Friday, May 7, 2010

A Gift for Mother's Day

I had planned to get my mom an aebleskiver pan for Mother’s Day. I’d been thinking about it for a few months, ever since she mentioned she’d like to have one. I take note when the people I love mention what’s on their wish list—I pride myself in being a good gift giver. An aebleskiver pan was the perfect gift idea for Mom, my little brother agreed. I knew she would never get one for herself.

But Mom went and got herself an aebleskiver pan. Foiled by my own mother. I was so set on getting her this aebleskiver pan that I had no back-up plan.

But yesterday Mom asked for a mac and cheese recipe…So, Mom, here's your Mother’s Day gift.

I developed this recipe just for you, and I really hope you like it. I wish I could be there in person to make this for you on Mother’s Day. I’d serve it to you with a big green salad on the side because I know that’s how you’d like it. And I’d even do the dishes.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom, I love you!

And happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there!

Macaroni & Cheese with Tomatoes & Herbes de Provence
Printable Recipe

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter, diced, plus more for greasing the baking dishes
¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1 ounce grated Parmegiano-Reggiano
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 quart milk
2 cloves garlic, grated
1/8 teaspoon piment d'Espelette
12 ounces shredded medium cheddar
4 ounces shredded provolone
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound short tubular pasta, such as macaroni, penne, or rigatoni
12 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Butter 6 individual baking dishes. Toss together the breadcrumbs and oil in a medium bowl, making sure that the breadcrumbs are evenly coated. Stir in the Herbes de Provence and Parmegiano.

Heat the butter in a large, heavy pot over medium heat until it melts, bubbles, and the foam subsides. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it begins to smell toasty. Whisk in the milk, garlic, and piment d'Espelette. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes, or until thick. Remove from the heat, stir in the cheddar and provolone, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to the package directions. Drain the pasta when it is al dente. Immediately add the pasta to the cheese sauce and toss to combine. Divide among the baking dishes. Divide the tomatoes among the baking dishes, arranging them evenly over the macaroni and cheese. Sprinkle evenly with the breadcrumb mixture. Arrange the baking dishes on a baking tray and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling around the edges. If the breadcrumb topping is still pale, broil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve immediately.

Serves 6. The piment d'Espelette, a Basque chile powder, may be replaced with a pinch of cayenne pepper. Don’t bake the mac and cheese too long—overcooked cheese sauce becomes grainy. May be prepared a day or two in advance and kept covered with aluminum foil in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature and bake just before serving.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Second Blogiversary and Mint Chocolate Pot de Crème

The truth is I started this thing on a whim. In the middle of one sleepless night. Two years and nearly 175 original recipes later, I’m still here. (To be precise, this Mint Chocolate Pot de Crème is recipe number 174, but who’s counting?) I’ve even surprised myself. The best part is the sharing and the interaction with you, dear reader. It truly warms my heart to hear when you give one of my recipes a try—it makes me feel as though I’ve been invited to your dinner table. My hope is that this little blog of mine can be a source of inspiration and do its part to help you become a more confident cook.

Of course, a blogiversary celebration calls for chocolate!

I recently realized that my husband is wild about the combination of mint and chocolate (funny how you can live with someone for nearly ten years and still have so much more to learn about them!), so I flavored the classic French dessert with mint.

Mint Chocolate Pot de Crème
Printable Recipe

1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 ½ cups milk
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or scant 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
Pinch kosher salt
½ teaspoon peppermint extract

Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Combine the cream and milk in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer. Place the chocolate into a medium bowl, add the hot cream mixture, and whisk until smooth. Whisk together the eggs, yolks, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Continue whisking while adding the hot cream mixture in a thin stream. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Stir in the peppermint extract and skim off any foam from the surface. Divide the mixture among 8 ramekins and place them into a roasting pan. Add enough hot water to the roasting pan to come most of the way up the sides of the ramekins and bake for 26 to 28 minutes, or until just set. Remove from the water bath and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours, or until firm.

Serves 8. Hubby loves the candy-like flavor of peppermint extract, but you can use fresh mint to infuse the cream instead. You can tell that the pot de crème are done when they jiggle like gelatin. They may be baked a day or two in advance and kept covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream, if desired. For plain chocolate pot de crème, substitute vanilla extract for the peppermint extract.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Salsa Series: Pico de Gallo

Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, this is the fifth post in a series on salsas.

Salsa isn’t just for corn chips any more. This was my sudden mind-blowing, earth-shattering realization. It came way back during my college days after a working interview at one very famous Southwestern restaurant. They fed me dinner—a grilled tenderloin steak smothered in a smokey salsa—in exchange for my night’s work. I had only ever eaten steak plain, and my life would never be the same. I got the job. But more importantly, I opened my eyes to the possibilities of salsa.

Salsas, whether they’re made from chiles, tomatoes, tomatillos, avocados, or fruit, are an integral part of Mexican and Southwestern cuisines. They vary from mild to medium to spicy, and they can be served hot, at room temperature, or cold. Salsas can function as either dip or sauce (in fact, salsa is Spanish for sauce), and they are the perfect accompaniment to everything from eggs to tacos to rice and beans. They can transform a simple grilled steak, pork chop, chicken breast, fish fillet, or even veggie into a spectacular meal. It’s no wonder that salsa has overtaken ketchup as the most popular condiment in the U.S.

But while I’m singing the praises of salsa, I want to make clear that I mean homemade, from-scratch salsa. Homemade salsa is vibrant and fresh and delicious and healthy, and it can perk up anything you put it on. (In comparison, the store-bought stuff is appallingly expensive and completely tasteless.) And if there’s a batch in the fridge, it’s sure to inspire many amazing meals.

Pico de Gallo
Printable Recipe

4 Roma tomatoes, diced
½ small yellow onion, diced
2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
¼ cup minced cilantro
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Kosher salt

Toss together the tomatoes, onion, jalapenos, cilantro, and lime juice in a medium bowl and season to taste with salt.

Makes a generous 2 cups. A fresh, uncooked salsa also known as salsa fresca. Heat level: mild, depending on the jalapenos. If you like it hotter, use more jalapenos or substitute Serranos. The riper the tomatoes, the better. This ubiquitous salsa is good with everything from tortilla chips to tacos, fajitas, and quesadillas to grilled meat and seafood, and it adds zest to black beans, Mexican Rice, egg dishes, and more. Pico de Gallo is best a couple of hours after it’s made, once the flavors have had time to mingle. Keeps for a day or two tightly sealed in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.

More salsa recipes are available here.

Now, if you’re going to have great homemade salsa, you probably want some of this Guacamole to go with it.
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