Spring in Colorado

As I mentioned yesterday, Spring in Colorado is really unpredictable.  We had unseasonably warm weather a couple of days ago, and today it is snowing.   We have a saying here, “if you don’t like the weather here, just wait 5 minutes, and it will change”.  This is so true too.  The way we cook here also varies just as much as our weather does.  Yesterday’s post was a Seared Ahi Tuna salad, perfect for warmer weather.  Today’s post is of a baked ham with a honey-mustard-tarragon sauce.   I needed to keep the oven on for a couple of hours to help us warm up the house, plus we also needed something a little more hardy to stick to our ribs.  I have company coming from California today, and they are not quite sure what to make of our wonderful, unpredictable weather.  I will treat them to some delicious, warming foods during their stay, and hopefully that will help them adjust a bit.  But you will have to stay tuned for that one; that is yet to come.  In fact, I am off to the kitchen to start preparing right now.

You can see one of my assistants, Lucie, in the background.  She is supervising, desperately hoping I drop some on the floor for her to clean up.  She is such a big help!

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Seared Ahi Tuna Salad

When I make a salad, I really make a salad.  I like all different colors and textures mixed in with my salads.  I use a lot of different vegetables and nuts, seeds, or tortilla strips to add to the variety.  Most of the time, I make my own dressings too.  As the weather gets warmer, we eat more and more salads.  We eat the heavier foods when the weather gets colder.  Spring is just getting started though and right now our weather is hitting all four seasons in any given day.  So a salad today and maybe something cooked in the oven tomorrow.  Who knows?  This is Spring in Colorado and it is always very unpredictable.

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Seared Ahi Tuna Salad

Seared ahi tuna, leaving the center nice and pink and tender

chopped romaine lettuce

shredded red cabbage

shredded carrot

cucumber slices

hard boiled egg

red onion, sliced very thin

cooked asparagus

red bell pepper strips

sliced avocado

green onions

fried tortilla strips (optional)

 

Today, I used my cherry vinaigrette, which paired nicely with the tuna and was very tasty.  My husband likes cheese on everything, but hates avocado.   Be creative.  Use what you like.  By adding a lot of color and texture, you are not only getting a lot of variety, but you are also getting a lot of nutrients from various sources, as well as getting in your servings of at least 5 fruits or vegetables.  Eat healthy and enjoy (especially after my indulgence of the decadent hazelnut brownie earlier).

 

 

 

 

Decadently Delicious Hazelnut Brownies

We all love brownies, and it seems the more ooey and gooey they are, the better we like them.  These brownies definitely fit the bill of being ooey and gooey and they are most definitely delicious.  These are eat with a fork or spoon brownies.  Counting calories is completely obsolete so don’t even bother.  All I can say is I am glad I am having salad for dinner tonight.  I think I blew my calorie count for the day, or maybe even possibly the week,  with my first bite.  Oh well.  Life is short.  Eat the brownies, walk on the wild side.

I cannot take credit for creating these decadent treats, but I would most definitely like to meet Ms. Candace Braun Davison, the creator of these treats and thank her.  I found the recipe on delish.

Before baking, I layered the brownies, starting with the brownie mix, then the hazelnut spread, and topped them off with more brownie mix.

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The finished, melt-in-your-mouth brownie.  They are both Heaven sent and decadent at the same time.

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Hazelnut Brownies

1 cup butter (2 sticks)

2 cups sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup flour

1 cup cocoa powder

4 large eggs

1 13 oz jar of hazelnut spread or Nutella

Ferrero Rocher candies,  crumbled

 

Preheat oven to 350*F.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and the sugar.  Remove from the heat and add the flour, salt, cocoa powder and mix together.  Then whisk in the eggs.

Spray your baking pan with cooking spray.  I used a 9×13 pan, but if you want them even more decadent, use a smaller pan.  That will make them thicker.  Spoon 1/2 the brownie mix into the pan, then add your hazelnut spread with a spoon and gently spread over the chocolate mixture.  Gently spoon the rest of the chocolate mixture over the hazelnut layer and bake  for about 25-30 minutes.  You do not want to over bake the brownies.  The desired result is to have them soft and ooey-gooey.

Let them cool for at least 20 or so minutes before adding another layer of hazelnut spread.  Crumble some Ferrero Rocher candies on top, and be prepared for a few bites of pure bliss.

Patatas Bravas

Patatas Bravas are potatoes that are pan fried and served in a spicy tomato sauce.   They are a traditional Spanish dish that can be served on their own as part of a tapas menu or as a side dish.  You can even use them as a breakfast dish.   They are full of the flavors, colors and spices of Spain and the Spanish way of life.  There are as many different variations as there are provinces in Spain.   Make them how you like them.  No matter how you fix them, they are mui delicioso!

If you are eating these on their own, or as part of a tapas menu, I would serve with a good Spanish Temperanillo, but if you are serving them as a side dish, then I would pair the wine with whatever the main dish is.

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Patatas Bravas

potatoes, peeled and cut in a medium to large dice

olive oil

1 large shallot, diced fine,

garlic, minced

chipotle chiles and sauce, minced, to taste (it just depends on how spicy you like them)

dried, minced achiote chiles (optional, again, it depends on how spicy you like them)

sherry vinegar

tomatoes, chopped in a medium dice

salt & pepper to taste

oregano

paprika

fresh parsley, chopped

 

Boil the potatoes until just tender, then drain and set aside.  In small pan, heat the olive oil and cook the garlic and shallots until soft, or about 2 minutes.  Then add the sherry vinegar and cook down for about 1 more minute before adding the rest of the ingredients (except the parsley).  Bring to a boil then turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 10-15 minutes.  Remove from the pan, or use a separate pan.  Fry the potatoes in more olive oil until they are golden brown on all sides, stirring frequently.  Once the potatoes are done, mix in the tomato mixture and top with chopped parsley.  These can be served hot or at room temperature.   !Desfruitas!

 

There is More to Avocados than Just Guacamole

I grew up in Southern California, and I remember the days when people were begging you to take bags and bags of avocados that had fallen from their trees before these delicious fruits went bad.  You needed to use them right away too because they were so ripe.  I miss those days.  Today, especially here in Colorado, avocados are not falling from any nearby trees, so I have to buy them.  And though they are plentiful, and can be found everywhere, they can also be a bit pricey.  So I always try to be as creative with them as I can.  I love avocados.  I could easily eat them every day.  They are so tasty and so healthy too.

For Easter, one of the dishes I made was avocado bruschetta.   The avocado mixture is very similar to guacamole, but different enough to give it a new and refreshing twist.

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For the crostinis, I used baguettes, sliced them at an angle and brushed both sides with olive oil.  Bake at 350* F for about 10-12 minutes per side, or until slightly browned and crisp on each side.

Avocado Mixture

fresh avocados, cut in chunks

garlic, minced

red onion, small dice

green onion, sliced very thin.

red pepper flakes to taste

lime juice

salt & pepper to taste

cilantro

oregano

cumin

olive oil

Carefully mix all the ingredients together and chill.  Then serve on top of the toasted crostini.   Top with cilantro.

 

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Although the avocado bruschetta was a huge success, because we had so much food, there was some left over.   So for a quick and light lunch, I made an open faced crab melt, using some of the left over avocado mixture.

Avocado Crab Melt

Use whatever type of bread and cheese you like.   I used sliced Rustic Pugliese.

Pugliese bread sliced to a medium thickness

butter

jalapeno jack cheese

crab

avocado mixture from above

Butter the bread on the bottom.  Add the cheese and toast in a toaster oven or a skillet to melt the cheese.  In a skillet, with just a little olive oil, brown up the crab.  Spoon the crab onto the toasted bread and top with the avocado mixture.  Voila!  A quick, healthy and tasty lunch or snack.

 

 

Easter Celebrations and Festivities

Easter is a time for new beginnings and celebrating the wonders of Spring.  It’s about getting together with loved ones and sharing with others.  It’s about rejoicing and being thankful and grateful for what we have.  And, it’s is also about food.  Lots of it.  One of the reasons for so much food at Easter is people are coming off their fast from Lent and can now eat all those things they gave up.  I did all of the above.  My dear friend Priscilla, whom I have known all my life,  and I co-hosted our Easter festivities, bringing together friends, both new and old, to help us celebrate the day.  Between the two of us, we created a very festive feast that was enjoyed by all.  We all ate too much, but thoroughly enjoyed all the great food and even better company.

I hope a good, Happy Easter or Passover was shared by all.

I prepared a chicken, asparagus, mushroom quiche; avocado bruschetta; patatas bravas; my Italian mascarpone cheese cake; and the glazed lemon-rosemary drops.

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Priscilla’s very elegant table setting.  This was the “grown-up table”.  We also had one other table for the “under 30” crowd that was just as beautiful and elegant.

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The main attractions, consisting of Priscilla’s Spring salad, a honey-baked ham, smoked turkey, stuffed French toast, patatas bravas, avocado bruschetta and chicken, asparagus and mushroom quiche.

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Our dessert table

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Cassata Alla Siciliana or Italian Mascarpone Cake with Toasted Almonds

This cake is a labor of love, but definitely worth the effort.  It is one of my favorite cakes, if not the favorite one.  Don’t bother counting calories for this one either.   Fortunately for my waistline, I don’t make this one too often.

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Layering the cake and filling it with Mascarpone, pistachio, chocolate filling.

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The cake is layered and ready to set in the fridge over night.

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The piece de resistance.

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The Sponge Cake

2 cups cake flour, sifted

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

8 large eggs, separated

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup melted butter

 

Preheat the oven to 350* F.  Prepare (2) 8 1/2 ” cake pans and line with parchment paper.

Sift all the dry ingredients together and set aside.   Mix all the egg yolks and sugar together, for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture is light yellow.  Add the vanilla and melted butter and mix well.  Fold in the dry mixture.  In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites, with a pinch of salt until they form firm peaks.  Fold in egg whites with other mixture, and pour half of the batter into each of the prepared caked pans.  Bake until golden brown, for about 45 minutes.

Remove and let cool completely.

 

Rum Syrup

2 cups sugar

3/4 cup cold water

1/2 cup of rum.

Put everything together into a sauce pan and over a medium flame, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Set aside and let cool.

Once the cake is completely cooled, cut each cake in 1/2, making 4 pieces.  Brush the rum syrup over one piece, then fill with the mascarpone filling, and continue until you have your last piece of cake on the top.  Generously brush the rum syrup over the top of the cake.  Once the cake is layered, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but I usually leave mine in overnight.

 

Mascarpone Filling

3-4 oz mini chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate shavings

3/4 cup pistachios, chopped fine

3 cups mascarpone cheese, or soft cream cheese

1 cup powdered sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp orange zest

Mix the mascarpone, powdered sugar and cinnamon in a mixer until well mixed, then add the chocolate and pistachios and mix until just blended.

 

Icing and Finishing Touches

2 cups powdered sugar

1 large egg white

2 TBSP water

1/2 tsp almond extract

toasted almond slivers

Clementine orange slices (optional); sometimes I also use pomegranates

 

Mix the first 4 ingredients together and spread over the sides and the top of the cake.  With your hand, pat the almonds along the sides of the cake.  Top with orange slices, then chill again for another 3-4 hours.

The results is pure deliciousness.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

Making Caramels

Some of you have been asking me for the recipe to my caramels that are featured on my cover page.  So here it is.

My friend and I have a tradition of making caramels every year.  Normally we just made the traditional caramels, but this year we also added the chocolate pecan version as well.  For this season, we are thinking of making a new version too,  but we are not sure yet.  Although it is safe to say that both the traditional and the chocolate pecan versions will be made on an annual basis, however, by popular demand, we might actually start making them more frequently.

Making the caramels is very easy.  But they do require a lot of patience and time.  And once you start the process, you have to remain there, stirring them constantly, until you pour them into the greased baking pan, or they will stick and burn.

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Traditional Caramels

Prepare a 9×13 baking pan by really spreading butter all over the sides and the bottom.  Set aside.  You will also need a candy thermometer and a large pot.

1 lb butter

4 cups heavy whipping cream

4 cups sugar

4 cups Karo dark syrup (2 bottles)

Put everything together in the pot, except only use 1/2 the cream.  On a medium heat, you need to stir constantly, in a slow, steady figure 8 motion.  This is going to take awhile, so be patient.  You want the temperature to reach between 230-250*F or a soft ball stage on your candy thermometer.  It will be a light caramel color and will be very bubbly.  Once it reaches temperature, add the rest of the cream, and bring to a second boil, once again, between 230-250*F or 110-125*C.  The reason for the temperature variation is altitude.  I live in Colorado, and we are at a higher elevation than people at sea level, so it affects the boiling time and temperature.   But if you live at sea level, and you want it more like a toffee, then cook it until it reaches the higher temperature.   It will be more like a toffee, and will be a little harder and crunchier, rather than the soft, melt in your mouth caramels.   Once it reaches the desired temperature, immediately pour into the prepared baking dish. and set aside to cool.  It needs to set for at least 6 hours, but I usually leave mine over night.  I leave it uncovered while it sets.  Have no fear though, if it still does not set, just put it all back in the pot and re-boil it until it reaches temperature.  You can also use the softer version for a cake or ice cream topping or a filling.   Once the caramels are set, cut them to your desired size and wrap individually in parchment paper.  The cutting and the wrapping takes a lot of time and patience.  Hang in there.  They are well worth it.  They also make great gifts.

 

Chocolate Pecan Caramels

It is the same recipe and procedure, except when preparing the baking pan, chop pecans to a small chop, or whatever nuts you like, and place them on the bottom of the baking pan.  When your caramels get to the second boiling stage, also add 1 1/2 bars of baking chocolate and incorporate well with your caramel mixture.

 

 

Glazed Lemon-Rosemary Cookie Drops

Lemons and herbs are so much a part of  Spring cooking.  I love this combination of freshness, and I use lemons and herbs a lot when I cook spring meals, but I would have never thought of combining them together in a cookie.   It is a winning cookie combination though.   They are like a little bit of Heaven.  When you first bite into the light crispiness of the cookie, and get a slight, delicate crunch and then they instantly melt in your mouth – WOW!!!  They look so innocent, but they are really decadent because you can’t stop at just one.

Before baking, when they are shaped into logs.  Refrigerate the logs for at least one hour before cutting and baking.  They can last in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap for about 3 days.

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The finished cookie

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Glazed Lemon-Rosemary Cookie Drops

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter

1 cup sugar

2 large egg yolks

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp lemon extract

2 tsp grated lemon zest

1 1/4  tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary – You cannot use dried rosemary for this one  unless you want to be eating pine needles.

 

Sift all the dry ingredients together and set aside.  Mix the butter and sugar together until creamy.  Blend in the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  Add about half the flour mixture and blend well, then add the rest of the flour mixture.  Cut the dough in half and roll into logs about 11″  long, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Make the glaze and set aside.

Slice the cookies and roll into little balls, then flatten out and bake at 350* for about 11 minutes or until just slight golden brown around the edges of the cookies.  Ice immediately after removing from the oven.

 

Lemon Glaze

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 TBSP softened butter

3 TBSP heavy whipping cream

1 tsp lemon extract

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

pinch of salt

 

Combine everything together in a mixer and mix thoroughly.  It will be a thick glaze.  Immediately spread over the hot cookies.   Enjoy, but I dare you to eat only one.

 

 

Bacon Wrapped Chicken and Shrimp

Sometimes some of the best things I make are made by the food items I just happen to have handy at the time.   And when time gets tight,  the things that are handy make cooking much easier.  We always have chicken and bacon, and I did not use all the shrimp from when I made the Pasta di Mare.  So …… Bacon wrapped chicken and shrimp.  I made a lemon vinaigrette to marinate the chicken and shrimp (marinate separately to avoid cross contamination).  I served it with red lentils, cooked with rice and peas, and asparagus.  To complete the meal, a nice crisp chardonnay from one of our local vintners, Bookcliff Winery, in Boulder, CO.

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Lemon Vinaigrette

lemon juice

olive oil

garlic

honey

basil

oregano

red pepper flakes

black pepper

chopped parsley

Mix all the ingredients together and enjoy.  I heated up and cooked the left over sauce to top my chicken and shrimp for a little extra flavor and pizzazz.