Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Brown Rice Pasta Salad

What's a relatively healthy way to empty out the refrigerator? Pizzas are always a good way (not necessarily healthy, I suppose), but I also like being able to make a big batch of pasta salad and eat it as lunch for a week. It stays in the fridge fine, and actually starts to taste better the longer you leave it alone, as the flavors will all begin to meld together.

16 oz. brown rice pasta (I used fusilli), fully cooked
8 oz. mozzarella, cubed
4 oz. Genoa salami, thick slices cut into 6 wedges each
4 oz. sandwich-sized pepperoni, thick slices cut into 6 wedges each
4 oz. baby broccoli, chopped roughly
3 oz. Shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
1 small shallot, diced
1 handful Italian parsley, roughly chopped
1 oz. fresh basil, chiffonade
8 oz. grape tomatoes, halved
Olive oil, red wine vinegar, pepper, fresh parmesan, pepperoncinis

This is extremely easy to put together - the hard part is the preparation, cutting and cleaning everything. Using tongs, mix the pasta, mozzarella, meats, broccoli, mushrooms, onion, shallot, tomatoes and herbs together. Add olive oil and red wine vinegar to taste, then add fresh ground pepper, parmesan cheese, and pepperoncinis to taste. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving.

See? Isn't that easy? Like I said before, the taste only improves with time, so if you wait a day or two before you start eating this, don't feel like you missed out on anything. Feel free to use whatever you'd like in this recipe, you definitely don't need to use what I listed. I just suggest that you use some meats (or mushrooms for vegetarian, maybe tofu?), veggies, tomatoes are always good in these, a couple cheeses, herbs, onion, and olive oil with vinegar of your choice. The specifics are all up to the person making it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Chocolate Cream Tart

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was selected by Kim of Scrumptious Photography. It's a creamy chocolate tart made with a chocolate shortbread-esque tart crust. It gave me a couple small problems, but it also finally gave me an excuse to use my cake stand.

I stepped away from the chocolate for a few seconds (minutes?) while it was heating up, and ended up burning a bit of it. All these times baking with chocolate, and I think this is my first time burning it. Oh well, I guess that'll teach me to walk away from hot food. Anyways, it didn't seem to throw off the taste too much after it had cooled, so I threw some shredded coconut on the bottom and top of the chocolate cream in hopes of covering it up. Just a subtle addition, and it seems to have worked fine.

The second problem came because I got antsy in moving my tart crust from the baking dish to the platter. It was still warm (definitely should have waited until it was room temperature, if not frozen) and ended up falling apart. I think I counted about a dozen separate pieces. I was able to sort of put it back together like a puzzle, and the cream covered most of the cracks and seems to have held it back together, but I guess that'll teach me to not remove a tart when it's hot. Gosh, baking's just all about learning, isn't it?

Recipe: Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan, pp. 352-353

Monday, April 27, 2009

White Chocolate and Blackberry Cheesecake

Cheesecake was the theme of this month's Daring Bakers challenge. The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge. The posted recipe was for a standard basic cheesecake, leaving a lot of room for each baker to adjust flavors to create whatever they wanted. My friend requested a long time ago for me to make a cheesecake that The Olive Garden makes - a white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake. My main focus this month was to create something similar to that.

White Chocolate and Blackberry Cheesecake recipe:

1 cup chocolate graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted

Blackberry sauce-
10 ounces frozen blackberries
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water

Cheesecake batter-
4 oz. white chocolate
1/2 cup half and half
3 (8-oz.) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Butter a 9-inch springform pan and preheat the oven to 325ºF. Line the bottom of the springform pan with parchment, along with the sides if you wish for a cleaner presentation. In a food processor, combine chocolate graham cracker crumbs and sugar, then add butter and pulse until clumps begin to form. Spread evenly along the bottom of the pan and press down to set. Stick in the freezer for at least a half an hour. In the meantime, combine blackberries, sugar, cornstarch, and water, then bring to a boil for 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Strain through a sieve to remove seeds and set this sauce aside. In a double broiler (or microwave-safe bowl), heat the half and half together with white chocolate, chopped. Stir frequently until all the chocolate has melted and combined with the dairy. In a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, whip the cream cheese together until light and soft, then add sugar and eggs, one at a time, waiting until the previous egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Drizzle in the white chocolate mixture, followed by vanilla extract. Pour half of this into the springform pan, then top with 3 tablespoons of the blackberry sauce. Pour on the remaining cheesecake batter, then top with another 3 tablespoons blackberry sauce. Swirl around with a knife or stick to form marbellized texture, setting any additional sauce aside to serve with the baked cake. Bake 60-65 minutes, or until the filling begins to firm in the center. Remove from the oven and gradually cool to room temperature before moving to the refrigerator. Keep in the refrigerator at least 8 hours before running a knife along the edges and removing from the springform mold.

This dessert came out very tasty, and my friend that requested it loved it. I did, however, set up an additional challenge for myself. My roommate doesn't like cheesecake, or any sort of cheese. However, he loves graham crackers. At the same time, my boss didn't like the last time I brought cheesecake into work because it's not an easily transportable dessert (i.e., you can't walk around with a slice in your hand without it getting messy, fast). I figured I could kill two birds with one stone - up the graham cracker to cheesecake ratio, thus building more structural integrity for the cake, and making the overall dessert thinner so it could be cut into bar form. And voila, bar formed plain cheesecake.

The crust makes up about 1/3 of the cheesecake, as opposed to the usual towering of the cheesecake over crust. It's the same as the original recipe (check out Jenny Bakes) except the crust values are multiplied by 1.5, and it's baked in a 9"x13" pan. Everything else is the same. I was just happy I finally made a cheesecake my roommate enjoyed, and at the same time was easily transportable in hand.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Four Star Chocolate Bread Pudding

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was selected by Lauren of Upper East Side Chronicle. Just like the title indicates, it's a simple bread pudding made with melted chocolate in the custard batter. I decided to use dark chocolate instead of bittersweet, just because that's what I prefer. Cutting this into slices was definitely easier once it had been chilled overnight in the refrigerator post-baking.

Making this bread pudding was interesting since my kitchen is in a bit of disarray...again. Seems like problems just keep coming up. There was a small flood in our townhouse, and it turned out that our adjacent neighbor's pipes were leaking into our area. Because they had recently remodeled their kitchen with granite, the plumber couldn't access the pipes from their side, so now we have a large gash in the wall of our kitchen, and the oven is sitting in the middle of it. Now, our kitchen isn't that big to start with, so it's been difficult lately to do the simple things, like open the refrigerator. But hey, when life gives you lemons, right? Hopefully it'll be finished this week.

Recipe: Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan, pp. 410-411

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Chocolate Amaretti Torte

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was selected by Holly of Phe/MOM/enon. It's a flourless cake made with almonds and amaretti - small Italian almond cookies. It gave me an excuse to visit Little Italy in San Diego, something I haven't done since I moved down here. I found Amaretti Di Saronno cookies by Lazzaroni, the ones Dorie suggests as her favorite, along with a ton of other goodies in the little market.

Among the goodies, I found a 750g (26.5 oz.) container of Nutella. Why have I not been told that these are around until now? Whenever I see them in the supermarket, they're in tiny containers. Have I been deprived, or is this a common occurance? Do any of your standard supermarkets carry super-sized Nutella, or do you have to find specialty stores to get your jumbo-sized chocolatey hazelnut goodness on? Needless to say I bought one, and immedietly remembered that I have no self-control. The tub lasted a good two fought to stay full, it really did, but it was no match for my sweet tooth's lust.

Back to the dessert at hand, it's earned its place as one of my favorites from this book. So simple to put together (except for finding the ingredients), and absolutely decadent. It tastes like it has some great amaretto in it, a trick of the tongue with all the flavors playing on each other. I also munched on the leftover amaretti di saronno cookies, and they were delicious. I know they're the type that probably can't be duplicated in a home kitchen (and certainly not my current one), so I'll just stick to buying them if I see them from now on.

Recipe: Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan, pp. 276-277

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pavlova with Kiwifruit and Strawberries

This creation was more or less a challenge to myself. I had a friend over, and we were talking about baking - why bother with all of this if you can buy cakes and cookies cheaply at the grocery? I commented that while my creations may not be as pretty as what can be bought at any mega-mart, I'd like to think they taste better. Besides, when was the last something you saw something real fancy at a standard grocery store? This got us talking about a fancy dessert shop in downtown San Diego, and my friend's favorite dessert there - a berry pavlova. I bet her I could make one, so we went to the grocery store and bought supplies.

The Trader Joe's I stopped by didn't have any berries but blackberries, but I saw kiwifruit and strawberries available cheaply, so I grabbed a package each of those. I found a recipe for pavlova on Simply Recipes, then made a vanilla ice cream batter for the sauce. If you want to make a similar recipe, just use your favorite ice cream recipe without running the batter through the churner - or on the other hand, you could buy some ice cream and just let it melt.


1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 pint each, strawberries and kiwifruit
1 recipe vanilla ice cream batter

Preheat oven to 275ºF, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine cornstarch with granulated sugar and mix together with a fork. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisking attachment, whip the egg whites together with cream of tartar and salt, beginning at medium-low speed until soft peaks with small bubbles form (2-3 minutes). Increase speed to medium-high and very slowly add the sugar-cornstarch mixture, then add vanilla. Increase speed to high and whip until glossy and stiff (4-5 minutes). Spoon out 8-12 mounds, about three inches across, and indented in the center with the back of a spoon to hold the fruit. Place baking sheets into oven and lower the temperature to 250ºF, bake 50-60 minutes or until dry to the touch. Should not be browned or cracked. In the meantime, prepare the kiwifruit and hull the strawberries, then slice into bite-sized pieces. Chill ice cream batter in refrigerator. Remove baked pavlova from oven and allow to cool to room temperature before removing from baking sheets. Top with fruit and ice cream batter. Serves 8-12.

In the end, I made 12 pavlova, each under a dollar to make, fruit and sauce included. I think at the restaurant it's at least 8 times that much, if not more. Given, my presentation is still lacking from theirs, but if I wanted to spend some extra money I could top it off with gold leaf and flowers like they do. Or do something more artistic with the fruit. Still, I'd like to think this is more than what you'd get at your standard grocery.

Kiwifruit and Strawberry Pavlova

Pavlova topped with kiwifruit and strawberries, then covered with thick ...

See Kiwifruit and Strawberry Pavlova on Key Ingredient.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Banana Creme Pie

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was selected by Amy of Sing for Your Supper. To be honest, I don't remember much of this dessert - I remember it coming together easily, and being worried that I added too much cornstarch because the filling was so stiff, but it all spread out fine in the end. I sort of rushed this one, then dropped it off at my brother's house on my way out of town, sneaking in a little slice on the way.

I'm particularly fond of bananas, and I had all the other ingredients readily on hand, so I'm sure this is another one of those recipes I can make when I start over-accumulating ripened bananas (the staples so far being banana bread or banana pecan ice cream). Only problem is that it'd disappear too quickly at that point. And I'd be assuring myself that it's healthy to eat the whole pie since it has fruit in it.

Recipe: Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan, pp. 342-343

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Ranch Macaroni and Cheese with Tarragon

This is one of the ultimate comfort foods, amped up with powerful ranch flavor, and easily prepared in a slow cooker. When I mention this recipe to friends, I get disgusted looks - I think the first assumption is that I'm taking macaroni and cheese, then mixing in ranch dressing and calling it a meal. The ranch comes instead from packets of ranch powder, bringing a unique set of spices and herbs to a classic dish. Given that, while this isn't exactly a healthy meal, it's not nearly as bad as my friends' first assumptions.

1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
2 ounces (2 packets) ranch powdered dressing mix
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic pepper
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 cup cubed Colby Jack cheese
1 cup cubed Monterey Jack cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
8 ounces sour cream
Grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup crushed saltines
Tarragon to top

In a dutch oven, combine milk, butter, dressing mix and spices, then cheeses. Heat over the low setting and stir periodically until the cheese is fully melted. In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the macaroni according to the package directions, leaving them a bit al dente - this makes sure the cheese fills all the little holes in the macaroni; if they're overcooked, the shapes may collapse. Drain the macaroni and set aside. Fold sour cream into the cheese sauce, then add saltine crackers and macaroni. Stir together, then cook over low heat until heated through - about 30 minutes. Sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese, then fresh tarragon. Serves 6-8.