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.