Monday, September 29, 2008

My Birthday!

Last year I threw myself a birthday party and decided that it was so much fun I had to do it again. This year I decided to do a sit down dinner instead of last year’s appetizers and more casual affair. Beings that I live in a small house, my dining room was not big enough for my 14 guests, so I decided to put the dining table in the living room. I brought in the outdoor table and put it together with my dining table so we had enough room for everyone. I also hung some lights above the table and lit a ton of candles for ambiance. It turned out to be the perfect space for dinner!

Here is a picture of the place settings…I used mailing labels as place card holders for everyone so they knew where to sit. They also double as a tag for their glass, so they wouldn’t lose it. I had a box of votive candles I placed all over the table so we would have lots of candle light.

For dinner I serve my yummy Paella, which had shrimp, chicken, chorizo sausage, mussels, rice, tomatoes, onion and garlic, you can find the recipe here. The traditional way to serve paella is on its own or with a loaf of bread, which I also did. It was so nice to throw a dinner party and only have to worry about cooking one dish!

Everyone had such a nice time sitting around the table, eating and chatting, and laughing a lot.

Well you can’t have a birthday without dessert, right? I looked for some Spanish desserts and wasn’t really impressed with my options, so I decided to make a pumpkin cheesecake, since that’s one of my favorites. I made this last fall, and have been craving it ever since, you can find the recipe here. Also one of my friends brought a really delicious spice cake with cream cheese frosting, so it was the perfect ending to the night, two desserts!
I received a couple of new cookbooks, which I can’t wait to write about and a finishing salt sampler which I have already broken into. Thanks everyone for making my 30th the best ever!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Pumpkin Cake

My friend Greg had a birthday party last week and I volunteered to bring a cake and am so glad I made this one, I just wish I had some left over to eat right now. It is one of my favorite cakes and is perfect for any fall dinner party or birthday celebration. I was trying to think of a way to make a nice presentation and found that my hydrangea bush had the perfect leaves to do the task. This cake is so moist, and full of flavor that you really can’t go wrong. It makes a full 3 layers, so it feeds a ton of people. I posted this recipe last fall but the picture didn’t do it any justice, so I thought I could get away with deleting that post and re-submitting it. Also, I wanted to ensure that no one missed out on this amazing recipe.

p.s. Today is MY birthday, Yeah!!! I'm officially 30 and am throwing myself a birthday party. Yes I know it's crazy throwing yourself a party, but why not? (I did it last year too and it was a blast!). I am making paella and a pumpkin cheesecake...I will post pictures soon!

Pumpkin Cake

3 Cups Flour
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
2 Teaspoons Ground Ginger
2 Teaspoons Ground Allspice
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 ½ Cups Sugar
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, packed
1 Cup Vegetable Oil
4 Eggs
1 15 Ounce Can Pure Pumpkin
1 Tablespoon Vanilla
¾ Cup Raisins
¾ Cup Sweetened Flaked Coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour three 8 inch cake pans, or two 9 inch cake pans. Sift together flour and next 6 ingredients into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat both sugars and oil in large bowl until combined (mixture will look grainy). Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Add pumpkin and vanilla; beat until well blended. Add flour mixture; beat just until incorporated. Stir in raisins and coconut. Divide batter between prepared pans. Smooth tops.
Bake Cakes until tester toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about1 hour. Cool cakes completely in pans on rack. Run knife around cakes and loosen. Invert cakes onto wire rack to cool. Frost with cream cheese frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 Ounces Cream Cheese, room temperature
1 Stick Butter, room temperature
2 Teaspoons Vanilla
4 Cups Powdered Sugar

Cream together cream cheese, butter and vanilla over medium speed with an electric mixer. Continue beating on low, while adding powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, and mixing until completely incorporated. Add up to 1/2 cup additional powdered sugar if necessary to bring to spreading consistency.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Quick Chicken Soup

I came down with a cold last week and had a sudden craving for homemade chicken soup. When I used to live near my parents my mom would always whip up a batch of chicken soup and bring it over to me when I was sick so I wouldn’t starve, aren't mom's the best?
Not feeling well I just didn’t have the energy to roast and boil the bones and veggies to make a rich hearty broth like I usually do so I was brainstorming what I could do to get the same flavor, which let me to a scavenger hunt through my pantry…It was a huge success! I found a jar of turkey gravy base from Williams Sonoma and I thought to myself, why not give it a try? It added that bit of richness you can only get from boiling the bones and vegetables for hours, and it took only minutes to whip up. I also used a roasted chicken from the deli so this really is the perfect soup to make when you’re in a rush or not feeling well.

Quick Chicken Soup

1 Large Yellow Onion, diced
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
4 Carrots, peeled and sliced into thin pieces
4 Stalks Celery, sliced
1 Teaspoon Salt & Pepper
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1 16 Ounce Bag Frozen Corn
4 Cups Chicken Stock
1 16 Ounce Jar Turkey Gravy Base
2 Cups Water
1 Roasted Chicken, skinned and meat cut into small pieces

Heat a dutch oven or stock pot over medium high heat and add a little vegetable oil. Next add the onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add carrots, celery, salt, pepper, oregano, and thyme and continue to cook for 5 minutes longer. Add the corn, chicken stock, gravy base and water. Bring to a simmer and turn the heat down to low and simmer until the carrots and celery are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the chicken and stir to incorporate, adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper and serve.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Black Pepper Chicken

This is the easiest recipe to make and it has so much flavor. I was craving Thai food the other night and remembered this recipe in my Food and Wine magazine and had everything on hand to make it, so dinner was served. This is such a nice balance of sweet, tangy, and spicy, I just finished the left-overs tonight. I love the small amount of ingredients that it takes, and you get enough sauce to serve over rice.

Black Pepper Chicken

½ Cup Dark Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons Asian Fish Sauce (or more to taste)
¼ Cup Water
3 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Minced Garlic
1 Teaspoon Fresh Ginger, finely grated (I love ginger, so I doubled this amount)
1 Teaspoon Coarse Ground Black Pepper
2 Thai Chili’s, cut in half (I substituted Serrano Chili’s)
1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil
1 Shallot, thinly sliced
1 Pound Boneless Skinless Chicken (breast or thigh)
Cilantro, for garnish

In a small bowl combine the brown sugar, fish sauce, water, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, pepper, and chilies.
Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok. Add the shallot and cook over medium high heat until softened. Add the sauce mixture and the chicken and simmer over high heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Serve over rice and garnish with cilantro.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Salmon with Tomatoes & Thyme

I saw this recipe in my latest “Food and Wine” magazine and had to go to the store and get the ingredients to make it. I love salmon, and I love tomatoes, so how couldn’t I love this dish? I tweaked a few things, but pretty much followed the recipe otherwise. The smell of the salmon with the vinegar and the thyme was amazing and it tasted even better. I also loved that I made this dish in about 20 minutes from start to finish. I will be keeping this one in my back pocked for last minute dinner parties, or after work dinner, enjoy!

Salmon with Tomatoes & Thyme

1 Pint Grape Tomatoes, halved
2 Tablespoons Capers, drained
2 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 Salmon Fillets, skin on
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
2 Tablespoons Fresh Thyme, chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss tomatoes with ½ teaspoon salt, capers and vinegar, set aside.
In a medium frying pan heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over high heat. Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper and add to the pan, skin side up. Cook until browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes or so. Flip the fish over and transfer the entire skillet to the pre-heated oven and bake until the salmon is cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Remove to a warm plate, cover and set aside.
Place the skillet over medium heat and add the tomato mixture along with the cumin, thyme, and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and cook until the tomatoes are just softened, about 2 minutes. Pour the sauce over the salmon and serve immediately.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hush Puppies

I am the biggest fan of cornmeal, and when you add a little green onion and fry the batter, I am in complete heaven! It’s funny that I’ve never had hush puppies up until a couple weeks ago when I went to the Screen Door for dinner and got them as an appetizer. I think the name is completely silly myself, but that’s beside the point. I didn’t make a sauce to go with these, but remember that horseradish aioli I talked about to go with the crabs that no one used? Well, they thought that it was a perfect complement to the hush puppies! At least it didn’t go to waste. So I went ahead and included both recipes. I also think a drizzle of maple syrup, or honey would be a good topping also!

Hush Puppies

1 ½ Cups Cornmeal (I used fine yellow)
1 Cup Flour
½ Teaspoon Baking Powder
½ Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
½ Teaspoon Pepper
Pinch Cayenne Pepper
2 Eggs
1 ½ Cups Buttermilk
½ Bunch Thinly Sliced Green Onions, white and green parts
1 Quart Vegetable Oil, for frying

Whisk together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl until well combined. Add the eggs and buttermilk and whisk until the mixture is smooth and no lumps remain. Stir in the green onion until well combined. Let batter rest for 5 minutes.

While batter is resting heat the oil in a large deep Dutch Oven to 350 Degrees. Drop batter into oil, using about 2 tablespoons for each hush puppy. (I used my 2 Tbs. ice cream scoop, the one with the little cleaner inside the scoop) Fry, turning with a slotted spoon until dark golden brown, 3-5 minutes. Remove and drain on a paper towel. Keep warm on a wire rack in a pre-heated 200 degree oven until ready to serve. Makes about 20 hush puppies.
*I got the recipe from the Williams Sonoma website

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Apple Citrus & Avocado Salad

This is the salad that I served along with the blue crabs and it was really, really good! It has such a great contrast of flavor and with bacon on top, how could you go wrong? Everyone laughed at me that I made such a formal table, and a salad considering how messy crabs are, but they all ate this up, so I’m assuming it wasn’t too bad. Plus, I’m the one throwing the party, so I can do whatever I want , right?

Apple Citrus & Avocado Salad

2 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard
1/4 Cup Cider Vinegar
2/3 Cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Large Container of Mixed Greens (2 Pounds)
1 Granny Smith Apple, cored and cut into thin slices
2 Grapefruits, peeled and sectioned
2 Oranges, peeled and sectioned
3 Avocados, skinned and cut into slices
1 Bunch Green Onions, thinly sliced (green part only)
8 Thick Cut Bacon Slices, fried until crisp and crumbled
Salt & Pepper

For the dressing mix the mustard and vinegar with a whisk until combined. Next drizzle olive oil in while constantly whisking, until thickened and combined, set aside.

For the salad set out your bowls and fill with the mixed greens. Next fan out the apple, grapefruit, oranges, and avocado. Top with green onion, bacon and a pinch of salt and pepper, then drizzle with a bit of the dressing. Serve immediately so the apples and avocado don’t turn brown.

This recipe makes enough for 12 people, you might want to cut it in half!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Blue Crabs!

My friend Wendy's birthday was this weekend, she is from the east coast, and loves blue crab, so I ordered a bushel of them to have for dinner. This party was so much fun, we sat outside, and had crab, a citrus and avocado salad, hush puppies, corn on the cob, and a yummy carrot cake (I'll post all these recipes very soon). I made a horseradish aioli to go with the crab, but we just ended up eating the crab plain or with a little melted butter. Since the crabs were being flown from the east coast I ordered them pre-cooked so all we had to do was steam them for a few minutes to warm them up.
We had so much fun sitting around the table, pounding the crabs with a mallets and sipping champagne. I shouldn't have ordered so many crabs though, we only ate our way through half of them!

Yummy Crabs!

The Table

Trying to cut off my finger :)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

I think everyone loves a good pickle, at least I know I do. Whenever I order a sandwich and see a delicious crunchy pickle on the side, I have to think….which do I eat first the sandwich or the pickle? Well, needless to say the pickle usually wins. I have a plethora of cucumbers from the garden and decided to make a ton of fresh pickles instead of giving the cucumbers out to friends, and I am so glad that I did, I just tasted the first pickles out of the batch and they are simply amazing…tangy, salty, and crunchy, how could they possibly get any better?

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

Fresh Dill
Jalapeno Peppers
Grape Leaves
Black Mustard Seed
Whole Pepper Corns
Whole Allspice
Bay Leaves
Apple Cider Vinegar
Kosher Salt

Sanitize the containers you are going to use in the dishwasher, or in the sink with water and bleach. Cut the cucumbers into spears. Next, add a handful of dill, jalapeno pepper, grape leaf, tablespoon mustard seed, pepper, allspice, and a few bay leaves, and enough cucumbers to fill the jar. To make the brine bring to boil one part vinegar, one part water and ¼ cup salt per 2 quarts of liquid and boil for 2 minutes. Pour hot brine over cucumbers to cover and place lid on container. Let sit on counter for 2 days, then store in refrigerator for several months. Pickles are best if left for a few days before serving. You can also pickle any other vegetables, such as green beans, carrots, or celery the same way. I also added some onion and garlic to my pickles to add an extra bit of zing.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Best Ever Fried Chicken

I saw this recipe in my Cooks magazine and have been dying to try it out. It’s a lot of work, but well worth the effort. This is the best fried chicken I have ever tasted, and I thought my fried chicken recipe was pretty good. The chicken turns out super tender and moist and the coating is thick and really really crispy. The only thing I am going to change the next time I make this is to add a little cayenne pepper to the coating to give it a little kick. The chicken has to soak in the buttermilk bath, so you do have to start this in the morning.

The Best Ever Fried Chicken

½ Cup, plus 2 Tablespoons Salt
¼ Cup Sugar
2 Tablespoons Paprika
3 Medium Garlic Heads, cloves separated and peeled
3 Bay Leaves, crumbled
2 Quarts Low-Fat Buttermilk
1 Whole Chicken, cut into 8 pieces
4 Cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 Large Egg
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
½ Teaspoon Baking Soda
4 Cups Vegetable Shortening or Refined Peanut Oil

In a large zipper-lock bag, combine salt, sugar, paprika, garlic cloves, and bay leaves. With a flat meat pounder smash garlic into salt and spice mixture thoroughly. Pour mixture into large plastic container or nonreactive stockpot. Add 7 cups buttermilk and stir until salt and sugar are completely dissolved. Immerse chicken and refrigerate for 3 hours. Remove chicken from buttermilk brine and shake off excess; place in single layer on large wire rack set over rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate uncovered for 2 ours. (After 2 hours, chicken can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 6 hours longer.)

Measure flour into large shallow dish. Beat egg, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl; stir in remaining 1 cup buttermilk (mixture will bubble and foam). Working in batches of 3 dip chicken pieces in flour and shake dish to coat. Shake excess flour from each piece, then using tongs, dip chicken pieces into egg mixture, turning to coat well and allowing excess to drip off. Coat chicken pieces with flour again, shake off excess, and return to wire rack.

Adjust oven rack to middle position, set second wire rack over second rimmed baking sheet , and place on the oven rack; heat oven to 200 degrees. Line large plate with double layer paper towels. Meanwhile, heat oil (oil should have 2 ½ -inch depth in pan) to 375 degrees over medium-high heat in large 8-quart cast-iron Dutch oven with diameter of about 12 inches. Place half of chicken pieces skin side down in oil, cover, reduce heat to medium, and fry until deep golden brown, 6-8 minutes. (Spot-check oil temperature; after first 6 minutes o frying, oil should be 325 degrees. Adjust burner if necessary.) Turn chicken pieces over and continue to fry, uncovered, until deep golden brown on second side, 6-8 minutes longer. Using tongs, transfer chicken to paper towel-lined plate; let stand 2 minutes to drain, then transfer to rack in warm oven. Replace paper towel lining on plate. Return oil to 375 degrees and fry remaining pieces, transferring pieces to paper towel-lined plate to drain, then transferring to wire rack with other chicken pieces. Cool chicken pieces on wire rack about 5 minutes and serve.