Thursday, December 20, 2007

What else ya gonna do with 2 sticks of butter? Chocolate Hazelnut Gooey Butter Cakes

Back down South, they love love love Paula Deen. My mother bought me a set of "The Lady and Sons" cookbooks and I could feel my arteries hardening just reading the table of contents. Despite the health consequences, I agree with Paula that "butter makes it better" so I couldn't resist playing with this recipe from her for "Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cakes."

She offers that you can easily swap out the cake mix base or the filling ingredients. I took her peanut butter suggestion and made my own variation with Nutella (the hazelnut cocoa goo that stole my heart in college - a jar of that and a loaf of bread was the ultimate broke student luxury). To make it extra decadent, I used a Betty Crocker Dark Chocolate Supermoist cake mix and threw in a healthy pinch of ancho chile powder into the cream cheese filling. About a jar of the Nutella stands in for the can of pumpkin in the original recipe.

I think they are supposed to be served warm, but I like to chill them over night and bring 'em up to room temp before serving. They are like cream cheese brownies on speed. It's a fitting end to my holiday baking. I'm now fat enough to float in case I fall off the boat during my sailing vacation in the Bahamas for Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2007

New England Clam Chowder that won't make you rounder

I found a clam chowder recipe that has got the rich taste of my quasi-mother-in-law's version without the heart-stopping pound of bacon that starts the soup and hangs out for the entire ride. J the BF liked it so much, he had to rat me out to his mother (which he promised not to do). No worries - now she is demanding my recipe.

This version is one of the many re-formulations that Cooking Light has been publishing recently where they are taking older recipes and updating them to get more flavor into the dish while keeping many of the nutritional stats in check. It's amazing what a little bacon can do for you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Homemade in a Hurry - Cake Mix Cookies

Call me Southern and old fashion, but I never like to show up at someone's home for a party without a hostess gift of some-sort. Usually I stick with a nice bottle of wine, but around the holidays, homemade treats seem more appropriate - but don't fit well with my rush/rush always late lifestyle unless I work ahead.

For a potluck dinner party, I had prepared some smokey mac & cheese the day before and was heating it in the oven before leaving for the event. I got the whim to whip up some warm, fresh baked cookies to bring as a hostess gift - could I do it in 20 minutes with no cookie mix in the house? No problem . . .

Found this recipe for Easy Cake Mix Cookies and I happened to have a box of yellow cake mix in my cabinet that I was never going to use. Threw that in a bowl with some flour, eggs, and oil and I had a batter. Chocolate chips? I thought I had some, but someone must have pilfered them in a chocolate fit, so I substituted a box of chocolate covered cashews that had been re-gifted to me from a work colleague. I made half a dozen monster-size cookies (instead of the dozens of puny ones called for by the recipe from this batter. I slide the cookie sheet into the oven next to the heating mac&cheese. They end up a little bit like muffin tops - very tasty. 20 minutes from start to finish - I never need to go gift-less again!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Macadamia Crusting Mahi Mahi with Alton Brown

Even with an absurdly short 22 minute workout on the elliptical machine, I got a chance to watch some "Good Eats" - a show I used to hate, but for which I have recently acquired a new appreciation. The fact that the host, Alton Brown, lives in Atlanta is of special appeal to me - he seems to come from good redneck stock.

Anyway . . . . In a recently broadcast show on nuts (Alton swears by cashews, pistachios and Macadamia nuts as the best for cooking due to their neutral flavors) he demonstrates an intriguing method for doing nut crusted roast fish. He actually partially roasts the fish for 5 minutes before pressing the crust onto the fish - something I never would have considered doing. I'm making a point to check out this recipe for Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi next time I'm feeling a little fishy.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Torta Barozzi - Total Chocolate Extreme

J the BF signed me up for a Splendid Table newsletter after becoming an avid listener to their weekly podcast. You would think that me being the foodie freak in the house, I would have already been a longtime fan of the self proclaimed radio show (hosted by Lynne Rossetto Kasper) for "people who love to eat." Instead I resisted getting caught up in yet another piece of media I didn't have time to consume - no matter how fascinating the subject matter. Having it thrust upon me so forcibly made me even more resistant. One recipe changed it all - the Torta Barozzi.

Torta Barozzi is a flourless chocolate cake that has its roots in northern Italy. One evening while waiting for friends at a local bar, I was cleaning out the inbox on my BlackBerry and I came across a "Baker's Chronicles" edition of the Splendid Table email that told the story of this mysterious dessert that was the very embodiment of chocolate in all it's dark glory. I've cooked it 3 times in the last month in a quest for chocolate Nirvana. I've come pretty damn close by following Kasper's tips to use only the highest quality chocolates (Scharffen Berger varieties work well) and being sure not to over-cook the cake. It is meant to be fudgey and moist in the middle. The instructions say to serve at room temp, but if you've been storing in the fridge, nuke a slice for about 15 - 20 secs until it is just about to melt - it's rated-R-good.

The original recipe doesn't seem to be on the Splendid Table site, but is available in Kasper's cookbook, The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food. Some dude also posted it up on Recipezaar. If you make it, don't skimp and get the cheap chocolate - it does make a difference. As for me, the voice of Lynne Rossetto Kasper is now my steady weekly companion for my Sunday work-outs.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

White Chili fit for the winter

Now we are firmly in the cold grasp of another Minnesota winter, I've been relying on hearty soups and stews at least once a week as a good seasonal option to knock the cold out of our bones. I've experimented with a Chipotle Turkey chili with Chocolate and revisited last year's mainstay - a yellow pepper pumpkin soup, but I keep coming back to a modified white chili that satisfies oh-so-well this time of year.

I start with this recipe from and modify it by replacing one of the cans of diced green chiles with a seeded minced canned chipotle pepper. Don't let anyone tell you that white chili is for lightweights. This one sticks to your ribs and warms you out of your mid-winter stupor.

Yummy alternative to a salad from La Brea Bakery

Pay attention to the suggested recipes that food products put on their packages. Sometimes, you may discover a new favorite. Case in point is this delicious dish I just assembled per the suggestion on a package of La Brea Rosemary and Olive Oil bread I picked up at my local Rainbow. While the Uptown Rainbow is a unapologetically ghetto grocery store, I have to give them props for stepping up the game in their bakery by selling these great La Brea products. They are great for when I don't feel like getting cleaned out by Lund's (the yuppie grocery down the street) for a decent loaf of bread.

Back when there were above freezing temperatures in the Twin Cities, I cut out a small "recipe" off a round of the La Brea bread suggesting that I serve a few toasted slices topped with chopped watercress tossed with olive oil, lemon, garlic and shaved parmesan cheese. According to the package, it would make "an excellent light lunch when served with a glass of Viognier.

I thought it would be a nice light 1st course to my white chili, so I toasted a couple of thick slices, drizzled with olive oil, under the broiler and served the fresh greens on top. I had to be generous with the salt and pepper on the watercress to get a satisfying result, but the combination of the peppery herbs, salty cheese and crispy rosemary bread brought some much needed sunshine into my dining room in spite of the single-digit temps. Paired with a nicely chilled Pinot Grigio, I was reminded of dining al fresco in Rome - something I haven't done in 7 years, but need to find a way to do again very soon.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Swedish Glögg - a drink that delights and then . . .

My buddy Joel sought to celebrate his Swedish heritage and the first big snow in the Twin Cities by having folks over for a Glögg party. Glögg (or glugg as it was pronounced by our host) is a traditional Swedish mulled wine loaded with spices, dried fruit, nuts, and if you are naughty enough, a healthy splash of vodka. We hear the test batch had a massive portion of vodka, per the recipe Joel had secured from his family (on a newspaper clipping). The guests, were served a safer reduced-vodka version along with a buffet of crackers, cheeses, sliced sausage and Swedish cookies.

The Glögg tasted like a dark old-world winter evening. Served hot - it's deep and rich with port and brandy, loaded with chopped almonds and raisins and heavy with the flavor of prunes. One sip, and any chill from the single digit weather outside immediately faded from my body. While I can't find a copy of the recipe online that mirrors what we were served (there are tons of options), my cup was full of plump raisins and I swear there were prunes in the recipe somewhere. In fact, this old-world drink (good as it was at the time) can get medieval on your ass after the fact, so I'll pass on adding it to my repertoire for a future holiday menu.

Luckily, the Glögg spell passed in time for us to enjoy the Nortec Collective at the Walker Art Center. A mixture of Norteño and techno (more progressive trance than ambient from what I could tell), their music was great stuff but hard to fully enjoy in a theater setting (several folks in the front row created a dance pit to better enjoy the performance). I was just glad my dancing at my seat was due to the music and not the Glögg.