Category Archives: Food

Weekend Special: Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & Rations

During the week, we do not eat “cooked” breakfasts.  Rather, we eat cold cereals, yogurt, hard-cooked eggs, string cheese, fruit, or sometimes oatmeal.   If we do eat something “cooked,” it’s been made prior to the morning because we don’t allot extra morning kitchen time (such as a quinoa bake or cinnamon quick bread).  On weekends…well, we splurge a little and typically make pancakes or eggs with a breakfast meat, and maybe a hearty slice of toast with a smearing of orange marmalade on the side.  Last weekend, I made buttermilk biscuits.  This weekend…

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & Rations

I made homemade cinnamon rolls.  They’re soft, moist, and deliciously sweetly spiced.  Topped with a light vanilla glaze, these are some of the best I’ve had.

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & Rations

(We really want to cut back on this type of carbs.)

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & Rations

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & Rations

And I have a long history with cinnamon rolls.  At a family restaurant we used to frequent when I was a child, I would always order their “Sweet Cinnamon Swirl” – which was a flaky cinnamon roll pastry.  Each layer would be eaten first until I could finally savor the perfect center in all its soft, tender glory.  I still do this with any cinnamon roll.

What I find to be an issue with a lot of store-bought cinnamon rolls is that the texture lacks tenderness; the dry roll just tears off in pieces.  The icing usually leaves a lot to be desired, too.  While the glaze for this recipe isn’t my favorite (I normally like a tangy cream cheese frosting), it’s a nice addition to them.

The best part about this recipe is the simplicity.  One rise.  It took around two hours from start to finish because they only need one period of rising.  I turned on the oven to 200 degrees F and put the rolls in, shut the door, and shut the oven off.  This created a great environment for rising – especially when it’s 30 degrees warmer than normal here, and we have the air conditioning going inside.

Homemade Cinnamon RollsHomemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & RationsHomemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & Rations

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls II Rants, Raves, & Rations

They got a little larger than “double in size”

A couple of changes I will make to this recipe for next time is adding or substituting the white sugar for brown sugar, and making the aforementioned cream cheese frosting instead of the vanilla glaze.  Other than that, I appreciate Sally’s Baking Addiction for a great base recipe!

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients:

Rolls
    • 2 and 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    • 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 package Red Star Platinum Yeast (1 packet = 2 and 1/4 teaspoons)
    • 1/2 cup water
    • 1/4 cup milk
    • 2 and 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 1 large egg
Filling
    • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
    • 1 and 1/2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
Vanilla Glaze
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbs. half & half or cream

Instructions

  1. Make the dough: Set aside 1/2 cup of flour. In a large bowl, toss the remaining flour, sugar, salt, and yeast together until evenly dispersed. Set aside.
  2. Heat the water, milk, and butter together in the microwave until the butter is melted and the mixture is hot to touch. About 125F-130F degrees. Stir the butter mixture into the flour mixture. Add the egg and only enough of the reserved flour to make a soft dough.  Dough will be ready when it gently pulls away from the side of the bowl and has an elastic consistency.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for about 5-6 minutes. Place in a lightly greased bowl (I used non-stick spray) and let rest for about 10 minutes.
  4. Make the filling: After 10 minutes, roll the dough out in a 14×8 inch rectangle. Spread the softened butter on top. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle it all over the dough. Add more cinnamon/sugar if desired. Roll up the dough tightly. Cut into 11 even pieces and place in a lightly greased 9-inch round pan. I used a pie dish, lightly sprayed with nonstick spray. Loosely cover the rolls with aluminum foil and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place for 60-90 minutes. (*Heat the oven to 200F degrees. Turn oven off. Place rolls inside oven and allow to rise.)
  5. After the rolls have doubled in size, preheat the oven to 375F. Bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly browned. *I covered the rolls with aluminum foil after 15 minutes to avoid heavy browning.
  6. Make the glaze: Right before serving, top your cinnamon rolls with glaze. Mix the powdered sugar and cream together until smooth and drizzle over rolls.
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Berry Scones

Slightly sweet.  Moist.  Rich with cream and butter.  Scones are so versatile and scrumptious.  I enjoy them with all sorts of additions – blueberries, raspberries, cinnamon chips.  They can be lightly glazed or like mine, which have a delightfully crunchy sprinkling of turbinado sugar.

Berry Scones

I’ve done a bit of baking in the past week for Memorial Day and weekend breakfasts, and while I’ve enjoyed the brown sugar pound cake and buttermilk biscuits, I must say these scones came out on top.  My husband (we’ll refer to him as Mr. D) and I had some nice, simple scones at the bed & breakfast we stayed at on our Savannah honeymoon; this tweaked Ina Garten recipe blows them out of the water.  Theirs were a bit dry and just didn’t have the flaky, rich texture of these.

Ina’s original recipe is for “cranberry-orange” scones, but I didn’t have any citrus fruit on hand, so I made them with dried mixed berries (a trio of cranberries, cherries, and blueberries).  Her basic recipe is going to be my go-to from now on because it’s so easy and perfect.  I did cut it in half, as her dishes often yield large amounts.

Scones are wonderful for breakfast, brunch, or a snack, and they can be savory or sweet.  I’ve enjoyed cheddar-dill scones and versions with salty bacon.  I look forward to using this recipe with savory ingredients, too.

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Berry Scones

Berry Scones

Berry Scones

Berry Scones

Berry Scones (adapted from Barefoot Contessa)

Ingredients:

2 cups plus 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, diced
2 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
1/2 cup dried fruit

*1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk, for egg wash

*Turbinado sugar for sprinkling on the egg-washed tops before baking

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix 2 cups of flour, 1/8 cup sugar, the baking powder, and salt. Add the cold butter and mix at the lowest speed until the butter is the size of peas.

Combine the eggs and heavy cream and with the mixer on low speed, slowly pour into the flour and butter mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough will look lumpy. Combine the dried fruit bits and 1/8 cup of flour, add to the dough, and mix on low speed until blended.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it into a ball. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll the dough 3/4-inch thick circle (or just pat it out with your hands). You should see small bits of butter in the dough. Keep moving the dough on the floured board so it doesn’t stick. Cut the dough into 8 wedges and place the scones on a baking pan lined with parchment paper.

Brush the tops of the scones with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are browned and the insides are fully baked. The scones will be firm to the touch. Allow the scones to cool for 15 minutes.

Berry Scones

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Mother’s Day: Reine de Saba Cake

Reine de Saba CakeFor Mother’s Day, I decided to make the chocolate almond French cake, Reine de Saba.  It was a labor of love.  Four bowls, two saucepans, a hand mixer, and a food processor later, I had a lovely, petite cake waiting to be iced with Julia’s fabulous, simple chocolate butter icing.

The cake requires a few steps, including beating egg whites, grinding almonds for almond meal, and chopping and melting chocolate.  However, it’s not a difficult recipe, and it yields an impressive, moist, flavorful cake.  It looks like it’d be very rich, but it’ll surprise you.

Reine de Saba Cake

The most difficult part is probably pressing the almonds onto the sides.  It’s only difficult because I’m very particular about the presentation.  I’ve seen this cake made with the almonds sprinkled on the top of the cake, which is gorgeous, too.

I cut four strips of wax paper to place underneath the cake so that after I iced and decorated, I could easily remove the strips and be left with a perfectly clean cake plate.

Reine de Saba Cake

Reine de Saba Cake

Reine de Saba Cake

Reine de Saba Cake

Reine de Saba Cake with Chocolate Butter Icing

Cake:
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons brewed coffee, or dark rum (I used coffee)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt + a pinch
3 eggs, yolks separated from whites
1/3 cup almond meal
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup (2 ounces) cake flour, sifted
About 1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds, for garnish

Frosting:
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons brewed coffee, or dark rum (I used coffee)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature

For Cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare an 8-inch round cake pan by buttering and flouring the inside, tapping the pan to remove excess flour.
  2. Place the chocolate and coffee/rum in a medium heat-proof bowl and set atop a pan of simmering water. Melt, stirring occasionally, until smooth.
  3. Beat together the butter and 2/3 cup sugar, until fluffy, and lightened in color. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  4. Add the egg yolks, beating until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Add the chocolate and coffee mixture, almond meal and almond extract, and mix until well incorporated.
  6. In a medium mixing bowl beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon sugar, and continue beating until stiff peaks form.
  7. Lighten the batter by mixing in 1/4 of the egg whites. Then alternate between gently folding in 1/3 of the remaining egg whites and 1/3 of the sifted cake flour, until no streaks remain.
  8. Turn out the batter into the prepped cake pan, and gently smooth the cake batter to the edge of the pan.
  9. Bake for 25 minutes, or until puffed, and just set in the center (it should jiggle slightly when shaken).
  10. Allow to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes, then run a butter knife around the edge of the cake, and unmold from the pan. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

For Frosting:

  1. Place the chocolate and coffee/rum in a medium heat-proof bowl and set atop a pan of simmering water. Melt, stirring occasionally, until smooth.
  2. Off the heat, beat in the butter, one tablespoon at a time, with a wooden spoon. Once the butter is thoroughly incorporated, and no lumps remain, place the mixing bowl inside a larger mixing bowl that is filled  with ice.
  3. Mix the frosting over the ice bath, until it has chilled down to a spreadable consistency.
  4. Spread the frosting over the top and sides of the cake.
  5. Decorate with the sliced almonds.

Yield: 1 8-inch cake (serves 6-8)

Reine de SabaI like to chill the cake in the refrigerator to give the frosting time to “set” slightly before wrapping.

Yesterday I attended a writing institute during which we discussed incorporating our sense of “place” into our writing – where we come from.  This proved to be a cleansing exercise, as many of the attendees read theirs tearfully to the group.

For Mother’s Day, I would like to share my “Where I Am From” poem with my beautiful, kind, strong, smart, funny mom.  She is truly selfless and the mother I will strive to be when I am blessed with children of my own.

I am from laundry baskets,
from Rainbow-Brite and Barbies.
I am from friendly, kid-lined neighborhood streets.
(Noisy, lively; mimicking a playground.)
I am from the Bradford Pear trees,
the Holly bushes
        whose prickly thorns grumpily “embraced” my clumsy falls.I’m from Humphrey’s Pine Room Thanksgiving dinners and church-goers,
 from itchy, transparent-green Easter basket grass underneath my legs in the back of dad’s Oldsmobile on spring break trips.I’m from the solemn pre-dinner prayers and bantering of opposing politics,
 the feeling of the first time burying my face into the cottony, white fur of a family member for which I so, so long awaited.

From “Remember the Golden Rule!” and “That’s not ladylike.”

I’m from heavy hymnals
        with music note-splattered pages and pristine bindings,
        heaving shoulders of laughter that shook our pew, resulting in the “eye of warning” to my sister and me.

I’m from Seoul and the BWI airport,
        early afternoon meals of crisp, fried chicken legs, and from glistening, jewel-toned miniature fruit cakes during the holidays.

From the burnt hands of my sister who fought through halftime even after        burning herself with fire batons, and “I’ll help you clean your room if  you help me clean mine first!”
Front porch rocking in the cool mornings of summer, and a household with shelves upon shelves of knowledge, wisdom, adventure, and marvels of the world in the form of books.

Tucked tightly into albums on dusty shelves,
pressed onto sticky pages,
Polaroids of happiness, pride, life’s most significant moments,
        some – painful reminders of life’s fragility.
I am from those snapshots–
        ashy knees, unruly hair, glasses, and soiled play clothes,
        birthday candles, Christmas morning Santa Claus wonder.
I am from grace, sweet grace,
        opportunity, resounding laughter, tears, and endless joy,
from family members who may not look like me, but whose souls are beautifully bound to mine. 

Happy Mother’s Day to the most beautiful woman I know.

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Savory Cranberry-Pecan Cheese Ball: A Party Favorite

Cranberry-Pecan Cheese BallI’m not sure if, in other parts of the world, “cheese balls” are appetizer favorites, but for as long as I can remember there has been some sort of variation of the cheese ball at any significant gathering I’ve attended.

They typically contain cream cheese, seasonings, herbs, vegetables, and either a chopped nut or dried meat coating.  Some involve Cheddar, port wine, or Swiss.  Served with crackers, these are a crowd favorite at potlucks and holiday parties in the United States.

At a work Christmas party, I once had a memorable version laced with scallions and coated with bits of shaved ham.  My mom makes hers with deliciously salty dried beef; my in-laws favor port wine with Cheddar.  I’ve seen them dotted with chopped olives, bell peppers, and even dried fruits.

Our favorite cheese ball (and a favorite of many of our friends) combines savory and sweet flavors in a rich, smooth cheese spread.  I coat it in chopped pecans for a delicious bite.  At our recent derby party, we served it alongside my moscato punch, benedictine dip, and other finger-foods.  In the words of our foodie friend: “This may be the BEST cheese ball I’ve eaten…and I’ve eaten A LOT of cheese balls.”

I usually make the cheese ball, wrap in plastic wrap to chill in the refrigerator overnight, and then coat it the next day.  It’s easier to spread if not served directly out of the refrigerator, so I coat it about a half hour prior to serving.

Savory Cranberry-Pecan Cheese Ball

Ingredients:

1 8oz. package cream cheese, softened

1 cup shredded Sharp Cheddar cheese

1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup sour cream

1/8 cup minced onion

1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries

3/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. dried parsley flakes

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Cayenne to taste (a couple of dashes)

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

*Coating: 1/2 to 3/4 cup roughly chopped pecans

Directions:

Briefly whip the cream cheese with electric mixer and then add all ingredients except for the pecans and combine well.  Scoop mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap, shaping into a ball, and refrigerate for at least a few hours to allow flavors to meld.

A half hour prior to serving, remove the cheese ball from the refrigerator and unroll onto the plastic wrap.  Cupping small handfuls of chopped pecans, press them onto the outside of the cheese ball, using the plastic wrap to assist.

Serve with a variety of crackers.

 

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The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies. Ever.

The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies can vary so much.

In high school chemistry, we had an extra credit assignment that required us to find a chocolate chip recipe, make them, and bring them in to compare with other students’ results.  The differences were amazing!  There were crispy, chewy, cakey, and soft cookies – and all from seemingly similar recipes.  What a difference baking powder, soda, fats (butter, oil, etc.), and sugars can make.

My favorite chocolate chip cookie is slightly crisp on the exterior with a nice, chewy texture throughout.  Semisweet chips.  No nuts or oats.  Unlike many people, I don’t like them overly chocolatey.  Those hard, crunchy store-bought chocolate chip cookies don’t cut it, and neither do the “Soft Batch” (the ones you can often find in vending machines) that have no crispness at all.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

While searching Pinterest for some new dinner ideas, I saw a “pin” for “How to Make Perfect M&M Cookies.”  Whenever I see “perfect” I have to scan the recipe and photographs to see what might justify the usage of that label.  Picky Palate  claims that using instant vanilla pudding mix creates chewy, bakery-style cookies.  I was intrigued by this and had to try it.  Boy, is she right!

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe yields two dozen amazingly delicious, chewy chocolate chip cookies.  I didn’t use miniature M&Ms, but instead used extra miniature chocolate chips.  (They’re so good that I’ve made them twice this week.)  With the special pudding mix ingredient, you’ll truly get cookies that have that irresistible, crisp edge with a soft, chewy interior in less than 20 minutes.  After demolishing the first batch, we’ve decided that this is the best cookie recipe we’ve found.  Thank you, Picky Palate!

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Picky Palate)

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 to 1 cup miniature chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and line a large baking sheet with a silpat liner or parchment paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl cream your butter and sugars until well combined. Add your egg and vanilla mixing to combine. Add your flour, pudding mix, baking soda and salt, stirring to combine. Add chips and stir to combine.
  3. With a medium cookie scoop, place dough 1 inch apart from each other. Bake for 10-12 minutes until cooked through. Let cool on cookie sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to cooling rack. Enjoy!

Makes 2 dozen cookies

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

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Bircher Muesli: Quick and Healthful

Bircher Muesli

On an old Barefoot Contessa episode, Ina Garten made a breakfast dish called “muesli” that used raw oats, apple juice, and fresh fruit, and was topped with yogurt.  While this dish is much less popular than hot oatmeal in the United States, I did find some great recipes that served as inspiration for my own version.

The traditional “Bircher muesli” is named after a Swiss physician, nutrition researcher, and raw food-proponent, Max Bircher-Benner.  You may see “muesli” in the boxed cereal aisle at the grocery store, but they are much different than Bircher muesli, which combines oats, grated fruit, juice and/or milk, yogurt, and various mix-ins to be refrigerated and served cold.

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My version is very close to what I researched to be “traditional”: oats, grated apple, milk, juice, and yogurt.  I added spicy cinnamon to the mixture and topped it with salty pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and a drizzle of honey.  One change I may make next time is to replace the rolled oats for steel-cut to keep more of a chewy texture.

This is a healthy, portable breakfast, easily served in a paper cup to take on the go.

Bircher Muesli

Ingredients:

2 cups old-fashioned (rolled) oats

4 Tbs. shredded coconut

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 large apple, grated on the large side of a box grater

1 cup apple juice

1 cup almond milk

2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

*Toppings: Honey, pepitas, fresh fruit, additional yogurt

Directions:

Combine all the ingredients (minus the toppings) in a bowl and stir to mix well.  Refrigerate overnight (or a few hours) and serve with desired toppings.

Bircher Muesli

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Benedictine Dip

IMG_0896Served with pumpernickel fingers and rye squares, this cool, creamy, refreshing dip is a Kentucky Derby classic.  It does take a bit of time to grate the cucumber and onion and wring out the water, but it’s well worth it.  I look forward to using this “dip” as a spread on sandwiches, too.  It’d be a delicious spread on Jewish rye with tender slices of roast beef…or spread on a nutty multigrain bread and layered with fresh vegetables.

There are  other ideas you could try with this, such as hollowing out the middle of a pumpernickel loaf and serving it in the bread “bowl” or adding some  dill.  I actually had a pumpernickel loaf, but it was too large to be adequately filled with the amount of dip this recipe makes – which is about two cups.  I didn’t manage to get a great photo of the dip before setting it out on the food table, but we had baskets of pumpernickel fingers and also rye tea sandwich squares.

Benedictine Dip (adapted from Chow.com)

Ingredients:

  • 1 large English cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, and seeded
  • 1/4 medium white onion
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. Tabasco Green Jalapeño Pepper Sauce
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Grate cucumber and onion on the large holes of a box grater. Squeeze both with your hands to remove as much moisture as possible. Place in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and press several times with a rubber spatula to drain the last of the water; set aside for 5 minutes.
  2. Place cream cheese in a medium bowl and beat with a mixer until smooth, about 1 minute. Press on cucumber-onion mixture once more to drain out any remaining water, and then add to the cream cheese. Add remaining ingredients, season with freshly ground black pepper, and stir until well combined. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
  3. Serve with toasted bread fingers, fresh vegetables, or as a spread on sandwiches.
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Kentucky Derby: Moscato Punch

Moscato PunchRefreshing, summery, and full of fresh fruit, this punch was a hit at yesterday’s Kentucky Derby gathering that we hosted at our home.  My husband and I prepared a variety of simple finger foods, including crab balls, Old Bay shrimp, Benedictine dip, a cheese ball, appetizer meatballs, tortilla chips and salsa, and cruditè.  Recipes for the cheese ball and Benedictine dip to follow this week.

I searched for a punch recipe for this occasion, and ended up combining a few different ideas.  The result?  A fresh, gorgeous Moscato punch with ripe berries and invigorating mint.  Served in a glass pitcher, it was almost too pretty to drink. Last month, we attended a chocolate festival that featured Moscato in a chocolate cup; we purchased a bottle to bring home, so I used that in this recipe.

Moscato Punch

Instead of adding ice, which would only water it down, I froze some of the strawberries and raspberries and added them to the pitcher before serving.  This was a convenient way to keep it chilled.  I washed the fruit and cut the strawberries the night before and refrigerated half of it and froze the rest.  The halved the strawberries I froze as “ice cubes” and quartered them for adding to the punch when preparing it.

Moscato Punch

Ingredients:

2 bottles sparkling pink Moscato

1  1/2 cups Sprite

1/4 to 1/2 cup Triple Sec or Grand Marnier

1 pint fresh strawberries

1 half-pint fresh raspberries

1 handful fresh mint leaves

Directions:

*For the fruit “ice cubes” you will need to freeze some of the berries.  The night before, you can wash both fruits, and cut the strawberries; I quartered half of the pint of strawberries to add when making the punch and halved the remaining strawberries to freeze.   Add half of the raspberries to the halved strawberries to freeze.  Stir in just before serving.

Pour two bottles of Moscato, Sprite, and Triple Sec/Grand Marnier into a glass pitcher and stir to combine.  Add the fresh strawberries, raspberries, and mint leaves, and refrigerate to allow flavors to meld.   When ready to serve, add the frozen berries and stir again.

Moscato Punch

 

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Cheese Boards: Rustic, Assorted Gems

cheese boardOne of my favorite “noshes” is composed of a beautiful variety of flavors, colors, and textures.  Cheese boards.  Spreads of complementary and contrasting items, full of great potential.  Rustic, edible beauty.

When creating them at home, an ideal characteristic of cheese boards is that they can be assembled on a relatively small budget with just a couple of cheese selections, or they can also become impressive, gourmet presentations, depending on your chosen items.

We’ve had some pretty delicious boards in restaurants that have included spiced or sweet nuts, salty olives, ripe and dried fruits, and savory meats alongside carefully-selected cheeses.  Typically, cheese boards will also offer a variety of cheese textures, showcasing both hard and soft varieties.

For the very simple  cheese board above, I served a solitary cheese with a variety of other “accessories.”  This one wasn’t prepared to entertain – just to serve as a light lunch/snack at home.  Dried apricots and Montgomery cherries nicely juxtapose the tanginess of this extra sharp Cheddar from New York, while the freshness of a crisp apple provides somewhat of a palate-cleansing effect in between bites of rich cheese.   I just cut the Cheddar into small pieces for convenience when it’s just my husband and me, but whole wedges are more presentable.  My favorite crackers to serve are thin, crispy rounds called Carr’s Table Water Crackers; they don’t interfere with the subtle nuances of  cheese and have an irresistible, light crunch.  Roasted or salted almonds or candied walnuts would’ve been a perfect addition.

Other delectable items include fresh grapes, figs, slices of proscuitto or salami, small slices of fresh breads, honey, and preserves.

While Velveeta or Kraft cheese slices won’t quite make the cut for a respectable cheese board, you don’t have to go overboard and buy the most expensive cheeses available.  A small variety is nice, though.  Keep in mind that aged cheese are typically harder and saltier, usually packing a potent punch.  Creamy, soft Brie or Camembert, or tangy goat cheeses are also tasty selections for boards.  I happen to love blue cheeses, but the daunting, “moldy” veins may be off-putting for some of your guests.

Presentation should include a variety of shapes and colors, and the cheeses should be served at room temperature.  We were gifted three gorgeous Acacia wooden cheese boards for our wedding, but simple wooden cutting boards can serve the same purpose.

…the possibilities are vast.

 

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Julia Child’s Sauteed Chicken with Mushrooms & Cream

My dear husband faithfully watches Baking with Julia with me every Sunday night because he knows how much I love Julia Child and how much I love telling him how adorable she is during each episode.  For my birthday, he also found boxed sets of The French Chef and her two-disc DVD set, The Way to Cook.  What a GREAT surprise!  She truly holds a special place in my heart; I read and loved Julie Powell’s book, Julie & Julia, and the movie was an instant favorite because I also love Meryl Streep, who portrays Julia as well as anyone imaginable.

72097_10100450971681353_1184769852_nAfter watching (and laughing at) several episodes of The Way to Cook this week, I decided to make her sautèèed chicken with mushrooms & cream.  Let me tell you, her confident yet carefree attitude in the kitchen makes for some very humorous entertainment.  “You can add heavy cream, if you’re not TOO fat…”

This dish is a dinnertime treat with a flavorful, rich sauce laden with cream and earthy, sautèed mushrooms.  While we don’t eat much skin-on chicken, this meal is worth the fat-splurge.  Of course there’s also a fair amount of butter; even though it doesn’t call for an excessive amount, I wouldn’t exactly consider this a healthy chicken dish.

First, you heat some butter and oil in a skillet and sautè some fresh mushrooms.  I cooked a smaller amount than what the recipe calls for because I scaled it down for two.  After tasting the sauce, I know that next time I will make the full amount.  It’s ridiculously good!

Julia Child's Sauteed Chicken with Mushrooms & Cream

 

I actually hated mushrooms for quite a long time.  I now find them not only tolerable, but enjoyable.Julia Child's Sauteed Chicken with Mushrooms & Cream

 

After cooking for about 3-4 minutes, minced shallots are added, and then the mushrooms are ready to be set aside.  These would also be delicious atop a juicy steak.

Next, in another nonstick skillet, you will heat some butter and oil again, and add the chicken pieces.  Her recipe calls for a cut-up frying chicken, but I just used a couple of breasts and thighs.

Julia Child's Sauteed Chicken with Mushrooms & Cream

 

Allow them to cook in the hot buter and oil for 2-3 minutes per side.

Julia Child's Sauteed Chicken with Mushrooms & CreamSince dark meat takes longer to cook, you’ll want to remove the breasts and continue cooking the dark pieces.

After giving the thighs/legs another 10 minutes over medium heat (covered), the breasts get added back to the pan for another ten minutes of covered cooking.  I added a sprinkling of tarragon, kosher salt, and freshly-cracked pepper.

Julia Child's Sauteed Chicken with Mushrooms & CreamAfter the chicken is cooked through, a simple pan sauce is made from the juices, chicken stock, white wine, and some minced shallots.  After the sauce as boiled down slightly, the sauteed mushrooms are added along with a 1/2 cup of heavy cream.

Julia Child's Sauteed Chicken with Mushrooms & CreamThis will briefly boil down to thicken up, and then you return the beautifully-browned chicken pieces to the pan, and coat it with the luscious sauce.

Julia Child's Sauteed Chicken with Mushrooms & Cream

Julia Child's Sauteed Chicken with Mushrooms & CreamThe sauce is seriously so good that you could almost drink it.  I had plenty of tasty brown bits on the bottom of my skillet to richly flavor the sauce .

I served this with steamed broccoli and carrots so we’d at least have one guilt-free component to our dinner.  Next time, I may increase the sauce and serve it over pasta.

Julia Child’s Sauteed Chicken with Mushrooms & Cream (from The Way to Cook)

Ingredients

2 1/2 to 3 lbs. cut-up frying chicken

2 Tbs. unsalted butter

1 Tbs. olive or peanut oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 tsp. dried tarragon or thume, or Italian or Provencal seasoning

1 Tbs. minced shallots or scallions

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth

1 Tbs. butter

2 Tbs. minced fresh parsley and/or chives or tarragon

*Sauteed mushrooms

Brown the chicken in hot butter and oil 2 or 3 minutes on each side.  Remove white meat (breasts and wings).  Continue cooking dark meat (legs and thighs) 10 minutes, covered, over moderate heat, turning once.  Return white meat to pan.  Season, cover, and cook 5 minutes; shake pan, and cook 5 minutes more, until tender – about 25 minutes in all.  Remove chicken to warm platter.  Spoon out all but 1 Tbs. of fat; add shallots, and saute 30 seconds.  Pour in stock and wine, and boil down until syrupy.

Add 2 cups sautèed quartered mushrooms and 1/2 cup heavy cream to pan sauce.  Boil down to thicken lightly.  Add chicken, baste, and warm through 3 to 4 minutes.

Sautèed Mushrooms

Heat 1 Tbs. of butter and 1 tsp. of oil in a frying pan until bubbles begin to subside.  Add 2 to 3 cups of sliced or quartered mushrooms (do NOT crowd the pan) and sautè over high heat, shaking the pan frequently.  Mushrooms will at first absorb the oil; in 2-3 minutes, oil will reappear on the surface.  Toss briefly with 1/2 Tbs. chopped shallots or scallions, a little salt and pepper, and they are done.

 

 

 

 

 

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