Thursday, January 31, 2008

Omelet or Fritata??

Years ago, I watched Martha Stewart make a beautiful fluffy omelet. It looked like the omelets I love in Chicago at Tempo. For those who haven't been blessed by a Tempo omelet, try thr Original House of Pancakes. I can't vouch for the taste (I'm too busy eating the buckwheat pancakes), but they look similar. They are the fluffiest omelets you'll ever see. Martha let me in on their secret -- whipping the egg whites separately and baking the omelet. Now of course I couldn't find the recipe, but I decided to wing it because I had my favorite combo -- sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, spinach, onions and garlic on hand. I even had feta cheese. This was going to be a great Saturday.

Preheat the oven to 350. In a nonstick skillet, sweat the onions in a small amount of olive oil and add the garlic. Add drained frozen chopped spinach or wilt fresh spinach. Throw in the olives and tomato. Season well and heat though.
This recipe requires multitasking. As your stove top is going, whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Here is where I put in a plug for Miracle, my food processor, and the egg whip that came with it. It's perfect for whipping small amounts and best of all, it's hands free. I used three whites.

Beat the yolks with a little milk or cream (about a tablespoon). Season well. Now, fold the whites into the yolks.

Pour the eggs over the mixture in the skillet. Make sure the veggies in the skillet are distributed evently and make sure the eggs are spread evenly over the mixture.

Put the skillet in the oven and bake until fluffy and golden brown.

Now for the question. Is this an omelet or a fritata and why? My aunt argues that because it's cooked in the oven, it's a fritata. Is it a fritata because the eggs were poured on top of the filling and then baked? If I had used a larger skillet and later folded the contents -- would I have an omelet?
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Monday, January 28, 2008

A Winter High

I love my Maryann cake pan. It is a foolproof way to make an elegant cake. There's a depression in the top of the pan that you can fill with ganache, lemon curd, pastry cream, whipped cream, caramel or whatever your heart desires. I use this pan for a great pumpkin cake. This time, I upped the ante by letting sweet potato take the lead. Add caramel and watch out!

The base for this recipe is Gourmet Magazine's caramel cake, which was also featured on Smitten Kitchen. I used AP flour, completely by accident. The next modification was sweet potato. (You can't have a sweet potato cake without sweet potato.)

Next up? Pumpkin butter. This, along with butternut squash, is the joy of fall (and winter if you stock up at Trader Joe's). Add both the sweet potato and pumpkin butter after you've creamed the flour and sugar and before you add the flour.

Spray the pan with Baker's Joy or any other spray with flour. Make sure the batter is evenly distributed in the pan and you'll have a pretty cake!

After the cake has cooled, get to work on your caramel. The recipe called for heavy cream, brown sugar and corn syrup. Unless you are an expert caramel maker, don't skip the corn syrup!
Hindsight being 20/20, I should have let the caramel cook longer, but I thought I followed the recipe correctly. This thinner caramel isn't the traditional caramel in caramel cakes I'm used to, but it worked for the Maryann cake. (I'm still on a quest for the perfect caramel cake recipe. Here in Chicago, people talk about boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk in the can on the stove or baking a can of sweet milk in a water bath.)

Spoon the caramel down the sides of the cake and spread it over the center.
While you allow that to cool, get started on the whipped cream. I think I used a cup of heavy cream. Sweeten powdered sugar and use bourbon for flavoring. After the cream is whipped, scoop some sacrificial cream into a separate bowl. Add a generous amount of pumpkin butter.
Stir and blend well. Now, fold the plain whipped cream into the pumpkin butter whipped cream. I'm sure you should probably stabilize the whipped cream. I'm just too lazy.

Grab a large offset spatula and get to spreading.
Add some toasted pecan halves.This is why a Maryann cake pan rocks!
Sweet potato cake with caramel and bourbon-scented whipped cream!

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

On a Lighter Note

I know I've been extolling the virtues of waffles. I really do love them. Pancakes are okay. What makes them better than okay are if they are wheat or even better, buckwheat. (If you have an Original Pancake House near you; you should go immediately and get the buckwheat pancakes.) I found a delicious recipe for whole wheat pancakes by Ellie Krieger.

Mix the dry ingredients: equal parts whole wheat and AP flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.
Add the wet ingredients, buttermilk, milk, eggs and honey, to the dry.

The batter will be lumpy. (I don't think it's supposed to be this lumpy.) Next time, I think I will add a little more milk because I found the batter was too thick. I used 1/4 measuring cup to portion the batter. It would have been cool to use an ice cream scoop. Cook the pancakes on the first side until bubbles form around the edges and then flip.
Happy eating!

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sugar and Spice

Williams-Sonoma has the most excellent recipe for spice-rubbed salmon. Since I found the recipe, I rarely make salmon any other way. It's just that good. I paired the fish with glazed carrots and my new favorite veggie, roasted beets. I got the veggie recipes from Cook's Illustrated. When I sat down to eat, I realized that each item on the plate had an element of sweetness and two had sweetness and spice.

I started with frozen wild salmon. (Yea Trader Joe's!) Thaw then rinse the fish and pat dry.
Toast your spices: fennel, coriander and cumin. Toasted whole spices have so much more flavor than pre-ground spices. (If you don't have whole spices on hand, toast your ground spices in a little olive oil and apply them as a paste to the fish. Make sure the paste is cool first.) Once your spices are fragrant (but not scorched), transfer them to a spice grinder. Give them a good whirl.

Add brown sugar and a pinch of Kosher salt. Mix well. The recipe gives a specific salt amount, which I never follow. Sprinkle the mixture evenly on the fish. Here is where I add additional salt if necessary. This way is easier for me because I judge salt better by sight. Pat the mixture into the fish. After seasoning, put the fish in the refrigerator for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large skillet, heat olive oil until almost smoking. Carefully add the fish, skin side up, to the pan. Sear for a couple of minutes. Carefully flip the fish (you should see good caramelization.) Move the pan to the oven. Cook until desired level of doneness. I'm a well-done, fish-is-flaky, kinda girl. I know ... the food police are on the way.

To the carrots! Actually, I worked on these while the fish was in the refrigerator.
I added rosemary and a touch of smoked paprika to the carrots and left out the lemon juice. They were good. Next time, I think I'll try cumin and a mix of sweet and smoked paprika. Add the carrots, chicken broth, sugar and seasoning to a nonstick skillet. Bring to a boil.Reduce the liquid and add your butter and a bit more sugar. You now have glazed carrots!
Dish it up and eat it up! I know the plate is missing some green. I was just too lazy to look for the frozen spinach and I hardly ever have fresh salad greens. on hand The leftover beets were a fine stand in.

See the appropriately sized piece of fish? Yeah. ... I finished the other half straight out of the pan while standing over the stove. My kitchen is a classy establishment.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

A Good Sip

My apologies to those who got this post unfinished in your readers. I hit "publish" instead of "draft" a couple of days ago. Anyway, it's freezing in Chicago and sometimes you need something to soften the chill. I've been knocking these (mostly the cider) back all weekend.

Mulled Cider

This is a little on the nontraditional side, but experimentation is good sometimes. Start with some apple cider. Put it in a slow-cooker or in a pot. Add whole spices: cinnamon, cloves, allspice. If you want to be fancy, add some orange peel or orange juice. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Be mindful if you simmer for more than 20 minutes because the cinnamon will get hotter as time goes on.
It's best if you use a tea infuser for the spices. This way you don't have to fish them out when you're ready to serve. Tea infusers come in all sizes. This is my baby one -- it's shaped like an acorn. Isn't it cute??
Now for the good part. Pour into Irish coffee glasses or mugs. Add a splash of cranberry juice. (If you want more cranberry flavor, add a generous amount to the pot and mull it with the cider.) Add a cinnamon stick for garnish. For the grown folks, the tradition is brandy. I prefer cognac. The apple works so well to bring out the cognac's complex flavors. Just a teaspoon or two really enhances the flavor of the drink. I haven't tried it, but cinnamon schnapps might be good too.

Hot Cocoa

I have made traditional hot cocoa and hot chocolate. What I prefer is a mix of both. I like the body of hot chocolate, but I'm not a fan of it's richness. Melted chocolate and cream? Yes you are drinking ganache. That's too much for even me.

This recipe is adapted from Cook's Illustrated.

Mix 1 1/2 Tbs cocoa (Dutch-processed please) and 1 Tbs sugar with 1/4 C water and a pinch of salt over low heat to bloom the cocoa. This is key to getting maximum flavor. Cook for a couple of minutes. Whisk constantly. Add 1/2 C milk. I use Splenda instead of sugar.

Mix 1 oz of shaved bittersweet chocolate with 1/4 C cream or half and half. (I use 1% milk in the step above, so I typically add cream) Microwave on low power, stirring frequently, until the chocolate has melted. Okay so clearly I wasn't paying attention when I measured the cream!Add the chocolate mixture to the saucepan. Mix well. Heat through.

Here comes my favorite part: pour into a mug and break out the liqueur: my favorite combos is peppermint schnapps and Starbucks coffee liqueur. Other good options are cinnamon schnapps, Godiva liqueurs and Bailey's Irish Cream. You need a couple of teaspoons total for flavor. Now if you're looking to warm up from the alcohol, keep adding. Enjoy!

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Channeling Lidia

If you've never had fresh pasta, you have been missing out on a simple pleasure. Not that dried pasta is bad, I eat it all the time and enjoy it. Fresh pasta takes it to a new level. "Silky" was how Lidia Bastianich described it as I watched her make it on her PBS show. I agree. It's amazing how the simplest ingredients can come together and make something wonderful. This is why I love cooking from scratch. It's not practical to make pasta all the time, but when you do ... it is so worth it.

I was already feeling guilty because I decided to make pasta, but I wanted to make it more healthful. How about whole wheat pasta? This recipe is from and it is a winner.

Add the eggs, AP flour, wheat flour, olive oil and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix with the paddle attachment for 30 seconds.
Switch to the dough hook and let the mixer run until the dough comes together, about two minutes. My dough wasn't coming together properly, so I misted it with water. You can also sprinkle the water on the dough, one teaspoon at a time. Knead by hand for two minutes. I'm warning you now, this is a very stiff dough.Break out your pasta roller or KitchenAid pasta attachments. Divide the dough into fourths. I roll and cut each section before moving on to the next one. You can roll all four and then cut all four if you choose. Keep whatever dough you're not using at the time covered.

Roll the dough first. I have the KA pasta attachments, so this is #1 for me. I wanted fettuccine noodles, so I rolled up to #5. Flatten the dough with your hands and feed it into the attachment. Fold the dough in half and repeat. Roll the dough on the first setting until the dough is soft and pliable. I usually do four passes on #1 and two on the subsequent settings.

By the time you get to the fourth and fifth settings, your dough will be very long. I use a bench scraper to cut the dough into smaller pieces before cutting into noodles. Make sure the dough is well floured so the pieces won't stick to each other.
I tried cutting the noodles as they came out of the cutter, but that didn't work for me. I think I was too timid!
After the noodles are cut, dust them very liberally with flour and bunch them into little nests or place them on a drying rack. I figured about three ounces per serving, so I got eight servings out of this recipe.
To cook, add the noodles to boiling, salted water. When cooking pasta, the water should taste like the sea (according to the chefs). You'll need to add more water than usual because fresh pasta has a lot of flour on it. Cook fresh pasta for 2-3 minutes. It will float when done. Now let your imagination run wild! If this is your first fresh pasta, first try a little with extra virgin olive oil. Ciao!

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