29 June 2010

stacy's kitchenaid inauguration

I have to let you in on a little secret ... I have a serious case of kitchen gadget envy, stemming from this fella' pictured below.

It belongs to my friend Stacy, newly betrothed to MIT compatriot Albert. And yes, I have a case of the ooh-la-lah's for it, for all KitchenAid stand alone mixer owners actually. //swoon.

So it was only right for Stacy and I to throw the mixer it's own "welcome home" soiree, right? Right. Good blog reader. Just nod your head and smile and pretend we aren't crazy. :)

This past Saturday I headed over to Stacy's, armed with a bag o' wine (bag filled with bottles, mind you, not one of those bizarre-o deconstructed Franzia contraptions. e-gad, no). We had our sights on a recipe to make, and had the whole afternoon to spare. The recipe? Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova. Heavenly //double swoon, and maybe if we felt the urge, some pizza dough ... just so we could use this dough hook and I could snap this photo of dear ole Stacy.


Some things just have to be done. Yarrr. Ay matey.

Anywho. On to the pavlova of heavenly proportions.

Nigella's Chocolate Rasppberry Pavlova
From Nigella Lawson, but of course.

6 egg whites
1.25 C white sugar
3 TB sifted cocoa powder
1 tsp balsamic (or red wine, we used balsamic) vinegar
50 g dark chocolate, finely chopped

for the topping:
homemade whipped cream
2-3 containers of raspberries
2-3 TB dark chocolate, shaved on top

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites until there are satiny-sheened (yup, made up a word) peaks, and then slowly beat in the sugar one spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny. Thankfully, with the KitchenAid, this takes minimal effort. God bless you, mixer. Let's be best friends forever.

Go, go gadget ...

Sift in the cocoa like so...

Add the vinegar and dark chocolate, folding in gennnnntly. It'd be a shame to lose all that the mixer has done, right?

Mix together gently until all of the chocolate and cocoa is mixed in, then mound onto the baking sheet in a fat circle, smoothing the sides and top. Place in the oven, then *immediately* turn the head down to 300 degrees F and cook for 1 - 1.25 hours. When it's ready it should look crispy around the edges and be dry on top but have a bit of "squidginess" to it when you poke the center. Remove and let cool.


Now, make the whipped cream as your mama taught ya'. Smear on top oh so gently (it's a delicate pavlova), then top with berries and chocolate.

Here's the finished product. Not too bad for two meringue n00bs, I'd say.

Oh, and we also made some incredible pizza. Why? Remember the pizza hook pirate pose above? Well, we wanted to try. We had a delicious day in store, let me tell you.

25 June 2010

i've gone fondanting

I can't help but giggle when I say "fondant-ing" (with an absurd emphasis on the second syllable, as if I'm embarking on an adventure of epic proportions and slinging a cape over my shoulder to make a dramatic exit. stage left.)

But that's exactly what I did - for the very first time - over Memorial Day Weekend. My brother's 30th birthday was coming up in June, and we were surprising him in our hometown with an old school pizza party, cake, and limo night out on the town. We're good siblings, that's for sure (well, and family, since my mother helped execute). He and I were both flying in for a weekend of May birthdays (my other brother's, father's, mother's), and to celebrate a new baby being born -- the perfect time to spring a surprise party on said brother.

Now, Michael is very much so a kid at heart, loves doing impressions and making people laugh, cracking jokes, and diehard Simpsons fan. Which leads me to the fondanting.

Max (brother #2, the non-surprise-party one here) had the brilliant idea of buying Michael a themed cake of some sort, and set out to see if anyone in his network of bakers and trusted pastry establishments could make one in the short amount of time we gave them. Sadly, no luck. Back to the drawing board.

Plan B ... in talking with my mother one day on the phone we set out on Google to look at Simpsons party supplies and stumbled on some very easy images for homemade character cakes.

// Lightbulb lights up over my head.

"Hey mom, I could do that," I said, sending her a few Bart Simpson images. I bake ... quite well in fact, and have a creative bone or two in my body. Game on.

And this is where the tale began, followed by botched flights, an hour to create Bart cake out of fondant and stowe away to hide from soon-to-be arriving brother, a perfectly executed surprise party for my brother's (pre-)30th, and a wealth of memories (and awesome sister points. Score!)

(Ladies, this stud is single. Inquire for more details. ;) )

Oh, and an Elmo cake experiment for my painfully adorable niece, Brigid. That girl has me wrapped around her little finger. :) And I'm more than happy with that arrangement.

I mean, do you blame me?

Next time, I may try to make my own marshmallow fondant instead of buying. Do you have a favorite recipe for fondant? Ever tried?

21 June 2010

a tale of two tarts

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... "

This is the tale of two tarts. Both have delicious potential, crowd-pleasing attributes, and flavor profiles that would elate any purveyor of tart-shaped-baked goods.

But in this tale, unfortunately only one dish will prevail. The other - the savory in this story - will need some future tweaking for me to like it. It was almost there ... but still quite a ways from a homerun, I'm afraid.

And so began my foray into well, using my beautiful tart pan more (it helps me justify the purchase way after the fact if I at least use it every once in a blue moon.)

The first tart was a potato, broccoli and cheese tart in a homemade saltine cracker crust. Easy to prepare, an ingredient list that didn't break the bank, and all components that you'd think would make an Irish gal swoon. But alas.

For what it's worth, I think with a few edits to the recipe here, this tart could be oh so tasty. The crust, very easy to prepare, but keep in mind we're talking saltines here ... so go light with the salt for the rest of the dish. In the future I may try to lighten it up a bit by mixing something else in, perhaps, or trying a different type of cracker.

Also, the diced potatoes, although I cooked them 3/4 of the way in the microwave first (a handy technique for quick baked potatoes), still had a strange chewy softness that was a bit off putting, and once again, the parsley was overpowering (crazy, I know, but as much as I love parsley, I'm going to be very hesitant to use it in this recipe again. ugh.). Next time, I may try using smashed potatoes in this, since the rest of the ingredients don't need much cooking ... hmm..

Before sharing the recipe, note that the ultra-tasty, beautiful winner in the tart-to-end-all-tarts contest (that I held with myself, don't judge) is coming right up after this mild disaster. It's a sweet tart - strawberry mascarpone with aged balsamic. Yep, I went there. Stay tuned.

But first ...

Broccoli, Potato and Gruyere Tart
Adapted from Veggie Belly

1 medium baking potato, 3/4 way cooked and diced
1/2 cup low fat milk
1 tsp flour
1 tsp dijon mustard
3/4 cup gruyere / fontina mix, cut into tiny cubes
1 cup broccoli florets, chopped
2 tablespoons parsley (I'm omitting this next time, fyi)
salt and pepper

Saltine cracker crust
1 sleeve of saltine crackers
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2-3/4 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 375f. Poke holes all over potato and place on a plate in the microwave on high for 1.5 - 2 minutes. Take out, flip over, then another 1.5 - 2 minutes.

Mix together the milk, flour, and dijon mustard. Then add the cheese, broccoli florets, potatoes, parsley (blech), salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

For the crust, whir up the saltine crackers in a food processor until they're a powder consistency. Mix together with butter and hot water until it comes together into a dough. Press into tart pan, making sure it comes up a bit on the sides.

Pour the filling mixture into the tart pan with the saltine crust. Place the pan on a foil lined baking sheet and bake on 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or just till the top of the tart starts to turn golden. Let it cool a bit when it's done, and you're all set.

Makes 6 small tarts or in my case, 1 big momma tart.

And now, on to the good stuff. I made this for a pulled pork party a friend was having (awesome friends, me has) and it was a sure fire hit. I could have done with just aged balsamic on strawberries, but the filling here is worthy of including, too. This comes together in less than a half hour, and is a perfect summer dessert.

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Aged Balsamic Glaze

Look at how pretty. Really, now. It doesn't get much better than that.

From Elise at Simply Recipes

1 pre-made pie crust (a good cheat, but go ahead and make by hand if you want)
2 lbs strawberries, stemmed and quartered
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 TB orange zest
1 tsp lemon juice
12 ounces mascarpone cheese (KT note: I used 8 oz. mascarpone, rest ricotta. It was delicious)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (or aged balsamic, if you have it ... which I did! m'm)

Bake off pie crust as instructed (and as needed). Set aside to cool.

In the meantime, mix the strawberries with half the orange zest and granulated sugar. Set aside to macerate for 30 minutes.

Mix together the mascarpone / ricotta with the powdered sugar, remaining zest, lemon juice and vanilla. Resist eating entire bowl. You've been warned. Refrigerate until needed.

Once the strawberries have macerated, strain their juice out and put in a small stovetop pan. Add to said pan the balsamic and reduce until it's a glaze consistency. (KT note: If using aged balsamic, you don't need to reduce much here. It'd be cruel to the product, trust me on that one. :) )

To assemble the tart, spread the cheese mixture on the bottom, arrange strawberries as you'd like on top of that, then glaze with the balsamic. It's that easy. And just wait until you try it. With minimal oven / stove time, this is an ideal dessert for those hot and humid days where you'd much rather be outside or sipping a frosty drink with your feet up.

20 June 2010

one ingredient soft serve

You heard me right. One ingredient soft serve. No dairy, no additional sweetners. Too good to be true? Not in the least.

Friends, I have a non-banana bread use for those bananas in your freezer. And it's delicious.

One Ingredient Soft Serve

Frozen bananas
Food processor

Puree the frozen banana (peel removed, if that's not painfully obvious), until you have creamy soft serve. It's that easy. I promise.

I grew up working in custard stands, pumping my body full of egg + cream laden rich custard, frozen yogurt and sundaes. Ice cream / custard is something I take very seriously. So I was a wee bit skeptical of this one ingredient banana concoction sweeping the interwebs.

The verdict: A- (A+ reserved for fatty, rich things that will take weeks off my life .. so A- is pretty darned good)

It has only a faint banana taste, and really is remarkable how creamy it becomes, given that there are no additional ingredients added. It's healthy, refreshing, easy, and a great base for additional toppings ... like peanut butter / other nut butters, cookies, sprinkles, nuts, or just on its own.

My waistline thanks you, interwebs. Well done. :)

moroccan-inspired couscous

This recipe was a riff off a lunch a friend of mine let me taste years ago. It was a Moroccan-esque couscous, pairing vegetables, nuts with some spice and dried fruit. I had picked up some harissa (a North African chili paste), and marinated some beef cutlets, so figured I'd empty out my fridge a bit and make a healthy, colorful side dish.

I cooked up the couscous with stock to give it a bit more flavor, then mixed in some pre-cooked sweet potatoes, semi-toasted chickpeas for protein, and added some dried apricots. Add a bit of cumin, some of the harissa (only a little bit, it's potent stuff), and a dash of white wine to help plump the dried fruit, and voila - a marvelously easy dish to prepare packed with flavor, antioxidants, protein, etc. Topped with some pistachios and you have all the sweet, spicy, and texture you need.

And evidenced by the lack of photos ... the harissa marinated steak was divine. I gobbled it up before snapping a photo. Sorry, gang. Next time. If you like spice, I highly recommend playing around with harissa. It's also killer on steak sandwiches, either on its own, or mixed with some greek yogurt / mayonnaise.

Happy eating!

marathon monday chili 'n' fixins

Every April, my neighborhood (and most of Boston) shut down on the third Monday in April for the Boston Marathon. The city declares it "Patriots Day" but really, I'm convinced it's just a free pass for the thousands of residents trapped by insane traffic, road barriers, and closed lanes due to the hordes of visitors in town that day.

Oh, and it's a helluva lot of fun to watch. The marathon that is. Did I mention that part? It's like the best of all block parties, but spanning the majority of the city.

I happen to live right at mile 23 on the route, right out my front door. So it's only right that I invite friends over for food, drink and general merriment, right? I think so.

This Marathon was a bit chilly here in Boston-town, so I decided to make up a heaping pot of meat-lovers chili with all the fixins, as well as some other dips and Albert's incredible crabcakes. (There's one thing I love more than Albert's crabcakes ... and those are his fruit tarts, but I digress. The boy makes a mean crabcake, let me tell you, and a tomatillo sauce that rivals no other.)

This recipe was a bit different and more involved than my usual standby turkey chili. I spruced up a recipe passed along for Boilermaker chili, using hot italian sausage as well as ground sirloin / ground beef mix. Chili is very forgiving, and I doctored this recipe by taste - so this recipe is just a guide. It was the perfect bit of heat, smokiness, and richness on that cool day though. I'll tell ya that much. This was the first time I added chocolate to chili - and I have to say - it really added a wonderful complexity to it, and played very well off of the smokier ingredients (chipotles in adobo, smoked paprika).

Marathon Monday Chili
Adapted from Allrecipes.com

2 pounds ground beef chuck / sirloin (I mixed)
1 pound bulk Italian sausage - casing removed
1 large can black beans
1 large can red kidney beans
2 - 28 oz cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 - 6 oz can tomato paste
1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped with leaves
2 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 - 2.5 diced chipotles in adobo
2-4 TB sauce from chipotles in adobo
3/4 bottle of beer
1/4 cup chili powder
2 TB Worcestershire sauce
2 TB minced garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp smoked paprika
a few hefty handfuls of chocolate flakes from hot cocoa mix

Heat a large heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Crumble the ground chuck and sausage into the hot pan, and cook until evenly browned. Drain off excess grease.

Pour in the beans, diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Add the onion, celery, green peppers, chipotles and beer. Season with chili powder, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, cumin, adobo sauce basil, salt, pepper, cayenne, and paprika to taste. Once all mixed in, add a few hefty handfuls of chocolate. Don't be shy. Mix all together, cover and simmer for 2+ hours. The longer it simmers, the better it will taste.

Oh, and these little cornbread muffins are a perfect (and adorable) accompaniment.

easter dinner for one

Back to the catch up game. Let me set the scene. It's Easter Sunday ... I'm hungry ... standard friend-base I'd cook for are pre-committed to other things or out of town, so I do what all normal people would do -- make a feast for myself. Win.


On the menu for today was roast pork, smoked paprika smashed parsnips, roasted asparagus, and roasted garlic (just to round off the roasted theme here). Each of these components were almost mindless to cook, and came together beautifully as you can see above.

Let's take a closer look at the menu items, shall we?

FACT: I make a mean roast pork. Ask my friends. Only a few know the recipe. It's like Bush's baked beans commercials (minus talking dog) ... I'm not telling. :)

And we need some green on the plate. Roasted asparagus with a few spices and sprigs of thyme work marvelously here.

Some roasted garlic to ward off all of those vampires ... or potential kissing buddies. Some things are worth the sacrifice. So delicious and sweet. Perfect to just smear on dinner rolls. Strange? Not to me.

Finally, one of my favorite new combinations, using my latest (not so) secret ingredient from Ruthers - smoked paprika. Add a little bit of that stuff to roasted parsnips (smashed or not smashed) and some thyme and man oh man, you'll be in sweet parsnip heaven. It lends a bit of its reddish color to the dish as well.

I may have eaten almost this entire dish. Added benefit of making a feast just for me ... no one can slap my hand for eating all the parsnips. :)

15 June 2010

pasta makin'

My first jobs were in food service -- one in an italian family restaurant, the other at a frozen custard stand (m'mm delicious). The italian restaurant was a real learning experience, one of those jobs where you end up working almost every available position (whether directly or out of necessity) during your time there. Hell, I was even considered "senior staff" at 16.

I started off as the only female busser back when the restaurant first opened and we were on 2 hour waits each night. Within a week or two, I was doubling as busser and host, then server, add bartender, helping with the books, acting as fill-in dishwasher and helper cook when needed, to running the failed bakery experiment. I saw that restaurant through years of transition, from its most successful times to the day we shut the door. Over my time there I learned how to make gnocchi, soups, cannolis, breads, other italian delicacies, but never pasta somehow.

Now, I know that pasta is not expensive at the store, and for the headache making fresh pasta can be, it may not be worth it. I still wanted to try ... and armed with my italian hand-crank pasta maker, my handy dandy apron, a bottle of wine and a free Friday night, I decided to give it a whirl. Next time, I'll get more adventurous than egg fettuccine, but hell, I was hungry. :)

Homemade Egg Fettuccine
2 cups all purpose flour
3 eggs
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt

Create a well with the flour on your counter. Crack the eggs into the well, add the olive oil and salt, and slowly mix in the flour with your fingers without breaking the well and causing a kitchen catastrophe. (My opinion, if you're going to make homemade pasta, you might as well mix by hand and have some fun, right?)

Once the dough comes together, begin to knead until it's elastic. If the dough is too sticky, add a little bit of flour, or a bit of water if its the opposite. Trust your instinct.

Once the dough is elastic, cut into 4 pieces and begin rolling through the pasta machine, decreasing the thickness of the rollers each time. Add flour if needed. Look at that pretty machine ...

Then drape it like old school wet laundry to dry on a clothesline ... or in this case, a pasta drying rack (I have a lot of cooking gadgets and toys).

Let it dry for a little bit so it can firm up. Then run it through the fettuccine roller and cut the pasta.

Fresh pasta takes only a few minutes to cook, much faster than store-brought pasta. Be careful not to overcook. Overcooking this after all this work is not fun at all. Unfun to the max.

Now, I wasn't going to eat naked noodles. That'd just be silly. And like I said above, I was Hungry with a capital H. So earlier when I started this process, I also put some sauce to work on the stove.

The magic ragu began with some sauteed garlic in olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot, a can of crushed tomatoes and a can of stewed tomatoes, some rehydrated porcini mushrooms and it's broth (plus half a mushroom bouillon cube I had. That stuff is MAGIC, btw. I digress), a bay leaf, some extra spices and oh ... country ribs. You know, because I can.

In all seriousness though, once the sauce had simmered throughout this whole pasta making process, the pork was falling off the bone, shredding itself into the sauce. Perfecto.

(Learned that trick by making Gourmet's Sunday Ragu ... m'mm pot 'o stewed braised meat, how I love you so. m'mm. // drool.)

Mix the two together and voila! Homemade egg fettuccine with a pork and mushroom ragu.

c is for chocolate crinkle cookies, clearly

I credit my niece for the cookie monster reference.

Chocolate crinkles. chocolate crackles. Snowball cookies. Those chocolatey things with the powdered sugar -- however you want to refer to them, these things are DIVINE. Rich and cakey with just the right amount of sweet, and easy to prepare. These are a staple in almost every holiday baking magazine, particularly around Christmastime. The event this time around? Superbowl. Hey, why not.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 TB vegeatble oil
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups flour
powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Mix together all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Make sure it's well combined. Chill dough for anywhere between 2 hours - overnight.

Using a tablespoon or little cookie scooper (if ya have one), create a small dough ball using your hands and drop it into the powdered sugar. Roll to coat and plop on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake 12-15 minutes.

Allow cookies to cool, and sprinkle with a little bit more sugar if needed.

broccoli pesto with barley

A few years ago, I stumbled upon this recipe from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks and fell in love with the dish. It was a tasty way to sneak in lots of greens, eat briny olives, and feel reasonably good about it for its health benefits.

I've since made it in its original form with whole wheat pasta countless times. But this time around, I had some barley on hand, and figured that may be an interesting switch. After checking with Heidi for her thoughts, I gave it a whirl, cooking up the barley with a mushroom bouillon cube for some additional flavor, then making the dish as the recipe states with a delicious broccoli pesto, wilted spinach, briny olives, and leftover broccoli florets.

The result was a nuttier version of the dish from the barley, but man oh man, this is the type of dish that would make becoming a vegetarian bearable. (Only entertaining that thought for a brief moment in time, look ... it's passed.) Highly recommend you all give it a try.

A break from your regularly scheduled programming ...

... or lack thereof. Or possibly a 3-month span of annoying paid programming while this blog took a snooze on the interwebs.

Either way, my apologies. It's time, yet again, to play some catch up here at TTK. I promise it will be as painless as it can be, and heck, you may even have a little fun. I have a list of catch up posts, photos neatly organized in folders on my computer, and sleeves rolled up. Think of it like that rainy Sunday afternoon when you stumble on an old photo album and spend the day flipping through and reminiscing.

Yea, think of it like that. :)