Friday, March 31, 2017

Fettuccine with Asparagus and Goat Cheese

Hello from this long lost blogger! Guys, I'm sorry I fell off the face of the earth for a while there. Life got away from me. The husband and I run a small business, and we recently moved to a new office. It was way more work than I anticipated. Like WAY more. Needless to say, blogging to a back seat to...survival.

Although my house was a giant disaster area (please don't open my closet door), I did manage to feed my family. Admittedly some nights we ate crackers and cheese for dinner, but when I was feeling slightly more ambitious, I relied on HDHH classics.

Now that it's Spring, and asparagus is on sale practically every week, I figured it was time to make Fettuccine with Asparagus and Goat Cheese.

This is totally a 20 minute meal. And it's easy clean up. Cook the pasta and asparagus in the same pot, then stir in tangy goat cheese, grainy mustard, and fresh dill for a creamy, Spring-y sauce. So easy and delicious, even I could manage it!

Dinner? You've got this!

Let's get cooking!

Fettuccine with Asparagus and Goat Cheese
Originally posted in April 2013
Serves: 6

1/3 cup pine nuts
1 pound fettuccine
2 bunches asparagus, trimmed and cut crosswise into thirds
5 ounces goat cheese
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pine nuts on a rimmed baking dish and bake for about 5 minutes, until they are golden brown and smell toasty. (Alternatively, you can toast pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, but I always burn nuts when I toast them on the stove. Feel free to live dangerously, though.)

Cook the fettuccine to al dente according to package directions in a large pot of salted boiling water. Add the asparagus during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining.

Drain the pasta and return pasta and asparagus to the pot. Stir in goat cheese, mustard, dill, and toasted pine nuts. Add pasta cooking water and stir until the cheese is melted and the pasta is evenly coated with sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

4-Layer Birthday Cake

Both of my boys celebrate their birthdays in March – just nine days apart. And each year they get to pick what kind of birthday cake they want.

In the past we've done the traditional chocolate cake with chocolate frosting or yellow cake with chocolate frosting. One year lemon cake topped with fruit was the highlight.

This year, my oldest (now age 11) spotted a video on social media of a four-layer chocolate cake filled with caramel and chocolate, covered with a chocolate glaze and drizzled with white chocolate.

He showed it to me once, but apparently watched it himself multiple times. When we couldn't find the video a few weeks later to make sure we knew how to make his chosen birthday dessert, he was able to describe every step in full detail.

For me, the best part about this dessert was the fun of making it with my boys and my brother, who was in town for a visit.

When my youngest's birthday rolled around a week later, we made the cake again, with a few variations to suit his tastes. He (now age 8) wanted a yellow butter cake – with Nutella as the filling between every layer. I don't even want to imagine the calorie count!

We tried a mirror glaze on the first cake, but it required lots of ingredients and didn't thicken on its own, so we ended up adding chocolate spread to it. The second time around we went with a simpler chocolate topping that was much easier to work with.

If you try this out, let us know what you use for the filling between your cake layers.

Mangia! Mangia!

4-Layer Birthday Cake

1 box of your favorite cake mix or your favorite recipe for two-layer cake
Caramel spread and chocolate spread
Nutella hazelnut chocolate spread
Chocolate glaze (see recipe below)
Chocolate shavings
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
Optional: Raspberries

Prepare cake according to package directions, using 2, 8-inch pans. Bake cake per instructions. Let cool, then turn out onto wire racks and cool completely.

Once cake layers are fully cool, carefully slice each one in half lengthwise, using a serrated knife. You will end up with four cake layers.

Set one cake layer on a cutting board.

Alternatively, you can use an angel food cake pan with the center piece removed to build your cake and hold it in place. (We tried this the first time around, but the layers slide around inside the pan. If you use this method, top the cake pan with a cutting board and invert so allow layered cake to slide out before glazing.)

Putting the cake together on a cutting board allowed us to gently move layers into place if they started to slip.

Also, if you have a cake lifter, life will be easier as you assemble and glaze the cake. You can also use a cutting board to help move and lift the cake layers.

Using a flexible spatula, gently spread filling on the bottom layer of cake. Top with second cake layer and spread on the second filling. Place third cake layer and spread the top of it with your third filling choice. Top with final piece of cake.

Transfer the cutting board with cake to try refrigerator so that it can firm up a little while you make the chocolate glaze.

Chocolate Glaze

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Pinch salt

Place chocolate chips and salt in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, bring cream to a boil, then remove from heat and pour over the chocolate chips. Whisk until smooth. Let cool until mixture becomes slightly thickened.

Now it's time to glaze the cake. It helps to have a second set of hands for the glazing.

Set a large bowl on the counter and place a wire rack on top of the bowl. Carefully transfer the cake from the cutting board to the center of the wire rack. Slowly pour glaze over the cake, ensuring that glaze covers all sides.

You might want to repeat the process to make sure every centimeter of the cake is thoroughly coated in chocolate.

If you do, carefully lift wire rack with cake and set the wire rack on the cutting board. Pour excess glaze from large bowl back into small bowl. Replace wire rack and cake on top of large bowl and slowly pour glaze over cake again.

(My boys did close inspections of each cake we made. It took three pours of glaze to get their seal of approval!)

Let glaze drip off cake. Carefully transfer cake to a cake plate. Dust with chocolate shavings. Return cake to refrigerator to allow glaze to harden.

Place white chocolate chips in a small bowl and melt in microwave for 30 seconds. Stir and heat another 30 seconds if needed. Transfer melted chocolate to a small plastic sandwich bag and seal. Gently squeeze melted chocolate into one corner of bag. Snip a tiny hole in the corner.

Drizzle top of cake with white chocolate. Top with raspberries if desired.

This is the butter yellow cake filled wth Nutella. Luckily, I took a photo before we ate it all!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Cucumber Vodka Gimlet

The vodka gimlet is my drink. Has been for years. And it doesn't even have to be fancy. Vodka and Rose's Lime Juice on the rocks is perfect, especially when made for me by my husband Jeff. But so much sugar. As for fancy ones, my favorite is the Market Gimlet, made with cucumber vodka, at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Cucumber in cocktails = so refreshing.

Anyhow, I recently decided it was time to make a less sugary vodka gimlet inspired by the cocktail I used to have while on biz trips to the West Coast. I opted to do this on a Tuesday afternoon. And why not? That's the beauty of working from home and being the boss.


Cucumber Vodka Gimlet
(Makes two gimlets)
6 ounces vodka
8 slices seedless cucumber (or regular cucumber with seed section removed)
1 ounce fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons sugar (granulated or powdered)

Muddle the cucumber with the sugar in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. (I used the handle of a wooden spoon.) Add the rest of the ingredients and half a cup of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into two glasses. Garnish with slices of cucumber or a lime wedges.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Cioppino (Seafood Soup)

Cioppino is an Italian seafood soup that originated in San Francisco. I love to eat it but had never prepared the meal myself – until this past weekend.

I wish I hadn't waited so long. The dish is easy to cook and you can vary the fish and shellfish based on your preferences or what's fresh (or on special).

I fell in love with this soup about eight years ago, after trying it through a meal service. Even though I grew up Italian, I'd never had it before. Fast forward to 2017. With my parents visiting on a Friday in Lent, it was the perfect recipe to try out.

The timing was good, too. What could be better than a steaming bowl of fragrant soup and a hunk of crusty bread on a blustery, snow-flurry-filled March day?

Mangia! Mangia!

Adapted from this recipe by Giada De Laurentiis

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 large shallots, diced
1 large fennel bulb, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in their juice
1 1/2 cups Chardonnay
5 cups fish stock
2 bays leaves
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 pound mussels, scrubbed to remove sand
1 pound clams, scrubbed to remove sand
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 pound halibut, skin removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound salmon, skin removed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Fresh parsley, chopped

*A note about choosing your fish/shellfish: Vary the fish and shellfish as you like. For example, if your kids love shrimp, add more and leave out the salmon. Grocer only sell mussels in 2-pound bags? Go for it! Prefer crab over shrimp? Make a swap!

Heat the oil in the largest pot you own over medium-high heat. Add the onion, shallots, fennel and salt and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often, until vegetables are translucent.

Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and tomato paste and stir a few times while cooking another 2 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and juice, the wine, fish stock and bay leaves.

Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer on low heat for at least 30 minutes.

Uncover the pot and add the clams and mussels. Let them cook until some of the shells start to open, between 5 and 10 minutes. Stir the soup, then add the shrimp and fish. Cook until the shrimp are pink and the fish is firm. Gently stir the soup again. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Discard any clams and mussels that did not open.

Serve soup in large bowls and sprinkle with fresh parsley and shaved Parmesan (optional). Be sure to have plenty of crusty French or Italian bread on hand to sop up the fragrant broth. A glass of Pinot Noir is perfect with this dinner, too!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Garlic Shrimp & Lemon Spiral Zucchini

We try to eat seafood once a week at my house, and while it doesn't always happen, we most often turn to shrimp because it cooks up so quickly.

I made this dinner from a recent Williams Sonoma mailer. Since I knew my boys would not even try  a lemon cream sauce, I used zucchini noodles instead of pasta. The husband and I are trying to cut back on the carbs. (My boys ate the shrimp with pasta and jarred tomato sauce.)

The end result was very tasty -- but you do need to eat this right away, as it will get a bit soggy as the zucchini sits.

Mangia! Mangia!

Garlic Shrimp & Lemon Spiral Zucchini
Inspired by Williams Sonoma

2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and pepper
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium zucchini, spiraled, or thinly sliced with a vegetable peeler or mandolin
1 bell pepper julienned
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 shallots, minced
1/3 cup, plus 2 tablespoons white wine
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon, plus more to taste
Pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 cup heavy cream
Fresh basil leaves, sliced, for garnish

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss shrimp, salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil in a bowl. Refrigerate while you make the sauce and cook the zucchini.

Use a spiralizer, mandolin or a vegetable peeler to turn your zucchini into noodles. Set aside, along with sliced pepper.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. Add shallots and saute about 5 minutes. Add wine, lemon zest and juice, remaining butter and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer and add cream. Reduce heat to low and cook until fragrant, about 5 more minutes. Keep warm.

Place shrimp on a baking sheet and cook in oven until pink, between 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, cook zucchini noodles and pepper strips in boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove to colander and drain well. Gently squeeze excess water from zucchini.

Add zucchini and peppers to lemon cream sauce, gently toss to coat. Top with shrimp and basil. Season with more lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, March 6, 2017

White Wine Mussels

Have you ever put off making a dish that you love, because you think it will be a big pain, and then you finally do, and it was super easy? For me that dish: mussels.

We love mussels. We being hubby Jeff, daughter #2 Penny and me. In fact, Penny, 8, ordered mussels for her Groundhog Day birthday dinner last month. Come Valentine's Day I decided to finally cook mussels.

People, mussels are like the quickest, easiest thing ever. I'm no wondering how often I can get away with make them. I'm going to change it up, using other ingredients like beer, curry and coconut milk.

The moral of the story is, don't put off cooking your favorite dishes. Get in the kitchen, and make it happen!


PS: How many mussels do you need to feed your crew? From my online research, I found that three pounds — along with some crusty bread — will generally serve as the main course for four people. You can stretch that further if serving mussels as an appetizer. Two pounds was plenty for dinner for me, Jeff and Penny. 

White Wine Mussels
2 tablespoons butter
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 lemon, zested
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cups white wine
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 pounds mussels, cleaned and debearded (You have to pull away beard-like hairs from where the shell is closed.)
Large handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Melt butter in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add garlic and let sizzle until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add red pepper flakes, lemon zest and shallots, stirring for about 45 seconds.

Pour in the wine and season with black pepper. Bring broth to a boil, stir in mussels, and cover immediately. Shake pot and let boil for 1 minute.

Stir mussels, replace cover, and let boil for 2 more minutes. The shells will begin to open. Stir in parsley, cover pot and cook until all the shells are open, about 1 to 3 minutes. Do not overcook!

Serve with crusty bread, which is perfect for dipping in the yummy broth. BTW, don't try to eat any mussels that didn't open.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Citrus Salad with Lime Tarragon Dressing

When I was child, "orange salad" was a special dish served at Christmas time at my grandparent's house. It was simple – orange slices, black olives and some olive oil – but it seemed so exotic to me back then.

For the most part, my relationship with oranges is routine. I usually just eat them on their own, or mix mandarin oranges into a fruit salad. Oh, but oranges are capable of so much more.

When I traveled to Italy in my early 20s I discovered blood oranges. You've never smelled air as sweet as that near the groves along the rail line somewhere between Rome and Sicily.

Travel to other orange growing areas – Florida, California – and you'll meet new varieties and be introduced to new ways to use oranges.

This winter, I've been trying to broaden my orange-eating horizons. I now love using citrus in dressings, like Garlic Orange Shrimp Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette.

When I happened on a Mark Bittman recipe for Winter Citrus Salad, I had to try it.

My oldest boy loves blood oranges and my husband and youngest son enjoy grapefruit, so a side dish that combines them is a ready-made hit at my house. Bonus: this dressing is wonderful on a green salad, too.

What's your favorite way to use oranges? I'd love to know!

Mangia! Mangia!

Citrus Salad with Lime Tarragon Dressing

To make the salad:
2 blood oranges, peeled and sliced into wheels
2 Cara Cara oranges, peeled and sliced into wheels
1 pink grapefruit, peeled and sliced into wheels

Combine sliced citrus in a bowl and sprinkle the salt. Set aside.

To make the dressing:
1medium shallot, minced
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
Juice of 1 small to medium lime
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon

Combine all ingredients in a mason jar. Cover tightly with lid and shake until well combined.

Drizzle about 1/4 to 1/3 of the dressing over citrus. Refrigerate remaining dressing and use throughout the week.