The Fabulous Foodie

The Fabulous Foodie, hosted by Chef Aimee, is an online account of one amateur chef's kitchen successes and mishaps, recipe and product roadtests, and food experiences. Chef Aimee's philosophy is that Food Is Love, and her blog contains reflections on the connection between fabulous food, a happy marriage and solid-gold friendships.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Eating in Sin: Baked Pasta with Sausage and Three Cheeses

We gathered some of our friends this weekend for a pumpkin carving party. You'd think we are a bunch of grade-schoolers rather than 30-something professionals...

I covered the dining room table with a layer of garbage bags and then a layer of brown kraft paper, set out a variety of sharp knives and instruments, and then began to question my judgement. Would I be serving alcohol while actively encouraging others to fiddle with knives?

Hm.

Well, I decided that our full supply of gauze and bandaids as well as proximity to the nearest emergency room offering stitch-ups justified the risk.

But just to be sure, I baked up the heartiest, richest and most sinful recipe I could think of -- to be sure that any alcohol would enter the blood stream very slowly indeed. And our friends -- their mouths full, their inner child thrilled at the sight of our lit jack-o-lanterns, and their digits still intact (for the most part) -- happily gobbled up an entire casserole dish of this baked pasta. I warn you: this is not for every day eatin', people! We're talking cholesterol casserole. I did actually consider trying to lighten this up. But hey -- you only carve goofy pumpkins among other grown adults once a year, right????

Baked Pasta with Sausage and Three Cheeses


Ingredients:
1 pound fettucini or pasta of your choice
1 pound sausage (Pork or Turkey, hot or sweet, or mixed)
2 T olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound shitake mushrooms
2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, drained, chopped, then drained again
1 1/2 cups shredded Fontina Cheese
1 cup crumbled gorgonzola
1 1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 T dried oregano
1 T dried basil
1/4 c fresh parsley
4 T butter, divided (3/1)
3 T flour
2 cups milk
salt and pepper

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400.

Cook pasta until al dente.

Cook the sausage in a large skillet, breaking up as you go, until browned. Place sausage in a large bowl and drain skillet.

Heat the olive oil in the skillet over medium heat, and saute the onion and garlic until soft. Add the mushrooms, and cook until tender. Place in the bowl with the sausage. Add tomatoes and combine well.

Add Fontina, gorgonzola, 1 c of the parmesan and herbs. Season with salt and pepper.

In a saucepan, melt 3 T of the butter (reserving 1 T), and add the flour, cooking until the roux is golden. Pour in the milk in a stream, whisking constantly. Simmer until thickened, season with salt and pepper. Toss with the sausage/mushroom/cheese mixture, and then with the pasta.

Place mixture in a casserole dish coated with cooking spray and sprinkle remaining parmesan cheese over the top. Dot with small bits of the remaining 1 T of butter. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until browned and bubbly.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Autumn in the Kitchen: Butternut Squash, Pumpkins and Apples

I love Autumn... I always have. And while many foodies lament the passing of summer by dreading off-season tomatoes, crummy fruits and bland vegetables, I look forward to any excuse to cook with colder weather ingredients like squash, pumpkin and apples.

We had a dinner party planned for Saturday night, so I began preparations early with a big pot of butternut squash soup with star anise and ginger. This is the type of dish that is warm and yummy as a starter (or just as a great lunch with a nice salad and hunk of crusty bread); but it's so easy, and smells so good, and tastes so much better after it sits for a day. I came home late on Friday and still managed to get the soup on; it's that easy. Do try this fabulous fall recipe!

Butternut Sqaush Soup with Autumn Spices






Ingredients:
2/3 cup finely chopped shallot
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 whole star anise
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 extra virgin olive oil
1 3/4 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (5 cups)
4 cups chicken stock or broth
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Garnish: cream, chives

Instructions:
Cook shallot, ginger, garlic, and anise in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until shallot is softened, about 5 minutes. Add squash, stock, and water and simmer, uncovered, until squash is very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove star anise.

Purée soup using an immersion blender (or a regular one in batches) until very smooth.

Serve garnished with cream and chives.

So onto the pumpkins... which are another of my favorite fall ingredients. The great thing about pumpkin it comes canned... and while I don't typically dig opening tins to get at my food, the truth is that there is no difference in taste, according to some great chefs, between cooking your own and opening a can of good old reliable and cheap Libby's.

This recipe for a wonderful bread is one of the best recipes I have... and I make this frequently throughout the fall and winter. And I make them in mini-loaves to give away. Left to my own devices, I'd eat the whole thing... so for me, Mini is the way to go!








Binge-Worthy Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients:
3 1/2 c. flour
2 t baking powder
1 t of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt
1/2 t of ground cloves
1/2 t of baking soda
3/4 c skim milk
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 1/2 c brown sugar, packed
1 15-ounce can of pumpkin
2 large eggs
2 t pure vanilla extract
chopped walnuts, raw sugar

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 325.

Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, salt, cloves and baking soda in a large bowl. Make a well in the center.

In a separate bowl, wisk together brown sugar, milk, vegetable oil, pumpkin, eggs and vanilla until well combined. Pour into well of the dry ingredients. Mix JUST until thoroughly moistened. Do not overmix or else bread will be tough. Batter may look a little lumpy.

Spoon batter into loaf pan -- or 4 mini loaf pans -- sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle the top with chopped walnuts and raw sugar. Bake for 1 hour (or 35-30 minutes for mini loaf pans) or until toothpick test is clean.

Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cool on wire rack until completely cool.


And finally... apples... as in, Apple Tart Glazed with Lavender and Vanilla... as in the beautiful dessert for our dinner party. It looks very impressive, but is actually quite simple to make and arrange. I served it warm with some vanilla ice cream, which in my very humble opinion, should be the gold standard presentation of all apple deserts.

Apple Tart Glazed with Lavender and Vanilla

Ingredients:

Glaze:

1/2 t dried lavender

3 T vanilla extract

1 T sugar

2 T maple syrup

Pastry:

3 cups flour

1/2 t salt

1 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 egg, beaten

6-8 T of ice water

Filling:

4-5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, halved, and cored

1 T chilled unsalted butter, cut into tiny squares

1 T granulated sugar

Instructions:

To make the glaze, combine lavender, vanilla and sugar in a small sauce pan over medium low heat. Whisk until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and whisk in maple syrup. Cover and let steep for an hour. Strain out lavender.

To make the pastry, combine flour and salt in a food processer, pulsing twice of mix. Add butter and pulse until it resembles course meal. Transfer to a bowl and make a well in the center. Beat egg with 2 T of the water, and using a fork, begin to lightly mix into the flour. Add more ice water until the mixture hold together. Pat into a ball, wrap in plastic and chill for 1-4 hours.

To make tart, roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface, transfer to a tart pan. Turn under edges and fit into the sides of pan. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork and cover with aluminum foil. Freeze for a half hour.

Preheat oven to 400. Cut off the ends of the apples, and chop coursely. Cut the apple halves into 1/4 inch slices. Remove crust from freezer, remove foil and mound chopped apples in the center. Beginning at the outer edge, arrange apple slices in concentric circles until crust is filled. Dot with the butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 10 minutes until the butter melts.

Glaze generously, and return to oven for about an hour. If the crust begins to brown too quickly, cover with foil. Glaze ever 15-20 minutes while baking. Coat with glaze immediately upon removal from oven. Cool and remove from tart pan.



Thursday, October 13, 2005

A Love Letter to Cheese

Dear Cheese,
Never in my life have I loved a food the way that I love you.

What's that? You aren't worthy of such admiration? But yes, my pungent nugget, yes you are! If only you knew the affect you have on me.

When you are blue, your veins -- almost varicose in pattern -- are beautiful to me, allowing me to forget that within them runs threads of mold. And in tasting your creamy, yet crumbly goodness, I'm reminded of all the ways I love you -- blended with butter atop my steak, mashed into a cloud of potatoes. You are my sole reason for ever ordering buffalo wings.

When you are sharp, I savor each small cheddary slice atop a cracker, or even plain. I long for the apple pie that beholds studs of your flavor within its crust; and I dismiss naysayers who question the combination, preferring to believe such people don't exist, don't matter and just don't understand you the way I do.

Even when you have holes, I don't see what isn't there -- I see what is... a nutty, mellow Swiss treat, made only more charming by its imperfect shape. And besides, with gentle melting and a kiss of kirsch, I can nestle you gently in a fondue pot.

When you are a creamy brie wearing your best white coat of chalky rind... when you are bold and tangy logs made from goat's milk... when you are a wedge of parmesan grated over hot pasta... when you are a salty feta nestled among stuffed grape leaves... when you are shaped into tiny white balls and soaked in brine... I love you still.

Even when you are processed down, dyed yellow, sliced and wrapped individually in plastic sheets; I love you still. Like how my husband loves me even if I leave my shoes strewn about the house, put on too much self-tanner, or wear clothes that do not match: the very best of you makes me forget all about the worst of you, and I cease to remember that you are anything but perfect, always.

Oh, Cheese, why is it that you don't love me back?

Yours truly,
Chef Aimee

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Two Great Tastes That Go Great Together: Sesame Ginger

Was it Reese's Peanut Butter Cups that originated that jingle? "Two great tastes that go great together..." I think it was.

Well, it applies here, too. This is a product review for Newman's Own Low Fat Sesame Ginger Salad Dressing.

Yum.

I could end the review with that one word, but since I've never been a one-word kind of gal, I'll go on.

This dressing is one of the best "bang for your calorie/fat gram buck" salad dressings I've ever tasted. The nuttiness of the sesame is contrasted perfectly with the brightness of the ginger. It's a little tangy, a little spicy and a lot yummy.

I bought the bottle specifically because of the charicature of Paul Newman on the front, bearing slightly slanted eyes and wearing a rice patty hat. This is the sterotypical equivalent of Aunt Jemima, and it's boldly un-PC packaging made it a fun purchase to make. I suppose that Newman can get away with such gags because everyone knows he runs a camp for kids with cancer... and hey, how can you hate a guy like that?

But the reasons I love the packaging don't end there... on the back label is the best news about this delicious product: the nutritional information. For 2 tablespoons of dressing, you're knocking only 35 calories, and 1.5 grams of fat off your daily tab.... that's ONE POINT, for you Weight Watchers out there.

But the stuff is so flavorful that, really, 2 tablespoons is a lot. I use just 1 tablespoon (that's half a point, for those of you obsessed with such matters), and it's plenty to flavor a big bowl of salad.

The uses for this low-cal low-fat wonder are endless, because the sesame ginger combination works equally well with seafood, chicken, beef, vegetables, salad, etc.

As for last night, I made an improvised salad, topping mesclun with carrots, scallions, celery and yummy grilled shrimp, and crunchy chow mein noodles. Tossed it all together with Newman's Own Sesame Ginger Dressing... so should you!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Black Bean Soup for the Soul

When you make a custard, you have to add some hot mixture into the cold eggs to heat them gently, then pour the warmed eggs back into the rest of the hot mixture. It prevents the eggs from scrambling, and it's called "tempering."

When Mother Nature decides to change the season, she needs to add a few hot days into the cool crisp weeks to prevent us humans from scrambling. Scrambling to Florida, that is. And so it is that she tempers us, like eggs, and eases us into the coming season's temperature.

Now as for me, I love the cool, crisp weather and Mother Nature need not temper me when it comes to the arrival of Fall. And Friday had all the promises of a cool early Fall weekend. So I assembled all I would need to make soup. Because that's what I do when I smell Fall. And what is soup if you don't have something to dunk into it?

And if you are a lover of the arrival of Fall, do you let 75 degree heat stop you from your autumnal cooking agenda? No. You don't.

I chose a delicious black bean soup, and doctored up a basic cornbread recipe with a topping of pepperjack cheese... great for dunking! Alongside a crisp beer, it would be the perfect meal to welcome the cool weather, and for Steve and I to nestle in on the couch, soup bowls in hand, and watch that other brilliant Fall symbol: post-season baseball. Go Red Sox!





Black Bean Soup with Chorizo

Ingredients:

2 t olive oil

4 ounces chorizo, casings removed and chopped

1 each small onion, green pepper and red pepper... chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 t ground cumin

1 bay leaf

1 14-ounce can of black beans, undrained

1 14-ounce can of chicken stock, undrained

Juice of one lime

Cilantro, to taste

Instructions:

In your soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat, and saute chorizo for 4 minutes until browned. Add onions, peppers and garlic, saute two minutes. Add cumin and bay leaf, salt and pepper.

Now, I break to as you... if your soup pot looked (and smelled) like this in just 10 minutes...

would you ever eat soup from a can again? I think not!

So... onward... place black beans and chicken stock in the pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. Within last half hour, place an immersion blender in the pot to break down some of the beans and thicken the soup. (You could also do this by hand my removing a cup or so of the beans and mashing them with a fork!)

At last minute, stir in lime juice and cilantro.



And of course, once you have that muffin tin out... isn't it easier to just make another batch of muffins than it is to crawl up on the step-stool to put it back where it belongs? (Note to you: when you are 5'1, it is indeed easier!)

So here is a great recipe for some good for you breakfast treats that I made on Sunday morning!



Whole Wheat Apricot Muffins -- From Cooking Light Magazine!

Ingredients:
1 cup flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 t grated orange rind
1 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
1/4 butter, melted
1/2 t vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup finely chopped dried apricots
6 halfed dried apricots and sugar for garnish

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray muffin tin with butter-flavor cooking spray.

Combine first six ingredients in a large bowl, blending with a whisk. Make a well in the center.

Combine all wet ingredients and pour into the well, stirring just until moistened. DO NOT overmix. Gently fold in chopped apricots.

Spoon batter evenly into muffin tins, sprinkle tops with sugar and place an apricot half on top.

Bake for 13-15 minutes (until tops spring back to the touch), remove from tin and cool on a wire rack.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Tables Turn on Food is Love

So usually I'm the one spreading the love via food... but this weekend, crippled with a muscle spasm in my neck that radiated down my shoulder and back, I was the beneficiary of the Food is Love philosophy in a big way!

First of all, I'll tell you that I have NO idea what gymnastic feat I pulled in my sleep on Friday night, but let's say that I awoke to nothing but pain. And not that stiff neck, "I slept funny" pain... but pain as in: "There is an alien living in my upper spine and he's fighting his way out to breath Earth's air."

I tried comforting myself with some figs, gorgonzola and proscuitto drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar... and while it was yummy and wonderful and delicious... in truth it didn't make me feel any better.

Steve took me to a great dinner at Three A's in Hoboken on Saturday night, and I could hardly sit upright. So that, too, was disappointing.

Sunday came, and with it -- a girlfriend bearing gifts in a grocery bag. Not known as a cook so much herself, she stepped into the kitchen and said, "I will take your direction"... and I proceeded to order the vegetables chopped (big chunks, please), the thyme slipped under the chicken skin, the garlic head sliced and the roasting pan prepared.

With an ice pack on my neck, I sat in the arm chair that faces my kitchen and played both patient and culinary teacher. "Like this?" she asked, as she placed the chicken atop the vegetables... "Yes, just like that... now up in the right hand cabinet, get some olive oil."

"Which olive oil?" My secret exposed... I have several bottles for different recipes, occasions, etc.; and no one understands that but another foodie.

She placed that roaster in the oven, using oven mitts although the pan was not yet hot... very cute... and came to replace my ice pack with a heating pad. "Twenty minutes on, twenty minutes off!"

We sat and talked and gossiped and she felt bad for me in a way that my husband -- who had been feeling bad for me for over 24 hours already -- could no longer stand to do. And besides, the Giants pre-game was on. And the smell of roasted garlic filled the air, and I breathed in and felt -- for the first time in two days -- better. Not perfect, not well... but better.

And the eating of it... well, the eating of it alongside my generous and thoughtful and sympathetic friend... made me feel better still.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Federalist: Stuffing Myself in the Name of Love

This past weekend was our first wedding anniversary, and so we returned to the "scene of the crime" by spending a weekend in Boston.

The highlight of our trip was to be an evening at The Federalist, the award-winning restaurant inside XV Beacon, a very hip hotel on the edge of Beacon Hill. When we were thinking which restaurant would be the best for our celebration, we picked The Federalist both because of incredible reviews from critics and aquaintances alike, as well as the fabled rooftop herb garden, where the chef, David Daniels, grows herbs for use in his kitchen. Of course, the wine cellar and incredible wine list also didn't hurt; and with their seemingly endless selection of California wines, we thought we could relive our honeymoon, which was taken touring the beautiful Napa and Sonoma winemaking regions.

We were seated at a table in a great spot in the dining room, which is appropriately lit, minimally decorated and beautifully set with fine linens and silver. Our server introduced himself, presented the menu and wine list and congratulated us on our anniversary. (Chalk one up for Steve, who clearly called ahead to be sure we got the best treatment!)

We quickly decided on the tasting menu, and they were extremely accommodating when Steve asked that the seafood selection be changed due to his allergies. Nothing would say "happy anniversary" like a visit to the ER, right??

The tasting menu -- course by wonderful course:

Fois gras with duck confit, topped with frisee: This was gross. I just don't like duck. Fortunately, the portion was small enough that just a taste made it look like I really dug in; and it did not sway me from believing this meal would be among the finest in memory... and The Federalist didn't disappoint.

Heirloom tomato salad with "rooftop basil" and marscapone: Tomato salad. Big deal, right? Wrong. This was beautiful, fresh and delightful. The chunks of heirlooms were room temperature and firm, not cold and runny like many restaurant tomato salads. The marscapone was sweet and creamy, and the "rooftop basil", called so because I suppose it's from that herb garden I spoke of, was almost minty, and actually a bit crunchy. I tried to identify the heirlooms based on the lessons at the Heirloom Tomato Festival I attended at the Hoboken Historical Museum, but I couldn't. And it didn't matter anyway. These were delicious. And they paired wonderfully with an Alsacian Pinot Gris, which was very crisp and refreshing.

The next course could have been my last meal and I would have died a happy woman. It was
Baked Rigatoni and Cheeses. Each individual rigatoni was stuffed with gouda, and then the small pile was sprinkled with shredded gruyere and a dollop of melted chevre. It was "dressed" with a sweet corn emulsion that brought a sweetness to the dish. A lovely Napa Chardonnay was paired with this dish, and it did cut the creaminess of the food well.

The fourth course involved scallops, sitting upon a drizzle of something I could not identify. But whatever it was, it was green and it was good! For Steve, they substituted a roasted duck dish... and thank goodness it was him and not me. We were both served a Pinot Noir that was lovely, and our server explained that many guests found the pairing of the seafood with a "red wine" surprising. But it was very tasty, and I suppose the Pinot Noir was gentle enough to not overwhelm the delicate scallops.

The fifth course was the "main course", and it was a "duo" of ribeye steak and braised shortribs. Both were excellent, and very well-paired with a glass of rich, almost chocolatey Cabernet. The steak was perfectly cooked and coated with peppercorns, while the short rib was soft and juicy. Steve, the more carnivorous of our marriage, was in heaven with this dish. It also sat on a small "smear" of potato puree, and then a tiny potato croquette. The dish was decorated with an "argula paint" which was pretty and interesting.

The dessert was a molten chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream and raspberry sauce. Delish! It was served with port, which I had a few sips of, but couldn't finish.

We finished off the night with a toast to our anniversary -- a couple classes of Veuve Clicquot "Gold Label" -- and a walk around Beacon Hill. Note to the ladies: stilettos and cobblestones don't mix.

Anyway... if you are in Boston and are celebrating a special occasion, The Federalist is a memorable meal... impeccable service, elegant atmosphere, classic food with inventive twists, and perfectly paired wines. Hooray!