Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Roasted Brussels Sprout, Crispy Bacon and Pecan Pasta Salad

I know it is almost summer and I should not be eating Brussels sprouts with bacon. But last week was  cool and rainy which made me crave a hearty meal. Instead of the hot and creamy pasta I usually make with the sprouts and bacon, I decided to serve it at room temperature with a bright dressing and some fresh basil. It turned out great and spring/summer appropriate! I love all the textures and flavors in this dish! Hope you enjoy it too!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Crispy Bacon and Pecan Pasta Salad 

For Brussels sprouts:
8 oz Brussels sprouts, each cut into 4 pieces lengthwise
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

2 cups uncooked elbow pasta
3 1/2 oz (approximately 3 strips) bacon, cut into small pieces
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoon chopped pecan
3 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

5 tablespoons olive oil
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain pasta and drizzle with olive oil to prevent it from sticking. Set it aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 400F. Place chopped Brussels sprouts on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle it with one tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkle with a couple of pinches of salt and some black pepper, and add the thyme leaves. Use your hands to toss the sprouts and make sure all the pieces are coated on olive oil. Roast Brussels sprouts in the preheated oven until tender and golden brown. Remove from the oven and set it aside.

While the Brussels sprouts are roasting, in a medium size skillet over medium-hight heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Transfer cooked bacon to a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oil. Set it aside.

To make the dressing simply combine all the ingredients until emulsified. Set it aside.

When all ingredients have been cooked and cooled you can toss the salad together.  In a large bowl, combine Brussels sprouts, pasta, bacon, garlic, cheese, pecans, scallions, basil and the dressing. Taste the pasta salad and adjust salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.


While pasta cooks in salted boiling water, roast the Brussels + olive oil + thyme + salt&pepper:

Until they look like this:

While the Brussels roast, cook the bacon.

Until  crispy:

 Make the dressing and combine it with all the other ingredients (cooled) in a large bowl.

Serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Live on BettyCrocker.com

The step-by-step article on how to make this delicious Tiramisu Cake is on-line at BettyCrocker.com today! Click here to see it.

Loving Right Now

This kitchen tool has changed my life! Seriously. Before I owned it, removing lobster shells was a nightmare. Those scissors make that task as easy as counting until 10. But it does not stop there. I use them for trimming flower steams (it will cut through the toughest steams), for toy boxes that make you feel like you need a PHD for opening them, for cutting round pieces of parchment paper to line baking sheets, for cutting herbs, my kids art projects etc.

On valentine's day I had to cut a cornish hen in half - I did it in a few minutes with those scissors. I could go on and on...This tool has simply become my one and only kitchen and all purpose scissors. Highly recommended! 

This is NOT paid advertising NOR were the scissors a gift from Progressive. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

Growing up, the only banana cake we used to eat was Upside Down Banana Cake. It was delicious and I will share it with you at some point. It was here in the United States that I started eating what you call Banana Bread and I love it. There is a local bakery that sells a banana chocolate chip bread that is to live for! I will never be able to replicate it so I hope they never stopping making it!

Since I am not versed with how to cook banana bread, I am always looking for new recipes to try. This one I found on a blog called Chronicle Books. The recipe is from Flo Baker and it is part of the San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook. Note that I did make some changes to the recipe. But the end result was great. I could not resist and cut into it while still hot:

See the melted chocolate? That's why I cannot resist eating it hot!

This is not the last banana bread recipe I will try, but it was good. The kids loved it. 

Do you have a great banana bread recipe that you would like to share with me? Let me know! I'd love to try it!
Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup mashed banana (about 2 medium bananas)

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips


1 - Adjust the rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan.

2 - Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. Set is aside.

3 - Combine the banana, eggs, buttermilk, oil and vanilla; add to the flour mixture. Stir until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

4 - Bake for 1 hour and 15 to 20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the loaf comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then turn the loaf out onto a rack to cool completely.
 Slice and serve. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Polenta Fries

It was my birthday. Babies were sleeping. Husband that does not like polenta was gone on a work trip. I was hungry but did not feel like cooking. There was a pack of pre-made polenta in the fridge. All the stars were aligned. I decided to go ahead and give myself the best birthday gift ever: 

Polenta Fries - crunchy and creamy pieces of heaven! Here is what I do to fry the crunchiest polenta fries.

I use this packed premade polenta, not only for the convenience, but also for the texture. That is a firm polenta - perfect for deep frying. Alternatively, you can make polenta from scratch the day before (make it a firm polenta) and let it set in the refrigerator overnight.

I cut the polenta into sticks and pat them dry with a paper towel.

Then I put some corn starch in a large freezer bag. Add the polenta sticks to the bag, seal it, and shake it around until all polenta sticks are coated with corn starch. Next, I transfer polenta to a sieve and hit it against the kitchen sink to remove excess corn starch. All you need is a thin layer of corn starch to create a crunchy crust on the polenta sticks.

This photo was taken before I shook off the excess corn starch.

Deep fry until golden.

Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel to drain excess oil. Top polenta with Parmesan cheese or any other cheese you love and serve it while still hot. The best is to eat the firs as they they are done. If they seat around for too long they start to loose the crunch effect!

Crunchy on the outside, creamy in the inside:

Polenta Fries

1 pound (1 package) precooked polenta
1/3 cup corn starch
canola oil for deep frying
shaved Parmesan cheese to taste (or any other cheese, grated or shaved)

Line a large plate with paper towels and set it aside. Fill 1/3 of a sauce pan with canola oil and heat it over medium heat. While oil heats up, cut precooked polenta into sticks (just like french fries) and pat it dry with a paper towel.

Put the cornstarch inside a large freezer bag. Add the polenta to the bag, seal it, and shake it around until all the polenta sticks are coated in cornstarch. Transfer polenta to a sieve. Gently hit the sieve against the kitchen sink to shake off excess corn starch.

When oil is hot enough for deep frying*, fry the polenta sticks, 4 to 5 at a time, until deep golden in color. Do not overcrowd the pot when deep frying. Transfer cooked polenta to the plate lined with paper towel to drain access oil.

Place fried polenta on a serving platter and top with a generous amount of your favorite cheese. Serve immediately.

*to test if oil is ready for deep frying without a thermometer , drop a small piece of bred in the hot oil. Oil is ready when the piece of bread sinks to the bottom of the pan, immediately starts to bubble and then comes up to the surface.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

My Birthday

Yesterday was birthday! I started the day dropping off the kids at a summer class. Then I did some work and had lunch with my husband before he had to leave on a work trip. I enjoyed the rest of the day with my babies. We tried baking a cake but I forgot to add the baking powder - sign of aging right there! It is in moments like this that one really appreciates the power of baking powder. I was very disappointed and so were my kids :-( But we decided that we were going to go out and buy a nice cake to make it all better!

Since it was a hot day here in Minneapolis, we ended up at Dairy Queen. I thought that an ice-cream cake would feel more refreshing than a regular cake. The kids convinced me to let them eat chicken and fries there, so that's what they did before we came home with our cake!

My daughter wanted to wear her new biking gear while eating. That is the new "cool thing".

At the cash register, my daughter had to say: "Today is my mom's birthday and she forgot to put baking powder in her cake, so need to buy an ice-cream cake, please." Well, I guess she can say whatever she wants, as long as she smiles like that:

My son was very happy about the whole thing.

That's what eating good food looks like. Good food from his point of view, of course!

After that photo was taken he started running around until he sudlenly fell in the dirty with his mouth open. We left.

Back at home, it was finally time for cake. 

They were so excited, they made a wish and blew the candle for me.


 It was a great birthday! I am extremely thankful for another year of good health. Cheers!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A May Recap

May on my iPhone

May in Recipes (click on image to go to recipe)

A couple new recipes that are now live on BettyCrocker.com (click on image to see recipe)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mascarpone-Lemon Dipping Sauce

Morning: Artichokes at Trader's Jones

I took the photo above last week at Trader Joe's. I just love going to the grocery store this time of year and seeing a huge pile of fresh artichokes like that. It is such a gorgeous sight.

That day I came home with a couple of them and couldn't wait but cook them that evening for dinner. I usually serve whole artichokes with an olive oil and lemon based vinaigrette, but that day I decided to come up with something a little different.

I had left over mascarpone cheese in the refrigerator and that sparked the idea to make a creamier dipping sauce. I added lemon juice and zest to brighten the sauce and capers for a salty and tangy bite.

Mascarpone-Lemon Dipping Sauce
serves 2

1/4 cup mascarpone cheese, softened
1/4 cup thick Greek yogurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped capers, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Use a spoon to combine all the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper and serve. You can also keep it in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving it.

Instructions to cook the fresh artichokes:
Click HERE to see my step-by-step interactions on how to prepare whole artichokes.

2 whole artichokes
salt to taste
juice of a lemon

Fill a 5 quart pot 2/3 full with water and bring it to a boil.

Use a knife to trim the thick steams at the bottom of the artichokes. Using scissors, snip off the tips of all the leaves. Cut and discard the top 1 1/2 inches of the artichokes. Rinse artichokes thoroughly with running cold water and transfer them to the pot of boiling water. Add the juice of one lemon and salt to taste. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for approximately 45 minutes or until the bottom of the artichokes are tender.

Once artichokes are cooked, gently remove them from hot water and place them turned upside down on a cooling rack to drain for 5 minutes. Turn them back up and gently pull open the top of the artichokes until you see pale yellow leaves and pull those out to reveal the hairy choke. Use a spoon to scoop out the choke. Use your hands to gently close up the artichokes.


To eat, pull off leaves starting at the base, dip them in the sauce and bite off the soft part found at the base of each leaf. Discard remaining leaf. 

Once all leaves are gone, you will find the artichoke heart. Eat that part with the help of a fork and knife, dipping it in the sauce.

Evening: I ate my way to the artichoke hear!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Grilled Corn and Avocado Salad

My husband is a very good eater with a refined taste. There are just a couple of things that he will refuse to eat. Polenta is one of them - that makes me mad because I love polenta and can't cook it often enough because of him . That alone is material for a whole blog post so let me move on. My husband will also not eat corn on the cob. I mean, he will not bite into a corn cob. He needs someone to remove the kernels for him in order for him to eat it. That irritates me.  But that's ok. There are a lot of things about me that irritates him too. Anyway, last year, tired of cutting kernels out of the cob at the dinner table, I decided to make a corn salad. My husband like it so much that, since then, I have been making corn salads all the time. On summer time, when we have fantastic corn here in Minnesota, we eat it at least one a week - per his request!

Today I want to share of the many corn salads I like to make - Grilled Corn and Avocado Salad. It is so flavorful! It goes great with any Mexican food, with barbecue ribs, chicken etc. The fresh flavors from cilantro and lime are so lively and refreshing. And the creaminess from the avocado is unbeatable!

Grilled Corn and Avocado Salad
4 corn on the cob, grilled
2 teaspoons olive oil to rub on the corn before grilling
1/2 cup chopped scallion
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped finely jalapeño, if you like it hot keep the seeds
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon lime juice, freshly squeezed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar
1 avocado (Slightly firm. Not too ripened), cut into small cubes

Rub each corn cob with 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil. Using a pre heated gas or charcoal grill, cook the corn for at medium heat for approximately 15 minutes or until corn is tender and slightly charred. Set it aside to cool. In the meantime, chop all the other ingredients.

When corn is cool enough to handle, use a knife to remove the kernels out of the cob. Put kernels in a medium bowl. To the bow add all the ingredients but the avocado. Stir to combine. Add avocado and gently fold it into the salad. Adjust salt and pepper. I you would like, you may also add a little more lime juice at this time.

I like to use this grilling tool (for cooking whole fish) to cook my corn.

While the corn cooks, I chop all my ingredients:

When corn is cool enough to handle, I use a sharp knife to remove the kernels.

In a medium bow, put the corn, scallion, cilantro, jalapeño and garlic. Add lime juice:

Olive oil:

Agave nectar:

Stir the salad. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the avocado and gently stir it in. My daughter helped me with that part:

Love it, love it, love it!