Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Baked Ziti, Sausage in White Cheese Sauce

When it comes to quick, satisfying, comfort food, pasta in any form does it for me. Through the years I have cut out hundreds of pasta recipes with the intention of making them all! I have many cookbooks where I flagged many delicious looking pasta recipes, that I will eventually get to make...maybe years from today but, eventually!!  A fondness for pasta, with creamy white sauces, seems to spell comfort to me. The pasta I'm sharing today is made with a "Bechamel"sauce.  Bechamel is a white sauce that is used in many Italian pasta dishes. The origin of Bechamel, or white sauce, is questionable.  Ranging from Italian origins, brought to the France court by the cooks of Catherina dei Medici, to being the invention of the Marquis of Bechameil. Origin aside, Bechamel or Bechiamella as it is called in Italian, is a white sauce made from butter, flour and milk. It is commonly used in Italian oven baked dishes.
This week has been long and stressful. In my search for something easy, delicious and comforting, I decided on this baked ziti. It has an easy white sauce and a wonderful cheesey layer! A nice big salad, some Italian bread and you have a delicious meal.  Buon Appetito!

The ingredients for the cheese layer
Sausage cooked, cut and ready to be added to the pasta
The creamy pasta layer
This was a delicious creamy pasta dish. When this came out of the oven we were all so hungry we just dug in. Oh nooo.....No pictures!!!

1 lb. pkg. ziti macaroni
4 tbsp. salad oil
1 lb. sweet or hot Italian sausage

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. white pepper
4 c. milk
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese


1 1/2 lbs. ricotta cheese
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. chopped roasted red pepper
2 eggs
2 tbsp. basil
Salt and pepper
(I added a 1/2 cup of grated Mozzarella cheese to the cheese mixture)

1/2 lb. Mozzarella cheese, grated

Cook ziti as directed and drain. In hot oil, saute sausage until lightly browned. Remove from pan and then slice (1/2 inch pieces). To make sauce, melt butter in medium saucepan, remove from heat. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until smooth. Gradually stir in milk. Bring to boiling, stirring. Reduce heat; simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. In bowl, combine ziti and sauce.

To make cheese layer; in medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, Parmesan, eggs, basil, salt and pepper; mix well.

In bottom of 9 x 13 inch baking dish, spoon half the ziti sauce mixture. Layer with cheese mixture. Spoon on remaining ziti sauce mixture. Arrange sliced sausage on top. Sprinkle with grated Mozzarella and paprika. Bake uncovered 35 to 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Makes 10 servings.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stout Chocolate-Cherry Bread and Award

This bread was delicious with little specks of chocolate and pieces of cherry
Today was very cold and snowy! This will sound strange but, it's about time! With the exception of a freak October snow storm (I was in Florida) we have had unseasonably warm weather here in NJ. We didn't even get a dusting for Christmas.  Our temps have been much warmer than usual...that's not all bad, but I've really been missing the snow.  Well, last night it snowed!  Only 6 inches but, it's snow.  This morning everything has been transformed into a magical white, wonderland.  Crisp and clean. Taking away the winter gloom and filling it with wonder and mystery. So, when I woke and saw this gorgeous white carpet, my first instinct was to bake a bread. Snow does that to me. Filling the kitchen with warmth and the sweet smells of something delicious. I planned for this. When I first heard it was going to snow, I pulled out a recipe that I've been wanting to bake.  I clipped it from Cooking Light Magazine years ago. It has always intrigued me. It's a yeast bread that is first made with a sponge. The sponge is made with yeast, flour and Guinness beer. Sounds intriguing, right!  So the night before the snow I started the sponge. It had to be refrigerated over night. The next morning I took it from the fridge and set it out for an hour and a half. Mixed it up, let it rise and in the end, a beautiful loaf of stout chocolate-cherry bread. This bread was delicious! It will not be the last appearance it makes in our house. 

The recipe calls for stout...I had draught

The next morning just out of the fridge
This was the hardest part...kneading in the cherries and chocolate...be patient! 
Let rise till doubled in size
Then punch down and let rest 5 minutes...then shape into a round loaf and let rise till doubled again
Brush with egg white, sprinkle with sugar and bake
Just out of the oven!
My backyard...covered in a lovely white blanket
Our winter wonderland

Stout Chocolate-Cherry Bread
from Cooking Light

YIELD: 20 servings (serving size: 1 slice)
COURSE: Breads

4 1/4 cups bread flour, divided
1 (12-ounce) bottle Guinness Stout
1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon water
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pearl sugar (optional)


Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 2 cups flour, beer, and yeast in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

Remove mixture from refrigerator; let stand 1 hour.

Add 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and salt; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel tacky). Knead in cherries and chocolate.

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Gently press 2 fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough.)

Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes. Shape dough into a 9-inch round; place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Lightly coat dough with cooking spray. Cover and let rise 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Uncover the dough. Combine water and egg white, stirring with a whisk, and brush over dough. Sprinkle the dough with pearl sugar, if desired. Make a 1/4-inch-deep cut down the center of dough using a sharp knife.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until bread is browned on bottom and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack.

I am very late with a big thank you to Susan, of Create Amazing Meals, who picked my blog to receive the "Liebster Blog" award! Susan has a fabulous blog where she really does create amazing meals! Susan and I met as members of French Fridays with Dorie. We have been cooking together for the past year and I am always blown away by her gorgeous food and her beautiful photos. Make sure you stop by and say, "Hello".

Since I started my blog, I have met such wonderful people, who share a like interest and who, have become my blogger friends. The best thing about getting an award like this is to be able to pass it on! So here it goes! These are my five.
One of my favorite blogs to visit is Ryan BakesThere is always something sweet coming out of Ryan's kitchen. She is very creative and makes the most beautiful desserts! 
A blog that I have recently discovered is The Irish Mother. This is such a lovely blog with lovely photos and great recipes. Looking forward to getting to know her better in 2012.
Elaine of California Living is a fellow Dorista. She always has such artistic and interesting things going on over at her blog. She also participates with Baked Sunday Mornings. I have been cooking with Elaine for the past year and she is always so supportive and generous.
Another Dorista ( A term coined by Trevor of SisBoom) is Rose of OneExpatsLife. I always enjoy reading her blog and getting a glimpse into life in Germany. 
And last but certainly not least is Lola of Lola's Kitchen. Lola is another French Friday Dorista and will soon be baking with the on line group Tuesdays with Dorie.  Her blog is always welcoming and informative.
I hope you check out all of these very talented ladies and their blogs. 
Here are the rules for the awardees:

1.  Thank the person who nominated you and link back to them.

2.  List the top five blogs you love (who have less than 200 followers) and link to them, telling a bit about each one. Leave a comment on their blogs to let them know you've nominated them.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

French Fridays with Dorie--Quatre-Quarts

I can't believe I'm baking a cake so soon after the holidays. I promised myself I would stay away from cakes and cookies, since my husband is on South Beach...AGAIN!!!!  It's French Friday and our mission this week, if we choose to accept it, is to make a Quatre-quarts which literally means "4 fourths". Sounds funny...but it's a cake! A french cake similar to our pound cake. All the ingredients are based on equal measures of the four main ingredients: eggs, flour, sugar and butter. This is a very basic traditional french cake. Popular as a snack cake, it can be dressed up nicely for a lovely dessert by adding some whipped cream and berries. You can also modify it by adding chocolate, or lemon juice for flavor.
This cake was relatively easy to put together; even though there are several steps including beating the egg whites until stiff. My only problem came with the timing of the cake. Dorie suggests 20 to 25 minutes...I needed to leave mine in for about 35 minutes. My oven is pretty accurate, so I was surprised when it was still wet in the middle after 25 minutes. This cake was delicious. A perfect accompaniment with a cup of tea. Sorry to say my husband had to exercise self control. I froze the rest of the cake so that he can have a small piece when he reaches his goal! This was a lovely everyday cake that will definitely be on my "go to" list for quick desserts.
This recipe can be found in Dorie Greenspans cookbook "Around My French Table" and you can also find it here. To see what other Doristas have done check it out here!

I sprinkled my batter with Demerara sugar

After it came out of the oven the sugar caramelized and cracked

I thought it still looked great
And tasted even better

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Spanish Flan

Spanish Flan....oh so good!
A few weeks ago, while all the participants of FFWD were making their Creme Brulees, I was unable to participate. Not because I don't love Creme Brulee but, because I was hosting a big New Years Day party.  One of our traditional desserts is a very large Spanish Flan. This recipe comes from my cousin Mary. It was her contribution to our New Years day open house for years. She gave me her recipe years ago and I've made it quite often to rave reviews. I decided to make it for our dessert table this year, since my cousin wouldn't be here, and neither would her Flan.
Flan, like Creme Brulee is a type of custard. The history of custard is quite long, going back to  ancient Roman times when they first domesticated chickens. This gave them eggs and led these ancient Roman cooks to develop custard type dishes. Once they realized the binding power of eggs, they became experts at creating many kinds of egg based dishes. They developed savory dishes made with cheese and meat; the precursor to the quiche. Additionally, they also put together sweet flavored dishes made with honey, nuts and cinnamon. Custard? Food historians generally agree that the custard we enjoy today dates back to the Middle ages. Flan is probably the most famous and widely adapted custard dessert in the world.
Since I was a small child I have had a deep fondness for custard. Any form...savory or sweet...pudding, pie, quiche, creme brulee, flan. I love them all! This recipe makes a very large flan so it's great for a party. It can also be halved.

Sugar in the bottom of pan
Shake pan over heat until it melts
Place mold in larger pan of water then into the oven

Let cool, then refrigerate

Unmold the flan onto a platter


So wonderfully delicious!


2 cans sweetened condensed milk (14 oz.)
2 cans evaporated milk (13 oz.)
1 8oz. cream cheese (softened)
12 eggs
2 cans water ( 28 oz.)
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons sugar


1. Put the cans of condensed milk and evaporated milk in a mixer bowl along with the cream cheese.
    Mix until smooth.
2. Beat the 12 eggs in a separate bowl; then add to bowl of milk and cream cheese along with the rest of               the ingredients (except sugar). 
3. Sprinkle sugar in 2 mold pans (5 cups) or 1-10 inch round pan (my pan is 10 x 3 not a springform); Place pan over medium heat, using oven mitts, to caramelize sugar by shaking pan occasionally until sugar melts and turns a light golden brown. Don't worry about the hard sugar...it's ok!!
4. After the sugar melts spread it out in the mold pan. (bottom and sides)
5. Then pour the mixture into the pan with sugar.
6. Put mold pan into a larger pan and pour some water into the larger pan to come up one inch on flan mold.
7. Then put the pan in the oven for 1 hour at 350〫 It's done when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
8. Cool at room temperature. Then refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve...unmold onto plate. You may need to put the mold pan in hot water for a few seconds.
This recipe halves nicely.

Friday, January 13, 2012

FFWD M. Jacques' Armagnac Chicken

M. Jacques Armagnac Chicken
This week's French Friday recipe is for M. Jacques' Armagnac Chicken. Since I was not going out to buy a thirty dollar bottle of Armagnac for a chicken dish...I used cognac. My husband and I are the only people eating this dish, and we are not connoisseurs of alcoholic beverages. I'm sure neither of us could tell the difference.
Last week, I spoke about my passion for the hunt of odd or old cook and bakeware. For the second week in a row, I get to put one of my finds to use. This time it's an old enameled cast iron pot with a lid. It was made by Dru in Holland. To the best of my knowledge, this beautiful enameled cookware comes in blue, yellow and light green. They have a lovely tulip design on them. I collect the yellow, and am lucky enough to have found several pieces in very good condition. They were made in the 30's, 40's and 50's. I read, by the time the 70's rolled around they were not being manufactured anymore. I can't find an official site for Dru, and would love to know more about the history of this company. If anyone who reads this has any info on them, I would love to hear from you.

Another of my finds being put to good use
So let's get back to the Armagnac Chicken. It was a quick, easy dish. I threw it together in about 15 minutes. The trick with this dish is to have all the ingredients prepared and ready to use. A "mise en place" (a french term) which means everything in place before you start. This helps so that you are not interrupted by stopping to find or chop things. Once you start the oil heating, you want to add everything in order as quickly as possible with out stopping. You then add the chicken to the pot along with the cognac and place in the oven. One hour later dinner is done, and what a very good dinner it was! The herbs and cognac added such wonderful flavor! The fragrant aroma permeated my kitchen and we couldn't wait to dig into this delicious dish!
This recipe can be found in Dorie Greenspan's cookbook "Around My French Table". It can also be found in this NYTimes article here. If you'd like to see what other Doristas are doing...you can check it out  here.

All the veggies and herbs ready to use
Ready for the oven
Fresh out of the oven....Yum!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Gourmets 50 Most Influential Women in Food- #30 Barbara Tropp- Baby Sesame Biscotti

Baby Sesame Biscotti
Hard to believe we are on number 30 of Gourmets 50 Most Influential Women in Food. Barbara Tropp was an inspiring and interesting woman. She was a Restauranteur and cookbook author. Born in Springfield NJ in 1948, her father was a podiatrist. Her love of Chinese culture started while taking an art class in high school. She graduated from Barnard College and then received a Master's degree, from Princeton University, in Chinese literature and art. Barbara learned about Chinese cooking while a student of poetic structure in Taiwan.
When she returned to the U.S. she dropped out of her doctoral program at Princeton, and moved to San Francisco.  In 1982 she published her first cookbook 'The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking: Techniques and Recipes''.  James Beard called this book "...a unique achievement. Her intelligent and thorough explanations are detailed and truly great. The choice of recipes is exciting. This is a magnum opus for any cooking addict." 
She owned and operated a very successful restaurant in San Francisco called the "China Moon Cafe", where she served an innovative form of chinese cuisine. She was interested in bringing together Chinese and European-American mainstream cooking. Her second book, "China Moon Cookbook", was published in 1992. This book won an award from the International Assoc. of Culinary Professionals. Barbara taught cooking as well as serving as as chef in her restaurant for ten years. She sold the China Moon Cafe in 1996 when she became ill.  Ms. Tropp fought a courageous battle against ovarian cancer for seven years. She first tried using non traditional Chinese herbs and acupuncture, and later decided to go with chemotherapy. She died on October 6, 2001 at the age of 53. 
I chose to make her "Baby Sesame Biscotti". This was such a delightful grown-up cookie. Not too sweet...the sesame flavor comes through with your first bite. Delicious!
Such a lovely cookie...with a grown-up taste
Perfect with your cup of tea or coffee

Baby Sesame Biscotti Recipe
4 ounces of (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
¾ cup sugar 
3 Extra-large eggs, beaten
2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoon of baking powder
¾ cup of Sesame seeds, toasted
¼ cup chopped died orange peel
½ cup of golden or dark raisins cups
About 1/2 cup untoasted sesame seeds
Preparation Instructions:
1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light. Add the eggs and continue to beat until well blended. Add the flour, baking powder, toasted sesame seeds, orange peel, and raisins; blend until combined.
2. Seal the dough airtight in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, overnight, if desired. (The longer chilling allows the fruit peel flavor to permeate the dough.)
3. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a smooth even log 1 inch thick. Roll each log in the untoasted sesame seeds until coated.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°E Move an oven rack to the middle position. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
5. Place 2 of the logs, spaced 5 inches apart, lengthwise on each baking sheet.
6. One sheet at a time, bake the logs until golden, about 20 minutes, turning the sheet midway.
7. Remove the first sheet from the oven and set aside on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Then, while the logs are still warm, slice them crosswise into cookies a scant 1/4 inch thick. Place the cookies on their sides, 1/4 inch apart.
8. Return the sliced cookies to the oven and bake until lightly golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets set on wire racks. 
China Moon Cookbook by Barbara Tropp

Thanks to Mary of One Perfect Bite for this wonderful challenge. These are the other bloggers who are also featuring the recipes of Barbara Tropp. Hope you'll check them out. They are all very talented ladies. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

FFWD Bubble-Top Brioches

Beautiful and Buttery

I made a few bubble top brioches, too!
Hunting through flea markets, thrift stores and garage sales has long been a passion for me. It's all about the hunt. How excited you feel when you surprisingly come upon that old copper fondue set or a 1930's Hall teapot! I have found some great things on my hunts. Looking for odd or antique cookware, that is useable, is one of the things I truly enjoy! A few months ago, I found a baking tin that resembled a muffin pan except, the sides of each cup were fluted. I had no idea what it was used for. My thoughts were for some pretty molded cupcakes or muffins. It was made in France and was very nice quality. It was love at first sight and whatever it was used for didn't matter.  I was buying it!!

My very unusual pan....such a find!!
Made in France
Fast forward to last week...I was going through my many baking pans to find the right one for my bubble-top brioches. I don't own any brioche tins so I was looking for a muffin pan.  Out of my closet, falling at my feet was this funny looking tin with the fluted sides, that happened to be made in France. Do you see where I'm going with this? I picked it up, and it finally dawned on me what it was used for. It was for making individual brioches. Sweet!!
So this week our baking adventure for FFWD was Bubble-Top Brioches...and I had a pan!
This recipe was easy to follow and Dorie explains the procedure quite well. However, I wish she would have given us some process pictures of the way the dough should have looked. I did a google search for images so I could be sure I was doing it right. The dough is quite wet in the beginning. After the first rise, things went well. You refrigerate the dough and every 30 minutes deflate it. After a few hours it had solidified and the rising had stopped.  Technically, it is a different type of bread baking. I have always wanted to bake a brioche and so this was a really fun project for me.  I loved the recipe and definitely plan on making it again. These brioches were beautiful, rich, and buttery. I only baked half the dough and froze the rest for a nice breakfast some time soon!

This recipe can be found in Dorie Greenspans cookbook "Around My French Table" Or you could find it  here at Epicurious.  To see what other bloggers are doing you can check it out here. Happy Friday everyone!!

This is the way my dough looked as I beat in the butter
The dough cut into small pieces
Filling the mold...the dough was very easy to handle
Place 3 balls in each cup
Risen and ready for the egg wash and the oven
Just out of the oven....the kitchen smelled amazing