Sunday, November 29, 2009

Miss Shirley's Brunch

OK, this recent experience has infected me with a serious case of camera envy. Home for the holiday, I borrowed my mom's new toy (Nikon D3000) to document my brunch with friend Elizabeth, author of Strawberries in Paris. We ate at Miss Shirley's Cafe downtown, whose menu features lots of Maryland-themed ingredients, such as blue crab meat and fried green tomatoes.

And I had Miss Shirley's Bloody Mary, with pickled okra, jalepenos, and green tomatoes (Old Bay on the rim, of course). I ate the jalepeno and it kinda numbed my tongue to the rest of the meal, but I was told my food was tasty.

We shared the Fried Green Tomatoes with garlic aioli, which was delicious. More delicious, however, was this photo I took. Love you, camera.

Here's Elizabeth's pumpkin cheesecake-stuffed French Toast, with fresh whipped cream. Again, too subtle for my pepper-burnt tongue, but it looks beautiful through that fancy lens!

And my Sweet Corn Cakes Eggs Benedict, poached eggs on little cakes filled with sweet corn, topped with Hollandaise sauce. The corn was so sweet (I could taste that!), and the plate was beautiful, although all those colorful sauces went unidentified.

It was so nice to catch up with an old but dear friend and try one of Baltimore's beloved restaurants. Now I just gotta get me one of those cameras...

Miss Shirley's on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: Cannolis

The Daring Bakers Challenge is a new monthly challenge I am participating in. Baking challenges are issued monthly, and on the 27th of each month, participating bloggers post their results on their blogs. This month challenge was not baked, but fried: cannolis!

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

Thanks to A for her help and use of her kitchen for this recipe. We chose to roll out the dough with a pasta maker and cut 5" circles. We then wrapped the dough circles around special cannoli forms, which are just hollow metal tubes.

Then the shells are fried in hot oil (a candy thermometer really helps!).

Here are the empty shells, which blistered up quite nicely. We were so surprised at how professional they looked! (Funny when you're surprised at how well your baking turns out.)

And here are my finished cannolis! The one on the left is A's creation: pistachio, chocolate, orange filling and I made the pumpkin filled one on the right.

Cannoli Shells

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Approximately 1/2 cup sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand
1 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts
1/2 cup toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish
Confectioners’ sugar

Cannoli Filling

2 lbs (approx. 3.5 cups) ricotta cheese, drained
1 2/3 cups cup confectioner’s sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons finely chopped good quality chocolate of your choice

Directions for shells:
1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.
2. Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles. Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.
3. Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes. Roll a dough oval from the long side around each form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.
4. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Heat the oil to 375°F on a deep fry thermometer. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

5. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.

6. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.

7. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.

Pasta Machine method:

1. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Starting at the middle setting, run one of the pieces of dough through the rollers of a pasta machine. Lightly dust the dough with flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Pass the dough through the machine repeatedly, until you reach the highest or second highest setting. The dough should be about 4 inches wide and thin enough to see your hand through

2. Continue rolling out the remaining dough. If you do not have enough cannoli tubes for all of the dough, lay the pieces of dough on sheets of plastic wrap and keep them covered until you are ready to use them.

3. Roll, cut out and fry the cannoli shells as according to the directions above.

Directions for filling:

1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

2. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and stir in chocolate and/or nuts. Chill until firm.

Assemble the cannoli:

1. When ready to serve, fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip, or a ziplock bag, with the ricotta cream. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side.

2. Press or dip cannoli in chopped pistachios, grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips, candied fruit or zest into the cream at each end. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Breakfast at 158 Pickett Street Cafe

Headed over to my friend's house earlyish on Sunday morning, I decided to check and see if I could detour over to the famed 158 Pickett Street Cafe. Yup, sure could (I mean, how far is too far for good food?). This little cafe was recently included in the New York Times' review of the Portland food scene and praised for their homemade bagels. And the quickest way into my heart is with a good bagel.

I ordered the Grecian, which is a bagel sandwich with egg, feta, scallions, and spinach ($5.75). I was a little flustered in ordering, since the overhead menu does not provide descriptions of the bagel sandwiches. And while this is surely not a problem for the regulars, I felt a little rushed when I stepped up to the counter to order and found a menu detailing each cleverly titled sandwich (read: if you're gonna give it a cryptic title, please tell me what's on the damn thing).

But I survived and found a little table in the corner where I could suvey the scene, drink my bottomless mug of coffee, and read the Phoenix. Pretty much heaven, and I hadn't even gotten my bagel.

I wish I could say I'd found the best bagels in (South) Portland, but this one was a little too hard for me. I hate eating foods that leave you with Captain Crunch mouth, and this sammy kinda shredded my mouth. But the salty feta was awesome and I liked that their everything bagel has sunflower seeds.

I hope to return to 158 Pickett Street, as it is located in one of the most beautiful parts of SoPo, out by SMCC where you can sit outside when the warmer weather returns. Next time, I'll try some of their flavored cream cheese and take a little more time to explore some of the sandwich combinations.

Update: The best salmon bagel in town!

158 Pickett Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrive!

I went to the Rosemont Market wine tasting on Congress Street last night to pick up the 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau (and to drink some free wine, obviously). While we did not taste the Beaujolais, we tasted several other wines from the same region. I was just happy to get my hands on some of Georges Deboeuf's latest harvest.

Here is my wine, wishing it was on a tropical vacation ...or maybe just back in the South of France!

This wine is nice and fruity, but not too sweet, and it always reminds me of my big sister, who I will see in less than a week! Hooray! I recommend you grab a bottle of the Beaujolais Nouveau before it's gone in April and celebrate the grape harvest and the holidays.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pasta with Tuna, Tomatoes, Garlic, Capers, and Olives

I have always been intrigued by recipes of this type. Pasta! Tuna! Oily salty bits! I love all those things!

But in the execution, it was a little bit... fishy. Are you laughing at me? Because I felt kinda silly when I took a bite of this dish and thought, hm, kinda fishy. I mean, it has two types of fish in it. So, well, DUH.

But whatever, it was good, and more importantly, it was a weeknight dinner. So I present the recipe to you, dear reader, because maybe fishy pasta is your thing. Or maybe you have some advice on how to make it more balanced. If nothing else, we all need an opportunity to laugh at ourselves (or each other).

Pasta with Tuna, Tomatoes, Garlic, Capers, and Olives
From the Food Network

2 oz. pasta (such as penne or rigatoni)
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 cup white albacore tuna
1 red, ripe tomato (locally grown, yesss)
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
2 anchovy filets, finely chopped
4 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
Parmesan or other firm cheese for grating

Cook pot in a large pot of salted water until al dente.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add tuna, tomato, olives, capers, and anchovies. Cook until tomatoes start to break down, about 5 minutes. Season with pepper (you shouldn't need to add any salt). Toss pasta in with sauce, serve garnished with cheese and basil.

Serves 1

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mashed Potato Bacon Chive Pizza

Everyone time someone eats at Otto Pizza, they mention their potato, bacon, scallion pizza (The Phoenix, Appetite Portland, Eat & Run, and me). I didn't have a slice of that particular topping-combo when I was there, but it definitely stuck in the back of my mind. I have heard and read many people raving about pizzas and potatoes, so I decided to give it a whirl.

I am was a huge fan of the Portland Pie Company's wheat dough available at the grocery store (now I prefer Muccicci's frozen dough). It always makes for an easy, delicious weeknight dinner, as it allows you to focus your creative energy into the toppings, rather than spending a lot of time making your own dough.

So for this topping combo, I made mashed potatoes (secret: boil some garlic with your potatoes and then mash it all up together. It makes the garlic sweeter, rather than adding raw garlic at the end, which can be overpowering. Unless you're into that sorta thing).

I dotted the mash onto the olive oiled and buttered crust, and sprinkled chopped cooked bacon, and diced chives on it. I bake mine in a reasonably hot oven, because I like the crust to crisp up a lot and the toppings to brown. OH, I also sprinkled on a little grated triple creme cheese. Delish! My version was so good, I can only imagine how it must taste when the pros do it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mushroom Leek Stuffed Chicken and Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Ahh, a needlessly complicated dinner. Best undertaken when you're cooking alone, starting late, and really hungry, right? No, wait...

My self-made quickfire challenge last night was a menu of crispy roast potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, and mushroom leek stuffed chicken breast. And while I can say the chicken and Brussels sprouts were worth the wait, the potatoes were not.

I just finished reading Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, the then NY Times restaurant critic's memoir of her anonymous dining experiences. Reichl's writing style is very personal and I highly recommend her book, with the warning that it will probably make you want to go out and eat in New York City. Reichl is also a cook and her book is sprinkled with inspiring recipes. While this Brussels sprouts treatment may sound simple, it allows the sweetness of the baby cabbages to shine, and who can resist vegetables and bacon?

Slice Brussels sprouts in half, dice thick cut bacon (raw), and toss all together in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in 400 degree F oven until sprouts are caramelized, about 20 minutes.

The chicken is a bit more complicated, however. The recipe is from Cook's Illustrated, and my only complaints are that I overcooked the chicken and reduced the sauce too much so it was pretty salty. So beware those user errors.

Stuffed Chicken Breasts
(adapted from Cook's Illustrated to serve 1)

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
4 white mushrooms, sliced
1 small leek, white part only, halved and sliced
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
half of one lemon, juiced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
3 thyme sprigs, de-leafed
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
cooking twine, 3 lengths, 12" long

To prepare chicken:
Butterfly chicken breast, spread flat and pound with a meat pounder until 1/4" thick. Trim breast until chicken is square, and save excess chicken. Place into a food processor or dice finely.

To prepare stuffing:
Heat 1 T. of oil in skillet over medium heat. Saute mushrooms until all moisture is evaporated and mushrooms are golden brown, about 11 to 15 minutes. Add chopped leeks and saute until softened, 3 minutes. Add garlic, and saute a few minutes more. Add half the lemon juice, thyme, and salt and pepper. Remove from heat and finely dice mixture or combine with reserved diced chicken in food processor. Pulse in food processor. Use wine and chicken stock to deglaze empty skillet and set aside.

To stuff and cook chicken:
Spread stuffing mixture 1/4" thick on butterflied chicken breast, leaving 1/2" border. Roll chicken up tightly, and secure with three lengths of cooking twine. Salt and pepper chicken. Heat skillet and remaining oil over medium-high heat, until smoking. Brown chicken about 2 minutes on all sides. Add stock and wine, bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Cook 12 to 15 minutes, until internal tempature reads 160 degress F. The stuffing contains raw chicken, so care should be taken to ensure fully cooked.

Phew, tired yet? Remove chicken to rest, and prepare the pan sauce. Add mustard, extra thyme, a squeeze of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to pan sauce. Reduce until thickened (but not too thick!). Carefully cut twine on chicken, cut on the bias, and serve topped with pan sauce.

Eat and then go take a nap.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Baltimore Saurkraut Tradition

Whilst reading the Washington Post online, I learned that saurkraut is a Baltimore Thanksgiving tradition. Hm, I thought, I'm from Baltimore, and I've never had/seen/heard/smelled any saurkraut at the annual spread. I'm usually only concerned with canned green bean cassarole and lots of gravy. But who am I to quibble with an alleged Charm City tradition. I just had some for dinner instead.

I made Gertrude's Restaurant's recipe for Sauerkraut and Apples and included some hot Italian sausage and kale. The recipe says the bacon is optional, but we all know omitting it isn't really an option, don't we. I subbed in that sausage and braised the whole mess in some PBR. Mmmhmm, yes ma'am. The only drawback of this meal was that I finished my jar of saurkraut that we made in my preserving class. But I think I am going to try making some kimchi next, since I can't get that fermented cabbage out of my head.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Gingersnaps with Crystallized Ginger

After a particularly harrowing trip to the mall (thanks Videoport for calling me about my lost and then found car keys!), my friend A and I retired to her house to make two cookie recipes. We ended up baking until midnight, mourning the loss of same-sex marriage in Maine while surrounding ourselves with cozy smells and a warm oven. It seemed appropriate to have a little bit of good karma (finding my lost keys) and to create some lovely treats on a day when the majority of Maine voters found it appropriate to repeal some civil rights. 

While I don't even like crystallized ginger, these gingersnaps have such an intriguing flavor. I found the mix of spices to be unique (see the balsamic vinegar and cardamom), and A was so excited to use her brand new stand mixer. These cookies bake up beautifully and would be perfect as holiday gifts.

Gingersnaps with Crystallized Ginger
From Real Simple


1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup more for coating
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup molasses
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped


1. Heat oven to 375°F. Cream the butter and 1 3/4 cups sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed. Lower to medium and add the eggs, molasses, vinegar, and vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and pepper. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Beat until incorporated. Fold in the crystallized ginger.

2. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions (it will be sticky). Place each portion on a sheet of plastic wrap and form into a 12-inch log, 2 inches in diameter. Wrap and chill for 1 hour.

3. Slice each log into disks, 1/2 inch thick. Dredge in the remaining sugar. Place on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake until crinkly around the edges, about 14 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks.