Wednesday, September 21

Banana Muffins with almond cinnamon crumble topping

It's almost as if we're hard wired to crave the warm, comforting flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, apples, pumpkin and such around this time of year.  Otherwise, why on earth would you want to bake banana muffins when it's still 90 here in Florida, with no end in sight (sigh).  Yes, that would be me - heating up the house just to get my fall baking fix.

These aren't your run-of-the-mill banana muffins.  Almond flour gives them a tender, but subtle nutty flavor, low fat buttermilk adds a deliciously creamy texture, and brown sugar plus a dash of fresh nutmeg add a caramel note.  And the "icing on the cake", as it were - an almond cinnamon crumble topping.

You can make this in a 9 x 5 loaf pan instead if that's how you roll, I'm just partial to mini treats.

Tuesday, September 20

Ragu alla Bolognese

Bolognese sauce, minus the pasta - you can see what a rich, thick sauce it is after simmering for several hours.  

My better half, God bless him, has been travelling so much lately it must make his head spin.  Well, nothin' says lovin' like something from the oven as the saying goes...  So, tomorrow when he walks in the door he'll be greeted by the smell of hearty bolognese sauce simmering on the stove.  A little tagliatelle (his favorite) to hug all of that meaty goodness, and he'll be in heaven.  I Can't think of anything more comforting than a bowl of silky pasta and sauce (except something chocolate).

I don't know about you, but I tend to cook by "feel" (and taste of course) - you might call it trial and error.  Oh I'll peek at recipes and cherry pick ingredients and techniques that seem most appealing, then add my own touches.  Oh yes, my friends, it does result in the occasional flop, but the majority of the time our tummies are quite happy with the results.  And this is one of those recipes.

Oh, by the way - this is not fast food.  Just sayin' - plan on a good 2 - 3 hours for this sauce to reach perfection.  It doesn't require much attention though after it all comes together, just the occasional stir and  the addition of a little more liquid.

So, here's my version of bolognese...

1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground veal
1 cup white wine (use something good you'd actually drink, and substitute red wine if you want a heartier taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 oz. chopped, cubed pancetta (about 1/4" size pieces)
2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 large onion, diced small
1 medium carrot, grated
1 stalk celery, diced small
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
3 cups beef stock
half tube of tomato paste (about 2 heaping tablespoons)
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup half and half

With your hands, crumble and loosen the pork and veal in a large mixing bowl, then toss the meats together to combine.  Add the wine to the meat and work it in with your fingers to moisten all of the meat evenly.  Set aside.

Add  the pancetta and garlic to a food processor.  Process until it forms a paste.  Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large stockpot.  Add pancetta paste, and stir for about 3 minutes, cooking until the mixture is sizzling, and the fat is released into the pan.

Add the chopped onions to the pan and stir a few minutes until they begin to sweat.  Add the celery, carrots, thyme and grated nutmeg, and continue stirring frequently until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.

Push vegetables to the side of the pan, creating an opening in the center.  Dump the meat into the center of the pan and sprinkle it with salt.  Let the meat brown on the bottom a few minutes, then mix the meat in with the vegetables and stir until all of the meat is browned.  The liquid will cover most of the meat.  Continue cooking on high heat, stirring often, until all of the liquid has disappeared, including the liquid on the bottom of the pan.  Meanwhile, heat up the beef stock and keep it warm.

Next, make another opening in the center of the pan and plop the tomato paste in.  Stir it around for a couple of minutes to caramelize the paste, then mix it in with the meat and stir for another 2-3 minutes.

Add 1 cup of hot stock to the pan - just enough to cover the meat.  Reduce the heat to a low simmer (small bubbles breaking over the surface), cover and cook.  Give the meat a stir every 20 minutes, adding about 1/2 cup of stock each time.  Continue cooking over medium low heat, until sauce is thickened and full of flavor - about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Turn off heat and add 1/2 & 1/2, stirring well to combine.  Taste and add more salt or pepper if needed.  Serve immediately with pasta or refrigerate for up to 3 days.  It can also be frozen for up to a month.

Monday, September 12

the risotto of your dreams {creamy chocolate risotto}

It's the Secret Recipe Club reveal day, and boy have we got a doozy for you! What's that you say?  You haven't heard of SRC?  Well,  here's the scoop: each month we're given a blog from one of the other members to choose a recipe from.  We simply make that item, putting our own spin on it if we like, and then share it with the world on reveal day.  The hard part is keeping it a secret until then!  We're havin' a ball - it's a delight to see the reactions of other members, as well as finding out who had your blog and what recipe they chose to make.  Click here to find out how you can join us!

I received Culinary Adventures with Camilla to choose a recipe from this month.  Camilla is one creative cook!  And it's definitely an adventure seeing what comes out of her kitchen each day as she whips up delicious foods from what she has on hand.  She also uses ingredients like chestnut flour, double chocolate stout, and bee pollen - sounds intriguing doesn't it?  Her fearless approach to baking is refreshing and inspiring - it encourages me to step out of my comfort zone and try new foods and combinations I hadn't thought of previously.

 I love all things chocolate and Italian, so her recipe for spiced chocolate risotto immediately caught my eye. Yep, you heard me - chocolate risotto!  Think chocolatey rice pudding, but infinitely better. Camilla follows the rule of thumb she learned in Italy - use one handful of rice per person and an extra handful for the pot when making risotto.  So this recipe is more of a springboard you use as inspiration.  She infused her milk with raw sugar, cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon; then added cocoa powder and some mascarpone cheese for her risotto.  I took a little different route, and created a version reminiscent of Nutella by adding a splash of Frangelico, dark chocolate, grated orange zest, and a little mascarpone cheese for an extra velvety texture.  A dollop of vanilla whipped cream tops it off, along with some toasted hazelnuts and cocoa nibs for a deliciously crunchy contrast.

You really need to treat your loved ones (and yourself) to this fabulous dessert - and trust me, risotto is not difficult to make, I promise!

Creamy Chocolate Risotto {the risotto of your dreams!}
adapted from Culinary Adventures with Camilla
about 4 servings

1 cup arborio rice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Frangelico
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean
4 tablespoons raw sugar
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon Dutch process cocoa
1/2 cup dark chocolate, finely chopped (about 3 oz.)  - a food processor works great for this
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
finely grated zest from 1 orange
cocoa nibs, for garnish
coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts, for garnish
vanilla bean whipped cream

Split vanilla bean lengthwise, and scrape out seeds.  Add vanilla bean, seeds, milk, sugar, salt, and cocoa to a medium sauce pan over low heat.  Warm just until it begins to simmer, whisking occasionally to make sure everything is well blended.  Turn off the heat, cover, and let milk steep 10 minutes to infuse the vanilla flavor.  Remove the vanilla bean from the milk.

In a large saute pan or stockpot, melt butter over low heat, then add arborio rice and stir for two minutes until the rice is well coated with the butter.

Add the Frangelico and stir until it is absorbed.

Increase the heat to medium low.  Add 1/2 cup of hot milk, and stir frequently, until it is nearly absorbed.

Continue adding milk, a cup at a time, stirring frequently until it is almost absorbed before adding the next cup.  It should take about 20 minutes for the rice to become creamy and al dente (just a hint of a bite to it, but not chewy).

Remove the rice from the heat and stir in the mascarpone cheese, orange zest and chocolate.  Stir until the chocolate is melted.  Serve with cocoa nibs and chopped toasted hazelnuts, and a dollop of vanilla whipped cream if desired.

*to toast hazelnuts, place shelled nuts on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes, until fragrant.  Remove from the oven and wrap the nuts up in a clean kitchen towel.  Rub the nuts together in the towel to remove the skins, let cool, then chop as desired.

*to make homemade vanilla whipped cream:  use wire whisk attachment on your mixer, add 1 cup organic heavy whipping cream and beat on medium speed a minute or so until it starts to thicken.  Add 1/4  teaspoon vanilla (I added a few vanilla bean seeds to mine as well), and 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and continue beating on high until stiff peaks form. Use immediately.

"Be not afraid."
"anything done for another is done for oneself."
"the future starts today, not tomorrow."
"the truth is not always the same as the majority decision."
"freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought."      
~ Blessed Pope John Paul II

Thursday, September 1

Italian cream cupcakes with coconut pastry cream filling and fluffy mascarpone frosting

I'm speechless, and I don't say that lightly - just ask my son.  We recently had a bet that I could be silent for 1 hour - busted in the first 2 minutes.  Hmmm, I wonder where he gets his gift of gab from.   It's these Italian cream cupcakes; amazing how a few simple ingredients magically combine to create such a creamy, luscious dessert.  They're delightfully moist all by their lonesome, but they're divine when filled with a coconut pastry cream, and a swirl of fluffy mascarpone frosting on top.  They're a bit of heaven in every bite.  Even if you're not a coconut fanatic, you'll love these, I promise.

Monday, August 29

fried green tomatoes with creamy cilantro bacon ranch dipping sauce

It's a disgrace, I know;  grew up in the South and I don't recall ever having fried green tomatoes. Yes, I was a "deprived" child wasn't I?  Well, time's a tickin', tomato season is waning, and I'm not getting any younger, so doggone it, today we are going to enjoy those crunchy, tangy treats.