Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fried Calamari

On Christmas Eve, it's typical for Italian families to do the traditional, Feast of the Seven Fishes. My grandmother and great aunts used to do this, but after they passed, unfortunately the tradition kind of died. So here I am to help breath some life back into this fishy meal! While we didn't have seven fishes, ok we just had the one, you have to start somewhere. Traditionally a lot of bacala is served, which is salted cod fish. Not exactly my favorite. So I opted for fried calamari instead. I had attempted this once before - a recipe by Paula Deen that involved soaking the calamari in buttermilk and then cornmeal. It sounded mouth watering, but I think I worked my calamari in batches that were too large so I ended up with a huge, sticky ball of raw squid. When I threw it into the fryer that way (BIG MISTAKE!), the oil heat went down to barely hot, never came back to heat and I had to throw the whole batch away.
So I tried to keep it simple this time. Which lead me to Giada's recipe. You basically coat the calamari - IN SMALL BATCHES! - in a seasoned flour mixture and then fry it in oil - IN SMALL BATCHES! - for about five to 10 minutes, depending on doneness, then remove and serve.
This was the perfect and easiest way to do calamari. It turned out light and crispy. We served it with jarred marinara (yes, I was too lazy to make sauce from scratch...I know I know.) Don't be afraid to fry cause it's really easy. Just make sure you get good quality squid that's fresh - that way it will fry up nice and tender instead of chewy. Enjoy!

Fried Calamari, Giada DeLaurentiis
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
1 pound clean squid with tentacles, bodies cut into 1/3- to 1/2-inch-thick rings
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons dried parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, cut into wedges
1 cup simple tomato sauce, recipe follows or jarred marinara sauce, warmed

Pour enough oil into a heavy large saucepan to reach the depth of 3 inches. Heat over medium heat to 350 degrees F. Mix the flour, parsley, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Working in small batches, toss the squid into the flour mixture to coat. Carefully add the squid to the oil and fry until crisp and very pale golden, about 1 minute per batch. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the fried calamari to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.
Place the fried calamari and lemon wedges on a clean plate. Sprinkle with salt. Serve with the marinara sauce.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I didn't leave him cookies...

I left him cheeeeeese-cake! Does anyone remember that commercial? Where this cute little girl comes down on Christmas morning to an array of ridiculously expensive and large gifts. Her parents say something about how Santa must have really liked her cookies and she tells them, "I didn't leave him cookies, I left him cheese." Well I think Santa would have the same reaction if you left him cheesecake. And if it was this red velvet cheesecake that matches his ever so flattering suit, then he'd probably just move the elves, reindeer and all North Pole operations to your backyard in gratitude.
Ever since I saw this on Culinary Concoctions by Peabody I had to have it. I love making cheesecakes - I find that they are one of the easier things to bake because they don't involve a lot of fuss. It's basically, mix, pour and bake. The one problem I do tend to have with cheesecake baking is cracks. I do the water bath, but I think my weakness is opening the oven door. That mix of hot and cold air can upset the cheesecake's delicate balance and therefore cause it to crack. But with this cheesecake, you can cover any and all cracks with a flowing white cream cheese icing. Now isn't that just too good to be true? It's a real show stopper and perfect for Christmas dinner. So don't hesitate. Get over your fear of red food coloring, get out that springform pan and make the big man in red happy - well, maybe not him but definitely your dinner guests. Enjoy!

Red Velvet Cheesecake
For the Crust:
1 ½ cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup butter, melted
1 TBSP granulated sugar

For the Filling:
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 TBSP unsweetened cocoa
1 cup sour cream
½ cup whole buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp distilled white vinegar
2 (1 oz) bottles red food coloring

For the Topping:
1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Crust:
Stir together graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and 1 TBSP sugar; press mixture onto bottom of a 9-inch springform pan.

For the Filling:
Beat together cream cheese and sugar at medium low speed with an electric mixer 1 minute.
Add eggs, unsweetened cocoa, sour cream, buttermilk, vanilla extract, vinegar and food coloring. Mix on low speed just until fully combined.
Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake at 325F for 10 minutes, reduce heat to 300F, and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until center is firm.
Run knife along outer edge of cheese. Turn oven off and let cheesecake stand in oven 30 minutes.
Remove cheesecake from oven; cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 m minutes.
Cover and chill for 8 hours.

For the topping:
Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth; gradually add powdered sugar and vanilla, beating until smooth.
Remove cheesecake from refrigerator and spread topping evenly over top of cheesecake.
Remove sides of springform. Garnish if desired. (I unfortunately had to travel with this cake to my dad's house and forgot my Christmas sugar sprinkles. Very disappointing. But still a beautiful cake nonetheless.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Guinness and Onion Soup with an Irish Cheddar Crouton

I saw this on Home With Mandy's blog. She always has great recipes with step by step directions. When I saw this, I knew I had to try it.
It begins with caramelizing the onions in a large pot and then adding in the beer, thyme and stock.
(Those are my mom's hands - she was very excited to be a hand model for this post)
I've always wanted to make French Onion Soup but I liked that this was a bit of a twist on the old classic. It was delicious - perfect for a winter evening. The Guinness taste REALLY shines through so be aware of that. Easy to make though and even easier to eat with a cheesy melty topper.

Guinness and Onion Soup with an Irish Cheddar Crouton, Michael Chiarello
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves minced garlic
8 cups thinly sliced onions
Gray salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 1/2 cups dark beer (recommended: Guinness)
6 cups beef stock
6 slices country bread cut 1/2-inch thick, toasted
1/2 pound Irish Cheddar, sliced thin
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add garlic and cook briefly to release aroma. Add onions, season with salt and cook for about 5 minutes stirring often. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are golden brown.
Add the thyme, vinegar, and beer. Reduce beer by half and add the beef stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 more minutes.
Preheat the broiler. Transfer soup to an ovenproof serving dish or individual ovenproof soup bowls. Top with toasted bread slices and sliced Cheddar. Broil until cheese melts and starts to brown slightly. Serve piping hot.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Hope everyone is celebrating with family and friends. I love Christmas! It makes me feel like a little kid again. As much as I complain all December about shopping and hassles and trying to do everything before Dec. 25, once it gets here it's all worth it.

This year I decided to do some homemade gifts. After seeing a recipe for homemade marshmallows and hot cocoa on Good Things Catered I figured, what the hell. I love marshmallows and hot chocolate and figured it was the perfect gift for friends. So I went to work. Here are the results!

The recipes can be found here: 25 Days of Treats .

Homemade Marshmallows
These were much easier to make than I thought they would be, albeit a bit sticky. In the end though totally worth it because homemade marshmallows are so much lighter and fluffier than store bought. I really wasn't expecting much a difference so I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

You definitely need a candy thermometer for this one to measure the heat on your sugar mixture.

I'd say you also need a stand mixer - if possible. Because the gelatin mixture beats for a LONG time. I can't imagine holding a hand mixer that long.

At the end of all this whir and blur you get a beautiful moutain of white fluffiness.

The hot cocoa recipe made enough for four gifts (about 1 cup of mix for each jar). This was perfect since I had four people to gift these goodies to.


I packaged them in these great square jars - cocoa on the bottom, mallows on the top. I decorated with a ribbon and a label with serving instructions.

They were well received too and everyone was impressed that you could make homemade marshmallows!

I'll have lots of updates after our glorious Christmas dinner. It's a feast. The menu includes:

Brie En Croute with Cherries and Pistachios
Steamed Shrimp
Smoked Salmon Dip

Bacon-wrapped filet mignons
Steamed whole lobsters
Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Roasted Asparagus
Porcini Mushroom Risotto
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Caesar Salad

A Red Velvet Cheesecake with Cream Cheese Icing (I can't wait to unveil this!!)

I hope you get a chance to sit back and relax today and take in everything that makes your life wonderful. I sure am. God bless and Merry Christmas to all!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

This Blog is Emeril Approved!


Last weekend while in New York city for a friend's birthday (the girl on the far left with the birthday hat), I spotted Emeril Lagasse at Otto Pizzeria where we were eating dinner. After much debate, myself, the birthday girl and another friend who is a die-hard foodie like me, decided to approach him and ask for a photograph. As a girl who lives by the Food Network schedule, I was completely star struck. Emeril wasn't as jovial as he is on television (no BAM!! was executed for us unfortunately), but he was friendly and agreed with no hesitation to a photo. Thanks Emeril! See you on the big screen.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Very Late BB: Mexican Chicken Soup

This was last month's Barefoot Blogger's recipe number 2. Because of Thanksgiving I had no time to make this, but still was interested in trying it since I officially love all foods Mexican. On top of that, this was the perfect week for soup because after a fun holiday weekend in New York City I've developed a WICKEDLY NASTY head cold (ahhh thank you New Yorkers!). Therefore, the only thing on my mind besides Kleenex and sleep, is soup. So I mustered up whatever little energy I had on Tuesday and went to town on this soup. I had to go to the grocery store because our cupboards were bare after being away for the weekend. As I walked miserably through the aisles, eyeing cough medicine like candy, I finally left the grocery store to come home and start the soup. It wasn't long though, before I discovered that the onion for my soup that I bought and paid for wasn't anywhere to be found. I was too exhausted to go back to the store, so I silently cursed the bag boy (which wasn't nice I know, but I was irritable!) and then remembered I had a bag of frozen pearl onions in my freezer. So I substituted those for the chopped onion. All was right with the world.
Other than that one substitution, I pretty much followed this recipe verbatim. I did add a teaspoon of chili powder, along with the cumin and coriander and I halved the recipe and had enough soup to feed four people. But leftovers of this tasted even better the next day for lunch.


Despite the uphill battle it seemed to make this soup when you're sick, it was so worth it and really quite simple to prepare. Not only was it just downright good, it made me feel like a new person. Hot, salty, spicy and full of veggies. I can attest that there is definitely something to say for feeding a cold chicken soup. Delish! and Achooo! ...oh to be able to breathe normally again. Stay healthy folks!

Mexican Chicken Soup
Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa
(Just to note: You could easily make this vegetarian and sub a can of black beans for the chicken.)
4 split (2 whole) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on (I just used two regular chicken breasts)
Good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped onions (2 onions)
1 cup chopped celery (2 stalks)
2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 1/2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in puree, crushed
2 to 4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon chili powder My addition
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, optional
6 (6-inch) fresh white corn tortillas

For serving: sliced avocado, sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and tortilla chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts skin side up on a sheet pan. Rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until done.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones, and shred the meat. Cover and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions start to brown.
Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
Add the chicken stock, tomatoes with their puree, jalapenos, cumin, coriander, 1 teaspoon pepper, and the cilantro, if using.
(To grind my coriander I put the seeds in my mortar and pestle and crushed them up)
Cut the tortillas in 1/2.
Then cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch strips.
Add to the soup.
Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the shredded chicken and season to taste.
Serve the soup hot topped with sliced avocado, a dollop of sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and broken tortilla chips.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chicken and Spinach Alfredo

This isn't a groundbreaking recipe, but I was pretty satisfied with myself for coming up with this one by just glancing in my fridge and freezer. It was cold, raining and basically miserable outside. I was tired, wanted comfort food but didn't feel like having to go to the grocery store for anything. So I played the "What Can I Make?" game - basically me rummaging through my cabinets and fridge trying to figure out what I can combine into a meal. I then pose several possibilities to my husband who gives them "the face" or the thumbs up sign.

Fortunately, I had one frozen chicken breast, a package of frozen spinach and frozen pearl onions. I also had plenty of pasta on hand, cheese, milk and chicken stock. So voila - I give you Chicken and Spinach Alfredo! This hit the spot - warm, creamy, comforting and not too unhealthy. The best part was I didn't have to leave the house to make it. And most importantly, when I posed it to my husband he gave me the thumbs up. SCORE!! Did I mention how much I hate seeing the face when I post my possible cabinet meals? Not pretty.

Chicken and Spinach Alfredo
(this makes enough for 4 people - we ate leftovers for lunch the next day)
1 poached chicken breast, shredded (I poached mine in a half and half mix of chicken stock and water, flavored with fresh thyme, a bay leaf and salt and pepper)
3 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup half and half
3/4 cup chicken stock
pinch of nutmeg
1 10 oz package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup of frozen pearl onions
1/2 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1/2 lb pasta (whatever shape you prefer works. I had spaghetti)

Set a stockpot full of salted water to boil Drop your pasta in, cook until al dente, drain and toss with a dollop of olive oil and set aside.
In a saucepan, melt the butter and then whisk in your flour to form a roux.
Cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes to get the raw flavor out of the flour. Next, whisk in your half and half and chicken stock, along with a pinch of nutmeg.
Season lightly with salt and pepper and whisk together. Once the mixture begins to thicken, you can stir in your spinach and pearl onions. Bring the mixture back up to temperature (the frozen spinach and onions will reduce the temp).
Finally, mix in your shredded poached chicken.
Stir to coat. Mix in your crumbled gorgonzola cheese.
Now it's time for the pasta. Pour your pasta into the sauce and stir to combine.
Once the pasta has warmed in the sauce, serve in bowls and top with plenty of romano cheese. Enjoy!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Greek-Spiced Baked Shrimp

If you're like me, you are always looking for new ways to prepare things like shrimp, chicken, fish filets etc. This was such an easy, delicious meal to make with a surprising combination of flavors. And if done right, in individual baking dishes (which I don't own) I think it would make an attractive, rustic course for a dinner party. The flavor was very unique - the combo of cinnamon, allspice and red pepper flakes makes it spicy, hot and a little sweet. I really wasn't sure how those spices would taste on the shrimp, but it was very good. It sort of reminded me of Indian food almost. You can keep it simple and serve this up with a green salad and some hot crusty bread for dipping. I plated it with roasted cauliflower and carrots to get some vegetables in the mix.
A great, light dinner that's quick to prepare and good for you too. What more could you want? Enjoy!

Greek-Spiced Baked Shrimp
From Gourmet Magazine, November 2008 issue
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp hot red-pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes in juice, chopped
1 1/4 lb of large, peeled and deveined shrimp
pinch of sugar
2/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp chopped dill (I omitted this because my husband hates dill)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook onion and garlic in oil with 1/4 tsp salt in a 4-qt heavy saucepan over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in spices and cook, stiring, 30 seconds.
Add chopped tomatoes with juice and the pinch of sugar and simmer, uncovered, until slightly thickened.
Stir occassionally. After about 20 minutes remove from heat.
Season shrimp with salt and pepper, stir into the tomato sauce. Transfer to a 2-qt shallow baking dish, top with feta. Bake until just cooked through - 18 to 20 minutes. Serve sprinkled with dill.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers: Coq Au Vin

For this week's Barefoot Bloggers, the choice was Coq Au Vin, which to me is basically a chicken stew of sorts made with red wine. I've heard tales of coq au vin's that take all day to make etc. It kind of takes on the same lore as Italian marinara sauces that simmer for hours or chicken cacciatore recipes, which boast better flavor the longer it cooks. Ina's version of Coq Au Vin is pretty simple to prepare though and can be done fairly quickly.

I did make one major substitution. Instead of using chicken parts, I used a pork tenderloin. That day in the grocery store I found a glorious pork tenderloin for only $5!
It was cheaper than chicken breasts. I decided to cut it into four equal pieces and try it out in my coq au vin. It worked out fine. This recipe, even though it had been scaled down for three people, still made more than enough to feed four people. We had a lot of leftovers, most of which ended up getting trashed since my husband and I are leftover snobs. Oh well. I just found it too heavy to eat for lunch and I'm not really one to repeat meals much twice in the same week. Like I said, leftover snobs. Hey - variety is the spice of life right? Life's too short for leftovers. Don't hate me...please!

Overall though a very good dish indeed. I did find that I needed to add some flour at the end to thicken up the liquid a bit - I found it kind of thin. I served my coq au vin with red-skin mashed potatoes, which made for a nice hearty meal.

Coq Au Vin
2 tablespoons good olive oil
4 ounces good bacon or pancetta, diced
1 (3 to 4-pound) chicken, cut in 8ths
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound carrots, cut diagonally in 1-inch pieces
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup Cognac or good brandy
1/2 bottle (375 ml) good dry red wine such as Burgundy
1 cup good chicken stock, preferably homemade
10 fresh thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 pound frozen small whole onions
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed and thickly sliced

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven.
Add the diced pancetta and cook over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned.
Remove the bacon to a plate with a slotted spoon.
Meanwhile, lay the chicken out on paper towels and pat dry. Liberally sprinkle the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper.
When the bacon is removed, brown the chicken pieces in batches in a single layer for about 5 minutes, turning to brown evenly.
Remove the chicken to the plate with the bacon and continue to brown until all the chicken is done. Set aside.
Add the carrots, onions, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper to the pan and cook over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned.
Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
Add the Cognac and put the bacon, chicken, and any juices that collected on the plate into the pot.
Add the wine, chicken stock, and thyme and bring to a simmer.
Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just not pink. Remove from the oven and place on top of the stove.
Mash 1 tablespoon of butter and the flour together and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. In a medium saute pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and cook the mushrooms over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until browned.
Add to the stew. Bring the stew to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes.
Season to taste. Serve hot over mashed potatoes.