January 31, 2011

Spinach Artichoke Dip with Spiced Pita Chips

This recipe is a keeper!

I had never made spinach artichoke dip from scratch, but not only was it easy, I think the results were better than some of the store-bought versions! (Although, Whole Foods makes an excellent example, should you ever be looking for pre-made spinach artichoke dip.)

The recipe is from Food & Wine's December 2009 issue. My version looks like it has more spinach in it than the picture on Food & Wine's website, but I followed the recipe to a tee (well, except for the hot sauce - ew!). Don't skip the spiced pita chips; they are fabulously tasty. One thing I managed to forget to do is to brush the olive oil mixture on both sides of the pita, but they still turned out ok.

January 25, 2011

Butter Roasted Cauliflower

I think that this recipe could make a non-cauliflower eater turn into a cauliflower believer! I found the recipe on Joy the Baker's blog. If you have some time to spare, I would recommend hanging out on her blog for awhile. Her pictures are gorgeous, she's funny and she has a really cute cat.

I followed her recipe (minus the red pepper flakes), but I don't know what kind of magic oven she has; I had to up the temp of mine to 415 and I had to roast the cauliflower for 40 minutes until it had browned in some places and was tender. The sharp acidity from the lemon juice and the parsley's crisp freshness at the end is really what makes this dish. I would decrease the amount of garlic next time; between that and the lemon juice, I had to eat a piece of bread just to absorb the acidity in my stomach.

January 24, 2011

Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies

There are plenty of recipes for variations of the chocolate chip cookie out there. There are even plenty of different recipes for Nutella chocolate chips cookies (do a Google search, I dare you). I found this particular one on a blog named Pink of Perfection.

I have printed lots of Nutella recipes over the year, but I always felt like it was a waste of Nutella to bake with it. I prefer to eat it with graham crackers, toast or just on a spoon when no one is looking. Nutella was one of my favorite discoveries when I studied in Florence in college and I have been mildly obsessed ever since.

This recipe is pretty good. The cookies taste a little like shortbread to me. I did over cook them, which is part of the problem (they are more crunchy than soft and chewy), but at 10 minutes they were still raw. I would suggest checking them at 10 minutes, but do not bake them longer than 15 minutes.

I made a couple alterations to Pink of Perfection's recipe. I used scant 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup Nutella and a mixture of regular and mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (I think I actually like the mini chips better). Next time I would use less butter; the cookies are a little greasy. Some chopped hazelnuts might be nice too, to reinforce the hazelnut flavor of the Nutella.

January 23, 2011

Bananas Foster Bread

I really love banana bread and like to try different recipes as evidenced here and here. I found the latest on the cleverly named blog, Ezra Pound Cake. It is, oddly enough, adapted from a Cooking Light recipe.

Well, nice work, Cooking Light! This bread is fantastic! I don't even think it needs the glaze on top. (And beware eating the glaze on its own - it tastes like a shot of rum!) The ground flaxseed is a great addition; I love the way it changes the texture of the bread so much that I think I will add it to all future banana breads.

My only change to the recipe is that I don't have allspice, so I used equal parts ground nutmeg and ground cloves. And I had to bake mine for an hour, which is what the original recipe calls for.

January 19, 2011

Espresso Brownies

Rich chocolaty goodness!

This is a serious brownie.  It is a stick in your teeth, almost achingly sweet brownie with incredible depth of flavor. What can I say except Giada is a genius.

This recipe is in her cookbook, Giada's Family Dinners, which I purchased on Gilt (see here for my obsession with Gilt; my obsession with Giada is evident in just about any post on this blog and needs no explanation).

I had to alter Giada's recipe slightly because all I had in the pantry was a 17.6 ounce box of brownie mix (dark fudge with chocolate chunks). (I wonder if companies even make 19.8 ounce boxes of mix anymore - that seems so pre-recession!) (Another side note, I think it is interesting that Giada recommends Duncan Hines - are the different brands really that different? Maybe she is invested in the company. I happened to have Duncan Hines on hand, but that is probably only because I had a coupon.) I followed the box's instructions to use 1 egg, 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup vegetable oil. I used just less than 2 tablespoons of the espresso powder. I also didn't add chocolate chips because my mix already had chocolate chunks, but in hindsight, it would have benefited from some chips.

I did find the "glaze" - it is really a frosting - to be too sweet, so would use less powdered sugar next time.

January 18, 2011

Rigatoni al Forno

One of the simpler pleasures in life is cutting into a fresh from the oven pan of baked pasta. My favorite is full of cheese, which is at once gooey in the middle and crunchy on top. The pasta itself must be tender in the middle, but the pieces sticking out on top have got to be crunchy! I like rigatoni better than ziti or penne because it is larger and more cheese can get stuck inside of it!

My recipe below is only slightly adapted from this Mark Bittman recipe from the NY Times.

Rigatoni al Forno
Serves 6 hungry people

Extra virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes with liquid (I transferred the tomatoes to a bowl and mashed them slightly with a potato masher to break them up. You could also do this with your hands.)
(I found that I would have liked more sauce in this dish, so next time I will also add a 15 ounce can of tomato sauce.)
Couple springs fresh oregano, leaves chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 pound rigatoni
1 pound part skim block mozzarella, diced
3/4 - 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; salt it. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add sausage and break up with a wooden spoon. Cook, undisturbed, until browned on one side, about 5 minutes. Stir, cook another 2 minutes undisturbed, then add onion and garlic. Lower heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft. Add tomatoes, sauce and oregano and bring to a boil. Simmer while cooking pasta, stirring and seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cream just before you drain the pasta.

3. Cook pasta until just tender; it should still be too hard to eat. Drain it (but do not shake the colander; allow some water to cling to the pasta) and toss it with the sauce and half of the mozzarella. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray and transfer pasta mixture to it. Top with the remaining mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake until top is browned and cheese bubbly, 20 to 30 minutes.

January 17, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

If the decision to make a dish was a mathematical equation where the ease of executing the recipe was directly proportional to the absolute deliciousness of the completed dish, this recipe for Irish soda bread would be the example given in every classroom as a perfect decision.

Honestly, this recipe, which is one of the Barefoot Contessa's (aka Ina Garten), could not have been easier to make and could not have been more delicious. The crust was wonderfully crunchy and the interior moist, tender and subtly scented from the orange zest. (I chose to leave the currants out of the bread - seemed weird to have fruit in it.) And, the bread only gets better with a generous slather of Irish butter. (Jam doesn't hurt either.)

So if you are craving fresh from the oven bread and can't be bothered messing around with yeast, make this soda bread immediately!

January 11, 2011

Comforting, Creamy, Throw-it-all-in Pasta

So I wasn't going to blog about this dish because it is not pretty (hence the lack of a picture), and it isn't anything special, but as I am eating the leftovers for lunch, thoroughly enjoying them and realizing that the flavors have actually gotten better after a night in the fridge, I just had to share.

This pasta is similar to my What's Left in the Fridge Frittata. I got home from work later than I would have liked, I was starving and craving something comforting, and the fridge was full of a bunch of random half-used items. The resulting dish was better than many things I have made from cookbooks! It could have used a green vegetable - I think broccoli would have worked - but all I had were peas and a hard as a rock block of edamame in the freezer and I didn't think they would work as well.

Throw It All In Pasta
Serves 2

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil (could omit if using a non-stick pan)
4 slices bacon, diced
3/4 red onion, sliced (digression: I love onions. I know there are some people who have very strong aversions to onions, but I don't know what I would do without them!)
1/2 of 15 oz can of Tomato Sauce with Italian herbs (I like Contadina)
Leaves from a couple sprigs of thyme
Leaves from a large sprig of oregano, chopped
4oz Mascarpone cheese (1/2 of an 8oz container)
About 1/3 of a box of pasta (I used cavatappi, because that was the only open box in the pantry)

1. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Add bacon and saute until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon to paper towel lined plate.
2. Lower heat to medium and add onions to bacon drippings. Saute until caramelized.
3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta until al dente.
4. When onions are cooked enough for your liking, add sauce, thyme and oregano. Lower heat to low or medium low. Stir until combined and sauce is heated through. Add mascarpone and stir until heated through.
5. Add drained pasta to sauce and toss to coat. Add bacon at the end.

January 6, 2011

Birthday Cake

 Happy Birthday Nicole!

Now this is what cake should taste like. Perfectly moist cake, the right amount of crumb, delicate vanilla flavor and rich, buttery, but not too sweet, vanilla frosting. MM even said that this cake is better than supermarket birthday cake. This may not seem like much to normal people, but in MM's world, that is the ultimate compliment. (When he was in college he used to buy birthday cakes for himself when it was not his birthday, nor any of his friends' birthdays, to eat as a snack. It is a minor miracle his arteries haven't given up already.)

The recipe is from a great restaurant in Old Town Alexandria called Restaurant Eve.

January 1, 2011

New Year's Eve Lunch

MM's sister and brother-in-law (and 2 of Patton's canine cousins) came over for lunch on New Year's Eve. Erin, my sister-in-law, is a vegetarian, and DC was having unseasonably warm weather (50 degrees!), so I was more than happy to make a meatless menu that would taste fresh and wouldn't weigh us down.

Our menu follows:
Arugula Salad with Clementines and Caramelized Fennel

I found this salad in the January 2010 issue of Bon Appetit. The recipe (which I halved) calls for oranges, but I had a box of clementines in the fridge, so I figured they would work just as well (if not better). I used 4 clementines. I would absolutely make this again and I think everyone would agree it was excellent!

Rigatoni with Vegetable Bolognese

This is one of Giada's recipes, from her cookbook, Giada's Kitchen. The vegetable bolognese came together quickly and was super flavorful. The mushrooms gave it a hearty, meaty goodness and the small amount of mascarpone was just enough to make the sauce slightly creamy. We had tons of leftovers, so MM and I will be eating this today too!

Pumpkin Crunch Cake

My mom has been telling me to try this cake for years. She got the recipe from my grandmother and makes it all the time. I had extra cans of pumpkin puree and evaporated milk from Thanksgiving, so I decided it was high time I tried this recipe.

And... it was pretty good. I wouldn't say it was the best dessert I have ever had, but it was enjoyable. It is like a pumpkin pie on the bottom and crunchy cake on the top.

Pumpkin Crunch Cake

2 cups pumpkin puree (I used a 15 oz can, which is just less than 2 cups, but it works fine)
12 oz. can evaporated milk
4 eggs
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (I don't have pumpkin pie spice, so I used 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp ginger, and 1/4 tsp. cloves)
1 tsp. salt
1 (18.25 oz) box yellow cake mix
1 cup chopped pecans (my mom swears that 2 cups is better, but I am not a huge fan of nuts)
1 cup butter or margarine, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 13x9 inch baking dish.

Combine pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, spices and salt. Mix well and spread into dish.

Sprinkle cake mix over top of pumpkin mixture and pat down. Sprinkle pecans over top and drizzle melted butter all over the top.

Bake for 1 hour or when a cake tester comes out clean (no longer than 1 hour 20 minutes - mine took 1 hour, 10 minutes).