Friday, September 30, 2011

My Trip to the CIA- The Cooking School not the Agency

 Recently I had the opportunity to take a class at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park New York.  When we first got into town we drove by the campus. The main building of the institute was a seminary which is apparent in the beautiful stained glass windows that are still in the dining room which used to be the chapel.  

Once I got onto the campus, I saw the other participants start file in, getting coffee and finding a place to sit.  We were told that we to wait inside the dining room for our names to be called for our appropriate class.  Sitting in the dining room, taking in the reality that I am here… I’m actually at the CIA, about to take my first cooking class ever.  With a real live chef!  But I wasn’t nervous at all.  As a matter of fact I felt right at home.

The Class

Before the class actually began we met with the chef in a small group in the corner of the dining room.  Chef Eric told us a little bit about himself, then a little bit about what we would be doing.  I could tell right away that he was nothing like Gordon Ramsay (he wasn’t one to raise his voice or belittle you) and he wasn’t like the judges on Chopped or Iron Chef (he didn’t judge at all, he was very kind and helpful) but friendly, funny and made us all relax.
Then it was time to go to the kitchen.  Walking through the halls was a humbling experience and to work in the kitchens that produced some of the best chefs in the country was amazing. Like I said this was my first ever cooking class—nothing like starting at the top!

I’m not a novice cook but I’m not a pro by any means so I knew there were lots of tips and tricks I could pick up.  The class was called CIA Favorites, so I was expecting to get some insight into a lot of different recipes that have been perfected at the CIA over the years.  Once in the kitchen we were introduced to the two students, MT and Tyler, who would be assisting Chef Eric and us during the class. They were to help us with additional equipment we might need or help with anything like grinding spices etc, and they would also do all the cleaning up, now that was a nice surprise! Then it was time to start.  Chef Eric familiarized us with some of the ingredients we would be using with the recipes he selected… 

Tamarind -- a pod that comes peeled and compressed. It’s sticky with a sweet/sour flavor.  It’s used in curry.
Galangal --looks like ginger and is used in Thai cooking and can also be used in curry dishes. A rather exotic ingredient.

Fennel --  a bulb with a very distinctive licorice taste. I’ve heard of fennel but never tried it before.
After we experienced the tasting of ingredients then it was time to be broken up into groups and given the recipes that we would use.  Being put in a group with complete strangers was a unique way to learn these recipes.  We had to work as a team, we had to talk to each other and work out our problems as they arose.  I guess the same way that you would if you were hired in a restaurant kitchen.  I partnered up with Becky. We were able to chit-chat while we were prepping things for our recipes which was nice.  

  I found out that Becky lives outside of Boston with her husband and two little girls.  She and her husband are both in the ministry. It was nice to be in a relaxed atmosphere, learning about each other, and from each other.  Our recipe was called Lamb Meatballs Stewed with Hot Tomatoes. 

The meatballs were formed then browned in a skillet and then simmered in a tomato sauce of plum tomatoes and tomato puree that was seasoned with onions, cumin, cinnamon, saffron and harissa.  Harissa is an interesting ingredient made from peppers that can be very hot.  So add a little, then taste. Remember you can always add but you can’t take it away once it’s in the dish. We were suppose to grate the onion for the meatballs which made the meat a little moister than it should have been, making them fall apart in the sauce. So we really had lamb ragu. If I make this at home, I’ll add more bread crumbs.

Chef’s tips:
Taste and season as you go.
Try unfamiliar ingredients before you use them.
When sautéing, tip the pan so the oil flows away from you so that you don’t get splattered when you put food in the pan.
Hold the Chef’s knife close to the blade for more control.
Cook with love and it will all be good.

To go with our meatballs, our other team members were to make zucchini pancakes with tzatziki sauce to serve as our side dish.  The zucchini pancakes, although delicious were a little more complicated so Becky and I pitched in to make the tzatziki sauce.  There were refrigerators under the counters where our stations were set up for us, so we just reached in, grabbed our ingredients and got to work.  Then when something needed to chill we just put it right back in.

The Results

Some of the other recipes that were cooked for our buffet: Swordfish with Olives, Orzo Salad, Panzanella Salad, Beef in Curry Sauce, Fresh Corn Chowder, Bulgogi-Style Grilled Chicken which is Korean-style.  Some of the dishes were challenging (the beef in curry sauce never made it to the buffet, it burned) and some were simple dishes that were made more sophisticated.

The kitchen was a huge commercial kitchen with stations for prep work along the walls and the stoves in the center.  Using the well-loved cookware made me smile.  Knowing that generations of chefs had the privilege of using it before we even got there.  The kitchen was buzzing with activity, chopping, grating, slicing and grilling. 

I really felt in my element.  When the tzatziki sauce was done, I tasted it.  Pretty darn good I thought.  Meatballs in sauce, done and simmering and the zucchini pancakes looking good too.  Time was ticking down (the class ran for 5 hours) and we needed to get finished up so that we could set up the buffet for our feast. Chef cleared up the stations and started to set up the dishes.  Everything looked amazing, cooked with love.

We filled our plates and headed to the dining room.  Now the real conversation could start.  We found out more about each other.  Met a man who has never had a cup of coffee in his life.  Met another couple who drove all the way from Philadelphia, just for the day.  There were Grandmothers, mothers (young and not so young) there were men of different ages.  Just proves everyone eats, so it’s good if you know how to cook!
After the meal we were promised some Tiramisu that Chef Eric had made the day before.  I have to admit this is what I’ve been waiting for!  It was the most delicious, creamy and perfect dessert I think I’ve ever had.

The CIA has a range of classes that are held on Saturdays for those of us who aren’t looking for a culinary career but would rather take the occasional course, maybe pick up some pointers and techniques. Of course if you’re interested in a culinary career there is no better institution at which to study. And you’d be in stellar company.  The CIA has campuses in California, Texas as well as Hyde Park.  The courses available are varied so it would be best to visit their website for more information.

The Grounds

After the class we were free to roam the grounds, which are beautiful and to walk the halls and shop in the gift shop. We went back to the kitchen where we got our cookbook to take home with us along with our hat and apron.  Then we were free to go home, take a look at the cookbook and cook our way through it.

For anyone who likes to cook, fancies them self a chef or would like to delve deeper into the culinary world, the CIA is the perfect place to do that.  Dip your toe into the world of food with a boot camp day or class or one that runs three or four days.  So don’t be afraid, boot camps aren’t intimidating.  You won’t be yelled at.  Even if you do burn the beef.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sprout Creek Farm and Education Center - Learning from the Land

The Farm

 We took a tour of the farm during our recent trip to Dutchess County.  We learned all about the programs that are offered and how they benefit children of all ages, and how even adults can learn and benefit from working with their hands: milking and harvesting.  But the thing I was most interested in was the cheese.

They have several breeds of cows on the farm including Jerseys (one which had a calf the morning before we got there), Holsteins, Linebackers, Normandes and Short Horns.  They also have several breeds of goats including Toggenburg, Oberhasli, Nubians.  The cheese is made by CIA graduate Colin McGrath and is available for purchase at the market (which I highly recommend. It’s a beautiful drive and an amazing farm) and online at their website. Colin creates cheeses in the old world European tradition. Turning out some of the tastiest farmstead cheeses I've ever tried.  Ranging from soft and creamy to tangy to smoky and decadent.  But before I get to the actual cheese I thought I'd highlight the animals that make it all possible -- in photos.....

The Goats

The Cows

The Cheese
Since this is basically a food blog I wanted to highlight the cheese that we had an opportunity to sample. After we completed the tour we were taken back to the market for a cheese tasting.  I was raised on cow's milk cheese and not until recently have I been exposed to more than just cheddar (which I dearly love) and also artisan cheeses made from the freshest milk.  And what could be fresher than using milk from the animals that live just yards from your cheese making facility.  It was an interesting fact to learn that since these animals are raised on grass that the milk will taste a little different based on the grass they ate.  Also with them being on an all grass diet, the milk is hormone and antibiotic-free which makes it more nutritious and lower in cholesterol.
I'll try anything once (at least food-wise) so having a cheese tasting was right up my alley.  The cheeses were arranged from soft to firm and mild to sharper in flavor. We were given tasting notes so that could remember the names of the cheeses we might have liked.  They make both cow's and goat's milk cheeses, the first one in the tasting was a goat's milk cheese called Do Re Mi (all the cheeses have interesting names) that was almost like a cream cheese.  I could see adding some grated garlic and herbs and using it to spread on crackers or even stuffing a chicken breast with it.  The goat's milk cheeses unlike the cow's milk cheeses have a season and are limited quantity. One helpful hint here though is that this cheese can be frozen for later use.  We tried a few more cheeses before coming to Bogart, a cow's milk cheese that is aged for 90 days!! Now you're talking...  Another cheese that I really liked was Ouray that is available smoked or not smoked.  The not smoked variety would make some killer mac and cheese.  Toussaint which also comes smoked or not smoked was another favorite, it's aged 4 months.

While tasting the cheeses you can watch the cheese-makers through the glass window that separates the market from the creamery.  You  might even get a mini cheese making lesson.
For a full list of their award winning cheeses, programs and even to shop online you can visit them at their website

A glimpse into the cheese making facility

Colin in the aging room

Have a favorite cheese, cheese maker or recipe you'd like to share?
Feel free to comment or follow!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Monday Recipe: Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Makes Approximately 2 cups

When we were on the Washington County Cheese Tour we were given a sample of homemade ricotta cheese along with the recipe.  I’ve thought many times about making cheese but wasn’t really sure how to get started.  Well it turns out to be a pretty simple process and one I thought would be good for all the Mamatogians out there who might be looking for a fun, simple and delicious project to do with the kids when they’re on break or home for a snow day.

1 large saucepan
colander or strainer
slotted spoon

4 cups whole milk
1 cup of heavy cream
1 cup of buttermilk

The Process
In a large saucepan pour in the 4 cups of milk, the 1 cup of heavy cream and the 1 cup of buttermilk.  Heat to a simmer (a slight boil will be okay, just be sure that it doesn’t boil over), stirring occasionally to distribute the heat.  The curds will start to form after about 2 minutes, but it might take longer.  The milk should be at least 150 degrees but can be heated to 180 degrees.  In our cheese making process we found that as the milk cools it will form more curds.
Set the colander lined with cheese cloth (I found it at Bed Bath and Beyond for about $3.00) into a larger bowl.

Scoop the curds out of the pan with a slotted spoon (they will not be completely formed since this recipe is for creamy ricotta) and put them in the cheese cloth lined colander.  The curds (which is the firm part of the cheese) and the whey (the liquid part of the cheese) will separate.

That’s basically it.  Once made, the cheese can be used in lasagne, crepes or on pizza.  You can even put some herbs or garlic in it and spread it on crackers.  It will keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks, but I’m sure you’ll find a creative use for it before then.
I’m not really sure it’s “ricotta” cheese but it’s tasty and fun to make.

If this recipe doesn’t sound like something you’d like to try, check in next week, when it will be all about homemade buttermilk biscuits and making butter.  

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Brasserie 292-An Amazing Poughkeepsie Find

A Delightful Dinner
After our busy schedule of sight seeing I was looking forward to a relaxing, leisurely dinner at the Brasserie 292. We had to change our reservations to a little later since we ran short of time.  I called and talked to Chris and it was no problem getting a table for a little later that evening, and even though we were a little early for our 8:30 reservation we were seated right away.

Charming Hosts

Brasserie 292 is located at 292 Main Street in Poughkeepsie.  They’ve only been open for a few months but this unassuming store-front restaurant has mastered the art of French Brasserie cuisine.  Executive chef Daniel Crocco, a graduate from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park NY has extensive culinary experience and it shows in the plates that he creates. Both he and his brother Chris have grown up in the restaurant business.  Chris managed Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in NYC, BOLO and Bar Americain before finally becoming the director of event services at the Michelen rated restaurant Rouge Tomates. Chris runs the front of the house at Brasserie 292.  The restaurant has a definite NYC vibe with sophisticated décor – and even though Poughkeepsie is a small town compared to NYC this restaurant is by far the place to go to see and be seen. People meet for drinks after work or to start off the weekend, share an appetizer or enjoy a full and delicious meal prepared by an accomplished chef.  Chef  Daniel started in the restaurant business at the age of 13 as a dishwasher, working his way up to now executive chef.  Chef Daniel also worked under James Beard award winning chef Melissa Kelly for five years, where he learned the importance of fresh, local ingredients.   By using local ingredients Chef Daniel is able to create classic brasserie fare with a twist.  There is a new special every day on the dinner menu called the Plate of the Day.  We were there on Friday so the special was Bouillabaisse, a hearty combination of seafood in a tomato based broth.  Before ordering Chris stopped by our table to give us some insight into the menu and how things are prepared, along with some of his personal favorites, one of those being the bar steak and fries, which is similar to the steak frites only smaller in size.  Unquestionably my husband’s favorite. He stressed the fact that much of the food comes from local farms, the artisanal cows and goat’s milk cheeses from Sprout Creek Farm (more about them in a later post), rabbits and ducks from Fazio Farm, even the coffee is roasted locally at Coffee Labs Roasters in Tarrytown.

Delicious Meal

Before or after the meal you can order a plate of artisanal cheeses, but I decided to start with shrimp provencal, which was shrimp served with a sauce of olive oil, garlic, parsley and pastis.  My husband started with a bowl of white bean soup with tasso ham. We shared off each other’s plates.  The soup was creamy and delicious.  That’s one I wish I had the recipe for.  The shrimp were tender with a hint of licorice flavor from the pastis.

Brasserie 292 interior. Tin ceilings and chic decor

The service was prompt and attentive without being pushy. Brasserie 292 seems to be a place for all ages with an extensive wine list and full bar, and the atmosphere is sophisticated but somewhat noisy, which for a place that hasn’t been opened long is a good thing.  It means they’re popular.

For my entrée I selected the double cut pork chop and my husband picked the bar steak with frites.  We’re from the Midwest and grew up on meat and potatoes so these seemed like good choices.
The portions were huge, which surprised me.  My pork chop was served with polenta and grilled asparagus.  The bar steak (which is like the steak served with frites on the menu only smaller) is served with either herbed butter or bearnaise sauce.  My pork chop was cooked perfectly, juicy and tender.  The polenta had a good flavor but was a little grainy.  The steak was done perfectly for my taste but I think was a little rare for my husband.  The fries came in a huge mound on the plate.

For dessert, I talked my husband into something chocolate (even though he wanted to try the apple tart with brown sugar and sour cream gelato) the warm chocolate cake with crème anglaise and almonds.  I’m a chocoholic so for me it was the perfect end to our meal.

If you’re in Poughkeepsie and are looking for a sophisticated, adult place to dine, then I recommend Brasserie 292. Great food made from fresh local ingredients and sophisticated but not pretentious atmosphere all without breaking the bank.

Brasserie 292 is open Monday – Thursday for lunch 11:30 – 4:30 and for dinner at 5:30 – 10
They are opened for Friday and Saturday 5 pm -11 pm and Sunday from 11 am – 3 pm
To explore their menus online visit them at
There you will see not only food menus but also the wines and other liquors and drinks available.
You can call them for a reservation at (845) 473-0292
You'll be happy you did!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Homemade Pasta- It's Easier Than You Think

I’ve been invited to join a new and exciting website.  It’s fits in so well with my blog that I just had to say “YES!”  It’s called  and it’s for moms and moms-to-be.  This website has everything and anything you could want to make life as a mom easier.  With places to shop, places to visit and places to eat.  So when they asked me to become the food contributor, well, that was right up my alley.
I hope to share with the Mamatoga readers recipes that are healthy and easy to prepare, recipes that will get kids involved in the kitchen and some for that occasional “date night”.

So for my first Monday recipe I thought I would start out with an easy, versatile and fun way to get the kids involved – making homemade pasta.  It’s a lot easier than you think. You do need a few things but they aren’t expensive and if you don’t want to invest in a pasta maker then you can just you a rolling pin, and to cut the pasta a simple pizza cutter will work.  But for me the pasta maker is the way to go and can be bought almost anywhere for around $35.

Most all pasta recipes are the same but I decided to use one I found on the internet that happened to be Mario Batali’s recipe.  It worked really well – simple and without a lot of rest time.

To make the recipe here’s what you’ll need.

3 ½ cups flour
4 large eggs
½ tsp olive oil

Kitchen Tools
Clean countertop or wooden board
Bench scraper or spatula
Pasta machine if using
Rolling pin, pizza cutter if not using pasta machine 


Put the flour (having extra to dust the board with) into a mound on the cutting board or counter.  Make a well inside the flour and then add the eggs and the olive oil.  With a fork break up the eggs and mix it into the flour, taking it from the edge to the inside, trying to keep the well intact as much as possible.  Once you have about half the flour incorporated into the eggs then you can use your hands to work in the flour.  When the flour is completely incorporated into the eggs it’s time to knead the dough.  With a bench scraper or a spatula clean off the board.  Sprinkle the board with flour then take the ball of dough and using the heel of your hand push the dough forward and then pull it back adding flour when needed.  Trust me when making pasta dough, flour is your friend.  Kneading is where kids can really get involved.  Let them push and pull the dough, let them get a feel for it.  They can’t do it wrong. 
The dough should be kneaded for about 6 minutes or until smooth and elastic.  Now it’s time for the dough to rest for about 30 minutes, just enough time to clean up and decide what type of sauce you’re going to use.  You can wrap it in plastic wrap or waxed paper.  

While the dough is resting let’s put a large pot of water onto boil and decide what we are going to use to top our homemade pasta.  The simplest way is to use olive oil, butter and some fresh herbs and maybe some grated cheese.  But why not let your imagination run?  Whatever you top your pasta with please don’t use a canned or jarred sauce!  You took the time to make your own pasta give it some love!

After the pasta has rested for 30 minutes then it’s time to break out the pasta machine.  Divide the dough into 4 pieces.  Starting at it’s lowest setting run the pasta through.  It will come out as a sheet.  Run the pasta through, moving the setting up each time.  Like I said before when making pasta –FLOUR IS YOUR FRIEND- so be sure to dust the pasta with flour so it doesn’t stick to the machine.  Once the pasta is the desired thickness and length then it’s time to cut it.  Most pasta machines have at least two different cutters.  Pick which ones you want, usually a thin and a thicker one, then insert the pasta and turn the crank.  Be sure to have a cookie sheet or plate to catch it.  The pasta dough should have sufficient flour on it so that it doesn’t stick.

Now since your water is boiling and your sauce is ready, drop your pasta in the water, that has been salted.  Stir it so it doesn’t stick together.  Once it’s floating (it takes just a few minutes) then add it to the sauce. DONE!
Here's an idea for a simple sauce.  In a frying pan melt 2 Tablespoons butter and 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Once they have melted then add minced garlic, a few hot pepper flakes, fresh herbs (like basil) and salt and pepper.  When the pasta is cooked, drain and toss it with the sauce.

Enjoy it with a salad and bread.
So get your kids in the kitchen this weekend and make some pasta.  It’s messy, it’s fun and it’s delicious!!

Join me next week for another Monday Recipe.  It will be all about making (and using) ricotta cheese at home! 

Have a pasta sauce recipe that you’d like to share?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Broccoli with Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette, A Cooking From the Garden Recipe

It's time once again for a Summer Fest Recipe.  I have to say I was pretty excited to see that the produce choice this time was broccoli!  I love broccoli.  It’s actually one of my favorite vegetables.  I love it in salads, pastas, soup, steamed or raw.  But I’m always looking for new and interesting ways to serve it and a garlicy, lemony vinaigarette seemed like the perfect marriage of vegetable and sauce.  When the broccoli is served warm, the dressing has time to soak in and makes for a delicious dish.  It’s simple but makes a tasty side dish for chicken, fish or pasta.
Be sure to go to the bottom of this page for more broccoli recipes from the other Summer Fest Contributors!!

To make this side dish this is what you'll need:

1 large head of broccoli cut into florets
zest and juice of one lemon
2-3 large cloves of garlic, grated or finely minced
1-2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
olive oil

Kitchen Tools                                                   
Steamer pot
Chef's knife
Large measuring cup
hand held grater or micro-plane

Separate broccoli into florets.  Steam broccoli until fork tender.  

For the dressing:

1. In a measuring cup add the lemon zest and juice.  To stain the lemon juice I use a small strainer to catch the seeds.

2. Grate the garlic into the lemon juice.  

3. Chop and add salt and parsley. 

4.  Pour in olive oil into the measuring cup, while whisking until the dressing becomes emulsified. 

Pour over hot broccoli.  

Serve immediately.  The amounts are all approximate. But to make any vinaigarette the ratio is 3 -1 oil to acid, in this case lemon juice.  Grating the garlic will make the garlic flavor more intense. If you’re looking for a more subtle garlic flavor you can make a paste out of kosher salt and chopped garlic by smashing the garlic into the salt with the blade of your knife.

That's my favorite way to eat broccoli.  What's yours?

For more great broccoli ideas check the blog listed below:

What's Gaby Cooking:Charred Lemon Broccoli
Purple Cook: Pickled Broccoli Chips
Daily*Dishin: Quick Broccoli and Toasted Walnut Saute
Cooking Channel: Broccoli Stir-Fry
Virtually Vegan Mama: Vegan Broccoli Salad
Virtually Homemade:Broccoli Frittata
Zaika Zabardast:Char-Grilled Broccoli with Cherry Chilies and Garlic Tadka
Glory Foods: Steamed Broccoli-Vegetable Medley
Food2: Slammin' Broccoli Soup
Easy Peasy Organic: A Hands-On Approach to Eating Broccoli
FN Dish: Broccoli and Cheddar, A Perfect Pair

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Salsa 101-Taco Sloppy Joes with Salsa and Cheddar

The previous post was a basic recipe for salsa.  As I promised here is a tasty way to use some of that salsa.


My original plan was to make burgers seasoned with taco seasoning and then top them with the fresh salsa and cheddar cheese, but the hamburger was in the freezer so I had to go to Plan B.  I decided to partially thaw the hamburger in the microwave, being careful enough not to start cooking it.  Once the beef was thawed I browned it in a skillet over medium heat, then draining it.
I added half of a taco seasoning packet (for a pound of meat) and instead of following the package directions I added half a small can of tomato sauce.  I cooked the meat for the length it said on the package about 5 minutes.

One of my pet peeves is having hot meat on a cold bun so I put the hamburger buns in the toaster to just take the chill off of them.  I piled on the meat, topped it with salsa and some cheddar cheese.
Delicious and simple.

This also makes for a quick and tasty lunch or dinner.  So the next time you forget to take the ground beef out to thaw, make sloppy joes and top it with your yummy salsa!

Have a way to use salsa in a delicious and different way?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Salsa 101

The Inspiration

Many years ago I used to watch a PBS show called The Frugal Gourmet on Saturday afternoons.  This and a few others began my love of cooking shows.  Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet did an entire cookbook about ethnic cooking featuring authentic recipes from immigrants.  It was called The Frugal Gourmet on  Our Immigrant Ancestors, published by Avon Books back in 1990.  In this cookbook was a recipe for salsa, from what I could tell it was an authentic recipe.  I’ve used this recipe over the years with a little bit of my own added touches to make it my own.

Salsa is such a great and versatile way to use up summer tomatoes.  It’s quick, it’s easy and can be used in other recipes as I’ll show in a later post.  Salsa recipes call for a lot of chopping but can be made in a food processor if it’s pulsed so that the tomatoes aren’t  turned into mush.  To use the food processor place the tomatoes cut into pieces into the food processor.  The onions and garlic can also be added if cut into smaller pieces.  The herbs (cilantro or parsley can then be added) and the vinegar can be added along with the salt and pepper.  My version varies here, sometimes I add chopped jalapenos or chopped green chilies if I want it a little milder.  I’ve even added the liquid from the jar of jalapenos to give the salsa a little kick.  I vary the herbs too but most of the time I use parsley just because that’s what we grow.  

I very rarely use the food processor.  There is something that’s almost relaxing about chopping vegetables repeatedly.  After a while it almost becomes soothing.  By hand chopping you can make sure that the tomatoes, onions and garlic are all the correct size so that someone doesn’t bit into a huge hunk of garlic.
His recipe calls for a small can of tomato sauce to be stirred in at the end and also some Victoria’s brand salsa jalapena, which I omit, along with finely chopped green peppers.

The thing about a cookbook like this is that you can take the basic recipe and give it whatever kind of twist you like.  And it’s versatile.  Use it in almost anything.  That’s the great thing about cooking.  If you have the basic you can then turn it into whatever you like.  Add more garlic, try tomatillos instead of red tomatoes.  Maybe add a hotter chili or a different kind of pepper.  You might even want to roast the vegetables first to give the whole salsa a smoky flavor.

To make basic salsa here’s what you’ll need:

4 cups of chopped tomatoes, plum or cherry (can even use diced, canned tomatoes if they are drained)
1 small onion chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 Tablespoon parsley or cilantro finely chopped
splash of vinegar, either red wine or white
salt and pepper to taste
5 chopped jalapeno or more or less depending on the heat level you like
You can also add a tablespoon or so of the liquid from the jar of jalapenos if you don’t use fresh.

Prepare all the ingredients and place in a large bowl.  Can be used immediately or kept covered in the refrigerator.  The longer it sits the more intense the flavor will be.  I like to eat it right away when it’s fresh.

When I made a bowl of salsa this past weekend, it was just my husband and I at home.  I took some flour tortillas cut them into wedges and fried them in my deep fryer.  We dipped the warm, crispy, salty homemade chips into the freshly made salsa.  Needless to say we ate the whole bowl.  Well not quite, I actually had some leftover to make taco sloppy joes with salsa and cheddar. The recipe will follow in the next post.

Have a favorite salsa recipe?  Think yours is an improvement on the basic?
Then share.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tangy Chocolate Cake with Greek Yogurt

The Cake

As I said in my last post, this was a weekend of experiments.  The second recipe came from a trip to the store with a coupon for a free yogurt.  After taking the food tour here in Saratoga and sampling some Greek yogurt I was thinking what could I use this yogurt for in a new and different way.  So this is what I came up with.  Taking the standard chocolate cake recipe that uses sour cream and substituting plain Greek yogurt right into the batter, top it off with homemade chocolate frosting.  The yogurt made the cake a little tangy and the texture was dense. It also seemed that it wasn’t as sweet as a regular chocolate cake which was fine.  Next time I’ll shorten the bake time by about 5 minutes since I think it was overbaked just slightly.

To make this chocolate cake you’ll need:
1¾ cups flour
11/3 cups sugar
1½ teaspoons baking soda
2 eggs
¾ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
16 ounces of yogurt

With a mixer cream the sugar and margarine or butter together.  Add vanilla and eggs. Stir in the yogurt. In another bowl mix the dry ingredients making sure that the dry ingredients are mixed well and the ingredients are all one color.  Once the dry ingredients are mixed completely, add the dry into the wet using the mixer to mix it completely.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the cake for 30-40 minutes in a 13x9 inch pan.

The Frosting 

I made homemade chocolate frosting to ice the cake with.  I prefer homemade to store bought since you can control how sweet the icing is and can make it more spreadable.  I’ve found that store bought can be thick and not easy to spread.  
To make homemade chocolate frosting here’s what you need.

3 T. margarine
1/3 cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
2-3 T.  milk

Using an electric mixer first cream the margarine for 30 seconds to a minute, then add the powdered sugar (you might want to turn down the mixer and add it by spoonfuls to avoid getting covered in sugar), and add the vanilla.  Once it's mixed thoroughly add the milk 1 tablespoon at a time until the you've reached the desired consistency.

Enjoy with a BIG glass of milk! Or a cup of coffee.
I'll be thinking of ways to use Greek yogurt in new and inventive ways so stop by and check back.

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