Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lentil Soup with Ground Turkey and Indian Spices

Almost every soup I make is improvised. Either that, or I follow a recipe I wrote up for a soup that I improvised. This particular healthy, hearty soup combines a lot of things I had on hand with flavors I love. It combines brown and red lentils, the latter of which almost completely break down into the soup during cooking. I used a ton of Indian spices for flavor, then threw in the very Mediterranean addition of sundried tomatoes.

The nice thing is that I improvised it, and you can too! Any spices, any protein, different veggies. It's all on the table!

Lentil Soup with Ground Turkey and Indian Spices
Sambar powder is a spice blend specifically made for sambar, an Indian lentil soup. It's sold in Indian markets. Curry powder is a great replacement.

Serves 6 to 8

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
red chile flakes or chile seasoning to taste
2 tbsp sambar powder or curry powder or other Indian spice blend
6 to 8 cups liquid (I generally use half chicken broth, half water)
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
1 cup brown lentils
1/2 cup red lentils
1 pound ground turkey breast (or other protein)
6 to 8 oz spinach leaves
1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (approximate)
Juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until lightly browned. Add garlic, fennel, chile flakes and sambar or curry powder and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until garlic is tender. Add 7 cups of liquid and bring to a boil.

Add carrots, cover and simmer on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add lentils and continue cooking until tender, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the turkey in a skillet on medium high, crumbling with your spoon, until cooked through. Season to taste with salt, pepper and chile powder, cumin, onion powder, or any spices you like.

Add spinach to soup and simmer until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. If soup is too thick, add additional liquid as desired. Add turkey, sundried tomatoes and lemon juice. Stir until heated through. Taste and season as needed.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gluten-Free Pumpkin-Pecan Pancakes

More high-protein, (relatively) low-calorie pancakes! Ever since I figured out how to make pancakes with egg whites, I rarely make the traditional kind. These are moist, filling and honestly, I prefer them over the classic, flour-based pancake!

These are a very slight variation on my most recent banana pancakes. I replaced the bananas with a pretty-much-equal amount of pumpkin puree and amped up the spices. It's a great way to make a dent in the pumpkin pie spice lurking in the back of your spice drawer!

Gluten-Free Pumpkin-Pecan Pancakes
Adapted from my gluten-free banana pancakes.
I used liquid egg whites (not egg substitute), but fresh egg whites will work too (1 large egg white should measure 2 Tbs plus 2 tsp, so you need a lot to get to 3/4 cup). It's true that baking powder is double-acting, but you get significantly better results if you use the batter immediately after adding the baking powder (let it rest too long, and you miss out on the first chemical reaction and "rise").

Serves 2; Makes about 10 small (4-inch) pancakes

1/2 cup rolled oats (gluten-free if necessary) (40 g)
15 grams unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup egg whites
2/3 cup pumpkin puree (160 g)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon (scant) ground cloves
2 to 4 tbs (approx.) buttermilk or regular milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped
Real maple syrup for serving

Add oats, coconut, egg whites, pumpkin puree, vanilla, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, salt and cloves and blend on high power until combined. Add enough of the buttermilk to thin the batter; you should have a thick, but easily pourable consistency.

Preheat a skillet to medium heat and mist with cooking spray. About a minute before you're ready to start cooking, add baking powder to blender and blend until combined. Using about 3 tablespoons batter for each pancake (I just use a 1/4 cup measuring scoop and don't fill it all the way), add to pan and sprinkle with pecans. Cook until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Adjust heat up or down slightly as necessary. Serve with maple syrup.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

The "Baked" Brownie, aka My All-Time Favorite Brownies

I've made some great brownie recipes in recent years. Some are on this blog and some aren't. This one is NOT, and I've probably baked it more times than any other recipe. So. Finally. I give you my absolute favorite brownie. It's from the book, Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by the owners of a wildly popular bakery in Brooklyn.

This recipe is wildly popular too. Pretty much anyone with a food blog has tried it. I'll tell you, though, it lives up to the hype. It's so, so good. So dense and fudgy, so packed with chocolate, so satisfying. The original recipe does not include any add-ins, but I love chocolate chips in my brownies, so there they are. I've also used peanut butter chips, which are pretty insane too.

I'm providing you with a half-recipe (for an 8 x 8-inch pan) because that's what I make most often. It's kind of a pain because you need 2 1/2 eggs. Whatever. There's a link to the full version below as well. The only real tweak I made is to quick-cool the brownies in an ice bath. You can eat them sooner this way, but it also does some other good things, which I talk about in the recipe. If you like the decidedly fudgy brownie style and you want an ultimate chocolate fix, this is for you!

The "Baked" Brownie aka My Favorite Brownies
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

This is the halved version of the original recipe, which you can see here. For the dark chocolate, I use Valrhona 71% Cacao that I buy at Trader Joe's. For the chips, I use Ghirardelli semisweet. Quick-cooling the brownies (a trick from author and pastry chef, Alice Medrich) in an ice bath is optional, but I really like it (the brownies are great either way though). You're less likely to have over done edges, and I think it helps create that fudgy, yet light, texture that makes these so good. If you want to use an ice bath, you can't use a glass baking dish or the dramatic change in temperature could break it.

Makes one 8 x 8” dish


½ cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp dark or Dutch unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp salt
5 ½ oz dark chocolate (around 71%)
½ cup unsalted butter, cut into 8 chunks
½ tsp instant espresso powder
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 ½ large eggs (125 grams), at ROOM TEMPERATURE and lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 8 x 8-inch light-colored metal baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper (or line the pan with non-stick foil, leaving an overhand over to opposite sides).

Add dark chocolate, butter and espresso powder to a medium saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir occasionally until completely melted. Add both sugars and whisk for about 10 seconds. Remove from heat and continue whisking until completely combined; set aside for about 5 minutes to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder and salt; set aside. Add the eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Whisk in the vanilla. Do not over mix at this stage or brownies may be cakey.

Add the flour mixture to the chocolate and fold with a rubber spatula (not a whisk) until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 23 to 24 minutes, or until top is slightly puffed and glossy and a toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.

About 5 minutes before brownies finish baking fill a large shallow container (a roasting pan works really well) about halfway up with ice water. You need to be able to fit the baking pan inside without getting the brownies wet, so the water should come about halfway up the baking pan, which will float. This is easier than it sounds; you'll see what I mean. As soon as the brownies are done, place them in the ice water. This will stop the cooking faster so the edges don't get over done; it cools the brownies a lot faster so you can eat them sooner. Cool in the ice water for 30 minutes to 1 hour. When completely cool, cut into 9, 12 or 16 pieces and serve. The brownies freeze well; defrost at room temperature.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Creamy Corn Muffins with Cheddar and Scallions

These are some tasty corn muffins. They're moist and pleasantly dense thanks to an ingredient list that includes creamed corn and sour cream. These two items also create a great tangy flavor. Sharp cheddar and scallions are thrown in for flavor. Sprinkling some of the cheese on top of the batter makes for a crisp and cheesy muffin crown.

The recipe comes from Cooking Light magazine, circa 2007. I mentioned them on my blog way back then, but didn't make them a second time until last weekend. Wow, I'm really glad I did. They are quite low in calories for all the deliciousness, and the extras reheated perfectly in a low oven. You'll definitely eat two of them, and you'll want to eat more. They made a great side dish for smoked pulled pork. If you're looking for something a little more interesting than the traditional corn bread, this is definitely it!

Creamy Corn Muffins with Cheddar and Scallions
Freeze any leftovers. Defrost them at room temperature, then reheat in a 250 to 300 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

Makes 12

2/3 cup white whole wheat flour (85 g)
½ cup yellow cornmeal (65 g)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 (8.75-ounce) can cream-style corn
½ cup reduced fat sour cream
Dash of cayenne pepper or hot sauce
¾ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 3 ounces)
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375F. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In another large bowl, whisk the egg. Add corn, sour cream and cayenne and stir to combine. Stir in a scant ½ cup of the cheese and the scallions. Add to flour mixture and stir until just moistened.

Spray a standard muffin tin with cooking spray. Divide batter among muffin slots, filling about 2/3 full. Sprinkle remaining cheese over muffins. Bake in the center of the oven until light golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool in tin for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Soft, Chewy Oatmeal Cookies with Toffee and Coconut

On Sunday, I had the urge to make cookies. It felt like I hadn't had any homemade dessert in my life for a while, so I dug through all the recipes I've saved online and decided on these. Spoiler alert: they're so yummy!

Although I love oatmeal cookies, this isn't what I usually go for. Believe it or not, I've never baked anything with toffee bits before (is that weird?). These cookies are chewy around the edges thanks to the addition of shortening and a bit of cornstarch. The cornstarch is a great trick (I've used it before with chocolate chip cookies) for creating a soft texture--it has the same effect as using instant pudding mix in your cookie recipe (like these, for example). The centers are soft because of not baking them too long (we need a better term than "underbaking"). The cinnamon and dark brown sugar add tons of flavor.

Finally, I'll end with a warning: if you love eating cookie dough, you'll be powerless against these. Oatmeal cookie dough is the finest kind, and these are just the cream of the crop.

Soft, Chewy Oatmeal Cookies with Toffee and Coconut
Adapted from Hershey's and Taste and Tell
I replaced 1 tablespoon of the flour with cornstarch, which helps create that soft chewy texture. The shortening and coconut also keep the cookies soft, so you can't lose with this lineup of ingredients. 

Makes 55 cookies

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, minus 1 tablespoon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup shortening, at room temperature
2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups quick cooking rolled oats
1 cup (packed) shredded sweetened coconut
1 (8 ounce) bag toffee baking bits (like Heath brand) with milk chocolate (1 1/3 cups)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside. Beat the butter, shortening and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until combined. Add flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until combined. Add oats and beat until combined, then repeat with coconut and toffee bits. Refrigerate at least 45 minutes and up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop slightly rounded tablespoon-sized balls of dough and place on baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart (I used insulated baking sheets and did 16 per batch). Bake in the center of the oven until edges are set (centers will still look moist), 8 to 10 minutes (bake 9 to 11 minutes if you want the centers set). Cool on baking sheets for 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack. Repeat with remaining dough. I recommend freezing any cookies you don't eat on the day of baking. Defrost at room temperature.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Healthy Monte Cristo Sandwiches

Here's something I didn't really "get" until recently: The classic Monte Cristo is a double decker sandwich made with layers of ham, turkey, swiss cheese and usually jam. It's battered and deep fried and served with a dusting of confectioner's sugar. Oh my goodness. That's really the way it's supposed to be. Of course, you don't need to go the killer sandwich route to get a very similar delicious experience.

There are just as many "less-elaborate" recipe versions of this sandwich hanging around the internet. Some actually don't resemble a traditional Monte Cristo at all, but plenty are great, calling for pan-frying (so much easier than attempting to submerge a double layer sandwich in batter and hot oil). The recipe I put together treats the bread like French toast to create a crisp exterior and soft interior.

You could fry it butter, more like a grilled cheese sandwich, but I keep it pretty healthy. I also don't bother with two types of meat because I absolutely love the ham and gruyere combination. The addition of some slightly chunky, high-quality jam takes that combo to another level, where sweet and savory are joined in harmony. So simple, so good and I don't even need powdered sugar.

Monte Cristo
This is perfect with leftover holiday ham, if you're the type to buy a half or whole spiral cut ham just so you can cook with the leftovers. Of course, it doesn't have to be the holidays to do this. Avoid basic deli ham unless you know it's really good. 

Makes 2 sandwiches

Dijon mustard
Fruit jam, such as blackberry or raspberry
4 slices Aunt Annie’s Potato Sandwich Bread
4 to 6 oz baked ham
2 oz (approx.) Gruyere cheese, thinly sliced

2 large eggs
3 tbsp milk or half and half
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Cooking spray

1) To make each sandwich, spread one slice bread with Dijon and another slice with jam. Top Dijon side with ham and Gruyere; cover with jam side.

2) In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk the eggs, milk and black pepper until combined.

3) Preheat one or two heavy skillets on medium heat and coat with cooking spray. Dip each sandwich one side at a time (try not to coat inside of the sandwiches) in the egg mixture, allowing bread to absorb to absorb egg for a brief moment. Transfer to skillet and cook until bread is toasted and golden brown and cheese is melted, turning once. Cover the skillet with a lid to help the cheese melt and adjust heat as necessary to prevent over browning; the second side will cook more quickly. Cut sandwiches in half on the diagonal and serve immediately.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bourbon Pecan Pie

This is the pecan pie I made for my husband's birthday. First time ever making pecan pie, and I will never try it any other way. I used the famous Cook's Illustrated vodka crust, which is even more wonderful than I remember (I first used it in this blueberry pie). Just the perfect crisp-tender texture with enough salt to counteract the problem I usually have with pie crust: blandness.

The filling is adapted from both Cookie Madness and The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. Two authoritative sources if there ever were. The filling contains 2 tablespoons of bourbon. I didn't think this was much of anything, but you can taste, and it is good. I also made sure to include a higher than usual amount of sea salt. No one will call this pie "overly sweet" or "cloying," the two criticisms most often throw at this dessert. It is adult. It is addictive.

Of course, I just said I'd never change, but tell me about your ultimate pecan pie. What key ingredients make the difference for you? I LOVE comparing recipes!

Bourbon Pecan Pie
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated, Cookie Madness and The Gift of Southern Cooking.
With a hit of bourbon and delicious sea salt, this pie is far from too-sweet and cloying. You can taste the bourbon, which is a good thing. I called for fleur de sel because a dessert this special (and high-calorie) deserves the absolute best. Use any salt you like enough to taste on its own.

Vodka Pie Crust:

1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6 ¼ oz)
¼ plus 1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4” slices
¼ cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 2 pieces
2 tbsp cold vodka
1 to 2 tbsp cold water

Process ¾ cup of the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until cobined, about 2 1-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until dough starts to come together in uneven clumps (should look like cottage cheese curds with some very small pieces of butter remaining, but all flour should be coated), about 10 seconds. Scrape down bowl. Add remaining flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pules. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Sprinkle vodka and 1 tbsp of the water over flour mixture. With a rubber spatula, mix with a folding motion, pressing down on dough until dough comes together and feels slightly tacky. If dough seems dry, add as much of the remaining water as needed to achieve desired consistency (I used a scant 1 ½ tbsp). Flatten into a 4” disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

On a generously floured (up to ¼ cup) work surface, roll dough into a 12” circle, about 1/8” thick. Roll loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate. Press dough into the bottom and side of plate to fit. Trim overhanging dough to about 1/2” beyond lip of plate. Fold overhand under itself so edge is flush with plate. Flute the dough with your fingers (don't worry if it's not perfect!). Refrigerate while you make the filling.

Pecan Pie Filling:

1 ½ cups chopped raw pecans
4 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
Scant ¼ tsp fleur de sel or sea salt, plus ¼ tsp
3 large eggs
¾ cup plus 3 tbsp light Karo syrup
¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tbsp bourbon (I used Jim Beam)
2 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Add pecans and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add butter and scant ¼ tsp of the salt and “stir-fry” pecans until butter melts and barely starts to brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Crack eggs into a large bowl and whisk to break up. Add Karo syrup, brown sugar, bourbon, vanilla and remaining ¼ tsp fleur de sel and whisk until combined. Stir in pecan/butter mixture and pour into chilled, unbaked crust. Bake in the center of the oven until top is golden brown and puffed, but still slightly jiggly in the center, 45 to 54 minutes (mine took 52 minutes). Cool completely on a rack at room temperature, about 4 hours. Pie is perfect on the day it is baked and very, very good after being refrigerated overnight; serve at room temperature.