Friday, October 30, 2009

Zucchini Gingerbread

Zucchini Gingerbread
Here's a welcome departure from your typical Zucchini Bread. It's tastes more like gingerbread with a nice depth of flavor from the molasses and spices. The addition of healthy oatmeal gives it more substance, and it blends right in so you can't tell it's there at all.
Zucchini Gingerbread
My favorite way to eat it is toasted with some butter or cream cheese. It would also make a nice addition to the Thanksgiving dessert table. So if you're tired of the same ole zucchini bread, try this one. You won't be disappointed!

Zucchini Gingerbread
Adapted from this recipe on dlynz.com

2 cups finely grated zucchini
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup oatmeal
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup dark molasses
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon zest (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.In a medium bowl, combine the zucchini, salt and oats and let the mixture sit for about 30 minutes. In a separate large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and ginger. Add molasses, eggs, oil, vanilla, and lemon zest to the zucchini mixture and stir to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture and stir to combine. Divide evenly between 2 greased 5 x 8 bread pans. Bake for about an hour or so until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans, then remove from pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan
If you are the family cook, you need to have this recipe in your arsenal. It's a family favorite and easy to make. You can substitute your favorite jarred tomato sauce if you prefer, but I encourage you to try this super-easy sauce from scratch, using a large can of crushed tomatoes. Here are the cutlets as they should look after frying...
Chicken Parmesan
Panko breadcrumbs make a huge difference in the breading. They are found in the ethnic aisle of the supermarket and they're great to have on hand. Feel free to use only panko, only fine breadcrumbs, or a combination. I found that the combination works well to get maximum bread crumb coverage. Top the breaded and fried cutlets with a little sauce and some cheese and slide them into the oven to finish off. Serve with a green salad for a delicious and easy weeknight meal.
October 2009 092
Chicken Parmesan
adapted from The New Best Recipe by Cook's Illustrated

For the Tomato Sauce:
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
For the Chicken Cutlets:
4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, tenderloins removed and reserved for another use
3/4 cup panko Japanese-style bread crumbs
1/4 plain dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
olive oil for frying
For Finishing:
3/4 pound spaghetti or linguine
3/4 shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the garlic and oil together in a large saucepan until the garlic becomes fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes, sugar, and spices and simmer at least 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Keep sauce warm until ready to use.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Place chicken breasts on a cutting board between two sheets of plastic wrap. Using the smooth side of a meat tenderizer, pound the chicken breasts to an even 1/2 inch thickness. Pat chicken dry with paper towels.

Set up your breading assembly line by lining up three shallow bowls. Place the flour in the first bowl. Whisk the eggs with a splash of water in the second bowl. Mix together the panko, dry breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese in the third bowl.
Sprinkle the chicken cutlets with salt and pepper, then dip both sides of the cutlets in flour (shake off excess), then dip cutlets in the egg, then into the breadcrumbs, pressing the breadcrumbs on lightly with your hands.

Heat a 12" non-stick skillet over med-high heat with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil until very hot but not smoking (the chicken should sizzle right away after you add them to the pan). Add the chicken cutlets to the pan without crowding them. (You may have to do this in batches, wiping out the pan and adding oil with each batch.) Cook until the cutlets are a deep golden brown, then turn the cutlets over and cook the other side until nice and golden. Add oil if the pan seems too dry. Remove the chicken from the skillet and place in a casserole dish big enough to fit all the cutlets in a single layer.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook to al dente.

Top each cutlet with a spoonful of tomato sauce, then some mozzarella cheese, then a sprinkling of Parmesan. Bake in the oven, uncovered, until cheese is melted and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Serve on top of, or alongside, the spaghetti and sauce.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Favorite - Marzipan...

Chocolate Covered Marzipan
...chocolate covered marzipan actually. Inside this little box contains my very favorite treat. I'll tell you that it's not easy to find. I ask for it in every candy shop - even Godiva stores - and they never have it. But my wonderful husband always seems to find me some. And these chocolate marzipan hearts were the absolute best birthday present ever!

Chocolate Covered Marzipan
You can easily find marzipan - it's in the grocery store in the baking aisle (a common brand is Odense). And I suppose to cover some of it in chocolate would be easy enough, but this is one indulgence that I prefer to buy (or receive!) already made. Don't ask me why. I have no problem making my own yogurt, granola, or my own birthday cake. Maybe I'll make it someday. If you're interested in making your own, I found a recipe here.

Chocolate Covered Marzipan
Marzipan is essentially almonds ground to a paste with sugar and egg whites or corn syrup to act as a binder. It is used in candy and pastries such as petit fours. It can also be tinted and shaped into edible fruits and other shapes to adorn cakes. I first tasted marzipan in Germany when I was in college and traveled with friends around Europe. I fell in love when I tasted it. It's probably the reason I love these pinched orange macaroons so much - and the reason I named my blog Marzipan. If you happen to see it covered in chocolate, you've got to try it! What is your favorite sweet indulgence?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Apple Cranberry Muffins


The reason for the get-together: to plan the next get-together, of course. Do you need a better reason than that to invite the girls over? School is well underway and we're overloaded with housework, and homework, and after-school chauffeuring. But our girl-time is sacred. Time with the girls is the best stress-relief known to "mom". We discussed school activities and the swine flu (none of our families have had it - yet). We talked about movies and wine and books we've read. The more tech-savvy shared ideas for photo editing with the less experienced. And oh, the delicious goodies we had for breakfast - a delicious pumpkin tiramisu and these freshly baked Apple Cranberry Muffins. It was perfect! The next get-together will be a weekend get-away - a whole weekend of food, fun, shopping and crafts with the girls. I can hardly wait!


Apple Muffins
adapted from King Arthur Flour

Note : The next time I make these, I will try a lower oven temperature. My muffins were done before the recommended time and some were too brown on top.

1 cup (4 ounces) King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, divided
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk
2 large apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 450°F (see note above). Grease and flour a 12 cup muffin tin and set aside.
Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and set aside.
In a separate bowl, cream the butter and add the granulated sugar and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar. Beat until fluffy.
Add the egg and mix well; stop once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix in the buttermilk gently. (If you over-mix, the buttermilk will cause the mixture to curdle.) Stir in the dry ingredients and fold in the apple chunks and cranberries.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, sprinkling the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar on top. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 400°F, and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the tin, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Yield: 12 muffins.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Week in Review and Chocolate Espresso or Chocolate Mint Glazed Brownie Buttons


I had three baking appointments last week - woo hoo!
Here's the rundown:
Job #1:
A cookie tray for a post-season little league get-together. The request was for 3 dozen chocolate chip cookies and 3 dozen brownies. I decided to make these chocolate chip cookies and Brownie Buttons from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours Cookbook. I covered the brownies with a chocolate ganache glaze flavored with espresso powder. After baking 4 dozen, I realized they were a little difficult to get out of the pan, so I lined the rest with mini muffin cups - much better! (see the recipe at the bottom of this post)

Here's the cookie tray all filled. My friend, Susie, said there was not a crumb left on the tray. She especially loved the chocolate chip cookies and insisted I must have some secret of getting them to taste so good... but really, I just follow my own recipe!

Job #2:
Another friend has a daughter who was turning 13 and was having a slumber party to celebrate. She ordered a dozen vanilla cupcakes and a dozen vanilla-filled "hostess" cupcakes. The birthday girl loves pink... so I tinted the vanilla icing a pale pink,

and used some hot pink foil cupcake liners for the hostess cupcakes.

And finally, Job #3:
My soul sister at Joy Beadworks needed a birthday cake to celebrate 5 October birthdays in her family and needed to feed about 20 people. She wanted a tiered cake with all the names and the dates their birthdays fall on in October. The bottom layer is an 8" square triple layer chocolate cake (I omitted the cinnamon) with vanilla buttercream filling. The top layer is a 6" square triple layer vanilla buttermilk cake with chocolate buttercream filling. The icing all over the outside is vanilla buttercream. Even though my piping skills could use some refinement, the cake got rave reviews. But considering it was my first tiered cake, I'm pretty dang proud of it.
If you're interested in learning how to construct a tiered cake, look to Martha Stewart's directions in Baking with Julia in her recipe for Wedding Cake. The method works.

One year ago: Mint Brownies (a favorite!)

Brownie Buttons
from Baking, From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Makes 16 (I tripled the recipe)

Ingredients:
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
Ganache glaze for topping (recipe below)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter two miniature muffin pans, each with a dozen cups, and place them on a baking sheet. (Or line mini muffins cups with paper liners.)
Whisk together the flour and salt and set aside.
Melt the butter, chocolate and brown sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over very low heat, stirring frequently with a heatproof spatula and keeping an eye on the pan so nothing overheats or burns. When the mixture is smooth, remove from the heat and cool for a minute or two.
Stir the vanilla and egg into the chocolate mixture. When the mixture is well blended, add the flour and stir only until it is incorporated. You should have a smooth, glossy batter.
Spoon the batter into 16 of the muffin cups, using about a teaspoon of batter to fill each cup three-quarters full. (I used my smallest cookie scoop.)
Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, or until the tops of the buttons spring back when touched. Transfer the pans to racks to cool for 3 minutes before carefully releasing the buttons. Cool to room temperature on the racks. When the brownies are completely cool, glaze with chocolate espresso ganache.

Chocolate Espresso or Mint Ganacheadapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Polafito

6 Ounces / 170g Dark Chocolate (60 to 72% Cacao), coarsely chopped
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
 1 tsp espresso powder or 1/2 tsp peppermint extract

 1. Put the chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside. Whisk together the cream and espresso powder (omit espresso powder for mint ganache) in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil and pour over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for 2 minutes before gently mixing the chocolate and cream together until completely smooth.  For peppermint ganache, stir in the peppermint extract once the ganache is smooth.

2. Let the ganache sit for about 15 minutes.

3. If the ganache has cooled enough to become solid, microwave (for only a few seconds) or gently heat the ganache until pourable.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cheesecake Swirl Brownies


They almost look Black and Gold...I made these for a Steeler pre-game tailgate for Mark and some of his friends from work. This recipe makes quite a few of these delectable little morsels of goodness that I found myself nibbling on the extras until they were all gone. I'm sure glad I didn't have the whole batch at my disposal or I'd have downed them all! (This is why I share everything I bake!) The brownie layer is rich and fudgy and the cheesecake layer was the perfect complement. Be sure to bake these for a crowd because I don't want you to curse me because you ate the whole pan yourself!

Cheesecake Swirl Brownies
from Classic Stars Desserts by Emily Luchetti

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
7 ounces (14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar, divided
5 large eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of kosher salt
1 1/4 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan.

Melt the chocolates together in a double boiler. Whisk until smooth and let cool until warm.
Combine the butter and 1 1/4 cups of the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add 3 of the eggs, one at a time, mixign well after each addition. Reduce the speed to low, add the melted chocolate, and mix until smooth. Mix in the flour and salt. Measure out about 1 cup of the chocolate batter and set aside. Spread the remaining batter in the prepared pan.

Combine the cream cheese and the remaining 3/4 cup sugar in a clean mixer bowl and beat on medium speed until smooth. Add the remaining 2 eggs and the vanilla and again beat until smooth. Spread the cream cheese mixture in an even layer over the chocolate batter. Scatter spoonfuls of the reserved chocolate batter over the cream cheese layer. With a knife, swirl the chocolate batter into the cream cheese layer to create a marbled effect.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a moist crumb, about 50 minutes. Let cool for at least 30 minutes. Cut into 24 squares.

Note: when I made the chocolate batter, it was too thick to swirl through the cheesecake layer, so I placed the reserved batter in the microwave for a few seconds at a time until the chocolate batter was more of a pourable consistency. This made it easier to make the chocolate swirls.

Monday, October 12, 2009

It's My Party and I'll Bake If I Want To (Dorie's Perfect Party Cake)


Today is my birthday! And on Saturday, Mark and his parents arranged a complete birthday celebration. They brought a whole smorgasbord of food including a salad, pickled beets and eggs, and award-winning apple pie. There were delicious clams steamed in a huge pot over the Old Coleman Stove with sweet potatoes and the season's last corn on the cob. We had wonderful grilled lemon-chicken and deviled eggs which were declared THE best ever (send me an email if you want the secret recipe).

They invited some pretty interesting guests...and they knew how to have a good time...

The best part was I didn't have to do a thing for the party - except that I really wanted to make my own cake. I thought The Perfect Party Cake from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours would be, well, perfect. The cake was a classic combination of lemon and raspberry and coconut - and in different forms it would make the most delicious and beautiful wedding cake, or perfect petit fours, or of course cupcakes. You may think it's crazy to want to make your own birthday cake, but I can't think of a better occasion. And it was the perfect birthday party!

Perfect Party Cake
adapted slightly from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
For the Cake
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups whole milk or buttermilk (I used buttermilk)
4 large egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure lemon extract (I omitted - didn't have any on hand)
For the Buttercream Icing:
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For Finishing
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable used About 1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut
Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper.

To Make the Cake:
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk and egg whites. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and, working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).
To make the icing:
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream. Remove the bowl from the heat. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes. Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla. You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

To Assemble the Cake:
Using a sharp serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half. Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one fourth of the frosting. Cover the frosting evenly with one third of the jam. Top with another layer, spread with frosting and preserves and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have frosting leftover). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining frosting to frost the sides and top. Sprinkle with coconut if desired.





























Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tomatillo Chicken and Bean Stew


Tomatillos look like green tomatoes, but they are quite different. When they grow, they have a thin papery husk around them. They are green when fully ripened and used mainly in Latin American cooking. Tomatillos are the basis of Salsa Verde or "green sauce". They are crisper than a tomato and have a tart taste with a hint of lime flavor. That's my take on them anyway.

I'd never heard of or tried a tomatillo until they showed up in my CSA box a few years ago. If I didn't want to waste them, I needed to find a use for them. The internet is a great resource for recipes using unusual ingredients. Elise at Simply Recipes has posted several recipes which use tomatillos. Her latest was a Tomatillo Chicken Stew...I added a can of Cannellini beans and now I call it Tomatillo Chicken and Bean Stew. I liked the added texture provided by the beans. The tomatillo sauce was a little spicy for me - I guess the jalapenos I used were pretty hot. Next time I'd add a little chile, taste, and then add a little more if needed. I added lots of cilantro and took Elise's advise and served it with white rice and a dollop of sour cream to cool it down a bit. It was delicious with a touch of unusual!


Tomatillo Chicken Stew
from Simply Recipes
Tomatillo Sauce:
1 1/2 lbs tomatillos
1-2 jalapeño chile peppers, or 2-3 serrano chili peppers (include the seeds if you want the heat, remove them if you don't want the heat), stems discarded, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tbsp lime (or lemon) juice
Pinch of sugar
Stew:
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, trimmed of excess fat, cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 1/2 cup chicken stock
1 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
2 cups tomatillo sauce
1 teaspoon dry oregano or 1 tablespoon fresh, chopped
1/2 cup packed chopped cilantro (about one bunch, rinsed and chopped, stems and leaves)

1 Make the tomatillo sauce. Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos and rinse well. Cut the tomatillos in half and place them cut-side down on an aluminum foil-lined roasting pan. Broil for 5-7 minutes until blackened in spots. Let cool enough to handle. Place the tomatillos, any juice they have released, chile peppers, garlic, salt, lime juice and sugar in a blender, and pulse until well blended. If you make ahead, refrigerate until needed.

2 Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large, thick-bottomed pot on medium high heat until almost smoking. Pat dry the cubed chicken parts with paper towels. Sprinkle salt and pepper over them. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, and adding more olive oil when necessary, brown the chicken pieces on two sides. When you place the pieces in the pan, make sure there is room between them (otherwise they will steam and not brown), and don't move them until they are browned on one side. Then use tongs or a metal spatula to turn them over and don't move them again until they are browned on the other side. Do not cook through, but only brown. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and lower the heat to medium. There should be a nice layer of browned bits at the bottom of the pan.

3 Add the onions to the pan, and a tablespoon or two more olive oil if needed (likely). Add ground cumin and coriander. Cook a few minutes, stirring occasionally until onions are softened and the browned bits from the chicken have been picked up by the onions and are no longer sticking to the pan. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more, until fragrant.

4 Add the browned chicken, the tomatillo sauce, chicken stock, beans and oregano to the pan. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook, partially covered, for 20 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Add the cilantro to the stew in the last minute or so of cooking.
Serve over white rice, accompanied with sour cream if needed to offset the heat from the chiles. The stew will thicken as it cools.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Chili-Mac: Perfect Sunday Football Fare


A few weeks ago, my son got the itch for cooking. His sisters had been watching Jon and Kate plus 8...again...and in that episode, Emeril came for a visit. He made this Chili-Mac and I think it made him hungry for it. The boy is always hungry! We Googled the recipe, got all the ingredients at the store and together we made it for dinner. Everyone, including our picky Annie, liked it. Ok, she ate only the noodles, but I'll gladly settle for that from her. After tasting it I thought that this would be the perfect make-ahead recipe for a tailgate or Sunday Football game. Before we went to New Jersey, I made this recipe and instead of baking it, I refrigerated it and took it with us. We baked it at the beach and it fed all 16 of us with couple of servings leftover. If you don't have a crowd, you can always freeze the leftovers or cut the recipe in half.

Chili-Mac
from Emeril Lagasse

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 medium onions small diced, about 3 cups
2 jalapenos, stemmed and minced, optional
1 tablespoon salt, plus more for pasta cooking water
2 pounds extra lean ground beef
5 tablespoons Mexican chili powder (I used about 3 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 (28 ounce) can whole plum tomatoes, broken with your hands, with juices
2 cans kidney beans, drained
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 pound medium cheddar cheese (I used a little less)
Sour cream for serving, if desired

Instructions:
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a 6-quart soup pot. Add onions, jalapenos (if desired), and 2 teaspoons of the salt and cook until soft, 2 minutes. Add ground beef, chili powder, oregano, and garlic and cook, breaking up any clumps of meat with a spoon, for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, beans, and ½ cup of water, stir, and bring chili to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until thickened to chili consistency, about 20 minutes. Taste and add 1 more teaspoon salt, if needed.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
While the chili is simmering, cook macaroni according to package directions in boiling salted water, drain in a colander, rinse under cool running water and set aside. Grate cheddar cheese and set aside.
Place a 9 x 13.5-inch or other 3-quart casserole dish on a baking sheet. Once chili has finished cooking, fold in the cooked macaroni and 1/3 of the cheddar cheese. Transfer chili-mac to the baking dish and top with remaining cheese. Bake until heated through and cheese is melted, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes before serving. Serve each portion garnished with a dollop of sour cream, if desired.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Roadtrip, A Birthday Party and THE Best Marinade for Steak


The roadtrip was from Pittsburgh to Surf City, NJ. My two brothers and I decided we would all try to get together at the house where my parents spend a week each summer and surprise my dad with a surf and turf birthday celebration for his 75th birthday, which is actually today - Happy Birthday Dad! I just love watching the kids play at the water's edge. It was a bit chilly and windy and taking my advice, they didn't wear their bathing suits to the beach. But that didn't stop them from getting soaked. Kids don't care that it's freezing - it's just too much fun. So in the above photo, they are chasing the waves...


And now the waves are chasing them ! They could do this all day! All I have to do is sit in my chair and watch all the fun!

We borrowed my in-law's RV for the trip. The house my parents were staying in had one bath and two bedrooms (3 if you count the attic) and there were 16 of us. That RV was a lifesaver! It even had just enough room in the kitchen to assemble this Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Fudge Icing for my dad's birthday surprise.


The biggest conversation piece was how I cut the cake by cutting a circle into the middle and then slicing pieces all around. The cake is quite tall and cutting it this way makes the pieces more manageable and you don't have the wedges falling apart as you serve the pieces.

The surf and turf birthday menu included lobster, filet mignon, cajun-spiced corn-on-the-cob, baked potatoes with a cheese-broccoli sauce, and a complementary Pinot Giescheno. Don't look for this vintage in the wine shop - my brother made this wine himself and it was perfect. I was in charge of the steaks and turned to THE best marinade for steaks I've ever had. We use this marinade every time we cook steak and ALWAYS get ooohs and ahhhs from our guests and requests for the recipe. This time was no exception.

Use fresh herbs if you can and marinate the steak for at least an hour or two (longer is even better). Grill the steaks to your preferred doneness, a little bit of pink is perfect. The flavor is just incredible! You won't believe the difference it makes!


Garlic and Herb Marinade for Steaks
from Cook's Illustrated May 2003
Makes enough for 2 pounds of steaks
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup olive oil
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Place the steaks in a zip top plastic bag and pour marinade over the steaks, making sure all the steaks are covered evenly with marinade. Marinate in the refigerator for at least an hour. Take the steaks out of the refrigerator about 45 minutes before grilling to allow them to warm up a bit. Discard leftover marinade.

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