Coconut Cream Cheese Pound Cake

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This picture is of the cake resting on my toy kitchen that I had as a child.  Mom and I looked up pics of me and my cousin, Tracy, playing with this kitchen when I was three and she was five.  We were both wearing frilly dresses and prancing around the room with spoons in hand, creating recipes out of air and pretending it was delicious.  Ah, nostalgia 🙂 Doesn’t seem that long ago…
It’s funny how you can also be nostalgic about something that wasn’t even your personal memory.  My mom made this cake for my older brother and it was his favorite, but it became part of my food nostalgia anyway.  I think that’s another wonderful thing about food – others’ enjoyment of it can create memories for you, whether you took part or not.  I like remembering foods my brothers’ liked.  Matt loved cherry cheesecake, Chad was more of a savory guy and really had a thing for mustard.  I love both!  And I love that when I went home for a speedy trip this week to visit my mom, that we made this cake together and remembered good times.  Olive sat on the stove while Mom narrated my work to her as I made the cake.  Mom used to make it while I would sit on the counter and talk to her and now she plays with my daughter while I make it.  Life just doesn’t get sweeter than that.
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Coconut Cream Cheese Pound Cake
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 8-oz pkg. cream cheese
3 cups sugar
1 tsp coconut flavor
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
6 eggs
3 cups flour
a pinch of salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup bakers coconut
Preheat oven to only 325 degrees.  Grease and flour a 10″ tube pan or bundt pan.  Cream butter, shortening and cream cheese together in a large bowl.  Gradually add the sugar, beating at medium speed until light and fluffy.  Stir in coconut flavoring and vanilla.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Combine the flour, salt and baking powder and add to batter.  Stir just until blended.  Fold in the coconut.  Pour the batter into a prepared tube pan or bundt pan.  Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes.  Remove cake from the pan and allow it to cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.
This cake is dense and rich.  Don’t worry too much about the sugar content.  It’s not an iced cake, anyway!  Just imagine the sugar you wouldn’t bat an eye at putting into the frosting of a regular cake and instead, put it into the batter 🙂 And if you haven’t gotten the hint that weekends are for feasting and not for guilt, I fear you never will!  Happy Eating!
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The Ultimate Meatball and Taking Food to a Friend

meatball and marinara

We’ve been on the receiving end of food donations twice in our life and both times, we were touched by others’ thoughtfulness, great recipes and the comfort that was passed to us through the dishes they made.  It takes a bit of humbling to bring food to someone who can’t cook for themselves, or simply don’t want to or don’t have the time.  You worry if they’ll like what you made.  You worry if they will critique the preparation or that you brought store-bought cookies instead of homemade.  If I could only convince you that anything you bring is wonderful and welcome, I would.  If they can’t eat it right away or they have duplicates, they can freeze what you brought!  To worry too much about what to bring, or to worry the recipient about what you brought, shifts the focus off the deserving and on to you.  Keep the focus where it belongs, ask if they have any requests or food allergies, and get cooking!  Homemade is always nice, but I will admit, I did not turn away store-bought cookies, chocolate or coffee! 🙂

My wonderful, life-long friend, Summer, had her second baby almost two weeks ago.  A beautiful, darling girl!  I immediately began to think of what I would bring for Summer and Phil to eat.  Summer is my food buddy.  I trust her cooking as much as my own.  Her sense of taste is far beyond most people, almost to a fault.  We used to live together in college, and I think one of our first food-bonding moments was throwing chicken patties off the balcony of our apartment because they were just so disgusting.  They were pre-cooked, breaded chicken patties and they tasted like…gray.  Or sweat.  It wasn’t good.  We both were actually offended.  How could you screw up a breaded piece of chicken, and worse, sell it to poor college students?! In our act of defiance against badly cooked food, we became unofficial food critics in our own right.  We were each other’s taste-testers. A favorite game throughout our friendship is Guess the Ingredient! in which we excitedly wait while the other tastes and see if they guess right.  I love that no matter what time of day, I can text Summer a description of something I made or want to make, and she will react with an appropriate amount of shock, enthusiasm and awe.

We joke that Summer always says her FAVORITE thing in the ENTIRE world is whatever I last cooked for her.  True to the accusation, I asked if she had any requests for what I could bring for them, and she requested the last meal I made for her, which was the BEST meatball recipe I’ve ever run across.  It’s tough to get a meatball right.  They can be too dry or too mealy or rubbery from being over cooked, or simply too greasy.  This recipe is perfect.  And even more perfect, it came to me via fashion designer, Michael Kors in his appearance on Martha Stewart Living.  So they’re both delicious AND fashionable.  Win-win.

The secret ingredient to these meatballs is the water.  Smooshing all these ingredients together, especially with the water, is not for the faint of heart.  My mother would die a thousand deaths before making this recipe.  She has a thing with texture.  However, I like playing with my food, so it’s rather enjoyable for me.  The meat mixture is very delicate, so be gentle as you turn them while cooking.  I usually use two spatulas to help me turn them without smashing them apart.  Getting a good crust on each side is key.  Then, there will still be a slight crust, even after they’ve stewed in the sauce for a while.  Oh, and serving this with spaghetti is up to you. It’s not tradition – the Italians eat their meatballs in a bowl with crusty bread.  But, the recipe makes enough sauce that even after we finish up the meatballs, I have plenty of sauce left to toss with noodles the next day.  Olive absolutely adores these.  She ate two, 3 inch meatballs by herself before slowing down.  They are so soft, you could easily smash it up for a little one.  And they get better the next day!

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Frankie’s Meatballs in Rao’s Marinara Sauce

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 1/2 cloves garlic
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups plain dry bread crumbs
  • 2 cups water, room temperature
  • 1 cup olive oil
  1. In a large bowl, combine beef and pork using your hands. Mince 1/2 clove garlic and add to meat mixture along with the eggs, cheese, and parsley; season with salt and pepper. Continue mixing with your hand until well combined. Add bread crumbs and mix well. Add water, 1 cup at a time, and continue mixing until mixture is quite moist.
  2. Shape mixture into 2 1/2-to-3-inch balls. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Smash remaining clove of garlic with the back of a knife and add to skillet. Cook until lightly browned and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon and discard. Working in batches, add meatballs to skillet. Cook until browned and cooked through, turning, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
  3. Meanwhile, bring marinara sauce to a boil in a large nonreactive saucepan. Reduce heat to a simmer and add meatball. Let meatballs cook in sauce about 20 minutes; serve immediately with pasta, if desired.

Rao’s Marinara Sauce
Makes 7 cups

  • Four 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes with basil, preferably San Marzano
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons minced onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 leaves fresh basil, torn (optional)
  • Pinch of dried oregano
  1. Remove tomatoes from can and place in a large bowl, reserving juices. Crush tomatoes using your hands; remove and discard the hard core from stem end, and any skin and tough membrane; set aside. (Wear an apron and keep your hand submerged as you crush.  This is messy business, but kind of therapeutic  .)
  2. Place oil in a large, nonreactive saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion, and cook until soft and just beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook until softened, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and reserved juices; season with salt. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to low and simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 hour.
  3. Stir in basil, if using, oregano, and season with pepper; continue cooking 1 minute more. Remove from heat and serve.

*Recipes taken directly from Martha Stewart Living.  They can not be improved upon.

frankie's meatsauce

Cooking from a Food Memory

Chicken Brian

The first time I went down to Tulsa, Oklahoma to meet Matt in person, we ate this dish together with his family at a restaurant called Carrabba’s.  (We met via instant messenger, after a dear friend of mine, who was talking to both of us at the same time said, “Here, you guys talk to each other, you’re telling me about the same band” (Jurassic 5) and after talking that day, we talked every day, increasing in hours logged (we had only land lines way back in 2003 and ran through multiple calling cards each week.)  6 months later we were engaged, and a year after that, we got married.  We’ve been eating good meals together ever since. Aww)

Matt ordered the Chicken Bryan and we both marveled at the melty goat cheese and sun dried tomato mix that was tangy and sweet.  A revelation!  Since that day, I’ve tried to recreate it multiple times, but I never can quite replicate it.  (Not enough butter?)

This week, I tried again and I’m slowly getting closer.  It’s such a good dish, and as I look at their online menu, it says they drizzle a basil lemon butter sauce on top.  Ah.  That might help. Will try again next time!  I happily used up the rest of my goat cheese and even made a mini portion on a bread and butter China plate for Olive, just so she’d feel fancy, too.  (I think it worked, as she made some of the chicken into a hat near the end of the meal.)

As a side, I made the creamed spinach and basil recipe from a few weeks ago, and put a scoop inside squares of puff pastry, baked it, and although they didn’t stay together in the neat little pouches I folded, they were still amazingly good and a perfect side for this dish.

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Chicken with Sun Dried Tomatoes, Goat Cheese and Basil
serves 4 to 6

1 lb chicken tenderloins
Salt and pepper
4 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, sliced in half
8-12 basil leaves
1 shallot, diced small (1/4 cup – you can use an onion if that’s what you have on hand)
1/4 cup white wine or chicken stock
4 oz goat cheese

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season each side with kosher salt and pepper.  Heat olive oil (go two tablespoons at a time) over medium heat until shimmering and cook the chicken strips in batches, not over crowding the pan, or they won’t get a good sear.  Chicken strips don’t take long to cook, maybe 1-2 minutes per side. Let the strips sit on a plate, covered in foil to keep warm until ready to plate.  In your empty skillet, add the diced shallot and saute until golden.  Then, add in a splash of wine or chicken stock, scraping up the browned chicken bits and then add a tablespoon of butter to make a pan sauce.  Set your sauce off the burner so it won’t continue to reduce.

Put your chopped sun dried tomatoes in a saucepan with a quarter cup of water and let it simmer to re-hydrate a bit.  Assemble the chicken, two strips per plate, with a sprinkling of sun dried tomatoes, a basil leaf or two, and a slice of goat cheese.  Place the plates under the broiler until the cheese melts.  Drizzle your reserved sauce over the cheese and serve!

Chicken Saute with Sweet Potatoes and Rosemary

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My little eater is back.  She had a week of not wanting to eat much at all and being rather scared of texture and new things, but we are officially back in the game.  It’s a relief, really.  I spend the majority of my days figuring out what to cook next.  I will clean up from breakfast and think about what I need to do for lunch.  After Olive’s afternoon snack, I clean up and think of what I need to start for dinner.  I really love it (thank goodness), but when you spend that much time preparing food, you naturally want everyone at the table to consume it.

Our food structure in the day is this:  Breakfast (usually oatmeal with some kind of fruit and milk), Lunch, snack around 3:30-4, Dinner, a little milk at bedtime.  That’s the only times Olive eats.  She doesn’t snack on anything between breakfast and lunch, or between lunch and 4 or between 4 and 7ish.  I really think that when you’re trying your best to get your children to eat a variety of good foods, it’s just shooting yourself in the foot if you let them snack around the clock.  In my (very short) experience so far, when Olive is hungry at meal times, there is rarely a fight over what is served.  She is rarely picky.  I think if she’d had a snack an hour before sitting down, it would be a lot easier for her to reject something new (tonight was roasted beets, pan fried fish and a tomato/bell pepper sauce).  And it’s happened before when she’s had a TON of milk before a meal.  Won’t eat.  Personally, I can’t handle going to the trouble of  cooking and having someone at the table refuse it and then beg for a snack 30 minutes after dinner is over.  The master chef, Fernand Pointe said, “Hunger is the best sauce” and I really love that imagery.  A sauce is a finishing touch – usually the part of the dish that makes it a little indulgent, a little special.  If you are hungry for a meal, everything is just a little more delicious than if you were merely eating because it was mealtime.  I’m not afraid of Olive being hungry.  I think it’s one of the very first lessons in delayed gratification that desperately needs to be instilled at an early age.  So many life lessons are learned by cooking and eating together, and this in my opinion, is one of the most basic.  Wait.  And how wonderful that you have at least 3 times a day to reiterate that important rule.  You wait to be served.  You wait on others before you start eating.  You wait and ask before getting down from the table.  You wait while others are talking before you talk.  It’s beautiful to me how sharing food can teach so much, and not only to children, but to adults as well.

This simple meal comes, once again, from Wini Moranville’s book, The Bonne Femme Cookbook.  A simple chicken dish and the sweet potatoes are an excellent finger food for little eaters.  I choose a baked tomato dish from the book as an extra side for this meal.  Everyone at the table enjoyed it all.  Olive liked the baked tomatoes the least and the chicken the most (but she tried everything) 🙂

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Chicken Saute with Sweet Potatoes and Rosemary
serves 4

2 slices thick-cut bacon
Vegetable oil
2 1/2 tbs unsalted butter
2 to 3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice (4 cups)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large shallot, sliced (about 1/4 cup)
1 tbs chopped fresh rosemary
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup Calvados (apple brandy – can be found at most liquor stores) or 1/4 cup apple juice and 1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 300F.
Cook the bacon in an ovenproof skillet over medium heat until crisp; remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Measure the drippings from the skillet and add enough vetetable oil to equal 1 1/2 tablespoons.  Reduce the heat to medium and melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter with the drippings and oil.  Add the sweet potatoes and salt and pepper.  Cook the potatoes, stirring occasionally, until browned and softened, about 15 minutes; add the shallot and rosemary to the pan after 5 minutes.  Transfer the skillet to the oven to keep warm.

Meanwhile, place the chicken breasts, one at a time, between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound to 1/4 inch thickness.  Season both sides with salt and pepper.

In another large skillet, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter over medium high heat.  Add the chicken in batches and cook, turning once, until no longer pink inside, 6-8 minutes.  Transfer the chicken to a large platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the chicken broth and Calvados, taking care not to let the liquid splatter.  Stir with a whisk to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Return the pan to the heat, bring to a boil, and boil until the liquid is reduced to 1/3 cup – this should take about 2 minutes, depending on the heat and your pan size; it will take closer to 4 minutes if you’ve substituted apple juice and wine for the Calvados.  Whisk in the cream and cook to a desired consistency.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Crumble the bacon and stir it into the sweet potatoes.  Arrange the chicken on four dinner plates, arrange the potatoes around the chicken, spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve with Tomatoes au Four (recipe below).

Tomatoes au Four

Tomatoes au Four
makes 4 to 8 servings

4 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, cored, halved and seeded
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 small shallot, finely minced (about 2 tbs)
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon snipped fresh thyme, or 1/4 tsp dried thyme, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400F. Lightly oil a baking dish large enough to hold the tomatoes without too much crowding.  Place the tomatoes, cut sides up, in the baking dish.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, shallow, garlic, parsley, thyme and salt and pepper.  Stir in the olive oil.  Spoon this mixture evenly over the tomatoes.

Bake until the tomatoes are hot and the bread crumbs are lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

 

 

 

Confession Time and a Side Dish You Never Thought You’d Love

roasted broccoli

I said I’d be honest on this blog and today is just such a post.  Last week, a sweet friend of mine said, ” You are officially one of those moms that makes me question my ability to fully parent and live well/completely.” I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with that comment, but I think I know, now.  It’s time to be honest!  Last week wasn’t good.  Olive got sick on Tuesday with her first stomach bug in her little year on this earth.  It wrecked her appetite, needless to say, and she subsisted for the rest of the week on mostly bananas, bits of bread, small bites of chicken and forced bites of a few benign vegetables like carrots and…carrots.  My little super-eater turned into the “picky eater” kid and even today, isn’t back at full steam.  She plays fine, acts fine, but when it comes to eating – it’s a fight.

I tried my best to stay the course; don’t force her, don’t get stressed, if she doesn’t eat much at lunch, she’ll catch up at dinner – but I was fearful all week that this stomach bug would make her afraid of food, of eating, of trying new things and in one week, all would be lost.  You think I’m exaggerating for the sake of this blog.  I wish I was.  I guess, today, my confession is that I try too dadgum hard to make things go perfectly, and when they don’t, I feel like an utter failure.  Perhaps this isn’t the day to write because last night I slept maybe three hours (my inability to turn my brain off and relax) but I thought about my friend’s comment on my status, and I just wanted to tell her that we only show our best online.  We only write statuses we are either proud of or find ironically funny.  So no one heard all week how scared I was that Olive was sick, or how miserable I felt when she wouldn’t eat a bite all day for a couple days in a row.  And of course I didn’t write statuses about how I got angry with her and made her cry because she kept dropping food off the side of the high chair.  I don’t like writing about that part of life.  The hard part.  The part that makes you question if you’re doing everything wrong and will, inevitably, scar your child when it’s all said and done.  I thought, “How much would everyone love if Olive ended up hating a variety of food just because I want her to love food so much?”  And it’s sad, but I really do feel that most of the people I know would secretly laugh if that happened.  And I can’t say that I blame them.  I’m very passionate about cooking and food and banning “kid-food” and teaching children to eat well and have manners at the table.  I wouldn’t say that I have much camaraderie in that area, at least not locally.  Or maybe I just don’t feel it because I’m not admitting to the hard parts that happen, as well.  I’m only telling you that she ate baby bok choy with fish sauce vinaigrette last week and loved it.  Not that she cried big, fat tears today because I wouldn’t let her hold a fork while she ate (she’d just throw it or poke herself in the face).  Sigh.

Our hard week came to a head this morning as Olive had her one year check up and got 5 shots in her little legs.  So, I made a soup for her for lunch.  Cream of celery, and I pureed the heck out of it so that there’d be no chunks.  I just didn’t feel like challenging her today. She ate fine.  Not as much as last week, but enough.  And I will continue to do what I know in my heart to be best.  Let her be a person with feelings and a new found opinion on things, and try not to force her to like something just because I do.  She’ll come around.  And if today, she only wants the texture of soups and yogurt, then that’s fine.  Maybe tomorrow she’ll eat something more challenging.  The point, I think, is to get back to the heart of what makes food and cooking beautiful: it’s something to be shared.  Eating, first, should be enjoyable.  Not nutritious, not organic – but delicious.  Good for the soul.  Shared with family and friends.  Happy.  Stress-free.  Not another lesson to pass or fail.  I vow to back off in my intensity for success at having a “good eater” a bit and get back to what makes food so amazing.  It’s good.

An incredible way to enjoy a couple of vegetables that might not be everyone’s favorite is first: roast them till they’re a little crispy.  And second: toss them in a vinaigrette!  In today’s recipe, that vinaigrette is one that contains fish sauce and it’s incredible.  I know you wouldn’t typically put “fish sauce” and “incredible” in the same sentence, but you’ll start to once you try this.  Also, it’s from David Chang’s genius book, Momofuku, and I’m pretty sure he’s never made anything bad in his life.  It’s so simple and the vinaigrette recipe makes a lot, so you can save it in your fridge to toss with pretty much any roasted vegetable.  The original recipe called to toss it with roasted brussels sprouts, which is a vegetable most think they don’t like.  But I’m pretty convinced you’re always just one recipe away from liking something you thought you never would.  So!  Try this today and let me know what you think.  Fish sauce can be found in most Asian sections of supermarkets near all the soy sauce, but if you have trouble, you can definitely find it at any Asian mart in town.

roasted broccoli and brussels sprouts

 

Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower with Fish Sauce Vinagrette

1 medium head broccoli
1/2 head cauliflower
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tbs Fish Sauce Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 400F.  Cut up the broccoli and cauliflower into small, bite sized pieces.  I trim the “trees” in half so that they roast better.  You want to aim to make the size of your vegetables all nearly the same so they cook at the same rate.  Toss in a couple tablespoons of olive oil and spread out on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Don’t crowd the pan.  Put it on two pans if you need to.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for about 20 minutes, or until they start to get kinda crispy and browned on the edges like in the photo above.  When they’re done, toss in a large bowl with the vinaigrette and serve immediately.  For some reason, broccoli gets cold faster than any other vegetable known to man.

Fish Sauce Vinaigrette

1/2 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tbs rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 to 3 red bird’s-eye chilies, thinly sliced

Combine everything in a large mason jar with a tight fitting lid.  Or any container with a tight fitting lid that won’t leak.  Shake it all around until the sugar dissolves.  Keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Time for Spring

We have less than ideal weather conditions in this region.  Lubbock has some of the worst dirt storms imaginable, the worst wind and the hottest summers.  We’ve been suffering through a drought the past 3 years and two years ago it was the worst we’d seen in nearly a century.  No rain that year from January till April of the next year (and even when the rain did come, it was one or two light showers).  Trees died and were uprooted, everyone’s yards were yellow like straw.  Farmers had to look for employment elsewhere, wildfires burned up homes, livestock, and thousands of acres of land.  Everywhere there were severe water restrictions and the people who cheated could be seen a mile away with their green, foot-thick sod yards that they clearly watered around the clock.  Needless to say, things haven’t been growing very well for aspiring back-yard farmers lately.  But with a few inches of rain last year and a few inches of snow this winter, we are more hopeful for the spring.  There’s still watering restrictions – we can only water on Tuesdays and Fridays, using either drip irrigation or standing there, holding a hose, but we are optimistic that maybe this year, something can grow.

Seeing growth is healing.  When you sow a seed and water it and leave, trusting that it will grow, you have faith in the purest form.  And when that faith is rewarded by a tiny, green shoot popping out of the dirt (and it’s not a weed) it gives such a rush that you want to do it again and again.  I’ve never been a successful gardener (rain helps) but this year, I’m going to try my best.  Choosing vegetables that say “full sun” is a start, and I’m focusing on herbs, which are used most frequently and are the most pricey per-ounce at the store.  And since nearly every single recipe in my most recent cookbook obsession calls for parsley, chives, tarragon, or chervil, and chervil is no where to be found in this town, I’m going to just grow my own.  (Lord willing.)

After working in the yard today and feeling the warmth creeping in the air, I decided to keep dinner light tonight.  I chose a green lentil, leek and endive salad and roasted some free sausages Matt got as a thanks from the butcher for buying a good cut of beef on Saturday.  Odd, but hey, we’ll take it.  And you’re welcome, Mr. Butcher.  Thank YOU for carrying dry-aged USDA prime.  Oh, and Olive wasn’t a fan of the texture of this salad.  She immediately scraped her tongue with her fingers to get every last lentil off.  Ah well, at least she tried it! green lentil salad 2 green lentil salad1

Green Lentil, Leek and Endive Salad

serves 4 to 6

1 cup green lentils
3 cups water
3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, rinsed, and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large head Belgian endive (or two small), root trimmed off and leaves sliced
1 tbs snipped fresh chives
2 tbs heavy cream
1 tbs white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse, drain and pick through the lentils to discard any debris.
Place the lentils in a large saucepan with the water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the lentils are tender but still firm, about 15 minutes.  Drain, rinse with cool water, and drain again.  Transfer the lentils to a serving bowl.
Heat 1 tbs of the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until they are slightly wilted but still have some crunch, about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds more.  Add the leeks and garlic to the bowl with the lentils, along with the sliced endive and chives.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the heavy cream, vinegar, and salt and pepper.  Add this dressing to the lentils.  Toss to combine.

 

Serve the salad immediately at room temp.  Sear off some sausages for a full meal.

A First Birthday Cake

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Exactly one year ago, this pic was taken.  Olive was just 6 days old and we were home, out on our porch, having a glass of wine and marveling at this red headed little girl in our arms.  Matt made a birth DAY cake that we had when we got home from the hospital with friends and family to celebrate her actual birth and the only thing that changed this year was the cake and the size of the red head.

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We’ve had such a wonderful year with Olive.  It’s been amazing to watch her discover things, develop likes and dislikes (kitties, peas – respectively) and one of the most enjoyable activities in my life this year has been showing her food.  It’s crazy to realize that these little creatures don’t know what ANYTHING is.  They don’t know a peach from a mango from a pear from a plate of spaghetti.  They don’t know how garlic smells while roasting or the magic that is mire poix sizzling away in butter.  It’s our JOY to get to show them!  For

“…no matter what they think, we know: We are the ones who have tasted and seen how gracious it all is.” 

In this spirit of education, Matt and I contemplated what we wanted Olive to try for her first birthday.  She’d had many fruits so I considered a lemon layer cake, strawberry shortcake, something with banana cream.  Matt really wanted her to have chocolate for the first time and REALLY GOOD chocolate, at that.  So we combined forces and created a Neapolitan-esque cake with a flourless chocolate cake as the base, a white chocolate mousse in the middle and topped with a thick, strawberry whipped cream.  The chocolate cake is by far the best chocolate “cake” I’ve ever had.  Taken from the brilliant Dave Lebovitz, it’s nearly like a truffle center, or the best fudge of your life.  The white chocolate mousse was taken from Annie’s Eats, which I’d used on a cake for Matt for Valentine’s day this year, which he was crazy about.  And then the strawberry whipped cream was just a last minute sort of creation by me for Olive.  Because she loves strawberries and I figured if she didn’t like the rest, she’d at least like a third of her cake and we wouldn’t look like complete fools when it came show time.

Olive's Birthday Cake

For the bottom layer, Matt baked it in a 9″ round cake pan.  We had a hard time getting the cake out (panic moment) and so I crumbled it all up and pressed it tightly into a spring form pan.  Then I lined the pan with a couple layers of acetate strips, stacked on top of each other and taped on the outside, to get that tall form for piping in the other two layers.  All you do is pipe in the white chocolate mousse on top of the chocolate cake, let it sit in the fridge while you make the whipped cream, and then pipe in the whipped cream and wrap plastic wrap across the top of the tube so it doesn’t dry out and let it sit in the fridge over night, or for an hour in the freezer.  This makes it much easier to cut.

Chocolate Cake (Orbit Cake)

14 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ cubes, plus more for the pan
10 ounces 62% semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (our FAVORITE dark chocolate, which we exclusively used for this cake, is Lindt’s 70% dark chocolate bars.  Heaven.)
5 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar

Position rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F. Lightly butter a 9×2″ round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper (if you do this easy step, you won’t have to mush it all into a spring-form pan like I did.)
Place the butter and chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave at 30 second increments, stirring after each, until the chocolate is completely  melted, glassy, and incorporated with the butter.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar.  Gradually whisk in the melted chocolate mixture and continue whisking until thoroughly combined.
Pour batter into the prepared pan.  Place the pan in a larger roasting pan, and cover the top of the cake pan with foil.  Add enough hot water to the baking pan to come halfway up the sides of the cake pan and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes until the cake has set.  To test, touch the center of the cake lightly with your finger: the surface will be slightly tacky, but your fingers should come away clean.
Carefully remove the cake pan from the water bath and place on a cooling rack to cool completely.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours – up to 3 days.
To assemble with the mousse, run a knife around the edges of the cake to loosen the sides.  Invert onto a serving plate, wrap in the acetate strips (or wax paper – tape doesn’t stick to parchment) and get on with making the next step.

White Chocolate Mousse

1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin
2 tbs water
12 oz white chocolate chips (don’t use almond bark – it won’t taste right)
3 cups heavy cream

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small bowl and let stand at least 5 minutes to soften.  Place the white chocolate in a medium bowl.  Bring 1 cup of the cream to a boil in a small saucepan.  Remove the pan from the heat, add the gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved.  Pour the hot cream mixture over the white chocolate and let stand about 1 minute.  Whisk until the mixture is smooth.  Cool to room temperature, about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In the clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the remaining 2 cups of cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken.  Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted.  Using a whisk, mix one-third of the whipped cream to the white chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Fold in the remaining whipped cream gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain.  Spoon the white chocolate mousse into the pan over the chocolate cake.  Smooth the top with an offset spatula.

Strawberry Whipped Cream

1 jar of strawberry jam – the fancier the better
3 cups heavy cream

Scrap the jar of jam into a small saucepan over low heat and add about 1/4 cup of water.  Heat it just enough so that it incorporates with the water and you break up any lumps with a whisk and the jam is smooth.  Transfer it to a bowl and let it cool about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to help it cool.
In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, stir the cream on medium for a while until it starts to thicken.  Then whip on medium high while you gently let the jam stream into the edge of the bowl, careful to not hit the whisk in the middle, until completely incorporated.  Whip until a little firmer than soft peaks.  At this point, I added a little red food coloring (just a few drops) to make it more pink and folded it in with a spatula until fully incorporated. Do what you will with that.  I just wanted it to be pink to truly look Neapolitan. Transfer cream to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe, pipe, pipe until you can’t pipe any more.  Have fun with it.  Make zigzags and peaks and star flowers – whatever you want.  Just fill in all the gaps and sprinkle the top with extra crunchy sugar for effect.

serves at least 20

Ossobuco and Saffron Risotto – destined to be your next wonderful food memory

Osso Bucco

I feel like this recipe isn’t right for the kind of weather we’re having this week, but you never know – in Lubbock it’s sunny and 70 one day and the next day it snows 4″ (true story).  So maybe by the time you read this, it will be frosty, again.

I had ossobuco for the first time six years ago in our tiny apartment, cooked by Matt, and ate it sitting on the floor, pulled up to a coffee table watching t.v.  I shamefully write that, but at the time, I don’t believe we had a dining table.  Hard to remember why else we’d eat such a nice meal on the coffee table, so dangerously close to our dog.  What I do remember is how amazed I was at the flavor of the braised meat and how strange I thought it was that Matt said you were supposed to sprinkle this parsley junk on top.  The “parsley junk” was actually gremolada and it’s actually really perfect to cut the richness of the dish.  Parsley, lemon peel and garlic cut right through the melting texture of the veal shank.  I instantly loved the combination.  We made a lot of food discoveries in that apartment.  Neither of us grew up with a whole lot of adventurous cooking in the house, but when we got married, the adventure began. Neither of us knew what we were doing (I knew the basics and how to navigate the kitchen and Matt can follow a recipe to a fault) but we had an obsession with the then-better Food Network and cookbooks and chef biographies and eating and really, you need little else in order to get on with your own cooking adventure.

Matt and I have a saying about pizza that there’s really no bad pizza.  Cardboard frozen pizza, pizza pockets, bagel bites – we’ll eat any of it.  And I feel the same way about risotto, ossobuco’s best friend.  We’ve made it too thick and we’ve made it too crunchy and we’ve made it too thin and I’ve even been at a restaurant where they FRIED it, and in the confession booth, I would have to admit that I loved it all.  It’s just…comforting.  It’s a rice dish that could very well be as comforting as mac and cheese, and that’s saying something coming from an American.

Since I’d been to the lovely Ghandi Bazaar a few weeks ago and bought some ridiculously cheap saffron, we decided that for this meal, we’d just do it up right (we’d always omitted the expensive ingredient) and use the saffron.  If you need to borrow a pinch and you live close, drop on in.  Or go see the lovely people at the Ghandi Bazaar on 34th and Quaker.  They keep it behind the counter.

Ossobuco – Braised Veal Shanks, Milanese Style*
(serves 6-8)

1 cup onion, chopped fine
2/3 cup carrot, chopped fine
2/3 cup celery, chopped fine
4 tbs butter
1 tsp garlic, you guessed it, chopped fine
2 strips lemon peel (I just took a carrot peeler to it and cut two, long strips off the length of the lemon
1/3 cup vegetable oil
8 – 11/2 inch thick slices of veal shank, tied tightly with string around the middle (you may need to ask the butcher to cut these, but they nearly always have them in the back)
Flour, spread on a plate
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup beef broth
1 1/2 cups canned plum tomatoes, chopped with juice
1/2 tsp fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried
2 bay leaves
2 or 3 sprigs of parsley
Black pepper and salt

1 recipe Gremolada (follows)
1 recipe Milanese style saffron risotto (follows)

Preheat the oven to 350.
In a heavy bottomed dutch oven or stock pot, heat to medium and throw in the onion, carrot, celery and butter and cook for 6 to 7 minutes.  Add the chopped garlic and lemon peel and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until the vegetables soften and wilt.  Remove from heat.
Put the vegetable oil in a separate skillet and turn on the heat to meium high.  Turn the veal shanks in the flour, coating them all over and shaking off the excess.  Don’t do this ahead of time or they will get soggy.  When the oil is shimmering hot, add the shanks in two batches of four (they should cover the bottom of the pan but not be crowded) and brown evenly on all sides.  Remove them from the skillet and place them side by side over the chopped vegetables in the dutch oven.
Tip the skillet and spoon away all but a little bit of the oil.  Add the wine, reduce it by simmering it over medium heat while scraping loose with a wooden spooon the residues that get stuck to the bottom and sides.  pour the skillet juices over the veal in the pot.
Pout the broth in the skillet, bring to a simmer, and add it to the pot.  Also add the chopped tomatoes with their juices, the thyme, bay leaves, parsley, pepper and salt.  The broth should have come up two-thirds of the way up the sides of the shanks.  If it does not, add a little more.
Bring the liquids in the pot to a simmer, cover the pot tightly, and place it in the lower third of a preheated oven.  Cook for about 2 hours or until the meat feels very tender when prodded with a fork and a dense sauce has formed.  Don’t be in a rush – more cooking is better than not enough.
When the ossobuco is done, transfer it to a warm platter, removing the trussing strings, pour the sauces in the pot over them and serve at once on top of a bed of risotto and garnished (on the side) with gremolada.

Gremolada*

1 tsp grated lemon peel (buy a Microplane)
1/4 tsp minced garlic (buy a Microplane)
1 tbs chopped parsley

Mix ’em all up.

Saffron Risotto

Saffron Risotto, Milanese Style*
(serves 6)

1 cup canned beef broth, diluted with 4 cups water
2 tbs diced pancetta
3 tbs butter
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 tbs onion, chopped fine
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 tsp saffron threads dissolved in one cup of broth
Black pepper
1/3 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated fresh
Salt, if needed

Bring the broth to a slow, steady simmer on a burner near where you’ll be cooking the risotto.
Put the diced pancetta, one tbs butter and vegetable oil, and the chopped onion in a broad sturdy pot (we use this one – our go-to risotto pan) and turn on the heat to medium high.  Cook and stir the onion until it becomes translucent, then add the rice.  Stir quickly and thoroughly until the grains are coated well.
Add 1/2 cup of simmering broth, and cook, stirring, until all the liquid has mostly evaporated before adding another ladle.  Keep doing this over and over and over and over, stirring all the while.
When the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, add half the dissolved saffron liquid.  Continue to stir, and when there is no more liquid in the pot, add remaining saffron liquid.
Finish cooking the rice, tasting for doneness.  The rice shouldn’t be crunchy any more, but shouldn’t be mushy, either.  Go for that nice al dente, much like pasta.
Off the heat, add a few grindings of pepper, the remaining butter, all the Parmesan and stir thoroughly until the cheese melts and clings to the rice.  Taste and correct for salt.  Serve with ossobuco!

*all recipes come from the wonderful book, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  Go buy it!

Snow Ice Cream

Snow Ice Cream

It snowed more today than it has in years, and nearly all of my Facebook feed filled up with my friends excitedly making snowmen, snow angels and snow ice cream!  I rhetorically asked Matt, “You’ve had snow ice cream, right?” And he said no!  I must have had it a dozen times growing up.  He even grew up in a place that got more snow than me!  Bent on fixing this incredible flaw, I strapped on my rain boots and went out gathering snow.  If you’ve never made snow ice cream before – stick to the tall drifts.  If there are no drifts, be careful scooping.  Dirt, stuff from trees, dog “things” can be lurking – stick to the tippy top of the snow.  I’ve also heard that you shouldn’t eat the first snow fall of the year.  If it never snows where you are and you have an opportunity – throw caution to the wind, my friends.

Snow Ice Cream – kinda fancy

8 cups of fresh snow
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp of vanilla bean paste (that’s vanilla bean flecks in my ice cream, not dirt!)
1 tsp almond extract

Clothe yourself in cute rain boots, gloves and if you have a metal bowl, bring that and a two cup measure.  Scoop up 8 cups of snow into your bowl, watching for sticks, poo, yellow snow, etc.  March in place at your door step to get all the snow off your boots.  Maybe even do a little dance.  Once warmly inside, drizzle a can of sweetened condensed milk all over the snow.  Mix well, smashing the clods of snow against the side of the bowl until it’s all worked throughout.  Mix in your vanilla paste and almond extract (use regular vanilla extract in equal amounts if you don’t have the paste.  The paste is fun – buy some.)
Serve immediately to lucky children and husbands alike.

Snow Ice Cream 2

 

The Family Meal

Hi. I’m Alisa. The one on the right.

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I want to have this blog because there is literally nothing else that I do that inspires me like cooking for my family, thinking about recipes, reading cookbooks, watching documentaries about chefs, and eating weekend kitchen creations with my husband, Matt .  I am a photographer, and I love working with couples and weddings and especially love when they choose a good bakery to make their cake, but honestly I don’t stay up late thinking about photography. I think about food or cooking, or eating with my friends and family.  I had a little girl, Olive, in March of 2012 and since she started eating solid food at 6 months, I have found myself in the kitchen at the beginning of each week, excitedly coming up with stuff to blend up and freeze into little, multi-colored cubed portions of goodness that will keep her hair red and her cheeks rosy.  Hopefully.

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 Eating with my new family is very important to me, and I want to start from the very beginning with Olive in the kitchen.  I plan on teaching her as soon as she can pull a stool up to the counter how to navigate the kitchen and make basic meals and follow simple recipes.  I think there is so much more than just cooking that can be learned in the kitchen.  Patience, timing, cleanliness, manual dexterity, care, concern, etc.  Our culture is governed by fast food and 10 minute lunch breaks and more foods in grocery stores that can live on the shelf than can live in the ground or on a tree or in a barn yard.   I want to do it better – I want to get back to the heart of sitting around a dinner table in laughter, or peace or even chaos, and spend more time there in the evenings than in front of the TV, or with my face illuminated by the glow of my phone.  I know no better way to accomplish this than to set the example for Olive.  If I don’t take time with my dinner, why should she?  If I snack randomly throughout the day, why can’t she?  If I am distracted by my phone during dinner, why can’t she play with her toys at dinner?  Teaching her will undoubtedly teach me in the process, and it’s already begun.

This blog will offer recipes for the family, blended up versions for babies and toddlers and advice for your cooking endeavors at home.  I plan on exploring these things along the way, as well, and tell of my successes and failures so that we can all learn together.

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(don’t worry, none of my recipes include mulch)