Posts Tagged 'Entertaining Recipes'

Onion Pizza with Ricotta and Chard (aka My Best Grilled Pizza Yet!)

I finally managed a restaurant-quality grilled pizza, y’all.  I’ve been using the same dough recipe since last summer and I’ve tried a variety of different toppings, but this last one – Onion Pizza with Ricotta and Chard – is a real winner.  If you want crisp yet chewy homemade crust and totally delicious (and pretty nutritious!) toppings, this one’s for you.

Basic Grilled Pizza Dough
Makes four 10-inch pizzas (1 pound dough total)

Ingredients:
1 teaspoon sugar
1 packet (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for bowl and brushing
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 1/4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface

Method:
Pour 1 cup warm water into a medium bowl; add sugar and sprinkle with yeast.  Let stand until foamy, 5 minutes.

Whisk oil and 1 teaspoon salt into yeast mixture.  Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon until liquid is incorporated (dough will appear dry).  Turn out onto a floured work surface.  Knead until dough comes together in an elastic ball, 2 minutes. Transfer to an oiled medium bowl; brush lightly with oil.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap; set in a warm, draft-free place until dough has doubled in bulk, 45 minutes. Punch down dough and cover; let rise another 30 minutes.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface.  Divide into 4 equal pieces.  (To store, refrigerate dough pieces, covered, up to 2 days, or freeze, up to 1 month.)  Let rest 15 minutes before using.

Source: Everyday Food, July 2010

Onion, Ricotta, and Chard Pizza Toppings

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/4 pounds onions, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/2 pound chard, stemmed, leaves washed (can substitute spinach, if desired)
3/4 cup ricotta (6 ounces)
2 ounces Parmesan, grated (1/2 cup, tightly packed)

Method:
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet.  Add the onions.  Cook, stirring often, until tender and just beginning to color, about 10 minutes.  Add the thyme, garlic, and a generous pinch of salt.  Turn the heat to low, cover and cook another 10 to 20 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are golden brown and very sweet and soft.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

While the onions are cooking, stem and wash the chard leaves, and bring a medium pot of water to a boil.  Fill a medium bowl with ice water.  When the water comes to a boil, salt generously and add the chard.  Blanch for one to two minutes, just until the leaves are tender, and transfer to the ice water.  Drain and squeeze out excess water. Alternatively, steam the chard for two to three minutes until wilted, and rinse with cold water.  Chop the chard medium-fine.  Combine the ricotta, chard, and Parmesan in a medium bowl and set aside.

Make ahead note: The cooked onions and the blanched or steamed chard will keep for three or four days in the refrigerator.

Source: The New York Times

To assemble pizzas:

Heat grill: Set up a grill with heat source, coals or gas, on one side over medium-high.  Clean and lightly oil hot grill.

Stretch dough: On a lightly floured work surface, separately stretch or roll 2 pieces basic grilled pizza dough or 8 ounces (two 4-ounce pieces) store-bought dough into 10-inch-long ovals or other desired shape.  Brush one side lightly with herb oil or olive oil and season with coarse salt and ground pepper.

Grill dough: Using your hands, place dough, oiled side down, directly over heat source.  Brush dough with herb oil or olive oil and cook until underside is lightly charred and bubbles form all over top, 1 to 2 minutes.  With tongs, flip dough and cook until lightly charred, 1 to 2 minutes.  Slide dough to cooler side of grill.

Add toppings: Top dough with ricotta/chard/Parmesan mixture and caramelized onions.  Cover grill.  Cook until toppings are heated through, 2 to 5 minutes.

Onion Pizza with Ricotta and Chard

Holy cow, this pizza was deeeeeelicious.  The dough was crisp on the edges and chewier in the center, the caramelized onions were smoky and sweet, and the ricotta with the chard and Parmesan was creamy and super flavorful.  I served this with a beet and arugula salad with goat cheese and walnuts and thought I was in heaven.  I will definitely make this pizza again, and the menu (with the salad) would make a fantastic casual dinner party.

I’ll admit that it took a bit of practice to develop a good system for getting the dough from the kitchen to the grill, so I’ll share what I know.  I roll and stretch the dough on my kitchen island and then put each piece on its own lightly-floured baking sheet before I brush it with oil.  Since I don’t have much work space on the sides of my grill, I make Dr. O carry the two baking sheets onto the deck and then I hand-transfer the dough to the grill.  The dough tends to shift and stretch a bit when it’s picked up, but that’s OK; rustic is good.

TIPS:  If I make the pizza dough ahead, I wrap it in plastic wrap before I store it.  If I freeze it, I wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in a freezer bag as well.  To use frozen dough, I typically just thaw it in the refrigerator overnight.

Recipe links: Basic Grilled Pizza Dough and Onion Pizza with Ricotta and Chard

S’More Squares

What the heck happened to summer?  I realize that by the calendar, we still have almost seven weeks (and I will continue to blog as such!), but I can feel it fading.  The neighborhood kids are going back to school tomorrow, and I was mildly freaked out to see racks and racks of fall clothes at the mall yesterday.  (At least that means football is coming, right?)

In my mind, this means we’d better enjoy as much summer fare as we can before it’s back to roasted squash and simmering stews.  And what’s the quintessential summer dessert?  S’mores, of course!  Today’s recipe is a dressed-up version you can use as a fun ending to the most adult dinner party, but kids love it as well (and I have the evidence!).

S’More Squares
Makes 9

Ingredients:
Vegetable oil, for brushing
4 packages unflavored gelatin (or 3 tablespoons)
3 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 6 tablespoons room temperature, plus more for pan
14 graham crackers, crushed to yield 1 1/2 cups crumbs
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

Method:
Brush a 9-x-13-inch glass baking dish with vegetable oil.  Cut a piece of parchment or wax paper large enough to cover the bottom of the dish and to overhang the longer sides.  Place the parchment in the dish, brush with oil, and set dish aside.

Pour 3/4 cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer, and sprinkle gelatin on top.  Let stand 5 minutes.

Place 3 cups granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 3/4 cup water in a medium saucepan.  Set saucepan over high heat, and bring to a boil.  Insert a candy thermometer, and cook until mixture reaches soft-ball stage (238 degrees, about 9 minutes).

Using the whisk attachment, beat hot syrup into gelatin on low speed.  Gradually increasing speed to high, beat until mixture is very stiff, about 12 minutes.  Beat in vanilla.  Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish, and smooth the surface with an offset spatula.  Set dish aside, uncovered, until marshmallow becomes firm, at least 3 hours or overnight.

Place 1 cup confectioners’ sugar in a fine strainer, and sift onto a clean work surface. Invert large marshmallow onto the sugar-coated surface, and peel off the parchment paper.  Lightly brush a sharp knife with vegetable oil, and cut marshmallow into 2-inch squares.  Sift remaining 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl, and roll marshmallows in sugar to coat.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Brush a 9-inch square baking pan with melted butter.  In a large bowl, combine graham-cracker crumbs, 7 tablespoons melted butter, and remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar.  Using your hands, press mixture firmly into prepared pan.  Transfer pan to oven, and bake until the crust has set, 15 to 18 minutes.  Remove pan from oven, and transfer to wire rack to cool.

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a simmer.  In a medium heat-proof bowl, combine chocolate with remaining 6 tablespoons butter.  Set the bowl over the simmering water, and stir until chocolate and butter have melted.  Pour chocolate mixture over cooled graham-cracker crust.  Using an offset spatula, spread chocolate mixture into an even layer.  Transfer to refrigerator, and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the broiler.  Cut chocolate crust into nine 3-inch squares.  Top each square with a marshmallow, and place assembled s’mores under the broiler just until marshmallows turn golden brown, about 20 seconds.  Serve immediately.

Source: Martha Stewart Living, May 1998

Time for S'Mores!Time for S'Mores!

Time for S'Mores!

S'Mores Square

Talk about a decadent dessert.  WOW.  The end result was really delicious but super rich; my group of tasters concluded that the chocolate was the culprit.  I used Baker’s semisweet for this batch, but I’m going to use Hershey’s milk chocolate (the classic!) next time around.  I might also play with the amount of chocolate in my next batch, though I’m not sure that half would be quite enough.  Additionally, I’ll probably cut the graham cracker base into a dozen squares instead of nine to make it easier to finish one off (though the size does make this a visually impressive dessert!).

This marshmallow recipe is pure perfection, everybody.  These were the most gorgeous, fluffy marshmallows I’ve ever made (and I’ve made lots), AND they taste exactly like Jet-Puffed marshmallows (a plus in my book).  Whenever I have a recipe that calls for marshmallow from here on out, I’m going to use these.  Also, this recipe makes more than double the amount of marshmallow you’ll actually need for the s’mores, so you’ll have plenty around for snacks.

So what else do I love about this recipe?  The same thing I love about so many things I post on this blog, which is “make-ahead-ability.”  The marshmallows will keep in an airtight container for about two weeks, and the chocolate-covered graham cracker squares can be kept in the refrigerator for at least two or three days.  If you have the components made, all you have to do is preheat the broiler, put the squares on a baking sheet, put marshmallows on the squares, and put the treats under the broiler for 20 seconds.  That’s about as easy as it gets.

A note about browning the marshmallows: I thought it might be OK to use a kitchen torch instead of the broiler, but that quite literally just browns the marshmallows. You totally miss out on the ooey-gooeyness that the oven time creates.  Also, if you make too many s’mores, I discovered that they’re quite good reheated the next day. Just let them cool completely, put them in an airtight container, and then pop them in the microwave for 15 – 20 seconds when you’re ready to enjoy.

TIP:  Since I live at 5900 feet, I had to adjust the temperature of my sugar and corn syrup mixture to make the marshmallow.  Water boils at 202°F at my house (instead of 212°F at sea level), so I took the mixture off of the stove at 228°F instead of 238°F.  Also, I had an incredible amount of powdered sugar waste after I cut and rolled my marshmallows; I think you could get away with sifting only 1/2 cup of confectioners’ sugar onto the work surface, rather than a full cup.

Update 4/23/12: I made these last night for friends with two modifications.  First, I used 9 ounces of Hershey’s milk chocolate instead of 12 ounces of semisweet chocolate.  I liked the flavor of the Hershey’s better, and the chocolate layer was a perfect thickness.  Also, one of my dinner guests from last night can’t have gluten, so I made the crust with Kinnikinnick S’moreables (and made sure to get 1.55-ounce Hershey bars, which apparently is the only size Hershey guarantees as gluten free).  Using the alternative graham cracker changed the texture of the crust a bit, but the dessert was still delicious.

Recipe link: S’More Squares

Basic Potato Salad

I had one of my most glorious summer nights ever at the end of June.  Some dear friends and I packed ourselves (and our picnics) into a car.  Our destination? Venetucci Farm in Colorado Springs to see Gregory Alan Isakov (one of our local favorites) play al fresco.  It was an evening of great friends (including one I hadn’t seen in nine years!), perfect weather, wonderful music, and (of course) tasty food.

Since my friend handled the concert tickets and the wine, I volunteered to take care of the picnic.  I settled on Pampered Chef’s Italian Muffuletta (I need to make it again because it must be blogged), Martha Stewart’s Basic Potato Salad, grapes, and Coconut-Apricot Macaroons.  Everything was so delicious and so able to be made ahead (a picnic must).  Here’s the recipe for the potato salad:

Basic Potato Salad
Serves 8

Ingredients:
3 pounds waxy potatoes (such as Yukon gold or new), scrubbed and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/3 cup white-wine vinegar
4 scallions, white part minced, green part thinly sliced
Coarse salt
Ground pepper
3/4 cup light mayonnaise

Method:
Set a steamer basket in a Dutch oven (or large pot with a lid), and add enough salted water to come just below the basket; bring to a boil.

Place potatoes in basket, cover pot, and reduce heat to a gentle simmer.  Steam potatoes, gently tossing occasionally, until tender, 15 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine vinegar, scallion whites, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Add hot potatoes to vinegar mixture; toss to combine.  Cool to room temperature, tossing occasionally, about 1 hour.

Add mayonnaise and scallion greens to cooled potatoes; mix gently to combine. Serve, or cover and refrigerate up to 2 days.

Source: Everyday Food, June 2007

Basic Potato Salad

Now I am all for eating complicated potato salads with long lists of ingredients (particularly if that list includes bacon and/or sour cream), but making them can be a pain.  This salad is super simple with minimal hands-on time, but it’s seriously tasty (though liking vinegar is a must).  It’s tangy and creamy, with the slightest bite from the scallions.  YUM.  I’m going to make this one again when my parents come to visit next month.

TIPS: Next time, I’ll be sure put my scallion whites and greens in separate little bowls while I make this.  I wasn’t really paying all that much attention to the recipe, and I put my whites and greens in the vinegar with the hot potatoes.  The result? Sad, wilted, washed-out-looking scallion greens.  I solved the problem by snipping some of my CSA chives over the top, but next time, I’ll just do it right the first time.

Recipe link: Basic Potato Salad

Thai Chicken with Basil

As I was making my desserts this afternoon for this month’s gourmet club, it occurred to me that in all of June’s travel-related craziness, I never blogged my dishes from last month’s Thai-themed gourmet club.  They’re too good not to share!

I was initially a bit nervous about today’s dish – Thai Chicken with Basil – because it isn’t something you make ahead.  As many of you know, I prefer to do as much as I can ahead of time when entertaining to keep my kitchen space clean and my stress level low.  My kitchen is a gathering place and it isn’t a space I can close off, so cooking with company present involves putting on a bit of a show.

Thankfully, this dish was pretty easy to throw together.  Here are the “prep steps” I took to make things as easy as possible (everything was stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator):

  • I cut the chicken breasts and stored them separately.
  • I combined the fish sauce, soy sauce, water, and sugar in a small container.
  • I cut the onion and stored it separately.
  • I seeded and sliced the chiles, minced the garlic, and stored them together.
  • I washed the basil and stored it separately.
With the hard work done, all I had to do was combine the marinade and the chicken and then dump the right things in the pan at the right time.  Easy entertaining! Here’s the recipe:
Thai Chicken with Basil
Serves 4
Ingredients:
1 1/3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 4), cut into 1-by-2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 large onion, cut into thin slices
3 fresh red chiles, seeds and ribs removed, cut into thin slices, or 1/4 teaspoon dried red-pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups lightly packed basil leaves
Method:
In a medium bowl, combine the chicken with the fish sauce, soy sauce, water, and sugar.  In a large nonstick frying pan or a wok, heat the oil over moderately high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.  Stir in the chiles and garlic; cook, stirring, 30 seconds longer.
Remove the chicken from the marinade with a slotted spoon and add it to the hot pan.  Cook until almost done, stirring, about 3 minutes.  Add the marinade and cook 30 seconds longer.  Remove from the heat and stir in 1 cup of the basil. Serve topped with remaining 1/2 cup basil.

Thai Chicken with Basil

Oh, this dish is really yummy.  There’s a hint of sweet, a hint of heat, and the sauce is delightfully salty (not overpoweringly so).  The chicken came out nicely cooked, and I love the tender onions and fresh basil.  I didn’t take time to photograph the dish during gourmet club, so I gladly made it again the following week because we enjoyed it so much.  If you’re a fan of Thai food, give this one a try!

TIPS:  When I was working on this recipe in May, SuperTarget was the only grocery store I found that carried red chiles.  (They were Fresno chiles, specifically.)  I’m seeing them in King Soopers/Kroger these days as well.

Recipe link: Thai Chicken with Basil

Green Grape and Marcona Almond Gazpacho

I’m up to my eyeballs in Thai recipes that I’m testing for this month’s gourmet club meeting, but I realized today that I haven’t posted a word about last month’s amazing Spanish-themed meeting.  We had a terrific meal!  I was on appetizer duty and so much of the Spanish recipe content out there centers around tapas, so I had lots to choose from.  My final choices were Tomato-Rubbed Bread with Manchego Cheese (the favorite!), Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Shrimp Salad (soooo good), and the one recipe I actually managed to photograph: Green Grape and Marcona Almond Gazpacho.  I’ve made tomato and cucumber-based gazpacho before, and this one was so different.  It’s creamy, fruity, nutty, and easily made ahead – perfect for entertaining outside in the summer.  Here’s the recipe:

Green Grape and Marcona Almond Gazpacho
Makes about 8 cups

Ingredients:
1 large garlic clove
2 1/2 large seedless cucumbers, peeled and cut into 1-inch dice (5 cups), plus 1/4 cup finely diced peeled cucumber, for garnish
1 1/4 cups whole green grapes, plus 1/4 cup diced grapes, for garnish
3/4 cup Marcona almonds
3 cups crustless 1/2-inch dice of good white bread
4 scallions, white and tender green parts, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 cup packed watercress leaves
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Method:
In a small saucepan of boiling water, cook the garlic clove for 10 minutes; drain.

In a blender, working in batches, puree the garlic with the 5 cups of diced cucumber, the 1 1/4 cups of whole green grapes, 1/2 cup of the almonds and the bread cubes, scallions, watercress, water, olive oil, and sherry vinegar until very smooth. Transfer the soup to a large pitcher and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.

To serve, chop the remaining 1/4 cup of almonds.  Stir the gazpacho, then pour it into shallow bowls.  Garnish the soups with the finely diced cucumber and grapes and the chopped almonds and serve.

Make ahead: The gazpacho can be refrigerated overnight.

Source: FoodandWine.com

My notes:

  • I left out the watercress because my grocery store didn’t have any.
  • I was able to find Marcona almonds at Costco.  I had to buy more than I needed (of course!), but they’re incredibly delicious and made a great snack.
  • If you go to Costco for the almonds, you might at well get English cucumbers while you’re there as well.  You can get three for the price you would typically pay for two at a regular grocery store.

Green Grape and Marcona Almond Gazpacho

I would say this soup is best suited for adventurous eaters since it’s served cold and the flavors are a bit unexpected.  Visually, one might think avocado or peas, but the flavor is definitely a combination of fruit and nuts.  We all agreed that there was almost a pear flavor (despite the fact that the recipe didn’t contain any pears), which was, I think, a combination of the cucumber and the grapes.  The almonds stood out wonderfully in the flavor profile, and they also gave the soup its creamy texture.  This gazpacho would be a fantastic, light first course for an outdoor dinner party or would make a great addition to any Spanish-themed menu.

Recipe links: Tomato-Rubbed Bread with Serrano Ham (I substituted Manchego), Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Shrimp Salad, and Green Grape and Marcona Almond Gazpacho

Coconut-Key Lime Pie

We are slowly and steadily working our way through the leftover party beverages, but I planned a dinner party for last Friday to help speed up the process.  The weather was relatively nice last week, which (1) motivated me to spring clean my grill, and (2) put me in the mood to serve brighter, lighter food for my party.  To keep things relatively stress free, I went with a menu I served to my family last summer: Cilantro Honey-Lime Grilled Chicken, Southwestern Two-Bean Salad, and Hill Country Coleslaw. Watermelon wasn’t going to work as dessert this time around, though, since it’s hardly the season.  I knew several of my guests were coconut fans and that lime would go well with the meal, so I decided to try a recipe from the November 2010 issue of Everyday Food: Coconut-Key Lime Pie.

I actually made the pie twice; I experimented on my family when they came to dinner two Sundays ago (I’m glad they welcome my tests!), and then I served it at the dinner party mentioned above.  I got fantastic results both times, but I have to admit I made a significant substitution.  Knowing that there are 50 calories and 5 grams of fat per tablespoon of heavy cream, I just couldn’t pile 32 tablespoons worth onto my pie.  Couldn’t do it.  I used an 8-ounce container of Cool Whip Lite instead and saved 37 Weight Watchers PointsPlus points for the entire pie.  I would probably dig out the cream if I planned to serve the pie to hardcore foodies, but my guests certainly didn’t have any complaints.  Here’s the recipe:

Easy Press-In Pie Crust
Prep time: 10 minutes | Total time: 20 minutes plus cooling | Yield: One nine-inch pie crust

Ingredients:
6 ounces cookies (about 12 graham crackers, 46 vanilla wafers, or 30 chocolate wafers, such as Famous)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Method:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a food processor, pulse cookies until finely ground (you should have about 1 1/2 cups).  Add sugar, salt, and butter and pulse until combined.

Firmly press crumb mixture into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie plate.  (If using a springform pan, press crumbs halfway up sides.)  Bake until crust is dry and set, about 12 minutes.  Let cool completely in plate on a wire rack before filling.

Coconut-Key Lime Pie
Serves 8

Ingredients:
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (13.5 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
1/3 cup fresh or bottled Key lime juice
7 large egg yolks
1 Easy Press-In Pie Crust, made with graham crackers
2 cups cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

Method:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In a medium bowl, whisk together condensed milk, coconut milk, lime juice, and egg yolks until smooth.  Pour into crust and bake until set but still slightly wobbly in center, 40 minutes.  Let cool on a wire rack, 1 1/2 to 2 hours, then refrigerate 3 hours (or up to 1 day).

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat cream and sugar on high until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes.  To serve, top pie with whipped cream and sprinkle with toasted coconut.

Source: Everyday Food, November 2010

My notes:

  • When making the crust, I would recommend adding the salt while you’re grinding the graham crackers for the best distribution.  I often enjoy being able to taste the salt in sweet things, but you might want to cut the salt to 1/8 teaspoon if salt isn’t your thing.
  • Beware the unsweetened coconut milk!  I’m used to using sweetened coconut milk, which is pretty smooth and creamy.  The unsweetened, first press stuff is basically chunks and water; I still haven’t figured out how to successfully get it all out of the can without splashing coconut water somewhere.  Also, I would recommend whisking it separately until smooth before adding it to the sweetened condensed milk, lime juice, and egg yolks.  My filling came together much more easily when I did this.
  • I’m usually a from-scratch-all-the-way kind of gal, but when the two grocery stores I visited didn’t have key limes, I just went with the bottled stuff (although it was specifically key lime juice, not just lime juice).  One of my guests commented that he wasn’t usually into citrus desserts because the flavor is typically too intense, but he liked the mellow flavor of this pie.  The coconut probably helped as well.
  • My pie needed 45 minutes (instead of 40) at 325 degrees to be reasonably set with a wobbly center.
  • I already mentioned the heavy cream swap.

Coconut Key Lime Pie

This pie is seriously yummy.  The graham cracker crust is divine – sweet, buttery, salty, crunchy – and I love the bright but mellow citrus-coconut filling.  The cream (real or not!) and toasted coconut on top are great textural elements.  This recipe is perfect for summer, for Southwestern or tropical menus, or for any time you need a little sunshine in the form of dessert.  I’ll be making this one again for sure.

Recipe links: Easy Press-In Pie Crust and Coconut Key-Lime Pie

King Cake

We had our Cajun-themed gourmet club meeting on Saturday night, and I was on deck for dessert.  When we settled on a theme, the hostess asked if I had thought about making a king cake.  I had to Google it because I had never even heard of it (sad!), but it looked like fun, so I started hunting for recipes.

Since high-altitude baking is often a challenge, I felt lucky to find a recipe through The Denver Post that was specifically titled “Louisiana-to-Denver King Cake.” Surely, it would be fantastic, right?  Wrong.  It’s not so much that it didn’t work; it just wasn’t special enough to serve as the finale for what would surely be a spectacular Cajun meal.  It didn’t pack enough of a flavor punch and was a bit dry. Having learned that king cake was more like sweet bread, though, I realized that I didn’t really need to make any high-altitude adjustments and could just look for the best-rated recipe out there.

I settled on one with a sour cream base and cream cheese filling from Food.com. The results were amazing!  The recipe is a bit long so I’ll just link to it.  Here are my notes:

  • I used full-fat sour cream and light (neufchatel) cream cheese.
  • I made a half recipe each time.  The only challenge was using half an egg in the cream cheese filling; I used my kitchen scale to measure half an egg by weight.  (Half of a large egg weighed about 26 or 27 grams.)
  • Once I had rolled my dough into a rectangle, I found that it was best to distribute the cream cheese filling on the long side of the dough closest to me rather than spreading it over the entire surface of the dough.  I was able to keep most of the filling rolled up in the dough that way instead of having it ooze onto the counter.
  • I baked my cake for 20 minutes at 375°F instead of the 15 minutes recommended by the recipe.
  • I cooled my cake before icing it; otherwise, the icing would have just melted off the cake.
  • I already had colored sugars in my pantry, so I didn’t make any from scratch.
  • I did put a small plastic baby in my cake (per tradition), but I didn’t bake it in. I just poked it into the underside of the cake after the cake had cooled a bit.
Unbaked King Cake

Unbaked king cake

Baked King Cake

Fresh out of the oven

King Cake

Iced and ready to go

King Cake Interior

To-die-for cream cheese custard

This king cake is heavenly.  The bread is so incredibly moist, and the cream cheese filling bakes up into a delicious custard.  Wow!  I’ll be making this every year (sometime between January 6 and Mardi Gras day, according to tradition) from here on out.

Recipe link: King Cake

Slow-Cooker Spicy Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches

Football party season is upon us (Dr. O is out enjoying one as I write), which means it’s time to break out our very best game day recipes.  I found one this past week that is easy, perfect for entertaining (slow cooker!), and is actually pretty healthy: Spicy Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches from the January/February 2011 issue of Everyday Food.  The recipe isn’t on the Everyday Food site yet, so I’ll share it with you here.

Slow-Cooker Spicy Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches
Serves 8 | Active time: 25 min. | Total time: 4 hr. 25 min.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced small
1 can (14.5 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup hot-pepper sauce, such as Frank’s (I used Cholula)
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tablespoon unsulfured molasses
8 hamburger buns

Method:
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high.  Add chicken thighs, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring once, until meat is golden brown, 5 minutes.  With a slotted spoon, transfer to a slow cooker, leaving as much oil behind as possible. Repeat with chicken breasts.

To skillet, add onion, garlic, and bell pepper and cook over medium, stirring constantly, until onion is translucent, 6 minutes.  Add 1/4 cup water and cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits from skillet, 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and transfer to slow cooker.

To slow cooker, add crushed tomatoes, hot-pepper sauce, Worcestershire, mustard, and molasses; stir to combine.  Cover and cook on high until chicken is very tender, 4 hours.  Shred chicken and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve on buns.

Note: Refrigerate the finished dish in an airtight container, up to 5 days, or freeze, up to 3 months.

Nutrition per serving: 358 cal; 10 g fat (3 g sat fat); 35 g protein; 31 g carb; 3 g fiber

Spicy Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

These sandwiches were SO good!  I have a basic barbecued chicken sandwich recipe that I’ve been using for years, but this recipe has so much more depth of flavor. Unless I’m short on time, I’ll take this sandwich any day.  I should note, though, that the inclusion of the word “spicy” in the recipe title isn’t a joke.  I was cautious and cut the hot sauce to 3 tablespoons instead of 4; the heat was still enough to make our noses run.  (Our New Mexico and Arizona friends joke that we’re still “in training” when it comes to eating spicy food…  Somehow, I think this will be a lifelong process!)  Anyway, if you like it hot, go with the full 1/4 cup; if you don’t do spicy food, you might still get a hint of heat if you cut the hot sauce to 2 tablespoons.

Since I’m used to cooking fattier cuts of meat (like pork shoulder or chuck roast) in the slow cooker, I was a bit skeptical about how well the chicken breast would shred.  It was amazingly easy!  I guess that just goes to show that the slow cooker can do amazing things with meat, lean or not.

I won’t be cooking on Super Bowl Sunday, but I’m absolutely putting these sandwiches in my game day arsenal.  Give them a try the next time you need to make a casual supper for a crowd.

Bouef Bourguignon

I spent three whole hours this afternoon making homemade pierogi that ended up being too doughy to be truly delicious.  I really could have used a pasta machine (and a miracle!).

So instead of dwelling on my disappointment, I decided to write about something I did very right recently: Bouef Bourguignon!

Although many people instantly think of Julia Child when Bouef Bourguignon is mentioned, my recipe is from Ina Garten.  I first made the dish last February when I hosted a French-themed gourmet club meeting, and I enjoyed it so much that I decided to pull the recipe back out when I hosted my Colorado family for dinner. Aside from the fact that the flavor is phenomenal, my favorite thing about this dish is that it actually tastes better if you make it a day or two ahead and gently reheat it for guests.  The time required for prep work and cooking is a bit long, but it’s worth it for me; I’ll do almost anything to reduce day-of-dinner-party stress.

Bless The Washington Post…  They reprinted the recipe exactly as written in Barefoot in Paris and saved me some trouble.  (Food Network’s online recipe is close but not quite the same…  I hate it when they leave things out!)

Here are my notes:

  • I wasn’t able to find a single 2 1/2-pound beef chuck roast (pot roast), so I bought two smaller ones.  This worked out perfectly because I was able to cut out the solid, fatty sections and just use the best parts of the meat.
  • I used brandy instead of Cognac.
  • Flambéing freaks me out, to be honest.  Here’s my technique: I make sure all flammable things are at least three feet away from the stove, and then I point the end of my Bic Luminere lighter as far down as it will go.  Standing back as far as possible, I hook the lighter over the edge of the pan and let ‘er rip.  I jump every time!
  • This time, I used a 2009 Domaine Jean Descombes (Georges Duboeuf) Morgon for the wine and it was fantastic!  It kills me when people talk about using past-its-prime wine for cooking…  The better the things you put into your cooking are, the better it will taste.  I served a bottle alongside the dish as well.
  • I reheated the stew for half an hour or so over medium-low heat before serving.  (You don’t want to crank up the heat because you could overcook the meat and vegetables.)
  • I served the stew over county bread that I toasted in the oven with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.  I intended to rub the slices with a cut garlic clove before serving, but I didn’t feel like dealing with it at the time.

Bouef Bourguignon

This was SO good.  My friend Christopher (who had the privilege of tasting leftovers both times I made the dish) and I agreed that it was even better than my first attempt…  I think I had a better cut of meat, a better bottle of wine, and a better handle on seasoning with salt and pepper this time around.  With rich broth, tender meat, and a fantastic mix of vegetables, Bouef Bourguignon is perfect winter comfort food and an ideal option for entertaining.  I love it!

Recipe link: Bouef Bourguignon

Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Christmas Stollen

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book………and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

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I briefly contemplated skipping this challenge because of Christmas chaos, and I just barely managed to bake off my stollen loaves before my husband and I hopped on an airplane home, but I am so glad I participated this month.  My husband enjoys my day-to-day cooking and he definitely lets me know, but he has never heaped praise on me the way he did with this stollen.  He loves it.  I stashed the majority of the loaf I cut for the photos below in my carry-on bag and hauled it back to Nebraska; my family loved it as well.  I guess my dad tried to go to a European bakery to buy some Czech Christmas bread on the 23rd or 24th and they were completely cleaned out at 10 a.m.; this bread was similar and satisfying enough to save the day.

Here are my notes and variations from the challenge:

  • After reading Audax’s posts in the forums, I used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour.
  • I used orange extract when we had the choice between orange and lemon.
  • I made my own candied orange peel using the recipe provided.  (It will be my next blog post!)
  • I did not use any maraschino cherries because I didn’t want to risk turning my bread pink.
  • I used slivered almonds instead of sliced almonds because that’s what I had in my pantry.
  • From there, I followed the recipe exactly as written except that I formed my dough into two wreaths instead of one.  I saw how large the wreaths were in the forum posts and figured that my tiny 24-inch oven wouldn’t be able to handle one.  I baked each half-recipe wreath for 36 minutes, rotating the baking sheet from front to back halfway through.  The major upside of baking two wreaths?  We came home to one waiting for us in the refrigerator.

Baked Stollen

Sugared Stollen

Sliced Stollen

This bread was so tasty!  It wasn’t like fruitcake at all.  The bread texture reminded me a lot of cinnamon rolls; it was moist and chewy, though the crust was pleasantly crisp.  The powdered sugar and butter coating was heavenly.  My bread had a distinct orange flavor since I used orange extract and all candied orange peel (instead of candied mixed peel), and I would make it this way again next time.  I could have gone for a bit more fruit and nuts in the bread, but I appreciated that it wasn’t totally packed.

My family enjoyed this recipe so much that I’ll be adding it to our permanent Christmas collection.  Thanks for a new family tradition and a great challenge, Penny!

Recipe link: Christmas Stollen




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