Sep 30, 2009

Bakespace International Taste Tour- Crepes!

Crepes Stuffed with Italian Sausage and Cheese

For this months "Bakespace International Taste Tour", we decided to do crepes. Although I had of course heard of crepes, I had yet to attempt them myself. I dunno, they've always kind of looked intimidating to me for some reason. So I did a bit of research, then turned to youtube to obtain some general direction. I was so relieved when I found these two adorable gals, name melded "ME" (that would be, "Molly and Ellery"). They did this video for a school project and a fine job indeed! Working as a team, Ellery precisely measures and mixes the crepe batter, while Molly demonstrates how to correctly pour, swirl, and cook the crepe. They've even included the "bloopers" at the end, so be sure to watch it all the way through.

I was so impressed with their culinary skills, I thought, geez, if Molly and Ellery can do it, why can't I? While I didn't use the exact recipe as Molly and Ellery did in their video (and I didn't have the fancy crepe pan that they did), I was inspired to come up with a couple of tasty versions of my own, that surprisingly, did indeed pass as crepes. In fact, according to hubby, they were pretty darn tasty.

I created two versions; one being a savory crepe stuffed with Italian Sausage, peppers, onions and cheese and topped with Marinara Sauce, and the other being a sweetened dessert crepe, stuffed with bananas, pastry cream and Nutella. But before the stuffin' could commence, I had to tackle my fears and get the crepes done.

Basic Crepe Batter
1 C milk (plus 2-3 tbsp if necessary)
2 eggs
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 C flour
dash of salt

Gently warm the milk and the butter in a saucepan or heat in the microwave. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and salt, then create a well. Place the two eggs into the well and begin whisking, pulling in a bit of flour at a time until a paste is formed. Next, start whisking in the milk mixture, pouring a little at a time, until eventually all of the milk and flour is incorporated, creating a smooth, lump free, thin batter. You may need to add a few more tablespoons of milk (I did) in order to get the right consistency.

Note: If you want a sweet crepe batter, just add in 2 Tbsp sugar with the flour and salt, and add 1 teaspoon of vanilla to the milk mixture.

Alternatively, you could just throw the whole shebang into a food processor or blender, mix it all up at once and call it a day. However, then you'd just have to wash the extra dishes, and besides, I was feeling particularly confident and French pastry chef like (sans the accent) I mixed it the fancy way. ;) Ok, next, most recipes instruct you to refrigerate the batter for at least half an hour. Some tell you to use the batter immediately. Well I tested both methods, letting one batch rest in the fridge, and used one batch right away, and quite frankly, I couldn't tell the difference in texture.

I didn't have a crepe pan, plus, I knew I wanted to fold/roll my crepes "burrito" style, so I used my large 12" Teflon coated pan. Be sure the skillet is set on med heat and hot before you begin. Hold the pan up in one hand, while you ladle in only just enough batter to swirl and coat the bottom of your pan size. Let the crepe cook until the top goes from shiny to dry and the bottom is lightly browned. (only takes a few minutes) Then I used a pliable,heatproof, flat spatula to loosen the sides then gently flip over and recenter the crepe in the pan. It all sounds complicated but actually it was kind of fun.

When done, slide your crepe onto paper towels, or parchment paper, and allow them to cool before stacking them. Now I was ready to get the sauce on to allow it to simmer while I made the filling. I don't really measure for this, but here's the jest of it.

Marinara Sauce
1 C roasted tomatoes, chopped (I make my own, but you could use canned crushed tomatoes)
1 12 oz can of tomato sauce
1 Tbsp of Italian seasoning (I use a blend of oregano, basil and thyme)
1 Tbsp of sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
drizzle of olive oil
salt to taste

On medium heat, saute garlic in olive oil, only for a few minutes. Add in the rest of the ingredients and season with salt to taste. Heat until mixture starts to bubble, then reduce and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, I used about 5 Sweet Italian Sausages (brats), squeezed them from their casings, and browned the sausage. Drain on paper towels and crumble. Next I added onion and peppers to the pan and cooked until just soft. Add back in the sausage and keep warm. At this point, I was afraid of my crepes getting soggy, so I left it as is. Hind site, I could have added in just a little bit of the marinara sauce to the sausage filling.

Next, I spooned some of the sausage mixture into each crepe and sprinkled on some grated (fresh) mozzarella. I tucked in the side and rolled them up (burrito style) and placed them into a 13x9 glass baking dish.

I spooned some of the marinara sauce over the tops, again, being careful not to use too much so that the crepes wouldn't get soggy. Then I sprinkled with more mozzarella and a bit of Italian herbs. I baked it in a 375F oven for only about 20-25 min, only enough for the cheese to melt. I served the rest of the marinara sauce on the side. I must say, it was a huge hit. We all loved this dish. The texture of the crepes were perfect and the flavors, well, ya just can't go wrong with a pepper, sausage and onion combination, right? The only change I would make is, as mentioned, mix a bit of the sauce in with the filling.

Ok, so next it was time for dessert. I made the sweet version of the crepes ahead of time, when I was making the savory ones. I just wrapped them and put them in the fridge until it was time to put them all together. For the filling, I loaded up a zip lock baggy with Nutella, cut off one little corner and pipped it onto the crepe. Then, I had every intention on making a pastry cream from scratch, really I did but I totally cheated and took the easy route and spooned on an instant vanilla pudding (much to the fam's horror and disbelief). I won hubby back over by slicing a banana, then rolled it up. Topped them with more heavenly Nutella and some whipped cream.

They were absolutely awesome, if I do say so myself. However, I WILL go through the trouble of making the pastry cream next time. My snobby taste buds felt cheated and the instant pudding fell a little "flat" and was well....blech. Crepes deserve better. But hey, at least the Nutella made up for it, for sure!

So a huge hug to my bakespace buddies for once again, turning me on to something I wouldn't otherwise have tried. A huge thanks to Molly and Ellery as well, for giving me the confidence to give crepes a whirl...or should that be "swirl"?

Now, jet on over and see what my beeps were able to come up with. To continue the International Taste Tour, use the clickable map below to visit their websites and see what other crepes my buddies are cookin'! You can either click on the names at the left, or click on the fork and knives in the map, then click on the pic to view their recipes and blogs. If you're interested, head on over to the forums and join in on the fun!

Sep 25, 2009

Chicken Marsala with Brown Rice Pilaf

Herbed chicken breast in a Marsala wine sauce reduction with mushrooms, onions, and of course, lots of garlic. The chicken is lightly browned then simmered until nice and tender while the sweet/savory sauce slightly thickens. I served this with a long grain brown rice pilaf with roasted red peppers and toasted almonds. To top off the meal, a freshly baked warm and rich brown bread, reminiscent of what you find served in restaurants. I'll have to blog the bread another day however, for the steps are lengthy, but it's sooooo worth the effort!

First, I tackled the rice dish. You see, I've tried several recipes for brown rice over the years and I'm always disappointed. Don't get me wrong, I love brown rice...when other people cook it. Mine however, seemed to always either be not cooked enough, too sticky, too wet, or just plain blah. Sure, I would throw whatever in it for flavor, that part I get. It's the cooking methods that I felt were failing, and before you suggest it...I refuse to get a rice cooker, the last thing I need is another gadget that I don't use that takes up valuable space. So here's the recipe and steps along with some explanations of the method.

Brown Rice w/ Roasted Red Peppers Pilaf

1 ½ cup uncooked long grain brown rice
3 cup chicken stock (use low sodium for heart healthy)
2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh parsley (or any other herbs of choice)
1/2 cup chopped roasted red peppers
¼ C toasted almonds
Sliced green onions or fresh parsley for garnish if desired
Cooking spray

Preheat your oven to 375F. Lightly spray a 13x9 glass baking dish with cooking spray. Place stock in a saucepan and heat to boiling, reduce heat a bit and let that keep a hot temperature until you're ready to add it to the rice.

Set a dry teflon pan or skillet over medium heat and toss in the sliced almonds. Stir constantly until lightly brown. Stay with it now, don't walk away because once they get hot, they will start to brown quickly. A blink of an eye, and they'll be toast, er uhm, I mean burnt. Once nicely browned, remove them from the skillet and set aside.

Next, place butter in skillet, then throw in the rice, garlic and the herbs. Saute for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly so that rice doesn't burn. This step is crucial for ensuring that the rice doesn't stick together. Turn the heat back up on your broth at this time so it is boiling by the time the rice is ready. You're probably thinking, wow, that's a lot of rice! Actually, I was making a double batch, enough for two meals.

Now, pour your rice into your baking dish, spread it out evenly, and immediately pour the boiling broth over the rice. At first, I poured the broth into the skillet with the rice, then realized, I only had to transfer it again to the dish. So, if your broth isn't hot enough, go ahead and pour it into the rice first, but if it is boiling, take the easier route, pouring it over the rice in the dish. In any case, once it's in the dish, quickly cover with aluminum foil and seal the edges.

Bake it in the preheated oven for 50 minutes. Do not peek, do NOT stir. Stirring the rice while cooking releases the starches and makes it sticky. Take the dish out, fluff the rice with a fork and at this time, add in your roasted peppers. IF the rice is not quite done, you can add a bit more broth or water, but only add a 1/4 cup or less at a time (let it absorb completely before adding more). Replace the foil and recheck it in about 10-15 minutes. (total time is about 1 hour) Take it out of the oven, fluff it again and right before serving, toss in the toasted almonds and garnish. ..ahhhh it's a beautiful thing, is it not?

Ok....moving on.....

Here is the original recipe for the chicken and although it is healthy as written, it's so forgiving, that you can make several changes and it would still deliver. For instance, you could use turkey breasts or medallions in place of the chicken, you could saute the breasts w/o dredging them in flour, and you can switch out any of the herbs to suite your own taste. You can even omit the wine if you choose, but why would you want to do that? is Marsala chicken, right?

Chicken Marsala

4 ( 6 ounce each) skinless & boneless chicken breast halves
½ C flour
1 ½ tsp or so of Italian Seasoning Mix (or a Greek seasoning mix, or just oregano and thyme)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter (omit for healthier version, you won't miss it)
½ large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ C button or crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp dried parsley, or 1 Tbsp fresh
1 cup Marsala wine (dry or sweet)
2 cups chicken broth (use low sodium for healthier version)
Salt and Pepper to taste (omit salt for healthier version)

Some recipes tell you to butterfly and pound out the chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap, this time however, I just used the breasts as is. Season your chicken with whatever herbs you choose. (save the parsley, salt and pepper for towards the end) Get all of your ingredients chopped and ready, it moves quickly once you get going. Next, dredge the chicken breasts in the flour and shake off the excess.

With a large sauce pan set on medium-high heat, heat the butter and olive oil. Brown the chicken on both sides, turning only once. Remove chicken to a plate, tent and keep warm while you make the sauce. Once chicken is removed, turn your heat down to medium, leaving the drippings and fond in the pan.

To the pan, add in the onion, garlic and mushrooms. Saute until the vegetables are soft. Next, stir in the wine, stock and parsely and bring to a low boil, cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and tender. This is a good time to look like a pro and sip some of that leftover wine, right Dani? LOL

Add chicken pieces back in, turn heat to a simmer. Cook, without a lid until chicken is done and sauce thickens a bit. This will take about 20 minutes for flatter pieces, 30 min for thicker pieces. Enough time to sip some more wine! If you're not sure what "done" means, (you hear this Amber?) the internal temp should be about 175F. (it will rise to about 180F after you take it out). If you don't have a meat thermometer you can always resort to taking a piece out and cutting it thru the thickest part (shock, gasp) It should be white all the way through with no pink. Now go buy a meat thermometer!

Serve this over any rice really, or even egg noodles or other pasta. I'm tellin' ya, it really doesn't matter because the chicken will be the star! This also reheats well (not that I expect you to have leftovers, I'm just sayin') In any case, I hope you give it a try and enjoy!

Sep 10, 2009

Cooking Coast to Coast- Saltimbocca!

I'm so excited to be participating in this month's bakespace "Cooking Coast to Coast". Since this is my first time, let me first explain how it works. A group of members in the bakespace forums get together and decide on a dish that each one will cook putting their own spin on it. Then you take a photo and share the recipe, and either do a blog posting or post the recipe in a bakespace forum thread. We have a pre-determined date and time so that we all post our blogs simutaneously. In addition, we add all the participant's links to their blogs so that our readers can take a "virtual tour" if you will, navigating from one blog to the next, so that you can easily view the pics, stories, and recipes from each member. Sounds cool huh?

So this month, we decided on "Saltimbocca", an Italian dish that literally translates into "jump in the mouth". Insinuating that the dish is so flavorful it jumps off of the plate into ones mouth. The original dish, although very flavorful, is very simple, consisting of veal, topped with fresh sage leaves and prosciutto, and usually consists of some sort of sauce. Other variations of the dish use chicken, pork or sometimes even fish in lieu of the veal. The sage and prosciutto can be rolled up into the meat, folded into, sandwiched between, or more traditionally, skewered on top.

Several of the members of our group have made the dish before, and therefore are putting their own spin on it. However, since this is my first time making (or tasting) the dish, and after sifting through several different recipes and variations, I decided to make the traditional Saltimbocca, using veal and a simple wine reduction sauce. In addition, since I'm no stranger to making a roulade, I decided to use the traditional method and skewer the ingredients.

Saltimbocca with a White Wine Reduction

6 pieces of Veal (1/4-1/8 inch cutlets or medallions)- (I used strips and I had 12 of them)
6 thin slices of Prosciutto (cut to same size as the veal)
6-12 fresh sage leaves (depends on the size of veal)
Drizzle of Olive oil
¾ C dry white wine
6 Tbsp salted butter, chilled
Lemon slices, Parsley, and Sage leaves for garnish

If using veal medallions, place veal between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound out into thin even pieces (about ¼ - 1/8 inch thick) using the smooth side of a mallet. Season one side of veal with salt and pepper, turn over. On each slice of veal place 1 or 2 sage leaves, then top with a thin slice of prosciutto and secure with a bamboo skewer.

Set a pan over medium heat and drizzle with olive oil. Place veal in skillet, veal side down first, and cook for 4 minutes. Turn over and cook for about 2-3 more minutes.

At this point, it was bugging me that they were curling up, so I went ahead and removed the skewers so I could get a more even caramelization. Worked out great, they still stayed in tact.

Remove them from the skillet and place on a dish and tent loosely to keep warm. Pour off any excess fat and immediately add wine, scraping the fond off of the pan. Heat to boiling until liquid has reduced to about 1/4 cup (about 8-10 minutes)

Turn to low heat and whisk in cold butter, one tablespoon at a time until all is incorporated. Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle over veal and garnish.

I must say, I thought the dish was promised, it was packed full of flavor and I absolutely loved the fresh sage and the saltiness of the prosciutto. Although hubby did not particularly care for it (he's not a huge sage fan), one of my daughters Jess loved it as well. I served it with Tyler Florence's Mushroom Risotto. Which was equally awesome ;)

So now, for the exciting part, hop on your virtual jet and take our Saltimbocca International Tasting Tour. My friends all have wonderful recipes with tasty variations that are sure to get your mouth watering! On the map, you can choose a location on the left hand pane or you can click on a marker on the map. When the pic of the dish pops up, click on it and it will take you to that person's blog. Click on the map link below to get started!

Sep 6, 2009

Michele's Italian Pasta Salad

So it's been forever since I've blogged. I know this, because one of my "beeps" (bakespace peep), Michele, reminded me recently. In fact, I think her exact words were..."yah, you slacker". LOL In my own defense, I have been busy and it IS summer after all...there's bbq'ing, family crap, last kid going off to college, tomato'ing (yes, in spite of spell check, that's a DD'ism), sipping cocktails, date nights with hubby in the hot tub on those starry nights, (did I mention the last kid going off to college?) Uh-um, and well, you get the idea. Busy life stuff.

So in honor of my beep, Michele (that's with one "l"), aka "Jersey Girl", I thought I'd share with you a fantastic pasta salad that she recently turned me on to. Her original recipe is for a pesto pasta salad and you can find it on her awesome blog, My Italian Grandmother. When I saw the recipe, I just knew it was packed with flavor and I was so excited to try it out. However, I had planned on using my fresh basil plants for the pesto and by the time I got around to harvesting it, both bushes had flowered and the leaves were too bitter. So I franticly pm'd my pal and she gave me some very helpful suggestions with utilizing the ingredients including the fresh herbs I did have. (thanks Shels) The results were quite amazing and everyone was asking me for the recipe. So here it is people!

Italian Pasta Salad

1 lb Farfalle (bowtie) pasta (or other pasta)
1/2 C sundried tomatoes, in oil, drained and chopped
1 C Kalamata olives, sliced
1 8oz pkg fresh mozzarella, diced
1/2 C Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded
1/3 C pinoli (pine) nuts, toasted
2 Tbsp fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped
sea salt and ground pepper to taste
Italian Dressing (recipe follows)

Cook pasta in salted boiling water then drain. When cooled, toss in the rest of the ingredients (except for the pine nuts, dressing, salt and pepper) then prepare your dressing.

For the Italian Dressing, you could use bottled, but this is what I did:
In a pint sized jar with a lid:
2 Tbsp Penzeys Italian Dressing Mix, steeped in 4 Tbsp warm water
2/3 C Balsamic Vinegar
The oil drained from the sundried tomatoes plus
enough olive oil to equal 1 1/2 C.
2 cloves of garlic, minced

Then I couldn't help adding just a few more fresh herbs from my garden so I added 1 Tbsp of oregano and 1 Tbsp of thyme, chopped. Place the lid on the jar and shake. Pour at least half of the jar over the pasta and toss. Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors meld. Just before serving, toss in the pine nuts and add more dressing if necessary. Salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

I can tell you that the first time I made this for a family bbq, my guests literally swooped down on it before I had a chance to grab the camera. The second time, I made it with the spiral pasta and was taking it to a pitch in, so I managed to get some shots in before packing it up to go. Yeah, lesson learned.

Thanks Michele for yet another great recipe! This one is definitely a keeper. You rock girl! I love you man! :)