November 30, 2009

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

A belated happy Thanksgiving! Hope everyone got their fill of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, yams, green beans, and of course apple/pumpkin pie this year :)

I know...this doesn't look like your typical pumpkin pie. But I can explain; my mom's side of the family is apparently averse to pumpkin pie -- if you can believe that. So given the lack of one of my favorite desserts during this Thanksgiving holiday (though we did have apple pie!), I knew it was absolutely imperative to have an insanely indulgent and delicious substitute on hand to distract me from any pumpkin pie envy. This seemed to do the trick.

After literally inhaling the biggest meal of the year, there's something really appealing/comforting about taking on a slightly lighter kind of dessert. Because even though you've deliberately worn your fat pants to dinner and feel like you're on the verge of upchucking everything you just ate, you can never say no to dessert...especially when it's Thanksgiving.

This stunning black-and-white dessert combines delicate banana cream filling with a dense chocolate bottom for a lighter but equally decadent treat. There are essentially 5 layers to it -- a rich chocolate wafer crust, an intense and velvety chocolate ganache, sweet banana slices, creamy vanilla custard, and fresh and airy vanilla whipped cream. Now what is this nonsense about pumpkin pie envy?! ;)

Anyway, my apologies for the lack of pictures. What's missing is the layer of vanilla custard and whipped cream on top of the bananas. Those steps were hastily done in about 2 minutes as we were madly rushing out the door (this unfortunately seems to be a trend for us)...

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie
Adapted from Bon Appetit, February 1998

For crust
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (about 7 ounces)

For chocolate ganache
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 ripe bananas

For vanilla pastry cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For vanilla whipped cream
1 cup chilled whipping cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make crust:
Butter 9-inch-diameter glass or ceramic pie dish. Stir butter and chocolate in heavy small saucepan over low heat until smooth. Mix in cookie crumbs. Press onto bottom and up sides of prepared dish. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Make chocolate ganache:
Heat cream and butter in medium saucepan over medium heat until mixture is hot (do not boil). Remove from heat. Add chocolate and vanilla. Whisk until smooth. Reserve 2 tablespoons chocolate ganache in small bowl at room temperature; pour remainder over crust. Chill crust until chocolate ganache is firm, about 30 minutes.

Thinly slice 2 bananas. Arrange banana slices over chocolate.

Make vanilla pastry cream:
Bring half and half to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Whisk sugar, eggs, egg yolk and flour in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk in hot half and half. Transfer to saucepan. Whisk over medium heat until mixture thickens and comes to boil, about 2-3 minutes. Pour into medium bowl. Stir in vanilla. Press plastic onto surface of pastry cream. Cover; chill until cold, about 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.)

Whisk Vanilla Pastry Cream until smooth. Spread pastry cream evenly over bananas. Drizzle reserved chocolate ganache over pastry cream. Draw toothpick through pastry cream and chocolate to marbleize. Refrigerate until pastry cream is set, about 3 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

Spoon Vanilla Whipped Cream around edges of pie, or spoon whipped cream into pastry bag that's fitted with large star tip and pipe cream around edges of pie. Slice remaining banana. Garnish pie with banana slices.
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November 24, 2009

Ginger Spice Cookies

Well, it's almost Thanksgiving...which to many of us, really just means that we can officially begin the countdown to Christmas! Funny how that happens -- how when you start thinking turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, the streets are instantaneously lined with Christmas lights and every store is suddenly playing Christmas carols.

Anyway, despite the pre-holiday festivities, AC and I weren't quite feeling the Christmas spirit yet. Is it because we're getting old? Perhaps. Is it because it's still mid-November and sunny, and way too early to even begin thinking about Christmas? Probably. But really, I like to think it's because we hadn't baked these cookies yet ;)

If these cookies don't get you in the holiday spirit, I don't know what will! Part of their glory is baking them, which produces this delicious aroma of spiced cloves and gingerbread that literally warms up your entire home. I seriously felt like running out to get our Christmas tree while they were in the oven. Soft, spicy, slightly chewy, and not too molassesy -- these are the perfect cookies for winter. And bonus points to the little bits of crystallized ginger in it, which yield a chewy consistency without overwhelming the rest of the flavor.

We made these for a dear friend and her family, who are facing a tougher Thanksgiving than usual. If only cookies could save the world, right?

Ginger Spice Cookies
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2000

2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1/4 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses

Combine first 6 ingredients in medium bowl; whisk to blend. Mix in crystallized ginger (chop in food processor with dry ingredients). Using electric mixer, beat brown sugar and butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add egg and molasses and beat until blended. Add flour mixture and mix just until blended. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 2 baking sheets. Spoon sugar in thick layer onto small plate. Using wet hands, form dough into 1 1/4-inch balls; roll in sugar to coat completely. Place balls on prepared sheets, spacing 2 inches apart.

Bake cookies until cracked on top but still soft to touch, about 8-9 minutes. Cool on sheets 1 minute. Carefully transfer to racks and cool. (Can be made 5 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)
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November 22, 2009

Korean Banchan: Spinach Namul (Salad)

Here's another Korean side dish that we often make. This one is incredibly fast, easy and nutritious -- my kind of dish! It's basically blanched spinach mixed with soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, sesame seeds and a little sugar. I like to think of it as Popeye's azn-fied (why do I keep using that ridiculous word??) power food.

We had this along with our Korean barbecue chicken, which led to a delightfully delicious and abnormally unspicy meal ;)

Spinach Namul
Recipe by AC/SC

2 lbs fresh spinach
3 T soy sauce
2 T sesame oil
1 T sherry
1 T toasted sesame seeds
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 T sugar

Throw spinach into a pot of boiling for 30 seconds. Immediately rinse under cold water; squeeze excess water out. In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients together. Pour over spinach and mix.
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November 20, 2009

Korean Spicy Barbecue Chicken

If I had to guestimate, I would say that about 85% of all Korean food is the color red. What does that mean? Well, it makes for a very vibrant and flavorful cuisine that's just a tad bit spicy. Before AC, I could hardly tolerate the heat -- I even used to think kimchi (Korean pickles) was spicy! Now that I'm older and wiser, I know kimchi is just child's play...bring on the real heat ;)

This chicken dish used to be one of my favorite meals back in the day because it was one of the few Korean foods that I could actually eat! Don't be fooled by its fiery, red looks though. While the marinade does contain some red pepper paste, it also has equal parts of sugar in it -- which when cooked, caramelizes to make a wonderfully sweet and spicy glaze. Ginger and garlic add more depth and spiciness to the flavor; pureed onions add a different, more subtle type of sweetness. Best served slightly charred and on the cusp of burnt, this is a dish that even those who think kimchi is spicy will enjoy.

Korean Chili Paste Spicy Chicken
Adapted from Week of Menus

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/4 cup kochu'jang (red pepper paste)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons mirin
1/2 cup onion, pureed
3 tablespoons minced ginger
2 tablespoons minced garlic

Mix all ingredients together (except chicken) in a large bowl. Add chicken and marinade overnight. Barbecue or broil until slightly charred.
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November 15, 2009

Classic Lemon Bars

There's nothing like a sunny, yellow lemon bar to brighten up your winter. Especially if it's cloudy and brisk outside...and you're on a boat in the middle of some freezing lake, fishing.

Ok, so perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit (let's get real, how cold can California get?) -- but still, who goes fishing in November?!? Uhhhh...apparently, we do. And we managed to drag a couple of our friends with us this time as well :P

Though it's hard to believe, this actually wasn't our idea. Our friend initiated the trip after coming back from Alaska without catching a single fish. She wanted a second chance, and of course AC's name immediately came to mind (for those that don't know, AC = fishing). So on a beautiful but crisp Saturday morning, we left the shores in search of rainbow trout...with cheese, baguette, salami, pellegrino, chips, and lemon bars in hand. Because what is fishing without food, right?

These classic lemon bars are actually an old family friend's recipe. The shortbread crust is divinely tender and buttery. And the lemon filling on top is bold, fresh and intensely citrus-y. Together, they create a bright flavor that's not too tart nor too sweet. I say, it's the perfect escape to sunnier places.

Btw -- did I mention that we caught SIX fish, including an almost 5-pounder, that day? :D

Lemon Bars
Recipe adapted from Harriet, an old family friend

2 C flour
1/2 C confectioners sugar
1 C butter

4 eggs
2 C sugar
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
1-2 T grated lemon peel
1/4 C flour
2 t baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour and confectioners sugar, and then cut in butter. Press into an 8x8 baking pan, and bake for 18 minutes.

Beat eggs, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon peel together. In a separate bowl, mix flour and baking powder. Stir flour mixture into lemon mixture. Pour over hot crust, and bake again about 20 - 25 minutes. When cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar.
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November 11, 2009

Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad w/ Walnuts and Pecorino

Oh, brussels sprouts -- like everyone else, I love to hate you ;). Only, sometimes you surprise me...and taste really, really good.

Like when you're roasted with bacon, balsamic vinaigrette, and walnuts -- you're pretty tasty. Or even with just a sprinkle of salt, pepper, olive oil and rosemary, I can do you. But not raw. Never.

I don't know what got into me -- but I saw this raw brussels spouts salad recipe, and thought it was totally ingenious. It promised an unbelievably delicate slaw from the thinly sliced brussels sprouts, and a bright and refreshing flavor from the citrus dressing. I've never had brussels sprouts this way, and was so excited to try it out.

Well, I really should have known better....because if brussels sprouts are only "doable" doctored up, how can they ever taste better raw?? While the simplicity of the salad's other ingredients worked well together (olive oil, fresh lemon juice, grated pecorino romano, toasted walnuts), the bitterness of the brussels sprouts still managed to permeate their way through each mouthful. We were a little disappointed. However, this may be the perfect salad for people who already looooove brussels sprouts. It just wasn't for us.

It does make for a pretty presentation though, doesn't it? :P

Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Fresh Walnuts and Pecorino
Adapted from Gourmet, October 2005

1 lb Brussels sprouts, any discolored leaves discarded and stems left intact
1 cup walnuts (3 1/2 oz), lightly toasted
2 tablespoons finely grated Pecorino Romano, or to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Holding each Brussels sprout by stem end, cut into very thin slices using slicer. Toss in a bowl to separate layers.

Lightly crush walnuts with your hands and add to Brussels sprouts along with cheese, oil, and lemon juice, then toss to combine. Season with pepper.
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November 08, 2009

Butternut Squash Ravioli

I bought this butternut squash the other day only because it looked so pretty and picturesque, sitting with all the other fall pumpkins and seasonal vegetables. Turns out my superficiality got the best of me because I'd never cooked butternut squash before, and had no idea where to begin.

The only thing that I knew was that I didn't want it roasted. I mean, heaven forbid I cook something normal like a simple brown sugar or maple-roasted butternut squash. So after much hemming and hawing over millions of butternut squash recipes, I finally decided on this one. Because isn't that what most people do in their spare time? Make homemade butternut squash ravioli? ;)

While I love butternut squash, it's sometimes a little too sweet for my taste. This recipe offsets some of that sweetness with generous amounts of aged goat cheese -- which when mixed in with the roasted butternut squash, adds an unique saltiness and nuttiness to the creamy filling. The addition of sage and chopped onions also doesn't hurt.

I have just one small confession to make; I'm not that crazy. While I wanted to make my own ravioli filling for the first time, I wasn't planning on spending my entire afternoon in the kitchen. So I cheated...I substituted pre-made wonton wrappers for the ravioli dough instead. I know. While it was an efficient and quick fix, it really didn't do the rich, creamy butternut squash filling justice. So lesson learned -- if something craaaazy comes over you and you just happen to make this, do it the right way. Otherwise, you'll end up with this strangely sweet Azn-fied "potsticker" that just doesn't work :P

Butternut Squash, Sage, and Goat Cheese Ravioli
Adapted from Gourmet, January 1997 and Recipezaar

1 small butternut squash (about 2 lb), halved lengthwise and seeded
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground sage
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
3 ounces aged goat cheese, grated/crumbled

3 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 425°F. and lightly grease a baking sheet.

Make filling:
Put squash halves, flesh sides down, an baking sheet and roast in middle of oven 45 minutes, or until flesh is very tender. When squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh into a bowl and discard skin. Mash squash with a fork until smooth.

While squash is roasting, in a skillet cook onion and sage in butter with salt and pepper to taste over moderate heat, stirring, 5 minutes, or until onion is golden brown. Stir in garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Cool onion mixture slightly and add to squash. Add goat cheese and stir to combine well.

Make dough:
Sift flour and salt together. Place flour mixture on a board, making a well in the center of the flour. Drop eggs into the flour well, using your hand or a fork, break the yolks and beat eggs slightly. Combine the eggs and flour together, gradually adding enough warm water to make a stiff dough. Knead dough well, until smooth; cover the dough and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Cut dough in half and roll each half of the dough out on a floured board, into a very thin sheet (about 1/16 to 1/8 inch thick).

Make ravioli:
Drop about 1 tablespoon of filling about 2 inches apart all along the dough. When the sheet of dough is fully dotted with dabs of filling mixture, cover filling with other sheet of dough. Using your fingers, gently press dough between each dab of filling to seal it (if using wonton wrappers, use egg yolk to seal dough). Cut ravioli into squares with a (zig-zag edged) pastry cutter, or very sharp knife.

Allow ravioli to dry for one hour before cooking. Drop ravioli in lightly boiling water, and cook until they float to the surface, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle with olive oil and toasted hazelnuts.

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November 03, 2009

Turkey Tamale Casserole

Casserole time! When life gets a bit crazy, I say...make a casserole :)

As mentioned before, I loooove me a good casserole -- especially the cheesy, gooey, saucy ones. When busy, casseroles become even more appealing because of all the generous leftovers they make. Seriously, nothing like a warm and comforting casserole to sustain you through the entire (and I mean entire!) work week.

Not only is this one quick and easy, but it was actually one of my favorite dishes growing up! It's reminiscent of a tamale (hence the name)...only a bit messier and less sophisticated with all the cheese, extra fillings, and sauces in it. I think the secret is the creamed corn which, along with the corn tortillas, gives the dish a slightly sweet, corn tamalito/tamale taste. That and the spicy chili, turkey chunks, diced jalapenos, olives and cheddar cheese just make it absolutely divine.

Of course, my taste buds have *ahem* matured since my younger years, and I like my food a bit more refined these days. But there's nothing like reliving the good ole' days...especially when it's this good ;)

Turkey Tamale Casserole
Recipe by SC's mother

1 lb ground raw turkey (do NOT use lean turkey breast - dark 80/20 meat is best)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 17-oz can cream-style corn
1 10.5-oz can chili without beans (hot instead of mild)
2 t dried oregano, crushed
1/2 t ground cumin
12 corn tortillas
1 C water
1 2.25-oz can sliced black olives, drained
1 4-oz can diced green chilies
2.5 C shredded cheddar cheese (6 oz)

In a large skillet, cook turkey and garlic over medium heat till turkey is no longer pink. Stir in corn, chili, oregano and cumin. Bring to boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Set aside.

Stack tortillas; cut into 6 wedges. Place wedges in a medium mixing bowl; add water. Let stand for 1 minute. Drain, reserving 1/4 C liquid. Stir the reserved liquid and olives into the turkey mixture. In a 2-quart rectangular baking dish, layer slightly less than 2 C of the turkey mixture and half of the tortillas; repeat layers. Top with remaining turkey mixture, spreading to cover tortillas.

Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or till heated through. Top with cheese, bake for another 3-5 minutes more. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Can garnish with sour cream and chopped green onions.

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