One woman's foray into cooking for herself, for her family, and for her friends. It's not always picture-perfect, sometimes a little messy,
but it's always delicious. Join me in exploring new recipes, savoring the "résultats" and learning from the "erreurs".

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Weekend Blog Showcase: Orange-Scented Macaroons

First, my apologies for missing Weekend Blog Showcase last week.  I came down with a horrible cold that had me asleep most of last weekend and a nagging cough that drove the few co-workers who had to work the week of Thanksgiving a bit crazy.  Ah well.  I'm much better and ready to cook!  My thanks to Ann (Thibeault's Table) for hosting last week!

I love just about anything almond.  So when I came across these on  Foodgawker one day, I did a little happy dance inside my head.  I hightailed it right over to Hungry Rabbit for the recipe.  These delicate little cookies are simple to make and have a wonderful orange-y almond flavor.  It's a terrific combination.  Ken advises to leave these alone for a couple of days as the flavor improves.  I'll take his word for it and pass along the admonition.  I know they were amazing as soon as they were cool enough to sample (you know I had to try one).  I love these!  And I also love Ken's blog.  Hungry Rabbit has wonderful photos and great recipes (seems that all my favorite blogs do!)  I'll be visiting often.  Thank you, Ken!

Orange-Scented Macaroons

2 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pure orange extract (optional)
1 pound almond paste, separate into 1 inch pieces
Pinch of table salt
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted, plus more for rolling and coating (about 1 cup)
Zest of 2 oranges
1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Triple Sec

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with nonstick baking mats; set aside.
2. Whisk one egg white and extracts in a small bowl until combined, set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, Add almond paste and salt, beat on medium speed until soft, about 2 minutes. Add egg white mixture and beat to combine, about a minute.
4. Reduce speed to low, add confectioners’ sugar slowly and beat until combined, about 1 minute. Add orange zest and orange liqueur; beat until evenly distributed, about 1 minute.
5. Lightly dust work surface with confectioners’ sugar. Turn dough out onto work surface; roll into 3/4-inch-thick logs (3 or 4), about 18 inches long. Cut each log crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.
6. Lightly beat remaining egg white. Coat each ball with egg white and roll in sugar, tapping to remove excess; transfer to prepared baking sheets. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
7. Pinch each piece of dough with three fingers to form an irregular pyramid shape. Bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and cool completely.

Yields about 6 dozen

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To participate in Weekend Blog Showcase, pick a recipe from a blog other than your own (Tastespotting and Foodgawker are great places for inspiration), make the recipe and post about it on your own blog, crediting the originating blog with the recipe.  Then sign into Mr. Linky.  That's all there is to it!  Ann and I look forward to your participation!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Eggplant & Garlic Salad

When I have a chance to put my feet up for a little bit, I often find myself trolling the food photo sites like Tastespotting and Foodgawker, oohing and aahing over many of the beautiful culinary creations, the gorgeous photography, and the inspiration to expand my own recipe repertoire.  This simple but unbelievably delicious recipe is a result of one of those trolling sessions.

Eralda, of The Split Pea fame, posted this recipe from her parents' native Albania.  As a fellow eggplant-lover, I was anxious to give it a try.

I was unable to locate any Chinese eggplants at my local grocer's but was able to locate some slender Italian aubergines.  Perfectly acceptable!  I bought two but one sufficed for my meal.

While Eralda leaves her garlic totally raw, I decided not to mince mine quite so fine, putting the garlic along with the olive oil called for in the dressing into a small ramekin and microwaving the mixture for about 30 seconds.  It was just enough to take the "bite" out of the garlic, leaving it a bit softer and mellower.  Heating the oil a bit with the garlic also pleasantly flavored the olive oil.

This is a delicious salad and I will be making it often. Thank you, Eralda!

Eggplant and Garlic Salad

6-7 small Chinese eggplants (or 2 slender Italian eggplant)
3 tablespoons whole wheat or unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil for frying
1 medium garlic clove, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt for sprinkling the salad (Eralda used fleur de sel, so I did, too.  Perfection!)

Wash, remove ends, and slice the eggplants lengthwise (1/4 inch). Mix the flour, salt, and pepper into a dish or pie plate.  Heat the canola oil in a large skillet. Toss the eggplant slices in the flour mixture.

When the oil is hot, add the eggplant slices in on layer. Cook on high heat (the higher the temperature of the oil the less oil they will absorbe) until brown on each side, about 1 minute or less per side.  To test for doneness, pierce with a fork. If the fork is easily inserted, the eggplant is done.

Remove eggplant from heat and drain on paper towels. Arrange on a plate, sprinkle with the garlic*, salt, and drizzle with the olive oil and the vinegar.

*Alternatively, put the minced garlic and olive oil in a ramekin and microwave for 20 - 30 seconds.  Remove from microwave and whisk in the red wine vinegar.  Season the cooked eggplant with salt & pepper, and drizzle the garlic, olive oil & red wine vinegar dressing over the plated eggplant.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Weekend Blog Showcase: Homemade Almond Joys (sort of...)

We've made it to the weekend!  And that means it's time for Weekend Blog Showcase.  Join Ann (Thibeault's Table) and me in showcasing some of the best recipes of our fellow foodie bloggers. 

This week, I attempted a recipe I found at Joy the Baker.  She has created a homemade version of my very favorite candy bar, Almond Joy.  Her post for this delectable sweet contains great step-by-step photos (great photos, by the way), and a wonderful sense of humor.  My completed version of her recipe turned out to look more like Almond Joys on steroids, so my try at them resulted in only about 20 candy bars instead of her 30.  Ah well.  They are delicious, the perfect homage to my candy bar of choice.  Thank you, Joy!

Homemade Almond Joy
(Source: recipe found on
Yield: makes about 30 little bars

7 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
2-1/2 cups unsweetened flaked coconut
30 raw almonds
about 20 ounces (a bag and a half) of good quality semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, spread raw almonds onto a baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together sweetened condensed milk, powdered sugar, salt and vanilla extract.  Stir in the unsweetened coconut.  The mixture will be thick.  Place mixture in the freezer for 30 minutes for tom make the mixture easier to work with.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Remove the coconut mixture from the freezer.  With clean hands shape one tablespoon of coconut into a little log about 2 inches long and 3/4-inch thick.  Press the logs together very well so they don't crack when dipped.    Place the log on the lined baking sheet and continue until all of the coconut mixture is gone.  Rinse hands occasionally if they get too sticky.  Press an almond on top of each coconut log.  (I pressed the almond into the mixture a bit.) It might not completely stick.  That's ok.  Place the baking sheet in the fridge to chill while you melt the chocolate.

Place a medium  pot with two inches of water over a medium flame.  Bring the water to a simmer.  Place chocolate chips in a heat proof bowl and place the bowl over the simmering water.  Stir the chocolate as it melts. nbsp;Turn off the flame once the chocolate has melted but keep the bowl of melted chocolate over the hot water. (I melted the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave. I started with 1-1/2 minutes at High power, and continued at 10 second intervals, until the chocolate was thoroughly melted.)

Remove the coconut candies from the fridge.  Place one coconut almond log on a fork.  Use a spoon to scoop a bit of chocolate over the almond.  This will help the almond stick to the candy and not fall off during dipping.

Lower fork into chocolate and spoon chocolate over candy to coat.  Lift fork and gently shake to release some of the chocolate.  Scrape the bottom of the fork along the side of the bowl and place on the lined baking sheet.  You might need a toothpick to help get the candy off the fork. Repeat until all candy is coated in chocolate.  If chocolate gets thick, just turn on the flame and heat slightly. (I used a candy-dipping utensil for a bit more ease of use.)

Let dipped candy harden in the fridge for 45 minutes.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature.  If you need to layer the candy in a container, use waxed paper to separate the layers.

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To participate in Weekend Blog Showcase, make a recipe from another blog, post about it on your blog, and reference the blog you are showcasing.  Place the WBS logo on your post and sign into Mr. Linky.  That's all there is to it!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Roasted Garlic & Grape Tomato Pizza

I love pizza.  I love a good NY-style pizza.  I love deep dish Chicago-style pizza.  I'll even settle for mediocre delivery on a rare occasion.  But my real love for pizza lies within my own kitchen.  The crust can be thin. Or not.  If I'm making pizza for a crowd, I'll bake them in  pans.  If I'm making pizza just for myself  (or 1 or 2 additional people), I'll use the baking stone that permanently resides in my oven.  I like that I can top it with whatever strikes my fancy.  When I add vegetables to my pizzas, I usually like to saute or grill them first:  sauteed onions and mushrooms, grilled eggplant or grilled zucchini.  Or thinly sliced potatoes. Or pepperoni, browned sausage, olives, hot peppers or sweet peppers.  With sauce, without sauce.  Or white pizza - I love white pizza.  Round, rectangular, big, small.  *sigh*  I love pizza.

My pizza this time was going to be a smaller-than-usual pizza.  I roasted a head of garlic. (Cut the top 1/4 of the head of garlic off, drizzle olive oil over the decapitated garlic and sprinkle with salt  pepper.  Wrap tightly in double layered foil and throw in a hot oven (450F.) for about 40 - 45 minutes.  Remove from the oven and open the foil.  Let cool until comfortable enough to handle. Squeeze the garlic out of its paper.  This is wonderful in mashed potatoes or spread over crostini.)  After pressing the dough out into a rectangle, I spread the roasted garlic over the dough, sprinkled shredded mozzarella over that, layered halved grape tomatoes over the cheese, and then strewed very thinly sliced red onion over the tomatoes.  A little salt, a little freshly ground black pepper, and a tiny drizzle of olive oil, and then into a hot oven (500F.) onto the baking stone for 15 minutes.  Oh my.  Delicious.

*sigh*  Have I mentioned I love pizza?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Potato & Celery Soup

I've finally begun to realize that soup can be an easy thing.  It doesn't always mean caramelizing or roasting vegetables long and slowly or simmering away for hours on the stove.  It can mean a quick saute, a little simmering, a little pureeing, and then voila - good eats.  Monique, of La Table de Nana fame, has been a wonderful teacher in this regards.  All the recipes she shares are wonderful.  Many are great yet uncomplicated recipes with huge flavor.  And the recipe for Potato & Celery Soup is no exception.  I'd never had a celery soup before, but her (always) beautiful photos took me in.  And so I tried it.

More and more, I'm allowing myself to cook with what is on hand instead of having to run to the store for every ingredient, so I made a couple of substitutions.  With no onions on hand (an unbelievable oversight on my part), I did happen to have two generously-sized shallots.  Additionally, I  normally would have used  a russet potato in the soup, but alas, no russets on hand, so I used 2 smallish red potatoes, leaving their skin on.  The vegetables sauteed and simmered away in the water called for in the recipe until nice and tender.  After pureeing, the soup needed just a little more liquid for thinning out.  Since I had an opened bottle of white wine, that's what I added to the soup.  It was wonderful!

Now, I have no doubt, none whatsoever, that the recipe made as written was delicious.  So, if you have all the ingredients on hand, by all means, try it that way.  But don't be intimidated by the need for substitutions.  You never know what culinary concoction you come up with!!

Thank you, once again, Monique!

Potato & Celery Soup
(Serves 1 generously)

2 sticks celery, cut into small chunks
1 small yellow onion, diced (I used 2 large shallots)
1 floury potato, cut into small chunks
1 cup water (I used about 1-1/2 cups of water)
1/2 to 1 cup stock (I used about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of white wine)
Knob of butter
Croutons* (optional)
About 1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese (optional)
Parsley optional)

In a saucepan, heat up a knob of butter. Fry onions until they begin to sweat. Add in celery and potato and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.

Pour in water and allow to simmer over a low-medium flame until the vegetables have cooked through and softened. The water would have been reduced considerably. Use a hand held-blender to mash everything into a smooth puree.

(If you do not have a hand-held blender, use a traditional blender (turn off the fire when you do this, obviously). Be careful, as the lids of blenders can get blown off by the hot steam. After you get a smooth puree, return it to the saucepan, on a low flame.

Add stock according to how thick or thinned out you want your soup to be. I added slightly less than 1 cup.

Add 1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese. This imparts a nice salty flavour. :) I did not need to add salt at all.

Top with croutons, or plain toasted bread. Sprinkle parsley before serving.

*I made croutons from leftover challah bread:  Cut into cubes, toss with a little olive oil, then bake in a 400 F. oven for about 10 - 15 minutes, until croutons are golden, turning a couple of times during the cooking.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Weekend Blog Showcase: Orange French Toast

Welcome to this week's edition of Weekend Blog Showcase.  Visit Ann (Thibeault's Table) to see what she has made and to visit the other participant's entries.

This week, after a long work week, I needed a treat for breakfast.  Something satisfying and delicious.  I stumbled upon this Orange French Toast recipe, a la Nigella Lawson, at Paris Pastry.  I've been in an orange-y frame of mind lately (remember the Creamsicle Cookie debacle), and THIS time, I actually DID have oranges on hand!  And, coincidentally, a loaf of challah bread.

(By the way, if you've never made French toast with challah, you don't know what you're missing!  This bread wants to be French toast.  It just does.  It's the best.)

Okay.  So back to Orange French Toast.  I have to admit that I took some creative license with the recipe.  I added a little fresh orange juice to the egg mixture along with some vanilla extract (which I always add to the French toast egg mixture).  The other thing I didn't do, (okay - I really did get inspired by this recipe), was make the orange syrup.  I like my French toast with a little butter, and that's it.  So, I decided to forgo the orange syrup.  That said, I don't mind a little syrup on my pancakes, and I think this sauce would make a wonderful addition to a stack of hotcakes!  (Go with my stream of consciousness now:  a little orange zest in your next stack of pancakes, drizzled with Paris Pastry's orange syrup.  Sounds good, right?!  Note to self:  buy more oranges...)

I really did love the orange addition to the French toast.  It was so good.  My thanks to Paris Pastry for the inspiration.  Don't forget to give this gem of a blog a look-see.  She has many wonderful recipes and photos to inspire you, too!

Orange French Toast

2 eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 large thick slices, or 4 thin slices of white bread
Juice of one orange
1/4 cup good-quality orange marmalade(Paris Pastry noted she used apricot jam - genius!)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter

Whisk the eggs, milk, cinnamon, and orange zest in a wide shallow dish. Soak the bread slices in this mixture for 2 minutes a side.

While the eggy bread is soaking, bring the orange juice, marmalade, and sugar to a boil, then turn down to a fast simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. If you need to, let this syrup stand while you cook the bread.

Heat the tablespoon of butter in a skillet and cook the eggy bread for about 2 minutes a side over medium heat until golden.

Serve the French toast with some of the amber syrup poured over each slice, and a pitcher of extra syrup on the side.

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Join in on the fun with Ann and me.  Ann is hosting this week (thank you, Ann!).  To participate, find a recipe that appeals to you from another blog (Tastespotting and Foodgawker are great places to peruse to find ideas), make the recipe and post about it on your blog, referencing the blog you borrowed the recipe from.  Place the Weekend Blog Showcase logo on your post and sign into Mr. Linky.  That's all there is to it!  See you at Ann's!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

French Onion Soup

When the weather is blistering, cold soups, like gazpacho and fruit soups are refreshing and the perfect light meal.  But when the temperatures start to drop, my thoughts turn toward heartier fare.  I make a mental list of all the wonderful soups I want to make.  Clam chowder and potato soup.  Squash soups.  And this one.  French Onion Soup.  It took me a moment, but I realized I've never made French Onion Soup before.  I often order this soup when I'm out, but why I've never cooked up a batch myself escapes me!

Of course, my first foray into French Onion Soup making meant I had to follow the master:  Julia Child.  Julia has you sweat the onions for about 10 minutes, then caramelize them, creating a rich depth of flavor in the soup.  Now we all know how much Mrs. Child loved her butter. And, truth be told, so do I.  But I have to admit that I found the call for 1/2 cup of butter to cook the onions in a bit much.  I didn't question the recipe when first making it but made a note that the recipe could easily reduce the amount of butter by half and still be delicious.

And then I realized she said 1/2 stick of butter.   Duh.  Thankfully, I had used a bit more onion than the recipe called for.  But, of course, the soup was still a bit... shall we say, buttery.  Overnight in the fridge rendered the excess butter easy to remove.  *whew*

As I've been guilty of doing a bit lately, I thought I had some beef stock in the pantry and was mistaken.  Thankfully, I did have chicken stock, and after perusing a few other recipes online, decided that it would make a decent substitution. Since the recipe also calls for a a glug of Cognac and a cup of white wine, as well as a long (1-1/2 hours) simmer, I knew the soup would definitely develop a great flavor.  And it did.  The flavor is obviously a little different but still very good.

A crouton made from some homemade French bread, along with a healthy sprinkling of grated Gruyere, and a run under the broiler produced the very soup I was craving.  Ah.  Thank you once again, Julia!

French Onion Soup

1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 cups thinly sliced onions (about 2-1/2 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon flour
8 cups homemade beef stock, or good quality store bought stock (or chicken stock, in a pinch)
1/4 cup Cognac, or other good brandy
1 cup dry white wine
8 (1/2-inch) thick slices of French bread, toasted
3/4 pound coarsely grated Gruyere

Heat a heavy saucepan over moderate heat with the butter and oil. When the butter has melted, stir in the onions, cover, and cook slowly until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Blend in the salt and sugar, increase the heat to medium high, and let the onions brown, stirring frequently until they are a dark walnut color, 25 to 30 minutes.

Sprinkle the flour and cook slowly, stirring, for another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool a moment, then whisk in 2 cups of hot stock. When well blended, bring to the simmer, adding the rest of the stock, Cognac, and wine. Cover loosely, and simmer very slowly 1 1/2 hours, adding a little water if the liquid reduces too much. Taste for seasoning

Divide the soup among 4 ovenproof bowls. Arrange toast on top of soup and sprinkle generously with grated cheese. Place bowls on a cookie sheet and place under a preheated broiler until cheese melts and forms a crust over the tops of the bowls. Serve immediately.
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