Sunday, May 22, 2016

Cinnamon French Toast with Caramelized Bananas and Mascarpone

Caramel sauce. I love it, but let's face it.  It is HARD to master. I've tried countless times and failed miserably each and every time.  Until today.

The call to make Curtis Stone's Cinnamon French Toast with Caramelized Bananas and Mascarpone was so strong. Caramel failures be damned. I was bound and determined to make this happen.  Maybe it was Curtis' directions.  Maybe it was just my lucky day, but either way I was successful! I finally produced a smooth and buttery caramel sauce.

At that moment I knew this recipe would be a total game changer. Instead of "Let There Be Cake", it was now "Let There Be Caramel Sauce".  Countless variations. Caramel sauce on French Toast, pancakes, waffles, ice name it!

But for now all that mattered was that we weren't going to have plain French toast for breakfast (my plan if the caramel didn't work out).  Oh no! We were going to have French Toast dusted in cinnamon-sugar, topped with the most beautiful caramelized bananas, and a creamy dollop of Mascarpone cheese. And it was everything and more. It was so stinkin' delicious!

Cinnamon French Toast with Caramelized Bananas and Mascarpone
Adapted from Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone
Serves 4

Caramelized bananas
1/2 cup sugar
2 bananas, sliced on the bias
3 tablespoons salted butter

French Toast
6 large eggs
Four 1/2" thick slices of brioche bread
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
Mascarpone cheese, to garnish

To prepare the caramelized bananas: Combine the sugar and 1/4 cup water in a large heavy saute pan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves and the liquid comes to a simmer. Then boil over medium-high heat without stirring, brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush and swirling the pan occasionally to ensure that the syrup cooks evenly, for 6 minutes, or until the syrup begins to turn golden brown. Immediately remove the pan from the heat. Add the bananas and butter and swirl until the butter melts. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, or until the bananas are just tender. Set the caramelized bananas aside.

To make the French toast: Using a fork, beat the eggs in a 13 x 9" baking dish. Place the slices of brioche in the eggs and let stand, turning the slices once, for 5 minutes, or until the eggs are absorbed. (Note: Sometimes I feel like this results in soggy French toast so I usually just quickly dip my bread in the egg, allowing the excess to drip back into the dish).

Stir the sugar and cinnamon together on a large plate; set it aside. Melt the butter on a large heavy griddle pan (I like my cast iron skillet for this) over medium heat. Add the brioche slices to the hot pan and cook for about 2 minutes per side, or until golden brown on the outside and heated through. Immediately place the hot French toast in the cinnamon-sugar and turn to coat completely. (Note: If you do not like your food too sweet then you might want to elect to simply sprinkle on some cinnamon-sugar instead of dousing your French toast in the mixture. This is a very sweet breakfast!)

Divide the French toast among 4 serving plates. Spoon the caramelized bananas over the French toast. Top with a dollop of Mascarpone cheese, and serve.

Theme: Sunny Side Up!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ottolenghi's Slow-Cooked Chickpeas on Toast with Poached Egg

Yotam Ottolenghi is one of the most inspirational chefs of our time. He creates the most exotic dishes, full of unique textures and flavors, causing us to think outside of the box and be more creative in our own kitchens. I recently received a copy of his book, Plenty More , and was instantly drawn to his recipe for Slow-Cooked Chickpeas on Toast with Poached Egg. As a lover of chickpeas, this dish begged to be made first.

Weekday mornings are a struggle.  Breakfast needs to be quick.  This recipe is the answer to those mornings. A spicy mix of chickpeas, slow-cooked to perfection, served over a crisp slice of toast topped off with a very inviting poached egg that is oozing with glorious egg yolk. I'm pretty sure this is the perfect way to start a random weekday morning. Make this over the weekend and pop it in the fridge. In the morning all you'll need to do is reheat the chickpeas while you make some toast and an egg, and you're all set! A special and inspiring way to start your day before you head out the door.

Slow-Cooked Chickpeas on Toast with Poached Egg
Adapted from Plenty More
by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 4

Rounded 1 cup chickpeas, soaked in water overnight with 2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon to finish
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1-1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 medium red peppers, cut into1/4 inch dice
1 beefsteak tomato, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
4 slices sourdough bread, brushed with olive oil and grilled on both sides
4 eggs, freshly poached
2 teaspoons za'tar
salt and black pepper, to taste

Drain and rinse the chickpeas and place them in a large saucepan with plenty of water. Place over high  heat, bring to a boil, skim the surface, and boil for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Place the oil, onion, garlic, tomato paste, cayenne, paprika, red peppers, 1 teaspoon salt, and some black pepper in a food processor and blitz to form a paste.

Wipe out the chickpea saucepan, return it to the stove over medium heat, and add the paste. Fry for 5 minutes (there's enough oil there to allow for this), stirring occasionally, before adding the tomato, sugar, chickpeas, and a scant 1 cup water.  Bring to a low simmer, cover the pan, and cook over very low heat for 4 hours, stirring from time to time and adding more water when needed to retain a sauce-like consistency. Remove the lid and cook for a final hour; the sauce needs to thicken without the chickpeas becoming dry.

Place a piece of warm grilled bread on each plate and spoon the chickpeas over the bread. Lay a poached egg on top, followed by a sprinkle of za'tar and a drizzle of oil. Serve at once.


While on the subject of chickpeas, Ottolenghi's Hummus Schwarma with Lemon Sauce is hands down one of the best recipes I've shared on my blog.  Smooth and creamy hummus with crispy chunks of savory lamb, buttered and toasted pine nuts, and a bright zingy lemon sauce. It should be called Heavenly Hummus.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Peach and Mint Iced Tea

When you live in Kentucky, the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby are very special. Everything is lush and green, and one glance at the horse fields helps you understand why they call it the Bluegrass State; people are coming to visit from all over the world; horses are everywhere; ladies are hat shopping; bets are being placed; mint and bourbon are being purchased with abandon; and Derby parties are a sure bet.

At a Derby party you are sure to drink a Mint Julep, a classic Derby drink made from Kentucky Bourbon, mint syrup, and a mint garnish served in pretty Mint Julep cup. There will likely be ham biscuits, Kentucky Burgoo (a spicy stew served with cornbread), Kentucky Hot Browns (turkey, bacon and tomato sandwiches smothered with cheese sauce), and Benedictine (a creamy cucumber and cream cheese spread) that is spread onto bread or crackers. For dessert there will either be Derby pie and/or Derby bars (a lovely chocolate and walnut pie that reminds me of chocolate chip pie). You will not walk away thirsty or hungry.

In the days leading up to Derby, fresh mint is in very high demand.  In order to supply the masses with mint, the grocery stores push big carts full of mint into the produce section, making the air fragrant. The fresh mint wafting through the market is the hallmark of Derby season and the culmination of what's to come. A celebration of old-fashioned Southern living that is, for the most part, untouched by modern times. A magical sort of time in Kentucky.

No matter how many mint garnishes you created, or Mint Juleps you've made, you are certain to have leftover mint.  This Peach and Mint Iced Tea is the perfect way to use it up! A subtle and refreshing blend to help soothe you after a day spent in the sun, eating and drinking to your heart's content.

Peach and Mint Iced Tea
Adapted from Relaxed Cooking with
Curtis Stone
Serves 4-6

1-1/4 cups (lightly packed) cups fresh mint leaves
3 ripe peaches, pitted
4 cups ice cubes, crushed

Pour 6 cups water into a medium sized saucepan.  Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat and add 1 cup of the mint leaves. Cover and steep for 30 minutes to allow the mint to infuse the water. Then strain the mint tea into a pitcher, discarding the leaves, and refrigerate until cold.

Meanwhile, chop 2 of the peaches coarsely and place them in a blender. Puree until smooth, adding a couple tablespoons of the mint tea if necessary to hep create the puree. Strain the peach puree through a fine-mesh sieve and chill the puree. 

Thinly slice the remaining peach. In 4 tall glasses, layer the crushed ice, thin slices of peach, and the remaining 1/4 cup mint leaves, filling the glasses about halfway. Divide the peach puree among the 4 glasses. Then stir in the chilled mint tea and serve immediately.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate Chunks

These cookies are like soft fluffy clouds of peanut butter and chocolate. No other description is necessary, so I'll just stop right there and tell you that you should make them.

On another note, let's discuss relaxed cooking, otherwise known as the lazy girl's version of cooking. This style of cooking is right up my alley. Short and simple ingredient lists, easy techniques, and quick clean up. Now saying this, let me also say that I have been known to simplify even a lazy recipe.

For example, when making the cookie dough, Curtis says to mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl from the wet ingredients. Um, no thank you Curtis. Why dirty a separate bowl for the dry ingredients when you can add them to your wet ingredients (after mixing) with the same results? Additionally, let's talk measuring cups and spoons.  Why dirty your whole collection of measuring cups and spoons? Why not just use one measuring cup, such as a 1/4 cup measure 4 times to equal a cup and so on? And finally, why dirty 3 baking sheets when you can just use one? Can you tell I put a lot of thought into relaxed (aka lazy girl) cooking? Maybe a little too much.

Whether you make this recipe as is, or take my lazy approach, the results are amazing.  This is one delectable and addictive cookie.  Hard to stop at just one.

Peanut Butter Cookies with Chocolate Chunks
Adapted from Relaxed Cooking
with Curtis Stone
Makes between 15-20 cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons honey
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line 3 heavy baking sheets with parchment paper, or spray them with cooking spray.

Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the peanut butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, honey, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended. Stir the dry ingredients into the peanut butter mixture in two additions. Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Scoop about 3 tablespoonsful of dough for each cookie onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2-1/2 inches apart. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the cookies puff and begin to brown on top but are still very soft to the touch. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Then use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to a wire rack. Enjoy the cookies warm or let them cool completely.

Theme: April Potluck!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Barbecue Chicken Quesadillas {Something To Eat On The Sofa}

Ok everybody. Let's discuss the grocery store.  Lately I am not a fan. It's crowded, it's hot, they are always rearranging things and then have the nerve to install those new environmentally friendly lights that are so dim you can't see, you run into everyone you know (which is nice, but not when you're on a mission to get in and get out), and quite frankly the whole endeavor takes about half the afternoon!  Drive there, try to shop while making small talk with everyone you know because you live in a small town, go on a hunt that requires night goggles so you can see in the dark, pack it onto the conveyor belt, mess with your coupons, talk to some more people you know, pay and mess with your coupons again, pack it out into the car, talk to some more people, pat some kids on the head, drive home, bring it all in, trip over the dog who wants to smell every bag, and finally, put it all away.  Of course all the while everyone is whining about why it took so long and asking whether I have any idea how hungry they are. Poor helpless dears.

Never fear. Rotisserie chicken to the rescue. To be honest, sometimes I just pick up a chicken and salad and throw it at everyone when I walk in from the grocery because I simply have nothing left in me. However today I was craving something I could eat on the sofa, because quite frankly, after that shopping trip, that is where I plan to spend the rest of the day. I am officially done!

Thankfully everyone is a fan of a chicken quesadilla and Curtis Stone's Barbecue Chicken Quesadilla works for the whole family. Tortillas (flour or corn), Monterey Jack cheese, shredded chicken, your favorite barbecue sauce, cilantro, and diced jalapeno, and don't forget the sofa.  Put your show on, get your plate, lay back and enjoy! Unless of course you simply have to get up and make yourself another quesadilla, which is entirely possible since these are so delicious!

Barbecue Chicken Quesadillas
Adapted from Relaxed Cooking
by Curtis Stone
Serves 4

Four 10-inch diameter flour tortillas
2 cups coarsely shredded roasted chicken
2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
room temperature butter, for frying

Preheat the oven to 250F. Arrange the tortillas on a work surface. Divide the chicken, cheese, cilantro, and jalapeno among the tortillas, scattering the ingredients over half the tortilla.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste, and drizzle the barbecue sauce over the top of the filling.  Fold the uncovered half of the tortilla over the filling to form a half-moon shape. Butter the outside of the tortilla, if you wish.

Heat a large flat griddle pan (preferably cast iron) over medium heat. Place 2 quesadillas on the griddle. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side, or until the tortillas are golden and the cheese has melted.  Transfer the quesadillas to a baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven. Repeat with the remaining 2 quesadillas. Cut the quesadillas into wedges and serve.

Theme: Something To Eat On The Sofa

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Madhur Jaffrey's Egg Masala

This is one of those recipes that's been on my to do list for years.  For some reason it always seemed more involved than what I felt like doing. I suppose the ingredient list was too long, or perhaps I didn't feel like rifling through my spice cabinet for all the spices. Whatever the case, I built this recipe up, when in reality it is actually very simple.

Hard boil a few eggs, make some rice, and top it with a VERY spicy tomato sauce brimming with loads of cayenne pepper, and you have one fiery breakfast that is sure to put a pep in your step! Believe me when I say, you will be thankful there is rice to help cool things down.

This is a tasty breakfast that is full of spice and really wakes you up. I think it would be perfect to serve on a Sunday morning and I imagine any leftovers would keep well and be just as tasty reheated and served the next day.      

Hard-Boiled Eggs Masala
Adapted from Quick & Easy Indian Cooking
by Madhur Jaffrey
Serves 2-4

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
 pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
5 tablespoons onion, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 inch piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup canned chopped tomatoes 
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into halves lengthwise

Combine the cayenne, turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Mix.

Put the oil in a medium-sized, nonstick frying pan and set over medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, put in the cumin seeds. Ten seconds later, put in the onion and ginger.  Stir and fry until the onion turns medium brown.  Put in the spice paste. Stir and cook for 15 seconds.  Now put in the tomatoes and sugar. Bring to a simmer. Now put in the tomatoes and sugar. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Put in the cilantro. Stir once or twice. Lay the cut eggs in the sauce and spoon more sauce over them.  Cover and simmer gently for 2 to 3 minutes.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Curtis Stone's Pasta with Spicy Italian Salami, Baby Tomatoes, Olives, and Capers

Over at I Heart Cooking Clubs we are beginning a new journey. For the next six months we are going to be cooking the recipes of the very talented, and quite handsome, Curtis Stone. In order to prepare for this new kitchen adventure I ordered his three latest cookbooks, each one more beautiful than the last. As I'm prone to do, I spent the afternoon looking through each of the cookbooks, taking notes and tagging recipes. I managed to jot down pages upon pages of recipes I wanted to make, but there was one recipe that stood out among the rest.  One recipe that begged to be made first.

This Pasta with Spicy Italian Salami, Baby Tomatoes, Olives and Capers was THE recipe that caught my eye the most. I'm not even quite sure why. Maybe it was the flavorful slices of salami, or the briney black olives, or perhaps the whole dish reminded me of southern Italy and my deep longing to visit one day. Whatever the case, this was a delicious dish and one that begs to be made again. With all of the flavorful ingredients you really don't need the cheese, but I'm of the belief that cheese makes everything better- so I added little balls of bocconcini. With cheese, or without cheese, you simply can't go wrong. Serve it hot, serve it warm, serve it's all delicious!

Pasta with Spicy Italian Salami, Baby Tomatoes, Olives & Capers
Adapted from Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone
Serves 4

20 cherry tomatoes
2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
8 ounces spicy salami, such as Sopressa Vicentina, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
1/4 cup extra-fine capers
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
8 to 10 ounces rigatoni (or other short shape) pasta

Preheat the oven to 375F. Place the tomatoes on a small baking sheet and drizzle with the 2 teaspoons olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast the tomatoes in the oven for about 8 minutes, or until they begin to split. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and let them cool slightly.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

While the water is heating, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy saute pan over medium heat. Add the salami and cook for 30 seconds on each side, until light golden in color. Remove the salami from the pan and reserve.

Return the pan to the heat, add the garlic, and saute for 1 minute, or until tender. Add the tomatoes and saute for 3 minutes.  Add the wine and simmer for about 3 minutes, or until reduced by about half. Add the olives and capers and toss gently. Bring the mixture to a simmer and add the salami and parsley.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the boiling salted water for 8 minutes, or until al dente.  Drain the pasta and toss it in the pan with the sauce. Season the pasta to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the pasta to plates, spooning any extra salami and tomato mixture from the pan around the pasta, and serve.

Theme: G'day Curtis!