little black pepper and garlic.

I was a little disappointed that A&P's meat section wouldn't slice some rib-eye for me and told me there was thinly sliced top round on the shelf which is what we ended up going with. This was a big mistake in my opinion. The meat was fine but I should have either sliced it even more thinly, or pounded it thin. Normally when I make cheesesteaks at home I use steak 'um's or something similar and actually preferred that but I think I would have preferred the top round or rib eye IF it were thinner. The meat tasted good but was kind of overpowering because the chunks were so big and made it tough to taste the bacon and cheese. I guess I had hoped it would turn out more like Tony Luke's with the thicker meat.

Any time I cook meat in a pan (or a grill for that matter), I only cook each side once. Otherwise it can get overcooked and tough. You just want to sear each side and look in the juices and keep it tender. I also seasoned it with garlic powder and cracked black pepper. Once the meat was ready to flip, I added the onions, mushrooms and bacon and lined it up so it would fit nicely in the roll. Then I added the cheese on top and covered it with the sliced roll to help the cheese melt underneath. This is definitely the method of choice at most cheesesteak places I've been to while sober enough to watch and learn...

Now at most places that serve cheesesteaks, then have a giant grill area and large spatulas where they can just flip over the entire sandwich in one move and have the nicely layered sandwich. This is a lot tougher with a frying pan and normal sized spatula. Mine kind of fell apart when attempting to do this at home but eventually all the pieces made their way into the sandwich. I ended up adding a bunch of sliced jalapeno peppers and ketchup. Jenn just wanted Mayo... In the end it was a very tasty sandwich although I think I would have liked it much better with more thinly sliced meat.


Michelle's Kitchen in Toronto - Curried Egg Salad

Sometimes the best inspirations come randomly. I was at my parents looking for a quick lunch on the way out shopping with my mother. I decided on an egg salad, but wanted one with some pizazz! I started adding flavors I thought would taste great together and they did, to my great satisfaction.

Curried Egg Salad

1 boiled egg, whole
1 boiled egg, white only
1 tbsp fat free mayo (I used fat free Miracle Whip)
1 tsp chutney (I used Mrs. Ball's)
1 tbsp carrot, chopped fine
1 tbsp cucumber, chopped fine
1/4 avocado chopped
1/4 sprig green onion, chopped fine
1 tbsp raisins, reconstituted in hot water for about a minute
1 tbsp chopped toasted walnuts
1/4 - 1/2 tsp turmeric, depending on taste
salt to taste

Mash the egg, mayo, chutney, turmeric and salt until it is the desired consistancy to your taste. Fold in the other ingredients and enjoy!

Yield about 1 cup

I put this on crackers but it's great on its own or spread on a sandwich. I made enough for two people, but feel free to increase the amounts as needed.
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