Friday, August 31, 2007

Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies

Every Christmas there are a few types of goodies that my mom makes. One of them is what she calls "snowballs", but most of you will know them as Mexican wedding cake cookies, or Russian tea cakes. Whatever you want to call them, I've never really liked them. Other people seem to though, including a friend whose bridal shower I was going to, so I said I would bring them. I was feeling really conflicted about bringing these cookies since I knew that I didn't like them and so I guess I worried that no one else would? Though I know everyone has different taste. Anyway, I used the same recipe that my mom always uses (where she crossed out the name "Russian tea cakes" and wrote snowballs, which I thought was funny). Also, to me snowballs are these chocolate coconut balls that my grandma makes, so it's just not right in my head for my mom to call these snowballs. Though I guess it's weird to call the brown chocolate coconut balls snowballs too.

The recipe for these "snowballs" is from an old worn copy of Betty Crocker's cookbook. This is one of two cookbooks that my mom and I made cookies out of when I was growing up. The tabs for the cookie sections have long been broken off in both cookbooks but I always knew what area of the book they were in. Now the incredibly good news is that I was really happy with how they turned out (despite some fears after rolling them in icing sugar and seeing how they became gummy/gluey on the outside while warm - though I later found out that it hardens up and is just fine and delicious). I'm not sure what it was that made them taste better this time to me. Most likely it was the vanilla I used, which my mom brought back for me (two 1 liter bottles!) from Mexico. Or perhaps she uses margarine instead of butter when she makes them, I'll have to ask her. Or maybe it was the expertly finely chopped walnuts that my boyfriend patiently and diligently prepared. As is my usual tendency, I made the snowballs way too big. I think that's a result of my impatience to get through the batter, and my love for big cookies.

When making the dough I was scared that it was too crumbly, but it turned out to be just fine. At the bottom of the recipe it suggests a variation called "ambrosia balls" that sound good, so I'll add that to the recipe below.

Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican wedding cakes, aka "snowballs")
(Adapted from Betty Crocker's cookbook)

1 cup salted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 400F. Beat butter, sugar and vanilla together until fluffy. Mix in flour, salt and nuts until dough holds together. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Place on ungreased baking sheet.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown. While warm, roll in confectioners' sugar. Cool. Roll in sugar again.

Variation (Ambrosia Balls): Omit nuts; add 1 cup finely cut coconut and 1 tablespoon grated orange peel with the flour.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Healthy Banana Bran Muffins

A while back I made a post about my search for delicious healthy muffins. Cookie baker Lynn commented and directed me towards her healthy banana bran muffins. I of course had to try them and wow was I happy with the results. They are so incredibly tasty! My only issue is that All-Bran cereal has sugar in it, though surprisingly it doesn't have weird chemicals that seem to be added to a lot of packaged foods. I just did the math, and even with the sugar from the All-Bran cereal there's about 7 grams of added sugar in every muffin. However when you include the banana and the raisins, it's 12 grams of sugar in every muffin. The raisins really up the sugar but they're good for you so I won't really count that extra sugar. Ah this seems to be a glimpse into my obsessive nature with all the sugar talk, and this was scaled back! Next time I would try replacing the oil with applesauce, adding less sugar, adding more flax, and using pumpkin pie spice instead of cinnamon.

When I was making this recipe, I made quite a few changes (at least it was quite a few changes for me). I'm becoming more and more comfortable with making changes, moreso in cooking than in baking - a huge accomplishment for me! Before, if I didn't have the exact ingredients required for a recipe, I just couldn't make it. I needed to have apple cider vinegar - there was no way I could replace it with red wine vinegar. I wasn't even scared of what the muffins would turn out like - probably because I've made so many muffins recently that I know what things I can safely change (which is another accomplishment!) So yes, good for me and my adventurous baking. I'm growing as a baker/cook!

Banana Bran Muffins
(adapted from Cookie baker Lynn's recipe)

2 cups Kellogg's All-Bran cereal
1 1/4 cups milk (I used 1%)
1/3 cup raisins
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp ground flax seed
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 banana, mashed
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray muffin tin with cooking spray, or line with cupcake papers.

2- In a large mixing bowl, combine bran cereal, milk and raisins. Let stand for about 2 minutes to soften the cereal.

3- Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and ground flax seed in a small bowl. Set aside.

4- Into the softened bran mix stir the egg and oil. Beat well. Stir in the banana and walnuts. Add the flour mixture, stirring only until combined. Divide the batter evenly into 12 muffin cups.

5 - Bake about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Monday, August 27, 2007

French Barley Salad

I was flipping through Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special and came across this recipe for French barley salad. It had lemon and dill (I really should use dill more often) in the dressing so I thought alright that sounds like it could be good. And oh man was it good. This has fast become one of my favourite recipes that I've come across in any cookbook. Actually this cookbook could possibly be one of my new favourites, but I haven't made enough from it yet to be sure. The tofu and beet salad was a good start as my first recipe tried from Daily Special though so I think this cookbook has great potential!

I love this salad because it has so much good stuff in it and is so very tasty. The next time I make it, I'd like to try and cut back a bit on the oil though. I love that it uses barley, which I haven't had in so long but now that I'm reminded of its delicious existence, will be eating more often. There's a good vairety of veggies in here too with green beans, red peppers, carrots and mushrooms. The mushrooms are marinated in the dressing and turn out so yummy. And there are walnuts (rich in omega-3s! And they have other wonderful health benefits that I can't remember right now because I'm tired and would have to go find the magazine I read it in - alright fine I'm going to find the magazine now. Omega-3s help protect against depression, heart disease and Alzheimer's. They also have something in them that helps "inhibit the absorption of cholesterol".) The only downside to this salad is that it's best eaten the day it's made, unless you keep the green beans and walnuts separate. But then the marinated mushrooms start to become incredibly mushy as the days go on.

In conclusion, this is a wonderful salad that I highly suggest you all try. I know I'll be making it many times in the future. It's substantial enough to eat for a meal by itself, but it also makes a great side dish salad.

French Barley Salad
(Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special)

1/2 cup raw barley*
2 cups water

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1.5 lemons)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard**
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill (1 1/2 tsp dried or 2 tsp freeze dried)
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup halved or quartered mushrooms***
1 cup peeled and diced carrots
1 cup cut green beans, trimmed and halved
1 cup thinly sliced red or yellow bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

Using a strainer, rinse the barley and drain. In a small heavy skillet on low heat, roast the barley until fragrant and beginning to brown. Place the barley and water in a small saucepan, cover, and bring to a simmer. Cook on low heat until most of the water has been absorbed and the barley is soft, about 40 minutes.

While the barley cooks, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. In a separated bowl, pour half of the dressing over th emushrooms and set aside. Blanch the carrots in boiling water for baout 1 minute. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large serving bowl. Blanch the green beans for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. Stir the bell peppers and parsley and marinated mushrooms into the bowl of carrots.

When the barley is tender, drain it in a colander. Add the drained barley and the remaining dressing to the serving bowl and mix well. Allow the sald to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving. Just before serving, gently toss the green beans and walnuts into the salad.

*The recipe calls for pearl barley but I used pot and it was fine. I would also try using a different grain/seed, such as amaranth, quinoa, millet, etc.
**I plan to add more mustard next time since I love Dijon mustard, and the taste isn't even noticeable in the dressing in this amount.
***The mushrooms I used were big, about 1 oz each, so I cut them into 8.

Notes: To make the recipe healthier, try using less oil. Also, toast the walnuts in a dry skillet or oven instead of in a skillet with butter. This recipe doubles very well.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Fried Rice

Fried rice is one of my favourite things to eat. My friend taught me how to make it back in high school and I've made it many times since then. Recently I've started to eat more healthy, as some of you know, so I wanted to try using brown rice instead of white rice. I found a recipe for pineapple fried rice in Real Vegetarian Thai (my first recipe out of that book). I was really excited! But in the end, it really did not turn out so well. It was fine and it was edible, but I know that as much as I want to use brown rice for fried rice, I really should be using the evil white rice. Or maybe brown basmati rice? Using brown rice to make fried rice results in more of a gooey rice dish, almost like risotto actually (though not that creamy). Also, I tried not to use as much oil as I used to and that doesn't really work for fried rice either. Anyway, rather than post the pineapple fried rice recipe, I will give you my recipe for fried rice, and let this be a cautionary tale! Simple and delicious and I'm sure many of you don't need a recipe for this. But if you're like I was and need a recipe, here's an easy starting point for. For me, the key is adding lots of onions because I love the way it flavours the fried rice. I don't add any soy sauce or sesame oil or anything, though of course you can do that.

Fried Rice
Serves 1 (easily doubled, quadrupled, etc)

2 cups cold cooked white rice
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup of chopped veggies (including lots of onions)
salt & pepper
4 tablespoons oil

Heat the oil in a skillet at medium high heat. Once hot, add the veggies and sautee until onions are soft (or slightly caramelized, whatever you like). Add the cold rice and stir everything up. Once the rice is heated through and has browned a little bit (I like the browned bits, if you don't then just don't cook it as long). Once the rice and veggies are cooked to the point you want them to be at, pour the beaten egg (or add two eggs if you want lots of eggs) over the rice/veggie mixture. Stir everything up together quickly so the egg is well dispersed. Once the egg is cooked (a minute or two), you're done! I like adding cashews too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Chocolate Orbit Cake

When I went to San Francisco last September I picked up some Scharffen Berger chocolate. I'm sure to many of you is nothing special but I'd never actually seen it anywhere before (since I've been back I've seen it for sale at one store though). I was saving this chocolate for something special - I felt like it couldn't be used for just anything. I kept resisting the urge to just open it and cut off a chunk to eat. When I did open the package, there was a little piece of paper with a few recipes on it. And guess who had a recipe on there? The wonderful David Lebovitz. As soon as I saw that, I knew I had to make his recipe for chocolate orbit cake - which he wanted to call chocolate idiot cake, for how easy it is to make. Apparently it's called chocolate orbit cake because of the crater looking holes in the top of the cake after baking.

Though the cake is supposed to be idiot proof, I did end up messing one thing up. You're supposed to put the cake pan in a bigger roasting dish, and fill it half way up with hot water. Well let's just say I didn't move everything very carefully when trying to put it into the oven. Thankfully the water that got into the cake pan (which was quite a bit actually) pooled on top and so I was able to mostly blot it off with paper towel.

With what goes into this cake (chocolate, butter, eggs and sugar) I wasn't sure what to expect, but the result was amazing. When warm, it's like a gooey brownie or lava cake. When cold, it's like a smooth rich ganache. Ah just thinking about it again makes me drool. I preferred it cold, but it's definitely good warm too. The presentation isn't anything amazing because I just ate it by itself, though you could make a sauce (raspberry? caramel?) or something to go with it. This cake is definitely something everyone must try and one I will make again.

Chocolate Orbit Cake
(Adapted from a David Lebovitz recipe that came with the Scharffen Berger chocolate)

9.7 ounces Scharffen Berger semisweet chocolate, chopped*
7 ounces (two sticks minus one tablespoon) salted butter, cubed
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat to 350F. Butter a 9x2-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment.

2. Place chocolate and butter in a large bowl and set over a pot of gently simmering water; stir occasionally until melted and smooth. Set aside.

3. Meanwhile, in another bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Add the chocolate mixture and whisk together until thoroughly combined.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place in a larger baking pan and pour in warm water to reach halfway up the sides of the cake pan. (Careful when putting this into the oven so you don't spill like I did!) Cover entirely with foil and bake just until the cake has set (your finger will come away clean if you touch the center), about an hour and 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the water bath and allow to cool on a rack completely.

*The recipe I used calls for 9.7 ounces because that's the size of the bar of chocolate. I'm sure 10 oz would be fine to use, as much fun as cutting a .7 oz piece would be.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cheater's Ravioli

I love stuffed pasta, and I know how much better homemade stuffed pasta is than store bought (unless you're talking about the pasta from Duso's at Granville Island Public Market, but again that's freshly made.) I had to try Giada de Laurentiis's recipe that uses egg roll wrappers. A great time saving part of this recipe, but I realized after trying them that for me it's not worth it. It's really weird to be eating ravioli when the dough is an egg roll wrapper - it tastes like an Italian style dumpling or something like that. And I definitely don't like dumplings/pot stickers when they're boiled or steamed, pan fried all the way! I could've tried pan fried ravioli then but I didn't think of it then. Next time! In a way, I think using egg roll wrappers is good if you've never made stuffed pasta before. There's already so much to do making a billion ravioli, and this way you can build up your stuffed pasta making confidence before moving on to making your own dough.

The filling that Giada uses is spinach and mushroom. I'm not sure why I thought I would like this since I really don't like cooked/wilted spinach - love raw spinach though. I was probably thinking it would be good for me. Anyway, I wasn't a big fan of the taste of the spinach mushroom ravioli though others liked it. Luckily, all was not lost because I had mistakenly thought I needed 6 cups of mushrooms when I only needed 6 ounces. This left me with tons of mushrooms, so I ended up coming up with my own filling (gasp, I'm coming up with my own recipes now!) The filling I created was sauteed mushrooms, pine nuts, ricotta, Parmesan, and basil, and I thought it was quite tasty. I also used a lot less oil when sauteeing the mushrooms for this one.

I spent hours making ravioli. I've only made pot stickers before (in regards to stuffed things), and I felt the same way both times when making them. It just feels like your pile of filling is never going to end and is not getting any smaller. It's quite the triumphant feeling to see an empty bowl and be able to sit down finally. Though I could've done this all sitting down, I had set it up on the kitchen counter and didn't want to bother moving everything. Anyway, I was left with tons of little raviolis to put in the freezer for a quick meal another day.

For the sauce, I used the recommended mushroom marinara sauce (which was actually quite tasty and used up my leftover marinara sauce) on half and then just butter and Parmesan on the other half. When I'm eating really tasty stuffed pasta, I prefer just using butter and Parmesan instead of a heavier sauce that might take away from the flavour of the pasta. The mushroom marinara sauce went really well with the ravioli though, I must say. The mushroom marinara sauce is really easy to make - saute mushrooms until liquid evaporates, add marinara sauce (store bought or your favourite homemade one, or you could try this one) and let it simmer for a few minutes.

I'm submitting this to Ruth for Presto Pasta Night. I know it's early in the week, but last week I almost missed it and I want to make sure I have a post for it, especially since this is the 6 month-aversary of Presto Pasta Night!

Spinach & Mushroom Ravioli, Mushroom Pine Nut Ravioli
(adapted from Everyday Italian)

Spinach & Mushroom Ravioli
1/4 cup olive oil
6 ounces button mushrooms, sliced (about 6 big mushrooms)
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste
10-oz (300g) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
6 egg roll wrappers
1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water

In a large saute pan, heat 1/4 cup of oil over medium-high flame. Add the sliced button mushrooms and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Saute until the liquid has evaporated from the mushrooms, about 6 minutes. Add the spinach and saute for 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until a coarse texture forms. Transfer the spinach mixture to a large bowl and stir in 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese and the ricotta. Season the filling with more salt and pepper to taste.

Mushroom Pine Nut Ravioli
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
15 large button mushrooms (about 15 ounces)
salt & pepper
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 tbsp freeze dried basil
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup ricotta cheese

In a large saute pan, heat 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil over medium-high flame. Add the sliced button mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute until the liquid has evaporated from the mushrooms, about 6 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to the bowl of a food processor. Add pine nuts and basil. Pulse until a coarse texture forms. Transfer the mushroom mixture to a large bowl and stir in 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese and the ricotta. Season the filling with more salt & pepper to taste.

Instructions for both:
Lightly flour a baking sheet. Arrange 3 egg roll wrappers on a cutting board. Brush with the egg and water mixture. Using a tablespoon, spoon 4 mounds of the ravioli mixture 1 inch apart on each wrapper, forming 2 mounds on the first row and 2 mounds on the second. Top each with another wrapper and press around the filling to seal the edges. Using a fluted ravioli cutter (or in my case, a pizza cutter), cut out the ravioli squares, forming 16-20 total. Place the ravioli on the prepared baking sheet and cover with a clean towel.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the ravioli until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain the ravioli (or scoop out using a slotted spoon). Spoon whatever sauce you're using over the ravioli and serve immediately.

Note: If freezing the ravioli, freeze them as they're laid out on the baking sheet (so they don't stick together). Once frozen you can put them into another container.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Broccoli Pine Nut Pasta Salad

I'm going to keep this pretty short because I'm tired and don't want to agonize about my post, but I do want to submit a pasta dish to Ruth for Presto Pasta Night.

I came across this recipe for broccoli pine nut pasta salad in Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special. The combination of broccoli and pine nuts appealed to me, plus I'm always enticed by pasta salads. I love broccoli, including the stems. Why do so many people just throw them away after cutting off the florets? Poor broccoli stems. I'd make this recipe again, but it needs a bit of tweaking for more flavour. I would add more herbs (maybe instead of just parsley, add a few different kinds), more lemon zest, and more garlic. I really liked how this recipe heats up the olive oil with the garlic before adding it to the pasta. If you're looking for a simple pasta salad, this would be perfect.

Broccoli Pine Nut Pasta Salad
(adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special)

1/2 lb wholewheat bowtie pasta (about 3 cups)
5 cups broccoli florets and peeled chopped stems (1 large head)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed (about 1 tablespoon)
1 1/2 cups chopped red peppers
1 1/2 cups chopped grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
chopped fresh parsley (and/or whatever other herbs you want)

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cover and cook the pasta until al dente.

2. Meanwhile, steam the broccoli for 5 to 7 minutes, until crisp but still tender and bright green. While the broccoli steams, warm the oil in a saucepan, gently heat the garlic in the oil for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently, and remove from the heat. Drain the broccoli and set aside.

3. When the pasta is ready, drain it and transfer to a serving bowl. Toss lightly with the garlic and oil. Add the broccoli, bell peppers, and tomatoes to the pasta and toss well. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Top with the pine nuts and parsley and serve immediately.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dulce de Leche Brownies

First off, a note about what I said in my last post where I said that potatoes are a source of vitamin C. I just updated that post with more specific information about how to best get vitamin C from potatoes (not from boiling them), just to clarify things. Anyway, onto something completely different!

Ever since I saw David Lebovitz's dulce de leche brownies, I've wanted to make them. I bookmarked the page at least 1.5 years ago, but never got around to making them. They seemed so decadent so I guess I was waiting for a special occasion to make them. That and the fact that I was scared of making dulce de leche, as I've heard that boiling the can of condensed milk in a big pot can result in disaster. David describes a foolproof method for making your own dulce de leche though, without any possibility of an unfortunate incident (aside from water sloshing into the pie plate you've poured the condensed milk into before putting it in the oven, which happened when I was making a chocolate cake but that's another post for another day and also happens to be a David Lebovitz recipe).

I was scared that something might have gone wrong since the condensed milk/dulce de leche looked kind of weird, but once I whisked it it was fine and tasted delicious.

The special occasion was a wedding shower for a friend that loves chocolate. I finally had the perfect excuse to make the dulce de leche brownies that I had been dreaming about for so long! Unfortunately I did not have the foresight to make the brownies earlier or even the day before, but then I wanted them to be as fresh as possible. I know that you're supposed to let brownies cool before cutting them, but that is especially true for these ones. The dulce de leche is so incredibly gooey when it's warm, as I found out when it gooshed all over the place as I cut the brownie into pieces. Why did I cut the brownie prematurely knowing full well that it was a bad idea? Because I had to leave for the shower, and didn't start making them early enough to allow time for making the dulce de leche, letting it cool a bit, and then making the brownies and letting them cool a bit. Nevertheless, the brownies were tasty and people seemed to enjoy them. I'd like to see what they're like if I let them completely cool before cutting them though. I liked the different taste that the dulce de leche added to the brownie and would make these again, though only if I was giving most of them away as they are quite sweet. I'd probably cut down a bit on the sugar in the brownie batter even.

I've only actually made brownies from scratch probably less than 10 times (including these cream cheese brownies, and I now want to try out these and these in hopes of finding the perfect cream cheese brownies.) Many years ago I used to be a big fan of the brownie box mixes - those were really good. I also had a yummy recipe from a cooking class in high school. I have yet to learn the art of perfect brownie making, or perhaps I have yet to find the perfect brownie recipe. I don't like them when they're gooey and fudgey, but rather prefer them when they're dense and more cake like with only a bit of fudgeyness (good made up word). One big problem I have is how does one cook brownies evenly? The sides always seem to cook faster than the middle, which either will result in a fudgey middle and drier edges, or very dry edges and a cake-y middle. I wonder if you can cook brownies in a water bath, and if that would even help anything. I just find the uneven baking a bit frustrating.

I'm submitting these brownies to Once Upon A Tart's browniebabe of the month food blog event. My first time participating in it! She'll be posting up tons of tempting brownie photos by August 19, so check back to her blog then to see all of them.

Dulce de Leche Brownies
(Adapted from David Lebovitz's recipe)

12-16 brownies (depending how big you cut them of course)

8 tablespoons (115 g) salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 ounces (170 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup (25 g) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3 large eggs
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (140 g) flour
1 cup Dulce de Leche (or Cajeta)*

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (175 C).

Line a 8-inch (20 cm) square pan with parchment paper that covers the bottom and reaches up the sides. If it doesn't reach all the way up and over all four sides, cross another sheet of foil over it, making a large cross with edges that overhang the sides.

Melt the butter in a double boiler. Add the chocolate pieces and stir constantly over simmering water until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth. Add in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the sugar, vanilla, then the flour.

Scrape half of the batter into the prepared pan. Here comes the fun part.
Drop one-third of the Dulce de Leche, evenly spaced, over the brownie batter, then drag a knife through to swirl it slightly. Spread the remaining brownie batter over, then drop spoonfuls of the remaining Dulce de Leche in dollops over the top of the brownie batter. Use a knife to swirl the Dulce de Leche slightly.***

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. The brownies are done when the center feels just-slightly firm. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

*If you're making the Dulce de Leche, know that you will need at least 1.5 hours beforehand to let the condensed milk caramelize and then cool a bit.
***Make sure you don't put too much Dulce de Leche on top otherwise you'll have nothing to swirl!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Pasta with Pesto, New Potatoes and Green Beans

I was with my mom at Costco a few weeks ago and convinced her to pick up Everyday Food: Great Food Fast, which is a collection of recipes from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazines. Well she didn't actually need a lot of convincing once she saw all the beautiful photos (one photo for each recipe) and yummy recipes that aren't incredibly time conusming. I'm biased against cookbooks with tons of photos because it seems like the cookbooks with only a few photos are the ones that have the best recipes. (While the ones full of photos sucker you in so easily without necessarily having quality recipes.) That is likely a very incorrect statement but for some reason that's what's stuck in my head. Anyway, I subscribe to the Everyday Food magazine so I'm sure I have lots of the recipes but it's also nice to have all the 'best' ones in one book with an index. The Everyday Food magazine is not super vegetarian friendly, but there are lots of baked goods, some vegetarian meals, ways to cook vegetables, salads, side dishes, and some meat dishes where you could replace the meat with tofu. Mostly I love the magazine because of the photos though.

My boyfriend and I decided to make pasta with pesto, new potatoes and green beans. I love pesto, pasta and new potatoes, and have recently come to like green beans, which I previously hated. Ever since I tried this insanely delicious green bean dish at a Chinese restaurant, I've been wanting to eat green beans more often. I'd recommend making sure you have lots of pesto, because I didn't find there was enough when we had it. Mind you I didn't actually measure the pesto when I added it, and just used up the amount that I had made (which I also don't think I added enough basil to). I think adding pine nuts or maybe walnuts would be a good addition to the pasta, and would add protein. It was so incredibly easy to make, and if you already have the pesto made (or are using store bought pesto) then it's a one pot meal. Boil water, add potatoes, add pasta, add green beans, drain and add pesto. And it's a healthy dish too - did you know potatoes are a source of vitamin C?

Edit: As my friend pointed out, potatoes do lose some of their nutrients when boiled, so if you bake or boil them in their skins they will retain more vitamin C. In this recipe, I cut up the potatoes and boiled them in water. This method of cooking them is definitely not the way to get all the vitamin C that you can out of them. You could always bake the potatoes separately, cut them up and then add them to your pasta. A serving of baked or boiled potato with the skin has more vitamin C than an apple (20mg vs 9mg). I found another website that claimed potatoes have 25mg vitamin C, and that one baked potato can give you 45% of your recommended daily vitamin C. To find out more about the amounts of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fiber in fruits and vegetables, check out this website.

Pasta with Pesto, New Potatoes and Green Beans
(adapted from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast)

Serves 3

10 new potatoes*
coarse salt & fresh ground pepper
8 ounces whole wheat rotini (or cavatappi or fusilli)
8 ounces green beans, trimmed and halved
1/2 cup pesto

1. Scrub potatoes then cut them into 1-inch cubes; place in a large pot of water and bring to a boil.

2. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the rotini; return to a boil and cook for 3 minutes.**

3. Add the green beans. Return to a boil; cook until the vegetables are tender (1.5-2 minutes) and the pasta is al dente.

4. Drain; toss with the pesto and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*Original recipe calls for 2 waxy potatoes.
**I cooked the pasta for an extra minute because whole wheat pasta seems to take a bit longer to cook than regular pasta.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Most Delicious Salsa

I've eyed the recipe in the Rebar cookbook for Parmesan corn risotto cakes many times. Of course this was always at times of the year when there was no fresh corn to be had. Finally it happened where I looked at the recipe and I knew I could get fresh corn. I set out to make these one day for lunch for a friend and myself, but without a lot of foresight. The risotto needs time to completely cool before it can be made into cakes. I spread it out on a cookie sheet and put it in the fridge (then was scared that that was the reason our fridge broke but no it wasn't) hoping it would cool down fast enough but it just didn't really work. It was really difficult to shape the corn risotto into balls (oh and did I mention that I completely forgot to add the Parmesan, it still tasted good though!) The next day when I had leftovers, I just took them to work instead of trying to make them into cakes again.

You can really see here how the risotto didn't shape very well into patties.

The risotto is made with corn stock (made using fresh ears of corn that have had the kernels sliced off), shaped into balls, covered in cornmeal, then pan fried. And of course you add the freshly cut corn kernels to the risotto. I had no idea how delicious fresh raw corn is when cut off the cob (and hopefully this is something that's okay to eat and not going to screw up my digestive system or something). The taste of the risotto was good, and the crispy cornmeal bits on the outside were good too. I have definitely discovered that I do not enjoy shaping things into patties and pan frying them though - unless the things I'm pan frying are really going to stick together. One time I tried to make potato patties but I must have let the potatoes boil too long because the patties were too moist - or maybe I should've just added some flour or bread crumbs to them. I really love the idea of risotto balls or risotto cakes (one time I saw Emeril using leftover risotto to make risotto balls that he stuck a piece of cheese in the middle of, then deep fried), so I'd like to say that I'd try it again. But if nothing else, the corn risotto was good on its own (with or without the Parmesan!)

Anyway, it was the grape tomato basil salsa that really stole the show here. I've seen the recipe before and thought I'd like to try it, but salsa was one of the many things I feared making (along with pie crusts savoury and sweet), and it requires fresh basil so I'd prefer to make it in the summer when basil is cheap. (Though now that I know how delicious it is, I'd like to make it all year round.) It was very strange that I had all the ingredients in the house to make this salsa (which was the salsa suggested to go with the Parmesan corn risotto cakes), because I don't usually have grape tomatoes or basil in the house. I'm extremely happy that I did though because this salsa is amazing. Truly truly amazing and so delicious. I will be making it again and again. (Which reminds me that I should make a list somewhere of all my favourite food so I have this wonderful master list to refer to.) There's balsamic vinegar in the salsa which seemed different because I've never had vinegar in a salsa (to my knowledge), but it was oh so good.

I served the cakes and salsa with sauteed zucchini on the side - local yellow zucchini at that. I was very excited about this yellow zucchini, but for some reason it ended up tasting very odd to me, like seafood or something. Now I want to stay away from yellow zucchini, though I really should give it another chance.

I wasn't going to post the recipe for the Parmesan corn risotto cakes but then after I wrote all about it, I'm sure someone might be interested in it so I'll just post both recipes. Though if you're only going to make one of them, make the salsa! Make it soon while things are still in season. If you're looking for other risotto recipes, you can check out the baked sweet potato and beet risotto with peas I made.

Grape Tomato Salsa
(adapted from Rebar)

1 pint grape tomatoes
1 garlic clove, minced
3 scallions, greens only, minced
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
salt and cracked pepper to taste

Slice grape tomatoes into quarters. Toss with remaining ingredients, season to taste.

Parmesan Corn Risotto Cakes
(from Rebar)

Fresh corn stock
4 ears fresh corn, kernels removed and reserved
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 bay leaves
few springs fresh oregano, parsley or thyme
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp coarse salt
8 cups cold water

Risotto cakes
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup arborio rice
2 cups fresh corn
1 cup white wine
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup fine cornmeal

Note: Make the risotto the day before you want to make the cakes so the risotto has lots of time to cool completely. If you just want to eat the risotto and not make cakes, then obviously this doesn't apply.

1. Place stock into a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes. Strain to a boil and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes. Strain and keep warm (you will need 4-5 cups in total).

2. Heat butter and olive oil in a large heavy saucepan and saute onion and garlic until translucent. Add the rice and cook, stirring until the rice is well coated. Add the corn, season with salt and saute for several minutes. Pour in the wine and simmer until asborbed. Now start adding warm corn stock, one cup at a time. Keep stirring and add the next cup of stock only when most of the liquid is absorbed. Now start adding warm corn stock, one cup at a time. Keep stirring and add the next cup of stock only when most of the liquid is basorbed and the rice still looks creamy. When the rice is tender but the grains still slightly firm to the bite, remove risotto from the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese. (Stop here if you are just making the risotto and not the cakes.) Season to taste and spraed the risotto into a baking pan to speed cooling. Cover and refrigerate.

3. To saute cakes, form the risotto into 2 1/2" round cakes and dredge in cornmeal. Fry in hot olive oil unitl golden and crispy on both sides.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Amazing Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

Tomato sauce, ricotta, cheddar, mozzarella, mushrooms, onions, red peppers, roasted garlic.

As with the last food I posted about, my raspberry & white chocolate pie, I was watching Food Network in the car dealership and saw the women on Eat, Shrink & Be Merry making something delicious that I had to make. The women on Eat, Shrink & Be Merry take unhealthy and/or fattening foods, and come up with healthier and better-for-you-but-still-taste-good alternatives (at least that's my understanding). I've been trying to make all the food that I eat healthier in whatever way I can in the past few months, whether that's replacing white flour with whole wheat, adding more vegetables to whatever I'm eating, adding almonds to things, using less oil, etc. I haven't made pizza in at least a year and so I was very eager to try out their recipe for a whole wheat pizza crust. Theirs isn't 100% whole wheat, but one third of it is. Next I want to try out Checkered Napkin's 100% whole wheat pizza crust, made using whole wheat bread flour.

Tomato sauce with roasted garlic, fresh basil, new potatoes, onions, aged white cheddar.

The pizza dough that I used before when I made pizza was from (surprise, surprise), the Rebar cookbook. And while it was good, it could definitely be healthier. The Eat, Shrink & Be Merry whole wheat crust was so easy to make, and the super bonus was that it didn't stick like crazy to everything. It rolled out like a dream. I did not know making pizza crusts could be so fun! It also rose up wonderfully after sitting for half an hour and was all soft and spongey. I really am in love with this pizza crust, which I think made the people around me look at me oddly when I was fawning over it. It truly is that great. And another bonus, not only is it partly whole wheat, but there is no white sugar (instead there's honey), and there are two tablespoons of ground flax seed.

I love how the pizza isn't a perfect circle. This happened accidentally when moving it onto the pizza stone.

I made this pizza dough twice recently. The first time I put tomato sauce mixed with roasted garlic, thinly sliced new potatoes, tons of fresh basil, onions, and aged white cheddar (I meant to add grape tomatoes as well but forgot). The second time was a little more colourful with a mix of ricotta and tomato sauce, red pepper, mushroom, onion, roasted garlic, cheddar and mozzarella. Generally I love onions and garlic on my pizza. Potatoes are always a favourite, and so are strong cheeses. I don't know if I could really pick one favourite pizza combination right now. Strong cheeses are great to use because you can use less cheese but still have great flavour (providing that you like the strong cheese you've chosen). I want to try making a pasta pizza (pizza with spaghetti noodles and pesto or something on it) sometime, though I'm not sure I can really pass that one off as healthy.

The first time I made the pizza, I just used this round shaped cookie sheet type thing. The second time I bought a pizza stone, to see if they're magical as people say they are. The crust wasn't really crispy (except for the edges) with the pizza stone but it was firmer than using the cookie sheet. There was a scary moment where I had to transfer the pizza from the cutting board that I had rolled it out and made it on, onto the hot pizza stone - thankfully there weren't really any casualties. I recommend that you make sure to take any stray pieces of cheese off of the pizza stone before putting it back into the oven though (as you'll have to scrub like crazy to get it off afterwards, and you're not supposed to use soap). I thought the crust tasted good, and you can't tell that it's a healthy crust (which is good if you're making it for people who are fearful of flax or whole wheat things). I'll definitely be using this recipe again because it's so incredibly easy and a pleasure to make and roll out. Oh and from watching that episode of Eat, Shrink & Be Merry I found out why some pizzas have cornmeal on the bottom - it's to help them slide from the board you made them on, onto the pizza stone.

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust
(Adapted from Eat, Shrink & Be Merry)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
2 1/4 tsp yeast
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup very warm water
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons liquid honey
1 tbsp cornmeal
Olive oil cooking spray

1. Make crust: in a medium bowl, combine both flours, flax meal, yeast and salt. Mix well.
2. Measure warm water in measuring cup, then stir in olive oil and honey. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and mix using a wooden spoon to form a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 2 minutes.
3. Spray another medium bowl with olive oil spray and place dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until double in size, about 20 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, spray a 12-inch pizza pan with olive oil spray and dust with cornmeal. Preheat oven to 425ºF.
5. When dough has risen, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and, using a rolling pin, roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Transfer dough to prepared pizza pan.
6. For the toppings, add whatever you want. Generally a sauce (tomato, white, pesto), a bit of cheese, veggies (you might want to do something to the veggies before putting them on the pizza like sauteeing onions or roasting garlic), then more cheese. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until cheese is completely melted and edges are lightly browned.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Raspberry & White Chocolate Pie

A couple of weekends ago, I was waiting at the car dealership with my boyfriend while his car was getting serviced. I was surprised to find out that they had a giant tv, and most pleased to see that it was tuned in to the Food Network! One thing I saw being made on Ricardo and Friends was a white chocolate raspberry pie, which I had stuck in my brain after that and had to make it the next day. I had also been wanting to find places to buy local fruit close to home, so making this pie seemed perfect. I went out and bought my first local raspberries and got way more than I needed. Disappointingly, they weren't as good as the raspberries my mom picked up at the grocery store a few weeks ago. I actually don't really like raspberries that much because I find they can be too sour. Blackberries are my favourite berry (well those and blueberries), but as I said, those raspberries from the grocery store were extremely tasty so I was hoping for more like that. In any case, I had lots of raspberries and white chocolate and I was super excited to make my pie!

This was my second time making a crust, and thankfully it was my second successful crust. This crust was shortbread though, while the other was savoury. It was a real pain to roll out, which I guess makes sense for being a shortbread crust. I just stuck it into the dish and pressed it around with my fingers, and that seemed to turn out okay. Well it turned out okay as in it tasted good and had a nice texture, but when I tried to take out a slice of the pie, sometimes the bottom of the crust would break apart. I need (yes need, not want) to get a tart pan with a removable bottom (and also a rectangular quiche pan and a tartlet pan and, and, and..) As for the filling, I was expecting a white chocolate ganache type filling. I'm not sure why, since there's an egg in the filling and not that much white chocolate - so it was more of a custard. Next time I would add a lot more white chocolate because the flavour wasn't strong enough for me, and maybe add some vanilla too. Overall it was delicious, fun to make (aside from the aggravating crust incidents) and tasty.

Raspberry and White Chocolate Pie
(Adapted from Ricardo and Friends)

Shortbread Crust
2 1/4 cups (560 ml) flour
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup (125 ml) sugar
3/4 cup (180 ml) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
4 egg yolks
1 tbsp (15 ml) ice water or 35% cream
1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice

3/4 cup (180 ml) 35% cream
4 ounces (120 g) white chocolate, chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/3 cups fresh raspberries
White chocolate shavings

Shortbread Crust
1. Place the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor and pulse for a few seconds.
2. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
3. Add the egg yolks, water or cream and lemon juice.
4. Pulse until the mixture begins to form a ball.
5. Remove the dough from the food processor. Shape into a disk.
6. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
7. Pat the dough into a 9-inch (23 cm) pie pan. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
8. With the rack in the lowest position, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
9. Line the chilled crust with aluminum foil, scattering a few dry beans or pie weights on top to hold the foil in place.
10. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the weights and foil and bake for 5 minutes more. Let cool.

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C).
2. In a saucepan over low heat, gently melt the chocolate in the cream.
3. Lightly beat the egg using an electric mixer on lowest speed.
4. While beating, slowly add the chocolate mixture, taking care not to incorporate air into the mixture. Beat for 15 seconds more.
5. Arrange 1 cup (250 ml) raspberries on the pie crust with their pointed ends facing up.
6. Gently pour the filling over the berries without covering them completely.
7. Bake until the centre is firm, 30 to 35 minutes.
8. Let stand at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours.
9. Just before serving, garnish with white chocolate shavings and the remaining raspberries. Best if served the same day.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Santa Fe Pasta Salad

I'm not the kind of person to spend a lot of time on the presentation of food, though I think people who do make that effort make the food and photos look so amazing (such as La Tartine Gourmande who often shares food styling tips as well). I'm more the kind of person that wants to mix everything up and just eat it. I'm known for cutting all of my food up into bite size pieces and stirring it all up together. I've done that with many burgers (veggie burgers of course) and with sandwiches that are impossible to eat like regular sandwiches. It's just easier to eat that way and I want a bite of everything each time! So, yes sometimes I feel self conscious about the presentation of my dishes, especially after looking at many beautiful photos on people's blogs. But that's only sometimes. Most of the time it doesn't bother me because I'm just worried about it tasting delicious and I like to tell myself there is a home cooked/baked feel with the way I present food.

As I was writing this post, I realized how many things I've been making from the Rebar cookbook. I guess I'm trying to take advantage of the time that I have now (since many Rebar recipes take a while to make) before I start my very time consuming program in September. Anyway, I've never really made an elaborate pasta salad before so I thought I'd try out the recipe for Santa Fe pasta salad. It was easy to make, and I thought it tasted good but my boyfriend extremely loved it and also discovered how delicious grape tomatoes are. Being a pasta salad, I ate it cold but I think it would taste good hot as well.

I'm sending this to Ruth for her weekly presto pasta night roundup!

Santa Fe Pasta Salad
(adapted from Rebar)

serves 6-8

2 red peppers, roasted
4 cloves garlic, roasted
2 tsp chipotle puree (take a can of chipotle peppers and puree it)
2 tsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
3/4 cup olive oil (Ashley note: I made this again recently and you can easily use only 1/4-1/3 cup.)

4 cups dry fusilli pasta
3 cups corn, fresh or frozen
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp minced sage or 3 tsp dried sage*
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 pints grape tomatoes
2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste

1. Begin by preparing the dressing. Seed and peel the roasted peppers. Place them, along with the garlic and chipotle puree in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add maple syrup, vinegar, lime juice, salt and blend. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil until well incorporated and thickened. Set aside.

2. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

3. Preheat the oven to 350F. Toss corn with oil and salt and evenly spread it out in a small baking pan. Roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and cool.

4. To assemble the salad, toss pasta in a large bowl with enough dressing to coat. Add corn, sage and green onions and toss well. Add more dressing to taste and season with salt and pepper. Just before serving, garnish with grape tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese and pine nuts.

*I used dried sage and added what looked like enough. I'm not sure if 3 teaspoons dried sage is really about equal to 4 tbsp fresh minced sage.
General note - the cookbook suggests adding avocado to the salad as well if you want, and I definitely agree that it would fit in perfectly here. Plus avocados are always so delicious.