Thursday, February 28, 2013

Something From Nothing #10: Shortcut Banana Praline Sundae aka Bananas Foster My Way

Usually I like My Something From Nothing posts to be made from stuff that you can dig around in your cabinet and find.  I'm coloring out of the lines just a bit this time by calling for something fresh, but I've just got to use up the almost too ripe bananas that are on my countertop.

I don't know about you, but I do love bananas in my cereal, I just don't always get around to eating them before they are black enough to either make banana bread or freeze to make banana bread later.  Since I already have a freezer full of black bread bananas, I'm going to make a different kind of treat from the ones that are lounging in the fruit bowl in my kitchen.

This is a quick little shortcut recipe that I have been making for a couple of years now.  One of the ingredients does double duty so all it takes is just five ingredients and five minutes you can have a world class dessert.  So if you've got some bananas you need to use up (and I bet you do) and nothing for dessert, here you go.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup dark or light brown sugar
1 medium size scoop vanilla ice cream (approximately 1/2 cup), plus more for serving
Kosher salt to taste
1 medium size banana, sliced into 1/4" slices across

Melt butter in a medium size skillet set over medium high heat.  Once the butter is melted and sizzling, stir in the sugar until it is completely combined with the butter.  Cook, stirring frequently until mixture is bubbly and slightly foamy in appearance. 

Add the scoop of ice cream to the butter and sugar mixture in the pan and stir until it is completely melted and blended well.  Mixture will have a milky, caramel appearance. 

Add salt to taste.

Reduce heat to low and add the bananas.  Cook to heat the bananas through, stirring gently.

Pour the bananas and sauce over ice cream to serve. 

Serves 4

This is a great base recipe.  If you wish you can stir in a splash of strong coffee, bourbon, rum, Amaretto, or Kahlua.  This is also great sprinkled with toasted nuts or coconut. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Omni Hotels' Simply Street Food: Duck Empanadas with Smoked Tomato Mayo

A little over a week ago the Omni Interlocken Hotel here in Denver hosted some area food bloggers to a tasting of their menu for their Simply Street Food promotion.  In an effort to get the word out about this temporary event, the Omni treated us to an afternoon of delicious food and drink in the cozy pub like surroundings of their casual Tap Room.

Our host for the afternoon Sous Chef Troy Micheletti, explained to us that the Simply Street Food menu is the result of a competition between more than 100 Omni chefs from San Antonio to Singapore, who were asked to create street food inspired dishes made popular in their homelands.  From all of these recipes, six of the best were chosen to make up this menu and we were lucky enough to have to tasted them all. 

With roots in Nigeria, Acaraje de Orixa is commonly sold in the streets of Bahia, Brazil and is the creation of Chef Josemar Passos of the Tivoli Ecoresort Praia do Forte. This Afro-Brazilian delicacy is prepared with a ground black-eyed pea and shrimp paste.

Duck Empanadas with Smoked Tomato Mayo, was created by Chef Gene Moss of the Omni La Mansion del Rio in San Antonio, Texas.  The crispy empanada is stuffed with flavorful duck confit and paired with a sweet and smoky tomato mayonnaise.

Chef Scott Mole of Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford, PA,  created this Citrus Ancho Braised Lamb Tostada, which is a combination of delicate and tender lamb piled atop a crispy tortilla.  Braised in a secret family recipe that was inspired by the Mexican cuisine of his parents, this is a blend of simple, fresh ingredients served with a Latin twist.

The Chicken Musakhan Sandwich is inspired by Musakhan, a traditional Palestinian chicken dish which is a common Middle Eastern street food.  The flavors of this grilled chicken sandwich are vivid and unexpected with the addition of the dill pickle, mustard and ketchup.  Chef Mohamed Alaa Allaham of Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi is the talented creator of this delicious dish.

Who wouldn't love this sandwich?  Short Rib and Vermont Cheddar Sandwich, is the creation of Chef Gerard Tice of the Omni Parker House, Boston, MA.  Bursting with the flavors of fresh beef, native produce, Vermont cheddar cheese and artisan brioche, this sandwich is definitely a highlight of this colorful menu.

Famous Peddler's Char Kway Teow is a popular dish served throughout Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.  This version of the dish, developed by Chef Andy Oh of Pan Pacific Orchard, Singapore, features plump shrimp and flavorful bits of sausage tossed with flat rice noodles.

My photos are representative of the menu's portion sizes which were served to us on our visit.  As you can tell with prices ranging from $9 - $15, these dishes are a pretty good value.  The Tap Room is open from Monday thru Thursday 4pm - 11pm, Friday 4pm - 2am and Saturday and Sunday 11am - midnight.  This special menu is available now through the month of March.  Be sure and pair any of these dishes with one of their beers from their amazing selection.  This definitely goes on my list of things to do on a cold snowy Saturday afternoon . . . or any other afternoon for that matter.

Since I always add a recipe at the end of my posts, I chose to prepare the duck empanadas as my featured recipe. Chef Moss just may burn my house down for this, but I felt I needed to make an executive decision and alter the recipe just a bit so home cooks might find it easier to prepare.  Since duck is often times expensive and hard to find, I made mine with some shredded turkey thighs which I found to be a nice substitute. 

I also abbreviated the Smoked Tomato Mayonnaise recipe a bit and it turned out pretty close to the original if I do say so myself.  If you would like to view and make the Omni original recipe, click on the link at the bottom of this page.  I know at first glance this recipe sounds a bit involved, but since all the components are prepared in advance, assembly is really quite quick and they take just a few minutes to shallow fry. 

"Duck" Empanadas with Smoked Tomato Mayonnaise, Adapted from Omni Hotels' Simply Street Food

For the meat filling:
2 large turkey thighs (mine weighed 2 - 1/2 pounds)
Salt and pepper (and whatever other spices you like to season you protein with)

Season thighs.  Place in a preheated 350 degree oven. Cover and cook for approximately 1 hour or until juices run clear and meat is cooked through.  Uncover meat for the last 20 - 30 minutes of cooking time to give it a more colorful appearance.  Thighs can also be cooked over a medium high heat on an outdoor charcoal grill.  Remove cooked thighs from heat, allow to sit for 10 minutes before removing meat from the bone and shredding with a fork; set aside.

For the mayonnaise:
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 tablespoons finely diced onion
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon red or white wine vinegar

Place all ingredients in a medium size bowl, stir well, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the marinated cabbage:
1 - 1/2 cups finely shredded cabbage (approximately 1/8 of a small head of cabbage)
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil (I use 1/2 teaspoon dried basil which worked well)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint (Not being real fond of mint I used just a pinch of dried, which is all I had on hand. Hey it's winter!)
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the empanada dough (Adapted from Epicurious):
2 - 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 stick ice cold butter, chopped into 1/2" cubes
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup ice water
1 tablespoon vodka or white vinegar

Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process for a few seconds to combine.  Add the butter and process until the mixture looks like corn meal.

In a small spouted container  whisk together the egg, water and vodka.  With the processor running, pour the mixture into the flour and process until the dough is formed and pulls away from the side of the bowl.  Flatten to a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Empanada Assembly:
Remove chilled dough from the refrigerator.  Divide into 12 equal portions.  Roll each portion into a 5" round.  Place about 1/12 of the meat (about 1 ounce or a heaping tablespoon) and drained cabbage onto 1/2 of the circle.  Dampen the edges of the dough with just a bit of water. Fold the dough over the filling and press edges together.  Press the edges with the tines of a fork to decorate; repeat with all of the dough and filling, set aside.

Pour enough oil into a medium size sauce pan so that it comes up the sides at least 1".  Place over medium heat and heat until the oil is hot and shimmering.  Drop empanadas into the hot oil one or two at a time (do not crowd).  Watching carefully fry empanadas for just a minute or two on each side or until they are golden brown.  Drain on paper towel lined tray.  Keep warm until ready to serve.  Serve with the Smoked Tomato Mayo

Makes 12

Looking for more information about this event?  Be sure and visit Barb at Creative Culinary, Ansh at Spice RootsHolly at A Baker's House or the Omni Hotel website where you can find links to recipes and more information about Simply Street Food.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tasting Colorado by Michele Morris: Buffalo Redeye Stew and Cookbook Giveaway

Even though I have always loved to cook, that doesn't mean that I've always been good at it.  When I was first married I did have some recipes that I was pretty good at, but my repertoire was limited and after about 3 weeks of marriage, even my confirmed bachelor husband was hungry for something other than Rice-a-Roni and dirty martinis.

It was about this time that I discovered the PBS series, Great Chefs of the West.  I loved the dishes that the chefs prepared so much that as soon as I could I called the 800 number at the end of the show and ordered my companion book.  This TV series and cookbook sparked a curiosity of blending favors and cooking in me that I still enjoy.  I guess it is my Texas roots, but throw in an ancho chile or a little bit of bacon grease into anything and I am in heaven. 

Now all these years later I am thrilled to have a new book of recipes from some other great chefs of the west courtesy of my friend and fellow blogger, Michele Morris.  Chef, instructor and author of the food blog Cooking With Michele, she has painstakingly compiled 120 recipes from all over the state for her new book, Tasting Colorado.  Reminiscent of my well loved Great Chefs of the West cookbook, it features not only recipes from Michele herself, but also from award winning cooks, and chefs from restaurants, guest ranches and resorts located around the state.

Beautifully written and photographed, this book is pretty enough for the coffee table, but definitely belongs in the kitchen.  The recipes contained in these pages are not only representative of Colorado's love of fresh, local ingredients, but also offers several that display our more sophisticated side and fondness for contemporary global cuisine.

Whether you are a Coloradoan who would like to make Fruition's ricotta cheese cake at home, or a tourist who wants to recreate the tastes of a memorable vacation in Estes Park, the recipes you are looking for are probably in here.  There are even recipe guidelines and help for adjustments of equipment, ingredients, preparation and altitude (welcome to our world) to ensure successful preparation of the recipes.

To kick off the book's release, Michele and her publisher have made an extra copy available to me to give to one of my US readers, and I won't make you jump through hoops enter either.  If you'd like to enter just leave a comment.  If you'd like extra entries you can like me on Facebook and sign up to receive my posts by e-mail by entering your address in the field at the upper right of this page under the Foodgawker badge.  That's it.  Choose one, two or all of these and you're in, just leave a separate comment for each method of entry.  If you aren't lucky enough to win this copy when I give it away next Friday, Tasting Colorado is available at bookstores and gift shops all around Colorado.  You can also pick up a copy online at or at

When I started the process of deciding which recipe to prepare, I kind of felt like the decision was predestined in a way.  You might recall a few months ago I posted about an evening I spent at a Cooking Matters class.  At the end of that post I invited other bloggers to join me in the Cooking Matters Colorado Social Media Recipe Challenge to make a meal for around $1.40 per person.  I am pleased to say that I won that contest and the grand prize which was 40 pounds of local bison meat. 

Having received my book and bison at almost the same exact time, I knew that I was going to have to prepare The Buckhorn Exchange's delicious looking recipe for Buffalo Redeye Stew.  The combination of bison, bourbon, black coffee and potatoes just says old west to me.  Serve this with an iron skillet full of moist cornbread and you have my husband's idea of the perfect birthday supper.  Yep, it is that good.

Buffalo Redeye Stew from The Buckhorn Exchange, Denver

You're going to read this recipe and say, "Whoa! TWO cups of bourbon?!", but I encourage you to go with at least 1 cup.  Michele says to reduce the intensity of the bourbon flavor, replace half or all of the bourbon with beef stock or red wine, and you can do this if you must, but no guts no glory. 

I only had 1 cup of Jack Daniels in my cupboard and reluctantly dumped it all in with 1 cup of beef stock.  I let the alcohol cook off for a few minutes before covering and simmering.  The bourbon adds a wonderful flavor and aroma to the sauce that I don't know if you could get with any yellow bellied beef stock or red wine.  I think next time I just might go all Buffalo Bill with it and add with the whole 2 cups.

2 pounds buffalo meat (or beef if buffalo isn't available), cut into cubes
Salt and pepper
Flour, for dredging
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium onions, diced small
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups straight Kentucky bourbon
1/2 cup strong black coffee
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
6 small potatoes, peeled and quartered

Season the meat with salt and pepper and dredge in flour.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and brown the meat on all sides.

Add the onions and garlic and cook until the onions are soft.  Stir in the tomato paste and cook 1 minute.  Add the bourbon and coffee, stir to combine and add the rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper and potatoes.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until the meat is tender, about 1 hour.

Serves 6

*I cubed a heel of round roast for my stew.  Between the altitude and the tough cut of meat I was using, it took my stew about 2 hours to cook.  Since it took so long and I don't like overcooked potatoes, I sprinkled my potatoes over the top of the stew at the beginning, cooked them until they were fork tender (about 40 minutes) before removing them and transferring them to a bowl.  I then continued to cook the meat until it was tender before returning the potatoes back to the pot to heat through before serving.

And now I'm off to the store for some spaghetti squash.  I can't wait to make this one.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day 2013: Francois Payard's Flourless Chocolate Walnut Cookies

When I found out eighteen years ago that I was going to have a baby boy I decided that this was my opportunity to give a precious gift to womankind.  I figured that most everyone before me was clueless when it came to raising their boys which, I surmised, was the reason men did so many stupid things when it came to women.  So I was going to fix all that with my little wonder boy.   Well after eighteen years of blood, sweat and tears, I am here to tell everyone that it isn't nearly as easy as it looks.

Don't get me wrong, I have a pretty good kid, but as I raise this young man I realize that the old saying is true, men are from Mars and women are from Venus.  We just don't get each other.  What I think is a gentle reminder, he see as nagging.  What he sees as waiting for the perfect opportunity, I interpret as maddening procrastination. What he believes to be comfortable, homey surroundings I think is a mess which could potentially cause condemnation of our property.  So out of sheer exasperation and exhaustion I turn him over to his father who thinks he can teach him how to "handle" women, and so it goes, the blind leads the blind.

Well, coming fresh off of a "you see if you can do something with him" break, I am rested up just in time to help my young Martian get through Valentines Day with his first real Venusian.  Just to make sure that I don't overlook anything, I called in reinforcements in the form of his big sister, who is all over this one.  I do have to say I'm a bit worried because in her short history with boys she has dealt with stupidity of epic proportions, and she might not know her own strength.  I must remember to ask her to be gentle with him.

For this year while he is still a beginner, we're just going to hit the high points.  We'll be sure and tell him that he doesn't have to spend a ton of money to show a girl how much he cares, just put a little thought into it and go the extra mile.  Be sure and smell that perfume before you buy it, read the card before you leave the store with it, and most importantly spend the day with her instead of hanging out in front of the Xbox with your Martian brethren. 

In the future we'll go over advanced topics like Godiva and Tiffany, but for this year, I think that's enough.  Oh yeah, there's one other thing I want him to know.  His first Valentine still loves him very much and will always be here for him, even if we don't exactly understand each other.

To show all of my Valentines how much I love them, I like to put together some little red gift bags full of tokens from the dollar store or small things that they have mentioned they like throughout the year.  I also make some kind of special sweet chocolate treat for everyone to enjoy.  Through the years I've made cake, cupcakes, truffles, ice cream and chocolate covered strawberries, and even though they've all been delicious and well received, I think they are really going to love what I have in store for them this year.

I discovered this year's treat over at Jules Food.  If you've never visited this blog, you'll  love the adventurous recipes beautiful photographs.  I take it to the bank if something is endorsed as really good, so when this recipe for Francois Payard's flourless chocolate cookies was featured, I knew I had to make them.  Sure enough, they are perfection.  Light, with a thin crispy shell on the outside and a little chew on the inside, these are some special cookies.  Best of all, they are easy to prepare.  If you really want to impress this Valentine's Day, bake up some of these elegant bites for those you love.

Francois Payard's Flourless Chocolate Walnut Cookies

This is similar to the New York Magazine recipe that Jules used to make these wonderful cookies.  Like Jules, I only had about 2 cups of nuts (mine were pre-chopped) when I made mine.  The recipe still worked beautifully.

2 - 2 3/4 cups walnut halves (I used 2 cups chopped nuts)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350.

Spread the walnut halves on a large-rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven watching closely, until they are golden and fragrant, approximately 8 - 10 minutes.

Let cool slightly, then transfer the walnut halves to a work surface and coarsely chop them. Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and lower temperature to 320. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk (or combine with an electric mixer on low speed) the confectioners’ sugar with the cocoa powder and salt followed by the chopped walnuts. While whisking (or with an electric mixer set to medium), add the egg whites and vanilla extract and beat just until the batter is moistened (do not overbeat or it will stiffen). 

Spoon the batter onto the baking sheets in 12 evenly spaced mounds, and bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked; shift the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through to ensure even baking. Transfer the cookies on the parchment paper onto wire racks to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
*I found that to get 12 nice big cookies, use a slightly heaping dessert spoon of cookie dough.

**I only had one large baking sheet, so I baked mine in batches which worked well enough.  The batter for the second batch did stiffen up on me a bit while the first batch was in the oven, but it was still loose enough that it worked.  I do have to say that the second batch wasn't quite as glossy and pretty on top, but still tasted great.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Something From Nothing #9: French Vinaigrette and That Bright Orange Stuff You Ate as a Kid

When I started my first "real" job many moons ago, the best part of the day next to happy hour was lunch.  I had a couple of favorite restaurants close by the office and thanks to my boss's generous expense account, our small department got to visit one of them almost every day.

One of these favorites was southwest Houston's location of  Houlihan's.  This was my favorite place for a bowl of French Onion Soup with tons of cheese melted over a big crusty crouton, floating in a dark salty broth.  Since I was going French, I thought it only right that I pair my favorite soup with their house salad which was served drenched in a thick sweet tomatoey "French" dressing sprinkled liberally with tangy bleu cheese crumbles.   I'd like to say that my palate has matured since then, but if I could find a Houlihan's around anywhere, you bet I'd be there eating soup and salad, with or without an expense account. 

A couple of years later when I found myself visiting Europe for the first time, I was really quite surprised to discover that the French dressing that I had learned to love and had been eating for years didn't even resemble real French salad dressing.  Real French salad dressing is actually more of what we Americans call Italian dressing without all the herbs and Romano cheese that Kraft likes to put in there.  It was different, but I grew to love it, especially on a continent where you count yourself lucky if you are offered any dressing for your salad at all.

Back at home in the US, I had a refrigerator door lined with bottles of store bought dressings.  I once thought making good salad dressings to be rocket science and would never have dreamed of making them on my own.  When I finally got around to giving homemade a try, I loved it and there's no way I would ever go back to eating store bought again.  If you've never made your own dressing you are going to be amazed at how easy and delicious they can be, and I'm pleased to give you a couple of recipes to start with.

As usual this first recipe is my own rendition of a simple old favorite.  There are many recipes out there for this traditional French vinaigrette that are usually made without garlic, and even though I think it just rounds out the flavor perfectly, feel free to leave it out if you prefer.  Even though there are more ingredients than I usually like to list for my Something From Nothing recipes, I think you'll find that you have most of them in your pantry and if not, they are essential basics that you probably need to go out and buy anyway.

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 medium size garlic clove, crushed (optional, but I love it)
1 tablespoon very thinly sliced green onion tops (or a tablespoon of very finely minced shallot or onion)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil (vegetable oil can be used if you prefer)
Black pepper to taste
5 cups of salad greens

Pour the salt in the middle of a large bowl.  This will not only season the vinaigrette, but it will also help give the garlic some traction if the bowl is slippery.

Place a clove of garlic on top of the salt with the rounded side facing up.  Hold securely near the root end with a fork.  Holding another fork in the opposite hand, place your thumb in the curved part of the fork.  Firmly yet gently shave the garlic from the end a little bit at a time until it is crushed.  Using the back of the fork, crush any large bits if any against the salt.

Bruise the green onions on top of the salt and garlic with the back of a fork.

Whisk in the mustard and vinegar.

Slowly add the oil in a thin stream while whisking vigorously until it is incorporated.

Season with a healthy grinding of black pepper.

Place salad greens on top and toss immediately, or stop at this point, cover and set aside for up to an hour or so without tossing to serve later.

Make this recipe your own at this point by adjusting the oil or vinegar to make it milder or stronger.  You can also add herbs and cheese to the dressing to change it up a bit.  This dressing can be easily doubled or tripled and stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.  When I double the recipe I don't quite double the onions and garlic to avoid an overpowering flavor.

And now from the sublime to the ridiculous . . .

I toyed with the idea of leaving this second recipe off, but after talking about how good it is I felt compelled to include it.  It has many of the same ingredients as the traditional French dressing, but with just a couple of added ingredients like sugar and, well, tomato soup.  Yep, you read right.  I told you it is ridiculous. 

American Style Tomato French Dressing

I know it sounds kind of weird, but you owe it to yourself to try this at least once.  I normally don't like to use canned soup for anything, but I must admit I usually have a can of tomato in the pantry just in case we have a grilled cheese emergency, so why not.  For the old time Houlihan's experience, add some bleu cheese crumbles, thinly sliced red onion and, dare I say it in yet another post, some real bacon crumbles.

1 - 10 ounce can condensed tomato soup
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 medium size onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar (hey, I didn't say it was healthy)
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pinch cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons Worchestershire sauce
Black pepper to taste

Throw everything in the bowl of a blender.  Blend for 5 - 10 seconds or so, or until onion is pureed and everything is combined.  Serve chilled.

Makes about 2 cups

I really wish I knew who first made salad dressing out of soup because I'd really like to give you credit for stretching your imagination in such a fun way, so whoever you are, thanks for the recipe.