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Monday, January 16, 2012

An International Affair

I love all things international. I love going to new countries and seeing places I've never seen before. I love just sitting and soaking up the local culture. I love the sound of other languages and trying to learn a new phrase or two. I love being surrounded by the smells of different cities and places. But most of all, I love the food. Street food. Family style. Haute cuisine. It's all a wonderful adventure for me. Maybe it was growing up in the Middle East. Maybe it was traveling to so many countries at such a young age. Maybe I'm just that kind of person.  Whatever the reason, I now enjoy making some of the international dishes I ate as a child at home here in the deep South.

Last night we had one of our dearest friends over for supper. Ralf is from Germany, but for six years he and his family were our neighbors. Our eldest daughters played together, went to preschool together. I drove his wife to the hospital when she gave birth to their second daughter. When they moved back to Germany, we visited them for a week over Christmas. Now we only get to see Ralf when work brings him back to Alabama, but it's always a treat.

So, I thought if I've got a German guest, what on earth should I cook? Italian, of course! Okay, admittedly this is not exactly a logical conclusion, but Ralf loves lasagna and I wanted to stick to a theme.

Seeing as this was not a formal affair, I kept my outfit low key. Just black skinny jeans, a magenta tank, a white and grey 3/4 sleeve fitted cardigan with a skinny magenta belt, my Repetto flats, and a huge hug for our friend. Obviously, there was no opportunity for a picture between the cooking and the chatting, so you'll just have to use your imaginations on this one, my lovelies.

For the supper I made baby spring green salad with fresh orange vinaigrette, traditional lasagna, fresh baguette, and torta de la nonna for dessert. First, let's get the salad course out of the way...

The salad is fairly basic, just fresh baby spring greens, carrots, tomato, green onions, dried cranberries, and feta cheese (I prefer gorgonzola, but my family does not agree). The vinaigrette is perfect for this time of year since citrus fruits are in season.

Orange Vinaigrette:

3/4 c. freshly squeezed orange juice (you can use blood oranges for more impact)
1 t. dijon mustard
3 T. white wine vinegar
1/2 t. salt
3 T. olive oil

Whisk together and enjoy! 

So simple and light. Like a little burst of sunshine in your mouth!

You have to understand I needed a hearty meal for my guest. Ralf is seven and a half feet tall, and, no, that's not an exaggeration.  He's really really tall. And, well, it takes a lot of calories to maintain that kind of height. So, we weren't going for a lighter meal tonight. Time to bust out the pasta and cheese!

Traditional Lasagna:
1 lb. ground meat (I only use grass fed beef, but I'm crazy picky about these things)
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes (trust me, they're so much better)
1 12 oz. can tomato paste
1 T. sugar
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. oregano
1/2 t. thyme
1/4 t. crushed red pepper
1 bay leaf
1 package no boil lasagna noodles
3 eggs
1 30 oz. container ricotta cheese
1 c. fresh parmesan (not that icky canned stuff, reggiano preferably)
2 balls fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced (helps if it's super cold)

Cook beef and onion until pan juices evaporate and beef is browned. Add tomatoes and next 8 ingredients. Bring to a boil; break up tomatoes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. 

Mix ricotta, eggs, and parmesan together. Layer the lasagna-sauce, noodles, ricotta, repeating to make 3 layers. Top last noodle layer with remaining sauce. Cover with mozzarella slices. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for additional 15 minutes until brown, bubbly, and luscious. 

It will be difficult, but let it sit for 15-30 minutes before serving. Mouth wateringly difficult!

This is Torta de la Nonna-literally "grandmother's cake" in Italian. It is a custard tart in a way, but made with semolina flour, giving it a unique and fabulous texture. Likewise, the crust is made with Pasta Frolla which is similar to a Pan Sucre. It is a sweet and dry crust and the first time I made it I freaked out thinking that there was no way I would be able to get that crumbly stuff to roll out into a sheet. This recipe is from Martha Stewart.

Pasta Frolla:

2 1/3 c. all purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. sugar
freshly grated zest of 1/2 orange
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. You'll add this later.

In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, better the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the zest, whole egg and the yolk. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture. Divide into 2 pieces, one slightly larger than the other. flatten into disks and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight. Before using allow to come up to room temperature.

Torta de la Nonna:

1 c. sugar
2 c. milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 semolina
1/2 t. salt
4 t. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Prepare an ice bath and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together yolks and 1/2 c. sugar until thick and lightened. Set aside.

In a saucepan, combine milk, vanilla bean seeds, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, semolina, and salt. cook over medium high heat until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat; slowly pour 1/3 of the milk mixture into the egg mixture to temper, whisking constantly until combined. Pour egg mixture into sauce pan with remaining milk mixture, whisking constantly to combine.

Return pan to medium high heat. bring mixture to a boil, whisking constantly, until custard is thick enough to hold a visible trail when the whisk is lifted, 2-4 minutes.

Transfer the custard to a large heatproof bowl (I like to use my glass pyrex one). Whisk in the butter until combined. Set the bowl in the ice bath. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a well floured sheet of wax paper roll out the larger disk of Pasta Frolla to a large circle (slightly larger than your 9 inch tart pan). The dough will be scarily dry, cracking and splitting as you roll it. Just keep working with it and when you place it in the pan, use the extra bits to patch the cracks.

Fill with custard and top with rolled out smaller disk.

Bake, rotating tart halfway through, until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove from tart pan, let cool completely. Dust with powder sugar and serve. 

The best thing about this dessert is that it is best when eaten the same day it's made. So, you see, go ahead and have that second slice-it'll just go to waste otherwise, right? Right.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Feelin' Spicy (Latina Style)

Remember I mentioned the Tres Leches cake I made for NYE at my neighbors? Well, we had a bit leftover, and it put me in mind to make a meal that complimented it quite nicely. Now, I went to high school in Texas and was introduced to so many of the regional foods of Mexico. Not that disgusting bean paste and cheese crap that so many Americanized Mexican restaurants serve. I'm talking slow cooked, fresh and flavorful food. I've made Yucatan Lime Soup which is from the south of Mexico. Today I'm making Chicken Chimichangas with a Sour Cream Sauce from the Sonoran, or Northwest, area of Mexico. Coupled with Sofrito Yellow Rice and Black Bean and Hearts of Palm Salad we are set!

I don't know about where you guys are, but it is unseasonably warm here this winter. It's about 62 degrees outside right now which means that I am not bundled to my chin in sweaters and scarves. I'm in grey jeggings and a sequined teal asymmetrical shirt. It's balanced, it's comfortable, and it sure as hell isn't sweats!

(Disclaimer: As you may have guessed I took this pic two days ago when it was warmer, I'm way more bundled today!)

First let's make that Tres Leches Cake! It's creamy sponge caked soaked goodness. Seriously, if I could be covered in this stuff I would.  Hmmm, anniversary idea for the future, perhaps?

Tres Leches Cake:

1 c. all purpose flour

1 1/2 t. baking powder

1/4 t. salt

5 whole eggs, yolks and whites separated

1 c. sugar, divided

1 t. vanilla

1/3 c. milk

1 can evaporated milk

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1/4 c. heavy cream


1 pint heavy cream

3 T. sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9 x 13 inch pan with non stick spray.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl beat yolks and 3/4 c. sugar until yolks are pale yellow. Stir in milk and vanilla. Pour egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and stir until combined. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form (oooh kinda kinky). Add remaining 1/4 c. sugar and beat until stiff, but not dry (definitely kinky!)

Fold egg white mixture into the batter VERY gently until just combined-don't want to lose that airy goodness!. Pour into prepared pan and and spread evenly. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Combine evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and 1/4 c. cream.

Allow to cool. Using a fork pierce the surface of the cake repeatedly. Slowly pour all but 1 cup of the milk mixture onto the cake. Allow the cake to sit for 30 minutes. This gives it time to absorb all that creamy lusciousness!

Meanwhile, whip pint of cream and sugar to make whipped cream topping. Ice the cake and enjoy!

This is a cake that only improves with time. I always make it a day ahead at least. My favorite time to enjoy it? 3 days after being made. It's like crack and sex had a crazy love child...

Now for the entre. I told you this is not your pour refried beans out of a can kinda meal. This is a labor of flavorful love!

Chicken Chimichangas with Sour Cream Sauce:

  • 2 large chicken breast halves

  • 2 chicken thighs

  • 3 cups water

  • 2 tablespoon chili powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  • 1 (7 ounce) can chopped green chilies, divided

  • 1 cup diced onion

  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced

  • Sauce: 
  • 2 tablespoons butter

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 1 cup water

  • 1 cube chicken bouillon

  • 1/2 cup sour cream

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • oil for frying

  • 10 (8 inch) flour tortillas


Place the chicken breasts and thighs into a large saucepan. Pour in the water, and season with chili powder, 1 teaspoon salt, cumin, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 30 minutes. After 15 minutes, stir in 7 ounces of green chiles, onion, and garlic; continue simmering until the liquid has reduced to 1 cup-about 3o minutes. Remove the chicken, debone, shred with two forks, and return to the onion mixture.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour, and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in the water and bouillon cube until the water has thickened and the bouillon cube has dissolved, about 4 minutes. Whisk in reserved 3 ounces of green chilies and the sour cream; season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Heat oil in a deep-fryer or large saucepan to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

Place a tortilla onto your work surface, then spoon about 1/3 cup of the filling halfway between the bottom edge and the center of the tortilla. Flatten the filling into rectangle shape with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle some of the Monterey Jack cheese over the filling. Fold the bottom of the tortilla snugly over the filling, then fold in the left and right edges. Roll the chimichanga up to the top edge, forming a tight cylinder; secure the ends with wooden toothpicks. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Cook the chimichangas, 2 at a time, in the hot oil until they are crisp and golden brown on both sides, about 1 minute per side. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate, and remove toothpicks. Top with sour cream sauce to serve.

Did you think you were done? Roll up those sleeves, shoot a shot of tequila, and lets get to the side dishes!

Sofrito Rice:

If you aren't familiar with Latino cooking you may not know about sofrito. Sofrito is a flavorful paste of cooked tomatoes, green peppers, garlic, and onion. You can by it in a jar or frozen at your local supermarket, or like me you can make your own. Just freeze what you don't use.


3 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

1/2 c. onion, diced

1/4 c. green pepper, diced

Cook over low heat in 1 T. vegetable oil to slowly, oh so slowly, caramelize and reduce the liquid. About 15-20 minutes.


2 cups chicken broth

1 T. olive oil

1-2 T. sofrito

1/2 t. salt

1 cup white rice

1 pinch saffron

Bring broth, oil, sofrito, salt, rice and saffron to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes.


Now, my lovelies, kick up your stilettos and enjoy this comida muy sabroso you have made for yourself!


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Cooking in Stilettos Turns 1!

Holy crap! Can you believe it? An entire year has gone by since I began my baby steps into the blogosphere. It has been a fun journey. I have learned so much and met so many cool folks in the process. Who knew that the hardest part (at least for me) would be overcoming my perfectionism and just posting already. Yeah, still working on that. But, I have ideas in the works, my lovelies, ideas in the works.

In the mean time, it's New Year's Eve! Now, I have to confess, I have not always been the biggest fan of NYE. It always seems to be filled with expectations that somehow fall flat, leaving you with this sense of disappointment and, I don't know, loser-dom. However, I changed my attitude over the last few years. I embrace whatever I end up doing and make sure there are elements to it that are sure to make me feel great. Having said that...

Last year my lovely friend and neighbor along with her husband and children joined us at our house (see NYE at the McKane's), and we had a lovely evening filled with great food, fun conversation, and of course a bit of bubbly. This year my neighbor is returning the favor and hosting us at her house. I am contributing the dessert, Tres Leches cake, and my husband is making the bread, a lovely ciabatta. In addition, I am bringing over the makings for limontinis and amaretto sours.

I have the most lovely outfit planned for this evening! While visiting my father in Portland, OR over Christmas, I bought the most gorgeous vintage emerald green wiggle dress at The Pop-Up Shoppe. Coupled with decadent stockings and the most divine lime green and black lace bra and panty set from Jane's Vanity (you guys know how I love them!) I will feel like I am ready to start the new year off well dressed and well loved.

Notice how I balanced the brightness of the green with a neutral black stocking and black patent stiletto? If it were spring or summer, I would have gone with a nude heel, but it being winter and evening, I chose to set off the rich color with a black.

I am going to show you two recipes today, my dears. The first is true, from scratch Southern biscuits. I've been meaning to show you this recipe for a while, but never got around to it. Seeing as that it is the end of the year and all, it seemed like a good time to just post it!

No, this is not the best quality photo.  It's my iPhone. But, my camera battery is dead and I really wanted to post this recipe this year, so, well, there it is. These are not sweet, gummy, pasty biscuits like you may have had passed off on you at chain restaurants. They are tender, flaky and melt in your mouth.

Southern Baking Powder Biscuits:

2 c. bread flour (This is important. The bread flour creates the crispy crust and tender crumb. I have used all purpose before. They're good but not the same)

3 t. baking bowder

1 t. salt

1/3 c. shortening

1 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together. Blend shortening into flour mixture with fork or pastry blender until pieces are about pea sized crumbs.  Add buttermilk. Fold in gently until just combined. Again, this is the important bit. If you over mix it and try to make the dough uniform in consistency, you will have biscuit bricks. Not even kidding. You will be able to build a house with those suckers.

Turn out the dough onto a well floured counter. Fold in half and press flat to 1 1/2 inch thickness. Turn dough 90 degrees and repeat. Dough should be smooth and very soft.

Cut into 2 inch circles or squares. Place on baking sheet with sides touching (they will have something to rise against) and bake for 12-15 minutes until light golden brown.

Sit back, drink a great cup of coffee, and a handful of Southern breakfast goodness. I like my biscuits with sausage and blackberry jam (it's a sweet and salty thing). Or with milk gravy-a true Southern favorite.

Milk Gravy: 

4 T. unsalted butter

4 T. all purpose flour

2 c. milk

salt and pepper to taste

Milk gravy is silky, creamy goodness. Add the fact that it's dead easy and you've got a winner

Melt butter over medium heat. Add flour, stirring with a whisk and cooking for 1 minute. The butter/flour mixture should be bubbly and light golden brown, otherwise your gravy will taste like uncooked flour (blech).

Slowly add milk and cook over low heat until the gravy begins to thicken. If you like your gravy thinner, just add a little more milk. Add salt and pepper to taste. I add about 1/2-3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4-1/2 teaspoon pepper. 

Pour over everything. Yep. It's that good.

Cheers! And thanks to everyone for making my first year of blogging a great one!