Friday, April 18, 2014

Lemon Yogurt Poppy Seed Muffins

Lemon desserts are always in season, but I love lemon desserts best in the spring.

Once again, I used the Noosa Aussie Yoghurt in a recipe, and it was delicious.


I made Eileen's recipe twice, once using my favorite mini bundt pan to make 6 individual cakes, because I had to be fancy.

Though very pretty, (as you can see by the photos), they dried out in one day (I guess the hole in the middle of the pan made them cook too much in the center).

The second time I made them in muffin tins, as Eileen instructs.

They made 12 muffins, and were so much moister than the individual bundt cakes and DELICIOUS!
I should have followed the original recipe.

Lesson learned.

She also puts a blackberry in each muffin, but I opted for the lemon icing of course (can I ever follow the rules?).

These would be perfect to make for Mother's Day brunch.

Eileen's Lemon Yogurt Poppy Seed Muffins (adapted from Living Tastefully):

• 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (one stick)
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 large eggs, room temperature
• 1 cup plain Greek yogurt or Noosa Lemon Yoghurt
• finely grated zest of 1 lemon
• 1 teaspoon almond extract
• 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
• 2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 12 fresh blackberries (optional)

For the Lemon Icing:

• 1 cup of confectioner's sugar
• 1 tbsp heavy cream
• 1 tbsp lemon juice

It's a pretty simple, straight forward recipe. You can't mess up here, even if you stink at baking.

Preheat oven to 375˚F. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper or silicone baking cups.

Mix the butter, eggs and sugar w/ the zest, yogurt and almond extract in a bowl.

Add in the poppy seeds and mix together.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Stir into the creamed mixture.

Spoon batter evenly into the prepared muffin tins. Press a blackberry into the center of each muffin, if using.

Place tin on the middle rack of oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and invert onto a cooling rack.

Mix together the icing with a fork and drizzle over the cakes while still warm.

Let the icing harden and serve.

Moist and delicious.

(please ignore the pretty bundt cakes, think muffins!)


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Playing with Food: Beet Crowns w/ Goat Cheese

While other people are watching the Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, I am playing with my food.

10 pm, when my creative juices are flowing, I would rather be in the kitchen playing than in front of the t.v.

Last night's big batch of roasted beets became tomorrow's dinner party idea for "Beet Crowns w/ Chevre".

I saw this beautiful presentation on Southern Boy Dishes, and loved how he named the whole golden beets "crowns".

Using a fork, I whipped up some chevre with honey and thyme to create a spread.

After roasting the whole beets for an hour at 400F wrapped in foil, the skins slipped off easily.

It's best to refrigerate the beets before proceeding with the goat cheese, or the goat cheese will melt and slide off the warm beets when you try and spread them with the chevre (I've already made that mistake once).

Slice the beets with a sharp knife in sections, and spread the honey goat cheese in between each layer. It's a bit tricky, but after 2, you will get the hang of it.

Place back to create a tower and decorate w/ greens or fresh thyme sprigs.

I served them with a mustard vinaigrette, and they tasted as pretty as they looked.

The next day, I sliced them in half to make a different looking salad (want to keep it fresh looking!) and brought them to work with me for lunch. They were even better!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Spring Cleaning: Ravioli Vegetable Soup

It's Clean out the Fridge Wednesday

I want to make room for the spring vegetables that are about to show up at the markets.

After the winter months, I am sure you have leftovers and ingredients that are waiting to be tossed.

Let's call this a Spring Cleaning.

This is a nice light soup that doesn't involve much planning or shopping for ingredients. Go shopping in your fridge, I'm sure there is something you will find in there.

Make a soup with whatever vegetables are starting to turn in the refrigerator crisper drawer, along with some pasta and chicken stock you might have in the freezer, and you will feel good about yourself for being thrifty (you may already feel good about yourself!).

A few weeks back, I was tempted and bought some fancy Italian brand fresh ravioli because it was half price.
I never make raviolis, what was I thinking?

The date was a few days away from expiration, so throw it in the pot, is what I say!

I always have onions and garlic, so make a mirepoix, along w/ some chopped carrots and celery.

Saute all of this in olive oil for about 8 minutes.

Add in 6 cups of vegetable or chicken stock, even boxed stock is fine if you don't have the good stuff.

Add in the ravioli, broccoli and frozen peas once the soup comes to a boil (you can also use tortellini), and cook for about 5 more minutes, until the broccoli and ravioli is cooked.

Add some fresh herbs to make the soup sing.

An easy, delicious dinner.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Great Sides: Roasted Fennel, Chickpeas & Grapes

Wow, wow, wow.

This was an unexpected surprise.

Who knew that canned chickpeas would crisp up when you roast them? and that fennel, grapes and red bell pepper would make a winning combination.

I am in love with fennel, fenouil, finocchio, fanook, whatever you call it. I love it.
When you roast it, it mellows the anise flavor and tastes even better than in its raw state.

Do not skip the grapes here, they create a jammy sauce that coats the veggies once you stir them together.

My taste testers loved this (neighbors, husband, kids on the block).

Watch it disappear.
I served it warm, but it would be great at room temperature too.

Roasted Fennel, Grapes, Red Peppers & Chickpeas:

2 fennel heads, trimmed and sliced into 1/2" slices
1 bunch of red or black seedless grapes (not green)
2 cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 red bell peppers, sliced into 1/2" slices
olive oil & kosher salt

Using 2 heavy rimmed baking sheets, spread out your vegetables with the chickpeas.

Drizzle w/ olive oil and sprinkle w/ kosher salt.

Roast in a 425F oven for 20 minutes, turning after 10 minutes. You want the chickpeas to be brown, and the fennel to be caramelized.

Remove everything with a metal spatula to a bowl and garnish with fennel fronds.

If serving later, drizzle w/ some good olive and a sprinkle of sea salt to freshen it up.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Why I'm Smart: Sardines & Bean Stew

I knew I would get your attention with that title.

Yes, this post is about the lowly sardine.

It is considered a top "brain food", and that's why I think I am so smart (I keep telling myself this).

I have always eaten sardines.

They used to be a poor man's food. A sardine sandwich packed in a lunchbox was like SPAM back in the day.
However, sardines are back in fashion.

I love a sardine sandwich with horseradish cream and pickled onions. But hey, that's me.

They are super high in omega3, vitamin D, high in protein, low in mercury and never farm raised.

There are so many articles on how and why sardines are so good for you. They help with brain function and are high in selenium (like egg yolks).

If you don't like them, I understand. They are like anchovies, people either love them or hate them.

Try them again, you might like them, and you'll feel smarter.

Sardines on toast with balsamic syrup are delicious as a first course.

This month's SAVEUR magazine is all about sardines. Which brands are the best and why, along with some interesting sardine recipes.

I mail order my sardines from France (Brittany), but there are plenty of good brands at the supermarket, like King Oscar, or Matiz.

The first recipe is a Sardine Stew. More like a cassoulet, sans the duck and sausage.

Vegetables are sauteed, then cans of tomatoes and beans are added. You can say this a larder meal, because you probably have everything in the cupboard.

If you like sardines, you will LOVE this recipe. It was delicious, and of course the toasted panko breadcrumbs on top made this dish even better.

Sardine & Bean Stew: (adapted from Saveur)

2 carrots, grated
2 celery stalks, diced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
14 oz. can of chopped tomatoes
14 oz. can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 good quality can of sardines in oil
salt & pepper
dash of hot pepper flakes
1/4 cup of panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
handful of fresh parsley, chopped

In a 12" heavy skillet, heat some olive oil and saute the panko crumbs for about 5 minutes, until golden. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add some more olive oil to the skillet and cook the celery, onion, carrots and garlic, about 2 minutes.

Add in the tomatoes, drained beans and sardines, cutting the sardines in half with the spoon.

Turn down the heat and simmer the stew for about 8 minutes until thickened.

Season w/ salt & pepper.

Toss the panko crumbs and fresh parsley on top and serve.

Who needs college, when you have sardines?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Late Night Snacks: Buttered Crackers w/ Dates

I like to eat at night.
There, I've said it. I'm a midnight muncher.

I always eat cheese before bed, and maybe some cookies and milk or ice cream.

It's a craving for dairy, I guess (it could be why I sleep 9 hours without a flinch).

I would much rather eat at 10 p.m., than 10 a.m.

When I am out of cheese (which is rare), I make this strange combination.

I found this in Volume 3 of Canal House Cooks a few years back and I was hooked.

Take some buttery crackers (like Breton or Ritz) and swipe with some good French butter (or Irish Kerrygold).

Slice plump Medjool dates in half (remove the pit obviously) and lay them on top.

Plop in your mouth and go to bed.

You could even eat these during the day if you dare.

They don't call me "Snacks" for nothin'.

Have a great weekend. :)

PS I just thought of it, but these would be good on matzoh too!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Penne alla San Giovanni

I forgot about this recipe. I hadn't made it in 5 years.

Penne alla San Giovanni.

Pasta with fried sage leaves, prosciutto and walnuts.

Basic, simple, you have everything in the house (maybe), and you can whip this up after work on a weeknight in no time.

Not sure of the true origins of this pasta dish, I found it in my Little Italy (NYC) Cookbook.

I like to use speck (smoked prosciutto) in this recipe for more flavor.

Everyone loves this dish and it takes all of 10 minutes, including boiling the water for the pasta!

Penne alla San Giovanni (Pasta w/ Fried Sage, Prosciutto, and Walnuts): adapted from David Ruggierro

4 oz. of smoked prosciutto (speck), diced
5 garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped roughly
salt & pepper
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
1/2 lb. penne pasta
1/2 stick of butter
25 sage leaves

Cook the pasta as per directions on the box (save 1/4 cup of the pasta water).

In a heavy skillet heat the olive oil and cook the garlic, prosciutto and walnuts on medium heat until the prosciutto starts to brown (watch that the garlic doesn't burn). Once this is done, take your pan off the heat/burner.

Add your cooked, drained penne pasta to the skillet and mix with the prosciutto mixture. Add 1/2 cup of parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese and toss together, adding in some of the starchy pasta water.

Sprinkle with a bit of salt and cracked black pepper.

In a separate skillet, cook 1/2 stick of butter and the 25 sage leaves on medium heat for about 2 minutes till the sage leaves are crisping up.
Pour the sage butter on top of the pasta and serve.
*(and if you are lazy, like me, you can cook the prosciutto, sage, butter, garlic and walnuts all in one pan!).


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Haroset: Dried Fruit & Nut Spread

Charoset, or Haroset is a dried fruit and nut spread served on Passover that is delicious.

It's a once a year thing, like fruit cake, and I love it.

It symbolizes the mortar for the bricks used by the slaves in Egypt to build the miserable Pharaoh's temples.
Cool guy, that Moses.

There are many different recipes for charoset.

My grandmother's recipe was just apples, walnuts, cinnamon and Manishewitz wine with a touch of honey to bind.
That is the Eastern European traditional recipe. Very basic, but packs a lot of flavor.

Sephardi (Middle Eastern, Greek, Turkish, etc) charoset is a paste made of raisins, figs and dates.
Egyptian Jews make it from dates, raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, and sweet wine. Greek and Turkish Jews use apples, dates, chopped almonds and wine.

Italian Jews (YES, there are Italian Jews!) add chestnuts.
and Spanish and Portuguese Jews add coconut (that sounds interesting).

I make a Sephardic version of charoset, mixing it up every year.
I use whatever nuts I have on hand and always dates and other dried fruit.

I posted it back in 2009 for my friend Deborah's annual seder.

Here it is again in case you forgot about it!

Stacey's Charoset:

10 oz. container of dates, pitted and chopped
1 cup of almonds, toasted and chopped
1 cup of walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup of pine nuts or pistachios
1 apple, grated

1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of powdered ginger
a few grinds of black pepper (gives it a nice spicey flavor!)
a few tablespoons of sweet Passover wine

In a large mixing bowl, mix your chopped dates and all of your chopped nuts together.
Add the dried spices and grate in the apple with a box grater.

Add the wine slowly to see how much you like. You only need enough to bind the fruit and nut mixture, you don't want any liquid remaining in the bowl.

You can also drizzle a little honey on top like my grandma did!

Have a sweet and happy Passover.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Radicchio w/ Chopped Egg & Pancetta

You know how I get on a kick when I like something. I tire it out.

This was my lunch 3 days last week.

You either love radicchio or you don't. No middle ground here.

Also known as Treviso in some circles.

It's bitter, but I like bitter things.
I like salt over sweet; bitter greens and broccoli rabe that's super strong.

Maybe I am just a bitter person. Yeah, that's it.

This is another great, simple idea from Volume 3 of Canal House Cooking, Late Winter, Spring issue.

Canal House wants you to drizzle balsamic vinegar over the scallions first (to mellow), along w/ wine vinegar (they are usually very vague with their instructions "a bit of this and that").

Balsamic vinegar pairs well with Treviso and radicchio. It brings out something in the taste. I'm not a food scientist, so not sure what it is exactly, but I guess it's that "umami" thing.

The second time I made this, I omitted the scallions and used only white balsamic and my olive oil from Abruzzo.

It's a beautiful, bright and crisp salad and I can eat it with my hands, like a leaf wrap.
It's got my favorite hard boiled eggs w/ bacon, so how can you go wrong?

Radicchio Salad w/ Chopped Egg & Pancetta: (makes 2 salads)

2 eggs, hard boiled and chopped
1/4 cup pancetta
small head of radicchio or treviso, leaves torn and stem cut
1/4 cup scallions
tbsp balsamic vinegar & 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
a drizzle of best quality olive oil
a pinch of sea salt & pepper
small handful fresh chopped parsley

Place the scallions with the vinegars in a small bowl (this will take the bite out of any onion) for 15 minutes.

Fry up the pancetta until crisp (you can substitute fried prosciutto or bacon). Drain, blot and reserve (that's a strange command).

Chop the eggs and set them aside.

Lay the radicchio leaves on a platter.

Toss the eggs over each leaf, then the pancetta.

Pour the scallions w/ vinegar over the salad and drizzle with good olive oil.
Season w/ a pinch of sea salt (I love Maldon) and a grind of black pepper.

Finish with fresh parsley and serve immediately.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Marcella's Famous Butter Tomato Sauce

Have you ever wondered why you rarely see a tomato sauce recipe here?

Stop wondering. I don't make tomato sauce.
It's not my favorite.

I'm a Cacio e Pepe or Aglio Olio kind of gal.

Give me butter and black pepper on pasta and I am more than happy.

I would rather have pasta w/ a fresh pesto made w/ herbs from my garden, or a pasta with cauliflower, raisins & anchovies.

A Sunday gravy or sausage ragu is another story, bring on the pork, neck bones and ribs. But I never make a marinara sauce.

As I have gotten older, I find that tomato sauce bothers me. It gives me a bit of heartburn or indigestion, if you know what I mean.

I have been reading about the late Marcella Hazan's Butter Tomato Sauce forever, and once again, I am one of the few people who had not tried it yet.

Well, I have been born again.

This is the most delicious, and certainly the easiest tomato sauce I have ever made.

You don't have to start your sauce early on a Sunday, or cancel your plans because you have a sauce/sugo on the stove.

This takes all of 45 minutes, and it is scary addictive.

No cheese needed (don't you dare), because the sauce is pretty rich.

Just a nice bottle of Chianti or Barbaresco and you are ready to go.

If you can memorize these 3 ingredients, then you don't have to print out the recipe.

~ 28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes
~ 5 tbsp of unsalted butter
~ 1 yellow onion, peeled and cut in half

This recipe makes enough for l lb. of pasta (preferably penne or spaghetti......I used bucatini because I had it), enough for 4 people, with a salad.

Marcella Hazan's Famous Tomato Sauce:

Lay the onion halves, the butter and the tomatoes in a 3 quart saucepan.

Turn on the flame and cook at a low heat for 40 minutes just a simmer, stirring only a few times to break up the tomatoes.

Your kitchen will smell like you are baking (from the butter) and Sunday sauce (from the tomatoes).

When the sauce is finished (it will be nice and thick), remove and discard the onions.
Throw in a pinch of salt at the end to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon).

Cook your pasta as per directions.
Drain and add to the sauce in the pot.

Stir to coat and serve w/ a nice arugula salad and enjoy.

Let me know what you think.

This is SO GOOD.