November 28, 2009

Catering Menu Part 1

Since moving back from New York a matter of weeks ago, I decided, somewhat on a whim, that the impending holidays provided a good opportunity for me to try my hand at catering. I mean, if I could perhaps score a couple bucks while doing what I love, well, I can't imagine anything much better than that. It would certainly beat the days that I served as an office drone, staring blankly into a computer screen for more hours than I care to admit. However, with those days behind me, I welcome the challenge. I've started working on a menu of appetizers and desserts, but of course I would never be willing to sell anything that hasn't been painstakingly tested and approved. I'm slowly, but surely, trying out new ideas and recipes, and will be making additions to my catering menu every week, so be sure to check back often! Below are the current items on offer, so if you live in the Dallas area, and need someone to help you throw a tasty soirée, please keep me in mind and feel free to contact me via email:

Cheesy Zucchini and Onion Flatbread

Spicy Cheddar Cheese Straws

Fig-Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Pizzettes

Beef and Gorgonzola Crostinis

Pesto Rubbed Steak Skewers with Blue Cheese Fondue

Mini Crab Cakes with Remoulade Sauce

Sun-dried Tomato and Goat Cheese Skewers

Chocolate-Espresso Caramel Bars

November 21, 2009

Braised Short Ribs with Chocolate-Rosemary Sauce

I know what you're thinking after reading the title of this latest experiment of mine, but trust me, don't judge this recipe by its name. Sweet it is not. Instead, the chocolate and cocoa powder lend depth and a complexity to the sauce that would otherwise be flat and mundane.

I've been dying to braise some short ribs for quite some time now. Because truth be told, I've never actually braised anything- ever. I've never had the right equipment for it. For my 25th (sigh...) birthday I celebrated last week, however, I finally got the Le Creuset dutch oven I've had my eye on for ages. That's when I set off in search of the perfect braising recipe to christen my new ceramic friend. I searched far and wide through many a foodie website and saw many of the usual suspects: beef braised in wine, chicken braised in wine, lamb braised in, you guessed it, wine. So when I ran across this recipe for braised beef short ribs with a chocolate-rosemary sauce, I pretty much stopped dead in my tracks. I think it had something to do with that word chocolate... but more than that, I was intrigued by the flavor combinations promised in the recipe's title: beef, chocolate, and rosemary- such 3 distinct flavor profiles. I just had to know what the outcome would be.

As I said earlier, this dish is not in the least bit sweet. It is most definitely a savory entrée. Some of you may already know that chocolate is the secret ingredient in a mole sauce. A sauce that is also savory and not sweet. The chocolate in this particular recipe is added at the end, after the beef has been slowly tenderizing in a hot oven. It helps to thicken the sauce, providing a much more pleasant mouthfeel and the rosemary gave it just a hint of earthiness. And have I mentioned how mouth watering-ly tender the ribs were? Fall off the bones tender! And oh so juicy. A braised beef recipe worth waiting the three plus hours necessary to acquire that certain degree of tasty tenderness.

Braised Short Ribs with Chocolate-Rosemary Sauce
Recipe Adapted from

1/4 cup diced bacon (or pancetta if you're feeling fancy)
6 pounds bone-in short ribs
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup finely chopped peeled carrots
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups dry red wine
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups chopped drained canned diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 very large fresh thyme sprig
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons shaved or grated bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

1. Preheat the oven to 350º F.

2. Heat a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add bacon and sauté until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.

3. Sprinkle ribs with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown ribs in drippings in pot over medium-high heat until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer to a plate.

4. Add onions and next 4 ingredients to pot. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook until vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add wine. Boil uncovered until liquid is reduced by half, scraping up brown bits, about 5 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and reserved bacon. Return ribs to pot, cover, and transfer to the oven. Braise for approximately 3 hours or until the meat is tender.

5. Remove pot from the oven and transfer ribs to plate; discard bay leaf and thyme. Spoon fat from surface of sauce. Boil sauce until beginning to thicken, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add chocolate, cocoa powder, and rosemary; stir until chocolate melts. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Return ribs to pot. Simmer to rewarm, about 5 minutes.

Makes 6-8 servings

November 15, 2009

Pumpkin Latte Crème Brûlée

Even though we have been well into the fall season for quite some time now (and almost into winter for that matter), I still feel I should mention my love of pumpkin spice lattes, and how their arrival on the Starbucks menu gets me giddy with anticipation for the upcoming "sweater" weather every year. I had my first of the season a while back, when I was still living in New York, and the tantalizing aromas from the cinnamon and nutmeg combined with the rich espresso got me thinking: wouldn't these flavors make for an excellent dessert? I felt inspired. The wheels started churning and I began to brainstorm the perfect vessel for my pumpkin latte creation.

At first I thought cupcakes, perhaps with a pumpkin cake base topped by a mocha buttercream, but that idea didn't leave me too excited. After several "rough" recipes, I came up with the idea for a crème brûlée that would marry the flavors of pumpkin pie and a latte into one smooth and silky custard. I did some research on crème brûlées and the different ingredients and techniques often used to create them, and was able to come up with a recipe that I felt would mimic the pumpkin spice lattes I've come to love so much.

I am not a very patient person, so I really try my hardest to get a recipe right the first time around. I don't have the time or tenacity (or money) to try a recipe over and over until I get it right. (A personality trait I should probably work on...) So I have to say I was thrilled when this recipe came out damn near perfect on my first try. I felt I achieved the balance of flavors I was looking for, and everything went smoothly (even the texture of the custard) just as I had hoped. At least until I broke out the blow torch, which was an experience all on its own.

Pumpkin Latte Crème Brûlée

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup half & half
1 cup pumpkin puree (just to clarify, this is the same as pure pumpkin)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon espresso powder
6 egg yolks
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup turbinado (raw) sugar, for topping

Special Equipment:
6, 4 oz overproof ramekins
kitchen torch

1. Preheat the oven to 325º F.

2. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the first 10 ingredients (cream through espresso powder). Over medium heat, bring the mixture just to a simmer or until steam rises. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and salt. Gradually add cream mixture, while whisking to combine. Stir in vanilla.

4. Strain the mixture into a large measuring cup or bowl with a pour spout. Divide the strained mixture evenly among the 6 ramekins. Arrange filled ramekins in a baking pan, then carefully transfer the pan to the oven. Slowly pour hot water into the pan surrounding the ramekins. Add enough water to reach half way up sides of the ramekins. Bake custards until set around the edges, but still slightly jiggly (like jello) in the center. Depending on personal oven temperatures, custards in shallow crème brûlée ramekins should be baked about 20-25 minutes, while custards in standard soufflé ramekins should be baked for 25-30 minutes. Let the ramekins rest in the water bath for 5 to 10 minutes after baking. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and let cool for another 20 minutes. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.

5. When ready to serve, blot the top of the custards dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of turbinado sugar over each custard in ramekins. Using a small kitchen torch, melt the sugar by waving the torch flame 3-6 inches from the surface of the sugar. Heat the sugar until it is caramelized and no dry sugar is visible. Sprinkle another 1 teaspoon of turbinado sugar over each custard and continue to caramelize with the kitchen torch until a dark amber crust has formed on top of each custard. Chill the custards for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 servings

Note: the pre-caramalized custards can be made up to 2 days ahead. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

November 10, 2009

Triple Chocolate Chip Pie

I think it's safe to say that almost everyone has a favorite dish or dessert that they grew up eating. The ones that mom would make without the help of a recipe and where the simple mention of its name conjures up bittersweet and nostalgic childhood memories. When selecting recipes I want to prepare for the week, I most often choose ones that involve a flavor combination or technique I have yet to attempt. However, this week was different. I felt myself constantly drawn to make an old childhood favorite. Perhaps it's partly due to the fact that I recently just moved back into my old room, high school memorabilia still intact, or maybe it's because the holidays are right around the corner, a time of year that always has me wishing to be a kid again.

There are two desserts that come to mind when I think of growing up: no-bake cookies and chocolate chip pie, both of which my mom has been making for years, and both of which are extremely easy to make (which, if you know my mom, should come as no surprise- spending hours in the kitchen is not something she is too keen on). I decided to make the latter of the two desserts, the chocolate chip pie. It's rich, decadent, and oh so chocolaty. However, my usual urge to try something new resurfaced quickly and I felt compelled to give this long time favorite of mine an updated and more sophisticated makeover.

As with most chocolate loaded confections, the sweetness of it all can start to get to you, leaving you with that pang in the pit of your stomach (usually consisting of equal parts guilt and just good ol' fashioned stomach ache due to sugar overload). I wanted to cut the sweetness, while retaining the generous (but necessary) amount of chocolate in this pie. I decided to use three different variations of chocolate: semi-sweet, bitter-sweet (60% cacao), and dark chocolate. I also substituted half the amount of the original recipe's pecans, for chopped hazelnuts, which lent a really nice flavor to the end result of the pie. I will say though- confession time- that I originally had every intention of making a pie crust from scratch, but I succumbed to the super market standard of convenience: Pillsbury refrigerated pie dough. I usually prefer to make things from scratch, but I'm still unpacking and have found myself strapped for time as of late. Anyways, the great thing about this pie is that it would be easy to make your own. Perhaps experiment with different types of nuts or substitute part of the chocolate for butterscotch chips. Or possibly, if you're one who enjoys that slightly sick feeling after indulging in too much chocolate, you could always add, well, more chocolate.

Triple Chocolate Chip Pie

1 refrigerated pie crust (or make your own)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (I used 60% cacao)
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts, skinned and toasted (see note below)
1/3 cup toffee bits

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a medium sized mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, sugars. butter, flour, and salt. Fold in the chocolate, coconut, pecans, and hazelnuts.

3. Place the chilled pie crust in a standard pie dish, crimping the edges if desired. Pour the chocolate mixture into the pie crust and spread evenly. Sprinkle with the toffee bits.

4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Let the pie rest for 30 minutes before serving.

Serves 8

Note: To toast hazelnuts, heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned and the skins begin to flake. Remove from the oven and place nuts in a dish towel. Roll up the towel and let the nuts "steam" for 5 minutes and then briskly rub the towel (with nuts inside) to remove the skins from the nuts. Cool and then chop coarsely.

To view other hazelnut recipes, click on the image below!

Hazelnut on Foodista

November 5, 2009

Mini Crab Cakes

I know that it seems my commitment to this blog has been lacking as of late, but moving half way across the country is hard work, not to mention time consuming! Trust me, I would much rather have been baking and blogging than packing and driving 1,500 miles in a cramped car. But the good news is that I'm back and ready to hit the ground running! I've got more time and resources at my disposal, including a much bigger kitchen and people to actually help me eat all the food I plan on cooking. My mom and dad will be serving as my taste testing guinea pigs for the upcoming months. (Yes, I have moved back in with my parents. Not my proudest moment, but what's a broke, unemployed person to do?)

I've officially been back in Texas for a week now (my, how I've missed this weather!) and close to being completely settled in. But I could no longer focus on unloading box after box (after box, after box...) because I was itching to get back in the kitchen! My mom had a couple friends over this week, so it was the perfect excuse to dig out my culinary gadgets from the dark abyss of moving boxes. It was also a good opportunity to start testing some appetizers I have in mind to make for one of my very best, and oldest friend's wedding shower I will be hosting come spring time. I pretty much planned out the entire menu within an hour of hearing about her engagement- I love a good reason to throw a party. But this party in particular has me more excited than usual because it's a wedding shower, meaning lots of fun and frilly finger foods and centerpieces.

However, the dilemma I face is this: I want the food to be impressive while remaining simplistic in the overall preparation. I want everything to be lovely and delicious, but I also want to enjoy myself at the party rather than fretting over the food. I already had crab cakes in mind when planning the shower's menu, so when I ran across this recipe for miniature crab cakes that are baked in batches, well, it seemed like the perfect solution to my simple yet impressive dilemma. And I have to say, I was extremely pleased with the results. The mini cakes were surprisingly crisp and crunchy on the outside, and had some nice citrus notes (a result from the combination of both orange and lemon peel). I actually think they were every bit as good as the full fat versions that are often fried in butter or oil, except these are sooo much easier to make! With (only) 6 months left to plan the wedding shower, this recipe has most definitely won a permanent place on the menu!

Mini Crab Cakes
Adapted from Bon Appetit

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large egg
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 teaspoon grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
4 teaspoons plus 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Large pinch of cayenne pepper
8 ounces fresh lump crabmeat (picked over for pieces of shell) patted dry and shredded
1 1/2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pans
Fresh chives, cuts into pieces for garnish

1. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese in a medium bowl until smooth. Add 1/4 cup Parmesan and egg; beat to blend. Beat in sour cream, citrus peels, 4 teaspoons chopped chives, salt, and cayenne pepper. Fold in crabmeat.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter 2 mini muffin pans. Toss Panko, 3/4 cup Parmesan, and 3 tablespoons chopped chives in a small bowl. Drizzle melted butter over Panko mixture, tossing with fork until evenly moistened. Press a spoonful of Panko mixture into the bottom and up the sides of each muffin cup, forming crust. Spoon a rounded tablespoon of crab mixture into each cup. Sprinkle about a 1/2 tablespoon of Panko mixture over each (some may be left over).

3. Bake crab cakes until golden on top and set, about 25-30 minutes. Cool in pans for 5 minutes. Run knife around each cake and gently lift out of pan. Arrange crab cakes on a serving platter and sprinkle with chive pieces. Serve with Remoulade Sauce (recipe follows).

Makes 24 mini crab cakes

Note: Crab mixture can be made 1 day ahead then covered and chilled. Crab cakes can be baked 2 hours prior to serving, then rewarmed on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes.

Remoulade Sauce

1 1/2 cups light mayo
4 green onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons creole mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 large garlic clove, pressed
1 1/2 teaspoons horseradish
1 teaspoon paprika

1. Stir together all the ingredients until well blended. Cover and chill for at least one hour.