Saturday, January 31, 2009

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I'm not a dessert person but I do have a weakness for red velvet cupcakes. With Valentine's Day around the corner, I thought I'd post this delicious recipe so you can share the love this year with family and friends. You must make the frosting from scratch. Yes, I know you can buy it at the store. But the real stuff tastes so much better and it's so easy that you could make an 8 year old do it.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 2 sticks butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
  • Chopped pecans and fresh raspberries or strawberries, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 (12-cup) muffin pans with cupcake papers.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl gently beat together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla with a handheld electric mixer. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins about 2/3 filled. Bake in oven for about 20 to 22 minutes, turning the pans once, half way through. Test the cupcakes with a toothpick for doneness. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

For the Frosting:

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy.

Garnish with chopped pecans and a fresh raspberry or strawberry.

Cook's Note: Frost the cupcakes with a butter knife or pipe it on with a big star tip.



Thursday, January 29, 2009

Yabbies Coastal Kitchen

Just because times are tough doesn't mean we cannot go out at all. In fact, Drew and I have figured out a way to enjoy all the culinary treats we love at half the price. That right, happy hours are back. And I'm not talking about drinks.

Yelp and Citysearch are two online resources that keep track of all the deals going on in your city everyday. 2 for 1, half off bottles, free corkage, free appetizers with entree, happy hours and more. Keeping a pulse on these great deals is an awesome way to go out on the cheap and feel like you're eating like a king.

We came across Yabbies Coastal Kitchen on Yelp. Citysearch named them 'Best Seafood Restaurant' in 2007, and Zaget and Yelpers gave it praise. Local credentials aside, Yabbies has a killer happy hour menu and, suddenly, we were in the mood for seafood! Eating at 6 makes you feel a little geriatric but the bonus is you can usually choose where you would like to sit and the service is attentive.

Oysters of the day were $1 each and fresh from Point Reyes. We slurped them and washed them down with a glass of house white wine. Glasses start at $5, half carafe is $10 and a bottle of the house red or white runs at $20. Not a bad deal at all.

Next we ordered the Grilled Monterey Bay Calamari with Cilantro Sprigs and Thai Dipping Sauce for $6. I am not a big calamari fan. Fried is totally out of the question because you never actually taste the calamari and wind up eating breading and feel gross by the time you go out or go home. Grilled is usually overdone and you end up with rubbery tentacles. But Drew loves the stuff so I always roll with it. For the record, Yabbies has the best calamari I have ever had in my life. Not only was it cooked to perfection, the Thai dipping sauce is to die for.

For our last bite, we ordered the Mussels with White Wine and Shallot Broth for $9. Dipping a baguette in mussel broth never gets old and could be a meal of its own. Drew always says that I can show him how much I love him by making this very dish at home which, you can imagine, I have done several times.

$40 bucks and a hour and a half later, we left Yabbies full and satisfied. The crowd was coming in as we were going out but they will have paid full price for what we enjoyed for half. Suckers.



Wednesday, January 28, 2009

GameDay Buffalo Wings

The Super Bowl is just around the corner so that means snacking on some American bites and dips. There is no question that beer, football and Buffalo wings go hand-in-hand. I found the recipe for the original spicy Buffalo chicken wings from the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY. Many argue that Anchor Bar is the birthplace of this bar food staple. You can adjust the heat by adding more or less cayenne and Tabasco.

Buffalo Chicken Wings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

* 36 chicken wing pieces (one wing makes 2 pieces - the "flat" and the "drum")
* 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
* 1 tsp salt
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
* 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
* 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
* 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 6 tablespoons Louisiana hot sauce (Frank's is the brand used in Buffalo)
* 6 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
* celery sticks
* blue cheese dressing (I love Marie's)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

1. If necessary, cut whole wings into two pieces. In a bowl toss the wings with the oil, and salt. Place into a large plastic shopping bag, and add the flour. Shake to coat evenly. Remove wings from the bag, shaking off excess flour, and spread out evenly on oiled foil-lined baking pan(s). Do not crowd. Bake for about 20 minutes, turn the wings over, and cook another 20 minutes, or until the wings are cooked through and browned.

2. While the wings are baking, mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a pan, and over low heat bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and then turn off.

3. After the wings are cooked, transfer to a large mixing bowl. Pour the sauce over the hot wings and toss with a spoon or spatula to completely coat.

These are always served with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing on the side.



Mahi-Mahi with Blood Orange, Avocado and Red Onion Salsa

Sick of root vegetables? Lucky for you, two of my absolute favorite treats are in season. Allow me to introduce you to the blood orange and the avocado.

Don't get me wrong, I love winter's rustic bounty but something about blood oranges and avocados remind me of warmer, sunnier days. This dish looks like something I would eat on a cliff-side restaurant in Mexico. But you don't need to hop a plane to enjoy this recipe, you can make it at home in about 15- 20 minutes and with little effort at all.

Blood oranges are wonderful in salads and in desserts. Sometimes, I'll just peel a blood orange and serve it with pieces of dark chocolate for dessert. Very simple but very good. Also, they are wonderful in bellinis and the juice can be reduced into luxurious sauces for savory and sweet dishes.

Mahi-Mahi with Blood Orange, Avocado and Red Onion Salsa
* 1 blood orange, Cara Cara orange, or regular orange
* 1/2 cup 1/3-inch cubes avocado
* 1/3 cup chopped red onion
* 2 teaspoons minced red jalapeño
* 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

* 2 teaspoons olive oil
* 2 6-ounce mahi-mahi fillets


Using small sharp knife, cut peel and white pith from orange. Working over small bowl, cut between membranes to release segments. Add avocado, onion, jalapeño, and lime juice to oranges in bowl; stir gently to blend. Season salsa to taste with salt.

Heat oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Add fish to skillet and sauté until brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side.

Place 1 fillet on each of 2 plates. Spoon salsa atop fish and serve.



Monday, January 26, 2009

Roasted acorn squash stuffed with cheese tortellini

Listen up people, this recipe is beyond tasty. I made it for 6 people last night and it got rave reviews. I am very bummed that I did not take a picture of my dish (I am borrowing this pic from google, shhhh) because I added a couple of other ingredients that made the dish soar and look fantastic.

First of all, I made the pasta. You can certainly used store bought for this but I am big into my fresh pasta these days. Also, I am abandoning ricotta in my stuffed pasta. It's not as gratifying as other cheeses so I used a mixture of an egg yolk, parsley, fontina, parmesan and romano cheese. My sister called them 'mini cheese pizzas' which I thought was clever. These cheeses made such a huge difference so I suggest this as your filling if you want to try it for your self.

Secondly, I made a bacon breadcrumb mixture that I put on top of the dish before I put in the over to give it a little color, crunch and saltiness. Brilliant idea. I mixed about 1/4 of panko crumbs with 2 minced cloves of garlic, 2 slices of bacon that were 3/4 cooked and minced up, parsley and about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease. Reading that last line makes my arteries clog but it really made the dish.

The last little addition was pretty awesome, too. I served the squashes in over sized soup bowls that have about a 2 inch rim. I dusted each dish with some minced parsley to add color and then I added about 1/4 cup of warm chicken broth to the bottom of each bowl. My guests were using the broth as a dipping sauce which helped to turn a super rich dish into a super rich dish with a savory finish.

Roasted acorn squash stuffed with cheese tortellini

* 2 medium acorn squash (about 1 pound each)
* extra-virgin olive oil
* kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
* 2 cups heavy cream
* 1 garlic clove, crushed
* 1 sprig thyme
* 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
* 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
* 1 lb cheese tortellini (store bought)
* kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
* grated parmesan cheese, for topping
* fresh sage leaf (to garnish)


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Split the squash in half (cut lengthwise from top end to bottom end) cutting right through the stem so each half has a piece of stem attached. Scrape out the seeds with a spoon and discard. Cut a small piece off the rounded bottom to give it a base to sit on. Place the squash halves, cut sides up, on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until tender.

Meanwhile, prepare the tortellini mix. Heat a large pot of salted water to cook the tortellini inches In a separate saucepan heat the heavy cream over medium heat with garlic and thyme and reduce until thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Add the nutmeg and parmesan, then melt over low heat. Cook the tortellini in the boiling water (3-4 minutes for fresh tortellini, or follow directions of brand) and then strain and toss into cream mixture. Use some of the pasta water to thin out sauce if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and then divide amongst cooked squash cups.

Turn the oven up to 400°F.

Sprinkle the tops of squash bowls with grated parmesan and a fresh sage leave and then bake in the oven for a further 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden brown.



Thursday, January 22, 2009

Citrus-Glazed Carrots

This is definitely not the first time I have posted a Lora Zarubin recipe on my blog. My sister and her husband love her cookbook, I Am Almost Always Hungry and have had the privilege of trying her dishes in their family's very own kitchen. Since I have moved to California, I have tried many of her recipes but this is the one I have cook most often in my own kitchen.

I always try to get my hands on baby carrots because I think they look more elegant on the plate for parties, but using medium sized carrots does the trick, too. If you double the recipe make sure to tack on about 10 extra minutes of cooking time.

Citrus-Glazed Carrots
* 2 1/2 pounds medium carrots, peeled, cut on diagonal into 1/4-inch-thick slices
* 2 cups (or more) water
* 1 cup fresh orange juice
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
* 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
* 2 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel
* 2 teaspoons finely grated lime peel
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley


Combine carrots and 2 cups water in heavy large skillet. Add all remaining ingredients except parsley. If needed, add enough water to just cover carrots. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil just until carrots are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally, 8 to 9 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer carrots to medium bowl; cool. Boil cooking liquid in skillet until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Transfer to small bowl. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover carrots and cooking liquid separately; chill.

Bring reserved cooking liquid to boil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add carrots and boil until just tender and liquid is thickened to light syrup consistency, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl. Sprinkle with parsley.



Monday, January 19, 2009

Peace Meals Cookbook

I have a great collection of cookbooks from the Junior League of Houston. With so much turmoil going on in the world at at home in our own country, I find it very fitting that this year's compilation of tasty recipes is titled Peace Meals. With over 272 pages filled with colorful pictures, menu suggestions, entertaining tips and cooking techniques, this cookbook will quickly become your go-to. To purchase your own copy, click here.



Salt House

I had heard a lot about Salt House since we've moved to San Francisco and was very curious to see if it would live up to the hype. My friend Jen and I decided to give it a shot on a Tuesday night. Walking into the space you saw no signs of a faltering economy. The place was packed and the energy was refreshing.

The menu is New American but also includes a classic Canadian treat, Poutine. You really can't go wrong with putting cheese and gravy over fries especially if that gravy is made from short ribs. But the dish was a disappointment and I wished the cheese sauce they made was more pungent. The flavors just meddled together and I really wish they hadn't. We were on a budget (who isn't these days) so we ordered the house wine and shared the poutine and a salad. The waitress gave us that look that screamed I-am-not-going-to-make-any-money-from-you-and-you-are-wasting-my-time and needless to say the service was sub par after that. But our green bean salad was excellent and both dishes ended up being enough food for the both of us.

Bad service really makes or breaks a restaurant for me. The rest of Salt House's menu looked delicious and as much as I would love to go back and give the entrees a shot, I don't know if I'll be able to shake the glare we got. I know that glare. I used to give it myself in my college table turning days! So if you go, go with an expense account and maybe they will be a little nicer to you.



Deep-Dish Sausage Pizza

There will always be the battle between NYC and Chicago- Who's pizza reigns supreme? The truth is that their styles are so different that I find them incomparable. In fact, I love them both. Sometimes I'm in the mood for something thin and crispy and other times (usually in the winter months) I am looking for something more comforting with lots and lots of gooey cheese.

I've lived in NYC and Chicago and both cities have really honed their craft. Lou Malnati's in Chicago and John's of Bleecker Street in NYC are local institutions that are not to be messed with. They are quite serious about their pies. In fact, if you're craving for deep-dish gets out of control you can order it to be delivered in the mail and pop it in the oven at home anywhere in the country. That means that I can enjoy my favorite Lou's pie (spinach and cheese) in my San Francisco living room!

Pizza is great but fresh pizza is amazing. If you have the time, tackle this recipe at home and make your very own deep dish. Sausage is just a suggestion in this case. You can sub in and out as you see fit.

Deep-Dish Sausage Pizza
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup warm water (110° - 115°F.)
  • a 1/4-ounce package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil plus additional for oiling bowl
  • 1 pound Italian sausage, casings discarded
  • a 14- to 16-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 2 cups grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese (about 1/2 pound)

Make dough:
In a large bowl dissolve sugar in water. Sprinkle yeast over water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in 2 1/4 cups flour, cornmeal, salt, and 2 tablespoons oil and blend until mixture forms a dough. Knead dough on a floured surface, incorporating as much of remaining 1/4 cup flour as necessary to prevent dough from sticking, until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.

(Alternatively, dough may be made in a food processor. Proof yeast as described above. In the food processor process yeast mixture with 2 1/4 cups flour, cornmeal, salt, and 2 tablespoons oil until mixture forms a ball, adding more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, if too dry or some of remaining 1/4 cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, if too wet, and knead dough by processing it 15 seconds more.)

Put dough, prepared by either method, in a deep oiled bowl and turn to coat with oil. Let dough rise, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

While dough is rising, in a heavy skillet cook sausage over moderately high heat, breaking up lumps, until no longer pink and stir in tomatoes, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer sausage mixture to paper towels to drain and cool.

Preheat oven to 500°F.

Punch down dough and knead 4 times. In an oiled 10 1/2-inch cast-iron skillet, press dough with oiled finger until it comes 2 inches up the side and is an even thickness on bottom. Let dough rise, covered loosely with plastic wrap, in a warm place 15 minutes.

Sprinkle dough with half of mozzarella and top with sausage mixture and remaining cheese. Bake pizza in lower third of an electric oven or on floor of a gas oven for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400°F. and bake 10 minutes more, or until crust is golden.



Monday, January 12, 2009

Italian Kale with Walnuts and Parmesan

I've really grown to love Kale. This winter veggie is in the cabbage family and is related to some of my other favorites including broccoli, brussels sprout, cauliflower and collard greens. People (such as my mom) cannot stand any of these veggies but I think that's just because they have a bad reputation. The veggies don't require much and are quite versatile. You can boil, saute, steam, roast, bake and broil them. They can be used in delicious soups and add texture as any side dish. Go on and give them another shot.

In this case, I sauteed and broiled kale to make as a side for our Harrisa Chicken and Cheese Grits for an easy weeknight dinner.

Kale with Walnuts and Parmesan
1 bunch of Kale (green or black) chopped
1/2 cup of walnuts (I used fresh ones from our ranch) Add more if you'd like
1/4 cup of Parmesan
3 tablespoons of Olive Oil
Salt and pepper to season

Turn oven to broil.

Add olive oil and kale to pan on medium heat. Saute for 6 minutes. Add walnuts and stir for 1 minutes. Remove pan from heat and put kale mixture in a baking pan. Cover with Parmesan cheese and place under broiler until golden brown about 45 seconds.



Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Flora Spings' Flora Fever

Well, Dear Reader, I have expanded my wings! Not only do I get to write on my own blog, now I contribute to one of my favorite winery's blog, Flora Fever! Flora Springs is a family-owned and operated winery in the heart of Napa Valley that has been crafting fine wines for over 30 years. Flora Springs' Trilogy is my favorite Meritage and I was thrilled at the opportunity to write about. Check out my posting and the gang at Flora Springs here or copy this link in your browser:




Brodo di manzo with tortellini and greens soup

My first week of pasta making was trial and error at its finest. I thought I could just 'figure it out' but it turned out that a couple hours of studying went a long way. I know how to dry pasta, store pasta, infuse pasta, freeze pasta and make all shapes and sizes. Not bad for 1 week. Last night, I tackled a recipe I found online that was a perfect one-pot-wonder for a winter night.

Making homemade tortellini is tricky at first but once you get a rhythm down you start cranking them out. I made my filling with ricotta, Parmesan and fresh parsley mixed together with one egg yolk. That is pretty standard. There is no doubt that I will start playing with cheeses next but for now I am trying to get thee basics down. In the picture above, you can see that I made a variation of pastas. The fettucini was for my brother-in-law that can't eat cheese (poor guy) and the raviolis were made for my sister to take home with her. For this recipe we used just the tortellini.

The recipe calls for the soup to simmer for 4 hours but I let it go for an hour and a half longer. With soup and stews you can really let them go as long as you watch the broth to make sure it has not boiled off. If the broth gets low add water or a mixture of broth and water. More time means more flavor and more time for the meat to break down and tenderize. This soup really hit the spot and the kale was a perfect green to add at the end.

Brodo di manzo with tortellini and greens soup

1 beef shank (about 2 inch thick)
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
olive oil
3 tbl tomato paste
1 quart beef broth plus 1 quart water
1 bunch kale
8 oz dried cheese tortellini
salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste
parmesan cheese to garnish

Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil on medium high heat. Add beef and sear for 5-6 minutes on each side. Remove beef and set aside. Add onion and saute until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and stir. Add tomato paste and mix together, 2 minute. Add broth and water. Add dried Italian seasonings and a little red pepper flakes for heat. Bring to simmer. Add beef back to Dutch oven and put lid on and simmer for 4 hours (min.)

After 4 hours, add chopped kale to pot and boil for 6 minutes. Add tortellini in soup and cook for 4 more minutes if you pasta is fresh. If not, add pasta and kale together and cook for 10-12 minutes. Serve in soup bowl and garnish with parsley and Parmesan.

Garlic Basil Bread

I served with ciabatta bread baked in a garlic basil butter. To make butter the Tyler Florence way, add 1 stick of butter, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, sea salt, pepper, 6 cloves of garlic and a half bunch of basil to a food processor. Pulse until mixed together. Slice ciabatta and smear butter between slices and on top of loaf. Cover with foil. Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes in foil and serve warm.



Friday, January 2, 2009

Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli with Goat Cheese, Toasted Pine Nuts and a Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Every Christmas it's safe to say that I am going to rack in a bunch of cooking loot. This year was the year of pasta. When I returned home from Rome last year, I vowed to never cook dried pasta again. This has been tough to do for the last year because I didn't have the attachments for my KitchenAid mixer. Well I guess I let everyone know about my homemade pasta ambition because this Christmas I received two sets!

New Year's Eve was spent in Napa with my sister and her husband and my boyfriend, Drew. We cooked up a 4 course dinner and I debuted my first pasta dish. For a first attempt, I am pretty proud of myself. They may not be cut in perfect shapes, they may have been a tad undercooked but they still tasted delicious. Needless to say, this will be the first of many raviolis and other pasta dishes to come!

Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli with Goat Cheese, Toasted Pine Nuts and a Sage Brown Butter Sauce

* 9 tablespoons butter
* 3 tablespoons minced shallots
*2 garlic cloves, minced
* 1 cup roasted butternut squash puree
* Salt
* Freshly ground white pepper
* 3 tablespoons heavy cream
* 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus 2 ounces
* Pinch nutmeg
* 1 recipe pasta dough, rolled out into wide ribbons, about 1/4-inch thick
* 12 fresh sage leaves
* 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
* Goat cheese to garnish
* 4 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts


In a large saute pan, over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the shallots and garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the squash puree and cook until the mixture is slightly dry, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cream and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons cheese and nutmeg, to taste. Season with salt and pepper. Cool completely.

Cut the pasta ribbons into 3-inch squares. Place 2 teaspoons of the filling in the center of each pasta square. Bring 1 corner of the square to the other, forming a triangle and seal the pasta completely. Add the pasta to pot of boiling salted water. Cook until al dente, about 2 to 3 minutes or until the pasta floats and is pale in color.

Garnish with toasted pine nuts, fried sage leaves and goat cheese.