Sunday, June 29, 2008

Homemade Cannoli

A few weeks ago for Father's Day, I made cannoli for my Italian father and grandpop. I did't know what I was in for when I got the idea in my mind, but went ahead and took the plunge anyway. I stayed up all night frying dough and ruining batch after batch, but I learned so much and would do it all over again.

For anyone who does not know what cannoli are, they're Sicilian pastry desserts. Singular for cannoli is cannolo and it means "little tube". So basically they are tubes of fried dough that are filled with a sweet creamy filling that usually consists of ricotta cheese, vanilla, chocolate chips, or candied citrus fruit. Cannoli are a family favorite of ours and in my opinion, one of the best things in life!

There are so many different versions for cannoli and I couldn't decide which recipe to use. That was actually the hardest part for me because I really wanted something simple for my first time, but as "Italian" as possible. At first I was planning to use a recipe from Lidia's Italian-American book that I own, but the problem was I could not find candied orange and did not have time to make them. At last I found this one. The recipe was great, but I did need to make a few changes. Hopefully, I can remember all of them.

Here is the dough all rolled out and cut into little rounds waiting to be wrapped around the forms. I added a few more tablespoons of the Marsala wine to get it to the right consistency. The cookie cutter I had was too small, I think 4 inches, which made mini cannoli. I did the first batch this way, but then decided they were way too small. So I ended up using a bowl to cut out about 5 1/2 " rounds. It was much easier to work with. I ruined a few batches because the dough would not stick to the forms.

I used canola oil to fry with instead of shortening because it's healthier.
I only had four forms, so it was a long process of rolling, wrapping, frying and cooling.

Here are the cannoli waiting to be filled. A note about the filling: drain the ricotta overnight or you will be left with a soggy filling that will not hold its shape. I luckily found out about a trick to thicken it if you forget, just add a few tablespoons of vanilla pudding mix - it worked like a charm and saved me. I also added a pinch of cinnamon for more flavor.

Here is my messy bowl and pastry bag. I started out with a star tip, but it kept getting clogged because of the chocolate chips so I had to switch it out while the bag was still filled which was a complete mess!

Here they are filled and all ready to go. Next time I will fill right before serving because the shell becomes too soft otherwise. They were still really good and everyone couldn't believe they were homemade!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Grilled Southwest Chicken and Potato Skins

Justin and I love our little Weber charcoal grill. There's just nothing like that smoky, grilled taste.

We grill everything in the summer and Justin is becoming quite the grill-master if I do say so myself!

I would of never thought to grill these Potato Skins, but then again what can't you grill?

Recipe for the Southwest Chicken:

2/3 cup canola oil
2 limes, juiced (1/4-1/3 cup)
2 TB. Southwest seasoning
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 minced garlic
1 lb chicken

Mix everything together and pour over the chicken. Marinate for atleast 1 hour and up to 24.

Penzeys Spices

Penzeys Spices are absolutely wonderful. I ordered from them for the first time and now I'm afraid I'm hooked. The aroma just from opening the box was unreal. These spices are truly like no other I have ever had.

Penzeys was so kind enough to even throw in a free Southwest Seasoning with a recipe and a catalog. Such a nice surprise!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Banana Muffins with Mascarpone Frosting

As I've said before I love banana bread and could eat it every single day. Well, I actually love anything banana, especially these muffins. They are really more like banana cupcakes and the frosting is the best!

I have been making these muffins for about 4 years now. The recipe is so simple and as long as the bananas are ripe enough, the muffins always turn out amazing. They stay unbelievably moist for days.

These are by far the best I've ever eaten. Please try them and tell me know what you think!

Pot Stickers

Justin loves pot stickers so I thought it would be fun to give them a try. Pot stickers are won-ton noodles that have been filled with ground meat and vegetables, then fried, steamed and simmered.

I decided to go ahead and double the recipe since I wanted to freeze a batch so it took a really long time to fill all of the little noodle wrappers. They were still very easy to make and quite tasty!

Pork and Cabbage Dumplings with Dipping Sauce
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

3 cups minced napa cabbage leaves (about 1/2 medium head)
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 lb. ground pork
4 minced scallions (about 6 tablespoons)
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
4 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. minced or grated fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

24 round gyoza wrappers (see note)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup water , plus extra for brushing

1. For the filling: Toss cabbage with the salt in colander set over a bowl and let stand until cabbage begins to wilt, about 20 minutes. Press the cabbage gently with rubber spatula to squeeze out any excess moisture, the transfer to a medium bowl. Add the remaining filling ingredients and mix thoroughly to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until mixture is cold, at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

2. For the dumplings: Working with 4 wrappers at a time (keep the remaining wrappers covered with plastic wrap). Fill, seal, and shape the dumplings using a generous 1 teaspoon of the chilled filling per dumpling. Transfer the dumplings to a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling; you should have about 24 dumplings. (The dumplings can be wrapped tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 1 day, or frozen for up to 1 month. Once frozen, the dumplings can be transferred to a zipper-lock bag to save space in the freezer; do not thaw before cooking.)

3. Line a large plate with a double layer of paper towels; set aside. Brush 1 tablespoon of the oil over the bottom of a 12-inch nonstick skillet and arrange half of the dumplings in the skillet, with a flat side facing down (overlapping just slightly if necessary). Place the skillet over medium-high heat and cook the dumplings, without moving, until golden brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes.

4. Reduce the heat to low, add 1⁄2 cup of the water, and cover immediately. Continue to cook, covered, until most of the water is absorbed and the wrappers are slightly translucent, about 10 minutes. Uncover the skillet, increase the heat to medium-high, and continue to cook, without stirring, until the dumpling bottoms are well browned and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes more. Slide the dumplings onto the paper towel-lined plate, browned side facing down, and let drain briefly. Transfer the dumplings to a serving platter and serve with scallion dipping sauce (see related recipe). Let the skillet cool until just warm, then wipe it clean with a wad of paper towels and repeat step 3 with the remaining dumplings, oil, and water.

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar , unseasoned
2 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 medium scallion , minced
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon chili oil

Bring soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and water to boil over medium heat, stirring briefly, until sugar dissolves. Pour into bowl; stir in scallion, ginger, and sesame and chile oils. Serve.

Round gyoza (3 3/4 inches diameter), fill with 1 rounded tablespoon, steam for 10 minutes
Round wonton (3 3/4 inches diameter), fill with 1 rounded tablespoon, steam for 6 minutes
Square wonton (3 3/8 inches square), fill with 2 rounded teaspoons, steam for 6 minutes
Rectangular wonton (3 1/4 inches by 2 3/4 inches), fill with 1 rounded teaspoon, steam for 5 minutes.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Key Lime Bars

These key lime bars are sublime, Ha!

If you cannot find key limes, use regular limes. Do not use the bottled juice. It just won't be the same.

I used graham cracker crumbs instead of the animal crackers. I also added a bit more sweetened condensed milk to cut some of the tartness.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sonoma Syrup Co. Pure Vanilla Extract

I am always in search of really good, high quality ingredients to use in my cooking and baking. I should admit that lately I have become quite obsessed with it; just ask my husband.

While watching the Food Network or Martha, I always try to take note of what they use or suggest. I'm also a regular on the Cook's Illustrated test kitchen website. They test and rate all the best products. It's really addicting.

A "good vanilla" is so crucial for most baking and I have been enjoying Nielsen Massey's Bourbon Pure vanilla extract. I really love it, but still a little too expensive for the amount that I need. A 4 ounce bottle is $8.00!

Recently I came across Dorie Greenspan's blog suggesting the Sonoma Syrup Co. Vanilla Crush. I remembered seeing this brand at TJ Maxx and Marshalls (my faves) so I went out to hunt it down. I found an 8 ounce bottle of Sonoma's pure vanilla extract at Marshalls for just $12.99! The only difference between the crush and the regular is that the crush has little specks of vanilla beans which would be lovely in pastries, pudding, frostings, etc.

I love this stuff and recommend it to anyone who loves to bake. It's the best quality for the best price. You will love it too!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

I've lost my love for Lambrusco

When I was first introduced to wine Riunite Lambrusco was it for me. I loved it. Sweet, red, mysterious, cheap - mmm, I was sold. I knew that no matter what I tried I could always fall back on a bottle of Riunite.

Last night Desiree and I ordered up some Hawaiian pizza (ham and pineapple) from our favorite local pizzeria and I picked up a jug of Riunite Lambrusco for the dinner table in an effort to land on something everyone would like (we were having her brother over and his wife).

I was so not impressed. The smell was wax-candy-like and I tasted - dare I say it - metallics in the aftertaste! It reminded me of Yellow Tail Shiraz and it's fake syrup-like flavor minus the oak (I can tolerate their shiraz actually).

I know, I know, I'm late to the party.

Ever since I've been entertaining my palate with red varietals from brands like Rosemount Estate and Black Swan I've fallen out of love with Lambrusco.

Recently I had a friend, a wine specialist, tell me that she was really into a certain type of Lambrusco. Needless to say I'm very excited to try it given my bad experience with Riunite.

Sorry Riunite Lambrusco, I've moved on and thrown out the love letters.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake

If you like citrus and chocolate together, this cake is for you!

Ina Garten or Barefoot Contessa, whatever you would like to call her, has never let me down!
I love all of her recipes and enjoy her show.

I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate instead of semisweet because that is all I had. I would definitely recommend using semi-sweet though.

Between all of the orange juice, zest and the dark chocolate, this cake is actually full of anti-oxidants, ha!

The orange and chocolate combination is so simple yet sophisticated and very Italian!

Orzo Salad

The perfect summer salad with such a burst of flavor!!