June 26, 2009

Creamy Mac and Three Cheeses

We all know and love the tasty comfort food we found growing up with the infamous blue box of cheesy goodness that our moms made so effortlessly since its introduction in 1937. Now that I'm a mom, I want my daughter to enjoy this cheesy decadence as well, but not always out of a box. Any chance I get to make it without the use of a box...so be it. I mean why not? It's inexpensive, very easy to make, most of us have the ingredients already on hand, and it's certainly tastier and healthier than our boxed friend. I for one am a straightforward Mac and cheese gal...simple, creamy goodness, not baked for that crunchy top (how I love when it's creamy throughout) and no add ins. Now don't get me wrong, every once in a while, a tempting version laced with lobster, truffles, or even bacon manages to tickle my fancy, and it would be so unlike me not to indulge in such luxury. So when I'm at home making this for my family...I keep it as simple as can be, and if they're happy, I'm happy.
Give this a try if you are looking for easy, cheesy comfort food.
Wine Pairing: Some reds and whites would be a nice compliment to this rich dish. For whites, I would go with either a Chardonnay or Soave, and my picks for reds would be a Syrah or Pinot Noir.
Creamy Mac and Three Cheeses
Serves 10-12
4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 tbsp flour
1 tsp mustard powder
2 tsp kosher salt
6 cups milk
1 box (1 lb) elbow macaroni or cavatappi cooked to package directions
drained and rinsed with cold water
1 1/2 cups manchego cheese, shredded
3/4 cup sharp cheddar, shredded
3/4 cup monterey jack, shredded
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Melt butter in large pan over medium heat. Add flour, salt and mustard powder, and cook for 1 minute stirring constantly. Add milk very gradually, stirring with a whisk to combine between additions. Bring this mixture to a simmer. You are looking for the consistency of heavy cream. Once you are at this stage, add in all the cheese, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine and lowering the heat to medium low. Cook for 1 minute, then add cooked and drained macaroni to the cheese sauce. Combine and cover for 5 minutes over low heat.
Serve and enjoy!
Oh, and don't forget....it only begs for a couple of twists from the peppermill.....

June 24, 2009

Wacky Balsamic Vinegar Chocolate Cupcakes with Cinnamon Butter Cream Frosting

Why you ask, are these cupcakes wacky? Well it's simple, there are no eggs in the batter. Yep..cholesterol free and great for those that are allergic to eggs. The concept of this cake has been around for decades, and used to be known as Depression Cake because no eggs were required. Regular vinegar was called for in the original recipe, but I personally like the addition of balsamic vinegar because it adds just a touch of earthy sweetness and is a nice compliment to the rich chocolate.
Now, when it comes to chocolate, I am a firm believer that better quality chocolate makes for a better cake batter. I used Scharffen Berger chocolate for these, but of course you can use whatever chocolate you have on hand. Whatever chocolate you end up using, I know that you will find these heavenly little cakes so moist and a chocolate lover's dream. You are going to love how quick and easy these are to make.
All I can say, is that you seriously have to give these a try.

Wacky Balsamic Vinegar Chocolate Cupcakes
with Cinnamon butter Cream Frosting
12 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons good vanilla extract
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
5 tbsps canola, grapeseed or veg oil
1 cup cold water

For Cinnamon Butter Cream Frosting
1 stick of unsalted butter at room temp
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsps good vanilla extract
3 3/4 or 1 pound of sifted confectioners sugar
2 tsps ground cinnamon
2 1/2 - 3 tbsps milk

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, sugar cocoa powder, baking soda and salt until combined. In three separate wells, add vanilla, vinegar and oil. Then pour cold water over all and stir until moistened. Do not overmix.
Fill cupcake/muffin liners 3/4 full. That's it...into the oven it goes to bake for 20 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Make sure that your cupcakes are completely cool before frosting.
You could also pour batter into an 8x8 greased square cake pan for cake squares. If making cake, cook for 5 minutes longer.

Cinnamon Butter Cream Frosting
Using a mixer, cream butter, salt and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add sugar and cinnamon gradully, beating after each addition. Add 2 1/2 tbsps milk, beating until smooth and creamy. Beat in more milk or powdered sugar if needed to get to your desired spreading consistency.
This makes enough to frost a 2 layer cake, a 10-inch bundt cake or 2 dozen cupcakes.
This frosting takes food coloring/dyes very well.

June 5, 2009

Tom Yum Soup

This one is for my cuddly hubby who happens to adore this dish. It is a yummy, traditional and very popular Thai soup that gets a kick from the chiles and sourness by the vinegar, which are the makings for a tasty treat. I like it with a bit of heat, but not as fiery as my hubby likes it. If he were going to be the only one eating it, I would have added 3 chiles in, but for the sake of keeping my tongue from going numb, I only added two.

You can vary the balance of flavors to suite your taste.

Wine Pairing: Riesling is always a nice compliment to Asian dishes.

Tom Yum Soup
serves 4-6

2 fresh red chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped
6 tbsp rice wine vinegar
6 cups of low sodium chicken broth
2 lemongrass stalks, halved
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar in the raw
juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp canola oil
2 chicken breasts cubed (a store bought cooked rotisserie chicken could be used here)
1 14 oz can straw mushrooms, drained
1/2 lb of shitake mushrooms, sliced
4 scallions, chopped ( leave a bit for garnish)
1 head of bok choy, washed and chopped
fresh cilantro for garnish
lime juice for garnish
Mix the chiles and vinegar together in a nonreactive bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

Add chicken broth to pot and bring to a boil. Then add the lemongrass, soy sauce, sugar, and lime juice. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a preheated wok, add the chicken and stir-fry over hight heat for 2-3 minutes, or until browned . Remove and drain on a paper towels.

Add the chiles and vinegar with the chicken, mushrooms, bok choy and most of the scallions (leave some for garnish) to the stock mixture and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the lemongrass stalks at end of cooking.

When ready to serve, garnish with scallions and cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.


June 2, 2009

Crab Rangoon

One of my favorite appetizers when ordering chinese are these tasty little deep-fried dumplings, which are served in American Chinese cuisine in North America, and more recently, Thai cuisine. The filling is a yummy concoction of cream cheese, lightly flaked crab meat, scallions and garlic all snuggled in a cozy little wonton wrapper. These tasty little treats are also known as cream cheese wontons.

The history of crab rangoon is unclear, as cream cheese as well as any other cheese, is essentially nonexistent in Chinese cuisine. A "Rangoon crab a la Jack" was created as a dish at a Hawaiian-style party in 1952, and has also been on the menu of the "Polynesian-style" restaurant Trader Vic's in San Francisco since at least 1957, which is supposedly from a Burmese recipe and probably invented there.
I had all the ingredients sitting around, just waiting to be intermingled with one another. I like to make the whole batch, put them in the freezer and pull some out whenever we crave a little deep fried goodness. So cheers to yet another yummy treat!

Wine Pairing: An American Riesling or White Alsatian would be crisp and refreshing.

Crab Rangoon
makes 35

4 oz softened cream cheese
1 small can crabmeat drained
3 diced scallions
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp worchestershire sauce
35 wonton wrappers
1 egg white
enough oil for deep frying
sweet chili dipping sauce
Combine first 5 ingredients thoroughly. Place 1 tsp of crab and cheese mixture in the center of wrapper. Brush all edges with egg white and fold over one corner to opposite corner making a triangle and pressing gently to seal, or you can make little pouches by grabbing all four corners up together and crimping with a twist. Seal with more egg white if necessary. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and crabmeat mixture.

Heat the oil for deep frying in a wok or a deep pan to 350-375 degrees, or until a cube of bread browns in 30 seconds. Add the wontons in batches, and cook till crisp and golden brown on all sides, approx 2-3 minutes. Remove and place on paper towels to drain. Keep warm while you cook the remaining wontons. Serve with sweet chili dipping sauce.

Note: To prevent the wonton wrappers from drying out as you work with them, keep them in a pile and covered with a damp towel.