Thursday, February 26, 2015

According to the Calendar It's Still Winter!

Our central valley California winters are pretty mild to begin with, but this year has been very mild. No hard freeze, very little rain in the valley and snowpack in the mountains (our 4-year drought continues on). The days have been sunny and warm. I long to be out in the garden "puttering" but I've got another 6 weeks of long days ahead of me before I can do that!

My sister (thank you, Marcia!) got me this adorable frog for my birthday present. It's made of a few rocks and metal. I love it!  This morning I took it to its place in a backyard flower bed. While out back I took some pictures of what my "winter" garden looks like. 
Pansies, snapdragons and these Icelandic poppies grow all winter long in our climate.  I love looking out and seeing their bright color!

The hyacinths are in full bloom and the roses are beginning their spring leaf-out.  Soon these gnarly old branches will be full of leaves and beautiful rose blooms!

The jade plant, that I started from a tiny clipping many years ago, is full of its annual spring blooms.
The tulips my granddaughter and I planted before Christmas are peeking up out of the soil. And my neighbor's tulip tree has already bloomed and is dropping its blossoms.

I'm quickly getting spring fever! It needs to rain, not only to help with our area's water shortage, but so that I won't mind being stuck inside an office for the next month and a half!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Easy Hollandaise Sauce

We are up to our chins with tax return preparation so not much new is going on in my kitchen or craft room at the moment.  I'm working on a few baby gifts, but an hour project takes me nights to do because I'm so brain-tired. I have ordered some fabric to make a dress for my youngest granddaughter but it's probably wishful thinking that it will get completed before April 15. Most nights our dinners consist of freezer meals, such as spaghetti sauce, though I confess I did have Fruit Loops for dinner one night last week. I'm not ashamed and I suppose it did help me meet my daily dairy requirement.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

Our Valentine's dinner was wonderful.  We had grilled filet mignon, topped with chunks of steamed lobster and hollandaise sauce. There were no leftovers. Most hollandaise sauce recipes are pretty intimidating.  This one, by the Barefoot Contessa, is so very easy and very flavorful.  Hollandaise sauce is also wonderful on vegetables, such as asparagus and broccoli.

Easy Hollandaise Sauce

2 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
1½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
Place the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper in the jar of a blender and process on low for 15 seconds. Melt the butter in a small saucepan until it is sizzling hot. Remove the small clear insert in the top of the blender. With the blender on low, slowly add the hot butter to the egg and lemon mixture and blend for 30 seconds, until the sauce is very thick. Use immediately.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lemon Molten Cake with Raspberries

For our recent Valentine's dinner I made these cakes for dessert. Similar to chocolate molten cakes, or lava cakes, the cakes have a soft center once baked.  The sweet-tart of the lemons, combined with the sweetness of the raspberries, made for a winning combination. They are easily made ahead of time as the batter can be refrigerated up to 24 hours before baking.  I baked ours as we were doing the dishes (hardly romantic, I know, but we didn't have a bus boy!)
The original recipe calls for purchased lemon curd.  The food snob that I am, I used my homemade curd.

As it was only the two of us for dinner, I halved the recipe and had no problems doing so.
Lemon Molten Cake

1/2 cup butter
1 (4-ounce) white chocolate baking bar, broken into chunks
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
4 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup lemon curd
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest

Raspberry coulis
Whipped cream
Powdered sugar
Fresh raspberries

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Grease (I used cooking spray) 8 (6-ounce) custard cups or ramekins. Place onto ungreased 15x10x1-inch baking pan; set aside.

Place butter and baking bar in a bowl.  Microwave 1 minute; stir. Continue microwaving, stirring every 15 seconds for 60-90 seconds or until melted and smooth.

Stir in flour and powdered sugar; mix well. Add eggs, egg yolks, lemon curd and lemon zest; beat with wooden spoon or whisk until blended. Pour evenly into prepared custard cups.

Bake 12-14 minutes or until edges are golden brown and center is puffy and just beginning to set. Let stand 10 minutes. Run tip of knife around edge of custard cup to loosen. Spread or pour some raspberry coulis onto individual dessert plates; invert cakes on top. Shake to loosen. Sprinkle tops with powdered sugar. Serve with whipped cream. Garnish with fresh raspberries.

Raspberry Coulis

1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
1 (12 ounce) bag frozen raspberries, thawed

Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until the sugar dissolves completely, about 5 minutes.

Put the raspberries and the sugar syrup in a blender and puree.

Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds.

The sauce keeps well, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.

Proof that both the dessert and wine were great!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

I'm not real big on, what I term, Hallmark commercialized holidays. My Hubbers and I long ago quit buying elaborate gifts for Valentine's Day. He used to send me yellow roses (my favorite) but they aren't as fun to receive when you're the one paying the Visa bill afterwards! We don't go out to dinner (the restaurants are too busy!), preferring to stay in and enjoy a nice meal alone. As the holiday falls during our busy time at work this night in has become a nice respite from the rush and stress of tax season. My Hubbers has a movie picked out for our evening, as well as a nice bottle of wine. I have two filet mignons in the fridge and a lobster tail.  I made lemon curd last night that will go into our dessert. We are looking forward to our quiet evening. We have vowed not to say one word that involves tax returns!

As we are both working today, I set our table last night.  I snuck out of the office yesterday morning and ran to the flower mart and got some beautiful red roses. I don't think there is a restaurant in town that will have a prettier table!

Though we don't buy each other gifts, we do make sure to get gifts for our grandchildren.  They were delivered earlier in the week. Books, games, cupcake supplies, new ballet clothes. We love and spoil our sweethearts! (I finished the tutu bag the night before, it's hard to squeeze in sewing time during tax season!)

My Hubbers gave me my Valentine's card this morning. The card said that often we get so wrapped up in our busy lives that we take for granted those we love, don't tell them we love them often enough. So if this Hallmark holiday means that people stop and reflect on those they cherish the most, then perhaps it's not a bad commercial holiday after all!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Mushroom Marsala Pasta Bake

As I've said before, in my life there are four seasons of the year...spring, summer, fall and tax season. I'm knee-deep in tax season; the 12-hour plus days, 7 days a week grind is in full swing. We're not home much, I don't cook much.  At the office we take turns bringing in lunches, so we tend to eat decent lunches and light to non-existent dinners.  I think my sole venture in the kitchen this past week has been to make bacon & eggs.  The other night for dinner I had popcorn and some Valentines M&M's (have you tried the cherry flavor?  Oh, yum!) Martha Stewart would be so disappointed in me! I do have plans to cook my Hubbers a nice Valentines dinner so I've not totally fallen off the bandwagon!

A few weeks ago, I made this pasta dish.  I love Marsala chicken so this recipe caught my eye. The original recipe didn't call for chicken but I added it, along with some extra Marsala wine (more is always better, right?) We enjoyed it and had plenty for lunch the next day.

Mushrom Marsala Pasta Bake

1/2 pound pasta of you choice, such as a ziti or twisty shape
2 chicken breasts, chopped into bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pounds fresh mushroom, sliced
1 small yellow onion, halved and sliced thin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup dry Marsala wine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups  stock or broth (chicken, vegetable or mushroom)
1/2 cup  finely grated parmesan cheese
4 ounces mozzarella, cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Cook the pasta: Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 1 to 2 minutes before perfect doneness. Drain and set aside.

Heat oven: To 400 degrees.

Cook the chicken: Season chicken pieces with salt, pepper and other seasoning, if desired (I used Italian seasoning). Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to sauté pan. Cook chicken, until no longer pink. Set aside.

Make the sauce: Reheat your empty pasta pot over high heat. Add oil and once it is hot, add mushrooms and cook until they’ve begun to brown and glisten, but have not yet released their liquid. Reduce heat to medium-high, add onions, salt and pepper and saute together until the liquid the mushrooms give off is evaporated. Add Marsala and cook mixture, stirring, until it has almost or fully evaporated (depending on your preference). Add butter, stir until melted. Add flour, and stir until all has been dampened and absorbed. Add stock, a very small splash at a time, stirring the whole time with a spoon. Make sure each splash has been fully mixed into the butter/flour/mushroom mixture, scraping from the bottom of the pan and all around, before adding the next splash. Repeat until all stock has been added. Let mixture simmer together for 2 minutes, stirring frequently; the sauce will thicken. Remove pan from heat.

Assemble and bake dish: Stir in chicken, half the parmesan, all of the mozzarella and two tablespoons of the parsley until evenly mixed. Transfer this mixture to a 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the top with remaining parmesan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until edges of pasta are golden brown and irresistible. Sprinkle with reserved parsley and serve hot.

Recipe adapted from The Smitten Kitchen.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake

I'm a sucker for specialty pans.  I don't think I want to know how many fancy Bundt pans I have, cheesecake pans, tart pans. I even have pans that make a cake in cupcake and beehive shapes. It's a sickness, I'm telling you, and so far I've not found a support group to help get me out of this.  My only recourse is to not open the various kitchen catalogs I get and to stay out of Williams Sonoma. While in the labor & delivery waiting room last month, waiting on the birth of my grandson, I was perusing the mail I had brought from home. In the mail was a Williams Sonoma catalog.  In a moment of weakness I opened it.  Immediately I saw this cake pan. To make matters worse, there is a Williams Sonoma in Bakersfield where we were.  The next day I went "just to look".  All I have to say for myself is that this is the only thing I bought. But, I love it and am not feeling too guilty about it, even though I did have to do some cabinet rearranging to make everything fit!

It is a cute pan to have on hand for Valentine's Day. Fresh fruit, pudding or cream can be added to the center opening for an even prettier presentation. It really is cute. I told you I had a cake pan problem! 
I've used the cake pan twice, both times making this Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt cake. It's moist, it's rich, it's very chocolaty and best served with a glass of cold milk (although Zinfandel wine and chocolate go quite nicely together, too!) The first time I made it I glazed it with a chocolate ganache.  The second time I added a cup of chocolate chips to the batter and sprinkled confectioners' sugar on it.  It is a rich cake so I liked the second option the best.

Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake

1 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder (I use Dutch processed from Penzey's spices)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 degrees. Butter and flour (or use baking spray) a 10 or 12-cup Bundt pan and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the butter, cocoa powder, salt, and water and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring, just until melted and combined. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and baking soda.  Add half of the melted butter mixture and whisk until completely blended.  The mixture will be thick. Add the remaining butter mixture and whisk until combined.  Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until completely blended. Whisk in the sour cream and the vanilla extract.  Whisk until smooth. Stir in chocolate chips, if using.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then invert onto a rack. Let cool completely before sifting confectioners' sugar over the top.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cream of Broccoli Soup

After 33 years of marriage my husband occasionally gets irritated with me (ok, maybe it's more than occasionally!) One of his irritations is that I get bored with cooking the same things.  I like to try new foods, techniques, variations of a familiar recipe or new recipes.  He likes the tried and true and likes some things on a regular rotation. The other night he requested cream of broccoli soup. My first thought was that I had made it a few months ago. But I played good wife that night and made it for him.  I must admit our dinner was good. 

This is a great soup, very creamy as the name implies. I like the addition of the cream, it makes for a thicker, richer soup, but if you're counting calories whole milk can easily be substituted. Sometimes I will add some shredded cheddar cheese before serving or some crumbled bacon. It's an easy and quick soup to put together, I don't know why I don't make it more often (but don't tell my husband I said that!)
I have an immersion blender and use it to puree the soup. I have had many hot soup/blender blow ups in my kitchen and the immersion blender is a nice remedy for that problem! We like our soup a little chunky so I don't blend it to a smooth puree.

Cream of Broccoli Soup

2 tablespoon butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cups chicken broth
8 cups broccoli florets
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium-sized stock pot, and saute onion and celery until tender. Add broccoli and broth, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Pour the soup into a blender, filling the pitcher no more than halfway full. Hold down the lid of the blender with a folded kitchen towel, and carefully start the blender, using a few quick pulses to get the soup moving before leaving it on to puree. Puree in batches until smooth and pour back into stock pot. Alternately, you can use a stick blender and puree the soup right in the cooking pot.

In small saucepan, over medium-heat melt 3 tablespoons butter, stir in flour and add milk/cream (or substitute with 2 cups half & half). Stir until thick and bubbly, and add to soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Lemon Cream Puffs

Mom has been making cream puffs for as long as I can remember.  Lately, they have become a Christmas Eve staple with her grandchildren often requesting them.  Flaky pastry, filled with cream, topped with chocolate or powdered sugar.  What's not to like, right? 
 After the recent tea I hosted I found myself with leftover lemon curd.  It's so good, that I never want to waste any! I make a crepe cake that has a lemon curd/whipped cream filling in it so decided to do something similar with cream puffs.  I whipped a cup of heavy whipping cream, then folded in about 1 1/2 cups lemon curd. After filling the cream puffs, I sprinkled them with confectioners' sugar.  They were very good!
Mom has an old cookbook she got when she was a young bride.  It was put out by Fluffo shortening and is called Creative Cooking Made Easy: The Golden Fluffo Cookbook.  I think it's the most dog-eared and stained cookbook in her vast collection.  This cream puff recipe comes from that book.  I love the description in the cookbook.  Fluffo melts so quickly, blends so easily that six minutes only from saucepan to oven is all the time needed to make the simple cooked paste known in France as pate a chou, or cream puff paste. But even the pastry-making experts in France cannot make a cream puff more golden, fragile or crisply tender than one made with Golden Fluffo. Golden Fluffo hasn't been produced in many, many years so Mom now uses regular shortening for this recipe.

Cream Puffs

1/4 cup shortening
1 cup water
1 cup less 1 tablespoon sifted flour
4 large eggs

Put shortening and water in a small saucepan and stir over high heat until shortening is melted and liquid is boiling rapidly.  Add flour all at once, raise saucepan a few inches above heat, and stir briskly.  The paste will come away from the sides of the pan and form a smooth ball in center. Cook, stirring, for 30 seconds longer.  Remove saucepan from heat, break an egg into the pate and beat vigorously until paste becomes smooth and fluffy.  Break in other eggs, one at a time, and beat vigorously after each addition until paste is smooth and glossy.  Drop paste from a tablespoon into large mounds 2 inches apart on baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes; reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 20 minutes longer. Cool puffs, split them horizontally two thirds of the way through and fill them with whipped cream, sweetened and flavored to taste, or with any of the cream pie fillings or ice cream.