Sunday, March 30, 2008

Me, Cheesy?

Yes, I felt cheesy today. But not the way you're thinking. LOL... I just meant that I've a craving for cheesecake!

Actually, the real story is that I was looking at one of my food magazine subscriptions the other day. One of the photos featured is that of lemon cheesecake squares. And so this triggered a Pavlovian response within me. I want cheesecake!!!!
And so I looked through some of my cookbooks and magazines, and finally settled with the recipe from - guess who? - Giada De Laurentiis! You should know by now that I'm a big fan of hers. So here's the recipe:

Mascarpone Cheesecake With Almond Crust
1 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
2 (8-ounce) containers mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (recommended: Nutella)
1/4 cup whipping cream

For the crust:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Tightly wrap the outside of a 9-inch diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides with 3 layers of heavy-duty foil. Finely grind the almonds, cracker crumbs, and sugar in a food processor. Add the butter and process until moist crumbs form. Press the almond mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan (not on the sides of the pan). Bake the crust until it is set and beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Cool. Decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

For the filling:
Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, and sugar in a large bowl until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Beat in the lemon juice and vanilla. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

Pour the cheese mixture over the crust in the pan. Place the springform pan in a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until the center of the cheesecake moves slightly when the pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour 5 minutes (the cake will become firm when it is cold). Transfer the cake to a rack; cool for 1 hour. Refrigerate until the cheesecake is cold, at least 8 hours and up to 2 days.

For the topping: Combine the chocolate-hazelnut spread and cream in a small bowl. Heat in the microwave until warm, stirring every 20 seconds to blend, about 1 minute.
Cut the cake into wedges. Drizzle the chocolate sauce over the wedges and serve.
Here are my variations to the recipe above:
First, I used Neuchaftel cheese (1/3 less fat) so I won't be that guilty when I eat the cheesecake. Secondly, I used 1 (8 oz) mascarpone cheese and 1 (8 oz) light sour cream. The recipe calls for 2-8 oz containers but I only had a container of mascarpone cheese on hand so I decided to substitute the other one it with light sour cream. I've made cheesecake with sourcream before and it was great. Thirdly, I didn't bake the crust. This was plain oversight on my part. Truth is, I didn't bother reading the recipe through, that's why. Instead of baking it, I popped the pan (with the crust) in the freezer while I was doing the filling. It worked out just fine.
I took the cheesecake to a potluck fellowship party at a friend's house and everybody complimented me on the cheesecake. (I hope they were not just being nice to me). The crust with the almonds really made a difference. However next time, I might increase the amount of lemon juice as I could barely taste it. And with the chocolate drizzle, the lemon was totally overpowered.

But all in all, I'd say that this cheesecake truly satisfied my cheesy craving.

Penne With Eggplant And Swordfish

One of the advantages of growing up in a tropical island like the Philippines is having access to fresh seafood. I grew up eating fresh seafood. And I mean just-caught-that-day-kinda-fresh, so fresh some were still squiggling and jumping out from the containers! None of those previously frozen stuff...uh,oh.

Tonight's dinner was pasta with fish. Not from the can but fresh fish. Fortunately, I didn't have to clean the fish like I learned back in the Philippines, as I already got my fish filleted. I never had pasta with fish before, apart from having tuna casserole (which uses canned tuna), so it doesn't count for me. And I'm glad I tried this. This is definitely a keeper.

Penne With Swordfish And Eggplant
1 pound penne pasta
1/3 cup olive oil plus 2 tablespoons
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes (plus more to taste)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley plus 1/3 cup
4 Japanese eggplants, ends trimmed, thinly sliced lengthwise, then cut into squares
1 pound swordfish steaks skin removed, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup white wine
2 cups halved teardrop or cherry tomatoes (red, yellow or a blend)
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Cook pasta until al dente (firm to the bite), about 8-10 minutes. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, place a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the 1/3 cup olive oil, garlic, red chili flakes, and 1/4 cup parsley. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggplant and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the eggplant from the pan and set aside.
3. Season the swordfish cubes with salt and pepper.
4. Using the same pan, over medium-high heat, add the 2 remaining tablespoons of olive oil and cook the swordfish until opaque, about 5 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the tomatoes, eggplant, cooked pasta, the remaining 1/3 cup parsley and stir. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
This recipe was adapted from Giada De Laurentiis'. I rarely follow a recipe to a T as I make my food according to how I prefer them. So for my version, I sauteed onion with my garlic. Also, I used whole grain Penne for my pasta. I used Japanese eggplant as they are not bitter like those large ones, though I'm sure you can also use the bigger varieties. I'd suggest washing them with salt and water first to get the bitterness out of them. I got my Japanese eggplant from the Asian market, as my local grocery store did not have them.

Also, it isn't suggested in the recipe, but I seasoned the eggplants with salt and pepper when I sauteed them, so the eggplant themselves will have flavor. When I sauteed the fish, I added chopped rosemary and thyme as well. I know that these herbs work well with swordfish.

As you can see, I didn't have the yellow teardrop tomato but I imagine that the pasta would have looked even more attractive with the yellow tomatoes in it.

I just love parmesan so I grated a bit of the cheese on top when I served the pasta. Italians don't recommend adding cheese to seafood, and I don't know why. But then again, I'm not Italian so I will do it the way I love it.

The colors of this pasta are wonderful. And it definitely tastes as good as it looks- no, not fishy at all. Just fabulous!

Easter Dinner

This may be a bit late but well, better late than never right?

Well on Easter Sunday, my husband and I were invited by my boss to have come dinner with him and his family. I am one of those who are fortunate enough to have a kind boss and who I actually get along with. So for this, I am thankful to God.My boss' wife happens to love cooking and is a big Foodnetwork fan as well. So, of course we were treated to a special dinner.

We had the arugala salad with fennel and oranges, seared pork loin with herbs, risotto and the chocolate cake for dessert. Everything was yummmy...

To Mitch and Anesse, thank you again for the dinner. We truly had a great time.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Salad Dressing In My Muffin?!

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar. My favorite salad dressing. It's a staple in my pantry because these two are very useful, not just for salads but for cooking in general. But as an ingredient for my breakfast muffin??? That doesn’t sound right.

I was watching
Giada de Laurentiis make this muffin on Everyday Italian in Food Network. I was a bit skeptical at the beginning but by the end of the show, I was already so stoked to try it– my curiosity was a mile high. I gotta try this recipe, if only to find out for myself if these two ingredients will indeed work for baking as well as it does for cooking. Besides, olive oil is much healthier than butter or ordinary cooking oil, right? So these muffins should be a bit healthier than the normal ones. And I’m definitely in the lookout for healthier alternatives.Olive Oil Muffins:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons whole milk
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
powdered sugar, for dusting
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners in a 12-cup muffin tin.
2. Blend together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl to blend.
3. Using an electric mixer beat the sugar, eggs, and zests in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vinegar and milk. Gradually beat in the oil.
4. Add the flour mixture and stir just until blended. Crush the almonds with your hands as you add them to the batter and stir until mixed.
5. Fill the muffin tin almost to the top of the paper liners. Bake until golden on top and a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 20 to 25 minutes.

6. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Remove the muffins onto a platter and let cool for 5 more minutes. Sift powdered sugar over the muffins and serve.

So… my verdict??? Well, it’s not what you would like if you have a sweet tooth. Maybe it’s something psychological because I’ve always had this mind-set that muffins are supposed to be sweet. This one is not sweet at all. Perhaps I ought to increase the amount of sugar than what the recipe states?

Also, I used a little more of the citrus (lemon & orange) zest than were called for and even added 1 tbsp of the juice of an orange for good measure. It’s not bad, though. Not at all. It’s just something different. Maybe the muffin just has to become an acquired taste???

Try and see for yourself. Let me know how it is for you. :oD

Monday, March 24, 2008

Pork And Squash Stirfry

In the Philippines, one of my favorite lunch time eats is a Chinese dish called "steamed rice". Uh-oh. It's not just plain rice as the name suggests. It is rice, yes, but with toppings - and you can get it with either pork, chicken or shrimp topping. Not one chinese restaurant here in the U.S. serve this dish (I didn't find it so far), so I always make it a point to have it whenever I am back in my beloved motherland.

This dish that I cooked for dinner tonight reminds me of steamed rice, as it is a very good rice topping. In fact, I cannot imagine eating this dish with something else other than plain white steamed rice.
Pork And Squash Stirfry:
1 (2 lb) butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 in. cubes
2 tbsp peanut oil
2 tbsp coarsely grated orange rind
1 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger
½ tsp crushed red peppers
1 (3-in.) cinnamon stick, broken
1-1/4 lb pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 2-in. strips
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp cornstarch
¼ tsp salt
1 c chopped green onions
1. Place squash in a large microwave safe bowl. Add water to a depth of 1 inch. Cover with plastic wrap, vent. Microwave at HIGH 8 minutes or so until tender. Drain and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add rind, ginger, red pepper and cinnamon stick pieces. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove and discard cinnamon stick pieces.
3. Increase heat to medium-high. Add pork to pan, and sauté 4 mins or until browned. Combine sugar and next 5 ingredients (thru salt), stirring with a whisk. Add sugar mixture to pan; cook 2 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened, stirring constantly.
4. Add squash, toss to coat. Stir in green onions.
As always, I tweaked the recipe to suit my preferences and budget. First, I used balsamic vinegar in place of the Chinese black vinegar (chinese black vinegar is sweet and has a smokey taste). Or you may also use Worcesteshire sauce instead. Second, I used regular soy sauce but did not add any more salt. Third, I threw in some diced red bell pepper for color and taste. Fourth, instead of the peanut oil, I used a mixture of walnut oil and sesame oil. It's what I have in my pantry. And lastly, for the squash, I blanched it with boiling water for a couple of minutes. I prefer cooking on my stove top rather than using the microwave.

This recipe was adapted from the Cooking Light magazine.

Good Mistake

Sunday breakfast (or brunch) for us is usually made up of the whole shabang -- - bacon, eggs, toast or pancakes, coffee, etc. It is the only time in the week that my husband and I can eat breakfast together, so I make an effort to prepare a good one.

But on this particular Sunday, neither one of us wanted a heavy breakfast. We wanted something simple - waffles. Just waffles. (Thanks to my friend Holly who gave me my Belgian waffle maker, now I can make my very own waffles instead of buying those pre-made ones from the grocery) .

Whenever I make waffles or pancakes, I always add a little bit of cinnamon to the batter as I just love the flavor. And I intended to do this, but I was busy chatting away with my husband and not paying full attention to what I was doing. I grabbed the bottle of what I thought was cinnamon and shook over the batter. Too late, I realized that what I picked up was the anise seeds and not the cinammon! I let out a gasp as I saw those tiny seeds in the batter. Oh boy! Should I fish them out? After only a second of deliberation, I thought.. Nah... Afterall, I add anise seeds to my cookies so it can't be that bad, and there weren't too much of it in there. So, I went ahead and added the cinnamon, as I originally intended.

Surprise, surprise. This little mistake turned out to be a good one as the hint of anise in the background combined with cinnamon is really wonderful. To quote Rachel Ray, "it's the thing that makes you say, hmmmnn, what is it??"...... So from now on, I'm going to be adding a dash of anise seeds to my waffles.
Classic Belgian Waffles:
1-1/4 c sifted cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp sugar
4 eggs, separated
1-1/2 c milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 c melted butter (or canola oil)
Pinch of salt
Dash of cinnamon (optional)
Dash of anise (optional)
Non-stick spray

1. Preheat waffle iron.
2. Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, cinnamon and anise
3. In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks lightly and add the milk, vanilla and melted butter. Then add the dry ingredients to the mixture and stir just enough to combine.
4. In another bowl, beat egg whites until they are stiff but not dry. Gently fold them into the batter using a rubber spatula. Do not overmix! (Let batter sit for 4-5 mins before baking for better results)
5. Coat waffle iron with non-stick spray and pour batter into iron. Bake waffle until steam stops escaping, or until golden brown.

To serve: dust waffles with confectioner’s sugar and top with whipped cream and slices of fruits (like strawberry). Or, my hubby’s preference – slather waffles with more butter and a pour warm maple syrup on it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spicy Cucumber Salad

This salad is one of the easiest you will ever make. It requires only a few ingredients and probably would take you about 10 minutes to make.

The jalapeño pepper added to the mix lends a new twist to this otherwise ordinary salad. I've made this salad before, but not with the spicy pepper. But now that I know that the combination is wonderful, I will be adding the pepper to this salad from this day forth.

Again, I found this recipe in my old Cooking Light magazine, in the same issue where I found the chicken sate with peanut sauce recipe.Spicy Cucumber Salad:
3 cups thinly sliced English cucumber (seedless, approx. 1 pc)
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp minced, seeded jalapeño pepper
1 tsp grated lime rind

1. In a bowl combine the rice wine vinegar, sugar, jalapeño pepper and the grated lime rind. Let stand for a few minutes.
2. Thinly slice the cucumber and onion.
3. Toss in the dressing to coat.

I suggest you try this salad with the chicken sate with peanut sauce. (Recipe found in my last post prior to this one). You'll not regret it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Chicken Satay With Peanut Sauce

By the time I was done cooking, it seemed like the house was on fire. The smoke got so thick in the kitchen that my husband had to open up the windows!

Why? Because I decided to do Chicken Satè (satay) for dinner tonight. And as you know, satès involve grilling (meats are broiled, traditionally). We couldn't grill outside as today was a particularly wet day. It had been raining for the most part of the day until evening. But come rain or shine, we're having chicken satè for dinner; hence I grilled on the stove top -- and our exhaust sucks, that's what it is! LOL...

I was just going through an old issue of my Cooking Light magazine when this recipe caught my attention. I marked it for future reference, but then my hubby wanted to eat a light chicken dish for dinner tonight. And so I decided, now would be a good time as any to have this dish. Most of the ingredients are already in my pantry / fridge, so I only needed to get a couple of things. I made a trip to the Asian store to pick up rice noodles, and to our regular grocery to get the chicken.

Chicken Satè With Peanut Sauce
1 lb skinless/boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 tbsp light brown sugar
2-1/2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp bottled ground fresh ginger
1 tsp grated lime rind
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
Cooking spray
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1-1/2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tbsp creamy peanut butter
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 garlic clove, minced

1. Prepare grill.
2.To prepare sate, combine chicken and next 6 ingredients in a med bowl. Let stand for 10 mins.
3.To prepare sauce, combine 1 tbsp brown sugar and the next 5 ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring until sugar dissolves.
4. Thread chicken strips onto each of the skewers. Place chicken on grill rack coated with
cooking spray; grill 5 mins on each side or until chicken is done. Serve chicken with sauce and rice noodles.

For the noodles, just cook according to package directions.

I had to make my own changes of the above recipe due to what I have on hand. First, I used regular soy sauce. Second, I have a natural peanut butter - not chunky but not as creamy as Smucker's for instance. Third, I added the lime juice to the satè marinade as I wanted a stronger lime flavor. Fourth, I used fresh ginger instead of a bottled one.

This was a nice light dinner that my husband really liked. I served it with a Spicy Cucumber Salad, recipe of which you'll find in my next post.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Foodie Blogroll

You may notice that I have this new little icon on my sidebar now... Yep, I just became a member of the Foodie Blogroll.

I'm so excited to meet other foodies, amateurs and professionals alike. I am looking forward to learning from everyone in the foodblog world!!!

If you want to be a member, just click the link found under the icon and it will take you to the registration.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Get Well Soup

There is one go-to soup when I don't feel so well - chicken noodle soup. There is something in this dish that just comforts and makes me feel better when I'm feeling a bit under the weather. Maybe it's the warm soup or the chicken? I don't know. Whatever it is, I somehow craved for it tonight. I'm not sick though, mind you. And I just didn't want to open a packet of ramen noodles. That would have been much easier, but I'm mindful of the sodium content in those little packs. I wanted a good, home-made noodle soup, the way I remember when my mother used to do it.Chicken Noodle Soup:
2 c water (or more)
2 pcs boneless/skinless chicken breast, diced
1/2 med sized onion, diced
2 pcs med sized carrotts,diced
1 large rib of celery,diced
2 small potatoes,diced
1 cup wide egg noodles (yolk-free)
1/4 c hvy whipping cream or milk or half & half (optional)
Place your chicken in the pot with 2 cups of water. Season with salt and pepper. Let the water come to a boil, and when it does, reduce the heat to let it simmer until the chickent gets tender. When the chicken is tender, add your carrots and potatoes and noodles. Let it simmer for another 6-7 minutes or till the noodles get done and the veggies are tender. Then add the onion and celery. Adjust seasoning. If desired, add the whipped cream at the end just before turning off the heat.

The noodle absorbs some of the broth so you may need to add more liquid as you cook. I recommend adding either chicken broth or chicken stock if you have those on hand. And of course, you can add any vegetable you like in your soup.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Pasta Sans Sauce

How do you make a light pasta dish? Aside from not eating too much of it (LOL), is to make it without sauce. So this dish is what it is all about, a sauceless pasta.
Linguine With Shrimp And Arugula:
2 cloves minced garlic, 1 small onion, 1/2 lb of fresh linguine, 1 lb of raw shrimps (deviened, tails off), 1 c. of asparagus (cut in 1-inch length), 1 c of baby arugula, 1 c of diced fresh mozzarella, 2 tbsps of chopped fresh parsely, 1 lemon zested and juiced, salt, pepper, 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil plus 2 tbsps for sauteeing.
In a bowl pour 1/4 c of olive oil and the zest of the lemon. Add the shrimp. Let the shrimp marinate in the mixture for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, cook your pasta according to direction. Since it's fresh, it will only take about 3 minutes or so. Reserve 1-2 ladles of your pasta water.
Then sautee your shrimp mixture in the pan. When the shrimps have turned pink on both sides, take them off and transfer to a plate. Keep warm. Then add another 2 tbsps of olive oil to your pan. Sautee your onion, garlic and asparagus until they've softened. Then add back the shrimp, followed by the pasta. If the pasta is too dry, add a ladle of your pasta water (or more, you have to eyeball this). Season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon juice just before you take the pasta off the heat.
In your pasta bowl, place your diced mozarella and arugula in. Pour your cooked pasta into the bowl and toss. The mozzarella will melt from the heat of the pasta, and the arugula will begint to wilt. Serve warm. Garnish with parsely.

This is an easy, quick meal for those days when you want something light but filling. Since this is a sauceless pasta, it is best to use the fresh pasta when you can. In my opinion, the fresh pasta just doesn't get too dry as the regular ones.

I know that for Italians, you're not supposed to add cheese to a seafood dish. But well, I am not an Italian, so I guess I can break this rule. I grated a little bit of parmesan cheese right on the pasta before serving. The parmesan, I believe, rounded up all the flavors in this dish.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Orzo Late

"Orzo" late, like "oh, so late..." Yeah, I know, it's a bit corny.

It was 9pm when we got back home to see our friends- Kevin, Holly and their kids- off at the airport. They left for Capetown, South Africa today, to do missions work. Lord willing, we'll see them again in 3 years-- yes, in 3 years, if they don't decide to stay there.

My husband was surprised that I started preparing this dish as soon as we got home, but I guess, I just wanted to get my mind off from missing my friends. So, late as it was, I decided to do this pasta salad for our lunch the next day. It's really simple, the only cooking involved is the pasta. Orzo is this rice-shaped pasta as you can see in the photo. I've done this salad before, so I made this from memory, but the recipe I got from Foodnetwork's Giada de Laurentiis.

Orzo Salad
4 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups orzo
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups red and yellow teardrop tomatoes or grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
About 3/4 cup Red Wine Vinaigrette, recipe follows
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a heavy large saucepan, bring the broth to a boil over high heat. Stir in the orzo.
2. Cover partially and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes.
3. Drain the orzo through a strainer. Transfer to a large wide bowl and toss. Set aside to cool completely.
4. Toss the orzo with the beans, tomatoes, onion, basil, mint, and enough vinaigrette to coat. Season the salad, to taste, with salt and pepper, and serve at room temperature.

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Mix the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper in a blender. With the machine running, gradually blend in the oil. Season the vinaigrette, to taste, with more salt and pepper, if desired.
Yield: 1 3/4 cups

What I did different was adding a basil-infused olive oil to my pasta. It intensified the flavor of basil even more and the combination with mint and basil was fabulous! Also, I didn't use the yellow tear drop tomatoes (as you see in the photo) since they're not available in my grocery store.

I tossed the salad with the dressing just before eating the next day. Uhhhhmmn.. what a nice little lunch. The salad is even better eaten if tossed with grilled chicken or fish (tuna or salmon, maybe).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Flat Fish

Halibut comes from a dutch word "heilbot", a flat fish. This is what we had for dinner tonight; a very light and healthy one. We are really making an effort eat lighter meals at night at an earlier time.
First off, I prepared my own salad dressing. I juiced one lemon in small bowl, added a pinch of cumin, 2 tablespoons of honey and whisked in about 1/4 c. of olive oil. Seasonead with salt and pepper to taste.

And then, I seasoned the halibut filets in salt and pepper, then sauteed them in extra virgin olive oil using my iron cast skillet. It took about 4 mins to brown the fish on one side, and about 2-3 mins on the other side.

While waiting for the fish to be done, I got my veggies together. I just used a storebought mixed spring greens, 1 c. of sliced cherry tomatoes, 1/2 c. of fennel, 1/2 c. of chick peas. Tossed the veggie with the dressing.
You may eat the salad as shown in the photo. Another option would be to dice the fish when they're cool enough to handle, and toss the pieces in the salad, so they can also get coated with the dressing. I prefer to eat it this way.

Such a good meal. Even leaves you room for a cookie or two for dessert. :o)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Chocolate Ravioli-Wontons

I have yet to meet a person who doesn't like Nutella. And if I do, I would certainly tell that person that he/she is not normal! What's not to love about it? This gooey, creamy, rich hazelnut chocolate spread is just addicting.

But Nutella is more than just a spread for bread (hmmnn, good title). I've learned that you can use it in various ways for desserts. Such as this one I'm sharing with you today.

If you've read my previous posts, you'd know that we've got friends who are leaving for South Africa, the Logans. Well, our other friends, Marcy and Heredes, made dinner for them on Monday night. Marcy made a very tasty lasagana and salad (wish I had photos of her lasagna, sorry). And Marcy requested that I make this for dessert. How could I say NO?

And so we had this chocolate-filled ravioli-wontons for dessert. It's a perfect Asian-Italian fusion. Thanks again to my my fave Chef, Giada de Laurentiis for the recipe.

I'm telling you, if you've got a chocolate craving and you just don't want to eat Nutella out from the container, this would be a good substitute. Very easy, very simple. The crunchy wontons with the creamy chocolate that oozes out as you bite into it just hits the spot! The only thing is that when frying, this requires your full attention as the wontons get done ever so quickly!

The sugared mint leaves is just a garnish (as suggested in the recipe), but the wontons are perfectly fine eaten without the herb. Enjoy!

Fried Raviolis With Choco-Hazelnut Filling:
16 wonton wrappers
1 egg, beaten to blend
1 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (recommended: Nutella)
Vegetable oil, for frying
16 fresh mint leaves
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
Granulated sugar, for dredging
Powdered sugar, for dusting

1. Brush the edges of the wonton wrapper lightly with egg. Cover the rest of your wontons in a damp towel to prevent them from drying out.
2. Spoon 1 tablespoon of chocolate-hazelnut spread into the center of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper diagonally in half over the filling and press the edges of the wrapper to seal. Repeat with the remaining wonton wrappers.
3. Add enough oil to a heavy large frying pan to reach a depth of 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat to 350 degrees F.
4. Working in batches, carefully add the ravioli to the hot oil and cook until they are golden brown, about 45 seconds per side.
5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ravioli to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Then, transfer the cooked ravioli to another baking sheet and keep them warm in the 200 degrees F oven while frying the remaining ravioli.
6. Spray the top side of the mint leaves very lightly with nonstick spray. Working with 1 leaf at a time, dredge the coated side of the leaves in sugar to coat lightly.
7. Arrange 2 fried ravioli on each plate. Dust the ravioli with powdered sugar. Garnish with the sugared mint leaves and serve.

Note: The fried ravioli can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool them completely, then cover and refrigerate. Before serving, place them on a baking sheet and rewarm in a preheated 375 degrees F oven just until they are heated through, about 7 minutes.

P.S. Photos courtesy of Holly. Great job, Holly!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Top O' The Mawnin' To Ya!

I like the T-Mobile TV commercial showing a guy who keeps making mistakes while leaving messages for his last night's date. There's one particular version where he says "top o' the mawnin' to ya" which never fails to make my husband and I chuckle everytime we see it on. So funny.

Well, what I have here for you today is something that I hope will give you the "top o' the mawnin'" feeling - one of my breakfast sandwiches. I've heard too many times that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And I do agree with that, however, good breakfast in the morning has become a luxury, especially to those working guys & gals, like me, who are always pressed for time first thing in the morning. So, we have to be creative in making breakfasts-on-the-go. Well, today, I decided to make these croissant-egg omelette sandwhich for my hubby and I. Croissant is one of my favorite breads and it is my opinion that no matter what you pair it with, it's going to be delicious. But, this bread is not for those counting the calories, so be careful.

1/4 c of yellow onion (sliced thinly)
1/4 c of red bell pepper (diced)
1/2 c of ham (diced)
1/2 c of egg-beaters (or more, just eyeball the amount)
2 handfuls of pre-shredded italian mix cheese

salt, pepper, dash of tabasco to taste

Dice your veggie and ham the night before inorder to save you time in the morning. Then saute the veggies, followed by the ham. When the veggies are soft and the ham are cooked, add your eggs, then season with S&P. Please make sure to set your heat to low since eggs, when cooked in high temperature, can really get stiff. Anyway, when you see that the eggs have dried up a bit and the edges have pulled away from the pan, then it's time to fold the omelette. I just fold it into half since it's going to be eaten as a sandwich anyway.

In the meantime, slice your croissants in half and put them in the toaster oven, just enough to warm them through. When you take out your croissant, add the cheese on both halves. The cheese will act as a glue to your egg. Then place your omelette on top of the cheese, add a dash of tabasco for a little heat, and that's it.

I did this omellete first thing when I got up from bed. When the sandwiches were done, I wrapped them in foil, set the oven toaster to 200 degrees and just let the sandwhiches hang out there until we were ready to leave. This way, we'd leave with warm sandwiches. Also, I made our coffee (decaf for me) and poured them onto our travelling mugs . There it is, our breakfast to go.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Last Supper

Just a few days before they leave for their 3-year missions trip to South Africa, we had the pleasure of having our dearest friends, the Logans – Kevin, Holly, Emily & Katie – join us for dinner at our home last Saturday. As in the past times, it was a joy to have them, but this particular Saturday was somewhat a bittersweet time, at least for me, knowing that we’re going to be missing these people who we’ve come to consider not just as friends, but as family.
Before I go all mushy here……….Needless to say, I wanted a special dinner for them. Alas, it was not so hard to think of what to cook because I know that both Kevin and Holly are smitten (haha!) with my hubby’s steak – the “Joe-steak” as Holly has called it to be. (Actually, Holly DID request the Joe-steak..)

So off I went to the grocery on Saturday, carefully picking out the most beautiful pieces of rib-eye steaks that I could find. Then, I made it a point to season the steak hours before grilling them, to make sure that the meat has marinated well in the spices. The rub that I used was one that my hubby mixed together himself, inspired by Emeril’s Southwest seasoning. His twist was to add about 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar to the mixture.

What goes well with steak? I bet 90% of those who are asked with this question will say “potatoes”. Well , while at the grocery, I got attracted to a bag of fingerling potatoes. They’re finger-sized/shaped potatoes - hence the name - in different colors (some gold, some red, some purple). Fingerling potatoes to me, are tastier, sweeter – pricier, but definitely worth it. And so, I grabbed that.

And then to accompany the potatoes, I also got some pencil asparagus – to be roasted, as well.

Because the steak is already flavorful as it is, both the potatoes and the asparagus need not be complicated. So I decided to do another Emeril-inspired recipe – this one I saw him do during his tv show, The Essence of Emeril. It looked so good and was very easy to do so I remembered this particular recipe very well.

The potatoes are just seasoned with a mixture of fresh herbs - sage, rosemary and thyme - then blanched, sautéed and roasted. The roasting part was my twist to the recipe, as I thought the potatoes would come out better that way.

As for the asparagus, they were sautéed in walnut oil and then roasted and garnished with toasted walnuts, of course. Again, the roasting part was my twist. Can you imagine the smell of my house as I was roasting both the potatoes and asparagus? Hmmmnn… so good!

Then ,there's one more item to the menu –Insalata Caprese (Caprese salad). This is yet another simple but very good dish. The key to this is to use fresh mozzarella (not the processed kind) and use a good extra virgin olive oil. Also, I used a mixture of tomato for different shapes – vine-riped and cherry tomatoes. A little lemon juice, salt and pepper and a chiffonade of basil leaves and …. voila!! A real pretty and yummy appetizer!

For dessert, I did a simple one - some Hazelnut-Chocolate Chip cookies from Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe (I love her!). The cookies, I would say, wasn’t as attractive looking as I would have liked them to be – but do not be deceived! They sure tasted delicious. The only change I made to the recipe was by using ½ semi-sweet and ½ bittersweet Ghirardelli chocolate chips (because I thought I had enough semi-sweet chocolate in my pantry).

It was a joy preparing this meal for our friends. As the saying goes, “ the way to a man’s (i.e. friends’) heart is through their stomach”. So, I hope this meal was good enough to remember us by! :oD

Love you guys, God bless you and the Joe-steak will be waiting for you when you get back here in 3 years! PROMISE!

Lets Do The Salsa!

I'm not talking about "Salsa" the dance, though I wish that my hubby and I can do the Salsa like the sexy dance that it is! LOL....

"Salsa" is also the spanish word for sauce, or it could also mean a mix of ingredients, usually involving tomato. I've decided to make a little salsa to accompany our tequila-lime flavored chicken wings. So, lime would be the common ingredient in our dinner tonight. For my version of salsa, here is what I did:

I juiced 1/2 of a lime and whisked in about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil (more or less, I just eye-balled it), salt and pepper to taste. I let the vinaigrette sit for a few minutes. In a separate bowl, I seeded and diced 2 med. sized vine-riped tomatoes, diced 1/2 softball sized red-onion, seeded and diced 1 piece jalapeño pepper, chopped 2 tablespoons cilantro. Then I tossed the the tomato mixture with the vinaigrette. Adjusted the seasoning.The salsa was a breeze to make, yet it made a perfect pair to our chicken wings. The cilantro really gives this dish a fresh taste, and the crispy but a little spicy jalapeño was a good combination. The salsa served as our salad, but I can imagine that this would be good with some tortilla chips as well.

Note: Jalapeño pepper is very hot, and its heat lies in the seeds and membranes. If you want a more spicy salsa, then you can leave them whole and just dice the whole thing up. Be sure not to touch your eyes while working with the pepper. And don't forget to wash your hands afterwards!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Bubba's Shrimps

Our dinner tonight is all about Bubba's shrimps. Remember the movie Forrest Gump and his friend Bubba? How could you forget a movie that, in my opinion, is still one of the best that's ever made?

Anyway, back to our dinner - I made Shrimp Scampi which I adapted from Emeril Lagasse's recipe. Emeril knows a lot about food and his recipes are great but they usually require so many ingredients. This recipe is, perhaps, one of his easiest that I've ever come across.

Shrimp Scampi
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined-tails left on
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
1 small onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup shrimp stock
2 tablespoons cold butter
2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
Lemon slices, for garnish
Rice, as accompaniment

1. Season the shrimp thoroughly with salt and pepper.
2. Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add enough oil to lightly coat the pan. Add the shrimp and quickly saute until just starting to turn pink, but not cooked through. Remove from the pan and set aside.
3. Add the onions and saute just until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 30 seconds. Add the lemon juice, white wine, and stock, and reduce by 2/3, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the shrimp back to the pan and swirl in the butter.

5. Finish with the parsley and check for seasoning.
Here's what I did different to the recipe: 1)I added Emeril's Essence, pinch of red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to the shrimp and let them marinate in the seasoning for about 10 minutes before I sauteed them 2)I used chicken stock instead of shrimp stock since it is what I have on hand.

Seasoning the shrimps apparently was a good call judging from my husband's reaction. He actually said "this is so good" four times when he was eating his dinner! Doesn't that give you the warm fuzzies????

I served the shrimp with freshly steamed white rice and garlic bread. I toasted some slices of sourdough bread, and then rubbed fresh garlic on the bread when I took them right out of the oven. The garlic melts from the heat which makes the bread so garlicky.... so good, so perfect for dipping in the scampi's sauce.

As for the white wine, I used part Pinot Grigio and part Chablis. I had a little amount of Pinot Grigio left which I didn't want to go to waste - hence, the mix.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Finger Lickin' Good

I love it when my husband and I “flow” together - when there’s meeting of minds - it’s incredible.

The hubs was scheduled to work today, Saturday. While I was out for my grocery shopping, I thought that I’d prepare baby back ribs for dinner. It would be a good treat for him after a long hard day of work. So I bought some ribs. As if on cue, I received his text asking me if I wanted to have some ribs for tonight. Hmmnn..… I know my husband!

After cleaning the ribs (took those white membranes off), I placed the ribs in a big pot with water enought to cover it. In the water I also added some garlic cloves, one onion quartered, salt and whole black peppers. I just let the pot simmer until the pork got tender and the flesh are almost coming off from the ribs.
When the ribs were ready, I turned off the heat and just let them cool down for a few minutes. Since my hubby is the master griller, then he grilled the ribs up.

In the meantime, I prepared my own barbecue sauce, which is from Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa’s
recipe. The only thing different I did to the recipe is by adding 3 pcs. of bay leaf.

The recipe makes a lot of barbecue sauce, so if you’re not making a whole batch of meat, then I recommend cutting the recipe into half.