Friday, October 31, 2008

Barefoot Bloggers-Vegetable Pot Pie

I will admit I have glanced at this recipe for years in my Barefoot Contessa Parties Cookbook but somehow it never made my first choice of things to make. When Deb of Kahakai Kitchen chose it for one of this month's Barefoot Blogger picks I was ambivalent. I briefly thought of adding chicken to this dish because I wasn't sure I would want a pot pie with just vegetables. I was also not sure about some of the ingredients for the sauce. Well, I've learned my lesson that I should trust Ina. This was absolutely delicious. It was very rich and filling. The crust was buttery and flaky and the sauce inside really savory. I made a few changes to the recipe. I omitted the sauteed onion and fennel and added some onion powder to the sauce instead. I also substituted Sambuca for the Pernod. This recipes does take time to prepare and is also time intensive for cooking. I recommend some advance planning when making this one. I prepped and chopped all of the vegetables in the morning and then made the pie crust in the afternoon while cooking the vegetables and the sauce. Another note, be careful when adding the ice water to the dough. I only used 1/2 cup and my dough was very sticky. This dish is also very versatile, you can change up the vegetables to suit your tastes or add chicken, turkey, or even salmon. This would be a perfect dish for entertaining. What could be more comforting and fun to serve than individual pot pies. One of the many things I love about my casual china is that it is oven proof so I was able to make mine using that. I can't wait for the perfect occasion to make these again.

Vegetable Pot Pie
Source: Barefoot Contessa Parties!

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 2 cups sliced yellow onions (2 onions) (omitted)
  • 1 fennel bulb, top and core removed, thinly sliced crosswise (omitted)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups good chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon Pernod (I substituted Sambuca)
  • Pinch saffron threads
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups large-diced potatoes (1/2 pound)
  • 1 1/2 cups asparagus tips
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled, 3/4-inch-diced carrots (4 carrots)
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled, 3/4-inch-diced butternut squash
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen small whole onions (1/2 pound)
  • 1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley

For the pastry: 3 cups all-purpose flour 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 cup vegetable shortening 1/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced 1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash Flaked sea salt and cracked black pepper
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and fennel and saute until translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the flour, reduce the heat to low, and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Slowly add the stock, Pernod, saffron, salt, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the heavy cream and season to taste. The sauce should be highly seasoned.

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Lift out with a sieve. Add the asparagus, carrots, and squash to the pot and cook in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain well. Add the potatoes, mixed vegetables, onions, and parsley to the sauce and mix well.

For the pastry, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the shortening and butter and mix quickly with your fingers until each piece is coated with flour. Pulse 10 times, or until the fat is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water; process only enough to moisten the dough and have it just come together. Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Divide the filling equally among 4 ovenproof bowls. Divide the dough into quarters and roll each piece into an 8-inch circle. Brush the outside edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the dough on top. Trim the circle to 1/2-inch larger than the top of the bowl. Crimp the dough to fold over the sides, pressing it to make it stick. Brush the dough with egg wash and make 3 slits in the top. Sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting

I made this cake shaped as a pumpkin and spread the frosting between the layers of the pumpkin. I then dusted the top with confectioner's sugar. It looked very festive on my cake stand, however, it proved a bit difficult to serve but tasty none the less. Also, since I was using a pumpkin bundt pan I had to cook it significantly longer than the recipe called for. I think I would probably use this recipe to make cupcakes next time. The frosting is particularly yummy and the cake very moist.

Pumpkin Cake with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting
Source: Martha Stewart Everyday Food

Serves 9

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice (or 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/8 teaspoon each allspice and cloves)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • One (15-ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin puree
  • Honey Frosting
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin-pie spice. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, butter, and pumpkin puree until combined. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture, and mix gently until smooth.
  3. Turn batter into prepared pan, and smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake 10 minutes in pan, then turn out of pan, and cool completely, right side up, on a rack.
  4. Spread top of cooled cake with Honey Frosting. Cut cake into squares to serve.

Honey Frosting

Makes 2 cups

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 (8-ounce) regular or reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup honey
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients until smooth.

Halloween Party

I hosted a Halloween Party at our house today for our weekly play group. The party was a lot of fun and as always seeing the kids in their costumes is just too cute! I tried Paula Deen's recipe for Spicy Chili and it was a hit. I had none left. I toned down the spice a little using only 1 tablespoon of chili powder instead of two and it had enough of a kick for my taste. The pumpkin cake was really moist and the cream cheese frosting added a really nice flavor. I made mine shaped like a pumpkin and spread the frosting between the two halves. I forgot to get pictures of the food as I was too busy getting cute kid photos! Here is the menu:

Apple Cider
Chips and Guacamole
Vegetables and Dip
Spicy Chili
Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread (I served it as plain cornbread)
Pumpkin Spice Cake with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting
Store Bought Cookie Cake

Spicy Chili
Source: Cooking with Paula Deen/Sept/Oct. 2007
  • 1 pound lean ground chuck
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans ranch-style beans
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (15-ounce) can niblet corn, drained
  • 1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, brown ground chuck, until beef is crumbly. Stir in onion, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper.

Stir in beans, tomato sauce, corn, diced tomatoes, and green chiles. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes uncovered, stirring occasionally.

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Lighter General Tso's Chicken

I saw this recipe on No Slivers Here. I love that she is always trying recipes from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. It gives me a chance to preview recipes I might like! I was just waiting for an excuse to break in my new Martha Stewart Green Pan. I originally went to Macy's intending to purchase a wok and came out with a stir fry pan from the Green Pan collection instead. I love that it is non-stick but environmentally friendly and the sides are deep like a wok. This recipe was fairly simple to make and really flavorful. The only change I would make next time is to add more vegetables. I think water chestnuts, broccoli, carrots or an Asian vegetable mix would be great. Now, I can't wait to use my stir fry pan to try recipes from my Martin Yan cookbook!

Lighter General Tso's Chicken
Source: Everyday Food

Serves 4

  • 1 1/4 cups long-grain brown rice
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 pound snow peas, trimmed and halved crosswise
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated and peeled
  • 3 tablespoons light-brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 2 large egg whites
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as safflower
  1. In another bowl, whisk together egg whites, remaining 3 tablespoons cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add chicken, and toss to coat.
  2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high. Lift half the chicken from egg-white mixture (shaking off excess), and add to skillet. Cook, turning occasionally, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate; repeat with remaining oil and chicken, and set aside (reserve skillet).
  3. Add snow-pea mixture to skillet. Cover; cook until snow peas are tender and sauce has thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Return chicken to skillet (with any juices); toss to coat. Serve with rice.
Cook rice according to package instructions. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1/2 cup cold water until smooth. Add snow peas, garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, and red-pepper flakes; toss to combine, and set aside.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Oven Baked Caramel Corn

I think one of my favorite kitchen gadget purchases of this year is our hot air popcorn popper. Its so easy to use and makes eating popcorn much healthier. We have been working on it for a while but think we finally found the perfect butter/salt ratio when making regular popcorn. Today, I decided to branch out and make caramel popcorn using a Paula Deen recipe I had clipped awhile back. It turned out perfectly and was a great snack to eat while watching college football on a beautiful fall day. I'm definitely looking forward to making this again and have already started thinking of different additions. I also can't wait to try a chocolate popcorn recipe I saw recently. I halved this recipe without any difficulties. The recipe below is the full recipe.

Oven Baked Caramel Popcorn
Source: Christmas With Paula Deen as published in The Dallas Morning News on December 10, 2007

7-8 quarts popped popcorn
2 cups unsalted peanuts, shelled pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds (I omitted)
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp maple flavored pancake syrup (I used real maple syrup)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 250 F. Coat rimmed cookie sheets or jellyroll pans generously with vegetable-oil cooking spray, or rub with shortening.

Place the popcorn and your choice of nuts or seeds into a very large bowl. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, salt, syrups and vanilla. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and continue boiling 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and add the baking soda. The mixture will bubble. Stir vigorously until the mixture is smooth.

Pour the hot syrup over the popcorn mix. Stir until the popcorn is coated. This is messy; take your time and use a long-handled spoon.

Spread the coated popcorn in the prepared pans. Bake 1 hour, stirring several times. The mixture will be very sticky.

Remove the popcorn from the oven and allow to cool 15 minutes. Break big hunks apart while mixture is cooling. Store in large, airtight plastic containers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chicken with Cranberry Sauce

I'm a huge fan of Thanksgiving dinner. Its one of my top ten favorite meals. This recipe is a good short cut for when you want the flavors of a Thanksgiving dinner without all the work. This meal requires only a few ingredients and very little prep so its especially good for a weeknight meal. Sauteing the onions in the chicken sauce adds a nice depth of flavor to the cranberry sauce and prevents it from being overly sweet. I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts and my chicken was a bit dry. Next time, I would use the bone-in chicken breasts called for in the recipe. I served this meal with roasted sweet potatoes and stuffing. Another bonus, cranberries are high in antioxidants thus adding an extra health benefit to this meal!

Chicken with Cranberry Sauce
Source: Everday Food: Great Food Fast by Martha Stewart Living Magazine

Serves 4

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 4 bone-in chicken breasts (8 ounces each)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch (mixed with 1 tablespoon water)
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, mix 1 tablespoon butter, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Rub evenly under chicken skin. Place on a rimmed baking sheet; roast skin side up until skin is golden brown and meat is cooked through, about 25 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, melt remaining tablespoon butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Add sage and remaining 1/2 teaspoon thyme; cook 1 minute. Add broth; simmer until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, 10 to 15 minutes. Strain mixture; return to saucepan.
  3. Add cranberries and sugar; boil until berries burst, 5 to 8 minutes. Whisk in cornstarch mixture; return to a boil. Cook until slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat (sauce will thicken as it stands). Season with salt and pepper. To serve, spoon sauce over chicken.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake

I saw this recipe in Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours and thought it sounded like a perfect way to end my fall dinner. As usual, Dorie's recipe turned out perfectly and was a big hit at the party. The apples hidden in the cheesecake are a wonderful surprise. The gingersnap crust was not overpowering as I've had with other gingersnap crusts in the past. It had just the right balance to the spiciness of the cheesecake filling. Definitely a show stopper dessert. The only change I would make to this recipe is to add a caramel drizzle to the top.

Brown Sugar-Apple Cheesecake
Source: Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

For the Crust
30 gingersnaps
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

For the Apples
1/2 stick (4 tbsp) unsalted butter
3 large Golden Delicious or Fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into eighths
2 tbsp (packed) light brown sugar

For the Filling
1 1/2 pounds (three 8-ounce packages) cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
6 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp apple cider
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup heavy cream

Caramel Sauce for Drizzling

To Make the Crust: Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan.

Put the gingersnaps in a food processor and whir until you have crumbs; you should have a scant 2 cups. (If you are using graham cracker crumbs, just put them in the food processor.) Pulse in the sugar and cinnamon, if you’re using it, then pour over the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Turn the crumbs into the springform pan and, using your fingertips, firmly press them evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan as far as they’ll go. Put the pan in the freezer while you preheat the oven. (The crust can be covered and frozen for up to 2 months.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the pan from the freezer and wrap the bottom tightly in aluminum foil, going up the sides. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust is set and lightly browned. Transfer to a rack to cool while you make the apples and the filling. Leave the oven at 350 degrees F.

To Make the Apples: Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, toss in half of the apple slices and cook, turning once, until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the apples with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and cook them, turning, just until coated, another minute or so. Scrape the apples onto a plate, wipe out the skillet and repeat with the remaining apples. Let the apples cool while you make the filling.

Getting Ready to Bake: Have a roasting pan large enough to hold the springform pan at hand. Put a kettle of water on to boil.

To Make the Filling: Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping down the bowl often, for about 4 minutes, or until it is velvety smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes. Beat in the cider, vanilla, and cinnamon. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Finally, beat in the sour cream and heavy cream, beating just until the batter is smooth.

Pour about one third of the batter into the baked crust. Drain the apples by lifting them off the plate with a slotted spoon or spatula, and spoon them into the pan. Cover with the remaining batter and, if needed, jiggle the pan to even the top. Place the springform pan in the roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.

Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 to 45 minutes, covering the cake loosely with a foil tent at the 45-minute mark. The cake will rise evenly and crack around the edges, and it should be fully set except, possibly, in the very center–if the center shimmies, that’s just fine. Gently transfer the cake, still in the pan, to a cooling rack and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it for at least 6 hours; overnight would be better.

Run a blunt knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the crust, open the pan’s latch and release and remove the sides.

Cheesy Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Creme Fraiche

Photo from Bon Appetit

I was instantly drawn to this recipe when I saw the beautiful picture in this month's Bon Appetit. I'll admit I was a little nervous about how the cauliflower, tomato and green onion would blend together in the dish. Turns out I shouldn't have given it a second thought. This dish was superb. It is very filling and works beautifully as a main course that needs no other accompaniment. The sauce was very flavorful and creamy and the addition of the cauliflower melded perfectly with the other components of the dish. This dish is a bit time consuming to make, requiring multiple steps and using lots of pots and pans. The result, however, is well worth the effort.

Cheesy Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Creme Fraiche
Source: Bon Appetit, October 2008
  • 1 1 1/2- to 1 3/4-pound head of cauliflower, cored, cut into 1-inch florets
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes
  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 cups coarsely grated Comté cheese (or half Gruyère and half Fontina; about 9 ounces), divided
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 cup crème fraîche
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 10 oz penne (3 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (from crustless French bread ground in processor)


  • Cook cauliflower in large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Using large sieve, transfer cauliflower to bowl. Add tomatoes to pot; cook 1 minute. Remove from water; peel and dice tomatoes. Reserve pot of water.
  • Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add cauliflower; sauté until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and green onions. Cook 1 minute to blend flavors. Remove from heat. Season with coarse salt and pepper.
  • Melt 2 tablespoons butter in large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and stir 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in cream. Cook until sauce thickens, whisking occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add 2 cups Comté cheese; whisk until melted and sauce is smooth. Whisk in 1/2 cup Parmesan, then crème fraîche* and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
  • Return reserved pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain; return pasta to same pot. Stir in cauliflower mixture and sauce.
  • Butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Spoon in half of pasta mixture; sprinkle with 1/2 cup Comté cheese. Top with remaining pasta mixture and 1/2 cup Comté cheese. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in small skillet. Add breadcrumbs and toss to coat. Remove from heat; mix in 1/4 cup Parmesan. Sprinkle crumbs over pasta. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake pasta uncovered until heated through and bubbling, about 35 minutes.

Arugula and Goat Cheese Salad with Fig Vinaigrette

Photo from Bon Appetit

I found this recipe in the October issue of Bon Appetit. I have been using figs in salad for several years and have made many different variations of this type of salad. I was drawn to this recipe because of all the wonderful layers of flavors it combined and the homemade fig vinaigrette. I also liked using the prosciutto in the salad since the main course was meatless. Unfortunately, I could not find fresh figs at any of our local stores. Not wanting to give up on the salad, I used dried figs in the salad in place of the fresh and used a fig vinaigrette recipe I found in a Whole Food's flier that I have been using for many years. The salad was not only beautiful in presentation but the flavor combination was outstanding. I can't wait for figs to reappear next fall so I can try it with fresh figs. At least with using dried figs I know we can enjoy this salad many more times throughout the fall and winter.

Arugula and Goat Cheese Salad with Fig Vinaigrette
Source: Bon Appetit, October 2008



  • 5 oz fresh figs (about 6 large), stemmed, quartered
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil
  • Generous pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


  • 8 1/2-inch-thick rounds soft fresh goat cheese (from 11-ounce log)
  • 1 egg, beaten to blend
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 cups (packed) arugula
  • 3 oz thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 8 fresh figs, stemmed, halved (I substituted dried figs)
  • Honey
  • Combine figs and 1/2 cup water in medium saucepan. Bring mixture to simmer over medium-low heat, mashing with potato masher until mixture softens and coarse puree forms. Transfer fig mixture to strainer set over bowl. Press on solids to extract as much mixture as possible. Whisk lemon juice, both vinegars, basil, and sugar into fig puree. Whisk in oil. Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper.
I used this recipe for the fig vinaigrette instead: Dressing: Whisk together a tablespoon or so of Fig Preserves,lemon juice, olive oil, a salt and fresh cracked pepper. I don't have exact measurements I just eyeball it and taste.
  • Dip goat cheese rounds in beaten egg; coat both sides with panko. Place goat cheese on plate; chill 10 minutes. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add goat cheese to skillet; cook just until golden, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to paper towels.
  • Arrange arugula on platter. Drape prosciutto slices over. Scatter fig halves over. Surround with goat cheese slices. Drizzle with honey; spoon vinaigrette over.

Apple Thyme Martinis

Photo from

To start off the evening I made a pitcher of Apple Thyme Martinis. These were easy to make and a really fun way to start the evening. I would consider adjusting the proportions to add more apple juice or even apple cider to give it a little more of an apple kick. The addition of the thyme syrup adds an interesting hint to the drink.

Apple Thyme Martinis
Source: Giada's Kitchen, New Italian Favorites by Giada de Laurentis

10 ounces vodka
6 ounces apple juice
1/4 cup thyme syrup, recipe follows
1 large apple, peeled
4 fresh thyme sprigs

Special equipment: melon baller

Chill the martini glasses.

Fill the shaker with ice. Combine the vodka, apple juice, and thyme syrup in a martini shaker. Shake for about 10 seconds. Divide between the 4 chilled martini glasses.

Use the melon baller to scoop out small balls of apple. Place 3 balls of apple and 1 sprig of thyme in each glass for garnish. Serve immediately.

Thyme Simple Syrup:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
5 large sprigs fresh thyme

In a saucepan combine sugar, water, and thyme over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and cool the syrup. Any extra cooled syrup can be saved in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield: 1 cup
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes

Fall Dinner Party

I recently decided to host a dinner party to get together with some friends we had not seen in a while. I went back and forth on the menu and finally decided I wanted it to be fall inspired. We had a lovely evening dining with and catching up with friends. Even better, the menu turned out wonderfully and I have some new favorite dishes! Below is the menu I prepared:

Apple Thyme Martinis

Mushroom Duxelles in Puff Pastry (store bought)

Arugula and Goat Cheese Salad with Fig Vinaigrette

Cheesy Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Creme Fraiche

Brown Sugar Apple Cheesecake

Monday, October 13, 2008

Baked Gnocchi

I fell in love with Gnocchi when I previously made this dish so I was excited to try this recipe from Everyday Pasta by Giada de Laurentis. I have made so many wonderful dishes from that cookbook and this recipe was also delicious. This was very quick and easy to make. I'm not sure my sauce got quite as thick as it should have since I used half and half instead of heavy cream. This might be one of those dishes were the real deal is the best thing. The sauce did thicken some with the half and half so I think the substitution works but isn't perfect in this particular recipe. The white sauce was really flavorful. The tanginess of the goat cheese combined with the hint of nutmeg melded really nicely in this dish. I used whole wheat gnocchi for this dish. I would say the whole wheat gnocchi were a little denser than the regular gnocchi but still good. I'm posting the original recipe, but I did halve it when I made it.

Baked Gnocchi
Source: Everyday Pasta by Giada de Laurentis
  • 2 (17 ounce) packages potato gnocchi
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 12 ounces baby spinach
  • 3 ounces fresh goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place the gnocchi in a lightly greased 9x13x2 inch baking dish. Set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the cream, chicken broth, and flour over medium heat. Continue whisking until the sauce is simmering and thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir to combine. Add the spinach and toss to coat in the cream. Pour the cream and spinach mixture evenly over the gnocchi and gently spread the spinach out to cover.
  4. Crumble the goat cheese over the spinach. Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese. Bake until the top is golden in places, about 30 minutes.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Perfect Weekend

My husband planned an absolutely wonderful weekend to celebrate my birthday, which was earlier this month. We started out with a trip to the Fair Park Music Hall to see the Tony winning play, The Color Purple. The play was beautifully done and the performances spectacular.

After leaving the play, we checked in to the Hilton Anatole and headed to the Nana bar for appetizers and cocktails. The Nana is perched high above Dallas on the 27th floor of the Hilton Anatole. The restaurant and bar boast panaromic views of the city with floor to ceiling windows throughout the bar and restaurant. At the bar, I indulged in a delicious coconut mojito. The coconut flavor was not overpowering. The drink was light and refreshing. While enjoying the dazzling city views and jazz music at the Nana Bar we shared an appetizer of Idiaazabel and Manchego cheeses with carrot star anise marmalade. The pairing was lovely and we devoured the whole thing quite quickly! After our cocktails, we proceeded to the lovely Nana dining room. The Nana has long held a special place in our hearts. We have had several romantic and memorable meals there over the years. We have not yet found a restaurant in Dallas that has a better atmosphere than Nana. We decided to try the seven course tasting menu with an accompanying wine tasting. The current Nana chef, Anthony Bombacci specializes in molecular gastronomy so his dishes tend to be very inventive with unexpected twists. I don't have a copy of the tasting menu so I can't provide detailed descriptions of all the dishes, also seven glasses of wine had a slight affect on my memory! Some of the highlights of the tasting menu were the liquid baked potato soup, seared diver scallops, and crispy pork belly. It was definitely an amazing meal and a perfect evening.

Before we headed back to the real world, we went to Sunday brunch at La Duni. La Duni is rated as having one of the best brunches in Dallas and we can see why. I've always loved La Duni for lunch and dinner but now I'm also a fan of their brunch. It was absolutely decadent. My husband and I split two entrees, one sweet, one savory. The Rollo de Canelo French toast was one of the best I have ever had. The menu describes the sticky roll as La Dun's famous pecan sticky roll vanilla batter dipped, topped with warm Rum-Pecan Pure Maple Syrup and Bacon Strips. The pecan mixture added a crispy crunch to the exterior to the French Toast. The dish was more than enough for two to share. We also ordered the brunch chile relleno. The roasted poblano pepper was filled with filled with refried Beans, 2 Scrambled Eggs with Bacon, Cheddar, Provolone and Gruyere Cheeses, Stone Ground Corn Tortilla Chips, topped with Queso Fresco and choice of Salsa. Also included were a delicious side of roasted potatoes. We thought both dishes were beautifully executed. We can't wait to go back to try several other items on the menu. It was a wonderfully relaxing way to end such a splendid romantic weekend.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Butternut Squash Risotto

A day late but definitely not a dollar short on this recipe! This dish was even more delicious than I could ever have imagined it to be. This is quite possibly the best risotto I have ever had. The wonderful flavors of the risotto are the perfect compliment to the tender, sweet caramelized roast squash. This dish is a wonderful way to welcome fall. It would be an ample meal on it own but is also a nice side dish. I served mine along side filet mignons that I pan seared. The two together with a glass of red wine were decadent. I also served a delicious fall salad with dried cherries, pear and candied pecans over baby romaine. A big thank you to Rachel of Rachel Likes to Cook for this week's Barefoot Blogger pick.

Butternut Squash Risotto
Source: Barefoot Contessa Family Style by Ina Garten
  • 1 butternut squash (2 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots (2 large)
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Peel the butternut squash, remove the seeds, and cut it into 3/4-inch cubes. You should have about 6 cups. Place the squash on a sheet pan and toss it with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.

In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the pancetta and shallots on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the shallots are translucent but not browned. Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter. Add the wine and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Continue to add the stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock. Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. Off the heat, add the roasted squash cubes and Parmesan. Mix well and serve.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Vegetable Casserole

I was really excited when I saw this slow cooker recipe in this month's issue of Better Homes and Gardens. I'm always on the look out for something new and different to make in my slow cooker. Overall, this was a great healthy and hearty meal. I added sausage to mine to make it a complete meal. I used a chicken with spinach and feta but next time I would probably use an Italian sausage. I recently saw a chicken parmigean sausage that I think would be a great match with this. I would also change the recipe next time and include a layer of marinara sauce to add a bit more flavor to the dish.

Vegetable Casserole
Source: Better Homes and Gardens, October 2008
  • 2 19-oz. cans cannellini beans
  • 1 19-oz. can garbanzo or fava beans
  • 1/4 cup purchased basil pesto
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (omitted)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-1/2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning, crushed (I used a mix of oregano and basil)
  • 1 16-oz. pkg. refrigerated cooked plain polenta cut in 1/2-inch-thick slices (I used a garlic basil polenta)
  • 1 large tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1 8-oz. pkg. finely shredded Italian cheese blend (2 cups)
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 1 cup torn radicchio (omitted)


1. Rinse and drain beans. In large bowl combine beans, 2 tablespoons of pesto, onion, garlic, and Italian seasoning.

2. In 4- to 5-quart slow cooker layer half of bean mixture, half of polenta, and half of cheese. Add remaining beans and polenta. Cover; cook on low heat setting 4 to 6 hours or on high heat setting 2 to 2-1/2 hours. Add tomato, remaining cheese, spinach, and radicchio. Combine remaining pesto and 1 tablespoon water. Drizzle pesto mixture on casserole. Let stand, uncovered, 5 minutes. Makes 8 servings.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Applesauce Spice Bars

I saw this recipe a while back on Jaime of Good Eats Sweets and Treats Blog. I immediately starred this one for fall. When I got an invitation to a neighborhood potluck for National Night Out I knew these bars would be perfect. This is the second recipe I have made from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours and it just amazes me how perfectly the recipes from that book turn out. My previous favorite was my pumpkin variation of the granola grabber cookies. The book is very well written and the directions concise and easy to follow. The helpful hints also make it seem as if Dorie is along side helping. These bars were moist and tender. The base was very cake like. The glaze added a nice sweetness and caramel flavor but the bars were not overly sweet. These would be perfect for a fall picnic in the park or for tailgating. I will definitely be making these again. I can't wait to go try them with the burnt sugar ice cream that Jaime serves hers with. I can only imagine how decadent that would be!

Applesauce Spice Bars
Source: Baking From My Home to Yours: by Dorie Greenspan

For the Bars:
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (I found organic unsweetened at Whole Foods)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp applejack, brandy, or dark rum (optional) (I omitted)
1 baking apple, such as Rome or Cortland, peeled, cored and finely diced or chopped
1/2 cup plump, moist raisins (dark or golden)
1/2 cup chopped pecans (I omitted these)

For the Glaze:
2-1/2 tbsp heavy cream
1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2-1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp light corn syrup
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, butter the paper and dust the inside of the pan with flour. Tap out the excess flour and put the pan on a baking sheet.

To Make the Bars:
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt.

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the brown sugar and stir with a whisk until it is melted and the mixture is smooth, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.

Still working in the saucepan, whisk in the eggs one at a time, mixing until they are well blended. Add the applesauce, vanilla and applejack, if you're using it, and whisk until the ingredients are incorporated and the mixture is once again smooth. Switch to a rubber spatula and gently stir in the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear, then mix in the apple, raisins and nuts. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until the bars just start to pull away from the sides of the pan and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the baking pan to a rack and let the cake cool while you make the glaze.

To Make the Glaze:
In a small saucepan, whisk together the cream, sugar, butter and corn syrup. Put the man over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking frequently. Adjust the heat so that the glaze simmers, and cook, whisking frequently, for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.

Turn the bars out onto a rack, remove the paper and invert the bars onto another rack, so they are right side up. Slide the parchment paper under the rack to serve as a drip catcher, grab a long metal icing spatula and pour the hot glaze over the bars, using the spatula to spread it evenly over the cake. Let them cool to room temperature before you cut them.

Cut into 32 rectangles, each about 2-1/4 x 1-1/2 inches.

Yield: 32 Bars

Storing: These will keep for about 3 days at room temperature. Because of the glaze, they cannot be frozen.

E for Excellence Award

Thank you so much to Colleen at Cooking This and That for giving me this award. I love Colleen's blog. Colleen has a great blog and great taste in recipes! We consistently find that we are making or have made and liked the same recipes. I'm certain if I had dinner at her house it would be something I would really like! I can't wait to make the Chicken Cobbler she just made and several other yummy recipes from her blog. Since there are so many great blogs out there and its so hard to choose who to give this to, if your reading this blog consider this award for you!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sugar Cookies

Not much cooking has happened in my kitchen this week as I have been busy getting ready for our son's birthday party. He turned two today! The time sure has flown but we have enjoyed every minute. He got his first kitchen for his birthday and I think we have a future Emeril in the making! As part of my preparations for the big party, I made sugar cookies to add to our party favors. We had an Elmo/Sesame Street themed party. I created tags using a cookie monster graphic and the label XXXX's Party was brought to you by the Number 2 and packaged them in cellophane bags. I used Martha Stewart's Sugar Cookie recipe and thought the cookies had a great flavor and were really tender. This recipe would be great for Christmas cookies too. I cheated and used Wilton premade cookie icing instead of making my own royal icing. Its a really great product. My only complaint is that it doesn't allow you to make a very good border before you flood the cookie like the royal icing does.

Sugar Cookies
Source: Martha Stewart
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons brandy, or milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar; add dry ingredients, and mix until incorporated. With mixer running, add egg, brandy (or milk), and vanilla; mix until incorporated.
  2. Transfer dough to a work surface. Shape into 2 discs, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.
  4. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes, and transfer to prepared baking sheets, leaving an inch in between. Leftover dough can be rolled and cut once more. Bake until lightly golden, about 10 minutes; do not allow to brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.
  5. Decorate with Royal Icing, optional.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Italian Baked Chicken and Pastina

This recipe from Giada's Everyday Pasta has been on my list of recipes to try for a very long time. For some reason I just now got around to making it and I'm glad I did. Even though the chicken wasn't breaded, the first thing I thought when I tasted this dish was chicken Parmesan deconstructed! This dish was extremely easy to make and my husband liked it so much, he requested it be in our "regular rotation!" I read some reviews that suggested this dish was a bit bland so I kept that in mind while making it and made a few changes. I also changed up a few of the ingredients based on what I had on hand. My changes are noted below.

Italian Baked Chicken and Pastina
Source: Everyday Pasta by Giada de Laurentis

1 cup pastina pasta (or any small pasta) (I used orzo)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup cubed chicken breast (1-inch cubes)
1/2 cup diced onion (about 1/2 a small onion) (omitted)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice (I used canned stewed tomatoes)
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I used dried and also mixed in dried oregano and basil)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (I used shaved Parmesan)
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for buttering the baking dish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until just tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Drain pasta into a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes. Add the onions and garlic, stirring to combine, and cook until the onions are soft and the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Put the chicken mixture into the bowl with the cooked pasta. Add the canned tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Place the mixture in a buttered 8 by 8 by 2-inch baking dish. In a small bowl mix together the bread crumbs and the Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta mixture. Dot the top with small bits of butter. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.