Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Nowruz!

May you and your family celebrate 

the New Year 

in love, peace, harmony and joy!

xox   Nicole

Giuseppe’s (Joe’s) Caesar Salad

This excellent dressing is a little different from the one I gave you a few days ago (see Rosalie’s Caesar Salad and Nicole’s Special Croutons posted Mar. 4, 2012). My friend Joe is known for his outstanding Caesar Salad. This is his exclusive recipe - one of the finest salads I’ve ever tasted.
Giuseppe’s (Joes) Caesar Salad:
6 tbsp. canola oil
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. salt (do not reduce)
1 coddled egg (see Note)
2 tsp. fresh finely chopped garlic
⅛ tsp. each granulated sugar, coarsely ground pepper, dry mustard, tarragon
3 drops hot pepper sauce such as Tabasco
4 drops Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. fresh parsley
2 heads crisp Romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and torn (not sliced)
1 whole clove garlic, for rubbing inside of wooden serving bowl
1 c. Nicole’s Special Croutons (see note above this recipe)
¾ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ lb. crisp, crumbled bacon or 1 dozen broken anchovies (optional)
Combine all ingredients except lettuce, croutons, cheese, and bacon or anchovies in blender or small bowl. Blend on low speed or whisk to combine. Toss together with Romaine in large work bowl. Peel and rub garlic clove with vigor inside wooden serving bowl. Discard clove. Transfer tossed, dressed greens to serving bowl. Top with croutons, cheese, and bacon or broken anchovies. Serve immediately. Serves 6-to-8.

Note: To coddle an egg in the shell, place it in a small bowl and pour water just below the boiling point around it, completely submerging it for 1 min. Remove from water bath, quickly chilling under cold, running water until it is cool enough to handle before adding to dressing. Use only the freshest eggs to make this salad.

Place crisp, torn lettuce leaves into a large bowl

Squeeze one fresh lemon

Add lemon juice to other ingredients in blender or bowl

Add coddled egg

Combine on low speed of blender

Toss in original work bowl before
transferring to salad bowl

Immediately before serving, add croutons, freshly
grated Parmesan, and bacon or anchovies

Light a candle, have a glass of wine and a baguette,
and enjoy a wonderfully lazy meal!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mushroom and Snow Pea Salad

When “same-old, same-old” fails to excite, try something new! Let this interesting salad fill the bill. 

Mushroom and Snow Pea Salad:
This recipe requires extra time for marination

½ lb. mushrooms
2 tbsp. dairy sour cream
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
¼ tsp. tarragon
¼ tsp. dried dill weed
1 tsp. capers, drained
1 small garlic clove
⅛ tsp. cayenne pepper
Dash of salt
½ c. (about 4 oz.) fresh snow peas 
1 tbsp. diced red bell pepper
1 tbsp. finely chopped green onion (“spring onion”)
4 butter lettuce leaves (also known as Boston Bibb lettuce), as garnish
1 hard-cooked egg, grated as garnish
Finely chopped fresh parsley, as garnish
Clean and slice mushrooms. To prepare the dressing, combine sour cream, olive oil, vinegar, tarragon, dill weed, and capers. Season to tste and toss with mushrooms. Chill at least 2 hr. Blanch (see Note) snow peas in boiling water for 30 sec. Chill under cold, running water. Drain, blot dry, and snip into ¾-in. pieces. Toss snow peas, diced red pepper, and green onion with marinated mushrooms. Heap onto lettuce leaves on individual serving plates (chill salad plates in the freezer for best presentation). Garnish with grated egg and parsley. Serves 4.

Note“Blanching” fruits and vegetables is a process of dipping them into boiling water for a pre-determined time before chilling them in an ice water bath. Blanching sets the colour of green vegetables and loosens the skins of foods such as silver-skin onions and peaches.

Combine vinaigrette ingredients; toss with sliced mushrooms
Blanch snow peas in boiling water for 30 sec.

Chill at once

Dice red pepper and green onion ...
Add to marinated mushrooms

Heap tossed mushroom mixture onto lettuce leaves

How to Blanch Corn and Other Foods

I’ve found that freezing corn on the cob is the best way to preserve it - just think of the pleasure of having “fresh” corn on the cob in winter! Depending whether your shucked cobs are large or small, you’ll need to blanch cobbed corn for 6-to-10 min. (Smaller fruits and vegetables require substantially less blanching time, with asparagus spears needing only 30 seconds).

Why blanch produce bound for the freezer? Blanching preserves the flavor of food by destroying the enzymes that can eventually erode its nutritional quality and taste. For more about blanching foods, see

To blanch corn, fill a very large pot with unsalted water; I recommend a canner because it holds a substantial amount of water. The water will cool down after you add the corn. Because a canner holds such a large amount of boiling water, the water will cool less, returning to a boil very quickly after you add the second and subsequent batches of corn. Once the water’s at a rolling boil, plunge in corn cobs that have been stripped of their husks. 

Remove corn with tongs, plunging cobs into a sink or other container filled with cold, running water and plenty of ice until they’re thoroughly chilled, approximately 10 min. Blot cobs dry with paper toweling before packing them into heavy-duty zippered freezer bags with all or most of the air squeezed out. 

Alternately, use vacuum-sealed bags or wrap each cob in clear cello before bagging and freezing. If what you want is kernel corn, blanch, chill, and dry the whole cob before cutting the corn as kernels. Kernel corn needs less freezer space than corn on the cob - a definite plus! For a fabulous way to husk and cook corn cobs super fast, see the Index for How to Shuck and Cook Corn

Note: I’m going to assume you want to freeze many cobs of corn; if not, an ordinary large pot will do fine, but will restrict you to working with only a few cobs at a time. Smaller veggies and tree fruits such as peaches or apricots need less blanching time; remove them with a slotted spoon or smaller tongs. Transferring peaches and apricots from boiling to icy water loosens their skin enough that you can rub it right off. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Whole Wheat Banana-Fig Muffins

Let’s be honest about this: “Healthy” muffins often taste like sawdust. These do not. Moist and delicious, these “feel good” muffins are also good for you! Ron was beside himself when I created these - and being “beside himself,” ate two portions! 
Whole Wheat Banana-Fig Muffins:
1-½ c. whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
½ c. brown sugar, packed
3 large, ripe bananas
½ tsp. banana extract
1 egg
⅓ c. melted butter or margarine, cooled (see Note)
¾ c. coarsely chopped fresh figs, stems snipped, or plumped golden raisins (see Further Note)
Have all ingredients at room temperature. Fill medium muffin pans with 12 medium paper liners; spritz each liner with a quick oil spray. Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl, making a depression or “well” at the centre. In a separate bowl, mash bananas, mixing well with extract, egg, and butter. Pour all at once into dry ingredients, mixing just until moistened. Quickly stir in figs. Spoon into ungreased paper-lined muffin cups, 2/3 full. Bake 20-to-25 min. Yields 1 dozen standard-sized muffins.
Note: To lower the fat content, substitute ⅓ c. applesauce for the butter in this recipe.
Further Note: See Index for How to Plump Raisins and Currants. Drain and use as recipe directs.

Over-ripe bananas work well in this recipe

Combine dry ingredients, making a "well" in the center

Prepare figs as recipe directs; set aside

Mash banana before adding butter and egg
Add liquid ingredients all at once

Prepare to fill greased paper-filled muffin cups 2/3 full

These muffins say "MORE"!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Cream Puffs

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! These Cream Puffs are a simple way to celebrate! My beloved aunt gave me this recipe when I was 12. I’ve been making these ever since, and they’ve always been a big hit!
Cream Puffs:
1 c. water
½ c. butter or margarine
1 c. sifted all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
4 eggs
2 tbsp. icing sugar
1 tbsp. whipping cream stabilizer (optional; see Note)
1 c. whipping cream
Have eggs at room temperature. Bring water and butter to a rolling boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Sift flour and salt together and add to saucepan, stirring vigorously until dough pulls into a ball. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Drop by heaping dessert spoonfuls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, aiming for 10 large or 24 small portions of dough.
Preheat oven to 450 deg. F. Bake 15 min. Lower heat to 325 deg. F. and bake 25 min. longer. Turn off oven and remove puffs, splitting each horizontally to remove the top third. Return opened puffs to the still-warm oven and allow to dry 20-to-25 min.
When puffs are fully cool, add icing sugar and stabilizer to cream. Whip until soft peaks form, piping or spooning cream into base of puffs. Top with remaining third of cream puff. Drizzle with Fabulous Chocolate Glaze (see my post of March 12, 2012). For a lower calorie count, skip the glaze and sift icing sugar over tops. 
Note: With the addition of a whipping cream stabilizer, these Cream Puffs may be filled and refrigerated up to 12 hours. See Index for How to Stiffen or Stabilize Whipped Cream.

Melt butter in water over medium-high heat

When water and butter come to a boil, prepare to work fast!

Add flour and salt all at once, stirring quickly

Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition

Dough will pull away from sides of pan to form a ball

Spoon dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet

Dough will puff up dramatically in a hot oven

Cut the top third from fully cooled puffs, filling with cream

Drizzle chocolate glaze over filled puffs

Present Cream Puffs with a flourish on an attractive plate!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Top o’ the Mornin’ Marmalade Muffins

These sweet, finely textured muffins are a bright, cheery way to start the day! Because they’re so moist, they keep extremely well. To me, they’re a splendid way to enjoy a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast or tea.
Top o’ the Mornin’ Marmalade Muffins:
To Prepare the Muffins:
1 c. butter or margarine, softened
1-½ c. granulated sugar
4 eggs
Grated rind of 1 large lemon
1 c. orange marmalade
1 c. plain, natural yogurt
4 c. all-purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1-½ c. buttermilk
Have all ingredients at room temperature. Fill medium muffin pans with 12 medium paper liners; spritz each liner with a quick oil spray. Preheat oven to 375 deg. F. Cream butter and sugar together 5 min., adding sugar gradually until no grainy texture remains. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition (see Note). Stir in lemon rind, marmalade, and yogurt. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Gradually add to creamed mixture, beating at medium speed. Stir in buttermilk, mixing just until moistened. 
Spoon into ungreased paper liners in muffin pans, filling 2/3 full. Bake 20 min., just until toothpick poked into the centre of a test muffin comes out clean. Remove from oven. Using a skewer, poke a few holes into each hot muffin, pouring in glaze. Yields 18-to-20 standard-sized muffins.
Note: Always add eggs one at a time when you bake. This ensures their even dispersion with the creamed butter in your recipe, giving your baked goods an excellent texture. 
To Prepare the Glaze:
3 tbsp. lemon juice
3 tbsp. orange juice
½ c. granulated sugar
Combine juices and sugar in a microwave-safe container, heating about 30 sec., or until sugar dissolves. Stir and pour over hot, baked muffins. Let stand 10 min. before removing muffins from pans. Makes 18.

A fine Microplane grater produces maximum lemon zest 

Add zest to muffin batter

In goes the secret ingredient ... marmalade! 

Decorate with a "bit o' the green" for St. Patrick's Day morning

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fairy Toadstools

This imaginative recipe idea sprang from failure. When I recently hosted a St. Patrick’s Day-themed party, I thought I’d offer a small platter of chocolate-dipped strawberries. I prefer to keep life simple, and didn’t want to spend hours obsessing over doing something fancy. I’ll leave that to the pros - too much effort for me! 
If you plan to dip strawberries in chocolate, it’s important to ensure they’re not wet, lest the chocolate seize up. I carefully rinsed and dried about 18 fresh strawberries for this recipe, skewered them on fondue forks, and dipped them into melted white chocolate. To my great disappointment, they looked … awful! 
I hoped to save them with a drizzle of dark chocolate, but the cupboard was bare - I had none!
With St. Patrick’s Day in mind, I grabbed a shaker of crystalized green sugar, sprinkling it over the berries. This didn’t look so hot, either. Standing each berry straight up on its base, I let the chocolate harden, and wondered what to do. 
Clustered on a two-tiered tray, the dipped, sugared berries looked a little better, especially placed on small green candy papers. Suddenly … Eureka! The crystalized green sugar became “fairy dust,” and the strawberries, “Fairy Toadstools.” That was all I needed to make up a quick story on the spot. Fairies and Leprechauns are very “Irish,” so the story I told the children at the party was this: “Fairies live at the bottom of every garden. When they need somewhere to sit, they perch on Fairy Toadstools  exactly like these, covered in fairy dust! When you eat one of these toadstools, make a wish and your wish will come true!”
My wish was that the kids would eat every single one of those ghastly looking berries. And yes … my wish came true! 

Dip fresh strawberries into melted white chocolate

Sprinkle with crystallized green sugar

Add plenty of blarney and bluff your way through!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Non-Alcoholic Limeade Punch

Kiss me, I’m Irish! Okay, I’m not Irish, but kiss me, anyway! It’s almost time for the wearing of the green! When I gave a recent St. Patrick’s Day-themed party, even the punch was green!
Non-Alcoholic Limeade Punch:
One 10-oz. (295 mL) can frozen limeade concentrate
4 c. Sprite, 7-Up, or a similar sparkling beverage
Sliced limes as garnish
Ice cubes
Whisk together thawed limeade concentrate and Sprite in a large pitcher. Add ice and sliced limes.
Note: For a slightly different recipe, try my Non-Alcoholic Lime Cooler Punch (Dec. 8, 2011).

Take a peek at the pitcher of punch! Limeade
and St. Patrick's Day are natural partners: Click

on the picture - or the pitcher! - to enlarge it 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Braised Short-Rib Guinness Stew

“I’ve never seen a worse cooking mess in my entire life! There’s oil dripping down your computer screen! The walls … the ceiling … what have you done???” Ron doesn’t mince words. And frankly, all I could say was: “Well, yes! Um … and er, um.”
As it happens, Ron was right. Our entire kitchen was coated with a fine film of oil. The stove, microwave, fridge, kitchen cupboards, counters, walls, and floor were slick with it. I haven’t made such a mess since my confessional post of Sept. 21, 2011 titled Angelina Jolie Invents Ginger Ale. Ron, bless his heart, cleaned it all up, as he did with last September’s Ginger Ale fiasco.  
(As if anyone needed another example of this man’s kind heart, I knocked over an open can of evaporated milk in the refrigerator immediately after he’d cleaned up all the oil. We didn’t notice until it dripped all the way down the back of the fridge and began to smell. “I’ll clean it up,” he volunteered. “I’ve been looking for something to do …”)
Now that I’ve persuaded you that the recipe below is far too messy and far too much trouble for anyone to possibly make, let me say that this Braised Short-Rib Guinness Stew is probably the single best Irish stew recipe you will ever taste in your life. Like, ever
“Braising,” by the way, refers to a method of cooking tougher cuts of meat by searing them at a high heat before simmering them in liquid over a long, slow cooking time.
I’m normally not a huge beef stew fan, but this particular stew is outstanding. This is a gourmet recipe worthy of a fine restaurant - which is exactly where it comes from. I’ve modified and simplified the method based on one prepared by chef Andrew Carmellini of New York.
As a professional chef, Carmellini enjoys a commercial kitchen in which he can make all the smoky, oily mess he likes; kitchens like that are suited to such challenges. Those of us who live in apartments and houses, however, must consider the Mess Factor. I learned what not to do from the awful mess I made, and am passing those tips along to you, so that you can enjoy this superb dish without having to repaint.

To reduce the mess, sear the meat in a cast-iron skillet or pot. Cast-iron retains heat, allowing you to sear meat at medium-high. I used stainless steel - not the ideal pot for searing meat - and so bumped the heat to its highest setting, creating much smoke and splatter. Next time, I would sear the meat on a barbecue with a lot of BTUs (a measurement of heat, Dollinks). If you do that, transfer the works to your kitchen stove o
nce you’ve finished the messy part
The meat in this recipe requires a full day’s marination, so start the day before you plan to serve it. As with any stew, this dish tastes even better the day after you cook it, so you could even marinate the meat on Day One, cook it on Day Two, and serve it on Day Three. 
This recipe is a little expensive. It takes time and care. But ohhhh, is it good! I’m presenting it to you as a suggestion for a delicious and memorable St. Patrick’s Day dinner. I’ll be quite content if you choose not to make this dish! That way, I can keep this recipe all to myself! Bottom line: Given the mess I made, would I prepare this recipe again? Most definitely. And that says it all.

                       This recipe requires extra time for marination
Braised Short-Rib Guinness Stew:

4-to-5 lb. (1.8-to-2. kg) meaty bone-in beef short ribs
One-to-two 15-oz. (455 mL) can/s of Guinness
Salt and coarsely ground pepper to taste
4 tbsp. canola oil, divided
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
4 celery stalks, cut into 2-in. chunks
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-in. chunks
2 tbsp. tomato paste 
¾ c. all-purpose flour, divided
2 c. dry red wine
1 tbsp. dried thyme leaves
4 bay leaves
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
4 c. commercial beef broth and 2 c. cold water (or 6 c. of my Beef Stock posted Mar. 9, 2012)
Day One: Rinse ribs quickly under cold water; blot dry with paper towel. Using a very fine skewer, poke several holes into meat. Place in heavy plastic bag or in covered marination tub (see Note). Refrigerate and marinate ribs 12-to-24 hr., turning several times to ensure even penetration of beer marinade.
Day Two: Remove ribs from refrigerator and warm to room temperature for approximately 1 hr. Remove ribs from marinade, blotting dry with paper towel. Discard marinade, seasoning meat liberally on all sides with salt and pepper.
Now for the messy part! Using a large, deep, cast-iron pot or skillet, heat  2 tbsp. of the oil on medium-high. Pop the short ribs into the oil when it begins to smoke. Using tongs and working with a few pieces of meat at a time, sear meat on all sides until nicely browned. Be careful meat does not burn. Expect this step to take nearly 10 min. with each batch of short ribs.
Transfer the ribs from the pot to a plate. Wipe down and scrape insides of pot to remove any burnt oil, but do not wash pot or remove caramelized bits of meat from the bottom. Return pot to stove top. Heat 2 tbsp. remaining oil, adding onion, celery, and carrots. Cook 5 min. on medium-high, until vegetables browned and become slightly caramelized. Stir tomato paste into pot, coating vegetables. Cook 30 sec., until tomato paste begins to caramelize. Reduce heat and add ¼ c. of the flour, stirring a further 30 sec. and being careful flour does not burn. Reduce heat to medium low. Gradually pour in red wine to deglaze the pot, scraping the bottom to release bits of caramelized meat and vegetables. 
Remove pot from heat and take a moment to consider this: If your cast-iron pot is large enough to hold 1-½ qt. (1.5 L) of liquid plus meat and vegetables, continue with this pot as you move to the next step. If your pot or skillet is too small, begin the next step using a Dutch oven or any similar large pot with a lid. A heavy stainless steel pot will perform very well for the balance of this recipe. Ready to go? Okay!
Add the thyme, bay leaves, and parsley. Increase the heat to medium-high, cooking the sauce 5 min. or until the wine has reduced by three-quarters. The sauce will now be a rich, dark color. Return the ribs and softened vegetables to the sauce. Add commercial beef broth and water (or an extra quantity of my Beef Broth with no added water) so that the short ribs and vegetables are entirely submerged in the liquid.
Stir and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to low, covering pot. Rest a toothpick between lid and pot to ensure pot does not boil over. Simmer 4 hr., stirring occasionally. Remove and transfer approximately 1 c. of finished sauce to a small bowl, cooling to room temperature. Whisk in remaining flour and add to finished sauce, simmering briefly to thicken. Remove bay leaves before serving. Serves 4-to-6.
I added potatoes and additional vegetables to this stew about 20 min. before it finished cooking, but the more decadent way to serve it is in large individual serving bowls over hot mashed potatoes.
Note: I made this stew using 3-½ lb. of bone-in short ribs, and found a single can of Guinness sufficient to do the job. My Tupperware Season-Serve® marinade container does an excellent job with any marinaded food. The lid fits snugly, and the container is deep enough to fit several pounds of food requiring marination. During the marination process, I simply turned the container over now and then, allowing the marinade to work its magic on the meat, adding flavor and tenderness. This container costs about $22.

Day One:

Exhibit A: Short rib. Distinguishing features: Short. Ribby.

Exhibit B: Guinness.  Distinguishing features: Tall. Beery.
Don't marinate meat in a container like this. It floats!

Season meat liberally on all sides

Poke a few holes in meat, pouring on the Guinness

Marinate 12-to-24 hr. to enhance tenderness and flavor 

Cover and rotate to ensure even marination

Rotate again

Yada-yada once more!

Day Two:

When meat has fully marinated, blot dry and set aside

Add ribs to smoking hot oil in heavy pot

Brown on all sides, turning every 2 min.

When ribs finish cooking, transfer to plate and set aside

Prepare vegetables as recipe directs

Cook vegetables in oil until they start to caramelize.
Add tomato paste and flour, taking care to avoid burning

Return short ribs to pot

Add a liberal lashing of wine

I added potato chunks: This stew tastes even better 
served over mashed potatoes

Thicken a small amount of cooled sauce ...

Return it to the pot as a thickener

Serve with a knife, fork, and spoon!