Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My Goodness, That's GOOD! Basil Green Goddess Dressing...

I don't normally post during the middle of the week, but I have one last Barefoot Contessa recipe that I made over the weekend that I really wanted to make sure I shared with y'all before the weekend arrives and I focus on other recipes. I've started making my own salad dressings lately, because most bottled dressings just don't cut it for me...the only bottled salad dressings I buy are Newman's Own. To me, they taste most like something I could have whipped up in my kitchen. If I have time, I really enjoy making my own flavored vinaigrettes.

When I was looking at Ina Garten's recipes last week to plan Saturday night's dinner, I came across a recipe for a gorgeous Basil Green Goddess dressing. Green Goddess was evidently a very popular dressing back in the day. Then Ranch came along and sort of pushed it aside, and its popularity has gone down in recent years. However, I'm going to stage my own personal one-woman campaign to bring it back!! Last year, Michael and I were fortunate enough to eat at Thomas Keller's amazing ad hoc in Napa Valley. The salad course that night featured an Avocado Green Goddess dressing that Michael and I went absolutely crazy for.

Ina's recipe doesn't have any avocado, but it is the most lovely shade of green thanks to the basil! I might tweak the recipe next time and add a half of a ripe Haas avocado to see if I can replicate the dressing we had at ad hoc. But...for now, we really loved the great, bold flavors in this dressing! I made a half batch, which is 1 cup of salad dressing. After using it on our salad that night, I've been using the leftovers as a dip for snacks this week.

One caveat: this dressing has a very pronounced garlic flavor. If you're not a garlic lover, you might want to cut the amount below in half!

Basil Green Goddess Dressing
adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

  • 1/2 cup good mayonaise (I only use Hellman's)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (I use Daisy Light brand)
  • Milk
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onions (about 3-4)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Step 1:  Place the mayo, sour cream, green onions, basil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper in a blender or food processor. 

Step 2:  Blend until combined and the dressing is a lovely shade of green. I found it effective to pulse at the start, and then let it go on regular speed for about a minute. If it looks a little thick, add a bit of milk until you get the consistency you're looking for. I think I added about 1/3 cup of milk to make it pourable. It all depends on the thickness you prefer!

Step 3:  Place the dressing in a plastic container and refrigerate until you're ready to use. I think that preparing the dressing a few hours ahead is best, because that will allow all of the flavors to combine well.

When you're ready to serve, put some salad greens in a bowl and toss well to combine. The original recipe recommends using Bibb lettuce and diced tomato. I simply tossed some organic baby field greens with the dressing, along with a bit of good parmesan cheese.

Monday, September 27, 2010

(Mis)Adventures in Baking...Lemon-Glazed Pound Cake

As I’ve mentioned in here on numerous occasions, I don’t bake that much…with good reason! Oh, I have a sweet tooth for sure…it’s no coincidence that my brother-in-law’s nickname for me is Cookie!! When I DO make a dessert, it’s most likely going to be something like ice cream, a fruit crisp, or a no-bake pie. Otherwise, it’s easier to let a bakery do all the work for me and concentrate on the rest of the meal. However, I recently vowed to use this blog as a way to force me outside of my cooking comfort zone…so I try my hand at baking once in a while.

I found two great Barefoot Contessa pound cake recipes when planning this Saturday’s citrus-themed dinner menu. I couldn’t make up my mind which one to try, so I decided to take the best components of both recipes and combine them into one amazing cake! I baked Ina’s Vanilla-Honey Pound Cake, but used the lemon simple syrup and lemon glaze from her
Lemon-Yogurt Cake. The end result was FANTASTIC…a little tart, a little sweet, with a great texture. However, much hilarity ensued while actually getting from Point A (the baking) to Point B (eating the cake)!!

I have issues with exact measurements in cooking, but I know that it’s vital when it comes to baking. So, I carefully measured all the ingredients I needed and had everything ready to go before setting up my Kitchen Aid. I followed the recipe directions to. the. letter…go me! When it came time to add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients? That’s when Mishap #1 happened. I thought I was moving the little lever on the mixer toward the off position as I raised the paddle up to add the dry ingredients…but I turned it up instead!! I have fairly quick reflexes, but not quick enough. Needless to say…my face, hair, and tee shirt were covered in splatters of cake batter!

Truthfully? I was just thankful that the batter was only on me, and not all over my kitchen (…and that Michael wasn’t home to witness the entire spectacle)!! I quickly ran to the bathroom and promptly had a good laugh at the batter-splattered reflection that was staring back at me. I looked like the culinary equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting! Go ahead and laugh…it was straight up like something out of a bad sitcom!! And no…I didn’t snap a picture!! After a brief encounter with a washcloth, I went back to the kitchen to conquer the cake batter. Once I got the cake into the oven, I had an hour to kill while it baked. I took a shower, washed the cake batter out of my hair, and changed clothes. Thirty minutes later, I felt and looked like a new woman…and my kitchen smelled pretty darn good!

The cake came out of the oven and was a lovely shade of deep-golden brown. I admit that I was feeling pretty impressed with myself and thought that
 just maybe I might eventually earn my baking stripes! Then Mishap #2 brought me crashing back to reality within minutes. The recipe said to cool the cake in the pan for 15 minutes…so I made the lemon simple syrup and the lemon glaze while the cake did its thing. Then it was time for the moment of truth: I inverted the loaf pan onto my serving plate and heard a comforting plop…whew! My cake had released from the pan…rather, 95% of it had. Yep…part of the bottom of the cake was still inside the pan. Proving that I have a sense of humor when it comes to my baking limitations, I had a good laugh and placed my slightly-angled cake onto the serving platter.

I poked holes on the top of the cake with a fork and poured the simple syrup on top so the cake could soak it in. After a few minutes, I spooned the glaze on top of the cake. The end result? The cake tasted good…really good, actually!! Granted, it wasn’t exactly the supermodel of pound cakes…but it sliced very nicely and made a great dessert that night topped with some Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla. While I’ll never be a master baker -- say that three times fast, folks -- I promise to keep trying my hand at baking from time to time! I hope you enjoy the recipe…mishaps not included!!

Lemon-Glazed Pound Cake
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 350. Grease the bottom of a loaf pan. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream 2 sticks of room-temperature butter and 1 1/4 cups sugar for 4 minutes, until light and fluffy.  NOTE: It takes about an hour for the butter to come to the proper temperature after coming out of the fridge.

Step 2:  Add the following ingredients to a large measuring cup, but do not combine: 4 large room-temperature eggs, 2 tbs. honey, 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract, and the zest of one lemon. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the mixture -- one egg at a time. Scrape down the bowl after each egg is incorporated. 

Step 3:  Sift together 2 cups cake flour, 1 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. baking powder. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients a little at a time, until just combined. This is where I got into trouble and ended up wearing cake batter, so proceed with caution! Here's how the finished cake batter looks:

Step 4:  Finish mixing the batter with a rubber spatula and pour it into the prepared loaf pan. 

Even out the top, tap the loaf pan on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles, and bake for 50-60 minutes. I turned the cake around in the oven about halfway through baking. The cake is ready to come out of the oven when a toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Let the cake cook in the pan for 15 minutes.

Step 5:  Meanwhile, make the lemon simple syrup and lemon glaze. To make the simple syrup, combine 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about two lemons, depending on size).  Microwave for a minute or two to dissolve the sugar, stirring well. To make the lemon glaze, combine 1 cup confectioners sugar and 2 tbs. fresh lemon juice. I had to add a bit of water to make the glaze the right consistency.

Step 6:  After 15 minutes, turn the cake onto your serving platter. Hopefully you won't have the issues I did with sticking! Poke holes in the top of the cake with a fork and spoon the simple syrup on the top of the cake. It soaks into the cake pretty quickly. I waited five minutes, then spooned the glaze on top of the cake, letting it drizzle down the sides.

When you're ready to serve, slice the cake with a serrated knife. The cake is great as is -- the simple syrup makes it moist, and the glaze gives the outside a sweet-tart flavor. That said, a scoop of vanilla ice cream is a nice compliment as well!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pucker Up...Time for Chicken Piccata!

This weekend's featured meal is courtesy of Ina Garten, also known as Barefoot Contessa. I've watched her show on Food Network for years, but until last night I'd never actually tried out any of her cookbooks or recipes at home. I checked out a couple of her books from the library and decided that she's my kind of gal: for the most part, she loves to keep her recipes uncomplicated...but with lots of bang for your buck taste-wise!  I was really excited when y'all chose her in last week's poll as favorite celebrity chef, because it meant I would finally get a chance to try some of her recipes!! Last night's dinner came mainly from her Barefoot Contessa at Home cookbook.

My dear friend Debbie (we were college roomies in in The Big 80s!) raves about Ina's chicken piccata, so I knew immediately which entree I wanted to try. From the way she talks about this dish, I knew it would be good. She didn't steer me wrong...this is truly fantastic. It has all the things that I love best in a recipe: it's quick to make, the flavor is amazing...especially if you love citrus, and it has a lot of WOW Factor. I'm putting this recipe into the regular dinner rotation at Casa's simple enough to make on a work night, but fancy enough to serve to company.

I kept the sides fairly simple last night so the chicken would be the focus of the meal. I made herbed basmati rice and field greens tossed with Ina's amazing green goddess dressing. The dressing is super-easy to whip up in a food processor, so I'll share the recipe later this week. For dessert, I combined two of Ina's cake recipes and made a glazed lemon-honey-vanilla pound cake. Yes, I baked. Said baking resulted in much hilarity, which I'll share in tomorrow's post. For now? I'll leave you with the chicken piccata recipe. I made this one pretty much by the book...the only significant alteration I made was to add some grated parm-reggiano to the bread crumbs since I had less than the recipe called for. Sometimes a gal's gotta improvise ;)!

Chicken Picatta
adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

  • 4 pieces boneless chicken breasts (unless the package you bought only has three pieces when you get home :lol:)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan reggiano
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbs. butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice (about two lemons)...reserve the lemon halves
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Chopped flat-leaf parsley
Step 1:  Preheat oven to 375. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or foil. Place each chicken breast between two pieces of parchment of plastic wrap and pound to 1/4-inch thick. OR you can just do what I did: buy the chicken already in cutlets ;)! Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Step 2:  Combine flour, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper in a large plastic zip bag. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs with 1 tbs. water. In a second bowl, combine the bread crumbs and the parmesan. Shake each breast in the flour, and shake off the excess. Dip in the egg wash, and then dredge in the bread crumb-cheese mixture. Place the chicken pieces on a plate.

Step 3:  Heat 2 tbs. olive oil in a skillet over medium heat for about five minutes. Add two chicken breast pieces and cook for two minutes per side, until nicely browned. Put the first two breasts in the oven while you make the next batch of chicken. Let the pieces finish cooking in the oven while you make the sauce.

Step 4:  Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel. On medium heat, melt 1 tbs. of the butter. Then add the lemon juice, white wine, reserved lemon halves, and salt & pepper to taste. Cook on high for about two minutes...until the sauce is thickened and reduced by about half. Remove from heat and toss the lemon halves. Swirl in the remaining two tbs. of the butter.

Step 5:  Remove chicken breasts from the oven and put on a serving plate. Pour the lemon-butter sauce over the top and garnish with the chopped parsley and thin slices of lemon. 

I'm not exaggerating when I say this is hands-down THE best chicken dish I've tried in ages. I can't wait to make it again. By the way, the pucker reference in today's title has two meanings. Sure...the lemony sauce might make you pucker a wee bit. But you also just might get a smooch from whoever you serve this dish's that good!! last thing: Go Houston Texans!!!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Bright and Sunny Potato Salad...'s a very windy, wet day here in San Antonio as TS Hermine paid us a visit! We've been dealing with tons of rain, high winds, and generally nasty weather. More rain is in the forecast tonight, so I'm thankful to still have electricity (for now) so I can post in here AND make some dinner tonight!! On a stormy day, I'm happy that I have some sunny-yellow potato salad left in the fridge from yesterday's Labor Day feast to cheer me up. It also means that dinner will be that much easier to pull together tonight!!

I love potato salad, but it's not something I cook very often. My mother-in-law makes a killer potato salad for many of our family functions, so I'm perfectly happy to eat hers! I was happy when y'all selected potato salad in last week's poll and eager to find a good recipe to try. When it comes to potato salad, you're either a mayo-only person or a mayo-mustard mix person. I fall into the second camp, so that narrowed the recipes down as I searched. In the end, I decided to give Tyler Florence's recipe a go.

It caught my eye because of two interesting tweaks on traditional potato salad: it has lemon juice and a bit of dill pickle juice in the dressing. The lemon really brightened the flavor, and the dill pickle juice gave it a nice twang as well. Michael prefers a pronounced mustard taste in his potato salad, so I tweaked the ratio of mayo to mustard to suit our tastes. The original recipe also calls for capers, which I don't really care for. I left those out, but you can add up to 2 tbs. if you like them.

Bright and Sunny Potato Salad
adapted from a recipe by Tyler Florence

  • 2 pounds small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled 
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 1 1/3 cup mayo (I used Hellman's Light)
  • 2/3 cup mustard (recipe calls for Dijon, but I only had old-school French's yellow on hand)
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped dill pickle + 1/4 cup of juice from the jar
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1 tbs. dried dill (or 1/2 bunch fresh dill, chopped)
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Step 1:  Put the peeled potatoes and eggs in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add about 1 tbs. of salt and bring to a simmer. After about 12 minutes, remove the eggs and let cool. Keep cooking the potatoes until a knife goes in without resistance. That takes about five minutes longer. Drain potatoes and set aside to cool.

Step 2:  While the potatoes cool, make the dressing. Put the mayo, mustard, pickles and juice, red onion, green onion, dill and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl. Peel the boiled eggs and chop. Add to the mixing bowl.

Step 3:  Stir dressing ingredients well to combine. 

Step 4:  Break up the cooled potatoes by hand into rough chunks. Add them to the bowl and toss gently to combine with the dressing, being careful not to break the pieces up too much. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. I find the potato salad tastes better the longer the flavors are allowed to combine...and they're even better the next day!

For our Labor Day meal, I kept it pretty simple to let the potato salad be the star of the show. For the main dish, I simply grilled some Philly Cheesesteak artisan sausages from the Central Market butcher shop. My other side was organic sweet corn on the cob simply served with butter, salt, and a grind or two of black pepper. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cinnamon Gelato + Bananas + Caramel = Bananas Foster Sundae

I have a confession to make. I've been sadly neglecting an old friend, my Cuisinart ice cream maker,  this summer. It was a busy summer for us, so it sat under the cabinet, toward the back..."out of sight, out of mind."  Several of my food blog friends have been posting about their homemade ice cream adventures recently, so I decided to blow the dust off the ice cream maker and make some ice cream to celebrate the long holiday weekend. But what kind? The possibilities seemed endless...

New Orleans is a city that holds many special memories for Michael and I. He proposed to me in New Orleans, and we went back and spent our honeymoon there as well. One of our favorite things to do there is eat, and one of our favorite desserts is Bananas Foster.  Bananas, brown sugar, cinnamon, rum, and vanilla ice cream. Really, what's not to love? This picture was taken when we went to Easter brunch at Brennan's in Houston, one of our favorite restaurants. I decided that I wanted to make a Bananas Foster Sundae, so my first decision was to make cinnamon gelato as my base flavor. I stumbled across a great recipe online from The Washington Post and tweaked it a bit to up the cinnamon flavor. I found some amazing high-oil Vietnamese cinnamon in the bulk section at Central Market and knew it would give my gelato a fantastic cinnamon taste and aroma!

Next was to figure out a way to get the caramel flavor that happens when you flame brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon with rum. One of the food blogs I love to read is Jacob's Kitchen ( His blog is really great, so check it out!! Last week, he featured a recipe for a FANTASTIC salted vanilla caramel sauce, so I decided to make that the next key component of my sundae. I wish I could say that my caramel turned out the same deep-bronze color as Jacob's, but mine never got past the butterscotch-looking stage. However, it still tasted AMAZING. It  worked out fine in my sundaes despite being a bit on the pale side ;)!

Here's the recipe...hope you enjoy it!

Bananas Foster Sundaes

Step 1:  Make the cinnamon gelato. 

1.  Combine 1 cup milk, 1 cup heavy cream, and 4 cinnamon sticks in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the mixture begins to bubble around the edges (about 10 minutes). 

Cover, remove from heat, and let the mixture steep for 30 minutes. Discard the cinnamon sticks after the 30 minutes is up.

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat 5 large egg yolks, 2/3 cup packed brown sugar, 1 tbs. ground cinnamon, 1 tbs. vanilla extract, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Beat on medium speed for about 4 minutes. The mixture should be thick and a pale brown color.

3. With the mixer on medium-low, add the milk mixture to the egg mixture in a slow, steady stream. Transfer the custard back to a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat for about 7 minutes, stirring constantly.

You'll know the custard is cooked enough when a finger run across the back of a spoon leaves a definite line like this:

4.  Pour the custard into a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least four hours so the custard can chill thoroughly. You can refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

5. After the custard is chilled, freeze it according to your ice cream maker's directions. This recipe makes 1 quart of gelato. When my Cuisinart ice cream maker had been mixing the gelato for 30 minutes, it was the consistency of soft serve:

6.  If you want your gelato to be firmer, just do what I did: scoop it into a plastic container and let it sit i the freezer for a few hours. By the time I was ready to assemble the sundaes last night, it was perfectly scoopable!

Step 2: Make the caramel.

Here's the link to Jacob's luscious salted vanilla caramel sauce:

Don't be intimidated. It only has a few ingredients: water, sugar, cream, vanilla, and salt. It's really simple to whip up, and it tastes divine. If you don't want to make your own caramel sauce, then you can buy a good-quality jarred sauce at the store. It won't taste exactly the same, but it'll work ok if you're pressed for time.

Step 3: Assemble the sundaes.

When you're ready to serve the sundaes, get your ingredients together so you can work quickly, before the gelato begins to melt. Layer some gelato, some of the caramel, and some sliced bananas. Repeat the layers, ending with caramel sauce on top. Sprinkle with some of the chopped candied pecans and serve!

The salted caramel paired really well with the sweet cinnamon gelato, but neither flavor overpowered the bananas. It tasted very much like actual Bananas Foster that we've had in restaurants. If the sundae doesn't sound like your thing, the cinnamon gelato tastes wonderful on its own. It was creamy and had a very pronounced cinnamon taste. It would also be great with apple pie or any fall-themed baking you plan to do.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pancetta? Yes, please!

Yeah...pancetta pretty much makes just about anything taste that much better!! If you've never tried pancetta, why not give it a try in today's amazing meatball recipe from Food Network chef Giada De Laurentiis. You may be asking yourself, "What the heck IS this pancetta stuff, Wendy?" Pancetta is basically Italian bacon that's been cured with salt and pepper and a few other spices. Unlike American bacon, however, pancetta is NOT smoked. Luckily, you can buy pancetta in the deli department at most large grocery stores. If you can't get your hands on pancetta, you can just sub in bacon. The taste will be a bit different, but still delicious!

Giada's meatballs are a little bit different from the typical meatballs that I've seen. They're made from lean ground turkey and are flavored with crisped pancetta and chopped sun-dried tomatoes. I've made this recipe several times to rave reviews, but haven't made it lately. I decided it was time to rectify that situation last night! The meatballs are cooked in a simple homemade tomato-basil sauce and tossed with cooked spaghetti. The best part? It tastes like you spent hours in the kitchen, but the entire meal takes about an hour from start to finish.

Turkey Meatballs with Pancetta and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis: Everyday Pasta

Meatball Ingredients:
  • 3 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, diced (recipe calls for yellow, but all I had on hand was red)
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (Italian flat leaf is best, but I only had curly)
  • 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and cut into pieces (San Marzano are best if you can find them!)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely diced (I use a microplane and shred them!)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup chopped basil 
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Step 1:  Preheat oven to 400. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped pancetta and cook for two or three minutes. Add the chopped onion and cook until the pancetta is crisp and the onions are nicely browned. This should take about five more minutes. Let cool off the burner. 

Step 2:  Put the turkey, cheese, parsley, bread crumbs, sun-dried tomatoes, eggs, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Add the cooled pancetta-onion mixture and gently mix until everything is just combined. I find that clean hands are the perfect tool for this!

Step 3:  Roll the mixture into 2-inch meatballs and place on a greased baking pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the meatballs are nicely browned. For reference, I ended up with 14 meatballs last night. 

Step 4:  Bring salted water to boil in a large pan pot. Add a package of spaghetti or linguini and cook until it's al dente. This will take approximately 10 minutes. When cooked, drain the pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Step 5: While the past and meatballs are doing their thing, make the sauce. Put the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced tomatoes, garlic cloves, parsley, salt, pepper, and four finely cut basil leaves. Stir to combine and let it cook/reduce for 15-20 minutes.

Step 6:  Add the spaghetti and cooked meatballs to the sauce. Toss gently to coat. Add some of the reserved pasta water if it looks like you need a bit more moisture...I added about 1/4 cup last night. Just before you're ready to serve, dust with parmesan reggiano and sprinkle three more torn basil leaves on top.

I love these meatballs because every bite is a new flavor sensation. Sometimes you taste the sweet-tart sun-dried tomatoes, sometimes the pancetta flavor is more pronounced...but every bite is delicious! Since the meatballs are the star of this show, I kept the sides simple. I served this dish with salad and a simple garlic bread. I hope you'll give these meatballs a try...they're truly exceptional! I'm already looking forward to having the leftovers for dinner tonight...mmmm...