Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dinner 1-2-3! A Meal In Three Easy Steps!

Here's another quick and easy dinner idea from the December 2009 issue of Everyday Food; "Chicken In A Pot".
You'll rely on this hearty chicken dinner again and again. Total time to prepare, about 1 hour and 15 minutes, most of that is unattended cooking time.

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a 5-qt dutch oven or heavy pot, combine 1-1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth and 1/3 cup dry white wine. Rinse and pat dry a 3-4 lb whole chicken, then rub the chicken, all over, with one tablespoon of room temperature unsalted butter and season generously with coarse salt and ground pepper. Tie legs together with twine. Place chicken in pot and bake uncovered for about 30 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, toss 2 leeks (white and light green part only, sliced lengthwise, thoroughly rinsed, then cut into 2" pieces), 5 carrots (cut into 2-1/2" pieces), 5 cloves of garlic, unpeeled, with 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil; season with coarse salt and pepper..
Remove the pot from the oven and add the vegetables. Bake until chicken juices run clear when pierced between breast and leg or an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of the thigh (avoiding bone) registers 165 degrees, about 35 to 45 minutes. Let chicken rest 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, set a steamer basket in a large pot filled with 2 inches boiling water. Place 1 pound new potatoes, halved or quartered (if large) in basket, cover, and steam until tender, about 15 minutes. Season with coarse salt and pepper.

Serve the chicken and vegetables along with the pan juices and whatever accompaniments you'd like. Here, I've served mini-cornbread loaves. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Dinner Idea For Some Of That Leftover Holiday Ham!

Need a quick and easy way to use up some of that holiday ham? Try this delicious dinner dish: Bow-Ties with Peas & Ham

The entire meal takes 20 minutes, from start to finish! All you need is an onion, some frozen peas, cream, a box of bow-tie pasta and some left over ham cut into strips!

Like all pasta dishes, get that water boiling and start cooking that pasta! You'll want it al dente! When cooked, drain and return to pot.
Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan, melt 3 tbls. of unsalted butter over medium heat and cook your onions until soft, about 3-4 minutes.

Next add the peas and cream, stir and simmer until it's slightly thickened, another 3-4 minutes.

Now, toss in your cooked ham strips, and simmer just til the ham is heated through, about 1-2 minutes.

Mix that sauce with the pasta and serve with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese on top!

The Most Amazing Cheesecake!

Who doesn't love a good cheesecake? I know I do. For some reason, cheesecakes are something I rarely bake. This holiday season, I wanted to make one for my niece as this is her favorite dessert!
This recipe was created by Susan Sugarman, former deputy food editor of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. It was originally featured in the Martha Stewart 2002 Holiday Baking Special Issue, titled "Susan Sugarman's Cream Cheesecake". It was then featured in the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook under the title of "New York Style Cheesecake" (made with a chocolate cookie crust). Though not the healthiest dessert out there, it certainly is rich, creamy, and delicious!

The ingredients consist of seven, yes seven bars of cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, sugar, vanilla all baked atop a vanilla cookie crust! The finished cheesecake weighs about 3-4 lbs!!

Making the crust is simple. Cream together some butter & sugar, then add some egg yolks and vanilla. Press onto the bottom of a spring-form pan, and bake at 350 til it's golden brown.

Now beat all that wonderful cream cheese in a mixer until it's light and fluffy! Then on low speed, add a little flour and the sugar.

Add your 5 eggs, one at a time!

Next, on low speed, mix in the sour cream and add the vanilla.

Pour the batter on to the prepared crust in a spring-form pan that has been buttered on the sides! Place on a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 90 minutes, lower the temp to 325 and bake another 12-15 minutes until the center is set. Turn off the oven and let sit in the oven, with the door ajar, for another hour. This prevents the top from cracking.

I had about a cup of leftover cheesecake batter so I baked that in these small silicone fluted molds.

When the cheesecake is completely cooled, keep in the pan, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. The remove the ring of the spring-form pan carefully. Cut, serve and enjoy!
I guess you can say I'm a "purist" as I like my cheesecake plain, without a topping.

Now I did find a variation of this Cheesecake Recipe online and you can find it here: New York-Style Cheesecake. This version uses 1 bar less cream cheese and the chocolate cookie crust. It also has an orange topping. This recipe, along with the recipe from the Baking Handbook also uses a water-bath to bake the cheesecake in. The original recipe does not use the water bath and I find it unnecessary.

Holiday Baking 2009!!

As much as I love baking throughout the year, no other time of the year is my baking more prominent than during the Christmas Holiday Season. I love giving gifts of cookies and other treats to friends and family and since this year was dedicated to the "homemade" and the "handmade", gifts of homemade sweets just seemed like a "good thing"!

I generally pick a few recipes from literally hundreds that I have saved, online or in recent publications I receive. The following is a sample of some of the items I did this year:

Festive Holiday Bars

Italian "Oil" cookies (an old family recipe)

Here are some treats boxed up for my employees and friends. Made up 60 of these altogether consisting of 4 different items each!

I was also asked to bake and donate an item to be sold at a Charity Bake Sale. The item I made was the "Gingerbread House" Cake featured in the 2009 Martha Stewart Living Holiday Baking Issue.
This consisted of a gingerbread cake with chocolate butter cream icing and adorned with actual gingerbread pieces for the roof shingles, trim, windows and door. Though the version in the magazine had a more "log cabin" look, I was going for a whimsical, cartoonish look!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays To You All!

Sending out Holiday wishes to each and everyone of my friends and family, and looking forward to a wonderful New Year full of good things!!


Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Thanksgiving is a time to be with loved ones. A time to think and a time for self growth. Everyone has something to be thankful for.

This year I am trying to put my energy into thinking about what I am thankful for.

I am thankful I am alive! I'm a simple guy, that doesn't own a whole lot but there's a ton to be thankful for.

I am thankful for the friendships I have and for the family that loves me.

I am thankful for the friendships I have made online and for knowing each and everyone of YOU!

I am thankful for the job I have, which (barely) pays my bills. I could go on but I will stop there.

Life brings meaning when you take the time to stop and think, "What do I have to be thankful for?"

Of course, my love for cooking is fully expressed during this time of the year. Though I miss the days long gone of my Grandmother cooking Thanksgiving dinner, along with my Mother and my Aunts, I truly enjoy taking on this task. Though traditional foods are there each year, I try to "jazz" things up with a new twist on old favorites.

My turkey, each year, is consistently prepared the same way. I order a FRESH Turkey from Peacock's Poultry Farm. The turkey is brined for about 18 hours and prepared using Martha Stewart's "Turkey 101" recipe. It's always perfect without fail! My sister even tried the "Turkey 101" method for the first time this year, and was also quite pleased with the results.

The sides are from the November 2009 issue of Everyday Food Magazine, and consist of Bread Stuffing with Sage, Pan Gravy, Bourbon Sweet Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta (from the Martha Stewart Thanksgiving Hotline Downloadable cookbook), Green Bean Casserole, Balsamic-Glazed Onions, Orange-Scented Cranberry Sauce, and finished off with my favorite Pumpkin Pie recipe!

Everything here is done and ready to be transported to my sisters house. Thank goodness she just lives across the street!

Of course, with all the leftovers, each year I turn them into "Thanksgiving Leftovers Shepherd's Pie" and we look forward to that more than the main dinner!

For more great ideas on what to do with your leftovers click here: What To Do With Thanksgiving Leftovers.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Breakfast To Go - Bacon, Egg & Cheese Bagel Sandwich

As most people know, we tend to rush out in the early morning on our way to work or school, skipping breakfast. I'm very much guilty of it myself. Then I discovered this easy to make breakfast sandwich from the cookbook, "Mad Hungry - Feeding Men & Boys". It combines eggs, bacon, cheese and a bagel in an easy to eat on the go breakfast and better than any drive-thru "McAnything" ever! Of course, ham or even thinly sliced turkey can be substituted for the bacon.

Helpful hint: To save time, when you buy bacon, cook the entire package at once, (line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, lay strips of bacon out evenly, bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 12-15 minutes, drain on paper towel), let cool, and wrap (3 slices at a time) in plastic wrap. Freeze and use as needed. 10 seconds in the microwave or a minute in a preheated pan and it's ready to use!

First, slice a bagel of choice (I choose asiago cheese). Butter the halves and toast them in a toaster oven or on a griddle. If using a regular toaster, butter AFTER you've toasted the bagel.

Heat a cast iron (or non-stick) skillet and place a tablespoon of butter. Crack two eggs in the pan, keeping them separated. As soon as the whites are set, break the yolks. Honestly, I've never been that great at frying eggs, so beauty is not important here!

I personally prefer my fried eggs to have completely set and cooked yolks, and a bit well done, so I do flip the eggs, but this is where you can cook them to your preference.
Place a slice of cheese (your favorite cheese!) on one egg and top with 3 slices of bacon. Place the other egg, yolk side down, on top of the bacon.

Lift the "egg pile" onto the bottom half of the bagel, top with the other half and lightly press together.
Serve immediately or wrap in parchment paper to eat on the go! Of course, you can add a little hot sauce or ketchup (YUM!)!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Duff Goldman - Meeting The "Ace Of Cakes"

Duff Goldman, owner of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore MD, and star of one of Food Networks biggest hit reality shows, "Ace Of Cakes" made a stop in Ann Arbor, Michigan on his tour promoting his new book, "Ace Of Cakes - Inside The World Of Charm City Cakes", co-written with his brother Willie Goldman.

Having been a cake decorator, on and off, for the last 22 years, I have been a huge fan of this show since it first premiered in August of 2006.

This book is a celebration of the bakery that started it all. This colorful scrapbook is loaded with stories about Duff's early days as a graffiti artist turned young chef, his successes and hilarious disasters, and the amazing team he built step-by-step.

The attendance at the book signing was amazing. Staff of Border's Books said they reached beyond the building capacity. The Borders is two floors, and the book signing was taking place on the 2nd floor. People filled the ground floor and some had to even wait outside. Now, from past experiences I've had with large book signings (i.e: Martha Stewart, Emeril Lagasse, Rachael Ray, etc) the book store usually requires you to purchase the book there at the time of the signing in order for you to even be able to get in line to have your book signed. This was not the case with Duff. Colored wristbands were distributed to people who wished to have their book signed by Duff and his brother Willie. They did, however, enforce that you MUST have a wristband to even go to the 2nd floor.
If you were lucky enough to arrive early, as James and I did, you were allowed to take one of the limited seats in an audience format, on the 2nd floor, for a cake competition of local culinary students from The Art Institute of Michigan, judged by Duff!

There were 4 cake entries in the competition and all were just incredible. The first cake to be judged depicted the journey from Detroit, MI, through Northern Ohio, then on to Pennsylvania and arriving in Baltimore MD, complete with an edible gum paste sculpture of the Charm City Cakes bakery.
The next cake, and my personal favorite because it is my all-time favorite movie, was a tribute to the 70th anniversary of "The Wizard Of Oz". This cake was a complete & edible replica of The Emerald City, and edible "Ruby Slippers" on top that rotated on a platform. At the bottom of the cake was an image of the main characters from The Wizard Of Oz.

Since Ann Arbor is the home of the University Of Michigan, the 3rd cake paid tribute to U of M, football. Eh, not really my thing!

The 4th cake was a very well sculpted fire-breathing dragon, that really emitted smoke (via dry ice effect). Though he thought every cake was simply amazing, Duff chose this dragon as the winner of the competition.
After the competition, Duff gave a discussion on how his career came to be, the show and ultimately this book. He's a very good speaker and extremely funny....

Almost every page in this book was a walk down memory lane for him and he happily shared his life stories with the crowd.

Duff then fielded questions from the audience which were really fun. The audience was great and Duff was more than happy to answer just about anything that was thrown at him.
Duff, as well as his brother Willie, signed several hundred books to end the evening. Unfortunately, there were no personal photo opportunities, so this was as close to a photo with Duff as I could get! Of course I had to wear my official "Charm City Cakes Hoodie" to the event, and even got a compliment from Duff for wearing it!
Generally, larger book signings such as this one, the author signs only their name. At first that was the case, but Duff himself decided that he would "personalize" the book for each fan!

Very fun and enjoyable event! I only wish others from the show came along with Duff such as Mary-Alice and Geof. Perhaps next time!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pumpkin Rice Pudding - A Special Autumn Treat!

Two of my favorite desserts, rice pudding and pumpkin pie! Never thought about the two being combined but recently found this recipe that does just that! Not only is this recipe easy to make and very delicious, it's also a healthy alternative to traditional rice pudding or pumpkin pie as it uses no eggs and is sweetened with honey instead of sugar! It's also made with Arborio rice which is an Italian grain that is shorter and fatter then other short-grain rice. Traditionally used for risotto, look for it in your supermarket. This recipe is adapted from the cookbook "So Easy" by Ellie Krieger.

The ingredients used are low-fat milk, fresh pumpkin puree or solid-pack canned pumpkin (NOT pie filling), Arborio rice, honey, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and a pinch of salt.

In a heavy oven proof pot, bring some water to a boil, stir in the rice, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and whisk together.

While the rice is still hot, add the pumpkin mixture and stir well to combine. Cover and transfer to a pre-heated 375 degree oven.

Bake until the liquid has reduced by about a third and the mixture is foamy and bubbling, about 50 minutes.

Remove from the oven, stir well to combine. Transfer to a large bowl, cover and chill overnight ot at least 8 hours.
Serve with a dollop of whipped cream (if you choose) and a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Steak Pizzaiola - Soon To Be Everyone's Favorite!

This dish is definitely for beef lovers! It delivers big-time flavor with its caramelized tomatoey-beefy aroma when it cooks. Though it does take some time to cook, the end result will not disappoint!

All you need are a few simple ingredients. Chuck steak is used as it's a very affordable and flavorful cut of meat.

In a large skillet, heat some olive oil. Season both sides of the meat with salt & pepper and brown the meat on both sides. Remove the meat from the skillet and take the pan off the heat.

Now you stir into the pan the rest of the ingredients which are minced garlic, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, tomato paste and a can of whole tomatoes. Mash up the tomatoes with the back of a spoon and combine the ingredients thoroughly. Return the meat to the pan and spoon the sauce over it. Cover tightly and place the pan in a 325 degree pre-heated oven where it will braise for 2 hours.
Uncover the pan and cook for an additional 30 minutes so all the sauce will thicken.

I served this dish with some simple mini-buttery biscuits and a side of peas and brown rice.

This great recipe, again, comes from "Mad Hungry-Feeding Men & Boys" by Lucinda Scala-Quinn