Monday, December 29, 2008

Creamy Mushroom Phyllo

This is one of my favorite hors d'oeuvres to make and eat! I will assemble and freeze these beauties about a week before a party. If you can't find dried porcini's, don't worry. The tastiest batch I've ever made had a combination of dried portobello, chanterelle and wood ear mushrooms. So, don't be afraid to mix it up! I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Creamy Mushroom Phyllo Triangles
courtesy Cooking Light

This elegant appetizer takes a couple of hours to make, but you can do all the preparation ahead of time. Don't fold triangles too tightly or the mixture will burst through the phyllo. Assemble and freeze up to two weeks before the party. Don't thaw the triangles before baking; just add seven minutes to the baking time.

3/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms (about 3/4 ounce)
1 pound button mushrooms
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 8 ounces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
6 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
24 (18 x 14-inch) sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
Olive oil-flavored cooking spray

Cover porcini mushrooms with boiling water in a bowl. Let stand 1 hour. Drain well; chop.
Place half of button mushrooms in a food processor; pulse 8 times or until finely chopped. Remove from processor. Repeat procedure with remaining button mushrooms. Add onion to processor; pulse 8 times or until finely chopped.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion; sauté 5 minutes. Add button mushrooms; cook until mushrooms are tender and liquid evaporates (about 10 minutes). Stir in porcini mushrooms, oregano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg; cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cheese; stir until cheese melts. Stir in parsley.

Preheat oven to 375°.

Place 1 phyllo sheet on a large cutting board or work surface (cover remaining phyllo to prevent drying). Cut sheet in half lengthwise; lightly coat with cooking spray. Fold each phyllo piece in half lengthwise to form a (3 1/2-inch-wide) strip. Spoon a level tablespoon of mushroom mixture onto 1 short end of each strip, leaving a 1-inch border. Fold 1 corner of edge with 1-inch border over mixture, forming a triangle; continue folding back and forth into a triangle to end of strip. Repeat procedure with remaining phyllo, cooking spray, and mushroom mixture. Place triangles, seam side down, on baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Lightly coat tops with cooking spray.

Bake at 375° for 20 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.


While looking for a festive party drink, I tripped across this Southern Living favorite. It's very tasty and was a big hit!

Poinsettia Punch

Chill the Champagne and juice in the refrigerator before the party; then mix the punch right before serving. I actually mixed everything except the champagne in separate gallon sized zip-top baggies. That way, when I needed to mix another pitcher, everthing was good to go!

1 (750-milliliter) bottle Champagne, chilled
3 cups cranberry-apple juice, chilled
1/4 cup thawed white grape juice concentrate
1/4 cup Grand Marnier

Stir together all ingredients in a 2-quart pitcher.

Serve in Champagne flutes.


Part of our family's tradition every year is to do both a cheese & chocolate fondue. This can happen on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve, we're not particular about the date. We indulge sometime around the end of year holidays.

This year, we did fondue for friends at a small gathering and it was a big hit. Here are our favorite recipes--

Ultimate Cheese Fondue
courtesy, Tyler Florence

1/2 pound imported Swiss cheese, shredded
1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cherry brandy, such as kirsch
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard Pinch nutmeg Assorted dippers

In a small bowl, coat the cheeses with cornstarch and set aside. Rub the inside of the ceramic fondue pot with the garlic, then discard.

Over medium heat, add the wine and lemon juice and bring to a gentle simmer. Gradually stir the cheese into the simmering liquid. Melting the cheese gradually encourages a smooth fondue. Once smooth, stir in cherry brandy, mustard and nutmeg.

Arrange an assortment of bite-sized dipping foods on a lazy Susan around fondue pot. Serve with chunks of French and pumpernickel breads. Some other suggestions are Granny Smith apples and blanched vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and asparagus. Spear with fondue forks or wooden skewers, dip, swirl and enjoy!

Chocolate Fondue
(not sure where this recipe came from, it's just in my files and happens to be our fav :) )

16 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. caramel syrup/ice cream topping
3 tbsp Grand Marnier

Slowly melt together all ingredients over a double boiler. Once all items are fully combined, serve and enjoy! Some dippers may include bananas, strawberries, pretzel sticks, pound cake, angel food cake, marshmellows, green apples.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Scalloped Yukon Gold Potato Gratin

This another one of my "what can I make with leftover crap?" recipes.
We served this Christmas eve w/a salad and a nice steak, chased by creme brulee.
Happy holidays, one and all!

Scalloped Yukon Gold Potatoes

4 small/medium yukon gold potatoes
1 - 1 1/4 c. heavy cream
1 tspn fresh, chopped thyme
1 large garlic clove, pressed
2 tbsp butter
1 tspn kosher salt
1/2 tspn fresh ground black pepper
4 oz grated gruyere

Peel potatos, cut in fourths lengthwise.
Take the 2 parts of one half next to each other and slice into thin pieces 1/8" thick.
Repeat until potatoes are all sliced. Dump into a bowl of cold water.

Combine cream, butter, thyme and garlic in medium saucepan; bring to simmer.
Remove from heat.

Butter an 8x8 glass baking dish. Drain potatos, pat dry w/a towel.

Transfer half of potatos to baking dish. Spread evenly. Sprinkle half of salt and pepper and half of cheese. Repeat w/remaining potatoes, salt, pepper and cheese. Pour cream mixture over gratin, pressing lightly to submerge potato mixture as much as possible.

* Can be made 6 hours ahead

Preheat oven to 400F. Cover tightly w/foil. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover; bake until top of gratin is golden and most of liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes longer. Let stand 10minutes; serve.

Cranberry Cravings Cake-

This particular cake holds a special place in my memory & my heart as it was served during a Thanksgiving trip to see old friends. These friends were the ones that took me in during college and after when my own family wasn't so much fun to be around. :) Love you guys! You know who you are!

I have tweaked it a bit to my tastes, but the original recipe may be found here. Tubs of icing are convenient, however, I find homemade cream cheese icing to have no match!

I am no baker and I make no excuses or apologies about that. I also take help from a boxed cake mix where I can get it! If you can make a yellow cake from scratch, knock yourself out! It will only make this mouth watering dessert more delicious.

To start, storing this bad boy is a bit tricky. It has to go in the fridge and therefore needs to be covered. No easy task w/cream cheese frosting. Thus, I have a cake plate with a dome cover.

This particular cake plate is challenging b/c the bottom also has a lip on it. Good for keeping the cake fresh, bad for the person who wants to frost. So, I lay a few bits of parchment around the edges and then put the dome on to press the parchment into the plate. This helps stabilize the paper so I can easily throw the first layer onto the plate.

Cranberry Cravings Cake

1/2 cup cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
1/2 cup whipped cream
1 package Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Classic Yellow Cake Mix
1 cup cranberry juice
1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/3 cup Canola oil
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon red food coloring
Cooking Spray
A few tbsp of flour
2 8 oz packages cream cheese
10 tbsp softened butter
4 tspn vanilla
4 c. powdered sugar, measured after sifting

For the frosting:
Beat cream cheese with butter and vanilla until combined. Gradually add powdered sugar that has been sifted after measuring. Continue to add sugar until you reach a consistency and sweetness that fits your taste.
For the filling:
In medium size bowl, blend together cream cheese and cranberry sauce. Gently fold whipped topping into cream cheese mixture. Chill until ready to assemble cake.

For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350F.
Grease sides and bottom of three 8- inch baking pans with nonstick cooking spray. Flour lightly.
Blend dry mix, cranberry juice, orange juice concentrate, vegetable oil, eggs and food coloring in large bowl at low speed until moistened (about 30 seconds). Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. Pour one-third of batter in each pan. Bake immediately.

Bake 20 to 23 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes. Cool completely before assembling.
Place one layer on serving platter. Spread with half cream cheese mixture. Top with second layer and remaining cream cheese mixture. Top with remaining layer. Frost top and sides of cake with frosting. Garnish with fresh cranberries, orange twists and orange zest curls, if desired. Refrigerate cake until ready to serve.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Parmesan Dijon Chicken

I'm baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack! And actually cooking in my kitchen :)

Tonite's assignment was to jazz up the boring, old chicken breast.
I happened across this particular recipe in my ages old "To Try" pile that has been languishing in the back of my file cabinet.

I have no idea where this particular recipe came from, so if you do, let me know! I'd love to give someone credit for this wonderfully savory chicken recipe. Not only is it tasty and looks great, but it's also a snap to make!

Parmesan Dijon Chicken
Serves 2

2 chicken breasts
3 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
1 Tbsp white wine
Pinch of salt
1/2 c. panko
1/2 c. fresh grated parmesan
Fresh ground black pepper to taste

Combine mustard, wine and salt in one bowl and the panko, parmesan and pepper in another. Dip chicken in mustard mixture, then dredge through panko mixture. Place in greased baking dish (one w/a rack inside is preferable so the bottom gets crispy as well) and bake at 400 degrees for approx. 30-35 minutes.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dear Santa,

This is all I want for Christmas. I swear.

Oh, and maybe a trip to Napa to actually visit the French Laundry?
Too much? The economy, you say? Ok, maybe next year.
I'll just settle for the cookbook.
Thank you!

Mamma Zu

Today, at long last, I had the opportunity to visit (according to locals) that bastion of ultimate Italian cuisine in the river city-- Mamma Zu's.

Living here in RiVA for the past 5 years, I've heard pretty much all of the scuttlebutt surrounding Zu's. Words like 'dump', 'dive', 'surly', 'attitude', 'churlish' and 'fractious' have all been thrown around.

Being a Zu neophyte and having heard these stories, I was touched with a tad bit of mild apprehension about my lunch today. My anxiety was all for naught. Certainly, all of the aforementioned appellations apply. However, 'heavenly', 'delightful', 'authentic','charming', and 'intoxicating' would be appropriate as well.

Richmond, I get it. Many times I don't, but this time, I really, really do. Ours was a simple lunch, not too many folks up in the joint and one of our party almost got stabbed when she requested her entree they forgot after the rest of us had already finished. (Well, she didn't really almost get stabbed, but I feel a strong moral imperative to help hold up the fearsome urban legends swirling around MZ's). But I get it.......there's just this vibe. No other way to explain it. Oh, and the pasta! My lord.......

If I had to explain it, I would probably say it's b/c Zu's is completely unapologetic for who they are. Personally, this is an attribute I appreciate, respect and admire. Also, perhaps my own personality "quirks" lend to feeling like I "fit in" to this environment- LOL! It takes solid cajones to say, "This is who I am, like it or get the hell out." And that's exactly what Zu's does.

We ordered the white pizza, penne gorgonzola, spaghetti carbonara and the fabulous pasta w/sausage, broccoletti and ricotta. The white pizza was exploding with roasted garlic flavor. The smell overpowered the restaurant as it was being made (no complaints here however, as my enthusiasm for garlic knows no bounds).

The penne and spaghetti, both creamy, rich and tasting exactly as you would want them to. And lastly, but most certainly not least-- the sausage pasta w/broccoletti and ricotta. Three simple words cover it all = To.Die.For. The sausage is a hedonistic indulgence of the senses. I may not know a lot in this life, but I do know I will be dreaming about this particular dish for many nights to come. :) And it will draw me back.

If you haven't gone, I encourage you to go. All the things you've heard are true and make for a unique and revered Richmond experience. Get thee to Zu's, pronto!

** I would also like to add, that without any prompting or threat of physical violence, the manager took 1/2 off of my friend's dish that had been forgotten.
**PS They only take cash, local check or AMEX.

Mamma Zu
501 S Pine St
Richmond, VA 23220
(804) 788-4205