Monday, April 19, 2010

Smitten Kitchen's Lime Yogurt Cake with Blackberry Sauce

I get a daily feed from the Food News Journal, a great resource that serves up food news from all over the web. I discovered it when they featured one of my blog posts, and I'm so glad they found me. FNJ is one of my favorite sites now.

In the blog section of today's FNJ, I saw a link for Smitten Kitchen's Lime Yogurt Cake with Blackberry Sauce. A quick look at the recipe and the synapses in my brain immediately started firing away. Yogurt? Yes, I had some Fage from making a Greek-style dinner the other day. Limes? Yup, I had those from making a Mexican-style dinner last night. Blackberries? Nope, but I knew I had some raspberry preserves that I could thin down and use for the sauce.

I was in business.

I ran home, turned on the stove, and whipped everything together in a snap.

A little 30 minute visit to the oven and the cake was done.

Light,tender, and moist, this cake is a winner. What a great spring and summer cake to bring to someone's house or to serve for brunch!

Thank you, Smitten Kitchen. I've never made one of your recipes before, but I will be back. I now know why you are one of the Grande Dames of the Food Blog World.

And thank you, Food News Journal. Keep up the great work as I love your site.

For the cake recipe, please click here

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kulinarya Cooking Club: Polvoron

When I saw this month's Kulinarya pick was polvoron, I closed my eyes and there was Grandma Enrique smiling down at me with her twinkling eyes. Grandma Enrique always had words of loving kindness for me and everyone in the family. "Hi, my lovely granddaughter," "you have such strong and healthy legs," "your fingers are long like candles," you are so smart."

My sister and I with Grandma Enrique (in the 1990s).

Every time I look at my fingers, I think of her and thank her for acknowledging God's gifts in her children and grandchildren.

I don't remember Grandma Enrique cooking all that much, but there was one thing she did with me and my younger brother Ed which brought us great joy.

"Grandma, Grandma, can we make polvoron?"

In our sunny 1970s olive green kitchen, she would let us melt the butter and lightly brown the flour,  We would then mix those ingredients with sugar and Carnation dried milk until we had a sandy mixture in our metal bowl.  We took turns using the polvoron mold to shape the little candies and cut out little squares of foil or colored tissue paper in which we would wrap the polvorones like you find salt water taffy in the US. Often as not, we would take spoons and eat the polvoron mixture straight out of the bowl.

If you've never had polovoron, it's a little hard to describe.  And maybe a little strange.  Who would ever think of combining evaporated sugar, browned flour, melted butter, and dried milk to make crumbly treats?

Someone enterprising who could do something with nothing, that's who.

One thing I can tell you is that polvorones are addictive.  They are sweet, buttery, milky, and they disintegrate in your mouth in the most unique way.

I will admit that it's difficult for me to change or give a twist to food that is so connected to my childhood.  I want to reproduce joyful moments from the past.  With that said, here is a very basic and traditional polvoron like the one my beloved Grandma Enrique made.

Grandma Enrique passed away on her 95th birthday on April 9, 2005, as her children, grandchildren, and relatives came from near and far to Lingayen in Pangasinan, Philippines to celebrate her long life.  While it was so sad for us to lose her, she passed suddenly with many of her family gathered already in her honor.  In a way, she couldn't have picked a better time to exit.


1) A polvoron mold makes one's life much easier when making these. I don't have one, so I tried two different ways: spreading the mixture in a cake pan, pressing it down until compact and then using a small cookie cutter to cut out individual polvoron. I also used a small scooper.  After I had already made the polvoron, I was in a kitchen store and saw a silicone mini-Madeleine mold, which would be perfect for turning out a lot of perfectly shaped polvoron.

2) I kept to the most basic of polvoron recipes, but you can add different kinds of extract (vanilla, almond, etc.) and ground nuts.  You can cover them with chocolate.  How about ground Oreos, cinnamon bears, or graham crackers?  Frozen, puvlerized fruit would work too.  If I had made a variation, I would have tried ground toffee bits or finely chopped Reese's peanut butter cups. The sky's the limit as long as the polovoron can maintain its shape.

Grandma Enrique's Polvoron

1 cup flour
1/2 cup dried milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick butter, melted

Brown the flour over medium-low heat, stirring often, until it's lightly browned.  This takes about 10-15 minutes.

Let the flour cool a few minute and add the dried milk, sugar, and melted butter.  Mix together.

Using a mold or cookie cutter, compress and shape into individual polvorones on a baking sheet.  Cover the polvorones with a sheet of plastic and put them in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to harden.  In the meantime, cut out squares of tissue paper or aluminum foil in which to wrap the polvorones.  When cooled, individually wrap the polvorones for a colorful display.  Enjoy!

About Kulinarya Cooking Club:

Kulinarya was started by a group of Filipino foodies (Kath, Trisha and Trissa) living in Sydney, who are passionate about Filipino culture and its colorful cuisine. Each month we will showcase a new dish. By sharing these recipes, we hope you find the same passion and love for Filipino food as we do.

If you’re interested in joining our Kulinarya Cooking Club, please visit, and become a fan on our Facebook page
Here are the members of the Kulinarya Cooking Club (and more to come!). Please feel free to check out and follow our members' blogs. You don't have to have a blog to join -- everyone is welcome.

Kath -
Trisha -
Trissa -
Olive -
Caroline -
Ninette –
Asha –
Malou -
Cherrie –
Acdee -
Valerie –
Sheryl -
Divina –
Anna -
Dahlia -
Joy -
Maribel -

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Linguine with Clam Sauce (with Special Ingredient!)

Okay, you got me.  This isn't linguine. It's cappellini.

I'm still shocked that when I went to my pantry to grab a box of linguine, there wasn't one there. It's like going to the pantry and not finding a can of crushed tomatoes, garbanzo beans, or ketchup.

What's up with that?

Someone is not doing her job of overstocking at the local Big Box store.

Anyhow, nothing beats linguine and clam sauce for a quick weeknight dinner. 

You just need a few staple ingredients: canned chopped clams, linguine (hopefully), olive oil, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes. A glug of dry white wine, fresh chopped parsley, and a squirt of lemon would be nice.

And my secret ingredient.

You won't believe it.

But it works.

Sour cream.


Yes, you heard me right.  Sour cream.

A couple spoonfuls of sour cream at the end to finish the sauce gives it body and a little tang.

Linguine with Clam Sauce (with Special Ingredient)
Serves 4

1 lb. linguine or cappellini
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. Italian herbs
1 pinch red pepper flakes
3 cans chopped clams (I used Snow's brand), opened and the juice drained into a bowl
Dry white wine or dry vermouth (optional)
2 tbs. sour cream
Fresh chopped parsley
Fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt

Heat a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt. Cook pasta as directed on the box but cook one minute less so that it's a little underdone, just shy of al dente.  Drain.

While the pasta is cooking, heat a 10 inch or 12 inch skillet over medium heat. When hot, add olive oil. Swirl around and add minced garlic.  Saute for 1/2 minute and add clam juice, some Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes. If you have white wine or Vermouth, add a glug. 

Turn up the heat and let the juice simmer down by half.  Add chopped clams.  Add drained pasta and let pasta simmer gently in sauce a couple minutes until al dente.  Sprinkle generously with parsley and add a couple spoonfuls of sour cream (add 1 first if you're not sure you'll like the taste).  Squirt a little lemon juice on the pasta.  Stir everything all together. Season to taste.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Olivio Giveaway and My Top Ten Olivio Recipes!

Free Giveaway details below!!

When Olivio asked me to feature ten of my recipes on their website, I was flattered but hesitant.

I had never used Olivio much less any other butter substitutes. 

Why would a self-proclaimed purist like me use anything but butter or olive oil?

I asked them to send me some of their samples so I could try Olivio for myself.  I warned them if I didn't like the product, I would have to decline their invitation.  If it didn't taste good and react well under cooking, it didn't matter how much I appreciated their obvious pride in their olive oil heritage, their commitment to philanthropy and health described as "spreading the good," and the appeal that they are a scrappy little company competing against products with better name recognition and bigger marketing budgets.

When I received their product line -- Olivio Premium Spread, Olivio Light Spread, Olivio Spreadable Butter, and Olivio Buttery Spray, I got to work.  I spread Olivio on a piece of toasted bread.  I sauted some vegetables.  I scrambled some eggs.

My conclusion?  The spreads tasted great on bread, the Olivio Spreadable Butter was effective as a topping and also for cooking, and the Olivio Buttery Spray was super for spritzing.  I particularly liked the Olivio Spreadable Butter, because it's like butter and olive oil rolled into one convenient package.

You can cook with all the products, but I personally thought the Olivio Spreadable Butter worked the best for cooking, along with the spray.

I'll explain why I developed the ten recipes below, but before I do that, I asked Olivio if I could do a giveaway so that you as readers could do the taste test yourselves! 

If you're using a competitor product, this is your chance to find out once and for all which is better.  If you're a purist but have thought about cutting back on your cholesterol, Olivio is definitely worth a try.  If you're not using these products and are not worried about your cholesterol, then this giveaway falls under the "why not, it's free?" category.

Indeed, why not?

In other words, you all should participate in this giveaway!

To participate, comment on this blog entry or become a fan on my Facebook page and comment there.

I'd love to hear what you think and how you would use Olivio in your favorite recipes.

Tuscan Grilled Chicken Panini

My kids love panini, and the Olivio Buttery Spray made for fast, healthy, flavorful grilling of the bread. Instead of slathering both sides of the bread with cholesterol-laden butter, I just spritzed each side a few times and was done. As for the insides, grilled or rotisserie chicken, jarred roasted red peppers, jarred pesto, and Rondole cheese made for the quickest assembly ever. Of course, you can make all of these ingredients from scratch, but as a busy mother trying to get a weeknight dinner on the table, I was willing to take some shortcuts and buy things pre-made at the store (as long as those pre-made ingredients were all natural, such as those from Trader Joe's). 

Chicken Chili Verde

I would have never thought of developing a chicken chili verde recipe if Olivio hadn't asked me to do recipes for their website.  We're big beef eaters (right now, you should feel like pounding your chest and grunting).  I make an award-winning beef chili, but the beef and bacon are not good options for people watching their cholesterol.  I switched to chicken, sauteing it with onions, poblano pepper and Olivio Spreadable Butter, and adding salsa verde and chicken broth as the sauce base.  I was pleasantly surprised!  This chili could stand up proudly against my beef chili. I'm even thinking to submit this in next year's chili cook-off. 


My husband doesn't eat carbs, so having colorful, appetizing non-carb dishes is a plus in my house.  I thought "zucchini pasta" would be pretty, healthful, simple and a good way to use Olivio Spreadable Butter.

When I was thinking about Olivio, I was thinking "healthy."  And no one epitomizes the word "healthy" more than my sister-in-law Tina.  Tina loves spaghetti squash, so it just had to be in my Olivio Top Ten.

Asian BBQ Shrimp

Olive oil and butter, the foundation for Olivio's favor profile, automatically make me think of Western Europe and the Mediterranean, so my recipes are mostly in that vein.  But then I thought, "What about those who like Asian food?"  Olivio Buttery Spray works great with these pan-seared hoisin-glazed shrimp.

I wanted to see how Olivio performed in a flour-based recipe such as pancakes. My friend Andy Pforzheimer, who owns the very successful Barcelona Wine Bar restaurant group, shared his healthy pancakes with whole wheat and mashed bananas with me on Facebook. It wasn't really a recipe but a "way" of making pancakes. I followed his general directions and came out with flat crepe-like pancakes (the problem wasn’t the recipe but with me as I'm a mediocre baker). I modified his recipe to include baking powder and baking soda, so I could get the rise I wanted, and I took out the mashed bananas to reduce heaviness in the batter. I told him about my crepe-y pancakes, and then he had to pull out his ingredients and make his pancakes at home as I was making my own version of his pancakes at my home. We even traded pictures on Facebook to check how our pancakes looked ... so funny! So while this is not exactly Andy's recipe, it's Andy-inspired and so good! And the Olivio Spreadable Butter added moisture to the batter and crispness to the pancakes' exterior edges as I melted Olivio on the grill to cook the pancakes

When I went to the competitor websites to check out their recipes, they didn't appeal to me.  I admit that I wanted to simplify my own recipes for the Olivio website, as I understand that most people may not be as fussy about cooking as I am.  That said, there is something to be said for not stripping dishes of their personalities.  This Bolognese sauce stays true to its roots, simmering the meat in milk to create a silky, soft texture.  The soul-lifting harmony of beef, pork, veal, pancetta, milk, tomato, and parmigiano reggiano in the sauce always reminds me of my time living in Tuscany and the region's deserved reputation for the bounty of its fields and powerhouse culinary heritage.

Salsa Chicken Skewers

Who doesn't love skewers?  I had to include this in the Top Ten because it's easy peasy, inspired by my friend Julia's recipe (with her permission), who puts out awesome food from her sailboat's galley kitchen. It can be served hot or cold -- a great make-ahead dish for parties.

I didn't create this recipe specifically for Olivio, but this dish is exactly what I mean by "big," "bold," and "beautiful" food.  It's one of my favorite things to make, because it's so easy and bursting with flavor.  Olivio's buttery taste only adds to what was a stellar dish to begin with.

And last but not least is a little added benefit of reading this entry is that my 10th recipe is NOT on the Olivio website yet.  Here it is!
Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips

I imagined healthy eaters are people who would like Olivio.  I thought cinnamon sugar pita chips were a nice alternative for Olivio users who wanted a little sweetness without all the fat and calories.  And can you get more economical than pita bread, a little cinnamon and sugar, and a few spritzes of  Olivio Buttery Spray? 

I hope you try Olivio through the giveaway and try my recipes.  Enjoy!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Polenta Cakes with Wild Mushroom Saute

My husband and I were in the grocery store on Saturday, with seemingly everyone else in town, shopping for Easter dinner. I'm a bit of a control freak, except with food. I just like to cook when I feel like it and with whatever strikes my fancy. So it was with Easter dinner.

We saw some lovely looking asparagus and wild mushrooms, so that went in the cart. My husband hit the butcher counter and walked away with a well-marbled bone-in prime rib roast. As we were strolling along, I thought "beef, asparagus, and ... polenta!"

I prepared the polenta in the morning (we stole some for breakfast), so it took about 10 minutes to cook the cakes and mushrooms at dinnertime.  You can cook the mushrooms first and put them in a bowl with a tent of foil to keep them warm.  Or if you are a multi-tasker, you can cook both of them at the same time in two skillets on the stove.

When both are ready, put the polenta cakes on a plate and top with mushrooms.

Polenta Cakes

2 cups Bob's Red Mill coarse-ground cornmeal (aka grits also known as polenta)
6 cups liquid (water, milk, and/or broth -- I used 1/2 milk and 1/2 chicken broth)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tbs. butter

Small brownie pan or casserole dish lined with foil that been sprayed with non-stick spray

Flour for dusting.

Bring liquid to a boil and slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Turn down to a very low simmer and cook for 30 minutes until polenta/grits are thick. (Note: We cooked ours for 30 minutes, but it seemed ready at around 15 minutes.  I'm not a polenta expert by any means, but it really did seem the polenta could be eaten at te 15 minute stage if you wanted to eat it "loose").

When polenta is ready, stir in butter and Parmesan cheese.

Pour polenta into foil-lined pan and put in the fridge to set.

When ready to cook, cut polenta in shape of your choice or use a cookie cutter.  Dust with flour on each side.

Heat a skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add a little olive oil and butter.  Cook each side 3-5 minutes until lightly browned on the outside and warmed through on the inside.

Wild Mushroom Saute
Wild mushrooms
Olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic, minced
1 scallion, minced
1/2 cup beef broth
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Heat skillet over medium high heat.  Add a tbs. or two of olive oil and the shallot and garlic.  Add the mushrooms and saute for a couple minutes.  Add beef broth and stir.  Let beef broth evaporate for the most part.  Add a splash of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and scallions.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Breakfast Polenta (or Grits)

Happy Easter, Everyone!

I woke up this morning with the intent of having a stress-free Easter dinner.  Usually, my holiday kitchen looks like a bomb went off in it -- a testament to my "on the fly" cooking style.

But not today.  A prime rib roast dusted with Penzey's English Prime Rib Roast seasoning and some asparagus tossed in a little olive oil and garlic are destined for the grill.  No mess there.   And the polenta for polenta cakes with sauted mushrooms was something I could make in the morning, spread out in a pan to cool, and cut later on.  Easy peasy.

I had coarse-ground polenta in my pantry because of Harold.  Harold is married to my BFF Coleen, and since he's from the South, I had enlisted him to make grits one day when they came over.  Now since we're in the North, Harold finds good coarse-ground grits hard to find.  We were walking around the grocery store, and Harold was not finding what he wanted.  We saw only instant grits -- blech. Coleen was insisting we go to Whole Foods, but I was resistant since I don't like to pay Whole Foods prices.
I said, "What about polenta?  I'm pretty sure it's the same as grts.  They're both cornmeal."
Harold was doubtful, but a quick stroll to the organic aisle turned up some Bob's Red Mill "Corn Grits Also Known as Polenta."
Yup, that's what it said on the package.
In any case, I was making grits also known as polenta for the second time of my life.  My daughter was stirring and stirring the polenta, watching it simmer to a creamy texture.  She kept saying, "Mmm, that looks so good."
We decided to steal some and eat it with bacon bits and scallions.  Yummy!  I'm sure it would also be lovely with fresh fruit, a little additional hot milk,and a little sugar or syrup.
After our morning polenta-making session and eating-polenta-for-breakfast detour, my kitchen looks like a bomb went off in it. A polenta-crusted pot and skillet filled with bacon grease sits on top of the spattered stovetop.  Scallions lay on top of a cutting board.  Oh well.

Breakfast Polenta (or Grits)

2 cups Bob's Red Mill coase-ground cornmeal (aka grits also known as polenta)
6 cups liquid (water, milk, and/or broth)
1 tsp. salt

Toppings of your choice

Bring liquid to a boil and slowly whisk in the cornmeal.  Turn down to a very low simmer and cook for 30 minutes until polenta/grits are thick.

Serve immediately with toppings.  Pour any remainder into a bowl or pan, as it will set up fairly quickly.  You can cut it, make polenta cakes, and pan fry it later.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Rewind: Pasta Salad with Pesto, Fresh Mozzarella, and Tomatoes

This is such a great recipe for spring and summer that I wanted to share it again. It's in the 70s today -- a gorgeous weekend for Easter. It's definitely a pesto pasta salad kind of day!

Pesto is Big, Bold, and Beautiful and fits perfectly with the spirit of this blog. It's fresh, fragrant, colorful and bursting with the flavors of basil, garlic, freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, toasted pine nuts, and extra virgin olive oil.

Pesto can discolor and get muddy-looking, so my secret to fixing the bright, green color is to blanche the basil. Works every time.

I like to serve pesto on rotini pasta with grape tomatoes, and if it's a meal, with diced chicken, cubes of fresh mozzarella, and whole toasted pine nuts.

This can be served hot, cold, or at room temperature, and it's great for parties.

Pesto sauce (see recipe below)
1/2 lb. of rotini pasta
Grape tomatoes
Extra pine nuts and grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Cook rotini according to the directions on its package, in salted, boiling water until al dente.

Drain pasta (do not rinse), put in a bowl and mix with pesto sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Add grape tomatoes, pine nuts, and grated cheese to your liking.

Pesto Sauce
2 cups basil leaves, picked from their stems and loosely packed
1/3 cup fresh parsley
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 extra virgin olive oil or more

Rinse basil thoroughly to rid it of any dirt. I use my salad spinner to do this and/or I soak the basil in a large bowl of water so the dirt will fall to the bottom of the bowl.

Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the basil and blanche, cooking for a minute or so, or until the color turns a little darker. Cool immediately in an ice water bath or under cold running water.

Use the salad spinner to dry the blanched basil and or wrap in a dishtowel remove any excess water.

Blend the basil and the rest of the ingredients except for the oil in a mini-food processor or blender. Slowly drizzle in the oil until a paste forms.

TO TOAST PINE NUTS: Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts and cook, stirring, until you can start smelling the nuts and they get a little brown. Keep an eye on the nuts and stir as they can burn.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ragu alla Bolognese

My daughter Christina and I learned this ragu in an Italian cooking class, and we were blown away by the flavor. Pancetta takes this sauce from average to heavenly.

This ragu can be used over pasta, in lasagna, and in risotto. When cooking 2 cups risotto, add 1 and 1 1/2 cup ragu five minutes before it is done and cook for five minutes. Mix in 1 cup freshly grated parmigianno reggiano and serve with additional cheese.

Ragu alla Bolognese

2 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. unsalted butter
3 oz. pancetta, diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, minced
1 carrot, minced
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef or veal
1 cup dry red or white wine
2 cans (28 oz. each) tomato puree or crushed tomatoes
1 cup beef broth, heated
1 tbs. milk
Salt and pepper

Melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add the onion, celery and carrot and sweat for fifteen minutes until soft ( the vegetables should not be browned). Add the pancetta and meat, and cook until lightly browned all over, stirring often, for about ten minutes. Pour in the wine and reduce for three minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and fold in the tomatoes, broth and milk. Partially cover the pot. Simmer and stir a few times until the ragu reaches a medium-thick consistency, about 1 1/2 hours.  If you like it thicker, uncover and simmer until the consistency you like.