Sunday, January 26, 2014

Love and Chocolate

Go ahead, ask around. I guarantee that someone you love loves chocolate cake.  This little cake packs a chocolate punch that will surely make your beloved swoon. And to make matters even better - it's easy .... a rich, moist chocolate cake that takes only a few minutes to prepare the batter using one bowl.

Use dabs of frosting to attach whole raspberries or strawberry halves to the top layer to make your cake the ultimate in sexy desserts. Finally. look for a sparkling rosé with strawberry or raspberry undertones for a delightful wine pairing.  Perfect!

Don't let Valentine's Day catch you by surprise this year.  I don't know for sure if chocolate is an aphrodisiac but it's worth a shot. Make a plan to bake a cake, a chocolate cake!

TRUE LOVE CHOCOLATE CAKE
1 cup white sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 jumbo egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup hot coffee


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line bottom of one 6.5 or 7 inch round pan with parchment, spray sides with baking spray.

In a medium sized bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, mix for 2 minutes on medium speed of mixer. Stir in the hot coffee last. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the cake tests done with a toothpick. Top will be domed. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Using a cake cutter or a large sharp knife, slice cake in half to make two layers.

Fill between layers with your favorite chocolate frosting.  Finish by generously dusting with powdered sugar.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sure, pumpkins are a fruit.

Who says fruits are just for sweets? This year's bumper crop has me searching for new ways to use the big orange berries (yup, they're berries).  While poking around our local Williams Sonoma store last week, I came across a jar of pumpkin braising sauce ... I have pumpkins, lotsa pumpkins. I read the ingredients and decided to give my own adaptation a try.

I used a rosemary pear conserve canned last year (and a concoction I hadn't quite figured out what to do with) instead of applesauce but I am quite sure applesauce will yield just as yummy a result. Bake your pumpkin and prepare your potatoes ahead of time (nuke the potatoes for five or warm them in the oven for twenty minutes or so before suppertime). Prep time of about about twenty minutes is all you need and then relax while the slow cooker makes magic.

CROCK POT PUMPKIN PORK ROAST
3 pound bone-in pork shoulder roast
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, grated or minced
1 garlic clove, grated or minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated or minced
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 Bay leaf
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
3 tablespoons chunky pear (or apple) sauce
9 oz. canned diced tomatoes with juices
1 cup cooked pureed pumpkin
2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped (3/4 teaspoon if dried)
2 cups chicken stock




Season the pork with salt and black pepper. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Brown the pork on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes total. Transfer meat to a crockpot.

 Reduce the heat to medium in the skillet and warm the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, tomato paste, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the Bay leaf, vinegar,  pear (or apple sauce), tomatoes with their juices, pumpkin, sage, and stock. Bring to a boil and season with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over pork in slow cooker.

Cook on high for 5 hours or on low for 8 hours.  Skim the fat off the sauce. Thicken with arrowroot (or cornstarch) slurry if needed. Shred the meat off the bone, serve pork and sauce over mashed potatoes or rice. Add a side of roasted Brussels sprouts or other green veggie. Serves 4-6.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Strawberries!!!!

It wouldn’t be June without juicy, fresh strawberries. JP and I hopped in the car. Destination: our favorite pick your own berry farm. As usual, I did most of the picking while JP did his share of hilarious complaining about the hard work plucking gems from their stems.

Then there is the strawberry supervisor side of him. “Not that one. It’s not red enough!”

An hour later we were headed home with six pounds of berries. Some to eat fresh, some to freeze for later and some to macerate for tonight's dessert. Macerating fruit is the equivalent to marinating meats and veggies. A simple recipe is all you need for fabulous!

Fresh, ripe berries lightly soaked in a bit of honey and your favorite liqueur (I used strawberry grappa this time) add a layer of flavor that does more than enhance good berries, it adds life to berries that aren't ripe enough or are a bit past their prime. Even a sprinkle of sugar and a drizzle of lemon juice will transform a ho-hum quart of strawberries into a flavorful, juicy treat ready to wow your family and friends. Try gently sweetened, fresh macerated berries on Belgian waffles, shortcake biscuits, ice cream, or make a yogurt parfait; use your imagination!

Macerated Strawberries
2 pounds strawberries, hulled (slice or larger berries)
2 tablespoons honey or sugar
2 tablespoons any fruit or citrus liqueur (non alcohol version: orange or lemon juice work well)

Toss the all ingredients in a medium bowl and allow them to marinate in the refrigerator for no les than 4 and up to 24 hours. Spoon the macerated strawberries over waffles, pound cake, ice cream, or yogurt. Add a dollop of fresh whipped cream if desired.

This macerated strawberries recipe makes 6 servings.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Ready, set, patio dining!

Here in New England we love surf and turf. Add to that it's finally grilling season and let the games begin! 

Steaks, burgers, BBQ ribs and chicken ... the list is long and mouth watering. Paired up with steamers or better yet, lobster, and we East Coast huggers are in heaven. But how to turn the usual summer menu into something special can be something of a challenge.

Starting courses are a great way to set up the taste buds for a juicy main attraction.  Last night, we hosted our first backyard dinner party. And of course, surf and turf was on the menu. Check out our appetizer course, an attempted replication of a small plate Farmer Paul and I enjoyed more than 20 years ago at a bistro in Quebec City.

It took us several tries over as many years to come up with a version that tickled our taste buds as much as the memory of that original dish. It's still not quite right, but this recipe is so good and so easy that we stopped experimenting. Follow up with a chopped salad and the perfect grilled steak (medium rare is Farmer Paul's specialty) ... heaven awaits your taste buds!

Lobster Cream Puffs
1 sheet prepared puff pastry, thawed
1/4 stick butter
1/8 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup cognac (optional)
1 pound lobster meat, cooked


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Cut puff sheets into four 3 inch squares and four smaller sized rectangles. Place pastry shares on a parchment lined baking sheet for 12-15 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.

While puffs are baking. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and stir in the cream and cognac until thickened. Stir in parmesan until melted in. Season lightly with pepper and salt. Fold in lobster. Keep warm.

Spoon lobster sauce over each puff square. Garnish with small puff pillow. Serve.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Waste a Good Ham Bone? Never!

My father was one of so many siblings, I can’t even name them all for fear I will forget somebody.  I have close to fifty cousins, spread all over the country now but when I was growing up we all packed into my grandparents’ home on Sundays and holidays. My dad’s family was loud, raucous and fun.

There was a steady stream of one or more ma tante, mon uncle and a cousin or three visiting at the modest bungalow on Providence Street in Chicopee. A big pot of something simmering on the stove top always at the ready. A favorite of mine was Mémère’s soupe aux pois, a creamy yellow pea soup she made anytime she served ham to the holiday hordes of children and grandchildren.

This year at our house, Farmer Paul glazed the perfect Easter ham. That ham bone was way too inviting not to cook up a crockpot of Mémère’s creamy soup. This is one of several recipes my grandmother used to make her pea soup.  Like most good cooks, she liked to mix it up - even when she made an old favorite.

Next time you have a good ham bone, don’t waste it!

Mémère’s Soupe Aux Pois
1 pound package yellow split peas
3 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
1 clove garlic, grated
2 carrots, chopped or grated
1 meaty ham bone
1/2 teaspoon dried summer savory (or marjoram)
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated or minced
1 celery stalk, grated or chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


Rinse split peas in a medium bowl with cold water. Drain and place peas in a 4 quart or larger slow cooker.  Add remaining ingredients.

Cover and cook for 5 hours on High or 7 hours on Low.  Remove ham bone, remove and chop about 1/2 cup of the meat and return chopped meat to cooker. Continue to cook an additional 25-30 minutes. Serve with fresh ground pepper, a sprinkle of parsley and a crusty batard or, if you have enough ham leftover, a tasty ham and pickle salad sandwich.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lemony good artichoke hearts!


Just the word lemon causes my taste buds to perk up. There are all kinds of lemons... Lisbon lemons are small and seedless. Eureka lemons are the most common. Meyer lemons are a sweeter variety and have a hint of orange flavor. There are even pink lemons and thanks to a good friend with a yard full of tropical fruit trees, I've been lucky enough to try one!  

Lemons are the most common flavor enhancer after salt and pepper. Lemons yield more juice at room temp than a lemon that is cold. However, since lemons are susceptible to mold it’s best to store them in the refrigerator crisper drawers. To maximize your juicing, leave your lemon out for a couple of hours before juicing. Roll the room-temperature lemon on the counter and apply light pressure with your hand as you roll it. Then cut and squeeze.

The zest is also an amazing flavor enhancer. But for today’s recipe all you need is the juice. So if you're jonesing for a lemony rich appetizer or super tasty vegetarian dinner? Look no further.

ARTICHOKE HEARTS FRANCAISE 
1 can (14-oz) quartered of halved artichoke hearts, drained 
1/2 cup flour
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup olive oil
1/2 of one garlic clove, finely grated
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 stick unsalted butter 

Place artichoke hearts in a colander to drain. Season flour with salt and pepper. Add half of the chopped parsley to beaten eggs. Dredge artichokes in flour, then place floured artichokes in beaten egg mixture. Place on a lightly floured plate while preparing pan for cooking.

Heat saute pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and garlic. Cook garlic to light brown. Test oil by drizzling egg mixture into it. Place artichokes into hot oil. Cook until golden brown on each side, turning only once. Remove cooked artichokes; keep warm. 

Drain nearly all of the oil from sauté pan and return pan to stove. Add lemon and white wine to de-glaze and reduce. Place artichokes on a platter. Add butter to lemon-wine mixture. Swirl until melted. Drizzle over artichokes, sprinkle with a little more chopped parsley and serve immediately as a first course for four or place artichokes over cooked pasta before adding the Francaise sauce as a main dish for two. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cream vs. Tomato = Sox vs. Yankees?


There’s only one real chowda according to old New Englanders. New England clam chowder is cream-based, and traditionally thickened with oyster crackers. Modern chowder uses flour or cornstarch as a thickener and most restaurants serve oyster crackers as a garnish. No tomatoes allowed. Here's a little known fact: in 1939 a bill that made putting tomatoes in clam chowder illegal was introduced in the Maine legislature. 

While cream or milk based clam chowders have been around since the mid-18th century, no mention of any tomato based chowder has been found that predates the late 1890s. Rumor has it that the addition of tomatoes in place of milk originated within the Portugese immigrant community in Rhode Island, where tomato-based stews were already a traditional part of Portuguese cuisine. 

Everyone knows about the Yankees-Red Sox feud, for over 100 years known an one of the fiercest rivalries in sports and often a subject of heated conversations. So it should come as no surprise that even as far back as the 1930s scornful New Englanders took to calling the tomato version "Manhattan-style" clam chowder because, in their view, calling someone a New Yorker was an insult. Some things never change! 


NEW ENGLAND CLAM CHOWDER
2 bacon strips
1 celery ribs, chopped
1 small onion, grated
4 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup water
1 bottle (8 ounces) clam juice
3 teaspoons reduced-sodium chicken bouillon powder
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups lo-fat half-and-half, divided
2 cans (6-1/2 ounces each) chopped clams, undrained

In a large heavy bottomed pot, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain; set aside. Saute celery and onion in the drippings until tender. Stir in cubed potatoes, water, clam juice, bouillon, pepper and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Combine flour and 1 cup half-and-half in a small bowl until smooth. Gradually stir into soup. Bring to a simmering (not rolling) boil; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in clams and remaining half-and-half; heat through (do not boil). 

Drop 1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter into hot bowl of chowder. If desired, garnish with bacon crumbles or coarse ground black pepper. Serves four.