Saturday, February 27, 2010

Catching some culinary waves...

As a food blogger, I spend a lot of time perusing other blogs for inspiration. And it's always amusing to me when a recipe seems to catch on and spread like wildfire--the NYT no-knead bread, for one infamous example. Who among us didn't run out and buy a new pot for that one? (Well, I did.) Recently, I tried another recipe that's been burning up the blogs for at least five years (no one ever said I was quick on the uptake!), a ridiculously simple tomato sauce that people are just GA-GA over. I was inspired to try it after reading 545 mostly fawning reviews over at Smitten Kitchen. Now I hate to be in the very tiny minority of dissenting voices, but I'm just not sure what the fuss is all about. Yes, the sauce is very simple and easy to make, but it pretty much ends up tasting like, well, tomatoes. I found the texture luscious (because of the butter), but the flavor was a little flat. Maybe I'm just used to jazzier sauces, but it needed some spice, some kick, and most definitely, some GARLIC! However, in reading all 545 comments, I came across a poster who was bragging about her incredible homemade meatballs, so I popped by her site, and used her recipe as a guide to make some truly terrific meatballs of my own! And they were SO flavorful, that they went perfectly with the low-key tomato sauce. So on its own, I do not recommend the tomato sauce, but with some zesty meatballs thrown in, it becomes a must-make!

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onions
Smitten Kitchen, adapted from Marcela Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking)

Serves 4 as a main course; makes enough sauce to lightly coat most of a pound of spaghetti (Gina's note: I doubled this recipe then made meatball sandwiches the next day with the leftovers!)

28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes from a can (real San Marzanos, if you can find them)
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved
salt to taste

Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan (it fit just right in a 3-quart) over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer, then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt to taste and keep warm while you prepare your pasta.

Serve with spaghetti, with or without grated parmesan cheese.

Mara's Meatballs
(Source: adapted from
Kleio's Belly)
Makes about 48 meatballs

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning (fresh herbs would be even better!)
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
1 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 cup bread or cracker crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
2 eggs, beaten

In a very large skillet, saute onions in the olive oil until they are translucent. Add the minced garlic and Italian seasoning and cook for another minute or two.

In a large bowl, gently mix the meats together by hand (don't overwork or your meatballs will be tough!). Add the cheese, bread or cracker crumbs, salt, pepper, eggs, and onion-garlic mixture. Mix again very gently until everything is combined.

Using a cookie scoop if you have one, fashion 1 1/2 tablespoon-sized meatballs, then fry them in the skillet over medium heat until browned all over and firm to the touch (or you can bake them in the oven at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes).

The other very popular recipe that I tried my hand at lately was from my old friend, King Arthur--their take on homemade Oreos. Along with the killer carrot cake cookies, I seem to be on a bit of a sandwich cookie bender. I usually abhor making such fussy things, preferring instead to purchase my Oreos or Vienna Fingers as the need arises. But the idea of homemade Oreos was intriguing and worth a try, and these turned out great! I took a bunch of them into work, and people raved about the "Oreos on steroids." LOL! I did make a few adjustments to the recipe, though. First of all, I used 1/2 cup black cocoa and 1/4 cup natural cocoa (Scharffenberger), and it was still a little too dark/bitter for my tastes. Next time, I will pull back on the black cocoa a wee bit and use half of each (3/8 + 3/8), or maybe even 1/2 cup regular cocoa to 1/4 cup black. Also, I added 1/4 teaspoon baker's ammonia (available through KAF) to the dough, and it made gave the cookies a great crispiness and snap, more like the store-bought ones. And after pressing a tray's worth of cookies, I chilled them for up to 30 minutes. Finally, I made the filling with half shortening and half butter. That was a very good decision! The texture was still slightly waxy like a real Oreo, but smoother and with better flavor. Very fun recipe!

King Arthur Flour)

1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon espresso powder, optional but good
1 large egg
1 tablespoon cold water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup black cocoa or Dutch-process cocoa (I recommend half and half)

about 6 standard-size candy canes or 3 ounces peppermint hard candies*, optional
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (or 1/4 cup shortening and 1/4 cup butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (omit if you're making the peppermint version)
2 teaspoons cold water*
*If you're adding the peppermint candy, increase the water to 2 tablespoons

1) Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets, or more if you have them.
2) To make the cookies: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the sugar, butter, salt, and espresso powder. That's right; there's no leavening in this recipe, so don't worry that something's been left out.
3) Beat in the egg, water, and vanilla, then the flour and cocoa. The dough will be very stiff.
4) Roll the dough into balls about the size of a chestnut (about 2 level teaspoons). A teaspoon cookie scoop works fabulously here, as well as for the filling. If you don't have one, consider a purchase; you won't regret it. Place the dough balls on the prepared baking sheets (I baked mine on Silpats), leaving about 1 1/2" to 2" between them.
5) Use the flat bottom of a glass, dipped in cocoa as necessary to prevent sticking, to flatten the cookies to about 1/8" to 3/16" thick. The end of a food processor's pusher tool works well here, too (this is what I used, and no extra cocoa). Take a ruler and measure the cookies' thickness; you want to get pretty close to this measurement, for the best-textured cookies.
6) Bake the cookies for 18 to 20 minutes. It's important to bake them just the right amount of time; too little, and they won't be crisp; too much, and they'll scorch. Watch them closely at the end of the baking time, and if you start to smell scorching chocolate before the time is up, take them out. When they're done, remove the cookies from the oven, and allow them to cool completely, on a rack or on the pan.
7) While the cookies are cooling, make the filling. If you're making the peppermint version, break the candy canes into pieces, and process them with the confectioners' sugar in a food processor till they're pretty finely ground.
8) Beat together the sugar, shortening, and vanilla. It'll seem very dry at first, but will eventually begin to clump together.
9) Add the water, beating till smooth and spreadable. The filing should be stiff, but not so stiff that you can't flatten it when you sandwich it between the cookies.
10) Place one level tablespoon filling in the center of one cookie; again, a teaspoon cookie scoop, slightly heaped, is perfect for this task. Place another cookie atop the filling, and squeeze to distribute the filling evenly. Repeat with the remaining cookies. Store in an airtight container.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

This is NOT a post about Indian food.

A few weekends ago, my friends and I decided to gather for a potluck and some board games on a cold winter's least, it began as a potluck that evolved into a fabulous Indian meal when my friend, Vicky, declared that she would be bringing a chicken curry with rice and raita and naan bread. Following her lead, I decided to bring two Indian appetizers--a spicy lentil dip with pita chips and some potato-and-pea-filled samosas. Then, far too late on the day of the party, I came to the conclusion that the perfect thing to go with the samosas would be a homemade mango chutney that I spied on Simply Recipes.

That's where all my grand plans broke down. Oh, the golden chutney came out beautifully, but after all the cut and chop and cooking down, I had lost a lot of valuable time to tend to the other items. There was an awful lot of cutting and chopping and different stages of cooking for the samosa filling, too--so much so, that I ran out of time to form and bake the samosas themselves, even though I was going to use puff pastry as a shortcut. But the filling was delicious enough on its own, so I figured that we could just eat it as a side dish (which would, in point of fact, be aloo matar). However, that meant I went to all that trouble to make the gorgeous mango chutney, but now we'd have nothing to put it on! Furthermore, the spicy lentil dip turned out WAY too spicy (I went against my better judgment and added the whole 3/4 teaspoon of cayenne that the recipe called for!), and the texture was also too soft for a lentil dip, in my estimation. So I decided to soften it further and take the heat down by adding a pint of half and half and turning the dip into a soup! I garnished each bowl with crushed pita chips and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro, and it became a much improved dish.

Golden Mango Chutney
C&H Sugar website)

2 cups C&H Pure Cane Granulated Sugar
1 cup distilled white vinegar
6 cups mangoes (4 to 5), peeled and cut in 3/4-inch pieces
1 onion, chopped (medium)
1/2 cup raisins, golden
1/4 cup ginger, crystallized and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. mustard seeds, whole
1/4 tsp. red chili pepper flakes (hot)

Combine sugar and vinegar in a pot; bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, until syrupy and slightly thickened, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir occasionally during cooking. Pour into clean, hot jars leaving 1/2-inch headspace; close jars. Process in a water bath 15 minutes.

Makes 6 (1/2-pint) jars

Despite how my preparations went awry, we ended up with an elegant and delicious Indian feast, but none of the above has anything to do with what I REALLY want to share with you--and that's what we had for DESSERT! My friend, June, hosted this affair, so we let her off easy with making a salad for dinner and some cookies for dessert. But these were no ordinary cookies, friends. These may be my new favorite thing in the world! By way of back story, I should tell you that June's son lives out west, in my homeland of Oregon. Every year for his birthday, when they are together, he requests that she make him a carrot cake. But as a full-on carrot cake doesn't travel well, so in the last few years, June has taken to making him carrot cake cookies instead. She has tried a few different recipes, but the one she made this year (from that now most sadly defunct Gourmet Magazine) was truly sublime! After making them for her son, June made a second batch for our party, and they were so good that I had to rush right home and make some more for myself!

Of course, I read all 172 comments on first and made a few adjustments to the original recipe. As per many reviewers' advice, I made them a little smaller, about one tablespoon of dough per cookie. I got 33, so that made 16 sandwich cookies, plus one "taster." Also, I omitted the raisins (yuck!) and replaced the amount with extra walnuts, upped the cinnamon in the batter to two teaspoons, and chilled the dough ahead of time to prevent too much spreading. (However, contrary to some posters' advice, I neither increased the flour nor squeeze-dried my carrots, and the texture of the cookies was PERFECTLY moist!) Oh, and they only needed ten minutes to bake (NOT 12- 14!), baking only one tray at a time on Silpat-lined sheets. Finally, I made my favorite cream cheese frosting instead of the (honeyed) one from the recipe: one 8 oz. package softened cream cheese, 4 tablespoons softened butter, one pound of powdered sugar (3 1/2 to 4 cups), 1 teaspoon vanilla, and a good pinch of salt. In sum, I cannot imagine why anyone would want to make a proper carrot cake when you can have these flavorful, cakey cookies with delightfully crispy edges! And SO much less work, too! Also, for anyone far away that loves carrot cake, these cookies freeze, pack, and travel well. An absolute MUST-make!

Inside-Out Carrot Cake Cookies
Gourmet, April 2004)
Yield: Makes about 13 cookies

1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon (or two!)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup coarsely grated carrots (2 medium)
1 scant cup walnuts (3 ounces), chopped (1 1/2 cups, if omitting the dreaded raisins)
1/2 cup raisins (2 1/2 ounces), optional

8 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup honey

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 2 baking sheets (or line with Silpats or parchment).

Whisk together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Beat together butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in carrots, nuts, and raisins at low speed, then add flour mixture and beat until just combined.

Drop 1 1/2 tablespoons batter per cookie 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are lightly browned and springy to the touch, 12 to 16 minutes total. Cool cookies on sheets on racks 1 minute, then transfer cookies to racks to cool completely.

While cookies are baking, blend cream cheese and honey in a food processor until smooth. Sandwich flat sides of cookies together with a generous tablespoon of cream cheese filling in between.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Braise, my people, BRAISE!

I have absolutely wonderful and generous friends. I am fully aware of this fact, and I like to take the opportunity, whenever possible, to voice my gratitude for all of my blessings. One such blessing is my dear friend, Phil, who I met a thousand years ago when I was a new young professor, and he was, I believe, a junior at the college where I started teaching. We have been friends for nigh unto two decades now, and though he has a thousand great qualities, the best thing about Phillip is that he never fails to make me giggle. One of my greatest joys was seeing him marry his longtime partner, Rob, in a commitment ceremony in June of 2008, and I was very honored to give one of the toasts at their reception. They are such a neat couple, and they are so kind and thoughtful to others, plus, they have immaculate taste.

Recently, I was the very lucky recipient of a simply stunning housewarming gift from Phil and Rob, MY VERY FIRST PIECE OF GENUINE LE CREUSET! I have always admired the LC Dutch ovens, and I dreamed of owning one someday, but my boys have helped me jump-start my collection with a 3 1/2-quart buffet casserole/braiser that should prove to be extremely versatile. It's big enough to make pasta sauces and risotto and such, but small enough to double as a skillet. And with the lid on top, it is just perfect for braising.

A piece of heirloom-quality cookware like this deserves to be inaugurated with a truly amazing pot roast, which is surprisingly simple to make, requiring but a handful of ingredients and some patience to create something ridiculously sublime. The secret, of course, is cooking it low and slow for a good long while until the connective fibers melt away, and you're left with meat that yields to the gentle pull of a fork. The long cooking time also lets the flavors develop and concentrate as the roast and veggies cook down. Really, what could be better? 'Tis a truly soul-satisfying meal while our winter is still hanging in there!

Gina's Perfect Pot Roast

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 to 4 lb. boneless chuck roast
salt, pepper, and seasoning blend of choice (to taste)
one large onion, sliced into rings
6 or 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 cup vegetable stock (red wine is delicious, too)
1 or 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 pound of carrots, peeled and chunked
1 pound of fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and halved if large

In a heavy-bottomed braiser or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sprinkle the chuck roast liberally with seasonings (I used salt and pepper and a steak rub, but Italian seasoning would be perfect if using red wine for the liquid), then brown on all sides in the oil.

When fully browned, remove the roast from the pan and set aside momentarily. Add the separated rings of onion and the smashed garlic cloves to the bottom of the pan, the set the roast on top of that. Pour in the vegetable (or beef) stock or red wine, shake in a couple of teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce, and cover the pot tightly. (If your pan doesn't have a lid, use heavy duty aluminum foil.)

Place in a 275 degree oven for about three hours, then add the carrots and potatoes and continue cooking for about another half hour. Remove the lid or foil for the last fifteen minutes or so, or until the veggies brown up a bit, and the meat is falling apart (a total of 3 1/2 to 4 hours).

Special Note: Aren't these veggies GORGEOUS?! I was thrilled to discover that one of our local farms, Rehoboth Farmstead, was piloting a winter CSA-type program. Instead of getting an assortment of produce as determined weekly by the farmer, you can place an order online as frequently as you like, and then pick up your stuff at your convenience from a individual cooler on their front porch! For the past month, we have been enjoying fresh jumbo eggs, spinach, salad mix, Napa and Savoy cabbages, carrots, and lots of potatoes--these fingerlings, some small red salt potatoes, sweet potatoes, and the most amazing yellow-fleshed bakers that I've ever eaten! If you live in the greater Plattsburgh area, I recommend checking out this delicious service. It's just so wonderful to get some fresh organic veggies into your winter diet!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

USA! USA! USA!'s that time again. The Winter Olympics are upon us! I do so love to watch the Games, especially figure skating, but so many of the other events, too. In fact, I enjoy the Winter Olympics SO much more than the Summer Games, with the only exception being women's gymnastics. And these Olympics are particularly exciting because they have come back to North America, just across the border to our friends in the Great White North, specifically to the Pacific Northwest where I grew up (not Vancouver per se, but Washington and Oregon). The last time I visited Vancouver was circa 1999, and I long to return. I was there for a communication conference at that time, so I didn't have much opportunity to explore the majestic beauty of the region; I only saw downtown and all of those buildings that seemed to have been designed by Mike Brady. (Sidebar: Honolulu is like that, too--lots of swinging 60's structures that resemble radiators. Tee hee.)

I did, however, get to sample some of the tasty cuisine that Vancouver has to offer. It's a very diverse place ethnically, with lots of Asian influences. So in honor of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, and with fresh spring greens starting to become available, I have constructed an Asian-themed dish with a decidedly American flair (while the Chinese may have invented everything else, I think the lettuce wrap hails from modern Asian bistros in this country, perhaps to entice the lo-carb and gluten-free crowds to dine out?). In any case, these turned out mighty tasty, and were great to munch on while we watched the ice dancing finals last night. Though let me warn you, it made TWICE as much filling as necessary, so you might want to halve the recipe. But then again, the leftover noodles will be nice to take to work for lunches this week or to snack on while watching the last week of the Vancouver Games.

Gina's Olympic Lettuce Wraps

1/4 cup vegetable or peanut oil
12 oz. mushrooms, wiped and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb. ground chicken
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and minced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 - 8 oz. can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
3 scallions, sliced thinly
2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari)
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons stir fry sauce (your favorite kind--mine was from Trader Joe's)
2 teaspoons garlic-chili paste or sriracha (to taste)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 6.75 oz. package rice sticks, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes, drained and cut into short lengths

1 head Boston/bibb lettuce, stem removed and leaves separated

Heat the oil in a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped mushrooms and onion and cook until onions are translucent and soft. Add the ground chicken, ginger and garlic and cook until the chicken is no longer pink. Add the water chestnuts, scallions and carrots, and cook another minute or two. Stir in all of the sauces, oil, vinegar and seasonings and mix well. Heat another minute or two until bubbly. Mix in the noodles and once well-combined, taste to correct seasonings (also, mine seemed to want another tablespoon of vegetable oil at this point).

Serve a big pile of lettuce on one dinner plate, and a heaping mountain of the noodles on another, and let everyone make their own little lettuce wraps, each sprinkled with a little more soy sauce or tamari (and more hot sauce for the daring!).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day: The Chocoholic's Holiday

I hope everyone had a sweet Valentine's Day! Mine was lovely and lazy after a frustrating day yesterday. The roommate and I decided to take ourselves to Montreal, as is so often our way. We had grand plans of hitting the IKEA west of the city, followed by an Oscar-worthy movie, a wonderful dinner somewhere, and maybe even some Krispy Kremes for dessert. However, you know what they say about the best-laid plans...

I'm sad to report that the whole day was pretty much a BUST! We got a late start, and foolishly chose to go through the big (Champlain) border, where the long lines and slow pace of the border attendants made us even later. When finally got to IKEA, we had to park far, far away, and walk to the entrance in the terrible, arctic winds. I was already a little sick to my stomach for some reason, so an hour and a half among the overwhelming crowds and the screeching children only exacerbated my nausea. Plus, I only ended up with about ten bucks worth of pointless doo-dads that I had to wait in line for 25 minutes to pay for! And I didn't even get to have Swedish meatballs at the cafe located about halfway through the trek through the humungous store because my tummy was still out of sorts. But I did buy a big bag of the frozen meatballs, two packets of sauce mix, and lingonberry jam to make at home, along with a box of rosti (potato fritters). We had this Swedish feast for lunch today, and despite the fact that it was insta-food from a furniture manufacturer, it was darn good! I have also become addicted to these little cookies that they call Kex biscuits, which are like a wheatier version of McDonaldland cookies, one of my perennial favorites.

After our IKEA ordeal, we didn't feel like fighting our way back into the city to the AMC Forum where all the Oscar contenders were playing. So we decided instead to go to the suburban cineplex that was right near the IKEA to see Wolfman. Despite a stellar cast that included Emily Blunt (LOVE her!) and Sir Anthony Hopkins, the film was laughably awful, and our fellow moviegoers were incredibly rude and noisy. Our next bad decision was to have dinner at the overpriced, lackluster Chinese buffet in the same shopping center, replete with more insufferable crowds and screaming children. Lastly, we spent an hour driving around, trying to find a Krispy Kreme before giving up and beginning the (now longer since we moved) drive home. It seems our Montreal outing was foiled at every turn yesterday. Then again, the worst day in Montreal is often better than the best day in little old Plattsburgh. And it all became kind of comical at some point. Nevetheless, I decided to stay home, watch the Olympics, and bake cookies or something relaxing today in hopes of recuperating from the Montreal debacle!

My Valentine's Day started in the best possible way, with my awakening obscenely late, having acquired NINE full hours of sleep, which I so desperately needed before the work week starts anew! Cyd got up early and tended to the dogs and the wood stove, and even waited for the firewood delivery while I snoozed the day away. When I finally got my lazy butt up, I was greeted to the following Valentine's "basket" from my incredibly sweet and generous friend. It included a pretty card, not one but TWO volumes of the "Glee" soundtrack (I am obsessed with that show!), the blu-ray of Julie and Julia, a delicious new perfume called "In Bloom" from Reese Witherspoon (yes, Reese Witherspoon!), and one giant Reese's peanut butter heart--a Reese theme, if you will. I was just tickled to death with all my surprises. THANK YOU, Cyd! :-D

My plan for my Sunday was to make belated Valentine's cookies for my co-workers. I even bought some new cookie cutters and a rolling pin, but I just couldn't seem to find the drive. But I did manage to make an incredible dessert to accompany tonight's dinner (i.e. steak and caesar salad made with local, organic greens), something decadently chocolatey in honor of Valentine's Day. I spied the recipe for Chocolate Soufflé Cupcakes with White Chocolate Mint Cream on Smitten Kitchen, and it is truly fantastic, and not very difficult, either. Plus, the cakes are flourless, so they are great for the gluten-free crowd and/or for Jewish folks at Passover. And they are just delectable--ethereal little clouds with a deep chocolate resonance. And the minty cream on top? Oh man, I just want to BATHE in it! And I am not even a big fan of white chocolate, but it makes a silky, lustrous topping that marries perfectly with the mint flavor. Just be sure to buy REAL white chocolate with cocoa butter and not those vile "white chips" or vanilla bark. (Tip: Baker's now produces white chocolate baking squares.) Much of my kitchen is still in boxes (yes, still--don't judge me--which is also why I had to buy another rolling pin), and I couldn't find my peppermint extract. But I did unearth a bottle of Starbuck's peppermint syrup, so I added maybe a teaspoon and a half of that instead, and it made the cupcakes taste like a peppermint mocha! DELISH! Make these for your sweetie and/or your favorite chocoholic immediately!

Chocolate Soufflé Cupcakes with White Chocolate Mint Cream
Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 9 cupcakes (I got 11, so I made half again as much of the mint cream)

Chocolate Soufflé Cupcakes:
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used some wonderfully dark Merckens chocolate chips that I found at our local co-op)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
heaping 1/4 teaspoon espresso or instant coffee powder
3 large eggs, separated
6 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

White Chocolate Mint Cream:
2 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
3 ounces heavy whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract

Place the white chocolate in a small bowl. Bring the cream to a simmer, pour it over the chocolate and let it sit for a minute to melt the chocolate. Whisk well. Add the peppermint extract and whisk again. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the cream. Chill until very cold, about two hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 9 standard-size (3-ounce) muffin cups with paper liners. Stir chocolate, butter and espresso powder together in heavy medium saucepan over low heat until mostly melted, then remove from the heat and whisk until it is fully melted and smooth. Cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally.

Using electric mixer (a hand mixer, rather than a stand mixer, actually works best here because the volumes are so small) beat egg yolks and 3 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl until mixture is very thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Briefly beat lukewarm chocolate mixture, then vanilla extract, into yolk mixture. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and all of the salt, beating until medium-firm peaks form. Fold whites into chocolate mixture in 3 additions. Divide batter among prepared cups, filling each three-fourths of the way.

Bake cakes until tops are puffed and dry to the touch (some may crack, embrace it) and a tester inserted into the centers comes out with some moist crumbs attached, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool in pan on a cooling rack, where the cupcakes will almost immediately start to fall. It will be all the better to put your mint cream on them.

Beat mint white chocolate cream with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Remove cupcakes from pan, arrange on a platter. Fill each sunken top with a healthy dollop of white chocolate mint cream. Top with shaved dark chocolate, if you’re feeling fancy.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


Everyone who knows me knows that I hate sports in general and loathe football in particular. However, as I have said many times, I do LOVE a Superbowl PARTY! I enjoy the commercials, the half-time show, the company, and of course, the good eats. The game? Meh. However, this year, I made a special exception and actually watched the game and rooted for New Orleans. Not only was it the Saints' first time at the big show, it did my heart good to see that team represent a city that has had to pull itself up out of some of the worst misery that this country has ever seen. And it was extra-fun to cheer them on from my friends' comfy den, as Tom and June are New Orleans natives. (I am still recovering for the ear-shattering shrieks that came out of June when the Saints got that last interception and touchdown, and it became clear that they would be the Superbowl winners. OUCH! Tee hee.)

In true Lousiana fashion, there was some delicious food at the party...and WAY too much of it! To bring the Cajun/Creole flair, June made jambalaya, and someone else brought red beans and rice and smoked sausage. Of course, no Superbowl party would be compelte without the ubiquitous hot wings, and various snack platters of veggies and dip, crackers and cheese, etc. Then for dessert, there were decadent World Peace cookies with white chocolate chips, some terribly cute sugar cookies cut and decorated to look like footballs (of course, these came from the clever and creative Padula Family!), and the piece de resistance, an authentic fleur-de-lis king cake that one of June's friends had sent from New Orleans!

As for my own contributions, I made a zippy Creole slaw from some of the veggies that I just bought from a winter CSA (more about that another time), and a GINORMOUS muffaletta sandwich on the most adorable marbled football loaf that I happened upon at Price Chopper! For those of you unfamiliar with the muffaletta (and you have my deepest sympathies if that's you!), it is the most delicious of all sandwiches, made on a big, round loaf of Italian bread. The traditional fillings are mortadella, capicola, and Genoa Salami, both mozzarella and provolone cheeses, all dressed with a generous amount of olive salad. Yes, yes, it's enough to make a cardiologist cry, but MAN, is it GOOD!

The definitive muffaletta, they say, is to be found at Central Grocery in the French Quarter, though the best one I've had to date is at the Camellia Cafe in Slidell. Still, to honor tradition, I was guided by a recipe that was reported to have come from "someone who used to work with someone" whose grandfather created the now famous Central Grocery muffaletta. That provenance doesn't sound too trustworthy, but I played around with the olive salad a bit, anyway, tweaking it to my liking. So this may not be 100% authentic, but it sure was yummy!

Super-Saints Muffaletta
(Source: adapted from Cookery N'Orleans Style)

olive salad (my version):

1 sweet onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 of a 16 oz. jar pepperoncini, drained and tops cut off each pepper
1 16 oz. jar green salad olives (stuffed with pimento), drained
2 16 oz. cans black olives, drained
2 medium carrots, peeled and finely shredded
1 teaspoon celery seed
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar, optional
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons white vinegar

In the bowl of a food processor, add the onion, garlic cloves, and pepperoncini. Pulse until it's still a very rough chop, then add the olives and pulse again until everything is finely chopped. Dump the mixture into another bowl and stir in the shredded carrots, the spices, sugar (if using), olive oil and vinegar. Cover and refrigerate for 12-24 hours before making the muffaletta.

For each large sandwich (to serve two hungry people), you will need:

a round loaf of Italian bread
1/4 pound mortadella, thinly sliced
1/4 pound capicola (hot ham), thinly sliced
1/4 pound Genoa salami, thinly sliced
1/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
1/4 pound provolone cheese, sliced
1 cup olive salad

Split a muffuletta loaf or a loaf of Italian bread horizontally. Spread each half with equal parts of the olive salad. layer meats and cheeses evenly on bottom half and cover (carefully!) with top half of bread. Cut in quarters. Enjoy!

Creole Cole Slaw
(Source: adapted from

6 cups coleslaw mix*
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Creole mustard
2 tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
few dashes of tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning

*I used mainly Napa cabbage with a few carrots, a couple of stalks of celery, one green pepper, and one jalapeno shredded into the mix, along with three or four sliced scallions.

I salted the shredded vegetables with a couple of good pinches of kosher salt, then let it drain in a colander for a few hours before dressing the salad and letting it all chill and absorb flavor overnight. Salting the coleslaw ahead of time is supposed to leech out a lot of the water that ultimately makes the dressing runny, but mine ended up runny anyway! So next time, I might try chilling the veggies and the dressing separately, then combining them just before serving the slaw.