Monthly Archives: February 2011

Milk and Coookies, Anyone?

I rarely (read: almost always) over-indulge, so I thought I would make a treat the other evening.  I’ve been in the process of perfecting white chocolate martinis, but I thought I would really turn up the level of indulgence and make some cookies to go with it.  I wanted something a bit more over the top than just your standard chocolate chip, so  I decided to go with chocolate toffee cookies.  The cookie itself has a chocolate base, and toffee pieces are mixed in.   Be sure to use good toffee – like Heath or better – because it really helps to make the cookie something special.

chocolate toffee cookies

Courtesy of the Food Network

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed chocolate-covered English toffee (such as Heath bar; about 7 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup chopped almond

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°F. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Add egg, rum and vanilla and beat until well blended. Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into small bowl. Stir dry ingredients into butter mixture. Mix in toffee and chopped almonds.

Drop batter by heaping tablespoonfuls onto heavy large ungreased baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until cookies puff slightly and crack on top but are still soft to touch, about 11 minutes. Let cookies cool on sheet 1 minute. Transfer cookies to rack and cool completely (cookies will become crisp). Repeat shaping and baking with remaining batter. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)

 

Chocolate Toffee Cookies

white chocolate martini

Makes 2 Martinis

  • 4 oz Vanilla Vodka
  • 3 oz White Chocolate Liqueur
  • 4 oz Half and Half

Fill 2 martini glasses with ice and water to make them nice and cold.

Fill shaker 1/2 full with ice.  Add all ingredients and shake well.

Dump out ice water from martini glasses and strain martinis into glasses.

 

Mmmm...my kind of milk and cookies!

My notes

The cookie dough will seem very dry.  This is ok.  Just go with it.

For the vodka, I just use Sobieski.  It’s inexpensive, but I don’t feel it is low quality.

White chocolate liqueur is expensive (hence our lower priced vodka choice).  We have used Godiva and Mozzart.  Both delicious, both expensive.  Apparently, they have not started making a generic, cheap version yet.  If you know of one, please let me know (as I will promptly go out and by some!)

I like to garnish my martini with some fresh grated nutmeg.  It’s pretty, and is a tasty touch to the drink.  If I happen to have Piroulines on hand, I think those look really cute stuck in the martini as a garnish (plus, they are delicious).

 

 

Advertisements

Ragout vs Ragu

I have had multiple people ask me the difference between Ragout and Ragu, and I have more or less always provided this answer: Ragout, pronounced the same as Ragu (even though in my head I say it how it looks – “rag – out”) is French and is more of a stew of sorts, often times bulked up with veggies or beans.  Ragu is more of a sauce, is Italian, and usually tomato based.

But, I thought maybe it would be a good idea to look it up to see if I was actually directing people correctly or just talking out of my ass.  Per the food dictionary on Epicurious, definitions are:

Ragout [ra-GOO] – A derivative of the French verb ragoûter , meaning “to stimulate the appetite,” ragoût is a thick, rich, well-seasoned stew of meat, poultry or fish that can be made with or without vegetables.

Ragu [ra-GOO, rah-GOO] – A staple of northern Italy’s Bologna, ragu is a meat sauce that is typically served with pasta. Though different than the French RAGOUT, both are derived from the verb ragoûter , which means “to stimulate the appetite.” Ragu usually contains ground beef, tomatoes, onions, celery, carrots, white wine and seasonings.

Ummm….I’ll call my answer close enough!  But, reading about the merits and differences of Ragu/Ragout made me realize I should make one or the other as soon as possible.  Thus, Sunday’s dinner was Pork Chops with Polenta finished with  a Mushroom Ragout.  Now, one area where I waver on how I feel is whether Ragouts should have cream or no.  My answer inevitably comes down to how I happen to feel as I’m cooking the dish and what ingredients I have on hand.  Turn’s out, we just happened to have cream in the fridge!

Pork Chops with Polenta and Mushroom Ragout

Serves 4

Ragout

  • 1  pound assorted Mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 small Onion, diced
  • 1 clove Garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh Thyme, chopped
  • ½ Cup Madeira
  • 2/3 cup Chicken Broth
  • ½ cup Heavy Cream
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh Parsley, chopped

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat.  Once butter has melted, add onions.  Saute for about 3-4 minutes, or until onions start to soften.  Salt onions as they cook

Add mushrooms to skillet.  If necessary, add mushrooms to pot in several additions.  As mushrooms cook down, season with salt and pepper.  Cook about 4-5 minutes.

Once mushrooms are cooked down, add garlic and thyme to pan and cook a minute or two.

Add Madeira and cook down until only about a tablespoon of liquid remains.

Add broth and cook down until liquid is reduced by half.  Taste and season with salt and pepper as necessary.

Add cream and reduce until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.  Add parsley and taste for a final seasoning.  Set aside until ready to serve.  The ragout can be heated up again before serving if necessary

polenta

  • 1 cup Cornmeal
  • 3 cups Water
  • 1 cup Whole Milk
  • 1/2 cup Corn (fresh or frozen) – optional
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter

Bring water and milk to a boil in a  sauce pot and season with some salt.  SLOWLY whisk in cornmeal and whisk CONSTANTLY to avoid lumps. Once cornmeal is incorporated, you can relax on the stirring, and switch to a wooden spoon if you prefer

If I’m feeling fancy, or if corn is in season and tastes wonderful, I’ll take the corn and do just a quick chop of it in a food processor and then throw it into the polenta as it’s cooking.  The corn “juice” provides good flavor, and the kernels that did not end up pureed add great texture.

Add butter to polenta and stir in until meted.  Taste to see if seasoning needs adjusted

pork chops

  • 4 bone-in Pork Chops, 6-8 ounces each
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Butter

Season pork chops on both sides generously with salt and pepper.  Heat skillet medium high heat.  Once skillet is hot, add olive oil.  Once olive oil is hot, add chops.  Sear on one side about 3-4 minutes, or until nicely browned and turn over.

Cut butter into 4 pieces and place one nub of butter on each chop.  Place skillet with chops in oven and cook about 6-8 minutes for medium.  Let chops rest 3-5 minutes once removed from oven.

To serve, place some polenta on center of plate.  Rest pork chop against polenta, and finish with a couple spoonfuls of Ragout.

 

Pork Chop with Polenta and Mushroom Ragout

notes:

For the assorted mushrooms, I used Portabello, Shitake, and Button.  Use what you have/can find – there is no hard and fast rule

As you are cooking the mushrooms, if your pan becomes very dry and you feel like everything is sticking, throw in another tablespoon of butter.

If you don’t have Madeira on hand, feel free to substitute white wine.

For the polenta, you can sub broth for the water if you prefer.  Also, you can use all water or stock and no milk if you prefer.

I cook my pork chops in a cast iron pan because I think it helps to give them a beautiful sear.

We had our dinner with the 2006 Epiphany Gypsy. We had a high-end Petite Syrah from this winery a few years ago and went crazy over it, but had not been able to find it since.  Just recently, we found this more “budget-friendly” offering from them, and we were not disappointed when we opened it with out meal.

The Moms Birthday Weekend

My husband and I’s mothers’ birthdays are back to back – making this year’s fall on this past Wednesday and Thursday.  To celebrate, we decided a weekend eating in STL was in order.  My mother lives in St. Louis, and Zach’s mother lives on our way there. So, on Friday after work, we headed off for the big city, scooped up Zach’s mom, and were on our way.  St. Louis is truly a great place with so much to offer – great food, awesome music, always something to do.  Every time we visit we contemplate if/when we will move there.  But, as per almost always, we had some good eats and I thought I would share.

Winslow’s Home

For breakfast Saturday, we ventured off to  Winslow’s Home.  There were 5 of us.  I had asked my good friend to join us as well, but she declined, stating it was often times very packed there and sometimes a cluster, and she was afraid it might make seating our party even more difficult.  With this info, I became a bit apprehensive, but things turned out fine as we waited maybe 5 minutes to find ourselves a table.  It being our first time there, it was a bit confusing walking into the establishment as 1. It was packed.  2. It is not just a restaurant/cafe, but also a general/grocery/wine store and there are items for sale EVERYWHERE, causing a bit of a hodgepodge/garage sale/WTF type feeling.  3. There is no clear signage nor employees addressing new customers  to let them know how to proceed  to satiate their hunger.  Luckily, our group pressed on, and we quickly corralled a table  and made our way to the counter to place our orders.

All went well!  (And the garage sale feeling wore off soon, and I ultimately decided Winslow’s was actually very cute and I loved the pressed tin ceiling.) Food came quickly and was delicious.  My husband had the breakfast sandwich and this day’s was egg and cheese with bacon and spinach on foccaia.  Tasty!  The egg was thick yet fluffy, and the bacon was good quality – thick slices with just the right texture.  My egg Frittata was AMAZING!  It had pulled pork with sliced brie topped with spinach tossed in a horseradish dressing.  The pulled pork made the dish.  It was tender, smoky, and sweet.  The meat did almost border on too sweet, but the melty brie and zing of the thick horseradish dressing cut it just right.  I was definitely a member of the clean plate club upon finish.  Though I did ask the cashier for a recipe for the pork, my  plea went unheard and  I will have to make do with just returning for a sandwich of it, as she suggested.

The infamous Pulled Pork and Brie Frittata

Aya Sofia

For dinner, we ventured to Aya Sofia.  I had been here for brunch in the past, and had been wanting to try dinner for some time.  We were not disappointed.  We made early reservations for our party of 7, and the place was fairly quiet when we arrived, but by the time we left around 7:30 pm, the joint was kicking.  For starters, we had the Biber Ezme, a roasted red pepper dip with garlic and breadcrumbs served cool/at room temp.  I was concerned it would come with too much of a raw garlic flavor, but I needn’t worry.  It was sweet, balanced, and light – slathered on the warm pitas they provide, it was perfect.  We also ordered the Anatolian Mezze Platter – goat, feta, and a Parm like cheese, with olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, and basil.  The goat cheese was some of the creamiest I have ever had.  Sometime goat cheese can become almost too tart in a way, but Aya’s was fantastic.

For dinner, I had the special – whose Greek/Turkish-type name I have no recollection of.  But, it consisted of a puree of eggplant with mozzarella cheese with some very tender beef stew on top.  It was a solid dish and I was fairly pleased, but nothing to write home about.  The hubs had the Kuzu Incik – braised lamb shanks.  The hubs is a sucker for lamb and almost always orders if it is an option.  He said he felt it was cooked perfectly.  I think he was so mesmerized by the tenderness and flavor of the lamb shank that he practically forgot about the rice and beans it came with.

Biber Ezme (Roasted Red Pepper Dip)

In all, everything was a pretty solid two thumbs up.  The decor at Aya Sofia is very cute – reds, purples, very plush and soft.  I’m dying to try out happy hour in the summer months on their patio that looks great.  Our server was on the ball the whole evening, and we waited for nothing.  We did the “house” wine they seemed to be pushing quite hard to sell as a bottle of it was on every table for advertising type purposes, but we were pleased with it.  Nothing stellar, but it did its job. An Argentina Malbec Mendoza running  $32 – we went through two bottles.

Also –

We stopped at 3500 Winehaus to meet some friends for a pre-dinner drink.  I’m very pro this place as I feel it is just what the South Hampton neighborhood needs, but in the grand scheme of wine and food, it is nothing to really go out of your way for.  It is very pretty, with a great front and back patio that can be used year round (and a fire pit, too!).  The wines are priced so that you can do retail or drink there without a corkage fee and the selection is average.  You also have the option of a few beers and some liquors.   The food is very basic, but they are not in any way trying to reinvent the wheel.   Though this sounds a bit negative, it really isn’t.  It is a good neighborhood gathering spot just to enjoy some drinks or nibbles in an atmosphere that is not your typical bar while not being at a full-scale restaurant.  Thought I’m not doing backflips over my food and wine choices there, I am already looking forward to sitting outside in the welcoming patio there getting a buzz on with my friends when the weather gets warm.

Lastly-

We did not order dessert at Aya Sofia because we picked up a cake from Lubeley’s Bakery to have at home. If you have not had any sweets from this place yet, go now.  I think they have been around forever, they are not doing anything new or trendy, but they are good.  Like, consistently good.  Like, maybe I’ll have just one more small slice good.  Like, I think I’ll have another piece of cake for breakfast the next day good.  We had a yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  Sounds  boring, right?  Not the case one bit.  It has literally about 5 layers of cake with chocolate filling, the cake is ridiculously moist, and it is finished with the most creamy, rich icing.  You can’t get enough.

A Meatball for My Love

Ahh, Valentine’s Day.  The day to celebrate love, adorn you significant other with gifts, and have a wonderful night in a romantic corner of a candlelit restaurant.  Right?  Not so much…

In my experiences, this night is not usually the best night to go out for a great dinner as it just seems like most restaurants this particular evening are over-crowded, over-priced, and un-imaginative.  It’s about getting out as many plates as you can as quickly as you can so the line in the kitchen does not crash and the restaurant ends up with a crowd of starry-eyed lovers rioting.

My advice would be to stay home.  Relax.  Cook a meal.  And, really, what says I love you more than a giant plate of carbs and hand shaped balls of meat paired with a lovely Chianti?  Plus I made a batch of these delicious and beautiful cupcakes.  Now that’s love!

Spaghetti and Meatballs with Marinara Sauce

spaghetti

  • 2 Cups Flour (I use all purpose, seems to work just fine)
  • 3 Eggs, whisked in bowl
  • Big Pinch of Salt

Mix flour and salt in food processor.  Slowly add eggs through chute until dough comes together.  You want dough to look like little pebbles. If it’s not coming together at all, add about a tablespoon of water.  If dough looks too sticky, add some flour until it resembles the pebbles.

Dump dough onto work surface and role into a ball.  Knead dough: Flatten the dough into a bit of a disc shape.  Pull back of dough to front of dough and press down with the palm of your hand.  Rotate a quarter clockwise and continue for about 2 minutes.

Wrap in plastic and let rest on the counter for about 15 minutes and up to an hour.

When you are ready to put through pasta attachment, cut dough into 6 pieces.  Keep pieces you are not working with under plastic wrap.  Run dough through flat attachment multiple times, working from the widest setting on down.  If you notice the dough getting sticky, rub a little flour on it. I only took my down to 7 (it goes to 8).  I then switched attachments and ran the dough through for spaghetti.  I then toss the pasta with some additional flour on a sheet pan.  Continue on until all pasta has been rolled out.

When cooking pasta, I really salt my water.  I recommend making it “as salty as the ocean”.  That is where your flavor comes from.  If you make this whole batch of pasta, cook in 2 shifts.  Keep stirring using tongs as it cooks so it does not stick together.  It probably only needs to cook for about 3-4 minutes.  DO NOT OVER-COOK.  I cannot stress how critical this is.  Drain and use immediately.

This dough makes enough for about 4 people.  If you don’t need it all right now, wrap up and freeze what you don’t need.

Marinara

Courtesy of Anne Burrell from the Food Network

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 pound diced pancetta
  • 2 large Spanish onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • Kosher Salt
  • 4 large garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
  • 4 (28-ounce) cans Italian plum San Marzano tomatoes

Coat a large sauce pot with olive oil and add the pancetta. Bring the pot to a medium-high heat and cook the pancetta for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onions, season generously with salt and stir to coat with olive oil. Cook the onions for 6 to 7 minutes stirring frequently. The onions should become very soft and aromatic but have no color. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes stirring frequently.

Pass the tomatoes through the food mill. Be sure to pass all of the pulp through the holes leaving only the stems and the seeds, and be sure to scrape the pulp off of the bottom of the food mill. That’s all of the big money stuff! Add the tomatoes to the pot and rinse out 1 of the empty tomato cans with water and add that water to the pot (about 2 to 3 cups). Season generously with salt and TASTE IT!!!! Tomatoes take a lot of salt. Season in baby steps and taste every step of the way. Cook the sauce for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally and tasting frequently.

Use the sauce right away on pasta or for any other tomato sauce need. This sauce can also be cooled and stored in the refrigerator for a few days and freezes really well.

Meatballs

Courtesy of Anne Burrel from the Food Network

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, 1/4-inch dice
  • Salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
  • Pinch crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup water

Directions

Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil, add the onions and bring to a medium-high heat. Season the onions generously with salt and cook for about 5 to 7 minutes. The onions should be very soft and aromatic but have no color. Add the garlic and the crushed red pepper and sauté for another 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool.

In a large bowl combine the meats, eggs, Parmigiano, parsley and bread crumbs. It works well to squish the mixture with your hands. Add the onion mixture and season generously with salt and squish some more. Add the water and do 1 final really good squish. The mixture should be quite wet. Test the seasoning of the mix by making a mini hamburger size patty and cooking it. The mixture should taste really good! If it doesn’t it is probably missing salt. Add more. Add more anyway.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Shape the meat into desired size. Some people like ’em big some people like ’em small. I prefer meatballs slightly larger than a golf ball. Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and bring to a medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs on all sides. Place them on a cookie sheet and bake them in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked all the way through. If using right away, add them to your big pot of marinara sauce. If not using right away, they can be frozen for later use. Serve with pasta and sauce or just eat them straight out of the pot! YUM!

My notes from the recipe for Spaghetti with Meatballs in Marinara Sauce:

  • Don’t feel obligated to make pasta from scratch.  Use dried pasta if you prefer.  No biggie at all.  BUT, if you have the time, resources, etc, then by all means go for it.  I received a pasta maker attachment for my Kitchenaide last year, and I love using it.
  • I did mill my tomatoes, but I doubt it is the end of the world if you don’t.  I had received a food mill for Christmas and had not had a chance to use it yet, so I was all about it for this recipe.
  • I simmered my sauce for about 2 (ish) hours and was quite pleased with it. But, I would see no problem in going for the full 3.
  • I did not have ground veal for my meatballs, so I just bulked up a bit on the pork and beef.
  • I let my meatballs stew in my sauce for only about 15 minutes before I served it.
  • After my pasta was cooked, I added some sauce to a sauté pan and kind of cooked my pasta and sauce together along with a giant handful of parmesan (oh, actually I used Grana Padano – very similar to Reggiano, but about half the cost.  Great substitute if you don’t feel like going for full price but want the major parm flavor.) Then I plated my noodles and fished out a few meatballs from the sauce pot and added it to my dish.