Sunday, November 30, 2008

Oat Bran-Banana Muffins with Raisins

Another Thanksgiving weekend is behind us. I hope yours was as much fun as mine! I got to spend it in Connecticut with a big bunch of family and tons of great food. The cranberry sauce with pears and ginger I posted last week turned out great. The pumpkin-cranberry bundt cake I made for the 2nd year running was also fantastic...it would be a good one throughout the holiday season.

Fortunately my holiday travel was a breeze, and I’m back in Fort Lauderdale. Besides going to the gym and doing laundry today, I haven’t done much. But I did make these muffins.

I planned it all out last week. You see, I spotted this recipe on Cheaty Kitchen when I was just clicking around some food blogs, and immediately realized it was the perfect answer to a problem. I had exactly 3 too-ripe-to-eat bananas, and as time passed I feared they would go to waste. When I realized I not only had the 3 bananas the muffins called for, but also every other ingredient, I got baking!

I liked them so much, I bought more bananas before I took off for the holiday so they would get nice and black while I was away. If you’re in the same boat after your Thanksgiving travels (or just bought too many bananas), give these a try. They’re really quick, so it’s no problem to do them in the morning. They are also very healthy, full of whole grains and no processed sugars. But don’t even worry about that—they’re just really tasty. The bananas and canola oil make them moist and the just-right level of sweetness comes from raisins and maple syrup. The whole grains make them hearty and dense. If you use non-dairy milk, they are vegan. If you’re feeling like me, a healthy homemade goodie should be just perfect right now.

Oat Bran-Banana Muffins with Raisins
Adapted from Cheaty Kitchen. Original recipe from Nutrilicious by Edith Rothschild

These are vegan if you use soy, rice or almond milk. Once these muffins are completely cool, they freeze very well. Defrost at room temperature for an hour and a half or so.

Makes 12 muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup oat bran
2 Tbs. ground flax
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup raisins
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup milk (regular or soy)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
sunflower seed, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fill a standard muffin pan with 12 paper liners, or coat with butter or cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oat bran, flax, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the raisins.

In another bowl, whisk together the bananas milk, canola oil and syrup. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until no more dry bits remain. Scoop batter into the muffin pan, and sprinkle sunflower seeds over muffins. Bake 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean and sides of muffins are golden. Cool in pan for a few minutes, then transfer muffins to a rack and cool completely.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Green Beans with Meyer Lemon Sauce and Hazelnuts

Here is my final Thanksgiving side dish. I was floundering about how to prepare this vegetable side. I love to do green beans, or even Brussels sprouts, with Pancetta or bacon--it's a holiday, so bring on the pork, right? But, I also appreciate balance. I already had stuffing with chorizo sausage, so I though the vegetables should go in a different direction.

I didn't know what direction that should be, however, until we were wandering around the produce section of Whole Foods and found beautiful, reasonably priced Meyer lemons. I don't ever remember seeing them this early; their peak is January and February. Once they were in my hot little hand, I knew exactly what to do with the green beans.

This simple pan sauce doesn't involve any real tricks, just textbook flavor-building. You slowly saute a pile of shallots in butter, then add wine, lemon juice and your blanched green beans. I had hazelnuts on hand and they were very nice here, but you could easily go with almonds or pecans. If you aren't lucky enough to stumble on Meyer lemons this week, use regular lemon juice. Just taste and add a generous pinch of sugar if you think it's a little tart.

Before I come to the end, I must mention my turkey. Jennie-O sent me an "Oven Ready" homestyle turkey to try. I was excited by the prospect of fool-proof, perfectly moist and delicious turkey with practically zero effort. I love the fact that it was mess-free and virtually no-maintence, BUT it wasn't as fool-proof as I'd hoped... I roasted the turkey for less than the 3 1/2 hour cooking time required, and it came out on the dry side. I think it would have been done in about 2 hours and 45 at most. Lesson: Even fool-proof turkeys must be watched closely! Don't be lured into complacent turkey roasting like me! And use a meat thermometer...

Have a wonderful week and enjoy the holiday wherever it takes you. I'll be back after Turkey day.

Green Beans with Meyer Lemon and Hazelnuts

Toast the hazelnuts in a dry, heavy skillet on medium heat until golden brown.

Serves 4

1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
1 pound green beans
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup sliced shallots
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon (or 3 tablespoons regular lemon juice)
Zest of 1 Meyer

Blanche the green beans: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the beans and boil 3 to 4 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Drain and immediately plunge beans into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking and retain color. Leave beans for a few minutes, drain and set aside.

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet on medium-low. Add the shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until very soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the lemon juice and simmer until reduce by about half. Add green beans and toss to coat with shallots and lemon sauce. Stir until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and add lemon zest. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts. Serve immediately or cover and reheat in microwave.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Silky Chestnut Soup

The next Thanksgiving recipe from last weekend's cooking extravaganza is this easy, healthy chestnut soup. I love chestnuts, and now that they are easy to find pre-roasted in jars, cans or vacuum packs, you can enjoy them without the doing the roasting yourself.

Several years ago, I got the notion to roast some fresh chestnuts and nearly blinded myself. I forgot to cut slits in the skin to let the air out, so the nuts exploded in my face when I took the baking sheet out of the oven. It was harrowing (and really funny, after the shock). Suffice it to say, I don't roast chestnuts anymore.

But I love them as much as ever. They go in one of my favorite stuffings and they are great with Brussels sprouts. A lot of recipes for chestnut soup use cream, but this one gets a silky texture simply from pureeing the chestnuts with onions, leeks and chicken broth. There are a few other ingredients but that's basically it.

We had a lot of ideas about how to play around with this soup. Instead of brandy, you could use sherry or fruit brandy. You could add milk to give it some creaminess and lighten the color. You could garnish it with creme fraiche (as much as I love using Greek yogurt as a garnish, the creme fraiche would be just right in this particular case). Speaking of garnish, the chopped chestnuts that turn crispy from a quick saute are delicious, so don't skip that step!

Silky Chestnut Soup
Adapted from this recipe by Alex Urena for Food & Wine magazine

Serves 4 as a first course

3 tablespoons canola oil
One 14-ounce vacuum-packed jar of cooked and peeled chestnuts (2 1/2 cups)
1 medium onion, minced
1 leek, white and tender green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 teaspoons honey
4 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth (or vegetable broth)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 7 of the chestnuts and cook until crisp and browned, stirring often. Remove from pan and cool. Finely chop and set aside.

Add the onion and leeks to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the honey and stir well. Add the broth and remaining chestnuts, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.

Puree soup in a blender, working in batches. Taste for seasoning. May be covered and refrigerated at this point for 24 hours. To serve, return soup to the pot and reheat. Add the brandy or Cognac, and garnish with reserved chopped chestnuts and parsley.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing

I've talked about my love of cornbread many, many times, but this is my first ever cornbread stuffing. Why? Because all the recipes I came across seemed too rich, too bread-y, just too much. Then Mike put the idea for cornbread stuffing in my head last week, and a couple days later I saw this recipe in Gourmet.

This stuffing is straightforward, incredibly tasty and a lot less heavy (read loaded with butter) than most stuffing recipes of any kind. You absolutely need to make the homemade cornbread, which is a snap. It's also one of the nicest southern-style cornbreads I've tried.

My go-to skillet cornbread uses a combo of stone ground cornmeal and flour for a tender, not too crumbly texture. I had tried all-cornmeal versions, but they were just too quick to fall apart. In this recipe, an extra egg and plenty of buttermilk solves that problem, resulting in an all-cornmeal bread that you could eat on its own with butter.

So, my first cornbread stuffing was hugely successful, although I think it could be the centerpiece of a meal by itself--who needs turkey? Be sure to read the recipe headnote regarding chorizo. I would have just included links to the original recipes, but I liked these so much, I wanted to record them here for easy retrieval! One last tip: the leftovers were great with a fried runny egg.

Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, Nov. 08 (original)

The success of the stuffing utterly depends upon the homemade cornbread. Luckily, it’s easy and may be made a day or two ahead. Spanish chorizo is cured and ready to eat, as opposed to Mexican chorizo, which is fresh and must be cooked. Failing to find Spanish chorizo at our supermarket, we used Niman Ranch fully cooked chorizo from the refrigerator case. It’s not authentic to either country, but because it is such a lean, high quality product, it worked wonderfully—probably better than the real thing! If using a product like this, there’s no need to remove the casing.

Serves 6

Skillet cornbread (recipe follows)
1 Tbs. canola oil
5 oz. Spanish chorizo, casing removed and sausage chopped
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
3 celery ribs, coarsely chopped (2 to 2 1/2 cups)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbs. chopped garlic
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a 2 to 3-quart shallow baking dish with cooking spray. Cut the cornbread into approximately 1/2-inch pieces and spread them out in a single layer on 2 sheet pans with sides. Bake for about 20 minutes, or bread is dried out, switching positions of the pans and tossing the bread about halfway through. Cool and transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chorizo and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add onions and celery, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and oregano and cook 2 minutes more. Add to cornbread.

Whisk together broth and egg, then pour over cornbread mixture and toss well. Transfer to baking dish. Coat a piece of foil with nonstick spray and cover baking dish tightly. Bake in upper third of oven for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake until top is golden, about 15 minutes more. Stuffing mixture may be prepared up to 1 day ahead; add broth and egg just before baking.

Skillet Cornbread
Adapted from Gourmet magazine (original)

If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can still make your own cornbread, but it won’t have the same crispy, browned edges. Just melt the butter in the microwave and bake the bread in a buttered pie plate.

1 1/2 cups stone ground yellow cornmeal, preferably medium-grind
1 tbs. sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups cups well-shaken buttermilk (do not use powdered)
3 Tbs. unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and heat a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven for 10 minutes.

Whisk together the cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and buttermilk.

Take the hot skillet out of the oven (careful, handle is HOT) and add the butter. Return to the oven until butter melts. It may brown a little, but watch closely so it doesn’t burn. Remove the skillet from the oven, swirl the skillet to coat the sides with butter, and pour the excess butter into the egg mixture. Whisk well.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently stir them just until combined. Pour into the hot skillet and return to the oven. Bake 20 to 24 minutes, or until light golden brown spots appear on top and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack, then remove cornbread from skillet.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Ginger

I had a two-day Thanksgiving feast this past weekend. I'm going to celebrate the actual holiday in Connecticut with family, but since Thanksgiving food is so fun to cook (and eat), I like to do a meal for me and Mike. That way, I get to try out whatever recipes I want, and we get to have our own leftovers!

Of course, having this blog is also great motivation to do a Thanksgiving trial run. In the next week, I'll post all the recipes I tried this weekend. One fabulous cornbread stuffing recipe came straight from Gourmet magazine and another was an online find, but the rest are originals. Everything we made was delicious, and I'm glad I decided to go all-new, rather than repeating any old favorites (like this chestnut stuffing).


The first one I'm posting is this cranberry sauce that I put together after reading many other cranberry sauce recipes. None were quite what I wanted. This uses slightly less sugar than the norm, but it's not at all too tart. The sweetness gets balanced out by the savory flavors of diced jalapenos and garam masala. The prominent flavor of fresh ginger is fantastic and completes the slightly Indian vibe.

I'm not sure which recipe from the weekend is my favorite, but I have to say that we loved this cranberry sauce. It's my favorite ever. Mike said it was "really interesting," and he meant that as a big compliment--which I loved! It's also great on sandwiches or, honestly, just eaten with a spoon.

Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Ginger

The spice of the fresh ginger is the big flavor in this not too sweet cranberry sauce. If you don't like the taste of fresh ginger, use half the amount. Garam masala is a mild Indian spice blend that you can find at ethnic markets and large supermarkets; if yours is very fresh and potent, use the lower amount. This is a quick recipe, but it requires 3 hours of chilling time (you can always speed things up with the freezer though).

12 oz. fresh or frozen defrosted cranberries
1 large pear, cored and chopped into 1/3-inch pieces
1 Tbs. finely minced fresh ginger
2 small jalapeno chiles, seeded and finely diced
1/4 cup water
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime (about 1 Tbs.)
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 to 1 tsp. garam masala
1/4 tsp. salt

Add all ingredients to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook 7 to 9 minutes, or until cranberries pop, pears soften and mixture thickens. Stir often to prevent sticking on the bottom of the pan. Transfer to a serving dish or storage container and chill uncovered for 3 hours. May be made up to 2 days ahead; cover after 3 hours. Serve chilled.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Quick and Easy: Spaghetti with Tuna-Tomato Sauce and Seared Scallops

I’m back from a long, fun weekend in New York City. We did tons of walking, including across the Brooklyn Bridge on a gorgeous sunny afternoon (needed to burn off those dim sum calories!). We also saw a well done exhibit at the Whitney museum on Alexander Calder, which I’d highly recommend.

I won’t bore you with more details, except for my three favorite food things on the trip:
1) duck prosciutto, and espresso-flavored Amber beer at Vintage Irving (plus a fantastic firm goat cheese). Sorry, that was 3 already.
2) Lamb with pita-yogurt sauce at Limon, the best Turkish restaurant ever (that it’s tiny, quiet and BYOB makes it even better).
3) Bacon-Caramel Pumpkin cupcake at Batch (and the lemon-yuzu was great too).
Oops, make that 4: fried baby artichokes at Morandi. No batter, no breadcrumbs, just lemon juice.

Now, it’s time to cook a few healthy meals after all that eating out, and gear up for Thanksgiving. This recipe accomplishes the first goal. It's so easy. Considering how tasty it is, the easiness defies logic. I was craving that fishy, salty je ne sais quoi flavor you get when you mash a few canned anchovies into your garlic when starting a sauce—the way you do for spaghetti Puttanesca. You’d never know it was anchovies, but the depth of flavor is wonderful.

Anyway, I didn’t want Puttanesca; I wanted something simpler. Then I though of just adding good, olive-oil packed tuna to prepared tomato sauce. I got exactly what I was hoping for. I enhanced the plain sauce with sautéed garlic, and added my tuna. It was the perfect amount of sauce to thoroughly coat the spaghetti without making a pool of watery red. Fresh flat-leaf parsley is mandatory for some herbal freshness, and that’s it.

You could eat the pasta just like that, but I latched onto the seafood theme and put fat, seared scallops on top. I love cooking scallops now that I know the secret to a good, golden sear: completely dry scallops (drain them, use a paper towel, do whatever it takes!) and plenty of oil in the pan. Unfortunately, you can't get a great look at the sear in that photo--Mike went crazy with the cheese! Restaurants probably use ample butter and/or oil to get that beautiful caramelization, but you really only need a couple tablespoons of fat unless you pan is enormous.

Now, I’m trying to decide what kind of Thanksgiving side dishes I want to try this weekend. Are you breaking with hallowed tradition and trying a new recipe this year? Is there something new that intrigues you? Let me know, and I’ll see if I can possibly work it in. I haven’t cracked open most of the November issues of all the food magazines, so I’m in for some fun research!

Spaghetti with Tuna-Tomato Sauce and Seared Scallops

The tuna makes this pasta a viable meal on its own, but it is also a really nice base for scallops, shrimp or steamed mussels. If the sea scallops at the market are really huge, you only need 3 per person; otherwise buy the greater amount. I can’t stress enough the two keys to golden, caramelized scallops: making sure they are completely dry and using enough fat in the pan. The sauce takes about 2 minutes to put together after you drain the pasta, so finish the scallops just before it’s time to drain the spaghetti. You can cover them with foil to keep warm, if you like.

Serves 4

For spaghetti:
3/4 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
Salt
1 Tbs. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1-8oz. can tomato sauce
1-5oz. can tuna in olive oil, gently drained
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For scallops:
2 Tbs. olive oil
12 to 16 fresh sea scallops, thoroughly patted dry with paper towels
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside. Reduce heat to low and add the oil to the same pot you cooked the spaghetti in. Add the garlic and cook until golden, stirring constantly. Add the tomato sauce and flake the tuna into the pot. Add the hot spaghetti and stir until nicely coated with sauce. Remove from heat and season with pepper. Serve with a handful of parsley and grated cheese.

While pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large, heavy (to maintain even heat) skillet on medium-high. Season one side of scallops with salt and pepper and place in skillet, seasoned side down. Sprinkle more salt and pepper over the unseasoned side and cook without moving the scallops until deep golden brown. Turn, and cook opposite sides until color is deep golden brown and scallops are just barely cooked through. They can be slightly pinkish in the center, but over cooking makes them rubbery. You can slice one to check until you get the hang of it. Serve over spaghetti.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Favorite Things: Blueberry-Cornmeal Pancakes

These are my favorite pancakes. While plain-jane buttermilk pancakes are okay, I really love them with just about any embellishment--fruit, whole grains, ricotta, citrus. But these are the absolute best. The recipe is simple, with buttermilk, stone ground cornmeal, whole wheat flour, lemon zest and a smattering of blueberries. Maple syrup is a must.

Like I said, this is a simple recipe. It's your basic buttermilk pancake formula, so to make sure they're as exceptional as they should be, use good stone ground cornmeal, like Bob's Red Mill. The medium grind is just right (this is the stuff I use for cornbread and biscuits, even cake, so buy a bag--it's versatile). Also use buttermilk rather than regular milk or milk soured with lemon juice. The buttermilk has a unique consistency and makes these pancakes, moist, tender and light, not heavy and dense.

Yet another great thing is that you can use frozen blueberries that have been thawed and patted dry. Of course you can use fresh ones too, but I love making these any time of year. Those are all the tips I can possibly offer--the rest is easy!

I did celebrate my birthday last weekend, by the way, but I decided to forgo a big, gooey cake and save myself for next weekend. We're going to celebrate my 30th with a little trip to New York City and do some serious festing. Skipping the cake worked out well because that left room for pancakes!


Cornmeal-Blueberry Pancakes
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated magazine
I prefer medium ground cornmeal for these pancakes. Whole wheat pastry flour helps with their light texture, but white whole wheat or all-purpose also work well. You can use fresh blueberries when they're in season.

Makes about 16 4-inch pancakes

2 cups frozen blueberries
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 cup stone ground cornmeal (132 g)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (120 g)
2 Tbs. sugar or 3 packs Splenda
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
Zest of 1 small lemon
2 cups buttermilk
Cooking spray

Rinse the blueberries in a colander to help them thaw. Spread on a paper towel, pat dry, and set aside to finish drying.

Melt the butter and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, lemon zest and buttermilk. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Gently stir until moistened.

Preheat a large skillet on medium-low to medium heat. Coat generously with cooking spray. Pour 1/4-cup portions of batter into skillet, spreading slightly if needed. Dot pancakes with blueberries. Cook until bubbles begin to appear in batter and bottoms of pancakes are golden brown. Flip and cook until opposite sides are golden and pancakes are cooked through. Coat with additional cooking spray for each batch. Serve right away with maple syrup.