Saturday, April 27, 2013

Seared Salmon with Balsamic Glaze, Creamy Broccoli Pesto Pasta, and Roasted Asparagus with Shallots

Epic.  Not unlike this ridiculously long blog post title.  But 'epic' was my first thought after taking a few bites of this incredible meal.  I'm thrilled there are some leftovers for tonight!  None of these recipes are difficult, or even that time-consuming.  And all of it is worth it. 

It all started with the desire to make homemade pasta again, because it was so fun and tasty.  I wanted to try a new sauce and remembered a broccoli pesto I had seen on Smitten Kitchen that had piqued my interest.  Done.  It turned out great and kind of tasted like a fantastic cream of broccoli soup, but better.

I am a carb-fiend, but the meal needed a bit more, maybe some protein?  I remembered a glazed salmon recipe from Cook's Country that I really wanted to try (and what's more Pacific Northwestern than salmon?)  It was amazing, and the glaze is divine.  I almost licked out the pan it was so good.

Lastly, I thought a vegetable was needed, and it is spring, so bring on the asparagus!  I didn't have any particular expectations about the asparagus, but they turned out really well.  And the tips were the best part (super caramelized).  The husband isn't ever really excited about veggies, let's be honest, but even he seemed pleasantly surprised.

I won't waste any more words on the description.  Just trust me, they're all amazing recipes.  And you should make them.  Really.  That is all!

Homemade Pasta
See this post for directions OR use store-bought noodles!

Creamy Broccoli Pesto Sauce
(from Smitten Kitchen)
Serves 4

1/2 pound broccoli
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced (or, more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Freshly ground black pepper or pinches of red pepper flakes
4 tablespoons half and half
1/4 cup grated parmesan
Reserved pasta water to thin sauce

Remove broccoli florets from stems and chop into medium florets. Peel stems with a vegetable peeler (for faster cooking) and slice them into 1/2-inch segments.

Use your pot of future pasta water to steam (by suspending a mesh strainer over your pasta pot and covering it with a lid for 5 to 6 minutes)) or par-boil (for 3 to 5 minutes) your broccoli florets and stems until just tender, then drain if needed and set them aside.

In the bottom of a medium pot, melt butter and olive oil together over medium heat. Add shallots and reduce to medium-low, sauteing it until tender, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another two minutes. Add steamed broccoli, salt and red or black pepper and turn the heat back up to medium-high, cooking it with the shallots and garlic for a few additional minutes. Pour half and half over mixture and let cook for 30 seconds.
Transfer broccoli mixture and all of its creamy bits at the bottom of the pan to a blender or food processor and blend in short bursts until it’s finely chopped and a little sauce. Don’t worry if it looks dry; that reserved pasta water will give it the sauciness it needs in a minute.

Add the broccoli sauce back to the pot with drained pasta and a splash or two of the reserved pasta water. Cook over medium-high for 1 to 2 minutes, tossing the mixture so that it evenly coats the noodles. Add more pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding more salt or pepper, and scoop into a serving bowl. Shower noodles with grated parmesan and dig in.

Do ahead: The sauce will keep it in the fridge for several days.

Seared Salmon with Balsamic Glaze
(from Cook's Country)
Serves 4

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 sprig rosemary (about 5-inches long)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
4 skin-on salmon fillets, 6 ounces each, 1 to 1 1/4 inches thick
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Whisk vinegar, juice, honey, and pepper flakes together in small bowl, then add rosemary. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until smoking. Season salmon with salt and pepper and cook, skin side up, without moving, until well browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Flip fish skin side down and cook until all but very center of fish is opaque, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to platter and tent with foil.

Wipe out pan with paper towels and lower heat to medium. Carefully pour balsamic mixture into pan (it will splatter). Simmer until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Remove rosemary sprig. Whisk in butter, season sauce with salt and pepper, and pour over salmon. Serve.

Roasted Asparagus with Shallots
(from Cook's Country)
Serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
1 pound medium asparagus, tough ends trimmed
2 shallots, sliced thin
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Adjust oven rack to upper position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Stir oil, honey, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in large bowl. Spread asparagus across rimmed baking sheet or broiler pan; drizzle with half of garlic mixture and toss to coat. Rearrange asparagus in single layer. Combine shallots with remaining garlic mixture in bowl and toss to coat. Scatter shallots evenly over asparagus.

Roast until asparagus begins to soften and turns bright green with some dark brown edges, about 10 minutes. Drizzle with vinegar and continue roasting until asparagus is softened and shallots just begins to turn golden brown around edges, about 5 minutes. Toss vegetables, season with salt and pepper, and transfer to platter. Serve.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Homemade Pasta

I made homemade pasta once and it... was a bit of a disaster.  I tried to do it without an exact recipe, without a pasta roller, and without any instruction.  I ended up with a very tough, thick pasta that made for some... uh... rock-like heavy ravioli.  But this time was the complete opposite in every respect!

We got a pasta roller as a wedding gift months ago and I had not gotten around to giving it a try until my friend took a pasta making class.  She has no roller, so bingo, the perfect opportunity presented itself!  And it was the most fun Friday night I've had in a long while!  Us girls made the pasta while the boys made the sauces, and everything came together in perfect harmony.

Step one is opening up your favorite bottle of wine, because that's a crucial ingredient in pasta making.  Obviously.  Otherwise, you just need some counter space, and prepare to get flour everywhere.

Pasta starts so simply - just an egg and 108 grams of regular, all-purpose flour.  Incorporate the egg into the flour, knead it (but only knead in as much flour as it wants to, otherwise it'll get tough).  Knead the pasta dough until it springs back when poked.  Then you're ready to start rolling it.

After rolling the pasta through setting #1 (or zero) multiple times, it continues to knead it, move on to #3, #5, and finally #7.  #7 is the final thickness unless you're doing ravioli, and then you would go up to #9.  What you're supposed to do with the even numbers, I have no idea.  ;-)  Dust both sides heavily with flour and lay out on wax paper to let dry out a bit (making it easier to cut).

We made a ton of them, so after they dried out a bit, we gently rolled them up, just to give ourselves some more workspace.  Then, let the cutting begin!  After it comes out, fluff it to keep the noodles from sticking to each other.  Then cook them for a few minutes in boiling water, mix with your favorite sauce, and you've got an amazing dinner!

We made a few sauces, and I've included the recipes for two of them below: Pesto and Cream Sauce with Pancetta, Peas, and Mushrooms.

Homemade Pasta
From pasta making class taught by Angie O
Makes about 1 portion?

108 grams all-purpose flour
1 egg

Create a volcano shape with the flour and put egg in the middle.  Use fork to fold in the flour until it becomes doughy enough that you can knead it with your hands.  Don't overknead it so it becomes sticky/tough.  It's ready when it springs back from the poke of a finger.  Run it through the machine's number 1 setting (or 0 on mine).  Once it becomes smooth, run it through again at 3, 5, and finally 7 (or 9 for ravioli), adding a sprinkle of flour each time if it's too sticky.  After it's finally rolled out, lay it out on a floured piece of wax paper.  Sprinkle it with flour and let dry a bit (it helps with cutting).  Cut it in desired shape, fluffing the glorious pile of noodles when it's done.  Plop into boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Pesto Sauce
From pasta making class taught by Angie O 
Makes about 1 1/3 cups

3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 oz. Parmesan cheese,  coarsely grated (2/3 cup)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 cups loosely packed fresh basil
2/3 cup olive oil

With food processor running, drop in garlic and finely chop.  Stop motor and add nuts, cheese, salt, pepper, and basil, then process until finely chopped.  With motor running, add oil, blending until incorporated.

Pesto will keep for 1 week, chilled, the surface covered with plastic wrap.  Also, put it in a skinny jar for storage so there is less surface area, and cover with a thin layer of olive oil - this keeps it from browning.  You can also freeze it in a Ziploc bag or in ice cube trays.

Cream Sauce with Pancetta, Peas, and Mushrooms
From pasta making class taught by Angie O 
Makes 2-4 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 slice of thick pancetta (1/4 inch thick each), diced
1/2 cup frozen peas
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1/4 onion, diced
1/2 cup cream (or more, to taste)
Handful of grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

On medium heat, saute onion for a few minutes.  Add pancetta and cook until just before slightly browned.  Add mushrooms and cook until they are tender (covering them helps retain some of their water).  Add peas.  Cook on medium heat for a few more minutes.  Add cream and let it reduce and thicken.  Add cheese.  Continue to stir until desired creaminess.  The overall time is about 20 minutes. 


Monday, April 8, 2013

Honey Rosemary Crème Brûlée

I always love to try new crème brûlée recipes, and I've had this one on my list for awhile.  The husband must have known it was on mind because when I came back from work this weekend he had made a favorite soup of ours - Sweet Potato & Rosemary Soup.  And that meant there was some leftover rosemary, and I happened to have some leftover cream from the cupcakes earlier this week - perfect!

It came together very quickly, as crème brûlées do.  I really wasn't sure what to expect with the flavor, but it really turned out well.  It's an uncommon flavor combo for a dessert, but it really works.  Even the husband, who was particularly unsure of it, really liked it.

I thought a little fanned strawberry would be a lovely addition, and it was!  Not necessary by any means, but the fruity sweetness complemented the herbal note of the rosemary.

The verdict: I love the unique combination of flavors!
The husband's thoughts: The flavors worked better than expected - it was excellent.
Changes for next time: None!
Difficulty: Easy!  The only special equipment needed is a torch.

Honey Rosemary Crème Brûlée
(from Je Mange la Ville)
Makes 4 one cup or 8 half cup servings

7 egg yolks
1/4 cup white sugar plus more for topping
1/4 cup honey
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup half and half
3-4 sprigs rosemary

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour cream and half and half in a small saucepan and put in rosemary sprigs.  Bring to boil, turn off the heat and let rosemary steep for about 15 minutes.

Whisk together egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup honey in a medium bowl until smooth.  Remove rosemary from cream and half and half.  While whisking, slowly pour cream into egg mixture.  Strain mixture through a fine mesh sieve.

Set ramekins in cake pan/casserole dish.  Divide mixture between ramekins (I had 1/2 cup ramekins, but full cup would work as well).  Pour boiling water into dish, making sure to avoid getting any into the filled ramekins.  Water should be halfway up the side of the ramekins.

Place in oven and bake for 30 or more minutes.  Test by jiggling the ramekins - the edges should be set and the centers still a little jiggly.  Remove pan from oven and let ramekins cool in the water bath for a few minutes.  Remove the ramekins from the water bath, let cool a bit before placing in the refrigerator.  Chill for a few hours or overnight.

To serve, sprinkle roughly a teaspoon of sugar over the top of the crème.  Caramelize using a kitchen torch (or if your desperate, about 60 - 90 minutes under the broiler might do the trick).  Serve immediately!  You know it's done well when there's the great crack under your spoon!


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Strawberry Dream Cupcakes

Did you think I would only do one cupcake for my birthday?  Of course not!  Besides the amazing Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes, I also wanted to make Strawberry Dream Cupcakes.  Ages ago I had a cake by this name and loved it.  Surely I could find a cupcake recipe?

It actually was a lot harder to find than I thought it would be.  Most of the recipes call for a boxed mix and might use real strawberries, but jello or pudding mix is often involved.  No thanks.  I also wanted to avoid them tasting like muffins.  After a ridiculous amount of searching, I found a great Strawberry Dream Cake recipe at Cook's Country and used that to make cupcakes.  So easy, and their stuff is always amazing!

Of course, you can always turn a cake recipe into cupcakes, but I hadn't done it before, so it was a tiny bit of an experiment that went right in so many ways.  I brought the results to work and everyone loved them.  The frosting got lots of attention, and I must say that the fresh strawberry scent wafting around my desk all day wasn't a bad thing!

I will admit that I had a bit of a struggle with the frosting, which was my own fault.  A word of advice - don't overbeat it or you will have liquid frosting on your hands!  Luckily a few teaspoons of meringue powder and a night in the fridge fixed it.  The frosting should be refrigerated until used, so pipe it on at the last minute, if possible.

A yummy spring flavor!  This one has earned a spot in my cupcake arsenal, for sure.

The verdict: Really, really good.
The husband's thoughts: Tasty, and the frosting is amazing.
Changes for next time: None!
Difficulty: Easy, but a little putzy.  Cook's Country recipes always are, but they are always worth it!

Strawberry Dream Cupcakes
(from Cook's Country)
Makes 24 cupcakes

10 ounces frozen whole strawberries (2 cups)
3/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
6 large egg whites, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups (9 ounces) cake flour
1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups (9 ounces) confectioners' sugar
12 ounces cream cheese, cut into 12 pieces and softened
Reserved strawberry solids
Pinch salt
Fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced thin for decoration

For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 muffin tins.

Transfer strawberries to bowl, cover, and microwave until strawberries are soft and have released their juice, about 5 minutes. Place in fine-mesh strainer set over small saucepan. Firmly press fruit dry (juice should measure at least 3/4 cup); reserve strawberry solids. Bring juice to boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until syrupy and reduced to 1/4 cup, 6 to 8 minutes. Whisk milk into juice until combined.

Whisk strawberry milk, egg whites, and vanilla in bowl. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed until combined. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, and mix until only pea-size pieces remain, about 1 minute. Add half of milk mixture, increase speed to medium-high, and beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium-low, add remaining milk mixture, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Give batter final stir by hand.

Scrape equal amounts of batter into prepared cupcake liners and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Cool cakes in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pans, and cool completely, about 2 hours. (Cooled cupcakes can be wrapped with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.)

For the frosting: Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, mix butter and sugar on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add reserved strawberry solids and salt and mix until combined, about 30 seconds. Be careful to not overbeat!  Refrigerate until ready to use, up to 2 days.

Using a pastry or Ziploc bag, pipe frosting on top of cupcakes and top with a sliced strawberry.
(Cake can be refrigerated for 2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes

I love chocolate chip cookie dough.  Don't get me wrong, baked cookies are fantastic, but I really love eating the raw dough.  I know a lot of folks are worried about the raw egg, but it hasn't killed me yet.  Very scientific, I know.  But my dad, also a cookie dough lover, has been eating raw dough for over 50 years without incident, so I'm not particularly worried.  However, that being said, the raw dough in this recipe is egg free, so no worries!

I had a suspicion these cupcakes would be over the top, so I wanted to make them for just the right occasion.  I think my birthday is sufficient, so bring on the ridiculous amount of dough!

The awesomeness begins with a brown butter cupcake.  Mine ended up a little more amber than brown (I'm terrified of burning it), but the caramel and nutty flavors still shined through.  Then the cupcake is filled with a ball of raw (and eggless) dough.  The frosting is thinned out raw dough, which pipes nicely.  The whole thing is topped off with a tiny ball of chocolate chip cookie dough.

It's amazing.  Very rich, but really, really yummy.  Definitely a favorite birthday treat of mine!

The verdict: Just what I was hoping for - super tasty!
The husband's thoughts: Really liked it.  Might sprinkle chocolate chips on top instead of the extra little ball of dough.
Changes for next time: I might lessen the sugar in the raw dough a bit, just so it's a bit more balanced and not too sweet.
Difficulty: Easy, but multiple steps

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes
(from Cupcake Project)
Makes 12 cupcakes

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 egg whites
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Melt butter over medium-heat in a small skillet or heavy-bottomed pot.  Continue to heat the butter, stirring it, until it turns brown (10-15 minutes).  The butter will foam, and then form large bubbles, and then begin to turn brown.  Promptly remove from stove to avoid burning it.  For a bit more information on browning butter, look HERE.  Pour browned butter into bowl and let cool to room temperature.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In large bowl, whip egg whites until light and frothy.  Slowly mix sugar into the egg whites.  Mix cooled browned butter and vanilla into the wet mixture.  Alternately mix dry ingredients and milk into the wet mixture.  Mix in chocolate chips.

Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full.  Bake at 350 F degrees for 20 minutes or until cupcakes bounce back with lightly touched.  Remove to cooling rack and cool to room temperature before filling and frosting.

Raw Cookie Dough (for filling and frosting)
Makes...far more than you need, but who cares?  Save it for ice creams or eating it with a spoon.
(You may also use your own favorite cookie dough recipe!)

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
4 Tbsp milk
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
Mini chocolate chips (to your preferences)
Heavy cream (~1/4 to 1/2 cup)

Mix butter, sugars, vanilla, milk and salt.  Then stir in flour (you may need to add more to get to an easily-rolled consistency).  Take out roughly 1/3 of dough, and place in small bowl.  Add mini chocolate chips to the smaller amount.  Scoop out about 1 rounded teaspoon of dough and roll into ball and set on parchment paper.  You'll need a dozen of these.  Then roll out 12 even smaller balls for decoration on top of the cupcakes.

With remaining 2/3 of plain dough, mix in cream until you reach desired consistency for piping.

Core out cooled cupcakes to make room for filling.  Feel free to eat the bits!  Drop in larger rolled ball of cookie dough. Pipe 'frosting' onto cupcake and top with smaller ball of cookie dough.