May 30, 2009

Leek, Mushroom & Mascarpone Pasta

I absolutely love pasta for everything it is. The many variations, the many flavors and how easy it is to make with whatever leftovers you have in the fridge. Just need the basics of pasta, veggies, cream, herbs and it's hard to mess up a pasta dish. While living in London on a tight budget, there were many a nights where I made rice or pasta with chicken and broccoli. Why? Cheap and always good! A favorite? A simple pasta dish I learned in Spain from one of Hilda's friends - spaghetti, good salt, pepper, good olive oil and italian herb seasoning. Wow. Who knew no sauce for a pasta dish could be so good? Okay, I digress. Don't fear, this dish is so good because of the sauce.

I made this dish for the first time for Ross. He loves this dish, but I guess I should take that with a grain of salt since he loves food and will eat almost anything! This dish originated from Giadda (her original recipe here) and through the past few versions, I've changed it up a little bit with some ingredients I've become very fond of in the past few months...and cream, which if I could put in everything I make without worrying about my health, I probably would!

This was also the first time that I used mascarpone cheese - a big, big fan now thanks to Giadda. I love how using the mascarpone cheese makes the sauce delicious and extra creamy. I also added some cream :) with the mascarpone and it's absolutely wonderful together. Also, since my chicken and dumpling dish, I've become a huge fan of leeks. The combination of shallots and leeks together is surprisingly yummy. After cooking these two down, it adds a sweet, flavorful kit to the pasta and sauce. As for the other cheese, I was not a fan of pecorino cheese the first time I used/had it when I made mushroom appetizers. However, I had some left over in the fridge and adding it to this dish was very good. It has a strong, distinct and very sharp flavor so if you know you don't like it, I would just add more parmesan.

Leek, Mushroom & Mascarpone Pasta
Recipe originally from Giadda with some adaption from yours truly
Serves 4-6
1 box penne or rigatoni pasta (approx. 1 lb)
2 tbsn olive oil
4 shallots, minched
1 leek, sliced (only the white and light green part only, halved length-wise and then slice)
Snow peas (or whatever veggies you have in the fridge)
2 clove garlic, minched
1 lb button mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth/stock
8 oz mascarpone cheese (bascially, one entire small container. VERY important its a room temperature)
1/4 cup cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup grated Peccorino
Fresh basil, chopped to add on top
1. Cook pasta according to directions on the box. Before cooking pasta, I like to cut all the veggies and prep. 2. While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a pan and add shallots, garlic and leeks to the pan. Season with S&P and let it cook until its get glassy and soft. 3. Add mushrooms and snowpeas. Take a quick taste after a few minutes and add more S&P if needed (usually does). This should cook for about 5-10 minutes until mushrooms and snowpeas are cooked. Make sure to stir occassionally so it does not burn.
4. Add wine and cook until almost all the liquest evaporates. You need to watch this! You'd be surprise how fast the veggies absorb the wine and the wine cooks down. I estimate about 3 minutes.
5. Add chicken broth and cook until stock is slightly reduced. Turn down the heat to medium-low.
6. Once stock cooks down slightly, turn heat to low and add the cream. Cook for 1 more minute.
7. Take off heat and add mascarpone cheese and stir until it is creamy delicious.
8. Add the cook pasta to the pan and mix thoroughly. Add some pasta water if you need. Add both cheese (Peccorino has a very strong, sharp flavor - you can decide to omit this if you don't like this cheese much. Just add more parmesan.)
9. Add the chopped basil on top for garnish! Enjoy! Enjoy with the rest of the white wine you didn't use - so make sure you buy one that you like to drink too!

May 18, 2009

Foodie Guest Blog #1: Chewy and delicious chocolate chip cookies

Yay! The first official guest blog from my foodie friend, Linds. I have to point out one other shared trait and why I love her so much.... She's the only other person I know who religiously reads and re-reads restaurant menus before going so we know exactly what to expect and then drool a little bit over how good the upcoming meal will be. It's no surpise that our conversations during dinner revolve around three things: Food, semiconductors (odd and yes, we know it's odd), men and then back to food. I must say, I've been looking forward to this post and after hearing how great these cookies turned out, I might just make them myself this week!

Chew & delicious chocolate chip cookies (by Lindsey James)

I have been making chocolate chip cookies my whole life – probably because I have the biggest sweet tooth of anyone I know – but I’ve never had that one recipe that made me forsake all others. I was always trying new recipes, changing the ones I had (even fooling around with my mom’s trademark chocolate chip cookie recipe…shhh). But, I think those days may be done. Last week, I turned out the best chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever made. Bold statement, but it’s true.

I was initially intrigued by Smitten Kitchen’s description of Leite’s consummate chocolate chip cookie, in which she describes how David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria, set out to find the consummate chocolate chip cookie. The resulting recipe was published in the New York Times over the summer of 2008.

According to Smitten, a couple of the things that Leite learned from his extensive research include:
  • Ruth Graves Wakefield, who owned the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusettes in the 1930s, where she invented the chocolate chip cookie, wrote that she would let the dough rest overnight before using it.
  • Shirley Corriher, author of CookWise, a book about science in the kitchen, who agreed that an overnight rest was the best way to get a drier and richer dough that has fully soaked up the egg.
  • Maury Rubin, owner of City Bakery said that then cookies must be served warm for optimal yumminess (my word, not his), that the dough must rest for 36 hours minimum, and that the cookies themselves should be enough to allow for three different textures: crisp edges, a soft center and a ring between them which is chewy, with hints of toffee.

Leite picked up a few additional tips (i.e. don’t underestimate the value of salt in baked goods … I can’t argue with that as salty-sweet combos are my favorite) and, thus, turned out the recipe below. As I read Smitten’s blog about making the cookies, and then looked at pictures of gooey doughy broken apart cookies, well, I was hooked.
I wasn’t misled. Oh. My. God. These cookies are AMAZING. I don’t know if it’s the different types of flour used, letting the dough rest so long, the salt on top….but, they are magic. The only problem is keeping yourself from snacking on that oh-so-delicious dough as it “rests” in the fridge for 36 hours.

A quick note on the chocolate discs: Looking at Smitten’s pictures, the chocolate feves make for some pretty cookies, but I had trouble finding them (apparently Whole Foods is a good place to try). I used Gihardelli’s 60% cacao large chocolate chips and the cookies were fabulous. I think the high % cacao is important to keep the cookies from being too sicky sweet.

As an alternative, I think these would be fabulous if you did them with white chocolate and macadamia nuts – one of my favorites. The salt plus the white chocolate – how could you go wrong? This dough is truly amazing though – next I’m going to try tossing in nuts and dried cranberries instead of chocolate chips to see how that turns out. Stay tuned.

Leite’s Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from
David Leite via The New York Times and Smitten Kitchen

Takes: 45 minutes (not counting dough rest time)
Makes: about 1 ½ dozen 5-inch cookies (unless you eat too much of the raw dough ;)

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons cake flour
1 2/3 cups bread flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
2 ½ sticks (1 ¼ cups) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 ¼ pounds bittersweet chocolate discs, feves or large chocolate chips
Sea salt
** optional – roughly chopped walnuts. I added these to ½ of the dough for the nut lovers and I found the added crunch to be totally delicious. I like a nutty cookie, so I added about 1 C chopped walnuts. I also added ¼ cup coconut flakes to half of the batch for comparison sake. This is one of my mom’s old tricks as you can’t really taste the coconut once the cookies are cooked, but it adds some extra depth to the flavor.

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. If you don’t have a sifter, you can stir with a fork – just make sure all the dry ingredients get mixed up evenly.
2. Using either a mixer with a paddle attachment – or, if you’re not that fancy, a wooden spoon works just great – mix the butter and the sugars together for about 5 minutes, until you get a light, creamy and consistent mixture. Add your eggs in, one at a time, mixing well, and then the vanilla.

3. At a lower speed (if you’re using a mixer), then add in your dry ingredients a bit at a time, until the mixture is just combined. Be careful not to overmix. Then you can add in your chocolate discs/chips or whatever carefully – if you use discs, mix them in slowly by hand so you don’t break them. If you’re adding in nuts or any other goodies, now is the time to toss them in too.

4. Measure out a large sheet of plastic wrap and dump all of your dough into the center, wrapping it tightly so the plastic is pressed right up against the dough with as little air as possible getting in. Pop the wrapped dough in the fridge for 24-36 hours and try to resist snicking off hard little slices of dough to go with your morning coffee the next day.

5. Take your chilled dough out of the fridge and make 3 and ½ oz (Smitten describes them as the size of large golf balls, which helped me eyeball) balls of dough on a baking sheet. About 6 was the max I could fit. Make sure to put the cookies on either parchment paper or tinfoil to avoid sticking. I used a fork to mash the tops of the dough ever so slightly, so when I sprinkle the sea salt onto the top, it does not just roll off the round balls.
The recipe calls for baking the cookies 18-20 minutes. For me, 15-16 minutes worked better, but I like a very soft cookie. Even when I served these the next day, the cookies were chewy and delicious in the middle, with a lovely crunchier texture on the outside. Heaven. Note, if you go for the shorter baking time, do NOT transfer the cookie to a cooling rack too soon after you take it out of the oven or it will melt into a gooey mess between the rack bars – delicious, but kind of a mess. Let the cookies cool at least 30 min before transferring them to a wire rack.

May 10, 2009

Chocolate Soft Center Cakes

In celebration of my dad turning "28," I made these yummy chocolate cakes instead of the typical rum cake. I first had this cake in San Francisco last year, when my sister's friend, Deepa, made this for dinner. Now, she was a character - she had no desire to eat this delicious dessert but rather preferred to just bake it for others. I obviously couldn't relate =). Anyways, this dessert is incredibly easy and so good warm with cold ice cream.
I've had this several time using different types of chocolate and I think Ghiradelli chocolate makes a big difference. I've used less percentage cacao chocolate and also Nestle semisweet chocolate. They just don't stack up to the silkiness and flavor of Ghiradelli. I'm sure other chocolate may be better but based on cost/flavor/quality, I'm sticking with Ghiradelli.
What I love about this recipe is its "easy" factor. Four basic steps. Melt chocolate/butter. Dump rest of ingredients into mixer and let it go for 10 minutes. Combine and pour into ramekin. Bake. Eat (step 5!) I didn't have any ice cream and with it being so late, going to the store was not an option. Rummaged through pantry and decided to make a quick whipping cream topping. Added in a some additional flavor with almond extract but the secret ingredient - nutella! Oh, how I dearly love you Nutella. You complete everything.
Individual Soft Center Cakes
4 oz 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate baking bar (I prefer Ghiradelli dark chocolate)
1 stick unsalted butter
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup supar
1/2 tspn vanilla extract
1 tbpn cake flour

Melt butter and chocolate in a double boilder. Whip eggs, yolks, sugar and vanilla with a mixer for about 10 minutes on high speed. Fold melted chocolate/butter into the egg mixture. (I folded the chocolate in three portions) Fold in flour until just combined. Butter and sugar four 6 oz ramekins then spoon mixture into ramekins.

Bake 450 degrees for about 9-10 minutes. (Mine took a little longer - around 12 minutes). The center will be quite soft, but the top and sides will be set. Let sit out of the oven for about 5 minutes then unmold onto a plate. (I served cake in the ramekin)

Cream topping:
1/3 cup whipping cream
3 tbpn powdered sugar
1 tspn almond extract
Nutella (um, however much you want...=)

Whip cream in a cold bowl. Should take just a few minutes. Fold in the powdered sugar and almond extract. Melt a little nuttella in microwave for 10 seconds. Fold into the cream. Put in fridge to keep cool until ready to serve.

May 07, 2009

Chicken and Dumplings w/Leeks

Ah, I love me some chicken and dumplings. I've tried this dish many a times...and not once have I had that "this is it!" mini-scream. Okay, no real scream but my heart/stomach jumps a little when the dish turns out so perfect, you know you'll use this recipe for the rest of your life. So I have to give thanks to Smitten Kitchen for giving me this recipe. So, what makes this dish so good? First, is the chicken broth and soup. The chicken has to have it's own flavor without getting lost among all the other ingredients in the soup. Second - which is a deal-breaker if not just right, are the dumplings. I've made these suckers so many different ways - from using bisquik mix to making it from scratch. For some reason, every time I made those dumplings, they weren't even close to the elementary school chicken and dumpling lunch plates that I so fondly remember. How do I explain the broth in this recipe? Easy. YUM. I've only used leeks for one other recipe - potato and leek soup. I'm disappointed in myself for not thinking to use leeks for a good chicken broth. For this recipe, in replacement of the onions, I used....surprise, shallots! The other ah-ha moment for this recipe was seasoning the chicken generously and searing them until they half-way cook. My previous attempts resulted in a bowl of soup where I didn't want to eat the chicken b/c it was too bland even though I seasoned with S&P - I think it says a lot when I would rather just have the broth on its own.
Obviously the dumplings were the best I've made. The key? I think it was adding the chicken fat to the milk and then heating it before adding to the flour. Genius! Also, I'm a pretty big fan of the 'ole Tony's seasoning...and I couldn't resist adding just a little dash into the dumpling mixture.
Chicken and Dumplings
Don't use low-fat or fat-free milk in this reciipe. start with dumpling dough only when you are ready to top the stew. Serves 6-8
5 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken thigh (I used an entire chicken & cut it into large pieces...beware, this took me about 25 minutes to do but I'm not expert)
4 tsp veg. oil
4 tbsp unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
2 medium leeks, white & light green parts only, cut in half lenghwise and then into 1-in pieces (wash these thoroughly! lots of sand between each layer)
1 large onion, minced (I used three shallots instead)
6 tbsp all purpose flour
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup whole milke
4 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth (I used exactly two cans)
1 tspn minced fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 cup frozen peas
3 tbsp minched fresh tarragon leaves
2 cups unbleached flour
1 tbsp baking power
1 tsp salt
1 cup whole milk
3 tbsp reserved chicken fat (or unsalted butter)
(I added a few dashes of tony's seasoning)
1. Pat chicken dry then season generously with S&P. Heat 2 tbsp oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until just smoking. Add half the chicken and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes. (this took me a little less, ~5-7 minutes). Remove chicken and power off the chicken fat and reserve (for the dumplings, yum!). Repeat if you have more chicken. Remove and put to side.
2. Add butter to the Dutch oven and add the leeks, onion and 1/4 tsp salt. Cook until softened for about 10 minuts. Stir in the flour. Whisk in the sherry, scraping up any brown bits. Stir in broth, milk, thyme and bay leaves. Add chicken to the stew with any accumulated juices on plate, into the pot. Cover and simmer until chicken is fully cooked and tender. About 1 hour.
3. Remove chicken, discard the bay leaves. (I turned the heat off at this point.) Allow the sauce to settle then skim the fat from surface. Shred the chicken and discard the bones. Then return chicken to the stew.
4. For the dumplings, stir the flour, baking powder and salt together. (I also added a few dashes of tony's seasoning.) Microwave the milk and fat in a bowl until just warm (1 minute). Add warm mixture to the flour mixture until smooth.
5. Return stew to a simmer. Stir in peas and tarragon (I only use 1/2 of peas) and season with S&P (I didn't have to add any salt - make sure to taste first!). For the dumplings, scoop with a spoon and then drop into the stew using another spoon. Keep them around 1/4 inch apart in the stew. My dumplings were about half the size of a golf ball. Reduce heat, cover and cook until dumplings have doubled in size (15-18 minutes).