Archives for the month of: March, 2012

I’ve had a bottle of Prosecco since October 2011 that I had no use for. I’m not particularly fond of bubbly and sweet wines, so it’s been sitting in the fridge taking up space. For a dinner party I had last week, I wanted to make a fruity option that would contrast the heavy chocolate cake I was going to make, and I remembered a Prosecco Gelee recipe I had seen a while back but had not tried.

Gelee is just fancy term for Jello, and the Prosecco Gelee, which contains a bit of alcohol, is basically Jello for adults. If you substitute Pectin (a citrus based gelatin) or Agar Agar (a seaweed based gelatin), the dessert can be made vegan.

The recipe called for raspberries only, but I thought I’d give variety by adding blueberries and blackberries to the Gelee as well. First the berries are macerated with some lemon juice and sugar. this will soften the berries and add a bit of sweetness in case they are under-ripe or not too sweet to begin with, like the raspberry.

Next the gelatin, or whatever gelatin substitute you decide to use, is softened with a little bit of the Prosecco.

One cup of the prosecco is cooked with some sugar in a pot until the sugar melts completely, and the gelatin prosecco mixture is added and dissolved completely. The pot is taken off the heat at this point.

The rest of the bottle of prosecco and the berries are added to the content of the pot, stirring to make sure that the sugar on the macerated berries are completely melted.

The mixture is divided among cups, and chilled in the fridge until set. The macerated fruits will float naturally to the surface of the cups.

The result is a light, delicious summer dessert. You can substitute any fruits you like, as most fruits will go with Prosecco.

Prosecco-Raspberry Gelee:

After two intensely busy days at work, I wanted to have something comforting and relaxing for dinner. Not like soup, but in the sense that after you finish it, you think…”that was a real meal”.So I decided to make my version of Surf and Turf, with some steak, shrimp and oysters.

I’ve only started shucking my own oysters at home since Aug. 2011, and since then, I’ve gotten a lot of practice. I’ve learned that un-shucked oysters can survive for a few days in your fridge; that in opening the oyster, the technique should be quick and gentle, putting force when it’s needed, not brute-forcing it; that the oyster may carry little tiny crabs (usually dead) that lives in them, but they are quite harmless (just don’t eat them!)

I’ve posted before about opening a oyster, and there are a lot of good instructional videos on how to open oysters, so I’m not going to go into details here. All you really need is a good oyster knife, a clean towel, and a steady grip.

You always want to buy a few more than you are planning to serve, since some might be dead (although I’ve only run into this once), and others may take longer to open, if you are short on time. To tell if the Oyster is dead, you should look to see if it’s flesh is dry. Live oysters should have a lot of liquid in them, and dead ones will be very dry. Just because the shell is tight doesn’t always mean that the oyster is alive. Also if the oyster smells bad, it’s probably dead, but don’t confuse the smell of the sea to being bad though.

I shucked the oysters last, while my steak was resting. For the steak, I chose a nice piece of rib eye that was a little over 1LB. Rib eyes are tasty because they are a fattier cut of steak, and I like them because they are a lot more affordable than Filet Mignons. I simply seasoned my rib eye with some salt and pepper.

And tossed it on a hot pan. I would’ve liked to grilled the steak, but it had been raining in Austin none stop for two days, and no signs of stopping. Also pan roasting a steak does cut down on the setting up and cleaning up time for if you were to use a charcoal grill.

My problem with cooking steak before is I always jump the gun before the steak is done, because of the nice browning I see on each side. Steaks cooking times that you see online are actually quite accurate, so no matter how done a steak you think it looks, most of the time you want to follow the instructions. Keep in mind a cast iron pan conducts heat a lot better, and that a gas stove produces hotter heat than an electric stove, so you may have to adjust your heat accordingly.

I followed the cooking instructions very closely for this steak, which is approximately 6 minutes on first side, 4 on second side (I accidentally went over the 5 minute per side time, so I evened it out), for 10 minutes total, but I was still nervous about if the steak would be cooked right for medium rare.

I let the steak rest for 5 minutes, so the juice can reconstitute.

When it was ready for carving, I cut into it and it looked perfect.

To go with the steak, I made pan roasted baby Yukon potatoes, which can be left at room temp for 4 hours, and warmed in the oven before serving. The potatoes are boiled until tender, about 8 minutes, then roasted on a hot pan with some onions and rosemary until golden.

Finally, to finish off the “Surf” part of the meal, I made a Grilled shrimp dish, again pan roasting instead of grilling.

First some green scallions are blanched in a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, until bright green. I did this at the same time that I was boiling the potatoes to save water. Then the green scallions are rubbed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then grilled on a hot pan.

The onions are removed after about a minute or so, after the stalks are nicely browned, and then cut into 2 inch lengths.

Next I julienned half of a Granny Smith apple, and tossed it with a dressing made out of smoked spanish paprika, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and Dijon mustard.

Then I “Grilled” the shrimp on the hot pan that I cooked the steak and the green scallions in, about 1 minute per side.

Finally, I mixed the green scallions and the seasoned apple together, spread them out on a plate, topped with the cooked shrimp, drizzled some additional dressing on top, and sprinkled the dish with some toasted sesame seeds.

We paired the dinner with a bottle of red Cotes Du Rhone, and had left over cake from Tuesday’s dinner party for dessert.

It felt like a restaurant dinner at my home.

Grilled Shrimp with Apple and Charred Scallions:
Pan-roasted fingerling potatoes (I left out the Pancetta):

At a dinner party recently, a guest mentioned that their date was someone who was a non-dairy vegan… I got this message 1 hour before the start of the dinner party, and I was scrambling to figure out a plan, until I realized that two dishes that I had planned were already Vegan. This does changes my perception of vegan cooking since I’ve always thought that it would be super hard to eat and make vegan dishes. It was then that I was conscious of the fact that a lot of my favourite dishes are already vegan.

One of the two vegan dishes that I unknowingly made is one of my favourite salads. I found this recipe about a year ago, I had thought that the flavor combination sounded interesting, and when I actually made the dish I absolutely loved it. When I was planning this dinner party, I decided to make it again, and after finding out about the vegan guest, I was very relieved with that decision.

The dish is a salad composed of sliced celery and bibb lettuce tossed in a celery seed based salad dressing, and the greens are topped with a pan roasted grapes and oyster mushroom salad, which are tossed in a almond and parsley pesto.

The recipe calls for actual grilled grapes and mushrooms, but I just pan roasted both the grapes and the mushrooms because it’s easier.

The best part of the salad is the savory roasted almond, parsley, and celery leaf pesto. When you buy a head of celery, sometimes there are some left over leaves on the outer stalks, and most of the times there are a lot of younger, almost light yellow leaves at the center of the head. These leaves adds an additional level of celery flavor to go with the celery seed dressing for the greens.

The grapes and the mushrooms are tossed in the pesto.

The salad is tossed in the dressing, laid over a large plate, and the roasted vegetables in their pesto are spread over the greens.

The roasted grapes lends an unexpected burst of sweetness that really elevates the flavors in the salad.

The other “accidental” vegan dish is a tomato, zucchini, squash, and eggplant bread gratin. This dish is simple, delicious, and so pretty!

The recipe called for zucchinis only, but I decided to add another color to the dish by adding squash. Also instead of regular eggplant, I used Japanese eggplant, which has about the same circumference as the squash and the zucchini. To make the gratin, the eggplant, zucchini and squash are sliced to 1/4 inch thick, tossed in salt, and set aside for 10-20 minutes. This step is important because the salt draws out excess liquid from these vegetables, and because you will be baking this gratin, if the vegetables are baked as is, it will make the dish too soggy.

After about 20 minutes, you’ll notice that the vegetables, especially the eggplant, will have lost a lot of their moisture, and have become more pliable. At this point you want to drain the vegetables and pat them dry with paper towels, and they will be ready for use.

To assemble, some bread pieces are torn and spread on the bottom of a baking dish. Then some olive oil is drizzled on top and torn pieces of basil leaves are sprinkled on top of the bread.

Next the vegetables, along with sliced tomatoes, are placed, over lapping each other, on top of the bread. You can be as creative as you want with the patterning.

The vegetables are drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with some salt and pepper, and sprinkled with crushed garlic and fresh oregano. The dish is baked in the oven until the bread is brown on the bottom.

The finished product is crispy on the bottom and tender on the top. The vegetables are given a chance to show case their natural flavors, with a little enhancement from the olive oil, salt and pepper.

Crisp Tomato, Zucchini and Eggplant Bread Gratin:

Celery, Grilled Grape and Mushroom Salad:

I love making Ravioli. It’s a time consuming process, but it’s one of those dishes where you can personalize to your own taste, and it’s something fun that you can do with a friend or your family. You can also make them in stages if you don’t have a whole day dedicated to them, and the ravioli can be made ahead of time and frozen and be good for weeks.

The ravioli recipe I picked is one I’ve not tried before from It sounded interesting because of the Artichoke filling, and the cream and tomato sauce you make with it. To make the filling, some onions are browned over medium heat, and thawed artichokes (from a frozen bag) are added to the pan, and sauteed until lightly browned

The artichoke and onion fixture are then transferred to a food processor, and processed with some parsley, Parmesan cheese, and freshly grated nutmeg.

The filling is set aside until ready to use.

There was a ravioli recipe I made from Food and Wine that I liked a lot, so I substituted that recipe for the dough.

To make the dough, flour, eggs, grated nutmeg, salt, and oil are processed together until moistened crumbs form.

And then the dough is scraped out on to a floured surface.

You can knead the ball a few times and form it into a ball.

The ball is wrapped plastic wrap and chilled for at least 1 hour until ready to use. The dough will take this time to relax. When ready to make the ravioli dough pieces, first you split the dough ball in four pieces, and wrap the pieces that you are not using so they don’t get dried out. To begin with, you flatted the 1/4 of the dough into a rough rectangle, then fold the rectangle in thirds like a letter.

This folded rectangular piece of dough is then passed through the largest setting of the pasta press machine. You do this twice and then move on to the next setting.

My pasta press machine is hand cranked and has 9 settings, 9 being the thinnest. I like my ravioli dough just a little chewy so I stop on setting 8. Any thicker will be too thick. If your pasta dough piece gets too long, you can cut it in two pieces and proceed that way.

I used both cookie cutters and small can bottoms to stamp out my ravioli skin. I like having variation in sizes for my ravioli.

Be sure to cover the cutout pasta skin as you work, or else they will get way too dry.

When you are ready to assemble the ravioli, take one piece of ravioli skin, brush it with some egg whites. Put about a teaspoonful of filling in the the center of the dough.

Take another piece of ravioli skin and cover the filling with it, pressing on the edges gently. The egg wash will help the sides to adhere.

Make sure you dust the assembled ravioli with plenty of flour, other wise the ravioli will stick together. If the ravioli is make ahead of time, you can cook what you want that day, keep the rest in the fridge, or if you know you are going to eat it a few days later, you can freeze the ravioli at this point. The cooking time is about the same for frozen ravioli as the fresh.

The ravioli is cooked for 5 minutes in boiling water, then drained and oiled and set aside for the sauce to finish.

To make the sauce some tomatoes and artichoke heart spears are cooked together in a pan, half of the raviolis are placed in a baking dish, drizzled with half the artichoke and tomato mixture and a little bit of cream. The other half of the raviolis are placed on top, drizzled with the rest of the artichoke and tomato mixture, some cream and a little parmesan cheese. The dish is placed in the oven and baked until the cheese has melted.

Easy Ravioli dough recipe:
Artichoke Ravioli with Tomato recipe:

In one of the recent issues of Food and Wine Magazine, there was a great recipe for pizza dough from scratch that involves no kneading. I don’t mind kneading the pizza dough, however I think this recipe yields a much better dough than one that requires a lot more steps. The dough does require a whole day’s head start, but it literally takes 5 minutes to make, then 18-24 hours of proofing at room temperature. I noticed that the recipe requires less yeast than other recipes, the reason being the long proofing time for the dough. There are only 4 ingredients that goes into this dough: Flour, water, salt, and yeast.

The water is added gradually and mixed in with a wooden spoon. The recipe is for 6 10-inch pizzas, and I made half that amount by halving the recipe, which worked pretty well.

After the water is completely mixed in, the dough should be slightly sticky but not too dry or too wet. The bottom of the bowl should not have an excess of flour. A little bit left over is okay.

At this point, I gathered the dough with clean hands into the shape of a rough ball. The dough should feel firm, and if there are some spots that are more dry than the other, it’s okay, since it will even out in the proofing process.

The dough is placed in a bowl and covered with plastic wrap and left out in room temperature for 18-24 hours. With other recipes, when the proofing time is 3-6 hours, you need more yeast so that the dough proof faster, but in this case, you are letting time do it’s job and just a little bit of the yeast can yield big results. Room temperature should be around 75 degrees, and your dough will take a little longer or shorter depending on what your room temp is.

Once the dough is approximately doubled in size, and air bubbles are making its way to the top of the dough, it’s ready for the next step. The plastic wrap may feel a little wet, which is normal, because that is the chemical product of the yeast interacting with flour and water.

The dough is split into 3 pieces on a well floured surface, and each piece is shaped into a rough rectangle. You fold the 4 corners of the rectangle inwards and shape the dough into a ball. You should wrap each piece into plastic wrap and placed into the refrigerator for at least 1 hour until it’s time to use. The dough will continue to proof during this time. You can make the dough at this point up to 3 days in advance, which is what I did.

For the meat pizza, I wanted to try something different by making lamb meat balls, along with Italian San Marzano tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella, and Red Onions.

For the Lamb meat balls, I mixed together ground lamb, some ground ginger, ground cumin, Parmesan cheese, and grated cooked potatoes. The potatoes will act as a binding agent.

The meatballs are shaped into tea spoon rounds. Since these meatballs are going on a pizza, you don’t want to make giant monster sized ones that you can’t fit in your mouth easily.

The lamb meatballs are browned on all sides, and don’t worry if it’s not cooked through, since they will be in the oven on the pizza.

When you are ready to make the pizza, the dough is first stretched out using your finger tips and knuckles. Be careful not to make it too thin in the middle. Then, after oiling the dough with olive oil, I put drained, crushed, San Marzano Tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella cheese, the lamb meatballs, and some red onions on the dough. I also sprinkled a bit of crushed dried red pepper.

The Pizza is baked for 5-7 minutes on a very hot oven, 500F or 550F. It will cook very fast so be careful and watch out for the hot oven.

For the Vegetarian option, I oiled the dough, added both goat cheese and goat cheddar cheese. I shaved some brussel sprouts and placed some thinly sliced red onions on the dough.

The brussel sprouts will be slightly charred on top which will get rid of some of the bitterness in the vegetable.

For the Vegan option, no cheese was put on the pizza, but I just used drained crushed San Marzano tomatoes, sliced garlic, and fresh basil.

Pizza Dough Recipe:

We had a lot of left over Mexican food from Thursday and I didn’t want to let them go to waste. I had refried beans, salsa, esquites corn, and some shredded roast chicken. I did some research on-line and decided to make Huevos Rancheros. I substituted what I had already for some of the ingredients in the recipe, and added some additional ingredients as well.

First I spread some leftover salsa on the bottom of a baking dish.

Then I laid down some tortilla chips on top of the salsa.

I followed the Tortilla chips with some refried beans.

I topped the beans with some corn, shredded chicken, and two eggs.

I topped it with some quesadilla and cotija cheese, and popped the whole thing in the oven until the cheese has melted and the eggs have set. I served the dish with additional leftovers on the side.

Huevos Rancheros Recipe:

Mexican food is highly recyclable. When I made enchiladas on Thursday, I had no idea that I was going to reuse the ingredients and left overs for three separate meals and dishes. I made chicken tacos with the left over ingredients for lunch on Friday, and Huevos Rancheros for breakfast Saturday. Mexican food is also great because the ingredients are fairly cheap, and almost all dishes use very similar ingredients to vastly different outcome.

The main dish I made Thursday night was Enchiladas Suizas, where Suizas is Spanish for “Swiss”. The dish is derived from Swiss immigrants in Mexico who started dairy farms to produce cream and cheese, and the Enchiladas are topped with a white, milk, or cream based sauce. I used Mexican Quesadilla cheese Cotija cheese. I picked a Rick Bayless Recipe to cook.

To start with, I made the basic roasted tomato sauce that is used on the bottom and top of the Enchiladas. Some plum tomatoes and Jalapenos are broiled for 10 minutes in the oven, turning half way through. You want to get the charred skin to get the roasted flavor.

The tomatoes are blended with the Jalapeno to make the basic sauce. You should seed the Jalapeno if you don’t like the sauce to be spicy.

Then some onions are browned in a sauce pan, and the tomato puree added to the pan and cooked until the color turn slightly darker and the sauce is thickened. This can take up to 20 or 30 minutes, depending on the heat.

After the sauce is properly thickened, chicken stock is added and simmered for another 10-15 minutes, for the flavors to blend. You should taste and season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper at this point. To finish up the sauce, I stirred in some sour cream into the sauce. The recipe called for Mexican crema or Creme Fraiche, but sour cream will also work (and it’s cheaper).

For the filling, I used store-bought rotisserie chicken, shredded by hand, with some sauce added to the chicken before assembly.

To prepare the Enchiladas, you also need to soften up the corn tortillas. I dislike frying the tortillas in oil since it’s not healthy, and I always feel like I’m wasting oil. The recipe provided a really great substitute way to soften up the tortillas. You simply spray the tortillas on both sides with PAM or some sort of oil spray, then stick them in the oven for about 3-5 minutes, until they are softened. It’s quick, healthy, and saves the mess of frying tortillas.

When you are ready to assemble the dish, the sauce is first ladled to the bottom of a baking dish.

Then the rolled enchiladas are placed in a tight row in the dish.

The enchiladas are topped with the remaining tomato sauce, and both Quesadilla and Cotija cheese.

The whole thing is baked in the oven until the cheese has melted and possibly browned. I actually broiled the dish for about 2 minutes near the end to add some nice brown color to the cheese. I also topped it with some cilantro.

To accompany the Enchiladas, I made Refried beans to go with it.

Refried beans are called that name because it’s cooked twice. The first time, dried pinto beans are cooked with water, epazote (a mexican herb), some bacon drippings (I used bacon lardons), and chopped onions.

The beans are simmered for about 2 hours until tender, and set aside. For the second time, some onions, jalapeno and garlic are sautéed until soft in a pot, then 1/3 of the undrained beans you want to cook is added to the pot.

The beans are then mashed in the pot until creamy, then a second batch of the beans are added to the pot, and mashed.

Then the process is repeated for the final 1/3 of the beans, adjusting the seasoning to taste. I topped the beans with some cilantro and Cotija cheese.

No Mexican meal is complete with out salsa. I made a Tomatillo Avocado salsa and a roasted poblano pepper, tomato salsa, both were fast and easy to make.

For the Tomatillo Avocado Salsa, I blended together, Tomatillos, Avocados, white onions, cilantro, garlic, and jalapenos together.

The salsa is good a couple of days in advance.

For the Roasted Poblano Pepper/Tomato Salsa, I first roasted some Poblano peppers directly on my gas stove top.

Then I skinned and blended the roasted pepper with some canned tomatoes, onions, cilantro and garlic.

The salsa can be made a day in advance.

The final dish I made to go with the meal is Mexican Esquites Corn. Esquites is a roasted corn dish often times sold on the street corners. Basically you roast corn on the cob until blackened, then cut off the kernels and cook them up with some onions and fresh corn. They are fairly close to their on-the-cob counterparts, the Elote.

I roasted the corn on my kitchen gas stove top directly. Then I cut the kernels off after letting them cool off for a bit.

Then I cooked up some onions and fresh corn kernels until softened and tender, and added the roasted corn to the pan. The dish is finished with salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lime. Some chopped epazote is added at the end but is optional.

Esquites Corn Recipe:
Enchiladas Suizas Recipe:
Roasted Poblano-Tomato Salsa Recipe:
Avocado Tomatillo Salsa: