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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Flank Steak Tacos with Guacamole

A couple weeks ago spring fever hit our household hard and the next thing we knew we were buying lawn chairs, firing up the grill, and mixing margaritas for friends who stopped by the farm for the evening.  Unfortunately, after a couple margaritas we'd devoured the guacamole and found ourselves out of daylight before the steak came off the grill.  Though the tacos were delicious, I wasn't able to get a decent photo.  Last night after work we called a do-over.  The recipe I used was Bobby Flay's Flank Steak Taco and Guacamole recipe.  The only modification I made was to grill up some onions and red peppers to serve with the tacos.  The grilled veggies and guacamole perfectly complement the charred flank steak.  This is one we'll be making for summers to come.

Monday, March 29, 2010


When I lived in Pittsburgh, PA my favorite breakfast spot was a place called The Bagel Factory which was located in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood called Squirrel Hill.  The bagels were chewy and dense without being heavy and dry.  The outside was smooth and shiny and the everything bagels had kosher salt and no sunflower seeds (the perfect blend).  I graduated from law school in 2006 and moved back home to Virginia to start my career.

Alas, finding a good bagel in rural Virginia is like looking for a needle in a haystack.. a haystack that doesn't have any needles in it.  An hour in the car will get you a serviceable bagel from Panera and nothing more.  Last weekend I set out to make homemade bagels and found success.  These bagels are probably not the same as you'd get in an authentic NY deli but, in my humble opinion, they're pretty darn good.  Certainly better than any of the round breads they call bagels at the grocery store.  

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cheddar-Chive Risotto

It's no secret that I love risotto.  The preparation is involving without being challenging and the result is always pure comfort food.  This recipe from Nigella Lawson's Nigella Express is the slightly more sophisticated cousin of macaroni and cheese.  I enjoyed this on a rainy night home alone with a glass of white wine and a Lifetime movie.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Potato Pizza

The very first time I used yeast was to make a pizza dough back in 2006.  Up to that point I had cooked pretty frequently but had never endeavored to bake anything requiring yeast/kneading/waiting.  I didn't know that dough sometimes needed to rest a while to keep the gluten from causing the dough to seize up when you tried to work with it.  The first time I made a pizza dough I nearly quit in frustration when the harder I tried to form the dough into a perfect round, the harder it fought to remain in a ball.  Though I've certainly gotten back on the horse and made many a yeast dough since that first disastrous pizza dough, I haven't made many pizzas.

Pizza is one of those things that can be made as many different ways as their are people who make it.  I tend to like a thin and crispy crust with a moderate amount of spicy tomato sauce, a light layer of fresh mozzarella, and some combination of mushrooms, onions and pepperoni. 

A few weeks back the man of the house and I caught an episode of "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" in which the guests described the most delicious pizzas they had ever eaten.  Alex Guarnaschelli cited the Yukon Gold Potato Pizza from Five Points as her number one pick.  When we decided to have pizza for dinner last night I left the pepperoni and fresh mozzarella in my fridge and decided to put together a potato pizza of my own.  I topped my pizza with olive oil, thyme, russet potato slices and garlic.  The flavor was very delicate and I could easily see how a drizzle of truffle oil just before serving would be an excellent topper.  When I make this again I think I'll add a little goat cheese and Parmesan to the top of the pizza in the last few minutes of baking.  

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Flourless Chocolate Cake: Take Two

The last time I made a flourless chocolate cake I accidentally forgot to line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and the cake stuck like crazy.  The two slices I photographed were the only two I was able to pry off of the base of the pan intact.  The rest of the cake crumbled into pieces.  Though the cake was delicious, it wasn't exactly what I was looking for.  The cake was dark, moist and heavy.  It was like a slab of decadent chocolate mousse.  Delicious, but not cakelike.  Having had such good results with Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake I looked again to her recipe collection for her take on a flourless chocolate cake.  The following recipe is an adaptation of her Chocolate Cloud Cake.  This cake is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the flourless chocolate cake I made the last time.  The exterior is crater-like and cracked to reveal a moist but light interior.  The whipped cream topping is barely sweet and is a perfect counter point to the cocolatey cake.  This recipe is going into the keep file.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Skillet Fries

Though neither the man of the house nor I could be described as rabid environmentalists, we do try to do our part when it comes to using resources wisely.  We watch our energy consumption and, most relevant to this blog, do everything we can to avoid wasting a lot of food.  Often, since ours is a two person household, I end up halving or even quartering recipes.  Other times I prepare a full batch of something and then freeze part of the batch partially-prepared for leftovers (there are raw meatballs and mushroom ravioli tucked into my freezer as we speak) rather than cooking the entire batch and then eating the same thing for days on end.

The last time we grilled out we ended up with some leftover grilled onion and red peppers.  Not wanting all of that delicious flavor to go to waste, we cooked up some absolutely delicious skillet home fries and served them with bacon and a fried egg for breakfast.  The potatoes would also be really tasty as part of the filling for a breakfast burrito, etc.  The potatoes came together easily and they were much tastier than the soggy mess you often get on the side of your plate at a restaurant.  Though you could certainly cut up some fresh red peppers and onions and cook them along with the potatoes, using the leftovers made the preparation of the potatoes a little simpler and the smokiness from the grill added wonderful flavor.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Last night we had a couple guests over for flank steak tacos, margaritas and guacamole.  The tacos were great (and will be posted once I get some photos of the finished product) but it was the guacamole I woke up this morning wishing I had more of.  The recipe is extremely simple and can be modified to suit anyone's taste, though I'll confess I wouldn't make it any differently.  The blend I chose was moderately spicy.  If you are serving this to children (or adults with sensitivity to spicy foods) you may want to seed or omit the Serrano chili pepper.  I served this exactly as written below and it was finished in no time.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guinness Chocolate Cake

I was thumbing through Nigella Lawson's Feast recently and slowed down when I hit the Chocolate Guinness Cake.  I figured what better time to try Chocolate Guinness Cake than right before St. Patrick's day.  I'm not a beer drinker, I am pretty sure this is the first Guinness that's ever passed my lips.  While I can't say I'll change my drinking habits any time soon I can certainly say there's certainly going to be more of this cake in my future.  The batter comes together in a snap.  Once baked the cake is dense without being heavy and moist without being fudgy.  The icing helps add some sweetness that is missing in the cake but is otherwise slightly disappointing.  I love cream cheese frosting but I don't think it complements the chocolate cake (the contrast also makes the cake extremely difficult to photograph with my iPhone) beyond adding sweetness which helps balance the slight bitterness of the cocoa in the cake.  When I make this again I am going to top the cake with chocolate ganache instead.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lime Bars

This weekend, though the weather outside wasn't giving any indication of spring's impending arrival, I went through some of my old cookbooks, magazines, etc. looking for ideas for new spring recipes.  I was immediately drawn to the Key Lime Bars in the American Classics 2009 issue of Cook's Illustrated.  In my little look around the internet it appears it has been published in previous, and possibly subsequent, issues of the magazine.  The crust employs animal cracker crumbs where many recipes use graham cracker crumbs and the result is surprisingly perfect.  The filling is sweet but the lime stands front and center and the toasted coconut is really an excellent counter-point to the tartness of the filling.

I used freshly squeezed Persian (standard) Limes rather than Key Limes.  In the past I have juiced and attempted to zest a million tiny limes and, in my hunble (though backed up by the folks who write the Cook's Illustrated magazines and cookbooks) opinion the flavor difference, if not entirely imperceptible, doesn't justify the additional expense and hassle.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Challah French Toast

A while back I decided that I should make Challah bread.  I had only tasted Challah bread as french toast but figured anything that heavenly should become part of my repertoire.  I made two large loaves of Challah about 2 months ago.  After smearing a little butter on the first piece sliced off of the freshly baked loaf and determining, to my horror, that I didn't really like Challah that hadn't been turned into french toast, I put the loaves in an extra thick wrapping of aluminum foil and tossed 'em in my freezer.  The first loaf was made into french toast and bread pudding in pretty short order.  The second loaf has languished in the freezer where it was nearly forgotten.  On Friday night I was thinking about what I could make for breakfast this weekend without having to make a trip to the grocery store first.  I took the Challah out of the freezer and tucked it into the fridge overnight and on Saturday morning I whipped up some pretty fine french toast.  The exterior was lightly crisp and the interior was soft without turning into a puddle of milky crumbs.  It's clear to me that french toast was made for Challah and Challah was made for french toast.  There's a lid to every pot.  I halved the recipe because there were only two of us for breakfast but this recipe can be easily scaled to feed a few or a crowd.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Original German Chocolate Cake

The man of the house will tell you that there are three desserts that he really likes; thin and chewy chocolate chip cookies, pecan pie and German Chocolate Cake.  The German Chocolate Cake he grew up with is the original recipe printed on Baker's brand German Chocolate bars.  Apparently this is the cake he requested for all of his childhood birthdays and I didn't want to go messin' with a good thing when I made this German Chocolate Cake last weekend.  I was honestly surprised at the complexity of the cake recipe found inside the box.  I figured this recipe would be one step removed from the boxed, add water, eggs and oil variety, but soon found out that I would be whipping egg whites into stiff little peaks and stirring constantly at my stovetop to make the gooey coconut-pecan filling that elevates German Chocolate Cake to crave-worthy status.  The chocolate cake layers are light and are not overwhelmingly chocolate-y.  They are a perfect counterpoint to the sinfully rich and decadent coconut pecan filling.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Mushroom Ravioli

Having gotten the hang of our new pasta machine, I was excited to try homemade ravioli.  We had some friends over this weekend and I thought mushroom ravioli would be an inexpensive way to serve a special dinner to friends.  This recipe isn't especially difficult but it is a little time consuming.  The results are well worth it, though.  The mushroom filling is delicious with homemade and would work equally well with fresh lasagna noodles.  I served this with a Marsala cream sauce (recipe follows). 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Chocolate Silk Pie

This pie recipe is nearly identical to the coconut cream pie recipe I posted a few weeks ago and is a testament to the versatility of a good basic recipe.  Rather than adding toasted coconut to the finished pudding you simply add in semisweet chocolate pieces.  The resulting filling is thick, creamy and decadent without being overly sweet.

I again made the pre-baked pie crust from the New Best Recipe cookbook and again ended up with a shrunken, bubbled and misshapen (though tasty) final product.  Hopefully I'll be able to post a winning pre-baked pie crust recipe in the future.

In the meanwhile, use whatever pie crust works for you and enjoy this extremely easy and delicious chocolate silk pie recipe.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Honey-Lemon Pound Cake

Lately there has been a slight change in the air.  I'm no longer worried about another snow storm.  It's sunny when I drive to work.  As the appearance of spring inches closer, my wintry desire to cozy up into something warm, rich, and heavy is beginning to melt away along with the snow I'm afraid will still be around in July. 

Last night I wanted something sweet, but not something overly rich or creamy and I didn't have a lot of energy to begin a baking project at 9 p.m.  I decided to make a pound cake flavored with vanilla, honey and lemon.  Pound cakes are simple to make, the ingredients are found in most kitchens, and the basic batter can support many variations. 

A little over an hour later I was well rewarded for my selection.  The cake was moist and delicious.  The flavors of the honey and lemon don't announce themselves loudly, but lend a hint of their flavor.  If you want to dial up the lemon flavor a lemon glaze would be perfect.  This would also be excellent topped with a little fresh whipped cream and some berries once they come into season.  In any event, this is a wonderful little pound cake to serve this upcoming spring (or now if you can't wait).

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sun Dried Tomato and Mozzarella Risotto

When we went grocery shopping last weekend a new box of arborio rice was on my list because I had great plans to make Nigella Lawson's Cheddar Cheese Risotto (I expect to post that within the next week).  On Monday after work I broke out my new box of arborio rice but settled on a concoction that involved no cheddar cheese or chives and, instead, was studded with delicious bits of sun dried tomatoes and cubes of melty fresh mozzarella cheese.

Risotto gets a bad rap for its perceived labor intensiveness.  Sure, you can't put it on the stove or in the oven with a lid on it and expect it to come out properly, but the "stir constantly" part of the recipe, though necessary to release the starch that creates its creamy texture, is really not that taxing.  For one, risotto is wet so if one stirs somewhat less frequently than constantly it's not going to scorch or stick right away.  For another, risotto isn't dense or heavy so it doesn't take a lot of effort to stir.  Many recipes that want you to stir something constantly want you to do so to avoid a burnt product or to turn unmanageable dough into manageable dough.  Risotto isn't that high maintenance and the creamy (without cream in many instances) results are worth it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spaghetti and Meatballs

I got a pasta machine this weekend and have been waiting to break it out ever since.  We plan to have some friends over this weekend and my menu plan includes sun dried tomato ravioli made using our newest kitchen addition.  I figured I shouldn't break out the pasta machine for the first time with company over for dinner and, underestimating the time required to make one's first batch of homemade pasta, I arrived home from work and embarked upon creating my own thin spaghetti noodles to eat with homemade meatballs and marinara sauce.

My first attempt at putting together the pasta dough went horribly awry and I found myself on the verge of a tantrum as a wave of unbeaten egg took out the flour retaining wall and sent the whole thing cascading off the cutting board, onto the counter and overboard onto the floor.  When I finally got the dough together (in the safe confines of a mixing bowl) it was too wet for the pasta machine to cut.  After several rounds of defeat, I produced homemade noodles.  Alas, they're still a work in progress and I would be remiss to attempt to offer any instruction regarding their preparation.  The sauce and meatballs, on the other hand, are excellent.  A few bites into my dinner I all but forgot about the reasons dinner didn't hit the table until nearly ten.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Overnight Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns

This is an adaptation of the Cinnamon Buns recipe I posted here.  For this recipe you will prepare the dough the same way as you would for the Cinnamon Buns but the filling and topping are different.  Prior to rolling out the dough you will toast some pecans and create a caramel sauce for the buns to bake on top of.  The resulting sticky buns are ooey-gooey and sinfully delicious.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Overnight Cinnamon Buns

A favorite breakfast treat here at the farmhouse is cinnamon buns.  The sad fact of the matter, however, is that we rarely get to enjoy them before lunchtime due to the lengthy rises required.  I decided I would make the dough and assemble the rolls the night before and put them in the refrigerator overnight for their second rise.  In the morning they were plump and ready for the oven.  No fuss no muss.  The aroma of the buns filled the entire house and worked a lot better than the alarm clock to get sleepy bodies out of bed.  The buns were excellent.  Perfectly sweet, tender and gooey.

The following recipe is adapted from the Best Recipe Baking book.