Showing posts with label Side Dish. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Side Dish. Show all posts

Friday, May 5, 2017

Cinco de Mayo Round-Up

Happy Cinco de Mayo! However you decide to celebrate, I hope it includes some great food and beverages. And it goes without saying, a really good tequila! One of the great things about the foods typically enjoyed on Cinco de Mayo is they are all great year round. I mean, can you imagine if we waited to eat guacamole and drink margaritas once a year? The mere thought of this is almost unfathomable. So here are some recipes to include in your fiesta as well as in any of your upcoming gatherings.

Amy's Shortbread Cookies - Cinco de Mayo Style

Monday, March 27, 2017

Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds

As much as I like going out to eat in restaurants, I love even more the intimacy of a meal shared with family and/or friends at home. Sometimes after traveling and eating out at restaurants for several days in a row, I long for a home-cooked meal. Even if that home-cooked meal is simply a plate of scrambled eggs topped with some goat cheese, a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off, or a container of pineapple yogurt topped with almonds and dried cranberries. In other words, home-cooked doesn't have to mean a three or four course meal or one taking all day or even days to make. It definitely doesn't have to be 'fancy' or 'gourmet', it just has to be satisfyingly good or whatever my current version of comfort food might happen to be. Whenever my niece stays overnight during one of her breaks from school or friends are in from out of town, I like to make at least one homemade meal for them. Something a little more than my simple versions of homemade. I don't usually make these homemade meals 'easy' on myself, however, I recently had one of those moments of clarity. You know, the moment when you finally see the obvious and come to realize (or rather truly believe) simplicity can be a really good thing.

This long overdue epiphany came after making brunch for some friends recently. Everything about the meal was simple. The table was set simply with my favorite white dishes and the menu consisted of only three things. Okay, so there might have been linen napkins and fresh flowers on the table, but if you lived in my world you would understand this was 'simple'.

After going through and trying to sort a bin of saved recipes (not a simple endeavor), I rediscovered the recipe for a Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds. It was one a friend gave to my friend who gave it to me. As soon as I looked at it, I immediately knew it would be one of the three things I would make for the brunch.

I had almost forgotten how beautiful and delicious this fruit trifle was. Fortunately I was able to have my memory jogged. Granted this trifle might be a little more decadent than the fruit platter you might normally serve at a brunch, but we all need a little decadence in our lives. Some of us more than others.

The trifle can be made with any number of fruits or fruit combinations. Although strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and/or blueberries lend themselves to be the best fruit options. Use all of them or use at least a couple of them. The trifle would lack flavor, texture and taste dimension if you used only one fruit. Personally I think this is one of those 'the more the merrier' kind of trifles, so I used all four 'berries' when I made it. Equal amounts of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries create the perfect trifecta: color, texture and flavor. This trifle needs at least 3 pints (or 6 cups) of fresh fruit, although depending on your preferred fruit to whipped cream cheese/whipped cream ratio, 7 cups may be more to your liking.

The luscious, creamy, decadent other layer is made with cream cheese, whipping cream whipped to beautiful stiff peaks, confectionary sugar, and some freshly squeezed lemon juice.

If you don't have a trifle bowl, use a clear bowl to alternately layer the whipped cream cheese/whipped cream mixture with the fresh fruit. The first and last layers will be the whipped cream cheese/whipped cream mixture. Try to create at least 3 layers of fruit between the filling so that the fruit is evenly distributed when spooned out. You can completely finish the trifle with a full layer of the whipped cream cheese/whipped cream mixture or pipe it along the edges of the bowl using a pastry bag fitted with the pastry tube of your choice.

The sugared slivered almonds are the trifle's proverbial finishing touch. In a pan of melted butter and sugar over medium-low heat, the almonds are sautéed until lightly golden. Once caramelized the sugared almonds are transferred to a piece of parchment paper and allowed to cool. You will have more than enough of the almonds for this trifle. Serve the 'extras' in a bowl on the side so everyone is sure to get some of the 'crunch'. They can be made the day before and stored in a sealed container.

You can make the Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds several hours before serving. It comes together relatively easily and takes less than 30 minutes to assemble.

Make this trifle for your next Sunday brunch or bring it to your next office/friend breakfast potluck. Okay, so this Fruit Trifle might not win any healthy awards, but it will for taste and presentation. And I promise it will be incredibly well received and devoured. Scouts honor.

This Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds paired incredibly well with freshly brewed coffee, a pitcher of orange juice, some roasted thick-cut bacon, and this Baked Praline French Toast Casserole. If there was a way to make this menu a little more festive, it would be to open up a bottle of champagne or prosecco and turn the pitcher of orange juice into mimosas. With Passover, Easter, graduation parties, birthdays, anniversary celebrations, Mother's Day, Father's Day or reunion gatherings coming in the weeks and months aheads, consider making this Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds your 'fruit' dish.

Fruit Trifle w/ Candied Almonds
Serves 8-10 

6-7 cups (3-4 pints) fresh fruit (strawberries (cut into slices or wedges), raspberries, blueberries, and/or blackberries)
2 cups heavy whipping cream 
16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup confectionary sugar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup slivered almonds
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar

Candied Almonds
1.  Sauté almonds in butter, adding sugar in after the almonds have sautéed for at least 2 minutes.
2. Continue sautéing until almonds are lightly browned.
3. Transfer to a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil. Very lightly sprinkle with some additional granulated sugar.
4. Allow almonds to cool completely. Note: Can be prepared a day ahead. Store in a sealed container until ready to use.)

Fruit Trifle
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whisk heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Temporarily transfer mixture to a separate bowl.
2. In the bowl of standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth and creamy (approximately 2-3 minutes).
3. Add confectionary sugar and lemon juice into cream cheese. Beat until well blended.
4. Remove bowl from standing mixer and fold in whipped cream until well blended.
5. Beginning with the whipped cream cheese/cream, alternately layer the cream and fruit mixture, reserving enough of the cream mixture to pipe on top of the trifle. (Depending on the size of the trifle bowl, will have three to four layers of each.)
6. Using a pastry bag fitted with tip of choice, pipe reserved whipped cream cheese/cream along edges of the bowl.
7. Sprinkle candied almonds on top of whipped cream. Note: You will not use all of the candied almonds if you only pipe the whipped cream cheese/cream along the sides of the trifle bowl. Serve remaining almonds on the side when serving the trifle. 
8. Serve immediately or refrigerate several hours before serving.

Notes: (1) The original recipe also suggested the trifle could be made with green or red seedless grapes. It could, but I really think berries work so much better. (2) The trifle is best served to 'company' on the day it is made, but leftovers continue to be delicious the next day. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower

Lately it seems there has been a proliferation recipes showcasing new ways to use cauliflower. From using it to make a pizza crust; to creating faux mashed potatoes, rice and/or risotto; to transforming into hamburger buns; and yes, to even using it to make chocolate pudding. Who knew cauliflower could be so versatile? Apparently quite a few people. I can't help but wonder what took so long for these unexpected, creative uses of cauliflower to begin making their way into the 'mainstream'. Or maybe all of these creative adaptations have been around for awhile but my cauliflower making lens has been a bit myopic. Although I have yet to venture down the sneaking in healthy cauliflower to replace 'bad' carbs road, I am a big fan of roasting this humble vegetable.

Last year I posted the recipe for insanely delicious Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Whipped Cheese. Although the preparation for dish is actually a three step process. Brine, boil, and then roast. Which may have made it one of those recipes some would put in the category of 'too many steps'. And I get that. Although in just one bite, even those who prefer preparation simplicity over complexity, would immediately consider shifting over to the multi-step end of the continuum.

So I have a surprise for you. This Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower is a one step, roast only process. And if there was ever a recipe to transform the way you feel about or make cauliflower, this would be it. You may never pair a grilled steak with a potato again. Seriously.

Roasting vegetables mellows and sweetens their flavor. The high, dry heat from the oven helps to caramelize the vegetable's natural sugars, resulting in an incredible depth of flavor not experienced if eating it raw, blanched, fried, or steamed.The roasting process not only removes bitterness of the raw vegetable but will completely alter your opinion of it. The vegetables benefitting the most from roasting are potatoes, onions, beets, carrots, squash, brussels sprouts, and, last but not least, cauliflower.

A large head of cauliflower, a large sweet onion, four or five cloves of unpeeled garlic, some sprigs of fresh thyme, good quality olive oil, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese are the only ingredients needed to make the Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower. 

When cutting the cauliflower into florets, try to retain their long stems. For really large florets, cut them half lengthwise. Be careful not to cut them into tiny pieces. Rather the rings, cut the onion into wedges. You should be able to get at least 6 wedges from each onion half. 

Vegetables need high heat to tenderize. Finding the 'sweet spot' roasting temperature depends on the vegetable. The original recipe called for roasting the cauliflower, onions, and garlic at 425 degrees (F). Feedback from others who had made it indicated that level of heat often lead to burning. The roasting temperature suggestions ranged from 375 degrees (F) to 400 degrees (F). Rather than choosing one temperature over the other, I used both. For the first 15 minutes, I roasted the vegetables at 375 degrees (F). For the remaining amount of roasting time, I increased the oven temperature to 400 degrees (F). The result was utter roasted perfection.

Once you have roasted the vegetables 35-40 minutes (tossing at least once), you sprinkle with the grated parmesan cheese. You will continue to roast for another 10-15 minutes, or until the cauliflower forets are tender.

When transferring the roasted vegetables to a serving platter, remove the skins from the cloves of garlic. You can cut the roasted garlic up into pieces (so everyone gets a little taste) or you can keep them whole (so only some get to experience that additional layer of flavor). You decide.

The Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower is at its' best served hot from the oven, although, I found I could not stop picking at it once it came to room temperature. I also wanted to lick my plate, but kept my manners in check.

Destined to be your all-time favorite roasted cauliflower dish as the pairing of the roasted vegetables with the parmesan cheese puts it in a side dish category of its' own. Satisfying, rich, deeply flavorful, elegant, and classic don't even begin to describe the Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower. Perfect as a weeknight or dinner party side dish. Definitely worthy of going on the last meal list.

Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower (Slight adaptation to Bon Appetit's Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower recipe, February 2013)
Serves 6 to 8

1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 large sweet onion, cut into wedges
4-5 springs fresh thyme
4 - 5 garlic cloves, unpeeled
3 Tablespoons good quality olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup (2 ounces) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees (F).
2. Toss cauliflower, onions, unpeeled garlic cloves and thyme in olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with kosher salt and black pepper.
3. Roast for 15 minutes. Toss and increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Continue cooking for an additional 20-25 minutes.
4. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and continue to roast for an additional 10-12 minutes (or until cauliflower is tender).
5. Remove skins from garlic cloves. 
6. Transfer to a platter. Serve immediately. Optional: Grate some additional Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over top before serving.

Notes: (1) Serve the roasted garlic cloves whole or chop up. Recommend chopping up so everyone gets to experience their roasted deliciousness. (2) While not completely necessary, would recommend grating some additional parmesan cheese over the plated vegetables. (3) Highly recommend using a sweet onion, like a Vidalia or Maui for optimal flavor.

Views along Waikiki Beach, Oahu (February 2017)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Macaroni and Cheese, Version 2

Winter has barely started and we are already experiencing some bone chilling, painfully cold days here in the midwest. The kind of days where you don't really want to leave the house as you irrationally fear frostbite will immediately set in even by merely stepping in the cold for the minute it takes to bring the garbage containers out to the curb, to walk from the car into the grocery store, or to bring more wood in to keep the fire in the fireplace going. Days where cozying up with a good book (preferably sitting near a warm fire), binge watching all of those shows you couldn't find the time to watch, and/or eating comfort food are the simplest of life's pleasure. Yet somehow they feel more like one of those 'pinch yourself' moments of indulgence.

A couple of years ago, the Huffington Post shared their list of the 25 Best Comfort Foods. Number three on the list was Macaroni and Cheese. A dish listed somewhere on almost every other best or quintessentially classic comfort food list ever published. Not surprisingly the search for Macaroni and Cheese recipes increases as the temperature decreases. Seems everyone goes on the hunt for the creamiest, cheesiest, dreamiest version of the most addictive of all comfort foods when the weather turns wicked. But most of us want not just creamy and cheesy, we want some crunch! In other words, we want our Macaroni and Cheese to have it all.

Recipes for making Macaroni and Cheese fall into two general categories: (1) those completely made on the stove and (2) those baked in the oven. This creamy, cheesy version begins on the stove and finishes in the oven.

Traditionally Macaroni and Cheese is made with elbow macaroni. But nothing prevents you from changing out the type of pasta in this dish. Although choosing the right kind of pasta is critical as using the wrong kind of pasta will affect the dish. Select a pasta having nooks and crannies to catch and hold onto the cheese sauce. Pasta shapes like shells, cavatappi, and farfalle are good at trapping the cheese sauce and can transform your Macaroni and Cheese dish from a simple to an 'up-scale' one.

The foundation of the cheese sauce is a roux made with equal parts butter and flour. Warmed whole milk is slowly added to roux, turning the mixture into a bechamel sauce. By using slightly warmed milk, you will spend less time whisking to get the sauce to the desired consistency. Salt, pepper, some Tabasco sauce (I like Cholula Hot Sauce), heavy cream and grated cheeses will finish off the sauce.

Cook your pasta al dente (i.e., firm, but with some bite) as it will continue to cook in the sauce when baked in the oven. More often than not I cook my pasta about a minute longer than the recommended al dente time listed on the bag/box. But test it before adding any cooking time. To temporarily stop the pasta from cooking any further, rinse in cold water as soon as you drain it in a colander. Be sure to drain the pasta before adding to the sauce.

I used an aged white sharp cheddar (from Vermont Creamery) and gruyere in this Macaroni and Cheese as both are known for melting easily and complimenting one another. If at all possible, never use pre-shredded cheese as it will not deliver as rich of a taste as cheeses freshly grated do. If you don't have or can't find gruyere cheese, use Parmigiano-Reggiano, Fontina, or a mild Gouda to go with the white sharp cheddar.

As tempted as you will be to eat the sauced pasta right out of the pan (and you will be), you will be rewarded for your patience if you pour (all but one or two small bites) it into your buttered casserole dish.

Sprinkle the reserved half cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese over the top of the casserole, before evenly spreading the buttered bread crumbs. Instead of using boxed bread crumbs, put some (white, egg or brioche) bread and/or rolls in a food processor and process until the mixture is crumbly. One generous cup of bread crumbs mixed with four Tablespoons of melted butter covered the casserole perfectly.

The Macaroni and Cheese bakes for 25-30 minutes in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven. It's done when the bread crumbs turn a beautiful golden brown and some of the sauce is bubbling up along the sides of the dish. Allow to sit for at least five minutes before serving.

This is a creamy, cheesy macaroni and cheese. The combination of the sharp cheddar and gruyere cheeses blended together contribute to giving the finished dish a great depth of flavor. And the buttered bread crumbs give it the perfect bite of crunch.

This version of the Macaroni and Cheese is the perfect side dish to go with barbecue, burgers, or grilled chicken, however, it's one where it can be a meal all unto itself. Serve with a simple salad and some white wine and you have the makings of a dinner party. To take this dish up a notch or make it slightly more decadent, top the servings with some sautéed lobster medallions or top the entire dish with them. Regardless of how you serve it, it is destined to help you survive the winter as well as completely satisfy a macaroni and cheese craving for at least a week.

On a side note, this version of Macaroni and Cheese may be my most favorite. I don't think I will be looking for another recipe any time soon. If ever.

Macaroni and Cheese, Version 2 (slight adaptation to James Beard's Macaroni and Cheese recipe as shared in his cookbook Beard on Pasta)
Serve 6-8 as a side dish. Serves 4 to 6 as a main course.

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk, warmed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco, or more to taste (Note: My favorite is Cholula Hot Sauce.)
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream 
1/2 pound cavatappi or elbow macaroni, cooked al dente
8 ounces white, aged sharp cheddar, freshly grated and divided (Note: An eight ounce block of cheese is equivalent to 2 cups of grated cheese)
1 1/2 ounces grated gruyere  
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
4 Tablespoons melted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Butter a 12 inch casserole dish and set aside.
2. Melt 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter over low heat. Add flour and stir with wood spoon or spatula until the roux is frothy and the taste of raw flour is gone (approximately 3 minutes).
3. Add warmed milk gradually to the roux, stirring hard all the while. 
4. Turn up the heat and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is just to the boiling point.
5. Turn down heat and let simmer for several minutes. Stir in salt, pepper, and Tabasco.
6. Stir in one half cup heavy cream and simmer for a couple of minutes longer.
7. Mix in three quarters (1 1/2 cups) of the grated cheddar and all of the grated gruyere into the sauce. Stir until cheese has melted. Remove from heat. Note: If sauce seems too thick, add the remaining quarter cup of heavy cream.
8. Cook (to al dente), rinse in cold water, and drain pasta. 
9. Mix pasta into the sauce.
10. Pour mixture into prepared dish.
11. Mix bread crumbs with melted butter.
12. Top mixture with remaining 1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese and the bread crumb mixture.
13. Bake for 25-30 minutes until bubbly and bread crumbs have nicely browned.
14. Allow to set for 5 minutes. Serve.

Notes: (1) The first time you make this Macaroni and Cheese, use the traditional elbow macaroni. (2) Top individual servings of the Macaroni and Cheese with lobster medallions to turn it into a lunch/dinner course. (3) Instead of using slices of bread, buy a fresh roll from your bakery or in the bakery section of your grocery store to make the bread crumbs. (4) Reheat leftovers on a low heat microwave setting.

Shadows on the canyon walls in the Lower Dells at Matthiessen State Park, Oglesby, IL (January 2017)