Saturday, October 24, 2009

Creamy Gorgonzola Salad Dressing

I haven't made this salad dressing in years. I ran across the recipe when going through some old loose leaf notebooks that I packed before our move to Austin. I think I made it once 7-8 years ago and a couple of times in the 90s. I picked this recipe up when traveling in the USVI from a chef at an Italian restaurant. The dressing was their house dressing and I was obsessed with it.
This dressing pairs well with steak or grilled fish. Or even by itself for a big salad bowl dinner with some crusty bread on the side.

Use the best ingredients you can find. You need really good dolce gorgonzola for this recipe. It won't work with cheap gorgonzola. Italian dolce gorgonzola is the best, but if you can't find that, there are some great dolce gorgonzolas coming out of Wisconsin (and these are also much cheaper than the imported Italian cheese). If you can find good gorgonzola, you must make this, it rocks.

Creamy Gorgonzola Salad

1 C. dolce gorgonzola, cut or crumbled into chunks
1/3 C. balsamic vinegar
1 egg yolk
2/3 C olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 C honey

For the salad:

3-4 C of mixed baby greens
1 large carrot, cut into ribbons
cherry tomatoes

Salad Dressing:

In a blender, place the balsamic vinegar and the egg yolk. Blend for 30 seconds. Through the top of the blender, slowly add the olive oil. The dressing will start to emulsify and thicken up. Add the salt and pepper to taste, about 2/3 C of the gorgonzola and the honey. Whirl up for about another 30 seconds or until the salad dressing is well combined.

Pour the dressing into a container and chill until ready to use.

To serve, in a large salad bowl, place about 1/3 C dressing on the bottom of the bowl. Add 3-4 cups of mixed greens (I use organic baby greens, use the best you can find). With a potato peeler, cut a carrot into long, thin ribbons and add to the salad. Throw in some sliced grape tomatoes. Gently toss the salad until the greens are coated. Plate the greens and add a dollop of crumbled gorgonzola to the top.

The recipe makes enough for about 2 cups of dressing and it will keep in the fridge for up to a week. Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before using, and shake it up well.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blueberry Crumb Cake for My Sweetheart

Thursday was my wedding anniversary and I planned on getting up early to make a crumb cake for Mike as a surprise. Our normal breakfast is usually a smoothie and a piece of wheat toast. I never make anything special for breakfast unless it is Sunday. So I baked this at 5:30 a.m. yesterday morning.

This recipe is straight out of the Martha Stewart playbook, with a couple of tweaks. The cake batter has to be spread out in the pan (it will be a very thin layer). Another thing I like about this is you don't have to use your Kitchen Aid, you can simply hand mix these in bowls. Very easy to put together.

It takes a little while to bake. I thought it would only take 30 minutes but it actually took closer to 45. Be sure to check it with a toothpick in the last 5-10 minutes of baking and adjust accordingly. If you are lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe's, the tiny frozen wild Maine blueberries they sell are terrific in this.

Blueberry Crumb Cake

2 T Canola oil
4 C all purpose flour
1/2 C sugar
2.5 t baking power
1/2 t salt
1 egg
1/2 C milk
2 t vanilla
1 C. light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 t cinnamon
1 C unsalted butter, melted
1 C fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 325. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with nonstick spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups of flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt, set aside.

In a large mixing cup, mix together the egg, milk, canola oil and vanilla.

Whisk the wet mixture into the flour mixture, beat until well combined. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. The batter will be very thick and gluey, spread thinly with a rubber spatula.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining 2 1/2 cups flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Pour the melted butter into the mixture and stir until large crumbs form.

Sprinkle the blueberries over the cake batter. Distribute the crumb topping over the top of the blueberries. There will be alot of crumb topping (this is OK, better than OK actually!)

Bake at 325 for about 40 minutes, check for doneness with a toothpick.

Makes 12 servings.


This freezes well. I usually divide the cooled crumb cake into two sections and freeze half of it for later use.
You could add chopped walnuts or pecans to the crumb mixture.
Instead of blueberries, you could finely dice a small green apple and sprinkle the apple bits over the batter for an apple crumb cake.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Baked Penne with Mushrooms and Two Cheeses

This is a nice dish to make when the weather turns cooler. I found this recipe on one of the cooking boards I read I've been making it for a few years now. I usually use mozzarella cheese instead of Bel Paese, since Bel Paese is hard to find. Or should I was was hard to find when I lived in Cincinnati. The grocery stores in Austin are so much better. I was just strolling through the cheese section at Central Market and I spotted the Bel Paese. The minute I saw that cheese, I knew I had to make this recipe again. Cooking the whole garlic cloves in with the mushrooms imparts a nice subtle garlicky flavor to the entire dish.

Before you start cooking, please chop, grate and measure your ingredients.

Baked Penne with Mushrooms and Two Cheeses

1 lb mushrooms, cleaned and sliced. (I used baby bellas from the farmers market)
2 large garlic cloves, peeled (leave whole)
4 T butter
salt & pepper
2.5 C dry penne pasta
3 oz Bel Paese cheese, cut into cubes (can substitute mozzarella cheese)
1/3 C freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 C heavy cream or half & half

Preheat oven to 400. Cook the pasta as usual, drain and toss with 2 tablespoons of butter. Salt and pepper the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, saute the mushrooms and garlic cloves in 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Salt and pepper the mushrooms liberally. Cook over medium heat for about 5-7 minutes. Stir often so the garlic does not burn. When the mushrooms are done, discard the garlic cloves.

Butter a casserole dish (I use a souffle dish, with high sides). Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of pasta. Cover with a layer of mushrooms and then a layer of the Bel Paese and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Make two or three layers. Pour the cream over the pasta and sprinkle a final dusting of cheese on top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 12 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake another 10-12 minutes or until a light crust forms. Remove from oven, let rest 5 minutes before serving.
Makes 4 portions.

I usually serve the dish with a green salad but asparagus, broccoli or steamed green beans would also be a good side for this dish.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pumpkin & Maple Cream Cheese Bundt Cake

This is a nice little cake to make when there is a nip in the air. And today was such a day in Austin. It was gray, dreary and chilly. Just the right kind of day to bust out the canned pumpkin. I have been experimenting with this recipe for a couple of years now. It has been hard to get the maple cream cheese center just right. Today's cake turned out nicely.

This is really nice for dessert or in the morning with a nice cup of coffee. This cake takes a little bit of prep work and you have to dirty a few bowls. Totally worth it.

Pumpkin & Maple Cream Cheese Bundt Cake

Maple Cream Cheese:

12 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 C. sugar
1/4 C brown sugar
6 T maple syrup
2 T flour
1 egg

Pumpkin Bundt Cake:

2 C. all purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 t pumpkin pie spice
8 oz canned pumpkin
1/2 C veg or canola oil
2 eggs
1 & 1/2 C sugar
1 C chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a bundt pan with non stick spray. In a mixing bowl combine all of the maple cream cheese ingredients. Beat until smooth and set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside. In the bowl of your mixer, mix together the canned pumpkin, vegetable oil, eggs and sugar. Mix for one minute until well combined. Gradually add in the dry ingredients (mixing on low speed). Add the walnuts and combine gently.

Spoon about half of the pumpkin batter in the prepared bundt pan. Pour all of cream cheese mixture on top. Gently spoon the remaining pumpkin batter on top of the cream cheese.

Bake at 350 for about 45-50 minutes. Check with a wooden toothpick for doneness (toothpick should come out clean or with few crumbs attached).
Cool completely before running your knife around the top of the bundt pan. Place a large plate on top of the bundt pan and gently flip it over. If desired, drizzle glaze over the cake. Makes 12 servings.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Buster & Lily

I was on a two hour job interview yesterday and another one today. I have a stress headache, I can't sleep and even a drink doesn't sound very good right now. I am all worked up about finding work, no pun intended. I can't even concentrate enough to make a damn grocery list. I have some recipes I want to post on here but first I need to hit the store to get all the ingredients. Maybe I'll go out tomorrow morning.

I was in the yard earlier with the dogs and took a few pictures of them. They look so cute in that green, green grass. Who knew Texas could be as green as Ireland?

This is Buster:

We think he is about 8 or 9 years old. We adopted him in 2003. I like to say he picked us. We went to the shelter to look at a specific dog that we saw online. But when we got there, that dog had already been adopted. So we decided to have a look around anyway. And there he was, looking so sad and shaking in his little crate. It was like an arrow shot straight into my heart. Mike really didn't want a little dog, but I convinced him to take Buster home that day. The kennel in their infinite wisdom had named him Chester. He is no Chester. I think we came up with his name a day later.

Buster's claim to fame is that he was the WOXY internet radio station wonder dog for a couple of years. Mike took him to work and he was a big hit with all the bands, especially the lady singers. I can't remember which artist wanted to take him on the bus with her, but there was one singer who wanted to keep him. Um, no. Step off sister. I don't care if you can play a guiter, no one is going to take B!

This is Lily, aka Lilly Belle, aka Miss Chubbs. She is an old fashioned Kentucky hound dog.

Several of our neighbors have asked me what kind of dog she is. I guess they've not seen the likes of her down here in these parts. She is all hound. She is a basset mix of some sort. I think she has part blood hound in her, but who knows. We adopted her a little over 2 years ago from the animal shelter. She had been in the pound for two weeks when we saw her and she was on borrowed time. One look in those big brown eyes and I was a goner. The kennel had been calling her Bilie Joe - I mean how clichqued is that? A Kentucky hound dog named Billie Joe - I don't think so. We adopted her on the first day of spring, hence the name.

The dogs are doing well and really like Austin so far. They love the fact that deer stroll through the neighborhood. Keeps things lively for them. They've made some dog friends in the neighborhood too.

This little guy is Ranger. He lives next door. He is not too keen on the human neighbors, but he loves Buster and Lily. He runs over to the fence when he sees them and wags his entire body. I would like to have him over sometime for a play date. We'll see. He may give me a nip, he is a bit growly and I keep my distance.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Milano Cafe: Worth the Trip to SW Austin

After having just a few too many drinks at WOXY's ACL after party at the Seaholm Power Plant last night, the hubs and I slept in and lounged around most of the day today. By afternoon we were starving but not entirely motivated to go too far from home, since the rain was pouring down on Austin like the tropics. We narrowed lunch down our lunch choices to either tex mex or pizza. We had pizza last week from the Austin Pizza Kitchen and it was not our cup of tea. The crust was like cardboard. After googling around to see what was near our house, we decided to try the Milano Cafe on Southwest Parkway. And I am so glad we did - I plan on being a regular at this place. The yumminess factor is a 10 out of 10.

Milano Cafe is fairly new. The owners, brother and sister Sami and Giki Demi, opened it about 5 months ago. It is located in a tiny strip mall on Southwest Parkway, in between a Subway and a liquor store. From the outside, it is not much to look at, rather nondescript. But once inside the door, the decor is hipster cute.

Milano's is a small place, maybe 10 tables max, plus some couches and chairs for lounging. You place your order at the counter and they bring the food out to you. While we were looking over the menu, the owner told us that all of his flour is imported from Italy and France. He also imports as many other ingredients as he can to try to keep the flavors of his dishes as authentically European as possible. We decided to try the Albanezza pizza, since it is topped with Albanian sausage that has been smoked for over 3 weeks, the sausage is similar to pepperoni but with a smokey/salty flavor. We also decided to split one of the daily specials, a crostini de polenta.

While we were waiting, the owner brought us two small side salads as comps. He said our meals didn't come with salad but since another couple had just ordered salads, he had made a little extra for us to munch on while our pizza baked. We also were advised to help ourselves to the free lemonade or water while waiting.

After not too long of a wait, out came our lunch. The polenta dish was amazing. The polenta was a creamy, thick wedge covered in a tomato/sausage sauce, topped with goat cheese and garnished with fresh basil. Swoon.

The Albanezza pizza was also delicious. The crust was chewy and crunchy, yet light and airy. It had a good mouth feel. The cheese toppings were thick and gooey without being too heavy. The Albanian sausage was sliced into thin little strips, tasting very much like an over the top pepperoni.

I had to grab a shot of the pizza before Mike got carried away and dug into it (I had to admonish him to wait a sec!) So this picture is a little fuzzy because I took it quickly as Mike was practically drooling in anticipation of eating it.

I noticed right off that the cafe had a beautifully stocked dessert case. I had been eyeing it the entire time we were in there.

Even though we were stuffed, we had to try the tiramisu and have a couple of cappucchinos. The owner brought the desserts and coffees out and thanked us again for stopping in. Both owners were so friendly and genuinely pleased that we enjoyed our food.

Milano Cafe is located at 4601 Southwest Parkway, Suite 109, Austin TX 78735. Phone number (512) 428-6076. They are open from 10:00 until 10:00. They serve breakfast crepes, croissants, a good selection of salads, pasta, pizza, paninis and offer several daily specials. They have a full espresso bar. Milano's does not have a liquor license, but you can BYOB and there is a liquor store next door. There is also free wi-fi.

This is a little gem of a place. I will be back with a bottle of red wine soon.

Milano Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 2, 2009

Orzo with Chicken and Veggies

When you start making recipes like these for dinner, you realize how far you've fallen off the Weight Watchers band wagon. This is some creamy, garlicky goodness of the highest order. I haven't made this in months. Yesterday I was casting about for dinner ideas and I settled on something with pasta. This recipe kept coming to mind so I thought what the heck. When I was on Weight Watchers, I liked to say I had broken up with cheese but this recipe proves we've gotten back together, at least temporarily.

The chopping of the veggies and cooking of the orzo takes the most time. I like to have everything chopped and prepped before I start any actual cooking, it makes the dish come together quickly and smoothly. Don't skip the lemon at the end, the lemon adds a certain brightness to this dish.

Orzo with Chicken and Veggies

1 C orzo, uncooked
32 oz chicken broth (low sodium)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 - 1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
1 large boneless chicken breast (raw), cut into small cubes
2 T olive oil
1 C of chopped asparagus (cut into diagonal bits)
1 small red pepper, cut into small strips
1 bunch of baby spinach, washed and dried
1/2 C freshly grated parmesan cheese
juice of half a lemon + its zest

Prepare the vegtables and set aside. Cut the chicken into bite sized cubes. Into a deep sided skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the chicken. Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium high heat. About half way through the cooking time, add the red pepper flakes along with the asparagus and red bell pepper strips. Continue to cook until the chicken is done and the veggies are tender. Add the garlic and spinach near the end of the cooking time. Stir until the spinach wilts. Add the lemon juice and zest. Taste and add more salt or seasoning if necessary.

Meanwhile, bring the chicken stock to a boil and add the orzo. Cook for about 10 minutes at a low boil. The orzo will absorb much of the chicken stock. Drain the orzo and add it to the chicken/veggie mixture. Immediately add the grated Parmesan cheese. Stir well. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.