Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Perfect Side Dish for Dinner Tonight: Parmesan Cheese-Crusted Zucchini!

Needing a little break from the delicious, albeit slightly carbohydrate laden, pasta-fest I've been indulging in recently, I flipped to a portion of “Savor the Moment” I have not yet dared to explore. That would be the section with the, gulp, vegetables! As I've mentioned before, I am not the biggest vegetable fan. Over the past few years, however, I have made a concerted effort to learn to like them, or, at least, some of them.

Growing up, my Mom liked to cook veggies to a very soft consistency. It seems everyone in my family liked them that way…but me. As it turns out, steamed vegetables still retain a lot of their crunch and texture which, to my amazement, I do like! Granted, I’m not running out to buy broccoli anytime soon but I really do enjoy spinach, asparagus, zucchini, squash, and most green beans. As an accompaniment to baked chicken breasts, this evening I decided on the Parmesan Cheese-Crusted Zucchini (pg. 223). The subtitle reads “This is a simple, flavorful accompaniment for almost anything,” which is so true! The flavors are very tasty but not obtrusive and what’s not to love about anything preceded by “Parmesan cheese-crusted?” In addition to the zucchini, the ingredients include olive oil, green onions, garlic, fresh basil and, of course, grated Parmesan cheese.




To prepare, I trimmed and sliced the zucchini and popped them along with the green onions into a heated saute pan. After sautéing a few minutes in olive oil, I added the garlic and basil and sautéed for about 10 minutes more. You can adjust the cooking time according to how you like your veggies cooked. My Mom and I could actually both make this dish and be equally happy with it (just not at the same time). If you like firmer veggies, sauté for less time and if you like them with a softer consistency, sauté ‘em a little (or alot) longer. I think the most important part is, as long as the cheese is deliciously bubbly and golden brown when you pull them out of the oven, it's all good! This is such a tasty little side dish I had to include the recipe:

Parmesan Cheese-Crusted Zucchini (pg. 223 in “Savor the Moment”)
4 medium zucchini
2 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup sliced green onions
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons minced garlic
¼ cup coarsely shopped fresh basil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Trim the zucchini and cut into ¼-inch slices. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the zucchini and green onions and season with salt and pepper. Saute for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and basil and sauté for 10 minutes or until the garlic is tender but not brown.
Arrange the zucchini in a single layer in a baking dish. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Broil until the cheese is melted and golden brown.
Serves four.

It’s soooo easy to make and perfect for pairing with a variety of meals, healthy or otherwise. Marinate some boneless, skinless chicken breasts and pop them onto your grill pan or serve with a broiled or baked fish like tilapia. It’s so easy you could really go home and make it tonight! (so why don't you?) However you decide to serve the Parmesan Cheese-Crusted Zucchini, I really hope you enjoy it. I'd really love to hear about it if you do - cheers!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Angel Hair Pasta with Oriental Sauce & Pairing Wine with Asian Cuisine

It looks like I'm going to have to change my latest category heading from “cold” to “cool weather cuisine” since the temperatures here in South Florida have warmed up a bit - thank God! That 30 degree business is a little cold for me – I am a Native Floridian after all.

Last week I found myself gravitating towards pasta and I decided to try the Angel Hair Pasta with Oriental Sauce (pg. 194). I really love the flavors of Asian cuisine and the ingredients for this dish sounded very enticing: sesame oil, ginger, rice vinegar, soy sauce...mmmmm. The recipe recommends using either chicken or shrimp and I was in more of a shrimp kind of mood. Most dishes I make nowadays that call for ginger call for fresh ginger, however, this recipe calls for ground. I happened to have some on hand - you might also find you have most of the ingredients for this recipe already in your pantry - so I just picked up some pasta and shrimp at the store and headed home.

Now I know I’ve said this before and I am going to day it again – this dish really couldn’t be easier to make - thank you, "Savor the Moment!" First, I got the shrimp marinating in a little shrimp Jacuzzi of sherry, sesame oil, soy sauce and ginger and popped them in the fridge to marinate. Then I combined the lemon juice, rice vinegar (I used unseasoned), soy sauce, sugar and red pepper, mixed well and set aside. Then, after heating up the peanut oil in a saucepan, I added the garlic and the powdered ginger to the pan. This is where I started to scratch my head. I doubled the recipe, because it only made two servings and I loves me some leftovers, and it just seemed to be alot of powdered ginger. I proceeded to add the shrimp to the pan with the marinade and things seemed to look a little better, the liquid helped to dissolve the powder. When the shrimp were cooked through, I added the lemon juice mixture. Even though the liquid helped, there was still an unusual grainy consistency to the sauce which seemed to get better the longer it cooked. I continued cooking the dish until it was heated through and then served it up in some of my favorite Apilco porcelain serving bowls. The pattern is called “Ocean” and features various marine motifs around the inner rim of the bowl, I just love using them whenever we have any kind of seafood dish.

As for a wine to pair with this meal, there are just so many fun options! A rosé, sparkling wine or Champagne would be fabulous (but, of course, they’re fabulous with everything), so would a Gewurtztraminer, Riesling (Kabinett or Auslese) or Sauvignon Blanc. If you were in the mood for a red, a Beaujolais would be a nice choice as well. There was a great article in the Wall Street Journal a few years back on pairing wines with different types of Asian cuisine. In the article, whites such as Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc were preferred more often by the experts than reds. When a red was recommended, it was usually a lighter, fruitier style one. So if you are a fan of wine AND Asian food (like I am) this is really a great reference (click on the word article and it will take you to the link).

Upon tasting the dish, the flavors were right on with the exception of the powdered ginger. It had an unusual texture and odd aftertaste that Steve and I weren’t really digging. I would actually like to try making this dish again using fresh ginger because it really has great potential! The next day, however, I tried it for lunch and, as a cold dish, it was actually much, much better! The flavors had really melded together well and the powdered ginger aftertaste had definitely subsided. So, if you plan on trying this dish, you might want to serve it cold and I would also recommend chopping up some scallions and sprinkling them over the top for some nice color.

Enjoy and if you have any experiences with pairing beverages with Asian cuisine (wine or otherwise) I would love to hear about them. Cheers!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Down on the Bayou with Sausage and Chicken Jambalaya

I recently took my niece and nephew to see the movie The Princess and the Frog and, I have to say, it was definitely one of the best movies I saw all year (besides Julie & Julia of course!) Not only because of the delightful characters (Ray, the Cajun firefly, is hilarious) but also because it is set in New Orleans, one of my all-time favorite food meccas. From gumbos to jambalayas and étouffées to beignets – what’s not to love?

The main character in the movie, Tiana, loves to cook and dreams of opening her own restaurant serving authentic New Orleans cuisine - sigh. She struggles to make her dream a reality and has a wild and hilarious adventure on the Bayou in the meantime. With the cold weather upon us and inspired by this delightful movie, I just had to make “Savor the Moment's" Sausage and Chicken Jambalaya (pg. 169).

According to Wikipedia, Jambalaya is a Louisiana Creole dish of Spanish and French influence. It is traditionally made in three parts, with meats and vegetables, completed by adding stock and rice. It is a close cousin to the saffron colored paella found in Spanish culture. The jambalaya I usually make is more of a Florida version made with kielbasa sausage and shrimp. It is one of my signature dishes and I've been making it for years. I was very excited to see if this recipe from "Savor the Moment" would stand up to my tried and true recipe. Oh my Gaaaaad!

The Sausage and Chicken Jambalaya recipe calls for classic Cajun ingredients including the “trinity” (onions, celery and green bell peppers) as well as andouille sausage. I actually found Aidell’s andouille sausage at Publix - score! The recipe begins by combining bay leaves, garlic powder, salt, cayenne, white pepper and black pepper in a bowl. Then, I sautéed half the onions, celery and green peppers in butter in a large saucepan. Once the veggies softened a bit, I added the seasoning mixture, the hot sauce (I used Frank’s Red Hot) and the andouille sausage. I cooked the mixture over high heat for about 15-20 minutes until the onions were brownish. Then I added the uncooked, cut up chicken breasts and cooked for 15 more minutes. For the next step, I added the uncooked rice to the pot, stirred well and toasted the dry rice for about 10 minutes before adding the chicken stock, tomato sauce and remaining onions, celery and green pepper. Once combined, I BTB RTS (brought to boil, reduced to simmer) and simmered for about 20 minutes until the rice was cooked through. It was hard to wait that 20 minutes with those heavenly aromas permeating the kitchen!

While waiting for the dish to finish, it was time to select a wine. This dish has a fabulous, spicy kick to it which makes me think of a white wine with some sweetness to it (the sweet counters the heat) or a fruit forward, red without an outrageous alcohol content. For a white, I would recommend the 2008 Barnard Griffin Columbia Valley Riesling from Washington state. It is light, refreshing and off-dry with fruity, floral and spicy aromas and flavors. This 90 point wine was also recently included in Wine Spectator’s “Top 100 Wines of the Year” and is a fabulous value at around $12 a bottle.

If you’re in the mood for a red, I would recommend the 2007 MacMurray Ranch Central Coast Pinot Noir. This was a fabulous year for Pinot Noirs and with its ripe cherry, raspberry and floral aromas and flavors it would be a yummy pairing with the jambalaya. You’ll also enjoy it’s spicy, earthy notes along with the very reasonable price at around $20 a bottle.

I am happy to report the Sausage and Chicken Jambalaya from "Savor the Moment" was fabulous! The onions, celery and bell peppers added such wonderful texture and the smoky, richly flavored andouille sausage was just delicious. This dish definitely has a nice spicy kick to it so, if that's how you roll, go home and make it tonight. I really can't decide which I like better - my tried and true recipe or this one. In any event, a girl can never have too many fabulous recipes at her fingertips, can she? Enjoy!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bring on the Cold Weather Cuisine: Max's Radiatore

Finally - cold weather is here in South Florida (pretty much all of Florida really)! I love the cold weather for the obvious reasons: no makeup melting down your face at 10 in the morning, no infernally hot car seats awaiting the backs of your unsuspecting legs, the joy of being able to stay outside for more than 3-4 minutes without bursting into flame.

The thing I find most exciting about the change in weather, however, is the opportunity to start cooking cold weather cuisine. Nothing like pasta, polenta and risotto to cheer a girl up! These are some of my favorites and I am sooo excited to finally be able to dive into these heartier recipes, not to mention the red wines that generally go with them! In my giddiness, I feel like that character on Saturday Night Live who gets overly excited about everything and keeps saying “Oh my Gaaaaad!” If you aren’t familiar with her check out this link and you’ll see what I mean (press the arrow to play the clip - you can pause it at any time). She gets excited about a surprise party - I get excited about pasta!





Needless to say, I was really excited to make Max’s Radiatore (pg. 206), a pasta recipe provided by Boca Raton's iconic Max's Grille ten years ago that is still being served at the restaurant today (for good reason). I’ve heard great things about this recipe but have never tried it myself. The recipe calls for radiatore pasta, balsamic vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, shallots, garlic, fines herbes, grilled or roasted chicken, goat cheese, pine nuts and broccoli florets - what's not to like about that?

While shopping for ingredients, however, I had trouble finding radiatore pasta. I even went to an Italian market and two other stores with no luck – how could I make Max’s Radiatore without radiatore pasta? I hopped on my trusty iPhone to Google “radiatore” to see if I could come up with the next best option. That’s when I discovered a fabulous website, The Cook’s Thesaurus at http://www.foodsubs.com/. The website contains lots of great culinary information as well as suggestions for alternate recipe ingredients if you are in a bind. It suggested a few alternatives for radiatore so I grabbed a box of Barilla rotini and forged ahead!

Once in the kitchen, I cooked the pasta in boiling salted water, drained it and returned it to the pot to keep warm. I always reserve about a cup of the cooking liquid from the pasta to add to the pot to keep the pasta hydrated so it doesn’t stick together. It’s very helpful when making the pasta in advance – just check it every so often and add the starchy water as needed.

Then, I made the balsamic reduction while soaking the sun-dried tomatoes to recontitute them. So far so good! Next, I sautéed the shallots, garlic and fines herbes in olive oil. In case you are not familiar with fines herbes, it is a combination of herbs used in Mediterranean cuisine; usually a blend of fresh parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil but the mixture can vary a bit. The herbs are more delicate than those found in a bouquet garni (rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns) which are more pungent and used in dishes requiring a longer cooking time. It smelled heavenly sauteeing with the shallots and garlic. After sauteeing for 1-2 minutes, I added the tomatoes, chicken, vinegar and chicken stock, brought to a simmer and stirred in the butter. Yum!

After seasoning with salt and pepper, I added the pasta to the sauce and mixed well. I spooned it into two bowls for Steve and I, and topped with the broccoli florets, goat cheese and pine nuts. It was such an interesting combination of ingredients I couldn’t wait to dig in! Oh my Gaaaaad!
Now, I am not a broccoli fan AT ALL – in fact, I really hate it, ask anyone who knows me! But, in this context, I have to say, it was pretty darn good! Not to mention the way the creamy goat cheese melded with the flavors and textures of the balsamic, sundried tomatoes, and chicken - delicioso!

As for the wine, I originally selected a 2007 Napa Station Sauvignon Blanc to pair with the pasta but, after tasting the two together, I would definitely recommend a red wine for this dish in the future; a Chianti or Barbera would be fabulous. The sauce was just a little too heavy for the white wine.

Though not an ideal pairing, the Sauvignon Blanc was a great wine and happened to be an inaugural release from this winery. Napa Station is a classic Napa Valley winery with a committment to protecting the planet for future generations. This family-owned winery produces small lots of Napa Valley wines from grapes grown exclusively in sustainably farmed vineyards. This particular wine, a blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Semillon, was fermented in 100% stainless steel which contributed to its bright, mouth watering citrus and pear flavors. The next time I'm enjoying some lighter fare, I would definitely reach for a bottle of this wine.

Out of curiosity, I met my Mom for lunch at Max's Grille in Boca Raton the following week to see if, in fact, my version of Max's Radiatore had turned out even remotely like the one they serve in the restaurant. Upon tasting it, I was very pleasantly surprised. The pasta they used looked almost exactly like the substitute rotini I used when I made it. They did have the advantage of having their fabulous roasted chicken to use in the recipe, other than that, the recipe in “Savor the Moment” was pretty spot on - mission accomplished!

I look forward to making this dish again in the near future and pairing it with a delicious bottle of red wine. I suggest on a nice, chilly Florida evening you do the same and see if it doesn’t inspire you to say - "Oh my Gaaaaad!" Cheers!

"When in Rome"

While flipping through "Savor the Moment," as I've been known to do, I came across another great section regarding New Year's celebrations entitled "When in Rome." It mentions some interesting and different New Year's customs and traditions in different parts of the world and gives a little history to boot:

When in Rome (pg. 18)
In ancient Rome, the first day of the year honored Janus, the god of gates and doors - endings and beginnings. Revelers in every country have added their own festive customs to this celebration. The English and the Swiss make merry with masks and costumes. Some cultures believe that the New Year should be given physical help, and beat out the old year with sticks and bells. The Chinese celebrate with fireworks. The Austrians and Germans toot in the New Year with trumpets and fanfare. The Dutch invite everybody for an open house. The Scots ring out the old year with strains of Robert Burns' "Auld Lang Syne."

I also particularly love the expression "when in Rome" because it is featured in one of my favorite movies of all time, "Anchorman." My husband and I know this movie by heart, and this is definitely one of our favorite scenes. In the movie, Ron Burgundy's (Will Ferrell) girlfriend, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), uses the phrase "when in Rome," in conversation and Ron is confused because he has no idea what it means.



Upon discovering the new phrase, Ron tries unsuccessfully to use the expression and just never quite gets the hang of it. If you haven't seen the movie I highly recommend it for a good chuckle. Hope you are enjoying the New Year so far and have a great weekend - wherever you happen to be!!!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Christmas Dinner 2009: Black and White Torta and Green Beans and Friends

After a reflective Christmas Eve, Steve and I were looking forward to a festive Christmas Day spent with family – and some great food & wine, of course! The day started off with exchanging a few gifts, breakfast and a relaxed morning at home. I have to say one of my favorite gifts was the life size, Edward Cullen figure (from the Twilight series) Steve had positioned right outside the front door. Thanks, Honey!

Later in the day, we would be having Christmas dinner at my sister's house. I host Thanksgiving and she has Christmas – that’s the deal. I was in charge of bringing dessert and a side dish – I selected the Black and White Torta (pg. 24) and Green Beans and Friends (pg. 216) both, of course, from “Savor the Moment.” I have actually made The Green Beans and Friends before - with shallots, mushrooms and bacon they are so delicious my sister specifically requested them and what’s not to love about the name?

The Black & White Torta was a different story. I had never made it before and, after reviewing the recipe, found it slightly daunting. There are three distinct steps to making it; a veritable triathlon in and of itself. The picture in the Cookbook looked so beautiful though, I just knew it would be the perfect choice for Christmas dessert. Feeling convicted, I tackled the crust: a mixture of graham cracker crumbs, baking cocoa powder (I used unsweetened), sugar and melted butter. Once blended, I pressed the mixture along the bottom and sides of a 10” springform pan and baked it for 5 minutes.

While the crust was baking, I assembled the chocolate ganache mixture with the semi-sweet chocolate and cream in the double boiler (a heatproof glass bowl positioned over a saucepan of hot water – NOT boiling). It was actually fairly easy and, when fully melted in its chocolatey, delicious state, I poured it into the cooled graham cracker crust and popped it in the refrigerator. At this point I was feeling pretty confident – 2 steps down, one to go and not a glitch to speak of. Then the assemblage of the white chocolate portion of the “torta” began. This is the longest step because it involves three actual steps of its own. Too late to reconsider now!

First, I melted the white chocolate and cream in the double-boiler (I was getting really good at this by now!) making a white chocolate ganache. Then, on to the secret ingredient: the gelatin which helps the white chocolate mixture keep its shape and gives it texture. I’ve had mixed results with gelatin in the past – you have to make sure it dissolves really well otherwise you might end up with chewy bits of it in the finished product - NOT good! Take the time to be sure it is totally dissolved.

Then it was on to the "triple lindy" of the white chocolate layer which requires (1) making the whipped cream and (2) beating in the white chocolate mixture then (3) the gelatin. It was actually not too difficult and once this gorgeous, heavenly layer was assembled, I spread it over the chilled, decadent, dark chocolate layer (not without sampling a spoonful or so, you know, just to be sure it didn’t need anything - dee-licious!). With all steps complete, the torta was assembled in a snap, and into the fridge it went for a long winter’s nap (overnight).

Needless to say, Christmas dinner was a big hit – my sister Jen & her husband Rick served their delicious Deep-Fried Turkey, a Honey-Baked Ham and some fantastic side dishes along with a tasty 2006 Etude Pinot Noir. The black cherry and spice flavors of this delicious, medium-bodied wine from the Carneros region of California complemented the meal beautifully. The Green Beans and Friends were also a big hit and held up remarkably well with the travel time to our destination. I re-warmed them in the oven and then added the crumbled, cooked bacon right before serving.



Finally the moment of truth – the unveiling of the torta! With an unsteady hand, I ran a knife between the crust and the pan to loosen it. I had my niece, Lily, unfasten the springform pan and I gently lifted it off the torta – two words immediately came to mind: WO and OW. It was just beautiful! There were oohs and ahhs from everyone around. Lily helped me grate some chocolate over the top and dessert was served! Those who didn't know better assumed I had bought it somewhere else.

Thankfully it tasted as good as it looked - the crust was perfectly crunchy with a nice sweetness and the decadent dark chocolate layer was the perfect contrast to the creamy, heavenly white chocolate layer. The only thing I would have done differently would be to make sure the crust doesn’t come up higher than the filling of the torta in the springform pan. It’s hard to remove the excess crust once you remove the pan. Whatever! Just be sure to make this delicious, gorgeous dessert the next time you really want to WOW your guests! We worked off the calories from our holiday meal with a family marathon on the kids' Wii playing Band Hero (see the "kids" below) singing songs including Taylor Swift's "Love Story, Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved" and "American Pie" by Don McLean.



With Christmas 2009 behind us, I look forward to savoring many more fabulous recipes from “Savor the Moment” in 2010. To those of you who weren’t lucky enough to find a copy in your Christmas stocking this year, please visit www.jlbr.org to purchase your copy today and get cooking! Wishing you all the best in 2010, thanks again for your support!

Friday, January 1, 2010

German Pancakes and a New Year's Wish from "Savor the Moment"

This fabulous quote and recipe for delicious German Pancakes are both found in "Savor the Moment." The pancakes are so easy to make - perfect for a light weekend breakfast after all your holiday indulging. Danke schön to the Junior League member who submitted this tasty recipe! "A New Year's Wish" was originally published in The Delineator Magazine, a women's journal of fashion, culture and fine arts published from 1873-1937. It seemed perfect for today's post - Happy New Year!

"A New Year's Wish" (pg. 16)
"What better wish can be given you than that in the coming year you may never lose an old friend, but gain many new; that you may never do an unkindness, for which you may be sorry; that while God's sunshine is upon you, then will not be forgotten the blessing of it. That when clouds arrive, you will think with joy of the possibility of sunshine; and that on the gay opening day of the year, you will remember 'If all the year were playing holidays, To sport would be as tedious as work.'" The Delineator, 1882.

German Pancakes (pg. 96)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
Melt the butter in a 9 x 13 inch pan in the oven as it preheats. Process the eggs at high speed in the blender for 1 minute. Add the milk gradually, processing constantly. Add the flour gradually, processing constantly. Process for 30 seconds longer.
Remove the baking pan from the oven and tilt to coat the bottom evenly with melted butter. Pour the pancake batter into the hot pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot with lemon slices and confectioner's sugar or maple syrup.
Serves six
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