Roasted Red Pepper and Gorgonzola Dip

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With my children home from school this week and me busy with spring cleaning chores, I need to have food on hand for my children to grab in the afternoon without me having to stop what I'm doing.  Veggies and dip is always a great option.  I make the dip and cut the vegetables the night before.  That way my children can just help themselves when hunger strikes.

I originally made this dip as a spread for a great sandwich. I will be sharing that sandwich soon.  The combination of the sweet roasted red peppers and the creamy Gorgonzola was so tasty and there was plenty leftover from the sandwiches, that we found ourselves gobbling up the rest of it with veggies, pita chips, and pretzels.  Any way to keep kids eating their "daily five" gets a thumbs up from me. 


Chocolate Rice Crispies

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My children have spring break this week, so that means I have three more sets of hands in the kitchen. What better way to start the week than with a batch of these Chocolate Rice Cripspies?  This recipe comes from French pastry chef François Payard.  Rice Crispies made by a Frenchman?!?  It was so counter intuitive that I just knew these were going to be good.  He uses Dutch-processed cocoa powder for the best chocolate flavor.  He also uses mini chocolate chips.  Half are added while the mixture is still warm, so they melt and make the mixture even more chocolatey.  The rest are added after the mixture has cooled, adding more taste and texture.   I add a bit of espresso powder and a touch of vanilla extract for a little extra flavor.  And the flavor---think of it in your best "Borat" voice---"Chocolate time explosion!"  Hot chocolate town visits Rice Crispies ville.  An American standard gets a "thumbs up" from a vanguard of the French tradition.  Get into the kitchen and make these.  If you can come up with another description--the taste will inspire it, I promise--please add it in the comment section.  I would love to hear it!  


Sunday Dinner

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Frijoles Negros
Saffron Rice
Cuban Bread

The last couple of Sunday Dinners have featured beef and chicken. It's time to round out the lineup with some pork, the other white meat that I love so dearly.  I made this meal for my father's birthday a few years ago and after the reviews came in, I knew I had to make it at least once every year.  

Any Cuban style dish is best accompanied by the unique style of bread native to the island and its many expatriate communities in Florida.  The shape and texture of Cuban bread helps it hold up to sauces and makes for a perfect sandwich platform.  The lard helps to create a crisp crust and tender interior that cements its unmistakeable identity.  I add a touch of brown sugar to provide a wisp of sweetness, creating a perfect balance with the savory pork and beans.  To get that trademark seam on the top of the loaf, I use soaked twine as I do not have access to the traditional palmetto leaves available to and used by bakers in Florida and Cuba.  I do wish I had access to those beaches right about now.   


Chicken Tortilla Soup

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The calendar may say it's Spring but the weather outside is still late Winter here-- cold with snow-- seriously?  This soup was the perfect fit into this week's menu to warm our souls.  It is spicy and deep with flavor, but at the same time the broth is light without weighing you down.  

There are a few steps in making this soup; roasting the chicken breasts, making the broth, and frying the tortilla strips.  However, the end result is worth the time and very rewarding.

To the original recipe I add black beans, corn, and hominy to the broth to give the soup a little more body and flavor.  I also roast the chicken instead of poaching it.  Lastly, I add a few more herbs and spices to my liking.  I like to garnish it with diced avocado, chopped cilantro, diced red onion, diced jalapeno, Cotija cheese, and Mexican crema, but you can use whatever garnish you prefer or have on hand.  This is one crowd pleasing bowl of goodness to feed to your family and friends when it is cold outside, when it is raining, or really whenever you're feeling a bit fiesta-y.  That's not a word.  Here's the recipe.  


Banana Bread

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I often wonder how many recipes there are for banana bread.  From the mixing methods to the variations of ingredients, there seem to be thousands.  I make my share of these variations, but today I am sharing the recipe for my standard, plain ol' banana bread.  

My idea of a good banana bread is one with a tender cake, but not so moist that it is gummy.  So, with the goal of straddling this fine line, I use butter and bit of sour cream or yogurt.  I aim for a nice dome with a crunchy, sugary top.  To this end, I sprinkle the top of the unbaked bread with Demerara sugar.  I like for the mashed banana to be speckled throughout, not in chunks here and there.  To achieve that, I press my ripe banana through a potato ricer before mixing it in with the other ingredients.   My secret addition to really brighten the banana flavor is to add a splash of vinegar.  The end result for me--a perfectly textured and tasty banana bread that is just the right vehicle for a slathering of butter.


Sunday Dinner

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Roquefort Brioche

with White Wine, Garlic and Herbs
Rice and Onion Soubise
Buttered Sweet Peas

Tiramisù Tart

With two themed Sunday dinners in a row, I was craving comfort food this Sunday.  Sunday dinner comfort food for me is a roast chicken, vegetables or a salad,  and something chocolate for dessert.

As a reminder, I only feature one recipe from our Sunday Dinner Menu.  Today I am sharing the Tiramisù Tart.  It is a semisweet chocolate tart topped with a coffee mascarpone cream.    

I found this recipe in the April 2003 Food & Wine issue.  It was created by pastry chef François Payard.  This is his French nod to the classic Italian dessert.  There were a few changes I made to the original.  First, I used semisweet chocolate instead of bittersweet chocolate.  Then, to give it that tiramisù flavor that I love, I added a touch of Kahlúa to the cream topping.  The crust is cookie crisp, the chocolate filling is silky, and the cream balances the richness of the chocolate, creating one perfect bite of decadence.


Parslied Potatoes

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Here it is-- my last installment for our Irish themed menu, Parslied Potatoes.  I'll save the Cabbage Gratin for another time.   While these potatoes dress the Whiskey Glazed Corned Beef wellthey are a staple in our household, complimenting several other main dishes. With just a few ingredients and a small amount of time, you are rewarded with tender and buttery potatoes that have a golden crust.  You can use any herb of your choice.  Chives, rosemary, thyme, and tarragon all work well.  However, if you are making them with corned beef, I would stick with the parsley.  It lends a nice and clean herbal note.  Just remember, make it for you, make it your own.

The only trick to this recipe is regulating the heat on your burner.  You do not want the heat too high after the initial sauté.  That will cause the butter to brown too much and the potatoes will burn.

Even if you are not making these with corned beef on St. Patrick's Day, they are a perfect side to any roast meat or fish at any time of the year.


Chocolate Guinness Caramel Cake

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Woah--seems like lots of you enjoy your St. Paddy's Day dinners.  I received many requests for the other Sunday Dinner recipes.  I had not intended to blog about them this week, but I just couldn't say no.  I was going to save this recipe to share next year.  Why? I have many recipes other than Sunday Dinner ones that I want to share; breakfast, lunch, kid-friendly food, snacks, staples, and everyday sweets.  I suppose I will get to them all in due time.  Today, I give the people what they want.

I created this cake years ago for my husband, lover of all things chocolate, caramel, cream cheese, and beer.  Over time it has found its way to the table in many incarnations; double decker, completely frosted, and a version with alternate layers of frosting and caramel.  They all worked in their own way, but I always come back to this version; a simple, one layer chocolate cake filled with caramel and topped with a caramel cream cheese frosting.  I just love the way it looks, too--a simple chocolate cake oozing with caramel (not too much), topped by waves of caramel cream cheese frosting--it makes me want to dive right in.  It is sticky, gooey, and creamy all in one bite.

To create this cake, I make a basic chocolate snack cake, but use Guinness in lieu of the liquid.  I slice it in half and fill it with a homemade salted caramel.  Then I whip up a fool-proof cream cheese frosting that I flavor with a bit of the caramel to create a pillow of goodness on the top.  You will find yourself with more frosting than you need (I use only 1/2-2/3 of the recipe), but I think you can figure out what to do with the rest--frosting shots anyone??

*I received many requests for the Parslied Potatoes as well.  If you are interested, stay tuned--with some small Yukon Gold potatoes and fresh flat leaf parsley on hand. 


Whiskey Glazed Corned Beef

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I just couldn't write another post without first sharing this recipe.  As much as I enjoy the traditional New England boiled dinner, this recipe is a "pot o' gold".  The meat is simmered slowly on the stove top for several hours until it is fork tender (This step can be done the day before).  Then it is glazed with a sweet whiskey sauce and placed under the broiler until it is dark and sticky.  Sliced not too thick, but not too thin--it just melts in your mouth.  My son couldn't believe that he didn't need a knife to cut his meat and my youngest just kept asking for more "ham"--blame that one on the nitrates☺. 

The only downside to this dish is that when you serve it family style in the middle of the table like I do, it disappears way too fast.  It is nearly impossible to keep yourself from going back for more.  It's a good thing I made two, because the one pictured above is all gone and I need leftovers for corned beef hash.  Wait, I also need some for reuben sandwiches for dinner one night this week.  Oh corned beef, is there anything you CAN'T do?


Sunday Dinner

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Guinness and Cheddar Cheese Spread

A week has flown by and it is already time for another Sunday Dinner.  Like last week, this is a themed menu.  I have a "wee bit of Irish in me blood" so it is an annual tradition for us to have corned beef, cabbage, and all things Guinness the Sunday before St. Patrick's Day.  I just cook with the beer because if I drank one I would be too full for dinner--alright, maybe a sip or two while I am cooking:)  This menu's featured recipe is the starter, Guinness and Cheddar Cheese Spread. 

This is my spreadable spin on the classic Welsh Rarebit-- with an Irish twist.  For those of you who are not familiar with Welsh Rarebit/Rabbit (not the bunny), it is a savory sauce made with cheese and beer that is served over toasted bread--yum.  As scrumptious as the rarebit is, I wanted something that I could make ahead in order to free up a little time in the kitchen.  Making it ahead of time also allows the flavors to develop.  Who doesn't want cheese, Guinness, mustard, and onions creamed together and aged with goodness?  Serve it with any bread, toast, or cracker of your choice, but I think it is particularly nice with a rye cracker or a slice of toasted sourdough.  Add cayenne pepper to this for a little kick and it will keep you coming back for more.  Any leftovers are delicious on a ham sandwich the next day.


Tiramisù Ice Cream

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I woke up the other morning wanting nothing but a nice slice of Tiramisù--cake, cream, coffee, and chocolate--mmm, a great way to start the day:)  Funny how those urges come over you at 4:30 in the morning.  Unfortunately, I did not have one made and I did not have the time to make one--sigh.

Later in the  day, I was running errands with my children and we passed a local ice cream stand.  Inside, there was a gentleman standing at the counter.  My son turned to me and said, "Who buys ice cream this time of year?"  My first reaction was, "Have I taught you nothing about sugar and sweets?  Ice cream is a year- round treat even if it is still 35° F outside."  I needed to make this boy some ice cream, STAT.  Then my thoughts went immediately to the Tiramisù I was craving--problem solved.

The first time I made this recipe, I told my children that I needed them to taste test something. There was an immediate stampede into the kitchen with shouts of joy in anticipation of a sugary treat (that actually happens about once a day).  I filled three silver teaspoons with this concoction, handed them over, and waited for a response.  I will spare you all the mmms and ohhhs that went on in "the galley" and just tell you that this is an unbelievable and complex scoop of ice cream.  My husband says he could survive on just this ice cream for a week.  It is smooth and creamy, tangy and sweet, with hints of coffee and chocolate rippled throughout--it is some kind of good.

This is a mascarpone based ice cream layered with a mocha ripple syrup.  As good as the original sounded, I had to make adaptations to suit my own taste.  If you remember my post on Tiramisù, I don't care for ones that have rum, brandy or marsala.  That is just too much hard liquor for me.   Not that booze is a bad thing, but I feel those flavors overpower the tangy mascarpone, the coffee, and the bit of cocoa.  So, I omitted the liquor, slightly increased the amount of Kahlúa, and added some espresso powder to the chocolate ripple syrup (of which I only used half the amount originally called for) for a mocha taste.  Because of the liqueur, the ice cream does not freeze rock hard.  It stays smooth like frozen yogurt--a perfect texture, and the taste-- Heaven!


Red Beans and Rice

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Red Beans and Rice--I don't know life without it.  It was a staple in my Southern household.  We ate it all year long, not just during the revelry of Mardi Gras.  Instead of giving you my thoughts on this creole classic, I thought you would be humored by the thoughts of my husband.  He is a born and bred midwesterner to whom all things cajun/creole might as well be from a different planet.  At this time, I would like to introduce you to my husband and devoted taste tester, David.

Red Beans and Rice smells like the house of a voodoo priestess.  "Now I'm gonna stab this live chicken in the neck and its still-beating heart is gonna pulse blood all over these dolls of your enemies and...hold on while I go stir the beans on the stove."  It smells of humidity, Spanish moss, witch doctors, and mashed up folk religion.  All in a good way, that is, to a nose that did not enjoy its pleasures until adulthood.   There are seemingly eighty-seven levels of flavor in this dish, each one contributed by a different cultural source.  Splash some Tabasco on a hot bowl and dig deep.  Your dreams will have you running around one of those above-ground tomb cemeteries dodging ghosts and the like.  O.K., at least mine will.      

Alllrighty then.  I guess what he is trying to tell you is that he really loves this dish.  Slow cooked beans with sausage, ham hocks, and some veggies for good measure--what's not to love?


Sunday Dinner

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Pickled Shrimp

Bread Pudding Soufflé with a Whiskey Cream Sauce

 If you are a reader, you might remember that I spent several years of my childhood just north of New Orleans across Lake Ponchartrain.  My Dad, my Mom and my sisters and I went to every Mardi Gras shouting "throw me somethin' mister" to catch beads, cups, dabloons, and various other projectiles thrown from Krewe floats.  Those were some good times.  Mardi Gras is this Tuesday and I thought it would be fitting to have a "N'awlins" inspired menu this Sunday to enjoy with my family.

Red Beans and Rice is a Cajun classic and a perfect dinner choice because it cooks on the stove top for hours allowing me to get other things done around the house or just be with my family.  The cabbage slaw is a wonderful side that cuts the richness of the beans.  The cornbread helps to sop up every last bit.  The Bread Pudding Soufflé is a perfect ending for which I make my own New Orleans-style French Bread to stay in the spirit of the menu.  

On Sundays I feature one recipe from the menu.  This week it is the starter, Pickled Shrimp.  Having a paper bag full of freshly steamed crawfish would be more true to a New Orleans themed menu, but unfortunately I can't get my hands on those tasty little mud bugs up here unless they're in the freezer section:(  These shrimp will make up for that loss.

Pickled shrimp are the antipasto of the South. They are perfect for picnics, tailgating (how many more months until college football?), buffet tables, cocktail parties or even a light lunch when served over a bed of greens.  By letting them bathe in the marinade overnight, they soak up all the flavor, so no dipping sauce on the side is needed--just pick 'em up and eat.  I don't live near shrimp waters anymore, so I like to use shell-on shrimp that are already frozen (IQF-individually quick frozen), cleaned and de-veined--the dirty work is done for you.  This is also a versatile dish because you can change the ingredients to suit your own taste. You can use basil, dill, or parsley, change or omit the cheese (my children really like the taste of the marinated cheese) and you can add any veggie of your choice, like red peppers, onions, or cucumbers.  As I have said before, make it for you; make it your own and, "Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler"!!

♬ Mardi Gras, mambo, mambo, mambo
Party Gras, pambo, mambo, mambo
Mardi Gras mambo-ooh
Down in New Orleans ♪


Tomato, Leek, and Basil Soup

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After sharing the recipes for the Chocolate Budino and the Caramel de Lite Cookie Bars, I thought I should post something savory and nutritious.  With a chill lingering in the late weeks of winter, I figured that a soup would fit the bill. 

Tomato soup is like macaroni and cheese; you just can't have too many recipes.  There is cream of tomato, tomato and rice, tomato and bread, tomato bisque--the list goes on.  This recipe is one that I haven't made in a while.  It is also one of those that I need to write down before I forget the recipe.  

I like this soup thick and chunky, but you can thin it out with more chicken broth or purée it a little more for a smoother texture.  Served with some crusty bread and a dollop of crème fraîche,  this is a comforting bowl for a chilly night or rainy afternoon.


Caramel de Lite Cookie Bars

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I first saw this recipe over at Baking Bites about two years ago.  I made them then and they were good, but I knew I needed to change a few things to my liking.  Seeing how it is Girl Scout cookie season, I had a craving for those yummy Caramel de Lites (a.k.a. Somoas)--my favorites.  However, I told my husband to keep the cookies he ordered at his work.  What was I thinking??  Oh well, it gave me a chance to break out this recipe and make some changes.

The original recipe had a shortbread crust that was way too thick in my opinion.  I love the taste and texture of my Nutella Pinwheel shortbread, so I used half that recipe for the base.  Since there was less dough to press, I used  a sheet of plastic wrap to help spread it into an even layer in the prepared baking pan.  The original recipe called for dipping the bottom of the cut bars into melted chocolate, but I decided to spread the chocolate onto the crust and then to invert the whole thing to spread the caramel/coconut topping on.  Nothing too difficult, but the warm topping will cause the chocolate layer to begin to melt so I popped it in the refrigerator to cool and set up.  The other changes I made were to use half and half instead of milk in the topping and, as I wanted a touch more of the coconut flavor to come out, I added a little bit of coconut extract.  In my opinion, these changes made for the perfect bar with the right crust to topping to chocolate ratio.

One might think that there is a lot of labor in making these and I won't lie, there are a few steps involved, but that is true when making any cookie bar.  I must say, all that labor makes a whole lot of good.  With this recipe, you can satisfy that Caramel de Lite craving any time of year.    

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