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 sautĂ© 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.