Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Very Virtuous Tiramisu, with a French Twist

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

Aparna lives in Goa, on the west coast of India, and Deeba lives in Gurgaon, a city in the suburbs of New Delhi.  Many Daring Bakers presumed our co-hostesses would challenge us to a traditional dessert from India, which would have been inspiring, but their choice was marvelous nonetheless.

Tiramisu's unusual name derives from an Italian morning ritual of going into a caffe and asking the barkeep for a tiramisu, something to "pick me up."  A shot of rich, thick Vov is poured, which gives the drinker energy.  Vov is made from eggs, sugar and Marsala, the same ingredients that go into the zabaglione that enriches the best tiramisu.

Tiramisu is not a challenging dessert to prepare... when you buy a container of mascarpone and packaged ladyfingers. Such laziness is not to be tolerated in this Daring Bakers' group! We were challenged to make homemade mascarpone cheese and
Savoiardi, from scratch.

I was pleasantly surprised to find mascarpone so simple, and with only two ingredients:  Whipping cream and lemon juice!  The Savoiardi were also easier than expected.  Ladyfingers are light, crispy and sweet génoise cakes roughly shaped like a large finger. They are called savoiardi in Italian (meaning "from Savoy"), or in French,
biscuits à la cuillère. In the UK they may be called sponge-fingers, trifle sponges or boudoir biscuits.  Ladyfingers are a principal ingredient in many French dessert recipes. Today, their most common usage is in trifles, charlottes, and tiramisu.
Creamy, homemade mascarpone and freshly baked ladyfingers...

I chose Tiramisu as one of my dishes for our Valentine's Aphrodisiac Tasting Party (posted here), since it contains two aphrodisiacs - chocolate and coffee.  For my French twist, I used Armagnac in the zabaglione, rather than Marsala wine, and added a little more Armagnac to the espresso prior to dipping the biscuits à la cuillère.  After all, it was an adult party and I wanted to 'booze up' the dessert a little more with this delicious, and healthy, French brandy.

Armagnac it is the oldest brandy distilled in France.  In the 14th century, Prior Vital Du Four, a Cardinal, claimed it had 40 virtues...

"It makes disappear redness and burning of the eyes, and stops them from tearing; it cures hepatitis, sober consumption adhering. It cures gout, cankers, and fistula by ingestion; restores the paralysed member by massage; and heals wounds of the skin by application. It enlivens the spirit, partaken in moderation, recalls the past to memory, renders men joyous, preserves youth and retards senility. And when retained in the mouth, it loosens the tongue and emboldens the wit, if someone timid from time to time himself permits."

Research conducted by scientists at Bordeaux University in 2007 also supports its health benefits,  finding that moderate consumption can help protect against heart disease and obesity.  The benefits are apparently derived from the unique distillation process and aging rather than from its alcoholic content. The southwestern area of France, where Armagnac is produced, has some of the lowest cardiovascular disease rates in the world.

Looking back on our party, I do believe our spirits were enlivened, the men were joyous, Jerry was especially witty, and none of our guests suffered a heart attack after returning home to take advantage of any lingering effects of the aphrodisiacs.

I attempted a molded Tiramisu, using a glass loaf pan lined with plastic wrap. Freezing for an hour or so helps to slice the pieces cleanly. To be honest, I prefer the traditional, rustic presentation, scooped out and plopped on a plate!  I apologize for the final photo, shot in a rush, during the party.

You can find the complete recipes for our Tiramisu Challenge in The Daring Kitchen Recipe Archives, here.  Thank you, Aparna and Deeba, for your Heaven on a Dessert Plate Challenge!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ricotta Orange Pound Cake with Strawberries

My Cozy Up with a Newf and a Bowl of Hunter's Minestrone post, earlier this week, was the first in a series of posts sharing our ringside menu for the Newfoundland Club of San Diego Regional Specialty Show.  Several breed specialty shows will be held tomorrow, in conjunction with the Silver Bay Kennel Club AKC All-Breed Shows on Saturday and Sunday.  Technically, the Del Mar Fairgrounds won't allow the clubs to bring in 'catered' food for their specialty shows, because there are contracted food vendors on-site.  However, potluck is tolerated.  Therefore, we (as in me and John) are preparing a potluck to be served from a clandestine location, within close proximity to the show ring.

To accompany Tyler's Ultimate Hot Chocolate, freshly brewed coffee, and a few other baked goodies, I made two Ricotta Orange Pound Cakes.  The cake is dense, as pound cake should be, but is very moist  and has subtle hints of orange and almond...oh, how I love Amaretto liqueur.  Fresh strawberries, plain, or macerated in a little sugar and balsamic vinegar, adds a nice sweet and colorful touch, but this cake is perfectly satifying on its own.

Ricotta Orange Pound Cake with Strawberries
Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis


1 1/2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature, plus more to grease the baking pan
1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 orange, zested
2 tablespoons Amaretto
Powdered sugar, for dusting
1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered or 3 oranges, cut into supremes


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan with butter. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, ricotta, and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the machine running, add the eggs 1 at a time. Add the vanilla, orange zest, and Amaretto until combined. Add the dry ingredients, a small amount at a time, until just incorporated. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean and the cake is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 45 to 50 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Using a mesh sieve, dust the cooled cake with powdered sugar.

Meanwhile, place the strawberries (or orange supremes) in a small bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Let sit until the juices have pooled around the strawberries.

To serve, slice the cake and serve with a spoonful of strawberries and their juices over the top of the cake.

I'm headed back to the's much more fun than practicing law these days!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cozy Up with a Newf and a Bowl of Hunter's Minestrone

Trying to decide what to serve a group of Newfoundland dog owners, handlers, judges, and club members at our Regional Specialty Show is no easy task.  February is typically cold and rainy weather; thankfully, the show is held indoors.  This will be our second year hosting the ringside luncheon.  Last year, everyone seemed to appreciate having the choice between a comforting, hot bowl of Barefoot Contessa's Chicken Pot Pie, and Bon Appetit's Italian Sausage Tortellini Soup...

This weekend, I pulled out a stack of favorite cookbooks and and started planning Friday's menu...

Tyler's Ultimate is one of my favorite cookbooks, and his Hunter's Minestrone instantly called my name.  After perusing recipes all afternoon, I sent John to the store for a few missing ingredients and we prepared a test batch.  It definitely fits the bill as a thick, soul-warming version of Minestrone.  The verdict:  I'll be making a double or triple batch for our fellow Newf lovers on Friday.  I will substitute a mix of sweet and spicy Italian sausage, rather than the bulk pork sausage, and use smaller rigatoni than pictured here.

Hunter's Minestrone
Tyler Florence, Tyler's Ultimate: Brilliant Simple Food to Make Anytime; also featured on Food Network's Soup& Sammy


2 quarts chicken stock
1 head garlic, halved
1/2 pound small rigatoni
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 fresh sage leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh thyme
3/4 pound loose sweet Italian pork sausage
2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery ribs, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 (28-ounce) can crushed plum tomatoes
1 bay leaf
2 (28-ounce) cans cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 bunch fresh parsley leaves, finely minced
Coarsely ground black pepper
12 slices baguette
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


Combine the stock and halved garlic head in a big saucepan and simmer for about 15 minutes to give the stock a nice, garlicky taste; strain out the garlic. Keep warm.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the rigatoni.

Pour 1/4 cup olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the sage, rosemary and thyme and warm the oil over medium heat to infuse it with the flavor of the herbs, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage with the side of a big spoon until well browned. Chop the carrots, celery, and onion in a food processor. Add to the saucepan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.

To the pan with the sausage stir in the crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, cannelloni beans, and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.

Cook the rigatoni in the boiling water for 6 minutes; it should be slightly underdone. Drain and stir into the simmering soup (I kept the pasta separate, mixed with just a little of the soup broth to keep it moist,  and added it to each serving bowl as needed.  This prevents it from overcooking).  Add the parsley, and salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste. Discard the bay leaf and herb sprigs.

To serve, preheat the broiler. Put the baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with the Parmigiano and broil until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Ladle the soup into bowls and float a couple of the baguette slices on top.

Serves 10 and freezes well, without the pasta.

In addition to Tyler's Minestrone, I'm planning on offering Hearty Beef Stew (The New Best Recipe, by Cook's Illustrated).  Both will pair nicely with toasted baguette slices.

We'll also bake an assortment of breakfast treats, to go with coffee and Tyler's Ultimate Hot Chocolate - Cherry Scones, Ricotta Orange Pound Cake, and Banana Muffins with Mascarpone Cream Frosting.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Kiss of Spring Weather for Valentine's Weekend, a Romp with the Newfs, Heavenly Eggs Benedict, and Flavorful Frittata

Coronado experienced a kiss of Spring weather for the long Valentine's Day/President's Day weekend, with temperatures in the high 70's.  We took our goofy Newfy boys down to Fiddler's Cove for a romp in the Bay, and then returned home for brunch and an afternoon of dog washing.

For brunch, John slightly modified Once Upon a Plate's version of Softly Poached Eggs on Sweet Potato Hash Browns, with Asparagus and Horseradish Cream Sauce by adding a slice of crispy pancetta on top of the hash browns.  The recipe can be found, here.  We've also made this for dinner, and it's wonderful.

Last night, we tried Saveur's Ricotta and Roasted Pepper Frittata for another quick, weeknight dinner.  Eggs Benedict and Frittatas - they're nice for breakfast, brunch, and dinner!  A frittata is a type of Italian omelette, either simple or enriched with additional ingredients. It is prepared in a frying pan like a traditional French omelet. However, whereas an omelet is cooked on a stove top and served folded, a frittata is not folded and is typically finished in an oven or under a broiler.

I especially enjoyed the roasted red peppers and ricotta cheese in this version, but really didn't notice the potatoes.  Next time, I may add add some fresh asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, and/or artichoke hearts.  If you want potatoes, I would suggest serving country-style potatoes on the side.

Ricotta and Roasted Pepper Frittata
Slightly modified from Saveur, #133
Serves 4

1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. chopped fresh basil
8 eggs, beaten
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 small Yukon Gold potato, peeled and sliced into 1⁄8" rounds
1 roasted red bell pepper (from jar), cut into 1⁄4" strips
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese


Preheat oven to 425° F.

In a large bowl, whisk together 1⁄4 cup of the Parmesan, parsley, 1⁄2 tsp. of the salt, basil, and eggs and season with black pepper. Set egg mixture aside.

Heat the oil in a 10" nonstick ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining salt, onions, and potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and soft, about 20 minutes.

Remove skillet from heat. Add the egg mixture to the skillet and stir to distribute the onions and potatoes evenly. Scatter the peppers over the top, spoon the ricotta over the mixture in 6 dollops, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Bake until lightly browned and the center is set, about 15 minutes. Run a rubber spatula around the edges of the frittata to loosen it. Slide the frittata onto a serving plate. Season with more black pepper, to taste.

Frittatas, in general, pair nicely with Champagne or Prosecco.  For frittata with ricotta, serve Italian Chardonnay.  With egg dishes, stray away from wine with wood (i.e. oaked wines).
-From What to Eat with What you Drink.

Unfortunately, our taste of Spring was brief, and another storm is moving in.  It will be a good weekend to plan the menu for the Newfoundland Club of America Regional Specialty Show, in Del Mar, next Friday.  John and I will be preparing and serving the ringside continential breakfast, and luncheon, for our local club.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Valentine's Aphrodisiac Tasting Party

On Saturday evening, we hosted our Second Annual Valentine's Aphrodisiac Tasting Party.  I provided a list of suggested aphrodisiacs to get our creative, culinary juices flowing...almonds, asparagus, avocado, basil, bananas, champagne, chiles, chocolate, coffee, fennel, figs, garlic, grapes, honey, nutmeg, oysters, pine nuts, pineapple, pistachios, rosemary, strawberries, truffles, wine, vanilla...and everyone took it from there to create a dish to share.

Last year's party was a Progressive Party, with guests moving from house to house in the neighborhood.  There are a few photos from last year archived here, but that was before There's a Newf in My Soup! was officially launched.  Progressive parties are so much fun, but this year we decided to rendezvous at our house.

I was on the fence about what to prepare, right up until the day before, vacillating between figs and chocolate.  But also, in the back of my mind, I was contemplating a nice cheese platter, and tasting spoon amuse-bouche, similar to what was offered during my recent weekend in Las Vegas.  When I'm so indecisive, it's sometimes easier to do it all!

John took the lead with the cheese board, with four different cheeses.  We also provided tastings of Honeycomb, quince paste, and Foie Gras Truffle Mousse.  Many medicines in Egyptian times were based on honey, including cures for sterility and impotence. The Greeks and Romans considered the musky scent of the rare truffle to stimulate and sensitize the skin to touch.

Next to the cheese board, I contributed my homemade Mascarpone and Balsamic Strawberry tasting spoons.  Strawberries invite love and are described in erotic literature as fruit nipples....

For a nice post on making homemade mascarpone, visit Baking Obsession's post, here.  Simply marinate the strawberries in some balsamic vinegar for about 20 minutes and serve with the mascarpone.

With my figs, I tried Thomas Keller's (Ad Hoc) Fig and Balsamic Jam.  An open fig is thought to emulate the female sex organs and traditionally thought of as a sexual stimulant...

I have not yet added Ad Hoc to my collection of Thomas Keller cookbooks, but I was inspired by Bitchincamero's adaptation of the recipe, here and Sugar & Spice's post, here.

I served the jam with toasted baguette slices and goat cheese...

In addition to the cheese platter, John prepared Crispy Asparagus Straws - asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and phyllo, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, and baked.  You can find the recipe, here.  Pete and Julie also prepared a nice Asparagus platter. 

In addition to its phallic shape, asparagus is rich in vitamin E, which stimulates production of our sex hormones.  The men were encouraged to disregard the phallic shape... 

I've already blogged about the most incredible meatloaf in the world, Urban Solace's Not Your Momma's Meatloaf, here.  It was John's brilliant idea to make meatballs out of the recipe.  Loaded with aphrodisiacs - Figs, Pine Nuts, and a touch of Chile powder, and glazed with a Fig and Wine sauce, these balls of meat were delectable.  Pine Nuts have been used to stimulate the libido as far back as Medieval times...

Instead of browning the meatballs in oil on top of the stove, I tried Alton Brown's method of baking them in mini-muffin tins (one meatball in each tin) and it worked brilliantly!  Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes, turning the meatballs over and rotating the pan about half way through.

I wasn't the only one with Figs and Pine Nuts as my aphrodisiacs of choice.  Carmen prepared beautiful Fig Tarts with Caramelized Onions, Rosemary and Stilton, with Pine Nuts, and an optional drizzle of Honey.  This recipe is featured in the New York Times' slideshow, "Recipes for Romance."  Sorry, my photography did a nose dive on this one, but check out the photo and recipe in the New York Times' Dining and Wine Section.  This tart was outstanding!  Rosemary is noted for its powers to increase circulation...

Carmen also seduced us with a stunning Strawberrry, Blueberry and Mango Terrine...

Kai & Hillari arrived with the most amazing Chocolate Chicken Mole Coloradito.  Kai is an extraordinary home chef and always prepares something very special.  His mole contained at least three aphrodisiacs - Chiles, Garlic and Chocolate... and was inspired by this recipe, here.

Pammy, another dear friend who is always there with her smile and a salad, and affectionately known as our Salad Queen, scored some vibrant blood oranges for her Crisp Fennel and Blood Orange Salad.  Use of fennel as an aphrodisiac dates back to the Egyptian times where it was used as libido enhancement.  Notice the erotic serving utensils....

Jerry, Diane and Dan arrived with Dark Chocolate Hearts filled with rich truffle, and a plate of Pignoli Cookies.  Although I'm not sure what recipe they used, but Giada's version, here, sounds wonderful.  In a related recipe, Emeril has his aphrodisiacs covered with his Italian Fig Cookies, here, containing figs, honey, almonds and nutmeg.

Dean, a true gentleman, arrived on my doorstep with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, and  Chocolate-Covered Strawberries.  The Aztecs referred to chocolate as "nourishment of the Gods."   

I'm unable to share my dessert for the evening, until the Daring Bakers' reveal date on the 27th...but it did contain two aphrodisiacs...

Of course, the Champagne and Wine were flowing freely... several of us especially enjoyed the Sparkling Shiraz.  Wine relaxes and helps to stimulate our senses...

A bit later in the evening, after indulging in too many aphrodisiac-inspired dishes, and alcoholic beverages, Pammy stirred it up a bit with Lovers Lotto Scratch Offs.  We all scratched off our ticket and read the suggestive command...mine said, Tease erogenous zone with feather (WHAT), in the bedroom closet (WHERE), after work (WHEN)... The men were also presented with the opportunity to tear out a page from 101 Nights of Grrreat Sex: Secret Sealed Seductions for Fun-Loving Couples.   

Shortly thereafter, our friends said goodnight,  our party came to an end, and everyone went home to bed, or to sleep.  One night this week, after work, John and I will be heading to the closet...with a feather...

Bonne nuit, mon amour!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Daring Cooks Sit Down to a Family-Style Mezze Spread

Happy Valentine's Day to all the lovers out there!  I'm waking up this morning with a slight champagne headache, after hosting our 2nd Annual Valentine's Aphrodisiac Tasting Party last night.  What an incredible evening of food, drinks, friends, and laughs!

However, the subject of this post is a memorable evening we shared a few weeks ago, with this month's  Daring Cooks' Challenge.

The 2010 February Daring Cooks, Challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugid.

We were to prepare a Spread of Mezze, to include homemade Pita bread and Hummus. We were encouraged to add additional small plates of food, such as salads, dips, cooked beans, roasted meat or fish, and flatbreads.  Mezze is an array of small dishes served all at once, sort of like the Middle Eastern version of Spanish Tapas. It can be served as appetizers before a meal, or as the meal itself. A simple mezze meal could include pita bread, hummus, olives, roasted almonds, and feta cheese. The presentation is important, as the mezze table should be just as appealing to the eye as it is to the palate.

Michele provided recipes for pita bread and hummus, and optional recipes for raita, a cucumber-yogurt dip, preserved lemons, which are a staple in Morocco, and falafels.

Some basic flavors found in Middle Eastern cooking include olives, lemons, chickpeas, fava beans, feta cheese, yogurt, eggplant, mint, cilantro, cloves, cumin, olive oil, beets, garlic, lentils, paprika, and tahini.

I commenced my Mezze with the preparation of hummus and pita.

Recipe adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
Prep Time: Hummus can be made in about 15 minutes once the beans are cooked. If using dried beans, soak them overnight and then cook them the next day, which takes about 90 minutes.

  • 1.5 cups dried chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight (or substitute well-drained canned chickpeas and omit the cooking) (10 ounces/301 grams)
  • 2-2.5 lemons, juiced (3 ounces/89ml)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • Big pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste), or use peanut butter or any other nut butter(1.5 ounces/45 grams)
  • Additional flavorings (optional) - Use use about 1/3 cup or a few ounces to start, and add more to taste (I used canned artichoke hearts)

Drain and boil the soaked chickpeas in fresh water for about 1 ½ hours, or until tender. Drain, but reserve the cooking liquid.  Puree the beans in a food processor (or you can use a potato masher), adding the cooking water as needed until you have a smooth paste.   Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Adjust the seasonings to taste.

A drizzle of nice olive oil, a few whole garbanzo beans, freshly ground pepper, and a spring of thyme,  enhances the presentation.

Pita Bread
Recipe adapted from Flatbreads & Flavors:  A Baker's Atlas by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Prep time: 20 minutes to make, 90 minutes to rise, and about 45 minutes to cook

  • 2 teaspoons regular dry yeast (.43 ounces/12.1 grams)
  • 2.5 cups lukewarm water (21 ounces/591 grams)
  • 5-6 cups all-purpose flour (may use a combination of 50% whole wheat and 50% all-purpose, or a combination of alternative flours for gluten free pita) (17.5 -21 ounces/497-596 grams)
  • 1 tablespoon table salt (.50 ounces/15 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (.95 ounces/29 ml)

1. In a large bread bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Stir in 3 cups flour, a cup at a time, and then stir 100 times, about 1 minute, in the same direction to activate the gluten. Let this sponge rest for at least 10 minutes, or as long as 2 hours.  (I used my mixer with the dough hook attachment, on low.  I also used 1.5 cups whole wheat flour and 1.5 cups all-purpose flour for this step).

2. Sprinkle the salt over the sponge and stir in the olive oil. Mix well. Add more flour, a cup at a time, until the dough is too stiff to stir (I used 3 cups all-purpose flour). Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Rinse out the bowl, dry, and lightly oil. Return the dough to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until at least doubled in size, approximately 1 1/2 hours.

3. Place a pizza stone, or two small baking sheets, on the bottom rack of your oven, leaving a 1-inch gap all around between the stone or sheets and the oven walls to allow heat to circulate. Preheat the oven to 450F (230C).

4. Gently punch down the dough. Divide the dough in half, and then set half aside, covered, while you work with the rest. Divide the other half into 8 equal pieces and flatten each piece with lightly floured hands. Roll out each piece to a circle 8 to 9 inches in diameter and less than 1/4 inch thick. Keep the rolled-out breads covered until ready to bake, but do not stack.

5. Place 2 breads, or more if your oven is large enough, on the stone or baking sheets, and bake for 2 to 3 minutes, or until each bread has gone into a full balloon. If for some reason your bread doesn't puff up, don't worry it should still taste delicious. Wrap the baked breads together in a large kitchen towel to keep them warm and soft while you bake the remaining rolled-out breads. Then repeat with the rest of the dough.

Our Mezze Table
In addition to my Pita and Artichoke Hummus, our Mezze Table included Muhammara, Lamb Meatballs in a red curry-coconut sauce, assorted olives, Feta, crackers, and chopped salad.

Muhammara is delicious Middle Eastern dip made with roasted red peppers, walnuts, breadcrumbs, pomegranate molasses, and a few other ingredients. I made a few adaptations to Kevin's recipe (Closet Cooking), by essentially doubling the recipe, using an entire jar of roasted red peppers, and substituting pecans.  Pomegranate molasses is one of my new, favorite ingredients! 

After nibbling and sipping on semi-sweet Pomegranate wine from Armenia, and a wonderful Malbec, we satisfied our dessert cravings with Rice Pudding, garnished with rum-raisins and a dusting of cinnamon.

Rice Pudding
Courtesy of Emeril Lagasse

1 quart whole milk
1 1/2 cups Valencia or Arborio rice (10 onces)
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream of half-and-half (I used half and half)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Optional:  Golden raisins soaked in dark rum

In a large nonstick saucepan, combine the milk with the rice, butter, lemon zest and salt and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender and the milk is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Add the half and half and sugar and bring to a simmer.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the hot rice. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan in a thin stream, whisking constantly to prevent scrambling. Bring to a boil and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until creamy and slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Pour the rice pudding into a large heatproof dish and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until chilled, about 4 hours. Serve the rice pudding in bowls, dusted with cinnamon.  For an adult version, spoon some rum raisins over the top.

We shared our Mezze on a Sunday evening with with friends.  and it was marvelous way to end a beautiful weekend.

Although not officially part of the challenge, many of the Daring Cooks made Muhammara as an accompaniment.  I enjoy hummus, but am so pleased to have found this new dip.

Thank you, Michele, for a phenomenal challenge!

Be sure to stop by The Daring Kitchen and Daring Cooks' blogroll to peruse the vast array of Mezze spreads enjoyed this past month.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Risotto Basics, and an Incredible Porcini Mushroom Risotto with Peas

There are many different risotto recipes, incorporating different vegetables, meat, fish, and seafood, and types of wine and cheese.  The most important factor in making a risotto is the quality of the rice.  In Italy, the principal varieties used are Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, and Arborio, which all have the ability to absorb liquids and to release starch. It is the maintenance of starch at the end of cooking that binds the grains together as a cream.  Properly cooked risotto is rich and creamy but still al dente, and with separate grains. The traditional texture is fairly fluid.  It should be served on flat dishes and it should easily spread out but not have excess watery liquid around the perimeter.

For basic preparation, the rice is first cooked briefly in butter or olive oil to coat each grain in a film of fat.  White wine is added and absorbed by the grains. When the wine has evaporated, the heat is raised to medium high and hot stock is gradually added in small amounts, while stirring gently and almost constantly.  Stirring loosens the starch molecules from the outside of the rice grains into the surrounding liquid, creating a smooth creamy-textured liquid. When the risotto is ready, it is taken off the heat, and diced cold butter and finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese are vigorously stirred in to make the texture as creamy and smooth as possible.

The following is a heavenly risotto John and I prepared together last night.  There is nothing difficult about it.  Simply pour yourself a glass of wine, take a few minutes to chop your vegetables while the broth heats up, and chat about your day while adding broth and stirring for 30 minutes.  The layers of flavor are magnificent.

Porcini Mushroom Risotto with Peas
Slightly modified from Giada De Laurentiis' Everyday Italian, Risotto Cravings

8 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
1/2-ounce dried, porcini mushrooms
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
2/3 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoons diced, cold butter
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, optional
Additional shavings of Parmesan for garnish, optional

Bring the broth to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the porcini mushrooms. Set aside until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the porcini mushrooms to a cutting board. Finely chop the mushrooms and set aside.  Keep the broth warm over very low heat.

Melt the butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and saute about a minute.  Add the mushrooms and saute until the mushrooms are tender and the juices evaporate, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and let it toast for a few minutes. Add the wine and cook until the liquid is absorbed, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of hot broth; simmer over medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 3 minutes. Continue adding more broth by cupfuls and stirring, until the rice is just tender and the mixture is creamy, about 30 minutes (the rice should absorb 8 cups of broth). Mix in the diced butter and Parmesan. Stir in the peas. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Shave some additional Parmesan over the top.

According to my new book, What to Drink with What you Eat, which I am thoroughly enjoying, the highly recommended pairing with Mushroom Risotto is Pinot Noir, especially California.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Brunch at the Red Door: Bottomless Mimosas and Eggs Benedict taken to a higher level

I had every intention of cooking this past weekend.  We contemplated preparing and blogging about gumbo, in honor of the New Orleans Saints playing in the Super Bowl; gnocchi, a post we've been wanting to do; and an Eggs Benedict variation we recently enjoyed.  I even pulled out The French Laundry, with grandeur thoughts of preparing a romantic dinner in honor of our three-year dating anniversary.

Unfortunately, all of these ideas went down the drain and were replaced by anxious and uneasy feelings caused by the untimely demise of my computer.

I'm pleased to report I'm up and running again, with a brand new iMac...yep, I made the leap to Apple.  It's a beautiful, stylish machine, with a 21.5 inch widescreen and wireless keyboard and mouse.  I can't wait to learn all it has to offer!

In between computer shopping and munching on Moose Mix during the Super Bowl, we decided to return to The Red Door, this time to sample Brunch.  Last month, we visited this charming Mission Hills restaurant for the first time and blogged about our recreation of the delicious Shrimp Creole offered on the appetizer menu.

The hostess offered us a nice table for two next to the window.  Within seconds of opening the menu, and almost simultaneously, we both zeroed in on Bottomless Mimosas and Sausage Benedict.  I let John order the Benedict and I went with the Flat Iron Steak & Eggs.  When I know I will be blogging about a meal out, I laugh at how my menu decisions are influenced by what appears to be the most interesting and photographable dish on the menu!  Fortunately, every offering on this menu called out to me and I simply chose what sounded most appealing to my taste.

The Red Door entrance, with the dining room windows to the right
and the cozy lounge and wine bar windows to the left

John enjoying his Bottomless Mimosa

Sausage Benedict
Spicy Chicken-Japapeno Sausage on polenta, poached eggs, cilantro-lime hollandaise sauce; served with breakfast potatoes

Flat-Iron Steak & Eggs
Meyer all-natural flat iron steak, two eggs any style, breakfast potatoes

A view of the wine wall and booth seating

I seem to be on a poached egg kick and love the innovative Eggs Benedict dishes I've experienced recently.  The Red Door's version, and Mesa Grill's version, are incredible!  

We do plan on returning to our new-found restaurant, for dinner.  I have my eye on the "Cheeky" Surf & Turf...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Memories of Jackson Hole: Nibbling Fran's Coconut Cashews, aka Moose Mix, at Amangani Resort

Jackson Hole, Wyoming...breathtaking scenery, abundant wildlife, gourmet restaurants, cowboys in tight jeans and cowboy hats, nightlife, leather and fur, art galleries, skiing, après-ski cocktails, fly fishing, Harrison Ford...yes, this is where I envision my dream home. 

During our last vacation, we divided our time between a friend's cabin in Silver Gate, MT, located just outside the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park, and Jackson Hole, WY.  We toured Yellowstone for several days and then headed down to Jackson Hole, for some wining and dining, exploring, and more wildlife photo opportunities.  One of the highlights of our trip was capturing this beautiful Bull Moose in the Willow Flats area of Grand Teton National Park, from about 30 feet away.  In retrospect, probably not too smart.

Late one afternoon, we took a drive up to the very exclusive Amangani Resort for a cocktail, and to savor the panoramic views from its location atop East Gros Ventre Butte.  The resort was very quiet in the off-season and we sat in the lounge by a roaring fire, sipping our cocktails and nibbling on Fran's Coconut Cashews.  When we commented about how much we loved the cashews, our server returned with the recipe. 

In memory of the incredible morning photographing our Moose, we now fondly refer to Fran's Coconut Cashews as Moose Mix.  This spicy nut mixture is unlike any you've ever tasted.   You will become addicted, I promise.

Fran's Coconut Cashews
Courtesy of Amangani Resort
Jackson Hole, WY

3 lbs. raw, unsalted Cashews
1/2 cup Honey
1/2 lb. flaked, unsweetened Coconut
1 1/2 teaspoons Cayenne
3/4 teaspoon Mace
1 1/2 teaspoons Nutmeg
2 Tablespoons Salt
2 1/4 teaspoons Allspice
3/4 teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 cup White Sesame Seeds
1/4 cup Black Sesame Seeds

Preheat over to 375 degrees F.

Spread cashews, in a single layer, on two, ungreased baking sheets.  Toast cashews to a light, golden brown (about 12 minutes), rotating the baking sheets and stirring the cashews half way through.

Spread the coconut evenly on an ungreased baking sheet.  Lightly toast until edges are golden brown (5-6 minutes). I like Bob's Red Mill Flaked Coconut.

Spread black and white sesame seeds on an ungreased baking sheet and toast about 4 minutes

Measure out all the spices.

Mix the spices well

In a large bowl, combine the cashews, coconut, spices, sesame seeds, and honey, and fold together until nuts are coated in honey and spices.

Spread mixture in single layer on silpats placed on baking sheets, or on parchment lined baking sheets sprayed with non-stick spray

Toast for 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown.

The ultimate cocktail party nibble...

Football and beer nibble....

Pairs especially nice with a growler of Coronado Brewing Company's local brew...

And fills cutesy gift bags for friends...

Enjoy it for Super Bowl Sunday!