Monday, November 30, 2009

Going All Out for Thanksgiving

There is only one phrase which fits my attitude pre-game for this year's Thanksgiving holiday; "all out." What does all out mean exactly? All out means 8-yes 8-different dishes for Thanksgiving dinner and dessert. All out means cooking from scratch as much as humanly possible. All out means cooking traditionally as well as using modern flavor profiles and pairing them together in a grammy award-winning, sing-song harmony. All out means cooking even after the holiday is over and all your folks have picked up their leftovers and left town. All out is sometimes the only way I know how.

Well, put up or shut up right? For the Joyce Family Thanksgiving holiday sporting approximately twenty guests I prepared the following: 1. Three Cheese Macaroni and Cheese (2 pans), 2. Green Onion and Garlic Scallop Potatoes (2 pans), 3. Sausage and Sage Apple Stuffing (2 pans), 4. Mama Festa's Sweet Potatoes, 5. Apple Cider Cranberry Sauce, 6. Lemon Pepper Spinach with Portobellos, 7. Sweet Potato and Prosciutto Upside Down Lollipops, and 8. Sugar Free Chocolate Walnut Oatmeal Cookies.

Of course I couldn't do this in a day and half all by my lonesome. My Dad, aka Big Poppa, and Shelly my Step-Mom were mega helpers in the kitchen the day before. Naturally we had to have a serious and proper sit-down making sure everyone is on-board with me as Captain of the Thanksgiving Ship. Thankfully they happily complied as a hearty crew would, and handed over the tongs to me. On the day of Thanksgiving, my Uncle Jimmy was equally as helpful and flexible to my culinary demands at the helm of his kitchen. To cook for a feast such as ours, you know it takes a village.

What could be better than immersing yourself in heaps of cooking for the love and joy of your family? Literally nothing except a photographer who would work for free snapping and capturing the cookery moments of magic as they happened that day so I would be able to share all my glory with all of you. But alas, no such free photographer attended dinner. I have just a few iPhone photos that don't do the food any justice. I suppose you will have to take my word for it every dish turned out wonderfully and tasted even better. Now I must warn you I do not have any pictures of the stuffing or the cranberry sauce. You'll just have to imagine those!

Sweet Potato and Prosciutto Upside Down Lollipops with sage, dates, and manchego cheese. (Inspired by Mark Bittman's Sweet Potato with Prosciutto).

Sugar Free Chocolate Walnut Oatmeal Cookies

3 Cheese Mac-n-Cheese. Gruyere, Swiss, and Sharp Cheddar peppered with pieces of black pepper ham.

Green Onion and Garlic Scallop Potatoes

Mama's Brown Sugar & Molasses Sweet Potatoes

Lemon Pepper Baby Spinach with Baby Portobellos

One would think after all that cooking and a bit of baking, I would be done going 'all out' for Thanksgiving. Yet, if you thought that you would be wrong. Friday morning I packed up my car and left Naples for the lovely community of West Palm Beach to visit my dear friend Becky Osborne-Phillips. Not only is she a killer in the kitchen, she is a cake artist rivaling Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes. For real. If you live in South Florida and want some cake art, call Becky!

Upon my arrival to her abode we immediately starting planning dinner. Using her leftovers, we whipped up a stuffed and breaded chicken breast with her homemade tangerine-cranberry sauce, feta cheese, and grated fresh nutmeg on the inside with a flour, egg, and panko breading on the outside. We fried and baked the breasts while we slowly roasted asparagus with fresh rosemary from Becky's garden and topped the asparagus with a devilish lemon butter. Sure we could have stopped there, but we didn't. Remember that whole 'all out' thing?

I still had the baking bug and have had an itch to make's Pumpkin Chocolate Chip 'coffins' or cookie-muffins. Well, (pause for dramatic deep breath) while Becky and I were at Publix shopping for dinner necessities and beer, we searched for pumpkin and were greeted with empty shelves and black-and-white flyers describing what we already know as the Great Pumpkin Shortage Fallout of 2009. Cursed rains! Blasted drowned fields! Foiled yet again. However could I make this situation right? I needed to make a sweet something and with my cookie plans spoiled, my good friend Becky-after splitting a 6-pack of Peroni and a bottle of Mad Housewife Merlot together-tisply asked me at 3am, "How about ice cream? I got an ice cream maker." Boom.

How about yes. I tried homemade ice cream without any kind of tool that eases the process and it was an epic fail. So when a chance to use an ice cream maker presented itself I jumped, and first thing the next morning (ok early afternoon) we started making Homemade Milk Chocolate Ice Cream with a Peanut Butter Ripple. Here is the only recipe I was able to write-down during my all out Thanksgiving weekend, and it is a collaboration with Becky Osborne-Phillips. Enjoy!

Makes 4-6 servings

Milk Chocolate Ice Cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
dash of salt apprx. 1/8 tsp.
1 1/2 egg yolk (just do it)
2 oz. Ghiradelli milk chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp. vanilla

PNB Ripple
1/3 cup chilled smooth peanut butter
2 oz. Reese's Peanut Butter Chips, melted.

Combine milk, salt, cocoa powder, and sugar over medium heat in a saucepan continually stirring. Bring mixture to a simmer.

Combine cream and vanilla in a bowl and chill.

Lightly beat egg yolks in a bowl. Stir 1/2 cup of the heat mixture gradually into the egg yolks, and then return it to the saucepan.

Heat until thickened, but do not boil! Be patient! This could take up to 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the milk chocolate chips until they melt completely.

Freeze in a shallow, chilled dish (casserole is perfect) for 20-30 minutes stirring occasionally.

When milk chocolate mixture has completely cooled stir in the vanilla and cream pre-chilled.

Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze for 15-20 minutes (or follow your ice cream maker's directions).

Mix 1/3 cup of chilled smooth peanut butter and the melted peanut butter chips in a bowl and stir until combined. Keep heated so the mixture is pourable.

When the milk chocolate ice cream is frozen, add the peanut butter through the top feeder so it creates the ribbon throughout the ice cream. Turn-off the machine and remove the metal bowl. Put it in the freezer about 7 minutes longer and voila! The greatest homemade milk chocolate ice cream with peanut butter ripple is ready for spooning. The all out dessert to end the all out holiday.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Puree Pumpkin Shortage, Problem or Prospect?

Alert! Alert! Central Florida and other parts of the US affected by massive pumpkin shortage as we near Thanksgiving.

To illustrate the ripples this shortage has created in the reality of holiday bakers, let me set a scene for you. Picture me with armfuls of groceries at the Winter Park Village Publix searching the fresh produce, baking products, and canned fruits aisles frantically with darting eyes, hair piled atop my head flopping in cadence with my stomping, stern gate, and gaped mouth stunned that I can not find nary one can of Libby Pumpkin Puree. In a full tizzy, I yank on the sleeve of a lovely produce re-stocker (not my proudest moment) begging him to fill me in on the pumpkin situation. Gently he tells me of a massive freeze in the Midwest depleting the fall harvests. Freeze in the Midwest? I have heard of no such thing, but perhaps my abrasive approach encouraged the young man to do anything to get the crazy baking lady away from him as soon as humanly possible including falsifying a weather emergency.

After seeking out more pumpkin puree in more Publix establishments and other area markets, I settled for the one carton of pumpkin pie mix I could find and stretched it for two desserts, mocha pumpkin brownies and raspberry walnut streusel pumpkin bread. Yet, due to the pumpkin shortage I am not planning on any additional pumpkin dishes for the up-and-coming Thanksgiving holiday. If this has happened to me, than it is most certain all Orlando area bakers are feeling the pinch of the Fall 2009 Pumpkin Shortage Fallout.

How in tarnation did this shortage come to be? To find out the answer to this pumpkin mystery please read on in my article:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Raspberry Walnut Streusel Pumpkin Bread

***Please vote for my Raspberry Walnut Streusel Pumpkin Bread in the Bon Appetit Mag Blog Envy Bake Off. My entry is in miscellaneous, and you don't have to sign up, give our email or anything. Vote Today!***

In honor of today's significance, either National Quickbread Day or National Homemade Bread Day (I'll let you choose), the generous people at Driscoll's Berries, whom not only grow my favorite strawberries, additionally supplied with me coupons with the hope and dream I might be able to bake a scrumptious bread using their berries in celebration of this holiday of sorts. Well, wake up my good friends at Driscoll's because the aroma of delicious baked berry bread is wafting through the air. I am totally head-over-heels in love with the smells, tastes, and textures of my Raspberry Walnut Streusel Pumpkin Bread (adapted from Dede Wilson's Blackberry Walnut Streusel Bread recipe). Without further ado, I give you the recipe and tasty pics.

Makes 1 9x5” loaf; apprx. 10 servings.

Spiced Toasted Walnuts:
1 cup lightly toasted walnut halves, finely chopped
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 tblsp brown sugar

Raspberry Walnut Streusel:
1 cup of spiced, toasted walnut pieces
1/3 cup almond flour
2 tblsp all purpose flour
¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tblsp granulated sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
3 tblsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled1 cup chopped Driscoll’s Raspberries

Pumpkin Bread:
1 cup fresh Driscoll’s Whole Raspberries
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt 9 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick plus 1
tablespoon), at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp cinnamon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup Pumpkin Pie Filling

Make the Spiced Toasted Walnuts: place a small pan on low heat. In a food processor add the walnuts, spices, and sugar. Pulse about 5-7 times. Add the mixture directly into the heated pan and toast for 5 minutes stirring occasionally. When you start to smell the walnuts, they are done and remove them from the heat. Set aside.

Make the Streusel: Toss the dry ingredients and toasted walnuts together in a bowl. Add melted butter and stir until combined. Divide mixture in half into two bowls. Chop 1 cup of Driscoll’s Raspberries and toss them with half of the reserved streusel; set aside.

Make the Quick Bread:
Arrange oven rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9”x5” loaf pan with nonstick spray; thoroughly coat with flour, removing any excess.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt to aerate and combine; set aside.

Beat the butter with an electric mixer until soft and creamy. Add sugar and brown sugar and beat until combined. Beat in vanilla extract and cinnamon. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry mixture in three additions, alternately with the pumpkin pie filling. Begin and end with the dry mixture and beat briefly until just smooth.

Scrape half of the batter into the prepared pan, spreading evenly with a small offset spatula. Top with streusel/chopped raspberry mixture, forming an even layer.

Scrape remaining batter on top, spreading carefully to cover center streusel layer. Top with remaining streusel and place remaining whole raspberries evenly over top, pressing gently to help adhere.

Bake for about 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a bamboo skewer inserted in the center shows a few moist crumbs when removed. Cool pan on wire rack for 15 minutes, then unmold directly onto rack, right side up, to cool completely.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Finding the Sunday Brunch Balance

Sunday brunch is my second favorite meal of the week tying Friday night sushi and following the almighty apex, Sunday night dinner. Normally going out to eat brunch is either horribly disappointing or fantastically tasty, filling, and balanced but hardly ever is there a median experience. Because brunch out is a fifty-fifty gamble nowadays who wants to take the risk of possibly sacrificing not only hard-earned funds but also a chance to nosh an excellent meal for the second best meal of the week? In my opinion, no one with a brain and a knack for cooking would pass that up - perhaps a bit extreme but sometimes that is how I roll. Given today's current economic climate, Pete and I have taken the Sunday Brunch in approach over the past few weeks with surprisingly delicious results.

This past Monday I was so tickled when I tackled the Irish staple of corned beef and cabbage for the first time ever. While I've been half-Irish and half-Italian my whole life, it is rarer than a black-and-blue steak that I actually prepare Irish fare. Perhaps you caught my tweet about it showing off this incredibly modest dinner plate?

Modesty aside, I ably prepared the corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes properly and Pete and I enjoyed the brined beef brisket and braised cabbage all week long.

Come time for Sunday brunch and the end of the beef brisket was staring at us dead in our eyes daring us to make a corned beef, onion, and potato hash topped with an over-medium egg. Momentarily, we locked gazes. Silently, I slightly nodded my head signaling my acceptance of the corned beef's brunch challenge and got cooking straight away.

Frying perfect potatoes for breakfast potatoes or a nice hash is trickier than meets the eye. I myself have struggled here many, many times. Oil's too hot and you burn the potatoes; too cold and they soak up too much oil waiting to crisp. Too much oil, and the same sponge effect will take place; to little and again, expect to eat char. I think choice of oil is also important. I do believe most folks will have vegetable oil as part of their normal stocked cupboard and I also enjoy the taste of it in my fried breakfast foods. Fried potatoes in vegetable oil tastes like America. Therefore, in a large sauce pan I heated about 1/4 cup vegetable oil for 4 small Yukon gold potatoes, 1/2 cup chopped corned beef, and 3/4 cup chopped sweet onion. Admittedly, I do believe the 1/4 cup was too much oil given my medium-heat setting. Perhaps if I had a higher heat and were brave enough to willingly risk the tiny snake bites of oil bubbles snapping up and out of the pan to nip at my arms, hands, and face, I would have rendered the perfectly crispy fried potatoes. Or, if I had less oil and medium-heat I would have achieved the same desired results.

So here is our grand lesson learned: For the amount of the aforementioned ingredients to yield a two-person hash use two-three tablespoons of vegetable oil over a medium-high heat such as 6.5 or 7. While in the pan, salt and pepper the potato pieces. Cook on each side about 4-5 minutes. Remove dark brown pieces with a slotted spoon onto a prepared plate with paper towels. Add onions and chopped corned beef when beginning to turn over pieces and taking out the first fully fired ones. Remove the rest of the hash from the pan and let hash rest on the plate while making the over-easy eggs.

For the eggs we poured out the pan's excess oil, lowered the heat to a medium-low setting, and then Pete took over. One other supremely awesome thing about Sunday Brunch in is cooking together nicely in the kitchen. Plus Pete is whhaaay better at cooking eggs than I am, for real. As he prepared the eggs, I peeled up a tangerine to split, and cut small pieces of the recently baked Raspberry Walnut Streusel Pumpkin Bread (post coming rather soon) completing our plates.

As we sat and ate I knew I didn't achieve my expectations for a stand-out brunch due to my imperfect potatoes, yet many of the flavors and textures that construct the greater Gestalt of a perfectly balanced brunch were indeed present. My bar for 'above average' to 'excellent' brunch is balance. Is there something salty? Something sweet? Something fried or toasted? Something fresh or raw? Is there a starch or two? Is there a meat? Is there egg? If we are going to make two meals one, it needs to taste as if these two meals married and had a divinely delicious baby for us to eat (it's a metaphor or brunch still I promise). Reader, please also note a buffet doesn't meet this bar of brunch balance because all of the flavors and textures need to harmoniously sing together in one plate in average size portions. Mounds of food will not replace quality and it's many ranges of a dish of good food. That's what I found about brunch in; it's about one supremely tasty plate of good food for the supreme day of rest.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sayounara to Summer Salads Part 2: Pancetta & Peas Potato Salad

First, a disclaimer - I am aware that summer is well over and done, and we are all in full plans and preparations swing for the upcoming holiday season. But that doesn't mean we still can't dream and cook with the whimsy of summer and enjoy it everyday of the year. Rules my friends, are meant to be broken. In Part 2 of my Sayounara to Summer Salads Series I wanted to bring it back home. Back to the simpler times of simpler meals. Back to my memories of many, many meals shared with my Italian-American family over cookouts, holidays, and Sunday dinners. For this salad, I took a classic homestyle Italian pasta dish and morphed it into a potato salad for those of with an aversion to the typical mayonnaise dressing nearly every summery potato salad contains.

Pancetta and peas is one of my all-time, favorite childhood comfort foods which I hold in the highest regard because it utilizes three of my favorite foods: ricotta cheese, bacon, and pasta. Ah, the holy trinity of taste and satisfaction. The Pancetta and Peas Potato Salad is prepared very similarly to the pasta dish except instead of boiling pasta, this dish requires roasting Yukon gold potatoes.

5 medium Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 cup chopped pancetta
2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
olive oil

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • Wash and skin the potatoes.
  • Cut the potatoes into 1"-1 1/2" pieces.
  • Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  • Spread 2 tblsp of olive oil on the baking sheet. Put the potatoes on the baking sheet and using your hands, coat the potato pieces with the olive oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper over
  • the pieces and roast in the oven for 18-20 minutes. You want to roast them until a fork easily pierces the flesh but you don't want the potatoes to brown at all.
  • In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, put in the 2 cups of ricotta cheese. Let it come up in temperature and using a whisk, mix in the chicken stock. Continue whisk every two minutes. Add the grated parmesan cheese and continue to whisk until you reach a creamy, smooth mixture-about 8 minutes. Keep over low heat until the dish is nearly complete and whisk occasionally.
  • In a large pan over medium heat, add the pancetta and cook until caramelized, approximately 5 minutes. Add the frozen peas and cook 2-3 minutes more.
  • Remove the potatoes from the oven (remember to check them with a fork to ensure their doneness) and add the pieces directly to the pan of pancetta and peas.
  • Mix together and let cook all together 3-4 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and take the ricotta cheese mixture and pour it into the large pan. Mix the ricotta cheese mixture in and transfer to a large bowl.
  • Serve immediately as a warm salad or let cool for 1 hour and serve cold.
The second half of this series requires pairing the salad with an Antinori wine and a low-fat
protein completing a full meal. For the Potato Pancetta and Peas Salad I went for two different proteins for two entirely different meals. First, Chianti Braised Chicken Thighs with Fried Capers. Second, a turkey hot dog. Yup, that's right a turkey hot dog.

If you can't eat your potato salad with a hot dog than it just is not a good potato salad. Period. Hot dogs are good, old-fashioned, American comfort food and in my Italian family a chianti wine was the everyday, comfort wine.

Each night at our table whether we were having eggplant parmesan or sausage sandwiches, the wicker encased chianti bottle opened up and dinner began. The sentiment of home and the Italian traditions of my youth came rushing back when I first smelled and then tasted the classic chianti Peppoli 2006 from Antinori Wines. This full wine first has the puckered tartness of the grapes followed by bursts of currant and raspberry flavors rounded out by the robustness of coffee and sweetness of vanilla. In addition to being a staple wine to drink, chianti is an excellent cooking wine which in-turn motivated my super easy Chianti Braised Chicken Thighs with Fried Capers.

4 skinless chicken thighs
1 cup Peppoli Chianti
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tblsp capers
olive oil
2 cloves garlic

  • Marinade the chicken thighs in the chianti and chicken stock for 1 hour. Afterwards, let the chicken and marinade mixture come up to room temperature.
  • Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pan and add the roughly chopped garlic cloves. Cook about 2 minutes.
  • Place the marinaded thighs in the oil and sear on both sides, 2-3 minutes. Add the rest of the marinade and braise the thighs for 10-12 minutes more.
  • In a small sauce pan, heat 2 tsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add capers and cook 3-4 minutes.
  • Remove with a slotted spoon and serve over the chicken thighs.

With the braised chicken thighs, I served the warm Pancetta and Peas Potato Salad. With the turkey hot dog, I served it cold. This salad is easy to make and even easier to eat. And although both meals were polar opposites in style and formality, the Peppoli chianti dressed up or dressed down enhanced the flavors of the salad as well as the chicken thighs (ok, and the hot dog for real) and sent me on delicious trip down memory lane dropping me off at my mother's dinner table.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Contestos Galore! Starbucks, The Orbbies & Examiner Photo Contest

Dear Foodies & Foodettes,
The time has come for me to shamelessly ask for your approval in the form of online votes. We are all trying to get a little ahead in this blogging world, and right now I'm trying the contest thing. Muchas Gracias, Grazie, Merci, and oh yea, Thanks!

First up, Mocha Pumpkin Brownies is an official contender in the Starbucks Via recipe contest. All you have to do is give a 'thumbs-up', that's it! Note, if you are so inclined friends and I have discovered if you have multiple browsers on your computer, you can vote from each one. :-)


Secondly, Laptops and Stovetops currently hails out of Orlando, FL. The Orlando Sentinel newspaper is now running The Orbbies contest to find the best blogs in the Orlando area. This one is a bit trickier, it does require voters to start an Orlando Sentinel account. Its free, and you can chose to not receive their emails. Scroll to Food Blogs and there is where you will find me.

Click here to vote for my blog on the Orbbies - Orlando's Rockin' Blogs

To vote:


Third, I have entered some photos in the Photo Contest. Of course in the Amateur Round! The following 6 photos are each in the running. Simply click on the URL under each image to vote.

Thanks for reading and keeping up with L&S's progress. Hopefully one day I can call myself a winner and know that all my friends helped me get there. Cheers!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Brownies, Cookies, and Cakes Oh My!

It's probably not a shocker to find out my favorite part of Halloween is the treats. Every year, the IST office runs a pumpkin carving competition among the labs. Accompanying the competition is a bevy of sweet selections supplied by employees. Sure, I could have stopped just with the two trays of my previous post, Mocha Pumpkin Brownies with Strawberry Frosting, but of course it didn't. To partner with the brownies I also whipped by Apple & Squash Amish Bread Squares with Ricotta Sweet Cream and Sour Cream Sugar Cookies.

The week before our office party, a co-worker passed on Amish Friendship Bread starter to me. Being raised in Southeastern Pennsylvania, I am more than familiar with this tradition, but now a bit older and wiser I really did not want to use the instant pudding mix my passed-on recipe called for. I echo many other online food writers that I'm 100% positive the Amish never used instant pudding mix as an ingredient in this age-old cake, so why should I? There are a few alternatives to using instant pudding, and I chose to use homemade granny smith apple sauce and steamed acorn squash. Admittedly, my bread is more bread than cake but the fall flavors are undeniable.

The brownies' full flavors and rich texture satisfied those with adventurous palettes and the Amish Friendship Bread supplied the traditional fall flavors, so to ensure everyone at the party palette's are accounted for a super sugary dessert is needed to round out a lovely, varietal spread of Halloween treats. To fill that flavor profile are a simple sour cream sugar cookie covered in purple sugar and then decorated with orange cookie frosting. So, yea. Sugar, sugar, and more sugar.

As if all the baking wasn't enough, I decided to get crafty using holiday decorative straws as tray labels as well as stuck Moo cards for L&S in each and every individual delight. I call it sugar marketing, and I think the trend will absolutely catch on! To cap the entire office Halloween experience is, of course, the office Halloween party costume. Using all props I already own, I was a food judge with a tenderizer-gavel. If I don't like your dish, I not only discredit it, I smash it. Think Gordon Ramsey crossed with Gallagher, or a chef's worst nightmare.

While our lab's pumpkin entry didn't take home the prize, my ghoulish goodies were all the rage! Making and giving treats makes my Halloween the Happiest of all.