Ham and cheese souffle

>> Wednesday, December 30, 2009


In my continuing education and experimentation on the art of souffles, I made myself a delicious little ham and cheese breakfast souffle this morning. Luckily for me (and for him) my dad dropped by and was able to enjoy this treat with me. Father-daughter bonding at its best! 

Being my third souffle attempt, I am feeling more comfortable with the process.  I am to the point where I can make a mean Bechamel sauce without even looking at a cookbook and can seperate egg whites from the yolks like an old pro. This souffle turned out pretty well if I do say so myself.  The flavor was amazing and it was nice and lite.  The rise was an impressive 2 inches from the original fill line in the dish which did eventually settle down to about an inch after it had been out of the oven for a few minutes.

I have had some great souffles at RISE and wonder what their secret is for staying perfectly fluffy.  If anyone out there knows.. I would love the secret!

I made three fairly large souffles in simple coffee mugs as all my ramekins were in the wash.  This worked well though and the handle was very helpful in removing the souffles from the oven. 

To start, you need to make the Bechamel sauce:
Combine in a small saucepan over very low heat:
1 1/4 cups milk
1/4 onion with 1 bay leaf stuck to it using two hole cloves
Pinch of nutmeg

Simmer gently for 15 minutes, then discard the onion, bay leaf and cloves.  Meanwhile, in a heavy saucepan over low heat, melt:
3 tablespoons butter, and mix with
3 tablespoons flour

Cook uncovered over medium-low heat until the roux is fragrant, not darkened. Remove from heat and let cool a bit. Slowly whisk in the milk until blended without any large lumps and return to a low heat. 

Now to start on the souffle assembly.  Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees and generously butter your souffle dishes. Dust the insides with breadcrumbs or grated Parmesan cheese, shaking out the excess.  Set aside. 

In a small skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter and cook until softened 2 tablespoons minced shallots. 

Remove the Bechamel sauce from the heat and transfer to a large mixing bowl.  Add in the sauteed shallots along with:
1 cup lightly packed grated swiss, mozzarella or cheddar cheese (I used mozzarella)
3/4 cup finely chopped ham
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of ground red pepper
6 large egg yolks, added one by one
Beat vigorously to blend and set aside. 

In a seperate large bowl, beat until stiff but not dry:
6 large egg whites
Pinch of salt

Fold the egg whites into the souffle base and spoon into your prepared souffle dishes.  Bake until the souffle is risen and golden brown on top, 25-30 minutes.  Enjoy!

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Chocolate souffle


While I am off for a couple of weeks from work on holiday, I am making an effort to learn how to make great souffle's.  I made a pretty delicious mushroom souffle last week and last night, I attempted the chocolate souffle.  Where the taste was great, it was a little too cakey...not eggy enough. The souffle didn't come out with a great rise and quickly fell. It was a learning experience for sure and think that if I had added a couple of extra egg whites to the mix, it would have worked beautifully.  Anyhow, here is the recipe I went by.

Ingredients


3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch salt
pinch cream of tartar

Directions

1.Heat oven to 375° F. Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to grease on 16-ounce or two 8-ounce ramekins. Coat the ramekins with the cocoa, tapping out the excess.

2.In a large bowl, over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and remaining butter. Stir occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Whisk in the yolks one at a time until smooth. Set aside.

3.In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites with the sugar, salt, and cream of tartar until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Gently fold the egg-white mixture into the chocolate. Spoon into the ramekins.

4.Bake until puffed and set, 40 minutes for a 16-ounce soufflé, 20 minutes for two smaller ones.

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Sweet Crepes with Maple Pumpkin Butter

>> Tuesday, December 29, 2009


In the kitchen poking around when I got up, I decided to whip myself up a plate of crepes for breakfast.  Crepes are similar to pancakes, but the original unlevened version originally brought to America by the first English settlers in the seventeenth century. I first made my batter then got on the phone with my mom... I was starving by the time we stopped gabbing so had to quickly cook up the crepes before I passed out!

Crepes are pretty simple to make but may seem daunting as they are so thin they seem like they would be hard to work with. Quite the contrary, actually, crepes thin consistency makes them quick to cook and easy to work with. 

To make the batter for crepes, you need:

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1/4 luke warm water
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted)
1 1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 pinch salt
Blend the above ingredients together in a blender or food processor and cover tightly and let sit for 30 minutes. 

In a crepe pan or shallow frying pan, lightly butter and begin cooking your crepes. You only need two to three tablespoons of batter per crepe.  Spoon the batter into the pan, remove from the medium-low heat and tilt the pan around to evenly cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of batter. Return to heat and let cook for 30 seconds to one minute. The best way to flip your crepe is to gently lift an edge using a thin spatula and gently lifting with your fingers to turn over.  The crepes are a little hot but not too hot to touch.

Once you have your first crepe done, place on a wax paper covered plate in the oven at 250 degrees to keep warm.  You may want to leave the door standing open a little ways so your crepes don't continue to cook.  Repeat this process until you finish your batter. This recipe makes 8 - 10 pretty large crepes.

These basic sweet crepes can be topped off with a fruit compote, butter or syrup. Today, I decided to enjoy my crepes with a maple pumpkin butter and toss blueberries over top. You too can make great crepes if you just get in the kitchen and give it a try.  Enjoy! 

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Cinnamon raisin scones with hot buttered rum glaze

>> Sunday, December 27, 2009


Adding to the festive foods for the week, I had a craving for scones this morning. Simple to make, these bite size pasteries are a perfect compliment to your morning coffee that you can snack on all day long.  I decided to make cinnamon raisin scones which I glazed with a hot buttered rum sugar sauce. The flavor is light, sweet and delicious!

Scones are actually really simple to make and I would bet you have all the ingredients on-hand already. Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees and you are almost done before you even get started.


What you need:

1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup milk
A stick of butter (you will use 6 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins

Hot buttered rum glaze:
3 tablespoons butter
Light rum
1/2 cup sugar
In the large bowl, mix your flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Cut your stick of butter into pea sized chunks and add to the dry mixture and fold to evenly coat all the butter. In your small mixing bowl, combine the egg and cream and whisk together until blended. Pour into the dry mixture and fold together until your dry mix is just moist. Add in cinnamon and raisins and continue mixing until thoroughly moist and blended.

Scoop balls of the mix into a small muffin pan (should make approximately 12 small scones). Pop in the oven for 13-15 minutes and you will be enjoying your scones in no time.

In the meantime, in a small saucepan, melt butter for the buttered rum glaze.  Add in sugar and stir continually over low heat until sugar begins to dissolve.  Add in light rum and let simmer, stirring to keep the rum glaze moving as it thickens up a bit. 

When the scones are done baking, pull from the oven and remove from the muffin pan onto a plate or flat baking pan.  Spoon the glaze over top, coating the scones and let cool for a few minutes.  Enjoy!

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The perfect cheese tray


No matter what the occasion, a cheese tray is the perfect add to a party. When you are asked to tote the cheese tray, some may wonder what types of cheese to bring and how best to arrange the cheese. I always volunteer to put together this wonderful appetizer as I hate walking into a room and finding the cubed yellow and white cheese pre-prepared from the local grocery store. There are so many varieties of delicious cheese that can be enjoyed and I have found that most people don't step out of their comfort zone to do so.
 
Some of my favorite cheeses for the cheese tray are:
  • Goat
  • Cheddar (this is a safe one everyone knows)
  • Fontal
  • Gournay
  • Brie
  • Chevre
  • Gruyere
When arranging your cheese, use berries to add color and fill in the void space between the cheeses. Make sure to label the cheeses so people know what they are trying. I also like adding a small dish of chocolate to the tray as a complimentary flavor. Also, don't forget the wafer-like crackers! Enjoy!

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Ham and spinach quiche



For Christmas morning, my family enjoyed a nice little brunch before heading out to our extended family's crazy family party (I'm talking a wild party!).  I made quiche which is an old standby for the family which my mom used to make all the time when my brothers and sister and I were growing up. Quiche is so simple to make and very filling when you fill the pie with vegitables and meat. I like spinach and ham best.
To make quiche you need (per quiche):

Pie crust (either homemade or store bought)
3 large eggs
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup chopped spinach
1 cup cubed ham
Chopped seasoning vegitables: onions, bell peppers, celery, etc.
1 package finely shredded mozzerella cheese

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, crack the eggs. Before you break the yolk, dip a pastry brush in the egg white and brush the edges of your pie crust. Break the eggs apart and add in chopped spinach, ham, seasoning vegetables, cheese and heavy cream. Add salt and pepper, mix thoroughly and pour into the pie crust. Bake for 40 - 50 minutes (longer if you have more than one pie), until golden brown on top and knife clean.

Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Enjoy!

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Orange bundt cake

>> Thursday, December 24, 2009


Perfect for Christmas morning, a beautiful bundt cake will take center stage. I decided to make an orange bundt cake to take over to my parents house to enjoy with my family while we party the morning away.  It was simple to do and is just gorgeous.

All you need to do is follow this simple recipe.

1 cup soft butter

1 cup. sugar
3 eggs
1 cup. sour cream
1 3/4 c. flour
1 tsp. soda
1 tbsp. grated orange peel
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. baking powder
2-3 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. 
  2. In large bowl cream the butter, sugar and add eggs. Beat for 1 minute. The add the sour cream, flour and orange peel to the mixture and stir in slowly until combined.
  3. Grease and flour the bundt pan. Spoon 1/3 of this cake mixture into bundt pan.
  4. Mix 1/2 cup sugar, cocoa and cinnamon. Add 1/2 of this sugar mix to cake batter in pan. Place another 1/3 cake mixture in the bundt pan, then sprinkle on the remaining sugar mix. Add last 1/3 of the cake mix. 
  5. Bake 50 to 60 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes. Invert on to a plate.
 Orange Glaze
1/4 cup. orange juice fresh or concentrate
1/2 cup. sugar
 

Combine 1/4 cup of orange juice and 1/2 cup sugar in a pan and simmer gently. When all the sugar is combined pour over the cake.  Enjoy!
 
Merry Christmas!

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Chocolate sacks

>> Wednesday, December 23, 2009


With plenty of pies and cookies being baked by my family members for Christmas day, I decided to try something a little different this year. I ended up making an army of chocolate sacks, both dark and white chocolate that are exquisite. A true labor of love as I had never worked with molding chocolate but in the end, I am very pleased with the outcome.  I have been working on forming the sacks over the past couple of days and found the white chocolate much easier to work with than the dark chocolate, where I had several casualties when removing the form.

You can fill a chocolate sack with any number of ingredients but I chose to stick to a simple angel food cake, whipped cream and fresh berries. Once you have your base sack created, they are fun to decorate and can be made into an elegant or a fun and whimsical desert.  For my white chocolate sacks, I added a dark chocolate accent leaf that is brushed with edible gold and silver leaf. These turned out just beautiful.  With the dark chocolate sacks, I went for a more casual feel that will appeal to the kiddos and piped on little holiday pictures. 

To make chocolate sacks, you don't need much.  Just some melting chocolate and a sack form.  I used a small popcorn box that has a wax interior that made it easier to pull off the chocolate once it had hardened. 

With your melted chocolate, pour an ample amount to the inside of your sack form and roll/shake to fully coat the interior. Make sure you have plenty of chocolate in the creases of the sack as this was my biggest problem area.  Once the interior is fully coated, turn it upside down and let the excess chocolate drain out, back into the bowl.  On a parchment paper covered counter, set the sack to dry flipped upside down. 

After you have repeated for all your sacks and they have hardened a bit on the counter top, move them to the refrigerator (not freezer) and let them chill for several hours, or overnight.  To remove the paper sack form, gently peel from the top and tear away a little bit at a time. Be careful not to squeeze your chocolate sack too hard or it will crack and crumble. One other little tip, I turned my air conditioner on to keep the chocolate cool while I was working with it as while the heater was on it was getting a little melty on the counter.

Decorate, fill with your favorite dessert and serve to your very impressed guests.  Enjoy!

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Blueberry coconut pancakes


I don't have the opportunity to sit down for breakfast at home on weekdays very often as I am usually running out the door at 7 am to head to the office where I will just have a cup of coffee to kick start my days.  Today, in a leisurly manner, I enjoyed my coffee then made myself a delicious stack of blueberry coconut pancakes.  Pancakes are a simple treat and are much better when made from scratch.  You can add in any variety of fruits and spices to make them to your liking but blueberries and coconut are a perfect pair.

Whisk together in a large bowl:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Cinnamon
Sweet coconut flakes

In another bowl, whisk:
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and gently whisk them together, mixing just until combined. Fold in fresh blueberries that have been sliced in half.

Season a large skillet or griddle with butter and pour the batter one pancake portion at a time.  Cook on one side until the lightly golden and flip. 

Stack your pretty little cakes on a plate and drizzle with your favorite syrup, warmed if you desire.  I chose a butter pecan syrup which is my absolute favorite.  Sift confectioners sugar over top and enjoy your breakfast!

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Shells stuffed with peppered goat cheese and potatoes

>> Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I ran into a bit of a problem this evening realizing I hadn't a thing to eat while sitting in a house full of food. Everything is set aside for Christmas and I wouldn't let myself eat only cookies for dinner.  Shopping through my pantry, freezer and refrigerator, I pulled out a mixed bag of ingredients to pull together what turned out to be quite delicious. 

From the pantry, I pulled baby Dutch yellow potatoes and a can of cream of chicken and mushroom. Salt and pepper.

From the freezer, I fetched two Puff Pastry shells.

From the refrigerator, I grabbed a soft goat cheese that had been rolled in pepper, ricotta cheese (I went for the plain yogurt but found it had expired), butter, shallots, garlic and parsley.

Pre-heating the oven to 400 degrees, I started in chopping my potatoes, shallots, garlic and parsley. I popped the pastry shells in the oven for approximately 20 minutes and continued with my dinner experiment.
In a small sauce pan, I combined the cream of chicken and mushroom with ricotta cheese and let it simmer, stirring frequently.  In a small skillet, I melted the butter and added in the potatoes. After cooking down a bit, I added in the rest of the chopped ingredients. 

When the pastry shells were golden, I removed and stuffed with goat cheese and the potato mixture.  I then plated the two shells atop the cream sauce and topped off with a additional creamy goat cheese. 

Not bad for not having anything to eat!

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Irish Cream Coffee

>> Monday, December 21, 2009



While prepping my kitchen to make, well, a huge mess (chocolate sacks). I opted to fix up one of my favorite Christmas drinks to kick off the festivities. Irish cream coffee takes me back to every Christmas I remember growing up when my parents would always be drinking Bailey's Irish Cream. I have taken to their tradition, adding in a spot of coffee and whipped cream. All you need to make this simple dessert of a drink is:

Baileys Irish Cream
Godiva chocolate liquor
Coffee (I use a light cappuccino roast but use whatever you favor)
Whipping cream
Sugar
Cinnamon
Vanilla extract
Chocolate sprinkles
Hazelnut Pirouettes

To prepare your whipped cream:
  1. Pour a small amount of whipping cream into a mixing bowl
  2. Add in a teaspoon of sugar
  3. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon
  4. Add a couple of drops of vanilla extract
  5. Mix on high speed with a hand mixer, working the cream into stiff peaks
Pour into your Irish coffee mug:
1/3 part Bailey's Irish Cream
1/3 part coffee
1/3 part whipped cream


Drizzle with Godiva chocolate liquor and sprinkle with chocolate sprinkles. Add a hazelnut Pirouette if you are so bold.  Enjoy!

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Pasta Emilia

>> Sunday, December 20, 2009




After cooking all day making souffle's, soups and chocolate sacks; I wanted something quick, easy. I went for a simple pasta dish incorporating some of my favorite ingredients which are full of robust flavor. I will call it "Pasta Emilia"

In a medium skillet, cook down a serving of angel hair pasta. Once done, drain the pasta and spoon in two tablespoons of light Alfredo sauce. Toss until the sauce lightly coats the pasta. Drizzle with a bit of EVOO then add in a splash of white wine. Cook the pasta in the sauce for a minute or so and add in:

Chopped parsley
Chopped garlic
Chopped scallions
Chopped thyme
Kalamata olives (pitted)
Feta cheese crumbles
Fresh cracked pepper

Toss the pasta and serve, cracking pepper over top. Enjoy!

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Truffle infused mushroom souffle



Inspired by the French souffle restaurant, Rise, I took to the kitchen to create my own souffle at home. With cookbook in hand and ingredients laid out, step by step I worked my way through creating the most delicious truffle infused mushroom souffle which was a source of great enjoyment on this fine Sunday afternoon.

To make a souffle, you need to first set your workstation. You see, when working with whipped eggs, you must work quickly so it is imperative to have everything at your fingertips and ready to pop in the oven as soon as your mixture is prepared.

So, first we will pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Next, we need to make a Thick Bechamel Sauce (white sauce that will be used as the souffle base). To do this, you will need to combine in a small saucepan:

1 1/4 cups milk
1/4 onion with 1 bay leaf stuck to it using 2 whole cloves
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, uncovered, to infuse the flavor into the milk. Discard the onion, bay leaf and cloves. Meanwhile, melt in a medium saucepan over low heat:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter and stir in 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally over medium-low heat, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the warm milk, slowly, and return the saucepan to heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring to prevent lumps from forming and cook until the sauce reaches the consistency of a thick cream soup. Season with salt and ground white pepper and set aside to incorporate into the souffle base.

Now that the white sauce is complete, prepare your souffle dishes. To do this, generously butter six 8-ounce ramekins and dust the insides with freshly grated Gruyere cheese. Shake out the excess. This will create a golden brown crust of cheese around your souffle after baking.

Combine in a large bowl:
1 1/2 cups Thick Bechamel Sauce (what you made earlier)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground white pepper

Beat 1/2 cup of the mixture into:
6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese

Combine the rest of the sauce, beating vigorously to blend and add:
1 1/2 cups finely chopped cremini mushrooms
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram
A drizzle of black truffle oil

Beat until stiff but not dry:
6 large egg whites
Pinch of salt

Stir one-quarter of the whites into the souffle base to lighten it, then fold in the rest. Pour into the prepared ramekins. Bake until the souffle is risen and golden brown on top (20 to 25 minutes). Remove from the oven and serve immediately. Enjoy!

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Onion soup


Onion soup is a great starter dish for lunch or dinner and is quick and easy to whip up. All you need is:

Yellow onion
Chicken broth
White wine
Finely chopped cremini mushrooms
Ground nutmeg
Salt
Fresh cracked pepper
Fresh marjoram
Freshly grated Gruyere cheese

In a large stock pot, begin simmering chicken broth. Chop onions to approximately 2 inch strings and add to the broth. Add in white wine, salt, pepper and ground nutmeg to taste. Chop mushrooms to a fine consistency and add to the soup along with chopped marjoram. Stir and let simmer until onions are softened and ready to serve. Serve topped with grated Gruyere cheese. Enjoy!

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White chicken chili

>> Monday, December 14, 2009


With the weather turning chilly, there is nothing better than a little chili to warm your belly. I am not really a fan of traditional chili but white chili is quite delightful. A much healthier rendition of the dish, white chili is quite easy and is sure to tide you over for a couple of days.

To start, you need the following ingredients:


Navy beans
Black beans
Chicken
Carrots
Celery
Onion
Scallions
Red and green bell peppers
Serrano peppers
Garlic
Chicken stock
White wine
Fresh thyme

Fresh flat parsley
Powdered mustard
Chili powder


First, you will need to prepare your beans. You can either do this by soaking overnight or by bringing to a rapid boil for 5 or so minutes then soaking for an hour. These are dry beans, mind you. Not canned or frozen.

In the meantime, prepare your stock. This is just a typical stock mixture of carrots, onion and celery. Soften over heat in a large stock pot with about two tablespoons of olive oil. After the base stock has started to cook down, you can start to add in the other veggies and fresh herbs, all chopped. Add in chicken stock and let the veggies simmer. Cut your chicken into large pieces and add into the mixture, along with white wine. Salt and pepper to taste. Add in powdered mustard and chili powder, and continue to cook together.

After an hour or so, drain the beans, rinse and add to the large stock pot with the chili. Simmer for one hour.

In a small pot, prepare white rice per the package instructions.

Serve dinner up rice first, with chili over top in a bowl. Drizzle with sour cream and top with parsley. Enjoy!

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Chocolate mice & strawberries

>> Thursday, December 10, 2009



So here's a fun idea for all of you who have kiddo's at home. I used to make these when I was little so decided to take a trip back in time today as I spend the day cooking to re-create an old holiday favorite of mine. Chocolate mice are simple to make, taking a whimsical approach to a holiday dessert. All you need (aside from a steady hand) is:

Melting chocolate
Cherries
Hershey's Kisses
Slivered almonds
Decorating gel
Parchment paper

To make the body of the mouse simply dip your cherries in a bowl of melted chocolate and lay on parchment paper. If your cherries have stems, lay them flat so they appear to be the tail of the mouse. Take an unwrapped kiss and gently attach the flat part of the kiss to the chocolate covered cherry. Find two similarly sized almond slivers and carefully insert side-by-side between the kiss and the cherry.

Repeat this until all your cherries are transformed into little mice and let them thoroughly dry.

Dot decorating gel on the nose and to make eyes and refrigerate until ready to serve. Enjoy!

Another fun idea for chocolate is chocolate covered strawberries. These are so simple to do but so delicious! Again, you need a nice melting chocolate, parchment paper and, of course, strawberries.



Melt your chocolate on half power in the microwave for about 2 minutes and stir until melted. Dip your strawberries and lay on their sides on the parchment paper. That's it! Once dry, refrigerate until ready to serve. Upon serving, you can sift a bit of confectioners sugar over top for an extra wow effect.

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Linzer Sandwich Cookies



With the holiday season upon us, its time to get to baking. Whether you are hosting a party, baking sweets to put under the tree or just enjoying a treat while warming by the fire, making cookies is a great way to spark your holiday spirit. This week, I kicked off my baking with Linzer Sandwiches. These delicate cookies are beautiful and delicious. You can get creative with the shape of cookie you select, from round cookies to holiday shapes. What makes the Linzer Sandwich so unique is the center shape punched out of the top cookie to reveal a sweet jam inside.

I decided to make snowflake shaped Linzer Sandwiches. When covered with confectioners sugar, the shape really worked well; though the more intricate the shape, the more delicate the cookie so be careful what cutter you select based on your baking skill level.

To get started on this holiday treat, you will need the following ingredients to make around 20 cookies:

5 ounces unblanched hazelnuts
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon table salt
Confectioners sugar, for dusting
2/3 cup raspberry, strawberry or cherry jam


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately transfer nuts to a clean towel. Vigorously rub the nuts in the towel to remove as much of the skins as possible. Set nuts aside until completely cool. Place nuts in a food processor, and process until finely ground and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. This works best if you have a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add egg, and beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla.

Whisk together reserved hazelnuts, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add to butter mixture; beat on low until combined, about 2 minutes. Form dough into two flattened disks, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have ready two baking sheets lined with Silpats or parchment paper. Also have your cookie cutters ready. One for the cookie shape that is about 2 1/2 inches and one for the center that is about 3/4 inches. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out half the dough to a scant 1/4 inch thickness. Using the larger cutter, cut out cookies. With a wide, flat spatula, transfer cookies to the prepared baking sheets. Using the smaller cutter, cut the centers out of half the cookies. Repeat rolling and cutting with the other half of the dough.


Bake until the edges are golden, 12 to 16 minutes, rotating halfway through. Remove from the oven; place on a wire rack and cool completely.


Lightly sift confectioners' sugar other the decorative tops (the ones with the center cut out); set aside. Spread a scant tablespoon of jam on the bottoms of each cookie, and sandwich with the sugar dusted tops.


Enjoy your holiday cookies!

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Osso buco

>> Monday, December 7, 2009



Tonight I challenged myself to prepare osso buco for the first time. Diligently following the recipe in The Joy of Cooking, I prepped my workstation and cut my vegetables. Literally translated, osso buco is a bone with a hole that contains marrow. In this classic north Italian dish, a seasoning mixture, gremolata, is added at the end. So, read carefully and allow yourself at least 3 hours to prepare this amazing dish.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and pre-heat to 325 degrees.

Pat dry your very meaty slices of veal shank.

In a large Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, hat over medium-high heat:

2 tablespoons olive oil

Add the shanks and brown well on all sides, adding more oil as needed. Remove to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add to the pan:

1/3 cup diced carrots
1/3 cup diced onions
1/3 cup diced celery
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small bouquet garni (this is a tied up bouquet of spices)

Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are softened, 5 to 10 minutes. Return the shanks to the pan and arrange in a single layer.

1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock

The liquid should reach about halfway up the shanks. Increase the heat to high, bring to a boil, and cover with the lid. Place in the oven and braise for 1 hour.

Have available 1 to 2 cups chicken stock.

Turn the shank slices over and add stock if needed to keep the level halfway up the shanks. Braise until the meat is tender (absolutely falling off the bone), about 30 minutes more.

Meanwhile, to prepare the gremolata, mix together in a small bowl:

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

When the veal is cooked, remove the shanks to an ovenproof serving platter and keep warm in the oven with the door ajar. Spoon off any fat from the braising juices; strain the juices into a saucepan, and boil over high heat until slightly thickened. Add the gremolata and season with salt and fresh pepper to taste.

Spoon the sauce over the veal. Serve with risotto milanese or rice pilaf. Enjoy!!

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Seared tuna sashimi

>> Sunday, December 6, 2009



Tonight I pulled together a quick tuna sashimi for dinner. Seared to perfection, then sliced thinly for optimum enjoyment. Tuna sashimi only takes about 5 minutes to cook but you have to make sure you buy a sushi grade cut of fish. I recommend going to Whole Foods or Central Market, not your regular grocery story.

All you need is Yellow Tail Tuna steak, fresh cracked pepper and sesame oil.

In a large skillet or Wok, lightly season the pan with sesame oil. Heat the pan over medium-high heat.

In the meantime, crack an ample amount of pepper over the surface of the tuna steak. Place the tuna in the heated skillet and sear for one minute. Flip and sear the other side for one minute.

Fill a bowl with ice water and set aside. Pull your tuna from the heat and drop into the ice water. This exercise is key as it pulls the heat through your fish. Remove from the water and thinly slice, plate and serve. Enjoy!

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