Archive for December 21, 2011

Christmas Gifts from My Table

 

Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti

 

If you asked me a year ago whether or not I am a baker, or even enjoyed baking, my answer would be “I would rather cook something savory than bake”.  My lack of love for baking in the past was due to the fact that I never felt that I could be ‘creative’ with it.  Plus, on occasion, I would leave an ingredient out by mistake.  Baking is a ‘science’ and precise measurements are necessary.  I’ve come to understand and appreciate baking for what it is.  Just follow the directions carefully and measure precisely.  If it calls for 1 tablespoon of baking powder then you must put in 1 tablespoon or the end product will not be perfect.  Nowadays, I pre-measure my ingredients BEFORE I begin baking and double check to make sure I don’t miss anything!

I’ve probably baked more in the past 6 months then I have all of my life.  I really pushed myself to try new recipes and even learned how to bake bread and make pizza dough (which I now do regularly).  Baking is actually fun.  And, although I personally don’t have a (huge) sweet tooth, I know a lot of people that do.

This year, I hosted a cookie exchange and I made a lot of cookies and extra goodies to give as Christmas gifts, such as chocolate bark and white chocolate lollipops. Gifts from your kitchen are special.  When you give someone something that you made, you are giving them a part of yourself.  You are giving them something that you’ve created – something you’re proud of.

Chocolate Bark & Biscotti Goodies

 

White Chocolate Lollipops

 

Sugar Cookie People

 

I actually ENJOY baking now.  One day, I came home from a challenging morning and I actually wanted to bake!  Luckily, I already had some sugar cookie dough in the refrigerator.  (It’s always good to make some dough and freeze it for times you want to make cookies on the spot).

I now find that baking is not a nuisance but a joy.  It’s the joy in seeing (and tasting) those cute shaped cookies and asking your children to help you decorate them.

 Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart Living

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for baking sheet
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for baking sheet
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup shelled pistachio nuts
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour a baking sheet, set aside.  (Note, if you have a Silpat silicone sheet, use that.  It’s wonderful!)

In a medium  bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, beat until well combined, scraping down sides of bowl, if necessary.  Add flour mixture, slowly, and stir to form a stiff dough.  Stir in pistachio nuts and chocolate chips.

Transfer dough to prepared baking sheet, form into a slightly flattened log, about 12 x 4 inches.  Bake until slightly firm, about 25 minutes.  Cool about 5 minutes. Reduce oven to 300 degrees.

On a cutting board, using a sharp serrated knife, cut biscotti diagonally into 1-inch thick slices.  Arrange biscotti, cut sides down, on the baking sheet.  Bake until crisp but still slightly soft in the center, about 8 minutes.

Enjoy!

 

 

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MasterChef Audition – Finally!

Waiting to get in.

December 10th – audition day finally arrived!  I got up at 5am to get ready.  I reheated the food I cooked the night before, put everything in containers and packed everything in a thermal transporter.  Off we went to the Flathotel in NY.

The day before I won a Front Line VIP Pass on Twitter – thanks to all of my friends and their friends who tweeted @MasterChefUSA on my behalf to help me get the pass.  It was VERY helpful to go in first and not have to wait in the lines for hours.

I wanted to get there early because I was so pumped up and didn’t want to miss anything.  The auditions started at 10am but there was a lot of preliminary stuff like checking in, getting your application and photo in order and making sure you brought food!  No food, no audition!  Some people were filling out their 11 page application last minute in line.  One person was dressed like a clown (see to the right of me in photo).  There was also a filming crew and Joe Bastianich, one of the MasterChef judges, was on hand to be in the footage for the upcoming season.  We were filmed while waiting outside and cheering like crazy.

Room full of potential MasterChefs

Moroccan Chicken Cacciatore with Couscous

Finally, they called the Front Line pass holders and I scooted up there with the others.  About 50 of us were brought into this large conference room where there were tables set up.  Each person had a little section designated on the table where they could start ‘getting ready’, but, not plate anything until we were told.  I took out all of my containers filled with food, placed my plate out and was ready.  My dish was my own creation – Moroccan Chicken Cacciatore with Israeli couscous made with Moroccan flavorings and Zucchini Fritelli (Fritters).   Once they said ‘Go’ I carefully took out my Israeli couscous which I had placed in a ring mold that morning.  I knew that as it cooled down the couscous would hold together and I would be able to place it on the dish without falling apart.  Then I placed the Cacciatore sauce around it and the chicken.  I placed a Zucchini Fritter on each side and then sprinkled it with some parsley and chopped pecans.  I thought it looked lovely.

Joe Bastianich came around to everyone and checked their plating and food.  He made a few ‘smart’ comments here and there while he chatted with people.  He came over to me and said ‘You got a lot going on there’.  Instead of panicking, I replied ‘I’ll tell you what I’ve got going on here, Joe’ and proceeded to describe my dish as a fusion of Sicilian and Moroccan flavors plus my ‘Fritelli di Cocuzzi’ in which, he replied, ‘I know what Cocuzzi are’, and I said ‘I hope you do!’ (he’s Italian and the son of TV Chef Lidia Bastianich).  In retrospect, maybe I did have a lot on the plate.  I guess I need more practice plating.

Then the real test came.  The food taster, Vernon, went around and tasted everyone’s dish while asking them questions on how they prepared it.  As he came closer I said ‘You must have an iron clad stomach’.  He replied, ‘Yes, but once in a while I take a break and sanitize my stomach with a shot of Patron (tequila)’.  It’s always good to break the ice with some laughs.  Then, it was my turn.  He asked me about my plate and I described what I made along with the ingredients.  He tasted it and then asked me how I cooked the chicken’.  After that, he said ‘Well you definitely know what you’re doing.  I don’t know if you’re self taught or went to school but you’re good’. WOW!  I thought.  The food taster likes my food!  Yes!

The ‘personality’ casting director for went around and quickly, and I mean quickly, interviewed everyone.  We had about 30 seconds (if that) to tell her about ourselves.  How can anyone know a person in 30 seconds?!  I did my best.  I came across bubbly, friendly, and funny.  I even told her I can beat anyone in a hula hoop contest.  I hope she took down some good notes.

Now, it’s time to wait.  No matter what happens I had a wonderful, flawless experience.  I wasn’t nervous at all!  I can, at least, say that I auditioned for MasterChef and that the food judge liked my food.

For me, this journey is not just about wanting to be on TV.  It’s about doing something that I love and doing something for me.  I need to know that I can pursue a dream and not have to look back and regret not going for it.

I want to thank all of my friends and family for their overwhelming support.  My culinary journey will continue…no matter what.