Monday, December 28, 2009

Get Your Chewy Mall Pretzel Fix at Home

If you think these are the worst looking pretzels you've ever seen, you're right. How do those high schoolers at the pretzel place in the mall get theirs looking so good? I think I need lessons.

Mangled appearance notwithstanding, these pretzels are great. I got the recipe from Food Network Magazine.  They're supposed to be a clone of Auntie Anne's pretzels.  I'd say they're pretty close.  And while this recipe calls for brown sugar, I've seen some that call for powdered sugar.  Might be worth a try.  

Chewy Mall Pretzels
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/3 cup baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons coarse salt
Warm the milk in a saucepan until it's about 110 degrees; pour into a medium bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let the yeast soften, about 2 minutes; stir in the brown sugar and 1 cup flour with a wooden spoon. Dice 2 tablespoons butter and soften; stir into the mix. Add the remaining 1 1/4 cups flour and the fine salt to make a sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if needed, until smooth but still slightly tacky, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball, place in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a large baking sheet. Punch the dough to deflate it, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. (If the dough seems tight, cover and let rest until it relaxes.) Divide the dough into 6 pieces. Roll and stretch each piece with the palms of your hands into a 30-inch rope, holding the ends and slapping the middle of the rope on the counter as you stretch. Form each rope into a pretzel shape.  Or hire one of those Auntie Anne's kids to come into your home and work their pretzel magic.

Dissolve the baking soda in 3 cups warm water in a shallow baking dish. Gently dip each pretzel in the soda solution, then arrange on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with the coarse salt. Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes.

Melt the remaining 8 tablespoons butter in a shallow dish. Dip the hot pretzels in the butter, turning to coat; place on a wire rack to let excess butter drip off.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cozy Meals: Beef Stew

When it's cold, I like things that are cozy: sweaters, blankets, fireplaces.  I also like cozy food, and beef stew is the coziest there is.  Thick broth, soft potatoes, onions so cooked they nearly disappear.  Pair it up with just-from-the-oven bread and it's the best winter-time supper you could make.

While I've never been able to replicate my mom's beef stew recipe (I think the secret is a pressure cooker, and those things scare me), I tried a great recipe from Dixie Caviar last week.

Two tips: If you've got a smaller Dutch oven (like my 4.5 quart model), be prepared for a very full pot.  I followed the recipe closely, maybe adding an extra handful of vegetables, and I couldn't have slipped another carrot in if I tried.  And if you can be patient, make this stew one day and serve it the next.  The broth, in particular, is so much richer after it's had a chance to rest a bit, and the flavors meld really nicely.

I made a pretty simple batch of yeast rolls as a side but a nice country bread would be good, too, and my mom used to serve pumpkin bread with hers — it's like supper and dessert all at once.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It's Back: The Christmas-Time Pumpkin Roll

I realize I've posted about pumpkin roll before, but if you'll indulge me, I'd like to remind you about how pumpkin roll is the perfect holiday food.  A little sponge cake.  A little cream cheese goodness.  A little fancy.  A bit hit all around.

If you'd like to roll out one of your own, you can find the recipe on my previous post.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pumpkin Fudge: The Best Way to Eat Your Vegetables

Okay, maybe pumpkin isn't really a vegetable.  (It's a berry!  Did you know that??)  So in that case, pumpkin fudge is a great way to eat your berries.

I found this recipe two years ago in The Progressive Farmer — which, while not my go-to recipe magazine, hit the nail on the head with this one.

Unlike a dense chocolate fudge, pumpkin fudge has a nice, light texture.  The pumpkin isn't overwhelming — in fact, next time I might try adding a little more.  And I skipped the nuts when I made my batch, but the fine folks at The Progressive Farmer suggest folding in some toasted, chopped pecans.

Also, be warned: there's a lot of stirring involved.  I like to keep the mixture moving with one hand and use the other to hold up a good book — usually one about food.

Pumpkin Fudge
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 3/4 c. butter, melted
  • 2/3 c. evaporated milk
  • 1/2 c. pumpkin puree
  • 2 T. light corn syrup
  • 1 t. pumpkin pie spice
  • 12 oz. white chocolate chips
  • 7 oz. marshmallow creme
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil.  Grease the foil and set aside.

Stir together the sugar, butter, milk, pumpkin, corn syrup and pie spice in a large, heavy saucepan.  Heat on medium-high, stirring constantly.  Once the mixture reaches soft-ball stage (there are a few ways to measure this, but I like to use a thermometer, and soft-ball stage is about 234 degrees F), remove from heat.  Stir in the chips, creme and extract and mix until well blended.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Let stand 2 hours or until completely cool and hardened.  Makes about 3 lbs.

The food: Pumpkin fudge
The verdict: The Progressive Farmer comes up with a winner

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chipotle Peanut Brittle: A Crazy Take on a Traditional Christmas Treat

I like traditional things.  When it came time for school pictures and my classmates were selecting backdrops with neon lasers and other sweet lighting effects, I said, "I'll just sit in front of that gray canvas, please."  When I was planning my wedding and several magazines suggested I write my own love-infused vows and perform a complicated-yet-symbolic ritual involving pouring sand from one glass into another, I said, "How about we just stick with the 'til death do you part, I do' stuff."  And when I make a classic traditional treat like peanut brittle, I say, "Give me my grandmother's recipe and no funny business, mister."

But when I found this recipe for peanut brittle with chipotle, I admit it: I was curious.  So I made a batch for Ben to take to a football viewing party.  And I'm proud to report that in this case, I'm willing to part with tradition.  At least once in a while.  

Peppery peanut brittle is pretty interesting.  At first, you don't really taste anything different about it.  But as you're chewing, the smoky spiciness sneaks up on you and your mouth gets zinged.  It's quite a feeling.

If you're heading off to a holiday party soon and need a treat to take (or a hostess gift), this peanut brittle would be a fun, unexpected choice. And it beats fruit cake.

Chipotle chile powder probably isn't available everywhere, but I was able to find a McCormick-brand jar of it at Harris Teeter. I'd avoid regular old chile powder, since the real beauty of this recipe is the smokiness. I guess you could substitute regular chile powder and liquid smoke if you wanted. Let me know how that goes.

If you don't already have a candy thermometer, you'll need one for this recipe. (The recipe developer suggests cooking times, but it took me less time to reach the specified temperatures than suggested.) And when you add in the peanuts toward the end, don't be afraid when the mixture seizes up on you. Keep heating and stirring. It will soften and liquefy again.

Non-Traditional, Smoky Spicy Chipotle Peanut Brittle (from the estimable Cooking Light)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup light-colored corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 11.5 ounces of salted, dry-roasted peanuts
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper; coat with cooking spray and set aside.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook 18 minutes or until a candy thermometer registers 275°, stirring frequently. Add peanuts; cook 3 minutes or until a candy thermometer registers 295°, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in baking soda and chile powder. (The baking soda will cause the mixture to bubble and become opaque.  This is cool.)

Quickly pour mixture onto prepared pan.  Cover with a sheet of parchment paper and use a rolling pin to roll mixture to an even thickness. Discard top parchment sheet. Cool mixture completely; break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

The food: Chipotle peanut brittle
The verdict: A good blend of spicy, smoky and sweet

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hush Puppies: The Deen Boys' Half-Baked Idea

Here in the South, barbecue (a noun, not a verb) is a very serious thing.  And the perfect barbecue accompaniment?  The hush puppy -- a dollop of cornmeal batter fried and served hot and crunchy.

I love hush puppies, but I don't love frying (the mess!  the smell!) so I'd never made them.  Then I found this recipe from the Deen brothers, sons of Paula Deen the Butter Queen.  And the Deen boys suggested baking, not frying, these Southern delecasies.

Easier, yes.  Healthier, yes.  Real hush puppies?  No.

Which is not to say that these little bites weren't tasty, because they were.  Kind of like a butterier, onionier version of corn bread.  But if you were hoping for the crunchy outer shell of a hush puppy (and I was) you were out of luck.

When you're eating, texture counts just as much as flavor, and these were hush puppies perhaps in taste but not in texture.  They're good in a pinch, and I'll make them again, but for the real thing, I'd recommend a trip to one of the fine barbecue joints that dot the North Carolina landscape.  (And if you're in Raleigh, I'd suggest you start at The Pit.)

Baked Hush Puppies (Courtesy of those wacky Deen brothers)
  • 2/3 c. cornmeal
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • Pinch black pepper
  • 1/2 c. onion, finely diced
  • 1/3 c. milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 T. butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a 24-cup mini muffin pan.

Combine all of the dry ingredients.  Separately, combine the onion, milk, eggs and butter.  Fold the milk mixture into the flour mixture until just blended.

Spoon 1 T of batter into each cup, then bake for 10 minutes or until the hush puppies are set and golden around the edges.

The food: Baked hush puppies
The verdict: Healthy, easy, but not a real hush puppy

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Snack Attack: The Olive-Cream Cheese-Triscuit Combo

One of the joys of working from home is that I can make my lunch as it suits me -- no more brown bag specials.  (As you can imagine, this is also one of the dangers of working from home.)  Lately, I've been taking a snacks-as-meals approach to lunch, having a little of this and a little of that.

My current favorite treat: a roasted garlic Triscuit with a schmear of chive cream cheese topped with a single salty Kalamata olive.  I could eat them by the plateful.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Honey-Glazed Carrots: A Little Sweet, A Little Sour

Like Bugs Bunny and Mr. Ed, I appreciate a good carrot.  I like them raw and cooked.  I like them in dip.  And in butter.  And I like them glazed.

My favorite glazed carrot recipe is a little sweet and a little sour.  And the carrots, while cooked, retain a lot of their crunch, so they're fun to eat.  This is a pretty basic recipe, but if you wanted to get all crazy, you could add a little ginger or rosemary.

Sweet and Sour Glazed Carrots
  • 1 T. butter
  • 2 lbs. carrots, peeled and sliced into fairly thin disks
  • 1 c. chicken broth
  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 3 T. white wine or apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a large skillet and add carrots.  Cook over medium-high heat for about three minutes.  Add broth, honey and vinegar; season with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat.  Cover and simmer about 10 minutes.  Uncover and cook over medium-high heat until liquid is reduced and syrupy, about 8 minutes.  Season again, if needed, and serve warm.

The food: Sweet and sour glazed carrots
The verdict: A swell way to serve carrots -- and keep them crunchy

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chutney: Much Prettier than Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce

Let me begin this post by explaining that I have nothing against cranberry sauce in a can.  (Hear that?  It's the collective gasp of serious cooks the world over.)  And I'm not even talking about the fancy, whole-berry stuff.  I like the plain old jellied cranberry, with the can ridges imprinted on it and all.

Here's the only problem with that stuff.  It doesn't look good on the table.  Even if you mash it up, which I did once.  You can ask my mom.  She was pretty annoyed.

So this year, I made cranberry-orange chutney — just as tasty as my beloved Ocean Spray canned cranberry sauce, but much lovelier.  And it's easy.  Put everything in a pot.  Stir.  And that's about it.

Cranberry-Orange Chutney (adapted from a recipe in Our State)
  • 12 oz. cranberries
  • 1 large orange, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 c. currants
  • 3/4 c. light brown sugar
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1 t. ginger
  • 1/2 t. ground cloves
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 1 c. apple cider
  • 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
Mix all ingredients in a heavy pot and cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Cool; serve chilled.  Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

There are lots of great ways to eat chutney.  At Thanksgiving, consider it another side and scoop it up with forkfuls of stuffing.  Last night, I spread some on my turkey-mayo-potato bread sandwich.  And today, I'm planning on using it as a dip for some leftover-turkey samosas.

The food: Cranberry-orange chutney
The verdict: A great alternative to canned cranberry sauce when you're looking to really class it up

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Grateful Table

What plans do you have for your Thanksgiving meal this year?  I've been squirreling away recipes for a month — and I'm about to make a final trip to the grocery store, so it's time to finalize the menu.

The Pre-Meal Snack: Bacon-wrapped apricots and Greek olives. (I'm not sure Greek olives are all that Thanksgivingy, but I like them and I'm the cook, so I'm going with it.)

The Main Event: Orange-rosemary roasted turkey (all 14 lbs. of it, which, now that I think about it, does seem like a lot for two people).

The Gravy: The usual recipe: pan juices and a little flour, stock and water.

The Other Stuff on the Table: Unfussy Fare's cranberry chutney,  Closet Cooking's glazed carrots, sausage stuffing (at Ben's request), something green (can you tell this isn't my favorite part?), my mom's mashed potatoes (no lumps, lots of butter) and maybe a loaf of bread baked in the Dutch oven.

The Best Part: A take on Smitten Kitchen's take on the Lee Brothers' take on sweet potato buttermilk pie.  Confession: I don't like pie crust that much.  So I'm thinking of baking the filling, which sounds lovely, in small ramekins and calling it crustless pie.  Or something like that.

The Next Day: I love a good turkey sandwich, but I'm also thinking about Monday Morning Potato Bread (made with leftover mashed potatoes), turkey samosas and maybe a little turkey soup (made with stock made from the carcass — uh, and the turkey neck).  Yes, I've decided I'm using that darn turkey neck this year.  I'm feeling a little weird about it, but I'm determined.

And for Breakfast: Apple cider donuts.  My first donut making attempt.  It seems like overkill to make donuts on Thanksgiving, but I'm throwing caution to the wind.

Here's my only concern.  Christopher Kimball insists that I need a V-rack for roasting my turkey, and I usually trust what C.K. says.  However, I don't have a V-rack.  Since I only make a turkey once a year, it seems a little silly to buy one.  And if I did buy one, there's not an inch of space to store it in the kitchen.  We'd be putting it under the bed or in the water heater closet.  I was planning on just plopping the turkey down on some onions and carrots.  Think that's okay?  Don't tell Christopher.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Buttermilk Cornbread: Not that Zingy

I'm a big fan of cornbread, but I haven't yet found the perfect recipe.  My latest batch was buttermilk cornbread.  Buttermilk is usually a nice addition to quickbreads and muffins — it has a little zing.  But I didn't taste any difference between this batch of cornbread and my non-buttermilk-recipes.

My main problem is that, no matter what I do, the cornbread turns out a little dry.  Part of this is just the style of the bread, but I've had some genuine, Southern-made cornbread here in Raleigh that is full of cornmeal goodness and not at all dry.  So I know it's possible.

The cornbread quest continues.  And in the meantime, this will be a fine start to a little cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving.

Buttermilk Cornbread
  • 1/4 c. butter, melted
  • 1 c. cornmeal
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 c. buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease an 9x9 pan.  Combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  In a separate bowl, mix the buttermilk, butter and eggs.  Ad buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Pour into prepared pan and bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

The food: Buttermilk cornbread
The verdict: I'd butter keep looking for the perfect cornbread recipe

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Breakfast: Pumpkin Muffins with Cream Cheese Frosting

Think muffins can't be frosted?  My friend, you'd be wrong.  These pumpkin muffins demand a little cream cheese topping.  If buttering muffins is acceptable, I figure frosting them is okay, too.

I found this recipe at The Pioneer Woman Cooks, via a new fan site for Ree Drummond (who is the aforementioned Pioneer Woman).  Foodie Fans of the Pioneer Woman will issue a new Pioneer-themed challenge every week.  I answered the first challenge  — making something from Ree's Thanksgiving recipe collection — with these little fellas.

There were a lot of options to choose from, and they all looked good.  I could have gone with roasted carrots, pear crisp or dinner rolls, but I've been in a pumpkin frenzy lately and I was really on a roll.  Plus, I had leftover pumpkin puree waiting for me in the fridge.

Well, I had some pumpkin puree waiting for me in the fridge, but not as much as the recipe called for.  I substituted a little applesauce for what I lacked, and everything seemed to turn out just fine.

If you're feeling like some comfort food, or some Thanksgiving inspiration, Ree's site is a great place to start.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mini Corn Cakes: So Corny, They Just Might Work

One week until Thanksgiving -- and the countdown begins.  This is like the Superbowl of all holidays, food-wise.  I'm, as they might say on a sports-related show, totally pumped.  I've got big plans for an orange-and-herb turkey this year.  Mmm, turkey.

In the meantime, here's a little appetizer you might consider adding to your T-Day menu (especially if, like me, you think appetizers can be the best part of the eating experience).  And they're theme food!  I'm quite sure the pilgrims enjoyed corn at the original Thanksgiving feast.

The first time I made these little cakes, I served them as a side to soup, but they'll be just swell on their own.  And they don't just taste good, they look good, too.  (I'm a sucker for a scallion garnish.)  Plus, they're easy to make.  Mix, spoon, bake, done.

Mini Corn Cakes with Scallions (from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 10 ounces corn kernels, thawed if frozen
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 scallions, whites minced and greens thinly sliced, divided
  • Sour cream
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Grease two 12-cup mini muffin pans.

Combine all ingredients through scallion whites, reserving the scallion greens and sour cream for garnish.  Drop batter by rounded tablespoonfuls into muffin cups.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes.  Garnish and serve immediately.

I thought this was a pretty new recipe, but I was wrong -- I discovered that Joe over at Culinary in the Country blogged about these treats all the way back in 2005.  Sorry, Martha.  I should have made this years ago.  Better late than never.

The food: Mini corn cakes
The verdict: A great choice for a pre-turkey appetizer -- the pilgrims would approve

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Merry Christmas, Have Some Pumpkin Ice Cream

I've never been one to make Christmas lists, but I've been wanting an ice cream-making attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer for about a year, so I did recently suggest that if Ben was running low on gift ideas, an ice cream maker under the tree would be most welcome.

Two weeks ago, while perusing CraigsList, I happened to find someone offering the attachment, brand new, for pretty cheap.  I couldn't resist the deal, so Christmas came early this year.

To celebrate the season, we made a batch of pumpkin ice cream from
Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book.  All of the recipes begin with the sweet cream base (Vermont's finest ice cream makers offer three versions), then suggest ways to customize.  For this recipe, we added pureed pumpkin and a little bit of pumpkin pie spice.  It was really good.  Not as sweet as pumpkin pie, and not as rich as Goodberry's pumpkin custard (which is made with more eggs than ice cream), but very good and fun to make.

Next on our list to try is coffee.  Or a nice eggnog ice cream for the holidays.  Because frozen desserts aren't just for summertime.

Ben & Jerry's Pumpkin Ice Cream 
Makes 1 Quart

Whisk two eggs until light and fluffy, about two minutes.  Gradually whisk in 3/4 c. of granulated sugar until completely blended.  Add in 2 c. cream (heavy or whipping) and 1 c. milk.

Put about 1 c. of the milk mixture in a separate bowl and add 1 c. pureed pumpkin and 2 t. pumpkin pie spice.  Mix until blended, then whisk together pumpkin mixture and remaining milk mixture.  Transfer to ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

The food: Pumpkin ice cream
The verdict: It's the great pumpkin ice cream, Charlie Brown

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Getting Fresh: Apple Cake

Raleigh is a lovely place, but it's not known for its apple orchards, so they truck them in from other places, like Michigan and Pennsylvania.  You know those Pace commercials where the cowboys have near-coronaries after they discover their salsa is made in New York City?  That's how I feel about the apples I get here.  I'm sure they're swell and all, but I like Maine apples and that's that.  Mom, if you're reading this, send me a peck or two, would you?

Maybe my apple bias is why I wasn't all that thrilled with my latest attempt in the kitchen, Fresh Apple Cake.

I can't blame the recipe source: the King Arthur blog.  Those bakers know what they are doing for sure.  I think it was probably me.  I used too small a pan.  I overbaked.  My apples weren't cut uniformly.  I substituted apple juice concentrate for the boiled cider.  And there just wasn't all the apple goodness I was hoping for.

That being said, I think I should give it another try.  Everyone seemed to have great success with it except for me.  Any suggestions on perking it up a little?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Backup to Bakewells

While Bakewell biscuits will always be number one in my heart, there may come a day when a baker like me finds herself out of Bakewell Cream.  Or whipping up a batch of biscuits in the non-Bakewell-equipped kitchen of a friend or relative.  And in such a case, said baker should have a biscuit backup recipe.

My backup recipe of choice: angel biscuits.

As the name implies, angel biscuits are light and fluffy, and they get that way with yeast.  Be warned, the yeast needs a little time to work, so plan ahead.

I made these to go along with a soup we had last week, but they also make a swell breakfast.  I recommend a little peach butter.  Or regular butter.  That's good, too.

This recipe comes from an old issue of Cooking Light, submitted by reader Linda Turner in Springfield, Mo.  Linda, I salute you.  But I'm also sending you a tin of Bakewell Cream.  Watch your mailbox. 

Angel Biscuits
  • 1  package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1/2  cup  warm water (105° to 115°)
  • 5  cups  all-purpose flour
  • 1/4  cup  sugar
  • 1  teaspoon  baking powder
  • 1  teaspoon  baking soda
  • 1  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  cup  vegetable shortening
  • 2  cups  low-fat buttermilk
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
Dissolve yeast in warm water in a small bowl; let stand 5 minutes.

Combine the dry ingredients (flour through salt) in a large bowl. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add yeast mixture and buttermilk; stir just until moist. Cover and chill 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Turn dough out onto a heavily floured surface; knead lightly 5 times. Roll dough to a 1/2-inch thickness; cut with a 3-inch biscuit cutter. Place on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Brush melted margarine over biscuit tops. Bake at 450° for 12 minutes or until golden.

The food: Angel biscuits
The verdict: Tell me, tell me the words to define the way I feel about something so fine

Friday, October 16, 2009

Roasted Potatoes with Garlic. And More Garlic. And Some Other Things.

I've posted about these potatoes before, but let me sing their praises one more time.  Easy.  Healthy.  Garlicky.  They are everything you've every wanted in a potato.  And then some.  These potatoes complete you.

If you're thinking about your Thanksgiving menu already (and I am) these might be a nice replacement for the mashed potatoes.  Thanksgiving purists, no hate mail, please.

(Also, see those chives in the picture?  I grew them!  Oh, and my peppers say hello.)

New Potatoes with Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette
From Cooking Light
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 7 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 3 pounds small red potatoes, quartered
  • 3 tablespoons minced chives
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, garlic, and potatoes in a roasting pan or jelly-roll pan; toss well to coat. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until tender, stirring after 35 minutes.

When cool enough to handle (10 to 15 minutes) squeeze the pulp from the garlic cloves into a large bowl.  (Toss the garlic skins.)  Combine pulp, remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, chives, vinegar and mustard in a large bowl.  Whisk, then add potatoes and toss to coat.

Serves eight.  Approximately 170 calories per serving.

The food: Mustardy, garlicky potatoes
The verdict: Garlic breath is a small price to pay for such deliciousness

Monday, October 12, 2009

Welcome Fall with Root Veggie Soup

I once knew someone who liked to use the word "rutabaga" as an insult.  Like: "Shut the door, you rutabaga, you're letting in all the cold air."  Or, "Smooth move, rutabaga."

Never having eaten a rutabaga, what I took from all of these exchanges was that rutabagas must be really bad.

But then Lynne Rossetto Kasper sent me a recipe (she sends me one at least once a week — we're like this) for root vegetable soup, featuring the lowly, lowly rutabaga.

I couldn't let Lynne down, so I made a batch.  If you'd like the recipe, you can read it below, along with Lynne's description.  No one talks food like Lynne.

Overall, I'd say this was a pretty satisfying soup.

Fall Roots Soup
From The Splendid Table's Weeknight Kitchen e-newsletter

A trio of fall root vegetables — carrots, leeks, and a rutabaga — forms the savory foundation of this soup. Puréed and enriched with crème fraîche, this potage, with its velvety, smooth texture and glorious orange hue, is always a hit — whether it's a first course or the main attraction.
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2-1/2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (3 to 4 medium leeks)
  • 1-1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium rutabaga (1 to 1-1/2 pounds), peeled and diced
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • Kosher salt
  • 1-1/4 cups crème fraîche
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Heat butter in a large, heavy pot (with a lid) over medium-high heat. When melted and hot, add leeks, carrots, and rutabaga. Sauté vegetables until softened, for 10 minutes or longer. Add stock and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until vegetables are very tender, for about 30 minutes.

Purée the soup in batches in a food processor, blender, or food mill, and return soup to the pot. (Or use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot.) Whisk in 3/4 cup of the crème fraîche. Taste soup and season with salt, as needed. (The soup can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat.)

To serve, ladle soup into shallow soup bowls. Garnish each serving with a generous dollop of the remaining 1/2 cup crème fraîche and a sprinkling of parsley.

Lynne also suggested including a yam or roasting the veggies before sautéing and pureeing.  And I used sour cream in place of the crème fraîche and topped with chives and ground pepper.

The food: Fall root veggie soup
The verdict:Rutabaga, thou has redeemed thyself

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hammy Sammies. On Biscuits.

Sue and Peter came to visit us from Maine this weekend.  In addition to a little Old North State down-home cooking at Raleigh's The Pit, we wanted to treat them to some North Carolina-inspired fare at our place.  Given the popularity of pork here, I decided on deviled ham sandwiches (made in Maine favorite Bakewell biscuits for a reminder of home as they're on the road).

The deviled ham recipe is from a recent issue of Gourmet magazine (RIP).  One-and-a-half cups of cooked, chopped ham, one-third of a cup of mayo, a tablespoon or so of grainy mustard, a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce and a little bit of Tabasco.  Mix and serve.

The biscuits were good, but overpowered the ham a little.  Next time, I think good old white bread will be in order.

The food: Deviled ham biscuit sandwiches
The verdict: The ham stole the show

Sunday, September 27, 2009

French Donuts: Ooh la Yum!

When Ben and I went camping recently, I was concerned about the following things:
  • Avoiding a sunburn.
  • Whether or not I could get a warm shower.
  • The eats.
Needless to say, food is an important part of the camping experience.  That being the case, I made a batch of French donuts for us to enjoy for breakfast at dawn.  Or 9:30 a.m., which was a more likely rise-and-shine time for us.

I've seen lots of variations on this recipe and it's been called lots of things.  "Donuts" might be a little misleading, since these are really little cakes that are baked (not fried) then rolled in butter and cinnamon sugar.  So you don't have to call them donuts if you feel like that's dishonest or misleading.  You can just call them "yum."

French donuts

For "donuts":
  • 1/3 c. butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 2 1/4 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. nutmeg
  • 1/2 c. milk
For sugary-goodness coating:
  • 1/2 c. butter, melted
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 t. cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 12-muffin tin.  Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add egg and mix well.  Sift together dry ingredients; add to butter mixture alternately with milk.

Fill muffin cups half full and bake for 20 to 30 minutes.  Allow muffins to cool.  Meanwhile, mix 1 c. sugar and 2 t. cinnamon.  Dip cooled muffins in melted butter, then roll in cinnamon sugar.

The food: French donuts
The verdict: Not really donuts, probably not really French, but exceptionally tasty

Monday, September 21, 2009

Garden Detective Needed

When I started my porch garden, I had a great little map made up so I knew where everything was. Lettuce here, chives here, this one's basil, and so on and so on. Then we went on vacation for a bit and I put all of my pots in shallow bins of water to keep them from dying of thirst. This was a good plan for the plants, but not a good plan for me or my map.

I've got everything figured out except for one pot in which I appear to be lovingly growing a weed, and for my parsley and cilantro. I can't figure out which is which. They aren't ready to cut, so I can't taste them, and neither of them have a smell yet. I think this one is cilantro, but it could be parsley. What do you think?

Remember that episode of Full House when Uncle Jesse can't tell his twins apart? I know how you feel, Uncle J.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

For this year's urban garden, in addition to the standards (basil and chives), I've started growing lettuce and bell peppers. The lettuce is swell and all, but what I'm really excited about is the peppers. I like to assess their growth every day. Yesterday I spent about 30 minutes photographing them. I'm about this far away from starting them a baby book.

Which could make it tough to eat them when the time comes. I'm getting so attached.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pork Marinade Saves the Meal

A week ago or so, I made a recipe for chili and lime pork noodles. The chili and lime dressing was less than stellar. But the pork marinade was tasty -- so tasty, in fact, that we pretty much just picked the pork out of the noodles. This recipe makes enough marinade for about 1 lb. of pork, thinly sliced. Marinate at least 20 minutes, but I let mine sit for a few hours. I might throw a little lime juice in there next time, too.

Asian pork marinade
  • 4 T. chopped shallots
  • 2 t. chopped garlic
  • 5 t. fish sauce
  • 5 t. soy sauce
  • 3 t. sugar
  • 5 T. sesame oil
  • Salt, to taste
Combine all ingredients. Add 1 lb. of thinly sliced pork; refrigerate for at least 20 minutes or overnight.

The food: Asian pork marinade
The verdict: Soy, soy good

Friday, September 4, 2009

Coffee Cans Make Good Bread Pans

This being Labor Day weekend, I'm bidding adieu to another summer -- a little sad, since I'm so fond of the season.

When I was a kid, summer was pretty much awesome overload. My birthday is in the summer. School's out. The days are long and warm. And then there was our annual Fourth of July trip to Madawaska Lake to see my aunt Sandy and cousin Kate.

My family really loves tradition, so the routine was pretty much the same every time we came: float around the lake in inner tubes, stage a patriotic play (I penned it myself -- let me know if you'd like to purchase the performance rights), make a daily candy trip to Stan's, attempt to spot Susan Collins, whose family lived next door. We also spent a lot of time eating, because we love food and because Sandy is a great cook.

There were two foods we could always count on: Mrs. Dunster's Donuts (Canada's finest export) and oatmeal spoon bread, which is mixed in large batches and baked in coffee cans, then toasted and buttered.

I like most types of oatmeal bread that I've tried, but there is something extra good about this one. The molasses are the secret ingredient.

You can also bake this in regular old bread pans (especially since metal coffee cans are tough to come by these days -- I know, because I got tricked into buying several plastic impostors), but the cans make one awesome round loaf of bread.

I generally think of this bread as a breakfast food, but I made a BLT with it the other day and Ben dips his in corn chowder, so we can attest that its deliciousness knows no meal-specific bounds. Eat it 'round the clock, if you like. And I think you will like.

Oatmeal Spoon Bread (from my aunt Sandy, who got it from my grandmother)
  • 2 c. quick-cook oatmeal
  • 3 c. boiling water
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. salt
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. molasses
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 2 pkgs. yeast
  • 1/2 c. water, warm
  • 10 c. flour

Combine first seven ingredients (through the milk). Meanwhile, proof the yeast in the 1/2 c. of warm water. Allow the oatmeal mixture to cool (enough so it doesn't kill the yeast), then add the proofed yeast.

In a stand mixer with a bread hook, mix in the flour, five cups at a time. Cover and let rise until doubled. Once it has doubled, punch down and divide into seven equal lumps. Put dough into seven well-greased coffee cans. (Metal, not plastic, but I'm sure you assumed that.) The dough will be pretty wet (and I'm guessing that's why they call it spoon bread).

Cover the cans and allow to rise until the dough reaches close to the top of the can -- 30 to 45 minutes. Bake on the lower rack of the oven at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes. Place foil over the tops of the cans if the bread crust begins to look too dark. Cool on racks, shake out of the cans and serve.

The food: Oatmeal Spoon Bread
The verdict: I'd rather eat this than donuts (no offense, Mrs. Dunster)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

You're a Peach

The other day, someone from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture knocked on my door and said, "You have to learn to make a peach cobbler or get out. It's a requirement for residency." So I did and I gave him a bowlful. He's letting me stay.

Okay, that's not really what happened. But, as a relative newcomer, I am learning that North Carolinians take their cobblers pretty seriously. Especially peach. Especially when served with barbecue.

Here's the real story about my cobbler. Last weekend, I went to the farmer's market for corn. That was it. But then, once I got there, I got all farmer's markety. Ooh, peppers! Yes, please! And peaches! (Here's a secret -- don't tell that guy from the Department of Agriculture. I don't even like peaches! They're furry! Fruit has no right being furry.) The lady selling them was so wholesome looking, and the little girl on her hip was calling me ma'am and the balsa wood baskets the peaches sat in were so square. So I bought a few, fur and all. Unfortunately, I did not get to take the basket home with me. I just put my purchases in my Liberty Graphics canvas market tote bag (made with organic cotton -- a farmer's market must).

When I returned home and fell out of my farmer's market fog, I was left with a question: what am I going to do with these peaches.

As it often does, Cook's Illustrated provided the answer, this time in the form of a recipe for peach cobbler.

The thing I like best about Cook's Illustrated is that it gives the backstory to recipe creation, so you know what works and what doesn't. For instance, a cookie-like crust for this cobbler was found too sweet, so the author opted for a nice biscuit topping. Heavily sweetened peaches tasted like they came from a can, so the recipe calls for just a quarter-cup of sugar.

In the end, I think my only problem was that the peaches weren't quite ripe. The sweet biscuit topping was tender and just sweet enough, and the peaches cooked without becoming mushy. I'd recommend you give this one a try. With fresh peaches. Farmer's market and organic cotton tote bag are optional.

Peach Cobbler (from Cook's Illustrated)

For the filling:
  • 2 1/2 c. ripe, firm peaches, peeled
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 t. cornstarch
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
For the biscuit topping:
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 3 T. plus 1 t. sugar
  • 3/4 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 5 T. cold butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1/3 c. plain yogurt (I used sour cream instead)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Half the peeled peaches, scoop the pits and red flesh from the centers and cut each half into four slices. Toss the peaches and 1/4 c. sugar in a large bowl and allow to sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

After 30 minutes, drain the peaches in a colander set over a bowl. Reserve 1/4 c. of the juice, whisking it with the cornstarch, lemon juice and salt. Toss mixture with peach slices, then pour into an 8x8 baking dish. Bake for about 10 minutes.

While the peaches are baking, whisk together the flour, 3 T. sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender, blend in the butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add yogurt (or sour cream) and mix until just combined. (Overmixing will lead to tough biscuits.)

Remove peaches from oven. Roughly shape six biscuits and place them over the peaches, leaving at least a half-inch between biscuits (to keep the biscuits from being gluey). Sprinkle biscuits with the remaining sugar. Bake until biscuits are golden brown, about 16 to 18 minutes. Cool slightly; serve warm.

The food: Peach cobbler
The verdict: The N.C. Department of Agriculture says you must make it

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Birthday Treat Turns Sour

When I asked Ben what he wanted for a birthday cake, he suggested lemon bars instead. "Remember those ones you made a long time ago? Those were my favorite thing you've ever made." Which would be a really lovely compliment, had the bars in question not come straight from a Krusteaz box.

Determined to outdo those pesky Krusteaz folks, I set about whipping up my own lemon bars, this batch with a shortbread crust, an extra special cheesecake layer and a fresh-lemon curd.

The crust and the cheesecake were no problem. But I got the numbers mixed up in my head while making the curd, thinking I needed three-quarters of a cup of lemon juice and one-quarter of a cup of water. Three reamed lemons later, I discovered it was the other way around. But not before I'd put all the juice in with the eggs and sugar.

Needless to say, these bars pack a real pucker. The cheesecake layer helps balance that out. I also read somewhere that you can mix whipped cream into fruit curd to make it lighter in texture -- this probably would have helped with my pucker problem, too. And it would have been the yum.

Overall, I think this will be a pretty good curd recipe once I get my math right. Take that, Krusteaz.

Lemon curd
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 T. corn starch
  • 3/4 c. water
  • 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 t. lemon zest
  • 2 T. butter
Mix egg yolks, corn starch and sugar in a medium sauce pan. Place over low heat and gradually whisk in water and juice. Increase heat to medium and stir constantly until mixture becomes very thick (about five minutes). Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and butter.

In addition to being tasty on lemon bars, curd is great on biscuits or bread. Or on a spoon. Zooming its way to your mouth.

The food: Lemon curd
The verdict: When life gives you lemons, make curd -- but with the proper water-to-juice ratio

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Onion Ring Debate

Reasons not to make onion rings:
  1. They're bad for you.
  2. It takes forever.
  3. It makes a mess of your kitchen.
  4. Your house smells for days.
  5. You run a strong risk of burning your fingers.
Reasons to make onion rings:
  1. Yum.
The yum wins.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Bread: The Good and The Bad

The bad news: I forgot to feed my sourdough starter, but I forgot that I forgot, and my dough refused to rise to this or any occasion.

The good news: I baked it anyway and brought it to work. My colleagues were kind enough to overlook the lack of rising.

If you're a sourdough purist you may not approve of the use of commercially produced yeast in this starter, but it makes one fantastic loaf of bread.

And don't forget to feed it.

Sourdough Starter
  • 3 T instant mashed potato flakes
  • 3 T white sugar
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 1/4 t. active dry yeast
Combine instant potatoes, sugar, water and yeast in a covered container. Let the starter sit on a counter for five days, stirring daily with a wooden spoon. At the start of the fifth day, feed the starter with 3 tablespoons instant potatoes, 3 tablespoons sugar, and 1 cup warm water. In the evening, take out 1 cup of the starter to use in your favorite sourdough recipe. Refrigerate the remaining starter.

Every five days (and this is important), feed the starter 3 tablespoons instant potatoes, 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 cup water. If starter is to be used in a recipe, let it sit at room temperature all day. If starter is not being used in a recipe, keep refrigerated and discard 1 cup of starter after each feeding.

The food: Sourdough starter
The verdict: Starters need to eat, too

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chow(der) Down

I love a nice corn chowder, but I usually make it with corn from a can with a friendly green giant on it. Don't judge. Martha Stewart (via her Everyday Food magazine) recently encouraged me to make a chowder using fresh corn from the cob and yummy bacon. And who am I to argue with Martha?

Turns out that corn-from-the-can chowder is good, but corn-from-the-cob chowder is much, much better. Sweeter, crunchier, cornier.

Corn Chowder with Chicken and Bacon
  • 6 ears corn, husks and silks removed
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped into small pieces
  • 8 scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
  • 2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk or half-and-half
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 to 2 cups roasted chicken, shredded
  • Salt and pepper
Cut the corn kernels from each ear, scraping the cobs with a spoon to release pulp. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, the remove with a slotted spoon. Drain and set aside. Add scallion whites and potatoes to pan. Cook two or three minutes, until scallions have softed. Add flour cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Add milk, water, Old Bay and thyme.

Bring chowder to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add corn, chicken and scallion greens. Heat through, 2 to 3 minutes. Season chowder with salt and pepper. Serve topped with bacon.

The food: Corn chowder with chicken and bacon
The verdict: Chow(der) down

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Another One (Two-) Bites the Dust

Perhaps you remember me writing about Whole Foods' two-bite, cream cheese-topped brownies last fall. Or perhaps you've had the good fortune to experience them first-hand. They are a little piece of brownie heaven.

Oddly enough, and despite my polite request, Whole Foods has not contacted me with its recipe so I can create these brownies myself. Which wouldn't be such a big deal were it not for the fact that old Whole has quit carrying them! (My pal Katherine looks for them every time she's there. No dice.)

That forced me to attempt my own version, using mini muffin pans, my stand-by cream cheese frosting and a triple-chocolate brownie recipe from Cook's Illustrated.

The brownies, they weren't bad. But they just didn't have that oomph. And I hate to say this, Christopher Kimball, but you let me down. I don't care if you wear a cute little bowtie. I don't care if you are a fellow New Englander. I don't care if you pal around with the exceptional Lynne Rossetto Kasper. Triple chocolate two-bite brownies are a singular disappointment. No offense. And say hi to Lynne for me.

So the search for the perfect brownie recipe continues. Suggestions welcome.

Monday, July 6, 2009

In the Key Lime Light

While I really love Gourmet magazine (the photography! the descriptions! the Sterns!) I find it intimidating. So in making my first Gourmet recipe, I decided to try something familiar, like a cake.

Key Lime Coconut Cake was the bee's knees. Sure, you've got to juice about 30,000 teeny, tiny limes -- but they're so cute! And they are yummy in cake, which tastes like summer. And also coconut.

Key Lime Coconut Cake (from Gourmet magazine)
  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated Key lime zest
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups self-rising flour
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup fresh Key lime juice, divided
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Generously butter a 9- by 2-inch round cake pan (I've also made this using an 8- by 8-inch pan) and line bottom with a round of parchment paper. Toast coconut in a small baking pan in oven, stirring once or twice, until golden, 8 to 12 minutes. Cool. Leave oven on.

Beat together butter, granulated sugar, and zest with an electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Stir together flour and 1/2 cup coconut (reserve remainder for topping). Stir together milk and 2 Tbsp lime juice. At low speed, mix flour and milk mixtures into egg mixture alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour. Spoon batter into pan and smooth top.

Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool to warm, then turn out of pan and discard parchment.

Whisk together confectioners sugar and remaining 2 Tbsp lime juice (I used 3+ Tbsp the second time I made the cake) and pour over cake. Sprinkle with remaining coconut.

The food: Key Lime Coconut Cake
The verdict: Sublime (get it?)

Friday, June 19, 2009

When Cheese and Bread Just Aren't Enough

Is the usual cheese toast just not doing it for you anymore? Might I recommend a grape garnish?

My good buddy Jackson says grapes on cheese toast are just the ticket. I think he's on to something here. And check out that presentation! The yellow! The green! I love it.

Cheese Toast with Grapes By Jackson
  • 1 slice bread
  • 1 slice American cheese
  • A handful of grapes
Toast the bread and cheese in a toaster oven (or, in absence of a toaster oven, toast your bread, then add cheese). Top with grapes. Enjoy.

The food: Cheese toast with grapes
The verdict: How has no one ever thought of this??

Friday, June 12, 2009

You Can Call Me Sgt. Pepper

I would advise anyone within driving distance of the Harris Teeter on Harrison Avenue in Cary to pop in for some giant, sale-priced red and yellow peppers. You might also consider commuting via plane or train. I think it would be worth it.

We're talking ginormous, people. To give you an idea of just how ginormous, I asked Ben to pose with one next to his head.

What did I tell you? Ginormous.

So head on over to the HT. Tell them Sgt. Pepper sent you.

Friday, June 5, 2009


Sue and Peter recently sent me something I've been wanting for a while: a popover pan. Popovers are awesome because they are two things I love: bread and fluffy. I also like them because they give you the chance to invite someone to "pop over for a popover, pip pip!" Well, I guess you wouldn't have to say "pip pip" if you didn't want to.

Popovers are an interesting type of bread because they rise because of all the liquid in the batter, not because of any leavening agent. After they're baked, you'll find they are hollow -- a great place to put butter, jelly, jam, butter, honey or butter. They're also great with butter.

For my first time out, I used the trusty popover recipe from The Joy of Cooking. It's pretty basic -- milk, butter, flour, salt and eggs. Some recipes recommend starting with a cold oven, but this one suggested a preheat, so preheat I did. I've been told either method will work, though, so I guess it's a matter of taste. All ingredients should be at room temperature before you begin making the batter.

For my next batch, I'm going to add cheese and herbs to the batter -- I think savory popovers would be great with soup.

Basic Popovers (from The Joy of Cooking)
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 T. butter, melted
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
Mix together the milk, butter, flour and salt until just smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, being careful not to overbeat. Fill six greased popover cups about three-quarters full (don't overfill) and bake immediately in a preheated 450 degree oven. After 15 minutes, lower the temperature to 350 degrees (without opening the oven). Bake about 20 minutes longer or until done. Serve immedately. Or if you're going to keep a few until later, pierce the tops to allow steam to escape. But I'd serve immedately. Cold popovers are kind of weird.

The food: Popovers
The verdict: So good, pip pip!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Brain Food

Yes, I have tested it scientifically. Peppermint Patties are indeed brain food.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Now That's a Spicy Cucumber!

When it gets hot and muggy, which is exactly what it's been lately, I like to make foods that require no heat. Enter this spicy Asian cucumber salad. It's delicious. It's pretty. It's healthy. What's not to love?

You thought that was rhetorical, but I have an answer for you: the sogginess is what's not to love. If you don't eat this right after it's finished chilling, you'll find the cucumbers wilted and swimming in watery dressing. So if you're not planning on serving (and finishing) right away, I'd think about salting and squeezing out the cucumbers before you put together the salad.

Spicy Asian Cucumber Salad
(from Cook's Country)
  • 1/2 c. rice vinegar
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 T fresh lime juice
  • 2 T fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 1/2 T red chile, minced (about one large chile)
  • 1 T toasted sesame oil
  • 3 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut crosswise into 1/4-in. pieces
  • 4 scallions, white and light green parts, sliced thin
  • 1/4 c. loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • Salt and pepper.
Bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, then simmer until mixture is reduced by half (the recipe says this takes about 5 or 6 minutes, but I find it takes longer than that). Transfer to a medium box and allow to cool.

Whisk into the mixture the lime juice, ginger, chile and sesame oil. Toss in the cucumbers, scallions and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Chill for 10 minutes or up to 1 hour. Serve.

The food: Spicy Asian cucumber salad
The verdict: Mouth-puckering veggie goodness

Friday, May 8, 2009

Every Cake Needs a Little Cream Cheese

I've yet to meet a recipe that I don't think could be improved with a little cream cheese. Nature's perfect food. And that's especially true for pound cake. Cream cheese in the batter is a must.

This is my no-fail pound cake go-to recipe. It's great plain, or with fruit or whipped cream. It's also good with extracts other than vanilla (orange, rum and lemon are three favorites). It only calls for three-fourths of a pound of butter, so I've renamed it in case anyone out there in readerland is a real stickler for details.

Three-Fourths of a Pound of Butter Cake
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups butter
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

In a large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar gradually and beat until fluffy. Add eggs two at a time, beating well with each addition. Add the flour all at once and mix in. Add vanilla.

Pour into the prepared pan. Bake at 325 degrees F for 1 hour and 20 minutes, checking for doneness at 1 hour. A toothpick inserted into center of cake will come out clean.

The food: Three-Fourths of a Pound of Butter Cake
The verdict: You don't even miss that extra quarter-pound

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Paula Deen is Nutty. So is Her Coffeecake.

For our anniversary, Ben bought me a copy of Nancy Baggett's Kneadlessly Simple. I can't wait to bake my way through it. And my friend Kim set me up with some of her excellent sweet white bread starter. Between the two, we're looking at some carb-filled weeks ahead. Recipes to come soon.

In the meantime, let me give you another carb-filled delight: Paula Deen's own nutty, nutty coffeecake (pictured above). I don't make a lot of recipes with purchased dough (mostly because they don't give me a chance to cover my kitchen in flour -- my favorite part of baking, for sure) but refrigerated biscuits make this recipe easy and fast to make, and I've never had a coffeecake I like better.

Nutty Orange Coffeecake (from Paula Deen)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 t. orange zest
  • 2 (12-ounce) cans refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (10 each)
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
  • 1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 2 T. fresh orange juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, combine the granulated sugar, pecans, and zest; set aside. Separate the biscuits. Divide the cream cheese into 20 pieces. Place one piece of cream cheese in the center of each biscuit. Fold each biscuit in half over the cheese, pressing the edges to seal.

Dip the biscuits in melted butter, then dredge in the granulated sugar mixture. Place the biscuits, curved-side down, in a single layer in the hollows of a lightly greased 12-cup bundt pan, spacing them evenly (do not stack). Drizzle any remaining butter over the biscuits, and sprinkle with any remaining sugar mixture. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown. Immediately invert the cake onto a serving platter.

Combine the confectioners' sugar and orange juice, stirring well; drizzle the glaze over the warm cake. Serve warm.

The food: Nutty orange coffeecake
The verdict: It's cream-cheese-filled genius

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sweet Cream Braid Doesn't Live Up to Name

So the other day, I decided I'd make a sweet cream braid from a recipe I've been wanting to try for years. Basic bread dough filled with sweetened cream cheese -- mmm. Except that when I cut into it, the cream cheese had totally disappeared. Poof. Like a magic trick gone bad. Well, I guess making something disappear would be a successful magic trick. But I wasn't happy -- I think you get the picture.

I was, however, extremely excited about braiding. I'll probably braid all my food from now on. Broccoli, pasta, chili, you name it. It will be braided.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Takeout Fake-Out

So whenever anyone suggests a recipe that is supposed to taste just like Chinese takeout, I usually say, "Yum, sounds great. Can you hand me the China Queen menu please?" Meaning that Chinese recipes never taste like Chinese takeout.

Except for this gem I found in Martha Stewart's Everyday Cooking. It tastes exactly like General Tso's Chicken. I think the secret is probably in the egg white-corn starch dip and the panfry. It turns out nice and crispy, and red pepper flakes give the sauce just the right amount of bite.

I know from Jennifer 8. Lee's The Fortune Cookie Chronicles that Chinese food isn't any more Chinese than those horses they stick outside of P.F. Chang's. I don't care. I still like it.

General Tso's Chicken (from Everyday Food)
  • 1 1/4 cups long-grain brown rice
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 pound snow peas, trimmed and halved crosswise
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated and peeled
  • 3 tablespoons light-brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 2 large egg whites
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as safflower
Cook rice according to package instructions. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon cornstarch and 1/2 cup cold water until smooth. Add snow peas, garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, and red-pepper flakes; toss to combine, and set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together egg whites, remaining 3 tablespoons cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add chicken, and toss to coat. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high. Lift half the chicken from egg-white mixture (shaking off excess), and add to skillet. Cook, turning occasionally, until golden, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate; repeat with remaining oil and chicken, and set aside (reserve skillet).

Add snow-pea mixture to skillet. Cover; cook until snow peas are tender and sauce has thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Return chicken to skillet (with any juices); toss to coat. Serve with rice.

The food: Make-it-at-home General Tso's Chicken
The verdict: I give this General five stars