Monday, January 30, 2012

Cucumber Yogurt Dip with Lemon and Parsley (Tzatziki)

    If you haven’t picked up on this yet,  I do a lot of entertaining. I love to have people over for dinner or to celebrate some event and I seldom arrive empty handed to the various parties and celebrations I attend. That means I make a lot of appetizers. One thing I strive for when I make food for a group of people is that there will be something for everyone. Cucumber yogurt dip is perfect for those who are looking for something lower in calories, especially if you skip the optional sour cream. It is a healthy choice as it is full of good stuff like grated cucumber, lemon, parsley  and Greek yogurt. It is a great choice for vegetarian guests.

 This is a wonderfully refreshing dip that can wake up a veggie platter.  It can also be served with grilled chicken and vegetables and pita bread as a more filling dish.  I love to have left-overs to make a nice salad dressing the next day. Of course, it is great with falafel.

       One of the key ingredients here is Greek yogurt. Is Greek yogurt available where you live?  I know I get people here from so many different countries so let me explain in case you call it something else. Greek yogurt is yogurt that is denser and creamier than typical yogurts we can buy here. I believe they strain out more liquid but perhaps there is more to it than that. I have heard there is more protein and less sugars in Greek yogurt, because of the lower liquid content. I know, back in the ”olden days” J  I used to strain yogurt in cheese cloth layers to remove some of the liquid so the yogurt would be creamier for dips. Oh this is so much easier and so much better!!

I love adding lemon zest to Tzatsiki. Did you know lemon zest is a great source of vitamin C and also contains a bit of vitamin B-6, calcium and fiber? When zesting a lemon, you are grating off only the yellow part- the white is where the bitterness resides while the yellow has a pleasantly tart flavor. I use a micro-planer to achieve very fine pieces because you don’t want bigger pieces. If you only have a zester or regular grater, chop the pieces very fine with a large knife.

Cucumber yogurt sauce (Tzatziki)
1 Sm cucumber, seeded*, grated or finely diced, peeled, or unpeeled depending on thickness of peel
1 cup greek yogurt ( I prefer 2% but you may use non-fat )
1TBSP fresh lemon juice ( taste at the end and add more if desired, up to 2 TBSP)
1 clove garlic pressed
1 tsp. Greek seasoning blend (oregano, mint, garlic) OR Dill Seasoning blend OR Lemon pepper

2-3  TBSP Fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 TBSP fresh mint chopped (or 1tsp dried) Optional
Lemon Zest from 1 small lemon, very finely grated **
½ tsp or so of kosher or sea salt ( add more if needed)
¼ - ½  cup sour cream ( optional)

Mix everything and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to a day.
Serve with cut up raw vegetables, pita bread, crackers or as a sauce with grilled meats and veggies or thin a bit for salad dressing.
*To seed cucumber, simply cut in quarters lengthwise and slice out the middle portion with the seeds.
**Lemon zest should be very fine so if you don’t have good micro plane, then grate and chop it to get it as fine as possible.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Risotto with Roasted Kobocha Winter Squash and Bacon

I am still on a winter squash kick. It is good to cook what is seasonaly available and  since there is a variety of winter squash in season and various ways to use it, this is easy!

     This time I wanted to try something different so I bought a kobocha squash which is green speckled in a pumpkin shape.The kobocha has a nice flavor and isn't stringy or watery.  I think it is great added to things like pastas, breads and this risotto! I also had some regular sugar pumpkin so I mixed a bit of that in too.  I don’t know if the kobocho squash is available in your area but any cooking pumpkin will be nice,  okHHokkaido or  Long Island cheese pumpkins are excellent choices. And of course, my favorite- Butternut, would also be good in this risotto. Butternut can't be beat for great texture and color and a small seed cavity which means more squash in each one.

Today’s recipe is risotto with squash or pumpkin along with smoky bacon. The pumpkin and bacon are a wonderfully flavorful combination for this risotto.

Risotto is a delicious rice dish that gets its creaminess from the way it is cooked rather than cream or loads of cheese. I made this particular recipe dairy free and it was quite creamy! Risotto is quite easy to make although it does take a bit of tending to as it is stirred throughout the cooking process. 

Risotto with Roasted Kobocha Winter Squash and Bacon

1 small orange winter squash--kobocha or pumpkin or butternut ( about 3 cups)

5-6 bacon strips, prefer applewood smoked, uncured, but use any you like

1-2 TBSP  canola oil or olive oil, -- Extra virgin or light

1 small Onion, diced

2 Cups  Arborio Rice

1 tsp coriander
½ tsp, garam masala, optional

1/2 tsp garlic powder, optional
¼- ½ tsp. red pepper flakes, crushed, optional
½ tsp, smoked paprika or  paprika
Pinch of cinnamon

1 tsp garlic, minced, optional

1 tsp. ginger paste, optional

  1  cup  White Wine  

  6 cups veggie or chicken Broth, more or less

  1/4 -1/3 Cup  Freshly Grated Parmesiano Reggiano, optional

Salt And Freshly Ground Pepper To Taste

Extra parmesan for topping at table, along with shelled, roasted pepitas if desired

Preheat oven to 350
First, wash winter squash- kabocha or pumpkin and cut in half. Remove seeds and place in bowl of water to clean and save them to roast. Scrape out any strings inside and place cut side down on an oiled baking sheet ( may line pan with foil for ease of cleaning).  Place in middle of the oven and bake just until tender and soft. Do not overcook- especially the kobucha or it will get mealy and dry. Remove squash from oven and turn halves over to cool. Once cool enough to handle, remove skin if using pumpkin and if you want on kobucha ( I have heard skin is edible but I have removed skin till now so either is fine.) I usually remove skin by spooning the “meat” out with big spoon. Cut into large chunks, no need to be completely uniform, as some will break up.  I like to use about 3 cups of squash in this rice.

In small sauce pan heat up chicken broth or veggie broth. Keep on low simmer.
Start risotto in a large, wide, heavy pot by cooking bacon up. Once bacon is crispy, remove to drain on paper towels. Pour off and reserve bacon grease, leaving about 2 TBSP  and browned bits in pan. Heat pan up to medium.
Next heat the pan the bacon was cooked in and brown all of the squash/pumpkin in the bacon grease (or you can remove and reserve all bacon grease from pan and add canola oil if you prefer). Cook about 3 cups of squash till it is starting to brown a bit on the edges here and there. Gently stir a few times during process but do not over stir, You want some browning to occur.   Remove to bowl and cover until needed.    
Next,lower heat to medium low and add onion to the pan, with a bit of bacon drippings and a tsp or 2 of canola oil. Cook for 5 minutes till softened.

Once the onions have softened well, add a bit of the olive oil if needed or a bit more of the bacon grease.There should be a total of about 2 -3 TBSP of bacon drippings and oil in the pan.  Add rice and spices, if you wish to use spice.  This risotto is pretty flavorful so you can skip the spice if you prefer.  Cook while stirring, using a wooden spoon to mix and coat each grain with oil.
 Add HALF of the pumpkin or squash, about 1  1/2 cups. These bits will be pretty much pureed into the rice as it cooks. Also add in garlic and ginger, if using. Saute for 1-2 minutes.
Add wine and continue stirring rice, a figure 8 pattern is recommended, while wine is absorbed. Make sure you stir all areas of the pot so rice will not get mushy. Once the track of the spoon remains in the rice add 1 cup or a couple of ladles of hot broth. Repeat this process as each cup of broth is absorbed. 
When you have just a cup or so  left, add the rest of the squash, cut into smallish chunks to rice. Also, crumble or chop bacon and add it to rice.
Continue to add broth until rice is al dente- tender but with a bit of texture to it. If you run low on broth, add water to broth pan to heat before you get to the bottom of broth. This process will take about 20 -25 minutes.

Once rice is at desired consistency, you could mix in a few Tablespoons of water or broth and then serve (this helps make it creamier). If you like, add a bit of parmesan cheese, between ¼ and 1/3  cup, but if you wish it to be dairy- free it is fine to skip. If some want cheese you can let them add it at table.
Taste and add desired salt and pepper. I find this does not need a lot of salt due to the bacon.
Serve as soon as possible. If you like, top with cheese or roasted pumpkin seeds ( I prefer shelled, natural seeds roasted for 10 minutes with olive oil and salt in 350 oven.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Almond Shortbread

 I often wait for a party or large gathering so that I can make some tasty dessert. That way I get to try the recipe out but don’t have leftovers haunting me for days. It is a good thing that there always seems to be some kind of gathering coming up!
My friend from High school, Mina, sent me a recipe for Almond Shortbread which I have been hoping to try.  Today we had a baby shower and I got to bring these delightful treats. I changed the recipe a bit. I had some Almond Meal-ground almond flour- in my freezer so I substituted some for part of the flour in the recipe. I also added brown sugar and powdered sugar as well as a bit of cornstarch, which I like to use in shortbread. I added a bit more almond extract because I love the flavor.
These turned out great- wonderful flavor and moist, tender crumb with the delicate snap of sliced almonds. They were a big hit at the party and my family was very glad that I brought a few home for them. I will definitely make these again.  Shortbread is so easy to make! Just give yourself enough time because they are best if they have enough time to cool thoroughly before removing from the pan.

Throw yourself a little party and make these delicious shortbread cookies.  

Almond Shortbread

1  1/2 cups Butter, room temperature
½ cup white sugar, ½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup powdered sugar (optional)
2 cups Flour
1-2 Tablespoons corn starch, Optional
3/4  cup almond meal or almond flour—Or ground almonds*
3/4 cup Almonds, sliced and chopped
1 tsp. Almond Extract
1 cup or so sliced almonds, to top

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place butter, sugars into bowl and beat with electric mixer until blended.
Add almond extract.
Add almond meal or ground almonds and flour and blend until incorporated together.
* If grinding almonds from whole or sliced almonds, put about 1/2 in blender and pulse, checking every few seconds until chopped fine. Remove and chop the other 1/2 of the almonds.
Press dough evenly into ungreased rectangular baking dish- about 13X 9
Press sliced almonds into top of dough
Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup almonds and press lightly into dough.
Bake approximately 28-33 minutes, until light golden brown.
Cool for 5 minutes then use sharp knife to cut shortbread into small squares, but leave in pan. Let cool completely and let shortbread set up for at least 3 hours in tightly covered pan. Remove from pan and store in airtight container.

Adapted from Recipe my friend Mina Azuma sent which she got from Sunset Cookie cookbook

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rice with Sweet Potatoes, Black Beans and Chipotle

There are those weeknights when I want to make something fast and easy that I can have for dinner that night and lunch the next day or two. This is one of those meals. 
Burritos are a favorite fast food here at our house. To make them a little better for you than the typical meat and cheese variety I added sweet potato and chilies as well as onion, tomato and black beans. You could use brown rice to up the nutrition here considerably. Brown rice is not fast to make but it can be cooking away while you relax a bit before dinner. I try to often make this when I have a left over baked sweet potato and brown rice so I can just throw everything together in a matter of minutes. This rice is so flavorful and moist you could skip the cheese and sour cream if you are lactose intolerant or vegan.

There are actually two ways to prepare this dish. It is easiest for me is to throw some rice in a rice cooker and while it cooks, get a big pan to cook everything else and then add the cooked rice to it. However, some of you may not have rice cookers and not want to dirty another pot to cook rice in. If you prefer, you can add raw rice to the one pan right after you add spices. Sauté for couple minutes then add the amount of water or broth the package calls for and add in the tomatoes and chipotle. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook on low until rice is tender. Add in the lime juice, beans and sweet potatoes. This is a great way to make this a one pan meal.  I have done this both ways and it really depends on if you want to watch the stove while the rice cooks or let it steam to perfection in the rice cooker but have to wash another panJ
Another option here is level of spice. Chipotles in adobe sause are sold in grocery stores around here but they are quite spicy and not universally available. Feel free to substitute any chilies such as a can of mild green or a fresh jalapeno, or skip the chilies all together if you are serving this to those who are not fond of spicy foods. I would say that for the non- spicy folks this would have plenty enough flavor with out added heat. If you like it hot, add a bit more chilies or some hot sause like we tend to do.
Well, hope this quick dinner or lunch recipe helps you on your busy days, too!

Rice with Sweet Potato, Black beans and chipotle

1 ½ cups rice, brown or white, cooked according to package instructions or see note above
About two Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. cumin, lime or lemon pepper, salt
½ tsp. each garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder or cayenne, sugar
1-2 chipotles in adobe sauce, canned, minced or pureed OR 1 can mild green chilies--optional
1 can tomato, diced, fire roasted
1 can Black beans, rinsed, low sodium preferred
2-3 tsp. lime juice
1-2 sweet potatoes, baked (or raw*), cut into bite sized pieces
Chopped cilantro, optional
Cheese, for sprinkling (sharp cheddar would be a good choice)
Flour Tortillas to make burritos or serve along side

*Note on Sweet potato: I like to bake an extra sweet potato or two and keep them on hand for some other dish. If you have an extra baked sweet potato or have time to bake one, use it in this recipe. If you don’t want to bake it, simply cook it right in the same pan before you add anything else. Place oil in pan and add chopped sweet potato, cooking on low for 7 minutes. Add a few Tablespoons warm water and cover, cooing another 7-10 minutes till soft. Remove to another dish until time to add it in and the end.

(I start this by cooking the rice in a rice cooker since I don’t have to watch it but if you prefer to cook it all in one pan, see notes above.)

While the rice is cooking, get out a very large shallow pan. Heat oil and cook onions on low for 5 minutes. Raise to medium and add garlic and spices. Cook for 1-2 minutes more then add chipotles, beans, lime juice and tomato. After a couple, minutes add rice to pan and mix quite thoroughly. Blend in sweet potato and heat well.

You may serve this topped with cheese and cilantro, if you like or use it as a filling for burritos, which is my favorite way to eat this nutritious rice dish.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake

Happy New Year!

The New Year often brings resolutions of eating better and losing weight. Perhaps I should post something low calorie and nutritious…naw, it is time for chocolate cake!

I was invited to a New Year’s eve party and the host requested we bring a story, poem, song  or anecdote about 2011. Knowing the incredibly talented people who would be attending and the fact that I can’t sing and did not have a great story, I figured I ought to make something really tasty to make up for my lack of entertaining offerings.

I saw a decadent looking Chocolate cake on my friend, Michelle’s Pinterest page. It reminded me a bit of a chocolate amaretto cake Michelle used to make that I loved, so I looked up the recipe. Oh my, so much chocolaty goodness! Definitely not a cake to make just for a small dinner gathering- this mega cake needs a party to help consume it… or a small village. The recipe looked big enough that I could make two smaller cakes and take one to New Year ’s Eve party and have the other on hand for various events on New Year’s Day.

I found the recipe on a wonderful blog called Lick the bowl  good. Beware if you are avoiding sweets for your resolution- there are so many delicious cakes and other goodies on this blog. I am going to have to try many of them!!  The recipe for Chocolate sour cream Bundt cake was posted a year and a half ago and the blogger, Monica, found it on the back of a box for the Nordic Bundt pan from William Sonoma.

 I basically followed the recipe as posted, just using a bit more of darker chocolate for the cake and slightly adapting some steps. As I said, I used two smaller Bundt pans so the pieces would be smaller and they looked great. If you don’t have Bundt pans, you could put it in loaf pans- maybe 3 or 4? Make it a bit ahead of time if you can, it tastes even better the next day. Be sure to slice it thin!  It turned out great! I know it has seriously big time calories but one very thin slice satisfied my chocolate craving for the week… well maybe the day but it could have been a week!

Anyway, try this cake out. Thank you Monica at

Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake

Slightly adapted from Williams-Sonoma Nordic Bundt Pan box

For the cake:

·      1 cup cocoa powder, plus more for dusting pan

·      8 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, I used 2 oz of bittersweet extra dark

·      1 cup boiling water

·      2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

·      1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

·      1 tsp. salt

·      2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter

·      2 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

·      5 eggs, lightly beaten

·      4 tsp. vanilla extract

·      1 1/2 cups sour cream

·      1 1/2 cups semisweet mini or regular chocolate chips

For the ganache:

·      6 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

·      2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

·      1/2 cup heavy cream

Mini chips for garnish

Have all the ingredients at room temperature.

Preheat an oven to 325 degrees F. Grease two  Bundt Cake Pans or one bundt two loaf pans or three loaf pans and dust with cocoa powder; tap out the excess.

In a mixing bowl, combine the 1 cup cocoa powder and the chocolate. Add the boiling water and whisk until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth and blended. Set aside.

In a large bowl,  sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.  

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about a minute.  Reduce the speed to low, add the brown sugar and beat until blended. Increase the speed to medium and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating a moment just until incorporated before adding more Add in the vanilla and sour cream and mix well.

Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the melted chocolate. Beat just until blended and no lumps of flour remain, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans, for bundt pans spread the batter so the sides are about 1 inch higher than the center.

 Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached to it, 60 to 65 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the cake cool upright in the pan for 15 minutes. Invert the pan onto the rack and lift off the pan. Let the cake cool completely, at least 1 hour.

For ganache: In a heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate and butter. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream just to a simmer. Immediately pour the cream over the chocolate and butter. Whisk until melted and the mixture is smooth.

Pour the ganache over the top of the cake, allowing the ganache, to drip down the sides. Sprinkle mini chips on the top of the cake and let the cake stand until the ganache is set, at least 30 minutes. May be refrigerated.

Remember not to cut the pieces too thick- it is very rich!

Everyone listening to entertaning stories while the cake waits its turn :-)
Happy New year!