Thursday, February 17, 2011

Truffled White Bean Dip

One Friday night after a long week of work, I got home and wanted only to sit in the sun on my balcony with M, a glass of wine, and some good, leisurely snacks. I surveyed what we had on hand and pulled out a wedge of Gruyere, olives, pickles, table water crackers, and Pink Lady apple slices. Wanting something a bit more substantial, I grabbed a can of cannellini beans and thought that I would dress them simply with a vinaigrette. I did just that but also started mashing them up with roasted garlic and sea salt. I drizzled a tiny bit of truffle oil over the top. With minimal effort, I had a pretty good platter in front of me.

Those beans were GOOD. Mellow and creamy with just the right hints of salt and savory truffle. The dip was so good that I made it again, and again, and finally wrote down the recipe. I've made variations by adding a pinch of chili flakes on one occasion and some chopped fresh basil on another. Both were great but the truffle oil is what makes it special.

This is the perfect recipe to have for a last minute hors d'oeuvre. I make mine on the chunkier side, roughly mashing the ingredients together with the back of a fork. For those of you with a food processor, it would be a breeze to puree it all together for a smoother, creamier dip.

For about 1 cup:
  • 1 large roasted garlic clove
  • 15 ounces (400 grams) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon good-quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon truffle oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Combine the garlic, beans, olive oil, vinegar, a 1/4 teaspoon truffle oil, and the sea salt in a bowl. Stir together and mash with a fork until you've reached the desired consistency. Drizzle the remaining truffle oil over the top, grind some pepper over it and serve alongside crackers and crudites.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Brandied Fig & Banana Milkshakes

I was skyping with one of my best gals, Manda, the other day when she told me about the most delicious milkshake she had at a local restaurant. She said - "it had figs and bananas in it and you must make it." I immediately thought BRANDY which her shake didn't have but we both agreed that yes, a liquored-up version might just be the best thing ever.

It should come as no surprise that I was right. I sucked down that first sip of shake and decided that brandy makes everything better. It reminded me a bit of a Brandy Alexander but was sweet with banana and slightly crunchy with the pureed tiny fig seeds. I love the hint of cinnamon which seems to marry the two fruits together and complements the strong vanilla flavor.

The recipe itself is a guideline. I think shakes are something that require a little tinkering based on personal preference. If you want your shake to be extra-thick so that the straw stands immobile in the middle then either add more ice cream or less milk. The brandy was perfect for my tastes but might be a touch strong for other people so don't add the full amount at first. Taste and decide.

As M and I sat slurping down our milkshakes BEFORE dinner (so naughty), I thought that they would make for a fun, unexpected end to a dinner party. The brandied figs would also make a splendid topping for a vanilla sundae along with some chopped nuts and chocolate sauce.

For 2 shakes:
  • 1/3 cup dried figs, stemmed
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 scoops vanilla ice cream
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 banana, cut into large chunks and frozen
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon for garnish
In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the figs, brandy and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick and put the brandy and figs in the refrigerator until cold.

In a blender, combine the figs with the brandy, ice cream, milk, and banana. Blend until smooth. Pour into two glasses and sprinkle with the cinnamon.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rich Red Pizza Sauce

I grew up eating thin crust sausage and mushroom pizzas at Fox Hole in McHenry, Illinois. I'd head to Lou Malnati's for a Chicago deep dish and had my first wood-fired pizza at a little Italian joint in London. My girlfriends and I would polish off a couple pizzas at Punch or Pizza Nea in Minneapolis on a regular basis. I love them all. 

What I don't love are the pizzas I've sampled in Australia. They are just...missing something. The crust isn't quite right or the cheese isn't cooked enough or the sauce is too subdued. The Aussies love their pizza because they're on offer everywhere we go, I'm just still searching for that great, perfect pie.

While I search, M and I have become near experts at making pizzas at home. I make the dough and the sauce, while M is in charge of shaping the dough, topping distribution, and cooking the pizza. He's come up with this addictive little trick where he brushes the crust of the pizza with honey before he bakes it---crispy, sticky, goodness. 

I have started making larger batches of sauce and freezing it in 1-cup portions. The sauce itself is loaded with flavor from the fresh herbs, garlic and imported Italian canned tomatoes. The red wine cooks down and adds depth to the other ingredients. It freezes beautifully and having it on hand is very useful, particularly if you've got some frozen dough at the ready too. 

For about 5 cups:
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4-14 ounce (400 gram) cans diced Italian tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup fruity red wine
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until just golden. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, sugar, salt and red pepper flakes. Stir together and bring to a simmer. 

Simmer, stirring occassionally until the sauce has thickened about 30-45 minutes. Stir in the oregano and basil. Taste and add more salt if needed. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Puree the sauce until smooth in batches in a blender, being careful to only fill it halfway so it doesn't erupt into a molten mess. 

Pour the sauce into plastic containers or ziploc freezer bags and freeze until ready to defrost and use.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Coconut Macadamia Blondies

I've been a blogging slacker this week but thanks to my good pal, Guestblogger Alita, I got a needed reprieve so that I can do some cooking and get back on schedule. I'm sure you'll all enjoy these delicious-sounding blondies. ---A Crafty Lass

In deciding what special treat I wanted to bake for my Valentine, I thought about his all time favorite cookie. I know he's not alone - you know the ones, those delicious Samoas that the cute little Girl Scouts so innocently sell us every year. I feel so good supporting them and teaching them about goals, making money and people skills (at least that is what one little girl told me - good sales pitch for a 8 year old, I thought!). In case the one person on earth who hasn't tried these cookies happens to be reading this today, the cookie is covered in caramel and coconut and of course drizzled with 5 perfect lines of chocolate. That purple box doesn't last long at our house - once you open it, you might as well not close it again!

Since my sweetie is not a big chocolate fan like me, I thought a cookie bar or blondie would be a good base, and after taking stock of my baking cabinet, I settled on a cross between the above mentioned Samoas and the always popular white chocolate macadamia nut cookie. So, I cooked up a recipe for Coconut Macadamia Nut Blondies. And, much like that purple box, this pan of bars did not last long!
  • 1 stick of butter, melted (8 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup coconut (heaping)
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
Preheat over to 350f. Line an 8x8 baking dish with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the melted butter with the brown & white sugars. With a spoon, mix in the egg, vanilla and salt until combined. Slowly mix in the flours, coconut, white & chocolate chips and the macadamia nuts until blended.

Pour the batter into the lined pan and smooth the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes, the center should still be a little soft. Let them cool a little on a wire rack before removing them from the pan. Slice into squares and present to your favorite valentine!