Orzo “Greek” Pasta Salad

I don’t eat many sides from the grocery store deli but I will always be up for the various Greek pasta salads.

I make this pretty often but my produce usually just reflects what I have on hand. It comes together fairly easily and quickly. It also tastes better the longer everything marries.

Ingredients

Half a box of orzo

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1/2 cucumber, finely chopped

1/4 tomato, finely chopped

1/3-1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped

Dressing

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp lemon zest (optional)

1/2 tbsp chopped parsley

1 tsp chopped cilantro (optional)

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp dried mint

Salt and pepper, to taste

Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)

Chop your veggies

Boil and drain your orzo, rinse under cold water.

Combine dressing ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Combine all ingredients plus dressing. Toss with a wooden spoon or a spatula.

Mango con Chile y Limon Cake

This idea came to me randomly a few weeks ago. I grew up in NY and it was a regular occurrence to see the street vendors selling baggies of mango or mangoes on a stick topped with chili powder. It took me a couple of weeks to figure out exactly how I wanted to incorporate these flavors.

Related image

There was a lot of trial and error. As usual, the goal is to flavor and color using natural, preferably fresh, ingredients. There were A LOT of mangoes (I think I used 7 or 8–all scraps and leftovers went into the freezer for smoothies).

The sponge is a basic vanilla sponge infused with fresh mango puree, lime and lemon zest, fresh cayenne (no stems or seeds) and cayenne pepper (more control over the spice level).

The first layer is buttercream and macerated fresh mango slices. The top layer is a lime-mango curd. It’s mostly sweet and creamy but there’s a tartness to it due to  lime juice.

The outside buttercream is flavored with a little smoked paprika, chili powder and a little cayenne plus lime juice and zest.

I taught myself to make mango roses, which serve as the decoration along with some whipped cream.


Ingredients:

Sponge:

2 ½ C flour

1 ½ C sugar

2 ½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

1/2 c milk

1/2 c butter, room temperature

4 egg whites

1 tsp vanilla extract

¾ C mango puree

Spices (to taste): cayenne pepper, 2-5 cayenne peppers seeded and deveined, lemon zest, lime zest

Mango-Lime Curd:

1 large ripe mango

½ cup fresh lime juice

Squeeze of lemon juice

½- 1 tbsp of lime zest

½ tsp kosher salt

¾ cup sugar, divided (1/2:1/4)

3 large egg yolks

1 large egg

1 stick of butter, cubed or thinly sliced

Lime Simple Syrup:

3/4  cup of water

¼ cup of lime juice

1 cup of sugar

Vanilla Buttercream:

2 sticks softened butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

Roughly 5 cups of powdered sugar

Spiced Buttercream (optional/to taste):

Vanilla Buttercream

Smoked paprika

Chili powder

Cayenne pepper

Lime zest

Reserve:

2 mango cheeks, thinly sliced


Curd:

  1. Slice fresh mango
    1. In a small bowl add sugar or simple syrup
    2. Toss to coat, let restUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17d
  2. In a food processor, puree mango and transfer to a sauce pan
  3. Add lime zest and juice, salt and ½ c sugar
  4. Simmer while stirring until sugar dissolves
  5. Option 1: in a bowl, whisk eggs and remaining sugar until the yellow lightens
  6. Carefully and slowly stream in about half of the hot mango mixture into the eggs
    1. This is called tempering, do not rush this or you will cook the eggsUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_186
  7. Strain
  8. Pour the egg and mango mixture back into the sauce pan and whisk constantly until it thickens
    • Do not let this boil
  9. Option 2: Combine ingredients and whisk constantly over a double boiler until it thickensUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_180UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_193
  10. Once thickened, remove from heat and add the butter a few pieces at a time and stir until fully incorporated before adding the next few
  11. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly onto the top of the curd so it doesn’t develop a weird skin
    1. Chill for 2-24 hours

Simple Syrup:

  1. In a sauce pan, combine the ingredients
  2. Simmer and stir until sugar is dissolved
  3. Refrigerate and store in a container

Sponge: 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease and parchment 2 9”round cake pans or 3 8” round cake pans
  3. In the bowl of your mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and gelatin using the paddle attachment
  4. Add the softened butter
  5. Add the vanilla
  6. Add the milk
  7. Add the egg whites, beat to combine
  8. Scrape down bowl
  9. Add mango puree
  10. Slowly incorporate the spices and the zestPhoto taken with Focos
    • I recommend starting with a teaspoon of zest and working up
    • I recommend starting with a dash of cayenne
    • Optional: seed and devein cayenne peppers and finely dice, start with a small amount and work your way up
    • My proportions were zest > cayenne pepper>cayenne peppersDivide cake between cake pans
  11. Bake until they pass the toothpick test
  12. Allow to cool slightly before removing from the pansUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_18c
  13. Carefully poke some holes into the cake (not all the way through)
  14. Carefully spoon some of the syrup over the sponges and allow to rest so they can fully sop up the goodness

Vanilla Buttercream:

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, whip the butter on medium until the butter looks white and fluffy
  2. Add vanilla
  3. On low speed, slowly and carefully add the powdered sugar about a cup at a time
  4. Slowly increase the speed and whip until well incorporated
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until all of your sugar is used

Spiced Buttercream (Optional):

  1. Split ½-3/4 of the vanilla buttercream
  2. Starting with a small amount, slowly add the spices and TASTE adjusting for your preference
    1. My proportions were zest>chili powder> smoked paprika> cayenne
    2. This was a sweet and flavorful buttercream that left a curious and slightly spicy finish

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Assembly:

Bottom layer: Sponge

Next layer: Buttercream and the macerated mangoes (shake off excess liquid)

Next layer: Sponge

Next layer: Buttercream perimeter filled with curd

Next layer: Sponge

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Photo taken with FocosPhoto taken with FocosPhoto taken with FocosPhoto taken with FocosPhoto taken with FocosPhoto taken with FocosUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17eUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_194Photo taken with FocosPhoto taken with FocosPhoto taken with FocosUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_196Photo taken with FocosPhoto taken with FocosPhoto taken with Focos

© 2019 by Alexa Mason. All Rights Reserved

Brown Butter Glazed Banana Bread

I’ve made this recipe a fewtimes and shared it on my personal Instagram. I first tried with just four bananas but I’ve since discovered that 6 is the perfect amount for a truly moist and bananaful bread.

(This trial used 1 tsp baking soda)

My first trial was a plain banana bread with a mostly bread consistency. I like a more cake like texture. My second trial required two extra bananas and I added a cream cheese icing. This third time we added walnuts and topped with a brown butter glaze and it was divine!

It’s a very forgiving recipe! I love having chunks of bananas so I mash my bananas with a fork. If that’s not your ministry you can puree the bananas. I make this by hand using mixing bowls, a fork and a spatula.

Feel free to sub in your own add ins. This is an easily customizable recipe. It’s truly no fuss.

Ingredients:

6 ripe bananas (the blacker the peel the better)

1 stick melted unsalted butter

3/4 c white sugar

1/4 c brown sugar

2 c flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder (if you like a slightly breadier consistency use baking soda, the loaf may be darker but still yummy)

1/4 c milk

2 eggs

Brown butter glaze:

1/2 stick unsalted butter

Up to 2 tbsp Half and half

Up to 1 c powdered sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Direction:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F
  2. In a large bowl, mash your bananas.
  3. Melt your butter
  4. In a small bowl, gently whisk your eggs
  5. Combine milk, egg, vanilla, banana and butter.
  6. In another bowl, stir to combine your sugars, salt, baking powder, and preferred spices (I did 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp Nutmeg)
  7. Using a spatula, combine the wet and dry ingredients.
  8. OPTIONAL: Fold in 1/2 c chopped walnuts
  9. Oil and flour a loaf pan.
  10. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Start the toothpick test around 50m.
  11. OPTIONAL:While the banana bread is baking start your brown butter. Over medium low heat, melt the butter constantly whisking.
  12. You’ll be doing this for at least 5 minutes, once brown bits start forming remove from heat.
  13. In a mixing bowl,combine the brown butter, vanilla extract and powdered sugar.
  14. Slowly add and incorporate the half and half about a 1/2 tsp at a time.
  15. This isn’t an exact science. If it’s too thick, add a little more half and half. If it’s too thin, add a little more powdered sugar.
  16. Remove the banana bread from the oven and allow it to cool before pouring out on the glaze.

© 2018 by Alexa Mason. All Rights Reserved

Curried Pumpkin Coconut and Shrimp Soup

There are so many layers of flavor here from the mirepoix, to the curry, to the coconut, to the potent shrimp stock and of course, the pumpkin. This is a hearty, homey soup perfect for Autumn!

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There are quite a few steps but don’t let this intimidate you. Organize your ingredients, your tools and get to work! I always say, work smarter not harder. Tackle one thing at a time in the order that you will be working. If you are roasting your fresh pumpkin, get that out of the way first. While that’s happening, you can get your shrimp stock simmering. Once you have everything lines up, just bang it on out!

 

Ingredients:

8 cup fresh chopped, roasted pumpkin (3-4 C canned pumpkin)

1 large onion

3 celery stalks

2 large carrots, or 3-5 smaller carrots

4-6 garlic cloves

1-2 lbs shrimp, deveined (save shells)

1- 13.5 oz can of coconut milk

6 tbsp preferred curry powder

5 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp black pepper

Worcestershire sauce

kosher salt, to taste

 

  1. If you are using fresh pumpkin, roast this first. You can follow the steps here. pumpsoup7
  2. Peel your shrimp and place the shells in a pot, cover with waterpumpsouppumpsoup2
  3. Prepare your mirepoix
    1. Roughly chop celery, carrot, onionpumpsoup3
  4. Throw any peels, tops, etc. in the pot with the shrimp, stir.
    1. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, this will be your shrimp stock
      pumpsoup4

      Shrimp shells, onion peel, celery stumps, carrot peel and heads

  5. Over medium heat, soften the mirepoix. Season with salt and pepper.pumpsoup8
  6. Add the pumpkin, add your spices plus salt and pepperpumpsoup9pumpsoup10pumpsoup12
  7. Drain the shells and peels from the stockpumpsoup5pumpsoup6
  8. Add 3-4 cups of shrimp stock, stir
  9. Reduce to simmer for 10-15 minutespumpsoup13
  10. Using an immersion blender, food processor or regular blenderpumpsoup14pumpsoup15
  11. Return to your pot, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer
  12. Add the coconut milk and 1-2 splashes of Worcestershire saucepumpsoup16
  13. Taste, taste, taste! Adjust your spices as needed. My family likes bold spice and flavor, you may want a little less or a little more. This is where you taste and adjust.
  14. Add your shrimp, stir and close the lid. Your shrimp will gently poach in the soup liquid.soup102
  15. Allow to simmer for another 20-30 minutes

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Optional:

Top with pepitas, drizzle of coconut milk or chopped mint or cilantro!

 

 

 

© 2017 by Alexa Mason. All Rights Reserved

 

Pumpkin Cornbread

A very homey, Autumny treat. These are lightly spiced. They smell, taste and look like my favorite season. These would be awesome with some really hearty chili. I served these with an equally Autumny Pumpkin Soup!

cb13

 

Ingredients:

 

1 cup pumpkin puree (fresh or canned)

1 cup reduced fat milk

¼ cup granulated sugar

¼ cup light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 ¼ cup cornmeal

¾ cup AP flour, leveled

½ tsp baking soda

1 tbsp baking powder

¾ tsp

1 dash each: cinnamon, nutmeg, clove

4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

 

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  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. In a small bowl, whisk and combine puree, milk, sugar and eggs.cb3
  3. In a larger bowl, combine the dry ingredientscb2
  4. You’ll add the wet ingredients to the dry, plus the buttercb6
  5. Using a silicone spatula, just combine; do not over mix your batter
  6. Spray your muffin tin with cooking spray
  7. Scoop your batter into the tinscb7
  8. Bake for about 20 minutes until goldeny; and pass the toothpick test
  9. Allow to cool in the pan before transferring to rack
    1. For a little extra yum, top with butter while they’re hotcb8cb10cb11
  10. Store in air tight container

 

 

 

 

© 2017 by Alexa Mason. All Rights Reserved

Creamy Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

It is my favorite season of the year. Time for boots, scarves, pumpkin spice everything and hearty, comfort food. I decided to whip up a soup this Sunday. I am hosting my nana and my aunt and I figured comfort food would be the way to go. This was my first time working with gnocchi and in true form I chose to make them myself instead of buying them from the store. Fortunately, it was not a tragedy. This soup is super flavorful and pretty damn easy to make! Feel free to use store bought gnocchi! I am not Ina Garten. Use what you want or what you got!

20171015_182655

Ingredients:

 

Large Onion

Celery

Carrots

4-5 cloves of garlic

Chicken

3 cups of half and half

1 ½ containers of low sodium chicken stock (32oz)

Kosher salt

Thyme

Rosemary

Three handfuls of fresh spinach

Splash of fish sauce

Splash of Worcestershire

6 tbsp unsalted butter

½ cup of flour

 

  1. Prepare your chicken as you prefer. I chose to roast three bone in chicken breasts at 400 degrees. I shredded the meat. Feel free to use your preferred cut of chicken or even a rotisserie chicken.20171015_15233020171015_16184220171015_162337
  2. Over medium heat, sautee your carrots, celery and onions until they’re softened. Towards the end add the garlic. Remove from the heat.
  3. Melt the butter and add the flour to create a roux.20171015_16351220171015_164018
  4. Add the half and half, stirring constantly.
  5. Add the chicken broth.
  6. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, this will thicken.
  7. Season to taste. I used thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper, garlic and a couple of splashes of Worcestershire and fish sauce to deepen the savory flavor.20171015_165336
  8. If cooking: Remove your chicken, allow it to cool. Chop or shred. Add this to the soup.20171015_162701
  9. Taste and adjust your seasonings.
  10. Add gnocchi
  11. Add your spinach and allow it to wilt.20171015_173215
  12. Allow this to simmer
  13. Top with chopped tomato20171015_18265520171015_18265820171015_183117

 

© 2017 by Alexa Mason. All Rights Reserved

Weeknight Chicken and Dumplings

The weather has dropped suddenly in Washington, DC and it has been feeling like Autumn all week. I couldn’t wait to make a nice homey comfort dish. Chicken and dumplings is a favorite in my family.

cd16When I have the time and energy, I prefer to make a huge batch starting with homemade stock. But today is Wednesday. That is not a Wednesday meal for me. Tonight, I adapted it to suit a weeknight meal. Mostly homemade but the broth got a helping hand from some store-bought reduced sodium stock. We’ll punch it up, though, no worries.

I like to add garlic and herbs to my dumping dough for an added layer of flavor. Feel free to adapt and adjust to suit your preferences.

Autumn, here we come!

 

Ingredients:

4-6 boneless chicken thighs

Four stalks of celery

One med-large onion

3-4 carrots

4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 32 oz container of reduced sodium chicken stock

Fish sauce

Worcestershire sauce

All-purpose flour

Kosher salt

Black pepper

Crushed red pepper

Garlic powder

Rosemary

Bell’s poultry seasoning

 

 

 

  1. Season chicken with salt and pepper.
  2. Brown chicken thighs, do not cook through, over med high heat.
    • I used four boneless, skinless chicken thighs. You can use whatever chicken you prefer, though. It’s also easy to scale the recipe up or down.
    • Be careful with breasts as they tend to dry out if not handled properly.cd2cd3
  1. Chop your vegetables
  2. Remove chicken thighs from heat
  3. Add veg and salt and pepperScreen Shot 2017-08-30 at 7.53.32 PMcd4
  4. Add a 1/2 container of reduced sodium chicken broth, stir and scrape up the bottom of the pancd5
  5. Add remaining 1/2 of the broth, fill container with water and add that to the pot as well
  6. Bring to a boil, add the chicken
  7. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.
  8. While the chicken is simmering, in a large bowl add 2.5-3 cups of flour, add about 2 rounded tsp salt, plus black pepper, garlic powder and rosemary to taste (or any other herb that you prefer).cd8
  9. Add ice cold water a few tbsp at a time. Stirring in the center of the bowl. Slowly incorporating flour from the perimeter, almost like making pasta.
    • Do this just until the dough comes together. If it is too wet add more flour, too dry then add more water.
  1. Dump the dough onto a floured surface. Sprinkle with flour and gently knead to make sure it’s not sticking. Press, or roll, the dough to about a 1/4″ thickness. Cut into your desired shape.cd9cd10cd11cd12
  2. Your chicken should be ready and tender after 20-25 min. Remove from stock, shred using two forks. Add back to the pot.cd6
  3. Taste your broth, add salt and pepper as needed. I also add about 1/4-1/2 tsp of Bell’s poultry seasoning, two splashes of fish sauce and a couple of dashes of Worcestershire sauce. Taste and adjust.cd7
  4. Bring to a boil. Gently stir while you add your dumplings one by one. You don’t want to have big ol’ clumps of dough.
    • If you prefer a slightly thicker consistency, I create a slurry of corn starch, splash of Worcestershire and cold water.cd13cd14
  5. Once added and incorporated, allow to simmer for at least 10-15 min

 

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© 2017 by Alexa Mason. All Rights Reserved

Chicken Parm Burgers with Homemade Brioche-Roasted Garlic Buns

Scrolling the Book of Face and a friend of mine shared one of those Not-to-be-named Food Videos. I swear, either I’m repulsed, confused or just….left hanging. This recipe video had so much promise but where they could have really amped up the flavor, they fell flat. I told my friend, I am re-doing this recipe and it is happening SOON.

 

And boy, did I.

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For over a week, I thought about this. Where can I up the flavor? How can I make this not boring?

Well, for one, I made my own brioche buns. This isn’t absolutely necessary but if you do it? You will not regret it. These buns are so intoxicating without any help. Just fresh out the oven and all you taste is yummy, buttery, soft, crispy heaven. So, allow me to channel Ina Garten- you do not need freshly baked brioche buns, you can use store bought. [insert judgement and friendly smile].cpb7cpb8

I actually just used this recipe from one of my favorite yeast brands. It’s a plan ahead recipe, though there are “lighter” recipes out there that allow you to bake within a couple of hours if you do your Googles. However, because of the way these buns came on? I will dedicate the time to get this result over and over again.

Major note: if you are going to make this recipe with homemade buns, allow yourself time! You need to start the buns either very, very early the morning before dinner or start them the previous night. You need to allow time for the dough to properly rise.

Now, this Video Recipe missed another prime opportunity to step the recipe up. Why put a chicken parm burger on a plain bun? Why not make it garlic bread? I took it a step further and roasted garlic to add to the buttery-herby mixture that topped the buns. Listen, Linda. Honey…Listen. Y-E-S! Brilliant, if I do say so myself. So, boom, right there. Two ways to boost the flavor.

So…. I must admit that I also ground my own meat. Wait, don’t go. This time I just opted for a food processor! Easy-peasy! I ditched the chicken skin, I deboned about 8 chicken thighs and had my sous-chef, Mason, pulse the meat until it was smooth. Any left over carcass? Freeze it in a freezer bag and toss it in your soup! Or use it to make a broth! Waste not, want not!cpb2

In my experience, chicken burgers are not known for tremendous texture. I wanted to focus on a moderate fat content and boosting flavor. When you grind your own meat, not only is it usually cheaper but you control what parts are used and how much fat. Ground chicken is known for being lean, AKA easy to dry out. These burgers were super moist, super flavorful and super easy. If you are not willing to grind your own meat, this I will not judge you for. I promise. Half the time I grind meat because I forgot to buy ground meat from the store. Other times, most of the time, it’s because it is truly cheaper.

With that said, aside from the buns, it’s a very straight forward recipe. A good one for eager, little hands to help with too!


Ingredients:

Burger (yields 6 decent sized burgers):

8 chicken thighs, deboned and cut into 2” pieces and ground until smooth

1 tbsp panko bread crumbs

2 tbsp of cheese (parm, romano, asiago- whatever you have)

1 tsp kosher salt

½ tsp black pepper

½ tbsp granulated garlic (more to taste)

tsp Italian seasoning

pinch crushed red peppers

2 cups of tomato sauce (your favorite kind or season up some canned crushed tomatoes)

6 slices of mozzarella

Garlic Bread Buns:

6 brioche buns

½ stick of unsalted butter

pinch of kosher salt

3-4 cloves of roasted garlic

dash of granulated garlic

½ tsp of Italian seasoning


  1. Put garlic cloves in foil with a splash of olive oil and salt and pepper. Seal and bake in the oven on 400 for about 20-30m. They should be soft and aromatic.cpb4
  2. Melt butter and add ingredients. Stir to combine.
  3. Debone your chicken thighs and cut into 1-2” pieces. I trimmed most of the fat but I allowed a few bits to remain. This absolutely contributed to the moistness of the burger without any added moisture. Add to food processor and pulse until smooth. (IF you are using pre-ground chicken, skip to next step.)cpbcpb3
  4. Transfer meat to a bowl, add ingredients up to and including crushed red pepper. Mix well with a spatula, or your best tool- your hands. You do not want overmix; you just want to mix until the spices are well combined.
  5. Form your meat into decent sized patties. I was able to make six that were nearly ½” thick.cpb5
  6. Heat a heavy bottomed skillet with a neutral oil (if you are unsure about your seasoning, this is the time to add a small bit of meat and cook it through. Taste it and adjust your seasoning if you feel it is necessary.)
  7. Sear three burgers at a time, make sure to get some good color on each side.cpb11
  8. Cook your burgers for 4 minutes on each side.
  9. Remove the first batch and repeat with the remaining.
  10. Remove the second batch and drain any oil.
  11. Turn the heat down to prevent a lot of splatter and add your tomato sauce. (If you’re using canned crushed, make sure you season it up some.)
  12. Bring the sauce to boil then reduce to a simmer.
  13. Your garlic should be ready by now, if not, give it a few minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool. The garlic should pop right out of it’s skin. Mash it up with the side of your knife and add to your butter mixture.cpb9
  14. Cut your buns in half and spread the butter mixture onto them.cpb10
  15. Add the burgers to sauce. Flip the burgers over a few times to coat, spoon some sauce on top and put a lid on. Allow to simmer for a couple of minutes. Remember; the burgers are mostly cooked through.cpb12
  16. Turn on your broiler; Put your buttery buns under the broiler until just golden brown. Keep your eye on them so they do not burn.
  17. After about 2-3 minutes, place the slices of mozzarella onto the burgers in the pan. Place the lid on the pan and allow the steam to melt the mozzarella.cpb13cpb14
  18. Put the burgers on the buttery buns. Add some zucchini fries as a side. Please, go prosper!

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Note: You can freeze the formed patties! Separate them with parchment, wrap with plastic wrap and stick them in a freezer bag. They will be ready to go next time you are craving burgers!

 

 

© 2017 by Alexa Mason. All Rights Reserved