Friday, June 26, 2009

Cranberry Walnut Biscotti

It's official.. I am back in my old stomping grounds of upstate New York, and couldn't be happier. I've fallen asleep to the sounds of laughing neighbors sitting out by a campfire to all hours of the night, the silent beauty of heat lightning in the distance, and a sky so full of stars, it makes me question my memory of how big the universe really is. That's right folks, I am in the sticks. For those uninitiated to the sticks, you might be more familiar with the boonies, off the beaten path, or the middle of nowhere. These here sticks come complete with John Deere tractors on the roads, friendly neighbors that wave when you drive by, and small towns full of charm and personality. What better to do when in my favorite place, than make one of my favorite things.

I've made this recipe a few times since I first ran across it in Food Network Magazine. If you haven't checked out this magazine yet, I cannot give it a strong enough endorsement. I'm a very visually oriented learner, and the layout and photos of the recipes and their components are some of the most visually pleasing I've encountered. This recipe comes from their "Out of the Box Challenge" feature, in which three recipe developers from the Food Network Kitchens are given one boxed or premade ingredient from which they develop their best recipe. This month's feature ingredient is Jiffy Corn muffin mix. The other two featured recipes were Cornmeal blini bites and corn muffin churros. Both look fantastic. This is my slightly tweaked version of that FNM recipe.

Cranberry Walnut Biscotti
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 8.5 oz box of corn muffin mix
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup dried chopped cranberries
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
2/3 cup chopped milk chocolate
2/3 cup chopped white chocolate
1 tsp lemon zest
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Chocolate Drizzle
8 oz semi sweet chocolate
1 Tbsp Canola oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix the flour, muffin mix, sugar, cranberries, walnuts, lemon zest and both chocolates together. Make a well in the center and add eggs and vanilla. Mix in with a fork, then add lemon juice to form a stiff dough.

Using well floured hands, knead dough until consistency is uniform. Form a 12" x 4" log of dough, and place on baking sheet.

Bake 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and let cool on baking rack for about 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife, slice the log in thin slices (roughly 3/4" wide). Return slices to parchment lined pan and bake for an additional 20 minutes. Cool and add chocolate drizzle.

For chocolate drizzle, place semi sweet chips in top pan of a double boiler. Bring water to a boil and stir chocolate, adding canola oil until smooth. Coat a spoon with chocolate a quickly zig zag back and forth over biscotti, until desired chocolate level is achieved. Cool and dig in.

Cooking Notes:
1. I used cooking spray instead of parchment paper, worked well.
2. The add ins (nuts, chocolate, cranberries) are only limited by your imagination. Just remember the more add ins you use, the more liquid is needed to stretch the dough.
3. Keep the chocolate mix ins a bit larger, especially the white chocolate. I chopped them to about 3/4" chunks. You can't see that the white chocolate is in the biscotti if they are smaller, and it really adds to the appearance and personality of the recipe.
4. The texture of this is quite different than regular crunchy biscotti. I find it to be crisp like biscotti on the outside, and like a thick and slightly moist shortbread on the inside. For me, this is perfect, but if you like yours traditionally crispy, bake the sliced pieces a bit longer.

I've put up a few pictures of the lovely lake I get to spend the next week relaxing on, because well, I couldn't resist. Here's hoping your biscotti are delicious and that you are spending your weekend at your favorite place as well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

T G I Pinkberry

On Friday June 26, Pinkberry will be handing out free small servings of their new summer flavors. New summer offerings will include coconut and passion fruit flavors. Add-ins for the summer season will also now feature Bing cherries, lychees, and Valencia oranges. To find the Pinkberry nearest you, check the link here. Like you don't know the three fastest routes there already... you're not fooling anyone :)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Veggie Medley Couscous

Welcome to my accidental deliciousness. It was lunch gone wild, and I couldn't be happier with the end product. On Wednesday I head back to my old stomping grounds in upstate New York for some quality mom time. Today's lunch was a direct byproduct of the impulse as old as time... to clean out the fridge of all things that might go bad before going on vacation. It drives me nuts to discover a mystery bag of produce that's been forgotten, and consequently is way past its prime. This was the attempt to decrease the occupancy of my crisper, and it worked like a charm.

The only thought going into my lunch creation was couscous. A few weeks back I diced up some vegetables and threw them in with couscous. It was a nice addition to an otherwise plain side dish. Going with that thought, the great clean out the fridge veggie medley couscous was born. Amounts were not included in the ingredient list, as you can do this with literally whatever happens to be inhabiting your crisper. Be creative and likely, you will pleasantly pleased!

Veggie Medley Couscous
Green, white and red onion
Pasilla and jalapeno chiles
Red and yellow pepper
1 cup couscous
1 cup chicken stock (or water)
2 tsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Parmesan Reggiano cheese

Chop all veggies to desired size. Heat large saute pan with 1 tsp olive oil.

Saute vegetables, and season with salt and pepper. While sauteing, boil chicken stock with 1 tsp olive oil in a lidded sauce pot. Place couscous in boiling chicken stock, stir and remove from heat. Cover couscous and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff couscous and transfer to large serving bowl. Mix in vegetables. Top couscous with chiffonade of basil and fresh grated Parmesan reggiano cheese and serve.

Somehow this side dish was transformed into the main course. This was tasty and the healthy factor was through the roof with the vegetables. Chicken, beef or tofu could be incorporated to add some extra protein and "beef it up" a little more, pun intended. Check out your fridge today to see what forgotten veggies may lurk within, cook, serve and enjoy.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

SoCal Locals: Henry's Farmers Market

In a ever expanding world of big box stores, its a rarity to find a retailer with small store sincerity, enthusiasm and knowledge. During my first visit to Henry's Farmers Market, it was apparent that they embodied just that mix of unique attributes. Monrovia's newest market opened on June 17, and by all accounts was a success. When I stopped by to check it out, the parking lot and store were packed with eager customers snapping up the multitude of bargains. Over and over I kept shaking my head at the variety and quality of products available. I particularly enjoyed their impressive produce department, which boasts a bevy of tropical fruits that I have never seen before. Surely inspiration will be found within these aisles!

Henry's expansive website repeatedly notes their commitment to supporting local communities, local farmers and suppliers. A Southern California staple for over 60 years, Henry's has 28 stores in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Bernadino, Riverside and Orange Counties. They've received numerous accolades, including being voted "Best Place to buy Produce" by the Orange County Register. In addition to gorgeous produce, Henry's has a wide selection of grass fed beef, organic free range poultry, fresh bakery goods, fantastic bulk goods, a vast wine selection and much more. Their employees were nothing but friendly and helpful, and meticulous in the appearance of their new store. Welcome to the neighborhood Henry's, I think we'll be seeing alot of eachother.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Teeny Tiny Tomatillo Salsa

Mark Bittman, resident food guru for the New York Times and prolific author of many hot topic food books, posted this recipe for tomatillo salsa a week ago. It inspired a search for tomatillos that yielded a different outcome than expected... teeny, tiny tomatillos.

These little guys were found, suprise suprise, at the the local farmer's market. I was excited to see them, but also unfamiliar with tomatillos in this dainty size. None were larger than the diameter of a quarter. Come to find out these little guys are also called Milperos, or tomatillos de milpa. Just like tomatillos, they sport a papery green husk that is easily removed prior to use. The sticky substance between the fruit and husk is removed with a gentle soap and warm water.

I tweaked the recipe slightly, adding corn and a bit more cilantro than was called for in the original recipe. All measurements can be adjusted to individual taste.

2 cups husked, rinsed and chopped tomatillos
1 medium poblano or other mild green fresh chilies(I used Pasilla)roasted and skinned
1 teaspoon minced garlic,
1/2 cup chopped white onion
Salt and pepper to taste
2 minced jalapenos
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 ear fresh corn kernels
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Combine tomatillos, poblanos, garlic, onion, salt, pepper and cayenne or chili. Let stand at room temperature for up to an hour, or refrigerate for up to 1/2 day (bring back to room temperature before serving). Taste and adjust seasoning, then stir in lime juice and half the cilantro; taste and adjust seasoning again, then garnish with remaining cilantro.

More power to you if you can leave this bowl of goodness untouched for an hour before sampling. I, however, dove in spoon first and adjusted taste. It always amazes me what a difference salt and pepper can make in the full taste spectrum of a salsa. I plan on making this many times this summer.. thanks for the new go to salsa recipe Mark!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Special Olympics Cupcake Extravaganza

This weekend the Southern California Special Olympics Summer Games were held in Long Beach. I've been fortunate enough to volunteer with this fantastic organization for five years and had the opportunity again this weekend. This year marked the 40th anniversary celebration of the summer games in Southern California. The great folks at VONS helped commemorate the anniversary with a bakery fresh tribute that smelled as amazing as it looked.

The mega cupcake-cake was assembled with two foot by four foot sheets of cupcakes. The pieces were "grouted" together with a layer of cupcakes...

...then carefully "spackled" together with icing.. make one enormous cupcake work of art. Thankfully for the cake as well as the great folks who created this, the weather cooperated and it was cool and overcast most of the day. I cannot imagine putting in as many hours as they graciously did to have this creation melt! They began baking the day before, and the assembly process began on site at 5 am. The cake was estimated to be well over 500 pounds. This was just too cool not to share.. hope you enjoyed and had a great weekend.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lemon Yogurt Cake

A spontaneous Sunday brunch led to this delicious lemony wonder. That, and I had just purchased a new Ina Garten cookbook and needed an excuse to make something from it. Trust me when I say you don't need any excuse to make this cake, its fantastic.

Lemon Yogurt Cake

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 extra-large eggs
2 tsp grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it's all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the lemon-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and lemon juice and pour over the cake.

** I used a bundt pan for this cake, and it was perfect. I also needed 4 lemons to get the required amount of juice. Might be a good idea just to pick up a bag in the event of less than juicy lemons. Admittedly I did not use parchment for my bundt pan, but the cake dropped out cleanly with one good whack.

Its. So. Good. Really, it is. My lovely friend Lisa and I polished off half of this beauty without alot of problem. A special thanks to her as well for the great image of the cake above. Needless to say, I think I need to make an upgrade to a fancy camera, for the good of the blog of course :)

Fabulous Food Glossary

So perhaps this is a little bush league to some of you accomplished veteran foodies, but for me, I always want to learn more. Food and cooking happens to be my latest nerd vice, hence the perpetual quest for an increased depth of knowledge and understanding. I'd never heard of achiote until last night, when the captain of one The Next Food Network Star team hosed her teammate and forgot to purchase this essential item for his dish. If you don't know your calzone from a capon, or the difference between drizzle and frizzle, take a gander at San Pelligrino's The Sparkling Life Cooking Terms Glossary .

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Watermelon basil vinaigrette with hearts of romaine

Earlier this week, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a glorious sight. A sign that summer is surely upon us... that barbecues with friends and family are on the horizon, trips to the beach will dramatically increase, and that we will finally have to buck up and turn on the air conditioning. A huge overflowing pile of watermelons was before me, and I knew there was no way I was getting out of the store without one.

Granted, it is on the early side of watermelon season, even here in California. Watermelon means not only sticky hands, dripping chins and slurping up its pink fleshy goodness, but seeds. Oh, the seeds. Many will go out of their way for seedless versions, but not I. Many a watermelon seed spitting contest has occured at my cottage in New York, certain to get the competitive juices flowing and incite raucous laughter. Frequently, the target of our seed spitting exploits were Canadian geese sitting unassumingly at the waters edge below. First one to peg a goose was declared winner.. ahhh those were simpler times.

I found this recipe at, following a general Google search. It incorporates some of summers finest offerings into a light and lovely vinaigrette.

Watermelon Basil Vinaigrette
4 cups fresh watermelon, chopped and drained
1/4 cup red onion, diced small
2 Tbsp honey
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
3/4 cup canola oil
2 Tbsp fresh basil chopped
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except salt and sugar in a large bowl. Pulse mixture in food processor until well incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over mixed greens, or hearts of romaine.

Super simple, very refreshing and quick would be the key things to know about this vinaigrette. It made way more than the posted two cups of dressing that was noted in the recipe. I could envision taking a bottle of this dressing to a picnic with a simple mixed green salad for a fantastic dish. Adding some mint to the recipe might make it an interesting addition to a fruit salad as well. It keeps for roughly 7-10 days refrigerated and covered.

I opted for olive oil in place of the canola oil. Canola just sounded a little off for a vinaigrette with these components to me. I added roughly a tablespoon more basil than called for, as well as a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. You can see that per the photo the vinaigrette appears a bit chunky... it should be noted that I have a teeny tiny two cup food processor that likes to leave most combinations a bit more textured than intended. A regular processor should be just fine. Enjoy the spoils of summer and don't forget to spit some seeds!