Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Apple Muffins with Streusel Topping

It’s that time of year when the weather starts cooling down and my apple, pear and pumpkin cravings are in full force.  Not to mention I’m 7 months pregnant, so cravings are a natural part of my daily life. :)

I adapted this recipe from a book that I purchased at Barnes & Noble for $5.00 – gotta love a good cookbook bargain.  The book is titled “Cupcakes & Muffins”. Going by the title alone, what’s not to love about this book?!? My new cookbook has over 300 pages of recipes and pictures of every kind of cupcake and muffin you could ever desire to make – SOLD.

This recipe was so delicious, I had to share. Pair this muffin with a cup of coffee and you’ll be off to a great start in the morning.


Apple Muffins with Streusel Topping

Makes 12

Ingredients
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup milk
1 green apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped

Streusel topping
¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 TBSP light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 TBSP unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup chopped pecans

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.

With an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in vanilla extract. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Sift flour and baking powder in to a small bowl. Fold flour mixture into butter mixture alternately with milk. Fold in apple. Spoon mixture into prepared liners to two-thirds full.

To make streusel topping, whisk together flour, sugar and cinnamon. Using fingertips, rub in butter. Stir in pecans. Sprinkle topping evenly over cupcakes.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center of a cupcake tests clean. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, and then transfer muffins to wire rack to cool completely.

"Cupcakes & Muffins" Published by Weldon Owen, 2011.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

World's Healthiest Soup a la Fuego Mundo

It’s hard to believe that one dish could be gluten free, fat free, vegan and meat-free. This “Super Foods” soup recipe from Fuego Mundo embodies every single good for you “want” that healthy eaters crave. My husband gave this dish two thumbs way up.

A little background on how I came across this recipe. Over Super Bowl Sunday the Atlanta Food Bloggers Alliance hosted a Meetup at Fuego Mundo. Nestled in the Prado shopping center, Fuego Mundo touts an almost entirely gluten-free menu. And it’s inexpensive too. Even before this Meetup my husband and I would frequent Fuego Mundo because they have healthy food, and it’s fast and easy on the pocket-book. Our favorite menu item is the ‘Mixed Grill for Two’ which includes tender and flavorful Skirt Steak, Lamb Chops, Chicken Skewers and the Latin sides with Spanish Rice, Black Beans and Sweet Plantains. They also include their signature Chimmichuri on the side for dipping the meat.

After tasting the gluten free goodies with the Atlanta Food Bloggers Alliance, we were left with this amazing recipe to try on our own.


FUEGOMUNDO LATIN VEGETABLE SOUP
(Sancocho ~ Vegan & Non-Fat)

Bring to boil:

8 Quarts Water
1 cup Vegetable Stock
6 Tablespoons Minced Garlic
5 Bay Leaves
½ teaspoon Salt
¾ teaspoon Pepper
Juice of 1 Lemon

Add & Boil for 20 minutes:

2 Large White Onions – Cut into chunks
4 Carrots – peeled & Cut
2 Yellow Plantains – Peeled & Cut
1 Bunch Cilantro – chopped

Add & Boil for an additional 30 minutes:

1 Bunch Broccoli – Cut up
2 YUCCA ROOTS (peeled, steamed & cut into finger sizes)

Remove from heat and let cool for 1 hour.


I really enjoyed working with Yucca . . . I had never worked with Yucca before. It’s a little intimidating because it’s this big root, and you have to peel this tree-bark-like skin off before you get to the tasty white flesh in the middle. The yucca soaked up the juices of this latin soup nicely, similar to a potato in a traditional American soup.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gourmet Crockpot Cinnamon Lamb

Is there such thing as a gourmet dish that you make in your crockpot? Not all foodies and dictionaries agree on what defines the word ‘gourmet'. Many different interpretations. Some feel that cooking food outside of a microwave is considered gourmet (I find this funny). Others interpret gourmet as utilizing fresh, non-processed ingredients. Some foodies believe that you need to utilize an actual culinary technique in order to classify a dish as ‘gourmet’. For purposes of this recipe we’ll use the definition of gourmet as the utilization of fresh ingredients to create a unique tasting dish. The ‘culinary technique’ of throwing ingredients into a crockpot will be used. That’s a technique, right?!? Broad interpretation, but hey – this must fit for a slow cooker recipe.

A few months ago my dear friend Jackie handed me this amazing recipe from her purse. It’s a recipe from Weight Watchers, of all places! What I like about this recipe is that the ingredients are unique to my slow cooker. Before this recipe I hadn’t cooked lamb in my crockpot, nor had I used cinnamon in my crock pot (or chickpeas). This recipe also keeps well in the refrigerator, so I almost always double the recipe to make extra for leftovers. And yes, I’m a fan of the slow cooker. Some days I don’t have time to create an elaborate dish. I feel it’s totally okay to throw ingredients into a crockpot, and come home to a savory delicious dinner.

The main addition I have to this recipe is that I serve the stew over a bed of polenta. The polenta adds a little texture and fills me up a little more than the lamb and chickpeas. Plus, the stew juices soak into the polenta - - yumm.

Enjoy!

Middle Eastern Lamb Slow Cooker Stew

Adapted from Weight Watchers

Ingredients
1 pound lean leg of lamb (lamb shank or lamb top round)
15 oz. canned chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
14 oz. canned diced tomatoes (undrained)
½ cup beef broth
1 large onion, chopped
1-2 Garlic cloves (minced or pressed)
2 tsp ginger root (freshly grated)
1 tsp table salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Polenta

Directions
Cut lamb into 1-inch chunks. Place lamb and remaining ingredients into a 5-quart slow cooker (except for lemon juice). Stir well. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 8 hours.

When cooking is complete, squeeze fresh lemon into the stew. Serve over warm polenta.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Greatest Italian Restaurant in Atlanta: Pacci

A sales recruiter once told me, “There’s never a traffic jam when you go the extra mile.” To say the least, our most recent event with Chef Keira Moritz orchestrated what I would describe as a spiritual experience at Pacci with the Atlanta Food Bloggers’ Alliance. A little background on how we got there: My husband and I attended an outdoor festival this summer called ‘Plates on Peachtree’. ‘Plates on Peachtree’ is a foodie event where you pay an amount of money to taste 20 different restaurants food. In my humble opinion, most restaurants fade into the woodwork at these types of events . . . but one restaurant, and specifically one chef stood out from the crowd – Chef Keira Moritz from Pacci. Just watching
her lead the pack of culinarians behind the Pacci tent was mesmerizing. She’s a young, good looking female executive chef, which is a rare find to begin with – but to boot she had on this sleeveless wife-beater shirt and aviator glasses which did nothing but add to the drama of her onsite creation of her dishes. It seemed that every 10 or 15 minutes she was coming up with a different dish that she wanted to showcase. There was never a dull moment in her booth; her area was the only one that consistently had a line of eager foodies. After tasting her delicious bolognese, polenta, pork belly, mushroom, corn and other variations, my parting thought as the new President/Leader of the Atlanta Food Bloggers’ Alliance was that I needed to engage this woman for an event.

Fast forward a few months to Saturday, Chef Keira once again went above and beyond to impress. The Atlanta Food Bloggers’ Alliance event was held
on Saturday afternoon at Pacci. The networking part of the event was held in Pacci and the demo and tasting was upstairs in the garden lounge and demo kitchen at AltoRex. The weather was a little chilly and windy, so after the first course we stayed in the demo kitchen to devour our tastings. What I loved about this tasting is that we truly had a three course meal - - the tasting portions were meal size. Chef Keira demo’d three courses of ‘Classic’ Italian dishes: a Caesar salad, Gnocchi, Crespelle, and Homemade S’mores. Interestingly Chef Keira touts that most of her dishes have 5 or fewer ingredients. Her belief is that when you add too many ingredients, the taste of those ingredients can become lost in the dish. We were also given the recipes for each dish. In my journey to become a self taught chef I will definitely be trying these out in my kitchen (all while utilizing the great tips that Chef Keira shared during the demo).

1st course: Caesar Salad


I’m a little intimidated by anchovies. I’ve never worked with them, but she makes it look so easy! She also grilled the romaine lettuce with a little olive oil to give the caesar salad a delicate charred taste.







2nd Course: Gnocchi with Brown Butter, Sage, Gorgonzola and Walnuts

Secret to brown butter: put the butter in a pan over heat. Cook the butter until it just starts to turn brown, then take it off the heat and the warm pan will finish browning the butter (too much heat and the butter will blacken and burn). Chef Joey (or Yo-eeee as Chef Keira called him) said that there’s nothing worse than burnt black butter – I couldn’t agree more. This gnocchi was AMAZING - - soft and decadent, not even slightly chewy.

3rd Course: Brown Butter Pear Crespelle

I learned that another word for a Crepe is Crespelle. Chef Keira gently cooked the crepe in a small omelet pan, and sprayed the pan with vegetable pan spray (instead of butter) to prevent sticking. I was quite impressed with her crepe flipping skills – sans spatula she flipped the crepe in the pan similar to a handless omelet flip. It’s all in the wrist.









Bonus Dessert: Homemade S’mores


It was a little windy to use the Alto Rex fire pits to roast our marshmallows, but Chef Keira had a back-up plan . . . a blow torch. She literally thought of everything!

Watching Chef Kiera and her team, I realized that I have so much to learn on this culinary adventure. I’m really clueless when it comes to the operation of an actual kitchen, in an actual restaurant. How do the chefs at Pacci ensure all the flavors and dishes have the same consistent flavor? They taste everything before it’s plated and sent to a customer. Even for a large banquet group, they taste the product before it’s sent out. They are able to plate 60 or more dishes in a matter of minutes - it’s like an assembly line, a well oiled machine. Chef Kiera always starts the assembly line and plates one dish, then one or two associate
chefs follow her lead to plate exactly as her first demo plate. This ensures the first and last plate presentation look identical.

I have to say, if I ever needed a top notch restaurant/hotel in Atlanta to host a luncheon, dinner, birthday, company meeting – hands down, without a doubt I would choose Pacci and the culinary team under Chef Keira Moritz. Do I have a girl crush? Yea, maybe. My husband sure thinks so and has already brought that fact to my attention. Am I really that transparent?!?!

It was an honor to host such a wonderful event for the Atlanta Food Bloggers’ Alliance. Chef Kiera went above and beyond, and she made me look good. She seems to be the type of person that no matter what culinary project she’s tackling, whether it’s a foodie event, a tasting, a large banquet or a single guest in her restaurant, she gives 110% effort to ensure perfection in the food and experience that she delivers.

FREE DESSERT OR CARPACCIO:

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cake and Butter Cream

Have you ever cringed after paying $35 or $40 or more for a little birthday cake that you purchased from a bakery? Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the pastry chef who went to school for all those years to produce the delicate masterpiece that I will be slicing and devouring for my birthday party. But, it’s hard to spend money on something that you know is so inexpensive to make. It can’t be that hard to bake a cake, right? Not a boxed cake from Duncan Hines. I’m talking about real cake from scratch. I didn’t know where to start such an endeavor. Until this weekend.

For the first time I watched the famous foodie movie, Julie & Julia. What a GREAT film. I could totally identify with the main character, a food blogger. How did I miss this movie? The main character and I are the same age and my husband and I have had very similar conversations as the two main characters in the movie. I’ve had meltdowns in the kitchen, similar to Julie – especially after dropping a whole chicken on the floor (and a boiling pot of mashed potatoes). Finally a movie where I didn’t have to explain myself and my love of food = = these people get it. In addition to the movie, my family also gifted me a copy of Julie Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” for Christmas. Such thoughtful gifts that I can’t wait to dissect! And towards the back of my new cookbook . . . a dessert section.

I want to bake a cake. A simple cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. Julia Child, let’s try your spongecake.


Butter Spongecake (adapted from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking")

Ingredients

4 TBS butter (unsalted)

2/3 cup granulated sugar
4 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract

4 egg whites
Pinch of Salt
2 TBS granulated sugar
¾ Cup Flour (scooped, leveled, and sifted)


Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
You need: 9 or 10 inch round cake pan. Butter and flour the cake pan. I used softened unsalted butter to butter the pan, then lightly floured the pan and pat the extra flour out of the pan into my sink/trash.

Melt 4 Tablespoons of butter in microwave. Set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl, beat 2/3 cup sugar and 4 egg yolks, add 2 tsp vanilla extract and continue beating for several minutes until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and forms ribbons.

In a separate bowl, beat 4 egg whites and pinch of salt together until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the 2 Tablespoons sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed. **You should have a nice white fluffy mixture

Scoop one fourth of the egg whites over the top of the egg yolk and sugar mixture. Sift on one fourth of the flour, and delicately fold until partially blended. Add another fourth of the egg whites and flour mixture . . . repeat until all eggwhites and flour have been incorporated. Then fold half of the melted butter into the mixture. When partially blended, fold in the rest of the butter but omit the milky residue at the bottom of the butter cup. **Do not overmix; the egg whites must retain as much volume as possible.
Turn into prepared cake pan, tilting pan to run batter to the rim all around. Set in the middle level of a preheated oven for 27-35 minutes. Cake is done when it has puffed, is lightly brown, and has just begun to show a faint line of shrinkage from the edge of the pan.

Remove from oven and let stand in the pan for 6-8 minutes. It will sink slightly and shrink more from the edges of the pan. Gently place the cake on a cooking rack and cool for at least an hour before frosting.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting Adapted from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking"

This is for frosting and filling a 9 inch sponge cake.

Ingredients
3 egg yolks
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
3 ounces (3 squares), melted semisweet baking chocolate
9 ounces (2 sticks + 1 TBS) softened, unsalted butter

Chop semi-sweet chocolate in the small pieces and melt over low heat in a saucepan until melted.

Directions
Rinse a mixing bowl in hot water, dry it, and place all the ingredients listed. Beat at a moderate speed for about 5 minutes to obtain a smooth cream. Chill until the cream is cold but still malleable, then fill and ice the cake.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Zebra Brownies from Childhood

When my husband first announced he was going to India for two weeks I had two thoughts: 1) I’m going to miss him terribly 2) Whooohoo!! I get to make recipes with cream cheese. I immediately thought to bake a cream cheese recipe that I hadn’t made in years: Zebra Brownies. This recipe has been in my family since I was a little girl. The recipe card says that my mother found this recipe in the Omaha World Herald newspaper. For you young kids, a newspaper is an ancient artifact that prints news articles on actual paper. Do people still read ‘newspapers’? I digress.

I fondly recollect crafting these brownies for the first time when I was 9 or 10 years old. Never a fan of plain chocolate brownies, my discriminating tastes as a youngster would always prefer multiple dimensions of flavor verses the mono-flavoring that is found in plain chocolate brownies. I was drawn to this recipe because it embodied brownie uniqueness with two distinct layers. Standing on my tippy-toes as a young girl I would use a hand mixer to mix both layers of the brownies in two separate bowls. After pouring the white layer on top of the brown layer, I was careful to swirl both layers together to make an elaborate zebra print within the brownie. I remember my mother was particularly impressed with my swirling skills. She had never seen zebra brownies that had been swirled so perfectly. Cheering on her little chef my mom continually sang my praises in the kitchen. My ambition to cook in my youth was often to impress my mother and father and to make them proud. I owe so much of my passion for cooking to their continual encouragement.

It's not only fond childhood memories that are attached to these Zebra Brownies, but they taste amazing too. Zebra brownies have a bottom layer of decadent chocolate, and then a top layer with a cream cheese base. You add almost a dozen eggs when you cook the brownies so they rise in the oven and become fluffy. What I like most about this recipe is that they're easy to make and always a hit when you bring them to a party. I made the brownies on my birthday this year and shared with the Atlanta Food Bloggers’ Alliance at our dinner meeting.


Zebra Brownies

Bottom Layer:

1 Cup Softened Butter
2 Cups Sugar
1 Cup Hershey’s Cocoa
4 Eggs
1 tsp. Pure Vanilla
1 Cup Flour

Top Layer:
3 Cups Softened Cream Cheese (24 oz)
1½ Cups Sugar
5 Eggs
1 ½ tsp. Pure Vanilla
½ cup Flour

Garnishes:
Sprinkle sugar and sliced almonds.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For bottom layer, cream together softened butter and sugar on high speed. Add cocoa, eggs and vanilla. Mix in flour. Pour in 9X13 pan.

In a separate bowl, cream together cream cheese and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and flour. Put in pan on top of the bottom layer. Take a spoon or spatula and swirl so the two colors mix.

Sprinkle top with sugar and sliced almonds.

Cook for 50 minutes or until brown on top and knife comes out clean.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Belly Dancers With Dinner

All meals should include a belly dancer, a fire show and a shoeless seating arrangement on a plush couch. All while eating dinner with your fingers. Altogether this and more is delivered at my long-standing favorite restaurant in Atlanta, Imperial Fez. Medieval Times has jousters, Alluvia has strippers, and Imperial Fez has belly dancers. The common thread is entertainment during dinner. I’ve always wondered why more restaurants do not provide entertainment during dinner. A five course meal is so much more enjoyable when you have dancers. The thing about long dinners is they take a LONG time. You inevitably run out of things to talk about with your tablemates. Dancing and entertainment breaks up the table chatter and adds an authentic touch-of-something-fun.

A little background on the meal: last Monday I was invited to a Tinsley Tasting at Imperial Fez. Although she was unable to attend, Patricia Tinsely setup the most enjoyable meal I've ever had with a bunch of strangers. There was something special about this group . . . the conversation was easy, the guests were extremely comfortable to be around. Not to mention the collective shared excitement for the meal we were about to devour together. We also had the honor of spending time with Rafih, the chef at Imperial Fez. Rafih is a wealth of knowledge regarding Moroccan culture. His passion for food and all-things-Morocco is intoxicating; I could listen to him for hours. When you meet Rafih you get the feeling that he's put a lot of thought and effort into creating an environment that mimics a traditional Moroccan home. All guests in his "home" enjoy traditional Moroccan customs and food. In addition to Rafih, my tablemates for the evening included two wonderful food bloggers that I hadn't met before, Patti and Veronica, a comic named Tushar; Evelyn and Suchita both from the Good Day Atlanta morning show. Not to mention Jay of Goliath Consulting and the photographer Thomas James.

To start off the night we drank a special Imperial Fez “happy drink”. Tushar described it as "hunch punch" minus the grain alcohol. To me it tasted like Hawaiian Punch if it were spiked. But let’s be honest about the alcohol content. This drink has vodka, tequila, and rum among other things. The irony of the drink is that it's full of liquor but you don’t taste the alcohol. You only feel the alcohol after a few sips and that warm fuzzy feeling comes over you . . . almost too fast . . . which signals WARNING "high alcohol content". It’s a delicious, sneaky Moroccan version of the Long Island Ice Tea. When in Morocco, do as the Moroccan's!

After our drink we moved onward to the five course meal. First we began with a Herrira Moroccan Lentil Soup which we drank like a cup of tea (no soup spoon). The second course was a variety of Moroccan Salads with a special Red Harissa Hot Sauce on the side that is hand-made by Chef Rafih. The salad was so pretty and colorful - - -the hot sauce accompaniment extremely HOT and tasty. Our third course was the Appetizer B’stella which is a thin, crispy dough pocket filled with seasoned Cornish hen, topped with Cinnamon and Sugar. It’s a unique dish that is extremely tasty. The B’stella plays off the savory and sweet sensations; this dish has just the right amount of crispy and chewy crust. The filling alone will knock your socks off with flavor.

For the main course I ordered Cornish Hen Tajine baked with apricots, ginger, saffron, and honey (garnished with roasted almonds and sesame seeds). I was so enamored by this dish that I forgot to take a photo of it before I dove-in head first for consumption. The fruits, nuts and honey were a perfect arragement of flavors with the hen; a combination of sweet and toasty. Being completely entranced with my meal I forgot that I was attending a tasting and that I was supposed to share my meal . . . but I couldn’t resist; I was on Cornish Game Hen lock-down. Towards the end of my meal I opted for a small trade of short ribs and lamb shank from Evelyn and Tushar. Both the lamb and short ribs could be described as “falling off the bone” – obviously slow cooked with care for a long period of time before serving. What an amazing meal!

It was towards the end of the night when my new friend Evelyn and I were discussing what a pleasure it was to meet each other. I often talk with my hands and in doing so I knocked a “happy drink” directly into her lap, soaking her shoes. Ahhhrg! I felt terrible, but thankfully the drink was only half full and it was the end of the night. This type of "incident" is typical for me. Off the top of my head, and only a week ago, I knocked a full cup of hot coffee into my own lap. Luckily it wasn’t scalding McDonalds-hot coffee. The main result being a huge coffee mess (sans melted clothing and burnt skin- whew!). Another similar experience was on the night of my honeymoon: My husband said something funny and I knocked a glass of champagne into our rose petal filled bubble bath. The glass shattered in our Jacuzzi tub just before we could take one step into the tub. I’ve come to terms with the fact that breakable objects should not be within five feet of me when I’m eating, drinking, laughing, lounging, Jacuzzi-ing, sitting, swimming - - -literally breakable glass shouldn’t be near me. It can be hazardous to your health. Future dinner guests, beware.