Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Guinness Cupcakes & A Radio Show!

I have been looking for an opportunity to make Guinness cake, or cupcakes, or brownies for quite awhile, and I finally found it. On Thursday, March 1 at 1:30 eastern time, I am going to be talking about food blogs with Linda Gassenheimer and Joseph Cooper on WLRN, the NPR affiliate in South Florida. I wanted to come up with an easy recipe to share, and this is it!

You can listen in (and find out if they like the cupcakes) by going to and clicking on the live audio feed.

Now, back to the cupcakes. St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner, and this is the perfect dessert to follow up corned beef and cabbage or any Irish feast you plan to serve. The cake is very light and moist, with a mellow stout flavor that is the perfect complement to the cocoa. They are not overly sweet, so the espresso buttercream is a perfect topper. This frosting has a light coffee scent, but is mild enough for anyone who is not a coffee lover. It is absolutely irresistible on the cupcakes and helps bring out the Guinness flavor.

I just got the name, “O’Hara,” by marriage, so if you don’t want to take my word for it, my Irish husband cannot stop eating these cupcakes.

Guinness Cupcakes with Espresso Cream Frosting
Cakes adapted from a recipe from The Detroit Free Press via Cupcakes Take the Cake and from a recipe by Dave Lieberman from Dave’s Dinners. Frosting adapted from The Betty Crocker Cookbook.
You can find the instant espresso powder for the frosting at specialty stores and many supermarkets. I ordered mine from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Catalogue.

Makes 24 cupcakes

For cupcakes:
1 stick unsalted butter
12 oz. Guinness
½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. granulated sugar
¾ c. natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. salt
1 ¼ tsp. baking soda
¾ c. sour cream
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill two 12-count muffin pans with paper baking cups.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, Guinness and vanilla. Stir occasionally until butter is melted. Pour into a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool for at least 10 minutes.

In another large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, gradually combine with the Guinness mixture in three additions. Beat in the sour cream, then beat in the eggs one by one.

Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling each cup about three-quarters full. Bake for 22 to 28 minutes (mine took 25) or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Leave in the pan to cool for 5 minutes, then finish cooling on a wire rack. Frost when cooled completely.

For frosting:
3 c. powdered sugar
1/3 c. butter (5 1/3 tbs.), cut into cubes and softened
1 ½ tsp. instant espresso powder dissolved in 3 tbs. water

In a large bowl, beat the sugar and butter with an electric mixer on low speed to combine. Pour in the espresso mixture and continue beating on medium-high until frosting is smooth and creamy. If frosting is too thick, add water a couple drops at a time to reach desired consistency. Makes enough for 24 cupcakes or an 8-9 inch two-layer cake.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Crisp Polenta Triangles with Sherry-Garlic Sausage Saute

I use polenta as a smooth, creamy bed for a huge variety of foods. I love the soft texture of the cornmeal that soaks up all the juices on the plate and fills your stomach with warmth. So, why would I cook polenta any other way?

Try these polenta triangles once, and you'll understand. I definitely did. Pan-fried for a few minutes on each side in a shallow pool of very hot olive oil, the polenta develops an irresistibly crisp golden crust. They are still soft and tender on the inside, but hold together so you can eat them like crostini with fresh tomato-basil salsa or a hot saute of onions, garlic, tomatoes and spicy turkey sausage cooked with sherry.

It may look deceptively basic, but this is an amazing sausage dish. Taking your time to brown the sausage and simmering it in the tomato-sherry sauce brings out intense flavor that is the perfect balance of meat, wine and garlic. Mike created this dish and often uses it as a sandwich filling. But, over our golden polenta triangles, it made me want to light some candles and pretend we were in a homey little Italian restaurant... buon appetito!

Crisp Polenta Triangles
You can also use coarse cornmeal cooked according to package directions. The polenta will need at least two hours to cool, so plan accordingly.

2 c. chicken broth or water
1 c. finely ground cornmeal or instant polenta
¼ c. milk
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil, as needed

Bring the broth or water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stirring constantly with a whisk, add the polenta in a slow but steady stream. It will thicken almost immediately, so just keep whisking until the cornmeal is blended and smooth. As soon as you have added the cornmeal, turn the heat to low. The hot cornmeal may spurt up at you as it boils, so stand back. Cook over low heat just until the polenta is smooth and thick, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk, season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Coat a shallow baking dish (I used an 8 x 8) with cooking spray and pour the polenta into the dish, spreading it out to form an even layer. Cover and refrigerate until cool and very firm, at least 2 hours.

Cut the polenta into triangles and remove them from the dish.

Add enough olive oil to completely coat the bottom of a large, heavy skillet and heat to medium. Add as many polenta triangles as you can without crowding the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden. Add more salt and pepper if you like.

Turkey Sausage in Sherry and Garlic
Serves 4

1 tbs. olive oil
1 onion, sliced into half moons
salt and pepper
3 links hot turkey sausage
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ c. dry sherry (not cooking wine)
1-14 oz. can diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the onions and sauté until soft, about 4 minutes. Push the onions to the edge of the pan and add the sausage links. Sear the sausage for 3-4 minutes per side. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with the sherry, then add the can of tomatoes with their juice. Adjust heat so the liquid is at a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the sausages are cooked through and the sauce is well-thickened.

Remove sausage links from skillet and slice on the diagonal. Return to skillet to coat with sauce and serve.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Swiss Chard Custard Tart with Yeast Crust

As I enthusiastically declared last week, I love savory tarts. This one is really different, as it is make with a yeast dough, sort of like a more elegant deep dish pizza. The dough can be made in advance, and puffs up to form a soft, golden crust. It is filled with healthy sautéed swiss chard leaves that are baked in a light custard flavored with lemon, saffron and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

I came across this recipe on The Wednesday Chef, a great blog full of recipes that constantly appeal to my taste. It is by one of my favorite cookbook authors, Deborah Madison from her The Greens Cookbook, and came via the Los Angeles Times food writer, Russ Parsons who printed it in an article back in December. I love the tart recipes in Madison’s book, Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, which I reviewed here, so I was sure that this one would be great too.

As I poured the liquid custard mixed with tons of sautéed chard into the shell, I wondered how something so wet could possibly firm up into an attractive tart. But Madison’s recipes have always worked for me, so I should not have worried. After just over 30 minutes in the oven, the crust was crisp and golden and the chard was suspended in the tender, just-set custard. I love hearty greens, and the eggs, pine nuts and soft dough make them taste rich. I really loved having the leftover slices for lunch on the days that followed. You can eat this tart with your morning coffee or a glass of wine; it is delicious around the clock.

Swiss Chard Custard Tart with Yeast Crust
Adapted from The Wednesday Chef and the Los Angeles Times; originally by Deborah Madison published in her Greens cookbook.
I doubled the recipe for the tart dough and put half in the freezer after letting it rise and kneading a few times. Now I can pull it out and make another one soon!

Makes one 9-11 inch tart

For Dough:
1 tsp. active dry yeast (1/2 package)
¼ c. warm water
pinch sugar
1 ¼ c. all-purpose flour, plus additional as needed
½ tsp. salt
1 egg
3 tbs. light sour cream

Proof the yeast by gently mixing with the water and sugar in a small bowl. Let it sit until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Add the flour and salt to a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the egg, sour cream and proofed yeast mixture to the flour and process until the dough comes together into a ball, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. If the dough is very sticky or does not form a ball, add more flour, about 2 tablespoons at a time until the dough is soft and smooth enough to handle. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead several times. You can roll out the dough and shape into your tart pan right now or lightly cover the dough with platic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 24 hours. Bring the dough to room temperature before shaping.

Coat a 9 to 11 inch tart pan with a removable bottom with cooking spray. Flatten the dough into a large disk and roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Drape over your rolling pin and lay the dough into the tart pan. Fit the dough into the sides of the pan. The edge of the dough should come about ¼ inch over the rim of the tart pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Put the tart pan on a large baking sheet, fill with swiss chard mixture and bake as directed.

For Swiss Chard:
1 tbs. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 large or 3 small bunches swiss chard (about 8 c.), spines removed and leaves roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
¾ tsp. coarse salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
3 eggs
1 ½ c. milk (I use 2%)
Large pinch saffron threads, soaked in 1 tbs. hot water
½ tsp. grated lemon zest
3 tbs. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Pinch nutmeg
3 tbs. pine nuts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Add the chard, in bunches if necessary, and fold it in the skillet until it begins to wilt and cook down, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, ½ tsp. of the salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cook for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs, then stir in the milk, saffron and water mixture, lemon zest, Parmigiano, nutmeg, the remaining salt and some pepper. Fold the chard into the egg mixture and pour into the tart shell (put your tart pan on a baking sheet to make it easier to handle). Scatter the pine nuts over the tart and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the center is no longer liquid. Serve hot or at room temperature. The leftovers keep well in the refrigerator for 5 days. Reheat in the microwave or oven.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chewy Chocolate Cookies with Mini Peanut Butter Cups

Did any of you have a hard time figuring out what to get your significant other/friend/family/lover for Valentine’s day? If you’re in a relationship, it can be a day fraught with pressure, and gifts may or may not be loaded with meaning. I don’t have the time and energy to worry about the formulaic expectations of this Hallmark holiday, so I give my husband the kind of gift that I most like receiving myself—food.

This recipe may be a couple of days late, but luckily, it’s not a particularly Valentine-y dessert. It’s not heart-shape, extra-fancy or filled with raspberry ganache (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Though it’s not pulled from the pages of the February issue of a food magazine, it was the perfect Valentine for my husband because it combines his two favorite things: peanut butter and chocolate.

I decided to combine his two great loves into one fabulous cookie because my mom sent us these adorable mini peanut butter cups she saw in Trader Joe’s. If you live in a community that has its very own Trader Joe’s, I am deeply jealous of you. We don’t have them in Florida, so mom sent these versatile little cuties all the way from Southern California. I thought they would be a great substitute for chocolate chips in a cookie. After extensive chocolate cookie research, I decided to use this recipe from because it was incredibly simple; promised fudgy, chewy cookies; and got loads of great reviews from members.

These cookies are addictively, wonderfully chocolatey with slightly crisp edges and chewy centers. The chocolate part of the mini peanut butter cups fuses into the cookie, and the centers turn into melting pockets of peanut butter goodness. You do not need mini peanut butter cups to use this fantastically simple cookie recipe. Use chocolate chunks, peanut butter chips, nuts, chocolate-covered espresso beans, or whatever you want!

Mike really liked the cookies, but I’ve eaten plenty of them too. When you give a gift of food, whether it is something homemade or dinner at a favorite restaurant, it’s kind of like giving yourself a little gift at the same time. We foodies really have this love stuff figured out.

Chewy Chocolate Cookies with Mini Peanut Butter Cups
Adapted from It is important that you use natural cocoa powder in recipes with baking soda, like this one. Dutch-processed cocoa powder is made with an alkali that only reacts properly with baking powder. Dutch-processed is not better or worse cocoa, just different. Read more about it here.

Makes 36-48 cookies

2 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. unsweetened natural cocoa powder (such as Ghirardelli or Hershey’s)
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 ½ c. granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 to 2 ½ c. mini peanut butter cups, peanut butter chips or semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and whisk to thoroughly combine.

In another large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat to combined and fluffy.

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture with a wooden spoon until all the flour is moistened. Stir in the chips or your additions of choice.

Drop heaping teaspoons of dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You should get about 12 cookies per large baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until just set. The cookies may look slightly under done, but they will firm up and the edges will crisp as they cool. I like to do a test by baking 2 or 3 cookies first to see how they will turn out in my oven. It takes extra time, but I hate to ruin a whole tray of cookies. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Caramelized Onion Tart with Blue Cheese and Whole Wheat Crust

I love savory tarts! The buttery homemade crust makes them taste rich, and the vegetable fillings are replete with flavor and nutrition. A simple slice on a plate with lightly dressed greens or crisp roasted vegetables is such an elegant meal that feels very European to me. In the way that the frittata carries an element of breakfast over to lunch and dinner, so the savory tart brings a little intimation of dessert to those main meals. And that certainly can’t be a bad thing.

I think I say this about a lot of things on this blog, but savory tarts really are easy to make, considering the elegant results. After you do your first tart, it will become second nature. The crust is a snap and involves far less stress than pie crust, in my opinion; keep it quick and cold, and you’re set.

This tart recipe comes from the February issue of Food & Wine. There was no picture in the magazine, but I didn’t need one. The name and ingredients were more than enough to appeal to my tastes. I have recently discovered that taking the time to truly caramelize onions—I mean a good 30-35 minutes—produces insanely good results, as you will see if you give this a try. I was surprised and happy to see that the recipe’s creator, chef Dede Sampson, used all whole wheat flour to make this crust, and I was anxious to see how it would turn out (for the record: crisp, buttery and warmly wheaty).

I can honestly say that we loved eating this and savored every bite. I was sad to eat the last piece, but I know I can make it again soon! The recipe is a winner for the crust alone, but the sweet onion filling dotted with mild, creamy blue cheese and hits of fresh thyme was utterly delicious too.

I have been in a baking mood lately, so I have another wonderful, but very different, savory tart in the blogging pipeline. And I think there will be more where these came from!

Caramelized Onion and Blue Cheese Tart with Whole Wheat Crust
Adapted from Food & Wine and Dede Sampson
You can make the dough for the crust up to one day ahead and leave it in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic. Then, roll it out and pre-bake the shell while the onions caramelize. You can make the whole tart up to four hours ahead and serve it at room temperature or reheat in a 350 degree oven. I recommend eating the leftovers at room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6; 8 as a first course

1 ½ c. whole wheat flour
½ tsp. salt, plus additional to taste
1 stick (4 oz.) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch dice
¼ c. water chilled with ice

2-3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
4 medium onions (about 1 ½ lbs), sliced into half moons (I used 2 red and 2 sweet onions, but any combination will work)
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
freshly ground pepper
3 oz. blue cheese, crumbled (I used a creamy Danish blue, brand name Rosenborg)

In a food processor, pulse the flour and ½ tsp. salt to combine. Add the cold, diced butter and pulse until you have a coarse mixture roughly the size of small peas. Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture, then pulse again until the dough just starts to come together. It will still look a little scraggly.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap and quickly pat it into a disk. Wrap it up and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook stirring occasionally until soft and lightly golden, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook until lightly browned, soft and sweet, about 10-15 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the thyme and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, roll the chilled dough out on a lightly floured surface to a large, 12-13 inch circle. You will have to use some muscle to roll it out, and do not worry about getting a perfect circle. The dough should be about 1/8 inch thick and as even as possible. Roll the dough over the pin and lay it into a nonstick (9, 10 or 11-inch) fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough into the sides of the pan with your knuckles and peel off the pieces that hang over the pan and use them to patch any holes. Your crust may not look pretty now, but it will when the tart is done. Prick the base of the crust all over with a fork and bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. I place my tart pan on a large baking sheet to make it easier to handle.

Fill the pre-baked tart shell with the caramelized onions. Strew the crumbled blue cheese all over the onions. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes or until the cheese is lightly melted. Cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack, remove from tart pan and serve immediately. Can also be served at room temperature.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Luxurious Spinach-Artichoke-King Crab Dip

Spinach-Crab Dip is a casual comfort food that can be made so much more luxurious and healthful than anything served at chain restaurants across the country. This would be a wonderful appetizer to begin a Valentine's Day dinner for a small group of friends or just you and your sweetie. Picture your hands grazing as you both tuck into a communal bowl of this creamy dip, piling the salty crab meat and slick ribbons of spinach on thin slices of baguette as you open a bottle of wine and cook the rest of your meal together.

We made this dip for the Super Bowl and stayed casual with tortilla chips (at least they were the "fancy" chile-lime variety), but the ingredients are so lovely that you could make this a part of the intimate scene described above. I just described food as "so lovely;" you can tell I was watching Nigella Lawson today.

Anyway, not only is this lovely, but it is easy to put together too. King crab legs seem to be readily available right now, and we got an absolutely enormous one at Costco for a very reasonable price. All we did was defrost the frozen crab leg in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, then plunged it into boiling water for a minute before cracking it open. A one pound leg yielded more than enough meat for this recipe, so we nibbled on the extra crab meat while we cooked. You can also use canned crab meat (make sure you are buying real crab kept in the refrigerated section).

I had some good gruyère on hand, and I like the mellow, nutty creaminess it added. Anything that melts easily would be tasty; aged cheddar or monterey jack come to mind. Canned artichokes in water make fast work of this, along with bagged spinach. I tore some of the larger pieces and removed the thick stems, but you could also chop it up. As I always do when cooking dark leafy greens like spinach or kale, I added a big pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. This spice is a good complement to greens, especially when there is cream involved.

This is a very creamy dip, but lowfat milk and light cream cheese keep it healthy. Whenever you choose to serve this, it is definitely a luxury that your waistline and your wallet can afford.

Luxurious Spinach-Artichoke-Crab Dip
A recipe from served as the template for this dip, but it underwent a lot of changes including the addition of the delicious crab.

Serves 4; can be doubled easily.

¾ c. lowfat milk
4 oz. light cream cheese
3 oz. gruyère cheese, grated
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. salt
fresh ground pepper, to taste
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
6 green onions, white and light green parts only, chopped
8 oz. fresh spinach, thick stems removed and large leaves roughly chopped
1-14 oz. can artichoke hearts in water, rinsed and roughly chopped
1 tsp. corn starch mixed with 1 tblsp. water
1 c. crab meat

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat. Add the cream cheese and gruyère, stirring often until cheeses are melted.

Add the garlic, Worcestershire, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add the scallions, then add the spinach, one large handful at a time if needed, until it all cooks down and fits in the pan. Stir until the spinach is wilted, then add the artichoke hearts. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir until combined. If you want to thicken the dip more (it will set slightly after you take it off the heat), add another tsp. of cornstarch mixed with water.

Add the crab meat and stir until warmed through. Taste the dip and add more salt or pepper if you like. Serve right away or refrigerate and gently reheat in the microwave in short intervals, stirring after each. Sprinkle with a dash of cayenne pepper and/or paprika for color.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Real Pad Thai from Your Kitchen

If you have been lucky enough to find a very good Thai restaurant, then you have probably already fallen hard for pad thai, the light rice noodle dish that plays on your tastebuds with sweet and umami flavors until you have eaten greater quantities of it than you thought possible. If you have wished you could reproduce the exotic flavors of this deceptively simple dish at home, read on because I have a very manageable recipe for you. If, instead, you're wondering what all the fuss is about, you've probably had the misfortune of tasting, a gooey, sticky-sweet americanized version made with a thick pre-packaged, corn-starch laden "pad thai sauce." In that case, read on and discover an authentic dish that is completely different than what you're used to.

I love pad thai because for years I lived in the delivery radius of the best thai restaurant I have ever found. I could call them at 7:00pm on a Friday night and have a made-to-order steaming hot dish of pad thai in front of me in under 15 minutes. That goes to show how efficient these folks were, but also how quickly this meal comes together once your ingredients are prepped.

I was spoiled rotten with this pad thai. When I moved away from Boston, I tried other thai restaurants, and have never had anything that comes close. I'm sure there are other respectable chefs turning out authentic pad thai, but in my experience, they are a rarity.

It takes a little practice to get the technique just right for this recipe. What you make will still be tasty, but the timing really is everything, and you'll learn just how you like to do it after a couple attempts. Nothing may hold up to Bangkok Bistro in my estimation, but this satisfies me and captures those flavors that made me crazy for this dish from the first bite.

Pad Thai
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Southeast Asia by Joyce Jue

The most important thing you can do is have all your ingredients prepped and ready to add to the skillet in quick succession. I have tried to lay out the steps below. Once you begin to cook the shallots, you will have a finished dish in under 7 minutes.
Serves 4-6

3 tbs. vegetable or peanut oil, divided
salt and pepper
¾ lb. chicken breast meat, pounded very thin and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
10 oz. flat rice noodles
2 ½ tsp. tamarind concentrate plus 3 tbs. water (or the equivalent of another tamarind product)
2 tbs. sugar
3 tbs. fish sauce
3 tbs. lime juice (about 1 lime)
¼ to ½ tsp. dried red chile flakes
2 tbs. chopped shallot
1 ½ tbs. chopped garlic
3 large eggs, beaten
2 c. fresh bean sprouts, divided
6 green onions, white and light green parts, chopped
½ c. roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
¼ c. cilantro, chopped
lime wedges, for serving

Heat 1 tbs. of the oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and stir-fry until cooked through, about 4-5 minutes. Remove to a bowl. Lower the heat to medium and add 1 tbs. of oil to the skillet. Add the shrimp, season and cook until opaque, about 1 minute. Add to the bowl of chicken and set aside.

Meanwhile cook the noodles according to package directions. In a bowl or large glass liquid measuring cup, whisk together the tamarind and water, sugar, fish sauce, lime juice and chile flakes. Set aside.

Assemble everything you need to put together the pad thai: shallots and garlic, beaten eggs, chicken and shrimp, green onions, noodles, tamarind mixture, bean sprouts and peanuts.

Heat the last tbs. of oil over medium-low heat, add the shallot and cook for 1 minute, then add the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add the beaten eggs, swirling the pan to coat the entire surface. Let the eggs set for a few seconds, then move them around the pan with a spatula, breaking them up. Immediately add the chicken and shrimp and toss quickly with the eggs. Add the noodles and toss them with the egg mixture for a minute or so, until you have cooked pieces of egg throughout. Pour the tamarind mixture all over the noodles in the skillet and toss to coat thoroughly. Immediately add the green onions, half of the bean sprouts and half of the peanuts and toss to combine. Remove from heat. Serve the pad thai with the remaining bean sprouts and peanuts; the cilantro; and the lime wedges.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Restaurant Review: Canyon, Fort Lauderdale

The fried oysters are crusted with blue corn meal and topped with cilantro cream.

We have whittled it down to a science: 6:30 – leave home. 6:45 – arrive and park.
6:50 – enter restaurant and speak to hostess. 6:55 to 7:35 – huddle into the cozy bar area and order the signature Prickly Pear Margaritas. 7:35 to 7:50 – get seated. And by approximately 8:00pm (a very agreeable dinner hour for us) - dig into a fabulous meal.

Canyon, a tiny, candlelit café on Sunrise Blvd. and US 1 in Fort Lauderdale is one of our favorite places to go for a special dinner. I always dress up, and we always order the Prickly Pear Margarita while we wait patiently for a table because Canyon does not take reservations. I don’t know why they make dining here such an unpredictable experience – Will it be a two hour wait? Will we ever get seated? – but I do know that it hasn’t hurt business.

That must be because the food is creative and consistently good. Canyon serves contemporary, gourmet Southwestern fare. This has never been our cuisine of choice, but nothing Canyon sends out of the kitchen is my idea of typical Southwestern food. The first meal I ever had there was the chef’s special of halibut with a puttanesca sauce and a sticky rice “tamale.” The fish was cooked to such a luscious firm-tender texture, and the tamale on the side was so original, I was won over straight away.

Although we always have to be careful not to eat too much at Canyon, appetizers are not to be missed. One of my favorite dishes ever is their take on chiles rellenos, a poblano pepper stuffed with goat cheese, coated in a cornmeal batter and served with a New Mexican red chile sauce and black bean salsa. The tangy, herb-inflected goat cheese is the perfect creamy accompaniment to the spicy sauce and toothsome black beans.

The tequila and jalapeno-smoked salmon tostada with goat cheese, grilled scallions and scotch bonnet tartar sauce is built like a pizza with a crispy fried tortilla as the crust. Big enough to be an entrée, the seemingly disparate flavors of the salmon, cheese and spicy tartar sauce marry flawlessly in every bite.

For a lighter appetizer option, go with the crispy blue corn fried oysters. The corn coating adds a firm crunch to the fat fresh oysters, and the spicy cilantro cream is a fresh alternative to tartar sauce.

Mike has ordered Canyon’s filet mignon a few times, and it always has a velvety rare center, as requested. It gets some Southwestern style with poblano pesto, goat cheese (they seem be fans of goat cheese in this kitchen, but I can't say I mind) and a zinfandel reduction. On our last visit, Mike tried the roast chicken with mole, instead of his usual order of steak. He enjoyed it and thought the mole was particularly good, but I found the meat a bit too dry. It is the only complaint I have ever had with the food here.

I often get the special at Canyon. There is usually some fresh fish on offer, and I like to think the chef puts special attention into these creations. The latest winning order was grilled trout with sautéed spinach and escarole and a port wine reduction. I balked at the combination of fish with port, but decided to see what the chef could do. It turned out that the trick was the bitter escarole that acted as a perfect foil for the intense oak and berry flavors of the port. It was a surprising and inspired choice to pair with the slightly oily fish. The citrus skirt steak with prickly pear-marinated onions is another lovely entrée that actually originated as a special. This kitchen has a way with both beef and fish that make it a particular pleasure to work your way through the entire menu.

I have eaten desserts at Canyon, but in our most recent visits, we have given up on the lofty goal of saving enough room to enjoy them. I seem to remember that the pecan pie was spectacular, but I’ll leave that territory for you to navigate on your own.

Not being able to reserve a table is a bit frustrating, but our timeline has never failed us (knock on wood). With that, and a menu that rarely disappoints, maybe Canyon is not so unpredictable after all.

The chicken's hidden under that lovely tangle of frites, I promise.

The special of fresh trout with spinach, escarole and a port wine reduction.


1818 E. Sunrise Blvd.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Everyone Loves Meyer Lemons!

I've never been too focused on keeping up with the latest trends, but it was gratifying to see that Mingling happened to be ahead of the foodie curve in the case of Meyer lemons. We've been sipping these Meyer Lemon Drop Martinis since December, but this article was just published in Wednesday's New York Times Food & Dining section:

When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Pasta & Confit

It does feature some enticing recipes, including a shortbread tart with confit of Meyer lemon filling. I think Nic's Foolproof Lemon Tart on Baking Sheet that I reproduced here is an even better bet if you manage to get your hands on these lovely seasonal lemons. The February issue of Gourmet also extolls their virtues and features a recipe for a Meyer lemon souffle that I would like to try.

Never mind that the mainstream food media does stories on Meyer lemons every winter; I'm just going to consider this little blog a trendsetter... at least until the next food fascination comes along.

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