Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Savory Harbinger of Summer: Southwest Rice and Corn Salad

This is the second post in what is shaping up to be my Springtime Lemon Series. So....I was thumbing through the latest issue of Bon Appétit when I came across a recipe that sounded delicious, though decidedly out of season. I mean, come on! It calls for fresh corn, summer squash, and different kinds of peppers! Shouldn't this have been in the August issue? Nevertheless, I made it with corn on the cob from Mexico and other hothouse-grown veggies no doubt, but I must tell you, it was the MOST AMAZING salad!

Truly, this shall be my go-to salad of the summer. Not only will it showcase all the good eats from my garden and local farmstands, it would be perfect for all of those picnics and barbecues, because it's not mayo-based, and it's yummy when served cold or at room temperature. Moreover, it is like two side dishes in one--starch and veg--that would be wonderful alongside any grilled meat or fish.

File this one away, folks. You'll need it in a few more months! :-D

Southwest Rice and Corn Salad with Lemon Dressing
Bon Appétit, May 2010)
Yield: 8 side-dish servings

1 cup long-grain white rice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (I used half lemon and half lime)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from 2 ears) or frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 cup chopped fresh poblano chiles
1 cup diced seeded yellow bell pepper (or orange or red!)
1 cup 1/2-inch cubes yellow zucchini (I used both green and yellow)
1 avocado, halved, peeled, diced
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

*I also added a couple of cloves of minced garlic

Cook rice until just tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water. Drain again. (Hmm...just noticed this direction. I did not rinse my rice, and the salad came out just fine.) Meanwhile, whisk lemon (and lime!) juice and 3 tablespoons oil in small bowl. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat one tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat.* Add corn, poblanos, yellow bell pepper, and zucchini. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until vegetables are just tender, 6 to 7 minutes; scrape into large bowl. Add rice, avocado, green onions, cilantro, and dressing; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

*On the advice of a poster at epicurious.com, I decided to roast my veggies in the oven rather than saute' them, to give them more flavor. On a half sheet pan, I tossed the corn kernels, diced peppers and squashes with the tablespoon of olive oil plus salt and pepper, then roasted them at 450 for about 20 minutes, or until they just started to take on some good color around the edges. (Later this summer, I might even cook the veggies on the grill!) Also, I sprinkled on a bit of red pepper flakes when roasting the veggies, but next time, I will throw in a couple of serranos and/or jalapenos along with everything else for a little more heat than the poblanos give by themselves.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Failed cheese, tasty pasta!

I taught a cheesemaking class a couple of weekends ago, and though I had some fun (and tolerant) students, the experience was a NIGHTMARE! I can't figure out what's going on, but suddenly, I have lost the ability to make milk form curd, which is the whole basis of cheesemaking! A few days before the class, I made a batch of Neufchatel, and it looked like the curd had set up, but when I tried to ladle it out to drain, it just dissolved into a puddle of yogurty-looking goo. I went ahead and hung it to drip, but it was still very runny the next day. So I tried to rescue it by placing the bundle in a colander, putting a plate on top of the cheese, and pressing it down with a gallon of water. And the texture was perfect when I checked it the next day. Thus, I thought all was well...

But then, the night before the class, I was attempting to make mozzarella, and I went through another two gallons of Wal-Mart brand milk without success. So I went to the store at 2am to buy another kind (Price Chopper's brand). By the hardest, I managed to make one batch, but it took roughly forever to come together, and the resulting cheese had a weird texture. Before the class on Saturday, I stopped at Sam's and bought some Byrne Dairy milk to use to make the cheese again in class. And to my ultimate horror, it didn't work either, which was SO embarrassing. After all, I was there to teach people to make cheese! I guess I need to start a new search for milk that's not (secretly) ultra-pasteurized and try, try again. :-(

In the meantime, I took my failed mozzarella from class home and just for kicks, I let it drain overnight, and then the next day, I heated it a few times to see what I would get. It wasn't exactly mozzarella--it was more along the lines of ricotta salata. What was I going to do with that, you may ask? As it turns out, I ran across a simple pasta recipe from Everyday Food that I wanted to try, and I thought that my weird, Franken-cheese would work perfectly.

This recipe is so easy, has very few ingredients, and comes together in a snap! And it just seems delightfully springy to me, what with the lemon and the fresh chives and all. I served this with some Greek-style chicken thighs that I roasted in the oven with olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Then when they came out of the oven, I hit them with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Delish!

Spaghettini with Lemon Zest and Chives
Everyday Food)
Serves 4

1 pound spaghettini, or thin spaghetti
zest and juice of one lemon
1 stick butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup ricotta salata cheese, or Parmesan, coarsely grated
2 tablespoons fresh chives, or scallion greens, thinly chopped (I used both!)
salt and pepper

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook one pound of spaghettini, or thin spaghetti, until al dente according to package instructions.

Grate the zest of one lemon into a large pasta bowl. Juice the lemon, and add juice to the bowl. Stir in one stick butter, cut into small pieces, and one cup coarsely grated ricotta salata cheese or Parmesan. (I used a cup of my strange mozzarella/ricotta hybrid cut into small cubes PLUS an additional 1/4 cup of shredded parmesan.)

Add drained pasta to lemon sauce, and sprinkle in two tablespoons thinly chopped fresh chives or scallion greens. Season with salt and pepper. Toss well, and serve.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

And now, a word from our sponsors...

I don't really have any sponsors, but I'd like to take a quick break from my regular blogging format to make mention of some products on the market that I've recently tried and loved. First of all, you know my weakness for ice cream, as I have written about many, many times. Well, I came across a fabulous new Ben and Jerry's flavor recently that is TO. DIE. FOR. And interestingly, it's a limited batch can only be found at (gasp!) Wal-Mart. But it might be worth betraying your principles for. Ladies and gentlmen, I give you: FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE!

(Photo Credit: Brad Thomas Parsons)

This stuff is amazing, especially for those who LOVE chocolate. The base is deep, dark chocolate, and the flourless chocolate cake pieces are dense and rich--a chocolate EXPLOSION, if you will! Highly recommend! I also loved Hannah Teter's Maple Blondie, the first ice cream Ben and Jerry's has named for an athlete, in honor of the Vermont native and champion snowboarder. It is maple ice cream with blonde brownie pieces and a maple caramel swirl, and it is DEE-licious! The only new flavor I've tried recently that I haven't enjoyed is Boston Cream Pie. It tastes like cannoli filling, which is okay, but there was hardly any chocolate flavor at all (=like the frosting on a Boston Cream Pie...duh!). Thumbs down on that one.

Ok, enough with the ice cream talk! Let's move on to a beverage recommendation, shall we? Now I have been drinking Maine Root's delicious microbrew root beer for quite some time (available locally at Hannaford, for my Plattsburghers), but when we were staying in Secaucus over spring break, I found a four-pack of their blueberry soda at, of all places, Marshall's/Home Goods. It took me awhile to get around to drinking it, but now it's my new favorite libation! To quote Imbibe Magazine, "...this purple soda is the perfect substitute for those roadside blueberry stands we’re missing right now. The smell of fresh blueberry jam and freesias abound, while flavors of blueberry syrup intermingle with a spike of bright acidity and a pure, fresh-picked blueberry finish." If you can find it, you have to try it!

Finally, I have one very fragrant, but non-edible product recommendation. I am in love with Suave's new rosemary and mint shampoo and conditioner! First of all, it works great--the shampoo lathers nicely using only a small amount and cleans thoroughly without stripping, and the conditioner is sufficiently thick and moisturizes my hair (which is prone to breakage lately) very well. But it's ALL about the delicious fragrance! It's SO fresh and invigorating, like aromatherapy for a fraction of the typical price for such products. I think a ginormous, economy-size bottle (with salon pump) was $3.50 maybe? What a bargain for a bit of luxury and a lot of stress relief!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Trying out a new carrot cake for Easter...

Yesterday's post became so unwieldy, that I had to bring it to closure before I blogged about our most excellent Easter dessert, a delicious carrot sheet cake. Now, I do believe I have the best recipe in the whole world for carrot cake (a Junior League recipe with the charming moniker, Fourteen Karat Cake), but I went another way this time just for fun. I sort of combined a cake recipe adapted from The Pioneer Woman's site (Sigrid's Carrot Cake) and used a frosting recipe from another blog that I recently discovered called Mel's Kitchen Café. And the results were terrific!

It was certainly easier, as layer cakes are more of a pain to make. Plus, I truly preferred the ratio of cake to frosting in the single-layer, square servings. And speaking of the frosting, I especially enjoyed the lighter, softer version of cream cheese icing, which would be good with so many other desserts. I urge you to try this cake, but whatever you do, keep it refrigerated and eat it COLD! MMMMM!!

Carrot Sheet Cake with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting
(Sources: adapted from The Pioneer Woman and Mel's Kitchen Café)

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 stick butter, softened
4 whole eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup pecans, chopped

2/3 cup heavy cream
1 stick butter, softened
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
3 3/4 cups (1 lb.) powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
pinch of salt

Mix together the sugar, oil, butter and eggs in a large bowl until smooth. In another bowl sift together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Add to first mixture and just combine. Then add carrots and pecans and mix well. Pour into a greased and floured half sheet pan (I used a piece of parchment on the bottom of the pan and sprayed it a bit with flour-added cooking spray for good measure) and bake until done, about 25 minutes (you may wish to rotate the pan halfway through). Let cool completely in the pan.

Meanwhile, whip the heavy cream to stiff peaks and set aside. Then cream the butter and cream cheese. Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt and blend until creamy. Fold in the whipped cream. Spread on cooled carrot cake. Refrigerate, preferably overnight for frosting to set up and cake flavors to develop. Yum!

Serves 32--perfect for a big Easter gathering!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Passover + Easter + Quebec = DELICIOUS

This year, I purposed to stamp out the tyranny of the spiral sliced ham at Easter. I had grown bored with it and wanted something different. So I was guided by my Jewish friends, and opted instead for that Passover staple, the brisket. I believe I've made one in the distant past, but I have no real memory of it, so it must not have been mentally noteworthy. But armed with a recipe from Smitten Kitchen and my fabulous new Le Creuset Dutch oven, I was ready to try again.

The first thing I needed to do was the acquire said brisket. So we decided to take a lovely, looping drive over to Noyan, QC to the cheesemaker, then over to Lacolle to the German butcher for various sausages and cold cuts, and finally to the butcher in Hemmingford for the brisket. We were having a very nice day, and we were planning to have dinner at the cute little pub in Hemmingford before heading back across the border.

But when we came out of the butcher, my car was dead as a doornail. This was very worrisome, because it was past closing time on a Saturday, and there was only one mechanic in the village, and he was not answering his phone. A couple of nice fellows stopped at tried to help, but to no avail.

However, one of them informed me that AAA membership covers all of North America. Who knew? That is a very wonderful thing for those of us who live on the border and cross over and back a lot. Of course, if your car needs to be towed, it does get a little complicated. Apparently, one tow truck will take you to the border, and then another one on the other side has to take you the rest of the way. What a pain!

Happily, I only needed a jump start, and while we waited the half hour or so for the nice Canadian towing guy to come give us a boost, we busted out the cheeses and meats and a crusty loaf of bread, and had a little feast on the picnic table right in front of the butcher shop! So if you have to break down, that's definitely the way to do it!

By the hardest, we managed to make it home before the brisket became room temperature. And then the next day, I prepared it in a tangy sauce in my beautiful new Dutch oven for Easter dinner. It came out very tender and flavorful, and I served the savory sauce over some spatzle that I bought at the German butcher. Yum!

Tangy Spiced Brisket
(Source: adapted from
Smitten Kitchen)
Serves 8 to 10

3 large onions, sliced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/4 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups beef stock
1 cup ketchup
1 cup chili sauce* (I used 2 cups of
homemade spicy chili sauce and omitted the ketchup)
1/2 cup brown sugar
8 to 10 pound brisket (I only did half of the brisket, less than five pounds)

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and sauté onions in vegetable oil, stirring occasionally, until caramelized and most of liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add halved garlic cloves and saute for 3 minutes more. Stir in spices and seasoning (paprika, salt, garlic and onion powders, black pepper, cayenne, oregano and thyme) and cook for 2 minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the beef stock, ketchup, chili sauce and brown sugar. If baking in oven: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place brisket in Dutch oven, spread onion mixture over the top, then pour sauce mixture over the entire dish. Cover and bake until very tender but not falling apart, about 3 to 4 hours. Or you could make it in a slow cooker*; place brisket in a slow cooker, spread onion mixture over the top, then pour sauce mixture over the entire dish. Cover with the lid and cook it on low for 10 hours.

For both methods, rest the dish. When the brisket is cooked but still hot, use a spoon to scrape off any large fat deposits adhered to the top and bottom of the brisket. (This part is easiest to do when hot. The sauce will be de-fatted after it has chilled.) If you’re using a slow cooker, transfer the brisket and all of its sauce to a baking dish. If you’ve baked it in the oven, you can continue in that same dish. Chill entire dish in the fridge for several hours and up to one day; this resting time will significantly enhance the flavor and texture of the meat.

An hour before you’re ready to serve it, preheat your oven to 300°F, and remove the dish from the fridge. Remove all of the fat that has solidified with a slotted spoon for a less oily finish. Carefully remove the meat from its sauce and place on a large cutting board. Cut the brisket into 1/2-inch slices. Carefully place the sliced meat (moving it in large sections with a spatula helps keep it together) back into the sauce and spoon the sauce over the meat. Replace the lid or cover the dish tightly with foil and reheat in the oven until it is bubbling at the edges — this usually takes up to to 30 minutes.

*Although I adore my slow cooker, I’m still not sure which box it’s in since the move. So I made this in my Dutch oven, cooking it overnight (200 degrees for 9 hours), then chilling for about the same time. I brought the sauce to a boil while I was defatting and slicing the meat, then finished it all in the oven for about 45 minutes at 350. The brisket was very flavorful, and the pieces usually split in half when you tried to pick them up, as they were so tender!

My only regret is refrigerating the meat in the Dutch oven instead of a smaller, less heat-retaining vessel. It never did get cold enough for the fat to solidify, so I had to skim the oil off the top like you might do for gravy, but it was still greasier than I would have preferred. However, after refrigerating the leftovers, it was easy to get the remaining solid fat off the top of the sauce before reheating for meal #2.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A New Creation: Praline Zucchini Cake

We hit up so many bakeries in the City over spring break that we decided to freeze much of our sweet bounty right away in the hotel suite, then transfer the items home, and put them right into the big freezer in the garage for future enjoyment. (Sadly, Doughnut Plant doughnuts don't hold well through any preservation method. Boo hiss.) While I was out in the garage, trying to make room in the freezer, I unearthed many packages of last year's zucchini/summer squash harvest (peeled, shredded and bagged in two-cup portions). Thus, I felt compelled to create something to use up some of the frozen squash.

I took my inspiration from a tasty gift that my very kind friend, June, brought me back from her spring break trip to her hometown of New Orleans: PRALINES! Of course, I ate the ones she gave me right away (tee hee), but I wondered if I might compose some kind of light, moist, zucchini-based cake--not the typically heavy, highly-spiced variety--with a decadent praline topping? I trolled the internet until I found a couple of recipes to play with, and my dessert came out beautifully, if I do say so myself.

The only change I might make in the future would be to eliminate the vanilla pudding in the recipe below. I always like the idea of it, as it makes the cake moist and extra-flavorful, but it often creates a slightly gummy texture that I do not prefer. And I'm just not sure that it's necessary anyway. With sour cream and vegetable oil and the squash itself, I'm sure the cake would be plenty moist on its own, and one could always bump up the vanilla flavor by adding some extract. Still, the cake was scrumptious, and pretty easy to throw together, too. I recommend it. Oh, one last thing. When serving the leftovers, make sure to nuke each slice for a bit to melt the praline topping. It's SO much better when it's warm and gooey...as most things are! ;-)

Praline Zucchini Cake
(Sources: adapted from
Taste of Home's Community Boards and Real Mom Kitchen)

For the cake batter:
1 butter pecan cake mix (Betty Crocker)
4 eggs
3 oz. package instant vanilla pudding mix (I used French Vanilla because that's what I had)
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon maple extract (or vanilla)
2 cups peeled, finely shredded zucchini
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix everything except the nuts for about four minutes in a stand mixer, until very thick and smooth. Mix in the nuts, then pour the batter into a sprayed 9x13 pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until a tester comes out with just moist crumbs clinging to it. Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes, then poke it all over with a skewer.

While the cake is cooling, prepare the topping.

For the praline sauce:
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons heavy cream
pinch of salt
2 cups whole pecans*, toasted (I toasted mine on a plate in the microwave for 2-3 minutes until they got hot and started to smell nutty)
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, combine butter, brown sugar, cream, and salt; heat until boils. Remove from heat and stir in pecans and vanilla. Pour warm sauce over cake before serving.

*I LOVE nuts, so I went a little, er, nuts with this cake. But you could certainly cut the nuts in the topping back to one cup and chop them so that they'll cover the whole cake.