Thursday, December 31, 2009

Roasted Salmon & Leeks in Phyllo

Growing up, we ate very little fish at home and I detested it. The way I began eating it seems a little backwards - I started with sushi and worked my way to eating cooked fish. When I was a waitress at the Rusty Pelican, I got to try all sorts of fresh fish prepared all sorts of ways and that is probably the single reason I like fish today. After we got married and I decided that I would begin cooking fish at home, I began with salmon. It seemed easy to prepare and easy to tell when it was done. I even remember the first salmon recipe I attempted.

This recipe doesn't have many ingredients, takes only about 20 minutes, but looks really impressive (and tastes great). The only trick is working with the phyllo dough. Last night, I had to throw away a few sheets because they tore as I was trying to peel them off the roll. Oh, and don't forget to take the phyllo out of the freezer in plenty of time. I've made that mistake before. This was as good as I remembered it to be - the salmon was moist, flaky, and the vegetables tasted great with it. My daughter liked eating the "paper."

Roasted Salmon & Leeks in Phyllo (serves 4) originally from Cooking Light May '04

1/2 cup (2-inch) julienne-cut leek
1/2 cup (2-inch) julienne-cut carrot
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets (about 1 inch thick, skin removed)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 (18 x 14-inch) sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed and divided
Cooking spray
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided
4 lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 400°. Cook leek and carrot in boiling water 1 minute; drain. Combine leek mixture, tarragon, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl, tossing gently. Sprinkle salmon evenly with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.

Place 1 phyllo sheet on a large cutting board or work surface (cover the remaining dough to prevent drying); lightly coat with cooking spray. Repeat layers twice, ending with phyllo. Gently press phyllo layers together. Lightly coat top phyllo sheet with cooking spray.

Arrange 1/4 cup leek mixture along center of 1 short edge of phyllo, leaving a 4-inch border; top with 1 fillet. Drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon juice. Fold long edges of phyllo over fish.

Starting at short edge with 4-inch border, roll up jelly-roll fashion. Place wrapped fish, seam side down, on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Lightly coat wrapped fish with cooking spray. Repeat procedure with remaining phyllo, cooking spray, leek mixture, salmon, and juice.

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until lightly browned, and let stand 5 minutes before serving. Serve with lemon wedges.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

How sad is this: I downloaded photos from my digital camera this morning and I have a picture of these brownies, a couple of the pie I made on Christmas (not blog-worthy), and basically, none of Christmas. I did so bad this year. We do have some great video on the Flip that we got for Christmas but not much else. So, if you're related to me and have Christmas photos and want to share, I'd love to see them!

I've been eyeing this recipe for awhile since it was featured on Tuesdays with Dorie (original recipe from Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From My Home to Yours"). Yesterday I wanted to make dessert for friends and had all the ingredients for this without having to make another trip to the store.

The cheesecake layer was amazing. I thought the brownie layer was a little dry and not great. Maybe I cooked them too long or maybe the brownie was cooked too much by the cheesecake was cooked through. Even so, the cheesecake flavor dominated and the whole pan was gone quickly.

Espresso Cheesecake Brownies (makes 9)

For the brownies:
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 F, with a rack in the center. Butter a 9" square baking pan and set aside.

To make the brownies:
Whisk together the first three ingredients. Put the butter and chocolate over a double boiler with water simmering. Stir until the ingredients melt, but don't overheat so that the butter separates. Remove the top of the double boiler and set aside.

Stir the sugar into the chocolate mixture with a whisk, then add the eggs one at a time. Beat well after each egg, then beat in the vanilla. Next, gently stir in the dry ingredients until they disappear. Set aside.

For the cheesecake:
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon flour

Allow the espresso to cool to tepid. With a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the cream cheese on medium until it's completely smooth. Add the sugar and continue to beat for 3 minutes more. Beat in the vanilla and espresso before adding the eggs one at a time. Beat for 1 minute after each egg, then reduce the speed to low and add the sour cream, then the flour. The batter should be smooth.

Pour about 3/4 of the brownie mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth it out, then pour the cheesecake layer over the top, taking care to make it even. Place spoonfuls of the rest of the brownie batter on top, and use a knife to swirl the dark and light batters together. Be careful, however, not to plunge the knife into the base brownie layer. Swirl only as much as necessary.

Bake for around 30 minutes. The brownies should come away from the sides of the pan. The cheesecake will puff and turn lightly browned around the edges. Transfer the pan to a wrack to cool. Once it reaches room temperature, refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until well chilled.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Today is the day! Not Christmas (there are still 3 links on my daughter's paper chain until that day), but the day that we bake. I love Christmas baking - every part of it. Yesterday I made a giant mess of my kitchen making my dough (so it can refrigerate until today) and I loved every minute of that. Today, I headed to my mom's to bake cookies.

We made 4 kinds: The sugar cookies with sprinkles that we've made every year since I can remember (Mary's Sugar Cookies from the Betty Crocker Cooky Book), chocolate crinkles, molasses spice cookies (my favorite and specialty, original recipe from America's Test Kitchen via my friend Eileen), and peppermint shortbread drizzled with dark chocolate (new this year - from the Julienne cookbook).

We made more than I could count at the end and it went smoothly - 2 convection ovens really help! My daughter got up from her nap in time to help decorate:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cheater Lasagna

Let me start by saying that I come from a long line of women who made fantastic lasagna. My grandmother and mom make their own sauce from scratch (a meat sauce with ground beef) and boil the noodles and the result is wonderful. So, I have no excuse for not making "real" lasagna. When I discovered the no boil lasagna noodles, I was sold. By combining that with jars of sauce, precooked sausage, and some veggies, I could make a huge pan of homecooked (albeit cheater) lasagna in a short time. It's better than Stouffer's but not as good as Grammy's.

Over the years, I've made many versions of this faker, cheater lasagna with no complaints from the eaters and tonight, I'm taking a pan of it to a Christmas potluck. Usually I make this ahead of time and refrigerate it then throw it in the oven at supper time.

Bec's Cheater Lasagna (makes a 9x13 pan)


1 package of no boil lasagna noodles (Barilla or Trader Joes)
1 package of fully cooked chicken or turkey sausage, thinly sliced (I'm using TJs basil pesto chicken sausage)
1 16 oz. container of ricotta cheese
4-6 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup of parmesan cheese
1-2 cups sliced vegetables (I usually use thinly sliced mushrooms and zucchini) optional
2 jars of sauce (I usually use marinara and whatever is on sale. The Vons brand roasted garlic with the whole cloves is great)
2 eggs

In a bowl, mix together the eggs, the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of mozzarella, and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese. In a 9x13 pan, spread a thin layer of sauce to cover the bottom of the pan. Then, cover the sauce with the lasagna noodles (don't boil them first!). Then, cover the noodles with the ricotta mixture. Next, spread some sausage and veggies to cover the ricotta. Sprinkle with more mozzarella, some parmesan cheese and cover with sauce again. Lay down your next layer of noodles and continue the process. The top of the lasagna should be noodles, sauce, and mozzarella cheese.

Layering Cheat Sheet:
1. Sauce
2. Noodles
3. Ricotta
4. Sausage/veggies
5. Cheese
Repeat from step 1

Bake at 350 for about an hour. I usually cover it for the first 45 minutes or so (spray your foil with baking spray so the cheese doesn't stick to it) and then leave it uncovered. It's done when it's bubbly and golden brown. If it's coming out of the refrigerator, add an extra 15-30 minutes cooking time.

For flair, I sometimes sprinkle the layers with red chili flakes or italian seasoning, or dried basil. If you're feeding vegetarians, skip the sausage and add extra veggies. Or, make Lisa's Vegetarian Lasagna instead.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Warm Soup in My Belly

Last week when it was raining and dreary, I made this corn chowder recipe for the second time. I like how it comes together pretty quickly and it's so filling.

I looked up the ingredients in Old Bay seasoning since I didn't have any and just winged it from my spice drawer (about a teaspoon of celery seed, 1/4 tsp paprika, some bay leaves, a dash of cardamom, a dash of clove, some good grinds from a pepper mill). I liked the technique for the potatoes in the beginning - I always thought that soup with potatoes would have to cook much longer for them to be soft and done. One thing I did different from the recipe is that I didn't thaw the corn - I just threw in frozen corn and let it cook a couple of minutes longer.

Here's the recipe.

If you want a different take on corn chowder, try my friend Lisa's recipe.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gingerbread Houses

Awhile back, I had the idea to invite some of my daughter's friends over (with their moms) to make gingerbread houses. I had looked at this great article or blog post online and thought I had just the perfect way to do it all. Then, I forgot to bookmark and could never find that particular site again. After that, I was completely stressed about giving finals and grading papers and I laid in bed one night planning to call everyone and cancel the party.

But, my good friend the internet saved the day. No, it didn't grade my papers or randomly assign grades to my students, but it did help me find this little video here. I followed this lady's instructions exactly with much success. I also got my papers graded and had a really fun time.

My tips:

1. Watch the video and copy that lady.
2. Use graham crackers, not actual gingerbread (I served real gingerbread on the side)
3. Start a day or two ahead of time by making the houses and letting them dry.
4. Buy meringue powder (Wilton makes it and I found it at Michaels) and follow the directions for Royal Icing.
5. Make a big batch of Royal Icing right when you want to decorate and give each decorator their own ziplock bag filled with icing with a corner cut off - kept the icing from drying out and made decorating the houses easier.
6. Have creative friends with great ideas for what to use to decorate the houses (thanks, Erika!)
7. Resign yourself to the fact that your child will consume way too much sugar

My helper licking frosting off the beaters

The pieces of the houses - 2 days ahead

The assembled houses - morning of the party

The end result!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Another meatless main dish

Last week, I made two dinners that were total flops. The recipes were tried and true but I was missing major ingredients or I doubled a spice that I shouldn't have . . . it was a mess. Then, I redeemed myself with this dish. I made it once, years ago for a friend who's a vegetarian and sort of forgot about the recipe. This time, I tweaked it quite a bit and I thought it was great.

If you eat a lot of meat, think about making a meatless main dish one night a week. It'll be healthier (vegetarian meals tend to contain more fiber and more vegetable-based nutrients) and better for the environment (see this if you're interested in how making a once-a-week change can make an environmental difference).

You can use any kind of bell pepper here - I prefer yellow but red would look festive this time of year. See the note at the end about blanching the peppers (not necessary, but will yield a more tender result).

Couscous Stuffed peppers (serves 4)

1 cup Israeli cous cous (or regular)
1 T olive oil
1 med. onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped or 1 tsp. of garlic salt
2 c. fresh spinach
1 c. canned corn, drained
1 c. canned diced tomatoes
2+ T. diced green chiles
1 c. grated lowfat mozzarella
4 bell peppers, cored, stemmed, and seeded

Heat oven to 350 and coat a baking dish with cooking spray. Cook the cous cous in a small saucepan according to package directions (usually 1 3/4 c. veg. broth to 1 c. cous cous) and set aside.

Heat oil in a large pan. Saute onion and garlic until translucent. Add corn, green chiles and tomatoes (with juice) and cook for 5 minutes. Add spinach and cook for 1-2 minutes (don't wilt it too much). Remove from heat and drain the juice (important!). Stir it together with the cous cous and mozzarella. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the peppers upright in the baking dish and fill with stuffing, then top with a little more mozzarella. Bake 20 minutes and serve warm.

Note: With green peppers, I'd recommend after you seed the peppers, putting them in boiling water for 2 minutes and draining them before you fill them. They they'll get softer and be tastier when you eat them.

*I don't know where the original recipe came from - I scribbled it on a piece of paper a long time ago.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Way too easy

When I read about this recipe on the Food Librarian's blog, she called it "the easiest cake ever" and I have to agree. It takes one bowl, you mix it by hand, and the two times I've made it, it's turned out perfectly.

Last week I made this for my mother-in-law's birthday. My daughter and I had a tea party to celebrate with her and we had a fun afternoon. Since then, my daughter has been wanting to drink tea with me in the afternoons which I've enjoyed.

So, when you need to bake something and didn't plan ahead or don't want to bring ingredients to room temperature, or cream any butter and eggs, try this. The first time I made it, I topped the cake with ripe plums from farmer's market. This time, it was some strawberries. I've also substituted part of the flour with whole wheat.

Easy Cake

Mix in a large bowl:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract (I really prefer the almond flavor)

Pour into greased cake pan. I used a 9" spring form pan but it works well in a 8 or 9inch regular old cake pan. Top with any soft fruit and sprinkle the top with a tablespoon of raw sugar . . .grab a packet from Starbucks if you don't have any :) Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of your pan . . . it took me about 25) or until a toothpick comes out clean and the top is golden brown.

Monday, December 7, 2009


When I attempted to replace white rice, white pasta, potatoes, and other starches in my diet with whole grains, I began experimenting with quinoa (keen-wah). I learned fast that just making it with water (like rice) is not very interesting and found other ways to spice it up. Only recently, did I learn that quinoa is not technically a grain (even though the Incas called it the "Mother Grain") but actually a seed. Quinoa has a higher protein content than any grain (about 16 percent) and the World Health Organization deems it to be as complete of a protein as milk. It is a good source of iron, calcium, folate and many B vitamins.

I have two recent favorite quinoa dishes that are going into regular rotation on my entertaining menus. The first is a side dish that we made for family dinner this summer. I remember that even though we doubled the recipe, it was gone fast. It has layers of flavors so don't skip any of the ingredients!

This weekend, at a holiday party with friends, I served it with grilled filet mignon and an amazing brussel sprout and wild mushroom dish that my friend Kristen made. By the way, even if you don't think you like brussel sprouts, you've got to try this recipe.

Two notes about the recipe: You could probably skip the bell pepper part at the beginning and use already roasted red peppers in a jar. It would make a great vegetarian main dish and Cooking Light suggests adding a can of chickpeas if you're going to serve it as a main dish. I followed the recipe to a tee and loved every bite!

Quinoa with Moroccan Pesto (6 side dish servings) Cooking Light 7/09

1 red bell pepper
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
12 oil-cured olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup chopped pistachios

Preheat broiler. Cut the red bell pepper in half lengthwise and discard the seeds and membranes. Place pepper halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet; flatten with hand. Broil 12 minutes or until blackened. Place in a zip-top plastic bag; seal. Let stand for 10 minutes. Peel and chop.

Combine quinoa, broth, 1/2 cup water, and juice in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 12 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

Place cilantro and next 7 ingredients (through garlic) in a food processor (I used a mini chopper & you could probably also use a blender) process until smooth. Combine bell pepper, quinoa mixture, cilantro mixture, and olives in a large bowl. Sprinkle with pistachios.

On to the second recipe . . . I was looking for something else and stumbled across this. I've had great success the two times that I've made it. Once, I served it as a main dish and used pasilla chiles and once I served it as a side dish and used anaheim chiles. The original calls for poblanos which I rarely see. You'll need two pepper halves per person if you're doing this as a main dish.

Quinoa-stuffed Chiles (4 main dish servings, 8 side dish servings) Cooking Light 7/96

4 (5-inch) poblano chiles (or pasilla or anaheim)
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 T diced green chiles (from a can or you could use a few teaspoons of fresh diced jalapeno instead)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup minced green onions
1 tablespoon minced fresh or 1 teaspoon dried cilantro
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 cups tomato juice (I used spicy V8)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350°. Cut chiles in half lengthwise; remove stems and seeds. Set aside. Combine water and quinoa in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 13 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Set aside.

Spray a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray; place over medium-high heat until hot. Add bell peppers, onion, green chiles or jalapeño pepper, and garlic; sauté 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in quinoa, green onions, cilantro, soy sauce, and lime juice. Spoon 1/3 cup quinoa mixture into each chile half.

Pour tomato juice into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish; place stuffed chiles in dish. Cover and bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Sprinkle cheese over chiles; bake, uncovered, an additional 10 minutes or until cheese melts and chiles are thoroughly heated. Spoon tomato juice over chiles.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Chocolate Cinnamon Bundt Cake

What better way to embrace December than with decadent baked goods? I love the holidays and my daughter helped me decorate for Christmas this week. She loved all the nativities that we have and went to the kitchen to find raisins to feed baby Jesus. She's got it figured out that part of the holiday spirit is feeding people you love! I have a few favorite cakes that I'll post - they're all simple, tasty, and would make a nice addition to a holiday meal, open house, or afternoon with friends.

This is a Chocolate Cinnamon Bundt Cake. Need I say more? Ok, I'll tell you about the espresso glaze . . . it's to die for. When I made this, my husband told me that I should pour it over anything that I bake because all he wanted was the glaze. I had the ingredients for this in my kitchen and I've fallen in love with baking sprays that have flour in them (PAM makes one) for bundt cake success.

Chocolate Cinnamon Bundt Cake (from Bon Appetit 9/09)

1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
4 teaspoons instant espresso powder, divided
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups (packed) golden brown sugar, divided
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups mini semisweet chocolate chips, divided
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 12-to 15-cup nonstick Bundt pan. Whisk 1 cup boiling water, cocoa powder, and 2 teaspoons espresso powder in 2-cup glass measure. Whisk 2 cups flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat 2 cups brown sugar, 1 cup vegetable oil, and 1 tablespoon vanilla in large bowl to blend. Add eggs; beat to blend.

Beat mixture until smooth, about 30 seconds longer. Beat in half of flour mixture, then cocoa mixture. Add remaining flour mixture; beat to blend. Fold in 1 cup chocolate chips. Transfer batter to prepared Bundt pan.

Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool the cake 10 minutes. Invert cake onto rack (or platter) and cool 15 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, stir remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons espresso powder, and 2 tablespoons water in small saucepan over medium heat until sugar melts. Remove from heat. Add butter and remaining 1/4 cup chocolate chips; stir until butter and chocolate melt. Cool slightly. Using spoon, drizzle icing over cake. Cool cake completely, slice, and serve.

PS - I'm back from my blogging hiatus . . . it wasn't planned but with a trip to the east coast for Thanksgiving and trying to grade essays, quizzes, and homework before finals next week, things have been busy! Looking forward to catching up with everyone in the next few weeks.