Monday, April 28, 2014

Nutella Crêpes with Strawberries à la mode

Day 69

As promised, here’s the incredibly quick and ridiculously simply almost-homemade dessert I promised. If you’d like more of a truly homemade result, I’ve included a link for a crêpe recipe that is consistently good. It really does taste better to make your own, but I’ve included
Photo by Taylor Fowler
other directions for those of you who like elegant presentations and quick and tasty desserts. Allow yourself an additional hour of bake-ahead work, and homemade crêpes will not disappoint! 

Otherwise, you can buy packaged, ready to serve crêpes;  I like Melissa’s brand. Most grocery stores have something comparable. I found these at our local Harris Teeter. Even though we are most familiar with the chocolate hazelnut spread, Nutella, I actually prefer a different brand. Before Nutella was all the rage in the snack world, it was less processed and tasted better. If I can find it these days, I prefer Justin’s or Nocciolata brand. That’s completely up to you, though. Enjoy!

Nutella Crêpes with Strawberries à la mode

1 package of 10 pre-made crêpes 
1¼ cups Nutella, Justin’s or Nocciolata chocolate hazelnut spread
2 pints vanilla bean ice cream (I prefer Talenti)
Caramel sauce             
30 Strawberries, quartered            

Spread 2 tbs. of chocolate hazelnut spread on each crêpe.  Fold each crepe and place one or two on a plate, seam side down. Warm each plate in microwave for 10-15 seconds. Top with two scoops of ice cream and 3 quartered strawberries. Drizzle with caramel sauce. Serve immediately. 

Reliable homemade crêpe recipe from Martha Stewart’s kitchen: 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Shortcut Rigatoni Parma Rosa

Day 68

This year’s Easter Sunday lunch was the fastest I’ve ever prepared, and I used some unconventional pre-packaged ingredients to create an almost-homemade result. Our Easter weekend involved some travel plans to visit with my father, then a drive back with him to Maryland to spend Easter Sunday with my husband who had stayed behind. That left very little time in the kitchen.

I opted for a pasta dish that included two ingredients I associate with Easter dinner: ham and green peas. I don’t know why these two foods are what I expect to have on the holiday
table, but they are. I also like cream sauces, so I decided on a Parma Rosa sauce with ham, onions, peas, and rigatoni. As a side, I served rustically dressed Romaine lettuce leaves with Caesar dressing, shaved Parmesan, and croutons. In my next blog entry, I’ll share my almost homemade dessert for Easter Sunday, shortcut Nutella crepes with strawberries, à la mode. 

Because I used some pre-made and pre-chopped ingredients, I thought that this meal would be a good one to share here. The entire cooking process took no longer than 25 minutes, and the finished product was deceivingly gourmet, and who doesn’t like that kind of result? This would be perfect for a casual Friday night dinner with friends or for a weeknight pasta dinner for your family. 

I really do hope your Easter was stupendous! Now, armed with the good news of Jesus’ empty tomb and His resurrection, may your spring and summer bring you a wealth of God’s love and His blessings. 

Shortcut Rigatoni Parma Rosa

2 – 8 oz. boxes ribbed Rigatoni (ribs hold sauce better)
4 packets Knorr Parma Rosa sauce mix (1.3 oz each)
4 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 tbs. butter

2 – 8oz. packages fully cooked, diced ham ( Smithfield or Farmland brands are popular)
2 – 16oz. bags frozen peas
1 large Vidalia onion, chopped 
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil for sauté pan

Boil pasta until al dente and have ready for sauce. Time accordingly. (I usually get the water to boiling, then add pasta when sauce is almost done.)

In a sauté pan, heat olive oil and sauté onions until translucent. Add garlic and ham and continue heating until ham is lightly browned.

In a Dutch oven, mix the milk, heavy cream, and 4 packets of Parma Rosa sauce with a whisk until blended. Add butter and continue stirring until just boiling. Reduce heat and simmer four minutes or until sauce begins to thicken. Add cooked ham, peas, onions, and garlic to the sauce and fold-in gently. Salt and pepper additionally to taste if desired. 

Pour sauce over each serving of pasta and garnish with grated or shaved Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately. 

Yield- 6-8 servings

*For Caesar salad, I simply washed 20 small Romaine leaves and drizzled Caesar dressing on each. Then, I placed shaved Parmesan and croutons on each leaf and fanned 2-4 leaves on each guest’s pasta plate. I made my own Caesar dressing but a store bought variety would work well too. I got my recipe from a chef and fellow blogger who chose to alter the traditional Caesar dressing to omit raw eggs. Honestly, I prefer the raw egg recipe, but this one is faster and very, very good. Find it at this link:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mocha Icebox Cake

Day 67

Stop the presses! This recipe is today’s top story, to be sure. And, it’s just in time for Easter if you’re searching for a quick, no-fail, no-bake dessert that looks like you spent hours slaving in the kitchen. 

I have to give complete credit to Ina Garten right away, as the Mocha Icebox Cake is all hers. I watched a re-run of Barefoot Contessa yesterday, and I had to try it. Honestly, I was a skeptic when I saw the ingredients and directions because it looked too easy to work, if that makes sense.
Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2014
I figured there was something I was missing and that mine wouldn’t look anything like hers. I don’t know if that frequently happens to you, but all too often, I see a recipe video and I attempt it, only to hit some major roadblock that must have been cut from the video. Thankfully, Ina Garten’s recipes are generally “easy gourmet”, designed to work for both the at-home cook and the advanced chef. 

The Mocha Icebox Cake is no exception; this recipe is the easiest I’ve ever made. What’s even better is that the presentation is reminiscent of desserts you’d see in the finest restaurants. Because there is no baking required, all you need is a good mixer. 

Ina recommends using the thin and crispy cookies from a company like Tate’s Bakeshop, which are delicious all by themselves.  I’ll also suggest that if you’re in Maryland and you like to support a local business, you should substitute Tate’s chocolate chip cookies for the Baltimore company, Otterbein’s, in this recipe. Whichever you use, you must find thin and crispy cookies; thicker cookies do not produce optimum results. 

I researched icebox cakes and learned that they fall in the same category as trifles and charlottes because they require overnight refrigeration to properly soften and blend. Their initial popularity
Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2014
grew during World War I when American housewives were looking for shortcut recipes to save resources. When you decide to make yours, don’t forget that it really does need overnight in the fridge before you try to serve it. 

I hope you’ll try this recipe over the holiday. Happy Easter to you and yours, and may you spend more time enjoying the company of loved ones than in the kitchen, but with even more impressive results. 

Mocha Icebox Cake

2 cups cold heavy cream
12 ounces Italian mascarpone cheese
½ cup sugar
¼ cup coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 (7-ounce) packages chocolate chip cookies, such as Tate's Bake Shop
Shaved semisweet chocolate, for garnish

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the heavy cream, mascarpone, sugar, coffee liqueur, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and vanilla. Mix on low speed to combine and then slowly raise the speed, until it forms firm peaks.

To assemble the cake, arrange chocolate chip cookies flat in an 8-inch springform pan, covering the bottom as much as possible. (I break some cookies to fill in the spaces.) Spread a fifth of the mocha whipped cream evenly over the cookies. Place another layer of cookies on top, lying flat and touching, followed by another fifth of the cream. Continue layering cookies and cream until there are 5 layers of each, ending with a layer of cream. Smooth the top, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Run a small sharp knife around the outside of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the top with the chocolate, cut in wedges, and serve cold.

Recipe from Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa. See link to recipe and video here:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Personal Chicken Pot Pies

Day 66

I wish I were more diligent about Sunday family dinners. Even as a child, I don’t remember that we practiced them quite as often as I would have liked, but we certainly shared them more than most families do today. My mother’s parents would frequently invite us over on Sunday afternoons for Southern fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits, vegetables slow cooked with pork, German chocolate cake, and tea so sweet it would make our teeth ache.
Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2014
Although we didn’t get together for these meals every Sunday, we probably did it at least once a month.

In the hustle and bustle of our busy lives today, I have not insisted on Sunday dinners with my family and friends, and that’s something that makes me disappointed in myself, to be honest. I really need to make more of an effort because some of my best food memories revolve around Nanny and Pawpaw’s old kitchen table. 
They lived in a house that was built in the late 1700s, finished around 1800, if you can believe that.  (The house is called Little Cherrystone and is located in southern Virginia, if you ever want to do an Internet search.) A Revolutionary War officer, Colonel Wooding, and his family were the original owners. My grandparents became tenants when my mother was a small child, so it was the only home I ever knew them to have when I was growing up. Today, the house is in the registry of historical homes in Virginia, and it has been purchased and somewhat restored by its current owner. It’s really a sight to behold, and I can’t even begin to imagine what those walls might say if they could talk. Seeing it in history books is a bit surreal for me, since my family lived there and I spent so much of my childhood visiting the old home. 

As a little girl who had a love-hate relationship with all things supernatural (I loved the goose-bump inducing stories but regretted and hated them later, once I was alone), I heard my fair share of ghost stories about Little Cherrystone from my mother, her brothers, and my father. As a result, the house
Copyright, Doug Kapustin Photography, 2014
has held a sort of magic and mystique in my memory bank all these years.  I passed untold hours and days exploring the grounds and trying to get the courage to walk through the crumbling, unchartered rooms of the house, so many in fact, that I feel like the old place is a part of me. I really need to ask permission to walk through it again with my daughter the next time we go home to visit; even she has memories there before Pawpaw died. 

The kitchen of the house, where we shared our meals, was actually an addition that has long since been torn-down. There was a cooking stove and an old gas heater in the kitchen, so it was always a swelteringly hot room. Nanny and Pawpaw never failed to have a side of fried fatback meat on the counter for sandwiches, instant coffee, and some sort of dessert for company. The fact that they cooked in a similar fashion to all of the previous inhabitants, dating back to the 1700s, is not lost on me today. I really like the fact that those food traditions never died as long as the house served as a home to families. Empty today, Little Cherrystone is personified in my mind as nostalgic, longing for heat and laughter and food. 

My mother, father, and I would arrive in Daddy’s pick-up truck on Sundays, usually greeted by Pawpaw sitting on the front porch. Pawpaw would start talking before we even got out of the truck, telling us about who had driven by, about his garden plans, and he would give us his ever-exaggerated weather forecast. Our arrival was always the same—predictable and comforting. By the time I landed on the top step, I could smell simmering pork, the fried chicken, and the yeasty biscuits straight from the oven. Once the meal began, I was silent, eating until I could not hold another bite. 

After dessert, I’d take my scraps outside to share with Dinky, their sweet Beagle, whom I adored. Life was good on Sunday afternoons, free of stress and weekly responsibilities. I want to have more of those traditions for my family, and what better place to start than with chicken pot pie? 

Today’s recipe can be made individually or as two large pies, and you’ll love the creaminess of the pot pie filling, accompanied by the flaky crispness of a perfectly baked piecrust. It’s an ideal way to begin a tradition of Sunday dinners, if you are so inclined. I hope you like it. 

(As an aside, I’ll share that my go-to chef is almost always Ina Garten; you’ve surely noticed this if you’re a regular blog follower. This recipe is no exception. I have used her filling and instructions, with only one ingredient addition (celery), and I’ll admit that I sometimes add a clove or two of garlic to the onions and celery when I sauté them, in case you are interested in that too. For many reasons, I’m very partial to garlic. The original recipe also includes baking bone-in chicken breasts with skin to use for the pot pies. Don’t change this step. Bone-in baked or roasted chicken is so much more flavorful and moist than boneless, hands down. It really does make a huge difference. Garten’s recipe includes instructions for making a puff pastry top for the pot pie filling, whereas I have chosen to purchase actual refrigerated pie crusts, simply for convenience. Of course, you could make your own crusts or use the puff pastry instructions in the original recipe. If you would like to make your own crust, here’s the link for Garten’s foolproof recipe: I’ve used it over and over, and it turns out beautifully every single time.  Bottom line, you have lots of options here, depending on your experience level and available time in the kitchen. You’ll find Ina Garten’s Chicken Pot Pie recipe link here too, just under the instructions for the dish. Look for it and happy cooking!)

Personal Chicken Pot Pies

For crusts:
10 5-inch mini pie shells (and 10 tops)
2  9-inch pie shells with tops

For chicken:
3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For pot pie filling:
5 cups chicken stock
2 chicken bouillon cubes
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup heavy cream
4 cups frozen peas and carrots, thawed at room temperature
2 celery stalks, diced 
1½ cups frozen small pearl onions
½ cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts on a baking sheet and rub them with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until cooked through. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin. Cut the chicken into large dice. You will have 4 to 6 cups of cubed chicken.

In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock and dissolve the bouillon cubes in the stock. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter and sauté the onions and celery over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until translucent. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the hot chicken stock to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thick. Add 2 teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and heavy cream. Add the cubed chicken, carrots, peas, onions and parsley. Mix well.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Pour into prepared piecrusts and cover with crust tops, using a fork to seal edges. Brush tops with raw, beaten egg wash (1 egg and 1 tsp. water, beaten together), make several slits to vent, and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Place on baking pan, and bake at 375 degrees for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling hot. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving. 

Note: original recipe before changes, courtesy of Ina Garten-