Inga's Indulgence

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Small bites

Things that come packaged in a petite format better be bringing it in other departments, if you know what I mean. I'm talking about flavor, people! If you want to wow your guests with some impressive appetizers or canapes at your next cocktail party, don't get carried away with the cutest darn toothpick you've ever seen in your life. Do yourself a favor and don't forget about flavor.

Banana Crepe Lollipops

8 Crepes, recipe follows
1/2 cup chocolate sauce
4 bananas
1/3 cup roasted almonds, chopped
25-30 bamboo skewers or lollipop sticks

(yield: about 10 crepes)

2 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup flour
2 tbsp sugar
pinch salt
3 tbsp butter, melted
nonstick cooking spray, as needed

Whisk everything together in a medium bowl (or blender). Refrigerate batter for at least 1/2 hour.

Preheat a medium non-stick pan over medium-high heat, and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Pour 2 oz of crepe batter into the pan, while swirling it to get an even, thin layer. Cook 30-40 seconds, flip crepe, and cook for a few more seconds. Repeat, until you run out of batter.

Assemble the Banana Crepe Lollipops:
Arrange 4 crepes onto your work surface. Top each with 1 tbsp of chocolate sauce, and spread in an even layer. Top with a second crepe, and another layer of chocolate sauce.

Place peeled banana onto the bottom third of each crepe, and roll up tightly like a burrito. Slice each roll into 1 1/2 inch rounds. Insert sticks into each round, securing the crepe. Sprinkle with chopped almonds.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Naughty & Nice

When it comes to dessert, some people prefer to be bad, while others genuinly try to find that paradise where flavor and health are able to co-exist harmoniously.

My personal preference is subject to change. That's why I present you with two sweet treats below, that despite sharing the criteria of being yummy, are polar opposites of each other.

First stop: the "nice" option - with ingredients like whole wheat flour, vegetable oil (not butter), egg whites, and a tart burst of fresh cranberries and apples, these delicious bars will satisfy your sweet tooth, and keep you on that right track ;)

Cranberry Apple Bars
(yield: 12 bars)

1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup orange juice
1/3 cup vegetable oil (plus more for greasing the pan)
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 large grannysmith apple, peeled and cut into medium cubes
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 egg white
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9"x13" baking pan with oil.

Using an electric mixer, beat the egg, milk, orange juice, and oil together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Gradually add the dry mixture to the wet mixture, mixing just to combine. Stir in the cranberries and apples. Pour batter into prepared pan, and spread evenly.

Make the merengue: In a clean bowl, whip the egg white until frothy. Add lemon juice and sugar, and continue to whip until soft peaks form. Dollop the merengue all over the batter. Using a spoon, gently spread the dollops across the batter.

Bake about 25-27 minutes, until the merengue becomes slightly golden. Let cool completely in pan before cutting.

Now for all you hooligans out there, who are looking to get down to business, here it is...
wait for it....
Oeey, Gooeey, Chewy, Chocolaty, Rich - this baby doesn't mess around - it's the ULTIMATE BROWNIE!!!!!!!!

Everyone needs a good brownie recipe. If you're serious about chocolate, let this one be yours.

The Ultimate Brownie
(yield: 12 brownies)

1 stick unsalted butter (plus 1 tbsp for greasing)
2 whole eggs
1 egg white
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 1/2 oz semi-sweet chocolate
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup All-Purpose flour
1/4 cup Dutch Processes cocoa powder
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9"x13" baking pan with butter, and line with parchment paper. Grease the parchment as well.

Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs, egg white, and sugar in a large bowl, until pale yellow, 2-3 minutes. Add the milk.
Place butter, and chocolate into a double boiler, and melt, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and let cool 5 minutes. Continue to beat the egg mixture on medium speed as you slowly drizzle in the melted chocolate.

Combine remaining ingredients in a separate bowl. Whisk to combine thoroughly. Add dry mixture to the wet mixture in 3 increments, mixing just until combined. Pour brownie batter into prepared pan, and bake 28-30 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely before attempting to dissect the brownies (these guys are pretty gooey). If you're in a hurry, you can pop them in the freezer for a few minutes before cutting.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lighten Up

I think we're all in need of a break from the holiday gluttony. Before the parties begin, before the cocktails and cookies lead you to a New Year's resolution that beats last year's by 5 pounds, what do you say me and you take a little breather?

Freshen up with this light, crunchy salad. The whole batch probably has less calories than a glass of eggnog.
I'm just saying.

Beet & Apple Salad
(yield: 6-8 servings)

1/2 cup canola oil
6 shallots (about 1/2 cup), sliced into thin rounds
1 large beet (about 1lb), peeled & julienned*       
1 large grannysmith apple, julienned
1 1/2 oz red onion, thinly sliced
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt & pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a small saucepan or skillet over medium-low heat, about 2-3 minutes. Once oil is hot, drop the sliced shallots into the pan. Cook 8-10 minutes, until they are golden brown and crispy. Remove the shallots from the oil, place on a paper towel, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Set aside.

Strain the cooking oil into a bowl, and let cool. Reserve.

Combine julienned beets, apples, and onions in a large bowl. Dress with reserved shallot oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Toss to combine, top with fried shallots, and serve.

* The grater attachment of a food processor produces perfect beet and apple matchsticks. If you don't have the attachment, you can use a hand held mandolin to form thin slices. Stack the slices, and then just cut into 1/4-inch matchsticks.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Project Turkey: The Day After

Ahh leftovers - arguably the best part of Thanksgiving (or any holiday). Because just when you think you've reached your eating capacity for the season, it all continues the next day. But let's be a little creative, and take it past the turkey sandwich shall we...

Creamy Turkey & Corn Chowder
(yield: 4-6 servings)

2 tbsp canola oil
4 medium shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups white button mushrooms, medium dice
2 cups cooked turkey meat (white meat, dark meat, or a combination), medium dice
2 medium idaho potatoes, medium dice
2 ears of corn, shucked
5 cups turkey stock (or chicken stock)
1 tbsp corn starch dissolved in 2 tbsp water
1 cup heavy cream
salt & pepper, to taste
dill, chopped (for garnish)

Place the oil and shallots into a saucepan and sweat over medium heat until they become translucent,  2-3 minutes. Add garlic, mushrooms, and turkey, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for another 2-3 minutes. Add the potatoes, corn (along with the shucked ears), and turkey stock to the pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook over low heat, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Stir the cornstarch/water slurry into the soup. Add heavy cream, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Season with salt & pepper. Pour into a bowl, sprinkle with dill, grab a spoon, and allow yourself to plop onto the couch and indulge. You owe it to yourself; the holidays are tough ;)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Project Turkey: Day 4

Why shouldn't your baby get to join in on the thanksgiving festivities this year? If you haven't already introduced your baby to poultry other than chicken, turkey's a great place to start.

Hmm, let's see...we need something healthy (so that baby gets his nutrients), tender (so that baby can handle it no matter how many teeth he has), and super flavorful (so that baby keeps eating).

Someone say meatballs?

Turkey Meatballs
(yield: about 30 balls)

1/4 cup golden raisins
1 lb ground turkey
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (white bread)
1 medium yellow onion, grated
2 tbsp milk
1 egg
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped

Place the raisins in a small bowl, and cover with boiling water. Let stand 5-10 minutes, until they soften. Drain the raisins and combine with remaining ingredients in a large bowl.

Roll tablespoonfuls of the mixture into small balls. Simmer meatballs in  turkey or chicken stock, for 8-10 minutes. If your baby can't handle solids yet, break the meatballs up with a fork and moisten with some of the stock.

So, you're telling me that you're in the mood for some meatballs yourself? Don't worry, mama chef's got ya covered. 
Here's the adult version:

Pumpkin Penne with Turkey Meatballs
(yield: 4-6 servings)

Season the above meatball recipe with 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of black pepper.

Make a bread crumb mixture for the meatballs: Mix 1/4 cup of Italian breadcrumbs, 2 tbsp of grated parmesan cheese, and 1/2 cup of finely choppd parsley in a bowl.

Dredge the meatballs in the breadcrumb mixture, shaking off excess. Coat the bottom of a large sauté pan with olive oil, and place the pan over medium-high heat. Fry the meatballs, 3 minutes per side, until golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

Pumpkin Penne
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs pumpkin, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 ln Penne rigate
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Using the pan in which the meatballs were fried, reduce heat to low, add olive oil and saute onions and garlic, 1-2 minutes. Add pumpkin, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes. Sauté over medium heat 5-6 minutes, until pumpkin gets slightly golden. Deglaze the pan with water. Bring to a simmer, and cook, covered, over low heat for 10-12 minutes, until pumpkin is tender.

Cook the Penne until it is almost al dente. Add 1 cup of the pasta water to pumpkin sauce along with heavy cream. Add the pasta and reserved meatballs to the sauce, and simmer for another 5 minutes. Mix in parmesan, and adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Project Turkey: Day 3

My Pre-thankgiving turkey experimentation inevitably brought me to the breast of the bird. Though I do love oven-roasted turkey breast, I wouldn't say it's my favorite part of the bird to cook with. When cooked attached to the whole bird, like in the classic whole roasted turkey preparation, the breast has a better chance of being succulent and tender. But when cooked in isolation, it has a tendency to dry out. Having the inside scoop on this, I decided to strategically fabricate or cut the breast in such a way that would create the illusion of tenderness, and rely on a direct heat cooking method that would impart a lot of flavor while sealing in the juices.

In layman's terms I pounded the turkey breast into thin cutlets and grilled it. By now, you've probably caught on to all this small talk being a way to detract from the fact that I'm grilling in November right? No biggy, the weather's still nice, and if it's not, most of us own a grill pan. If you're shaking your head no to that last statement, you better go out and buy one this instant.

What can I say, I miss the summer sizzle and I miss the feeling I get when I eat grilled food - that skinny feeling. It's no wonder so many of us get that feeling, because grilling is a pretty healthy cooking method. And it just so happens that turkey breast is very lean. So dare we call the following dish the star of a figure-friendly Thanksgiving? Let's not, just because it will ruin the sanctity of what this holiday is all about. Eating, right? (I'm kidding) But seriously, you can think it, but it's probably best not to tell your guests. They'll look at you funny.

Grilled Turkey Breast with Chipotle Cranberry Sauce
(yield: 4 servings)

2 lbs turkey breast, sliced or pounded into 1/2-inch thick cutlets
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
salt & pepper, to taste
1 tbsp canola oil
1 oz red onion, finely chopped
1 pint  fresh cranberries
juice and zest of 1 medium orange
1 tbsp chipotle in adobo sauce
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup cilanto, chopped

Make the cranberry sauce: heat the canola oil in a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Add onions, and sweat 2-3 minutes. Add cranberries, orange juice and zest, chipotle sauce, and maple syrup. Simmer 5-6 minutes until sauce thickens and some of the cranberries just begin to burst. Stir in 1/2 of the cilantro, reserving the rest for garnish.

Marinade the turkey: combine olive oil, oregano, and pepper in a large bowl. Place turkey into the bowl and mix to coat with marinade. Refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour.

Preheat grill or grill pan and spray with a little bit of non-stick cooking spray. Once grill is nice and hot, retrieve the turkey from the marinade, season with salt on both sides, and grill, about 4 minutes per side. Turn the breasts 90 degrees at the halfway point on each side to achieve cross-hatch marks. Spoon cranberry sauce over grilled turkey, sprinkle with some more cilantro, and eat immediately.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Project Turkey: Day 2

Lets back the turkey train up a bit. I neglected to give you the recipe for an imperative staple that will get you through your thanksgiving cooking quests. That staple is turkey stock.

Sure you can buy it, or even use chicken stock. But if you've already got the bird, why not make the most out of it. The neck of the turkey happens to make a wonderful stock that you can use to flavor nearly every dish on your holiday table (except dessert, I hope). Turkey stock can be used to baste your bird, make a soup, gravy or pan sauce, moisten your stuffing, or flavor your side dishes. You can even make a little more than necessary, and freeze it for later use.

So make it! You won't regret it, trust me.

Turkey Stock
(yield: 2 quarts)

2 quarts cold water
turkey neck
1 medium yellow onion, halved
1 large carrot, cut into a few large pieces
1 stalk celery, cut into a few large pieces
4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
cheese cloth, as needed

Place water, turkey neck, onion, carrots, and celery into a large stock pot.

Make a bouquet garni* by wrapping the thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns in a small piece of cheese cloth and tying with kitchen twine. Add bouquet to stock pot and bring to a boil. Skim off the foam that rises to the surface, and reduce heat to low. Simmer, partially covered, for 1 hour. Remove bouquet and vegetables, and strain the stock.

*A bouquet garni is just a bundle of herbs or spices wrapped together in cheese cloth, or simply bound together by a string. It is typically placed into stocks, soups, or stews to add flavor.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Project Turkey: Day 1

Every year, when Thanksgiving comes a knockin' I get the urge to ditch the whole roasted bird and do something different. And every year, tradition gets the best of me, and I chicken (or turkey) out.

This year, however, I vow to funk it up. Being that I haven't gone entirely mad yet, the turkey will still make its grand appearance at the table, but in a different fashion, if you will. For this reason, I have already purchased an experimantal bird that I will...experiment with, until I find the perfect turkey recipe for turkey day. Mwahahahahaha!!!!

We start with a recipe that makes use of my favorite meat on the bird, and what, in my opinion, the whole turkey should be made of - the dark meat.

Barbecued Pulled Turkey with Holiday Cole Slaw
(yield: 6-8 servings)

2 tbsp canola oil
4 turkey leg quarters
1 large Spanish onion, roughly chopped
6 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
3 cups turkey stock (or chicken stock)
2 dried bay leafs
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp salt

Heat the oil in a large, deep pan. Brown the turkey, about 5 minutes per side. Stir in the onions, garlic, and saute 1-2 minutes. Add turkey stock, bay leafs, peppercorns, and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to very low, and simmer, covered, for 3 hours. Remove everything from pan except about 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Once turkey is cool enough to handle, pull the meat off the bones, and add back to pan, along with barbecue sauce, brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, and salt. Bring to a simmer, and cook over low heat for 40 minutes. Serve on crusty bread with Holiday Coleslaw.

Holiday Coleslaw
(yield: 8 servings)

2 lbs cabbage (1 learge head), shredded
2 large carrots (4 cups), grated
2 tbsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp spicy brown mustard
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 tbsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp pepper

Place the cabbage and carrots into a large bowl and sprinkle with salt and sugar. Using your hands, squeeze well to distribute the salt and sugar until the cabbage begins to release its juices. Place into a colander set over a bowl, and top with a heavy weight (you can use some heavy bowls). Let stand 3 hours.

Mix the remaining ingredients into drained slaw. Serve right away, or refrigerate until ready to eat.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Pregnancy Daze

I found myself day dreaming about my pregnant days today, and definitely not because I want to go back to that any time soon.

Surprisingly the nostalgia began with hunger. I suddenly craved a substantial, healthy meal. I know what you're thinking - pregnancy is the last place you would go for a good meal, with all its diet restrictions and what not. But, believe it or not, my experience proved otherwise.

One of my most vivid recollections of being preggers (aside from the nausea and weight gain) is being able to eat really well. And by well, I don't mean gorge on things you otherwise wouldn't allow yourself, but rather eat in such a way that feeds your appetite, body, and of course, your baby.

So I decided to make Pan-Seared Filet of Sole with Bok Choy, a favorite that me and baby treated ourselves to periodically throughout our 9-month-long journey together. Fish alert, fish alert! Don't worry Sole is totally low in mercury, and Bok Choy, well with it's abundance of vitamins and minerals (vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, Vitamin C, Potassium, Folate, and Calcium, just to name a few) it's kind of a pregnancy superstar, if you will. The bone-strengthening minerals found in bok choy also make it an excellent choice not only for those who are pregnant, but also breastfeeding women, as well as pretty much anyone who wants to be healthy :)

Pan-Seared Filet of Sole with Bok Choy

(yield: 4-5 servings)

2 tbsp canola oil
2 lbs filet of sole, cut into 3-inch pieces
1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1 medium spanish onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch knob of ginger, minced
8 cups bok choy*, washed, dried, and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tbsp miso paste
1 tbsp soy sauce
juice of 1 orange
3/4 cup water
2 scallions, thinly sliced (for garnish)

Heat oil in a large non-stick pan over medum-high heat. Dredge the pieces of sole in breadcrumbs, shaking off excess. Brown fish in the hot pan, about 1-2 minutes per side, and remove (you may have to work in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan).

Lower the heat slightly, adding more oil to the pan if necessary, and add onions, garlic, and ginger. Saute, stirring, 1-2 minutes.  Add the bok choy to the pan, and stir (this may look like way too much bok choy for your pan, but it will wilt down in no time). Once the bok choy is slightly wilted, add miso paste, soy sauce, and orange juice. Stir to dissolve. Add water. Bring to a simmer, and place seared fish back into the pan. Try to gently nestle the fish under everything else so that it has a chance to soak up all the juices. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes. Garnish with scallions.

*Bok choy has a tendancy to be very dirty, and the last thing you want to bite into after preparing this scrumptious meal is sand. So wash it!

How, you ask? Just fill a large bowl with cold water, and place the bok choy (already cut into desired size) inside. Let the bok choy chill out for a minute or so, allowing all of the sand and dirt to sink to the bottom. Remove bok choy, spill out the dirty water, and repeat a few times. Then, you can lay the bok choy out onto a kitchen towel to air dry, or spin it in a salad spinner for a quick dry.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chai Tea Ice Cream

Whoever said ice cream is meant to be eaten in the summer should be put in a corner.

Why must we be so literal, people? Why can't we warm up in unconventional ways? On a brisk fall day, you may want to warm your soul with a pinch of cinnamon, a tingle of spicy ginger and peppercorn, and a waft of fragrant vanilla. So, why not put all that into a cool mouthful of ice cream? You'll get it when you try it, trust me...

Chai Tea Ice Cream

(yield: 1 pint)

2 cups whole milk
1/2 of a vanilla bean, scraped
1 cinnamon stick
2, 1-inch slices fresh ginger
1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
pinch of salt
3 bags of black tea (Earl Grey or Lipton will do)
1/2 cup sugar
5 egg yolks

Place milk, vanilla seeds (and scraped bean), cinnamon stick, ginger, peppercorns, salt, tea bags, and 1/4 cup sugar into a medium saucepan over low heat. Bring to a faint simmer, and remove from heat. Discard the tea bags.

In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Continue to whisk as you gradually pour the hot milk into the bowl. Return the mixture to the saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, over very low heat for 3-4 minutes, until the custard thickens slightly and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Discard spices, and strain the mixture into a bowl or container. Let custard cool to room temerature, and then continue to chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Pour the custard into an ice cream machine, and churn according to manufacturer's instructions (my cuisinart ice cream machine took 30 minutes). Transfer churned ice cream to a freezer-safe container and chill in the freezer until ready to eat. If you can't wait that long, you will have to settle for soft-serve ice cream, Boo hoo!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Green with Envy

Just because I had asparagus for dinner last night does not mean that I am on a diet, okay? In fact, my asparagus dinner was so decadent and meaty, the diet association only snuck up on me while I was observing its vibrant green in a photo.

And then it came to me. This could very well be diet food. Similarly, it could just be a ridiculously delicious treat that I can use as a vehicle for sneaking vitamins into that certain picky eater's belly. Whatever the case, this one's for all you anti-greeners out there...

Pan Roasted Asparagus with Eggs & Truffle Mustard Vinaigrette
(yield: 2-3 servings)

1 lb asparagus
1 tbsp butter
salt & pepper, to taste
3 hard-boiled eggs, halved
Truffle Mustard Vinaigrette, as needed

Fill a large, deep saute pan with water to reach 1/4 of an inch up the sides. Bring to a simmer, and add the asparagus to the pan. Cover and steam the asparagus 2-3 minutes, until bright green.

Drain and pour every last drop of water out of the pan. Return the asparagus to the pan and place over medium heat. Add butter, and season with salt and pepper. Saute about 5 minutes, until lightly browned on all sides.

Place asparagus onto a platter, top with eggs and Truffle Mustard Vinaigrette.

Truffle Mustard Vinigrette
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp spicy brown mustard
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp truffle oil
2 tbsp olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk  together honey, mustard, and vinegar. Continue to whisk as you pour in the oils.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Countdown to Turkey Day

Last night I had the privilege of attending the Driscoll's Berries Cooking Event & Tasting Party hosted by Thanksgiving expert himself, Rick Rodgers. I've got to say, this was my first Twitter party, and I didn't exactly know what to expect. But it was a blast! Watching chef Rodgers whip up a beautiful, berry inspired Thangsgiving menu, tasting his creations, mingling with fellow foodies and bloggers, and tweeting all at once made for a pretty good time.

Among the fabulous menu items sampled was a beautiful holiday cocktail - a berry bellini. Warm brie with raspberries and pistachios was the perfect introduction to the rest of the decadent (and berry delicous) meal. The party didn't just leave me with a great taste in my mouth, but with loads of inspiration. I am SO gonna bring it this Thangsgiving!

Holiday Bellini

          Chef Rodgers explaining the fundamentals of a perfect bird

Eggnog Panna Cotta
Roasted Turkey with Roasted Acorn Squash with Raspberry
Drizzle and Wild Rice and Raspberry Dressing

 Get a few steps ahead on your Thanksgiving menu planning by checking out Rick Rodger's recipes:

Friday, November 4, 2011

Baby Gourmet: Fish!

By now it's a well known fact that fish is an incredible source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, like DHA and EPA, which play a major role in brain and eye development for children. So why not get onboard the fish train instantly and start soaking up the rewards? Though it probably shouldn't be the first thing your infant feasts on straight out of the womb, many experts are saying that it is safe to introduce your baby to fish as early as 6 months.

Since it does make the list of most common allergenic foods, however, many parents (myself included) hold off on introducing fish until their child's first birthday. Even then, there are some things to be cautious of, like mercury content. Avoid giving your child shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish. These candidates have pretty high levels of Mercury. On the swing side, very low in mercury, catfish, salmon, tilapia, and flounder are great choices to start with when introducing your child to fish for the first time. And of course, always be attentive to safe-handling and thoroughly cooking the fish before giving it to your baby.

Now that you know the facts, what are you waiting for. Get cooking!

Citrus Poached Salmon

1 cup orange juice
2 cups water
juice and zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 small yellow onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
1, 1-1/2 lb salmon steak

Place first 5 ingredients into a deep saute pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, and add the salmon steak. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook 20-25 minutes, or until salmon is completely cooked through. Remove from poaching liquid. Remove flesh from bones, and mash or flake to the consistency most suitable for your little one.

If mommy's in the mood for fish, this is a great and healthy option for you too. But if you want to elevate it a bit for your grown up taste buds, here's a quick revamp:

Make a sauce out of your poaching liquid by reducing it for about 15 minutes, until it is much thicker, and 1/3 of its original volume. Adjust the seasoning with salt and honey. Finish by mixing in a few small pads of butter.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Leftover Makeover

Somehow, don't ask me how, I got stuck with the 20 lbs of cake that were left over from  my brother-in-law's wedding. After being carelessly dissected and wrapped in aluminum foil, the cake (and all its parts) was thrown into my freezer. I guess I hadn't visited my freezer in a while, because yesterday on the 3 week anniversary of the wedding, I discovered the forgotten cake.

I have to admit, when the urge for something sweet beckons, there are no limits. I've been known to pick at things completely covered in freezer burn, that probably should have already been disposed of. But this cake, though it wasn't exactly past its expiration, just didn't stimulate me in the least bit. It was a bland white sponge, with a bland white buttercream that tasted like a greasy concoction of crisco and sugar. I had to either throw it out, or turn it into something else, enitrely. Being the cheapskate that I am, I was soon left with only one option. But what to do? A trifle of some sort? Nah, too easy. And then it came to me - rum balls!

When in culinary doubt, turn to the liquor cabinet for advice. But don't quote me on that one.

Rum Balls
(yield: about 20 balls)

6 cups leftover cake (sponge with some sort of cream filling will do), crumbled or grated, if frozen
1/4 cup dark rum
1 tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 cup sprinkles (you can use coconut flakes, grated chocolate, or chopped nuts in addition to, or instead of, the sprinkles)

Combine the crumbled cake, rum, and corn syrup in a large bowl. Work the mixture together with your hands to form a dense, moist dough. If it seems too dry, add a little more rum. Roll the mixture into balls slightly smaller than a golf ball, and then roll into sprinkles or other desired toppings. Indulge immediately, or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Shrimp Antipasto Salad

DHA was on the brain this morning, as I realized that I hadn't eaten seafood in weeks. In the mood for a satisfying light lunch, I whipped up a beautiful salad of shrimp, garbanzo beans, roasted red peppers, and a couple of other flavorful helpers. The colors on my plate reassured me that I was doing something right; it did taste right afterall :)

Shrimp Antipasto Salad
(yield: 2-3 servings)

1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 bayleaf
1 lemon, sliced
1 lb shrimp, skin on
1/2 cup canned garbanzo beans, drained & rinsed
1 large roasted red pepper, julienned
1 plum tomato, medium dice
1 cucumber, medium dice
1/4 cup basil leaves, roughly chopped
4 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Poach the shrimp: Fill a deep saute pan 3/4 of the way up with water. Add the peppercorns, bayleaf, and lemon slices. Bring to a simmer. Season heavily with salt. Reduce heat to low, and add the shrimp. Simmer until shrimp are pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove from poaching liquid. Once cool enough to handle, peel the shrimp.

In a large bowl, combine peeled shrimp with garbanzo beans, roasted pepper, tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and romaine lettuce.

Make the vinaigrette: Whisk the lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, red pepper flakes, and salt together in a small bowl. Continue to whisk as you slowly stream in the extra virgin olive oil. Drizzle vinaigrette over salad and toss to coat.

You can serve this salad right away, or let the flavors mingle in the fridge for a couple of hours. Your call. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Baby Gourmet - Autumn Eats

Fall is quite the delicious season in its celebration of root vegetables, warm spices, and big bowls of hearty goodness. If you haven't done so already, there couldn't be a better time than now to introduce your baby to flavor, and no one said it has to be complicated...

Autumn Spiced Sweet Potatoes
(yield: about 2 cups)

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled & cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup water
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground clove
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tbsp butter

Place the sweet potatoes and water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and add spices. Simmer, covered, until sweet potatoes are completely cooked through and tender, about 16-18 minutes. Add milk and butter, and mash to desired consistency (you can puree mixture in a food processor to achieve a completely smooth texture).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

I love chocolate, and I love Merlot, and I know they work well together. But never in my wildest dreams, did I imagine that they could live in the same bottle. I guess I live in a cave, because apparently chocolate Merlot sauce is all the craze nowadays.

While visiting Napa Valley, my mom was nice enough to pick me up a bottle of Provenance Vineyard's Merlot Chocolate Sauce (made by Anette's Chocolate Factory). Ever since, I've been brainstorming recipes or just things that I could bathe in the stuff. Let's see, just a few that immediately come to mind - berries, ice cream, cheese, foie gras, steak, YUM!

Since I am yet to try other candidates in this category, I'm not necessarily preaching this particular one, but it is pretty good. Grabbing the essential aspects of both the chocolate and the wine, this sauce achieves a nice balance. My only complaint is that the chocolate does taste a little hershey syrupy to me. A darker and more bitter chocolate flavor would have probably worked better here. But all around, it's still good stuff!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Hot Stuff

As a new mom tied down with responsibilities, you're not really able to do a lot of the things you used to. That's why it's important to focus on the little things that make you happy, whether it's a mocha latte, or even a shower that lasts more than 5 minutes.
My small guilty pleasure happens to be spicy food. I don't know why, but a bite of spice makes me feel like I'm living on the wild side. Pretty pathetic huh? You take what you can get...

Spicy Chicken Coconut Curry
(yield: 5-6 servings)

1 tbsp canola oil
1 small yellow onion, small dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-inch knob of ginger, julienned
1 1/2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
13.6 oz can coconut milk
1 cup chicken stock
4 oz white button mushrooms, quartered
1 yellow bell pepper, medium dice
1 red bell pepper, medium dice
8 oz canned sliced bamboo shoots
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch strips

Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan. Saute the onions, garlic, and ginger 2-3 minutes. Stir in Thai red curry paste, fish sauce, and soy sauce. Cook for another minute. Stir in coconut milk and chicken stock.

Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and gently place the remaining ingredients into the pan. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15-17 minutes until chicken is fully cooked. Adjust seasoning with salt if necessary. Serve over Jasmine or Basmati rice.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Baby Gourmet: Conspiracy Green

"That's a shame, Zelli eats just about anything," was what I would boast just a few short months ago to moms burdened by the picky eater bug. Now, just a few months after Zelli's first birthday, I've officially joined Airplane Swirlers Anonymous. Desperate to get Zelli to eat foods with nutritional value, I've taken up a part-time gig as a babyfood mixologist. This entails using virtually anything and everything in my fridge and pantry to disguise the foods that my picky monster won't even allow within a 5 foot radius of himself.

My latest mission has been getting him to eat spinach. Surprisingly, this wasn't too difficult. I was actually able to use another vegetable to disguise the flavor of the spinach. Now that's called skills!

Creamed Spinach & Corn
(yield: 2 cups)

3/4 cup milk
4 cups spinach, washed
2 cobs of corn
pinch of ground nutmeg

Place corn cobs in standing position over a cutting board or large bowl, and shave the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife.

Bring the milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Add spinach, corn kernels, shaved corn cobs (for added corn flavor), and nutmeg to the pan. Cook, covered, over low heat for 8-10 minutes. Puree to desired consistency, using an immersion blender or a food processor.

Keep refrigerated for up to 3 days, or freeze in a sealed, freezer-safe container for up to a month.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cut It Out!

While sprinkling pieces of chocolate into my yogurt this morning, I realized that it was time for an intervention.

Though my daily diet is quite healthy, sugar is the one thing that I have never really been able to control. It's not so much an inability to control my sugar consumption that I've been suffering from, but an inability to acknowledge it as a problem. Sugar makes me happy. Aren't things that make you happy generally good for you? Okay, I take that back. Sometimes things that are blatantly wrong sound right in your head until you verbalize them.

So intervention it is, huh? Do it with me...I think I've actually found a way to make it relatively painless. I'm starting with cookies ;)

I know what you're thinking, but my strategy entails pursuing a goal in moderation. Sugar has snuck its way into the cookie recipe below, but it comes in the form of natural sugar. Yes, honey, orange juice, and even peanut butter do contain sugar, but these ingredients also contain vitamins and minerals that table sugar, or sucrose simply does not. Also, since honey is inherently sweeter than sucrose, we don't have to use as much.

The lesson at hand - sometimes you can feel good about eating cookies, as long as they are the sum of their healthy parts (and as long as they taste good of course).

Peanut Butter & Jelly Thumbprints
(yield: 16 cookies)

3 tbsp margerine, melted
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup chunky peanut butter
1 cup All-Purpose flour
1 cup oats (quick-cooking)
1/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 tbsp sugar-free strawberry jelly

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large sheetpan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine first 4 ingredients, until a smooth mixture forms.

Mix together flour, oats, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl. Add the dry mixture into the wet mixture in 3 increments, mixing just until combined. Roll heaping tablespoonfuls of the dough into balls, and place onto prepared pan, spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart.

Using the back of a wooden spoon, make holes in the center of each cookie, making sure not to pierce through the bottom. Fill each hole with 1/4 tsp of jelly, reserving whatever remains of the jelly for later. Bake 14-16 minutes. Once cool, spoon a little more jelly into the hole of each cookie.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rustic Spinach Gnocchi

Fall is here, and though my menu hasn't taken a complete 180 toward soups and stews just yet, I do find myself in the mood for something warm and comforting a lot lately.

Enter the gnocchi - a rustic potato dumpling pasta that's satisfying all year round. I decided to lighten mine up with some greenage.

Rustic Spinach Gnocchi with 10-Minute Marinara
(yield: 4-5 servings)

1, 10 oz package frozen spinach, thawed
2 large Idaho potatoes, peeled & cut into medium dice
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 of a small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups (16 oz) crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped
salt & pepper, to taste
3 oz goat cheese

Place potatoes into a medium pot filled with cold water, and bring to a boil. Reduce to low simmer, and cook 12-14 minutes, until fork tender. Drain and Transfer to a large bowl. Drain the thawed spinach, squeezing out every last drop of water, and add to potatoes. While the potatoes are still warm, mash together with the spinach. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool slightly, and mix in the egg. Begin to incorporate 1 cup of the flour, until a dough forms and ceases to stick to your fingers. Divide the dough into 4 pieces, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Make the Marinara Sauce: Warm a saucepan over medium-low heat, and add olive oil. Add onions and garlic to the pan, and sweat 2-3 minutes. Place crushed tomatoes and basil into the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and use either an immersion blender or potato masher to smooth out any chunks of tomato that remain.

Roll the dough: Working with 1 piece of dough at a time (keep the rest refrigerated in the meantime). Flour your work surface and hands with some of the remaining flour, and gently roll the dough with the palms of your hands to form a long cylinder, about 1 inch thick. Cut the cylinder into 1-inch pieces, adjusting the shape of the gnocchi with your fingers. Repeat with remaining dough. Place gnocchi into a large pot of boiling, salted water. You may have to cook them in batches so as not to overcrowd the pot. Cook 3-4 minutes, until they begin to float. Drain gnocchi and toss with the marinara sauce. Crumble some goat cheese over the top, and dig in.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pancakes in the PM

Personally, I can eat breakfast for all meals of the day. There's something inherently optimistic about it. Breakfast inspires feelings of beginning and airiness. So when I had myself a stack of pancakes for dinner yesterday, any end-of-the-day heaviness I may have had was magically erased by my flapjacks.

Of course I had my pancakes with the works - berries, butter, maple syrup. You know, for sustenance. It was dinnertime...

Blueberry Pancakes
(yield: 2 servings, about 8 pancakes)

1/2 cup milk
6 oz blueberry yogurt
2 tbsp melted butter
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
butter, for greasing
1 cup blueberries
Whisk milk, yogurt, melted butter, and egg together in a medium bowl.
In a separate large bowl, combine remaining ingredients, whisking well so that there are no lumps.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and mix just to combine.

Heat a griddle or non-stick pan over medium heat, and grease with a little bit of butter. Ladle the pancake batter i
nto the  pan to form medium pancakes, and sprinkle each with a few blueberries. Once bubbles begin to form along the edges, flip the pancakes,  about 2-3 minutes. Continue to cook on other side for another 2 minutes, until pancakes are set and golden brown. Serve with maple syrup, or whatever your heart desires.

Turns out, I'm not the only one fond of pancakes at any hour. Zelli enthusiastically participated in clearing off my plate.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

One Last Horrah

I'm having a very difficult time watching summer slip away. The hardest part about the whole thing is probably parting with all the refreshingly light and colorful treats the season has to offer.

I know it's time to move on, but what's the hurt in celebrating the end of a wonderful season with one last spoonful of something that throws you right back onto that beach, backyard, or rooftop and fills your nostrils with aromas of char-grilled barbecue, pies, and ice-cold watermelon? But my way of celebrating entails a little bit of rum...

Summer's not over until I say it's over, you hear?! Okay, I guess now that I've had some Mojito Sorbet, it's over.

Mojito Sorbet   

1 cup fresh lime juice (5-6 limes)
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 cup fresh mint
zest of 2 limes
1/2 cup rum

(yield: about 1 quart)

Stir water and sugar together in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Add mint and lime zest, remove saucepan from heat, and let steep 1 hour.

Once the mixture comes to room temperature, cool in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Remove mint leaves, and stir in the rum. Pour mixture into ice cream machine, and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. (My cuisinart took about 30 minutes). Transfer to a freezer-safe container, and freeze until ready to eat.

Who says you can't do mojitos via spoon?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

For the Love of Cheese

Dear husband, forgive me but it seems I have fallen for another.

It was love at first bite, and the romance persisted into the dark night. For the only thing to light the way was a refrigerator lamp. Spoon in hand, I dug straight into the log like it was a slice of cheesecake; It was better.

I've always been fond of goat cheese, but Wild Blueberry Vanilla Chevre?!!

A recipe is not even necessary here. This stuff smeared on a branch would be great.

Good news to all the pregnant ladies in the house - this cheese is made from pasteurized goat's milk. So munch away.

AND they have other flavors too!!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


When talk of hurricane Irene hitting the east coast began to spiral out of control, I decided to pack up my family and head out west. Within a few hours of driving just barely out of the storm's reach, my big fat New York mishpucha was fascinated at the site of cattle and corn fields. And I suddenly became nostalgic for some good all-American comfort food. So upon arriving home to thankfully find my house in one piece, I got to cooking in an attempt at celebrating life and all the positives. 

Perfect Roast Chicken with Blue Cheese Smashed Potatoes & Maple Gravy

1 whole chicken (6-8 lb)
1 large yellow onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp mayonnaise
4 tsp chipotle in adobo (just the liquid)
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tbsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp canola oil

Maple Gravy
2 tbsp chicken fat
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp salt

(yield: 6 servings)

Line a large shallow baking dish with aluminum foil. Spread half of the sliced onions along the bottom of the pan.

Butterfly the chicken: Turn the chicken breastside down on your cutting board, and using a pair of kitchen shears, cut along both sides of the backbone to remove it. Turn the chicken over and place over onions. Flatten with the palms of your hands, pushing down on the breast. Point the wings toward the legs, tucking them under the bird. Loosen the skin with your fingertips, and try to get as much of the garlic inside, all over the chicken.

In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, 3 tsp of the chipotle in adobo, and 1 tbsp of the maple syrup. Rub the mixture all over chicken. Top with remaining sliced onions. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Make the glaze: In a small bowl, combine canola oil, 1 tbsp maple syrup, and 1 tsp chipotle in adobo. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Gently brush the onions off of the chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place chicken in the oven. After 15 minutes, lower oven temperature to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and brush the chicken with the glaze. Continue to roast for 45-60 minutes, brushing with glaze every 15 minutes. Remove bird from oven, and let rest at least 10 minutes before serving. *Reserve chicken fat from the bottom of the pan to make gravy.

Make the gravy: Heat the chicken fat in a sauce pan over med-high heat. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour. Cook, stirring, 1-2 minutes. Switch to a whisk, and pour in the chicken stock, whisking vigorously until smooth. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes until thickened. Season with salt.

Serve chicken with a mountain of Blue Cheese Smashed Potatoes and a cascade of gravy. Enjoy!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Operation "I'm gonna eat like a king"

It's good to love yourself. That's why treating yourself on occasion is totally permissable.

I happen to be the type of gal that would rather splurge on exotic ingredients and kitchenware than on Louboutins, but that's just me. So this morning I made myself a breakfast sandwich that one could only hope to be served as their last meal. Check it out:

Toast with Caviar & Quail Eggs

(yield: 1 serving)

1 slice whole wheat or rye bread, lightly toasted
1 tbsp creme fraiche or sour cream
1/2 tbsp black caviar
1/2 tsp red onion, finely chopped
1 quail egg, hard boiled & sliced
truffle oil (optional)

Spread toast with creme fraiche, followed by caviar. Top with onions, quail egg slices, and a tiny drizzle of truffle oil.

I was forced to split my decadent creation with Zelli. Who knew that a one-year-old could have such an expensive palate.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Decadent Hour

It's 9 pm. I just put the baby to bed. Instead of unwinding from the day's events by plopping onto my couch and watching reruns of The Real Housewives of Jersey, I can't stop thinking about the two bananas going bad in my fridge. So I grab them, and re-purpose them the best way I know how - with chocolate. Wouldn't it be grand if we could camouflage everything gone bad in life with chocolate? Bad news, we can't.
Very good news, I made Peanut Butter & Banana Brownies!

PB & B Brownies

(yield: 12 brownies)

10 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 tbsp unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
1/2 cup peanut butter, chunky
1 cup sugar
2 ripe bananas, mashed
3 eggs
1 cup flour
2 tbsp dutch-processed cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a rectangular 13" x 9" pan with butter. Line with parchment paper, and grease parchment with butter as well.

In a double boiler set over low heat, melt 8 oz of the chocolate chips along with butter and peanut butter. Once mixture is melted, remove from heat, and mix in the sugar. Continue to whisk constantly while adding the bananas, followed by the eggs.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, salt, and the remaining 2 oz of chocolate chips. Whisk well to remove any lumps. Gradually add flour mixture into chocolate mixture, whisking just until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, and smooth top with a spatula. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Bake 20-22 minutes. Let brownies cool in pan for at least 10 minutes, before cutting.