Sunday, July 28, 2013

Potato and Red Pepper "Cheesecake"

Smartphones.  We have a love/hate kinda relationship.  I believe there is a time to use your phone and lots of other times when you shouldn't. When I say lots of other times I really mean a good majority of the time.  For example, you're out to dinner with friends, family, etc.  Your phone does not belong on the table.  You're in the waiting room at the doctor/dentist office having a conversation with your husband.  Newsflash: I don't really want to hear that conversation.  You're in the checkout line and you're holding everyone up because you're messing around your phone.  My reaction might not be so nice.  Of course, I might be the only one who feels this way but I really do expect people to practice consideration when using their phones.

On the flip side, my iphone really comes in handy when I'm at the grocery store.  I use my phone to look up recipes nearly every time I'm at the store.  It's been a real lifesaver.  Recently, I bought my first cooking related iphone app, Ottolenghi, and it has also really come in handy.  When I needed something for this week's IHCC theme, Eggscellent, I found this tasty Potato and Red Pepper "Cheesecake" right on the app. 

I've been wanting to try a savory cheesecake for a long time so I decided to give this a go.  It was really tasty, but it was almost verging on being a little too rich or decadent.  I think you definitely need to serve it with a little salad on the side.  Otherwise, we really liked it.

Potato and Red Pepper Cheesecake
Adapted from Ottolenghi iphone app
Serves 4 - 8

about 1/3 cup olive oil
4 large red peppers, halved and seeded
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 large round white or round red potatoes (about 1-1/3 pounds, peeled and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
2/3 cup cream cheese
3 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup pitted and halved black olives
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 425F.  Line a 9-inch baking dish (round, square, any shape will do) with parchment paper and brush with olive oil.

Mix the peppers together with the garlic, 2 tablespoons oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a good grind of black pepper.  Spread out on a baking pan and roast for 25 minutes.  Remove and set aside to cool.  Reduce the oven temperature to 300F.

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil.  Add the potatoes, cook for 5 minutes, then drain.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet and add the potatoes.  You may need to fry them in two batches, so the pan does not get overcrowded.  Fry for 4-5 minutes, turning once to give both sides a light crispy surface.  Remove and set aside.

Place the feta, cream cheese, eggs, cream, and some black pepper in a mixing bowl and beat with a whisk until smooth and thick.

Cut each of the roasted pepper halves into two or three strips, about 1-1/2 inches wide, and place them and the potatoes in the baking pan --they should lean against each other, almost standing on their sides.  Put the olives into the gaps between the pieces and sprinkle with half the oregano.

Pour enough of the cream mixture into the pan to leave some of the vegetables exposed.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until the custard sets.  Five minutes before the end of cooking time scatter the remaining oregano on top.  Remove the cake from the oven and set aside to cool to room temperature. 

Remove the cake from the pan and cut into four wedges.  Brush the top and side of each piece with the remaining olive oil and serve.
Theme: Eggscellent!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Salsa Mexicana Classica (Pico de Gallo) and Taco Loco in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Back in April my husband and I took a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for our tenth wedding anniversary.  We landed at the airport early in the day, and it was still a little too early for check in, so we decided to check out downtown Cabo.  Our original plan was to go to Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo Cantina, but on our way there we found a gem of a restaurant, Taco Loco.
Taco Loco is inside Plaza de los Mariachis, right in front of the Cabo Wabo Cantina.  I'm not sure how Sammy Hagar keeps his place in business, because the aromas coming from Taco Loco cannot be ignored.
If the aromas don't draw you in, then the charming outdoor ambiance surely will.  There are little wooden tables and festive music as you dine outside, right in the middle of the marketplace.
You might buy a necklace, bracelet, and earrings from this sweet little lady.  Or, you might even eye up a hammock while you're drinking and dining (as my husband did).
You will, for sure, be approached by several mariachis.  Believe me, you don't want to pass up a performance.  The mariachis were very happy, extremely entertaining, and always had us laughing.  Felipe (pictured above) was our absolute favorite.  Felipe has a fantastic sense of humor and a zest for life that is unparalleled.  When he performs he gives it his all...and then some.  He sang me a version of Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl  (even though I have blue eyes) that had us laughing so hard we cried.  Felipe was probably the happiest person I'd ever met in my life.  I think I'll remember him forever.
Taco Loco's food is fresh and delicious. We sampled so many delicious dishes (fish tacos, shrimp tacos, grilled shrimp, chicken burritos, bean and cheese nachos, and some of the most delicious margaritas).  However, my very favorite thing was the salsa bar.  When the waiter delivered your plate he would give you a bowl for salsa and toppings.  Or, you could simply take your plate over to the salsa bar and load up.  There was a rainbow of salsas and toppings to chose from!  
Lucky for me, I happened to try their Pico de Gallo on our first day there because it was CRAZY good! I'd never been much of a salsa/pico fan before, but this stuff was life-changing!  It was screaming with fresh flavor and just the right amount of heat. I found myself craving it enough that I had to go to Taco Loco for a daily fix.  Each visit I would fill my salsa bowl to capacity and put that pico on everything I possibly could.   

I vowed to make Pico when I came home from vacation, but I wanted to wait until I could get my hands on some fresh summer tomatoes.  This recipe comes from the king of Mexican cooking, Rick Bayless, and it is pretty spot on.  It takes some time to chop all the ingredients, but it is so worthwhile.  This seems like a simple, already done-that kind of recipe, but a bowl of salsa like this is very inspiring.  You will find yourself wanting to put this salsa on everything.  

I turned a rather boring meal of grilled chicken, white rice, and smashed black beans into a real fiesta by adding a scoop of this salsa.  Later that night, I made a plate of nachos with chicken, beans, cheese and salsa on top, which the kids went crazy for.  Then in the morning I topped my scrambled eggs with the salsa.  My bowl of salsa was empty in no time.  Now I'm back to stalking my tomato plants and dreaming of Cabo!

Salsa Mexicana Classica
(Essential Tomato-Serrano Salsa)
by Rick Bayless
found on Epicurious
Makes 2 cups

12 ounces (2 medium-small round or 4 or 5 plum) ripe tomatoes 
Fresh serrano chiles to taste (roughly 3 to 5, 1/2 to 1 ounce total, or even more if you like it really picante), stemmed 
A dozen or so large sprigs of cilantro 
1 large garlic clove, peeled and very finely chopped (optional)
 1 small (4-ounce) white onion
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice 
Salt, about 3/4 teaspoon

Core the tomatoes, then cut in half widthwise and squeeze out the seeds if you wish (it will give the sauce a less rustic appearance). Finely dice the flesh by slicing it into roughly 1/4-inch thick pieces, then cutting each slice into small dice. Scoop into a bowl. 

Cut the chiles in half lengthwise (wear rubber gloves if your hands are sensitive to the piquancy of the chiles) and scrape out the seeds if you wish (not only will this make the salsa seem less rustic, but it will make it a little less picante). Chop the chiles as finely as you can, then add them to the tomatoes. Carefully bunch up the cilantro sprigs, and, with a sharp knife, slice them 1/16-inch thick, stems and all, working your way down from the leafy end until you run out of leaves. Scoop the chopped cilantro into the tomato mixture along with the optional garlic. Next, finely dice the onion with a knife (a food processor will turn it into a sour mess), scoop it into a small strainer, then rinse it under cold water. Shake to remove the excess water and add to the tomato mixture. Taste and season with lime juice and salt, and let stand if you have a little time, for the flavors to meld before using or scooping into a salsa dish and serving.

Theme: Potluck!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Banana Fudge Bomb Pops {#SummerOfThePopsicle guest post @ girlichef}

This week I'm holding the (popsicle) stick over at my friend Heather's blog, girlichef.  I'm so glad Heather asked me to be a part of her Summer of the Popsicle event because I've been meaning to make these creamy dreamy Banana Fudge Bomb Pops for a super loooooong time!  These pops are a delicious reminder of my favorite childhood treat from the ice cream man.  They really hit the spot!

You can find the recipe for these yummy treats here at girlichef

If you are a fan of tasty frozen treats on a stick, Heather has them featured every Wednesday throughout the summer! You can link up your own ice pops, popsicles and paletas there too. (You can also find this fun event on Twitter at #SummerOfThePopsicle
Check it out! 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Clementine & Almond Syrup Cake with Chocolate Icing

Every once in awhile I have a total failure in the kitchen.  I don't really mind having kitchen failures because they help me learn what works and what doesn't work.  Those same failures also help me learn what kind of recipes my family likes and dislikes.  I'd go so far as to say that I've learned just as much from my kitchen failures as I have from my successes.    

However, this cake was the kind of failure that bothers me.  It bothers me because it was a rather expensive failure (clementines, almonds, good quality chocolate, and lots of butter).  It also bothers me because it was a very time-consuming failure (the majority of an afternoon and lots of dishes to wash). 

We didn't like this cake....AT ALL!  The picture of the cake certainly looks pretty in my copy of Jerusalem and it seemed like a really good choice since I found some great clementines at my market. I had high hopes, but they were crushed when I tasted a bite of the cake.  The cake was extremely dense and gritty (I'm guessing from the large amount of ground almonds).  The chocolate icing was gritty as well and there was really little I could do to fix it.  Additionally, the clementine flavor didn't really come through, although I'm not sure why.  The cake gets brushed with a beautifully aromatic clementine simple syrup that tastes very sweet and delicious, but you just don't get that flavor in the cake (either with or without the chocolate icing).  

All in all, I was very disappointed.  My family really enjoys the combination of orange and chocolate and we were all looking forward to this cake.  My husband and I shared a slice, both with and without the chocolate icing, and we just didn't like it at all.  Right now the cake is chilling in the fridge to see if that helps matters, but I'm thinking the cake will more than likely get tossed.  Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with the recipe.  It's possible that other people enjoy a very dense and gritty cake, but it's just not for us. 

Clementine & Almond Syrup Cake with Chocolate Icing
Adapted from Jerusalem
by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
Serves 8 to 10

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
scant 2 cups sugar
grated zest and juice of 4 clementines
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
 2-1/2 cups ground almonds
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, sifted
pinch of salt
long strips of orange zest to garnish (optional)

Chocolate Icing:

6 tablespoons butter, diced
5 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, broken up
2-1/2 teaspoons honey
1-1/2 teaspoon Cognac

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Lightly grease a 9-1/2 inch springform pan with butter and line the sides and bottom with parchment paper.

Place the butter, 1-1/2 cups of the sugar, and both zests in a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment and beat on low speed to combine everything well.  Do not work the mixture too much or incorporate too much air.  Add half the ground almonds and continue mixing until combined.

With the machine running, gradually add the eggs, stopping to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl a couple of times as you go.  Add the remaining ground almonds, the flour, and the salt and beat until completely smooth.

Pour the cake batter into the pan and level it with an offset spatula.

Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes (mine was finished at 50 - watch closely).  Check to see if it is ready by inserting a skewer into the center.  It should come out a little bit moist.

When the cake is almost done, place the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and the citrus juices in a small saucepan and bring to a boil (the juices should total about 1/2 cup; remove some juice if needed).  When the syrup boils, remove it from the heat.

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, brush it with the boiling syrup, making sure all the syrup soaks in.  Leave the cake to cool down completely in the pan before you remove it.  You can then serve it as it is, garnished with orange zest strips, or store it for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

If you wish to ice the cake, we recommend doing it on the day you want to serve it so the icing is fresh and shiny.  Put the butter, chocolate, and honey in a heatproof bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure the bowl does not touch the water).  Stir until everything is melted, then immediately remove from the heat and fold in the Cognac.  Pour the icing over the cooled cake, allowing it to dribble naturally down the sides without covering the cake completely.  Let the icing set and then garnish the center of the cake with the orange zest strips.
Theme: Fruitfull!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Braised Eggs with Lamb, Tahini & Sumac

This is a very satisfying and eye-pleasing meal that can be served family-style for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Ground lamb seasoned with harissa, spices, and a blend of nuts with four braised eggs nestled on top.  Once the eggs are done to your liking it's time to add all the toppings: charred cherry tomatoes, a thick and velvety tahini yogurt sauce, and a sprinkling of cilantro and sumac. If you like things spicy, go ahead and add a little harissa on top too.  Serve this with a little bread, pita bread would be best, and you're all set!

I think my favorite part of making this dish was the harissa, a spicy red chile paste common in North Africa.  It's a spicy blend of red pepper, red chile peppers, onion, garlic, lemon juice and spices that can be used to season so many dishes.  The harissa adds a really flavorful dose of heat to this recipe that is distinctive and so delicious. After tasting the harissa in this recipe I have grown to absolutely love it.  My jar of harissa is front and center in my refrigerator.  I've added the harissa to my standard meatloaf.  I've added it to eggs.  I added it to my spaghetti sauce.  Just this morning I added it to my breakfast burritos.  It's my new favorite condiment!  If you enjoy a very flavorful way to heat up your food then I encourage you to make a batch!

Braised Eggs with Lamb, Tahini & Sumac
Adapted from Jerusalem
by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 pound of ground lamb
2 teaspoons sumac, plus extra to finish
1 teaspoon cumin
scant 1/2 cup toasted pistachios, crushed
7 tablespoons pine nuts
2 teaspoons harissa paste (recipe below)*
1 tablespoon finely chopped preserved lemon peel
1-1/2 cups cherry tomatoes or diced tomato
1/2 cup chicken stock
4 large eggs
1/4 cup pickled cilantro leaves or 1 tablespoon Zhoug
salt and pepper

Yogurt Sauce:
  scant 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 - 1/2 tablespoons tahini paste
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons of water

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium heavy bottomed frying pan for which you have a tight fitting lid (cast-iron would be great here).  Add the onion and garlic and saute for 6 minutes to soften and color a bit.  Raise the heat to high, add the lamb, and brown well, 5 to 6 minutes.  Season with the sumac, cumin, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and some black pepper and cook for another minute.  Turn off the heat, stir in the nuts, harissa, and preserved lemon and set aside.

While the onion is cooking, heat a separate small cast-iron or other heavy pan over high heat.  Once piping hot, add the cherry tomatoes and char for 4 to 6 minutes, tossing them in the pan occasionally, until slightly blackened on the outside.  Set aside.  (I skipped this step with the tomatoes because I used regular chopped tomato).

Prepare the yogurt sauce by whisking together all the ingredients with a pinch of salt.  It needs to be thick and rich, but you may need to add a splash of water if it is stiff.  (I did have to add another tablespoon of water or so to thin out the sauce).

You can leave the meat, tomatoes, and sauce at this stage for up to an hour.  When you're ready to serve, reheat the meat, add the chicken stock, and bring to a boil.  Make 4 small wells in the mix and break an egg into each well.  Cover the pan and cook the eggs over low heat for 3 minutes.  Place the tomatoes on top, avoiding the yolks, cover again, and cook for 5 minutes, until the egg whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny.  (Be careful not to have the heat up to high or else the yolks will cook through).

Remove from the heat and dot with dollops of the yogurt sauce, sprinkle with sumac, and finish with the cilantro.  Serve at once.

Adapted from Jersusalem
by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
Makes 1 small jar/about 3/4 cup

1 red pepper (I used one roasted red pepper from a jar)
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1-1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, coarsely chopped (about 2/3 cup total)
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
3 hot red chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped
1-1/2 teaspoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice 
1/2 teaspoon salt

Note: I didn't have a fresh red pepper so I used one roasted red pepper from a jar.  I would do this shortcut again just because I don't really care for roasting peppers and peeling the skin away.  I also used a combination of red onion and white onion, equal parts.  I also added a bit more lemon juice to the final product because I felt it needed that extra burst of bright flavor.

If using a fresh red pepper, place the pepper under a very hot broiler, turning occasionally for about 25 minutes, until blackened on the outside and completely soft.  Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to cool.  Peel the pepper and discard its skin and seeds.

Place a dry frying pan over low heat and lightly toast the coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds for 2 minutes.  Remove them to a mortar and use a pestle to grind to a powder.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat, and fry the onion, garlic, and chiles for 10 to 12 minutes, until a dark smoky color and almost caramelized.

Now use a blender or a food processor to blitz together all of the paste ingredients until smooth, adding a little more oil if needed.  

Store in a sterilized jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or even longer.

Theme: Pain the Town Red!