Monday, September 24, 2012

stuffed acorn squash

Happy fall!

In honor of the crisper weather, football (hello, NFL network!), and open windows at our house, I've made my first fall-inspired dish of the season:  acorn squash stuffed with wild rice, manchego cheese, and zesty cured Spanish chorizo.  The autumn colors are beautiful and the flavors are rich and savory.  If you're a vegetarian, you could substitute chopped nuts and dried cranberries for the chorizo.  My family also makes a tasty, sweeter stuffed squash with applesauce, walnuts, and raisins, too.  But first, a word about chorizo.

I love chorizo of all types. And I want to love acorn squash.  So I brought them together to see if one could improve upon the other.  It worked!  I often cook with Mexican chorizo, which is a spicy fresh sausage that must be cooked and crumbled before it is served.  By contrast, Spanish chorizo is cured and loaded with spices like paprika, which gives it a deep red color.  You might find it on a cheese and charcuterie plate once in a while-- since it's cured, it can be eaten without cooking, and has a darker color and harder texture than the crumbly stuff.  You can find Spanish chorizo in most supermarkets in the deli or fancy cheese department.

The concept of this dish is so simple that the variations seem endless.  Try the vegetarian idea above (nuts and cranberries) with feta instead of manchego, or do a version with cooked and crumbled Mexican chorizo and cheddar.  In our neck of the woods, the football is on, the blankets are out, and we're enjoying a super-savory stuffed squash or two.   The recipe follows.

Monday, September 17, 2012

chocolate stout cupcakes

My favorite secret ingredient in baking is sour cream.  My new second favorite? Beer. 

I made these cupcakes for the first time several years ago, before I really liked dark beer.  They are a festive celebration cupcake that suits birthdays, game days, and potlucks.  (Some of you may remember their debut at Kevin's 30th birthday party-turned-food-festival-for-50 at our house, but if you're new to them, be assured they are a crowd pleaser!)

This recipe makes an incredibly moist, chocolatey cake that is almost black in color from the beer. But it's not bitter or overwhelming.  You would never suspect that stout beer is the secret ingredient.  The beer has the same effect of adding coffee in some sweet recipes: it intensifies the color and chocolate flavor. And it is delicious.


If you're not a brew aficionado, you can certainly stick with Guiness or whatever stout is on the shelves.  But if you're a fan of stouts and porters, feel free to experiment with your favorites and the subtle differences in flavor.  I used the Highland Brewing Company Black Mocha Stout to pay homage to our recent trip to Asheville, where the brewery is located.  You could use any favorite stout, or even other sweet dark beers, such as the Vanilla Porter (from Breckenridge in Colorado). Why not make a batch with each and let your guests decide which is their favorite?  You'll have 5 beers from your six-pack left over, after all, so you might as well invite some friends.  (Or 50!)

Without a doubt, this recipe makes some of the moistest, chocolatiest cupcakes you've ever made.   Crack open a beer and give it a try.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

spicy asian steak marinade

For end of summer grilling, here's a quick post to share a marinade for steak that would work for tacos with slaw, salads with peppers, and stir fry with mushrooms and scallions. Enjoy!

Spicy Asian Steak Marinade
3T soy sauce
3T vegetable oil
1 1/2T rice wine or white vinegar
2T chili garlic sauce (available in the International aisle at most supermarkets)
2T honey
splash orange juice or lime juice
1T chopped garlic

Marinate a skirt, flank, or hanger cut steak for 24 hours.  Grill on high heat about 3 minutes each side.  Slice across the grain to serve.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

salade niçoise

Salade niçoise is a classic dish from the south of France.  The starring player is usually olives, supported in part by heavy oil-packed tuna, neither of which appeals to my taste.  To me, the best part of a successful salade niçoise is the refreshing array of colors, flavors, and textures.  It's delicious, it's healthy (and gluten free), and it's surprisingly easy to make with a little preparation in advance.

This summer, I settled on making my version of salade niçoise to serve to friends: with fresh tuna, haricots verts, cheerful hard-boiled eggs, bright radishes, marinated artichokes, and tender baby potatoes, all dressed with a lemony vinaigrette.  (I left the olives on the side.)  There's something for everyone.

Friday, September 7, 2012

huevos rancheros

I am really excited to tell you about huevos rancheros.  It's one of my favorite things to make.  Of course there are endless variations, ranging from easier to more authentic, but I learned this particular rendition from Tyler Florence (Food Network megastar and cookbook author) and Rick Bayless (Top Chef Master and king of Mexican cuisine in the States).  I practiced their recipes over and over again.  Over the course of many Sunday brunches with friends, we've memorized "our version" and I can make it now without a recipe. 

Roasting tomatos, jalapenos, and onions for homemade salsa
Underneath the blanket of fried eggs, there are two fried tortillas, two kinds of homemade salsa, and chorizo refried beans.  On top, of course, is anything goes:  queso fresco, avocado chunks, hot sauce galore, and a squeeze of lime.

Obsession would not be an exaggeration
This delicious construction is a bit of work, I'll be honest.  I'm not sure what possessed me to attempt it the first time several years ago, before I had a handle on how long it really takes to cook a meal and clean 10 pots and pans and without the guaranteed results I can offer you in this post.  I think it was love (for my husband, who loves Mexican food).

In the recipe here, I've retained the essential steps, and I've noted below where you can employ a shortcut in a pinch.  You will love the results.  The combination of beans, salsa, and runny eggs over crispy tortillas is irresistable.  Oh, and believe it or not, making roasted salsa is the easiest part-- no chopping required.  You may never buy storebought again.

Love at first bite
Huevos rancheros is a dish that's guaranteed to be plate-cleaning (plate-licking), crowd-pleasing good.  Invite some friends and cue the salsa pandora station! The recipe follows.

Monday, September 3, 2012

cauliflower with mustard breadcrumbs

So, you may have noticed my photos look a little different.  No?  Well, pardon the renovations.  Hubby got you and me a fantastic new toy: a big girl camera that takes will take awesome pictures.  I have no clue how to use it, but I'm learning quickly by experimentation (much more fun than reading the manual).  That won't slow down the cooking and posting.  The long-term benefit will, of course, be more appetizing and fun photos for you to enjoy.  (Wait til you see the gorgeous photos of roasted tomatoes and fried eggs that we snapped while making huevos rancheros-- coming soon!) And I'll still throw some instagram in there for good measure.

So, with my new camera hanging around my neck for the third straight day, we were back to the grill for Labor Day.  This time for juicy steaks, bright green asparagus, and a zesty penne and cauliflower side dish.

The best part?  Occasion to celebrate a Sunday night at home with a bottle of vacation wine-- 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon made from the grapes at Chateau de Vie, a bed and breakfast in the middle of a vineyard and quite possibly the most amazing place on earth, where we stayed on our recent vacation to California. 

The wine is delicious, but I'm not sure we would notice if it weren't.  We have so many great memories of this spectacular home away from home in Calistoga, where Peter and Phillip tended to our every need.  We enjoyed breakfasts on the patio there that rivaled any of our fancy meals in wine country restaurants.  Peter and Phillip, we can't wait to come back!

Back to Durham for the moment.  While hubby was busy tending to the meat and asparagus on the grill (no easy task, flipping asparagus spears), I tried this new recipe that sneaks in an extra dose of veggies with pasta and cheese.

The result was an easy, flavorful side dish that could be easily converted to suit kids or low-carbers.  See what you think.  The recipe follows.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

tiramisu shortcake

Once in a blue moon, it's worth the time to make an extra special cake.  This year, my birthday fell on the same day as a true blue moon.  I celebrated by baking my version of an amazing tiramisu cake, with all the flavors from your favorite Italian dessert in a lighter, familiar birthday form.  It's not too sweet, but it has just enough chocolate, liqueur, and coffee flavor.  Happy birthday to me!

I assembled this cake like a shortcake, trimming the golden edges off the sides of the cake rounds and stacking the rounds with mascarpone filling and chocolate shavings on top and in between.

I would say it's because I don't like as much frosting as the average cake-lover, but it wouldn't be true, because I used every last bit of the filling this recipe produces (and secretly wished for more).  Honestly, I wouldn't have had enough leftover to cover the sides generously with frosting.  Whatever the reason, my shortcake approach made for the perfect balance of frosting and cake and, I think, paid homage to its nonna: the many-layered pick-me-up tiramisu

A little more hurried and rustic, maybe.  Because this cake has to refrigerate before you serve it and, well, time's a-wastin. The recipe follows.