Thursday, June 30, 2011

Crostata Madness

I love crostatas.

There really couldn't be anything more simple in the world to make. Especially because I also love the Pillsbury Pie Crusts from the biscuit section! I know, it's cheating.. but we don't always have to make everything from scratch. This little method/recipe is intended to make your life easier and that delicious crostata more attainable because it eliminates having to make a pie crust from scratch. Also, those pre-made pie crusts are just as good (maybe better, on a bad day) as the ones I make at home, so why not take a short cut? In addition, there is no need for a pie pan- less cleaning!

I used nectarines and apples to make two very very tasty crostatas, but you can use berries, cherries, peaches, or anything else you fill a fruit pie with. Here's what you have to do to get these on the table!

Nectarine Crostata
- 1 premade pie crust, from the bicuit section, not freezer
- 3 ripe nectarines
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- juice of one lemon
- 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
- 1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

If you want to peel the nectarines, first boil a pot of water. Drop the nectarines for about 30 seconds, then remove and place in cold water. The skin should pull away from the flesh and make it easier to remove.

I was too lazy to do this and I really like the skin, so I didn't bother with peeling them.

Cut the nectarines into thin wedges and put them in a bowl. Add the sugar, cinnamon, and lemon. Then sift in the cornstarch, so you don't have any chunks. Using a wooden spoon or clean hands combine the ingredients.

On a sheet pan, lined with parchment paper or silicone mat, roll out the pie crust. Then pour the nectarine mixture in the middle of the crust, making sure you leave about an inch to an inch and a half of free crust all the way around. Spread out the fruit to make a nice even layer. Fold over the crust, working your way around. It should look very rustic. Brush the crust over with some of the egg wash and place in the oven to cook for 25-30 minutes.

Apple Crostata
- 1 premade pie crust, from the bicuit section, not freezer
- 2 Granny Smith Apples
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- juice of one lemon
- 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
- 1 egg, lightly beaten

Follow the same directions used for the Nectarine Crostata, except of course for having to boil the apples to peel them.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Around the World on Wednesday- #2

So, things are slowly settling down here at home. I am ALMOST done with my projects and it seems like they really took over my life. All this week has left me feeling like I need to enjoy something rich and decadent. That's why I decided to cook something Italian inspired for this weeks Around the World Wednesday.

I must admit that I avoid Italian food a lot. I feel like it's over done and I am not a big fan of pasta. Anyone who knows me will vouch for me that I really never like to eat it. Even if I am forced to go out to an Italian restaurant I won't order pasta. At home, I rarely have pasta around and if I do it's because my husband put it in the cart at the grocery store. I am more of a rice girl. How lucky am I that the Italians have perfected the delicous creaminess of risotto? This recipe is so yummy... Even though it's fried, the rice inside stays moist and creamy.

I served these Risotto Balls for a baby shower I catered last year and they were a great hit. They are the perfect make ahead appetizer because you can serve them warm or at room temp. Also, a great way to use up that left over risotto.

Hope you guys eat this up!

Risotto Balls
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- 4 oz fresh button mushrooms, chopped
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 cup uncooked arborio rice
- 28 oz reduced sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (shredded)
- 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- pepper to taste
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

For the Risotto: In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and 1 tbsp butter. Add the mushrooms, onion, and garlic once the butter is melted. Cook until they are tender and there is no liquid in the pan. Add the rice and cook for about 3 minutes until it begins to brown.

In a seperate saucepan, bring the broth to boil and let it simmer. Slowly add 1 cup of the broth to the browned rice and stir constantly. Continue stirring until the liquid is absorbed. Then add an additional 1/2 cup of broth to the rice, still stirring continuously. When the liquid is absorbed add another 1/2 cup of broth. Continue adding the rest of the broth 1/2 cup at a time, continually stirring and allowing the liquid to evaporate in between. This should take about 15 minutes. Once the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed add in the remaining butter, the cheese, parsley, and pepper.

Lighlty grease a sheet pan that can fit into your refrigerator. Pour the risotto onto the sheet pan and make a thin layer. Cover and chill for an hour in the refrigerator.

Once chilled, use a small ice cream/ cookie scoop to shape 1-inch balls out of the risotto. Place the balls on a baking sheet. When all the balls are formed, cover and chill for 2 hours so they will firm up.

Heat the 1 cup of oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Roll the balls in the egg, then bread crumbs to coat, and place in the oil. You should not add more than 5 or 6 balls into the oil at once or the temperature will drop and you will have a soggy mess. It should take only 2 or 3 minutes until they are golden brown and should be turned over. Using a slotted spoon, remove the risotto balls and drain on paper towels. You can place them on a baking sheet in a 200 degrees F oven to keep them warm while you continue cooking the rest of the balls.

These are awesome by themselves, but if your a dipper, then I suggest serving up a small bowl of your favorite marinara.

Here are a few Fun Facts about Italy:
From Life in Italy
-The colors of the Italian flag represent three virtues: hope (green), faith (white), and charity (red).

-The automobile is one of Italy's greatest products. In addition to the Fiat brand, Fiat owns the Lamborghini, Ferrari, Maserati, Alfa Romeo and Chrysler brands.

-The ice cream cone is an Italian invention.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Green Guacamole

I've finally managed to escape my home improvement projects to write a post. Actually, my bookshelves and some walls are drying a fresh coat of paint. I can't wait to be done with all this crap I started at once. I should have started off small, but I guess that goes against the whole "go big or go home" bit. Once, I finish this I seriously doubt I will take anything else on for a while. I'll just stick to cooking, thank you!

Last week, we went to Corpus Christi to enjoy the fabulous weather and the beach. It was so much fun. I got to see my cousins, aunt, and uncle, who are really like second sisters, mother and father to me. We spent a whole day at the beach. Swimming, making sand castles, eating, and drinking. No better way to spend a random Friday afternoon. My aunt always goes to beach packed with everything you might ever need. Volleyball courts, tents, sunblock, towels, beer, a grill, and guacamole! This guacamole is unlike anything I've ever tasted. And let me just say, I've tasted a lot of guacamole! She told me she got the recipe from my uncle and what was in it. I was amazed.. and knew I'd be trying it when I got home. So, I did and it was just as fabulous and I think it should be your go-to guac recipe, because it has become mine for so many reasons!

#1: it is super tasty
#2: extremely easy
#3: stays green FOREVER (hence the name)
#4: affordable

I don't know about avocado prices else where, but they are expensive here. One avocado can range from $1.50 to $2.75 each one! We all know that a good guacamole goes fast and we'd need at least 3 of those little suckers. So, the fact that you only need 1 avocado for this made me super giddy! If you are making the dip for more than 5 people, you might need to double the recipe. You do use other ingredients, but they are so inexpensive that it doesn't even really count.

Green Guacamole
- 1 large Haas Avocado
- 2 tomatillo
- 1 serrano pepper
- 1/3 cup roughly chopped cilantro
- juice of 3 or 4 limes (depending on the juiciness)
- 2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
- 1/4 cup of water

Remove the skin and seed from the avocado. Cut into chunks and place in the blender. Remove the outter leaves of the tomatillos and cut into four pieces, into the blender. Remove the stem from the pepper and place in the blender with the remaining ingredients. If you like a chunky guacamole you can use less water or add more for a more liquid consistency. I like it to be a little smooth, but not liquidy. It can be kept in the refrigerator for about a week.

Serve alongside broken up tostadas, chips, or in sandwiches.

Thanks for the recipe and inspiration Tia Pat!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Playing Catch-up

I have to admit that I have been such a bad blogger this past week! I haven't been able to sneak in a few minutes to write. My husband is taking online classes and has been hogging up the computer all week! That's not the only reason I haven't blogged though. I actually decided to take on the project of refinishing my dinining room set. After being inspired by the work of Katie and her ghost buster green desk. Let me just say that furniture refinishing and stuff like that is so much harder than cooking. I love browsing crafting blogs just to see all the cool things you can do. Sometimes I even attempt these crafts and often times leave them unfinished because it gets too hard and I'd rather spend my time cooking.

Check out Bonnie's Five Feature Friday and there is no way you won't be inspired to try something! I actually made those bookshelves on the list, I just haven't gotten around to paint them. (Another unfinished project!) So, that's what I've been up to- a bunch of unfinished business that I am really trying to get done before I go back to cooking.There's been a lot of frozen foods at home this past week. I promise I'll be back within the next few days. I actually got to go shopping at a specialty food store and got some great ingredients to try out. That's why I am in a hurry to finish all these things I started. I'll post pics of it all soon!

Miss you guys!

OH! forgot to mention that my Chocolate French Toast was featured on Miz Helen's Country Cottage last week. Another boost of confidence, Thanks for the support everyone, and take some time to check out her blog.

Miz Helen’s Country Cottage

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Ultimate Summer Salad

After a week off the South Beach Diet I have started again today. I really think that this diet is great. I am never starving and it is quite healthy. Todays recipe is a great salad to use on the diet and it's a must have for a summer cook out. It's light and fresh- perfect for those hot 108(F) degree afternoons we've been having for the last month or so. It feels like spring didn't even last a week here! It has been so hot and dry. I feel like Rango everytime I go outside... drying up and my skin bursting off. It's a horrible feeling, but it makes great weather for enjoying a cold beer!

I just made this salad, not even 20 minutes ago. Generally, I don't automatically jump on to my computer to post, but my husband is taking a nap and Morgane is watching TV... So I thought I'd squeeze this in. Afterall, the weekend is coming up and it would be a shame for you guys not to have this recipe on hand in case you decide to grill or entertain.

The Ultimate Summer Salad
- 1/4 cup grapeseed oil (you can also use extra-virgin olive)
- 1 lemon
- 1 lime
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 3 cucumbers
- 6 roma tomatoes or 3 medium slicing tomatoes
- 1/2 small purple onion
- 6 oz reduced-fat block feta

In a large bowl combine the oil, juice of the lemon and lime, salt, pepper, and oregano. Whisk until the vinaigrette becomes opaque and taste for seasonings. Set aside while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

Peel the cucumbers. I like to leave a little peel to add some splash of dark green color and also some fiber. Cut the cucumber in half, lengthwise, and remove the seeds with a spoon. Cut each half in half again, lengthwise, and then cut the long pieces into 1/4 inch cubes. Repeat for all the cucumbers and then place them in the same bowl as the vinaigrette.

Cut the tomoatoes to a similar size as the cucumbers and put them in the bowl. Slice the onion into thin half moons and add to the bowl. The feta should also be cut into small cubes about 1/4 inch. If you'd like bigger chunks of feta, you will probably need more than 6 oz so the salad looks of equal proportions. With a large spoon toss the ingredients so they are all coated with the vinaigrette. That's it!

The salad can be eaten straight away, but tastes better after all the flavors have a had a chance to incorporate, about 30 minutes. It can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, but I'm sure it will be finished much sooner than that. HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chocolate French Toast

Last night I found myself unable to sleep. I had promised Morgane I'd make her a special breakfast and I kept wondering what I should make. It's a silly reason to be awake and stressing, but I seriously had like a million thoughts running through my head. I was going to go with the old chocolate chip pancake standby, but then I felt like it was overdone. So, I decided to try a chocolate french toast.

It made me so hungry. I was tempted to get up and make myself a little midnight snack, but knew I'd regret it in the morning. So, I kept tossing and turning until I finally dozed off. This morning, I was so excited to get started on breakfast because I knew my little 'french fry' would love it.

The final product was so yummy. I only regret not having a nicer bread to work with. I had to use whole wheat bread, which wasn't bad, but I think a thick brioche would have worked better. It was a great way to start off the day and I think that the chocolate lovers out there will appreciate this.

Chocolate French Toast
- 1/2 cup milk chocolate (melted)
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup of milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- pinch of salt
- bread slices
- butter for cooking

Warm the milk and cream together in a small pot. Do not bring to boil, just warm it enough to remove the chill so the melted chocolate won't set when combined with it. Pour the warmed milk/cream mixture into a blender along with 1/4 cup of the melted chocolate, cocoa powder, eggs and salt. Blend for 30 seconds to 1 minute, so the ingredients are fully combined. If you are worried about possibly having cooked the eggs because your milk was too hot, then run the mixture through a seive to remove any bits.

Pour the mixture into a shallow plate or baking dish, where you can soak your bread. Allow the bread to soak for 1 or 2 minutes, more if the bread slices are thicker. Add some butter to your heated non-stick pan and place the soaked slices of bread on the pan to cook. Turn the bread over after 2 minutes and allow the other side to cook for an additional 2 minutes. Repeat the process with the remaining bread.

Drizzle the remaining melted chocolate over the French toast to serve and if you'd like dust with cocoa powder or powdered sugar.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Around the World on Wednesday- #1

I love exploring food from different cultures and regions of the world. As a child, I wasn't exposed to anything other than Mexican food, except the occasional Chinese buffet, if you can really call that Chinese food. It wasn't that my family wasn't interested in other cultures, but up until recently, Laredo was about 99% Mexican American, which means there really wasn't a market for anything other than Mexican ingredients. Now that things have changed there are more ingredients readily available (even though they may be really expensive). I thought that having a weekly international dish would be a great way to expand my international palate and help others out in trying foods from all over the world! So, for my first Around the World Wednesday Entry- FRANCE! (After all, I love all things French.)

Beautiful tree lined country roads in southern France.

French food can seem daunting mostly because of their name. At least, it was that way for me. To tell you the truth, I never even attempted making anything French until I met my husband. I wanted him to be able to enjoy things from home and that's how my love of French food all began. I don't know what there isn't to love. So many cheeses, breads, sauces, wine, champagne, and techniques than can be used a variety of ways.

The recipe I have chosen for today is Clafouti. It is an super simple, beautiful looking tart that has a similar texture to flan. This a traditional peasant dish from the Limousin region of France. It can be made with cherries, plums, apples, blackberries, blueberries, and you can add almonds to the mixture. With all the beautiful cherries at the grocery store, I couldn't resist making them with cherries! The end result was beautiful and the sweetness/ tartness from the cherries was delicious.

adapted from Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1
- 2 cups pitted and halved fresh cherries
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 3 eggs
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup flour
- powdered sugar
- a baking dish that holds 7 to 8 cups, or 6- 4 in. tart pans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the milk, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt, and flour in the order with they are listed in your blender. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute. During this time butter your baking dish. (I used canola oil cooking spray.)

Pour a 1/4 in. layer of batter in the baking dish or tart pans. Set over moderate heat for a minute or two until a film of batter has set in the bottom of the dish. If, you are using the smaller tart pans you can place them into the oven for 3-5 minutes until the film has set. Remove from the heat and arrage the cherries over the batter. Sprinkle the remaining granulated sugar over the cherries. Pour on the rest of the batter and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.

Place in the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for about an hour for a baking dish or 40 minutes for the small tart pans. The clafouti is done when it has puffed and browned, and a needle or knife plunged into its center comes out clean. Dust with the powdered sugar just before serving. It can be eaten warm or cooled.

Here are a few Fun Facts about France:
From French Affair
-The Languedoc-Rousillon city of Nîmes is the birthplace of jeans. The distinctive fabric was imported to California by Levi Strauss in order to make tough work trousers for gold diggers. Denim is short for “de Nîmes”.

-Under laws that no-one has ever got round to removing from the statute book, it is illegal to call a pig Napoleon.

-As a warm up, English typists use "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs." as it contains every letter of the alphabet..

The French use "Allez porter ce vieux whisky au juge blond qui fume un havane." It means .. Take this whisky to the blond judge who is smoking a cigar.

Monday, June 6, 2011

All-Purpose Mustard Sauce

There are quite a few things that make me really happy when I'm cooking and trying out new recipes. The obvious is when I accomplish something that seems intimidating on the first attempt. Then there is the rare occasion of finding a recipe that you can adopt methods from and continue using for other dishes. When this happens you expand your cooking ability by so much because instead of just mastering one dish, you can create many more!

Some of my favorites that I use for so many, many things include vinaigrettes and traditional French sauces. By just changing one ingredient or the other, you have a whole new flavor that can be used for absolutely anything! For instance, vinaigrettes are great on salads of course, but also work wonders on changing up that left over rice or flavoring up some couscous. And sauces! What can you not do with sauces? It makes everything look fancy and you can even use it as a base for vinaigrettes!

So, today I decided to share this mustard sauce recipe because it is so super simple and it can be used on anything: steak, pork, chicken, fish, potatoes, and vegetables.

All-Purpose Mustard Sauce
- 1 cup chicken/vegetable broth or water
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1 tbsp dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp whole grain mustard
- 2 tbsp creme fraiche/sour cream/ marscapone/ or heavy whipping cream
- 1 tsp lemon juice (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste

Sauces are best made after the meat portion has been cooked and in the same pan. The reason for this is that the broth/ water releases all the little bits left behind in the pan and the sauce gets all that delicious flavor. This process is known as deglazing. Add the broth, wine, and mustards and stir the liquids until everything is distributed evenly. Allow the liquid to simmer for about 2 to 3 minutes, then stir in the dairy component you are using. Continue simmering until the mixture coats the back of the spoon. To check this, dip a spoon into the sauce and check the back of the spoon to see if the liquid has clung to the spoon or dripped off. If the back of the spoon is coated, then proceed to run your finger on it to make a line on the spoon. If the line remains, then your sauce is ready and all you have to do is add in the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. If the liquid runs off the spoon then the sauce needs to simmer longer. The whole process should take no more than 10 minutes.

All that's left to do is serve a generous amount over your dish! Bon Appetite!

Check out the barley recipe I used!

**On a side note, I just wanted to announce my second feature! This is so exciting. Thanks to everyone who has been checking out my blog and has suscribed, you guys are awesome! (I feel like I just won an award.. :-P)**

Check it out by clicking the button.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

An Apricot Recipe, Finally

I can't believe how long those little apricots had survived in my fridge. I had not planned on actually cooking with them because of me being on the diet, but then I stumbled upon the idea of giving it away. Groundbreaking- I know. I really don't know why I hadn't thought about this sooner! I searched endlessly for tempting apricot recipes, but nothing really caught my eye. It all seemed so familiar. Then, as I was watching recorded shows on my DVR I came across Laura Calder, from the Cooking Channel, who hosts French Food at Home. I must admit that when I first saw this show I wasn't sure I liked it. She was no Julia Child. That is true, but I have definitely made up my mind about her. I love the show- so much so, that I have every single episode recorded on my DVR. So, she has this amazing recipe for an Almond Meringue Cake with Peaches. I really wanted to try this recipe and I figured I'd just switch out the peaches for apricots.

There are many reasons why I first thought this dessert might be a little tough, but the main thing was that it was a meringue. As I have mentioned before I have such bad luck with meringues.. or rather any recipe that needs a meringue. I am not one of the lucky few that was able to master the macaron on the first try- not even the 6 th, 7 th, or 8 th try! I finally was able to master it on the 9 th attempt, but it left me traumatized. They are just too tricky and even after making a few good batches, the French method was not reliable for me. So, my husband was nice enough to surprize me with a macaron course in Toulouse for Christmas last year. There I learned the Italian method, using heated sugar to cook the whites and make them more stable and I'd say 100% fool - proof. I thought, yay! I have mastered the meringues. Then, I came across this wonderful and tempting recipe that closely resembles the French method/macaron recipe. *GASP*

In the end, it all turned out okay and I was so proud of myself. The cake was beautiful after it was assembled and a tear silently rolled down my cheek as I handed over the cake plate to my sister for her enjoyment. OK, OK, I can't lie! I snuck a piece... and maybe a little more. I had to in order to give a proper review! And it was delicious- everything I had imagined it to be.

Almond Meringue Cake with Apricots
adapted from Laura Calder
- 4 oz ground almonds
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 cup + 3 tbsp sugar
- 4 eggs (separated)
- 2 sticks of butter (softened)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup of almonds (sliced or slivered)
- 5-6 apricots

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.

In a small bowl, combine the ground almonds, cornstarch, and 1/2 cup of sugar. In a separate bowl, beat the whites to soft peaks, and then beat in 2 tbsp of sugar to make a stiff meringue. Fold in the almond mixture in 3 batches to combine thoroughly. Using a piping bag with a large tip, pipe the meringue onto the circles on the parchment. Bake until crisp and dry, about 1 1/2 hours.

To make the buttercream: Heat the remaining sugar with 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons water to dissolve, then boil to soft-ball stage, which is just before the syrup changes color (235 to 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer). Beat the egg yolks in a stand-up mixer, then, with the beaters running, quickly add the hot syrup in a thin stream. Continue beating until the mixture is cool and forms and thick mousse, about 5 minutes. Beat in the butter, gradually, and finally add the vanilla.

To assemble the cake: Set a round of meringue on a serving plate. Spread over a quarter of the buttercream. Lay in a layer of sliced peaches. Spread the top layer with buttercream and set it on top of the first. Spread the remaining butter cream over the sides of the cake. Press the toasted almonds all around the sides. Arrange another layer of peach slices on top.

My little gremlin enjoying her little cake.