Friday, February 11, 2011

Cocoa Meringue Kisses

My folks started vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico more than thirty years ago and mom spent most of the past ten winters as a beach lover. Her favorite place to see people and grab lunch was the El Dorado Beach Club. Faithful patrons were given their own reserved palapa and each Valentine's Day there was a palapa decorating contest. Mom was very proud the year she won.

Her cocoa meringue kisses probably had something to do with persuading the contest judges. I've never met anyone who could resist them. These crispy, melt-in-your-mouth "cookies" are perfect with champagne. If you're looking for a little surprise for your sweetie, start cracking some eggs.

They're very easy to prepare, with only six ingredients. The great thing is you can whip them up fast and while they bake for 40 minutes, you have time to put the final touches on your romantic dinner.

Cocoa meringue kisses, makes approx. 3 doz.
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided in half
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup sugar with the cocoa powder and salt and set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks start to form. Gradually add the cocoa mixture.
  4. Continue whipping until medium-firm peaks form. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until meringue is stiff and glossy.
  5. Drop meringue onto prepared pans by rounded teaspoons or using a pastry bag and tip. Space them about one inch apart.
  6. Bake 40 minutes. Let the meringues cool on baking sheets for about 15-20 minutes.
  7. Carefully detach each kiss from the parchment paper but leave on paper so you can sift a little powdered sugar over them.

Follow the step-by-step photos in this video:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Roasted veggies with lemon, thyme and shallots

The recipe card says "Grilled Vegetables" although there are no veggies and no grilling instructions. Hmm, how curious. Flipping the card over for the twentieth time, I think mom might suggest roasting since we won't even get into double digits today. We'll save the grilling for a few months from now.

Pulling the ingredients together, I let sight and smell do the shopping. I want a good mix of colors with zucchini, yellow squash, red pepper and new potatoes. I don't even think twice about splurging on the fresh thyme. Those decisions pay off big when we sit down to eat and everyone is helping themselves to seconds.

The sauce recipe easily makes enough to coat and roast, or grill, six-to-eight cups of assorted veggies. I will definitely use the sauce once summer is here and can almost imagine the extra oomph grilling will give to the food.

Roasted veggies with lemon, thyme and shallots
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped shallots
3 Tblsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tblsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tblsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 Tblsp. grated lemon peel

6-8 cups of assorted veggies, such as zucchini, yellow squash, peppers, small potatoes, asparagus, green beans or mushrooms.

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add lemon juice, mustard, shallots, lemon peel and thyme. Whisk until butter melts and sauce is well blended.
2. Put chopped or sliced vegetables on a baking pan. Drizzle sauce over and toss to evenly coat veggies. Ground some fresh pepper and sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon of salt over the pan.
3. Roast in oven for 15-20 minutes, depending on the veggies you are cooking. Stir once during the cooking time.
Follow the step-by-step photos in this video:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mediterranean Chicken

One of the places mom and I loved to visit for lunch when I was in high school was the Town Club in Hutchinson, Kansas. They served a huge green salad with shrimp and capers that I ordered almost every time we ate there. This started my life-long love of capers.

According to my Food Lover's Companion, capers are small buds that grow on bushes in the Mediterranean and parts of Asia. After they are picked, the buds are sun-dried and pickled. Translation: they're like mini green olives. We always have a jar in the fridge for cooking with fish.

This recipe opened my eyes to using them in chicken dishes and it also pushed me to buy my first shallot. Shocking, I know, but I have to admit I liked them so much, shallots might be taking up permanent residence in our kitchen along with the capers.

Mediterranean chicken, 4 servings
  • 4 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
  • 3 Tblsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. mushrooms (assorted or button)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tblsp. shallot, minced
  • 1 Tblsp. capers
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes
  • 1 Tblsp. fresh parsley, chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Heat 2 Tblsps. olive oil in oven-safe skillet over high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to skillet and cook until browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side.
  2. Transfer chicken to an ovenproof plate and place in oven to keep warm.
  3. Add remaining Tblsp. of olive oil to pan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; saute until wilted.
  4. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil, cooking until liquid reduces by half.
  5. Add tomatoes, garlic, shallot and capers, combining with mushrooms.
  6. Return chicken to pan and coat each breast with some of the sauce. Plate chicken with mushroom and tomato mixture and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Follow the step-by-step photos in this video:

Monday, January 31, 2011

Spinach gnocchi

In the plan to eat a more healthy diet and reduce our fat intake, it's hard to justify making mom's spinach gnocchi. The spinach is a great source of vitamins but combined with parmesan, ricotta and butter, its health benefits are a bit fuzzy. When it comes to hand-me-down recipes, we tend to toss diets out the window. I like to imagine this is a recipe my mom created after one of her trips to Italy. She would return with stories about the most wonderful restaurants and cafes.

A couple of pluses for the recipe are that it doesn't make a bunch and you can play a little with the ingrdients. So there will definitely be no leftovers and low-fat ricotta and half the butter works just fine. You do have to appreciate any recipe that gets a self-proclaimed spinach hater to ask for more.

If you read my post for spinach stuffed chicken breasts, you may recall my first encounter with missing instructions. Well, the list of ingredients for spinach gnocchi seemed to lack one key item - flour! It just didn't seem right, especially when the recipe instruction said add "next five ingredients" and there were only four. Anyone who has tried to cook from handwritten recipe cards knows sometimes you have to use your sleuthing skills to fill in the blanks.

Spinach gnocchi, 2-3 servings
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
2 Tablespoons butter (I reduced to 1 Tblsp.)
1 10-oz. package frozen spinach, thawed and drained well
1 beaten egg yolk
1/2 cup ricotta cheese (low-fat or part-skin works fine)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash fresh ground pepper
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoon butter, melted
Additional grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and saute onion until tender. Add spinach and cook for 3 minutes, combining thoroughly.

Transfer to a mixing bowl to cool slightly before adding egg yolk and next five ingredients.

Shape small egg shapes of the mixture, using approximately 1 Tblsp. per shape. Place in a baking dish and drizzle with melted butter. Bake for 15 to 20 mins. Remove from oven and sprinkle on a little grated parmesan.
See step-by-step photos in this video:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Provençal Tomatoes à la Barefoot Contessa

As the weekend approaches in our house you can feel the mood shift. We laugh more, ease up on the work deadlines and start thinking about what we want to eat and drink. I've been cooking from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa cookbooks this week and wanted one of her dishes to have with our cocktails. These provençal tomatoes definitely kicked happy hour up a level, which is what my mom did with appetizers she used to make. Cocktail hour at her house always felt like a weekend, no matter what day it was.

Mom's influences on her cooking style were very Mediterranean, especially from countries in southern Europe. I know she must have made these tomatoes for us because she would often do stuffed and baked veggies. They fit with so many of the qualities she looked for in recipes - colorful, easy to make-ahead, bright flavors.

The original recipe uses lots of fresh herbs which tend to eat up my grocery budget so I settled on just getting the fresh basil and using a little dried thyme. Ina also recommends fresh bread crumbs from white bread which isn't something we buy so I substituted fresh whole wheat bread crumbs. They worked fine but when I make these again I will try panko for a lighter, crisper crumb. Also, this is a wonderful recipe for bringing out the best in store bought tomatoes.

Here's to the happiest of hours in your house this weekend!

Provençal tomatoes (adapted from recipe in Barefoot Contessa Family Style)
6-8 roma tomatoes, depending on size
Salt and pepper, to season the tomatoes
1 cup fresh bread crumbs or panko crumbs
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Olive oil, good quality

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and lightly coat a baking dish with cooking spray.

Remove cores and cut tomoatoes in half lengthwise. Use your fingers to remove seeds and juice. Place tomato halves in prepared dish cut sides up and season with salt and pepper.

Combine bread crumbs, basil, thyme, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt. Mound the bread crumb mixture into the tomato halves. Bake the tomatoes for 15 minutes, or until they're tender. Sprinkle with the cheese, drizzle with olive oil, and bake for another minute to melt the cheese. Serve hot or at room temperature.
See step-by-step photos in this video:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Breakfast with Ina: Maple oatmeal scones

This week, I'm cooking from Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa cookbooks because she was one of my mom's favorite TV chefs and cookbook authors. I made chicken chili earlier this week from Barefoot Contessa Parties. Today, we're making a morning pastry that I'm sure mom would have admired. For a brunch buffet, she liked serving one exceptional baked good and these maple oatmeal scones are just the right thing.

My approach to scones has been a bit different than Ina's. My scone recipes usually don't have eggs and I like using my hands to cut in the butter instead of a mixer. I learned the "hands on" technique at a scone class offered by one of our local bakeries, Dolce Baking Company. Erin Brown, the bakery owner, told us that by using our hands we're less likely to overwork the dough and the scones will be flakier. If you can find classes taught by local experts in your own town, I strongly recommend taking one. Mom and I always talked about taking a cooking class together and I think we would have had so much fun.

I do love Ina's combination of all-purpose and wheat flour with the oatmeal. Even though I was tempted to double the sugar, the one tablespoon is spot on. The scones have a toasty, wholesome crust that holds up well to the maple glaze. Be true to the pure maple syrup too. Don't try to use an imitation pancake syrup. It would be a terrible thing to waste on that much butter.

Maple Oatmeal Scones, makes 8 to 9 scones (adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook original recipe. I made a half recipe so click on the original recipe if you want a whole bunch.)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, diced
1/4 cup cold buttermilk
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 eggs, beaten

Glaze: 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/4 cup pure maple syrup and 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Whisk together the flours, oats, baking powder, sugar and salt. Before you get your hands all covered with flour and butter, beat together the buttermilk, maple syrup and eggs. Using your hands, squish the butter into the flour mixture until the butter pieces are coated and no bigger than the size of peas. Pour the milk mixture into the flour/butter mixture. Stir with a fork until just blended. The dough can be a bit sticky.

Flour a surface very well and pat the dough down to a 1 inch thickness. You should be able to see chunks of butter in the dough. Use a biscuit cutter to cut dough into 3-inch rounds. You can also shape the dough into a disk and cut into wedges. Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are crisp and the insides are done.

For the glaze, whisk together the confectioners' sugar, maple syrup and vanilla. When the scones are done, cool for 5 minutes and drizzle each scone with a little glaze. If you're at all worried about the glaze being overly sweet, sprinkle a little kosher salt on each scone. It really balances all the flavors.

You can see step-by-step photos in this video:


Monday, January 17, 2011

A week with Ina: Chicken Chili

There were many weekends when I would get an email from my mom first thing in the morning and she was up just as early as me. Most the time when I would reply and tell her I was watching a cooking show, she would reply right away that she was watching too. Even if we were hundreds of miles away, it made me feel like we were in the same room. Usually it would be the Barefoot Contessa. We both adored Ina Garten.

Eight weeks after mom was diagnosed with cancer, I found out Ina would be stopping in Kansas City during her book tour to promote How Easy is That? I immeditely thought of how great it would be for mom to come and attend the event with me. She had been feeling pretty good and her chemo treatments were going amazingly well. It could be something for her to look forward to and a celebration of finishing the chemo.

Over the next month, I traveled back and forth from mom's hospital room. Anyone who has gone through cancer with a friend or family member will tell you that there's lots of sitting and waiting at hospitals. To fill the time, mom and I talked about food, cookbooks and our favorite cooks. We also talked about the Kardashians, soccer, nail polish colors, leg hair and a multitude of other topics that were just distractions. Anyone who has gone through this will also tell you talking is precious. When the time comes for communicating with just hand squeezes and eye contact, that's when you're glad for all the talking you've done.

In November, I did go to Ina's Kansas City book tour event and felt like mom was there with me. Now when I watch Ina cooking or read one of her cookbooks that mom owned, the wandering thoughts in my brain mix in those random hospital conversations and I am glad we had them.

This week, I'm going to cook from five of Ina's cookbooks. First up is a adaptation of her chicken chili from the first Barefoot Contessa cookbook I bought myself in 2001, at mom's recommendation. I didn't use the canned tomatoes that Ina suggests so I've added chicken stock for liquid. You'll see that I also added white beans 'cause I can't do chili without beans.

Chicken Chili, makes 6 servings (adapted from a recipe in Barefoot Contessa Parties)

  • 2 Tblsp. good quality olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon taco seasoning (Mexican or enchilado seasoning would work too)
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs. chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 15 oz. cans of Great Northern beans, undrained (pour the liquid in too!)
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  1. Heat olive oil over high heat in stockpot or Dutch oven. Add onions and carrots, stirring to cook until carrots are fork tender. Add the garlic, cumin and taco seasoning stirring to coat veggies.

  2. Add chicken and cook over med-high heat until pieces are no longer pink on the outside. Stir in green pepper and cook for a few minutes (I like to wait to add the green pepper after the chicken so the pepper doesn't get too soft). Pour in a little of the chicken stock if you need to keep the chicken from sticking. (Ina likes to roast her chicken in the oven and add it after the chili has simmered but I like cooking it all together.)

  3. Add the beans and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to let it simmer for 20-25 minutes.
  4. Note: We like a soupier chili in our house because everyone adds something to their own bowl, like crushed up crackers, sour cream or grated cheese. If you like a thicker chili, you can sprinkle a few tablespoons of flour over the onions and carrots at the same time that you add the seasonings.

See step-by-step photos in this video: