The taste of Spring

OMG!  It snowed here yesterday.  Yep, snow.  What is going on?  I mean it’s mid-April.  Yesterday was tax day and it snowed…maybe there’s some symbolism there somewhere. All I know is I’ve had it with snow and winter even though my best friend actually loves it!

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So the other day it was almost 80 degrees and today I’m wearing a winter coat.  But it’s time to say hello to one of my favorite flavors of warmer weather, Lemon.  I love lemon tart which combines the tart lemony flavor with a slightly sweet and flaky crust and some fresh made whipped cream on top.  This is one of my favorite desserts that isn’t chocolate (other than creme brulee).

To make the crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I like King Arthur flour)
  • 2 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon very cold butter cut in chunks
  • 1 extra large egg, separated
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon ice water
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Pulse the flour, sugar and salt in food processor about 6-8 times just to mix.  Add the butter and pulse until it looks and sort of feels like cornmeal.  Add the egg yolk to the mixture and the ice water (no ice just the cold water) and pulse about 10-12 times until the dough comes together.  Dump out on to a lightly floured board, form into a disc and wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 25 minutes.  Remove the dough from the fridge, roll out to a 12 inch circle and now you’re ready to place in to the 10 inch tart pan (with a removable bottom).  Some people like to roll up the dough with the rolling pin, lay over the tart pan and carefully place it in.  I tend to gently fold the dough, then lay in the pan.  You’ll need to fold over the excess dough and use it to reinforce the edges of the pan. Once you’re done, wrap the dough again and refrigerate for another 25 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F and then put the tart pan on a sheet pan and prick the bottom of the crust with a fork.  Cover the shell with parchment paper and fill with some dried beans or pie weights, and bake the shell for 25 minutes.  Remove from the oven, and then lightly beat the egg white with a splash of water and then brush on to the bottom and sides of the tart shell.  Let it cool and now make the filling.

Tart filling:

  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (4 large or about 5 regular size lemons)
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 large eggs (room temperature)

I use my stand mixer with the whisk attachment.  Whisk together all the ingredients for about 3 minutes.  Pour the mixture into the tart shell, carefully put in the 350 oven and bake for 22-25 minutes, depending on your oven. The curd should jiggle a little bit when it’s done.  Be careful not to over bake!  Remove from the oven, cool, and let it come to room temperature.  Remove the tart ring bottom.

Whipped Cream

  • 8 ounces heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoon powered sugar

Use a hand mixer and whip until nice and creamy consistency, but don’t overdo it or you’ll end up with butter.  I like to use a metal bowl that I’ve had chilling in the freezer for about a half hour.  Enjoy your lemon tart!

 

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Key Lime Pie (sort of…)

Well, I must say I’ve had my fill of winter weather.  Where I live we’ve been nailed by a winter storm that brought tons of snow and real temperatures below zero…that’s before the windchill is factored in and then you get -30!  However my golden retriever is absolutely loving this stuff!

Sandy

So I thought the best way to tackle this winter arctic blast (other than hopping on a plane to Key West) is to get a taste of South Florida right here…so I whipped up a little Key Lime pie.   Trouble is, I couldn’t find any key limes, so I had to use conventional limes.  I was really happy with the results though, this was a slightly tart and slightly sweet pie that reminded me of those awesome nights in South Florida sitting by the water, watching the sunset and scarfing down some key lime pie along with a nice glass of sauvignon blanc.

Graham Cracker Crust:

  • 1/3 box of honey graham crackers, plus two additional crackers
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon

Melt the butter in a saucepan and then cool for 6-7 minutes.  Place the graham crackers in a food processor and pulse until they’re crumbs.  Add the sugar and melted butter, and pulse just until combined.  Pour graham cracker mixture into 9″ pie pan (I like to use a metal pie pan but glass is okay too) and using your fingers form the crust making sure to go up the sides of the pan as well.  Bake crust in a 350 degree oven for 8 minutes, then remove and cool, and leave oven on.

Filling:

  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 14oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 2-3 teaspoons of lime zest (use 3 teaspoons to add a little more tart flavor)
  • 2/3 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice (about 5 decent size limes) (if using key limes, you’ll need a lot more)

Using your mixer on medium high speed, with the wire whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and zest for 4-5 minutes.  Next, slowly add the sweetened condensed milk (making sure to scrape the sides occasionally), then next add the lime juice and just mix until combined, only a minute.

Pour the mixture into the cooled pie crust and then bake in the 350 oven for 10 minutes until it’s set.  Remove from oven, let cool for 20 minutes on a wire rack, then cover with foil and place in the refrigerator.

Before serving, place pie in freezer for 10-15 minutes. Cut a slice and serve with a dollop of freshly made whipped cream.

Whipped Cream:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 Tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat together all the ingredients on high until you get the nice consistency of whipped cream.  Enjoy!

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Pommes Gratin Dauphinois

Merry Christmas!  I hope you are happy, healthy, and full of joy during this magical time of year.  Everyone has many traditions with food at Christmas, from standing rib roasts, to seafood feasts on Christmas Eve, and everything in between.  For us, here is one food tradition that we have all come to crave and enjoy year after year.  These are the most decadent, delicious, and awesome potatoes on the planet!  Fairly easy to make, and I think you’ll love these as much as I do.

Ingredients:

  • Russet potatoes
  • Heavy Cream (4 cups)
  • Garlic (3 cloves)
  • Kosher Salt
  • White Pepper
  • Ground Nutmeg
  • 8 oz. grated Grueyere Cheese
  • Heat oven to 375 F.  Start with a large gratin dish.  Lightly smash 3 garlic cloves, cut in half, and then spread the garlic all over the bottom and sides of the gratin dish coating it all over.  Next, peel about a dozen medium sized russet potatoes.  Mandolin the potatoes to the desired thickness, and I usually make mine pretty thin, using the second setting on the mandolin.  Once you had sliced all the potatoes (if you don’t have a mandolin you can slice with a knife but I highly recommend a mandolin, BE SURE TO USE THE GUARD on the mandolin so you don’t slice your fingers!) add the potatoes to a large cast iron dutch oven and then add about 3 cups heavy cream.  Bring heat to medium.  Season with kosher salt and white pepper to taste. Optional: I like to add a 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg which is a traditional French spice.  Cook the potatoes in the cream for about 12 minutes.  Be careful not to bring the cream to a boil, just get it nice and hot so that the potatoes get partially cooked.  Stir occasionally so that potatoes don’t stick to the bottom of the dutch oven.  Transfer potatoes to gratin dish spreading evenly.  Cover the potatoes with the grated Gruyere Cheese, and remaining 1 cup of heavy cream.  Place dish on baking sheet and put in oven to bake for 35 minutes.  Keep and eye on the dish and if it starts to get too browned cover lightly with a piece of aluminum foil.   Depending on your oven, it could take a little longer but 35 minutes is usually just right.  Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!!

Serve these with the protein of your choice, but for me, they certainly go best with beef tenderloin or a good steak!  Also pairs nicely with ham and pork roast.  Hope you enjoy these!

 

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Thai flavored grilled pork chop

When I eat pork, it’s usually when I’m devouring some Eastern North Carolina BBQ or when I cook up a nice lean pork tenderloin.  I went to the local butcher the other day http://www.goosethemarket.com and he had these amazing fresh local pork loins…so I asked him to slice me a couple of chops off the loin and they were amazing.  Really beautiful.  Normally I would use a basic marinade and then grill them but I had a taste for something a little sweet and spicy so went with a Thai marinade and soaked the chops for 3 hours in the fridge and then took them out for the final hour to marinate at room temp.

Thai flavored marinade:

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 1 Thai chile, stemmed and finely chopped (you can substitute with a Serrano chile if you can’t find the Thai chile)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Whisk everything together until the sugar dissolves and then pour over the chops.

I used my gas grill instead of my charcoal grill because I can regulate the heat easier.  Since there is sugar in this marinade, the chops could burn so be careful when grilling them.  I like to set the back of the grill at the hottest, and the front part of the grill at medium. Place the chops on the back part of the grill and sear for about 90 seconds.  You may need to turn the heat down to medium-high depending on your grill.  I have a three burner Weber.  After searing one side, turn over and sear for only 30 seconds or so…then move chops to the front part of the grill that is at medium, close the lid and grill for about 12 minutes (depending on the thickness of the chops).  My chops were about 1 1/2 inches thick.

I served the chops with some basmati rice and grilled asparagus.  The chops were cooked medium with just a touch of pink and very flavorful.  With the chops we had this very nice Sonoma County Zinfandel that complemented the Thai flavor nicely.  The Zin had just the right amount of pepper spice with a touch of cocoa, blackberry, and smooth tannins.

 

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Pan roasted Salmon over garlic mashed with asparagus

I could eat salmon five days a week… I love it.  For me, it’s just about the most versatile fish out there.  You can poach it, grill it, saute it, bake it, or eat it raw (sashimi grade of course).  Whipped this up one night after work and what I love about it is that’s it’s pretty easy and in 35 minutes you’re ready from start to finish.For this dish, I used some nice Sockeye salmon I got from my local market.  It was wild caught and just beautiful.  I love the texture of Sockeye and the deep color.

For the fish:  Take out of the fridge for about 15 minutes before cooking.  Lightly coat with good olive oil, and use a little bit of my rub to season the fish.  Next, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, and add about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil.  Watch it so it doesn’t burn.  Take the fillets that are seasoned and press one side down on some sliced almonds.  As long as the fish is moist from the olive oil the almonds will adhere to the fish nicely.

Place the fillets in the heated skillet almond side down for 2  minutes.  Flip gently and then place the skillet in your oven and cook for 4-5 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Your Salmon is done.

You can find my recipe on the blog for Yukon gold mashed potatoes.

For the asparagus, I simply grilled it on the stove in a cast iron grill pan turning every so often.  After snipping off the tough ends of the asparagus, drizzle with olive oil, add some fresh cracked black pepper and kosher salt, toss, and then grill.

Plate the potatoes with salmon on top and asparagus on the side.  Enjoy!

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Pan seared Cod with blood orange sauce and roasted root veggies

Well there’s very little about Winter that I find attractive…and I mean very little.  But it is the best time of year for root vegetables and I’m a fan of squash and brussels sprouts so that’s my main side for this dish.  I also served the Cod with some red bliss potatoes.

Halve the brussels sprouts and remove outer layer.  Peel the butternut squash, cut into cubes, and add to a bowl with the sprouts.  Drizzle olive oil to coat and then add fresh cracked black pepper and kosher salt.  Toss to combine, and then spread a single layer on to a sheet pan and roast in a 375 degree oven for about 17 minutes.

Pan Seared Cod:

Start with some nice cod fillets and take out of the fridge about 10 minutes before cooking.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Put a wire rack over a sheet pan.  You’ll add the fish to the rack and finish in the oven after searing.

Coat a saute pan with olive oil and heat over medium/medium high heat.  Make sure you don’t get it too hot or the olive oil will burn.  When it’s hot…add the fillets and sear them nicely on one side.  Once you put them in the saute pan leave them alone!  After 2-3 minutes you can shake the pan lightly and the fillets should move.  If they stick…use a spatula and gently turn them over.  Place the fillets on the rack, and then place in the oven for about 15 minutes until the fish is cooked through.

Blood Orange Sauce:

  • 3 blood oranges
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • pinch kosher salt
  • pinch black pepper
  • fresh thyme (2 or 3 sprigs)

Zest one of the blood oranges.  Next, juice two of the oranges.  Supreme the other orange and coarsely chop the pieces.

In the saute pan you used to sear the fish, remove the oil.  Place the pan over medium heat and add all the ingredients.  Reduce by about half.  You need to keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t get too hot.

Spoon the sauce over the Cod and serve with the roasted Veggies and potatoes.

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Valentine’s Day Dessert

Pretty simple and straightforward.  This is a deep chocolate brownie drizzled with white chocolate and raspberry coulis.

Valentine's Day Dessert

  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 ounce white chocolate
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • dash salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs (room temp)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 T. all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 2 6oz. containers fresh raspberries
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

Chop the chocolate into chunks and melt over medium-low heat with the butter, stirring occasionally.  Once the chocolate mixture is blended, take off the heat and let cool slightly.

Butter and flour an 8x8x2 square baking pan. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Add the sugar to the chocolate mixture and whisk until blended well.  Add eggs one at a time, and whisk.  Mixture should be shiny.  Add the vanilla and whisk.  Sprinkle in the flour and whisk.  Add the chocolate chips and stir into mixture, don’t over-mix.  Pour into prepared pan.

Bake brownies for 25 minutes and remove from oven and cool.

Add the raspberries and powdered sugar to a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring periodically.  The raspberries will break apart and create the base for the sauce.  Once it all comes together, add the cornstarch and stir for a minute or two…to help thicken the sauce.  Strain the sauce into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate (preferably for 3-4 hours).

Chop the white chocolate and place in glass bowl and microwave for one minute, then stir.  You may need to give it 30 more seconds.  Stir, and it’s ready for the drizzle.

Spoon the coulis on a plate, use a heart-shaped cookie cutter and cut a brownie, placing on top of the sauce.  Now drizzle with the white chocolate and you’re all set!

 

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Chocolate Cake

I’ll be the first to admit, I love chocolate…dark, milk, it’s all good.  I don’t know if I qualify as a chocoholic, but I could eat the stuff every day…that much I know.  Here’s a good fairly simple recipe that I like that gives you a nice moist double layer cake, with a chocolate buttercream frosting.  The frosting is light and buttery which goes well with the deep chocolate cake.

Chocolate Cake:

  • Nonstick oil spray
  • 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup water (room temperature)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (not low fat!)
  • 3/4 cup canola or veg. oil
  • 3 extra large eggs (room temperature)

Start with two 9×2 cake pans.  Spray bottom and sides of pan, then place a parchment round in the bottom of both pans, and spray the parchment lightly.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Sift all your dry ingredients together into a large bowl (I use the bowl of my mixer), and lightly whisk together.  Next, in a medium size bowl, whisk your wet ingredients together just until fully combined.  Sort of make a well in the middle of your dry ingredients bowl, and using the paddle attachment on your mixer, slowly add the wet ingredients while mixing at a low speed…then increase the speed slightly just until the wet and dry ingredients are mixed.  Don’t over mix.  Now pour your cake batter into the two prepared pans, and place in the center rack of your oven for 30 minutes (maybe a minute or two less).  Use a toothpick or cake tester to make sure the cans are done…when the tester comes out clean you’re good.  Take the cake pans out and let them cool on a rack for at least a couple hours before you frost them.

What I like to do next, is to make a simple syrup and then brush it on the top of the warm cakes which will add a little bit of sweetness and moisture.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:

  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I use Callebaut)
  • 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I like Ghirardelli)

Chop the chocolate and melt down in the top of a double boiler.  I just use a metal bowl over simmering water.  Put the chocolate off to the side and let cool.  Cut the butter into dice size chunks and let it sit.  Next, bring the sugar and water to a boil in a good heavy saucepan, and if you have a candy thermometer it’ll help because you want the syrup to come to 248 Degrees F.  With the mixture boiling, beat the egg whites with a pinch of table salt for a couple minutes (it should be foamy), then add the cream of tarter and beat until you get stiff peaks.  Now you want to add the hot syrup and beat at low to medium speed for anywhere from 5-10 minutes.  Try to add the syrup into the egg whites without getting on the side of the bowl.  Beat in the butter one piece at a time…this is slow and tedious but you’ll love the results.  It might look like it’s breaking but don’t worry, just keep adding the butter slowly (sometimes I may have to add a little extra butter, depending on the consistency you’re after).  Then you beat in the cocoa powder, pinch of salt, and melted chocolate.  Beat until it’s nice and smooth and now you’re good to go.  You can make the frosting a day ahead if you want…just refrigerate it…but it spreads best when it’s just slightly cool or at room temp.

chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream

When the cake layers are cooled, you can slice in half for a four layer if you want, or just frost away for a two layer as I did.  Chocolate rocks!

 

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Pesto

I love a good pesto.  This recipe is quick and easy and you can make it in your blender.  Serve with some pasta and grilled chicken and you’ve got a great dish.

Pesto:

  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 1 1/2 cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 4 medium size garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons water

First, toast the pine nuts in a hot and dry saute pan…be careful not to burn so you have to watch closely.  Once they start to brown and get fragrant, they’re done.  Take off the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.  I remove the stems from the fresh basil and just use the leaves…make sure they are really fresh and not starting to brown.

Now just put all the ingredients in your blender and blend until it makes a nice paste…the consistently that you’re looking for.  You can add a little more olive oil if you like your pesto a little thinner.

 

fresh pesto with basil and parsley

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Blueberry Pie

I’ve got a sweet tooth.  There’s no denying that.  And while I always try to exercise and eat healthy, there are times when I just crave a good fruit pie…and while apple and cherry are great, I always tend to gravitate to blueberry.  This is great to make any time of year that you can get nice fresh blueberries.  Of course summer time is usually best, and in my opinion there’s nothing better than Michigan blueberries.  But…even though it’s the dead of winter I found some nice fresh blueberries and started baking.  Enjoy.

The Pie Crust:

I actually used Ina Garten’s perfect pie crust recipe that I found online for this and it turned out great.  Thanks Ina!  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/perfect-pie-crust-recipe/index.html

The secret with all pie crusts…the butter and shortening has to be really cold.  You may need a little more than the amount of ice water but that’s just something you’ll have to experiment with…however if you follow this recipe exactly you’ll be happy with the results.

The Pie Filling:

¾ cup sugar

2 T cornstarch

½ t cinnamon

½ c water

3 ½ – 4 Cups blueberries

1 T fresh lemon juice

½ t lemon zest

In a good saucepan, add water, cornstarch, cinnamon and sugar.  Heat over medium high heat until it thickens.  You need to keep a close eye on this and stir occasionally.  Don’t let it burn!  Once it thickens nicely, take off the heat and set aside.  let it cool for about 20 minutes.

Add your berries, zest, and lemon juice to a large bowl…stir gently and then add the thickened sauce to your berries and once again stir gently so that all the berries are coated.

Pour the mixture into your pie crust, add the top crust, trimming the edges and crimping for nice presentation.  I prefer to use a 9″ pie tin.  Brush the top of the pie crust with an egg wash (one egg beaten lightly with a Tablespoon of cream).  Next, sprinkle the top with granulated sugar, then cut vents into the crust.  Place on a baking sheet and cook for 20 minutes in a 425 degree oven.  After 20 minutes, place a sheet of aluminum foil lightly over the top so the crust doesn’t burn, turn your oven down to 350 degrees and cook for another 22 minutes.  Take out the pie, let it cool, and you’re ready to go!  I also like a la mode better so a little scoop of vanilla with the pie just tops it off for me.

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