Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cherry Chocolate Almond Rugelach Seasoned with Grains of Paradise

I’ve been asked to take part in the “Ridiculously Delicious” Recipe Challenge being sponsored by Marx Foods. This is a 4 step winner take all challenge and this is my post about:

Step 2 “The Original Recipe”

My job…you guessed it…come up with an original recipe using two mystery ingredients. Marx Foods shipped a box of 8 ingredients to each of the contestants. Included in the box were things like: saffron threads, dry tart cherries, dill pollen and grains of paradise. I knew at first glance that my recipe would focus around the grains of paradise. Why? Well as the Food Hunter I felt it was my civic duty to “hunt” out this unusual spice for my readers.

Here’s what I found out. These peppercorn shaped little balls are produced from a leafy shrub found mainly in West Africa. They have a spicy flavor that is reminiscent of ginger and cardamom with hints of citrus. This spice is used in a lot of savory recipes as a replacement for black pepper. I also saw recipes pairing it with fruit such as apples and plums. I did a taste test and decided that I wanted to pair it with the tart cherries and use them to make rugelach.

The Results:

Cherry Chocolate Almond Rugelach Seasoned with Grains of Paradise

These little bite size delights are packed with flavor just waiting to explode in your mouth. My husband said they were the best Rugelach ever. A co-worker described them as awesome. Try them for yourself and let me know.

Voting starts next week. I will be posting details soon.

Cherry Chocolate Almond Rugelach Seasoned with Grains of Paradise

4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1 stick of butter at room termperature
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp grains of paradise
1 1/2 Tbs sugar

2 Tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp grains of paradise
1/4 cup chopped tart cherries, plumped
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter,  melted and cooled

egg, beaten
Mix flour, salt, sugar and grains of paradise in the bowl of a food processor.  Add the vanilla. Add cream cheese and butter in chunks.  Pulse the machine about 8 times. Then process until a crumbly dough forms.
Turn it out on your work surface and gather it into a ball. Divide in half, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-24 hours.

In the meantime you can make your filling.  Pulse all of the filling ingredients together until a thick paste is formed.

When ready remove the dough half from the refrigerator and roll it out into a 12 inch circle.  Spread filling over the circle all the way to the edges.  Cut the cicle using a pizza cutter into 16 wedges.  Starting at the large end of each wedge roll the dough towards the point.  Place cookies tip point down on a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Slightly curve each cookie into a crescent shape. When finished repeat with other half.

Brush the tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 350 for about 30-35 minutes or until they've turned a nice golden color. Transfer to wire racks for cooling.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tagliatelle with Pancetta & Parsnips adapted from The Babbo Cookbook

You probably don’t know this about me but up until a month ago I didn’t own a copy of Mario Batali’s Babbo cookbook and I don’t even have a good reason why not. Batali is one of my favorite chefs…Babbo one of my favorite restaurants....How did I not have this cookbook?

Well I’m happy to report that the situation has been rectified and I’m now the proud owner of the Babbo cookbook. My first venture into this new book had me cooking an adapted version of Black Pepper Tagliatelle with Parsnips and Pancetta. I say adapted because somehow when making the pasta I forgot to add the black pepper to my dough. So my version is sans the black pepper pasta. Still fresh and still delicious.

I can probably guess what you’re thinking at this point…”With all of the recipes in that book why the heck would I choose one with parsnips?” And you’re right “why would I“…geez I’m not sure I ever even had parsnips before. But remember the other ingredients are pancetta and pasta; both of which I love.

How would I describe this dish...well the sweetness of the parsnips combined with the saltiness of the pancetta tossed with fresh pasta was a match made in heaven.  Try it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Tagliatelle with Pancetta and Parsnips
(adapted from Babbo Cookbook)


•1 lb Tagliatelle (homemade or store bought)
•1/4 pound pancetta, or good quality bacon, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
•1 tablespoon unsalted butter
•1/2 pound parsnips, peeled, halved, and cut into 1/4-inch half moons (omit the thickest part of the ends)
•Freshly ground black pepper
•1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped to yield 1/4 cup
•Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving


In a 12 to 14-inch saute pan, cook the pancetta over high heat until it is browned and the fat has been rendered, about 10 minutes. Add the butter and parsnips and saute over high heat without shaking the pan too much until they are golden brown and slightly crispy, 5 to 6 minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper, add the parsley, and cook 1 minute longer.

Cook the tagliatelle in boiling water until tender yet al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water, and add the pasta to the pan with the pancetta and the parsnips. Toss over high heat to coat the pasta, adding pasta cooking water if necessary to keep the sauce form getting too tight. Divide equally among 4 heated pasta bowls, grate Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top of each bowl, and serve immediately.

***I'm submitting this to Presto Pasta Nights hosted this week by Pia of Cook Healthy. Stop by on Friday to check out all of the delicious pasta dishes. ***

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Green & Blacks Organic Chocolate Review & The Ultimate Chocolate Fudge Cake

I’m addicted to chocolate…There I’ve said it. Do I think it’s a bad thing?…not necessarily. Does it make me unhealthy?…I guess it could. Am I going to stop eating it?….Hell No!

Let me clarify, I don’t eat several bars of chocolate a day…heck I don’t even eat one bar. I’m a firm believer of everything in moderation…including chocolate. So maybe I’ll have a taste here and there. I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. I mean really life’s too short Not to eat chocolate.

I was recently asked to review Green and Black's Organic chocolate for the blog. Being such a huge chocolate lover there was no way I was turning this opportunity down. I know what you’re thinking…"What’s the big deal; it’s only chocolate."
Green and Black is not your everyday run of the mill chocolate it’s an organic chocolate produced from beans grown mainly in the Dominican Republic and Belize. The beans are allowed to ferment for 5 days covered with banana leaves before they are transformed into chocolate. Oh and it's delicious.

The quality of the bean and the process used really shines through in the bars themselves. I was given both milk chocolate and a 70% dark chocolate to sample. I was extremely impressed with the milk chocolate. It was very creamy and intense; which I really liked. Definitely a good pop in your mouth, savor on your tongue type of chocolate. The dark chocolate was slightly bitter for my tastes. This is not surprising since it has 70% cocoa. It was perfect for baking though.

Speaking of baking I used my chocolate samples to make an Ultimate Chocolate Fudge Cake from the Green & Black's recipe archives. You want to talk intense…this cake is intense but it showcases the chocolate well. Since the cake is made with all dark chocolate I was a bit concerned at first that it might be too bitter to eat, but it was perfect. The cake alone reminds me of a dark chocolate fudge and then you add the icing....mmmm.  A mixture of the dark and milk chocolate is whipped with butter to make an amazing chocolate buttercream. The combo of cake and icing is wonderful.

If you haven’t tried Green & Black's Organic chocolates yet I would highly recommend doing so. Eat it alone or try baking with it like I did.

Ultimate Chocolate Fudge Cake
**Serves 16

31⁄2oz Green & Black’s Dark 70% chocolate, broken into pieces
11/3 cups all-purpose flour
3⁄4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup ground almonds
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
11⁄4 cups light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 extra-large free-range eggs, lightly beaten
1⁄2 cup buttermilk

For the icing
7oz Green & Black’s Dark 70% chocolate, broken into pieces
7oz Green & Black’s Milk chocolate, broken into pieces
18 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease two 8in pans with sides about 11⁄2in deep and line each with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water, then set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and a pinch of salt, then stir in the ground almonds. Using an electric stand or hand-held mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract to the eggs. With the beaters running, very slowly add the egg mixture to the butter and sugar, adding 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture during the process to prevent curdling, then add the melted chocolate and buttermilk.

Very gently fold in the remaining flour and divide the mixture between the pans.
Bake on the center shelf for 30 to 35 minutes, or until risen and firm to the touch. Leave the cakes to cool slightly in the pan before turning on to cooling racks.

Once cold, remove the papers and slice each cake in half horizontally through the middle.

To make the icing, melt the chocolate following the method above. Set aside to cool slightly, then beat together with the butter. Using an offset spatula, spread evenly to sandwich the layers together and cover the top of the cake

**This recipe is for a 4 layer cake.  I cut the entire recipe in half which is why my photo only shows two layers.

****NOVICA gift card winner is: Rivki from Healthy Eating for Ordinary People.  Congratulations!****

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Garden, Tomato Plants and Presto Pasta Nights

I’ve never really talked about my garden on the blog….this is the kind of stuff that runs through my head when I should be asleep. And it’s the kind of thing that can torture me for days until I do something about it.  So here I am…writing about my veggies and herbs.  Probably not the most opportune time since it’s the middle of winter and not much is really growing right now.  But I knew if I didn’t share this soon I would have endless nights of restless sleep.

How it all started:
Growing up in a row home, on a small street, in Philadelphia we didn’t have much of a backyard; but the space we did have was well utilized. There was room for a grill, a small space to play and a patch of dirt for the tomatoes.  Every summer without fail my family grew tomatoes.  As I got older and things changed (I no longer played in the backyard) there was slightly more room for growing and  plants like basil and peppers were added; but the tomatoes were always the priority.  

You can see the joy in my grandparents eyes as they sit in front of their tomato plants in the picture below.

When I moved to Phoenix and found myself with quite a bit of backyard space I just knew I had to have a garden of my very own.  Although, in the beginning, it was all my idea, I’ll admit that my husband has since become the primary gardener. But I do my fair share and don’t feel guilty taking pride in it.  Since we’ve moved in our house, about 8 years ago, we’ve expanded the garden at least 3 times.   Each time adding something new to our crop and always another tomato plant.

What do we currently have planted?
If I told you we have 6 varieties of tomatoes would you believe me?  Well you should; because we do.  We have cherry tomatoes and yellow pear on one side of the garden.  Plum tomatoes we grew from seeds smuggled back from Italy on the other side.  Two different varieties of Jersey tomatoes…official seeds right from Rutgers University.  And a beefsteak from the local Home Depot. 

We also have 3 different varieties of peppers…two of which are extremely hot and were also smuggled back from Italy and a bunch of bell peppers.  There’s spinach, asparagus (which I found out takes years to grow) garlic and artichokes attempting to push through.  And tons of herbs: basil, thyme, mint, lemon balm, parsley, rosemary, bay leaf and oregano.

Having a garden is lots of work; tending to the plants, fending off the critters and harvesting the veggies. You realize it's all worth it when you can put together dishes like the one below with your homegrown bounty.

Homemade Pasta with Fresh Veggies & Sausage
Serves 2

1 garlic clove thinly sliced
1 large sausage cut into Ω inch pieces
1 small red bell pepper, cut
1 small yellow bell pepper, cut
1 bunch of asparagus cleaned with tender tips removed
fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in a medium pan. Add sausage saute until brown. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Remove sausage and garlic from pan and keep warm. Add peppers to pan and cook till tender.
In the meantime cook pasta in boiling water. Add asparagus stems to boiling water about 5 minutes before pasta is done.  Or add with pasta if using homemade. 

Transfer pasta and asparagus stems to pan with peppers. Add sausage and tender asparagus tips and saute until heated through.  Finish with a drizzling of olive oil and parsley toss to coat. Serve with grated parmesan cheese.

I'm submitting this to Presto Pasta Night being hosted by Ruth of Once Upon A Feast. Be sure to stop by her blog on Friday to check out all of this week's delicious pasta dishes. 

Just a reminder...There's still a few days left to enter to win a $75 gift card to NOVICA.  See my previous post for details.