7.25.2014

Mini Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes



Holy cow. Has it really been almost a month since my last post??? Time flies when you're ridiculously, sometimes overwhelmingly, wish I could clone myself a few times so that everything could get done on time busy, I guess.


Summer is non-stop as a personal chef. Besides the holidays, it's the time of year when people are relaxing, gathering, vacationing and celebrating the most. So in between the regular clients I serve during the week I tend to see a huge bump in the number of parties I cater compared to the rest of the year. From May-September it's not uncommon for you to find me in the kitchen seven days a week.

Do what you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life, right?

Um, yeah, no. While I do love what I do, what I do is hard work and a lot of hustle. Naturally, I feel so fortunate and grateful that the risk I took in starting a business is paying off and that this career I have created is actually thriving, but wow am I tired at the end of the day. I mean, just dead. As John is all too aware, nightly foot rubs are freely accepted and greatly appreciated over here.


And when all that cooking and working and hustling starts to monopolize my time, that leads to other life things piling up- chores, errands, play time, me time, blog posts!

Sometimes I can be really hard on myself for struggling to keep up with this busy life I have consciously designed; for not always being able to do it all. I'm sure we all know how that goes. But sometimes the part of me that is nicer to myself will chime in and say, "Hey. You're doing the best you can, and you're pretty much kicking ass. Chill out. You deserve a cupcake."



That's what these Orange Creamsicle Cupcakes are all about. If you find yourself in the middle of a constant, daily grind with little end in sight, I advise you to stop and bake yourself some cupcakes. Bright, citrusy, sunny, creme-filled cupcakes that will remind you of a simpler time when you would spend your summers running through the sprinklers and chasing after the ice cream truck for a cool, creamy popsicle. I promise they'll do wonders for your soul.


And make them mini, so that you can eat eight of them in one sitting without batting an eyelash. Because that's really only like, two regular cupcakes, right?

makes about 18 mini cupcakes
Ingredients 
for the cupcake batter: 
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 Tbsp orange zest
1 egg
6 Tbsp heavy cream
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
3/4 tsp orange extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

 for the cream filling: 
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp confectioners' sugar

 for the orange buttercream frosting:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp orange extract
1 Tbsp orange zest
3 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice, strained

Instructions 
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line mini muffin tins with paper cups. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium sized bowl.
2. In a separate mixing bowl use an electric mixer on medium speed to cream the butter, sugar and orange zest until light and fluffy. Add egg and continue to mix until just incorporated.
3. Combine cream, orange juice, orange extract and vanilla extract in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup. Set mixer to low speed and blend in 1/3 of flour mixture followed by 1/3 of cream mixture. Continue to add wet and dry ingredients in alternating batches, mixing at each stage until just combined.
4. Divide batter evenly among paper lined muffin cups, filling each cup about 3/4 full.
5. Bake for about 15-18 minutes rotating muffin tins once halfway through. Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
6. To make the cream filling, whip 1/2 cup of heavy cream with 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar until light and fluffy. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small round tip.
7. When cupcakes have cooled completely insert a small round pastry tip into each cupcake and push about halfway down, using a twist and scoop motion to remove that portion of cake. Fill the remaining empty well with the whipped cream filling. Repeat for all cupcakes.
8. Prepare the frosting. In a mixing bowl with electric mixer, combine the butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract and orange extract until blended. Add the orange zest juice and beat until smooth and creamy. Add more confectioners' sugar or orange juice if necessary until desired consistency is reached. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a pastry tip and pipe a dollop of frosting onto each cupcake.

6.27.2014

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Brûléed Nectarines


I basically made this recipe as an excuse to show off my new Weck jars. Aren't they lovely? I use them mostly to store pantry goods like nuts, dried fruit and shredded coconut- the rubber ring and stainless steel clamps for the lid keep everything fresh as a daisy! Plus, they make my cupboards look like an OCD dream. Naturally, I want them in all shapes and sizes.

No, this isn't an infomercial for Weck, I just have a little crush on them is all, and I especially love the clear glass design because they make such a pretty serving vessel for things like this Buttermilk Panna Cotta!


The buttermilk in this panna cotta is everything- it imparts a lighter, tangier twist that just makes it more intriguing- like if yogurt and creme brûlée had a yummy little baby.


Just about any kind of fruit would be marvelous paired with this dessert, but I couldn't resist these delectable nectarines at the market. Brûlée-ing (is that a word?) the tops was a no brainer. The crunchy texture and slightly burnt flavor is the ultimate compliment to the smooth, creamy panna cotta. Plus, as you start eating it you get these little pools of caramel and nectarine juice that will make your tummy do little somersaults (in a good way).


serves 4
Ingredients
1 1/2 tablespoons cold water
3/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 cup heavy cream, divided
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1 nectarine, thinly sliced
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar

*Special Equipment: kitchen torch

Instructions
1. Place cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin on top. Set aside until gelatin has softened, about 10 minutes.
2. Combine 1/2 cup of heavy cream and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat. Add gelatin mixture and stir until gelatin has dissolved completely.
3. In a separate bowl, combine remaining 1/2 cup of heavy cream, buttermilk, vanilla extract and vanilla seeds. Stir in hot cream mixture. Divide mixture between 4 ramekins and refrigerate overnight or until set.
4. Just before serving, place nectarine slices on a foil lined baking sheet and sprinkle with brown sugar. Heat the top of the fruit evenly with the kitchen torch until the sugar has begun to caramelize. Allow sugar to harden and cool, then garnish the top of each panna cotta with brûléed nectarine slices.

6.23.2014

Heirloom Tomato Caprese with Nicoise Olives


Welp, it's officially summer, which means that I can officially start keeping track of how many orders I get from clients for my Caprese Salad. I swear, I make so many of these you wouldn't believe it. I offer loads of other bright, colorful, delicious, wonderful salads, but for some reason come summertime the simple, traditional caprese ends up being the front runner every year.


It's not surprising to see why- tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella are a perfect match. Classic, like The Three Stooges even. Since I have prepared this customary combo over and over again, I've had plenty of opportunities to tinker with the standard recipe, altering this and that along the way to come up with my favorite rendition, which I am tickled to share with you today.


For starters, we are in prime tomato season right now, so why not use the cream of the crop? I love to showcase the different shapes, sizes and colors of heirloom tomatoes in my rustic version. While we're at it, let's toss in some of the gooiest, richest cheese around, shall we? Ah, burrata...you make everything taste better, you creamy devil. 

Next, you could do a simple chiffonade of basil, nothing wrong with that. But I'm having kind of a moment with micro basil right now. It's so delicate and pretty, just scatter the leaves whole and you're halfway to summer salad nirvana. 


Ok, now I know what you're thinking, and you're absolutely right: olives are not traditionally part of a caprese salad. But like I said before, I have made caprese salad so. many. times. Like a thousand, probably. I was getting bored with the purists' interpretation, so can you blame me for going rouge and adding a few tasty little olives into the mix?

Go ahead, I dare you.

Any olives will do, but nicoise are my favorite here- they're flavorful but not overpowering. And I bet once you've tried it you won't want to go back. Now all that's left to do is add a drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt and your caprese salad upgrade is complete!



serves 4
Ingredients
1 1/2 lbs. heirloom tomatoes, sliced
6 ounces burrata cheese
1/4 cup nicoise olives, drained
1/4  cup micro basil
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Flaky sea salt

Instructions
1. Divide tomato slices evenly among plates. Dollop burrata cheese over tomatoes and sprinkle olives and micro basil on top.
2. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt before serving.

6.13.2014

(Spiked) Iced Peach Green Tea



This is the story of a neighborhood party that took forever to pull off, but which resulted in the discovery of my new go-to adult summer beverage, thereby making it well worth the wait. 


John and I had been talking with our neighbors about throwing this special sort of block party for quite some time. Months, actually. But this was not to be just any old shindig. There were rules, you see (probably why it took us so long to get all of our acts together).

 It's what is known as a "Progressive" dinner party, and I hadn't heard anything about this business until our friend and neighbor Robert spelled it out: you get a few neighboring houses together, each one serving 1-2 tapas/family style dishes with a paired beverage, and you progress from one house to the next, eating and drinking all along the merry way.

Um, a roaming party? I'm in.


To keep it interesting and eclectic each house would choose an ethnic cuisine to plan their menu around. The neighborinos chose Cajun and Mexican, respectively; we landed on Japanese. Seeking to diverge from the typical Japanese fare (sushi rolls, tempura, meh), we wound up serving an ahi tartare/tostada creation with avocado puree and a killer mango-jicama salsa. Oh, and there were wasabi mashed potatoes. Nailed it.


But back to the drink, which was truly the star of the show. Something Japanese. Hmmm. We could have gone down the sake road...but that would have been too easy. No, something more whimsical was in order. All I knew was that it had to be served in mason jars with cutesy straws, and John wanted something that we could just whip up in advance and keep in a large pitcher. Practical, that one. We were stumped.

And then, tucked away in the ever growing DVR list of food shows I never have time to watch was the answer, this little gem of a drink concocted by one Mr. Bobby Flay. I don't know what makes this drink particularly Japanese other than the fact that we swapped regular iced tea for green tea, but it had everything we were looking for. Mason jars? Check. Cutesy Straws? Check. Pitcher friendly? Check!


Not to mention the fact that it's a total crowd pleaser.


Who doesn't love a boozy iced tea loaded with fresh summer peach flavor? And wait, what's that? A little champagne topper to boot?

Now you see why I will be sucking these babies down all summer long.


adapted from Bobby Flay
serves 12
Ingredients

8-10 bags peach green tea
6 medium ripe peaches, peeled, pitted and chopped plus 1-2 peaches, sliced, for garnish
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
20 ounces gin (or more if you like a stiff drink)
Bitters, to taste
Champagne or sparkling wine, for serving
Ice, for serving

Instructions
1. Brew tea bags by steeping in 6 cups hot water for up to 5 minutes. Remove and discard tea bags and chill completely.
2. Puree peaches, lemon juice and 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl, discarding solids. Set aside.
3. Make a simple syrup by combining remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
4. Pour chilled tea, peach puree, simple syrup, gin and bitters into a pitcher, stirring to combine. Refrigerate until well chilled.
5. To serve, fill glasses with ice, top with iced tea mixture and top with a float of Champagne. Garnish with peach wedges.


5.28.2014

Red Rice Mango Salad with Chicken & Peanuts



Guys, I have a new obsession with grain salads. I can't get enough of them lately. I know, green salads are literally one of the healthiest choices you can make when it comes to food, and I do try to eat them, I really do, but there are just some days when the prospect of lettuce for lunch just sounds like a complete and utter snore fest. There. I said it. Sometimes lettuce is just plain boring. Does anyone else feel me on this?

But when you swap out lettuce for a unique ancient grain like this nutty, earthy Bhutanese red rice as the base for your salad, now that's a game changer, isn't it? There's nothing boring about an exotic heirloom grain- black rice is my jam right now too- and don't worry, there's still plenty of room for fruits, veggies and lean protein in this stunning summer salad.


With its Indonesian inspired flavors (mango, peanut, fish sauce) and fresh, spa-like ingredients (cucumber, avocado, scallion) this is the sort of dish I like to picture being served to me as I lounge beachside at a Balinese resort. Go ahead, I'll give you a moment to picture yourself in that idyllic little scene, too...

Seriously, though, imaginary Bali vacations aside, it is just as perfect scarfed down with chopsticks in your living room at 5 pm, like a little mini getaway in itself.


serves 4
Ingredients
1 cup red rice
2 tbsp. grapeseed or vegetable oil
2 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. agave nectar or honey
1 tbsp. coconut oil
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper, to taste
1 medium ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced
1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
1 avocado, diced
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 peanuts, roughly chopped

Instructions
1. Bring rice and 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium sized saucepan. Season lightly with salt. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer until all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 20-25 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let stand, covered, until cooled to room temperature.
2. Meanwhile, make the dressing and cook the chicken. Combine grapeseed oil, lime juice, fish sauce and agave, whisking to combine. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
3. Melt coconut oil in a skillet over moderately high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides and cook for about 5-6 minutes per side, flipping once. Remove from heat, let stand for 5-10 minutes and cut into 1-inch cubes.
4. Combine rice, chicken, dressing, mango, cucumber, avocado, scallions and peanuts in a large salad bowl. Toss gently and season to taste. Chill for at least one hour before serving.

5.15.2014

Quinoa Sliders with Green Goddess Aioli


Correct me if I'm wrong, but we are in the midst of springtime, are we not? I only ask this because generally, during this time of year in this neck of the woods we are fortunate enough to revel in mild and pleasant climate. Yet here I sit, schvitzing like potato salad at a picnic in this sweltering 90 degree heat that decided to show up to the party about 2 months early. It's a bit discombobulating, really...I mean, peaches at the market? Already? Did I nap straight through May and June and suddenly wake up in July?


Not that I mind waking up to gorgeous, clear, sunny skies terribly, but it's not the most comfortable thing in the world when you spend every day slaving over a hot stove for a living. But alas, what can one do?

Stick one's head in the freezer every 15 minutes, that's what.

I'll tell you one thing: this sizzling, stifling, blistering weather has got summer flavors on my radar more than ever. We've already started the grilling fest at home, and the other day I got all giddy over a lovely salmon with white peach and basil chutney that I made for some clients.


But what I'm really excited about are these crispy, golden quinoa sliders, paired with a delightfully herbaceous green goddess aioli (not totally from scratch though because it is entirely too hot for all that). Vegetarian friendly, but meat lover approved, they're the perfect crowd pleaser to kick off the first big BBQ of the season- Memorial Day appetizer anyone?


makes about 6 sliders
Ingredients
for the sliders:
1/2  cup coarsely grated zucchini
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup quinoa, cooked and cooled
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. breadcrumbs, preferably homemade
2 tbsp. freshly grated parmesan
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tsp. fresh dill, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. olive oil
6 mini slider buns
Cucumber, thinly sliced
Roma tomato, thinly sliced
Butter lettuce leaves, rinsed and torn

for the green goddess aioli:
3 tbsp. assorted fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, dill and chives, finely chopped
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, grated
1/4 cup mayonnaise (I used Vegenaise)
1 tsp. anchovy paste (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions
1. Squeeze the liquid from the grated zucchini by wringing it out in a paper towel or cheesecloth. Combine zucchini and beaten egg in a meduim sized bowl. Add quinoa, breadcrumbs, parmesan, garlic, dill, salt and pepper and stir until just combined. Chill for at least 15 minutes.
2. While mixture is chilling, make the aioli: combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
3. Using a 1/4 measuring cup as a mold, form round patties by pressing firmly in between the palms of your hands. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and when oil is hot, add the patties and cook until crisp and golden, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, flip the patties and repeat.
4. To assemble the sliders, split and toast the brioche buns, if desired. Layer one slider patty per bun with cucumber, tomato, lettuce and a dollop of green goddess aioli.

5.05.2014

Pea Soup with Morel Mushroom Cream

 

I do love me a good pea soup, especially in the Springtime when you can buy peas by the bushel at the farmers market and shell them yourself. By the way, what is a bushel? Can someone tell me? I imagine it as an armful but I could be way off...is it like the size of a bush?

Anyway, some people might shy away from the laborious task of shelling peas, but I quite like it. It's one of those tedious, repetitive chores, like folding laundry or drying dishes, that allow your hands to take over and your mind to space out and wander freely to far off places.


When it comes to life I like to pile a lot of things on my plate, so I tend to get stressed out easily because  my habit is to try to cram too many things into one day. I really need to work on that, but what can I say? I'm a busy bee. I thrive when things are buzzing.


One of the ways I cope with the stress is with yoga and more recently, meditation. A mere 10 minutes first thing in the morning of just sitting there and breathing and clearing my mind can do wonders for the rest of my day. You'd think that I would have learned by now to incorporate this into my daily routine. But the problem is that when there is so much going on (which is when I really need it the most), I either completely forget or worse, I think, I don't have time to meditate today, I'm way too busy!

Since this happens more often than I'd like to admit, I've learned to recognize and appreciate those brief opportunities throughout the day when you can switch off for a minute, breathe, and slow down. Little mini meditation moments. Like when you have to shell a bushel full of peas for a batch of silky pea soup with a ribbon of earthy morel mushroom cream swirled throughout. And then you'll have to slow down again to savor it, of course.


adapted from Food and Wine
serves 4
Ingredients
1/2 oz. dried morel mushrooms
1/2 cup hot water
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tbsp. white wine
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt
2 tbsp. olive oil
5 cups peas, fresh or frozen and thawed
1 1/2 tbsp. chopped mint

Instructions 
1. In a small bowl, cover the dried morels with the hot water to soften them. Let sit for about 15 minutes. Remove the morels and rinse well, reserve the soaking liquid. Set aside some morels for garnish (1-2 per serving) and chop the rest.
2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the chopped morels and half of the shallots and cook over medium heat until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until evaporated, about 2 more minutes.
3. Add 1/2 cup of the chicken stock and the reserved morel soaking liquid, but do not include any grit that has settled at the bottom. Boil until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the cream and simmer on low until thickened, about 5 minutes. Season the morel cream with salt and remove from the heat.
4. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and puree until smooth.
5. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the remaining shallots and cook over moderate heat until they are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining 3 cups of chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the peas and chopped mint and simmer until the peas are just tender, which should only take a few minutes. Remove from heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. Pass through a mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing on the solids with the back of a wooden spoon or a plastic spatula.
6. Return the soup to the pot, reheat gently and season with salt and. Cook over moderately high heat until hot, about 1 minute.
7. Ladle the pea soup into bowls and swirl in the morel cream. Garnish with the whole morels.