I have become quite a big fan of pork over the past few years. This recipe is just marvelous for showcasing the mild taste of pork roast. It makes excellent dinner party fare as well as being perfect for a buffet table. The roast can be stuffed and tied and all prep work completed hours in advance and the roast held in the refrigerator until it is time to put it in the oven.
I took a bit of license here and substituted pork tenderloin for the loin roast called for. I just happen to prefer tenderloin. It required a few minutes of extra prep time but I felt was well worth the small effort. Since tenderloin usually comes in two pieces I needed to butterfly each piece and pound the meat to an even thickness to accommodate rolling. Then I just added the fruit stuffing, rolled the roast and tied it as called for in the recipe. The rest of the cooking was as stated in the recipe. I found that the fruit stuffing accentuated the pork without taking away from it’s substantial flavor. The madeira and molasses basting sauce is the perfect complement for the meat and fruit and makes an excellent pan sauce when reduced a bit and enriched with a little butter.
I paired the pork roast with a pilaf of brown and wild rices with toasted pine nuts, currants, orange zest, orange juice, chopped parsley and olive oil. I found that this complimented the meat extremely well. This was also accompanied with soy glazed snow peas which added a nice crispness to the meal.
I was immediately drawn to this cake on my first look through the book. I am sure that it was because of the pound cake base. My readers will already know of my fondness for pound cake. Monica and I both decided that this was the cake for our second round of the bake through for Extraordinary Cakes. I also thought it was a good choice as we have several new bakers who have decided to join us in our quest and this cake only has a few components and seemed an easy way to ease into the process.
My initial reading of the cake base recipe had me a bit concerned. This is a sour cream pound cake and I was surprised to find that it didn’t use any butter but instead used grapeseed oil. My initial though was of my favorite aunts dreaded Mazola oil chiffon cake. (You have heard me talk about this cake and my hatred of it before). Well, I was pleased to discover that the grapeseed oil didn’t make the cake heavy and didn’t add any unpleasant taste (grapeseed oil is tasteless) but added a moistness not always found in most pound cakes. The cake retained the traditional firm texture but remained moist and tender even through the freezing process.
The other components of the cake are vanilla soaking syrup, white chocolate sour cream mousse, sweetened whipped cream and of course a myriad of spring fruits. Surprising none of these elements compete with each other. The syrup offers just a slight whisper of vanilla. The mousse which is really just a white chocolate ganache to which sour cream is added gives a slight hit of sweet white chocolate with the nice sour cream tang but never gives the cloying white chocolate sweetness. All of this is tempered by a generous amount of sweetened whipped bream which acts as a perfect base to enhance the fruits which include strawberries, raspberries, black berries and blueberries. The total effect is one of total bliss. Each element can bet tasted and noted but all combine in perfect harmony and even the cake base shines through as the perfect support for all that is added to it. Definitely a true work of art this cake.
The white chocolate curls are the only added decoration and although they look difficult they really aren’t. Making them is just a matter of timing and patience. I have found that it just takes the patience to wait for the chocolate to reach the perfect temperature for shaving the curls. Once it is reached you have to work quickly as the window is very small. I generally get about 3 curls and then I have to warm the chocolate and start the waiting period again. It doesn’t require much actual effort and you are certainly rewarded for you patience.
I was a vegetarian for many years and this is the kind of recipe that I would so often seek out. It would allow me to maintain my vegetarian lifestyle by using it as an entrée while maintaining the peace in my household because everyone else could use it as a side dish. Even today we have many vegetarian friends and it helps when having them to dinner as they don’t have to sit twiddling their thumbs while everyone else is eating meat. I also like it because it is so versatile. You can easily substitute any hard type cheese for the parmesan in the souffle and the fillings can be varied in infinite ways. I am imagining a medley of wild mushrooms, some beautiful Spanish ham, olives, meaty prosciutto, ground beef and cheddar. It just goes on and on.
I took the smallest liberty here with the original recipe as I found wonderful crimini mushrooms as the market and just couldn’t resist slicing them up and using them in the filling but that is the only change I made here.
The filling is easy to prepare and provides the luxury of being able to be prepared and held for at least a day. The sauce I must admit takes a bit of cooking time to get the peppers soft as you don’t want them to brown and spoil their mellow flavors. It does make an ample amount so it is worth the few extra minutes of cooking time to have it on hand at all times for many uses. It also can be prepared ahead and held so that everything can be ready and then just a few minutes of prep and bake time for the souffle and the whole thing can be ready in under an hour. It makes a great luncheon dish with salad and crusty bread, a nice side dish as an alternative to potatoes or rice and as noted above a great vegetarian entrée.
John Ash has long been one of my favorite wine country chefs and I encourage you all to pick up his wonderful book “From The Earth To The Table”. It is loaded with great recipes such as this one, lots of hints and wine pairings and just makes a very pleasurable read.
To me, asparagus signals the arrival of spring and I love it when those slender, pencil thin spears of glorious green asparagus start arriving at my local farmers market. I have also been a huge fan of Sheila Lukas since the arrival of the first Silver Palate Cookbook back in the mid 80s. This recipe is from her last book “Celebrate” and this recipe certainly does celebrate spring. As much as I love asparagus what drew me to this recipe was the tarragon. It is by far my favorite of all the herbs and I just don’t think people use it enough. I am always looking for ways to incorporate it into recipes other than chicken, which seems to be its most common use. This recipe certainly fits the bill.
To me this was really just an asparagus vichyssoise using chicken stock in place of the water and parsnip in place of the potato. Certainly the star of the show is the asparagus but what really drives the recipe to its heights is tarragon. The smell of the tarragon through the house as the soup simmered had my mouth watering for a taste. The soup is so easy it can be on the table in no time and certainly it is worth doubling the recipe and keeping it in the freezer for those times when you just don’t want to cook dinner.
Since the soup is so light and refreshing (definitely try it chilled) I thought it would pair nicely with something a bit spicier. My fish monger had some beautiful scallops today and as soon as I saw them I knew what I wanted to do. I paired the soup with bacon wrapped scallops and a spicy aoili and on the side, my old standby polenta.
I dipped the scallops in melted butter seasoned with garlic, cayenne and salt and pepper, then wrapped them in bacon and put them in the oven just until the bacon was cooked. For the aoili it was mayonnaise with ground chili paste, lime and cilantro. For the polenta I simply pan fried slices in a little butter just until they developed a crispy exterior but were still velvety creamy on the inside. I think it all came together perfectly.
This was a real treat. I usually only cook mussels if I am making a cioppino or bouillabaisse but I had forgotten just how great they are on their own. I am used to having mussels cooked in wine or some other type of broth which I always enjoy but have to admit it gets a little boring. These Asian inspired mussels were a great change of pace and since we have been on a Asian kick lately they fit right in to our current eating ritual. I was in a bit of a quandary as to what to serve with the mussels. I did some online research and found suggestions of polenta, vermicelli with butter and garlic, rice and plain crusty bread. All sounded fine to me so I called several of my Asian friends and it was unanimous with them that it had to be rice. Rather ordinary I admit but it sure was great with the flavorful cooking liquid. I opted for jasmine rice since to me it isn’t quite as bland as ordinary white rice. Turned out perfect.
I got to my fish monger a bit late in the day and the place was packed. I was in there for about 45 minutes and the whole time I kept thinking to myself, this had better be worth standing in this line all this time. I didn’t need to worry, it was totally delicious. The recipe is simplicity itself. After scrubbing and debearding the mussels it is just a quick saute of garlic and ginger. Some red curry paste is stirred in and sautéed for a minute, then in goes the coconut milk, bring it to a boil and toss in the mussels. Cover and cook a few minutes till the mussels open and dinner is on the table. The cilantro and lime add just the perfect kick to top it all off. Total heaven.
I think in the future I think I would serve this as a starter. Mussels are deceptive creatures. You look into a pot filled with mussels but when you start eating there really isn’t much to them. When you buy two pounds of mussels you probably end up actually buying a pound and a half of shells and half a pound of actual meat but they are too good to quibble about that.
I was talking to my friend Monica from the Gutsy Cooks Club about favorite chefs and cookbooks. Since we were both members of the Heavenly Bakers, naturally our conversation came around to desserts and especially cakes. Monica mentioned to me that she had gotten the book Extraordinary Cakes by Karen Krasne and was anxious to try some of the cakes. She asked me if I knew about Karen and I think I surprised her when I said that Karen was a local pastry chef here in San Diego and that I went to her shop very often. She asked me if I wanted to join her in baking some of these incredible cakes. Well, I am a huge fan of Monica’s cooking style and her kitchen wizardry so naturally I jumped at the chance to join her. We each read through the book and comprised a list of cakes we wanted to try. When we compared notes we laughed to see that we had both chosen almost the identical list. This Lemon Praline cake appealed to us both right off the bat and we decided it would be the first cake we attempted.
On the first read through these recipes seem really complicated. They are assembled cakes from many components and Karen certainly doesn’t skim in this area. This cake has 6 separate components. Once you get over the shock of the task and reread the recipe you see that it is very manageable. Many of the components can be made the day ahead and held. The one difference that Karen does is that she assembles the cake in a cake ring or mold and then freezes the assembled cake overnight before the final decoration. This is something that neither Monica or myself had ever done and after comparing notes with Monica I think we both agreed that it was a technique with would both adopt in our cake baking. It certainly makes the final decoration and serving much easier.
I started by making the genoise, which is a pretty straight forward standard genoise. It went together in a snap and before I knew it the baked cake was cooling on my counter. The next day I tackled the French Meringue which is used as a crunchy center layer. It all came together in about 20 minutes and has to bake for at least an hour. While it was in the oven I made the lemon syrup, the lemon curd and the lemon buttercream and by the time the meringue was baked and cooled I was ready to assemble the cake.
The genoise is leveled and sliced into two layers. One layer goes into the cake ring, followed by the syrup, then a layer of buttercream and a layer of lemon curd. Next the meringue goes on followed by another layer of buttercream and another layer of lemon curd. Finally the second cake layer in placed on top and drenched with the remaining lemon syrup. The entire assembly is wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen over night. As I told Monica, to me the hardest part of the entire process was finding the room in my overcrowded freezer to keep the cake overnight. Karens instructions are clear and concise and her timing notes are spot on.
The following morning I made the final component which is hazelnut-almond praline. This was just caramelized sugar to which toasted nuts are added and then the mixture is spread onto a baking sheet to harden. Karen specifies to make this just before you need it. Once hardened the praline is broken into pieces and ground in the food processor into a fine powder.
The assembled cake is then frosted completely with the remaining lemon buttercream and then coated with the praline powder. The final decor is a bouquet of fresh flowers and rose petal covered ribbon. I didn’t really like the picture that is in the book and decided to take artistic license here. I should have followed the book. I ended up going crazy with the flowers and ended up covering the whole top of the cake. My other half told me it looked like a cheap centerpiece and I certainly have to agree that it was not the most attractive thing I have ever turned out in the kitchen. No matter, the decorations came off as soon as I got some photographs and the cake is so good that it hardly matters what it looks like. I think next time I will just frost it and pipe some borders and then use the praline in shards as decoration. Maybe I will just skip the decoration entirely and move straight to the eating part.
All in all it was a great first cake from a really great cake book. Can’t wait for the next installment of the Monica and Raymond Cake Club.
Since I goofed last week and made this weeks recipe, I just made last weeks recipe this week.
Steak Pizzaiola was a staple on our family table at least once a week when I was growing up. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it in years and when I saw that we were going to make it, it brought back all kinds of memories of sitting around the table talking about what happened at school that day or what was going on around the neighborhood. They were really good times and it was good to take the trip down memory lane through food.
This recipe is fairly similar to the way my mom made it except that she would use her own homemade canned tomatoes. I found this to be really easy and most delicious. I can see easily having this on the table for a weeknight supper without much effort at all, just remembering to take the meat out of the freezer in the morning.
It has a rich, deep flavor with a nice level of spice without being over-powering. I served this with my own homemade linguine because, as you have probably already guessed, that’s what Mom did.
So Easy, So Quick, and yet So Good.
Those of you who have cooked with me for awhile know that I am no shrinking viotet when it comes to offering up my opinion. I am not now, ever have been, or ever will be a fan of any sort of Marha Stewart. I have spent the better part of the last 10 -15 years avoiding absolutely anything having to do with her. I have never picked up one of her books or magazines, watched a single episode of any of her shows, or bought anything that bears her name. So, you can imagine what I am going through now having to swallow my pride and not only admit to having made one of her recipes but actually liking it. No easy task I must admit. At any rate, this was good. I made them during the week and we had some neighbors over for cocktails and they fit right in on my hors d’oeuvre table and were well received by everyone.
I did make a few changes. Several years back I took it upon myself to master puff pastry. Pounds of flour and butter later I felt that I had indeed mastered it. (Lucky for me, even failures are salvageable so nothing went to waste.) I now make puff pastry every few months so I always have it in the freezer and I definitely used my own here.
I also wanted to up the tomato flavor so I added diced sun-dried tomatoes to the mix and used the oil they are packed in in place of the olive oil. I doubled the cheese simply because in my household we prefer more cheese to sauce on anything requiring the combination. This resulted in a much darker brown top than pictured in the recipe but I found it visually appealing and certainly very very tasty.
All in all I very much enjoyed these little tidbits and see myself making them again. Maybe changing the cheese. I am also envisioning a version of them with tapenade and feta. I never tire of that combination.
Pretty happy around here today.
I took a bit of artistic license here as in my house, no one will even go near a piece of chicken if it isn’t a boneless, skinless chicken breast. I opted to get boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I knew that this would compromise the recipe a bit but it was either that or make the dish and throw away the uneaten heathen chicken thighs. As the thigh meat was boneless and skinless, I brined it for about 30 minutes just to make sure that it would stay moist during the cooking process. To my surprise, the thigh meat was tender, moist and very delicious.
I found this recipe to be very simple to prepare so it is perfect for a hectic weeknight supper. The glaze and marinade can be made ahead and the chicken can sit in the marinade all night and throughout the following day, waiting to be dinner. I served the chicken with grilled polenta slices, baby green peas and a nice crisp green salad. It was a perfect hectic Saturday night supper. I used some of the pan juices to toss my peas in after they were cooked and they added a nice tart taste to the tender peas.
For the past few months I have been experimenting with baking bread. Every weekend my kitchen is covered in a fine layer of flour and I have proofing buckets of yeasty bubbling dough all around and eventually the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the house as loaves of golden bread emerge from the oven. It seemed only appropriate then that this weekend while I was surrounded by bowls of biga, poolish, wild yeast starters and the like that I should take some time out to make this very easy and delicious breakfast focaccia. I have made focaccia constantly over the years and I am actually quite proud of my rosemary focaccia which I always seem to have on hand for snacking. This focaccia will also be added to that list of have on hand snack breads to be experimented with and tweaked.
I was a bit skeptical at first that this might turn out to be just another coffee cake recipe but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the finished focaccia retains all the elements of a traditional focaccia while slipping in the added twist of sweetness from the berries and the spicy streusel topping. There is no doubt that you are eating a bread with all the spicy, fruitiness of the deep green extra virgin olive oil. The bread is crusty on the bottom and has the chewy texture of a traditional focaccia but then the juicy berries burst forth on the tongue with that fruity sweetness and the crunchy, spicy nutmeg and cinnamon infused streusel topping adds just that sweet/savory interest that you would expect. This is one great breakfast bread. I am already imagining making it with peaches, nectarines, plums, raspberries, blueberries and all sorts of seasonal fruits and spices in the streusel. Definitely a winner and one that must be tried.