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Archive for December, 2009

The revered judges of the annual Washington bureau holiday bake-off have spoken…. and they’ve crowned these almond florentines as king in 2009!  Sources tell me it was the “ooooh” factor that tipped the scale vis a vis some of the formidable competition.  And that reaction is not all that surprising, since these are indeed surprisingly tasty (read: addictive) cookie-candies.

The florentine is not quite a “brittle” or a “bark”:  it’s a thin, carmel-sugary crisp with a hint of chewiness and a light layer of bittersweet chocolate on the outside. It’s virtually all sliced almonds held together by a honey-butter-sugar mixture that gets golden brown when baked for 10 minutes.

Almond Florentines

1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup whipping cream

4 cups sliced almonds

1 cup semisweet chocolate

6 foil pans

(1) Preheat the oven to 375. Grease the aluminum pans.

(2) Over medium heat, combine the butter, sugar, honey and cream. Cook until boiling — stirring constantly for 1 1/2 mins at boiling.

(3) Remove from heat and add almonds.  Then, divide the mixture between the 6 pans. The layer should be very, very thin.

(4) Bake at 10-14 minutes until bubbling around the edges and a rich golden brown. Watch closely so as not to burn!

(5) Cool the florentines completely in the pans, even refrigerating or freezing if needed. After 5-10 minutes, pop them out onto wax paper.

(6) Melt the chocolate over low heat and then spread a thin layer atop the florentine discs. Allow chocolate to cool and harden completely.

(7) Slice using a sharp, long knife and serve!

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Bell peppers stuffed with rice, beef and fresh herbs are a nutritious and delicious “classic American” weeknight meal that also make great leftovers.  But don’t interpret “classic” and “nutritious” to mean old school, boring and tasteless. These are packed with flavor and interesting textures.  A half cup of white and wild rice mix is steamed in chicken stock and then combined with a pound of browned, organic beef, onion, garlic, and worcestershire sauce.  Add in an 8 oz can of Italian seasoned tomato sauce and a hearty helping of fresh chopped parsley. Fill up the pepper hulls and top off with some shredded cheese, bake for 30-45 minutes at 350 and voila!

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What do you get when you give a bunch of professional journalists sharp knives, a couple bottles of champagne, and instructions to work together to prepare a gourmet meal?  An incredibly lively — and dangerously unpredictable! — dinner party that you’ll never forget. Some of the best times among friends are spent in the kitchen, and this night proved that once again.  Check out this rockin’ menu we compiled and prepared with help from our friends at the DC-based cooking school “Company’s Coming:”

Appetizers: Portuguese Tuna and Beans; Goat Cheese Spread; Sizzling Lemon Shrimp with Garlic; Selection of Grilled Gourmet Sausages

Entree: Flat Iron Steak with Shallot Confit; Rissotto with Red Wine, Pancetta, and Parmesan; Boston Lettuce Salad with Pine Nuts

Dessert: Molten Chocolate Cake with Raspberries

Wines: Montelliana, Prosecco, ‘Montello e Colli Asolani’; 2007 La Carraia, ‘Orvieto,’ Classico; 2007 Banfi, ‘Chianti Classico’

And now the winning take-away recipe from the evening….Molten Chocolate Cake!  ( This is not, repeat not, a healthy dessert, but it’s a divine re-creation of a classic steakhouse favorite that I love to order when I’m out.)

Molten Chocolate Cake from Ed and Jinny Fleischman

1 cup butter

8 oz bittersweet chocolate

4 eggs

4 egg yolks (in addition to the 4 whole eggs!)

1/2 cup white sugar

4 teaspoons of flour

(1) Prepare ceramic ramekins or other small baking cups by buttering the inside and dusting with flour.  Repeat twice for each cup – this is key so the cake will pop out.

(2) Melt butter over low heat in saucepan. Add chocolate and stir until just melted.

(3) Beat eggs, yolks and sugar until light and thick. Stir the butter and chocolate together and add in the egg mixture. Quickly beat in the flour.

(4) Divide mixture evenly between ramekins. Either refrigerate for later baking or continue by baking.

(5) Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 6-7 minutes at 450 degrees. (Note: the center will not be firm but the sides will be set.)

(6) Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 seconds before flipping out of the mold.

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In the wonderful world of breakfast bread baking, rarely have I strayed so far into unfamiliar territory as the amalgamation of ingredients in this recipe.  Grated zucchini, sweet potato, carrots, banana, nuts, raisins, olive oil…. What on earth was all-star New York Front Runner Chris Stoia thinking when he first folded the entire kitchen garden into a sweet bread batter?!

The result, ladies and gentlemen, is an incredible — and healthy — treat packed with moist, hearty flavor.  Slices of the warm “morning glory” goodness are irresistible!

Chris tells me you can tweak the fruit and veggie ingredients as long as you keep the ratio to around 2 cups.  With the 3 cups of flour, feel free to swap in a cup of oats or flaxseed meal or whole wheat flour.

Stoia “Morning Glory” Bread

2 cups sugar — I used 1 cup white, 1 cup brown sugar in the raw

3 eggs

3/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups grated zucchini, sweet potato, carrot, bananas, etc.

3 cups flour — I used 1 cup flaxseed meal

1 cup chopped nuts

1 cup raisins or dried fruit

(1) Cream together eggs, sugar, vanilla and oil in a large bowl.  Add grated veggies and fruits.

(2) In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients.  Gradually stir into the wet mixture to create a batter.

(3) Add nuts and dried fruit and combine lightly.

(4) Divide the batter between two greased, floured loaf pans.

(5) Bake at 350 for one hour, or until a knife comes out clean and top is golden brown.

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