Friday, June 18, 2010

Far Out. I mean Far Eastern

By now you know I love meatballs. I can't think of a better culinary vehicle for flavor than the simple meatball. The ground meat seems to adore just about everything it comes in contact with and meatballs are great as a meal, appetizer and snack.

You also know I love everything Asian. So the experiment last week was to create meatballs with a Far Eastern flare. I don't think I've ever had a meatball in an Asian restaurant that I could base a recipe on, but I liked the concept and ran with it. And they were great. And in true Linda fashion, having a nice dipping sauce made them all the more delicious. Plus, all the ingredients I used are available in your local supermarket so there's no excuse not to try these little lovelies.

Asian Inspired Chicken Meatballs

1 tsp vegetable oil
3 T scallions thinly sliced
1-1/2 tsp garlic minced
1 tsp fresh ginger grated
1 large egg slightly beaten
1 T hoisin sauce
1 T cilantro chopped
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp Sambal Oelek- Asian ground fresh chili paste
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground chicken
1 T water (if necessary)

Pre heat oven to 400 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat lightly with cooking spray. Set aside. In small skillet over medium to low heat, add vegetable oil, then the scallions, ginger and garlic and cook to soften, a minute or two at the most. Just don't burn the garlic. Let cool and place in a large mixing bowl. To mixing bowl add the rest of the ingredients (except chicken and water) and combine. Now add the chicken and lightly (with fingertips) mix ingredients until incorporated. If the mixture seems a little stiff add the water.

Now you're ready to make the meatballs. You can make 12 large meatballs or 24 small, cocktail size. If you're making 12, place them on your prepared baking sheet and give them a light spritz of cooking spray. Bake them for 20-25 minutes, turning them over at the halfway point. If you're making the smaller ones, spritz them too and bake 17-20 minutes, again turning them over at the halfway point. I served mine with a dip of course- store bought Sweet Red Chili Sauce.

And on night two, I heated a can of low sodium chicken broth, added a small can of straw mushrooms, chopped fresh scallions and cilantro, 1 teaspoon of low sodium soy sauce, a few meatballs and an ounce of linguini. It was souper. Pun intended.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nutella-filled Chocolate Bites

I have been baking and enjoying Giada's chocolate hazelnut cookies for years. They're rich, chewy and chocolately. But apparently not rich and gooey enough for the mood I was in last weekend. So I did a slight re-mix and came up with a Nutella-filled mini sandwich cookie that gave this all star recipe the oomph I was looking for.

I didn't change the actual recipe too much. I just changed the size and the personality of the little darlings. Instead of getting thirty 3 inch cookies, I got about seventy 1-1/2 inch cookies which would yield 35 sandwiches if you don't carelessly pop too many of these little gems into your mouth. And of course the Nutella filling was the proverbial "icing on the cake".

These are a cinch to make, but I will warn you...they are time consuming. Measuring out and baking 70 or so cookies takes time and patience. But I do believe they are worth it.

Nutella Filled Chocolate Cookies

1 Jar Nutella- Chocolate/Hazelnet Spread to use for the cookies and the filling

Dry Ingredients
1-3/4 cups AP flour- I used my Trinity Flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

Wet Ingredients
1 stick unsalted butter room temp
1/2 cup sugar- I used Splenda No Calorie Sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar- I used 1/4 cup Splenda Brown Sugar Blend for Baking
1/2 cup Nutella
1 large egg room temp
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (my addition)

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In medium size bowl combine all dry ingredients and whisk until incorporated. Set aside. In larger bowl combine butter, sugars and Nutella. Mix about 2-3 minutes. I use a hand mixer. Add egg and vanilla extract. Mix. Then add the dry ingredients, remembering to scrape the bowl to mix in anything that's sticking around the edges. Fold in the mini chips. You'll notice this is a very light batter. It almost feels like there are marshmallows in it. (An idea for a later date, maybe?)

Now you're ready to make the mini cookies. I discovered the best way to get a uniform size was to use a teaspoon from my measuring spoon set- that way all my cookies would be more or less the same size. (A melon baller might work too, but I couldn't find mine) After scooping out the little teaspoons of dough, roll them into balls about 1/2" to 3/4" and set them on the prepared cookie sheets, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie ball. Bake 6 minutes and let cool a few minutes before you transfer them to paper towels to finish cooling. You'll literally have dozens of cookies all over your kitchen. When the cookies are cooled, and you hopefully haven't popped too many in your mouth, it's time to get out the rest of the Nutella and start filling the sandwiches. And that's the fun and messy part. Place as little or as much Nutella as you like in between 2 cookies, gently press together and your mission is accomplished.

After eating my fare share, I froze the rest and they are doing very well in the freezer. And they don't take long to defrost.

Nutella: If you're not familiar with this spread, you can find it in the peanut butter aisle of your supermarket. It's simply a smooth mixture of chocolate and hazelnuts. It contains a fair amount of sugar, but supposedly has many nutrients. It's great on toast and super on a warm, grilled, buttered crostini with a little bit of cinnamon. And if you're into easy, over-the-top desserts, try pan frying Nutella, peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff between 2 slices of bread (in butter). Then sprinkle on some powdered sugar and a dollop of whipped cream. Yeah, that's over-the-top.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Turn up the heat

It's a known fact, most people do not like vegetables. We've got all sorts of tricks to get our veggie-phobic kids, husbands and friends to eat their vegetables. Like topping them with cheese, covering them in cream sauce and stocking the fridge with commercial beverages like V8 and the newer V8 Splash. And I see nothing wrong with this. I love a gooey, cheesy vegetable gratin as much as the next guy. But I'm not a veggie hater and usually have no problem consuming my "5 a Day". But really, vegetables can be boring. And that's why I like to high-heat, oven roast them. The high temperature helps caramelize their natural sugars and makes them sweet and earthy and a pleasing accompaniment to any meal. Heres what I did the other day. I took: 1 peeled sweet potato, 2 medium size zucchini, 1 medium size yellow (summer) squash, 1 Vidalia onion and 1 red pepper. I cut them all into 1 inch pieces,

then tossed in 4 or 5 peeled garlic cloves and misted the whole shooting match with cooking spray. I sprinkled on some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, put the veggies on a cookie sheet prepared with cooking spray, and then popped them into a pre-heated 425 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Sound easy? It is. Sound time consuming? It's that too. But worth every minute.

I've been roasting my vegetables at higher temps lately and liking the results. I cooked this group in 2 batches and turned each batch over and mixed them around at the halfway cooking point. When they were done I put a tablespoon or two of red wine vinegar (you can use lemon juice if you like) over the colorful mixture, tossed, and served warm. They're perfectly fine at room temperature too. And if you've got left overs, add them to a few ounces of cooked pasta, throw in a few fresh herbs, another splash of vinegar and you've got a fabulous Primavera Salad for lunch the next day.
P.S. Some other vegetables that work well high-heat roasted are: apsaragus, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, mushrooms and tomatoes. Give them a try. I think you'll be pleased.

Friday, June 4, 2010

PB & C

Like peanut butter? Like chocolate? Like cake and fudge? Then you have to try my Peanut Butter Chocolate Swirl Cake. A few years ago I read about a recipe contest for chocolate/peanut butter desserts and I started experimenting. At the time I had never used peanut butter as a base in any dessert but cookies, and was determined to come up with a cake from scratch. It was tricky because I have no formal culinary education and know very little about the actual science of cooking and baking. And peanut butter is a tricky ingredient because of its natural oils. But I persevered... and through trial and error (many errors) came up with a cake that's moist and tender, a little bit like old timey fudge, and has a peanut butter cream cheese frosting that melts in your mouth. I eventually cut back on some of the calories because it's sooo good you'll definately eat more than you should.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Swirl Cake

Cooking spray
1 T baking cocoa

Dry Ingredients
1-1/2 cups AP flour- I use my trinity blend for more fiber
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Wet Ingredients
4 T unsalted butter softened to room temp
3 T canola oil
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
3 T Splenda Blend
2 T Splenda Brown Sugar Blend
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup lite sour cream
1/2 cup 1% milk- or fat free half & half
1/3 cup Hershey's lite chocolate syrup
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips

4 oz Neufchatel cheese softened to room temp
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 T dry roasted peanuts crushed or finely chopped
1 T mini chocolate chips

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 8 x 8 baking pan with cooking spray and dust bottom and sides with cocoa. In medium bowl combine dry ingredients and whisk with a fork. Set aside.

In large bowl combine butter, canola oil, peanut butter and both Splend Blends. Add eggs and vanilla extract, then sour cream and milk until mixture is smooth and silky (at this point you'll want to eat it and not bake it, so just take a small taste- it's yummy). To this mixture add 1/2 of the dry ingredients and mix on low, scraping sides of bowl. Add the rest of the dry ingredients until mixture is incorporated. With measuring cup, remove 1/2 cup of batter and place it in a separate bowl. To this batter add chocolate syrup and mini chips and blend with a fork or spoon. Set aside. This will become your chocolate swirl.

Place half of peanut butter batter in prepared baking dish. Pour chocolate batter on top. Spread with knife if necessary. Pour remaining peanut butter batter on top of chocolate layer. With blunt knife make irregular swirls through the dough to create a marble effect. Smooth top of cake and bake for 35-40 minutes. Cool on wire rack. When cake has cooled, remove from baking pan and prepare frosting.

Frosting: With hand blender, combine first four ingredients until icing is smooth and creamy. Frost top of cake and sprinkle with chopped peanuts and chips.

Since this is such a rich cake I cut it into four 2 inch strips. And then I cut those strips into 1/2 inch pieces, so they're little bites, slightly larger than a piece of fudge. My friend Carol was visiting last weekend and we polished off half a cake in one sitting. It really is that good.

Spread the Word

You know how much I like dips and spreads, right? Well avocados were a dollar apiece and I bought too many. I get the guilties when I waste food, so I started experimenting with the blender and came up with a fabulous spread. Try this little gem on a crostini. Or do what I did- use it as you would a compound butter on grilled fish or a turkey and cheese sandwich. It's absolutey delicious.

Avocado Spread
1 avocado
1 tsp Dijon mustared
Juice of one lemon (3 T)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic roughly chopped

Put all ingredients in a blender and whirl away. Refrigerate for a few hours to let the mixture set up.

This was a fun experiment and it lasted for many days in my fridge. Plus it never lost its shocking green color.