Friday, February 25, 2011

Piña Colada Panna Cotta

A couple of weeks ago, we were having friends in for a casual dinner.  I found myself a little short on time and thought immediately of my easy go-to dessert: panna cotta.  Italian for "cooked cream," it is fast, delicious and easy to vary.  I did pumpkin panna cotta for Thanksgiving and egg nog panna cotta for Christmas.  

Looking in my pantry, I found ingredients for the rum-based drink, piña colada.  Why not turn it into panna cotta?  I did, and with a little quickly caramelized pineapple on top, it was a hit.

If you’d rather unmold it, you can make it in custard cups or ramekins and add the topping just before serving. 

Piña Colada Panna Cotta

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
3 tbsp. cool water
1 7-oz. can crushed pineapple in juice
1 7- or 8-oz. can coconut cream
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup unsalted butter
2 cups pineapple chunks (fresh, or canned, drained)

In a flat dish, sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the water to soften.  Set aside.

In a blender or food processor, puree the pineapple (undrained) and coconut cream until very smooth.  Set aside.

In a medium saucepan heat the cream and vanilla over medium heat until just starting to bubble around the edges.  Add the softened gelatin and whisk until dissolved.  Let cool slightly then whisk in the sour cream and pineapple mixture.  Divide among 8 serving dishes or wine glasses.  Cover and refrigerate at least two hours.

For the topping, cook the brown sugar and butter together over medium heat until the sugar melts.  Lower heat and simmer about 5 minutes.  Add the pineapple and stir to cover all the pieces. At serving time, divide the chunks among the glasses and top with the warm caramelized brown sugar topping.  Once you’ve added the warm topping, serve  immediately.  Serves 8.

NOTES: Use coconut cream, found in the beverage mixer section of the supermarket, not coconut milk.

Say it isn't so!

Fast food baguette vending machines in Paris?  What's next?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine Dinner for my Sweetie!

My Valentine honey asked if I wanted to go out for dinner tonight, but you know, it’s sort of like New Years Eve, or Mothers’ Day brunch. I’d rather make a nice dinner at home and avoid the crowds. So I did.

We had a nice adult beverage first, and then had our first course. I had found a lovely fresh artichoke at Fresh Market. Trimmed and simmered in lemon water, I whipped up a sort of remoulade sauce and filled the middle and topped it with a few cooked shrimp. I’m going to give you the recipe for that as I made it.

Then we had my Valentine’s favorite meal: steak and potatoes. I marinated the steak in Worcestershire sauce, garlic, lemon peel, salt and black pepper. Grilled to medium rare, I topped it with butter mixed with a balsamic reduction and finely minced shallots.  It was great with wedges of redskin potatoes tossed with olive oil and herbs and roasted, and a salad with blue cheese, pancetta crisps, tomato and balsamic vinaigrette.

We had no room for the dessert: coffee ice cream with dark chocolate-cinnamon sauce. Maybe later?

Valentine Artichokes with Shrimp
1 good-sized artichoke
1 lemon
1 tbsp kosher salt
10 medium sized raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
¾ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons capers, chopped
2 green onions, white and some of the green, minced
Juice and finely grated zest of one medium lime
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Penzey’s French vinaigrette seasoning
              (or 2 teaspoons dried tarragon, crumbled)

In a medium saucepan, put a few inches of water. Squeeze the juice from on lemon into it and add the lemon halves. Bring to a simmer.
If there is a long stem on the artichoke, peel it with a vegetable peeler. Snap off the tough bottom leaves. With kitchen shears, snip off the pointy ends of the remaining leaves, and cut across the top about one inch down. Cut in half down the center. With a spoon, scrape out the fuzzy choke. Drop into the simmering water and cook until the thick bottom is tender, usually 25 to 30 minutes. Drain and put cut side down on paper towels in a dish. Chill.

In the same pan, bring the liquid to a boil, drop in the shrimp. Remove from the heat, cover and let set for about 7 minutes or until pink through. Drain and chill.  In a small bowl, combine all the sauce ingredients. Cover and chill.

When ready to serve, put the artichoke on a plate cut side up. Divide the sauce between them, top with the shrimp and serve with extra napkins. 

For those who haven’t eaten fresh artichokes before, here’s what you do: pull off the leaves one by one. The edible part is at the end that was attached to the heart. Scrape off the tender part between your teeth and discard the tough part remaining. It’s a nice touch to have a separate dish for the discards. The best part is the tender bottom which is totally edible.

It’s a leisurely dish. You don’t eat it when you’re in a hurry. It slows down the pace of life for a bit while you seek out the tasty tender parts and dip it into the sauce…
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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Spanish Chicken with Kumquats

It started with a basket of kumquats at the market. They looked so cute, I had to buy them.

I had had a chicken-fennel dish at a Spanish restaurant in Philadelphia. I’d already gotten chicken thighs and fennel so I thought I could incorporate the kumquats into a similar dish. There was spinach in the restaurant dish but my husband doesn’t like the texture of cooked spinach so I picked up some kale instead. Instead of getting limp and kind of slimy, it keeps it’s curly looks, even when cooked enough to be very tender.

I like to use bone-in chicken thighs. The bones add a lot of flavor on their own, and the dark meat can be braised long enough to absorb lots of flavor from the cooking juices without drying out. I leave the skin on as well. It too adds flavor, and can easily be removed at the table by those who prefer skinless poultry.

Spanish smoked paprika is now pretty widely available. It might be called pimenton, the Spanish term for this wonderfully aromatic seasoning. It’s available in hot or sweet. I mostly use the sweet form but if you like a little more spice, you can certainly substitute the hot variety.

If you don’t have sherry wine vinegar, I’d advise you to pick up a bottle. It’s got a full round flavor that also makes a great vinaigrette or a condiment drizzled over grilled meats. However in a pinch, red wine vinegar could be substituted.

I served it in a flat soup bowl on top of creamy mashed potatoes, but if you prefer, a rice pilaf would also make a nice accompaniment. A crisp green salad is all you need to make it a lovely meal. Overall, I must say it was a wonderful dish and I will be making it again.


12 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp. olive oil
8 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 12-oz. bag frozen pearl onions, thawed
1 bulb fennel, white part, cored and slivered
1 tbsp. Spanish sweet smoked paprika
½ cup sherry wine vinegar
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup kumquats, sliced
1 bunch kale, stems removed, sliced

Preheat the oven to 350o. Sprinkle the chicken with plenty of salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the chicken very well on the skin side, then turn and brown the underside. As they brown, remove them to a baking dish just large enough to hold all the pieces in one layer.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the skillet. Lower the heat to medium. Add the garlic and stir a couple of times. Add the pearl onions and fennel. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the smoked paprika and stir to cover all the vegetables.

Add the vinegar and cook until reduced by about half. Add the chicken stock, bring to a simmer and pour over the chicken. Cover and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the cover and add the kumquats. Add the kale, pushing it down into the liquid. Cover again and bake another 20-30 minutes, or until chicken is very tender. This can be then kept in a 250o oven for up to an hour, until ready to serve. Serves 6 to 8.

NOTE: Kumquats should be available until at least the end of March.
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Friday, February 11, 2011

Oriental Fondue....

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Okay, so fondue is hot now. You’ve read about its comeback in recent national cooking magazines. And you’ve gotten out and dusted off your old fondue pot, bought the compulsory three Swiss cheeses, the little bottle of Kirsch and had your friends in for a fondue party…now what do you do with it?

How about an oriental-style fondue? Recently, I found an electric wok, still in its box, at an estate sale for no money. How could I pass it up? I had seen an article about fondue in one of the French cooking magazines I love, Elle à Table, and one of their suggestions was a Thai fondue. Using their recipe as a guideline and making adjustments for American ingredients, a few friends and I decided we would try it recently, using the wok for our fondue pot. I had found some adorable little wire basket scoops at an oriental market and thought they would be perfect accessories for cooking the ingredients.

After some trial and error (“Add some garlic,” or “Add some cilantro.”) we came up with our version. We made a lot of changes, but I think we got it right.

We made the fondue right in the wok, using peeled and deveined shrimp, monkfish and lightly steamed broccoli to cook. We steamed some basmati rice and put little bowls of it on everyone’s plates. One of my cooking buddies made a salad with sliced cucumbers, radishes, diced tomatoes and a little minced cilantro. The dressing was made with the juice of a lemon and about 1/4 cup each of olive oil and dark oriental sesame oil. I thought it was a perfect accompaniment.

We gathered around and had a great time cooking our bits of food, then dumping them on our rice. When we had had all we wanted we ladled some of the fondue liquid into our rice bowls and it made a great soup. For dessert we sliced bananas and kiwi, drizzled with a little sweetened rum and dusted with crushed pink peppercorns. It was a perfect meal and we were all happy.

You can use the fondue pot you have for this. Or you can do what I had thought of doing before I found the wok. I have a small camp stove that would be perfect for cooking at the table. If you don’t want to go the fondue route, simply make up the fondue mixture, dump in the seafood and broccoli to cook in the hot liquid for a few minutes then ladle into bowls like soup. However you do it, it’s bound to be a hit!


1 lb firm white fish, such as monkfish, swordfish or halibut
2 lb large shrimp
12 oz broccoli florets
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 stem lemongrass, very finely minced
1 small hot red pepper, minced (optional)
1 piece fresh ginger, about 1" square, peeled and grated
1 tbsp curry powder
1 can condensed cream of shrimp soup
1 can (14 oz) unsweetened coconut milk
2-1/2 cups chicken or seafood stock
1 bunch cilantro, stemmed and chopped

Rinse the fish and cut into 1” cubes. Peel and devein the shrimp. Steam the broccoli for about 4 minutes. Set all aside. All these can be done ahead and refrigerated covered, until dinner.

In your pan, wok or fondue pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, lemongrass, hot pepper (if using) and ginger. Cook, stirring occasionally, without browning, about 5 minutes. Stir in the curry powder and cook one-minute more. Whisk in the soup, then the coconut milk. Add enough stock to make a fairly thin mixture. Sprinkle with the cilantro. Arrange the fish, shrimp and broccoli on a platter and let everyone dig in. Serves 6.

NOTE: Although lemongrass is a staple in oriental markets, I have seen it in almost every local supermarket recently in the packaged herb section of the produce department. Be sure to mince as finely as possible; it is a bit woody in texture. I've also seen tubes of lemongrass paste in the herb section, which would make preparation even easier.  I haven't tried it for flavor though.  It could turn out to be as useless as that already chopped garlic in oil and artificial preservatives, which should be outlawed!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Best Black Bean Chili

In our church connection group, which met at my house this week, we had a dish I love so much and wrote about a while back, Brazilian Rum-Baked Black Beans.

There was a big bowl of leftovers and I stuck them in the fridge. When the snow hit yesterday, the first thing that hit my mind was chili. So today I used the black beans, which had already been well seasoned and made quite a tasty dish. Here’s what I did:

3 tbsp olive oil or bacon fat
3 cloves garlic, very finely minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 lb lean ground beef
2 tablespoons chili powder (I used Penzey’s Chili 9000)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground corianter
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 3-ounce can tomato paste
2 cups water
1 12-ounce bottle beer (I used Blue Moon)
2 to 3 cups leftover Brazilian Black Beans
Salt to taste

In a Dutch oven or soup pot, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir about 30 seconds. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the beef and cook, breaking up the clumps, just until no longer pink. Sprinkle with the spices and continue cooking, stirring, for about two minutes.

Add the tomatoes with their juices, tomato paste, water and beer. Simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes. Add the beans and stir well. Bring back to a simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes, or until it reaches the thickness you like. Taste and add salt as needed. I also added a tablespoon of brown sugar but that’s optional depending on your taste.
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