Friday, April 29, 2011

English Chocolate Biscuit Cake - a.k.a. "William's Groom's Cake"

Were you one of the two billion folks who watched the royal wedding today?

I was.

In my time zone, it meant setting the alarm for 3:00 a.m., so as to watch a couple hours of pre-game coverage before the main event at 5:00 a.m.

Needless to say, I was enthralled with each and every detail of the whole she-bang.  Could Catherine have been any more enchanting and princess-like?  Could there have been ANY more ceremony and tradition and attention to detail?  Isn't it amazing that the Brits have been doing things like this for a thousand years?

Jealous American.

Last week, I saw on the Today Show a very simple version of what was to be the Groom's Cake.  They said it was a favorite cake of William's, that was often served at the palace.  Works for me!  If there is ever an event or reason to make food, we are always ALL over it at our house.

Best part?  It's a refrigerator cake or ice box cake which means no baking!  Only chilling!

Here's the recipe that was given on the Today Show website.  I made one tiny change - it called for all honey and I did half and half with honey and corn syrup.  This is a terribly rich cake, so I can say that it easily serves 8-10, and our family enjoyed the cake, and there's about 1/4 left for tomorrow with coffee.

A word about the biscuits - in England, they call cookies 'biscuits.'  Look for either 'digestive biscuits' or 'butter biscuits.'  You will likely find them at a large grocery store.  If you can't get the exact thing, try to find a plain butter cookie.

A fun game to play with your family or friends:  Start with "Lord" or "Lady" depending upon your gender, then for your first name, choose either family grandfather or grandmother name.  Your last name?  Choose your first pet, followed by a hyphen or the word "of" and then the name of the street you grew up on.

May I introduce myself as Lady Kathryn Kayla of Shore?

Cheers!  Here's to a lifelong, fairy-tale love story for William and Catherine!

English Chocolate Biscuit Cake - a.k.a. William's Groom's Cake

7 ounces butter tea biscuits, or digestive biscuits
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon corn syrup
4 tablespoons butter
16 ounces bittersweet chocolate bits, or chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla

Butter an 8 inch spring-form (cheesecake) pan.  Lay a disc of parchment paper in the bottom, and then butter that, too.  Set aside.

Break cookies into pieces, but don't crush or make crumbs.  Set aside in a bowl.

Put cream, honey, corn syrup, and butter in a large bowl.  Microwave on high for 1 and 1/2 minutes, until bubbling.  Add the bittersweet chocolate and stir until smooth.  Stir in the vanilla.  Pour the broken biscuits into the chocolate mixture and stir carefully until all the pieces are coated and incorporated.

Spoon into the prepared pan and smooth down the top.  Refrigerate for a minimum of 3 hours.

Carefully slide a spatula around the sides of the pan and unmold cake.  Slide a spatula under the cake and turn it over onto a pretty plate.

Chocolate Ganache

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup cream
6 ounces (about a cup) of bittersweet chocolate pieces

Heat butter and cream in a microwave for 1 minute.  Stir in chocolate until melted and smooth.  Pour over top of cake, then spread and smooth, allowing it to drip down the sides of the cake.  Set for 15 minutes or so.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Spicy Shrimp with Lemon and Peapods

Ever since we got home from Florida, I've dreamed of seafood.  Oh, how I wish we could get fresh, wild, succulent critters from the sea, year-round, and at a great price.  Right.  In Minnesota.

Last week at Costco, I picked up a bag of frozen, raw shrimp.  They had their nice little tails on and were labeled "21-25" which means there are twenty-one to twenty-five shrimp per pound.  It's a nice size for a regular dinner.  The big, fat ones are great to have for skewers or shrimp cocktail.

The bag said 8 servings.  This recipe made plenty for our family of 8 (remember, the kids are ages 4-15), with one serving leftover for some lucky person's lunch tomorrow.  The dish was fresh, light, healthy and full of flavor.  You can make it as spicy or not as you like - it's all in how big and how many those "pinches" of red pepper flakes turn out to be :)

We served it along side of a big pile of brown rice.

*NOTE - when I say "dry white wine" - I mean Sauvignon Blanc, or maybe Pinot Grigio.  Don't use Riesling or Chardonnay or (gag) White Zinfandel.  Please.  Thank you.

Spicy Shrimp with Lemon and Pea Pods

2 pounds of raw shrimp, 21-25 per pound, tail on
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
salt and pepper
large pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2  cup dry white wine *
8 ounces of sugar snap pea pods, or regular pea pods
juice of one lemon
zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons butter
handful of freshly chopped parsley

In a very large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the garlic and the shrimp, season with salt and pepper and red pepper flakes, and cook for only a few minutes.  Pour in the wine and lemon juice, stirring a bit.  Add the lemon zest and pea pods.  Cook until shrimp are just pink and the pea pods are barely tender.  Stir in the 2 tablespoons of butter.  Taste for seasoning.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve with rice, pasta or couscous.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Roasted Sweet Pepper Salad

Ever got excited about something in your kitchen, in progress, and just knew how much better it would be if you had a certain ingredient?  Or two?  But there's just no way you're dashing off to the store.  Right?


I found a bag of mini sweet peppers at Costco last night.  Bright colors, crunchy, seemingly summery.  So home they came with me.  I might stuff some of them with goat cheese and grill them.  But here's what I did with the rest of them, and what did I wish I had?


Dang, it would have been good to put a handful of fresh, roughly chopped cilantro in this bowl.  I also think a few jalapeno peppers in the mix would be great.  I am giddy with anticipation to make it again and mess around with flavors and ingredients.  I love to cook.

This makes enough for a small side for a handful of people.  I'd double it next time.  We're going to put it into tortillas with beans and beef and other good things.  It would be a great true "salad" even, with some diced cheese or served on a bed of greens, and a million other things that come to mind.

Roasted Sweet Pepper Salad

1 pound mini mixed sweet peppers (or large ones, whatever works)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
big pinch of red chili pepper flakes
more salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
juice of half a lime
(and then don't forget that cilantro that I did NOT have)

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  On a baking sheet, toss peppers in olive oil and spread in a single layer.  Sprinkle with salt.  Roast for 20 minutes, turning once or twice.  The peppers should wrinkle and brown in a few spots.

Cool for a few minutes, then cut out the stems and remove any seeds.  Chop roughly.  Place in a medium bowl.

Add garlic, chili flakes, salt, pepper, cumin and lime juice.  AND the cilantro, that you will have because I've reminded you more than once.

Toss it all around and taste.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Penne with Chicken, Tomatoes and Spinach

Some days my kids get sick of salad.  And I get sick of serving it.  Don't tell them that last part.  So I put the salad in the pasta tonight.

This is a dinner that cooks in 30 minutes, including chop and prep time.  In the summer, I'd use fresh tomatoes, chopped and juicy and oh-so-perfect.  Today, I used a can of diced tomatoes.  Looking at the dish, I wish I'd used 2 cans.  That's ok.  My "I don't like tomato" kids will be happier, no doubt.

Here it is.  Make it, vary it, taste it, serve it with bread to mop up the sauce.  The recipe below ought to serve at least 8 people.

Penne with Chicken, Tomatoes and Spinach

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch chunks
salt and pepper
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
very large pinch (1/2 - 1 tsp) red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried basil
1 (or 2) 15 ounce cans diced tomatoes
1/2 or 3/4 cup dry white wine
4 ounces fresh baby spinach, washed and stemmed
1 1/2 pounds penne (or similar pasta), cooked, and drained, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid

In a very large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the chicken and cook, seasoning with salt and pepper, until just barely done.  Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Turn down the heat to medium low and add the garlic, pepper flakes and oregano, then cook and stir for 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, wine, a bit more salt and pepper.  Turn up the heat to medium and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Add the chicken back into the pan, taste for seasoning.  This is the time to decide if you like more spice, so add some more red pepper flakes, will ya?

Add the spinach, stir, and cook for 2-3 minutes until the spinach is wilted.

Add the pasta to the skillet, plus some of the cooking liquid, to make a silky sauce that isn't too soupy, but coats the pasta.  Taste again.

Serve with parmesan cheese and crusty bread!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bacon Leek Swiss Crustless Quiche

Really, can it get any better than bacon and leeks?  And cream?  And cheese?   Hello, brunch!

I made four of these today, in 9-inch glass pie plates.  They're cooling right now and I'll pop them out of the plates, wrap and freeze until Easter Sunday, when they'll be re-heated for our brunch-o-rama.  I plan to save one of them in the freezer for a few weeks from now when I want something yummy for breakfast or lunch.

So here it is, easy-peasy.  I would make it again with a crust (simple pie dough would do nicely), but this was very handy to make without the dough situation.

Bacon-Leek-Swiss Crustless Quiche

2 tablespoons softened butter
1 tablespoon parmesan cheese
1/4 cup panko or bread crumbs (omit if you'd like it to be gluten-free)
1 large leek, white and light green parts, halved lengthwise, sliced, washed, lah-de-dah
1 tablespoon butter
4 slices bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled
1 cup swiss cheese
3 large eggs, plus one more yolk
2 cups cream, or 1 cup cream and 1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
grinding of black pepper
pinch of nutmeg

Thickly grease a 9 inch pie plate with the 2 tablespoons butter.  Evenly sprinkle on the parmesan cheese, and panko, if using.  Set this aside.

Saute the leeks in the 1 tablespoon butter and a pinch of salt, just until softened (don't brown), for about 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, cream (or milk), salt, pepper and nutmeg. 

Distribute the bacon, leeks and swiss cheese into the pie plate.  Pour the egg-cream mixture over this, being careful not to overfill the pie plate.  Place on a baking sheet and carefully place in oven.

Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes, until center is just set.  Cool completely, and either serve warm or at room temp, OR refrigerate overnight, OR remove from plate, wrap well in plastic and/or foil and freeze for up to one month.

This will make 6-8 servings.

Meal Plan Monday - April 18th

After more than a week of not cooking a bit, I am happy to be back in my kitchen!  Dough is rising in the fridge, the grill will be fired up tonight, and I need to get Eric to sharpen my knives, while I'm at it.

We're having TWENTY SEVEN people here for Easter Sunday Brunch.  I'm making the ham, some Nana Rolls, bacon-leek-swiss quiche, and everyone is bringing everything else.  Sometimes I like that, sometimes I get twitchy hoping there's enough food - not everyone is used to cooking a pan of potatoes to feed 27 people, right?  Ah, it'll turn out just fine.  The kids can fill up on jelly beans.

Have a great week!

Monday - Grilled whole butterflied chicken with lemon herb butter, honey dijon carrots, bread and a salad.

Tuesday - Pan-fried pork chops with mustard and capers, herbed rice with almonds, spinach salad.

Wednesday - Pasta with chicken, white wine and tomatoes; bread; salad.

Thursday - Beef & refried bean soft tacos; guacamole and chips and salsa.

Friday - Grilled salmon with lemon and dill; buttered penne with parmesan; spinach salad.

Saturday - Pizza party with some of the out of town company

Sunday - Easter Brunch with the luck o' the pot!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Vacation - Sun, Sand, Food, Fun

There's no place like home.  But the beach in southwest Florida isn't exactly a hardship.

We had the best weather we've probably ever had in 40 years of going there.  It was in the upper 80s and sunny every single day!  We spend most of our time in the pool or at the beach, with a bit on the golf course to round things out.  I squeezed in the teensiest bit of shopping, of course.  Eric (that's Mister Sassy) and I had a couple of date nights as well.

Plenty of fresh, local seafood was consumed.  My favorites down there are gulf shrimp and grouper.  And I had both, more than once!  There are oodles of snazzy restaurants with high prices and lots of things drizzled on enormous plates.  I'm not a fan of that trend, but the food on those plates can be awfully tasty, so I put up with the pretentious presentation.

Probably the best meal we had was at a local beach dive called Doc's Beach House.  It is, duh, right on the water in Bonita Beach.  Their beach is great, with plenty of rentals and a usually rousing game of beach volleyball going.  We rented a kayak one day and Eric took the kids out in turns for some waves.  I got a solo turn.

Anyway, the food!  Our kids like the burgers or the fried seafood basket (grouper, shrimp, clams, scallops), but Eric and I split the broiled grouper plate.  Oh me oh my, that was the best, freshest fish I have ever tasted!  We chose the fruit salad and green salad as our sides (way too healthy), and they were fresh and tasty, too, but the FISH.  Two enormous pieces, plenty for two people.  Lightly seasoned, cooked just done and perfectly moist, and did we ever devour that plate of food.  Beer of choice, of course, is Land Shark Lager (thank you, Jimmy Buffett).  Not a bad deal for two adults to share and be happy with a $15 lunch.  If you ever get to Bonita Beach, go to Doc's - it has a great vibe, great food, reportedly great pizza, and they provide a fun place for sunset watchers.

(Cue up Zac Brown and Jimmy Buffett singing "Knee Deep")

On a date night, we went to Bice (pronounced bee-chay), a rather upscale Italian place in Naples.  Sat outside on a warm Florida night and shared a delicious meal with some new friends.  Naples is really fun on Thursday nights - live music up and down 5th Avenue, lots of people, beautiful cars, lights in all the palm trees, every restaurant and bar wide open and full of people enjoying the night.  I love to see music on the sidewalk and people dancing right there.  Especially all the older folks that live down there.

At Bice, the meal was special.  The bread they brought out was a savory olive bread, and it was served with a dish of three different dip-spread options:  butter (can't go wrong), olive oil and balsamic (good), and an unusual olive oil, balsamic vinegar, herbs and creme fraiche combination.  THAT was our favorite!  Eric and I shared (we share a lot of things, get to try more that way) the Ahi Tuna Tartar appetizer.  Yep, big plate, drizzled with an Asian ginger-soy reduction, and a lovely round stack of chopped raw ahi tuna, avocado, fresh tomato and red onion, garnished with large leaves of basil.  That was amazing.  We like to try wines, so he had a pinot grigio and I had a sauvignon blanc (from Chile!) and we swapped tastes.  Both were delicious.

Then we shared a spicy "fra diavolo" linguine and seafood.  So good, but I'd have liked it a bit spicier.  I'm not complaining, though - scallops, shrimp, squid, clams, mussels, and grouper in a light, fresh tomato sauce.  I get twitchy when a restaurant offers parmesan cheese with seafood pasta, and thankfully Bice is not one of those places.  Call me a snob, but cheese and seafood don't belong together in pasta.  Unless it's lobster mac-and-cheese, but that's another story.  We shared a chianti and a pinot noir and they were both excellent.

Our dinner companions wanted dessert, so we all dove into the profiteroles.  A very fancy word for cream puffs, right?  These were both good and disappointing.  The filling of marscapone cream was divine, but the puffs themselves were mushy, almost like they'd been nuked to warm up.  Maybe they warmed the chocolate sauce too much and that deflated the puffs, I don't know.  So, good flavor, not so good texture.  Oh, well.  Who's going to complain much about chocolate, right?  Even on another huge plate with more drizzles ;)

On our last night there, we went to the club where my parents live and dined deeply at the seafood buffet.  I liked the shrimp-scallop-mussels-crab scampi cooked to order and served on a rice-orzo pilaf.  The crab-stuffed cod was good, too, but I sure wouldn't have chosen cod as the fish for that dish.  The crab and corn chowder was by far the best item on the list - watch for a re-creation of that recipe coming soon to a sassy blog near you.

We all got tan, the kids had a ball, we saw tons of sea life, body-surfed some great waves, and enjoyed a nice week with my parents.  It's like going home, I know that area so well. 

Now, if I can just survive re-entry . . .

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Meal Plan Monday - April 4

Fine, it's Tuesday.  I'm leaving for vacation on Friday and let's just say my brain is not in the kitchen.

This week I have the fun and challenge of eating what's in the house, not leaving any produce to rot while we're gone, yet not serving frozen pizza or cereal to the gang the night before we leave.  So here it is:

Monday:  Crockpot Sesame Pork Roast; Stir-Fried Leeks and Carrots; Rice; Salad

Tuesday:  Oven-Baked Chipotle Chicken Thighs; Cilantro-Lime Rice; Salad

Wednesday:  Salmon with Fresh Herbs, Butter and Lemon;  Pasta with Basil Pesto; Salad

Thursday:  Cheese Quesadillas and Tomato Soup; Carrot Sticks and Ranch Dip

Starting Friday the 8th, I will be eating fresh seafood or my mom's home cooking for EIGHT glorious days in sunny southwest Florida.  Hope you all are enjoying Spring - it's such a relief here in the North when it finally shows up!

See you in a couple weeks.  Get ready for grilling season, lighter meals, longer evenings, and plenty of fresh goodness from Sassy's kitchen!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Dinner

Mister Sassy's boss is French.  Like from France, even.  It's a nice piece of information, but when hubby invites said boss home for dinner, well, then.

I didn't want to cook something French-y and risk looking foolish.  I did, however, see it as an opportunity to put on my big girl apron and make a meal that would be both interesting, delicious, and something I could put together in an afternoon while wrangling kids.

In my small world, there is nothing better than spending an afternoon in the kitchen.  I delight in the whole process of planning, shopping and cooking.  I let the kids clean the house, though :)  My plan was to have a nice dinner, a fresh and friendly hostess, and a relatively clean house and happy kids.  It worked out ok.

For some reason, I couldn't bring myself to take pictures of the food with a guest here.  Which means you just get recipes.  And ideas.  Oh, and don't be afraid of the word "aoili" - it's just mayo with some flavor!

The Menu:

Chipotle-Maple Pecans and Almonds
Mixed Olives (purchased)

Bacon Wrapped Chicken Breasts, Stuffed with Mushrooms, Shallots, Thyme and Fontina
Oven-Roasted Leeks and Fingerling Potatoes
Blanched Asparagus with Rosemary-Citrus Aoili
Baguettes (see my Daily Bread post, or buy some)

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Creme Anglaise and Fresh Raspberries

Our guest brought a delicious Spanish red wine to have with dinner, and we had Port with dessert. 

Chipotle-Maple Pecans and Almonds

1 egg white
3 tablespoons real maple syrup
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 - 1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
5-6 cups pecans and almonds (unsalted)

Mix egg white, syrup and water in a large bowl with a whisk until foamy.  Add salt, chipotle, sugar and cinnamon, stir until smooth.  Stir in nuts and toss until they are well-coated.  Spread on a lightly oiled and rimmed baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake at 250 for 50-60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes until toasty.  Let cool completely on the baking sheet, then break apart and store in an airtight container for several days.

Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Breasts

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons minced shallots
8 ounces crimini or white button mushrooms, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
salt and pepper
4 ounces fontina cheese, diced

8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
8 slices thick cut bacon
salt and pepper

olive oil for the baking sheet

In a medium skillet, heat the butter over medium.  Add the shallots and cook for a few minutes, then add the mushrooms.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the thyme and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender.  Remove from heat, drain excess liquid, and cool completely.  Scrape into a bowl and add the diced cheese.

Cut a large slit into the thickets part of the chicken breast, going in as far as you can go without cutting all the way through.  Stuff tightly, and secure opening with one or two toothpicks.  Wrap with a slice of bacon, tucking in ends.  Season with salt and pepper.  Repeat with each chicken breast.

Placed on an oiled, rimmed baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes until chicken is cooked through but still moist.  (I cooked an extra breast and cut into it to test it, not a bad idea with company.)

Oven Roasted Leeks and Fingerling Potatoes

1 pound leeks, trimmed and washed, cut into 2 inch pieces
2 pounds fingerling or other small potatoes, scrubbed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
seasoned salt

Toss all together and spread on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake in the oven at 375 for 45 minutes, shaking the pan or stirring twice during cooking.  This bakes along with the chicken above perfectly!

Rosemary Citrus Aoili
(this is enough for a pound of asparagus or other green vegetable)

1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 peeled garlic cloves
3 fresh sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
freshly ground pepper
zest and juice of half an orange
zest and juice of one lemon

Put mayonnaise in a medium bowl.  In a food processor or blender, process the olive oil, garlic, rosemary and vinegar for 30 seconds.  Allow to stand 5 minutes.  Put this mixture through a strainer into the mayonnaise.  Stir in several grindings of black pepper, plus the citrus zest and juices.  Taste and correct seasoning.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Melt chocolate and butter in the microwave or in a  medium sauce pan.  Stir in the sugar, and then the eggs.  Sift and stir in the cocoa powder.  Pour into a buttered, 8-inch round baking pan.  Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.  Cool completely before turning cake out onto a plate.  Serve garnished with fresh raspberries and drizzled with Creme Anglaise (recipe follows).

Creme Anglaise
(From Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking")

1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 3/4 cup boiling whole milk or half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

In a mixing bowl, beat (with an hand-held electric mixer) the sugar and egg yolks for 2-3 minutes, until pale yellow, and when you lift the beaters, the mixture falls in ribbons.  Beat in the cornstarch.

VERY slowly add the boiling milk into the sugar-egg mixture, beating on low speed.

Pour into a medium saucepan and put over medium-low heat.  Cook, stirring continually with a wooden spoon, until it thickens slightly.  It should coat the spoon like cream.  Do NOT let it boil or even simmer.

Remove from heat and stir for a few minutes to cool a bit.  Add the vanilla and almond extracts.  Pour into a jar and cover, refrigerate until ready to use later that day.  Bring to room temperature or warm it slightly.