Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil Ricotta Gnocchi

Gnocchi is truly a comfort food. The best thing is that it feels really special but is really fast and easy to make. You can flavor it a million different ways, but when I crave it, the classic mozzarella, tomato and basil takes the cake.

Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil Ricotta Gnocchi
2 large eggs
15 oz ricotta, just under 2 cups
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cup flour
8 oz can of tomato sauce
½ lb mini mozzarella balls, quartered
1 bunch basil leaves, chiffonade
4 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
salt and pepper

Heat a large pot of lightly salted water, to boil on high heat.

In a metal bowl, beat the eggs. Add in the ricotta, cheese and spices. Mix thoroughly with a fork, make sure to break up all of the cheese clumps. Add in the flour and stir to combine. Generously flour your work surface then finish mixing the dough with your hands, it will be pretty wet. Cut the dough in half and roll it in the flour, to coat the outside. Then roll it out into a long snake, till it is about 1 inch in diameter. Using a small paring knife, cut into 1 inch pieces.

Once the water comes to a boil, drop the first batch of gnocchi into the boiling water, making sure not to over crowd the pan. Let it boil for about 5 minutes till done. It will all rise to the top and the water will start to boil higher. While the first batch is cooking, roll out the other batch and cut it. Remove one piece of gnocchi and run it under cold water and taste it to make sure it is cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, drain the first batch to a colander, rinse quickly in cold water to keep it from sticking. Add more water to the pot and return it to a boil. Once boiling, add in the second batch of gnocchi and cook it till done. Drain the cooked gnocchi.

Heat the can of sauce on medium high heat. Taste it and add salt and pepper if needed. Add the mozzarella, basil, grated cheese and gnocchi into the sauce. Toss everything together and serve immediately.

Butter Pecan Caramel Cupcakes

For my birthday I invited all of my friends to toast me at the Bourbon bar in Brooklyn. It took me a long time to think of the type of cupcake would go best with Bourbon but then it became crystal clear. Caramel will match the caramel tones in the Bourbon and butter pecan will pair great with the smoky notes.

Vanilla Cake:
2 3/4 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
½ cup butter flavored shortening
3 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with liners.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all of the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add the shortening, eggs, milk and vanilla and turn the mixer on low. Once the flour is combined turn the mixer on high and beat for at least 5 minutes so that the batter gets fluffy.

Pour the batter into the cupcake liners and bake for at least 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Cool the cakes in the pan for 5 minutes transfer them to a wire rack and cool completely.

Once the cupcakes are cooled, cut a cone into the top of each cake. Cut off the point of the cone to form a cap for the whole in the cakes. Fill each cake with cooled caramel. Place the cap back on top of the caramel to seal. Cover with a mound of icing and sprinkle with chopped pecans.

Caramel:
1 cup sugar
½ cup cream
1 teaspoon sea salt

Heat the sugar in a heavy medium size saucepan on medium heat. Swirl the sugar occasionally until it liquefies and turns golden brown. Quickly add the cream and salt and return the mixture to the heat. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Let it boil to combine about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Butter Pecan Icing:
½ cup egg whites
1 cup sugar
3 sticks butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoons butter flavoring
½ cup chopped pecans

Combine the egg whites and sugar in a metal bowl. Beat with a balloon whisk to combine. Place the bowl over a pot filled with water and heat on medium heat. Keep beating the eggs to dissolve the sugar and the mixture will start to thicken and turn white. When the grit is gone from the eggs, about 20 minutes later, transfer the egg whites to a stand mixer and beat on high to form soft peaks.

Fold the room temperature butter into the eggs and continue to beat on high. Add the salt, vanilla and butter flavoring and beat one last time to combine.

Southern Biscuits

When I visit my sister and brother-in-law I always like to cook a big Sunday breakfast. They love it when I make a giant tray of biscuits that they can feast on all week after I’m gone. This are a true southern staple.

Southern Biscuits
2 sticks butter, room temperature
4 cups flour
3 tablespoons baking powder
3 teaspoons salt
1 cup cream
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon butter, melted

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, mix the butter, flour, baking powder and salt with a fork. Once the butter is fully incorporated into the flour and resembles course meal, add the cream and milk. Quickly mix the liquid into the dry ingredients and turn out onto a floured surface. Squeeze the dough together until it forms a full mound of dough. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin to 1-inch thickness. Using a glass or a biscuit cutter cut out biscuits and re-roll the dough after each round of cuts until the dough is all gone. Place the biscuits onto a silpat baking mat on a cookie sheet. The edges of the biscuits should touch. Paint the top of the biscuits with the melted better and a pastry brush. You can sprinkle the biscuits with parmesan cheese, cracked pepper or herbs if you want. Cook the biscuits in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown.

Miso Black Cod and Soba

My Valentine’s date this year was my best girlfriend Gaby. I went back to DC to give my sister a birthday and Valentine’s night out with her husband. We put my two cute nieces to bed and then I made a nice healthy meal for the two of us. It went great with rose Champaign!

Miso Black Cod
1 ½ lbs Black Cod, scaled and de-boned, skin on
Salt and pepper
1 clove garlic
¼ teaspoon grated ginger
2 tablespoons yellow miso
¼ cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil

Season the cod with the salt and pepper, garlic and ginger. Spread 1 tablespoon miso all over the fish. Heat the olive oil in a skillet on medium high. Place the fish in the pan skin down and cook until the skin is brown and crispy. Flip the fish and add the chicken broth and remaining tablespoon of miso. Mix the miso into the broth and cook until the fish is just cooked and the sauce has thickened.

Zucchini Soba Noodles
1 small zucchini
1 small sweet onion
1 package buckwheat soba noodles
salt
soy sauce
sesame oil

Cut the zucchini into thin julienne strips. Put a pot of water on to boil for the noodles. Slice the onions very thin to match the zucchini. In a frying pan heat a tiny bit of the sesame oil. Add the veggies and season with a bit of soy sauce. Sautee the veggies until they are cooked but still crisp. Season the boiling water with a bit of salt and cook the soba noodles according to package directions. Immediately drain the noodles and mix in the veggies. Serve immediately as a bed for the cod. Spoon the extra sauce over the noodles.

Beef Tenderloin With Tarragon Sauce, Cauliflower Puree and Haricot Verts and Mushrooms

I invited Victor, Ryan and Kappy over for dinner on Tuesday after the elections. I wanted to create an all American meal, steak and apple pie. Unfortunately Kappy could not make it. But we had a nice time and it was simple enough to make after work but very impressive none the less.

Beef Tenderloin With Tarragon Sauce, Cauliflower Puree and Haricot Verts and Mushrooms

Beef Tenderloin:
1 3lb beef tenderloin roast
sea salt
garlic powder
black pepper
Cajun seasoning
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously season the tenderloin with the salt and other seasonings. Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet on medium high heat. Sear the tenderloin for 2 minutes on all 6 sides. Then place an electric thermometer into the tenderloin and place the pan in the oven. Cook the tenderloin until the internal temperature reads 140 degrees, for rare. Let the tenderloin rest outside of the oven and off of the heat for 15 minutes before slicing.

Tarragon Sauce:
1 shallot, minced
½ cup white wine
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons fresh tarragon leaves
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Sautee the shallots in the same pan that the tenderloin was cooked in, on medium high heat. Deglaze the plan with the wine and cook down for about 5 minutes. Add the tarragon and mustard and stir in. Add the cream and reduce for 5-10 minutes until desired thickness. Taste and season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

Cauliflower Puree:
1 12oz package of cauliflower florets
3 small Yukon gold potatoes, pealed and cubed
4 cloves of garlic
salt
water
3 tablespoons butter

Place the cauliflower, potatoes, garlic and 1 teaspoon of salt in a medium pan. Cover the vegetables with water. Place a lid on the pot and boil for at least 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Drain all of the liquid out of the vegetables and transfer them to a food processor. Add the butter to the food processor and place the lid on. Let the vegetables sit for a few minutes until the butter starts to melt. Pulse the food processor until the vegetables form a smooth puree. Transfer the puree back into the pot and check for seasoning. Add salt if necessary. Keep the puree warm on low heat until ready to serve.

Haricot Verts and Mushrooms:
1 8oz package of haricot verts
water
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 8oz package of sliced baby bella mushrooms
salt and pepper
¼ cup white wine
½ teaspoon dried thyme

In a medium saucepan, place the beans and 1 teaspoon of salt and cover with water. Blanch for 5-10 minutes until the color turns a deep green and the beans are still crunchy. Rinse the beans with cold water and let drain.

In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic until soft but not brown. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they are brown. Add salt and pepper, the wine and the thyme. Cook the mushrooms until almost all of the liquid is evaporated. Add the beans to the mushrooms and sauté to heat through. Taste the vegetables and add more salt and pepper as needed.

Apple, Almond and Ginger Tart

Apples seem to last forever in the refrigerator. Luckily I had some on hand, from over a month ago, but they were the perfect thing to celebrate Obama’s Inauguration. Nothing is more American than apple pie, well apple tart in this case.

Apple, Almond and Ginger Tart

Crust:
1 ½ cups flour
1 stick of butter, slightly cooler than room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons sugar
¼ cup water

In a large metal bowl, mix all ingredients, except the water with a fork or pastry cutter. The goal is to incorporate the butter until it is the texture of course meal. Slowly sprinkle in the water and quickly mix. Making sure not to put in too much water, briefly kneed the pastry so that it forms a cohesive ball.

Separate the dough into two equal rounds. On a well flowered counter top, roll out each round of dough till it fits into each tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough into the corners and trim off the top. Set each aside.

Apple and Almond Filling:
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted
3 large pieces of candied ginger (about ¼ cup)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 large egg
1 stick unsalted butter, divided
¼ teaspoon vanilla
3 large granny smith apples, pealed, cored and sliced into 1/8 inch slices
Juice of half a lemon
3 tablespoons honey
¼ cup water
1 piece of candied ginger, finely chopped
few toasted sliced almonds

Toss the apple slices in the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons sugar then set aside.

Pre heat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a blender puree the almonds, ginger, sugar, egg, ½ stick of butter and vanilla until they form a paste. Spread the almond paste over the bottom of the pastry.

Starting from the outside arrange the apple slices, over lapping to make a rose pattern. There should be no pastry or hazelnut peeking through. Really pack in all of the apples. Dot the remaining ½ stick of butter over the apples. Bake in the over until the apples and crust are golden brown, about 1 hour.

When the tart is close to being finished, heat the honey and water in a small saucepan until melted. Once the tart comes out of the oven brush the honey mixture over the apples, coating lightly, so that they apples are shinny. Sprinkle the tart with the almonds and ginger. Let the tart cool to room temperature before serving with some fresh whipped cream.

Baby Shower

My great friend Frances is having a baby girl. The crazy thing is that she is due the day after my birthday. So I wanted to make sure that she had a great shower. I designed the invites to match some of the items she is registered for and then did all of the delicious food. It was a great party. My treats combined with all of Frances’ beautiful service wear made for a really impressive table. Everything has sort of a French flair to it, for some reason in my mind all showers should be catered with French foods.

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Curd and Coconut Butter Cream Icing

Frances’s favorite dessert flavor is coconut and lemon. This was the flavor of her wedding cake so it was only natural to make cupcakes in the same flavor to mark the birth of her new baby. These are very rich. The icing and cake are super sweet, but the very tart curd really balances out the full package. Eat these with a fork!

Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Curd and Coconut Butter Cream Icing

Lemon Cake:
2 3/4 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
½ cup butter flavored shortening
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon extract
juice and zest of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with cupcake liners.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all of the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add the shortening, eggs, milk and extracts and turn the mixer on low. Once the flour is combined turn the mixer on high and beat for at least 5 minutes so that the batter gets fluffy. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to combine

Pour the batter into the cupcake liners and bake for at least 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Cool the cake in the pan for 5 minutes then remove them to a wire rack and cool completely.

Lemon Curd Filling:
4 egg yolks
1 egg
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 lemons, juiced and zested
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter

Beat the eggs and sugar in a medium size metal bowl until the mixture gets thicker and a lighter lemon color.

Fill a small saucepan one third of the way full with water. Place on medium high heat and wait till the water starts to bubble and steam rises.

Add the rest of the ingredients, except the butter, to the egg mixture and stir. Place the metal bowl over the hot water and keep whisking until the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes.

Remove the curd from the heat and slowly mix in the butter. Transfer the curd to a plastic container and press the top with plastic wrap. Cool in the refrigerator until needed.

Coconut Cream Icing:
3/4 cup egg whites
1 cup sugar
4 sticks butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons coconut extract
2 tablespoons coconut cream
¼ teaspoon salt
1 7 oz package of organic coconut flakes
2 tablespoons light rum
.1oz vile of gold pearl dust

Combine the egg whites and sugar in a metal bowl. Beat with a balloon whisk to combine. Place the bowl over a pot filled with water and heat on medium heat. Keep beating the eggs to dissolve the sugar and the mixture will start to thicken and turn white. When the grit is gone from the eggs, about 20 minutes later, transfer the egg whites to a stand mixer and beat on high to form soft peaks.

Fold the room temperature butter into the eggs and continue to beat on high. Add the salt, extracts and coconut cream and beat one last time to combine. Refrigerate the icing mixture at least 30 minutes so that it starts to harden but doesn’t fully set.

White Chocolate Lavender and Lemon Truffles

Lavender and lemon are classic French flavors. Moreover, the scent of lavender was found to be an aphrodisiac so it makes it super fitting for a baby shower. The addition of the sugared flowers to the tops of the truffles makes them look 100% professional. They add a nice crunch as well.

White Chocolate Lavender and Lemon Truffles

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
peal of one lemon, only the yellow part
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon extract
2 ½ pounds white chocolate
1/2 pound semi sweet chocolate
candied flowers, for garnish

In a small heavy bottom sauce pan, heat the cream, lavender an lemon peal. Bring the cream just to scalding. Turn off the heat and let the flavors steep for at least 30 minutes. Strain out the lemon and lavender.

Chop the white chocolate into small chunks. Place it into a large metal bowl. Add the cream, extract and salt. Place the chocolate bowl over a pot filled with water on medium heat. Let the chocolate steam over the water for at least 10 minutes. Using a whisk, once the chocolate is melted, start in the center of the bowl and slowly whisk to combine into a silky ganache. Remove the chocolate from the heat and let to cool to room temperature.

Using two teaspoons, spoon out balls of ganache onto baking trays lined with parchment paper. Roll the balls into globes with your hands. If your hands are super warm like mine are, or if your ganache is still too soft, place the trays in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm up the confections.

Chop the semi sweet chocolate and place it into a medium size metal bowl. Place it over a pot of water on medium high heat, stirring with a rubber spatula intermittently. Let the chocolate melt completely. Pick up some of the melted chocolate with the spatula; drop it back into the pool of chocolate. If the falling chocolate sinks into the rest of the melted chocolate the temper is broken. If it still piled up on top of the surface, continue to heat the chocolate. Once the chocolate is fully melted, move the medium size bowl into a larger metal bowl that is a quarter full of ice and cold water. Continue to mix the chocolate, paying special attention to mix in the hardening chocolate that is sticking to the sides of the bowl. Test the chocolate to see if the temper has returned, life some of the melted chocolate out of the bowl and drizzle it back into the pool of melted chocolate. Once the temper has returned, the chocolate will stack up on itself as opposed to sinking back into the bowl.

Drop the ganache balls into the melted chocolate. Roll them to coat and extract them using two small spoons. Place the coated truffles onto the parchment paper. Once you have finished dipping the truffles, break up the sugared flowers into nice size petals. Place a small bit of melted chocolate on top of each truffle and use it to affix one petal. Cool the finished truffles in the refrigerator. Store the truffles in an airtight container until ready to serve.

Bacon and Broccoli Mini Quiches

Mini quiches are a classic part food. They are quintessentially French and really easy to eat. They can be made ahead and reheated quickly on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees. Though it would be very easy to buy these in the freezer section, when you make them yourself they are truly exceptionally. These were a huge hit with the father to be.

Bacon and Broccoli Mini Quiches

Crust:
3 cups flour
2 sticks of butter, slightly cooler than room temperature
2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup water

In a large metal bowl, mix all ingredients, except the water with a fork or pastry cutter. The goal is to incorporate the butter until it is the texture of course meal. Slowly sprinkle in the water and quickly mix. Making sure not to put in too much water, briefly kneed the pastry so that it forms a cohesive ball. Pull out about 1 tablespoon of dough and flatten into a round, place it into a mini-muffin pan to form a miniature pie shell.

Filling:
6 eggs
¾ cup milk
2 teaspoons mustard
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 8 oz package shredded cheddar cheese
½ lb thick cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
10 oz bag broccoli, defrosted, drained and chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrease. Beat the eggs, milk, mustard and seasonings with a whisk until well combined.

Fill half of the pastry with broccoli and the other half with cheese. For the broccoli quiches, top them with a bit of the cheese. For the cheese quiches, top them with a bit of the bacon bits. Slowly fill the mini pies with the egg mixture until you can see the egg peaking out of the filling.

Place the molds on top of a baking sheet and bake the pans for 30 minutes or until the tops turn golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature.