Saturday, January 26, 2013

Crepes with Bananas and Chocolate Ganache

Copyright 2013 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
The inspiration for this dessert came from Lidia's post on her blog entry which detailed her trip to Antarctica. She featured four dessert recipes and I was drawn to the crepe dessert for two reasons. One, it is easy to make. Two, it has been a while since I've had crepes for dessert so I figured, I could make it for a dinner that I was invited to.  However, she made her crepes with melted chocolate and toasted nuts. At the moment, nuts are not on my list of allowed food items due to my gout so I decided caramelized bananas will do nicely instead. 

For the banana filling, my inspiration came from Sophia Loren's cookbook. However, I simplified it and used a lemon to give it a tangy flavor which balances out the sweetness of the chocolate ganache. Although melted chocolate was already the perfect base for the crepe, I just find it hard to work with so a ganache was the next best thing and in this case, it was actually the better choice. As long as you keep it in liquid form, it can act as both the base and also to drizzle the crepe as a finishing touch.

Crepes with Bananas and Chocolate Ganache - Adapted

2 eggs
2 cups water
2 tbsp white sugar
2 cups flour
1 tbsp Cognac
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp butter, melted + extra
1/4 tsp salt
zest of one lemon

Caramelized Bananas:
4 Cavendish bananas, peeled and sliced on a diagonal
4-6 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp Cognac
juice of one lemon

Chocolate Ganache:
12 oz semisweet chocolate
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp Cognac
1/2 tsp instant coffee

Make the Ganache:
1. Heat the cream over medium low heat in a small pot. Make sure it does 
    not come to a boil. Once heated, add the chocolate and turn off the heat. 

2. Stir until the chocolate is fully melted and continue to mix until a smooth 
    shiny texture is obtained. Add the coffee and Cognac and mix well. Set 

Make the Crepes:
1. Combine the ingredients for the crepe except for the flour. Mix well with 
    a wire whisk. Add the flour a little at a time making sure it gets 
    incorporated into the batter after each addition. 

2. Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Grease with a little bit of 
    butter and add 1/3 cup of crepe batter. Move it around until a thin 
    pancake is obtained. Cook until it starts to turn golden brown. Flip and 
    cook for another minute. 

3. Slide onto a plate and keep making the crepes until all the batter has been 
    used up. 

Make the Caramelized Bananas:
1. Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Fry the banana pieces 
    until slightly browned. 

2. Add the brown sugar and spritz with the lemon juice. Allow to bubble for 
   about 2 minutes. 

3. Add the Cognac and light with a match. Allow to light until the alcohol has 
    been burned off. 

To assemble the crepe, drizzle a good amount of the ganache until the crepe is fully covered. Spoon about 4 banana slices and a bit of the syrup and fold the crepe into fourths. Drizzle with more ganache and top with heavy cream if desired. Serve warm. 

*Lidia Bastianich's Decadent Recipes for the New Year. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chocolate Panna Cotta

Copyright 2013 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
Finally, a completed recipe. I have made this a number of times and I failed miserably on so many accounts. It turned out that the main problem was the gelatin I used. Knox is the only tried and tested brand of unflavored gelatin in powdered form that will make this recipe work. Also, another modification I used was the use of cream cheese instead of Mascarpone cheese. The reason for this switch is none other than the fact that Mascarpone cheese is hard to find here where I currently live. You have to specially order them and I cannot really order in small amounts due to the steep shipping costs so I substitute with cream cheese whenever a recipe calls for it. They taste about 10% similar but you work with whatever is available.

The recipe is from the Williams-Sonoma website. I was intruiged by the fact that part of the cream base was substituted with Mascarpone cheese. Looking back now, I wish that I stuck to using more cream instead of the cream cheese. For a good panna cotta, you want to start with a thick base but it should be uniform in texture so that it sets as one solid mass. In the end, the cream cheese was not melted enough and you can see bits of it once cooled. Overall though, the taste of the panna cotta was delicious. Sweet with a hint of tartness from the cream cheese. Still, I'm probably being overcritical but I wish I used plain heavy cream.

Chocolate Panna Cotta - Adapted*

4 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4  cups cream cheese or more cream
6 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 3/4 tsp unflavored gelatin
6 oz semisweet chocolate

1. In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the cream and the cream cheese over 
    medium low heat. Make sure the cream does not boil. Use a whisk to mix 
    the cream cheese into the cream.

2. Once warm and smooth, take about 1/2 cup of the cream base and 
    transfer into a small bowl. Add the gelatin into it and let stand until the 
    gelatin has softened. 

3. Return the reserved cream with the gelatin into the cream base. Add the 
    chocolates, brown sugar and instant coffee and mix until smooth. 

4. Turn off the heat and pour the mixture into a large measuring bowl over a
    fine sieve. Stir in the vanilla. 

5. Grease 6-7 ramekins with unsalted butter and pour the chocolate mixture 
    until about three fourths full. Cover with clingwrap and cool in the fridge 
   until set. This will take about 4-6 hours.

6. To serve, dip the ramekin into a hot water bath for about 5 seconds. 
    Loosen the panna cotta from the ramekin by running a sharp knife on the 
    sides. Invert onto a plate and serve with strawberry sauce, a dollop of 
    whipped cream and grated chocolates.

*Williams-Sonoma: Chocolate Panna Cotta

Vietnamese Pho

Copyright 2013 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
It is one of those nights where you get a call from a friend asking that we have dinner to prepare for a group of 8 or 10 the very same day. You then go into overdrive as to what kind of dinner menu you can come up with. One request was a soup dish since the last few days have been kind of cool which is unusual this time of the year. So my first thought was Pho. They have been asking for a hotpot type of dish but I have to ask for the recipe from my very good friend, Shujuan. It will definitely be a challenge to find all the right ingredients for the hotpot but for the moment, I needed something quick and delicious. 

Searching the internet, I came accross a website with a detailed description of a Vietnamese Pho. It is from Jaden Hair who is the author of the Steamy Kitchen blog. I copied her ingredient list and went with my idea of Pho which was based on a trip to Washington DC where we ended up having dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. That was more than 10 years ago but the memory of their wonderful Pho still lingers. Anyway, here then is my uber simplified version of Pho. 

Vietnamese Pho - Adapted*

2 lbs beef soup bones
1 onion halved
2 inch ginger, peeled and sliced
12 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
5 star anise pods
1/2 tsp cardammom, ground
5 cloves
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
handful of parsley, basil and cilantro
4 cups bean sprouts
1 lb thinly sliced beef sirloin
1/2 pack Sobe noodles
1 lb fresh mushrooms
red chile peppers, optional
Hoisin Sauce
Red Chili Sauce

1. In a large pressure cooker, combine the first thirteen ingredients. Bring to 
    a boil and once it starts to make the noise, clock it for an hour. If using 
    the conventional pot, boil at a simmer for about 2-3 hours. 

2. Release the pressure and strain the contents of the pressure cooker. 
    Transfer the liquid into a large pot and keep at a slow simmer. Check for 
    flavor and adjust with more salt or fish sauce. It should be a combination 
    of salty with a little bit of sweetness so add more sugar as well if needed.

3. If the soup bones have some meat on it, slice thinly and set aside. 

4. Cook half a packet of the Sobe noodles as per packet instructions. Drain 
    and soak in cold water until ready to use. 

5. To serve family style, transfer the cold noodles into a large bowl. Arrange 
    the fresh mushrooms, bean sprouts, raw beef slices, and cooked beef on 
    top of the noodles. Pour in the broth and garnish with the fresh herbs. 

6. Serve with slices of red chile, and a dab of the Hosin and Red Chili Sauce 
    to taste. A spritzing of fresh lime also gives this dish a fresh citrusy taste. 


If you are iffy about raw beef, you can cook it in the broth for a few minutes. Do not overcook or they will get gnarly. 

We did away with the fresh red chili since none of us liked the heat in our soup. 

We also did away with the lime since it was not available in the grocery stores here. They usually carry lemons but I also forgot to grab one before heading for the dinner party. 

*Vietnamese Pho: Steamy Kitchen blog    

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Seafood Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Copyright 2013 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
This version is a modification of the more basic recipe of Puttanesca. Most of the recipes I've seen use spaghetti or bucatini but Sophia Loren actually prefers penne. I think I'll stick to spaghetti for now since I'm serving a crowd of 15. I also think there's enough suggestive innuendos stemming from the name of this dish and adding penne to the mix might just be a bit too much to handle. Whew, it's getting hot in here! Anyway, the bottom line is, it is easy to make and well, delicious. The addition of anchovies is apparently a regional choice but I'm leaving it out for reasons of availability and the fact that some of the guests I know who are attending are not too fond of anchovies. Also, anchovies and my gout are definitely not best friends.

Seafood Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

2 lbs spaghetti
2-3 lbs clams/mussels
1 cup white wine
1 30-oz tomatoes, canned
1 lb tomatoes, diced
1 cup black olives, sliced
2 tbsp capers, drained
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
4 tbsp olive oil
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
Parmigian Reggiano, grated

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium low heat with the butter. 
    Once the butter has melted, add the garlic and saute until softened. 

2. Add the diced fresh tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook until 
    softened. Add the canned diced tomatoes and stir. Bring to a boil and 
    lower heat. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the black olives and 
    the capers and keep at a simmer.

3. In a large pot, steam the clams over medium high heat in the white wine.
    Once the shells open, remove from the fire. 

4. In another large pot, cook the spaghetti as per packet instructions. Once 
    the spaghetti is almost al dente, transfer into the tomato sauce that is 
    simmering and finish cooking the pasta using the clam/mussel sauce as 
    the cooking liquid until the pasta is al dente.

5. Add the clams and mussels and toss. Turn off the heat and add the cheese.
    Toss one last time and sprinkle with the chopped parsley. Drizzle with 
    more olive oil if desired.        

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sophia Loren's Roasted Pepper's

Copyright 2013 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
We had a small party for the young faculty members in our college and our department was tasked to bring in a pasta dish and an appetizer. After thinking long and hard on the most convenient and yet tasty appetizer I could prepare, I finally settled on Sophia Loren's roasted peppers served on slices of French bread. The original concept included a slice of homemade goat cheese to balance out the flavors. Sadly, the goat milk needed to make the cheese was not available last week so that bit had to go. I was not able to find a suitable replacement at such short notice so I just decided to go with the peppers. Anyway, they are good enough to eat on their own. 

I have made this dish numerous times because it is very easy to make and very delicious, not to mention healthy. The only concern is that you need big red, yellow, orange and green bell peppers and they can be quite expensive. Even when I was still living in the US, I go to Costco or Sam's club to purchase the peppers in bulk just to stay on budget. Luckily, I was able to find a grocery store here that carried these big peppers for about $4 for the 6 peppers that I needed. I have to admit that this is actually quite good in terms of price. If the peppers are in season though, I suggest you make a ton of these and bottle them stored in good olive oil and whip them out whenever you have unexpected guests.

Sophia Loren's Roasted Peppers - Adapted*

6 large bell peppers (yellow, red and green)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp bread crumbs
2 tbsp Parmigiano Regianno, grated

1. Roast the peppers in charcoal or over direct flame until the skin have 
    blackened. Transfer the peppers into a bowl and cover with clingwrap. 
    Allow to steam and cool for about 20 minutes. 

2. Once cooled, peel off the charred skin and deseed the peppers. Slice into 
    smaller pieces. 

3. In a pan over medium low heat, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and saute
    until just softened. Add the peppers and season with salt. Cover and adjust
    the heat to low. Simmer for about 5 minutes making sure to move the 
    peppers around to avoid them from sticking in the pan. Add more oil if 

4. Sprinkle the cheese over the peppers and mix. Simmer covered for another
    5 minutes. 

5. Sprinkle the bread crumbs and simmer covered for another 5 minutes. 
    Slide onto a serving plate making sure the crusty top is kept intact. Drizzle 
    with more olive oil if desired. 

*Loren, S., Sophia Loren's Recipes and Memories, GT Publishing, New York: 1998.   

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Double-Baked Chocolate Cake

Copyright 2013 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
Another recipe I have always wanted to try is this Double-Baked Chocolate Cake. My best friend and my godson were coming over for a visit for two days and one request that was not to be messed with is a super yummy Chocolate Cake. Even the suggestion of my sinful chocolate cheesecake was not good enough. And so, I had to find a new recipe that was going to cut through the high expectation. I could make my usual layered chocolate cake but that is available in the cake shops all over town so I wanted to bake something new. My source is an old volume of Food and Wine magazine which has been a lot of help whenever I have to think of something to make for Thanksgiving since this was their Thanksgiving issue a long time ago. 

The cake can be prepped two-ways. As the name implies, the cake is doubly baked making it almost like a giant lava cake and was meant to be served ala-mode with whipped cream and hazelnut or chocolate ice cream. I went for the simple version which was to bake it once. My reason is purely for sanitary reasons since the eggs back home are not guaranteed as pasteurized. The second baking step is quite short so the batter will be semi-cooked and I am trying to avoid getting sick from salmonella. Good thing that the recipe actually gives you two alternative ways of baking the cake.

Double-Baked Chocolate Cake - Adapted*

8 oz semisweet chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
7 large eggs, separated
1 tsp coffee
1 1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the 
    bottom with wax paper. Grease again and then dust the pan with flour 
    tapping off the excess.

2. Melt the butter with the chocolates, coffee powder and coffee over low 
    heat. Slightly cool and add the vanilla extract. Set aside.  

3. In your mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually 
    beat in half the sugar until the egg whites are firm and glossy. Transfer 
    to another metal or glass bowl. 

4. In the same mixer bowl,  beat the egg yolks and add the remaining sugar. 
    Beat until tripled in volume. 

5. Fold the melted chocolate into the egg yolk mixture and mix until just 
    combined. Fold in the egg whites until just mixed. Save two cups of the 
    batter and store in the fridge. 

6. Pour the remaining batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes 
    or until the top is puffed up and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. 
    Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack.

7. Once cooled, store the cake in the fridge for at least two hours. To finish 
    the cake, top the cake with the reserved batter and bake at 425°F for 10 
    minutes in a preheated oven. Remove the sides of the pan and serve warm
    with ice cream and a topping of whipped cream.

If you plan to bake it only once, use all the batter and bake for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan and store in the fridge for at least two hours. Remove the sides of the pan and serve.

* Food and Wine, November 2000 Issue, page 244-245.    

Spaghetti con Vongole

Copyright 2013 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
This dish means spaghetti with clams and is adapted from Sophia Loren's recipe. Actually, I was researching her Puttanesca recipe but came across this one on the page next to the recipe I wanted. What made this recipe interesting was the fact that it resembled the Puttanesca I saw posted on the internet with a few key differences. I thought it would be best to try this dish as written in the book and experiment with the Puttanesca dish some other time, both the more authentic and the modified versions. 

The recipe calls for clams but stopping by the wet market tonight, we found mussels as well so I grabbed a few of those in addition to the clams. The dish also goes well with shrimps so that was added to the mix as well and even scallops were thrown in. My friends were making jokes that the dish is a bit pale and needs a dash of ketchup or two (Que' horror!) to bring it to life but once they've tasted the dish, they went in for second and third helpings. It was very good indeed. Certainly a good meal to share with lovely friends or family.

Spaghetti con Vongole - Adapted*

1 lb spaghetti
2 lbs clams/mussels/shelled shrimps
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup olive oil plus more if needed
1 lb tomatoes, diced roughly
salt and pepper
4 tbsp parsley
1 cup white wine (or water)
Parmigiano, grated

1. In a large pot over medium heat, steam the clams and mussels with the 
    white wine. Cover the pot and cook until the shells have opened. Take 
    off from the heat and set aside.

2. In a large pan, heat 3 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat and saute the 
    garlic. Cook until softened. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and 
    pepper. Saute until softened. Add about a cup of the clam/mussel liquid 
    and lower heat to simmer. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.  

3. While the tomatoes are simmering, cook the spaghetti as per packet 
    instructions. Boil until the spaghetti is close to being al dente

4. In the pan with the sauce, add the shrimps and mix. Transfer the almost 
    cooked spaghetti into the sauce and finish cooking the pasta in the pan. 
    Add more clam/mussel liquid and keep tossing until the spaghetti is al 

5. To finish the dish, add the clams and mussels and toss into the spaghetti. 
    Turn off the heat and add a handful of grated cheese and half the parsley.
    Toss with the rest of the olive oil and serve in a large bowl with a 
    garnishing of the remaining parsley. 

*Loren, S., Sophia Loren's Recipes and Memories, GT Publishing, New York: 1998  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Food for the Gods

Copyright 2013 LtDan'sKitchen blogs
Okay, finally a recipe I can post. I had to tweak the original recipe to achieve the buttery flavor and moist texture of this very popular pastry bar.  A staple during Christmas, they are sold in boxes alongside fruit cakes and brownies in addition to being ordered from every aspiring baker you know in the city. The original recipe came to me via my friend Butch and it worked quite well when I was living in the US but after trying out the recipe using the ingredients available in the grocery stores here, the taste was a bit different. It was still good but there was something missing to it. I could not quite fathom it then but I finally decided to give it a try and with a bit of a tweak, I'm thankful that it came out great. The change was quite simple and it all has to do with the butter. 

Food for the Gods

1 1/4 cup dates, pitted and diced
3 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
3/4 cups unsalted butter
1/4 cup butter compound
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a large pan over low heat, melt the butter 
    and butter compound.

2. Add the sugar to the melted butter and mix well. Allow to cool for about 5 

3. Add the eggs one at a time mixing well after each addition. 

4. Using a mesh, sift the flour and baking powder over the egg mixture. Mix 
    well with a wooden spoon. Add the vanilla and mix into the batter.

5. Add the nuts and dates into the batter and combine until just mixed. Pour 
    into a 9x13 baking pan lined with aluminum foil and bake for about 25-30 
    minutes. Do not overbake.

6.  Cool completely and cut into squares.