Friday, September 30, 2011

Peanut Sesame Noodles

As much as I love Asian flavors, particularly Chinese, I am reluctant to order this cuisine in a restaurant. Even when the menu boasts "NO MSG," I find after eating a typical Chinese meal out, I am sluggish and bloated for days. Rather than give up these favorite foods, I look for ways to lighten them up and reduce the sodium. I also pay attention to portion size, often making the food in question a side dish rather than the main event. I can't think of anything better than combining the wonderful flavor of peanut butter with pasta and sesame seeds. It's like a triple-header for a baseball fan. As a side dish for Asian-inspired skinless chicken legs, these peanut sesame noodles were a delicious treat. The bonus was I didn't feel like the Pillsbury doughboy the next day.

Serves 4-6
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/3 c warm water
2 T fresh chopped ginger
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 T red wine vinegar
1 1/2 T sesame oil
2 tsp honey
red pepper flakes

Place all dressing ingredients in a blender and puree for 2 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed. T

Prepare 3/4 lb angel hair pasta according to package instructions, drain, and add to dressing. Toss to coat. Toss with:

4 scallions, sliced thin
3 T toasted sesame seeds

For best flavor, serve at room temperature.
I loved the flavors of this easy side dish, but did not care for how the pasta stuck together. It got better as it cooled off, but adding a tiny bit of sesame oil and retossing is advised. I served this with sauteed bok choy and oven Chinese-style BBQ skinless chicken legs. There were plenty of leftovers which are just as tasty straight from the fridge (so be forewarned).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cream-filled Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

A little treat boxed and ready to go...
my new toy

ready to be filled

chocolate ganache frosting

better than Hostess's filling
love that shiny frosting

I've been wanting to buy one of these cupcake makers for a while, but just kept forgetting to order one. I know you can just cut a cone-shape out of the top and fill or you can use a pastry bag to put a smidge of filling inside your cupcakes, but I wanted to be able to put more than a smidge. The little silicone plug-like things are surrounded by batter and create a perfect pocket to be filled when the cakes cool. I baked one batch in my new toy and the other in my stoneware cupcake pan. For that second batch I did just use a pastry bag to put a bit of filling in each.

1 package (18-1/4 ounces) devil's food cake mix (or your favorite recipe)

Cream Filling
2 teaspoons hot water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 jar (7 ounces) marshmallow creme
1/2 cup shortening
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ganache Frosting
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Prepare and bake cupcakes according to package directions for cupcakes. Cool for 5 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

For filling, in a small bowl, combine water and salt until salt is dissolved. Cool. In a small bowl, beat the marshmallow creme, shortening, confectioners' sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy; add the salt mixture. Cut a small hole in the corner of pastry or plastic bag; insert round pastry tip. Fill the bag with cream filling. Push the tip through the bottom of paper liner to fill each cupcake.

For ganache frosting, place chocolate in a small bowl. In a small saucepan, bring cream just to a boil. Pour over chocolate; whisk until smooth. Cool, stirring occasionally, to room temperature or until ganache reaches a spreading consistency. Top cupcake with frosting; chill for 20 minutes or until set. Store in the refrigerator. Yield: 2 dozen.
The best thing about these cupcakes is the ganache frosting. I could have eaten the whole bowful. I did use a mix (Duncan Hines) this time, but the cakes were still moist and yummy. The filling tasted a lot like the one in Hostess cupcakes, but better. I can't wait to try a peanut butter filling with chocolate cake and a cannoli filling with white cake. I love my new toy.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Gnocchi with Butternut Squash and Kale

Food Network Magazine deserves kudos for being responsive to its readership. They have begun providing nutritional information for a number of the recipes they print each month. While this isn't my sole criterion, because I prepare meals for a diabetic, I am always interested in keeping a balance between grams of carbohydrates, fat, protein, and fiber. I also pay attention to the sodium since both of us tend to salt our food. In the October issue in the "Weeknight Cooking" section, I found this recipe for a favorite pasta that was relatively low in calories, high in fiber, and sure to be tasty. If you try to prepare meatless meals once or twice a week, this one's for you.

Serves 4
2 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tbs roughly chopped fresh sage
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
1 1/4 cups low-sodium, fat free chicken broth
1 bunch kale, cleaned, stemmed, and roughly chopped (about 8 cups)
1- 17.5 oz package gnocchi (I ussed spinach gnocchi, which increased the fiber slightly)
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese

Melt 1 tbs butter in a large, ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the squash and cook, stirring, until slightly soft and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, sage, red pepper flakes, and 1 tsp salt and cook until the garlic is soft, about 2 minutes more. Add the chicken broth to the skillet. When it starts to simmer, stir in the kale and cook until it wilts slightly, about 2 minutes. Add the frozen gnocchi, stirring to coat. Cover and cook until the gnocchi are just tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover and stir in 1/4 cup of the cheese and the remaining 1 tbs butter. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese and transfer to the broiler. Cook until golden and bubbly, about 3 minutes.
Another great 1- pan meal with the bonus of leftovers that tasted even better reheated. I was afraid the kale would overwhelm the dish, but when it cooked down, it was perfect. I used a whole, small butternut squash because I adore this winter vegetable. I strongly recommend that you not omit the red pepper flakes. I was tempted to, but was happy I did not. The dish needs this little bit of heat. I'm not one who eats fiery food, but I very much enjoyed the addition of the red pepper. DSO asked where the meat was the first night, but happily gobbled down his portion. This is a terrific weeknight meal that you can feel a bit virtuous eating--so virtuous that you may want to pour a lovely glass of pinot noir to enjoy with it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pesto Pizza with Pancetta and Baby Bellas

I never tire of trying new combinations of ingredients for one of our favorite meals, pizza. The last of this season's pesto deserved to be showcased, so I gathered a few favorite ingredients and "voila!" another favorite pizza was born.
Chop 2 oz pancetta and fry until crisp; drain.
Lightly oil a sheet pan; toss or pat dough and prebake at 400 degrees for about 5 minutes. Add a light layer of pesto. Sprinkle with pancetta.

Roast a few red peppers; peel, seed, and chop. Spread over pesto and pancetta.
Chop 7 oz baby bellas and saute in a bit of butter. Add to pizza toppings.
Chop or tear 1 lb fresh mozzarella and spread evenly over pizza.

Bake at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes.
How can you go wrong with homemade pesto, pizza dough, roasted red peppers and some sauteed mushrooms and fresh mozzarella? This was heaven on a plate. I used to be embarrassed to photograph my pizza pan, but the discoloration is proof that my pan is getting well-seasoned. Like a good cast iron skillet, you can't beat a seasoned pizza pan.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Secret Recipe Club

Next to food and cooking, I think what drives most bloggers to devote time and energy to posting about their foodie obsessions is the opportunity to interact with other like-minded people. In the 3 plus years that I've been blogging, I've "met" some wonderful folks from all around the world who share my passion for the art of cooking. I follow their blogs each day, derive inspiration from them, and widen my sphere of bloggers through them. This is how I happened upon the Secret Recipe Club, the brainchild of Amanda, whose story of her leap into the blogging world is nothing short of inspiring. When Amanda was searching for ways to bring more exposure to her blog, she conceived of the Secret Recipe Club. Her idea was to make a recipe from a fellow blogger who, in turn, would make a recipe from Amanda's Cookin. But Amanda thought it would be even more fun if more bloggers were involved and so she opened up the clubhouse. From the 19 members that first month, the Secret Recipe Club has grown to several hundred members. And now The Food of Love is one of those members.

For my first month's participation, I was assigned Nicole's wonderful blog The Daily Dish. Nicole is a mother of 5 who somehow finds the time to blog about food and family. I enjoyed getting to know Nicole better by reading through her posts. Her interests are quite varied and I picked up some great information. Deciding which recipe to try took a bit of deliberating, but I finally decided on this pudding-like banana cake with orange icing.

With a large bag of very ripe bananas in the freezer, this cake was going to be economical as well as delicious. The original recipe is here. I cut the recipe in half, tweaked it a bit, and used a loaf pan to produce 12 servings. That recipe follows:

1/2 lb unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs
2-3 large overripe bananas, mashed
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups confectioners sugar
1 1/2 tsp unsalted butter, softened
2-3 tbs orange juice

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees Farenheit. Grease a large loaf pan and line with parchment paper. Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Stir in half the flour, then half the mashed bananas. Incorporate completely, then mix in the other half. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then cool on a rack.

To make the icing, melt the butter in the microwave.  Add the confectioners sugar and orange juice to form a slightly runny paste. Pour over cool cakes, letting the icing run down the sides.
DSO really, really liked this version of banana cake as did I. It's so moist that you'd swear it has some kind of pudding in it. It keeps very well in the refrigerator and the orange icing was a perfect topping, just sweet enough without being cloying.

Please visit all the other wonderful Secret Recipe Club members whose recipes are available below by clicking on the thumbnail.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chicken and Egg Noodles with Wine Sauce

Want to save at least $20? The next time you arrive home harried and needing to get dinner on the table in under a half hour, save the $20 you'd have spent on the pizza delivery and make this quick, but company worthy dinner instead. Oh, and did I mention that it cooks in a single skillet thereby making clean up an under 30 minute deal as well? The trick is to always have boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the freezer (that's what the defrost button on the microwave is for) and a bag of egg noodles in the pantry. The other ingredients are staples.

 Serves 4
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 1/4 lbs), cut crosswise into 1/4 inch strips
salt and pepper
2 tbs unsalted butter
2 shallots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
8 oz egg noodles
3 tbs heavy cream (I used fat free half and half)
2 tbs minced fresh tarragon
*I added 1 cup cooked  baby peas to DSO's portion.

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chicken until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil.

Add shallots to the same skillet and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Stir in wine and cook, scraping up any browned bits of fond, until pan is nearly dry, about 3 minutes. Stir in broth and noodles and cook, stirring occasionally, until noodles are tender and liquid has been absorbed, 8-10 minutes.

Stir in cream, tarragon, and chicken, along with any accumulated chicken juices and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
It was amazing how good this simple dish tasted. It proves that a few, well-chosen ingredients can elevate the most simple preparation. The milder flavor of the shallots combined with a small amount of white wine yielded big taste. Cooking the egg noodles right in the same skillet not only saves on clean up, but also adds a bit of starch to the wine sauce. By deglazing the pan and using butter and cream, there's just a bit of richness to this simple sauce.(If you don't like tarragon, try chives instead.) I froze one portion in a zip lock freezer bag and the other portion made a lovely lunch for DSO the next day. I spent all the time I saved quilting and the $20 on a manicure. Life is good.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Molasses-glazed Beef Kebabs

It seems we've been dodging natural disasters all winter, spring, and summer, so barbecuing in the "elements" has become commonplace. The mixture of sweet orange juice with the slightly bitter and smoky molasses promised to be a winning flavor combination. The original recipe is from an America's Test Kitchen magazine.

Serves 4
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 lbs steak tips (flap meat), cut into 2 inch chunks

In a medium saucepan, bring orange juice to a boil over high heat and reduce to 1/3 cup, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup molasses and boil until mixture reduces to 1/2 cup. Whisk in the smashed garlic. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Toss beef with the molasses mixture.

Thread meat evenly onto four metal skewers and grill over a hot fire, turning frequently and basting with the sauce, until meat is well-browned. Serve with rice and Chinese long beans.
I love the idea of kebabs, but don't make them often because they are difficult to cook precisely. I have metal skewers that fit into a lovely rack that keeps them from sticking to the grill, but the skewers are round. They turn easily, but the meat does not. I need to find some flat skewers that will keep the meat in place when I flip the skewer. That said, the flavor of the molasses glaze was incredible. I'm going to try it on a flank steak and/or a pork loin very soon.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hoisin Pork with Garlic Noodles

I've amassed quite a collection of America's Test Kitchen magazines and have tried out quite a number of their dishes. This hoisin pork with garlic noodles combined one of my favorite proteins, lean pork tenderloin, with one of my favorite Chinese sauces, hoisin sauce. I've supplied the original recipe, but I made some changes. First, I used just 1 pork tenderloin, a bit over a pound, and only 1 package of dried Chinese noodles. I made the same amount of sauce, but brushed it on the pork at the beginning of cooking and throughout the grilling. Finally, I used my new favorite grilling technique, browning the pork on all sides over high direct heat, then turning off the heat directly under the pork, closing the lid, and using indirect heat to finish the cooking. I can't say enough about this method of cooking. It hasn't failed me yet.

Serves 4-6
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 tbs grated fresh ginger
1 tbs chili-garlic sauce
8 scallions, sliced thin
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp soy sauce
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 pork tenderloins (1 1/2 - 2 lbs total)
salt and pepper
2 (9 oz) pkg Chinese noodles

Whisk hoisin, 1 tsp ginger, chili-garlic sauce in small bowl and set aside. In another bowl, combine scallions, garlic, soy sauce, 1 tbs oil, and remaining ginger.

Pat pork dry with paper towels then rub with remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over hot fire until browned on all sides and pork registers 145 degrees, 12 to 15 minutes. Brush all over with hoisin mixture and cook for 1-3 minutes longer. Transfer to cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add 1 tbs salt and noodles and cook 3 minutes. Reserve 1 cup pasta water, drain noodles, then return noddles to pot and stir in scallion mixture, adding reserved cooking water as needed. Season with salt and pepper.

Slice pork 1/4 inch thick and serve with noodles.
Hoisin sauce, a mix of spicy, sweet, and salty flavors, is a favorite of mine. The addition of the fresh ginger and the chili-garlic sauce was a perfect foil to the hoisin and really made the pork tenderloin sing. I used just 1 package of noodles, so the garlic and ginger was aggressive, but delicious. I served the dish with some stir-fried bok choy and it was all very flavorful and satisfying, but the real goodness came the next night when I repurposed the leftover pork and noodles. I sliced the leftover pork very, very thinly and stir-fried it, along with the leftover noodles and bok choy, in a bit of peanut oil, finishing it with a tablespoon of teriyaki sauce. Alongside some tempura shrimp, it was positively addictive. I will probably make lots more pork and noodles next time just so we can have this wonderful noodle dish again. Next time, I'll add some baby corn and sliced water chestnuts to the noodle dish. I highly recommend both meals. And, both are under 30 minutes, start to finish.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Since I began using indirect heat to grill my chicken, I've begun to use more chicken breast as opposed to thighs, so when I saw this recipe in the September issue of Cooking Light, I decided to give it a try. I've used cola to make a BBQ sauce before, but the combination of spices in this recipe promised more flavor.

Serves 6
1 tbs canola oil
2 1/2 tbs finely chopped onion (I used more)
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup cola (I used diet Pepsi)
1/3 cup ketchup
1 tbs cider vinegar
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tbs dark brown sugar
1 tbs sweet paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
6 (6 oz) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
cooking spray

Preheat grill to medium high.

Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan, swirl to coat. Saute onion for 2 minutes, stirring; add garlic and saute 1 minute more. Stir in cola, ketchup, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and chili powder and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 15 minutes or until sauce is reduced to about 3/4 cup. Stir occasionally. Set aside 6 tbs of marinade to serve with cooked chicken. The rest will be used to baste chicken as it cooks.

Combine sugar, paprika, salt, and cumin. Rub this spice mixture evenly over both sides of the breasts.

Here I deviate from the method described to use indirect heat to cook my breasts.

Spray grill. Baste top of breasts with the marinade. Cook breasts over direct heat, 2 minutes on each side (or until you have grill marks), basting other side when you turn chicken. Turn off heat directly under the chicken, but leave it on on the other 2/3 of the grill.  Baste, cook 5 minutes on one side with the cover closed, baste chicken, then turn chicken and cook 5 minutes more with the cover closed. Serve with reserved marinade.
Once again, I cannot stress enough how perfect this method of grilling meat is. You get the grill marks and a bit of char without incinerating and drying out your protein. The cola sauce was not overly sweet and there was more than enough of it to baste the chicken and have a good amount left to serve over the cooked breasts. I was glad that I'd increased the onion since it gave some texture to the sauce. With fresh corn and a big salad, this was a great summer meal.