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Balsamic Ravioli

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Balsamic Ravioli

Balsamic Ravioli

Time: 25 minutes

Serves: 4-6 as a main dish for dinner

Inspired by: Rachael Ray. I don’t watch much TV so I miss a lot of the great cooking shows – although I may want to start watching more of them. Caught some snippets once of Rachael Ray making this a couple of years ago and tried it and loved it and everyone else seems to love it too. This may not be her exact recipe, but it’s very close.

Ingredients:

  • Two packages of fresh ravioli (I like “The Pasta Shop” Porcini & Truffle or Butternut Squash or Sweet Onion and Red Chard or any of those fancy, fun fresh raviolis). The size and shape do not matter. The packages I buy say that they serve 2-4 people.
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2-3 tablespoons salted butter

Preparation:

  • Heat a large pot of water for cooking the ravioli. Add some olive oil so the raviolis don’t stick to each other.
  • In a large sauté pan, on medium to medium-low heat, drop in 2-3 tablespoons of very cold butter and let it melt and brown.
  • While you are waiting, it’s a good time to wash, destem and chop your parsley and grate your cheese.
  • When the water boils, cook your ravioli according to instructions (usually about 6-7 minutes). Stir now and then so they don’t stick to each other. Drain in a colander when done.
  • Put the ravioli in the pan with the browned butter, turn up the heat to medium high and toss in the butter.
  • Add the balsamic – it will sizzle. Toss the ravioli in the butter and balsamic and watch it begin to caramelize. If you want your raviolis to get a bit crispy you can turn up the heat even more – just toss them often so they don’t burn. This process takes about 5 minutes or so.
  • In a separate bowl, toss the ravioli with the parsley and Parmesan and serve.

Notes: Using fresh ravioli with a yummy filling is key, but the browned butter and caramelized balsamic is also what makes these awesome. For parties, you can let these cool to room temperature and then line them up on a plate and serve with large toothpicks or skewers. They are good hot, warm, room temperature, and even cold out of the refrigerator the next day (if they last that long!).

Wine Suggestions: I like these with a high-acid, crisp white wine such as a Chablis, White Burgundy or Gruner Veltliner. But if I do them with a Porcini filling, then a yummy Red Burgundy is fabulous!

Balsamic Ravioli for Parties

Balsamic Ravioli for Parties


Stuffed Mushrooms

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Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed Mushrooms

Time: 1 hour

Serves: 45 “bites”

Inspired by: I can’t remember when I first had these. I just know that I’ve always loved mushrooms of any type, and every time I’ve had these I’ve thought they were decadent. With something close to these ingredients as the stuffing, I don’t know how you can go wrong. I love that they are easy to prepare ahead for parties and I think they still taste good even when they cool off and are only at room temperature.

Ingredients:

  • 45 cremini mushrooms
  • 1 onion, chopped well
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced very fine
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • 5 stalks celery, chopped well
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 1/2 cups grated parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 – 1 cup bread crumbs

Preparation:

  • Wash mushrooms; remove stems carefully to keep mushrooms whole – keep the stems
  • Slice off a very small sliver on the rounded side of the mushroom and lay them on a cookie sheet (that keeps them from rolling around)
  • Chop all the excess mushroom stems and pieces well
  • Melt the butter in a large saute pan and saute the onions, chopped mushroom stems and garlic  – about 10 minutes on medium heat
  • Add the chopped celery, parsley and black pepper – saute another 10-20 minutes until everything is cooked through
  • Add the parmesan and then begin adding some breadcrumbs until the mixture is your desired thickness for stuffing the mushrooms
  • Stuff the mushrooms so that they are very full and rounded at the caps
  • Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes

Notes: You can prepare these and wrap them up well in the refrigerator a day ahead of cooking. It’s best to bring them to room temperature before baking. And a note to myself – I think chopping all this stuff should work just fine on “pulse” mode in the food processor. Every time I make them I think about that when I’m almost finished chopping.  It would save a lot of time!

Stuffed Mushrooms - Pre Baked

Stuffed Mushrooms - Pre Baked

Wine Suggestions: I love mushrooms with a Red Burgundy, but I think the flavors here would go well with most high-acid crisp whites (White Burgundy, Gruner Veltliner, Sancerre, Chenin Blanc), and light to medium-bodied reds (Red Burgundy/Pinot Noir, Rioja).


Chewy Cherry Brownies

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Chewy Cherry Brownies

Chewy Cherry Brownies

Time: approximately 1 hour; 20-25 minutes prep; 30-35 minutes to bake

Serves: approximately 30 2 x 2 inch squares

Inspired by: My friend Jeanette makes the most amazing brownies. She never gives out her recipe – smart girl! I am making desserts for my New Years Eve party and wanted to try one new dessert. It’s funny to realize that I’ve never made brownies. As I thought about what I’d like in a brownie, chewy and cherries came to mind (I love both) so I decided to at least attempt something like that. If you are a brownie “purist” I’m sure you’ll want to skip the cherries. I took the core of an old recipe on the Sunset magazine website for chewy brownies and then added my own twists — dried tart cherries and orange zest. I have no idea if the orange zest did anything at all since the other flavors are so strong/rich, but it sounded good to me when I saw an orange here in my kitchen. I might even try adding a bit more next time. I can’t believe how easy they were to make, but the jury is still out…. I wasn’t crazy about how “gooey” they came out initially. For me, chewy = great. Gooey = ?? I’m not sure about that yet. I did find, however, that they were awesome with a perfect consistency two days after making them.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate, broken into chunks (1/2 of an 8 oz Ghirardelli bar)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons orange zest (or whatever you get by grating the peel of one orange)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces (the other half of an 8 oz Ghirardelli bar broken into small pieces)
  • 1/2 cup dried and pitted cherries (I used Montmorency cherries that I found at Trader Joes)

Preparation:

  • In a small saucepan melt the butter and the unsweetened chocolate on medium to low heat.  Begin stirring once it is soft and remove from heat once it is melted.
  • In a large bowl, hand mix the eggs well.
  • Add the sugar, vanilla and orange zest; mix well.
  • Add the chocolate/butter mixture; mix well.
  • Add the flour and mix well (you can easily do all the mixing by hand).
  • Butter a 9 x 13 x 2 inch baking dish and pour the brownie mixture into the dish.
  • Sprinkle the semi-sweet chocolate pieces and cherries over the top evenly and then push down and spread a bit so they are slightly covered with brownie mix.
  • Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.
  • It should spring back a bit with a quick touch, but unlike a pie, an inserted knife will not come out clean – it should still be pretty gooey inside.
  • Let cool completely on a rack before cutting. Will stay fresh for a couple of days (normally I’d say in an air tight container but I left mine in pastry cups in the open air and they were even better two days later).

Notes: I originally used 3/4 cup of the cherries and the semi-sweet chocolate chips and a bit more chocolate in the initial mix and I think it was too much of both, so I already modified the recipe a bit. I might even skip adding the chocolate chips at the end next time and see how they are without. I need a lot more experimentation here – but wanted to keep these notes for next time I try this again!

Wine Suggestions: I would skip the wine – these are so rich, but I’ll add a few notes here. I often hear people say they like red wine and chocolate. I can see how this might work in some unique cases of overripe, almost sweet wines, but I prefer my wine to be a bit sweeter than my dessert. I think a late harvest zinfandel or a tawny port could be awesome with chocolate, and fortified fruity wines like Banyules and Ruby Ports typically have cocoa or chocolate in the nose, as well as other berry fruits like cherry and raspberry and are classic companions to chocolate.


Lemon Bars

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Lemon Bars

Lemon Bars

Time: approximately 50-60 minutes to prepare and bake, plus a few hours to cool and 10 minutes to cut

Serves: makes 40 bars that are about 1.5 x 1.5 inches

Inspired by: I love lemon much more than chocolate and have always enjoyed any type of lemon dessert – cupcakes, cakes, candied lemon rind…  I don’t remember when I first made these or where I found the recipe, but they are so easy, and always come out just right. They are a nice balance to all the other flavors I often make for desserts at parties.

Ingredients:

CRUST

  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar (plus a little extra for dusting at the end)
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

FILLING

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

Preparation:

  1. To make the crust – preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13″ glass baking dish with foil, extending the foil over the rim: spray foil with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, confectioners’ sugar, and butter with fingertips until well blended. Press mixture firmly (pack it down) into bottom of prepared pan. Bake until lightly brown, 20-25 minutes.
  3. To make the filling – in a medium to large bowl, whisk sugar, flour, baking powder and salt until blended. Add eggs, lemon peel and lemon juice and whisk until blended.
  4. Pour filling over hot pie crust. Put it on a level shelf in the oven and bake until set – about 20 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and cool completely.
  5. Dust top lightly with confectioners’ sugar. To serve, use foil “handles” to lift crisp out of pan. Place on cutting board and cut into squares.

Notes: I’ve used granulated sugar instead of confectioners’ sugar in the crust when I only had enough confectioners’ sugar for the dusting at the end. It worked out just fine but the crust gets harder. I think the finer confectioners’ sugar is the better way to go. Once I used raspberry preserves instead of the lemon juice and lemon rind and those came out great too.


Spicy Crispy Chicken Strips

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Spicy Crispy Chicken Strips

Spicy Crispy Chicken Strips

Time: 20-30 minutes

Serves: 12-15 as an appetizer / party finger-food

Inspired by: I’ve always liked crispy chicken tenders/nuggets/strips, but wished there was a non-greasy version that had real chicken inside that was safe to eat. I thought it might be fun to use my blackening spice for this and try making them for a small party. I love the crispiness, and the spice gives them an awesome kick!

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless, organic chicken breasts
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (4 tablespoons)
  • 1 cup (16 tablespoons) of crispy bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) of Spice it up …by Karen™ or your favorite spice blend

Preparation:

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (or if you have a good toaster oven, there is no need to preheat, but you will need to cook these in batches)
  • Get a non-stick cookie sheet or rub a bit of olive oil on a cookie sheet so your chicken will not stick as it cooks
  • Lightly beat the eggs with a fork or whisk, and mix with the olive oil in small bowl
  • In a low, wide bowl (such as a soup bowl), mix the bread crumbs well with the spice
  • Cut chicken into strips – approximately 1.5 inches wide by 3 inches long
  • Dip the chicken into the egg/olive oil mixure to coat and then roll in the breadcrumb mix
  • Lay the chicken strips a half inch to an inch apart on the cookie sheet
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown

Notes: Because these are getting so much more surface area covered with spice than making blackened chicken with whole or half chicken breasts, these can get pretty spicy – so if you like spice, but not too much, I suggest using a bit less spice and a bit more of the bread crumbs. For parties, I have prepared these on the cookie sheet early in the day and kept them refridgerated and then took them out to bake when ready to serve. You can bring them to room temperature first, but it really isn’t necessary.

Wine Suggestions: A medium bodied red with some good fruit and spice on it would be perfect. A Syrah or Southern Rhone blend, Zinfandel or a spicy older Barolo. Off dry whites are often a fantastic pairing for spicy foods such as a Riesling or Viognier/Condrieu.


White Bean Pesto Dip

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Pesto Oil & White Bean Pesto Dip

Pesto & White Bean Pesto Dip

Time: 10-15 minutes

Serves: 8-12 as an appetizer

Inspired by: One of women in my book club, Nancy Beth Garrett, made something very similar to this recently with a pesto sauce from Trader Joes. I couldn’t stop eating it and stuffed myself before dinner!

Ingredients

  • 2, 14 oz cans cannellini beans (white kidney beans), drained
  • Juice from about ½ a lemon
  • 1 garlic clove – crushed
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 bunch basil
  • 2-4 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Preparation:

Pesto – Wash and dry basil leaves; put into food processor and chop a bit first. Add olive oil, crushed garlic, grated fresh Parmesan and salt. Chop/blend well. Pour the pesto into a bowl or jar to store (you will only use some of it).

Dip – Without cleaning the food processor, add the beans and 1-2 teaspoons of lemon juice and pulse chop to your desired consistency OR instead, you can just hand mash this in a bowl. Unlike when I make hummus, for this dip I like the beans to keep some texture and lumps, but you can also make this very smooth and creamy. If you want it to be smooth and creamy, continue the rest of this with the processor. Otherwise, put the mixture so far in a bowl, add 2-3 tablespoons of pesto and mix by hand. Add a little at a time and taste to get it to desired intensity. Add additional pesto oil, salt or lemon juice as desired. Garnish with drops of basil oil, basil leaves or flowers.

Notes: Serve with crackers, pita bread or raw veggies such as celery and carrots.  You can skip a step and purchase your favorite pesto sauce instead of making your own pesto oil.

Wine Suggestions: Yummy with light, crisp whites and aromatic whites such as Grüner Veltliner, Sancerre, Albarino, Verdejo, Chablis or other lightly oaked White Burgundy. Although I’ve heard that Cabernet Sauvignon is a good pairing with Pesto, and I can see how that could be the case, I think the whites are much better matches flavor and weight-wise for this fairly light dip.


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