Friday, December 16, 2011

Beer Bread Grilled Cheese with Avocado and Caramelized Onions

Remember beer bread? I wrote about it here. Well, it makes THE BEST grilled cheese. And if you can load it with caramelized onions, thinly sliced avocado and some spinach leaves, even better.

If you haven't tried beer bread, you must! It's the easiest quick bread I make, and the payoff is huge. You can eat it with butter as a nice accompaniment to a stew and then use it to make grilled cheese sandwiches. The last loaf I did was with Sam Adams Cherry Wheat. It's fun to add different twists with new beers. The only ones I like to stay away from are the bitter types like IPAs. Otherwise you can't go wrong.

For the grilled cheese, it's just as easy. Although you could, I don't even butter the outsides of the bread. It just doesn't seem necessary to me. I mist them with cooking spray and put the sandwich in a hot cast iron skillet, covering it part of the time to help the cheese melt. The bread gets nice and toasty on the outside, but is still tender and chewy toward the middle. That's it! No recipe. Done.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Pumpkin Scones with Cranberries and Walnuts

I've had this pumpkin scone recipe bookmarked for over a year. It's from King Arthur, and I'm so glad I finally tried it. I look at a bunch of pumpkin scone recipes, and this one was the most straightforward and simple. Of course, it turned out GREAT. These are some of the best scones I've made, maybe ever. Perfect tender texture, great rise, perfect size, great flavor, and on and on.

Two cool things about the recipe: First, it does not call for a dairy ingredient such as milk, buttermilk or cream. Two eggs and the moisture of the pumpkin take care of that (but you do need to brush the scones with milk in order to help the sugar adhere--perhaps egg wash would work?). If there's ever a scone ingredient I don't have on hand, it's the dairy. Second, the KA bakers came up with a weird technique I've never seen before. They swear that freezing the unbaked scones for 30 minutes (and no more; you don't want them frozen rock solid) creates a higher rise and better texture (it's explained more here). I did it, but who knows if it really made a tremendous difference.

If I was utterly pressed for time, I think they would be good without the chill time. But I'm unlikely to mess with a good thing. UPDATE: I did in fact mess with a good thing. I no longer bother with the chilling technique. I believe the extra egg (most scone recipes call for one egg) and the pumpkin are the cause of the good rise in these scones. The recipe below reflects this update.

Pumpkin Scones with Cranberries and Walnuts (or chocolate chips!)
Adapted from King Arthur
KA used cinnamon chips and crystallized ginger as mix-ins...yum. You can use whatever appeals to you (up to 2 cups of mix-ins according to KA, which I personally think is a lot). I used KA white whole wheat flour, which I absolutely love for scones. You can use AP, and whole wheat pastry should work well, although I haven't tried it. I made these in my stand mixer for a change, but you can do all of it by hand, using fingers or a pastry blender to incorporate the butter.

Makes 12 medium scones

2 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose) (326 grams)
1/3 cup sugar (74 g)
1 Tbs baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch chunks (113 g)
1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts (2 oz) OR 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (100 g)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (70 g)
2 large eggs
2/3 cup canned pumpkin (164 g)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Milk for brushing tops
Coarse sugar (such as turbinado) for topping

Preheat oven to 425 and line a half sheet pan with parchment paper. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or do all of this by hand in a large bowl, incorporating the butter with a pastry blender; I actually prefer this method over using the stand mixer), whisk together the first 8 ingredients (through allspice). Add butter and mix on medium-low speed with the paddle attachment until mixture is unevenly crumbly with some chunks of butter remaining (I broke up some of the large chunks of butter with my fingers at this point). Mix in walnuts and cranberries on low just until combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs to break them up, then whisk in the pumpkin and vanilla until combined. Add to flour mixture and mix on medium speed, just until flour is moistened, scraping down bowl as needed (I did this partially by hand; do not over mix).

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, briefly knead into cohesive mass, and divide in half. Pat each half into a thick disk, then roll each one into a 3/4-inch thick circle, about 7-inches in diameter. Cut each circle into 6 wedges. Transfer wedges to sheet pan, about 1-inch apart. Brush with milk or cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake in center of oven, turning baking sheet once until bottoms are golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean, 13 to 15 minutes (mine took 15). Cool on baking sheet 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temp. These freeze beautifully; thaw at room temp.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Whole wheat penne with pumpkin, chestnuts, chicken and spinach

I put this pasta together on the fly when I was home alone. I made one serving, and now I want to make it again as soon as possible. Thanks to baaaaad recessed lighting in high ceilings (and hasting shooting), the picture doesn't do it justice.

The "sauce" is canned pumpkin gently sauteed with some garlic and sage to take off the raw edge. I tossed it with penne, chopped leftover chicken breast, caramelized onions, chopped chestnuts (from a jar) and sauteed spinach. Then I used some of the pasta cooking water to loosen it up a bit.

I just loved this. I multiplied the recipe to serve 2 or 3, depending on your appetite. It is so filling and hearty. If you aren't the type to hoard jars of chestnuts around the holidays (therefore having them on hand on a random weeknight), you could skip it, or replace them with sauteed mushrooms. As a matter a fact, you could add a lot of different veggies or meat. It's the tasty pumpkin sauce that's kind of special here. And always remember: caramelized onions make anything wonderful.

Whole wheat penne with pumpkin, chestnuts, chicken and spinach
You can use rotisserie chicken if you’re not one to have leftovers on hand. You can also use chicken sausage or go veg and use cannellini beans. When I first made this, I used caramelized onions that I had on hand, but you can certainly cook up a fresh batch. To do it, thinly slice an onion and slowly cook it in 1 Tbs oil on medium-low to low for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once in a while.

Serves 2 to 3

1 Tbs unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 to 6 sage leaves, finely chopped, or pinch of dried thyme
1/4 cup caramelized onions
3 huge handfuls spinach leaves
6 oz whole wheat penne or rigatoni
6 oz cooked chicken breast, chopped
12 cooked (from jar or vacuum pack)chestnuts, broken up or chopped

Heat the butter in a nonstick skillet on medium low. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add pumpkin, season with salt and pepper and cook, tossing and turning, 3 minutes. Add sage or thyme and cook 1 minute more. Transfer to a large bowl. Add onions.

Mist the same skillet with cooking spray and add spinach. Season and cook until wilted and tender. Remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in well-salted water to al dente. Before draining, reserve about 3/4 cup of the cooking water. Add pasta to bowl with pumpkin and combine. Microwave the chicken to warm it up, then stir it in along with the chestnuts. Stir in spinach. As you combine the pumpkin and pasta with the other ingredients, add reserved pasta water in small amounts to loosen up the consistency as desired. Divide among 2 or 3 bowls and top with grated Parmigiano. 

Friday, November 04, 2011

Restorative Kale and White Bean Soup with Egg Yolks

Soup is quite restorative in general, but for me, this one absolutely exemplifies the renewing, nourishing qualities that a healthy soup can have. It is the perfect thing to make if you've just returned from a vacation that involved lots of eating; if you're getting over a cold; or if you just want to give your body a fresh start.

First of all, it's packed with kale, a truly restorative vegetable if there ever was one. Just eating it makes me feel healthy. There's no meat, but plenty of satisfying beans. Finally, because I firmly believe that you can't just simmer some veggies in broth and expect it to taste good, I used a slightly surprising ingredient to add richness and a little backbone. Egg yolks, stirred in at the very end when the soup is at a bare simmer, create a creamy texture. In other recipes, yogurt, sour cream, a sprinkling of cheese or a chopped nuts would serve a similar "richness-making" function.

Have you ever added egg yolks to soup? If not, would you try it?

Restorative Kale and White Bean Soup with Egg Yolks
This would be delicious with chicken, but it some seems more restorative if your body doesn't need to digest any meat. Grated parmesan would also be a nice addition. If you want to really eggy, feel free to use a bit less broth and an extra yolk. And don't skip the lemon!

Serves 4 to 6

1 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 to 2 carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)
Salt and pepper
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Red chile flakes to taste
1/4 tsp EACH dried thyme and dried rosemary
4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 lb kale, thick stems removed, and chopped
1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
3 egg yolks
Lemon wedges
Optional for serving: sriracha or hot sauce

Heat the oil in a large pot on medium high. Add onion and carrot, season with salt and pepper, and cook until slightly softened and lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Add garlic, chile flakes and dried herbs and cook 2 minutes, stirring often. Add broth and water and  bring to a boil. Add kale, cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, 10 to 20 minutes. If pot is very crowded, add an additional cup of water.

Add beans and adjust heat to maintain a low simmer. Place yolks in a medium bowl and whisk in about 1/2 cup of the soup broth. Slowly pour yolk mixture into soup, stirring as you go. Check and adjust seasoning. Remove from heat. Ladle into bowls and serve with plenty of lemon wedges and hot sauce if you like.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Gambas al Ajillo

This is our version of the classic Spanish tapa, gambas al ajillo, or shrimp with garlic. This is so easy to make, especially considering the deliciousness of the payoff. There is one key ingredient you can't skip: dry Sherry. 

Fresh, sweet shrimp, lots of fresh garlic, some butter and fresh parsley are all important if you want a great result, but the Sherry provides the signature flavor. We went to Spain for two weeks last May, and had our share of pintxos, tapas and all-around amazing food. Making this is a nice way to revisit the trip. 

We didn't take many pictures of food, but here I am at the world's oldest restaurant, where we went for their famous suckling pig!

Gambas al Ajillo

Serves 2 to 4 as a tapa; doubles easily

1 to 2 tsp olive oil
8 oz medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and pepper to taste
3 to 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch chile flakes
1/3 cup dry Sherry
1/2 Tbs unsalted butter
Chopped fresh parsley or thyme leaves

Heat a thin film of oil in a medium skillet on medium high. Add shrimp, season with salt and pepper and cook until lightly browned, but not cooked all the way through, turning once or twice, 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic and chile flakes, and cook, stirring frequently, 1 minute. Add Sherry and simmer until liquid is reduced by about half and shrimp are cooked through. Just as dish is about finished, add butter and swirl into the sauce. Transfer to serving bowl and sprinkle with herbs.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Classic Chicago Hot Dogs

This is my farewell to summer. I've been holding on to this great photo of our homemade Chicago dogs for months. I meant to post it around the 4th of July, but was off galavanting around the east coast for a wedding. Then I meant to post it for Labor Day, but got all busy throwing a big cookout. So, now that temps are dipping and there's an unmistakable cool, crisp quality to the air, I'm finally posting it. 

I'm certainly not writing out a traditional recipe, but the pic is too great not to post. I will however give you the classic formula for Chicago-style hot dogs that won't put you in hot water with any regional food scholars or proud Chicagoans.

It's easy. You just need to buy the correct ingredients. The only challenge is fitting all of them onto those standard-size poppy seed buns. If you want to make true Chicago dogs, these are the requirements. Not a lot of wiggle room here...

1) Poppy seed buns; common brand: Mary Ann

2) All-beef hot dog; may be kosher; common brand: Vienna Beef

3) Pickle spear; this one is basic and easy

4) BRIGHT green sweet relish; see it right above the pickle? common brand: Rolf's, Vienna, Puckered Pickle Co. 

5) Fresh chopped or minced white onion

6) Yellow mustard; easy, like French's

7) Sport peppers; little pickled green peppers, about 1 1/2 inches long and medium-hot to hot; can be hard to find outside Chicago; common brand: Vienna 

8) Fresh tomato wedges

9) Celery seeds

And absolutely NO KETCHUP. I personal cannot eat a hot dog without ketchup. My favorite style is a charcoal-grilled hot dog (blackened a bit) with Heinz ketchup and nothing else. My husband is the one who put together the specimens you see above. I ate some of the toppings, but had to use ketchup too. 

On a different note, this is my first post in a month! The simple reason is that I haven't been cooking a lot of new and/or interesting things (unless I'm cooking for a work project). It's summer, right?! So it's been lots of grilling. Fantastic marinated grilled chicken. Vacation. But I think now it's back to regular programming.

Have you ever had a real Chicago dog? Are you resisting Summer's end, or are you already in full-on Fall mode?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Grain-Free Coconut Protein Pancakes

These pancakes look beautiful and delicious in spite of my bad pancake photography, don't you think? I know you may not believe me, but the pancake you see above contains absolutely no grain flour. Yet somehow, it was incredibly tender and moist, substantial and easy to make.

The key ingredients are unsweetened shredded coconut and potato starch. Coconut flour (in this case, shredded coconut blitzed in the food processor) is often used in gluten free baked goods, giving them body and lovely flavor. Potato starch is another magic ingredient, which is most often used as a thickener for pies and soups or gravies. It adds tenderness to vegan baked goods.

These fun, change-of-pace pancakes are definitely grain-free and I think they're gluten-free too (I'm not an expert on that, so I don't want to make a mistake!). I had half a bag of coconut and a lot of potato starch on hand from a recipe development project, and I thought it would be interesting to use them in my favorite protein pancake recipe. The version I usually make calls for oats. This version is equally good (possibly better), and so different. Great texture and flavor (you'll taste lightly sweet coconut, not so much banana); filling, but not heavy. They make me want to experiment with alternative ingredients more often.

Grain-Free Coconut Protein Pancakes
These are based on a recipe I adapted from I also got some pancake inspiration and learned a bit more about coconut flour here and here.

Serves 2 generously

3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (45 g)
2 Tbs potato starch
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup liquid egg whites
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 packets Splenda or 1 Tbs sugar
1 medium to large banana
Chopped toasted walnuts

Add coconut to food processor and run until coconut is very finely shredded. Scrape around edges of bowl to loosen any coconut. Add potato starch and baking powder; pulse to combine.

In a liquid measuring cup, combine egg whites, cottage cheese, vanilla, cinnamon, salt and Splenda. Add to coconut mixture, along with banana. Process until combined. Transfer to a liquid measuring cup or medium bowl for easier pouring.

Heat a nonstick skillet to medium and coat with cooking spray. Pour on batter, making a 4 to 6-inch pancake, and sprinkle with walnuts (start with smaller pancakes until you get the hang of flipping them; batter will more liquidy than standard pancakes, and takes slightly longer to cook). Cook until bubbles form all over surface and bottom is golden brown. Flip gently and continue cooking until opposite side is golden brown. Serve with maple syrup.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pistachio Scones

Here's another delicious scone. These came out extra-good, for a three reasons:

1) I used white whole-wheat flour (King Arthur brand; organic). I usually choose whole wheat pastry flour for scones, but decided to change it up because I like white ww in quick breads and because I needed to use it. I'm convinced it has a slightly sweet flavor that worked particularly well here. It doesn't taste "wheaty" and the texture is similar to what you'd get with white or ww pastry flour.

2) I used the tastiest pistachio flavoring oil and the "right" (for me) amount of butter. The pistachio flavor in the scone was so nice (it has a similar depth and intensity to almond extract). I also used food coloring to get a green tint, which didn't show up well in the pictures. This is just a visual element, but I'm a fan of it. I don't make excessively buttery scones and considered skimping, but 8 Tbs was the perfect amount in this recipe for a good texture.

3) Icing. If you're in doubt, make a simple glaze and any quick bread gets that much better. Enjoy!

This is the size you'll get if you cut 12 scones according to the recipe directions. In this batch, I also made the icing extra green. 

These scones are skinnier because I didn't divide the dough into 2 circles in this batch.

Pistachio Scones
You can substitute 3/4 tsp almond extract for the pistachio oil. I adapted this recipe from these Lemon-Currant Scones, which originally came from Sunset magazine. You can use either gel or liquid food coloring. I needed quite a lot of gel, and kept adding until I liked the color (see recipe for more info). When I used liquid, 1 tsp gave me a very green scone (cute if it's for St. Patrick's Day). If you want color that looks more like the pictures above, try 1/2 tsp.

Makes 12 medium scones

2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (300 grams)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup buttermilk, plus 1 to 2 Tbs as needed
1 large egg
1 tsp pistachio flavoring oil
Green gel food coloring as needed or 1/2 to 1 tsp liquid food coloring
8 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into small chunks and chilled
1/2 cup dried cranberries (78 grams)
1/2 cup toasted shelled pistachios, chopped (2 oz)

2 cups (approx.) powdered sugar (120 g)
Milk or water as needed
Green gel food coloring
Scant 1/4 tsp pistachio flavoring oil

Preheat oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In glass measuring cup (or small bowl), whisk together the buttermilk, egg and pistachio oil. Add enough gel coloring to turn the mixture dark green (not as dark as “forest green,” but going in that direction).

Add butter to flour mixture and incorporate with a pastry blender or your fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal with some larger, shaggy chunks. Add green liquid mixture and stir gently; allow mixture to rest and hydrate for 3 to 5 minutes. This step helps minimize stirring. Now, stir just until dry ingredients are moist. Stir in cranberries and pistachios. If you have excess crumbs at the bottom of the bowl, drizzle in 1/2 to 1 Tbs buttermilk to incorporate them (you may not need any at all).

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and quickly knead together. Divide in half and pat each half into a thick disk. With a floured rolling pin, roll out each disk about 3/4 to 1-inch-thick circle. Cut each circle into 6 wedges. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and bake 13 to 15 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar and enough milk (about 2 Tbs) to form a thick glaze that you can drizzle off a spoon. Add gel coloring to achieve desired tone and pistachio oil for desired intensity of flavor (a little goes far). Spread over scones and let set.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tagliatelle with Chestnuts and Truffle Oil

File this under "tasty things to do with truffle oil." A scant teaspoon of the stuff drizzled over each bowlful is so nice. This dish also involves one of my current favorite cooking tricks: Use chopped portabello mushrooms in your base for pan sauces.

You know how a lot of dishes start with sauteeing a shallot, garlic, etc? Well, just add a chopped portabello cap or two to that. Then, when those mushrooms are a couple minutes from being tender, douse them in balsamic vinegar or sherry (to keep the garlic from burning, add it just before the liquid). Let it reduce until your ingredients are still a bit wet and the mushrooms are done. Then either pull it off the heat, or continue making your dish.

In this case, I added just-cooked tagliatelle and chopped chestnuts. Then I stirred it up, added some pasta cooking water for moisture and pulled it off the heat. I plated it and finished it off with fresh parsley, shaved ricotta salata cheese and that truffle oil.

I was going to write out a recipe, but it seems like I just did. Simple, fresh and fast with little details to make it great. The dish definitely highlighted the chestnuts, cheese and truffle oil, which was the big idea. I did a similar version with that same tagliatelle and mushroom mixture, as well as shredded chicken, peas and lemon. It was nice, but I loved the chestnut version....and the next day, I used the leftovers to make these brownies.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Olive Oil Crackers

Aren't these the cutest? I've noticed simple cracker recipes like this over the last couple years and mentally filed the idea away as something I'd like to try. The perfect opportunity final came up, and I wanted to test out my adorable square, scallop-edged biscuit cutters too.

The verdict: These crackers are simple enough to make, taste good, and keep surprisingly well (at least a week). The caveat for me is that I would only make these if I'm NOT also cooking a bunch of other things (like an actual meal). In that case, why on earth make crackers when you can just buy them?

My friend was throwing a cookout, so that was the ideal opportunity to try this out as my small contribution. They're fun, but only if you've got a little free time and feel like an easy baking project. Or you have an extensive biscuit cutter collection.

I used this recipe in The New York Times, but with my own toppings. The lead image features sesame and poppy seeds, along with some dried thyme. The second picture shows sumac (a red-tinted Middle Eastern spice, thyme and sesame seeds. I would also sprinkle flaky or kosher salt on with whatever topping you choose.

I've seen other recipes that call for a pasta roller to make the dough thin and uniform, but I don't think it's necessary. My rolling pin worked well. Finally, I quickly learned that it's important to prick the unbaked crackers with a fork, so they don't puff up in the oven. Are there any cracker makers out there? Have you renounced store bought forever, or do you feel the way I do (fun, but not essential)?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lemon-Poppy Seed Scones with Lemon Glaze

I know I just posted a breakfast recipe (my favorite ricotta pancakes!), but I can never have enough great A.M. treats. The funny thing is that I usually eat eggs in the morning, but the sweet stuff is a bit more interesting, isn't it? And these are the prettiest little scones. They're packed with poppy seeds and lemon flavor, but the very lemony glaze is everyone's favorite part.

I think this is the first scone I've ever made with sour cream. I'm partial to buttermilk scones (and often have it in the refrigerator), but I also appreciate the sheer simplicity of a cream scone. Since it is an acidic ingredient, I was hoping the sour cream would have a similar tenderizing effect to buttermilk, but with a more pronounced tangy flavor.

I can't say I noticed much difference in flavor or texture between the sour cream and buttermilk scones--they were just equally good! There is always reduced fat sour cream in our refrigerator (if not, it's considered an emergency), so it's nice to know I can use it for scones if I have a sudden urge to bake. I wonder if full fat sour cream would make a noticeable difference...if you can drop some knowledge on that topic, please do!

Lemon-Poppy Seed Scones with Lemon Glaze
Adapted from Cookie Madness's recipe for sour cream chocolate chips scones.

I'm really enjoying these LorAnn super strength flavored oils that I read about on Sprinkle Bakes. They are more highly concentrated than extracts (recipe includes measurements for both), and the company sells every flavor you can imagine (except pandan, darn it). If you don't want to buy lemon flavoring or extract, add a tsp of lemon zest to the egg mixture, and some to the glaze, if you like.

Makes 12 small or 8 large scones

2 cups whole wheat pastry, or all-purpose flour, or half and half (9 ounces)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 Tbs plus 1 tsp poppy seeds

1 large egg
1/2 cup reduced fat or regular sour cream
3/4 tsp lemon flavoring oil or 1 1/2 tsp lemon extract

8 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch chunks and chilled

1 to 2 Tbs milk, as needed

For glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
fresh lemon juice, as needed
lemon flavoring/extract, as desired

Preheat oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda and poppy seeds; set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg, sour cream and lemon flavoring/extract; set aside.

Add cold butter to the flour mixture. Work it in with a pastry blender, a fork, or your fingers until you have a shaggy, sandy texture with some pea-sized bits of butter remaining. Fold in the egg mixture, stirring just until moistened. If you still need more liquid to bring all the dry ingredients together, add 1 to 2 Tbs milk, 1/2-tablespoon at a time.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and quickly knead into a ball. If making small scones, divided dough in half. Shape dough into one or two 3/4-inch thick circles (I like to use a rolling pin for this). Cut the two smaller circles into 6 wedges; or cut your single circle into 8 wedges. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and bake about 12 minutes for small scones, 14-15 minutes for large scones, or until bottoms are golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool.

For glaze, put powdered sugar in a small bowl and stir in just enough lemon juice to make a thick, slightly viscous glaze. Add additional lemon flavoring if desired. Spread onto cooled scones with a spoon. Let glaze set before serving.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Favorite Ricotta Pancakes

I've made ricotta pancakes before, and I like them. But, it had been a long time, and when I noticed a couple recipes online recently, it reminded me to try them again. I started mentally comparing different recipes, and too many of them didn't seem to include a whole lot of ricotta. I want to really taste it and, since most ricotta pancakes utilize beaten egg whites for lightness, I wanted the lightest, fluffiest version possible.

I settled on this recipe from the Baking Bites. The photo of puffed, golden pancakes was a good enticement, but the ingredient list, of course, is what sealed the deal: 1 1/4 cups of ricotta and four eggs to just a cup of flour. The results were, indeed, nicely puffed, yet light and moist in texture, as this type of pancake is meant to be.

In my photo above, one pancake has blueberries and one does not. I thought I would be all over the blueberry version, but I actually preferred the plain one. For me, the juicy, tart berries were a bit distracting. All I needed was maple syrup and a side of bacon to make these pancakes sing.

Favorite Ricotta Pancakes
Adapted from Baking Bites
You can play around with the spices; I can imagine ginger and cardamom or cinnamon and nutmeg. Orange zest would also be a nice addition if you have it, as would chopped, toasted nuts. I'm thinking about doing a version with chopped pistachios, flavored with a pistachio extract I recently bought.

Serves 3 to 4

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour (125 g)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
1 Tbs sugar or 2 packets of Splenda
1/4 tsp salt
4 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup 2% or whole milk
1 Tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups lowfat ricotta

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, sugar and salt. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, melted butter, vanilla and ricotta. Add flour mixture and stir just until moistened.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. Gently fold into batter. Heat a skillet or griddle and use a 1/4-cup measure to scoop batter. Cook until golden brown on both sides and serve immediately with maple syrup.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chestnut Swirl Fudge Brownies

This brownie combines two things I deeply love: brownies (obviously) and chestnuts. How wonderful are chestnuts? They add a solid, meaty bite to holiday stuffing; pair gloriously with brussels sprouts; and make rich, creamy soup. They are one of those foods that don't have a substitute. What else is like a chestnut in both taste and texture?

So, these brownies came to fruition because I had a package of cooked-and-peeled vacuum-packed chestnuts in the fridge. It was a new product at my supermarket--slightly cheaper than the jars that can be hard to find at non-holiday times--and I snapped it up without much thought. Last week, I used some of the chestnuts to make a pasta dish, and immediately started pondering what to do with the remainder. I also happened to have a can of chestnut puree (the pure, non-sweetened kind), which I think has been in the pantry for a year and a half. Somehow that equation equaled brownies.

Unsweetened chestnut puree.

After searching far and wide for a chesnut-y brownie recipe or something I could re-jigger slightly, I was left empty handed. But I still knew I could adapt something and settled on this recipe for brownies with a cream cheese swirl by the highly-regarded pastry chef, author and blogger, David Lebovitz. I knew it was a solid recipe, and I had a hunch that I could substitute the cream cheese swirl for a chestnut version.

If you love chestnuts like I do, you might seek out the ingredients and try this. To simplify, you could do it without adding the chopped chestnuts to the puree, or you could simply stir some chopped chestnuts into the fantastic brownie base. I have to note how pleased I was with David Lebovitz's recipe. Simple (you only need one kind of chocolate--amen!), unfussy, and it worked. It would be a fine chocolate brownie without the swirl, but I think I need to try the cream cheese version sometime soon.

Ready for the oven: the "swirl" is more utilitarian than aesthetic here.

Finished brownies in their handy sling.

Chestnut Swirl Fudge Brownies
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s recipe for Cheesecake Brownies
If you use an 8-inch pan, brownies will be very thick and fudgy. If you don’t like that very moist (but still “done” enough) center, use a 9-inch pan.

Makes one 8-inch or 9-inch square pan

Chestnut batter:
7.5 ounces unsweetened chestnut puree (200g)
5 Tbs granulated sugar (62 g)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp vanilla extract
100 g cooked, shelled chestnuts (about 15 medium), chopped

Fudge batter:
6 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into pieces (85 g)
4 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (115 g) (I used Ghirardelli 60% cocoa baking bar)
2/3 cup sugar (130 g)
2 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (70 g)
1 Tbs unsweetened natural cocoa powder (6 g)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips (105 g)

Line an 8 or 9-inch square baking dish with nonstick foil (or regular foil coated with cooking spray), leaving some over hang on 2 sides to act as a “sling” for lifting brownies. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Make chestnut batter: In a large bowl, beat chestnut puree, sugar, salt and vanilla with an electric mixer on high speed until smooth. Stir in chestnuts and set aside.

Make fudge batter: In glass or other microwave safe bowl, combine butter and chocolate. Microwave on medium power in 20 to 30 second increments, stirring each time, just until chocolate is melted. Be careful not to over do it, or chocolate can burn. Stir in sugar with a whisk and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Slowly add beaten eggs to chocolate mixture as you whisk. Add vanilla. Add flour, cocoa and salt, and stir just until combined. Stir in a little more than half of the chocolate chips and spread evenly in prepared pan.

Dollop chestnut batter over fudge batter and swirl them together with a spatula; smooth the surface (since chestnut batter is thick, you won’t get a pretty swirl pattern). Sprinkle remaining chips over surface and gently press them down a bit so they adhere.

Bake 45 to 60 minutes (my 8-inch took about 55), or until a thin knife comes out with moist crumbs (but not raw batter) and edges pull away slightly from sides of pan (see recipe headnote and make the call depending on pan size and how you like your brownies; as I said, the 8-inch version will be thick). Cool in pan 10 minutes, then lift the foil over hang and cool completely (still in foil) on a rack. For very neat cutting, cool at room temp, then chill for about 1 hour before cutting.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Adaptable Stir Fry Recipe

This recipe is all about the sauce. That's why it's so adaptable. You can use just about any vegetable that would function in a stir fry, either fresh or frozen. The picture above is of fresh red cabbage and frozen broccoli florets that I steamed in the microwave according to package directions. The sauce, which you whisk together in seconds, is used twice: for the meat (start with raw or cooked chicken, pork, etc), and for the vegetables.

Does that make sense? It may sound confusing, but that's because you can do anything with it and not mess it up. The sauce is mainly rice vinegar, soy and honey. Sweetness perfectly balances out tangy and salty, and the honey also thickens the sauce nicely. No need for corn starch. I never really loved a stir fry recipe until I came up with this sauce. And since I can use different meats, veggies and even grains (that's pearled barley in the picture, which I love to use in place of brown rice sometimes), I make it often. Here's the recipe:

Adaptable Stir Fry
The sauce recipe is enough for 12 to 16 ounces of meat, feeding four people. I cut it in half when I only have enough meat for two servings, but the leftovers are great too. If you have pre-cooked meat (shredded chicken for example), add all the sauce when the vegetables are almost cooked; reduce slightly, then add meat and toss to coat with sauce and heat through.
Vegetables to try: cabbage, broccoli, frozen stir fry blend, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, snow peas, asparagus, bell peppers.

For sauce:

2 Tbs unseasoned rice vinegar (seasoned is fine, but note that it contains salt)
3 Tbs soy
3 to 4 Tbs honey, depending on how sweet or thick you want it
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground ginger

For stir fry:
1 Tbs neutral oil
12 to 16 ounces chicken breast or pork tenderloin, cut into thin, bite-sized pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
3 to 5 cups of vegetables (more for veggies that lose a lot of volume, like cabbage)
red chile flakes to taste
3 to 4 cups steamed brown rice or barley
toasted almonds or sesame seeds

To make the sauce, whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.

To make the stir fry, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add meat, season with black pepper and cook, stirring often, until cooked through. Whisk up the sauce again and add a little more than half to the meat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until thickened slightly, stirring often. Transfer to a bowl.

Return skillet to medium-high heat. Coat with cooking spray or add more oil and cook vegetables as needed. [If you have frozen veggies, you can steam them in the skillet: add a thin layer of water, cover and simmer until tender; uncover and cook until water is evaporated. If veggies are already cooked, just toss them around in the hot skillet for a minute to warm up.] Add remaining sauce. Simmer, stirring often until absorbed by the veggies. Season to taste, and add chile flakes as desired.

To serve, top a scoop of grains with some meat and its sauce, some vegetables, and almonds or sesame seeds.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Crostini alla Romana

This is a dish from one of our favorite Italian restaurants. Unfortunately the restaurant is in California. We live in Chicago. But, it's not so bad because we get to eat there every time we vacation in Southern California, which is every year or so, AND we can recreate one of their specialties at home.

This is an easy appetizer composed of a few top-notch ingredients. It's only a matter of assembling your toasty bread, prosciutto, mozzarella and sage crisped in melted butter. At Grappolo, they make this in their big, beautiful brick oven, slide it onto a plate and place it in front of you in what seems like a few seconds. When we do it, it takes a few minutes...not bad. You do have to serve this right after you make it, because that crispy toast and melty cheese is not going to improve by sitting around. It would actually do very well as a quick weeknight meal for one or two all by itself. Plus wine, obviously.

Crostini alla Romana
Inspired by Trattoria Grappolo.

For 4 pieces:

4 thick slices baguette or crusty bread
olive oil or cooking spray
1 garlic clove (optional)
8 thin slices prosciutto
4 slices mozzarella (about the size of the bread)
8 sage leaves
2 Tbs unsalted butter

Brush or spray bread with olive oil and toast both sides in a skillet, toaster, or under the broiler. Rub one side of toast with garlic clove if desired.

Place bread on a broiler pan and top evenly with prosciutto and mozzarella. Broil just until cheese is melted. Don't put it too close to the heat and watch closely to avoid burning. This won't take long.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small skillet or saucepan on medium-high heat until foamy. Add sage and swirl until sage is fragrant and slightly crisp. Drizzle sage butter over crostini and garnish with sage leaves. Serve immediately.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rhubarb-Blueberry Compote

This was a "kitchen-sink" compote. To my immense gratification, I finally put an almost-full bag of frozen blueberries to use, as well as some dark sweet cherries that had been languishing in the freezer even longer. The rhubarb I had bought with purpose, but only needed a pound of it for my crisp. I had a whole pound left and was thinking either chutney or a jammy compote. I didn't know what I would eat with a savory chutney, so I opted for the latter.

A compote is defined as fruit stewed in a sugar syrup. That's sort of what I did. For me, this is what homemade jam looks like. I don't like it as sweet as traditional jam. Not even close. Since I am NOT preserving/canning or doing anything that requires exacting food safety standards, I'm free to use as much or as little sugar as I want. I put half the compote in the fridge and froze the rest. Since there is just over 1/3-cup of sugar in a batch that made over 2 cups of compote, I feel fine eating it with a spoon.

All you do is put everything in a pot and simmer until it reaches the consistency you want (this is also how I make chutney, by the way). Rhubarb breaks down quickly, and here it melded beautifully with the frozen blueberries and cherries, leaving plenty of bright, tart flavor. I added rose water (another ingredient hanging aimlessly around the fridge!), some fresh ginger that hadn't been earmarked for any special purpose, and cardamom for some intrigue, but you don't need to use any extra flavor elements if you don't want to.

P.S. Here's my quick fig jam from last summer using the same method. I cannot wait to make this again. So, are you a huge improviser like me, or do you have a more measured jam-making method? Share your thoughts or recipes in the comments!

Rhubarb-Blueberry Compote
You can always add more sugar for a sweeter compote. 

Makes about 2 cups

1 lb rhubarb, trimmed and sliced 1/2-inch thick
8 oz frozen blueberries
6 oz frozen, pitted sweet cherries
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom, or to taste
1 to 2 Tbs rose water (optional)
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently until fruit is broken down and compote thickens slightly (it should still be loose enough to easily run off a spoon), about 20 minutes (will continue to thicken slightly as it cools). Cool in sauce pan, then transfer to an airtight container. Keeps in refrigerator 1 to 2 weeks; freezes well.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Rhubarb-Strawberry Crisp with Oats, Almonds and Spelt

This crisp (or crumble, if you prefer) is easy and wonderful. A pound of rhubarb and some strawberries are flavored with orange and cardamom and topped with a mixture of spelt flour, all-purpose flour, oats, almonds and brown sugar. And a little butter.

I may never make a fruit pie again. The experience is too emotionally draining (Will I slice into an awful, soggy mess after all. that. work?). When easy and forgiving crisps and cobblers are the alternative, I don't see any need to put myself through pie-related drama. Creamy, mousse-y things like this, however, are a different story.

I think the photo above does a nice job of showing that this particular topping is not only a pile of crumbly goodness, but also an AMPLE pile of said goodness. A nice big serving is very moderate in calories and fat, as far as desserts go. It doesn't skimp on sugar, but you can still taste the flavor of the fruit, especially the tartness of the rhubarb. Here it is with whipped cream:

But I also ate it for breakfast the past two days with Greek yogurt that I sweeten slightly with Splenda.

To create this recipe, I tweaked and mashed up this one from 101 Cookbooks and this one originally published in Parade magazine, which I found on There are so many great-looking rhubarb recipes popping up online (see below for links), but that's no surprise. The season will be over soon, so hurry, hurry...if you have been cooking with rhubarb, what did you make?

Rhubarb-Strawberry Crisp
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks and epicurious.
The orange flavor from the zest and liqueur is really nice here. If you don't have triple sec (or cointreau or Grand Marnier), use orange juice.

Serves 6

1/3 cup all-purpose flour (42 grams)
1/3 cup spelt flour or whole wheat pastry flour (42 grams)
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup lightly toasted sliced almonds
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
A few dashes cinnamon
1/4 tsp (scant) salt
4 Tbs (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 lb rhubarb, trimmed and sliced 3/4-inch thick
1/2 lb strawberries, cored and quartered
1/2 cup granulated sugar
zest of half an orange
1/4 tsp cardamom
2 Tbs triple sec or orange juice
1 Tbs cornstarch

Preheat oven to 375 F and mist an 8 x 8 baking dish with cooking spray. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, oats, almonds, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Drizzle melted butter over flour mixture and stir with a fork until all dry bits are moistened and you have a clumpy, sandy mixture. Press into a few patties (some crumbs are okay) and transfer to a zip top freezer bag. Freeze 20 minutes (may be made a few days ahead; defrost in refrigerator until you're able to crumble it with your fingers).

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine rhubarb, strawberries, granulated sugar, zest and cardamom. In a small  bowl, whisk the triple sec and cornstarch until any clumps dissolve. Pour over fruit and toss gently. Transfer to prepared baking dish. Crumble the chilled topping over the fruit. Bake for 35 minutes, or until liquid is bubbling and fruit is very tender. Cool on a rack for 20 to 30 minutes (this is important so filling can set...also, it will be molten). Serve with whipped cream or ice cream (or yogurt, for breakfast).

More awesome rhubarb recipes:
Using that handy food blog custom search widget in my right sidebar, I found so many tempting rhubarb recipes before devising the crisp I ended up baking. Here are some standouts:

Rhubarb and Raspberry Crostata at Lottie and Doof
Rhubarb and Raspberry Upside-Down Cake at Kitchen Heals Soul
Rhubarb Crumble at Simply Recipes
Strawberry-Rhubarb Buttermilk Pudding Cake at Sassy Radish
Cherry-Rhubarb Fool  at Back to the Cutting Board
Rhubarb-Apricot Chutney at The Perfect Pantry
Rhubarb Compote at The Urban Baker

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Red Cabbage Salad with Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I pulled this recipe out of the February issue of Food and Wine magazine. I like the idea of using crisp and sweet roasted brussels sprouts as the base for a salad. I went ahead and made it healthier (and simpler) by using my own vinaigrette formula and skipping the step of making garlic oil to drizzle on at the end. I also thought the magazine's addition of dried cranberries was sort of inexplicable, so I left that out too--although I'm sure they'd be tasty if that appeals to you.

After those omissions, I actually added more parmesan, since that's a flavor-boosting ingredient that I particularly appreciate. This was very tasty! And here's another plus: FW points out that cabbage and brussels sprouts are two veggies that typically have very little pesticide residue, making these extremely healthy and low-calorie vegetables even better for you.

You could add a protein (Sausage? Mmmm.) to turn this into a main dish. I didn't, and I can't remember for the life of me right now what I served it with. Pureed vegetable soup? Grilled cheese? Doesn't matter...

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cabbage and Pine Nuts
Adapted generously from this recipe in Food and Wine

The cabbage has the best texture if it is sliced very thin, so a mandoline would be handy here. If you don't have one, just make the effort with a sharp chef's knife. For 4 servings, use the larger amounts of pine nuts and cheese.

Serves 3 to 4

1 lb Brussels sprouts, quartered
3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1 Tbs honey
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp chile powder (such as ancho)
few dashes cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 lb red cabbage, very thinly sliced, preferably with mandoline (about 4 cups)
2 to 3 Tbs toasted pine nuts
1 1/2 to 2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, thinly shaved or grated

Preheat oven to 450 F and mist a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Toss sprouts with 1 Tbs of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until browned and tender, 15 to 20 minutes, tossing once.

In a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine remaining oil, lemon juice, honey, Dijon, chile powder and cayenne; shake until emulsified (or whisk in a small bowl).

Add cabbage to a large bowl. Add dressing and toss well; season with salt and pepper to taste (the cabbage will need some salt, but keep in mind that you're adding salted sprouts and salty Parmigiano too). Add Brussels sprouts and combine. Divide cabbage mixture among 4 plates. Sprinkle evenly with pine nuts and cheese and serve.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Soft and Chewy Cookies 2 Ways: Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter

These are easy, delicious cookies. There aren't any special techniques going on, but there is a secret ingredient--instant pudding mix. It keeps the cookies soft. They still have a nice bit of chewiness, and aren't cakey. They also don't spread too much and get flat during baking (I hate that!). I like my version of the New York Times' ultimate chocolate chip cookie, but its greatness relies on 24 to 36 hours of chilling time, while these only need to chill for an hour.

You could easily use this recipe for a simple batch of chocolate chip (or peanut butter) cookies, but I couldn't resist dividing the dough in half so I could have two awesome cookies instead of one. My peanut butter version uses Reese's peanut butter chips and chopped peanuts. I also added cinnamon for a little extra something. I think the nuts and spice make them taste like a whole different cookie, as opposed to just swapping out chocolate chips for peanut butter chips.

Do any of you have a chocolate chip cookie recipe with a secret ingredient? I'm especially curious to try recipes I've seen using yellow cake mix, and cream cheese. Please share your experience and links in the comments!

Soft, Chewy Cookies 2 Ways: Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter
Adapted from here, but it seems to be an favorite.
The secret ingredient—pudding mix—helps keep these cookies soft, but with a nice amount of chewiness. Chilling the dough at least an hour helps prevent spreading. I use insulated cookie sheets (also called “air bake” or double layer) because they prevent the bottoms from getting dark too quickly. I like Ghirardelli or Guittard chocolate chips.

Makes 40 to 45 cookies

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (282 grams)
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp (scant) fine salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs

1 cup dark chocolate chips

1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup peanut butter chips
1/2 cup lightly salted roasted peanuts, roughly chopped

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars on medium-high speed, just until light and fluffy. Add pudding mix and blend. Add vanilla, then add eggs one at a time, blending on low speed after each addition. Add flour mixture in two additions, blending on low speed just until combined.

Transfer about half the dough to a separate bowl and stir in chocolate chips. Add cinnamon, peanut butter chips and peanuts to the remaining dough and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate both doughs at least one hour or up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drop 1-inch balls of dough on baking sheet, about 2 inches apart (I got 12 cookies per sheet). Bake one sheet at a time in the center of the oven (this ensures even cooking) for 10 to 12 minutes, or until just set and light golden around the edges. Cool on baking sheet 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Best Chocolate Chip Blondies

For me, this is the perfect blondie recipe. Won't ever try another one. There's nothing new or different about it, but I love it because 1) it works, 2) it is almost too easy (waaay easier than chocolate brownies), and 3) it  makes moist, dense, bordering on under-baked blondies that are better than the ones at the Boston College dining hall circa 2001 that used to haunt my dreams.

As far as I'm concerned, all the credit for this recipe goes to Anna at Cookie Madness, who is apparently my patron saint of desserts. When I decided to bake, I read SO MANY recipes before ultimately choosing one. It takes up a lot of my's sort of a problem. I always check out the huge Cookie Madness archive and frequently end up using one of the recipes. I'm afraid I don't know who Katy (see below) is, but she rocks!!!

The Best Chocolate Chip Blondies
Adapted from "Katy's Favorite Blondies" at Cookie Madness
Good chocolate is key! I used Ghiradelli bittersweet (60%) baking chips. I don't think leaving out the rum would be be a problem, but I haven't tried it. You can double this recipe and use a 9 x 13-inch pan. Baking time will be slightly longer, 30 to 34 minutes.

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (130 g)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup butter, melted and very warm (8 Tbs)
1 cup packed dark brown sugar (210 g)
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs dark rum or bourbon
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips (120 g)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line an 8 x 8 baking dish (I tend to use glass for this) with nonstick foil, leaving some hanging over 2 sides to form a "sling," which you'll use to lift the blondies out of the dish. You can also use parchment paper or well-greased regular foil. Of course you can also just grease the dish and cut the blondies directly out of the pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In another large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar with a handheld electric mixer (this helps if your sugar is firm, but you can also do this with a whisk). If the mixture still feels hot to the touch, wait a few minutes before continuing. Beat in the egg, vanilla and rum.

Stir flour mixture into the egg mixture. If batter feels warm, wait 5 minutes, then stir in the chocolate. Spread evenly in prepared dish and bake in the center of the oven for 26 to 30 minutes (30 to 34 for 9 x 13 pan), or until edges are puffed and pale golden. A skewer inserted in the center will be covered in moist crumbs, and the edges will be just able to pull away from the sides of the dish. Cool in pan 2 to 5 minutes, then grab the foil and lift the blondies out of the dish and transfer to a rack to cool completely. Again lifting foil, tranfer to a cutting board and slice as desired (I cut 12). These are still excellent the next day. After that, I freeze, them and they are perfect when defrosted at room temperature.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Whole Wheat Beer Bread

I've known about beer bread for a while, but never saw a recipe that looked very enticing. Seems strange, right? But most recipes have very little fat--basically just flour and beer--making me think that the results would be rubbery and bland.

Well, not so. Not at all. I'm a big fan of quick breads. I make skillet cornbread a couple times a month at least, and Irish soda bread every so often. I think this is my favorite, and it's the easiest of the bunch to make. You just whisk up the dry ingredients in a bowl, stir in the beer and drizzle the batter with melted butter before baking. It has a light, soft crumb with a slight chew to the texture. The beer not only contributes its flavor, but a fabulous yeastiness.

I made this when I braised beef brisket, and it was the perfect go-with. It's amazing with butter, especially some really good stuff, like Kerrygold. You probably already have the ingredients, so there's no reason not to bake some right now.

Whole Wheat Beer Bread
Adapted from In Good Taste
I used Newcastle beer, and it was great. You will definitely taste the beer in this bread, so keep that in mind when you decide what to use. I would steer away from IPAs, which tend to be bitter. Most lagers and ales would work (Update: lately, I use something simple like PBR or Budweiser. DO NOT use light beer). I plan to try it with Guinness, and I think it would be amazing with one of my old favorites, Sam Adams Cherry Wheat. You can substitute all-purpose flour for the whole wheat, as well as white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour.

Makes 1 (9 x 5-inch) loaf

2 cups all-purpose flour (250 g)
1 cup whole wheat flour (125 g)
3 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
12 oz beer
1 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan or line with nonstick foil, leaving some overhang (this makes it easy to lift loaf out of pan for cooling).

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt. Pour in the beer and stir until flour is moistened, taking care not to over mix. Scrape batter in loaf pan and drizzle melted butter all over the top. Bake in the center of the oven 50 to 60 minutes (mine took exactly 55). When done, the top will be bumpy and light golden brown; the bottom of the loaf will feel hollow when tapped. Cool in pan 5 to 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I didn't always know this, but red velvet cake is controversial. Some recipes come out tasting like chocolate cake (but not as good), some don't turn red enough (with pink or unappealingly brown color) and some don't have much flavor at all. Your friend might swear up and down that their recipe is fantastic, but if it doesn't satisfy your personal taste, it's useless.

I went over a lot of recipes before I made this one. I have to give a huge thanks to Anna at Cookie Madness, who not only has many red velvet recipes on her site, but goes to the trouble to compare them. I settled on a recipe from her blog that was originally published in Bon Appetit in 2003 and is popular on; then I halved it and tweaked it ever so slightly. It made fabulous cupcakes, and I'm thrilled that I don't have to try any other recipes.

This recipe uses butter as the fat, while most red velvets use oil. Oil keeps cakes moist, but since red velvet doesn't have a ton of other flavoring, I wanted the flavor and texture (a little more dense than light and airy) butter provides. These not only turned out as moist as I could want, but they stayed that way for about 3 days.

These also use a moderate amount of cocoa powder--not the bare minimum (like 1/2 tsp), but not full on max-out cocoa either. So you taste some cocoa, but it doesn't hide the vanilla and buttermilk flavors. The color comes from red food dye (no chemical reaction can make it truly red). The color of the batter indicates the cake's color, so you can add more dye if you're worried about it being red enough. Then of course you're going to top it with cream cheese frosting. So even after fretting over the little details, you just can't fail.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Adapted from Cookie Madness, who adapted it from

It's all in the details when it comes to red velvet cake. For those of you who appreciate intricate comparisons like these, I'll run down some additional minutiae of my recipe: Swan's Down brand cake flour, Ghiradelli cocoa powder, lowfat buttermilk because I can't remember ever seeing full fat in a grocery store, Morton's kosher salt. Yes, sifting--and weighing the flour if possible--are important. I think everything else is covered below. I kept these at room temperature in a plastic container, and they were still moist and very good on the third day.

Makes 11 to 12

1 cup plus 2 Tbs sifted cake flour (sift, then measure; 113 grams)
2 Tbs plus 1 tsp sifted natural unsweetened cocoa powder (sift, then measure; do not use Dutch or dark)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 generous Tbs red food coloring OR 1 generous tsp red gel food coloring
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 oz unsalted butter (1 stick), at cool room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 tsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 F and line a standard muffin pan with paper liners.

Sift together the cake flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; set a side.

In a large glass liquid measure or small bowl, mix the buttermilk, food coloring and vanilla.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer (or with a handheld mixer), beat the sugar and butter on medium-high speed until light and creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg and blend on medium speed. Add one-third of the flour mixture and blend on low/stirring speed (or stir by hand if not using stand mixer) until just combined. On same speed (or  by hand), blend in half the buttermilk, another third of the flour, remaining buttermilk, and remaining flour. No lumps, or very few lumps, should remain.

In a small bowl, mix vinegar and baking soda. It will fizz up. Immediately stir into batter until combined. Immediately divide among prepared muffin cups, filling about 3/4 full (I got 11 cupcakes this way). Bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick comes out clean, 17 to 19 minutes (mine took exactly 18). Cool in pan 10 minutes, then transfer cupcakes to a rack and cool completely.

Favorite Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Gourmet magazine

Makes enough for 12 cupcakes with a bit leftover.

4 ounces Philadelphia reduced fat (neufchatel) cream cheese (regular is fine too), at room temp
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the powdered sugar in 3 additions, beating on medium speed, until sugar is incorporated and frosting is lightly and fluffy. Immediately frost cupcakes, or refrigerate for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature to make spreading easier.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Guinness Mushroom Patty Melts with Ground Turkey

No time for a slow-simmered Guinness beef stew? Don't have the will to assemble a mashed-potato-topped shepherd's pie? Then here's your perfect St. Patrick's Day weeknight supper. I got this recipe out of a Cooking Light from several months ago. This was one of those times when the photograph was absolutely all I needed to convince me to make the recipe as soon as possible. My image above is nice, but the pros at CL really exploited this sandwich for all it's worth.

I've made it for dinner three times now. It's so good. It's not lightning fast. You have to cook the turkey patties, cook the mushrooms and then assemble and grill the sandwiches. It's definitely easy and fast enough for a weeknight though. The CL version uses ground sirloin, but I've always done it with turkey. They also call for "dark beer," such as porter, but I immediately thought Guinness. And of course, I've played around with seasoning to my own liking (strangely, the original recipe does not advise you to season the ground remember, recipes are merely advice). Also, if you don't have stout and would never ever buy it, you could substitute red wine or dry sherry. Both would be just great.

Need dessert? These sandwiches are actually quite healthy! Try Guinness Brownies.

Guinness Mushroom Patty Melts with Ground Turkey
Adapted from Cooking Light
Season the ground turkey with any spices and herbs you want. I kept it simple with salt, pepper and dried thyme because I like thyme with mushrooms. I really like Pepperidge Farm marble rye, so that's what I use.

Makes 4 (to make 2 sandwiches, halve the turkey, bread and cheese; but make do with leftover mushroom mixture)

1 lb. ground turkey breast
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch dried thyme
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced into half moons
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 1/2 tsp. all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Guinness stout
8 slices marble rye
4 (3/4-oz) slices reduced fat or regular provolone cheese

Season turkey with salt, pepper and dried thyme to taste (I recommend at least 1/4 tsp salt). Shape into 4 thin, oval patties. Heat 2 heavy skillets to medium-high and coat with cooking spray (or work in batches with one skillet, or use a griddle). Cook patties until both sides are golden brown and centers are no longer pink. Transfer to a plate.

Wipe out one of the skillets, add the oil and heat on medium. Add onion and mushrooms. Season with salt, pepper and thyme and cook until soft and golden brown. Sprinkle with flour and cook 1 minute. Add Guinness and simmer, stirring often, until thickened, about 1 minute.

Grab your bread and assemble sandwiches, topping each patty evenly with mushroom mixture and a slice of cheese. Wipe out the skillet you used for the mushrooms and heat both skillets on medium. Mist tops of sandwiches with cooking spray and add to skillets, cooking spray-side down. Cook until crisp and golden brown. Mist the bread that's facing you with cooking spray, then flip sandwiches and continue cooking until crisp and golden. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Turkey Chili with Butternut Squash, Black Beans, Guinness and Roasted Poblanos

This chili is great, and even though the image above doesn't really prove it, it's actually a really great-looking bowl of chili too. It's also exceedingly nutritious and healthy--ground turkey breast, butternut squash, homemade roasted poblanos and lots of healthy flavor additions. One of those additions is Guinness, which adds a little something extra to the mix and nicely deglazes your pot, although you won't be able to distinguish it in the finished product.

This is similar to a chili recipe I posted years ago, which used sweet potatoes instead of squash and no Guinness. Ingredients and method also vary, but the biggest difference is that this one makes a really big batch. I love that. Freeze some. Chili defrosts really well.

I have to mention one last thing: I bought a fairly large butternut squash and felt a heavy sense of dread when I thought about the work of peeling and chopping it. For some reason, I was unaware how easy it is to peel these gourds with a decent vegetable peeler. They are also easier to chop than sweet potatoes. Plus, I had plenty of squash for the chili AND was able to stash 2 to 3 cups in a freezer bag to use for risotto or pasta sometime in the future. I also love that.

Healthy Turkey Chili with Butternut Squash, Black Beans, Guinness and Roasted Poblanos
Chopping the squash and roasting the poblanos a day ahead made this dish very manageable. As far as the spices are concerned, you should taste as you go and adjust the quantities if you like. Instead of toasting and grinding the whole cumin seeds and cloves, you can substitute 2 Tbs of pre-ground cumin and 1/4 tsp pre-ground cloves. If you can’t find fresh poblanos or don’t have time to roast them, don’t substitute jarred red peppers (although freshly roasted red or green bell peppers would be okay); instead, add about a Tbs of ancho chile powder, or chipotle chile powder (to taste) if you like more heat.

Serves 10

2 Tbs canola or olive oil
2 white onions, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbs mild chile powder
2 1/2 Tbs cumin seeds plus 4 whole cloves, toasted and ground
2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
2 tsp ground allspice
2 Tbs double concentrated tomato paste
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can or bottle Guinness stout
1/4 cup unsweetened natural (not Dutch) cocoa powder
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
2 (14 oz.) cans fire-roasted tomatoes
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped (about 5 cups or 1 3/4 lbs)
2 lbs lean ground turkey
2 (14 oz) cans low-sodium black beans, rinsed
4 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled and chopped (some seeds removed)
8 oz V8 juice

For serving:
Minced chipotles in adobo sauce (a must for adding major heat plus smoky flavor to the relatively mild chili)
Chopped scallions
Grated cheese
Sour cream
Tortilla chips

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot (at least 6 quarts) on medium-high. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until soft. Add chile powder, cumin/clove mixture, oregano and allspice; stir well and continue cooking until onion is very soft and lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes total. Add tomato paste and garlic; cook 2 minutes, stirring almost constantly. Add Guinness and bring to a simmer. Add cocoa and simmer until reduced by about half. Add crushed and fire-roasted tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add squash. Adjust heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook, covered, until squash is tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet on medium-high and coat with cooking spray. Add turkey, season with salt and pepper and cook, crumbling with your spatula, until no pink remains (you may need to do this in 2 batches). Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, cover with another paper towel and press gently to remove any grease.

Add turkey, beans, poblanos and V8 to chili. Stir well, cover and cook just until warmed through. Check seasoning one last time and adjust as needed. Serve immediately with accompaniments. Or transfer to a crock pot set to warm for up to 4 hours. Or cool at room temperature, cover and refrigerate overnight; reheat gently on stove top.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chicken-Pita Casserole with Yogurt Topping

Do you make a lot of casseroles? I wouldn't say that I do (although some appear in our permanent repertoire, namely these fantastic enchiladas that Mike makes). After today's recipe, I'm thinking about these homey baked dishes in a new way. The term "casserole" encompasses such a huge array of recipes, it's impossible not to find a few recipes that you love...and none of them need to involve cream of mushroom soup.

The idea for the chicken-pita casserole came from Martha Rose Shulman's turkey and rice casserole with yogurt topping in her New York Times' Recipes for Health column. She mentions in the head notes that this Middle Eastern dish often includes a layer of crisp pita. I loved that idea (and I always seem to have whole wheat pitas in the freezer), so I ran with it and altered the recipe to my style and available ingredients (chicken instead of turkey, brown rice instead of white, almonds instead of walnuts...I really played it fast and loose here).

Two big things to note: First, I made sure to season every component, from the pita, to the rice, to the pre-cooked chicken. Not just with salt and pepper, but with spices and sauteed onion and garlic. This guarantees a highly flavorful dish that tastes just as great the next day. And second, the yogurt topping is absolutely amazing. I was a little worried about how it would turn out. I used Fage brand lowfat plain Greek yogurt. I personally would not use fat free because the texture might suffer, and it's the incredible cheese-like texture you're going for. Somehow, the thick rich yogurt dries out a bit in the oven, solidifying and concentrating the tangy flavor. It is so good. I'm imagining all sorts of ways to use this discovery, starting with other casseroles and gratins.

More casseroles I love:
Healthy Spanakopita
Turkey Lasagna with Eggplant and Spinach
Bobotie, an African sort of Shepherd's Pie with a custard top
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Chicken-Pita Casserole with Yogurt Topping
Loosely adapted from The New York Times
You can use any leftover shredded chicken or turkey for this casserole, and a rotisserie chicken would also work well. For the yogurt, I used lowfat Fage. Other brands should be fine, but I'd stay away from fat-free varieties. I liked the topping so much, I might use 2 1/2 to 3 cups of yogurt next time I make this.

Serves 6

Pita layer:
2 (6-inch) whole wheat pitas (with pockets)
Cooking spray
Chile powder, salt and pepper to taste

4 tsp olive oil (divided use)
1 large onion, chopped (divided)
4 cloves garlic, chopped (divided)
1 1/2 tsp ground allspice (divided)
1 tsp ground cinnamon (divided)
3 cups chicken broth (divided)
1 cup long-grain brown rice
1/3 cup dried currants
10 to 12 oz chicken breasts (about 2 large), poached and shredded (about 2 1/2 cups)
Chile powder to taste

1 clove garlic
2 cups lowfat Greek yogurt (do not use fat free)
2 Tbs lemon juice
1/3 cup slivered almonds

To make pita layer, preheat broiler to high, line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Cut pitas in half crosswise, then split the halves open (you should have 8 half circles total). Arrange on baking sheet in a single layer and mist with cooking spray. Sprinkle with chile powder, salt and pepper taste. Broiler until toasted and crisp, turning if necessary. Watch pita very carefully—they cook quickly and can burn in seconds! Arrange in a single layer in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

Make the filling: In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tsp of the oil on medium heat. Add about a quarter of the chopped onion and cook until tender; season with salt and pepper. Add half the garlic, 1/2 tsp of the allspice and 1/2 tsp of the cinnamon; add rice and cook, stirring often, 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 50 minutes, or until rice is cooked through. Remove from heat, add the currants, and rest covered 10 minutes.

Heat remaining oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add remaining onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook slowly (reduce heat if browning too quickly) until very tender and deep golden brown, about 12 minutes. Add remaining garlic and cook 1 minute. Add chicken, chile powder, salt and pepper to taste, and remaining allspice and cinnamon. Stir well and add 1/2 cup of broth. Simmer until reduced slightly, but still very moist. Remove from heat.

To make the topping, crush the garlic clove with the flat side of a knife and finely chop. Combine yogurt, garlic and lemon juice.

Assemble casserole: Douse pita layer with 1/4 cup of broth. Top with a layer of rice, then a layer of chicken. Douse chicken with remaining 1/4 cup broth. Top with yogurt mixture and sprinkle with almonds. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until heated through. Yogurt will become firm, but should not bubble. Rest 5 minutes and serve.