Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Favorite Smoky Turkey Chili

When I think of chili, I think of windy fall evenings, football games and the weekend. Chili is such a weekend food because it takes at least a little while to simmer and feels like a feast--especially when you add some supporting players like skillet cornbread and a great beer. The Leffe in the photo, by the way, is one of my favorites of all time and an absolutely excellent food beer; it's worth tracking down, though we did recently find it in a mixed pack at Costco.

This chili is just the thing to have simmering on the stove as you decorate your Christmas tree this weekend. It's also great to make while watching football. Will you be tree-trimming and football watching simultaneously like I probably will? In that case, you can even make this ahead--it tastes even better reheated.

I made this chili for a Halloween dinner this year because of the festive color combo of the sweet potatoes and black beans. The smokiness comes from poblano chiles, a mild, easy to find dark green pepper that you roast, skin and cut into strips. If you don't like heat, remove all the seeds, and you won't have a problem. The pepper roasting is the only fussy part of this recipe, but you've done that before, right? And it totally pays off. I also recently discovered dried chipotle chiles which have the most intense smoky-sweet flavor in their dried form--but a little goes far. We grind these up ourselves to make the chipotle chile powder, but you can either buy it or use any chili seasonings you prefer.

Although I said I was feeling relatively healthy after our blowout Thanksgiving weekend, we've still been eating nutritious, comforting meals like salmon and lentils (my favorite healthy yet totally satisfying meal) and some great vegetarian soups. I have two outrageously good soups that I want to post soon--just in case you need a break from the holiday indulgence that's going to happen in the coming weeks--I'm sure I will!

Smoky Turkey Chili
Loosely Adapted from Food & Wine, January 2003
I’ve actually been making this chili since I received the January ’03 issue of F&W. I even hung onto the magazine because it includes quite a few great-looking, healthy recipes, though the chili is only one I’ve ever made. Because I love the intensely sweet flavor, I buy dried chipotles and grind them in a spice grinder. You can buy them already ground or use one or two canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce. Anything with the word “chipotle” is probably hot stuff, so use sparingly at first. You can skip it if you don’t like heat, but I’d encourage you to try it because the sweet, smoky flavor is wonderful. Of course, feel free to use your favorite chili seasonings and spices--it’s a fun dish to play around with. Here are some excellent instructions on how to roast peppers. I do mine (or I should say Mike does mine) under the broiler.

Serves 6

1 tbs. canola or olive oil
1 lb. lean ground turkey
Salt and ground pepper to taste
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tbs. chile powder (the regular, mild stuff--Spice Islands makes a good one)
pinch of ground chipotle chile powder (or to taste) or 1 to 2 canned chipotles in adobo (optional)
4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 quart water
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Two 15-oz. cans black beans, drained but not rinsed
4 large poblano chiles—roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into thin strips
1/4 cup tomato paste
Sour cream, grated cheese, cilantro and chopped scallions for serving (optional)

Add the oil to a large pot or Dutch oven and heat to medium-high. Add the ground turkey, season with salt and pepper and cook, breaking it up as you stir, until browned. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Turn the heat down to medium-low, add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, both chile powders, cumin and cloves and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and water and raise the heat to bring chili to a boil.

Add the turkey, cover the pot and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes and simmer for 30 more minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add the beans and poblano, stirring to combine, then taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper or chile powder to taste. Stir in the tomato paste and simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve topped with sour cream, grated cheese, cilantro and chopped scallions. Cornbread is an excellent accompaniment.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

All-In-One Holiday Bundt Cake

Are you recovered yet?

This is the first year I've flown home from the family Thanksgiving in Connecticut without feeling exhausted, hungover and stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey. I consider this to be a really good thing, especially since we had a great time this year as always.

So, between catching up with everyone, playing board games (and drinking games), hiking, and drinking lots of red wine (and Bud Light), Mike and I whipped up this All-In-One, All-Purpose Holiday Bundt Cake for Thanksgiving dessert. It was a well-traveled cake by the time it had been mixed at Aunt Jo's, transported down the road and baked at Grandma Jean's. But it never complained once and, even with all the juggling around, it baked up beautifully.

This cake is really good and moist. I thought it might have a chunky texture with all the add-ins, but the cranberries soften nicely and the apples absolutely melt into the nutmeg-scented pumpkin batter. All those great fall flavors are there plus pecans, cinnamon and maple syrup in sugar glaze. It disappeared by Friday morning.

This is Dorie Greenspan's cake and her reputation for writing reliable, do-able recipes is proven again. I opted to toast the pecans, but she didn't call for that, so do whatever you want. I think toasting does wonders to enhance the flavor of fresh, raw nuts even if you are mixing them into a cake. I also made a lot more maple glaze than she calls for in her book, but I make no apologies for that. You could also simply dust the cake with sifted confectioners' sugar right before serving. Though it was perfect for Thanksgiving, this is a cake that you'll love serving throughout the holiday season. I imagine it would freeze very well (sans icing) for some advance baking, if you're so inclined.

I'm sending this post to Definitely Not Martha who is hosting this month's Sugar High Friday, a super-sweet blogging event where food bloggers bake around a given theme. This month, it's beta-carotene--sounds a little healthy and clinical for Sugar High Friday doesn't it? But wait, that means everyone will be baking with ingredients like pumpkin, butternut squash, carrots and sweet potatoes--yum! I'll post a link to the round-up when it's done so you can check out the recipes from other bloggers.

All-In-One Holiday Bundt Cake
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
This cake contains just about every traditional holiday flavor, so that is where the names comes from. To toast the pecans, spread them on a baking sheet and put them in a 350 degree oven for about 8 minutes, shaking and turning them over halfway through, until fragrant and starting to take on some additional color. Watch them carefully to avoid burning.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1 1/4 sticks (10 tbs.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup canned, unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 medium apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup pecans, toasted (see headnote) and chopped
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar (or more as needed)
5 to 6 tbs. maple syrup
1 to 2 Tbs milk, or as needed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the center position. Butter a 9- to 10-inch (12-cup) bundt pan well, using waxed paper or a pastry brush to spread the butter into every nook.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Using a stand mixer or a handheld electric mixer, beat the butter and both sugars together at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the pumpkin, ginger and chopped apple. At this point the mixture will probably looked curdled, but that’s okay.

With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture slowly, beating just until it is incorporated (over mixing flour results in a tough texture in the finished cake). Using a rubber spatula, stir in the cranberries and pecans. Scrape the batter into the prepared bundt pan.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a thin paring knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean (you might get some streaks if you hit a cranberry). Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for ten minutes in the pan. Unmold the cake and cool to room temperature on the rack.

Transfer cooled cake to a cake stand or serving platter. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a bowl. Add 5 tablespoons of maple syrup and stir until you have a smooth, thick mixture that coats the back of the spoon and runs off enough to drizzle over the cake. If you want, add some milk to thin icing; to thicken, just add more sugar. Drizzle icing off the back of the spoon over the top of the cake so it runs down the sides. Let the icing set for at least an hour before serving.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Brussels Sprout-Chestnut Tart with My Favorite Whole Wheat Crust

Well, Thanksgiving is closing in, and I'm happy to say that our recipes are finally decided, and all that's left is the actual cooking. For our big family dinner, Mike and I are going to contribute Broccoli with Sicilian Sauce (a recipe by Lynne Rossetto Kasper in Nov.'s Saveur) because there just has to be something green and nutritious on the table, in my opinion. But, since I always advocate balance in eating, we're also going to make Dorie Greenspan's "All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake" from Baking: From My Home to Yours. The picture, as well as all the holiday flavors packed into the simple cake, won us over. I will take some pictures and report back after the holiday.

If you're still searching for Thanksgiving inspiration, consider this tart. Overflowing with shredded Brussels sprouts, chestnuts, and pancetta, loosely held together by a simple custard made with one egg and a splash of milk, this tart is substantial enough to serve as an entree and special enough to be part of your Thanksgiving spread. The flavor is so nutty and buttery, yet the inherent nutritious attributes of the Brussels sprouts aren't hidden, but enhanced. I coax out their natural sweetness by cooking them with caramelized shallots glazed with apple cider vinegar--a trick inspired by an otherwise overly complicated recipe I saw in Bon Appetit magazine.

I made this tart twice in the past week and a half. I wouldn't have done so if we didn't absolutely love eating it, but I also needed to perfect the filling. On the first attempt, I did not use the custard and therefore, nothing kept the scraggly hash of Brussels sprouts from spilling apart when the tart was cut. I needed a binder that wouldn't dull the flavors of the ingredients. I had done a tart with a milk custard before, so I thought I would try something similar here. I mixed up just enough to create a cohesive filling that wasn't too eggy and quiche-like--problem solved!

If you're not much for tart-baking, or just need a light vegetable side dish, please try the Brussels sprout-chestnut mixture on its own. Both times I made the tart, I bought more sprouts than I needed and reserved a little tupperware container of the filling (minus the milk and eggs) to munch on, and I would not hesitate to make that portion of the recipe as a side dish anytime. It's so good!

It's been ages since I've participated in a food blogging event, and I'm really happy to get back in the habit by contributing this recipe to "Waiter, there's something in my..." hosted this month over at the blog, Cook Sister. The theme is Topless Tarts--perfect. I'll post a link to the round-up sometime late next week so you can see what other bloggers came up with too.

Favorite Whole Wheat Savory Tart Shell

After some experimenting, I think this is the combination of flours that produces the tastiest, flakiest whole wheat tart shell. I absolutely love this pastry, and it’s very easy to work with. You can jazz it up by adding fresh herbs or spices to the dry ingredients.

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz.), cut into small cubes and chilled
1/4 cup ice water, plus 1 to 2 tbs. as needed

In a food processor, pulse the flour and salt to combine. Add the butter and pulse until you have a sandy mixture with pea-sized chunks. Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture, then pulse again until the dough just starts to come together. It will still look a little scraggly. If the dough does not easily adhere when you press a bit between your fingers, add one more tablespoon of ice water and pulse. Repeat if necessary until the dough is moist and cohesive, but not wet.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and press it together, kneading once or twice, to form a thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll the chilled dough out on a lightly floured surface to a large, 12-13 inch circle. To do this evenly, roll in the direction of 12 o’clock, then 6 o’clock, then 9, then 3, then in the directions of the diagonals (1:30, etc.). The dough should be about 1/8 inch thick. Roll the dough over the pin and drape it into a nonstick (9, 10 or 11-inch) fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough into the sides of the pan with your knuckles and peel off the pieces that hang over the pan and use them to patch any holes. Prick the base and sides of the crust all over with a fork, place tart pan on a heavy baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. If you want to cook this crust all the way through for a different recipe, bake about 30 minutes total.

Brussels Sprout-Chestnut Tart
This is excellent reheated, as long as you do it in the oven, not the microwave. It's worth the little bit of effort to re-crisp the delicious, buttery crust. Loosely tent with foil and heat at 300 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until hot.

nonstick cooking spray
2 (1/4-inch) slices pancetta, chopped into small bits (or 6 slices bacon)
olive oil, as needed
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs. apple cider vinegar
4 tsp. granulated sugar
1 3/4 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved and thinly sliced crosswise
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
1 tbs. unsalted butter
1 cup chopped chestnuts (from a jar of whole cooked chestnuts)
2 oz. grated sharp cheddar, gruyère or comté cheese, grated (about 1/3 cup loosely packed
1 egg
1/4 cup milk (lowfat or whole)

Coat a large saucepan with nonstick cooking spray and heat to medium-low. Add pancetta and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, remove to a paper towel to drain, leaving the fat in the pan. If you're using bacon, drain on paper towel, then crumble into bite-size pieces.

If necessary, add some olive oil to the pan so you have about 1 tbs. of fat. Add the shallots, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and caramelized, about 8-10 minutes. Reduce heat if shallots started browning too quickly. Add the cider vinegar and sugar to the shallots, stirring until shallots are coated with glaze, about 2 minutes. Add the Brussels sprouts and stir until combined well with the shallots and slightly wilted. Turn up the heat to medium and add water to create a thin layer of liquid at the bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring often, until water evaporates and Brussels sprouts are soft, but still sweet and firm to the bite (overcooking is what makes them bitter, but don’t worry, it’s not easy to do). Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the chestnuts and pancetta.

Meanwhile, scatter the cheese over the base of the par-baked tart shell.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg together with the milk and season with salt and pepper. Add the Brussels sprout mixture and toss to coat. Add the Brussels sprouts mixture to the tart shell. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, or until set. Let tart rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

More Brussels sprouts recipes from other bloggers:

Cream-Braised Brussels Sprouts on Orangette
Brussels Sprouts Dijon on Seriously Good
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic, Parmesan and Pine Nuts on Kalyn's Kitchen
Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts on 101 Cookbooks
Roasted Brussels Sprouts (with shallots) on Use Real Butter
And (even though it's not really a side dish) Brussels Sprouts with Orecchiette on An Endless Banquet, because it looks awfully tasty!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé!

Bonjour, mes amis! It's the lovely third Thursday in November, which means two things:

1) Thanksgiving is only one week away!
2) Le nouveau est arrivé!--those young, ripe, happy wines from Beaujolais are here, so get them while you can!

Either way, it's cause to celebrate. Do you have your Thanksgiving meal planned yet? I have to admit that we don't. We had our at-home Thanksgiving dinner a couple weeks ago and made this fantastic Cranberry-Almond Crostata, but for the actual holiday we'll be joining a big group of family in Connecticut. Everyone makes a dish or some component of the Thanksgiving dinner, so we'll have many, many cooks in one kitchen--but isn't that the fun of it?

Anyway, most of the family have stated what their contributions will be, but Mike and I--usually early birds on this--still haven't decided. We like to do riffs on the traditional favorites and cut down on the carb loading, if we can, by contributing a veggie dish. This year we're thinking of doing a dessert too. Any ideas for us?

But back to Beaujolais Nouveau. This red wine is made by the process of carbonic maceration, also called whole berry fermentation. What this means to you is that the fresh, fruity flavors are preserved and the bitter tannins in the grape skins are left out. If the tannins were left out of the nice Cabernet Sauvignon you planned to drink with a steak dinner, you might be a bit peeved. But, in Beaujolais Nouveau, this treatment results in a light (but still boozy), uncomplicated wine that often has just a textural hint of fizz. It is aged for around 6 weeks and is good slightly chilled.

In early December last year, Mike and I were in Toronto for the weekend where getting anything that wasn't already chilled would have been difficult. We brought a bottle of Nouveau back to our hotel room, and it did wonders to brighten up the frigid day and get us in the mood to venture out into the icy evening air.

This year, we're enjoying our Nouveau at home in Fort Lauderdale with a perfect food pairing--burgers. But not just any old burgers. Buy the best ground sirloin you can (or grind your own); go to the bakery for the fresh, expensive buns; take the time to slowly caramelize some red onions; and finally, melt some great cheese on top--any kind you like as long as the flavor is good and strong.

In my experience, Beaujolais Nouveau is fairly easy to find in wine shops and even grocery stores. You'll find wine by Georges Duboeuf everywhere, but try other labels if you see them--at a wine tasting tonight, we liked Bouchard and especially Mommessin. It's inexpensive, so you have no excuse not to taste it for yourself. It's never around for long though (maybe a month at most), so get it tout de suite!

P.S.--For the oven fries, we used a recipe from Cook's Illustrated. It worked great! You generally have to subscribe to Cook's for access to their meticulously tested recipes, but this one is available online.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Black-Eyed Pea Stew and Creamy Corn Muffins

In my last post, I wrote, if a meal consists of a comforting stew and some homemade biscuits or corn bread, life is good. Well, I wasn't just trying to convince you to make my Seafood-Corn Chowder and Whole Grain Herb Biscuits (which you should!)--I really meant it. This is another meal that proves my theory.

As I was looking at my list of TBB recipes ("to be blogged"), I saw this stew and these easy corn muffins. Both recipes are from October's Cooking Light, and I tried them out a few weeks ago, but am just getting around to posting now. I've been doing a lot of cooking lately, so sometimes things get stuck in the blogging pipeline!

If you've always wanted to cook dried beans instead of popping open a can, here's your chance. It's hardly more work than straining and rinsing canned beans, as long as you allow enough time for your beans to transform from hard and dry to toothsome and creamy. If you haven't cooked dried beans before, you'll have to trust me when I tell you it's totally worth it. I don't hesitate to use canned beans in a lot of situations, but I think they taste better when I cook them myself. Actually, it's probably more of a texture than a flavor thing. Just think of canned corn versus corn freshly trimmed off the cob--both have sweet flavor, but the texture of fresh corn retains that smooth snap even when cooked in a soup or casserole.

I can't believe I just used canned corn as an example above because these tangy corn muffins actually depend on a can of creamed corn for their excellent, moist texture. It goes to show that certain foods are more suitable for some recipes than for others. I wouldn't heat up a can of creamed corn as a side dish, but it's a perfect shortcut to a healthy corn muffin. As much as I love the classic Skillet Corn Bread I usually make to go with a stew like this, the scallions, sour cream, sharp cheddar (and even the creamed corn) in this recipe appealed to me--it's important to try variations on your favorite recipes to keep things fresh, don't you think?

Below is my adaptation of the Black-Eyed Pea Stew recipe. As for the corn muffins, I didn't change a thing (except using whole wheat pastry flour instead of AP), so here is the link to the recipe on Cooking Light's website. I like to make regular size muffins, but the recipe also gives directions for making them in mini muffin tins.

By the way, this Thursday is the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau wines for 2007. I love, these light, fruity, slightly fizzy young red wines from Beaujolais region of France. Though not everyone agrees, I think the best of these wines, made from the Gamay grape, are tasty, fun and easy to drink. Check back here on Thursday for the perfect meal to go with your stash of Nouveau!!

Black-Eyed Pea Stew with Kale

Adapted from Cooking Light
Don't bother slicing the turkey sausage; just squeeze it out of the casing directly into the pot.

Serves 4 to 6

2 cups dried black-eyed peas
1/2 tbs. olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
3 spicy turkey sausages (like Jennie-O Turkey Store brand), casings removed and meat crumbled
4 cups vegetable broth (I like Swanson's)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 dried bay leaves
1 tbs. cider vinegar
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
10-12 oz. bag chopped kale, mustard or collard greens

Rinse beans and pick over. Add to a large pot and fill with water to cover by several inches. Bring to a rapid boil and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans.

Heat oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add sausage; cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add vegetable broth, raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Add peas, salt and pepper and bay leaves. Cover and reduce heat; simmer for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in vinegar, tomatoes and greens. Simmer 10 minutes or until beans are tender. Taste for seasoning and serve.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Healthy Seafood-Corn Chowder and Whole Wheat-Herb Biscuits

About a week ago, we could not decide what to eat for dinner to save our lives. The best we could do is decide we wanted fish, maybe salmon. Don’t you hate it when you just don’t know what you feel like eating (and cooking)?

Sometimes when this happens, I try to focus on things that I know will taste great no matter what mood I’m in. For me, if a meal involves biscuits or cornbread, life is good. I really enjoy making these quick breads, and since they go best with warm, comforting soups and stews, you suddenly find yourself with the makings of a delicious meal.

I’ve been wanting to try some biscuit variations after seeing some ideas in the November issue of Food & Wine. I decided to makeover my classic Buttermilk Biscuits with whole wheat flour. I added some herbs and some very good cheese, which is a decadent thing in a biscuit that’s already good and buttery. These biscuits have tons of flavor, and are a very different twist on the classic. I’m going to experiment more with them.

As for the Corn-Seafood Chowder, this was one of those recipes I put together on the fly that turned out even better than I’d hoped for. I remembered making a lighter seafood chowder a couple years ago that really turned out well, despite the omission of heavy cream. I used chicken broth and lowfat milk thickened with just a little bit of cornstarch. the texture is great, there is no raw, floury taste, and I promise this chowder does not have any tell-tale “lowfat” qualities--there's bacon after all. And it cooks in about 30 minutes total because there are no ingredients that require a long simmering time--the shrimp and scallops take just 2 minutes at the end!

Just a quick update on the Cranberry-Almond Crostata: Mike took down the last piece yesterday. This tart holds up just fine if you store it at room temperature, well-covered, for 2 to 3 days. I'm loving cranberries these days! I have a Cranberry-Lemon-Walnut Scone recipe to share soon, and there's a cranberry coffee cake I'm dying to bake!

Healthy Corn and Seafood Chowder
In the past, I’ve found the quality of fresh sea scallops at the supermarket to be somewhat uneven. So we recently started buying frozen sea scallops, and they are consistently delicious and sweet with a firm texture. I like the Whole Foods brand, but try what’s available where you shop--fresh or frozen--and see what you think. A good-quality fresh, dried chile powder is important for this dish because it adds not only flavor, but color. Don’t forget a good fistful of Italian parsley to sprinkle over the finished soup. The crisp, herby flavor is a nice counterpoint to the creamy chowder.

5 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 jalepeno, seeded and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
pinch dried marjoram or oregano
1/4 cup AP flour
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups lowfat milk
1 medium russet potato, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups frozen sweet corn
1 tsp. mild chile powder
2 tsp. corn starch dissolved in 1 tbs. water
1/2 lb. medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
3/4 lb. sea scallops, cut into 2 or 3 pieces each
Fresh parsley for garnish

Cook the bacon in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Transfer to a paper towel, leaving about one tablespoon of fat in the pot. Add the onion and jalapeno, season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes, or until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic, thyme and marjoram and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle the flour over the onion mixture and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring well to combine. Add the chicken broth and milk. Raise the heat to high and cover until the liquid comes to a boil. Add the potatoes and return to boiling. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until potatoes are just tender.

Add the corn, chili powder. Return chowder to a simmer and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Add the shrimp and scallops and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, or until seafood is opaque and cooked through. Stir in the reserved bacon. Serve garnished with fresh parsley.

Whole Wheat Herb Biscuits with Comté
I use a bit of dried thyme to punch up the flavor of the fresh thyme, which is sometimes not as potent as I like. If you don’t have fresh thyme, you can use 1/2 tsp. of dried thyme total. Comte is a French cheese similar to Gruyère. Either one is a great choice, as is Fontina.

Makes about 8 2-inch or 6 3-inch biscuits

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
7 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram
1/3 cup grated Comté or Gruyère cheese

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add the cold butter and work it into the flour using your fingers to break up the chunks of butter into slightly flattened bits. At this point, the dough will still be very powdery and should not come together. Add the buttermilk, all the herbs and the cheese and stir gently with a wooden spoon just until all the flour is dampened. If you still have a lot of excess flour, add a few more drops of buttermilk until you have a barely cohesive, shaggy mass of dough--do not over mix. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat it together with floured hands. Flatten into a thick disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to several hours.

While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the disk of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1⁄2 inch thick. Use a floured metal 2 to 3 inch biscuit cutter to stamp out as many biscuits as you can, dipping the cutter into some flour with each biscuit and placing on the prepared baking sheet. Collect the dough scraps, quickly re-roll and finishing stamping out biscuits. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve immediately with butter.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Cranberry-Almond Crostata

I can hardly describe what a relief it is to finally feel an oh-so-slight chill in the air when you live in Fort Lauderdale. We’ve been regularly having temperatures above 80 degrees, but yesterday that hint of coolness finally crept into the air. Of course, Mike and I still went to the beach on Sunday morning. It was nice enough to lay out in a bathing suit, but I did have my legs covered with a towel for most of the time.

The first weekend of November was a very appropriate time to get our first “cool snap”--it was the weekend when we set back the clocks bringing on shorter, darker days, AND it was the weekend I started rolling out the holiday recipes. There are so many wonderful things to cook and bake during the much-too-short holiday season, so I spread it out over a bunch of little feasts. Since we are going to spend Thanksgiving with the O’Hara side of Mike’s family in Connecticut (a fabulously fun T-Day tradition), I took this weekend to make some Thanksgiving favorites in my own kitchen, and try out a few new recipes from my many food magazines.

I almost never follow a recipe exactly, so when I do, it had better be perfect. Okay, I made a couple hardly-worth-mentioning tweaks to this Cranberry Crostata from November’s Gourmet and still it was flawless. Really just a cross between a pie and a tart, this dessert has incredibly vibrant flavor from the fresh cranberry filling and richness from the almond pastry, but none of it is too sweet or flabby to enjoy after a big holiday meal. I highly recommend it for a Thanksgiving dessert or an anytime holiday treat--it kind of reminds me of a big Linzer cookie now that I think about it!

Here are my tweaks: I used whole wheat pastry flour in place of all-purpose. It’s a natural with the nutty crust, both for flavor and color. The recipe calls for 10 ounces of fresh cranberries, but as you may know, the standard bag of Ocean Spray cranberries in your neighborhood supermarket is 14 ounces. We picked out the smashed or dubious-looking berries, and used all that remained with no problems whatsoever. The dough is very soft and tender and doesn’t depend on being chilled during mixing. Follow Gourmet’s directions for rolling it out between parchment paper, and don’t worry about piecing it together in the pan. My lattice strips broke apart during transfer, but this didn’t matter much in the end. I also used turbinado sugar instead of granulated for sprinkling because I like the crunch. Click here for the recipe on Gourmet's website. What holiday recipes have you already tried?

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In case your cranberry appetite is never sated, here are some more mouth-watering cranberry desserts from blogs I love:

Cranberry Linzer Tart on Orangette
Maury Rubin's Cranberry, Caramel and Almond Tart on The Wednesday Chef
Cranberry-Orange Cookies (with pistachios!) on Culinary Concoctions by Peabody
Cinnamon Cranberry Rice Pudding on The Perfect Pantry
Cranberry-Raisin Pie on David Lebovitz
Cranberry Ribbon Cake on Coconut and Lime
Apple-Cranberry Pie on Simply Recipes
Cranberry Banana Bread on Chocolate & Zucchini

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