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Monday, November 30, 2009

Vanilla Cinnamon Infused Pancakes

I have a great fondness for vanilla. It's warming, soothing and harkens back to simpler, cozy times. Real, pure vanilla perfumes these pancakes three ways: in vanilla-infused compound butter, maple syrup and homemade pancake batter. A bit of cinnamon adds a spicy undertone. The batter is adapted from Gourmet and the syrup from Cooking Light.

Vanilla Cinnamon Infused Pancakes
Serves 4

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeded (scrape seeds with the back of a knife)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
1 pinch sea salt
1 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 3-inch piece vanilla bean, split and seeded
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
vegetable oil for griddle

For vanilla butter: Place vanilla seeds, vanilla extract, cinnamon, sugar and sea salt in a medium bowl with softened butter. Combine well with wooden spoon, tines of a fork or a hand mixer.

Place compound butter onto a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Shape into a log, wrap well and refrigerate until ready to use.

For vanilla maple syrup: Add vanilla bean, vanilla seeds and cinnamon to maple syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Simmer for about five minutes, remove and discard bean.

For vanilla pancakes: Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, egg, buttermilk, cinnamon, vanilla bean, vanilla extract and sugar in large bowl until well combined. Thin with water or buttermilk as necessary, a tablespoon at a time.

Heat griddle or skillet over moderate heat. Brush lightly with oil. Using a 1/3 cup-measure, pour pancake batter onto griddle and cook until bubble form on surface. Flip and cook on opposite site for about two minutes.

Transfer pancakes to a heatproof plate or platter and keep warm in 200-degree oven, covered. Serve with vanilla butter and vanilla syrup.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cooking With Style at The Ritz

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Roger Hart is a friend and the executive editor of AutoWeek magazine. He's also a professional photographer and world traveler who loves a fine meal.

Twelve times each year the chefs at the Ritz Carlton in Dearborn, Mich., open up their kitchen and share some of their secrets during their “Cooking With Style” program. My wife, Lisa, was lucky enough to win two tickets to the November event – “Roman Holiday, Italian Favorites” – and we came away having had a wonderful evening with some good recipes to boot.

Now first off, the Ritz bills this as a cooking class (at $225 per couple), and while it’s true that you do get an inside look of the kitchen, the class is not hands on at all. Participants receive a Ritz-Carlton apron, but all we used it for was to make sure the appetizers didn’t get on our clothes. So if you’re looking for a hands-on adventure, don’t bother.

But that’s not to say you don’t learn something. Just being inside a commercial kitchen gives any cook a chance to gather some new ideas or a new technique. Plus, we had at our disposal one of the Ritz’ line chefs, plus the chef du cuisine…and you can ask them questions all night long.

My wife and I have visited Italy, I get there often for my work, and we both enjoy Italian food quite a bit, so we expected this to be a terrific evening. And we weren’t disappointed.First off were appetizers galore, set up in the kitchen. While sipping a glass of red wine (sorry, I didn’t write down the name) we enjoyed a variety of cheeses, Asiago, Taleggio, Pecorino Romano, Gorgonzola, Fontina and Ricotta Salata. Add to that a couple of unique spreads, one of olives and one of sun dried tomatoes. Bruschetta, of course, plus a variety of Italian meats, including Bresaola, Mortadella, Capicola, Prosciutto and Salami.

I could have a dinner of just appetizers, and with the broad variety available for tasting, I was happy right there. But the best was yet to come.

While we were enjoying the appetizers, chef Eric (the line chef) was whipping up a basil vinaigrette salad dressing in a good processor. It would be the dressing for the salad of mixed greens, pine nuts, fried prosciutto, artichokes, olives and parmesan chips that we would enjoy later.

And speaking of later, once we were done with the appetizers, the group was led to an elaborately decorated ball room in the Ritz, set up with tables in a large X pattern. The flowers and decorations were a nice addition, and with the low-lighting and candles on the table, created a romantic atmosphere, fitting for the Roman Holiday theme.

Following the salad was a course of Italian Wedding Soup. Featuring meatballs made of beef, veal and pork, we found the soup, much like everything else this evening, terrific.

A pasta course of penne noodles topped with a marinara was served family style along with the main course, Chicken Piccata. Knowing there were cannolis for desert (and they were some of the best I’ve ever had), I indulged in just one of the two eight-ounce chicken breasts. The Piccata sauce, rich with butter, white wine, lemon juice and capers, had a wonderful crisp tanginess with a creamy finish. Delicious.

Our only disappointment with the evening was that we hadn’t planned ahead to spend the night at the Ritz, taking time to enjoy the wine. Yes, we’d attend the class again, and pay our way this time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Grilled Fontina on Cranberry Bread

The lovely Kate Harper, publisher of edibleWOW magazine, gave us a beautiful loaf of cranberry bread from Avalon bakery recently. On a whim, I paired the bread with fontina and a bit of butter for grown-up grilled cheese sandwiches. The mild, creamy fontina and crisp, tart bread offered the perfect contrast, with a touch of unexpected sweetness from the cranberries. It's always a bit of a thrill to find a new, intriguing way to combine flavors. Feel free to comment and share your own discoveries.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pasta with White Clam Sauce and Tapenade

I'm always on the lookout for great pasta dishes, and what I like about this meal is you can make the quick version when you're rushed, or you can use fresh clams in the shell and make your own tapenade when you have the luxury of time. If you go the quick route, just make sure to buy the best quality ingredients you can find. This dish finds its way on our Sunday family dinner rotation every few months. Whatever route you choose, you'll enjoy a lovely meal.

Pasta with Clams and Olive Sauce
Serves 4-6

Adapted from the Barilla box

1 pound pasta, cooked al dente (save 1/2-1 cup of pasta water)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 shallots, sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 generous tablespoon of anchovy paste or 2 tinned anchovies
pinch crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Generous splash of white wine (1/4-1/2 cup)
2 cans or jars good quality whole clams (about 30 ounces clams), liquid from one can reserved
1 can minced clams, with liquid
1/4 cup good quality olive tapenade
1 tablespoon lemon zest

Cook pasta, reserving 1 c. pasta water. Heat oil, and saute shallots. Add garlic, anchovy paste, red pepper flakes and black pepper and combine. Add clams with liquid and bring to boil for 3 minutes. Add wine, reduce for a few minutes, and then stir in tapenade. Cook 1 minute, add cooked pasta, lemon zest, and reserved pasta water, if the pasta seems dry. Combine and serve.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

NYC and food52

Wes and I recently took a quick trip to New York City, where we met some great people and ate wonderful food.

We began in Chelsea, where I attended the food52 launch party, hosted by the generous, friendly and talented Amanda, Merrill, Helen and Sarah (click on the link above to see their write-up). They assembled a group of gifted cooks, food writers and bloggers, many of whom have won the weekly food52 contests and will be featured in the upcoming cookbook. Party-goers included Cathy, Jennifer, Kelsey, Jennifer, Meredith, Giulia, Erin, Natalie, Amy and Tamio, and many more. Can't forget Eliza, who offered her beautiful apartment for the evening.

As you might imagine, the food was fantastic. Every dish was a food52 specialty, including fried chickpeas, Hungarian meatballs, rosemary thyme pita chips, spicy shrimp, deeply dark chocolate cookies, zucchini lemon cookies, crab dip, and salty toasted almonds.

If you haven't visited food52 yet, I highly encourage you to do so. Check it out. Cook from it. Submit a recipe. You'll be part of something special.

The following morning, per my friend menumaniac's suggestion, we walked to Irving Farm Coffee Company for some local farm roasted coffee brew and pastry from Balthazar. Next, we set out on foot and ended up at the Time-Warner building, where we stopped for a bite at Thomas Keller's Bouchon. We've eaten twice at Bouchon in Yountville, and found the New York bakery outpost to be more informal than its Napa counterpart, with an edited menu. We selected San Marzano tomato soup, chicken soup with dumplings and split a gruyere and gouda grilled cheese.

Tart tomato soup and nutty grilled cheese.

A simply stunning bowl of chicken soup.

The famed bouchons, a rich, decadent chocolate cylinder

After some more walking and shopping, we toured the Chelsea Market and watched them bake bread at Amy's.

Then, we went to Blue Hill for dinner. We have family in upstate New York, and every time we visit we attempt to eat at Blue Hill Stone Barns, and it never works out. So, this time, we vowed to stop into Dan Barber's New York restaurant, and, since we had extra reason to celebrate, we did.

We had a smokey tomato soup, sweet potato ravioli, wild striped bass with pancetta, lobster, crab and vegetables and grass fed lamb. A truly special, wonderful meal.

Warm thanks to the food52 crew, who were so kind to include me in such a lovely event, and also to Wes, the perfect traveling partner, who didn't blink when I suggested we fly to New York to attend a party of people I'd never met, who insisted I take his upgraded seats on both flights, and who simply couldn't be more supportive.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Stuffing with Ciabatta, Pancetta and Apples

As you might know, I have a deep affection for pancetta and all Italian ingredients. So why not combine my favorite Italian flavors into a Thanksgiving stuffing? I adapted this recipe from Giada DeLaurentiis and honored American tradition by adding an apple, sage, thyme, and a hint of cinnamon for a sweet, subtle kick. I also substituted shallot for onion to complement the apple's sweetness. This flavorful stuffing is an excellent mate to Thanksgiving turkey, roasted chicken or even beef tenderloin. Feel free to ad lib on the bread -- sourdough or focaccia come to mind.

Editor's note: This dish was named an Editor's Pick on

Stuffing with Ciabatta, Pancetta and Apples
Serves 8-10

6 tablespoons butter
8 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice (freeze for 10-15 minutes before for easy slicing)
2 cups shallots, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 honeycrisp apple, diced (or apple of your choice)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups wild mushrooms, finely chopped (I used baby bellas)
1 pound day-old ciabatta, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2/3 cups freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
1 cup (or more) chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 large eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 15 by 10 by 2-inch glass baking dish. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium flame.

Add the pancetta and saute about 10-12 minutes, until crisp. Transfer pancetta to large bowl with a slotted spoon.

Melt remaining butter in the skillet and add the shallot, carrots, celery, salt and pepper. Turn heat up to medium-high. After a few minutes, add the mushrooms, rosemary, thyme, sage and garlic.

Sprinkle cinnamon on the chopped apple and add to the pan. Saute until the shallots are tender, at least 12 minutes. Stir gently occasionally.

Transfer the onion mixture to bowl with pancetta, stir to incorporate.

Add the ciabatta and parmesan and toss. Pour in enough stock to lightly coat the bread, then mix in the eggs.

Combine thoroughly, then transfer stuffing to buttered dish. Cover with buttered foil, buttered side down, then bake for about 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake about 15 minutes, until stuffing is crisp and golden.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Vanilla and Maple Spiked Cranberry and Apple Sauce

It's time to think about the Thanksgiving menu. I recently created this recipe as a way to blend some of my favorite holiday flavors. This sweetly tart cranberry-apple sauce serves as a Thanksgiving side dish, sandwich spread or compote. You could even put a dollop in your morning oatmeal or spread on slice of toast. A chopped apple lends body and a bit of crunch. Maple syrup and apple cider add sweetness and eases the tartness of the cranberries. Cinnamon and vanilla offer a warm, mellow undertone. A pinch of orange zest brightens and balances the dish. And a dash of cayenne pepper adds subtle, barely perceptible heat.

Vanilla and Maple Spiked Cranberry and Apple Sauce

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon butter
1 honeycrisp apple, finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
12 ounces fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over
1 cup real maple syrup
1 cup apple cider
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
pinch cayenne pepper

Place medium heavy saucepan over medium flame. Melt butter, added chopped apple and cinnamon.

Cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Add cranberries, maple syrup and apple cider.

Turn up heat to medium high and cook for 15-20 minutes, until berries burst. Add vanilla, orange zest and cayenne, stir. Place in a pretty bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bon Appetit's Pork and Beef Chili

I've clearly got chili on my mind. This time, I adapted a Bon Appetit recipe, which originated at the now-defunct Parker Ranch Grill in Kamuela, Hawaii.

I re-ordered some of the steps, toasted the spices, used a bottle of dark beer instead of water, used dark chocolate instead of sugar, added black pepper, used less tomato paste and subbed good quality canned tomatoes instead of fresh. I also omitted the cilantro and black beans, mostly because I forgot. I think black beans would enhance this dish, but not so sure about cilantro.

The result? A rich, smoky chili that starts off sweet and eases you into the spice, which lingers a bit. I liked the addition of dark beer, and the combination of pork and beef. I also think the fire roasted tomatoes added depth of flavor.

I entered this version into our charity chili cook-off at work, and it took third place. Next time, I'll use more steak and less chocolate. I thought it was a bit too sweet this time, and the recipe below reflects these changes. The top two chilis were made by my friends and colleagues Cristi and Ryndee, who did terrific renditions of turkey chili with tequila and lime and a spicy rib-eye chili with beans. Fabulous!

My version of Bon Appetit's Pork, Beef and Black Bean Chili:

Makes 8-10 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups thinly sliced onions
3 cups diced red bell peppers
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground beef
1.5 pounds chuck steak, fat trimmed, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 bottle dark beer
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
12 ounces tomato paste
2 small squares of 70% dark chocolate
1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 14.5 ounce can of fire roasted tomatoes
3 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
2 3/4 cups beef broth
Grated cheddar cheese, for serving

Heat olive oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, red bell pepper and garlic and cook until soft, about 20 minutes, stirring often.

Add ground pork and ground beef and saute for a few minutes. Add cubed beef and saute another five minutes or so.

Meantime, toast cumin, chili powder, oregano and cayenne pepper in a small pan over medium high heat. Add toasted spices to meat mixture. Add salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes. Try to resist tasting; give the flavors a few minutes to meld first!

Pour in the dark beer. Stir, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add tomato paste, tomatoes, chocolate and black beans. Stir in beef broth 3/4 cup at a time, until the chili reaches your desired consistency. Simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, then adjust seasonings and serve with grated cheese.

Do you have a favorite chili recipe? Tell me about it!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Italian Chicken Chili and Rosemary Thyme Pita Chips

The changing seasons usher in new flavors and new dishes -- and Fall brings with it the best of both. It's time to break out the dutch oven and create all manner of soups, stews, braises and chili.

Wes' sister and her son came for dinner on Halloween, so I decided to improvise on the standard one-pot meal and make an Italian-inspired chicken chili.

Actually, it's a bit of a stretch to call this chili -- it's more like a stew, or with a little more liquid, could pass as a soup. Paired with crispy, herby Rosemary Thyme Pita Chips by machef on food52, it made for a perfect pre-trick-or-treat meal.

These lightly sweet and savory crisps are now a staple in our home

What Fall dishes make it back to your table year-after-year? I'd love to hear about your favorites in the comments section.

Italian Chicken Chili

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 a red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
crushed red pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (you can use fresh but I only had dried on hand)
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage
1/2 cup dry white wine, preferably Italian
3.5 cups cooked, shredded chicken, white and dark meat
1 15 oz can drained and rinsed cannellini beans
2-3 cups homemade chicken stock, to taste (you can use a good-quality canned stock, but will sacrifice flavor)
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, for serving

1) Pour olive oil into a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and red pepper and cook until soft, about 15 minutes, stirring often.
2) Add garlic, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and dried and fresh herbs. Enjoy the earthy, fragrant scents that waft through your kitchen.
3) Deglaze the pot with the white wine, scraping up any lovely browned bits from the bottom.
4) Add chicken, beans and combine gently until lightly warmed, taking care to keep the beans whole.
5) Pour the stock into the chicken mixture. Be liberal if you want a brothy, soupy consistency, and less if you're looking for a chili or stew consistency.
6) Continue to cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Garnish with chopped basil leaves and freshly grated parmesan.
Serve with rosemary pita chips, a crisp green salad, and a glass of wine. Enjoy!