Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Recipe Impossible Challenge

I was recently chosen as one of 10 bloggers to take part in a “recipe impossible challenge” being hosted by Joanne of Eats Well With Others and sponsored by Marxfoods. The challenge was to come up with an original recipe using winter squash. Something so good that Joanne would want to eat lots and lots of it.

But wait there's more to this challenge. Each participant was sent a box of secret ingredients, courtesy of Marxfoods, and were required to incorporate at least two of them into their recipe. Let me tell you this was not an easy task. My box of ingredients included: two different varieties of chili peppers, vanilla beans, fennel pollen, maple sugar, espresso salt, coconut sugar and ginger salt. My immediate reaction was to make something sweet..probably because sweets are my passion…so I decided to go with it.

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t done much cooking/baking with winter squash so this was going to truly be a challenge for me. Once I decided to do something sweet I tossed around what seemed like a million ideas. I asked everyone I came in contact with what they thought and basically stressed over it for several days. I finally came up with Roasted Butternut Squash Mascarpone Cheesecake with a Chocolate Chili Crust topped with Maple Glazed Pecans…AKA “the bomb”.

The challenge, for me, did not end there. I had never baked with chili powder before...which one should I use, and how much?...or what about this Ginger salt...could I use it to replace the salt in the recipe?...would I still have to use ground Ginger? So many questions were going through my head. I knew this was going to be a matter of trial and error.

So I started by roasting and pureeing the squash. Then I grinded each of the chili’s and did a taste test with the chocolate. Adding and subtracting ingredients as I went along to get just the right taste. After several hours of this it was finally time to bake.

The cheesecake cooked for over an hour, cooled in the pan for another hour and then in the refrigerator for several more….the suspense was killing me. Well it was worth the wait…my first bite was heaven. This is a creamy cheesecake, which is how I like them. And it's just bursting with flavor. I'll admit up until the last moment I wasn’t sure how the combination of flavors was going to stack up but I can tell you that from nuts to chocolate chili crust everything blended perfectly...it was like a flavor bomb exploded in my mouth...hence the name “the bomb” cheesecake. (Plus it’s a lot shorter than saying Roasted Butternut Squash Mascarpone Cheesecake with a Chocolate Chili Crust and Maple Pecan Topping)

If you think this recipe is good enough to eat repeatedly;  I hope you'll consider voting for it on 11/1. Details on where to vote will follow.

The "Bomb" Cheesecake

Chocolate Chili Crust
4 Tbs unsalted butter
2 ozs dark chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp Pasilla Negro Chili powder (secret ingredient)

Preheat the oven to 325°. Lightly butter a 9-inch spring form pan. Melt your butter and chocolate in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and add your sugar, stirring until blended. Then add the egg continuing to mix until blended.

Mix the flour, baking powder, chili powder and salt in a small bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the melted chocolate, mixing until incorporated. Spread the batter in the prepared spring form pan and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool completely.  

Butternut Squash Filling
3- 8 oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
8 oz mascarpone cheese
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 3/4 cup roasted butternut squash puree
1/2 tsp ginger salt (secret ingredient)
1 Tbs ground cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp ground cloves
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 325°.  In a bowl, combine the cream cheese and brown sugar mixing on low speed until smooth. Add the squash puree, and all of your spices. Mix for several minutes, scraping the bowl often, until it's evenly blended. Add the mascarpone and mix again for 2 to 3 minutes. Add your eggs one at a time mixing after each addition.

Pour over the crust. Place the filled pan in a deep baking dish and add enough water so that it comes up about 3/4 of the way up the pan. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until the cake is set around the edges. Turn the oven off, prop the door open letting the cake cool in the oven for about an hour.  Remove from water bath and refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours before removing from pan.

Maple Pecan Topping
4 Tbs unsalted butter
2 cups pecans
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 Tbs maple sugar (secret ingredient)
3 Tbs water

Make a simple syrup with the maple sugar and water by mixing them together in a small pot over medium heat until dissolved. 

Melt butter in another pan.  Add pecans stirring until lightly toasted. Remove from heat.  Pour maple syrup mixture over pecans and mix.  Place pot back on heat.  Add heavy cream and cook stirring until desired consistency is reached. 

Allow to cool and pour over pie.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Culinary Tour of the Philadelphia Italian Market with Taste 4 Travel

Let’s face it we all have a comfort zone. Places we go to over and over again because we know them and our familiar with them.  And yes there may be other places to do the same thing but we go back to our familiar places because they are in our zone.

Growing up in Philadelphia I’ve developed my own comfort zone within the Italian Market. I frequent  the same stores, purchase the same products and deal with the same people time after time. Well this past trip to Philadelphia I was ready to break free of my comfort zone; experience some new things and try some food I'd never tried before.  What better way to do that than on a 4 hour culinary tour of the area with Chef Jacquie Peccina-Kelly, owner of Taste 4 Travel.

Like myself Chef Jacquie grew up in South Philadelphia and has been going to the Italian Market since she was a little girl. Coming from different neighborhoods we have varied views of the Market and what stores we frequent.  So I knew for certain that taking Jacqui's tour would bring me out of my comfort zone and allow me to try some new things. 

Let's begin. Our tour started at Anthony’s Coffee House, a quaint little shop serving all things coffee. We got to sample their morning espresso while we had a chance to get to know Jackie and acquaint ourselves with the other tour takers. During this time Chef Jackie provided each member of the group with shopping bags, bottled water and lots of information.

With Jacquie leading the way we headed to DiBruno Brothers. My first real test.  There are two notable cheese shops on 9th st. DiBruno’s and Claudio’s and I have always been a Claudio’s girl. I know what I like there and don’t mind waiting in the long lines to get it. So I took a deep breath and encountered my first real visit to DiBruno's.

We were introduced to Zeke who immediately led us to a small tasting station in the back of the tiny store. While slicing us some Parmesan he shared some of the history behind DiBruno’s and the differences between them and Claudios. Summing it up in my own words: I see Claudio's as more "old school" and DiBruno's as more "new".

Back to Zeke.  He knew his products and was happy to let us try some olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  I enjoyed my visit to DiBruno’s and was happy to break out of my comfort zone.  They know their cheese and have a wonderful selection of products. But there's something about Claudio's "old world" charm that will keep me going back there.

Next we headed slightly west of the market to Isgro’s Bakery.  Isgro’s has been baking pastries at this location since 1904. Walking into the bakery you can't gaze is immediately drawn to the large assortment of pastries on display.  The women behind the counter were eager to tell us stories about how it all began while they hand filled some cannoli's for us to taste.

Off to our next stop; Talluto's, where we were given a demonstration of how pasta is cut fresh for each customer. I had never been to Talluto's before but plan to add it to my list of places to stop along the Italian Market. Their pasta is one of the best fresh pastas I've ever had.

Jacquie led us through the small streets of the city to our next culinary destination: Ricci Hoagies. Once there we took a welcomed break and shared some authentic Italian hoagies. Made the traditional way with oil no mayo and lots of sliced Italian meats and cheeses these hoagies were delicious.

Bitar’s was our next stop. Not Italian but an icon none the less in this neighborhood. Bitar’s has long been one of the only places serving middle Eastern food in the area. We were given some fresh baked pita and hummus to nibble on while we chatted about what we had learned so far.

Directly across the street from Bitar’s is Slice Pizza. A newcomer to the neighborhood Slice serves thin crust pizza.  This is very different from the traditional Philadelphia pizza I'm used too but good none the less. The pizzas are made with all fresh ingredients and you can get some pretty interesting toppings.

The last stop on our tour was the infamous Pat’s Steaks. This was going to be the true “test” of my comfort zone. In case you don’t know there’s a cheese steak war going on between Pat’s and their rival, directly across the street, Geno’s. I can’t remember ever having a cheese steak from Pat’s, although my husband swears I have. Oh and Chez Whiz…definitely not. Well that was what Jacquie had planned for our final tasting of the day. I’ll admit I was curious and even a little eager to see what all the hype was. Although tasty I knew right away that I was not going to be converted; especially to cheese whiz.

Jacquie, does a great tour of the Italian Market and her bubbly personality makes it even more enjoyable. This is a wonderful way for people to experience 9th st. for the first time. Or if you’re like me, it’s a great opportunity to get a fresh look at all the Market has to offer.  I would highly recommend this tour, so if you're in the area or just passing through think about it...it's worth it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cookies: One Healthy, One Not So Healthy; Both Delicious

I experimented with two different cookie recipes this weekend.  One sinfully delicious for my husband and his friends to enjoy and one slightly healthier for me to enjoy.  Both were winners.  Try them and see for yourself.

Sinfully Delicious White Chocolate Espresso Cookies

3/4 butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
4 oz dark chocolate, divided
2 Tbs ground espresso
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz white chocolate chopped
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1. Preheat oven to 350. Beat  butter and sugar on medium speed until blended.  Melt the dark chocolate and mix with ground espresso.  Add melted chocolate and espresso to butter mixture, beating just until blended.

2. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients; gradually add to butter mixture, beating after each addition. Stir in white chocolate chunks and pecans.

3. Drop by heaping tablespoon onto lightly greased baking sheets.  Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool on pans for 5 minutes. 

Healthy Almond Butter, Banana, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1 medium-sized banana, well ripened
1 cup all natural almond butter
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp honey
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white flour
2 cups rolled oats, not instant
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 375° F, and lightly coat baking sheet(s) with cooking spray.

Cream almond butter and brown sugar together. Add banana and beat until fully mashed. Add vanilla and honey and beat again. Add egg and mix for another minute.  Stir in flour, oats, and baking powder, stopping before the dry ingredients are fully moistened. Fold in raisins, mixing just until these and the dry ingredients are fully incorporated.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto prepared pan.

Bake for 12-14 minutes, until set and lightly browned.

Move baking sheet to wire rack for cookies to cool.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I Fell In Love With Max Brenner In Philadelphia...

I met a man in Philadelphia; a bald man to be exact. We were introduced by a mutual friend; someone who obviously knows what I like.

I fell for this man the minute I laid eyes on his silky smooth head. I tried hard to resist him, but found myself going back to him day after day. We'd meet late in the afternoons; and I'd let him wrap me in his hug (mug) until I felt all warm inside. I found myself talking about him constantly and I even introduced him to my husband.

Since my return home hardly a day has gone by that I haven't thought about this man. I've tried to recreate our experiences together but it just doesn't feel right. I need more of him and I need it now.  I dream about our next encounter; maybe in Vegas, NY City or even in Israel; I will travel anywhere to have him again.

I met a man in Philadelphia and his name is Max Brenner.

Max Brenner
1500 Walnut St # 2
Philadelphia, PA 19102-3519
(215) 344-8150

Max Brenner's Italian Thick Hot Chocolate
(my version)

Blend together equal parts Max Brenner Fresh Dark Chocolate and vanilla cream (recipe below).  Thin to desired consistency with milk.

Vanilla Cream

2 egg yolks
1/4 c. sugar
1 tbsp. corn starch
1 c. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Beat egg yolks and sugar rapidly to blend well. In saucepan, dissolve corn starch in 1/2 cup milk. Add the rest of the milk and vanilla and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour gradually into egg mixture, blend well. Return to heat and boil, stirring constantly 2 minutes. Cool in refrigerator until needed.

**And now for the part you've all been waiting for.  The winner of the $80 CSN gift card is: Jan from A Glug of Oil.   Congratulations Jan and thanks to all of you that participated. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I'm Back...

I'm finally back from an extended stay in Philadelphia and I have some cool food experiences to share with you; including an awesome tour I took of the Philadelphia Italian Market.   I need a few days to regroup but in the mean time check out my previous post and enter to win an $80 gift card to CSN stores.  There's not many entrees so your chances are pretty good.