Category Archives: easy

Peaches w/ Prosciutto & Mint

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Its been unseasonably hot here in Belgium recently. With record breaking heat and houses that lack air conditioning, the last thing anyone wants to do is turn on the oven to cook. The same goes for grilling since, yes it is simply that hot. But, you’ve still got to eat. My solution when the temperatures soar is to go simple, light, and if possible, not turn on a single appliance.

These peaches wrapped in prosciutto from William Sonoma are meant to be an appetizer, and they do make a very tasty addition to dinner, but on a hot night, they are dinner. Peaches are in season right now so it is easy to find a perfectly ripe peach. When wrapped in a slice of salty prosciutto the combination is out of this world. If you like, serve them alongside crusty French bread and wash it all down with a chilled prosecco. And dinner is served.

PEACHES w/PROSCIUTTO & MINT

3 white peaches

8 thin prosciutto slices

24 fresh mint leaves

  • Slice wach peach in half and remove the pit.
  • Cut each peach half into four equal slices.
  • Cut each prosciutto slice lengthwise into three strips.
  • Place a mint leaf on each peach slice and wrap it with a strip of prosciutto.

Makes 24

 

Double Coffee Chocolate Crazy Cake w/ Coffee Buttercream

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Chocolate cake is good. Chocolate cake infused with coffee is even better. And when there are two types of coffee–a rich roasted drip coffee and a healthy dose of coffee liqueur–chocolate cake is even better. Go all out and top it with a mocha buttercream or a simply dusting of confectioners sugar. Either way, you have a winner. This cake, adapted from Sweet Little Bluebird, is all that and then more.

This cake is a version of a crazy cake, meaning it contains no eggs, milk or butter. The batter can also be mixed right in the baking pan meaning no mixing bowls are required. I stumbled upon crazy cakes when we had arrived in Albania in 2011. While we were living in our house all of our household goods were making their way across the Atlantic Ocean towards Europe so my kitchen was pretty barren. The Embassy had provided us with a “welcome kit” which contained the basics needed to live until our own household goods arrived. The stash of kitchen supplies included a cake pan but no mixing bowls and an electric mixer certainly was not included. We were invited to a potluck picnic and as I struggled to come up with our contribution, I discovered crazy cakes.

Since then I’ve been experimenting with versions of crazy cakes, adding and subtracting ingredients as I have them. The basic principle behind them remains the same though;flour, sugar, a liquid, oil and a touch of vinegar. They are truly foolproof. So if you ever find yourself in transition, or in a less than well equipped kitchen, why not try your hand at a crazy cake. And even if you have a fully equipped kitchen but don’t feel like breaking out the bowls and mixers, try this cake. You won’t be disappointed. The buttercream is optional……

DOUBLE COFFEE CHOCOLATE CRAZY CAKE w/ COFFEE BUTTERCREAM

For the cake:

3 cups all purpose flour
3/8 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups brewed coffee, at room temperature
1/2 cup coffee liqueur, I like Illy brand

For the buttercream:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted

2-4 tablespoons coffee liqueur, as needed

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Combine the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda and salt in a greased 9 x 13 baking baking pan.
  • Make 3 depressions in dry ingredients – two small, one larger.
  • Pour the vinegar in one depression, the vanilla in the other and the vegetable oil in third larger depression.
  • Pour the coffee and the coffee liqueur over the entire mixture.
  • Mix well until  the batter is smooth.
  • Bake on middle rack of oven for 35 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make the buttercream by whipping together the softened butter and sugar in a standing mixer fitted with a wire whip.
  • Add the coffee liqueur, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat the buttercream for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.
  • When the cake is completely cool, pipe or smooth on the buttercream.

Serves 16

Chilled Cucumber Buttermilk Soup w/ Dilled Shrimp

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Regular readers know I love soups and I’m a big fan of chilled soups when hot summer days call for something light and refreshing for dinner. Gazpacho or even a fruit soup might be the first ones that come to mind but they are really just a jumping off point. In reality, the possibilities are endless. I came across this soup from William Sonoma’s Soup of the Day when I was looking for a first course for a recent dinner party but it can just as easily be served as a light dinner when accompanied by a loaf of crusty bread (which is actually how we ate the leftovers the next night).

Because I was serving a crowd and think soup only improves with age, I tripled this recipe which meant blending the cucumber in batches. Lacking fresh buttermilk I used rehydrated powder from King Arthur Flour with good results. To make the soup richer I used half milk and half water when rehydrating the buttermilk. I also substituted Greek style yogurt for the plan yogurt called for in the original recipe.

I’ll admit, I was initially a bit unsure about the combination of ingredients but realized that since I like them all individually I would probably enjoy them together. My guests shared my skepticism but in the end every drop of the soup was scraped from the bowls proving that this recipe is indeed a success and a tasty way to eat your veggies.

CHILLED CUCUMBER BUTTERMILK SOUP WITH DILLED SHRIMP

5 English cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped

4 green onions, white and tender green parts, chopped

2 large cloves garlic

1/4 cup buttermilk

1 1/2 cups plain whole Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 pound bay shrimp, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced

  • Place the cucumbers, green onions, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
  • Add the buttermilk, yogurt, and lemon juice and puree.
  • Season with salt and pepper. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least a 1/2 hour.
  • To make the shrimp, place the shrimp and dill in a small bowl and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Serve the soup topped with the dilled shrimp.
    Serves 4

Broiled Avocados

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I love avocados. A perfectly ripe avocado melts in your mouth when eaten in its natural state, adds cool texture to a sandwich or salad, and creates the perfect guacamole.  As an added bonus a serving of avocado fulfills one of your daily fruit and vegetable requirements and provides a healthy dose of good fats (which is a nice change after all of the bacon that has been creeping its way into my cooking lately.  Inspired by a recipe I found on Morsels and Musings, I set about creating my own version of a broiled avocado.

We ate the avocados as a side dish with dinner but they could easily be served as a part of a buffet table or as an appetizer, or even a late night snack.  I’m thinking they would make a nice first course when paired with a cup of chilled gazpacho soup and a handful of homemade tortilla chips.

BROILED AVOCADOS

1 avocado, sliced in half lengthwise with pit removed

1 lime, juiced, plus more for garnish

1 tablespoon minced red onion

1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeno peppers

1 tablespoon tabasco sauce

1/4 cup finely grated pepper jack cheese

Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • Pre-heat the broiler.  Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  • Score the insides of the avocado halves and place on the prepared baking tray.
  • Squeeze the lime juice over each half, add the tabasco sauce, and sprinkle with the cheese. Top with the minced onions and jalapeno and a healthy dose of sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
  • Place under the broiler and cook for 5 minutes or until the cheese is brown and melted.
  • Remove from oven, let cool for one minute then serve with additional lime juice if desired.

Peanut Butter Bars

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Who doesn’t love the combination of chocolate and peanut butter? I know I certainly do so when the craving strikes these bars from Add A Pinch are the perfect treat. These taste like a homemade Reese Peanut Butter Cup only better. They are also ridiculously easy; so easy that it is almost embarrassing. There is even no need to turn on the oven so technically you aren’t even baking. But they are so good that you too will find yourself making them again and again.

PEANUT BUTTER BARS

For the crust:
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1½ cups creamy peanut butter

For the topping:
¼ cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups chocolate chips

  • Combine the ingredients for the crust in a large mixing bowl mixing until well-combined and smooth.
  • Spread evenly into a 9×13 baking dish making sure to push the crust into the corners of the dish.
  • Place the remaining peanut butter and the chocolate chips in a microwave proof bowl.
  • Melt in the microwave for 1 minute at a time on 80% power. Remove from the microwave and stir until smooth.
  • Spread the chocolate mixture over the top of the peanut butter bar base and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.
  • Remove from the freezer and cut into individual bars.

Yields 36 bars

Fondue Neuchateloise

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Its national cheese fondue day so what better way to celebrate than with a piping hot pot of melted cheese and wine? (Actually, any night is a great one for fondue). Fondue was trendy in America back in the 1970s then seemed to fall out of favor for many years. But we love fondue in our house and are it regularly before it became trendy again. But here in Belgium, where fresh French Bread, crisp German Reisling wine and Swiss cheeses are all readily available, making this dish is a natural.

FONDUE NEUCHATELOISE

1 pound shredded cheese (I use a variety of Jarlsberg, Emmenthaler, and Greuyer)

3 tablespoons flour

1 garlic clove

1 3/4 cups dry Reisling wine

1/4 cup kirsch

salt & pepper to taste

  • Dredge the shredded cheese in flour.  I like to use a large Ziploc bag to combine everything.
  • Rub the inside of a fondue pot with sliced garlic.
  • Slowly heat the Reisling in the pot until small bubbles form.
  • Add the cheese, a handful at a time, until the cheese melts, stirring well after each addition.
  • Keep mixing until the mixture bubbles slightly.
  • Add the kirsch and season with salt and pepper.
  • Remove from heat and keep warm on a table warmer while eating.

 

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Sweet & Sour Chicken

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Sweet and sour chicken is one of those classic Chinese-American dishes. But all too often what you get in your takeout order from your local Chinese restaurant is an oddly colored, too sweet dish with soggy vegetables and more breading than chicken. But there is no reason to despair since making your own sweet and sour chicken at home is easy–and much healthier as well.

My version of this dish leaves the chicken unbreaded. Dusted with spices then quickly cooked in sesame oil, the chicken is juicy and flavorful without the added breading. The vegetables are cooked separately leaving them tender crisp to the bite. I omit the traditional food coloring which gives the dish a pinkish hue. If you prefer the more colorful option, simply add a couple of drops of red coloring into your sugar and water mixture before mixing in the cornstarch. The recipe does make a lot of sauce meaning I always have extra which I serve on the side so diners can add more if they like.

SWEET & SOUR CHICKEN

8 ounces canned pineapple chunks, drained and juices reserved

1 3/4 cups water, divided

3/4 cup white sugar

1/2 cup distilled white vinegar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 large white onion, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1 inch pieces

4 teaspoons sesame oil, divided

  • In a medium sized heavy saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups of the water, sugar, vinegar and reserved pineapple juice. Bring to a boil then turn off the heat.
  • Combine 1/4 cup cornstarch and 1/4 cup water then slowly stir into saucepan. Continue stirring until mixture thickens.
  • Keep warm over low heat.
  • Heat 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil in a large wok set over medium-high heat.
  • Sprinkle the chicken pieces with the salt, pepper, garlic powder and ground ginger.
  • Add the chicken to the wok and cook, tossing regularly, until the chicken is cooked on all sides, about 3-4 minutes. Move the chicken to a plate.
  • Add the remaining oil to the wok. When it shimmers, add the onion and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add all of the peppers and cook for an additional minute then stir in the pineapple chunks.
  • Return the chicken to the wok and toss to combine.
  • Gradually stir in the reserved sweet and sour sauce and toss to combine. Depending upon your preferences you may not need to use all of the sauce.
  • Cook to heat through then serve immediately over noodles or rice.

Serves 4

Mussels Normandy

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It’s Fast Friday again and time for another fast and fabulous dinner suggestion. If you are anything like me, by the time Friday rolls around the last thing I want to do is cook a big meal yet we all still have to eat. The dishes featured in this series aren’t necessarily fancy but they bring together simple ingredients most people already have in their pantries or have easy access to and allow you to put a real meal on the table in between 30 and 45 minutes. Enjoy and if you have your own fast recipes you want to share, please send them my way and I will in turn share them with all of my readers.

Hands down the best part of the winter season in Belgium is the abundance of fresh mussels. This time of year they are highlighted on just about every restaurant menu but personally I love to make them at home because they are so easy. This recipe was inspired by our trip to Normandy France. In Normandy,  the apple cider (the hard kind), crisp, light and refreshing, seems to be the regional drink. People drink and cook with it and while I enjoyed drinking it, I loved what it did to the food it was added to. When it was used as the broth for steamed mussels I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It was that good. So naturally I’ve been replicating this dish at home.

I prefer to use a dry apple cider for this dish since sweeter ones over power the delicate flavor of the mussels. And while I initially eschewed the idea of cream being added to the mix I’m now a convert. Be sure to serve these mussels with a good crusty French bread so you can sop up all of the delicious sauce.

MUSSELS NORMANDY

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 shallot, minced

3 cups hard apple cider

4 pounds fresh mussels, cleaned

1/2 cup heavy cream

 

  • Rinse and clean mussels, discarding any that will not close. Set aside.
  • Heat the butter in a large pot set over medium-high heat.
  • When the butter is melted, add the shallot and saute until soft, 4-5 minutes.
  • Raise the temperature to high, add the cider and bring to a simmer.
  • When the cider simmers, reduce the temperature to medium high then add the rinsed mussels to the pot, cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, shaking occasionally, until the mussels open.
  • Discard any mussels that don’t open.
  • Pour the cream over the mussels allowing it to drip down to the bottom of the pot.
  • Use a large spoon and divide the mussels between four shallow serving bowls.
  • Serve immediately.

Serves 4

 

 

Citrus Risotto

 

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Its citrus season and there is nothing better than these juicy and colorful fruits to brighten up dreary winter days. The fruit is great eaten as is but really shines when used as part of a dish. Right now I’m missing the lemon and mandarine trees that graced my garden in Albania but I’m pleasantly surprised at the variety of fruits I’m finding in my local markets here in Belgium. When I came across a honey pompelo, I just knew I needed to buy one to take home. When I cut through its skin and thick pith I found what was essentially a giant grapefruit. The flesh was golden (there are also ruby red varieties) and it tasted like a mild, less acidic grapefruit. I was intrigued. I had recently been gifted with a large stash of Spanish clementines so I knew that a citrus dish was in the making.

Followers of this blog know that I love risotto so when I came across a citrus risotto recipe in Judy Roger’s The Zuni Cafe Cookbook I knew what I was going to make. I substituted my pompelo for the grapefruit in the original recipe, added in my clementines as well as a healthy dose of white wine. The results? Try them for yourself but I’m sure you’ll agree that this recipe is a keeper.

CITRUS RISOTTO

1 pompelo, plus juice

1 clementine, plus juice

1 lime, plus juice

3 cups low sodium chicken broth

1 cup dry white wine

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 shallot, minced

2 cups arborio rice

1/4 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature

  • Slice the ends off of the citrus, cutting deeply enough to just expose the flesh. Working over a large bowl, use a paring knife to carve away the skin and pith from the fruit. Carefully remove the membrane from each citrus section and remove any seeds. Set the juice and citrus aside.
  • Combine the chicken broth and wine in a medium sized pot and heat over medium-high heat until it reaches a low simmer. Keep warm.
  • Melt the butter in a large heavy pot set over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, stir in the shallots and cook until soft and translucent about 4 to 5 minutes.
  • Stir the rice into the butter and shallot mixture stirring with a wooden spoon until the grains are coated with the butter.
  • Working with one ladleful of the liquid at a time, add the liquid into the rice stirring well after each addition. Cook and stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed before adding more liquid. Do not let the mixture become too dry.
  • Continue adding broth and cooking until the rice is al dente and creamy looking. You may not have used all of the broth mixture at this point. (I usually have about 1/2 cup of broth left when my rice is done).
  • Stir in the reserved citrus and juices, breaking up the sections to distribute them through the rice. Check the rice for doneness and add the remaining broth if necessary.
  • Remove the rice from the heat and beat in the mascarpone cheese.
  • Serve immediately.

Serves 4-6

 

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Tirimisu

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Tiramisu is the all time favorite dessert in our house.  Glenn and I discovered our mutual love of this Italian dessert early in our relationship over a late night dinner at Filomena Ristorante in Georgetown, Washington D.C.  Since that snowy January night, if tiramisu is on the menu, we order it.  Tiramisu was the dessert at our rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding (it would have been our wedding cake if I could have figured out how it could have been made in a tiered form), it is the cake I make for Glenn’s birthday every year, and it is becoming a favorite dessert for our formal dinners.

I’ve discovered that not all tiramisu is created equal. Cake that is too dry or filling that is too sweet yields  disappointing results.  This recipe comes from Williams Sonoma and in my opinion is the perfect combination of moist, yet not too wet, lady fingers and rich and delicately sweet filling.  Always make it a  day ahead of time. This lets the flavors meld together.  Of course, if there are leftovers, it is even better the following day.

TIRAMISU

1/2 cup sugar 

1/2 cup water

2 cups freshly brewed espresso 

1/4 cup dark rum 

45 ladyfingers

1/3 cup sugar 

6 egg yolks 

1/2 cup heavy cream 

1 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese 

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 

Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting 

  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the espresso and let cool to room temperature. Stir the rum into the cooled espresso mixture. 
  • Pour the espresso mixture into a wide, shallow bowl. Working in batches, briefly immerse the ladyfingers in the liquid, then transfer them to a plate. Set aside. 
  • To make the filling, select a heatproof bowl that fits snugly in the rim of a saucepan. Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into the saucepan and bring to a very gentle simmer.
  • Meanwhile, in the heatproof bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is pale yellow and creamy, about 2 minutes.
  • Place the bowl over, but not touching, the simmering water in the pan. Using a handheld mixer on medium speed, beat the yolk mixture until very thick and tripled in volume, about 6 minutes.
  • Remove the bowl from the heat and set the yolk mixture aside to cool completely, stirring frequently. 
  • Meanwhile, in a bowl, using the mixer on medium-high speed, beat the cream until stiff peaks form.
  • Add the mascarpone and vanilla to the cooled yolk mixture. Beat with the mixer on medium speed just until smooth and well blended.
  • Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the whipped cream just until combined. 
  • To assemble, carefully transfer 15 soaked ladyfingers to a 9-inch square cake pan. Arrange them in a single layer in the bottom of the pan.
  • Using the rubber spatula, evenly spread one-third of the filling over the ladyfingers. Place another layer of 15 ladyfingers over the filling in the pan and evenly spread with half of the remaining filling.
  • Top with the remaining ladyfingers and filling, again spreading evenly. Gently tap the pan against the counter to settle the ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to overnight. 
  • Run a small knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the sides. Using a fine-mesh sieve, dust the top with the cocoa powder. Cut into slices and serve directly from the pan.

Serves 8. 

 

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