Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pistachio Honey Cake with Berries and Cream

My assignment this past Wednesday was dessert. I love when I have to make dessert because I get to experiment with stuff that I would not normally make, except for a holiday celebration.

Every day is a celebration of sorts, don’t you think?

In homage to my Ireland trip, I wanted to make something with a bit of green… pistachios! So, I embarked on a hunt for a recipe using this shelled jewel and found a perfect contender in the April 2012 edition of Better Homes and Gardens.

The cake, Pistachio Honey Cake with Berries and Cream, was in an article called “Honey Do!” that featured using honey in recipes, so the pistachios are the best friend in this recipe while honey is the leading lady. This best friend/leading lady notion is from one of my favorite movies ever – The Holiday – Arthur, a retired Hollywood script writer, says to his visiting and broken hearted neighbor, Iris, “Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.” To which Iris replies, “You're so right, Arthur. You're supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for god's sake!”

Enough movie therapy.

The various flavors – sweet, crunchy, creamy, tart – blend so nicely in this cake that is subtle and satisfying and sure to become a new go-to favorite!

“To measure honey, coat the measuring cup or spoon with nonstick spray. The honey will slide right out.” BH&G, April 2012

Pistachio Honey Cake with Berries and Cream

For the cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
¼ cup of pistachio nuts, ground (set some aside to sprinkle on the served cake)
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, softened (I used Irish cream butter!)
¾ cup of honey
2 eggs
½ cup milk
2 Tablespoons orange juice

For the topping
½ cup mascarpone cheese, chilled or cream cheese softened
1 cup of whipping cream
2 Tablespoons of honey
1 pint of strawberries, sliced (raspberries would be nice too)

1. Preheat oven 325°. Butter a 9x1 ½ inch round cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, ground pistachios, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a larger mixing bowl, beat butter with mixer on medium for 30 seconds. Add ½ cup of honey, beat for 3 minutes, until fluffy. Slowly beat in eggs, one at a time. Add ¾ of the flour mixture and mix until combined. Add milk and the remaining flour mixture and mix until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan.

3. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes and then remove cake from pan.

4. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan heat the remaining honey and orange juice, whisking to combine. Poke holes in cake with a toothpick and brush the honey/OJ mixture on top.

5. For the topping, whip the mascarpone cheese for 30 seconds, add cream and 2 Tbsp. of honey and beat to form soft mounds. Refrigerate.

6. When ready to serve the cake, spoon some cream topping on each cake slice, sprinkle some pistachios, drizzle some honey and top with a sliced strawberry.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Button Bag

You know those little plastic bags that the "Extra Buttons" come in when you buy new stuff? Well, save them and put jewelry in them to keep your necklaces, bracelets and earrings from getting all tangled together when you travel!

How handy-dandy is that!?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Umbrian Lentils

We had dinner at Architect’s house on Wednesday and she made lentils…not just any lentils but lentils from Umbria, Italy.

They were delicious.

I was lucky enough to bring a doggie bag home.

The lentils that Architect used are grown by the Emilio Family of Umbria and are coveted throughout Italy for their outstanding color, texture, and flavor. The family keeps the crops small so the demand for these little beauties often surpasses the supply!

Lentils are low in fat and high in protein and fiber and are considered lucky in Italy, so they are a very popular dish for New Year's celebrations!

Umbrian Lentils
1 package of Bartolini Umbrian Lentils (these are available on-lin)
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 onions, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
2-3 carrots, sliced
¼ cup of parsley, chopped
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 cups of chicken stock
10-15 sage leaves

Rinse the lentils then place them in water (just enough to cover them) and boil for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté the onions, celery and carrots in the olive oil. Add some of the water from the lentils for flavor. Add the parsley, salt, pepper, chicken stock and the lentils. Boil on medium until the lentils are tender.

While the lentils are cooking, sauté the sage leaves in some olive oil (to coat the pan) and a tablespoon of butter until they are a bit crispy. When the lentils are done, serve in a bowl, top with a few sage leaves, a dollop of sour cream and Parmesan cheese.

It was my turn to make dessert…stay tuned!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Cheddar Biscuits

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone!

I made these little lovlies for our weekly dinner gathering and they were a big hit! The savory of the herbs, creaminess of the cheese and zip of the mustard all combine nicely in this twist on a more traditional biscuit recipe.

I get a daily recipe update from Kraft Foods and I save those that are interesting....this made the "save as" list!

I don't think I mentioned that I am crossing the pond once again and heading to Ireland next week with my sister, brother and sister-in-law...a cast of characters indeed and we will have a blast!

Cheddar Biscuits

2 1/4 cup of baking mix (I used Bisquick)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp of fresh herbs (I used thyme and parsley because I had them on hand)
1/4 cup of sour cream
2 Tbsp of dijon mustard (I will use a little less next time)
1/3 cup of milk
1 egg, beaten
Fresh parsley leaves for embellishment

Heat oven to 425°.

Combine baking mix, cheese and herbs in a large bowl.

Mix sour cream and mustard in a small bowl and gradually stir in milk. Gradually add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir until just moistened.

Place some baking mix on a dry surface and on your hands (to keep the dough from sticking) and plop the dough down, knead 10 times. Pat into a 1/2" thick circle.

Cut with a 2" biscuit cutter dusted with baking mix (I used a small glass) and then place the biscuits 2 inches apart on a baking sheet (I used my trusty and well-seasoned Pampered Chef stone). Brush lightly with the egg mixture, top each with a parsley leave, and brush again with the egg mixture. The egg gives each a beautiful sheen.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Farro with Asparagus and Eggs

We had dinner at Foodie's house on Tuesday instead of Wednesday this week because of a scheduling conflict. Regardless, it was delicious. She made Farro with sauteed asparagus topped with a fried egg. Now, you may be thinking "what a strange combination!" but the harmony of flavors -- the nuttiness of the farro, the succulent crunchiness of the asparagus and the wholesomeness of the egg -- meet on the palate for a panoply of sensory delight!

Farro is similar to barley and is prepared by cooking the grain in liquid - water or stock - until soft. It is often eaten as a side dish or tossed into soups or salads, but Foodie sauteed onions, mushrooms and celeriac...that is not a typo. Celeriac is a root vegetable that is a cousin to carrots, parsnips and anise. It's creamy meat is a hearty alternative to potatoes with a taste that's a cross between a carrot and parsley.

Sounds like it would perfect in a pot roast too, but, I have to say, it certainly is not the Cinderella of vegetables!

Farro with Asparagus and Fried Egg

Cook the farro as directed. Saute onions, mushrooms and celery root (celeriac). Add (all to taste) herbs de provence, hot pepper flakes, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Toss vegetables and farro together and add a small amount of goat and Parmesan cheeses. Add a few handfuls of baby spinach for color

Place in a casserole dish and bake to melt cheeses and warm, 350° for about 20-25 minutes. Foodie used the casserole she made in pottery class....isn't it a beauty?!

In the meantime, sauté some asparagus, fry an egg and when the farro is warm assemble at the dish by placing a cup or so of farro on a plate, top with a few spears of asparagus and the egg and serve!

We also had a mixed greens and pear salad served in the lovely traveling salad bowl and ice cream topped with hazelnut liqueur and hazelnuts for dessert.

Photo of celeriac bulb from Google images.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Here we go Loopdy-Loop

A couple of Sundays ago, Foodie and I took a road trip to “loop” a yarn store on South Street in Philadelphia. While there, Foodie sought guidance on a particular stitch pattern perplexing her and I moseyed about the store ogling the beautiful yarn selection. As I was browsing, I came across a table of yarns by “Be Sweet.”

The yarns are new to me and quite beautiful so a quick search on Google informed me that the company’s mission is “to bring socially and environmentally friendly products to fashionable consumers that evoke an individual style and help support community development around the world. Our products embody the ideals of beauty, creativity and resourcefulness. As well, Be Sweet gives back by donating a portion of its profits to educational development programs in South Africa.”

The ”Be Sweet” yarns are fashionable indeed. I bought an interesting yarn – “Magic” – in a color called “Shifting Sands.” It is called magic because the “divine arrangement of hand dyed boucle and brushed mohair yarns tied with knobby, ribbon, and metallic goodies” create the most charming effect when knitted up…like magic! There was a scarf in the store and when I inquired about the pattern, the very friendly sales person told me that the pattern was printed right on the yarn wrapper..even that is pretty and touts that the yarn is hand-spun and dyed and reflects the spinner's individuality.

This yarn is very luxurious and knitted up beautifully but some of the strands are a little wispy and hard to work with. I presevered and my prize is this gorgeous little cravat!

Foodie and I also bought yarn to make a shawl the store had displayed and we will post an update when one of us -- okay...let's be realistic -- when Foodie finishes first! I always have good intentions!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Grilled Shrimp with Pineapple Salsa

We had dinner at Singer’s house on Wednesday and the Grilled Shrimp with Pineapple Salsa she served was the perfect and zesty mid-week pick-me-up!

As an appetizer she made homemade guacamole and I’m not quite sure I can fully describe this dip because we were too busy shoveling it in our mouths to fully experience the amazing flavors.

Growing up in my yard-less Philadelphia row house, grilling was a big ordeal typically reserved for the summer holidays, Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day. My goodness, how much I loved and craved those grilled burgers and hot dogs! Now, with today’s snazzy grills, grilling year round is a snap….certainly faster and easier than preparing charcoals, that, for many, is still a superior alternative. I personally like the flavor that using charcoals infuse.

Buying a grill can be a taunting task and offers some buying advice here.

If all you’re looking to do is occasionally grill meats and vegetables, then a model between $250 -$500 will suit your needs just fine. However, more coin can buy serious grillers more durable, accessory-packed models with side and sear burners, more cooking space, cast-iron grates, and rotisserie kits that often resemble a small galley kitchen!

For safety purposes, gas containers should never be stored indoors and to keep your grill gleaming and serviceable for many years, invest in a good grill cover and clean the grill grates after each use and the other components regularly.

Grilled Shrimp with Pineapple Salsa
Adapted from Thrill of the Grill

2 lbs of Shrimp (de-veined and peeled)
2 tsps of Olive oil
1/2 tsp of Cumin
1 tsp of Chili Powder
3-4 cloves of Garlic
1-2 TSP of Sugar
Toss together for 10-15 minutes before skewering and grilling

1/2 ripe medium pineapple
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 red onion
1/2 tsp adobo sauce (chipoltle pepper are canned with it --- gives a slightly smoky flavor)
Juice of 2 limes
small bunch of Cilantro
1 small jalapeno

Chop and combine all ingredients to make a chunky salsa. Make in advance to allow the flavors to fully incorporate.

Serve shrimp on top of some shredded cabbage, red or green, drizzled with sour cream, pineapple salsa and lime slices.

Singer served this with Mexican rice but this dish can also be served on warm corn tortillas for a shrimp taco treat.

We had a mixed green with herbs, goat cheese and sugared pecan salad served in the lovely traveling salad bowl and for dessert Foodie made grapefruit and Campari was the perfect complement following our somewhat spicy dinner. We also had a fantastic bottle of white wine and I forgot to jot the name down but will post an update.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Fruity Creme Brulee

Singer’s assignment was dessert for our Wednesday evening rendezvous.

The photo says it all.

It was delicious. Not too sweet and the caramelized sugar on top added just the right crunchy touch.

Fruity Creme Brulee
From New Basics Cookbook

1 pt blueberries (lightly rinsed and drained and/or raspberries…Singer mixed both)
3 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
sugar (confectioners, dust)

1. Line the bottom of eight 1/2 cup ramekins (or custard cups) with the berries, and set them aside.

2. Preheat oven to 300*F.

3. Heat the half and half in a heavy saucepan over medium high heat, just to the boiling point.

4. Whisk the sugar, whole eggs, and egg yoks together in a large bowl until the mixture is light and frothy.

5. Now slowly whisk the hot half and half into the egg mixture; mix thoroughly, and strain the mixture back into the saucepan. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mix over low heat just until it coats the back of the spoon. Add vanilla.

6. Divide the custard among the berry lined ramekins, and set them in a baking dish. Pour the hot water into the dish until it reaches 2/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Place the dish in the oven and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the custards comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes.

7. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and allow them to cool slightly. Then cover and refrigerate until they are chilled, about 2 hours.

8. To serve, preheat the broiler. Sift a light layer of confectioners' sugar over the ramekins, and place them under the broiler just until the sugar caramelizes, 2-4 minutes. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

We had a lovely bottle of French wine and we toasted Davy Jones…a bit of our adolescence died with him on Wednesday. I had posters of him and Bobby Sherman clipped from 16 and Tiger Beat magazines plastered all over (and I mean ALL OVER) my walls! My sister preferred Mickey Dolenz and my best friend Moe liked Mike Nesmith. Sorry Peter. Click here to enjoy a salute to the Monkees.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Cauliflower Puree and Spinach Lasagna

A few weeks ago, I saw a recipe in Kitchen Daily for Cauliflower Puree and Spinach Lasagna.


In this recipe, the cauliflower puree proxies for a Béchamel Sauce and cooking the low fat, low carbohydrate, high fiber vegetable in milk and garlic intensifies its natural sweetness. The toasted pine nuts add not only an unexpected crunch but also a bit of elegance to this dish and, of course, spinach (with a sprinkle of nutmeg) is always a welcome and vitamin-packed addition to any dish! The mildness of the Monterey Jack cheese combined with the nuttiness of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese intermingle nicely in this tasty and satisfying mid-winter treat.

It was my turn to cook….guess what I made.

The first thing you need to do is make the cauliflower puree and I made it and sautéed the spinach the night before.

Cauliflower Puree

3 heads (yes, three heads)of cauliflower, trimmed (about 6 pounds total)
4 garlic cloves, peeled (I always use more)
1 cup whole milk
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper

Cut cauliflower into 1-inch chunks. Smash garlic cloves, then combine with cauliflower, milk, salt, and pepper in a large pot. Bring milk to a boil, covered, then boil, covered, until cauliflower is very tender, about 20 minutes. Puree cauliflower and cooking liquid in batches in a food processor until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Cauliflower Puree and Spinach Lasagna

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
10 ounces fresh baby spinach
½ teaspoon of nutmeg (my addition)
4 cups leftover cauliflower puree
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup of pine nuts, toasted
1 (9 ounce) box no-boil lasagna noodles
8 ounces grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat add the spinach, sprinkle with the nutmeg and saute, turning, until the spinach is wilted and all the liquid has evaporated, about 6 minutes. Set the spinach aside.

Stir together cauliflower puree, milk, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and pine nuts. Spread about 1/2 cup puree over bottom of a 2-quart baking dish, then place 1 layer of noodles over puree, leaving some space between noodles.

Repeat layering puree and noodles in same manner, finishing with a layer of puree.

Spread spinach evenly over the mixture.

Then sprinkle evenly with the cheeses.

Bake, uncovered at 350°, until lasagna is bubbling and browned on top, about 45 minutes. I calculate this to be about 329 calories per 4” square serving, low in fat and carbs and high in flavor and fiber.

For dessert, we devoured a Blueberry Crème Brule that deserves its own post!

We toasted Davy Jones…a bit of our adolescence died with him on Wednesday. I had posters of him and Bobby Sherman clipped form 16 and Tiger Beat magazine plastered all over (and I mean ALL OVER) my walls! My sister preferred Mickey Dolenz and my best friend Moe liked Mike Nesmith. Sorry Peter. Click here to enjoy a salute to the Monkees.