Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jersey Diner Rice Pudding

If you've ever been out for a meal with me, you know that I look at the dessert menu first and am always willing to forego the entree for an appetizer and fantastic dessert.  Growing up, one of my favorites was Rice Pudding. 

I moved from the northeast in the 80’s and have a short list of must-have foods for when I go back to visit family. Besides pizza and cheese danish, rice pudding was always at the top of the list. Rice Pudding is to Northerners what Banana Pudding is to Southerners. You cannot find a good New Jersey Diner or New York Deli that does not serve this decadent dessert.

Ever since I perfected my own version of this delicious dish, I no longer have to wait for a family visit to enjoy New Jersey Rice Pudding.

§     1 cup white long grain rice
§     2 cups water
§     1 teaspoon kosher salt
§     4 cups half-and-half
§     1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
§     1 cup sugar
§     2 room temperature egg, beaten
§     1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
§     1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
§     Whipped cream for serving


In a saucepan, add rice, water and salt.  Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook for approximately 10 minutes until most of the water is absorbed and the rice is soft.  If using a vanilla bean, cut the bean in half lengthwise and remove the seeds.  Add the half-and-half, sugar, vanilla bean seeds and vanilla bean.  Bring to boil and reduce to a low simmer and cook uncovered for about 20 minutes stirring often until the pudding is thickened.

To temper the egg before combining with the hot rice, in a separate bowl, beat the egg.  Add about 1/4 cup of the hot, creamy rice mixture to the egg and mix quickly.  Pour tempered egg mixture back into the rice, mix well and cook for one more minute, just long enough to cook the egg.  Remove from heat. Remove and discard the vanilla bean.  If you chose to use vanilla extract, add the vanilla after removing from heat and stir well. Since vanilla extract is primarily alcohol, if you continue to cook after adding the vanilla, it will evaporate.  If the rice pudding is too thick, add heavy cream.  This will thin the pudding and add richness.

Pour into a casserole serving dish and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the rice pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Place in refrigerator.  After pudding is completely cooled, remove plastic wrap and sprinkle with cinnamon.  Serve in dessert dishes and top with whipped cream. 

For a printer friendly copy of this recipe, go to Jersey Diner RicePudding. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pesto, Pesto Pasta and Pesto Canapés

Several weeks ago I posted a recipe for Chicken Marsala.  I recently prepared the recipe on Talk of the Town, a local morning television show.  If you would like to watch the the 4 minute video, click on the link below.

What's this world coming to?  For years, I've opened the Williams Sonoma catalog to explore the latest in cookware, kitchen gadgetry and food specialty items.  I just opened my new catalog and found a beehive and a chicken coop, complete with brown chickens.  Another "sustainable food" event that made this day oddly special is that I picked my first, home grown tomato from a plant in my very own her garden.  Whether you have space in the backyard or in a pot on your patio, I recommend growing your own herbs.


You can pick them up inexpensively at your local garden center or supermarket. I created an herb garden along the side of my house. I find that I have to replant the basil, dill and cilantro every year, but the thyme, tarragon, arugula, oregano, sage, parsley and rosemary provide herbs throughout the winter.

This year I added one tomato and jalapeno plant which will provide enough produce for the entire season.  Below is a picture of my very first tomato. I realize it is still green.  I just couldn't wait any longer, but don't worry. This tomato will soon be sliced, stuffed with a creamy goat cheese mixture, breaded and fried to create the conduit for the delicious sauce which accompanies my Stuffed Fried Green Tomatoes, a future recipe for my blog.

I am not a gardener and neither of my thumbs is green, but even I can keep herbs alive. All I have to do is water them, and I often get assistance from Mother Nature. I don’t know what I was thinking when I planted six basil plants. I made 15 tall jars of pesto today and used the leaves from only three of the plants. 

I use basil leaves to flavor tomato sauce, for caprese salad, added to homemade lemonade and many more dishes, but when I see the plants begin to bud, I know I need to trim it soon, so I make Pesto, which requires a lot of basil.  Allowing the flowering buds to bloom will remove much of the flavor from the leaves, so I make sure to trim the bushes before the buds bloom.

Ingredients for Pesto:
§     4 cups packed fresh basil leaves
§     6 - 8 garlic cloves
§     1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (or 1 cup of toasted walnuts)
§     1 teaspoon kosher salt
§     1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
§     1 1/2 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil
§     1 cup grated parmesan cheese

To release the oils and enhance the flavor, toast the pine nuts or walnuts on a dry skillet until lightly brown.  Be careful not to burn the nuts as it will make them bitter. 

In the bowl of the food processor, combine the basil, pine nuts and garlic and pulse until coarsely chopped.  With the processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil through the feed tube and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Check for a thick, yet smooth consistency.

Transfer the pesto into a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese by hand. 

I like to add the grated cheese by hand because I find that the heat of the food processor makes the cheese melt slightly and creates a gummy consistency.

The Pesto is now ready to use, but if you would like to store the Pesto for later, I recommend the following:

Air is the enemy of Pesto and will turn the sauce brown, so I prefer to store pesto in tall containers, subjecting the least amount to air. To store in the refrigerator, transfer the Pesto to an air-tight container and drizzle with olive oil or plastic wrap placed directly onto the Pesto to form a thin protective layer.  Cover tightly and place the container in the refrigerator.
To protect the Pesto, transfer the sauce to an air-tight container and drizzle with olive oil to form a thin protective layer.  If using a glass jar, do not replace the cover after filling.  Place the uncovered container in the freezer.  As with anything, while the Pesto freezes, it will expand. If you cover the jar, it may break. When you cover the jar after the Pesto is frozen, you can safely return to freezer.  This process allows you to freeze the Pesto in attractive glass jars, the perfect container for gifting or reusing.  When ready to use, defrost in refrigerator.

Pesto Pasta

Ingredients for Pesto Pasta:
§     1 pound Penne or other dry macaroni
§     4 tablespoons butter
§     4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
§     2 cup whole milk or half-and-half
§     1 cup prepared Pesto
§     1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional)
§     1/4 cup chiffonad fresh basil (optional)
§     Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cook the macaroni in salted water according to the directions on the package until still al dente, slightly firm. 

To make the Pesto sauce, begin with a white sauce. In a large pot, melt the butter.

When butter is melted, add the flour and whisk together over medium-low heat for a minute or two just to get the raw taste out of the flour. 

This is called a roux. While whisking, add the milk and continue to cook until thick and smooth. To speed up the process, I sometimes pour the milk into a heat resistant cup and warm in the microwave before adding it to the roux. 

Add the prepared Pesto and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Add the cooked pasta to the creamy Pesto sauce and mix well.  If the sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta cooking liquid.

To serve, spoon Pesto Pasta into a bowl, sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese (optional) and top with fresh basil chiffonad (optional). 

To make fresh basil chiffonad, make a pile of 6 - 8 basil leaves, roll the leaves lengthwise to form a cigar and slice into thin shreds.

Pesto Canapes

Ingredients Pesto Canapés:

§     1 crusty baguette
§     1 cup prepared pesto
§     2 – 3 tomatoes thinly sliced
§     Fresh Mozzarella cheese or grated Mozzarella
§     Dried oregano (optional)

Slice the baguette into 1/4" slices.  If the baguette is thin, cut on the bias to make elongated slices.  Toast the bread on a dry griddle or for added flavor, toast on a buttered griddle.  Spread a small amount of Pesto on each slice of bread, add a thin slice of tomato and top with Mozzarella cheese.  If using a larger tomato, cut each slice in half. 

If using pre-shredded Mozzarella, sprinkle with dried oregano and broil for 1 minute or until Mozzarella is melted.  If using fresh Mozzarella, broiling is optional. 

Serve at room temperature. 

For a printer friendly copy of this recipe, go to Pesto, Pesto Pasta and Pesto Canapés. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s Pie is always made with ground lamb.  I use ground beef, so this is really Cottage Pie, but when I tell people we are going to have Cottage Pie, no one ever knows what I’m talking about, so please indulge me, as I refer to my Cottage Pie as Shepherd’s Pie. 

I love, love, love mashed potatoes.  I’m not talking about instant potatoes or the smashed potatoes with the peels in them.  I’m talking about real, clean, creamy, buttery mashed potatoes.  I love them so much, I’ve been known to order them at restaurants in place of fries alongside a sandwich or even have a lonely bowl with melted cheese for dinner, when I’m eating alone.  So when I make mashed potatoes at home, I always buy a 15 or 20 pound bag, prepare a huge pot and freeze them in small plastic containers so they are available to me whenever I want.  Since I always have homemade mashed potatoes in the freezer, Shepherd’s Pie is a simple dish for me to make at any time.

Actually, I must confess, when I sat down to write this recipe, I had to go into the kitchen and whip up a small batch of mashed potatoes, something I’ve never done, just to get the measurements correct.  I don’t believe anyone would try this recipe if it started out with  "Peel and cube 20 pounds of potatoes."

Before I begin, I would like to mention that I often use wine when I cook.  I don't drink wine, so cooking with wine meant opening a bottle, using 1/2 or 1 cup of wine and being left with almost a full bottle and nothing to do with it but pour it down the drain.  Several years ago I discovered that if I freeze the leftover wine in ice cube trays, I always had portioned wine ready for any recipe.  After freezing wine, I wouldn't serve it to drink, but it has served me well for cooking.  The next time you serve wine and have half a bottle left, you no longer will be compelled to drink the remainder....just freeze it.  I'm sure I just ruined 'party clean-up time' for many of my readers. 

For the Potatoes:
§  1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes
§  1 teaspoon kosher salt
§  1/4 cup half-and-half
§  1/2 stick unsalted butter
§  1 egg yolk (optional)

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Place in a medium saucepan with 1 tablespoon kosher salt and cover with cold water. Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender and easily crushed with a fork, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the meat.

Place the half-and-half and butter into a microwave-safe container and heat in the microwave until warmed through, about 30 seconds. Drain the potatoes in a colander and then return to the saucepan. Mash the potatoes and then add the half and half, butter, salt and pepper and continue to mash until smooth. To make sure you have no lumps, you may want to whip the potatoes with a hand held electric mixer, but that is not mandatory. Stir in the yolk until well combined. The yolk will add richness to the potatoes and make them puff up when baked.  Adding the yolk is optional and will not affect the taste of the dish. 

For the Meat:
§  2 tablespoons vegetable oil
§  1 large onion, chopped
§  2 carrots, peeled and diced small
§  2 cloves garlic, minced
§  1 1/2 pounds ground beef
§  1 teaspoon kosher salt
§  1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
§  3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
§  3 teaspoons tomato paste
§  1 cup chicken broth
§  1/2 cup wine
§  1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
§  1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
§  1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
§  1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
§  1 – 2 cups shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat the vegetable oil in a medium size pot and set over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the onion and carrots and sauté just until the onions are translucent, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir. Add the ground beef, salt and pepper and cook until browned and cooked thoroughly, approximately 3 - 4 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up the meat.  

Sprinkle the meat with the flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste, chicken broth, wine, Worcestershire, thyme, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly. 

Spray a casserole or baking dish with non-stick cooking spray, add the meat mixture and spread evenly.  Layer the corn kernels and peas over the meat mixture. 

Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up and smooth with a spatula.

Place on a parchment lined half sheet pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 20 minutes.  Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the potatoes and return to the oven for 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted but not brown. Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Shepherd's Pie is one of those dishes that will freeze well, so you may want to double the recipe and make a few for the freezer.  If you are planning to freeze this for later use, cover tightly with plastic wrap before freezing.

For a printer friendly copy of this recipe, go to Shepherd's Pie. Enjoy!