Thursday, October 31, 2013

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

So, I’m strolling through Target and I ramble over to the food section.

I just love that Target sells groceries…it’s like one-stop-shopping.  Now if only Pennsylvania would allow liquor sales in other than Commonwealth controlled Wine and Spirit Stores…that would facilitate the Saturday morning errand hat trick.

Anyway, I walk by the Giada De Laurentiis For Target section (because, as we all know, Target is all about the designer signature sections and Giada is completely adorable) and I see a box of Lemon Ricotta Cookie Mix.

....and YUM.
The nicely-designed box says “add your own fresh lemon and ricotta cheese.”  Okay, this falls nicely into my kind of homemade rule…taking something that’s premade and gussying it up to make it better your own.

In the cart it goes. 
It was my turn to bring dessert to last Wednesday night’s soirée (which was really onTuesday last week) and these would be perfect. I had planned to make Bacon-Bourbon Apple Pie and that will have to wait for Thanksgiving when we can give appropriate thanks for bacon…and bourbon.

There is no recipe other than to follow the instructions on the box, but if you wanted to make these cookies from scratch, here is G’s recipe.  

I served with a dollop of ricotta cheese....the creamy hint of cheese and the smooth texture of the ricotta made for the perfect accompaniment! These. Are. So. Damn. Good.

There’s a tip on the box that says “use an ice cream scoop to place dough on the cookie sheet”….great minds think alike.  I've been doing that for years!

That night Architect made a Roasted Chicken with ParmesanRoasted Butternut Squash as a side dish.  The butternut squash, with the creamy, sage-infused sauce, is the perfect dish to welcome Fall.  It would be a definite hit on the Thanksgiving table.  Absolutey delicious!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Banana Bread with Chocolate Glaze

So yet another week has gone by and I was AGAIN out of town and unable to have dinner with my Wednesday night pals. I miss them. But, even though I have not dined with them, I still cook/bake, trying recipes that catch my eye. For instance, as I was paging thorough the Best of Cooking Light (that I bought while in one of the FIVE airports I've been the past two weeks!), I came across this recipe for banana bread. I love banana bread….I like it even better when chocolate is involved and this particular version calls for a chocolate glaze.

Can you say scrumptious?

As with all Cooking Light recipes, the CL test kitchen staff reworks traditional recipes and lightens them up. This version calls for three bananas, two large egg whites, fat-free milk and reduced fat sour cream. Referring to this as the “most temping of all our quick breads,” the original recipe first appeared in a 1996 edition of Cooking Light and has been a consistent staff and reader favorite.

One taste and you will see why.
The texture is so satisfying and the bread itself is melt-in-your-mouth moist. I made three mini loaves and gave two to younger daughter and one to across-the-street neighbor who watched Faye the Boston Terrier during another excursion.

As I write this post, I am sitting in the Albany airport trying to pass the time because my flight is delayed….thank goodness for the Internet, my laptop, and my iPhone.

Banana Bread with Chocolate Glaze
Cooking Light, reprinted October 2013

1 cup of sugar
¼ cup of butter
3 large mashed ripe bananas
¼ cup fat-free milk
¼ cup reduced-fat sour cream
2 large egg whites
2 (scant) cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Cooking spray
2 ½ tablespoons half-and-half
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 350°. Combine sugar and butter in a bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add banana, milk, sour cream and egg whites. Combine flour, baking soda and salt, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to the banana mixture and beat until just blended….do not overbeat! Spoon the batter into a 9x5-ince loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake for 60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. For the glaze, place half-and-half and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute, stirring every 20 seconds. Cool slightly and drizzle over the bread.

There are only 184 calories in a slice (1/16) of this bread….a confection bargain for those of us who can’t resist quick breads or muffins and a cup of coffee in the morning.

Enjoy, dear readers!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Eggplant Parmesan with Mushrooms

This past week I was in California and was not able to join my dinner-making friends for our weekly frolic. Last week, we enjoyed an excursion into Philadelphia and dined at a restaurant called Zahav that serves Israeli cuisine.
I had a wonderful drink called a Desert Rose that blended gin, hibiscus, grapefruit and cucumber into a yummy little tonic.  The mini jaunt fit nicely into our recent obsession with making dishes from the Jerusalem cookbook.

The week before, however, it was my turn to cook. I saw some lovely eggplants at the local specialty foods market and I decided to make eggplant parmesan with mushrooms.

Eggplants were first grown in China as far back the 5th century BC, right around the same time the Spartans beat the Athenians in the Battle of Mantinea.  Early varieties were quite bitter, and as with anything bitter, people avoided them, believing them to be harmful and toxic. A few centuries later, less bitter varieties were introduced and the aubergine beauty became a staple in many European and Middle Eastern cuisines. The Italians happily adopted it into their family in the 14th century.

Eggplants contain nasunin, an antioxidant known to protect the fats in brain cells from free radical damage (maybe biology major younger daughter can explain this to has something to do with unpaired electrons), and, as all vitamin commercials remind us, antioxidants may help to promote graceful aging.

I wonder if there a cookbook dedicated to eggplant preparation. 

Eggplant is a fruit closely related to the tomato and that perhaps explains why the two pair so well together. Eaten raw, the eggplant is bitter but relatively spongy so it absorbs the flavors of recipe companion ingredients nicely. To reduce the bitterness, some suggest salting, draining and rinsing prior to cooking. I think this method flattens the taste of the eggplant and personally, I like to simply slice it thinly, dredge it in flour, eggs then bread crumbs and sauté until brown on both sides prior to baking.  To make the sauce, I used a can of San Marzano tomatoes -- they have less seeds -- and a few fresh tomatoes from Irish Guy’s garden.

Eggplant Parmesan with Mushrooms

About 2 tablespoons olive oil
½ sweet Vidalia onion, chopped
3 fresh garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
A few turns of sea salt in a salt grinder
1 28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil
1 tablespoon of fresh marjoram or oregano
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
¼ - ½ cup of water
Splash of red wine vinegar
1 large eggplant
3 cups panko bread crumbs
About 2 cups of flour
1egg, beaten
½ cup olive oil
1 8 oz container of sliced mushrooms
2 cups of mozzarella cheese
1 cup of Parmesan cheese

To make the simple tomato sauce, in a large saucepan over medium heat, heat 2 swirls of the pan of olive oil and add onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. Swirl is such a happy word, don’t you think? Sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and their juices and the fresh tomatoes, breaking them up as they cook with a wooden spoon.  Add some water if the mixture appears too thick.  Add the salt, brown sugar, marjoram or oregano and basil and bring to a boil. Add a splash of wine vinegar… this boosts the flavors! Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 20 minutes.

To prepare the eggplant, peel the eggplant and slice into thin pieces, about ¼”.  Dredge the slices in the flour, then the egg, then the bread crumbs and sauté until lightly browned on both sides.  In a large casserole dish, add a layer of the sauce, then a layer of browned eggplant, some sliced mushrooms, then some of the cheeses and repeat until all the ingredients are gone.  Bake at 375° for 40-45 minutes or until the mixture is bubbling.  Serve with buttered noodles or rice.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Apple Cranberry Crisp

When we have dinner at Architect’s house, it’s always my turn to bring dessert.  We have a “who brings what” rotation going and it revolves around the traveling salad bowl.  When I host dinner, the bowl stays with me and I know to bring the salad (in the traveling bowl) to the next dinner, and so on.

A simple little system.

Anyway, I wanted to make a light dessert.  I had apples to use and I’d been craving cranberries, perhaps a nod to the imminent crisp, autumn weather (although it’s been downright balmy in the northeast lately).  I love cranberries…maybe because they are a shade of red, my favorite color.   So, thinking about coupling apples and cranberries, how about a Apple Cranberry Crisp?  A quick search revealed this little jewel:
And, even though it’s an Emeril recipe, I found it on so it was my immediate choice.

As we all know, I adore Martha.

The sweet notes of the cranberry, the tanginess of the orange, the wholesomeness of the oats, and the complexity and interest of the spices combine nicely to give your taste buds a fine how-to-you-do with each bite! I thought about replacing the butter and sugar crumble with a healthier wheat-germ version and I’m glad I didn’t…sometimes a recipe (and a girl) just needs butter and sugar!   A dear Irish friend suggested I drizzle fresh cream on top just before serving…it was a lovely suggestion and the cream added a perfect, rich, velvety touch.  This recipe is a must try…perfect for a pot-luck dinner contribution.

I chose to use organic frozen cranberries and they worked very well in this recipe.

Apple Cranberry Crisp
Emeril’s Recipe posted on

Unsalted butter, for baking dish
6 sweet, firm apples, such as Gala or Braeburn, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
12 ounces cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice (I used a little more)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (I used a deep pie dish).  In a large bowl, combine apples, cranberries, sugar, flour, vanilla, and orange zest and juice. Transfer to baking dish and sprinkle with topping.  Bake until topping is browned and juices are thick and bubbling around edges, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.  Drizzle on heavy cream.

Crisp Topping

6 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
2/3 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Using an electric mixer, beat on low until coarse crumbs form.

I made this again for my cream-suggesting Irish friend who shared it with his friends….the deliciousness enjoyed in yet another Pennsylvania county.