Sweet Cooking

Archive for May, 2010|Monthly archive page

Bon Voyage!

In Travel on May 28, 2010 at 3:50 pm

I am leaving tomorrow for a ridiculous two week vacation. My husband’s company requires him to take one consecutive two week vacation annually. It’s a protective measure by the bank to ensure that their employees are not up to any shady behavior. We are both super excited because neither of us have had a full two weeks of vacation. Ever. Summer break in college doesn’t count because that wasn’t really work.

On Saturday we fly to Nice, France. We are renting a car there and driving to a little village named “Langhe.” Langhe is near Alba in Italy. This region is known for two things: red wine and truffles. Seriously? That might be my version of heaven.

This is a rare white truffle that only grows in the hills of Langhe. I'm totally going to find one.

After our stay there, we drive to St. Tropez, France for a few relaxing beach days in the French Riviera. I’ve read that the Cote d’Azur receives 300+ days of sunshine per year. I can’t wait to hang out at the beach and people watch. My eyes will be peeled for celebrity sightings!

I think I see Catherine Zeta-Jones!

From St. Tropez we travel to Provence. We will be staying two nights each in Avignon and Aix. We will be sightseeing, touring wineries and even cooking. That’s right; we are both doing a market tour and cooking class in Aix. So exciting!!!

Our cooking class starts with a trip to the market to select our produce, meats and freshly baked bread. I get chill bumps just thinking about it.

For our last night, we are meeting friends from London in Monaco. Monaco is known for formal, old-school casinos and beautiful yachts. Hopefully we will not get thrown out.

I have been fretting for weeks over what to wear in Monaco. A jacket and tie are required for men in the casino, so it's fancy!

I have been cooking and baking my derriere off for the last 2 weeks to have enough blog posts during my time off. There are lots of good things coming up, so please keep reading!

I will definitely post highlights from our trip when we get home. Have a fantastic Memorial Day weekend. Please send me photos of your Memorial Day BBQ, and I’ll post those one day. And by all means, share any of your great rib recipes!

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Dining Al Fresco

In Just Good Food on May 27, 2010 at 3:43 pm

We had a wonderful meal last night on our little patio. Outdoor space in NYC is hard to come by, so we’re lucky to have a balcony with room for a small table and two chairs. We eat outside a lot in the spring and summer.

Chance loves it. He drags his little bed out to the balcony and sits with us. It's hysterical.

I made Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad from Cooking Light. Click here for the recipe. I am slightly obsessed with the dressing for this salad. It’s this yummy combination of sour cream, cilantro, lime juice, chipotle chiles and some spices. I altered the recipe a little. I used only 1/3 cup sour cream, and I added 1/3 cup Greek yogurt. I also used more chiles because we like things spicy. This recipe makes a lot of dressing. I recommend using any leftovers as a sandwich spread or dip for fresh veggies.

This is the salad. It's awesome!

For the salad, I improvised slightly. I used black eyed peas instead of black beans. I’m not that superstitious, but my husband is, and he has taken quite fondly to the Southern idea that black eyed peas promote good luck. I feel like we’re pretty lucky, so maybe it works! I used a combination of fresh baby spinach and chopped romaine lettuce. It probably would have been better with all romaine, but I was running short, and happened to have some spinach.

I also made homemade baked tortilla chips. The name “taco salad” is kind of a misnomer unless you’ve got a corn chip involved. I have to say, making these chips was very satisfying. It was a lot more fun that buying chips, and I think it’s a lot better for you too.

Take some corn tortillas and lightly coat each side with spray oil, sprinkle on salt, paprika and cayenne pepper.

Cut them into wedges and put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake at 325 for about 10 minutes or until crispy. I broiled mine for about a minute at the end.

I just did a small batch last night, but I will definitely make these chips again. I served them in individual bowls with the salad. I crushed some on top of my salad (a nacho salad, if you will), and I scooped up some of that delicious dressing with the rest. Enjoy!

Tomato Florentine Soup

In Just Good Food, Lunch on May 26, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I love having soup for lunch. It’s so easy to make a big pot of soup on Sunday and eat off of it all week. It doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter – I’m always a soup girl. My office is so cold that I’ve worn mittens while working. In the summer the AC is cranking, and it feels like a giant freezer. So even if it’s 90° out, warm soup is a welcome meal.

I’ve been feeling a little European lately. I think it’s because I’ve been taking French lessons. Bonjour mes amis! I’ve been eating a lot of Italian meats and cheeses and drinking wine from Provence. I even bought some sandals from Italy! They were purchased at J. Crew on 5th Avenue, but they clearly say “made in Italy” so it counts.  The European side of me decided to make a classic from Florence: Tomato Florentine Soup.

Tres bien!

It’s a simple, light soup that contains tomatoes, spinach, and pasta. Here is my recipe:

LaVon’s Tomato Florentine Soup

One can of diced tomatoes (14 oz)

One can of tomato sauce (it’s the can size smaller than 14 oz.)

A handful or two of fresh baby spinach

Shell pasta (2/3 a cup or so)

1 cup of finely diced onion

1/2 a cup of diced celery

2 garlic cloves diced

Salt & pepper to taste

Saute the onion and celery in olive oil for a while over medium heat (about 7 minutes or until transparent). Then add the garlic and let that cook for about another minute. Then add the diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Let all of that simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the pasta and let that cook for 8-10 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until it wilts. Season with salt and pepper.

Ooooohhh la la

Definitely top the soup with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

I bought this Parmesan at Whole Foods because it was "imported." It didn't say from where, but I'm sure it's some fabulous dairy farm in Europe.

You can also pair this soup with a grilled cheese for a fantastic dinner. Bon Appetit!

Create Your Own Oatmeal Cookie

In Cookies on May 25, 2010 at 4:47 pm

I have made many variations of this cookie. Oatmeal, white chocolate and cranberry. Oatmeal, butterscotch and strawberry. Oatmeal, dark chocolate and cherry. The results are always really tasty. The original recipe is for oatmeal, white chocolate and strawberry, but I encourage you to be creative and use the items you have in the pantry.

Here are my ingredients - yep, those are dried blueberries!

Mix up the dough.

Make the dough into cookies and pop them in the oven.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes and enjoy!

I really like the blueberry and white chocolate combination. It’s almost like a breakfast cookie, and I’ve definitely been wanting to add a cookie to my breakfast rotation. This is just perfect!

Sunday Brunch

In breakfast, Just Good Food on May 24, 2010 at 4:33 pm

We had a friend out at the beach shack this weekend, so I made a low-key brunch for us all. And what would brunch be without eggs? Well, I guess that would be pancakes. OMG pancakes are so good! I should have made pancakes. I’m suffering from cook’s remorse. But yesterday I wanted to do a more traditional brunch with eggs and bacon. I made the best little frittatas using a muffin tin. Use Giada’s recipe as a guide, but feel free to mix in your favorite ingredients like I did.

I varied the recipe as follows:

  • I used skim milk instead of whole milk.
  • I used 1/2 cup of crumbled goat cheese instead of Parmesan.
  • I left out the ham. I’m just not a huge fan.
  • I added about 1/3 of a cup of chopped roasted red peppers.
  • I used a full size muffin tin (instead of a mini muffin tin as the recipe recommends) so I baked my frittatas for about 20 minutes.

Whisk up the ingredients that you like and pour the mixture into greased muffin tins.

The muffins will start to puff up in the oven.

I served bacon, fresh fruit and banana bread with the frittatas. Delicious!

Other combinations that sound good….mushrooms and cheddar, seasonal vegetables and parmesan, smoked gouda and shrimp, spinach and tomato, I could go on and on!

Ginger Cookies with Lemon Cream

In Cookies on May 21, 2010 at 4:34 pm

I experimented with a new cookie today.

Here are the ingredients.

Here are the results - Ginger Cookies Filled with Lemon Cream

I am in love with “sandwich” cookies these days. I think it’s because I get to make cookies AND icing. I’m not sure which one I love more. Probably icing.

One of the key ingredients in this cookie is molasses. The molasses is what gives the cookie its dark brown color. I have never owned molasses until today. It’s as brown as chocolate syrup and as sticky as crazy glue. I got some on my counter, and it was a mess to remove. The recipe specifies “unsulfured molasses” – what the heck is that? According to Wikipedia, “sulphured molasses is made from young sugar cane. Sulphur dioxide, which acts as a preservative, is added during the sugar extraction process. Unsulphured molasses is made from mature sugar cane, which does not require treatment with sulphur.” When I set out to make this cookie, I was worried about finding the right molasses, but it was not a problem. They sell it everywhere.

I followed this recipe from Food & Wine. It was pretty easy. I have never intentionally made flat, crisp cookies. These are supposed to be flat and crisp, and that’s exactly the way they turned out.

The cookies are kind of like a ginger snap.

My husband loves the cookies. He doesn’t like icing though, which is insane perfect. I graciously scrape off the icing for him, and he eats the cookie (me the icing).

A great compromise.

Two Easy Week Night Dinners

In Just Good Food, Miscellaneous on May 20, 2010 at 2:54 pm

It’s a double blog! Both of these dinner dishes are very tasty and come together quickly.

Steak Tacos with Two-Tomato Salsa

This is a recent recipe from Cooking Light. I made it in a huge rush because I wanted to watch American Idol. I think Lee is my favorite. Crystal is good too, but I think I’m liking Lee better these days.

1. Make the salsa (you can make this ahead of time – there is some chopping involved). I used a green tomato because I couldn’t find a yellow one.

This salsa contains chopped green and red tomatoes, some red onion and avocado, fresh lime juice, olive oil and fresh tarragon.

2. Grill the steak (6-9 minutes on each side depending on how you like your steak cooked). I use a grill pan, but I’m sure a real grill would be fine.

3. While the steak rests, set the table and get your side dish ready. I made corn (admittedly frozen).

4. Eat!

Mango Shrimp Kebabs

This is also a recent recipe from Cooking Light. I made this in a hurry because I needed to catch up on The Real Housewives of New York City. Those chicks are N-U-T-S. Absolutely bonkers. It’s some of the most facsinating yet disturbing television I’ve ever seen. It is horrifying and embaressing to watch, yet I can’t stop.

1. Peel and devein shrimp and thread onto skewer (you can buy shrimp that’s already peeled or do it in advance).

I am buying all the gulf shrimp I can find. Not sure when we'll have it again. Thanks BP.

2. Roughly chop pepper, onion and mango and thread onto skewer. I am not meticulous in the chopping, just try to get them all about the same size.

You could do any vegetable or fruit you like. Be creative!

3. Heat grill and put the vegetable/fruit skewers on first. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the shrimp. They cook really quickly (2 minutes on each side, max).

4. While everything is on the grill, make a side dish. I made cous cous because it’s ready in 5 minutes. We eat a lot of cous cous precisely because it’s ready in five minutes. It does not, however, photograph well. So you don’t get to see the cous cous. Sorry.

5. Eat!

It’s a wrap!

In Lunch on May 19, 2010 at 6:42 pm

I love wraps. It’s kind of like a salad and a burrito got married. I made this one today: Caprese Wrap with Chicken.

Caprese Salad literally translates to "salad from Capri" - the colors are conveniently identical to those on the Italian flag.

This wrap is filled with an adaptation of caprese salad. I love caprese salad. I make it all the time in the summer. In a truly authentic caprese, the only ingredients are sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, thick slices of mozarella cheese and olive oil. There is no vinegar at all, we Americans just put that on because we like it.  And just in case you’re wondering….a caprese salad is ALWAYS tomato, mozzarella and basil. If you decide to use roasted red peppers instead of tomato (which is equally delicious) the salad is called an insalata tricolore.

Since I was eating this for lunch and wanted the protein, I added chicken as the recipe suggests (I’m  sure there are some ancient Italian women rolling over in their graves right now). I also used just a bit of high quality balsamic vinegar instead of white wine vinegar.

There is one fun trick in this recipe. You heat the wrap in a skillet and then rub one side of the wrap with garlic. You just half a peeled garlic clove and go to town on one side of the wrap. It adds great flavor (if you’re a garlic fan, of course).

Not only does this make a nice lunch, it would also be a great hors d’oeuvre at a casual summer party. You could slice each wrap into three pieces and serve on a platter. Easy and pretty.

buon appetito!

Simple (Yet Perfect) Banana Bread

In Bread, breakfast, Fruit on May 18, 2010 at 4:51 pm

I go back to this banana bread recipe time and time again for several reasons:

1. It only requires 2 mashed bananas.

I rarely have 3 over-ripe bananas, so I always look for recipes that use 2.

2. All of the other ingredients are staples. I always have them on hand.

3. I have made this recipe probably at least  a dozen times and it turns out beautifully every time. There is something to be said for consistency.

4. It freezes well. So you can make it ahead if you are planning on having guests.

5. It travels like a pro which is nice if you want to take it to someone you are visiting.

Follow this Cooking Light recipe, and you’ll have perfect banana bread too.

Mix up the wet ingredients.

Whisk the dry ingredients together.

Combine the wet and dry ingredients and pour the batter into a lightly greased loaf pan.

Bake in oven while dog dutifully keeps watch.

Remove from oven, slice and serve warm. Delicious!

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

In Fruit on May 17, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Have I mentioned that strawberries are in season?

Homemade ice cream is one of the little pleasures of life. I can remember making it as a kid at Lake Martin. Back then we had to use those big, noisy machines that required a lot of ice and salt. I can’t believe anyone went to all that trouble! Making ice cream is so much easier now. One of my mother’s friends gave me a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker that I just adore. I have used it many times out at the beach. My favorite is peach ice cream, but this strawberry ice cream is a close second.

I chose an "egg-less" recipe because it's so much easier and the results are still really good.

The recipe that I used makes a lot of ice cream, and I didn’t have enough strawberries, so I halved the recipe. I also used skim milk. I didn’t have any whole milk, and I made the executive decision that it would not matter (I did, after all, use heavy cream!). The recipe also says to add red food coloring. I have no idea why anyone would add artificial coloring to this perfectly pink ice cream. Some people are just crazy.

Mix all the ingredients together and pour them into the frozen bowl that comes with the ice cream maker.

Turn it on!

30 minutes later you'll have something that looks like soft ice cream.

Once you take it out of the ice cream maker, put it in an airtight container and freeze.

Seriously good strawberry ice cream.