Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mini Crab Cakes

It's hard to find the silver lining when two of your very best friends announce that they're moving 3,000 miles away in 2 weeks time... but when their destination is Maryland and the hosts of their going away party ask guests to bring their best Maryland-inspired dish, the opportunity to bake these adorable little crab cakes certainly does bring a modicum of happiness to an otherwise tear-filled occasion.

I'd actually had this recipe bookmarked for some time, just waiting for the perfect time to whip it out. It was every bit as fun and delicious as I'd hoped. I doubled the recipe just to make sure I had enough, and I am so thrilled that I did. Usually, when there are leftovers at the end of a potluck, I leave them for the host. In this case, however, I unapologetically took the remaining bites right back home with me -- and enjoyed them with a salad for dinner the next night!

Re: the recipe, I decided to trick myself into thinking these wer healthy (and thereby giving myself permission to eat more) by subbing reduced-fat cream cheese and reduced-fat sour cream for the regular stuff. Do I realize that I'm fooling myself? Yes. Did it damage the final results to cut a few calories and fat grams? No. So, why not?

John and Kate, I will miss you terribly. In fact, I miss you already. I am dedicating this blog post to your beautiful family, and can't wait to visit you soon! In the meantime, I'm adding these crab cakes to my appetizer repertoire, and every time I make them, I will think of you!

Mini Crab Cakes
(barely adapted from Annie's Eats)
  • 8oz. cream cheese (regular or reduced-fat), at room temperature
  • ¾ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup sour cream (regular or reduced fat)
  • ½ tsp. lemon zest
  • 3 tbsp. minced fresh chives, divided + additional for garnish
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 8 oz. fresh lump crabmeat, patted dry and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, ¼ cup of the Parmesan, and the egg; beat with an electric mixer to blend.  Beat in the sour cream, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of the chives, salt and cayenne pepper.  Gently fold in the crabmeat.  (This mixture can be made up to 1 day in advance.)

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Spray a 24-well mini muffin pan with cooking spray.  In a medium bowl, combine the panko, remaining ½ cup of the Parmesan, and 2 tablespoons of the minced chives.  Drizzle the melted butter over the mixture and toss with a fork until evenly blended and moistened.  Place 1 tablespoon of the panko mixture in each muffin well and press down to form a crust.  Spoon 1 generous tablespoon of the crab mixture over the crumb mixture in each well.  Sprinkle a rounded teaspoon of the panko mixture over the top of each.  

Bake until golden and set, about 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking.  Allow to cool in the pans 5 minutes.  Run a knife around the edge of each cake and gently lift it out of the pan.  (These can be baked 2 hours in advance.  Rewarm at 350˚for 6-8 minutes* just before serving.)  Garnish with additional fresh chives.

*The afternoon of the party was a scorcher, and no one wanted to put the oven on for rewarming. Since the boys were already grilling outside, they offered to put the muffin pan directly on the grill for a few minutes. It worked great.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Chicken Marsala Risotto

It seems to me that risotto gets a bad rap. Before I ever tried my hand at it, I lived under the assumption (perpetuated by the various home chefs I've met) that risotto is pain in the you-know-what. Now, I hardly consider myself an expert in the kitchen, but I just don't see what all the fuss is about. Sure, you can't just leave it on the stove while you play "Words With Friends" (or whatever your distraction of choice), but it seems pretty fool-proofed to me.

I have a number of go-to risotto recipes, but I do think this is my favorite. I've had it shelved for awhile, as my significant other declared our home a mushroom-free zone for a month or so to test a hypothesis that he is allergic to the little buggers. Given that I LOVE mushrooms, I've never been so happy for a theory to be proven wrong!  To celebrate, I whipped up this dish, compliments of one of my favorite blogs, Pink Parsley.

The only major change I made was the addition of chicken, 'cause at my house, dinner just isn't dinner without a little meat.

Chicken Marsala Risotto
(adapted fom Pink Parsley)
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup Arborio rice
  • 1 cup Marsala wine, divided
  • 3-4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced (cremini are recommended, but I used baby bella with good results)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus a little more to sprink on top
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh basil, minced, plus a little more to sprinkle on top
  • kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Season chicken cubes with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, and sautee the chicken until no longer pink in the middle. Remove from heat, and tent with foil to keep warm.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat until foaming subsides. Add shallots and saute until soft, 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and stir to combine. Cook until fragrant, 1 minute.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock in a medium saucepan until simmering.

Add the Arborio rice and toast until opaque around the edges, 3-5 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of the Marsala wine and cook, stirring often, until absorbed, 5 minutes or so.

Stir in 1 cup of the chicken broth, and stir occasionally until almost absorbed, 8-12 minutes. Working 1 ladle of broth at at time, continue to add broth, stirring constantly. Add the next ladle when the broth is almost completely absorbed.

After you have been cooking the risotto for 10 minutes, stir in the mushrooms. Continue to cook risotto, stirring constantly, until it is al dente, for a total of 20-25 minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in the chicken cubes, the remaining 1/4 cup of Marsala wine, Parmesan cheese, basil, and remaining butter. Add salt and pepper if necessary and season to taste.

Serve immediately, with a little extra basil and parmesan on top (if desired).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bacon, Cheddar, and Green Onion Scones

What do you bring to a pot-luck brunch when: (a) you don't want to wake up early to cook; (b) you want to stop at the gym for an hour or two on the way to the party; and (c) you don't want to cop out with some store-bought concoction?

Why, savory scones, of course!

These little gems solved all my dilemmas. I could make them the night before. They weren't going to go bad in the back of my car during my spinning class. They did not require me to fight for the oven. And (most importantly), they were quite tasty.

That said, I didn't love these as much as I'd hoped. They were just a little dense for my taste, I guess. I am going to give the recipe the benefit of the doubt, and assume that I just overworked the dough, or should have more carefully adjusted baking time when I chose to make smaller scones. Next time (and yes, I think they are worth a next time), I'll stick with a simple 8 wedges and see whether that makes a difference. In the meantime, if anyone has any experience with this, let me know!

Bacon, Cheddar, and Green Onion Scones
(from Confections of a Foodie Bride)

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper (cut back to 1 tsp, if you're not a pepper lover like me)
  • 1 stick chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 10 slices bacon, cooked and chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 3/4 to 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • heavy cream, optional (I didn't use it, but you can substitute for half the buttermilk, if you like)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp water
Preheat oven to 400.

Grab your peppermill and start grinding - use a full tablespoon for a wonderfully peppery background or reduce by 1 tsp for less pepper flavor.

Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and black pepper in a large bowl on low speed.

With mixer running, gradually add cubes of butter until the mixture is crumbly and studded with flour - butter bits about the size of small peas.

Add grated cheese and mix just until blended. (This can also be done by hand: In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Gradually cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles small peas. Stir in cheese.)

Add green onions, bacon and 3/4 cup of the buttermilk to flour and cheese mixture. Mix by hand just until all ingredients are incorporated. If dough is too dry to hold together, use remaining buttermilk, adding 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough is pliable and can be formed into a ball.

Stir as lightly and as little as possible to ensure a lighter-textured scone. (This is likely where I messed up.)

Remove dough from bowl and place it on a lightly floured flat surface. Pat dough into a ball. Using a well-floured rolling pin, flatten dough into a circle or rectangle about 1/2 inch thick (the circle might be anywhere from 8-10 inches wide).

Cut dough into 8 wedges, if your dough is a circle. To make smaller scones, divide a rectangle or dough into squares and cut along the diagonal to make little triangles. 

Whisk egg and water in a small mixing bowl to combine.

Brush each wedge with egg wash.

Place scones on a Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown and no longer sticky in the middle. Serve warm. To freeze: Allow to cool completely and store in an airtight freezer bag (and reheat in the microwave for about 2 minutes on medium power).

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pasta with Chicken, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Gorgonzola, and Pine Nuts

At my house, this is what we call "Vintage Smokey." It is, after all, the first meal that I cooked for my boyfriend after we met. And nearly 4 years later, it remains his single most frequent request.

It's another goodie from Epicurious. But at this point, I don't rely very heavily on the recipe. I know I add more of just about everything. More cheese. More prociutto. More sun-dried tomatoes. Who needs measuring cups, right? I just eye-ball it.

As for pasta, the recipe calls for shells or gnocchi, but really, you can use whatever you want. These pictures depict a version using orechiette, which in my opinion, is basically just a more sophisticated version of shells.

The only other change I make is to cut the chicken before I cook it. I am under the illusion that it shortens cooking time, though to be honest, I've never checked.

Pasta with Chicken, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Gorgonzola, and Pine Nuts
(adapted from Epicurious)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup chopped drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes (2 tablespoons oil reserved)
  • 2 skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 9 ounces total)
  • 1 pound gnocchi pasta or medium shell pasta
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/3(-ish) cup canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1/3(-ish) cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (about 2 ounces)
  • 1/4 to1/2 cup chopped prosciutto
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
Heat 1 tablespoon oil reserved from tomatoes in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to skillet and sauté until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate and cool; do not clean skillet.
Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain pasta; transfer to large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon tomato oil in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic; sauté until tender, about 1 minute. Add sun-dried tomatoes, chicken, basil, broth, cheese and prosciutto to skillet and bring to boil.

Add sauce to pasta and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with pine nuts and serve.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Golden Rum Cake

I generally stay away from cake mix cakes. Not because I don't enjoy them, but because I like to challenge myself when I bake, and it just seems like a cop-out to start with a box of Betty Crocker.

When time is short, however, and outcome important (e.g., when you have only an hour or two to put together something for a girls' get-together 45 miles away), nothing beats a short cut. Combine that with a hearty helping of booze, and you have what I like to call "magic."

For this particular occasion, I turned to Allrecipes, typed "rum cake" into the search field, and sorted by rating. This one came out squarely on top, with a perfect 5-star rating and 866 reviews. I figured, 866 can't be wrong, right?

The reviews around the dinner table are in, and I can officially add my rave to the mix. Easy, moist, rummy and delicious. What could be better than that?

Golden Bundt Cake
(adapted a tiny bit from Allrecipes)

  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
  • 1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark rum

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease and flour a 10 inch Bundt pan. Sprinkle chopped nuts evenly over the bottom of the pan.

    In a large bowl, combine cake mix and pudding mix. Mix in the eggs, 1/2 cup water, oil and 1/2 cup rum. Blend well. Pour batter over chopped nuts in the pan.

    Bake in the preheated oven for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Let sit for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto serving plate.

    While cake sits, make the glaze by combining butter, 14 cup water and 1 cup sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and continue to boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup rum.

    Pour half the glaze into the bundt pan. Reisert cake. Using a meat fork, a skewer, or a chopstick, poke holes in the bottom of the cake. Carefully pour the rest of the glaze over the cake, and let sit for at least an hour.

    Beef with Spicy Cocoa Gravy

    Ok. I get it. Beef, noodles, and gravy do not exactly equal Spring cuisine. In my defense, however, the past few weeks has brought more rain and chilly weather than we saw in January and February combined. San Francisco is just like that, I guess. Living here means throwing out all rules for "seasonal" wardrobe and cuisine!

    This dish is comfort food at its finest. A cross between beef burgundy and a mole sauce, it boasts a complex array of flavors and a hugely satisfying aroma. Don't be put off by the long ingredient list. While you might end up having to purchase (or substitute) a few spices, it's a breeze to prepare. Basically, you just mix the spices, toss in some cubed meat, brown it, add your liquids, cover, and try to stay patient while the beef becomes melt-in-your-mouth tender.

    Re: the wine, I used a Barbera from Robledo Family Winery, one of our favorite stops when we're in Sonoma. It worked beautifully, both as an ingredient and as an accompaniment. Yum!

    Beef with Spicy Cocoa Gravy

    • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
    • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chile powder
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated garlic
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
    • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1 1/2 pounds trimmed top round steak, cut into 1" cubes
    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
    • 1/2 cup chopped onion
    • 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
    • 1/2 cup dry red wine
    • 14.5 ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
    • 2 cups beef broth
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa, coriander, ancho powder, cumin, garlic, oregano, paprika and cinnamon. Add beef and toss to coat. Remove beef and set aside. Stir in flour to the remaining spices and return beef - toss well to evenly coat the pieces.
    In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add half of the beef mixture to pan and sauté until brown on all sides - about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove beef from pan and add remaining oil. Repeat browning with the remaining beef mixture - remove when browned.
    Add onions and bell pepper into the Dutch oven and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes tender. Pour in wine and tomatoes - cook 3 minutes. Mix in beef broth, salt and black pepper. Add the browned beef back into the pan - cover, reduce heat and simmer until the beef is tender - about 1 hour and 10 minutes.