Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chocolate and Coffee {Indulgent Brownies}

I am a baker's daughter. This means that I grew up walking in to a home that smelled like fresh, warm, homemade bread. It also means that I had (quite literally) never heard of brownies from a box until I was a sophomore in High School. My mother, a baker and a chocolate lover, has never made brownies in anyway but the best way. In one pan, from a base of melted chocolate. This year, she perfected her recipe--which she calls "Classic Chocolate Brownies." I think you will agree, however, these are so much MORE than classic chocolate brownies. There's a nice kick of Kahlua liqueur that makes these just-the-right-amount-of ooey-gooey. And the instant espresso brings out different, deeper notes in the chocolate, as coffee always does to chocolate.

I wrote the recipe a bit differently this time, instructing you to prepare for baking these in the exact way that I do: I measure and set everything out first, put the containers away, and then can toss everything in (in order) as soon as the chocolate mixture cools. It is convenient, and that way you can concentrate on conversations while you cook without worrying that you'll end up with double the flour or sugar in your mixture because you've lost count. Without further ado, then, I give you "The Ultimate Chocolate Brownies."
Indulgent Brownies
Marcella Rogers

4 ounces Ghiradelli semisweet chocolate baking bar (1 bar)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/8 teaspoon Medaglia D'oro Instant Espresso Coffee
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 Tablespoon Kahlua liqueur
2 large eggs
1 cup flour, plus extra for dusting the pan
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/3 cup Hershey's Special Dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, lightly toasted for 10 minutes at 350 degrees *
Confectioners' Sugar for dusting (optional)

*My boyfriend dislikes nuts in his brownies, so if you mustn't add them--I guess I'll understand. They are, of course, optional. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour an 8"x8" square or 9" round pan.

Sift or whisk flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne together in a small bowl. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and instant espresso, and in another (much smaller) bowl, combine the vanilla and Kahlua. Set these aside, too.
Bring your eggs to room temperature by gently submerging them in a glass of warm (not hot) water.

Is that your oven, all preheated and ready to go? Well, then, put 1/3 c. chopped walnuts or pecans on a cookie sheet (with edges) and toast for 10 minutes--be sure to turn the nuts at least once during this time. And, be quite careful not to burn them (if you can smell them, it is probable that they are done.)

Alright, now you're ready to go. Break up the Ghiradelli chocolate bar, and the cut up cold butter and place in a medium saucepan (or pot), over low heat. Use a whisk to create a smooth mixture of the two, as they melt. Once the mixture is smooth, take it off the heat and walk away for 5-10 minutes and allow it to cool. It doesn't need to be room temperature, but it needs to be cool enough so that it doesn't cook the eggs you're about to add.

When the chocolate and butter mixture has cooled:

  1. Stir in brown sugar mixture.
  2. Add eggs (now room temperature), mixing well.
  3. Slowly fold the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture, until just incorporated. Do not over mix.
  4. Stir in chips and nuts.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan
  6. Bake for 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees, until the tester comes out with just a little bit of dough (almost clean)
  7. When the brownies reach room temperature (or, you know, almost room temperature) lightly dust with sifted confectioners' sugar. You should have about 12 brownies.
  8. Enjoy. Then, share with friends--if you've got any left.

Monday, December 13, 2010

{Holiday Gift Guide} What to Get For Your Foodie Friends

The holidays are upon us and some of us are....just getting around to the holiday shopping. If you've still got a foodie friend or two to cross off of your shopping list (or, if friends and family are asking for a wish list you don't have time to make and you are the foodie friend), then look no further. I've tried to list options in multiple price ranges that any foodie would love. I've also listed only things that can be purchased (with a shipping option) online. Because, well, the Internet is my saving grace when it comes to last-minute holiday shopping. A sincere thanks to Miranda @Haute Headquarters for the gift guide inspiration...

1. Real Vanilla Extract  $10-$19

7. High Quality Chef's Knife $130

8. Cooking Classes** $95-$595

*=Before giving countertop appliances as gifts, keep the size of your foodie friend's kitchen in mind. If your foodie friend lives in a tiny apartment in New York City (or anywhere else for that matter), you might want to ask before giving anything that would take up valuable counter or closet space. Or, you may want to search for some smaller version of that gift.

**= I really enjoyed the multi-day course I took at the Institute of Culinary Education this summer (from Chef Jane Brock), which is why I mention these specifically. If these classes are out of your price range (or out of your way), there are many other options. Most mid-sized and large cities have culinary schools that offer amateur courses. 

All of the prices above are as listed on websites I frequent, and do not include shipping and handling. The brands I've represented are brands that I actually use, and have not been paid or otherwise compensated to mention. 

Stay tuned for chocolate indulgence at its finest, coming later this week. And, Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gingerbread Cake with Hot Orange Sauce

It is officially the holiday season. That means time spent with loved ones and, if you're lucky, logging some time in front of a fireplace or maybe a string of holiday movies. This season always reminds me of childhood--rehearsing Christmas music in choir, playing holiday tunes on the piano, playing in the snow (on occasion), and making gingerbread from the Samantha American Girl Cookbook. 

I haven't made gingerbread in a number of years--probably over a decade. But, a couple of years ago, gingerbread made a comeback with me. Specifically, gingerbread cake covered in hot orange sauce and vanilla ice cream. I was visiting friends in St. Vincent and The Grenadines and had the dish for dessert one night in Bequia. It was served to me at a hotel named (most appropriately) The Gingerbread. Ever since then I have literally dreamt about this dessert--which won't surprise those of you who read this blog regularly. I had no choice but to make it. Plus, gingerbread seems appropriate for the holidays, doesn't it?
I must say, the results were divine. There is something about the contrast of sweet, citrus sauce that contrasts so well with the heavy molasses and bright ginger flavors in the cake. The whole combination just smells and tastes like comfort. 

Because I couldn't find the original American Girl cookbook, or access the chef of the exquisite dish in Bequia, I went digging around the Internet and tried out some delicious sounding recipes. I found what I believe to be the best combination, and have shared it below.

Gingerbread Cake with Hot Orange Sauce
Gingerbread Cake adapted from the Food Network recipe
Hot Orange Sauce from Darra Goldstein's (inspiring) site
{Gingerbread Cake}
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1 ½ Tablespoons fresh grated ginger
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon fine salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of fresh ground black pepper
1 cup water
1 Tablespoon baking soda 

{Hot Orange Sauce}
½ cup tightly packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
8 teaspoons corn starch
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
4 Tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 Tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
4 Tablespoon salted butter
1½ cups water 

{Gingerbread Cake}
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter a 9" x 13" cake pan, and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. 

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together flour, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, coriander, salt, cloves and pepper. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, mix together first four ingredients. Once combined, add room temperature eggs (this is very important). Then, slowly add the flour and spice mixture to the molasses mixture. Beat until combined. 

Meanwhile (and this is where the recipe begins to feel a little like a 5th grade science experiment), boil one cup of water over the stove. Add the baking soda and stir to combine. Once combined, slowly add this to the batter mixture and mix until just combined. 

Pour batter into pan, spreading evenly, and put the pan on the center rack of the oven. Cook for 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean (it took a little over 50 minutes for my oven to cook the cake thoroughly). 

The cake should be fluffy and fragrant. Let it cool in the cake pan, or--if you have one--on a wire cooling rack. Once cooled to almost room temperature, cut and serve with ice cream or whipped cream and hot orange sauce. 

To be honest, I didn't let mine cool for long enough and it ended up quite crumbly but nobody in my household complained.

{Hot Orange Sauce}
In a medium pot, or saucepan, mix first three ingredients together. Place pot over medium/medium-high heat and slowly add the fresh juice, whisking very quickly to prevent lumps form forming. Add zest and butter and whisk into the mixture until thoroughly combined. Add water and whisk together. Let mixture boil for 5-8 minutes, until reduced. Serve hot, over gingerbread cake.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Popovers with Compound Butter

Popovers were a large part of my childhood, and especially remind me of cold winter nights (sort of like tonight). My mother could whip these up quickly and she often did. They have always been a favorite of mine, and the recipe is shockingly simple. I've based this recipe off of Mark Bittman's popover recipe in How to Cook Everything.

Serve (or just eat) them warm with jam, honey, or plain butter. To lend an extra special touch to this easy recipe, I recommend serving them with a compound butter that complements the rest of the meal. A compound butter is basically a flavored butter, which can be used for any number of things. You can go savory or sweet with these butters, and they (like popovers) are ridiculously easy to make. Below, I've given you a recipe for garlic herb compound butter.
Adapted from Mark Bittman's popover recipe in How to Cook Everything

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk
2 large eggs (at room temperature--this is very important)
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt

{Garlic Herb Compound Butter}
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, softened (but not melted)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (I used thyme and rosemary this time)
3 cloves garlic

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine all ingredients in a blender, or in a bowl with a whisk (the blender is the better option, as it will incorporate more air into the batter and ultimately create taller, more dramatic, popovers). Pour batter into greased muffin tin (or popover pan), filling the cups 2/3 of the way.

Bake at 450˚F for 15 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 350˚F and bake for 20 more minutes. It is very important you do not open the oven door during this time. If you've got an oven light, feel free to check on your popovers that way, and if you don't--leave yourself in suspense. Opening the oven door during cooking (especially during the first part) will cause heat to escape quickly, changing the temperature of the oven and probably resulting in the collapse of your popovers. Just don't do it. Put the popovers in, set the timer, and walk away. 

Remove the popovers from the oven and enjoy with a little jam, or compound butter, or anything else you'd like.

{Garlic Herb Compound Butter}
Boil garlic in a small pot for approximately 3 minutes, then immediately drain hot water and submerge garlic cloves in an ice bath. Chop finely and mix with rest of ingredients in a small bowl. I find a fork mixes most thoroughly.  Once all ingredients are combined, put butter in a square of parchment paper and roll into a cylinder. Close ends of parchment paper and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. To speed the process, freeze for about 30 minutes. Remove from fridge (or freezer) and cut into slices to serve. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The BEST Roast Turkey Ever (Happy Thanksgiving!)

Last week, I had the pleasure of hearing Anthony Bourdain speak about his adventures in food and travel. One thing he said has been stuck in my mind ever since: cooking is a way to communicate. This gets at the heart of why I love food. My family and my friends have always communicated this way--from the time I was young, the cure for the common cold was generally leek and potato soup. And, of course, my first care package for a college apartment was a box that included flour, sugar, chocolate chips and really quality vanilla extract.

On that note, my boyfriend and I got together with some of our friends this weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving together, a bit early. I figured it would be a great opportunity to spend time with everybody and prep sides to share with you on this blog. However, I came down with a bit of the flu and ended up only doing some prep work (chopping ingredients for the stuffing) and then taking a nap for the rest of the day in my friend's bed... 

And so, without further ado, I offer up a recipe for the best turkey I have ever had. My CRT, a turkey-making expert (who also completed all of my other recipes and took photos for me while I was sick), followed Alton Brown's recipe, except he did not brine the bird beforehand and he let the internal temperature get up to 171 degrees Fahrenheit, rather than 161. This produced an incredibly juicy and flavorful bird, and the end product was Norman Rockwell-style beautiful (but we didn't pause for long enough before eating it to get a picture.) So, here is the turkey in prep:

Alongside the turkey, we opted for homemade cranberry sauce. Another thanksgiving favorite, baby Brussels Sprouts, is on the menu for later this week. Please enjoy and have a healthy and happy holiday.

Baby Brussel Sprouts & Buttered Pecans (Happy Thanksgiving!)

My mother is not a traditionalist in any sense of the word, whereas I try to make every event into a celebrated family tradition. Much to my dismay, my mother's devil-may-care attitude about food traditions extends to Thanksgiving, and every single year she hands me a stack of new recipes. After a bit of whining, I'm usually persuaded to try some of them out as long as I can still enjoy my green bean casserole (yes, I mean the canned version, and no, I'm not ashamed). This dish, made with baby Brussels sprouts (which are significantly less bitter than grown-up Brussels sprouts), changed my mind about two things. One, I now love Brussels sprouts. Two--I now happily try a few new recipes each Thanksgiving, in hopes of finding another time-honored favorite like this one. The rest of the family (with us that means 30+ people) agreed that these were delicious, so I'm not alone here.
Baby Brussel Sprouts & Buttered Pecans
Gourmet, November 2006
1/2 cup chopped pecans
3 Tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 pounds baby Brussels sprouts, trimmed
1/2 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°FSpread pecans in an even layer in a baking pan. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until you can smell them. Be careful not to burn the pecans. Remove pecans from oven and toss in 1/2 Tbsp. butter and 1/4 tsp. salt until all are evenly coated.

Prepare a bowl of ice and water, large enough for the Brussels sprouts to rest in after boiling. Set aside and have ready.

While the nuts are in the oven, cook Brussels sprouts in a medium saucepan full of boiling salted water, uncovered, until just tender (5-6 minutes). Take the Brussels sprouts out of the boiling water (by draining the hot water from the pot or straining the Brussels sprouts) and move the Brussels sprouts into the ice water bowl immediately. This process is known as blanching and is important in keeping the Brussels sprouts from overcooking.

After a few minutes, remove the sprouts and pat them dry. Set aside.

Melt remaining butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and stir for about a minute. Add Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring only occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until parts of the Brussels sprouts are partially browned. Add a splash of lemon juice, pepper and remaining salt, give it all a stir and toss with the prepared pecans. Serve, and enjoy (possibly with surprise). I doubt any of your guests would complain if you served this alongside cranberry sauce and the Best Roast Turkey Ever.

Cranberry Sauce (Happy Thanksgiving!)

As delightful as the can-shaped version of cranberry sauce is, the homemade variety might lend a more personal touch to your Thanksgiving table. My boyfriend's family does their cranberry sauce this way, and he introduced me to the wonder that is homemade cranberry sauce. This is also his recipe.

This is a great recipe to make the night before your feast, and as a bonus, you can add this to the list of things your vegetarian (and even vegan) friends can eat!
Cranberry Sauce
David Aguilar
2 (12 oz.) bags of  fresh cranberries
2 cups of granulated sugar
2 cups apple cider

Pour all fresh cranberries into a medium saucepan. Top with granulated sugar, and then with apple cider. You should add enough apple cider to fill in the gaps in the pot left by the cranberries, but not to cover the cranberries.

Put the saucepan on medium to medium-low heat and bring to a slow simmer. After about 5-10 minutes, you should see the skins of the cranberries begin to crack or "pop." At this point, continue to cook the mixture for another 5-10 minutes, until the mixture is fairly thick. Pour into a heat-safe container and place in the fridge overnight. If you've forgotten to make it ahead of time, you can also just freeze the mixture for a few hours until it sets. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Butternut Squash Gnocchi (madness)

I used to think gnocchi was a tasteless and a little bit disgusting. Little balls of dough in a nondescript sauce? *Shudder* Then I met Chef John Jerabek. On my first day of service at Fresco (in Madison, WI), he taught me how to say the word correctly ("knee-oh-key"). He also taught me that if you oven dry ricotta cheese and put it in the gnocchi dough, what once were little, tasteless, lumps of pasta become individual bursts of flavor. 

So began my love affair with gnocchi.
I've been thinking about making butternut squash gnocchi for almost a solid month now, since I first tried Chef Jerabek's latest version of gnocchi--butternut gnocchi, tossed in a bleu cheese sauce.

This is a versatile recipe, as once the gnocchi is made, it could be good lightly sauteed in butter (with some vegetables, too) and topped with aged cheddar, or Parmesan. It could be lightly tossed in bleu cheese sauce (recipe forthcoming in another post). It could also be combined with some fresh chèvre and toasted pine nuts--I guarantee nobody would complain about that.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi
Adapted from Hungry Cravings

1/2 of a large butternut squash
1 cup of flour (approximately)
1/2 cup shredded white cheddar or Parmesan cheese
salt and peppr to taste
4 cloves roasted garlic (optional)
more flour for dusting surfaces

First, you must roast your squash. Cut the butternut squash in half, lengthwise and place one half open/cut side down on a lightly oiled baking tray. Roast at 400˚F for 30 minutes, flip over and continue to roast for another 45 minutes (or until the squash is very tender and you envision having an easy time pureeing it). Let the squash cool to almost room temperature. 

Peel the squash and puree it in a food processor. If you don't have a food processor and your blender breaks, don't even consider doing what I did--I finely minced the cooked squash (this made a mess), then pushed it through our strainer with the back of a spoon (this made a bigger mess). It took me hours. A food processor is next on my kitchen equipment list! Basically, at the end of all of this, you want butternut squash that looks as though it has been turned into baby food.

Season your puree with salt and pepper, and (if using) roasted garlic, stir this into the mixture until thoroughly mixed in. At this point, once again, make sure your mixture is room temperature. 

Next, add the flour and the cheese and mix together. The dough will feel as though it will fall apart on you at any moment, and it really might (but the end result is truly worth it). 

Prepare a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper on it, to set your gnocchi-shaped dough on. Portion the dough out and roll into 1/2 inch thick strips. From these strips, cut 1/2 inch chunks. Using the inside of a fork, and lightly squeezing each side of the chunk with your fingers (thumb and middle finger worked best for me), roll the chunk of dough up against the fork until you get the required texture (see photo above). This really isn't required, but the sauce you serve with the gnocchi will settle nicely into the grooves if you do it!

Now, walk away. Let the gnocchi pieces dry for at least one hour and up to two. Come back (maybe after prepping whatever it is you plan to toss with said gnocchi), and cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling water (stirring occasionally) for only a few minutes. The gnocchi should float to the top within 3 minutes, and this means that they are done--this is actually a rule of thumb for all fresh pasta. Get the gnocchi out of the pot, saving a bit of the pasta water for any sauces you might make later.
Serve immediately with whatever you'd like, and enjoy. I served ours with mandolin-thin zucchini, a little too much butter, salt, pepper, and a whole lot of Blue Mont Bandaged White Cheddar--aged 13 months. This just goes to show that buying bandaged aged white cheddar is never a mistake

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich

A good friend of mine ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch every day  for at least 8 years straight. And, while I love that classic combo as much as any American school kid, I'm in my twenties and peanut butter and jelly is starting to get old. 

I'd been craving more interesting (but still convenient and totable) lunches for a while in college when my parents took me to New York City to tour the French Culinary Institute as a prospective student. After a day spent observing culinary students (sidenote: amazing experience), the FCI treated my parents and I to a delightful lunch at L'Ecole, the school's restaurant. One of the many amazing things served was a curried chicken salad sandwich, with avocados. I thought about that meal for years, and the sandwich never left my mind. 

I recreated it (quite successfully, if I do say so myself) a few months ago and it seems to be a hit. So, I thought I'd share it with you!
Curry Chicken Salad Sandwich
Alexandra Rogers

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 ripe, ready-to-eat, avocado
2 slices of good, whole-grain bread
1 clove of garlic
3/4 cup non-fat (or low-fat) plain yogurt
1 Tablespoon + 2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
salt & pepper (I used about 1/4 tsp of each)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, if you like it spicy)
a hand full of finely chopped cashews (optional, if you like a bit of crunch)

Place chicken breasts in a pot they fit somewhat snugly in and cover with warm water (cover with about 1" of water). Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce to a slight simmer (leave the lid slightly ajar) and cook this way for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit for about 10 minutes. Quite frankly, if you mess this step up and the chicken boils for a couple minutes longer than it should, it really isn't the end of the world. Remove the chicken breasts and allow to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, mix the yogurt and spices together in a medium bowl. Shred the chicken breasts with a fork (or with your fingers) and add to the mix. Add the cashews here, if you're using them. The chicken salad will stay good for 3-4 days. 

Toast two slices or your favorite, crusty, bread. Cut one clove of garlic in half and rub (cut side down) the garlic against the warm toast. Place a couple of slices of avocado over the garlic side of the toast and top with the curry chicken salad. Put the other slice of bread on top, cut, and enjoy. Or toss it in a ziploc bag, or wrap it in parchment paper (refrigerate if you're waiting a while to eat it) and pull it out at lunch to make all the other kids (or grad students, or co-workers) jealous.

Makes 2 sandwiches. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween Special Edition: Sailor Apple Cider

Happy Halloween! This weekend, whether your plans are trick-or-treating, causing mayhem in your local celebration or staying in to hand out candy, you are bound to have a bit of a sweet tooth. I am no exception and as you may have guessed, my favorite part of "trick-or-treat" is the treat.

This apple cider should keep you warm & toasty inside and out. It is called Sailor Apple Cider because...well, it has rum in it and I'm spending my Halloween weekend with a bunch of sailors who love rum. (I'm not kidding.) For best results, quadruple the recipe and share with friends!
Sailor Apple Cider
Alexandra Rogers
2 cups Apple Cider
1/4 cup spiced rum 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
dash nutmeg
dash cardamom

{Whipped Cream}
1 cup whipped cream (I, shamefully, went for the stuff from the can today)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix all ingredients (except the rum) together in a small saucepan and heat to desired temperature. Take the saucepan off the heat, and pour the rum into the saucepan. Mix well and pour into a mug--leaving a bit of room for whipped cream at the top.

{Whipped Cream}
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk together. You may use an electric hand held mixer to get the best results. Top your cider with the whipped cream and top with a bit of cinnamon. Enjoy.

Fun fact: I finished the extra whipped topping by scraping it out of the bowl with Stacey's Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips. Even though it is probably awful for your waistline, it is great for the soul--and that definitely counts for something!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

When I first moved to New York, I found an amazing cafe named Cho's Variety in Brooklyn. It's a simple place, with a good french press and free wi-fi. And, they have GREAT muffins. I fell in love almost immediately with the odd combinations that somehow always turned out right, and found out later that the muffins actually originate from Blue Sky Bakery in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

I was craving these muffins the other day, but since I now live in Wisconsin there was really no quick fix. So I decided to play "test kitchen" with my favorite Blue Sky Bakery combo: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins. After variations on a few different recipes, I finally decided on the following, which is mostly based on the recipe for Favorite Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins.
As you can see above, I think these are best served alongside a cup of coffee and a good book. But, quite frankly, they were good for dinner tonight too...

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Banana Mufins
Alexandra Rogers

1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup plain pumpkin (out of the same type of can you use for pumpkin pie)
1/2 cup unsalted butter-room temperature
1 cup chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)
1-2 ripe bananas, sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and grease muffin cups (or use paper baking cups).

Mix flour, sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl (or mixer), beat eggs, pumpkin and butter together. Mix for 2-3 minutes and stir in chocolate chips. Slowly incorporate dry ingredient mix and combine until just mixed together.

Fill muffin cups with the batter, filling each cup about 3/4 of the way full. Stick 2-3 banana slices in each muffin cup, making sure to get some of the slices into the muffin and away from the top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Makes 12 regular muffins.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Acorn Squash Salad with Orange Vinaigrette

It is officially October. This is the season for football, scarves and leather boots. Another reason to love autumn?  Squash is starting to make an appearance at your local greenmarket, grocery store or neighborhood bodega. Acorn squash (which will cost under $1.00 in most cases) is easy to make but can get a bit boring if you make it the same time each way. The recipe I'm posting today should help you change up the old squash and butter routine (or introduce you to acorn squash, as the case may be). I learned this recipe while working at a dessert lounge one day, from my manager at the time. It is rumored to have been the saving grace of a restaurant on the brink of bankruptcy. After trying the salad, I believed the story. I hope you'll enjoy the crispy squash and refreshing citrus flavors it as much as I do.

Acorn Squash Salad with Orange Vinaigrette
Alexandra Rogers 

1 acorn squash, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
a dash of cayenne
1/4 cup pistachios or pine nuts (lightly toasted)
4 cups of mixed baby greens

{Orange Vinaigrette}
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil, or a combination
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to  350ºF.

Mix the cut up acorn squash, olive oil and spices together in a bowl. Lightly coat all squash pieces and place in a baking pan in one layer (make sure to use a baking pan with edges that prevent the oil from spilling out into the oven during the baking process). Cook for 25 minutes until the squash is easily pierced with a fork. Turn oven from bake to broil and broil squash pieces for about 3 minutes per side, or until the pieces are browned and crispy. Remove squash pieces from oven and lay out on a paper towel lined baking sheet or plate to soak up any extra oil.

Lightly toast pine nuts or pistachio nuts in a small pan on medium heat for about 4-5 minutes. Do not use any oil.

In a serving dish, layer washed and dried mixed baby greens, squash pieces and toasted pistachios (or pine nuts). Serve with Orange Vinaigrette or simply squeeze an orange's juice over the salad. 

{Orange Vinaigrette}
Combine all ingredients in a jar or Tupperware container and shake vigorously. Use as much as you like (I prefer a light amount of dressing, to start) to top the acorn squash salad.

Wild Rice Pilaf

Wild rice has always been a comfort food of mine. I find it perfect for crisp fall days, on its own or as a side dish. This summer, after taking a series of technique courses at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, I learned a brilliant way to prepare this dish. However, the recipe from the culinary school took over an hour to make. While I hope to someday have that amount of free time to spend cooking rice, I am currently in grad school. So, I'm providing you with my quick, bastardized, wild rice pilaf. It is still quite tasty and takes well under 30 minutes to make...

Wild Rice Pilaf
Alexandra Rogers 

1 box Uncle Ben's Wild Rice Original Recipe 
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 medium shallot, finely diced
2 cups sliced baby portabella mushrooms
2 Tablespoons minced parsley
2 sprigs of thyme (optional)
salt and pepper
enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large saute pan

In a small saucepan, combine the rice from the Uncle Ben's box with chicken broth and water. DO NOT use the seasoning included in the box. Stir well, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to low/medium-low and let mixture simmer, covered for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, remove from heat and leave covered. 

Place a large saute pan on medium to medium-high heat and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Once oil is hot, add diced shallots. Cook for 1 minute and add mushrooms. Let cook for 4-5 minutes, only stirring once or twice. Add all the rice from the saucepan (now cooked appropriately with all liquid absorbed) to the saute pan with the mushrooms and shallots. Season to taste, with salt and pepper. Add thyme (optional) and parsley and cook for approximately 2-3 minutes. This makes about 3 servings. 

Serve hot and enjoy! 

Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breasts

This is a decadent, warming recipe--and it is easy to prep ahead of time. I sometimes make the stuffing on a weekend day and keep it in the fridge for nights when I want a delicious dinner, but don't have a lot of time to cook.

Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Alexandra Rogers 

3 cups of washed (and dried) spinach leaves
1/2 cup sliced baby portabella mushrooms
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
Enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan
2 teaspoons lite sour cream
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
salt and pepper to taste

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper to season
enough oil to coat the bottom of the saute pan

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Remove chicken breasts from fridge and set aside. 

Coat a small saute pan with olive oil and place on medium-high heat. Once oil is hot, drop the sliced mushrooms into the pan, making sure they are evenly distributed (you should hear them sizzle when they touch the pan). Let cook, stirring occasionally for approximately 3 minutes. Add the garlic to the pan, and cook mixture for 2 more minutes. Put the mushroom and garlic mixture into a small mixing bowl, and add a little more oil to the pan--again, only enough to thinly coat the bottom. Saute 3 cups of packed fresh spinach leaves until they just wilt. Add the spinach to the mushrooms and garlic in the mixing bowl. Let mixture cool. 

While the vegetables are cooling, shred 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and ready the sour cream and breadcrumbs. Add Parmesan, breadcrumbs and sour cream to the spinach and mushrooms and stir thoroughly. Set aside.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. With a small knife, cut the chicken breasts open (lengthwise) like a pita pocket. Put half of the reserved stuffing into each chicken breast, make sure the stuffing is well tucked into the chicken breast. 

Coat the bottom of an oven safe pan with olive or vegetable oil and place the pan on medium heat. Once the pan is hot, carefully place the chicken breasts in the pan. Saute for approximately 3 minutes and flip--cook for another 3-4 minutes (just enough to brown each side), take pan off of stove and place directly in the oven. Let cook for 5-7 minutes in oven, or until the juices run clear when chicken is pierced with a fork or knife. Serve immediately with a side of your choice.
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