Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Shopping for a Cook

Are you making your list and checking it twice? If there's a cook on your Christmas list, I have a few tried-and-true recommendations for you.

1. The classic Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer
It mixes. It kneads. It makes ice cream. Well, if you have the ice cream attachment. (Come on, people. It's a mixer, not a magician.) My Kitchen Aid stand mixer is a real workhorse and probably the one small appliance I wouldn't want to cook without.

2. Envirosax Reusable Bags
The earth-friendliness is nice, I guess, but I just think these bags are super cute. If you're going to carry a lot of groceries, you should do it in style.

3. Vintage dishware (photo via Pinterest)
Sure, it's nice to get brand-shiny-new dishes, but there's a certain charm to vintage kitchen goods, especially bowls, plates and cups -- the kind of stuff that seems to stand the test of time. I think old Pyrex can't be beat. Same goes for Fire King. Etsy and eBay are great places to start searching.

4. A sassy apron
Because when you look good, you cook good. True story.

Speaking of gifts, we have a winner for the new Cook's Illustrated cookbook! Congrats, Patricia! Check your email for information on claiming your prize.

Merry Christmas and happy cooking!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Classic Mac and Cheese -- and a Giveaway!

Hey friends. Did the soothing effect of your Thanksgiving tryptophan wear off too soon? Are you still feeling the Black Friday frazzle? Are you weeping in your Maxwell House this morning because you have to return to work after four glorious days of non-work activities? Sounds like you could use some comfort food. And your old pal Abbie has just the thing.

Mac and cheese, people. I'm talking about mac and cheese. Warm. Gooey. Good for the soul.

You're sold, right? But wait! Put down that blue box! The best comfort foods do not require powdered cheese product. This is one you can make from scratch, and it's easy. I promise.

This recipe comes to us from Cook's Illustrated, which just published a new cookbook. It's called, as you might guess, The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, and it's packed with 2,000 tested-to-work recipes. That's a lot of quality kitchen time, my friends.

If you'd like to add The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook to your collection, you can win one here. You could also give it as a gift -- to you mom, your gourmet uncle, or as an "I'm sorry" present to that little old lady you knocked down on your dash to score the last Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 at Walmart before dawn the day after Thanksgiving. I'm sure all would be forgiven. Little old ladies love to cook.

So, back to the book. If you want to win, details follow the recipe.

Classic Mac and Cheese (from Cook's Illustrated)
  • 6 slices hearty white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter,3 tablespoons cut into 6 pieces and chilled
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • Salt
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 5 cups milk
  • 8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)

Pulse bread and chilled butter in food processor to coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses; set aside.

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat broiler. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until tender; drain pasta.

Melt remaining 5 tablespoons butter in now-empty pot over medium-high heat. Add flour, mustard, 1 teaspoon salt, and cayenne, if using, and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Off heat, slowly whisk in cheeses until completely melted. Add pasta to sauce and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.

Transfer mixture to 13 by 9‑inch broiler-safe baking dish and sprinkle with bread-crumb mixture. Broil until topping is deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Cool casserole for 5 minutes before serving.

It's as easy as that, friends. Get something gooey going right now. (What, it's breakfast time? That's okay. You can make mac and cheese for breakfast. No one will judge.)


To get the recipe for classic mac and cheese and 1,999 other tasty dishes, leave a comment here telling me your favorite food to make this season and how you follow this blog. You can comment until Sunday, Dec. 4, until 11:59 p.m. EST. Winner will be drawn at random the next day.

Good luck and good cheese.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pumpkin Muffins: Energy Food for Runners (and Other People)

So, here are some things I like to do: I like to cook. I like to eat. I like to run. Occasionally, all three come together for me. A trifecta of happiness, if you will. Like when I make (and consume) recipes created with runners in mind.

This past weekend, I did a race in Raleigh that I'd been looking forward to for weeks. Because of the running, sure, but mostly because of the carbo-loading the day before. Bagels, pizza, animal crackers, Starbursts. The foods of champions, my friends. But my favorite carb of the weekend? Pumpkin muffins.

I adapted my recipe from one by Mark Bittman, published in Runner's World a few months back. Mark is super-smart and knows good food, so you can totally trust the original, which uses sweet potato. But if you're looking to cut out a little fat, my version uses applesauce instead of oil. (I've tried this recipe with both, and they tasted the same to me.)

I'll warn you: these aren't Starbucksy muffins. They aren't cakey. Or all that sweet. But they are incredibly fluffy, especially for a baked good made with whole grains. And the pumpkin keeps them super moist. (I really hate the word "moist" but I love these muffins so much I'm willing to use icky words to deliver an accurate description.)

And if you're a runner who likes to track carbs and calories and all that stuff, I've done the nutrition figuring for you.

Check that vitamin A. Yowzah!

Pumpkin muffins for runners and other humans
  • 2 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour (about 300 grams)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 c wheat germ
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Heat oven to 375° F. Grease 12 muffin cups.

Combine flour, sugar, wheat germ, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together butter, applesauce, pumpkin egg and buttermilk. Fold the butter mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. The batter will be very thick.

Fill muffin cups about three-quarters full and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for about 20 minutes.

The food: Pumpkin muffins
The verdict: Gourds never tasted so good

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hey, Sugar: Classic Cookies

Bridget Lancaster knows her way around the kitchen. This summer, she posted a recipe for chewy sugar cookies. Normally, sugar cookies seem kind of ho-hummy, but if Bridget gave them the thumbs up, I was game.

Here's what I love about recipes from America's Test Kitchen: they're incredibly detailed. Baking is a science, so good instructions are a must. And you always get them from ATK. The secret to the chewiness? Mixed fats. (Mmm, fats.) The butter gives the cookies a rich flavor, the oil keeps them soft even after they cool.

So, the verdict? These are excellent sugar cookies. I'm not sure I'd ever make them my desert-island dessert (yes, I think about these kinds of things), but if you're in the mood for a classic, this is a great choice.

Want the recipe? Hop on over to the ATK Feed.

The food: Chewy sugar cookies
The verdict: A classic treat, if you like that kind of thing 

Okay, so what's your dessert-island dessert?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Authentic, no. Awesome, yes. Kung Pao Chicken

So let me say first that I like authentic ethnic food. Let me say next that I also like the food that you get in American Chinese restaurants, which, by all accounts, isn't very Chinese. Food is food, and I figure it's always authentic to somewhere, so I don't get too wound up about what kind of cooking it is as long as it's tasty.

Which brings me to this take on Kung Pao chicken. I'd say it's a tamed-down version of the authentic Chinese version, which promises to set your mouth on fire. (You can find an adventurous recipe in this story from NPR's All Things Considered.)  Not feeling so adventurous? You can try my recipe, from Cooking Light. (Bonus! It's healthy!) I'm including the recipe as originally published, although you'll notice from my photo that I also included carrots. Yum.

Kung Pao Chicken

  • 2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon bottled minced ginger
  • 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper (about 1 large pepper)
  • 1 cup snow peas, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts 
Heat sesame oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until softened. Add garlic; sauté 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add chicken; sauté 3 minutes or until chicken begins to brown.

Combine 3/4 cup water and the next 5 ingredients (through crushed red pepper), stirring with a whisk until sugar dissolves. Add water mixture to pan; bring to a boil. Add bell pepper and snow peas to pan; cook for 2 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender and sauce thickens. Sprinkle with nuts.

So what's your opinion on ethnic food? How important is authenticity?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Big Secret: Make-Ahead Coconut Rice

Food friends, I have a secret to tell you.

I never miss an episode of America's Next Top Model.

Okay, that secret just kind of snuck out. The secret I really meant to share is this: I don't cook that much during the week. I love being in the kitchen, but by the time I get home from work, my stomach is rumbling to the tune of "Born to Be Wild" and I just can't wait another minute to eat.

My options, then, are either to eat whatever's hanging around (pickles, cereal boxes) or to have pre-made meals that are ready to go.

Pre-made meals it is.

And here's one of my favorite make-aheads: coconut jasmine rice.

We eat a lot of rice. It's great with beans, with stir-fry, with a little salt and lotsa rooster sauce. But it takes a bit of time to cook. That's lame fact number one. Lame fact number two? Leftover rice is usually dry and crusty.

But not rice made with coconut milk. Which is why I love coconut jasmine rice. You don't get any fruity or tropical flavors from the milk -- just moisture and richness. So you can make your rice days ahead, and it's just as tasty on Thursday as it was on Monday. Not crusty. Not even a little.

There's no perfect formula, but on my last batch of rice, I mixed:

  • 2 cups jasmine rice, rinsed
  • 14 oz. coconut milk
  • 3 c. water
  • A little salt
Then I brought it all to a boil, covered it, turned it down and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. And that's that. Really good rice. Whenever you want it. So you don't have to eat cereal boxes.

Okay, I spilled my secret. So tell me:

What's your best tip for make-ahead meals?

What do you think about America's Next Top Model, the term "fierce" or noted fashion photographer Nigel Barker? Be honest, friends.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Grapefruit: Sunshine in a rind

Weather-wise, it's a pretty lousy day here. The good news? I've got a bowl of the sunshiniest citrus in the world: pink grapefruit. Does anything taste like warm weather the way a grapefruit does? I think not.

I've got a few for eating, a few for making cupcakes with, and I think I could spare one or two for Joy the Baker's grapefruit honey yogurt scones.

What about you -- what kind of foods do you think taste like sunshine?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

We have a winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered the America's Test Kitchen cookbook giveaway!

And the winner is:


Whitney, I left a comment on your blog. Contact me with you address to get your copy of Blue Ribbon Desserts.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mini Carrot Cakes: Tiny Treats, Big Taste

Win the cookbook this recipe came from! There's still time to enter my giveaway. Contest closes March 23.

* * *

In addition to being a fan of food, I also like to run. The two, actually, are related. Because the more I run, the more I can eat.

I'm starting to train for a race in May, and as part of that, I'm thinking more carefully about what I'm eating and I'm trying to sneak more veggies in wherever I can.

Which was all the justification I needed to bake carrot cake this weekend. This recipe comes from Blue Ribbon Desserts (from Cook's Country and America's Test Kitchen) and through March 23, you can win a copy of it through my giveaway.

Making carrot cake also makes me thankful for my food processor -- it's the way to go when it comes to shredding. And while the original recipe makes 12 full-size cupcakes, I've found that's about the right amount of batter to make 36 minis. They're the perfect size for popping in your mouth. On the run or otherwise. And they're easy to make. Really.

Mini Carrot Cupcakes
  • 8 T. butter, melted and cooled
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 c. flour
  • 3/4 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. ground nutmeg
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • 8 oz. grated carrots
  • Your favorite cream cheese frosting
    (mix a little cream cheese, butter, powered sugar, and vanilla -- what could go wrong?)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 3 12-cup mini muffin pans.

Whisk together the melted butter, sugars and eggs. Mix in the dry ingredients until combined. Fill the muffin pans and bake 12-15 minutes (or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean). Cool on a rack, then frost.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies and a Giveaway from America's Test Kitchen

UPDATE: The giveaway is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered! Subscribe to the blog for future giveaways, contests and all-around food goodness.

Hi friends! Want to win a new cookbook from some of my favorite food experts? Keep reading!

So here's what I like best about Cook's Country magazine: it's not fussy food. I don't have to go to specialty stores for the ingredients, I don't have to learn fancy-pants cooking techniques. This is what real people eat.

But it's also really good. So I'm excited that the folks at America's Test Kitchen sent me one of Cook's Country's latest books: Blue Ribbon Desserts. And I'm extra excited that one of you lovely readers will be getting one, too!

If you love classic desserts (and if you don't, let's talk), this is the cookbook for you. Vintage, heirloom, whatever you want to call them -- these recipes stand the test of time.

Think of this as part cookbook, part science lesson. For every recipe, you get a little bit of back story about the development of the recipe. I love learning about what worked and what didn't for a particular food formula. I think it makes me a better cook (and baker) overall.

You also get clear step-by-step instructions. And, perhaps the best feature: the book is spiral bound (inside a hardback outer cover) so it opens perfectly flat. No need to use clothes pins to keep the pages open. Not that I do that.

So I've got two things for you today: a recipe and a chance to win Blue Ribbon Desserts (or one of the two other books from ATK that I posted about on Sunday).

First, the winning. To enter:
  1. If you don't already follow Please Pass the Pie, start.
  2. Leave a comment letting me know how you follow (via RSS, etc.) and which of the three books you'd like to win (Blue Ribbon Desserts, Light & Healthy 2011 or The Best One-Dish Suppers).
  3. Include a way for me to contact you. If I can't reach you through your own blog or blogger profile, you can leave an email address or a Twitter handle.

That's it! Easy. Also, this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Sorry, foreign friends. And entries close at 11:59 p.m. EST on Wednesday, March 23. I'll pick a winner at random the next day.

UPDATE: Our winner was Whitney! Congratulations!

And now for the recipe. This one comes from the Bake Sale Cookies, Brownies and Bars chapter of Blue Ribbon Desserts.

Raspberry-Cream Cheese Brownies

For the filling:
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3/4 t. vanilla extract
For the brownies:
  • 2/3 c. flour
  • 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 8 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 c. raspberry jam
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 t. vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch pan. Blend all of the filling ingredients together in a food processor.

For the brownies, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Microwave the butter and chocolate together in short intervals, stirring frequently, until melted. Whisk in 1/4 c. of the jam and let cool slightly. Add the sugar, eggs and vanilla to the chocolate mixture. Whisk in the flour mixture until no white streaks are left.

Microwave the remaining jam until just warm; stir until smooth. Scrape half of the brownie batter into the pan. Dollop the cheese filling over the batter and spread evenly. Dollop the jam on the cheese mixture and use the tip of a knife to swirl. Spread the remainder of the brownie batter over the top.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few dry crumbs -- about 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool, then cut. Refrigerate.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thai-Style Chicken and Rice and a Cookbook Review

I spend a lot of time reading recipes, and while I have a few trusted sources, the ones I like best often come from America's Test Kitchen. Why? Because they are incredibly reliable, thanks to diligent testing (as the name implies) by the recipe developer and the ATK team. (And because Christopher Kimball, fearless leader of the Kitchen, always wears a bowtie. But I digress.)

Which is why I'm pleased to be reviewing three America's Test Kitchen cookbooks (provided by ATK). And why I'm happy to offer all you fine readers a chance to win one later this week. (More about that later in the post.)

Light & Healthy 2011 is a well-rounded collection of (you guessed it) better-for-you recipes. It gives nutrition information for each recipe (something you don't normally get with ATK) and the instructions are easy to follow. It's broken up into 12 main sections, including appetizers, soups and stews, pizza and pasta, meat, breakfast, and even desserts (although when it comes to desserts, my personal philosophy is "Light, shmight -- go for the gusto").

The Best One-Dish Suppers is acompendium of, yes, one-dish suppers. I like the word "supper" because it feels cozy and comforting -- which is the kind of food this book focuses on. Dutch oven dinners, casseroles, one-pot pasta: how could you go wrong? Plus, for those of you who don't have a dish fairy like I do (his name is Ben and he is VERY good at what he does), one-dish suppers make cleaning up from the meal very easy. Maybe not as easy as eating the meal, but easy enough. The book gives great step-by-step details and even has sidebars on equipment recommendations and essential kitchen skills.

So what's not to like about these books? If I have one complaint, its the lack of color photos. I love to see what something SHOULD look like when I'm done (I think of it as aspirational cooking), so a few more pictures would have been most welcome. But there are plenty of illustrations and black-and-white inset photos to guide you, so fear not.

The recipe I made, Thai-style chicken and rice, comes from Light & Healthy 2011 (but it's also a one-dish meal, so it's really the best of both worlds). Please don't tell Mr. Kimball, but I made a few modifications -- not because I don't trust him but because I just didn't have all of the ingredients I needed on hand.

Thai-Style Chicken and Rice
Modified from a recipe from America's Test Kitchen
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 T fresh ginger, minced
  • 4 T fish sauce
  • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 t. canola oil
  • 1 c. brown rice, rinsed
  • 1 1/4 c. chicken broth
  • 4 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
  • 2 cups edamame
  • 2 t. lime juice

Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine half the garlic, 1 T ginger and fish sauce in a large bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Set aside.

Combine the oil, onion and pinch of salt in a dutch oven. Cover and cook over medium heat about 8 minutes, until onions soften. Stir in remaining garlic and ginger and the rice and cook about 30 seconds. Add the broth.

Place the chicken over the rice mixture. Bring to a simmer, then cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for about 40 minutes, then add carrots and edamame. Cover and continue to cook until most of the broth is absorbed -- 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven.

Transfer the chicken to a place. Cover the rice and allow to steam for about 10 minutes. Shred the chicken and stir into the rice. Plate and squeeze lime juice over each serving.

About 390 calories per 1 1/2 c. serving.

Now, about winning a cookbook of your own.

Later this week, I'll be reviewing a third cookbook from America's Test Kitchen. Check back in -- you'll have a chance to win your choice of any of the three books mentioned on this blog. Hold on to your bowties, folks.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pour some (maple) sugar on me: Ben & Jerry's maple walnut ice cream

In Maine, where I grew up, March is the season for maple sugaring--a process I first witnessed during a fourth-grade field trip to a working historic homestead. We got a chance to check the taps and look in on the sugaring shack (after we did a little 1800s-era housework, like sweeping while wearing ruffled bonnets and emptying a few too-realistic-for-comfort chamberpots).

I don't currently have access to maple taps (or, thankfully, chamberpots) but I do keep plenty of syrup on hand. We are not an Aunt Jemima kind of household.

And I firmly believe that syrup is for more than just pancakes. That's why I was happy to test out a maple walnut ice cream recipe from two fellow New Englanders I call Ben and Jerry. Which is what everyone else calls them, too.

They recommend using Grade C syrup for this, which has a sharper maple flavor and is for cooking and baking, not table use. I used Grade A and lived to tell the story. I have a feeling Grade C is a little tougher to find than the lighter Grade A. If you've found it and used it, I'd love to hear what you think.

Most of Ben and Jerry's ice cream recipes start with a sweet cream base (and they suggest three ways to make it). I used a base made with raw eggs. If that weirds you out, you can also make a base by blending 2 cups of light cream with 1 cup of cold sweetened condensed milk.

Maple Walnut Ice Cream
Source: Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book

  •  2 eggs
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. maple syrup
  • 1/2. chopped walnuts

Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Gradually whisk in the sugar until completely blended, then mix in the cream and milk. Gradually add the maple syrup until blended.

Transfer the mixture to your ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

Just before the ice cream finishes freezing, add walnuts. Transfer to a plastic container and put in the freezer until firm.

The recipe makes a little more than a quart (or about 50 spoonfuls straight from the freezer, which is my preferred method of serving and consuming).

The food: Maple walnut ice cream
The verdict: Worth doing 1800s-era housework for

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A life-changing burger. No, really.

Here's a confession: I don't really like burgers that much. I mean, they're okay. Better than lima beans, for instance. But I wouldn't put them on my list of must-haves.

Unless they were this burger.

On Sundays, Ben and I have a little routine. I agree to watch (meaning sleep through) football if he'll watch America's Test Kitchen with me. Which works out fine for him, too, because he usually likes the kind of stuff they're making and it gives us good ideas for recipes.

This "Best Old-Fashioned Burger" is our best discovery yet. You grind your own meat (not difficult, I promise), loosely pat it together, melt a little cheese over it. And then your life changes as your tastebuds nearly explode with happiness.

At the ATK website, you can get a detailed recipe and a step-by-step video for the life-changing meal. (You have to give them your email address, but it's worth it.) One of the things I appreciate most about Christopher Kimball and company is that their recipes are incredibly well researched and communicated, so you know that you'll be able to follow the instructions--and your finished product will be good good good.

If you're looking for a side, I can recommend the Easier French Fries, from the same show. They are also delicious. (And, as you might expect, easy.) But be warned: Whatever you serve with these burgers is going to pale in the bright light of these mega-burger masterpieces.