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Chocolate Almond Torte

December 11, 2012

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I confess, I’m not much of a baker. What I really mean is I like to cook. Oh…I guess what I really mean is I don’t like to measure ingredients!! Of course when I entertain I like a sweet ending to the meal, you just won’t see me casually baking in my spare time!! In the summer it tends to be fruit. And cold weather screams………chocolate!! Keeping in mind I am not a baker, this recipe is ridiculously easy and wickedly delicious. I have shared this torte with guests for the last 12 years…. now share with yours!

Chocolate Almond Torte       (The Italian Collection Cookbook)

Serves 8

2 cups whole blanched almonds

6 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

7 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

1 stick plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup confectioners sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom of an 8 inch spring form pan and line with parchment paper (or waxed). Lightly butter and flour the sides of pan. In a food processor or blender grind the almonds and chocolate to a medium fine consistency. In a medium bowl beat the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add butter and beat til smooth. Add the almond-chocolate mixture and stir until well blended, 2 to 3 minutes. The batter will be very dense, scrape into prepared pan. Bake torte in the lower third of the oven for 45 minutes or until skewer inserted in the pan comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes. Remove from torte pan and place on serving platter. Dust with confectioners sugar.

How easy was that???

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Sage and White Cheddar Gougeres

December 7, 2012

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I have a few versions of these elegant little puffs that I’ve been saving to make for the holidays. Only 6 ingredients create these perfect companions to a glass of bubbly. Ideal for your impromptu get togethers. Trial and Error could be the subtitle of the recipe below. Some of these savory nibbles “puffed” and well…..some did not!!! Don’t let my little experiment discourage you, my second batch came out perfect. Watch your cooking time, you want the gougeres to be golden brown.

Gougeres    (adapted by chezus.com)

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup flour

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

salt

2 large eggs

1/2 cup white cheddar, grated

1/8 cup sage, minced

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large saucepan bring water, salt and butter to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and stir in flour using a wooden spoon. Turn off heat. Continue beating the mixture until dough comes together and forms a ball. Transfer mixture to a bowl and mix with electric mixer.  Add the eggs one at a time. After beating the last egg, mix in 1/4 cup of cheese and sage. Mix well. Sprinkle each puff with a small amount of the remaining cheese. Using two small spoons, put little amounts of dough on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes and then lower the heat to 375 degrees. Continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm.  Make ahead ……..place in air tight containers and store in freezer. Rewarm on baking sheet in 350 degrees oven until heated through, about 5 minutes.

Other combinations: Blue cheese and pepper/ rosemary and lemon zest

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Fig and Prosciutto Flatbread

December 1, 2012

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Figs intrigue me. The shape. The flavor. The color (I would love an outfit with these hues!!). Years ago, I remember cooking figs (and many other ingredients) to create a gooey jam for a pizza. While the outcome was delicious, buying that fig spread you now see everywhere certainly simplifies the process! This flatbread is so easy to pull together and is a family favorite!! Think seasonal appetizer or a casual dinner.

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Fig and Prosciutto Flatbread      (adapted by Todd English/Food and Wine)

Food processor pizza dough* recipe below (or store bought pizza dough)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1 teaspoon rosemary, minced

salt and pepper

1/2 cup fig jam

1 cup gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

6 slices of prosciutto (approximately)

2 scallions, thinly sliced (for garnish)

Food Processor Pizza Dough

1 package dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup warm water

3 cups all purpose flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

Stir the yeast and sugar into water and let stand til foamy, about 5 minutes. Place flour, olive oil and salt into the bowl of the food processor. Turn processor on and slowly pour yeast mixture through the feed tube. Process until the dough forms a ball. Remove to a floured surface and knead for 30 seconds. Add more flour if dough is sticky. Place dough in a plastic bag and let it rise until doubled, about 1 hour. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to desired shape. The dough may be refrigerated or frozen. Makes 2 – 14″ pizzas.  (I always make 1 large flatbread …rustic style… on a cookie sheet).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle the rolled out dough with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 the garlic and 1/2 the rosemary. Season with salt and pepper. Spread 1/4 cup of fig jam all over crust. Scatter half the cheese and prosciutto over the dough. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Garnish with sliced scallions and serve.

Place the remaining ingredients on the second pizza. Or all the ingredients on one large pizza.

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Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

November 28, 2012

Time-out! I don’t know about you… but I need a break! Perhaps a different flavor palate? Perhaps a carb-free meal?? These tasty wraps do the trick! They have a refreshing crunchy texture, a spicy kick and have plenty of protein to call it dinner. You need to keep these Asian ingredients in your pantry to create a flavorful meal in a snap.

Lettuce Wraps     (adapted from P.F.Changs)

16 Boston, bibb or butter lettuce leaves

1 pound ground chicken breast

1 large onion, chopped

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1 tablespoon reduced salt soy sauce

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

2 teaspoons ginger, minced

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

2 teaspoons chili pepper

1 can sliced water chestnuts

1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons sesame oil

Rinse lettuce leaves, keep them whole. Cook chicken in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring to break up meat. Add onion, garlic, soy sauce, hoisin, ginger, vinegar and chili sauce. Cook meat thoroughly. Add water chestnuts and scallions. Cook for 2 minutes or until the scallions start to wilt. Stir in sesame oil. Arrange lettuce leaves on a platter and spoon mixture into the center of leaves. Eat it like a taco! You may want to serve with additional hoisin sauce.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

November 21, 2012

Cauliflower just doesn’t get the love. This cruciferous vegetable is full of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds and healthy fiber. While the health benefits are impressive, it’s just not the fan favorite. Try roasting these florets, add celery root and the result is sweet, nutty…. with a rich depth of flavor. I am confidant you will win over your guests with this delicious soup. Randy loved it!!!

Cauliflower Soup

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 leek, sliced

1 cup celery root, diced

2 sprigs thyme

3 cups chicken stock

Salt and pepper

For garnish:  Beets, sliced thin with a mandolin, sour cream and chives OR croutons, sour cream and thyme sprig

Vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 4oo degrees. Toss cauliflower with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread cauliflower on baking sheet and roast til fork tender about 25-30 minutes. Heat butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add leeks, celery root, thyme, salt and pepper. Saute for 10 minutes til vegetables are soft. Add cauliflower and broth, simmer for 15 minutes. Transfer to blender, puree to desired consistency (you may need to add more stock). Garnish with beets or croutons. For beets, place thin slices in shimmering vegetable oil til crisp. For croutons, place rough torn rustic bread in 2 tablespoons of butter and a bit of olive oil turning til brown.

Brandy Alexander

November 16, 2012

Nightcaps! Just when you’ve cried “Uncle” and slipped away to replace your fancy pants with yoga pants….here come the Brandy Alexanders. Everyone’s around the fire playing a rousing round of the “name game” when Aunt Paula serves up this traditional treat.. A happy ending to a Happy Thanksgiving!

Brandy Alexander

1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream

1/4 cup brandy (or a bit more to taste)

1/4 cup creme de cacao

nutmeg, freshly grated

Combine ice cream, brandy and cacao in a blender. Grate nutmeg to serve.

Think hostess gift! You can make batches weeks before and freeze. Deliver in a festive container…and make it a tradition.

Pumpkin Roll

November 12, 2012

The family tradition of “The Pumpkin Roll” goes back 15 years. This recipe had me at….. Fannie May Toffee!! Among the mix of pies, the pumpkin roll holds a special place at the Thanksgiving Sweet Table. Many recipes for this cake call for eggs and cream cheese, which can be made in advance and can be frozen. Make this version the day you are serving. Using egg whites and whip cream creates a light and airy cake that’s worth the same day preparation. Don’t be intimidated by the number of steps…this recipe pulls together quickly.

Pumpkin Roll Cake    (adapted from Paula Deen-Food Network)

Cooking Spray

3/4 cup cake flour

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger

3/4 teaspoons ground allspice

6 large eggs, separated

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup light brown sugar

2/3 cup canned pure pumpkin

1/8 teaspoon salt

Confectioners sugar

Filling

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

2 tablespoons dark rum

1 1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled

1 1/2 tablespoons confectioners sugar  (taste to desired sweetness)

1/2 cup English toffee pieces, chopped

1 cup store bought caramel sauce, warmed for garnish

Cake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray the paper with cooking spray. Sift the flour, cinnamon, ginger and allspice into a small bowl. In a large bowl, beat the eggs yolks, sugar and brown sugar with a mixer until thick. Add pumpkin and mix til blended. Add the dry ingredients and blend until incorporated. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites, salt and mix til stiff but not dry. Fold the egg whites into the cake mixture until incorporated. Spread the batter on the sheet and smooth the top. Bake until the tester comes out clean, 15-18 minutes. While the cake is hot, sprinkle with confectioners sugar. Loosen the edges and place on a kitchen towel. Peel off the parchment paper. Starting along one long side, roll the cake around the towel. Put seam side down and put on the baking sheet and cool. Filling: Combine gelatin and rum in a sauce pan over low heat and stir until gelatin is dissolves. Cool slightly. Beat the heavy cream and sugar in a large bowl with a mixer until peaks form (reserve about 1/2 cup to spread on top of cake). Fold in gelatin mixture. Add 1/4 cup of toffee. Assemble: Unroll the cake and fill with whip cream mixture. Roll the cake up and place it seam down on a serving platter. Trim the ends. Top with whip cream, sprinkle with toffee pieces and drizzle with warm caramel sauce.

Gently fold in egg whites until most of the white streaks are gone. Do not over mix.