Happy Spring! ~ Parsley Cupcakes

Spring is finally here! To celebrate the new season, I made a recipe for parsley cupcakes. It is one of the most interesting recipes I’ve come across in a long time, and I’m glad I tried it. :)  They have a unique herb flavor, and they are intensely green without the use of any food coloring. The original recipe was posted on Food52.com for St. Patrick’s Day. If you haven’t visited that website, I’d recommend it! They have a collection of very unique and delicious recipes to spice up (or in this case, herb up!) your kitchen. :)

I substituted the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat pastry flour, and I reduced the amount of salt and sugar a bit. I also made this recipe into individual cupcakes rather than a large cake.

Parsley Cupcakes

Based on a recipe from Food52.com

4 cups tightly packed parsley leaves, from about 5 bunches

1 cup tightly packed mint leaves, from 2 bunches

3/4 cup good olive oil

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

4 large eggs, at room temperature

2/3 plus 3/4 cups sugar

Preheat the oven to 340°F. Line 2 cupcake pans with paper liners. (The recipe makes about 17 cupcakes.)

To make the herb-oil mixture, put a fourth of the parsley and mint in a strong blender or food processor, and blend it on low speed. Use a blender stick to help crush the herbs while the blade is spinning (or stop the machine from time to time to push the herbs back down toward the blade). Slowly increase the speed to medium (or a steady puree, in a food processor) and continue adding the rest of the herbs until you have added all of them.

In a steady stream, add half of the olive oil. Mix on medium-low speed (or pulsing, if using a food processor) until all is combined. Add the remaining olive oil and blend for no longer than 10 seconds. The mixture will look loose and stringy. Scrape out the blender to get all of the parsley mixture, transfer it to a bowl, and refrigerate until ready to use.

In a bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking powder and set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the eggs for about 30 seconds. Add the sugar and mix on high speed until the mixture is very thick and turns a pale yellow color, about 3 minutes. Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the herb-oil mixture.

With the machine still running, add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Do not over mix.

Fill each cupcake liner about ¾ full with the batter.

Bake for about 18 to 20 minutes, rotating halfway through. When a cake tester inserted in the center of one cupcake comes out clean, they are done. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan.

Happy Shamrock Day ~ Irish Soda Bread Biscuits

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m not even a wee bit Irish, but I always have fun celebrating this holiday. We really enjoyed the Irish soda bread muffins I made last year, so this year I decided to try another spin on the same idea. I baked Irish soda bread biscuits. :) I went an extra step and cut them out with a shamrock cookie cutter. What could be more festive that? :)

Irish Soda Bread Biscuits

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

¼ cup Earth Balance

1/2 cup dried currants

1/2 cup low fat buttermilk

1 egg

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl. With a fork or pastry blender, cut in the Earth Balance. Stir in the currants and caraway.

Mix the egg and buttermilk in a separate bowl, and then combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients.

On a floured surface, shape the dough into a ball. It is a sticky and wet dough, so use as much all-purpose flour as you need on your hands and the bench to pull it together into a cohesive dough ball. Roll the dough so it is about ½ inch thick. Cut with a cookie cutter or a knife. Transfer biscuits to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

I also baked a batch of the soda bread muffins that I wrote about last year. They freeze well, so our freezer is now stocked! Just microwave for 30 seconds for a warm, fresh muffin in the morning.

The cute little printable flags are from Elli.com. They are free to download and print for your St. Patrick’s Day celebration. :)

Happy White Day ~ Green Tea Shortbread

Happy White Day!

Last month, as I was looking through recipes for our Japanese Valentine’s Day dinner, I also looked at how people in Japan celebrate Valentine’s Day. Through that research, I stumbled upon a Japanese holiday called White Day. I learned that in Japan, women typically give men chocolates on Valentine’s Day rather than the other way around, as we usually do in the States. White Day is exactly one month after Valentine’s Day, and it is a chance for the men to give back. I thought it was such an interesting and cool tradition, so I wanted to mark it in some way. Here’s a Japanese-inspired cookie recipe for the guys out there! ;-)

I used Martha Stewart’s recipe for Green Tea Shortbread. I substituted all of the butter with Earth Balance, which worked beautifully. We really didn’t miss the butter. I also omitted the salt, since Earth Balance already has a little salt incorporated into the product.

Green Tea Shortbread

Based on a recipe from Martha Stewart

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

2 tablespoons green-tea powder (matcha)

1/2 pound Earth Balance, room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Sift flour and tea powder into a small bowl; set aside. Place Earth Balance in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream on medium speed, 3 to 5 minutes. Add sugar; continue to beat until very light in color, about 2 minutes more. Add flour mixture; combine on low, scraping sides of bowl with a spatula if necessary, until flour is just incorporated and dough sticks together when squeezed with fingers.

Place a piece of parchment on a clean surface; dust with flour. Roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness; chill in refrigerator or freezer until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Cut chilled dough with 2-inch leaf cutters. Using a wide spatula, transfer to baking sheets. Chill until firm. Gather scraps together, re-roll, chill, and cut shapes. Bake until firm and barely starting to color, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating halfway through. Cool completely on wire rack; store in an airtight container for up to 3 to 4 weeks.

PS. Since these cookies are a vibrant green color, they could also be good for St. Patrick’s Day! Just cut them into shamrock shapes. :)

Mardi Gras ~ King Cake

Happy Mardi Gras!

I couldn’t think of anything better to celebrate the holiday than king cake. I love the story and history surrounding the cake. In Louisiana, they decorate the top with the colors of Mardi Gras – purple, yellow, and green. They also hide a small plastic baby or a trinket inside. I made mini cakes this year based on a recipe from AllRecipes.com. I substituted all of the butter with Earth Balance, and replaced half of the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat flour. The result was nutty and delicious! With the glaze, they make a nice dessert, but without the glaze, they are perfect for breakfast. :)

Mardi Gras King Cake

Based on a recipe from AllRecipes.com

Pastry:

½ cup + 2 tablespoons non-fat milk

2 tablespoons Earth Balance

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast

1/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45

degrees C)

1/4 cup white sugar

1 egg

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 ¼ cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 ¼ cups + 2 tablespoons whole-wheat flour

Filling:

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/3 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup melted Earth Balance

Glaze:

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons water (approximately…add a little more or less to get the consistency you desire)

To make the pastry: Combine warmed milk and melted Earth Balance. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water with 1/2 tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until frothy, about 10 minutes.

When yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the egg. Stir in the remaining white sugar, and nutmeg. Stir both flours into the milk/egg mixture a little at a time. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 2 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 to 2 hours. When risen, punch down.

To make the filling: Combine the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, and flour. Pour 1/4 cup melted Earth Balance over the cinnamon mixture and mix until crumbly.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rectangle (approximately 6 by 8 inches or so). Sprinkle 1/8th of the filling evenly over each piece of the dough. Roll up each piece tightly like a little jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form 8 oval shaped rings. Place each ring on a prepared cookie sheet. If you wish, make cuts with scissors 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until golden. If you are partaking in the tradition of adding a baby or trinket, place it in the bottom of one of the cakes after it is baked. Whisk together the glaze ingredients. Frost the cakes with the glaze and purple, green, and yellow sprinkles if you wish.

I decorated with some cute Mardi Gras printables from MardiGrasOutlet.com. They are free, so help yourself! :) I also found some pretty little edible beads in purple, yellow, and green. They looked like Mardi Gras beads to me, so they seemed perfect for the cake! We don’t plan to eat them, but they were too cute for me to pass up for decoration. :)

I hope you enjoy your Fat Tuesday!

Winter Olympics ~ Smoked Salmon Blini

As the winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are coming to a close, I wanted to try a Russian recipe to celebrate the occasion! I made blini with smoked salmon. :)

I used Ina Garten’s recipe as the base, but I made it a little healthier. I substituted the butter with Earth Balance, and used much less of it than the original recipe called for. Rather, I used a good non-stick pan, so the butter was unnecessary to keep the pancakes from sticking. I also used nonfat milk and reduced fat sour cream rather than the full fat versions.

Blini with Smoked Salmon

Based on a recipe from Ina Garten

1/3 cup buckwheat flour

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons nonfat milk

1 extra-large egg

2 tablespoons Earth Balance

1/2 pound smoked salmon, thinly sliced

1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream

Fresh dill sprig, for garnish

Combine both flours, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, and 1 tablespoon of Earth Balance. Whisk the wet ingredients into the flour mixture. Heat 1 tablespoon of the Earth Balance in a medium non-stick sauté pan and drop the batter into the hot skillet, 1 tablespoon at a time. Cook over medium-low heat until bubbles form on the top side of the blini, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook for 1 more minute, or until brown. Repeat with the remaining batter. Set aside.

To serve, top the blini with a piece of smoked salmon. Add a dollop of sour cream and a sprig of dill.

Blini are often served with caviar on top rather than the smoked salmon. That could be something to try for the Oscars next week! :)

Valentine Sushi Dinner ~ Miso Soup

Rob and I celebrated Valentine’s Day and our engagement anniversary all weekend, culminating with a fancy sushi dinner! I decided to try making miso soup from scratch to go with the dinner, since it is almost always served at Japanese sushi restaurants. I really had no idea how it was made or what went into it before I tried it at home. I just knew it was delicious! ;-) Now I have a whole new appreciation for it, so I thought I would share the recipe I used. It’s a traditional soup in Japan, but in my American kitchen, it was a new and exciting culinary adventure.

Since we were celebrating Valentine’s Day and to make the soup a little more special, I cut the tofu into heart shapes with a little cookie cutter. So cute! :)

Miso Soup

From Gourmet magazine

1/2 cup dried wakame (a type of seaweed)

1/4 cup shiro miso (white fermented-soybean paste)

6 cups Dashi (recipe follows)

1/2 pound soft tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion greens

Prepare wakame:
Combine wakame with warm water to cover by 1 inch and let stand 15 minutes, or until reconstituted. Drain in a sieve.

Make soup:
Stir together miso and 1/2 cup dashi in a bowl until smooth. Heat remaining dashi in a saucepan over moderately high heat until hot, then gently stir in tofu and reconstituted wakame. Simmer 1 minute and remove from heat. Immediately stir in miso mixture and scallion greens and serve.

Dashi (Japanese Sea Stock)

From Gourmet magazine

6 cups cold water

1 oz (30 grams) kombu (dried kelp), about 20 square inches

2 (5-gram) packages katsuo bushi (dried bonito flakes), about 1 cup

Bring cold water and kombu just to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Remove from heat and remove kombu. Sprinkle katsuo bushi over liquid; let stand 3 minutes and, if necessary, stir to make katsuo bushi sink. Pour through a cheesecloth-lined sieve or a coffee filter into a bowl.

For the sushi we enjoyed with the soup, I used this sushi rice recipe. If you are using a pot on the stovetop rather than a rice cooker, we thought it was a very good one. Along with the traditional rolls, we also made a couple of pieces in heart shapes. :) To see how to do that, here is a little video. So fun!

We paired our dinner with a little sake, since that only seemed fitting! There is a Northwest sake maker in Oregon called Momokawa, and we had their Organic Junmai Ginjo with our sushi feast. I would highly recommend it. :)

幸せなバレンタインデー (Happy Valentine’s Day)!

Valentine Saturday ~ Crab Cake Breakfast

The leftover crab cakes make a really lovely breakfast in the morning. Just toast a whole-wheat English muffin for the base, place a reheated crab cake on top of that, and finish it off with a poached egg on top. Rob likes to put a little crispy prosciutto on his, as well. We are celebrating the whole Valentine weekend, so this was the perfect way to start the day after V-Day. :)

Happy Valentine’s Day! ~ Crab Cakes

Happy Valentine’s Day!

We enjoyed a low key, but special dinner tonight. Since I worked later in the evening, we just made a couple of our favorite dishes that are easy to put together. My Valentine requested his favorite crab cakes, which I wrote about a few years ago. They always feel like a special occasion dish. That with a little filet mignon and a fennel salad, and we had a gourmet meal in about 30 minutes! It really didn’t take any longer than that.

Since the crab cakes are one of our favorite dishes, I will reprint the recipe here. They are worth repeating! :)

Dungeness Crab Cakes

1 lb shelled cooked Dungeness crab

1/4 cup finely diced celery

1/4 cup minced fresh chives

1/4 cup reduced fat mayonnaise

1 large egg

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

1 1/4 cups panko

Preheat your oven to 475. Make sure your crab doesn’t have any hidden bits of shell mixed in before you begin. In a large bowl, mix the celery, chives, mayonnaise, egg, mustard, and hot sauce with a fork. Then add the crab and 1/4 cup panko. Stir gently until everything is well blended.

Place the remaining 1 cup of panko in a shallow bowl. Shape the crab mixture into cakes. (I usually get about 6 or 7, but make them the size you prefer. Whatever size you choose, they should be about 1/2 inch thick.) Turn each cake in the panko to coat it on all sides and press gently to make sure the crumbs stick. Place the cakes slightly apart on a sprayed 12 by 17 inch baking pan. (You can make them the night before to this point. Just cover the pan lightly with tin foil and refrigerate.)

Bake until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Serve immediately.

I gave Rob a bottle of wine from a new Washington winery called Result of a Crush. He was nice enough to share it with me. ;-) It was a perfect wine for Valentine’s Day!  Delicious, too. :)

Super Bowl Sunday ~ Seahawk Popcorn Cones

Today is a big day in Seattle! Blue and green decorations adorn the city and suburbs, and everyone seems to be buzzing with excitement over the game today. It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and my home team made it to the finals!

I found these super cute little football popcorn cones on a website called Snap! Then I found some Seahawk printables on a website called Undercover Hostess to attach to the top. (There are also Bronco decorations if you prefer ;-) ). They are free, and very festive!

I hope you enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday! Go Hawks! :)

PS. I have a couple perfect pints of beer for the occasion – The 12th Can by a local brewery called Hilliard’s. I’m not normally a beer drinker (or, for that matter, a football fan! Ha!), but these seemed fitting to get into the celebration of the day. :)

Happy Lunar New Year ~ Vietnamese Steamed Layer Cakes

We had a little culinary adventure this year in honor of the Lunar New Year in Vietnam (Tết). Rob and I love Vietnamese food, and we often go out for it in the International District. I also attended a Tết festival in Seattle Center this year where they had dragon dancers, firecrackers, and a chef demonstration. The chef made steamed rice cakes, which inspired me to give this type of cake a try at home!

I found this recipe on a Vietnamese cooking website called DanangCuisine.com. They were very pretty little desserts, with several layers of color from pandan and mung beans. I followed the recipe rather closely since I had never tried anything quite like this before in my kitchen. I did use light coconut milk instead of the full fat version, and I reduced the sugar a little bit, but otherwise followed the expert. :-)

BÁNH DA LỢN – STEAMED LAYER CAKES

Based on a recipe from DanangCuisine.com

200 g tapioca starch (7 oz)

50 g rice flour (1.76 oz)

1 tsp pandan extract (or 5 fresh pandan leaves)

100 g peeled mung bean (3.5 oz)

200 g sugar (8.8 oz)

pinch of salt

400 ml light coconut milk (14 fl. oz)

300 ml water (10 fl. oz)

Rinse the mung beans a few times until the water becomes clear and soak in water for at least 1 hour (or overnight). Add just enough water to barely cover the beans and cook in a rice cooker until done. Alternatively, you can steam the beans for 15-20 minutes or until soft.

In a saucepan over low heat, dissolve sugar and salt in coconut milk and water. Let cool. In a large bowl, combine tapioca starch, rice flour and the coconut mixture. Stir well until dissolved.

In a blender, combine 350ml (1 + 1/2 cups) of the above batter with the cooked mung beans and blend until smooth. You will get a yellow batter.

Add pandan extract to the remaining batter. You will get a green batter. (To make pandan extract, blend 5 finely chopped pandan leaves with 120ml (1/2 cup) water and extract the juice.)

Grease the mold (or several smaller molds, such as ramekins) with vegetable oil. Fill the mold(s) with the green batter to a depth of about ½ inch (1cm). Cover and steam for a few minutes until slightly set. Then add the same amount of the yellow batter. Continue pouring and steaming the alternate colors until the molds are filled to the top.

After the last layer, steam the whole cake for another 15 minutes. When you poke the center of the cake with a chopstick and see no batter spilling, it is done.

Let cool completely and cut into pieces with a greased knife. You can keep the cake(s) in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days. Warm slightly in the microwave before serving.

Happy New Year!

PS. If you live in the Northwest, Uwajimaya has all of the ingredients in this recipe. I love to visit my local store and explore the ingredients that most American markets don’t carry.

Squirrelly Snacks ~ Sugar and Spice Nuts

We have a little community of squirrels in our backyard that are very amusing to watch! One in particular is a brave little guy, and he will come right up to our feet and look up at us. SO adorable! (Perhaps keeping a stash of nuts for him has a little something to do with it ;-) ). Since we have been enjoying our little woodland creatures so much this winter, I was excited to see there is a holiday today (yes, it’s an actual holiday!) called Squirrel Appreciation Day! Here’s a little article about the celebration.

In honor of the day and our cute little neighbors in the backyard, I made a batch of sweet and spicy nuts! The original recipe was from Food and Wine magazine. I used only half of the cayenne pepper as a matter of preference, and I used a bag of mixed fancy raw nuts instead of just cashews and almonds, but otherwise followed their recipe.

Sugar and Spice Nuts

Based on a recipe from Food and Wine magazine

3/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon chile powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 large egg white

16 oz mixed raw nuts

Preheat the oven to 300°. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. In a small bowl, whisk the sugar with the salt, chile powder, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. In a large bowl, beat the egg white until frothy. Add the nuts and spiced sugar and toss. Spread out the nuts on the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes, stirring once, until browned. Let the nuts cool on the baking sheet, stirring occasionally.

MAKE AHEAD The spiced nuts can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Here’s my favorite photo of our little squirrel buddy! How can we say no to that little face? ;-) That’s why we keep a stash of nuts for him!

Warm Muffins for a Chilly Day ~ Pear and Granola Muffins

Here’s a sweet treat for the New Year. Perfect for a light breakfast, or a pick-me-up in the middle of the day. We enjoyed them for our first breakfast of 2014. :)

I replaced the low fat yogurt with non-fat, and the butter with Earth Balance. Since Earth Balance already has salt in the mix, no extra salt was needed. I couldn’t find store bought plain granola, so I used an apple cinnamon flavor instead of making some from scratch. It was a really nice combination with the pears. I tried replacing the all purpose flour with 100% whole wheat pastry flour, as well. It is a heartier (and healthier) muffin if you choose to do it that way. They are lighter and fluffier with a mixture of the two types of flours. Your choice. :) I think I preferred the blend, however, so that is how the recipe is as follows:

Pear and Granola Muffins

Based on a Recipe from MarthaStewart.com

For the muffins:

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 large eggs

3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar

1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt

2 tablespoons Earth Balance, melted

2 D’Anjou pears (2 cups), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice

3/4 cup plain or apple cinnamon granola

For the topping:

1/2 cup granola

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar

3 tablespoons chilled Earth Balance

STEP 1 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, and cinnamon.

STEP 2 
In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, brown sugar, yogurt, and Earth Balance. Make a well in the center of flour mixture. Add egg mixture to well, and mix in flour mixture until just combined. Gently fold in the granola and pears.

STEP 3
 Make Granola Crisp Topping: In a bowl, toss together 1/2 cup granola, and 1/4 cup each all-purpose flour and packed light-brown sugar. Cut 3 tablespoons chilled Earth Balance into pieces; add to granola mixture, and rub in with fingertips until clumps form.

STEP 4 
Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each 3/4 full. Sprinkle with granola topping. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before removing from tin. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Happy 2014! ~ Festive Wine Labels

Happy New Year!

Check out these really cute little wine bottle labels from the Blissful Bee. They are free, and printable. They make any bottle a little more festive on the first day of 2014!

May you have a happy and healthy new year. :-) Cheers!

New Year’s Eve ~ Paella Mixta

Almost every New Year’s Eve, we get together with some dear friends of ours and ring in the new year together. We usually pick a theme for our evening. This year we chose to try some Spanish dishes. They made a delicious mushroom tapas-style dish and flan for dessert (and also made sure we had some Spanish wine to pair with our meal!) We brought paella with chicken, clams and shrimp to the party. It’s a recipe I’d like to keep in my arsenal, since it was fairly easy and delicious! It has a little something for everyone.

I substituted the chicken thighs with boneless and skinless chicken breasts. I also used only half of the sausage that the recipe called for, but double the seafood. I used the gas stovetop at our friends’ house instead of the grill, as well, since it was chilly and rainy outside! ;-) Other than that, I followed the recipe fairly closely.

It’s the perfect party dish!

Paella Mixta (Paella with Seafood and Meat)

Based on a recipe from Chow

2 medium, ripe tomatoes (about 12 ounces)

32 large shrimp (about 24 ounces), peeled and deveined

1 ¼ teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimentón dulce)

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 ounces Spanish chorizo, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, as needed

1 medium yellow onion, small dice

2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 large pinch saffron threads

2 cups paella rice (about 1 pound), sometimes labeled bomba or Valencia

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning the shrimp and chicken

4 cups (1 quart) low-sodium chicken broth

32 mussels, Manila clams, or a combination, scrubbed

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves

1 medium lemon, cut into 8 wedges, for serving

Core and halve the tomatoes. Grate the flesh side of each half on the large holes of a box grater set over a medium bowl, stopping when you get to the skin. Discard the skins. You should have about 3/4 cup of tomato pulp and juice; set aside.

Place the shrimp in a medium bowl, add 3/4 teaspoon of the paprika, and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and refrigerate.

Place the chicken in a medium bowl and season generously with salt and pepper; set aside.

Heat stovetop on high heat. Place a 15-inch paella pan on the stovetop, and heat until hot, about 2 minutes. Add the chorizo to the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is starting to brown and the fat is rendered, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the chorizo to a large bowl; set aside.

There should be a thin layer of rendered fat in the pan. If there’s not enough, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the seasoned chicken to the pan in a single layer, and sear, stirring occasionally, until both sides of the chicken pieces are golden brown, about 6 minutes total. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to the bowl with the chorizo; set aside.

Add the onion to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed so that the onions don’t burn. Add the garlic, remaining paprika, and saffron, stir to combine, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the reserved tomato pulp and juice and cook until the mixture has slightly darkened in color, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and measured salt and stir to coat in the tomato mixture.

Add the broth and stir to combine. Arrange the rice mixture in an even layer. Distribute the reserved chorizo and chicken over the rice, adding any accumulated juices from the bowl. (Do not stir the rice from this point on.)

Bring the mixture to a lively simmer. Continue to simmer, checking occasionally, until the rice grains have swelled, most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 12 minutes.

Arrange the reserved shrimp and the shellfish (hinge-side down) in the rice, nestling them slightly. Cook until the shellfish have opened, the shrimp are just cooked through, and the rice is tender but still al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Before serving the paella, discard any unopened shellfish and sprinkle the dish with the parsley. Serve with the lemon wedges.

Merry Christmas from Noon Cafe!

Happy Christmas ~ English Christmas Pudding

I decided to explore my British heritage a little this December by making Christmas pudding. It is also called plum pudding, but the interesting thing I learned is that there are no plums in the dish. The pre-Victorian use of the word “plum” meant “raisins,” and it does have plenty of those!

I love the tradition of making a wish as you stir the pudding. It is also traditional to pour brandy on the top of the pudding, light it, and bring it to the table with a flame. It produces a subtle, but pretty blue color. There is so much history in this little dish. I found it fascinating to take part in a tradition my great-grandparents and their parents probably also took part in.

I based my puddings on a recipe from the BBC. I halved the recipe, and made individual puddings in 6 small 8-ounce ramekins. I replaced the Bramley apple with a Granny Smith, since Bramleys are not readily available to us in the States. I only used 4 ounces of butter for half of the recipe, since American butter is packaged in 4-ounce (or 113 gram) sticks. It was a little less than half of what the recipe called for, but it was plenty. I only needed to steam the puddings for 3 hours instead of 8 since I made them in the small ramekins rather than larger bowls. I also used a simple glaze of powdered sugar and cognac instead of the buttered version.

I’ll leave the recipe in the metric format to keep it authentically British. :)

Classic Christmas pudding

Recipe based on BBC Good Food

25g (about 1 oz) blanched almonds

1 large Granny Smith apple

100g (3.5 oz) box candied peel (in large pieces) or all citron if you can find it

1 whole nutmeg (you’ll use a little over 1/4 of it)

500g (18 oz) raisins

70g (2.5 oz) all-purpose flour

50g (1.75 oz) soft fresh white breadcrumbs

50g (1.75 oz) light muscovado sugar, crumbled if it looks lumpy

1 large egg

1 large egg white

1 tbsp brandy or cognac, plus extra to flame and for glaze

113g (4 oz) packet butter, taken straight from the fridge

Confectioner’s sugar for glaze

Get everything prepared. Chop the almonds coarsely. Peel, core and chop the apple. Sharpen your knife and chop the candied peel. (You can chop the almonds and apple in a food processor, but the peel must be done by hand.) Grate a little over 1/4 of the nutmeg. Mix all the ingredients for the pudding, except the butter, in a large bowl.

Holding the butter in its wrapper, grate a quarter of it into the bowl, and then stir everything together. Repeat until all the butter is grated, then stir for 3-4 minutes – the mixture is ready when it subsides slightly after each stir. Ask the family to stir too, and get everyone to make a wish.

Generously butter six 226 g (8 ounce) ramekins and put a disc of greaseproof paper in the bottom of each. Pack in the pudding mixture. Cover with a double layer of greaseproof paper or baking parchment, pleating it to allow for expansion, then tie with string (keep the paper in place with a rubber band while tying). Trim off any excess paper.

Now stand each bowl on a large sheet of foil and bring the edges up over the top, then put another sheet of foil over the top and bring it down underneath to make a double package (this makes the puddings watertight). Tie with more string, and make a handle for easy lifting in and out of the pan.

Steam the puddings for 3 hours, topping up with water as necessary. (I used a big pot with a steamer basket on the stovetop, taking care to keep the puddings above the water.) Remove from the pan and leave to cool overnight. When cold, discard the messy wrappings and re-wrap in spanking new greaseproof or baking parchment, foil and string. Store in a cool, dry place until Christmas.

On Christmas Day, steam until warmed through. (Microwaving also works in a pinch.) Unwrap and turn out. To flame, warm 3-4 tbsp brandy in a small pan, pour it over the pudding and set light to it.

Top with a glaze of brandy or cognac and powdered sugar. Add a little brandy at a time to the sugar until the glaze is to the consistency you like. Pour the glaze over the puddings before serving.

Happy Christmas!

PS. The top photo has a faint blue cognac flame on my Christmas pudding. :) Click on the picture for a closer view.

Holiday Treat ~ Snowflake Marshmallows

Happy holidays!

We had a festive weekend – We put up our Christmas tree, decorated the house, and baked gingerbread Christmas cookies. We also cut out some snowflake shaped marshmallows to go with our hot cocoa. Since I learned how to make homemade marshmallows last month, I am excited about all of the possibilities! This one is perfect for the season, I think. :)

The recipe for the marshmallows can be found here.

Happy Thanksgiving ~ Homemade Marshmallows

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year I learned how to make homemade marshmallows during the week of Thanksgiving. So fun! I thought it was pretty amazing to see how they come together and how easy they are to make at home. Now I have all kinds of ideas about how to use this recipe throughout the winter. You can add coloring or flavoring and cut them into any shape you’d like. Maybe I’ll make peppermint flavored marshmallows in the shape of snowflakes for hot cocoa, or red and green marshmallows for Christmas gifts. The possibilities are endless. :) For Thanksgiving, I cut them into the shape of a leaf and toasted them on top of our mashed sweet potatoes. This is the basic marshmallow recipe from a candy workshop at Sur La Table.

Homemade Marshmallows

From Sur La Table cooking classes

Yield: about 60 marshmallows

2 teaspoons unsalted butter, softened

3 envelopes unflavored powdered gelatin

1 cup cold water, divided

2 cups sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Equal parts cornstarch and powdered sugar for dusting

Line a 9×14 inch baking pan with aluminum foil, allowing two opposite sides to overhang by 3 inches. Grease the foil with the softened butter. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add 1/2 cup cold water. Sprinkle gelatin over the water and set aside to soften.

In a large saucepan, combine remaining 1/2 cup water, sugar, corn syrup, and salt. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer reads 240 degrees, or the soft ball stage.

Remove saucepan from heat and gradually whisk sugar mixture into the softened gelatin, Fit the mixer with a paddle attachment and beat mixture on high speed until thick and the volume is doubled. Beat in the vanilla. Spread mixture into the prepared pan using a greased icing spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and let marshmallow mixture stand at room temperature for 6 hours or overnight.

Using the foil overhang as handles, lift the marshmallows out of pan. With a sharp chef’s knife or pizza cutter coated with cooking spray, cut marshmallows into 1 x 2 inch squares.

You can also cut them with cookie cutters into any shape you fancy. Make sure to keep all of your exposed sides coated in the mixture of cornstarch and powdered sugar. (It is incredibly sticky otherwise.) Give the final product a good dusting, as well.

To brown the top as I did, use a broiler or a kitchen torch. Just watch them closely in the broiler since they only need about a minute.

Happy holidays!

Happy Birthday! ~ Beef Wellington

Happy birthday to my hubby!

Every year he likes to have a fillet of beef dish for his birthday, so I decided to try beef Wellington this time around. I have tried several British/UK dishes this year, so this added to my collection. :) He said it was within his top 1% of anything I have ever made for him, so I might make it a birthday tradition!

I used a recipe from the BBC, but tweaked it a bit for my American kitchen and for our tastes.

Beef Wellington

Based on a recipe from BBC Good Food

2 lbs beef tenderloin

Olive oil

10 oz crimini mushrooms

1 large sprig fresh thyme

Splash dry white wine

12 pieces thinly sliced prosciutto

1 pack frozen puff pastry, thawed

Flour for dusting

3 egg yolks beaten with 2 tsp water

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Drizzle olive oil in pan until it is hot, but not smoking. Season beef with salt and pepper. Sear on all sides until golden. Then place beef on a roasting rack and cook in oven for about 20 minutes. (It will not be cooked through.) Remove from the oven to cool, and then chill in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.

2.While beef is cooling, place the cleaned mushrooms in a food processor and pulse until fine. It should be the texture of course bread crumbs.

3. Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the mushrooms with the sprig of thyme in a dry pan with no oil, stirring often, about 10 minutes. When the liquid has cooked out of the mushrooms, pour a splash of white wine into the pan. Cook until dry once more. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

4. Overlap 2 pieces of cling film (otherwise known as Saran wrap for us American cooks :) ) over a large chopping board. Lay the prosciutto onto the cling film, slightly overlapping one another, in a double row. Spread the cooled mushrooms over the prosciutto evenly. Remove the beef from the refrigerator, and pat dry with a paper towel. Place it in the middle of the cling film with the prosciutto and mushrooms. Use the cling film’s edges to draw the prosciutto around the fillet tightly, and then roll it into a sausage shape, twisting the ends of the cling film to tighten. Chill the fillet once again.

5. Dust your clean work surface with a little flour. Roll out one piece of puff pastry until it is large enough to wrap around the fillet. Unravel the fillet from the cling film and set it in the center of the pastry. Beat the egg yolks and water together for an egg wash. Brush the pastry edges and the top and sides of the fillet with the egg wash. Wrap the pastry around the beef as tightly as you can, overlapping slightly to cover the whole fillet. Tuck the sides in as you would a package, so the beef is completely wrapped. Use the egg wash as a “glue” to make sure it stays together. Trim with kitchen shears if need be. Glaze the entire package with the egg wash. Using the back of a knife, mark the beef Wellington with long diagonal lines taking care not to cut through the pastry. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

6. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the Wellington with a little more egg wash and cook on a rack until golden and crisp, about 30 minutes, or until it is done to your liking. (Ours was still pink, but cooked through.) Allow to rest for about 20 minutes once it comes out of the oven. Serve in thick slices.

PS. I also made a little puff pastry “bow” with the extra pastry. Since this meal was part of Rob’s birthday gift, I thought I should wrap it like a present. :) Just cut the rolled puff pastry into a ribbon shape, and twist once in the middle so it looks like a bow. Brush with the extra egg wash. Bake with the Wellington, but separately, on the side. It will cook faster than the Wellington, so remove when golden.

PPS. Rob asked for my chocolate mint pudding for dessert, so I served it in martini glasses with a little whipped cream and a sprig of mint for a classy presentation, fitting for a birthday! :-) The recipe can be found here.

PPPS. I used some adorable little printable decorations to make his birthday table unique and festive. I found them on a website called CatchMyParty.com. So cute! If you need some festive decorations for a party, they are easy and free. :) I wrapped his wine bottle with them, made little flags, made a banner, used a cupcake wrap around a little vase, and wrote little birthday notes on the place cards.

Halloween Dinner ~ Pumpkin Shrimp Curry

I made a pumpkin shrimp curry dish for dinner this Halloween. It is definitely one I’ll keep in my recipe archives to make again and again this fall. The pumpkin and butternut squash with a little bit of spice made it the perfect dish for my favorite autumn holiday. :) Yummy and festive!

The recipe is originally from Bon Appétit magazine. I substituted light coconut milk instead of regular, and brown rice instead of white, but otherwise followed the recipe pretty closely.

Pumpkin Shrimp Curry

Based on a recipe from Bon Appétit magazine

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup sliced onion

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 plum tomato, chopped

1 15-ounce can pumpkin purée

2 cups vegetable broth

1 cup unsweetened light coconut milk

1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup butternut squash, diced and roasted (toss the cubes with olive oil and salt, and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until tender)

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

Steamed brown rice

Cilantro

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and ginger; sauté until soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic; cook for 1 minute. Stir in plum tomato and pumpkin purée; cook, stirring frequently, until pumpkin is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add vegetable broth, coconut milk, curry powder, and cayenne pepper; simmer for 20 minutes. Add butternut squash, shrimp, and lime juice. Simmer until shrimp are cooked and squash is warm. Serve with a side of rice and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro.