December 31, 2009

Spinach Artichoke Dip

Happy holidays! Just wanted to quickly squeeze this post in because, well...we're less than twelve hours away from 2010 (eekkkkk)! And I made this appetizer dish before Christmas. And I'm at work, you know, working this New Years Eve ;)

Anyway, what a whirlwind of a break (if you can call it that) we've had. My sister came home from NYC for the entire week, so we were literally commuting from SF to the East Bay almost every day: Monday was dinner with all the relatives at The Dead Fish; Wednesday was dinner at Moussy's, followed by a "Black Nativity" show with the parents (my mom's random idea!); Friday was Christmas in Berkeley; and Saturday was helping my dad build kitchen cabinets (AC) and post-Christmas shopping with mom/sis (SC) -- I think I got the better end of the deal!, followed by another family dinner at night. Oh, and AC and I were working the entire week as well. Not that you really care, but that was our holiday :D

And I'm totally NOT complaining -- Christmas wouldn't have been the same without all that family and food. It was soooo fun to have my sister back home for the holidays! There were lots of shared giggles and smiles that week.

Anyway, this warm, creamy, cheesy appetizer is my absolute favorite dish to both eat and make. It's essentially spinach dip with two key additions. Chunks of artichoke hearts, which transform the entire flavor of the dip. And shredded mozzarella, which when melted, makes the dish incredibly cheesy, stringy and gooey. The best part is how it's made. Just combine chopped spinach and artichoke with mozzarella, cream cheese, parmesan, and a little sour cream -- and dunzo! Heat and serve.

Have a great New Years, everyone. And here's to an amazing 2010! :)

Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light, September 2007

2 C (8-oz) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/2 C lowfat sour cream
1/4 C grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/4 t black pepper
1/4 t salt
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (14-oz) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
2 (8-oz) blocks 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1 (10-oz) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry
dash of Tabasco sauce, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine 1/2 C mozzarella and 2 T parmesan with the rest of the ingredients (sour cream, salt, pepper, garlic, artichoke, cream cheese, spinach, tabasco) in a bowl, stir until well blended. Spoon mixture into a 8.5 inch pie pan. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 C mozzarella and remaining 2 T parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown. Serve with tortilla chips.
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December 23, 2009

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

No Christmas is a real Christmas without cookies. And now that it's practically here, I had to make this cookie recipe that I'd been eying for a while. Not that these are necessarily Christmas cookies, but they are equally special and decadent -- if not better.

I got this recipe from the lovely Dorie Greenspan, who says: "These cookies are chocolate sables, French shortbreads, but because they've got more brown sugar than white in them, they've got more chew than most shortbreads. They've also got a generous amount of dark chocolate chunks and enough fleur de sel (moist, coarse-grained French "finishing" salt) to make them noticeably salty and completely addictive, in the way so many good things with salt are."

She had me at French shortbreads -- I was looking for a rich, buttery cookie with a crisp yet crumbly texture. But when I read the words chocolate and fleur de sel? I got pretty excited; you can't get a better combination than that.

While the contrast between sweet and salty is definitely prevalent in this cookie, it's really the intensity of the chocolate that makes it so addictive. The fleur de sel is what does it -- with just a pinch of salt, the complexity and flavor of the dark chocolate really comes out without being overwhelmingly sweet. Bonus points for the little bits of bittersweet chocolate pieces that are mixed into the cookie as well.

Good thing I made this while our close friends were staying with us this past weekend. Otherwise, it would have been a very dangerous Christmas for our tummies...;)

World Peace Cookies
Baking: From My Home to Yours (Dorie Greenspan)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup high quality, unsweetened cocoa powder such as Valrhona or Scharffenberger
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

Mix in the flour until it disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)

GETTING READY TO BAKE: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.

SERVING: The cookies can be eaten when they are warm or at room temperature — I prefer them at room temperature, when the textural difference between the crumbly cookie and the chocolate bits is greatest — and are best suited to cold milk or hot coffee.

STORING: Packed airtight, cookies will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days; they can be frozen for up to 2 months.
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December 17, 2009

Pumpkin Bread w/ Raisins and Walnuts

T-minus eight days until Christmas....eeeekkkk!! Last I checked, it was just Thanksgiving and our waistlines were still recovering from the damage. Now it's already the season of Christmas cookies and office holiday treats?? When time flies this fast, it must mean you're really getting old!

Anyway, this pumpkin bread is one of our favorite holiday traditions during this time of the year. If you haven't noticed, tradition = food in our household. The recipe actually comes from another old family friend (who owns a vineyard in Napa, btw!), so this has been around in my family for years. AC likes it because it has a very smooth pumpkin taste -- not too sweet nor spicy. I love it because the texture is insanely moist and soft from the pumpkin puree. Plump, juicy raisins and little bits of walnuts tie the whole ensemble together perfectly.

I sometimes eat this with a nice, thick layer of cream cheese spread over each slice. I grew up doing this -- that, as well as eating avocado topped with mayonnaise as our "vegetables" for dinner -- and it makes each bite absolutely divine. It's similar to a pumpkin cupcake with cream cheese frosting, only a bit more calm/grounded and not as cracked-out-in-sugar (if you know what I mean). Besides, isn't everything better with cream cheese? ;)

Phyllis's Pumpkin Bread
Recipe adapted from Phyllis, an old family friend

2/3 C butter, room temperature
2 2/3 C sugar
4 eggs
1 lb canned pumpkin
2/3 C water

3 1/3 C flour
2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1 1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1 t ground cloves
1 C raisins
2/3 C chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, pumpkin and water. Mix thoroughly.

In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and ground cloves. Add to butter bowl, and stir until just mixed in. Add raisins and chopped walnuts.

Divide batter between two 9x5 loaf tins. Bake about 50 minutes, until done.
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December 11, 2009

Tuna Noodle Casserole, Made-Over

Remember that time when AC and I thought it was freezing outside...and it only ended up being 61 degrees? Well, we're not playing around this time: it's cold outside.

For the past couple of days, the high out here has been in the 40's. While I realize that may sound absurdly comfortable to my Chicago friends who are experiencing single digit conditions right now, it's actually a record low for San Francisco. And when you're in a city that's not used to such cold temperatures -- heaters don't always work, hats/gloves are virtually nonexistent, etc. It's all relative, right? ;)

Anyway, for us, cold weather is just another excuse to bust out the much loved casserole dish! It's also my excuse to use the "I'm not going to the gym -- it's too cold outside" card. Or the "no YOU walk the dog, I'll get sick" face. Ahhhh yes, the miseries of cold weather :P

This hearty dish is a jazzed up version of the 1950's standard tuna noodle casserole -- the epitome of comfort food. However, unlike its predecessor, it has nothing to do with cans of cream of mushroom soup (my best friend at Campbell's is going to kill me). This creamy noodle casserole uses mushrooms, sherry, and reduced-fat milk for a delightfully rich "sherried mushrooom" base sauce instead. Fresh lemon juice is then layered in for a hint of brightness. And tender broccoli florets and flaky moist tuna add yet another dimension of flavor (and protein!). When this comes hot out of the oven, all bubbling and oozing over the sides, smelling'll begin to wish that it was this cold everyday.

Tuna Noodle Casserole
Adapted from Gourmet, 2004

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
24 oz mushrooms, trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 crown of broccoli, cut into small chunks OR 1 bag frozen peas (recommended)
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 cup Sherry

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups reduced-fat 2% milk
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 (6-oz) cans tuna, drained
1/2 cup coarsely grated Cheddar
dash of Tabasco sauce and red pepper flakes, to taste

16 oz dried curly egg noodles
2 cups panko or bread crumbs
2 cups coarsely grated Cheddar
1 tablespoon olive oil

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Take out a 9x13 inch casserole dish.

Cook onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil with a pinch of salt in a 2-3 quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to moderately high and add mushrooms and broccoli, then sauté, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms begin to give off liquid, about 2 minutes. Add soy sauce and continue to sauté mushrooms, stirring, until liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated. Add Sherry and boil, stirring occasionally, until evaporated. Remove mixture from heat and pour into a large bowl.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in the same saucepan. Whisk in flour, then cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add broth in a stream, whisking, and bring to a boil, whisking. Whisk in milk and simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, 5 minutes. Stir in mushroom mixture, lemon juice, and salt. Flake tuna into sauce and stir gently. Add 1/2 cup cheese. Season sauce with salt, pepper, tabasco sauce, and red pepper flakes.

Cook noodles in a 5- to 6-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain noodles in a colander and return to pot. Add sauce and stir gently to combine. Transfer mixture to baking dish, spreading evenly.

Toss together bread crumbs and cheese in a bowl. Drizzle with oil and toss again, then sprinkle evenly over casserole. Bake until topping is crisp and sauce is bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes.

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December 06, 2009

Potato-Crusted Quiche with Smoked Cheddar and Canadian Bacon

With family events, we always seem to be running late. Granted, if something starts at 5 p.m. -- to my family, that really means 4:45 p.m sharp...which is why tardiness just so happens to be a perpetual trend for us.

For Thanksgiving, this was no exception. As we were madly putting the final touches on the banana cream pie, we were just starting to even think about the appetizer dish that we needed to bring. Luckily for us, we had already decided on mini quiches-- which like most egg dishes, are incredibly easy and straightforward (coincidence, eh?). Yup...good thing we had nothing to do with the main course this year! :P

Anyway, this variation on a quiche is especially delicious because it uses a hash brown potato crust instead of the typical pastry pie crust. Not only does this provide a nice contrast to the eggs, but it's also a much healthier alternative, which becomes somewhat more important during any holiday season of gluttony. Like most egg frittatas or quiches, you can essentially add anything you want into the egg mixture. We used Canadian bacon for substance (meat is king in our household) and a bit of saltiness, smoked cheddar for gooey cheesiness, and spinach, zucchini, red bell pepper, and onions for more color and flavor.

One thing to note is that this dish should be baked and served in a normal pie pan. Because we wanted to make it a bit more "finger-food friendly", we used individual cupcake trays instead. While the idea was cute, it altered the hash brown crust -- and instead of a nice crispy potato crust, the egg mixture leaked through the hash browns so that there was less contrast between the crust and everything else. The below recipe reflects the original pie pan method for a crispier hash brown crust. There's nothing like a warm, cheesy potato and egg breakfast...or dinner :D

Potato-Crusted Quiche
Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 1998

1 lb shredded potatoes, soaked in ice water (or frozen hash browns, thawed)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup diced Canadian bacon
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup zucchini
1/2 cup chopped spinach
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

8 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 ounces smoked cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 10-inch glass pie dish with vegetable oil spray. Mix potatoes, garlic, and eggs together in a bowl. Firmly press the potato mixture into pie pan until it fully covers the bottom of the dish, and is halfway up the sides. Spray lightly with Pam olive oil. Bake about 15 minutes, until crispy.

Heat olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, red bell pepper, zucchini and thyme and sauté 5 minutes. Add Canadian bacon and spinach; sauté until heated through, about 1 minute. Spoon bacon mixture over potatoes in pie dish.

Whisk eggs, salt and pepper in large bowl to blend. Mix in cheese. Pour egg mixture over bacon mixture in dish. Bake quiche until set in center, about 35 minutes. Cool 20 minutes. Cut into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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