Tuesday, December 25, 2012

ChezCindy: Gingerbread Cake with Clementine Cream Cheese Frosting

Gingerbread has become a Christmas favorite of mine, but only in recent years.  It was not a holiday standard learned from my mother for traditional Christmas baking.  We grew up on thumbprints, cut-out cookies, and later peanut butter chocolate kisses as we gravitated to more modern cookie recipes.  

I came upon this cake recipe in Bon Appetit magazine last year.  It uses fresh grated ginger in the cake batter, as well as ground dry ginger.  The cake is very moist and is actually better the next day.  This year I decided to make a cream cheese frosting for it, although it is very good as a cake plain.  I added juice from a clementine to the frosting and topped with clementine zest.  Adding the clementine frosting turned a plain sweet treat into an upscale comfort cake. 

Gingerbread Cake with Clementine Cream Cheese Frosting 
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Coat an 8-inch square cake pan with cooking oil spray.  Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.  Spray the paper. 

Whisk the flour, spices, salt, baking powder and baking soda together in a medium bowl.  Set aside.

In a separate mixing bowl, add the butter, pour the boiling water over the butter, stir to melt the butter.  Stir in the sugar, molasses, lightly beaten egg and the fresh ginger.  Add the dry ingredients, stir to combine.  Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, or the cake tester comes out clean when tested in the center of the cake.

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  Invert onto a wire rack.  Allow to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting 
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup of powder sugar
1 tablespoon of juice from clementine
clementine zest

Cream together the softened cream cheese and butter until well combined.  Add the salt and vanilla.  Mix in the powder sugar.  Add just enough clementine juice to loosen the frosting until you have a smooth consistency, about 1 tablespoon.  Stir in 1 teaspoon of clementine zest. 

Frost the cake or cupcakes.  Sprinkle with additional clementine zest.

To make this cake as a Chocolate-Gingerbread Cake:  Add 3 tablespoons cocoa powder to the dry ingredients.  Melt 2 ounces of bittersweet chocolate along with the butter and increase the boiling water with 2 tablespoons in addition to the 1/2 cup.  

Sunday, December 23, 2012

ChezCindy: Corn Tortilla Chips Breakfast Strata

Corn Tortilla Chips Breakfast Strata

As I walked through the kitchen this morning looking for a breakfast idea, I spied the bag of corn tortilla chips sitting on the counter, left-over from a previous guacamole snack.  I began to wonder if I could use the tortilla chips much like stale bread is used for breakfast strata.  I have never seen that done before.  So I set out to experiment with the corn tortilla chips breakfast strata.  I must say it came out very well.  I ate three pieces before I made myself stop. 

The recipe below represents the ingredients I used, but really, this can be made with whatever vegetables, cheese, or meat you have available, or is your preference.  Thus the beauty of a breakfast stata.  The basics are eggs, stale chips (normally bread) and cheese.  In this recipe I used parsnips, which is somewhat unusual, but I encourage you to try it.  Parsnips are an underused winter vegetable that are related to carrots, but are sweeter and richer in nutrients and minerals (a good source of potassium).  In this breakfast bake, the parsnips provided a contrast in texture and a surprising sweetness as a compliment to the heat of the salsa.  This turned out to be a delicious experiment.  Try your own experiment by using spicy chorizo sausage or ham, or sun-dried tomatoes and sweet potatoes.  Just follow the basic process as described below.

Corn Tortilla Chips Breakfast Strata
2 cups crushed corn tortilla chips
1 1/2 cup Egg Beaters egg substitute*
3 whole eggs
1/4 cup sliced parsnips
1/4 cup slivered onions
1 tablespoon green onion, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped bacon
2 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon oil
cooking oil spray

Spray an 8-inch baking pan with cooking oil.  Place the crushed corn tortilla chips in the baking pan; set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a non-stick skillet, place over medium heat.  Add the thinly sliced parsnips and the onions to the pan.  Season with salt; cook for 5 minutes.  Add the chopped green onion; cook for 1 minute.  Allow to cool.

In a medium size bowl, combine the eggs and the egg beaters.  Whisk together.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of fresh ground black pepper.  Add the parsley, red peppers; stir to combine. 

To assemble:  Spread the cooled parsnip/onion mixture evenly over the crushed tortilla chips.  Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and chips.  Sprinkle the cheese and bacon bits over the top of the egg mixture.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour. 
Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until set in the center.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.  Serve with prepared salsa.

* if not using egg substitute, use a total of 8 whole eggs.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

ChezCindy: Pan-seared Utah Red Trout

Every winter my husband and a few of his friends travel to Utah to go skiing at Deer Valley.  This year will mark their 15th year doing so.  Most of the fellas are not too particular when it comes to the dinner options.  So, when they are out dining at a restaurant, he'll call me with his restaurant dinner update.   

A few years back, all of the guys were excited about the Utah Red Trout they had at a restaurant in Park City named Mustang.  Chef/Owner Bill Hufford presents this dish as one of his signature entrees which has received accolades such as "Utah's best fish dish".  Which led me to the challenge of researching the chef's recipe.  Below is my take on his recipe.  

The trout is quick sautéed, served with a lemon butter sauce with capers and diced Roma tomatoes.  If you want a quick dinner that cooks in 10 minutes or less, this is it. This recipe can also be made with tilapia in place of the trout.

Mustang Restaurant's Utah Red Trout
4 6-ounce trout fillets
Olive oil to sauté the trout
salt & pepper

1 stick unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced shallots
juice of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
4 tablespoons diced fresh Roma tomatoes
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped

Start by heating a large sauté pan over medium-high heat; add the olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Season the trout with salt and pepper.  When the oil is hot, add the fillets flesh side down and cook for 4 minutes.  Flip the fillets over and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Remove the fish from the pan; keep warm.
Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan; add the shallots, sauté for 1-2 minutes.  Add the lemon juice and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low; add the remaining butter a tablespoon at a time, whisking after each addition.  Once all of the butter has been whisked in, add in the capers and the diced tomatoes.  Turn off the heat.  Swirl to combine the capers and tomatoes with the brown butter and shallots.  Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as necessary. 

Carefully remove the trout skin (it should remove easily by pinching one end with tongs and gently pulling backward).  Place a trout fillet on each plate, spoon the sauce over the trout.  Garnish with the chopped chives. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

ChezCindy: Fear of Cooking Fish

It is no wonder people are hesitant to cook fish at home if they are uncertain about where and how to buy good fresh fish.  If you start with smelly old fish, what you are cooking is going to result in an awful, finished product, no matter how good of a cook you are.  Knowing where to obtain quality goods is key to making great food.  Pictured above is golden trout from my neighborhood fish purveyor.  I am fortunate to have Carol as manager of the local market where I buy fish.  Carol manages her fish counter with the proper turnover of the fish and knowing the correct amounts to order, so that her customers can rely on fresh product with each purchase.  If you can find a good fishmonger like Carol, you are halfway there to cooking great fish at home.

Here are a few tips to consider when buying fish:
  • As you approach the fish counter, it should not smell "fishy".  Fresh fish smells like the sea, the ocean or the stream from where the fish came.  If the area smells "fishy" the fish could be old and not well kept. 
  • Looking at the fish display case, it should be well-iced and clean.  Same with the working area behind the fish display.  If there is fish sitting out on a back work counter with no one attending to it, the fish is losing its freshness and breaking down as the temperature of the fish is rising to dangerous numbers.  Fresh fish needs to stay on ice to maintain its quality.  Same goes for when you bring it home.  Keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it.
  • Ask when the fish came into the store.  It should no more than a few days old.  Do they receive it as a whole fish or already cut into portions?  If they are receiving whole fish or entire sides of filleted fish, it will be fresher for you.  Less handling is better.  You want fish that came directly from the water, to the boat, to the store.  Of course, if you are not fortunate enough to live near the shore, the fish is express over-night shipped from the docks to the store.  Living in the mid-west, we can't get much fresher than that. 
  • Buy fish that is abundant and in season.  Just like produce, some fish are seasonal.  Not only will you have a better price, but you will also have a fish at its peak of goodness. 
  • Frozen fish can be good but know what you are buying.  The fish in the display case should tell you whether it was previously frozen or is fresh.  If not, ask the fishmonger.  If the fish appears dull and ragged, don't buy it.  The fish should almost glisten, have clean edges and the flesh should be smooth.  And it shouldn't smell fishy!  Frozen fish in the vacuum packaging can usually be relied on.  It is caught, filleted, frozen within minutes of coming off the boat and shipped as a frozen product.  This fish can be fresher than what is sometimes found in the display cases. 
Tonight, I will be cooking this beautiful trout in a Mediterranean style recipe.  It is quick seared in olive oil, with shallots, capers, and lemon juice, finished with diced red Roma tomatoes.  Click here for the recipe

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

ChezCindy: Traveling Through Food Memories - Tomato soup

Tomato Soup with Puff Pastry

One of my favorite joys of traveling are the food memories created while visiting a special get-away location.  For us, it's all about the food in a beautiful new setting.  We plan out where we will eat, which restaurants to dine at, much like others plan which site-seeing spots they'll visit.   Fortunately, we are both food-obsessed.  Oh yeah, we fit in some hiking, walking, and visit scenic non-food sites too.  We need to have something to do before the next meal! 

I used to challenge myself to try to create a dish from my "taste memory".  But I have since learned that sometimes all you have to do is ask the chef for the recipe.  Often times, you can find the recipe on-line with a quick internet search.  So many restaurants and chefs have their own cookbooks now, it is much easier to find the actual recipe, that I no longer need to rely on trial and error.  The results being much more successful now.  And it is so much fun to relive the experience of traveling through your taste buds.   

Today's recipe is from a French restaurant in Yountville, California,  Bistro Jeanty.  Chef Philippe Jeanty, born in the Champagne region of France, has owned and operated his restaurant in Napa Valley since 1998.  I highly recommend dining at Bistro Jeanty if you can make it out to California.  Chef Jeanty has the most amazing tomato soup with an equally stunning presentation.  He serves the soup in an oven-proof bowl, with puff pastry baked on the top exterior of the bowl, puffed up like a dome.  It is not only beautiful, it is incredibly delicious. 

Now I didn't say the soup was low-calorie or healthy.  This is French cooking.  It has more butter and cream than you would ever imagine being included in tomato soup.  But it is delicious.  I have provided the original Bistro Jeanty recipe (full butter & cream amounts listed), but I have also noted my substitutions for reductions in the amounts of butter and cream. 

Bistro Jeanty Tomato Soup
Creme de Tomate en Croute

2 1/2 pounds tomatoes - ripe, cored & quartered
1/2 cup unsalted butter (my reduction: use only 4 tablespoons)
1/2 pound yellow onion, sliced
6 garlic cloves
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1/2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup water - use only if tomatoes are not ripe & juicy
4 cups heavy cream (my reduction: use only 1/2 cup cream)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (my reduction, optional)
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 pound puff pastry
1 egg - beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Melt the 1/2 cup butter in a large stockpot over medium-low heat.  Add the onions, cover and cook for about 5 minutes.  Do not let the onion color.  Add the tomatoes, garlic, tomato paste, bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme and water if needed.  Simmer over low heat for 30-40 minutes, until the tomatoes and onions are very soft.  Remove the bay leaf.  Puree in a blender (working in batches) or use a hand-held immersion blender; strain*.  Return the soup to the pot.  Add the cream, salt, white pepper and the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.  Bring soup back to a boil. 

Let the soup cool for 2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.  Divide the soup among six 8-ounce bowls (oven-proof).  Roll out the puff pastry to 1/4 inch.  Cut 6 rounds slightly larger than the bowls.  Paint the dough with the egg wash and turn the circles egg-wash side down over the tops of the bowls, pulling lightly on the sides to make the dough tight like a drum. 
Lightly paint the top of the dough rounds with egg wash without pushing the dough down.  Bake in a pre-heated oven at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes, until the dough is golden brown.  Do not open the oven door in the first few minutes or the dough will fall.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.

You can make the soup without the puff pastry for a less eventful dinner, as it is quite delicious without.  Or you can bake the puff pastry, cut into squares, on a sheet tray and then place on top of the soup as a large crouton.  This is also great with fresh baked cheddar scones.  See my recipe from another post, click here Cheddar Scones

*Note: straining the soup results in a very refined, silky texture.  I do not strain mine for a more rustic version.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

ChezCindy: Roasted Heirloom Tomato Tart

Earlier this week, I like many "foodies" across America, acknowledged what would have been the 100th birthday of Julia Child.  Julia served as an inspiration to many home cooks and professional chefs, and still does.  Breaking barriers and declaring that cooking should be enjoyed and celebrated in our homes, shared with family and friends.   This being the idea behind my blog site, sharing a collection of what I am cooking.  I hope my recipes inspire you to do the same.

In honor of Julia, I made 2 of my favorite recipes, Bacon-Leek Quiche and Riene de Saba, affectionately known in our house as "chocolate booze cake".  Both were fun and delicious.  I made homemade crust for the quiche and had extra crust left-over.  Once again being the frugal person that I am, I wanted to be sure I used the remaining crust.  On the counter were gorgeous heirloom tomatoes reaching the peak of their ripeness.  I decided to make a Roasted Heirloom Tomato Tart.

Roasting tomatoes intensifies and accentuates the true tomato goodness of any tomato.  Even when using mid-winter grocery store tomatoes, roasting will bring you closer to summer tomatoes than eating them raw.  The water dries-out, concentrating the tomato flavors; bringing forward the natural sugar.  It is a simple process that can then be used when making a tomato tart, or adding to pasta, fish or topping a salad.

Roast Tomatoes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place a sheet of parchment paper in the bottom of a baking tray with sides.  Slice ripe tomatoes into thick slices.  Place the tomatoes on the tray in a single layer.  Add thinly sliced garlic and sprigs of thyme, scattered over the tomatoes.  Drizzle olive oil over the tomatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roast for 20-25 minutes.  

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Tart
1 pastry pie dough for 9-inch tart pan - homemade or store bought
1 pound tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
5-6 sprigs of thyme
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 ounces ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
kosher salt
ground black pepper

Press the pastry pie dough into a tart pan with removable bottom.  Dock the dough by pricking it with a fork.  "Blind" bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees.  Remove from oven; set aside to cool.

Roast the tomatoes as described above.  Set aside to cool.

Arrange the roasted sliced tomatoes in the bottom of the baked tart crust.  Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese evenly over the tomatoes, place dollops of ricotta cheese over the tomatoes.  Drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place in the preheated oven for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown.  Cool before serving.

My favorite savory pie crust recipe and the quiche recipe are found by way of this link.
 Quiche and Savory Pie Crust Recipes

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

ChezCindy: Corn Cakes with Bacon-Honey Butter

Corn Cakes with Bacon-Honey Butter

Corn.  Quite possibly America's favorite vegetable.  Ask any child what vegetables they like to eat, and certainly corn is most requested.  Fresh picked corn-on-the-cob, boiled for just a few minutes, slathered with butter and salt is our house favorite way to eat corn.  In the past few years, I created a simple corn dish that soon became known as "Mistee's favorite corn", a niece in the family.  I cut the corn off of the cob.  Added it to a large skillet, cooked it for about 3-5 minutes over medium-high heat with butter and salt.  You would have thought it was magic, the way that corn disappeared once served to the cousins.  It is basically the same as corn-on-the-cob, but a bit easier to eat!  Mistee's corn is now a standard with the Thanksgiving dinner. 

To remove corn kernels from the cob:  Hold the corn vertically resting on one end, standing upright in a deep bowl.  Slide a sharp knife down the length of the corn, just removing the kernels, and not cutting too deep into the cob.  The cut corn can be frozen in a zipper plastic bag for 3-4 months.  Or for several days in the refrigerator. 

Today I made Corn Cakes with Bacon-Honey Butter. The history on corn cakes is a rich part of America. Most commonly thought to have been taught to the early settlers from the Native American Indians. Early corn cakes were mostly made of ground corn and water, fried as a flat bread over an open fire. Although, recipes for corn cakes vary, from rustic with fresh corn added to a corn batter, to a refined cake similar to a pancake. Corn cakes are also versatile in that they can be served as a sweet breakfast item, or as a savory appetizer with sour cream and smoked salmon. 

Corn Cakes with Bacon-Honey Butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup corn meal
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of white pepper
1 1/4 cups fresh corn kernels cut form cobs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted melted butter
1 large egg

Working in a medium bowl, add the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda, salt & pepper; whisk to combine.  Add the corn kernels, buttermilk, butter, and egg to a blender; process until pureed.  Add the pureed corn mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just until combined. 
Heat a non-stick griddle to 375 degrees or medium-high heat.  Ladle 1-2 ounces of batter onto the hot griddle, slightly spreading outward with the back of your ladle.  Cook until the tops have lost their shine, and are covered with bubbles, about 2-3 minutes.  Carefully turn the corn cakes over, cook for another 1 minute.  Remove from the griddle.

Bacon-Honey Butter
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons honey
3 teaspoons Hormel Bacon Bits

Place the softened butter in a small bowl, stir until smooth.  Add in the honey, stirring to combine.  Stir in the bacon bits. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

ChezCindy: Yellow Tomato Corn Salsa

Most everyone is familiar with traditional chips and salsa.  This yellow version focuses on using only yellow ingredients.  Yellow tomatoes, yellow peppers (hot and mild), and yellow corn.  The outcome is delicious, with the yellow tomatoes being less acidic than the red, and the sweet corn and yellow peppers adding great balance, with a bit of smokiness from ground cumin. This salsa may win first place against any standard red salsa, unless of course challenged by my brother-in-law's salsa.  His red salsa is the best.  It is my favorite red salsa.  But this is yellow. I can do yellow.    

The idea behind this is a basic salsa recipe, but with focus on using only yellow ingredients.  Quite easy to do with all of the fresh ingredients available at the local farm stands.  Look for yellow banana peppers, that range from mild to hot.  Add in a variety of fresh yellow tomatoes, and yellow bell peppers, yellow onions, and golden maize corn.  I do not use any fresh herbs in this.  Normally I would use fresh cilantro in my standard salsa.  Using ground cumin in place of fresh herbs brings out the best of these ingredients.

Yellow Tomato Corn Salsa
1 1/2 pounds yellow tomatoes, any variety
1/2 yellow bell pepper
2 small banana peppers
1/4 cup diced yellow onions
2 large or 3 medium ears of corn, cut from the cob
1 small clove garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Working with a food processor, cut the peppers, onions and garlic into pieces; place in the bowl of the food processor; pulse 3-4 times to combine.  Add the salt, pepper, and cumin.  Cut the tomatoes into large pieces; add to the pepper-onion mixture.  Run the food processor for 30 seconds to 1 minute, to create a salsa-like texture.  Remove the salsa from the food processor bowl to a medium mixing bowl.  Cut the corn from the cobs; add to the tomato salsa mixture.  Stir to combine.  Adjust salt as necessary.  Serve with tortilla chips. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

ChezCindy: Summer Tomato Recipes

Sliced Summer Tomatoes with Shaved Parmesan Cheese

Local tomatoes are amazing.  Get them from the farmers market, the stand at the side of the road or your neighbor's back yard.  But get them. They are incredibly delicious. 

The tomatoes I have found at my local farmers market have been so wonderful, they don't need much adornment.  A simple tomato salad or a tomato sandwich with your favorite dressing is enough.  It's a perfect time to make a BLT; tomato-basil-mozzarella salad; or tomato bruschetta.  The time is ripe for any recipe where the tomato is the star.

I use my homemade vinaigrette for a tomato panzanella salad, which is fresh tomatoes and toasted bread croutons.  Panzanella is a great main dish when served with roasted chicken added to the salad, or a rustic side dish that pairs well with grilled steak. 

Tomato Panzanella Salad
2 cups fresh prepared bread croutons
Variety of heirloom tomatoes or fresh yellow, orange & red farm tomatoes
Parmesan cheese curls

To make the croutons:  Cut a loaf of Italian bread or a baguette into 1-inch cubes.  Place the bread cubes onto a large rimmed baking sheet.  Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with salt & cracked pepper.  Using your hands, toss well to coat evenly.  Place the bread cubes into a hot oven, set at 400 degrees.  Toast in the oven until evenly browned, about 10-15 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Cooled croutons can be stored in an air-tight container for 5 days. 

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil

To make the vinaigrette:  Place the Dijon mustard, honey, salt & pepper in a small bowl.  Whisk to combine.  Add the vinegar; whisk to combine.  Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking vigorously while doing so.

To make the Panzanella Salad:  Place the warm croutons in a large bowl.  Cut the tomatoes into large 1-inch pieces to yield about 3 cups.  Add to the croutons.  Drizzle 4-5 tablespoons of vinaigrette (amount is to your preference) over the croutons and tomatoes.  Gently toss to combine.  Allow the tomatoes & bread to soak in the vinaigrette and tomato juices for at least 10 minutes, up to 30 minutes.  Garnish with curls of Parmesan cheese, fresh leaves of basil, or arugula salad greens. 

I recommend you not refrigerate your tomatoes.  Refrigeration can turn the flesh pulpy and reduces the great tomato flavor.  Store them at room temperature on your counter. 

When cutting tomatoes, a serrated knife makes slicing through the skin easy without mashing the shape.  If you are using a straight edge knife, just make sure it is very sharp.  You will have beautiful slices every time.   

Tomato Bruschetta
Toast or grill slices of bread.  Once cool enough to handle, rub a clove of garlic over the toasted bread.  Drizzle olive oil over the bread; top with fresh tomatoes, basil and grated cheese.  Serve warm. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

ChezCindy: Warm Plum Dessert Sauce with Ice Cream

I few years back, I was designing an easy entertaining Italian cooking class.  The main entree was chicken picatta, which pairs really well with an Italian Pinot Grigio wine.  I had some left over wine, and decided to make a plum dessert sauce incorporating the wine.  It seemed to me that plums would make a fine dessert for this summer Italian meal.  What I created was a simple sauce of warm plums with Pinot Grigio served over ice cream.  The plums are not super sweet, the wine adds a tangy background, balanced with the creaminess of the ice cream.  The end result is a sophisticated dessert for a summer evening of entertaining.

Warm Plums with Pinot Grigio served over Ice Cream
5-6 Plums, red flesh
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup Pinot Grigio wine

Cut the plums into quarters, removing the pits, leaving the skins on.  Place 3 cups of the quartered plums into a large sauce pan.  Add the sugar and the Pinot Grigio.  Stir to combine.  Place on the stove over a medium high flame.  Stirring every 5-7 minutes to break up the plums, for about 25 minutes.  The plums and their juices will thicken, reducing to create a glossy sauce. 

This recipe can also be made without wine, substituting water or apple juice.  Plums can have a golden flesh or deep red in color.  I prefer the red flesh plums simply for their beautiful color.  If you are not sure what color the flesh is, ask the farmer or produce manager to cut one open.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

ChezCindy: Zucchini Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

Zucchini Cake with Cream Cheese Icing

I am not sure of the origin of adding vegetables when baking sweet treats, but it probably stems from early colonial days when sugar was sparse and a luxury.  The ingenuity of survival turned to using corn, squash, potatoes and carrots as a method to add texture and sweetness to pies, cakes and cookies.  Thankfully our foraging only has to lead us to our local farmer's market to find the produce that helps us create delightful sweet treats.  Today I am using zucchini to make cake. 

I have served these two cakes to the most finicky eaters who claim they don't like zucchini; will not eat anything green, especially in a cake.  But these cakes disappear like magic.  The basic recipe will be familiar to those who enjoy carrot cake.  Not a big stretch.  You are replacing carrots with zucchini; using the same spices in the cake batter; and adding a cream cheese frosting.  People who like carrot cake will enjoy this cake.  It may even be more moist than a carrot cake due to the nature of zucchini. 

I, for some reason, really had a notion to make a chocolate zucchini cake.  I used this same recipe, but added a 1/2 cup of cocoa to the dry ingredients*.  What a great disguise for zucchini. The chocolate color camouflaged the green zucchini, not that it needs to be hidden.  But it stands out as a surprise ingredient when people learn of it.  The recipe also uses cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, which compliment the chocolate.  The cinnamon lends towards thoughts of  a Mexican chocolate dessert.  I even add a pinch of cinnamon to the chocolate buttercream frosting to complete the cake.

The zucchini cake is made in a single 9-inch cake pan, and not a double layer cake.  It's a humble, homestyle cake that can be served as an afternoon snack or after dinner as dessert. 

Zucchini Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup canola oil
1 cup light brown sugar - packed
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 cup currants
3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Position oven rack in center of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees.  Line a 9-inch cake pan with 2-inch high sides with parchment paper; coat the parchment and the sides of the pan with nonstick oil spray.

Working with a large bowl, add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg to the bowl; whisk to combine. Set aside. Working with a mixing bowl, add the oil and brown sugar, with your mixer on low speed, combine.  Add in the eggs one at a time, to incorporate into the oil/sugar mixture.  Stir in the vanilla.  Turn off the mixer, add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, stir to combine.   Add in 2 cups of zucchini, combine well.  Fold in the currants and walnuts.  Transfer the cake batter to the prepared pan. 

Bake in the center of the oven for 40 minutes.  Cool completely in the pan on a baking rack.  Turn out the cake; peel off the parchment paper.  Frost as desired. 

*for a chocolate zucchini cake, add 1/2 cup cocoa to the dry ingredients; mix to combine.

Cream Cheese Frosting
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Working with a mixing bowl, add the softened cream cheese and butter to the bowl; stir to combine.  Add in the sugar, vanilla and cinnamon, stir to combine well. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

ChezCindy: Grilled Peaches with Cream Cheese Honey & Granola

After I published a recent post on homemade granola my sister contacted me asking for additional ideas for how to use it. She was sprinkling the homemade granola on ice cream, which is a great idea. Yum.  What first comes to mind for granola use is yogurt parfaits layered with fresh berries, topped with crispy granola.  But I also offered the idea of grilled peaches topped with cream cheese, honey and granola.

Grilled peaches are easy to prepare and can be eaten as a dessert or for breakfast, if indeed you don't mind early morning grilling.  This might be a fun thing to do on the weekend when you have more time for a fun breakfast.  But definitely after your evening barbecue and the grill is already hot. 

The peaches become softened and the juices release, as they would in a pie.  Adding the creamy cheese and the sweet local honey, lends towards the traditional concept of peaches and cream.  Topping with the crispy granola provides textural contrast.  If you can find or make a granola that has pecans in it, you have another natural pairing of pecans and peaches giving a nod to the state of Georgia. 

Here is how to put it together. 

Grilled Peaches with Cream Cheese, Honey & Granola
Fresh Peaches, Freestone work best
Cream Cheese
Cooking spray oil

Working with your outdoor grill, or an indoor grill can be used as well, set to medium heat level.  

Slice the peaches in half; remove the stone pit.  Lightly spray the cut side with cooking oil, place the cut side down onto the hot grill.  Grill for roughly 5 minutes, until the peach becomes soft to touch, but not mushy, and have light grill lines on the flesh.  Remove from the grill placing onto a serving tray.  While still hot from the grill, top each peach half with a dollop of cream cheese.  Drizzle with honey, sprinkle granola over the peach halves.   Serve warm. 

I use an Italian cream cheese, mascarpone, but any creamy cheese is suitable for this recipe, such as ricotta or Philadelphia cream cheese.  You can even use a flavored cream cheese by mixing in a bit of cinnamon or vanilla.  That would be delicious.

Freestone vs Clingstone Peaches
When purchasing peaches there are two varieties to consider, Freestone and Clingstone.  Both are wonderful.  The difference being as the name suggests, how easily the pit or the stone removes from the center of the peach.  Freestone pits adhere loosely to the flesh of the peach and remove easily.  While the Clingstone pits need to be cut out due to how strongly it clings to the peach.  Flavors are great on both.  I prefer Freestone, but if will buy Clingstone if that is all that are available.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

ChezCindy: Summer Tilapia with Basil Pesto Pasta

I created this tilapia dish a few years ago out of the necessity to use tomatoes sitting on my counter that were becoming very ripe.  I normally don't think to pair fish with Italian-style ingredients, but this worked really well to my pleasant surprise.

To make this dish, I cut the very ripe red and yellow tomatoes into large pieces, along with red and yellow bell peppers cut into strips.  I dropped them both into a large skillet coated with olive oil.  Over a very hot fire, I cooked the tomatoes and their juices until they became almost a sauce-like consistency, and the peppers very soft.  I draped the tomato-pepper mixture over the lightly breaded tilapia and served it with basil pesto pasta.  The dish tasted like summer on a plate.  The freshness of the tomatoes and the brightness of the basil pesto worked wonderfully with the light flaky tilapia.  You could easily substitute chicken for the tilapia if you are not a fan of fish.  This is a delicious way to enjoy the flavors of summer with a quick cooking meal.

Summer Tilapia with Basil Pesto Pasta
1 pound tilapia
2 peppers (red, yellow and/or orange)
3 medium size, very ripe red tomatoes
3 medium size, very ripe yellow tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt & pepper
grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

Basil Pesto
Angel hair pasta

Working in a very large skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan.  Swirl pan to bring together.  Season tilapia with salt & pepper; lightly dredge in flour.  Place the flour-coated tilapia into the hot pan.  Saute for 3-4 minutes on each side.  Remove the fish from the pan, placing it onto a tray.  Place the tray in a warm oven (set at 225 degrees) to keep warm. 

Cut the tomatoes into large pieces.  Cut each pepper into strips.  Working with the same pan the tilapia was cooked in (leave the browned bits in the skillet), add the peppers and tomatoes to the pan.  You may need to add additional oil if the pan has become too dry.  Cook over high heat until the peppers soften and the tomatoes have broken down.  Add the minced garlic and continue cooking until the tomato juices have reduced and thickened, about 5-7 minutes.  Turn off the heat and set aside. 

Prepare the angel hair pasta as directed; drain.  Return the drained pasta to the pan it was cooked in.  Mix 2 tablespoons of basil pesto with the cooked pasta.  Add a drizzle of oil if necessary to loosen the pasta. 

Plating:  Place a mound of the pesto pasta onto your serving plate.  Place tilapia on top of the pasta.  Spoon a generous portion of the pepper-tomato mixture on top of the tilapia.  Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Basil Pesto
2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a food processor or blender, combine the basil, nuts, garlic, salt & pepper by pulsing until finely chopped.  With the machine running, through the "pour-hole", slowly add the oil to yield a smooth consistency.  Transfer the basil mixture to a medium bowl.  Add the cheese and stir to combine.  The pesto should be refrigerated if not using right away. 

A few notes on basil pesto:  Traditionally basil pesto is made with pine nuts.  Pine nuts have become incredibly expensive.  I also caution on "bargain" priced pine nuts as they may not be sourced from a reliable producer and will leave a metallic flavor in the mouth.  Thus, I have begun replacing pine nuts with walnuts in most recipes.  Also, pesto is traditionally made with olive oil.

The pesto freezes well in small containers.  Add a thin layer of oil on top of the pesto to keep it from turning brown.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

ChezCindy: Good Morning Granola with Nuts & Seeds

My beautiful super-healthy friend advised that if I wanted to enhance my daily diet, I should consider eating oats.  My gorgeous sister also encourages me to eat cooked oatmeal for breakfast.  I like the taste of oatmeal, but I don't like the mushy texture.  Once after a dinner party, when we had all enjoyed a few glasses of wine, the conversation turned to healthy eating.  Somehow, we got on the topic of consuming raw oats.  I went to the pantry, pulled out the Quaker Oats container and tried it.  Not something I would recommend.  But granola, is quite tasty.  That I do enjoy.  And its primary ingredient is oats!  Maybe I can accomplish this daily oat eating thing. 

There are numerous ready-made granola products available at the grocery stores.  Some more healthy and delicious than others, but all are a bit expensive.  I have come to rely on making my own granola at home.  I have 2 favorite recipes.  Each are from Molly Wisenberg, author of food blog Orangette.  Molly is one of my favorite food writers.  Her first book, A Homemade Life, Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table, is full of delightful stories of her family's love for food.  Each chapter includes delicious recipes from her youth and travels.  A wonderful book.

My newest favorite granola recipe was influenced from a post on Orangette earlier this year. Surprisingly, this recipe uses olive oil.  It adds a unique flavor and also makes the oats crispy, almost flaky.  Really good.  There is a little bit of salt that balances the sweetness.  I use a variety of seeds, pumpkin, sunflower, etc.  Use what is your favorite or is available in your pantry.  

The recipe makes a large amount of granola.  It can be divided with some to store in your freezer for later use and the remainder stored in glass jars in the pantry for several weeks.

Everyday Granola
3 cups old fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
1/2 cup raw hulled pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup raw hulled sunflower seeds
1/4 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup olive oil
1 cup dried cherries (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, seeds, nuts, flax seed, coconut, pecans, brown sugar and salt.  Stir to combine.  In a separate small bowl, add the olive oil and maple syrup, using a whisk to stir until well combined.  Pour the olive oil and syrup mixture over the oat mixture, stirring until well combined. 

Transfer the granola mixture dividing between the two the prepared sheets pan, spreading into an even layer.  Bake until the granola is golden brown and toasted, about 45 minutes.  Remove from the oven allow to cool completely without stirring.  Once cool add the dried fruit, if using.  Store in an airtight container or zip plastic bag.  I usually divide the granola into 2 zip bags, storing one in the freezer and the other in the pantry.  The granola will stay fresh, tightly sealed for 3-4 weeks at room temperature.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

ChezCindy: Quick Pickled Cucumber Relish

Cucumbers are aways available, but somewhat thought of as boring.  I enjoy raw cucumbers in my everyday salad or sliced onto a sandwich for extra crunch.  But what else?  If you are into canning, cucumbers are "pickled" and stored for later use.  I have a very quick pickling-style recipe that is meant to be eaten within a few weeks, kept in the refrigerator, and brings huge flavor for sandwiches, burgers and brats. 

Quick Pickled Cucumber Relish
1 scant teaspoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons diced red onion
1 pinch of red chili pepper flakes
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large English cucumber, or 4-5 small Persian cucumbers
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Prepare the cucumber by slicing it in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds by scraping a 1/2 teaspoon down the center of the cucumber. Slice into 1/4 slices. Set aside.  If using the small cucumbers, skip the halving and scraping of the seeds.  The small cucumbers have smaller seeds that are less offensive.  

In a sauté pan over medium-high heat, toast the coriander seeds for 1-2 minutes. Drizzle in the canola oil, add the diced red onion, cooking until onions are softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in the pinch of chili pepper flakes and vinegar.  Sprinkle on the sugar, stirring until it dissolves.

Add the sliced cucumber to the pan, cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasional to evenly distribute the mixture. Remove from heat, sprinkle with kosher salt, allow to cool.

Once fully cool, transfer to a jar. Refrigerate until ready to use.  Can be stored in the refrigerator for 7-10 days.

Monday, July 9, 2012

ChezCindy: Fresh Ground Beef Burgers

I don't remember what prompted me to buy the grinder attachment for my stand mixer.  I've had it a few years and I use it quite a bit.  I must have seen a great recipe or process that I wanted to try.  Or maybe it was because of a nostalgic memory.  My parents had an old-fashioned hand-crank grinder that they clamped onto the kitchen table.  I remember my dad making "ham salad" by grinding bologna, pickles and onions, mixing it with mayonnaise for sandwiches.  We really liked the ham salad on white bread sandwiches.  Not sure that is my food choice of this day.  I do recommend having the grinder attachment.  It's a fun gadget to add to your stand mixer and there are great recipes to experiment with. 

This past weekend, I needed to use a large piece of chuck that had taken residence in my freezer for too long.  Its original destiny was to be a braised pot roast, but winter weather ran out and it was time to rethink my purchase.  Burgers on the grill!  Lamb Burgers or The Cabernet Burger are two great recipes to try.  

Grinding your own beef for burgers may sound extravagant but it makes a difference in taste and quality.  I really like grinding a cut of lamb for lamb burgers, or fresh ground pork to use in a casserole dish like lasagna.  Another favorite I like is grinding meat for meatballs.  For this process, once you have ground the meat, you run it and the other ingredients and seasonings back through the grinder for a second grind. This will combine everything into a homogeneous mixture for perfectly seasoned meatballs with great texture.  Chicken Apple Meatballs

The process for grinding meat requires just a few steps.  Keep the meat cold until ready to grind.  Working quickly, cut the meat into medium-size pieces.  Place a large bowl under the attachment to catch the meat.  Use the included wooden plunger to push the meat through the grinder.  Once you patty-up the meat or shape into meatballs, proper cleanup is also important.  Detach all pieces and run it through hot soapy water, using a bottle brush to clean inside the feeding tube. 

If you want to get extravagant, try making your own blend of ground beef like the high-end restaurants do.  They will use several cuts of beef, (chuck, sirloin, brisket, etc.) to make their signature burgers.  Or blend chuck with chorizo for a Spanish-style burger.  Have fun experimenting and maybe even making your own memories.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

ChezCindy: Summer Peach Pie

Peaches are ready!  They are plentiful, sweet and delicious.  All of this heat might not be good for us as humans, but it is doing good things for the peaches. 

This past week I bought a 1/2 peck from the Westerville Market.  I ate 3 fresh peaches in a matter of minutes.  They were that good.  Sweet, ripe, juicy.  Peach season runs through Mid-September, with different varieties coming to market every few weeks.  Find a near-by farm market and get in line.  They sell out fast! 

There are so many ways to enjoy peaches, besides eating numerous straight from the box.  I decided it was time to make a peach pie.  I used a standard double-crust recipe.  Use your favorite (even if it is store-bought).  The peach filling is pretty straight forward, nothing too fancy.  My pie came out great.  I plan on making many more this summer. 

Summer Peach Pie
5 pounds peaches
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 sticks of cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup shortening
4-6 tablespoons cold water

For the crust:  In the bowl of your mixer, combine the flour, salt, and sugar.  Cut the cold butter into 1/2-inch size cubes; add it and the shortening to the mixer.  Mix until the butter is the size of small peas, and the mixture is crumbly.  With the mixer running, add the cold water one tablespoon at a time until the dough forms into moist clumps.  Dump the dough onto a flat surface; gather into a ball.  Divide the dough in half.  Flatten each piece into a disk; wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

Peach Filling:  Cut the peaches into 1/2-inch pieces.  I do not peal the skin.  It adds great color to the filling.  Place the peaches into a large bowl.  Add the sugar, flour, spices and lemon juice.  Gently stir to combine.  (My peaches were very juicy, I added 2 additional tablespoons of flour.) 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Roll out 1 disk into a 12-inch round on a well-floured surface.  Transfer to a 9-inch deep dish pie pan.  Transfer the peach mixture to the pie pan, smoothing into a even layer.  Roll out the second disk.  Top the peaches with the second crust.  Trim the edges, crimp, and cut slits into the top crust to allow steam to escape while baking. 

Bake until the crust is golden brown, and juices are bubbling through the slits.  I covered the crust edge with a foil collar so that it would not brown too quickly before the rest of the pie was done.  Remove the foil collar about half-way through the baking time.  Bake for roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Allow to cool for at least 4 hours before cutting into the pie. 

If you prefer to peal the peaches:  Peaches peel easily by blanching them first in simmering water for several minutes; then plunging them directly into ice water for an equal amount of time.  Cut an "X" into the bottom of the peach before adding it to the simmering water.  The skin will slip off easily. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

ChezCindy: Nectarine and Blackberry Crisps

Nectarine and Blackberry Crisps

Fruit crisps are a dessert that can be made all year long, varying the fruit to the season.  Of course, as we enter into summer, we have wonderful berries and stone fruit.  Nectarines, peaches and berries pair extremely well as pies, crumbles, and crisps.  Crisps are so easy to make, and are well received by family and guests as a welcome end to a meal.  I prefer making individual crisps, as opposed to a large baking dish.  There's something special about holding your own single-serving ramekin that increases the magic of the moment.  Either way it is a sweet, delicious treat. 

Nectarine and Blackberry Crisp
2 pounds nectarines
12 ounces blackberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Crisp Topping
1 cup flour
1 cup oats, old-fashioned
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare 2 large sheet trays with sides, by fitting them with parchment paper.  This will catch any drips that bubble over making for much easier clean up. 

Cut the nectarines into large wedges to remove them from the stone pit.  I don't bother peeling the skin from the nectarines as the skin is thinner than peaches, and bakes into the dessert without changing the texture.  Rough chop the wedges into smaller bite size pieces.  Place into a large mixing bowl.  Add the blackberries to the nectarines.  Add the sugars, lemon juice, flour and cinnamon.  Gently mix to combine.  Set aside to make the crisp topping.

Combine flour, oats, sugars and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer.  Dice the cold butter into 1/2 pieces.  Add butter to the flour mixture.  Mix on low-speed until the butter is mixed into the flour and the texture is crumbly. 

Spoon the prepared fruit into your baking dishes, either 12 6-ounce ramekins or 1 large 9x13 oval.  Top with the crumbled crisp topping.  Place the ramekins onto the prepared baking trays.  Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the tops are slightly browned and the juices are bubbly.  Remove from the oven.  Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

ChezCindy: Welcome Market Wednesday's

This week I begin my cooking demonstrations at the Westerville Farmer's Market.  I will be on-site preparing and cooking with the produce and artisan foods from the wonderful vendors who present their product each week.  The market is a part of Uptown Westerville and gathers every Wednesday from 3pm - 6pm. 

This week features two recipes for you to try, each showcasing yellow squash, zucchini and pattypan squash. 

Sautéed Squash with Feta-Basil
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups squash, cut into 1-inch pieces  
½ cup sliced leeks
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon chopped basil 
1 teaspoon butter

For this recipe you can choose a variety of squash such as pattypan, yellow summer squash, or zucchini.  
 Place a large nonstick skillet over high heat.  Add oil to pan.  Add the leeks to the hot pan, cooking for about 2 minutes.  Add the cut squash pieces to the pan, sprinkle with salt & pepper.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  The squash and leeks will brown slightly, creating great flavor. Turn off the heat.  Add the butter, stirring to coat the squash.  Transfer the squash to your serving plate.  Sprinkle with the feta and chopped basil. 

Baked Pasta with Summer Squash and Tomatoes 
4 ounces uncooked bowtie pasta
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups yellow squash, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ cup red onion, chopped
1 cup fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
½ cup shredded mozzarella
¼ shredded parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
½ teaspoon dry oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
Cook pasta according to directions.  Allow to cool slightly.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.   Place a large nonstick skillet over high heat.  Add oil to the pan.  Add the squash, zucchini and onion, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt; sauté for about 5 minutes.  Add the tomato and garlic, cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.  Stir in the pasta, and ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese.   In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, basil, oregano, remaining salt & pepper.  Stir the ricotta mixture into the pasta mixture.  Prepare an 8-inch square baking dish by spraying it with cooking oil spray.  Spoon the pasta mixture into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle ¼ cup parmesan cheese over the top.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Can be served hot or room temperature.