Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Cannelloni with Butternut Squash Cream Sauce

I admit: I'm a butternut squash fiend. Soup, pasta, you name it, I'll probably love it. It seems to go well with almost anything. A few months ago, I was at a local restaurant that served sun-dried tomato and goat cheese ravioli in a butternut squash velouté. I thought I could duplicate the dish at home - maybe even make it better - and last weekend, I set out to prove myself right.

In short? I was oh-so-deliciously right. Instead of goat cheese and ravioli, I used oven-ready cannelloni shells filled with ricotta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and freshly wilted spinach. Then I covered it with an adaptation of Rachael Ray's Pumpkin Cream Sauce and baked it until the pasta was tender and the sauce was a-bubblin'.

Squash, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach might sound like a busy combination, but the flavours pair so well together. Squash lovers: you will love this.

Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Cannelloni with Butternut Squash Cream Sauce
Serves 5-6 (3-4 cannelloni each)

Butternut Squash Cream Sauce
Adapted from Rachael Ray's Pumpkin Cream Sauce via Tart Reform

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion or 4 shallots, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Cooked, pureed flesh from a 2 lb. butternut squash (or a box of frozen butternut squash puree)
1 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup water or chicken stock
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water.
2. In the same pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion and season with salt and pepper; cook, stirring, until softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin and heavy cream and bring to a boil. Return the pasta to the pot along with the reserved pasta cooking water and toss. Stir in the parmesan; season with salt and pepper.
3. Top the pasta with the parsley and more parmesan.

Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Cannelloni
Approximately 20 cannelloni tubes, oven-ready
1 tub ricotta (454g)
4 oz. fresh spinach, wilted and chopped (or frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained)
2 large sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed, finely chopped
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350F.

With a fork, mix ricotta, spinach, and sun-dried tomatoes in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add egg and mix until ingredients are well-blended.

Using a pastry bag (or your well-washed hands), fill the oven-ready cannelloni tubes with the filling.

If you have already made the butternut squash sauce, spread 1/2 cup of the sauce over the bottom of a 9"x13" baking dish. If not, leave the filled cannelloni on a plate and continue making the pasta sauce, spreading the 1/2 cup of sauce over the baking dish when it is ready.

Next, place the cannelloni in the baking dish, over top of the sauce. Cover completely with the remaining butternut squash sauce.

Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes, or until the pasta is tender.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie: Caramel Crunch Bars

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie selection is Caramel Crunch Bars, courtesy of Whitney of What’s left on the table?

A big thank you to Whitney for choosing this recipe - I've been eyeing it for months! The photo of these cookie bars looked so delectable in the cookbook that I couldn't believe no one had chosen it yet. I was beginning to get impatient! In fact, I almost made it last month but ran out of time.

I'm glad I waited, because I was able to buy Heath bits (a main ingredient in this recipe) during my recent trip to the States. If I hadn't made the trip, I would have substituted with Skor bits. I thought Heath bits would be similar to Skor bits, but as you can see below, they're very different. Heath bits are on the left.

They're both labelled as toffee bits, but Heath Bits have almond in them, as well, which makes them taste a lot like peanut brittle. And I like that using them made my bars look more like Dorie's.

These cookies are made of three components: a cookie base, a layer of chocolate, and a generous sprinkling of Heath bits. The cookie base was so delicious - it tasted like toffee shortbread but had the added complexity of cinnamon, instant coffee powder, and chunks of chocolate. However, it also called for two sticks of butter. I shuddered at the thought of using half a pound of butter in this recipe, so instead I halved it and baked the batter in a 8"x8" pan as well as a loaf pan. it works out quite well, although I think my batter was a bit thicker than it was supposed to be.

The chocolate and Heath bits, I think it goes without saying, were very tasty. They made these cookies taste (and look) like a chocolate bar - I think that was the point, and it was very well-executed.

I can't wait to make these again! Visit Whitney of What’s left on the table? for the recipe. I'll be participating in Tuesdays With Dorie again on March 10, when I'll be making Lemon Cup Custard.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Philly Cheesesteaks - Jim's Steaks, South Street, Philadelphia

It's been awhile since I last posted, and I have a very good reason for that - I took a 5 day vacation to Scranton (Pennsylvania), Philadelphia, and New York City. If you're wondering why we went to Scranton - we're huge fans of The Office, and that show is set in Scranton.

Since Scranton is just a 2 hour drive away from Philadelphia, it seemed like a no-brainer to go to Philly and try some genuine Philly Cheesesteaks.


Prior to our trip, I had never actually seen a cheesesteak. I pictured something very literal - a slab of steak with a slice of cheese on top, packed onto a bun. I didn't like that visual very much (I like my sandwiches tender and easy to eat, thank you very much), but I also figured that Philly Cheesesteaks wouldn't be so famous if they weren't delicious. Wise choice.

After deciding that we had to try cheesesteaks, the next decision was where to buy them. From my research, I learned that in Philly there is a bit of a rivalry between Geno's and Pat's, two cheesesteak restaurants. If you like Pat's cheesesteaks you can't like Geno's (and vice versa). After reading reviews, both sounded tempting, but another restaurant, Jim's, sounded even better.

Apparently, the meat in Geno's and Pat's sandwiches contain a lot of gristle in it. That might be authentic, and it certainly wouldn't be a problem for my Pho-loving boyfriend, but since I'm not a big red-meat lover in the first place, it didn't sound right for me. Meanwhile, Jim's is known to have all the meat without the gristle - right up my alley.


As we ambled down South Street (Philly's main tourist/shopping district), we noticed that Jim's consistently had a line so long that it continued outside of the restaurant and around the corner. Eventually, when we got hungry enough, we braved the line ourselves. It took about an hour to get the cheesesteaks in our hands.

When you get up to the counter, it helps to know how to order. The cooks behind the counter work fast to try to get the line to move as quickly as possible - you don't want to slow them down. So unless you want a special mushroom, pizza, pepper, or hoagie cheesesteak, the most important thing to explain is whether you want onions and what type of cheese you want. After hearing a few people in front of us order, it was easy - "two cheesesteaks with no onions, 1 whiz [Cheese Whiz], 1 provolone."

The finished product is hard to photograph well - just a ton of browned meat with a hint of Cheez Whiz. But the taste is phenomenal. The meat is lean but flavourful, perfectly thinly sliced, and tender. The creamy cheddar flavour of the Cheez Whiz adds a nice contrast to the meat. And the flavourful juices from the meat soak into the bun and drip over everything, making this a messy meal - but one you'll be happy to lick off your fingers, if necessary.

It's been almost a week since I tasted it and I'm craving it. I hope I go to Philadelphia again some day, even if just to have another cheesesteak.

Jim's Steaks
400 South Street
Philadelphia, PA

Update: if you'd like to try making your own Philly Cheesesteaks, here are a few recipes worth checking out:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Authentic Butter Chicken

When it comes to Indian food, nothing is better than Butter Chicken. At least, that's how I feel. I made a low-calorie version before and enjoyed it very much. Then I tasted the real deal, served with chewy naan bread, and I knew I had to make it, too, calories be damned.

I was flipping through the holiday issue of Food & Drink magazine (a free magazine distributed at Ontario's government-controlled liquor stores) and found this authentic recipe, written by an Indian restaurant's owner. The chicken is prepared Tandoori-style, with a spicy yogurt marinade, while tomatoes are combined with spices, garlic and ginger, butter (of course) and some whipping cream to form an incredibly flavourful and oh-so spicy sauce - just don't over-do it on the cayenne!

Butter Chicken
Adapted from Food & Drink magazine
Serves 3

1 tsp. grated ginger
1 tsp. minced or pureed garlic
Salt to taste 1.5 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 tsp Garam Masala

4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes or 2 cups canned tomatoes, without juice
2 tsp. grated ginger
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 green cardamom pods
2 cloves
1 bay leaf
1 cup chicken stock
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, diced
1 tsp. grated ginger
1/3 cup whipping cream

To finish
1/2 tsp. Garam Masala
2 tsp. sugar

Combine ginger, garlic, salt, cayenne and lemon juice in a large bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Let chicken marinate for 20 minutes at room temperature. Add yogurt and Garam Masala and let marinate for 20 minutes longer.

Preheat oven to 425. Place chicken on a rack over a roasting pan (or baking pan) and roast for 10-12 minutes until cooked through. Reserve.

Combine tomatoes, ginger, garlic, cardamom, cloves, bay leaf and chicken stock in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to boil. Turn heat to medium-low and simmer for 25 minutes or until tomatoes have completely broken down. Puree in a blender (or use an immersion blender).

Bring sauce to a boil. Add cayenne and simmer until sauce begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Gradually whisk in butter. Add the chicken and any juice and simmer for 5 minutes. Add (1 tsp.) ginger and cream and simmer another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust spiciness by adding up to 3/4 tsp. more cayenne. Stir in Garam Masala and sugar and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over rice or naan bread.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie: Floating Islands

This week’s Tuesday With Dorie selection is Floating Islands, chosen by Shari of Whisk: a food blog. Thanks, Shari! You can visit her blog for the recipe.

If you’re a Barefoot Contessa fan like me, this probably isn’t the first you’ve heard of Floating Islands (also known as Ile Flottante) - delicate clouds of meringue floating in a sea of custard with a drizzle of caramel over top. In Barefoot in Paris and an episode of her show, Ina Garten features this amazing French dessert. I made Ina’s version of Floating Islands a few years ago and, for its laborious preparation, it was well worth the effort. Click here for Ina’s recipe.

I was also lucky enough to eat Ile Flottante when I was in Paris in the spring of 2006 – and I was hooked. Below is a photo of Ile Flottante from some amazing little Parisian bakery whose name I have long forgotten – it was in the Montmartre district, if it helps.

As you may have guessed, I was very excited to try Dorie’s version of Ile Flottante.

Dorie’s recipe differed greatly from Ina Garten’s, and, for me at least, was much less successful. Dorie’s meringue uses less sugar than Ina (1/4 as much), and contains no cream of tartar. Whether it was the low sugar or the fact that the page facing this recipe talks about how many people have ruined their meringue by over-beating and I was a bit nervous about meeting the same fate, I believe my meringue was too soft. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until after I had already cooked the meringues.

The cooking process was also very different – Ina Garten’s version involves baking the meringues at a low temperature in the oven, whereas Dorie’s requires poaching the meringues in milk. I much preferred Ina’s version. It tasted like real meringue, whereas Dorie’s method yielded meringues that tasted like cooked egg whites. Again, it may be because the meringues were too soft in the first place - but I think it's because of the low amount of sugar in the recipe.

I also had issues with the crème anglaise, which was weird, because I’ve made it several times before and never had any issues – must have been an off night. The crème anglaise was below the target temperature (180F) but still scrambled. I used a strainer and was able to get about half a cup of custard out of the batch. Maybe my candy thermometer was off?

I used some leftover caramel syrup from my last Daring Baker’s challenge – you definitely don’t want to make this recipe without the caramel as it adds a ton of flavour.

All in all, I’m sad to say I won’t be making Dorie’s version of this recipe again. Maybe it was me; maybe it was the recipe, but either way, I’ll be sticking to my tried-and-true Ina Garten recipe.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Changes coming

I feel like it's time for a change. I've had this layout for almost a year and I'm growing tired of it - I need a flashier banner, a nice white background that complements food better. I found a great new template and created a banner. Tonight, I'll be implementing the new layout and tweaking it - sorry for how it may look in the process! I'll try to make the transition as quick as possible.

**Note: the template I found creates a big error message - I'll have to find a new template to base my new layout on. I assure you, this blog will look different by the end of the week.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Barefoot Contessa's Sole Meuniere

I must confess: I'm not the world's biggest fan of sole. At least, I didn't think I was. I had one too many bland, stuffed sole fillets and didn't touch the stuff for years.

When I was flipping through my new copy of Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics, though, I saw this gorgeous photo of two fried sole fillets resting in a lemony, buttery sauce.

I decided to make the recipe during a weekend visit with my boyfriend, who is also a seafood fiend, and we both loved it. It was rich, to be sure, and definitely not diet food, but it was amazing! The lemon and butter form a velvety smooth sauce that, because of the lemon, doesn't taste heavy. If you follow the directions, the fish cooks perfectly - it's so tender it feels like it melts in your mouth.

It's also extremely easy to make, even though it's elegant enough to be perfect for entertaining.

Easy Sole Meuniere
Serves 4
Slightly adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics
Note: Ina Garten says this serves 2 - but that's definitely only if you're not planning on eating anything else. 2 fillets each is a huge portion and you won't have room for side dishes.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 fresh sole fillets, 3-4 oz. each
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
6 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice - 2 or 3 lemons
1 tbsp. minced fresh parsley (optional)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Have 1 heat proof dinner plate ready. Combine the flour, 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper in a large plate. Pat the sole fillets dry with paper towels and season on one side with salt.

Heat 3 tbsp butter in a large frying over medium heat until it starts to brown. Coat 2 sole fillets in the seasoned flour on both sides and place them in the hot butter. Lower heat to medium-low and cook for 2 minutes. Turn carefully with a metal spatula and cook for 2 mnutes on other side. While the second side cooks, add 1/2 tsp lemon zest and 3 tbsp. of the lemon juice to the pan. carefully put fish fillets on an oven proof plate and pour the sauce over them.

Quickly clean the pan- otherwise any sauce left in the pan will turn black a when you cook the next batch of fish - not very appetizing. Keep cooked fillets warm in the oven while you repeat the process with the remaining 2 fillets. When they're done, distribute the cooked fish among 4 dinner plates (or 2 if you're serving 2 people). Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parsley if using, and serve immediately

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie: World Peace Cookies

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe is World Peace Cookies, thanks to Jessica of cookbookhabit. While that title may seem pretty hyperbolic, it isn't - well, at least, not by much. These cookies are so simple - just your run-of-the-mill flour, cocoa powder, butter, sugar, and the other usual cookie ingredients - but they are so chocolatey and so addictive.

I rushed to make these cookies after work on Monday and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly they came together. Dorie says to refrigerate the dough for 3 hours, but since I was short on time, I froze them for just an hour and a half. No need to defrost - I just sliced them and baked them for 1 minute longer, as suggested by Dorie.

Although World Peace Cookies are supposed to contain fleur de sel, which is meant to give them a nice salty-sweet contrast, I don't own any. Instead, I used kosher salt. The result was a slightly salty after-taste that really complemented the double-chocolate flavour of the cookies. The cookies were chewy at first but became quite crispy once they finished cooling off.

This recipe is a definite keeper - a simple double chocolate cookie that's full of flavour. For the recipe, visit Jessica's blog, cookbookhabit. Thanks, Jessica!

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