Monday, March 29, 2010

Recipe #23: The best mashed potatoes you'll EVER eat

Not a big story to tell here, since I think the title is pretty self explanatory. When we go out to eat, I almost always prefer mashed potatoes to french fries. I've just had too many mediocre fries that left me wishing I had picked a different side. I've had some good mashed potatoes, but few that really had all the flavor I would have wanted. So, I just had to make my own.

The Best Mashed Potatoes You'll Ever Eat

Cook time: 1 hour
Prep time: 5 minutes

2 lbs. red bliss potatoes
1 stick salted butter
8 ounces sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
6 cloves of garlic, minced*
water for boiling
fresh or dried chives for garnish (optional)

large pot for boiling
potato masher

Boil water and add potatoes. Continue boiling for 45 minutes. If potatoes are not fork tender, continue for another 15 minutes and check again. Continue boiling until tender.

Once potatoes are done, remove them from the pot and discard the water. Turn off heat.

Place potatoes back into the hot pot, and begin to mash. Add butter, in chunks of a few tablespoons at a time. Continue mashing and mixing until potatoes have absorbed the butter.

Add garlic to pot, and mix. Let sit for 5 minutes. Add sour cream, salt and pepper. Serve warm, and top with fresh chives.

-Garlic: I don't usually use fresh garlic when I cook, unless it's going to be almost raw in the dish. What I use instead is a huge jar of Spice World minced garlic. It saves me the time of having to chop (and have my hands smell like) garlic for any given recipe. For this recipe, if you use the jarred garlic, use three tablespoons.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Just had to share... Decadent Brownie Pie

I'm not really a huge fan of chocolate (sacrilegious, I know). I can really only take a little here and there, but I really don't even LOVE chocolate cake (my husband John, on the other hand, would sell our house for the right chocolate cake).

But when I came across this recipe, I had to make it. I'm not even crazy about chocolate, and I HAD to make it.

This comes from McMom at Let's Dish. She adapted it from Taste of Home. When I made this two weeks ago, I left the walnuts out -- I didn't want anything to take away from the truffle-yness (so not a word) of the ganache. It's also incredibly easy, and made with things you probably already have around your house. My only suggestion would be to make it the night before, if you're making it for an event. It really gives the ganache the chance to set up.

At our house, it was gone in two days.

Here's the picture -- please visit McMom, follow her because she's got some AMAZING recipes on her site, and for the love of all things holy, make this pie this weekend. It's SO worth it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Recipe #22: Bellini Squares

I love peaches. They're not only tasty fresh, but good in almost any form -- frozen, fruit cup, even grilled are delicious. But my love for peaches grew even more the first time I tried a bellini -- a drink made of champagne and peach puree. Though they're not practical all the time (doesn't really go so well with pizza) and are more of what I think of as a brunching drink, you could certainly enjoy one alongside these squares.

5 peaches
1 tbsp sugar
2 tablespoons champagne*
1 pkg prepared sugar cookie dough*
1 jar caramel or butterscotch sauce*
1/2 cup chopped pecans

food processor
very well-greased 9x12 baking pan*

Using a rolling pin and your hands, spread cookie dough inside 9x12 pan.

Bake as directed on package. Allow to cool for 20 minutes when finished.

After cookie has cooled, dice two peaches and place in food processor with sugar. Pules 3-4 times, then add champagne (this will bubble and fizz at first, wait a second until bubbles go away) and puree. Spread mixture evenly over cookie.

Slice remaining three peaches into 16 pieces each (half, then quarter, then slice into 4) and place on top of peach puree in any pattern. Top with drizzled caramel mixture and nuts.

Chill for 30 minutes to set caramel, and cut into squares.

-Champagne: If you can't find actual champagne, or don't want to pay for it, feel free to use any kind of sparkling wine in its place. If you don't drink, or want to share this dessert with tots, you can even use Martinelli's Sparkling Cider instead.

-Sugar cookie dough: I used to 'tube' variety for this, and I only used one. If you wanted a thicker cookie, you could use two, but baking times would vary. I wouldn't recommend using the breakapart dough for this, as the texture seems different than the tube variety (at least to me), and the taste of those is almost playdough-like (I mean, not that I'd know what playdough tastes like).

-Caramel or butterscotch sauce: Instead of using the jarred kind, I actually made my own for this recipe. The reason I recommend the jarred type -- and the kind I'm talking can usually be found with other sundae toppings at the grocery store -- is because of how finicky sugar can be when making caramel. You heat it too little, you end up with a gummy mess; you heat it too much, and you end up with brittle. Using the jarred type ensures you'll have a smooth, sticky caramel. BUT, If you know how to make your own (better than I can, obviously), feel free!

-Baking pan: I used a baking dish, the type you'd make brownies in, for this recipe, but I'd bet you could even use a cookie sheet. Lining the sheet with parchment paper would make it even easier.

-Peach puree: I hesitate to call this jelly or jam, but the texture of this once it's all done in the food processor, is that of marmalade. If you have extra and don't want as thick of a layer as I used, you could certainly save some and put it on toast as a breakfast treat or even top ice cream with it. : )


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Recipe #21: Garlic Knots

If you don't LOVE garlic, don't read any further. This recipe isn't for the faint of heart (or breath). You WILL smell like garlic after you eat these. This is a quick, cheap and easy recipe, and I can assure you -- as can my husband -- that these garlic knots are delicious. One other warning though, you will definitely get your hands dirty, so keep some dish soap nearby. Aside from the dough (which you can buy or make, if you have a favorite pizza dough recipe) most of these ingredients are likely things you already have in your refrigerator and spice cabinet. They're a quick appetizer and an alternative to regular bread with pasta. Enjoy!

Garlic Knots
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

pre-made store bought pizza dough
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp minced garlic*
6 tbsp butter, melted (30 sec. in microwave in glass measuring cup)
1 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tbsp onion salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
pinch salt
pinch dried parsley
marinara sauce for dipping (optional)

parchment paper
baking sheet pan
glass measuring cup
mixing bowl
barbecue brush or spoon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roll/press pizza dough into a 9x12 rectangle (approximate).

To measuring cup of melted butter, add garlic powder, salt, olive oil, onion salt, parsley. Mix until combined. Using either spoon or brush, spread about 3/4 of butter mixture evenly onto dough. Distribute 1/2 cup of garlic on top of dough.

Cut dough into six strips of about the same size.

Tie each one into knots repeatedly until untied edges are no longer than one inch. Place each knot into mixing bowl, and when all six are tied, pour remaining butter mixture over them, and toss to evenly coat. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Cover baking sheet in parchment paper. Place knots on parchment paper, and top each with a small amount of remaining garlic.

Bake at 325 for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and let cool. Serve alone or with a side of marinara sauce.

-Garlic: You have seen me post many times that I don't use fresh garlic when I cook, unless it's going to be almost raw in the dish. What I use instead is a huge jar of Spice World minced garlic. It saves me the time of having to chop (and have my hands smell like) garlic for any given recipe. Using this type of jarred garlic is highly recommended for this recipe. It has a slightly bitterness to it that gives a great flavor to the knots.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Just had to share... Chocolate Hazelnut Pie

Hello there readers!

I've decided to implement a new feature on my blog. Normally, and in the past, I know I've only tended to share my recipes, or those that I've prepared myself. Starting today, I'll be beginning a weekly feature on my blog called "Just had to share," where I'll feature a recipe of someone else's that I've come across recently. I'll also be taking suggestions from you if you have a recipes you think belong on here!

For the inaugural post of this feature... I present to you Chocolate Hazelnut Pie. I found this recipe in the most recent issue of Family Circle magazine (it can be found here, and literally made it the day after I found it. It is spectacular and delicious and couldn't be simpler. It has a light but creamy filling that is somewhat like chocolate cheesecake, and every bit as delicious. Here it is, in all its glory, my first "Just had to share" post...

Chocolate Hazelnut Pie

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup chocolate hazelnut spread (Nutella)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts (chopped)
1 prepared chocolate pie crust
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoons mini chocolate chips

Heat oven to 325. In large bowl, combine Nutella, cream cheese and 1/4 cup sugar. Beat for 3 minutes or until well combined. Add egg and 1/4 cup hazelnuts and beat until blended. Pour into prepared pie crust and spread evenly.

Bake at 325 for about 30 minutes or until center begins to set. Remove pie from oven and cool completely on a wire rack or in refrigerator.

Once pie has cooled, beat sugar, vanilla and heavy cream on high speed until medium peaks form. Spread over top of the pie and sprinkle with remaining hazelnuts and mini chocolate chips.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Foodie's Paradise: Worcester Wine and Food Festival

I could hardly get through my day at work Monday, knowing that I was heading to the Worcester Wine and Food Festival as soon as I got out. The festival, which is an annual event, is held at the DCU Center in downtown Worcester, sponsored by Austin Liquors and benefits the Worcester JCC. Throughout the day on Monday, I continually glanced over the menu the organizer had emailed me, and couldn't wait to taste some of the fare from the restaurants that were scheduled to appear.

I'm not much of a wine person -- I have a favorite label, but if offered a glass at a party or dinner, I generally just go with chardonnay -- so I planned on spending more time scoping out the "food" part of the event. As a new mom, I don't get a chance to get out of the house (other than for work) often, much less to spend mingling with fellow foodies. Since I was attending the festival as part of Foodbuzz's Foodie Correspondent program, I made it my mission to taste, taste, taste as many items as I could.

Part of the night's festivities included a silent auction -- prizes like vacations, trips to local spas and local eateries attracted tons of bids.

Towards the end of the night, many an excited cheer could be heard as winners were announced over the PA system.

One disadvantage I faced was that since I was heading to the festival after work, I couldn't spend as much time just walking around and taking in the sights and smells. I was prepared to make my rounds quicker than usual, but as I entered the main ballroom where most of the food and wine vendors were, I was slightly disappointed that even though the event was scheduled to end at 9pm, at least a few of the restaurants had already packed up and left by 7:45pm when I arrived. That's not to say that there weren't *plenty* of delicious samples left -- there certainly were.

The first booth that caught my eye was that of the Bean Counter Coffee Bar and Bakery. The shop, which has locations in Worcester and Shrewsbury, had attracted most festival-goers' eyes with a tower of tiered ganache cupcakes.

I snapped the above picture at about 7:50, and I am not exaggerating when I say that there were maybe three or four cupcakes left when I walked back to the table at 8pm.

Another part of the Bean Counter's display was a very elaborate wedding cake. I actually asked the chef's jacket-clad woman behind the counter if the cake was real, because it looked so perfect.

A frame beside the cake mentioned that The Bean Counter was named one of The Knot's Best of Weddings 2010 winners for cake bakers. One look at the cake on display, and it was pretty obvious why the cafe had been given the honor.

Next, I made my way over to a more savory booth (though I planned on sampling PLENTY of the goodies that evening, I wanted to pace myself -- I decided the best way to do this would be alternating the sweet with the savory. Sad? Maybe. Delicious? Definitely.) just a few feet away -- Pepper's Fine Foods Catering.

Admittedly, I was a little intimidated. Though the rich smoky flavor exuding from the booth just wouldn't let me walk away, I was a little hesitant when I saw they were serving duck. Having never tried it, I was leary, even though the entree looked absolutely spectacular.

I told the chef -- who I suspect, after taking a peek at their website, was owner John Lawrence -- that I'd never tried it, and that the only thing I'd ever really heard about duck was that it was rather greasy. He thanked me for being willing to give it a try, gave me a smirk and assured me that in the hands of the right chef, not only was it not greasy, but was tender, flavorful and moist.

Oh, was he deliciously right. The duck was prepared perfectly -- seasoned just right so it wasn't the least bit gamey, sliced thinly so as to be enjoyable to even the novice's palate, and paired so well by the "sweet potato frizzies" that while I assumed it would serve as more of a garnish, it seemed the most natural of accompaniments. Thanks to Pepper's, I will most certainly be eating duck again.

Next, it was time for another sweet treat, so I headed over to the obvious choice -- you can't lose with a chocolate fountain. Savor, the DCU Center's official caterer, had quite the bountiful spread.

Besides several items for chocolate fountain dipping, they also had banana-stuffed strawberries which the chef behind the booth told me he prepared himself.

As I took pictures of them, he told me that now I would have to try one -- no argument there. I sampled one of the strawberries and wasn't disappointed.

I then made my way over to the neighboring booth, Sturbridge's Publick House. They were one of the few vendors I can say I was literally looking for in the room -- having seen on the menu I had what they were bringing, I was eagerly pacing the floor looking for their space ahead of time.

Though it may not look like much -- due in part to the person ahead of me in line bringing a small Gladware container and taking off with half of what was in the pan -- the sweet potato ravioli with kaluha cream sauce were absolutely beyond amazing. Though I was a little nervous that the sweetness of the sauce would make the dish more of a dessert, I wasn't disappointed; the rich kaluha cream sauce was delicious with the hearty sweet potato filling. Fabulous.

At about 8:30pm, I made a quick stop at the Cabot Creamery table. I'm not someone who generally considers cheese a palate cleanser, especially because I'm lactose intolerant, but Cabot's cheese is different -- all varieties are lactose-free. It's readily available at most grocery stores, reasonably priced and melts no differently than other brands, but tastes better. I grabbed a few pieces and headed towards my last booth of the evening.

I'm not a fan of writing in cliches, but evening ended with a bang. My last stop was at the Webster House Restaurant, where I sampled their pan-seared salmon with teriyaki ginger risotto and wasabi aioli. This was one of the dishes I was looking forward to , and one I had told my co-workers about (admittedly, to make them a little jealous) during the day on Monday.

As a big fan of sushi, everything about this dish appealed to me. The risotto was perfectly prepared -- not gummy, and well-flavored. While I generally do not enjoy cooked salmon, this was moist without the fishy flavor that many don't like about the fish. The wasabi aioli was the perfect tangy topping.

In talking with the two servers at the booth, I found out that Webster House, located right in Worcester, not only offers a stellar every day menu, but also hosts special wine dinners. After trying the salmon dish, I'll definitely be taking a trip to the restaurant in the next few weeks.

Though food festivals are pretty self-explanatory, something about this one was different. Most people don't think of Massachusetts as a foodie mecca. Certainly Boston offers its (more than) fair share of top-rated eateries, but the atmosphere seems to be changing. Those of us in southern (or western) Massachusetts don't have to drive the extra hour and wrestle with Mass Pike traffic to find a great place to eat anymore. And judging from the variety of delicious options at the Worcester Wine and Food Festival, Worcester is certainly on its way to becoming a foodlover's destination.