Thursday, March 04, 2010

Mini Goat Cheese Biscuits with Lavender

I recently had friends over for Sunday brunch. Since I love making breakfast food, it was the perfect opportunity to go a little overboard. When it's just Mike and I, I need to restrain myself. We can't eat a frittata, a sweet quick bread, a savory quick bread and crepes all by ourselves. But throw a party and suddenly that menu is totally acceptable.

Dreaming up various complimentary combinations of biscuits, muffins and scones was half the fun. Since I actually have other things to do besides bake breakfast breads, I ended up relying on a lovely friend who contributed some delicious banana bread, and whipped up these mini biscuits myself the night before. I froze the unbaked, cut biscuits overnight, then slid them into the oven just before the guests were scheduled to arrive. That left me plenty of time to wrangle a fantastic potato frittata, and make the house smell all nice and brunchy.

These are cute and irresistible--who can turn down a mini biscuit? The flavors of the cheese and herbs are subtle enough not to put off traditionalist, although you could increase the amount of cheese by an ounce and up the quantity of herbs if you want to. Dried lavender buds are on the large side, and I didn't want people getting chewy pieces of herbs stuck in their teeth, so Mike crushed them in our mortar, along with the thyme. The biscuits were great with our brunch spread and equally tasty when we ate the leftovers with curried carrot soup the next day. And finally, two words: honey butter.

Mini Goat Cheese Biscuits with Lavender
If you can't find dried lavender (get it online here), substitute other herbs like marjoram, mint or rosemary. Fresh herbs will also work--chop finely and double (at least) the quantity. I'd try fresh mint, thyme or chives.

Makes about 20

1/2 tsp dried lavender
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (210 g)
1/2 cup medium stone ground cornmeal (66 g)
1 Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp coarse salt
6 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
3 oz. goat cheese, crumbled (keep chilled until ready to use)
1 egg, for egg wash (optional)
1 tsp milk, for egg wash (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently crush the lavender and thyme in a mortar (or place in a Ziploc bag and crush with a rolling pin). Whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and a crushed herbs together in a large bowl. Add the butter and toss to coat it with flour. Using a pastry blender, a fork or your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture until you have a coarse meal with visible chunks of butter. Take care not to over mix.

Add the buttermilk and mix gently with a spatula until most of the flour is moistened. Fold in the goat cheese, stirring just until all the flour is moistened (take care not to over mix). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle lightly with more flour. Flatten dough with your hand and roll it out into a 1/2-inch thick disk. Flour a small (about 2-inch diameter) biscuit cutter and stamp out as many biscuits as you can, pushing firmly into the dough and flouring the biscuit cutter each time. Transfer biscuits to prepared baking sheet. Quickly re-roll the dough scraps and make more biscuits until you've used it all up. If using egg wash to create a shiny surface, beat the egg and milk together in a small bowl. With a pastry brush, lightly coat the top of each biscuit.

Bake 8 to 12 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown on the bottom. Serve right away.

To make ahead: After you’ve applied the egg wash (if using), slide the baking sheet into the freezer. Leave overnight, bake directly from the freezer (do not defrost), and add an extra minute or two to baking time. To store up to one month, wait until biscuits are completely frozen and transfer to a zip top bag.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Haitian Red Beans

This recipe is a reminder that simplicity can be incredibly delicious. I found it on Gherkins & Tomatoes, a blog about food, history and hunger that I can't adequately explain in a short sentence, so please check it out for yourself. Cynthia posted this recipe in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti. She once lived there and offered it as a meal of solidarity with the nation's people.

It's a big pot of beans to be eaten with rice and other dishes, or as a simple meal in itself. The method of frying aromatics in oil and using them to season the beans at the end interested me. It's similar to toasting spices in ghee to finish curries and dals in Indian cooking. Pureeing some of the beans and their rich cooking liquid creates a thick sauce. Adding the seasonings saturates the beans with flavors that keep you taking bite after bite.

I did embellish the recipe slightly, but I think it's still the ultimate in simplicity. You don't need fancy heirloom beans--I bought my grocery store's house brand of small red beans. And of course the leftovers are great. In fact, every time I ate them, I raved about just how great they are. I'm so making this again and again. If you try it, I hope you'll love what you end up with as much I did!

Haitian Red Beans
Adapted from Cynthia Bertelsen
Cynthia gives us this dish's proper name, Sos Pwa Rouj, or Red Beans in Sauce. She calls for peanut oil instead of ghee, but I didn't have any and didn't want to buy the refined, flavorless type they were selling at the supermarket. An organic or unrefined peanut oil should have actual peanut flavor and would be preferable here. Any oil good for high heat cooking will work, but ghee (clarified butter) tastes the best to me. For my version as written below, I couldn't resist adding 2 fat shallot cloves, which added beautiful aromatic flavor to the ghee mixture. Don't skimp on fat or omit this step--it creates an incredibly rich, satisfying sauce that is sometimes meaty, sometimes buttery, and quite complex for a simple pot of beans. Serve as a side dish with simply cooked meat or fish, or enjoy as a main course. Other possible accompaniments are pickled veggies, Indian pickles, hot sauce, chopped chile peppers and fried or hardboiled eggs.

Serves 6-8

1 lb small red beans, rinsed and picked over
1/2 onion, skin removed
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 Tbs ghee
2 large shallot cloves, thinly sliced (about 1/3 cup)
3 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley leaves, divided
Steamed rice for serving (I used long grain brown rice)

Place beans, onion, bay leaf and thyme in a Dutch oven or heavy stockpot and cover with water by about 3 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium and cook, partially covered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until tender. Stir occasionally and add more water as needed to keep beans from crowding (I added about 2 cups). Note: Unless the beans have been sitting on a shelf for years, you don't need to soak them. However, soaking for at least 6 hours will speed up the cooking time. Be sure to discard the soaking water and rinse the beans before proceeding with the recipe.

Place a colander over a large bowl and drain the beans. Measure the bean cooking liquid. You'll need 3 cups. If you have more, boil to reduce to 3 cups. If you have less, add water to equal 3 cups.

Put 1 1/2 cups beans and 1 cup of the cooking liquid in a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth. Combine the puree, the whole beans and the remaining cooking liquid in the bowl you used to drain the beans. Add 1 tsp salt and black pepper and stir to combine.

Wash the pot you used to cook the beans. Add the ghee and heat to medium-high. Add the shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until light golden brown. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the garlic and 1/2 cup of the parsley. Cook until garlic just begins to color, taking care that it does not burn. Add the bean mixture and stir to combine. Cook until heated through. Taste for seasoning.

Serve over rice and sprinkle with remaining parsley.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Whole-Wheat Banana Pecan Pancakes

Get ready for the weekend, folks. We have a new pancake recipe threatening to supplant our favorite blueberry-cornmeal pancakes. This one is great for several reasons: it comes together quickly; it's healthy (whole wheat flour, not much fat or sugar); it's cook-friendly--not a single pancake had a burnt side or raw center; and the texture is light and tender.

What I like most about it, though, are the sweet, caramelized bananas. I did this years ago with different banana pancakes I made from a mix, but when it came time to cook these babies, I wasn't convinced the extra step was worth. Mike, in his culinary wisdom, insisted that we do it, and he was so right.

If you've studied banana pancake recipes (and, yes, I have), then you've noticed most call for chopping or mashing the bananas and stirring them into the batter. Instead of incorporating the slices, we add them to the skillet first, giving them a minute or so to brown BEFORE pouring the batter over them. Thanks to that direct contact with the heat, they have the chance to brown while their natural sugars intensify. And when it's finished cooking and flipped onto the plate, you have one very nice-looking banana pancake!

Brown the banana slices first.

Then pour the batter over and cook until bubbly; flip to finish.

Banana Pecan Pancakes
Walnuts would be a good substitute for the pecans. Another idea is to replace the nuts AND the melted butter with ¼ cup of chunky peanut butter. I haven’t tried it yet, but I would microwave it to loosen the consistency and add it to the liquid ingredients in place of the butter. Finally, this is mostly a note to myself, but you might find it helpful in a pinch: Since I was about ¼ cup short of buttermilk, I supplemented it with ¼ cup of reduced fat milk to no ill effect. I wouldn’t replace more than ½ cup of the buttermilk with regular milk, however, since buttermilk helps make the pancakes tender and reacts with the baking soda for leavening.

Makes about 10 4-inch pancakes

1/3 cup pecans (28 g)
1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (150 g) (all-purpose may be substituted)
1/3 cup medium stone ground cornmeal (44 g)
1 Tbs sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 Tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 to 2 ripe bananas, sliced
Pure maple syrup for serving.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread pecans on a baking sheet and roast 5 to 8 minutes, stirring once, until browned and fragrant. Cool slightly and chop.

Meanwhile, add the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon to a large bowl and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Add the buttermilk and melted butter and whisk to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just moistened. Fold in the chopped pecans.

Heat a large skillet to medium-high and coat with nonstick cooking spray (oil or butter is fine too). Place 4 to 6 banana slices in the skillet and cook about 45-60 seconds. Scoop 1/4 to 1/3 cup batter over the bananas and spread to uniform thickness if needed. Cook until air bubbles form in the center, or until the bottom of the pancake is deep golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook until second side is browned, 1 to 2 minutes more. Watch carefully to prevent overcooking, adjusting the heat level as necessary (Of course, you can cook more than one at a time, or many, if you have a griddle.). Repeat with remaining batter. Serve with maple syrup.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tandoori Chicken Thighs

I love this Tandoori Chicken recipe. It's one of my favorite chicken dishes that I've cooked, plus it's really easy. I've always doubted that a homemade version could have the same intensity of flavor you get at Indian restaurants. Especially with just easy-to-find supermarket ingredients. Although most of us can't duplicate the smoky char you'd get from cooking in an actual tandoor (a clay oven), this recipe will still make you very happy.

And because I am so not loving the only non-blurry picture I managed to snap of this addictive, super-moist spiced chicken, I decided to lead the post with a puggy in the snow. It worked're still reading? Our little dog, Frank, would like you to know that this recipe comes mostly from the Gourmet Cookbook and it's very tasty, indeed.

Tandoori-Spiced Chicken Thighs
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook

Try this to prove that Indian food isn't really that hard, after all. Lime wedges and cilantro are a must for serving and some extra Greek yogurt is really good too. We had a dal (spiced, stewed lentils) inspired by this recipe, and some interesting homemade flatbreads that were sort of like naan, which you can look for ready-made in large supermarkets.

Serves 4

1 small onion, quartered
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
6 oz plain lowfat Greek yogurt (or substitute regular plain yogurt), plus additional for serving
1 Tbs lemon juice
2 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs (10 to 12), fat trimmed
Garnishes: Lime wedges and fresh cilantro

Combine all ingredients except chicken and garnishes in the bowl of a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. Put chicken and yogurt mixer in a gallon-sized heavy-duty zipper bag. Seal bag and turn to coat the chicken. Marinate in the refrigerator, turning bag occasionally, for at least 4 hours, and up to 12 hours (I did 6 hours).

Line a broiler pan or baking sheet with foil and preheat broiler to high. Arrange chicken on foil in a single layer (discard the marinade, but there's no need to scrape the excess off the chicken) and cook 5 to 6 inches from heat, turning once, until just cooked through, 12 to 17 minutes. Serve with lime, cilantro and additional yogurt.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Scones

Here's something different for A Mingling of Tastes: chocolate for breakfast! I love chocolate. Love it. In fact, I generally eat some kind of chocolate candy every day. But not for breakfast. Chocolate pancakes, muffins, breakfast bars and pastries just don't appeal to me. The only exception I can think of are Dunkin' Donuts cake donuts with chocolate icing, and it's been an awfully long time. When I saw this scone recipe on Peanut Butter Boy (which is full of health-conscious, yet tempting, PB-centric recipes), however, I knew it was time for one more exception to my no chocolate breakfasts thing.

Despite sounding more like a cookie, these scones are packed with enough nutritious ingredients to qualify as actual food. Reading over the recipe convinced me that it may be possible to have a peanut butter and chocolate scone that wouldn't leave me feeling like a total slug. The peanut butter replaces the dairy butter you'd normally use in a scone recipe, and a mashed banana contributes not just subtle flavor, but moisture too. I tweaked PB Boy's recipe a bit, adding more oats, less peanut butter and cinnamon. The only change I'd try for next time is using my beloved Jif chunky rather than smooth.

Considering the scent emanating from the kitchen while these baked, I expected lots of peanut butter flavor, but it turned out to be rather mild. Not a complaint, just saying. The dough is definitely on the wet side, but otherwise these go together like your standard scone. And like your standard scone, they don't have much added sugar, so the light sweetness comes mostly from the banana, peanut butter and chocolate. To sum up, they taste like an awesome breakfast cookie. And Mike, the authority on all things peanut butter and chocolate, says he really likes them.

I'm curious: do you regularly eat sweets for breakfast? Do you stick to things like buttermilk pancakes and blueberry muffins, but draw the line at chocolate? Do you exclusively consume savory foods in the morning, or the opposite? Does your heart belong to cold cereal (that's one breakfast food I never eat!)?

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Scones
Adapted from Peanut Butter Boy
I used smooth peanut butter, but next time I'll probably try chunky. I think the bits of nuts would make the peanut butter flavor more prominent.

Makes 8-10 scones

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (180 grams)
1 cup quick-cooking oats (80 grams)
2 Tbs sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips, or any finely chopped chocolate of your choice
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 ripe medium banana, mashed well
1/2 cup smooth or chunky peanut butter (128 grams)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line 1 large or 2 smaller baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the chocolate.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and milk. Add the mashed banana and whisk to combine.

Add the peanut butter to the flour mixture and mix with a pastry blender or your fingers until you have a coarse, sandy texture. Add the egg mixture and stir until dry ingredients are moistened. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Dough will be quite wet. Sprinkle lightly with flour and knead into a ball. Flatten the ball and shape into a disk, about 8 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. With a large, floured chef's knife, cut dough into 8 or 10 wedges, depending on the size scone you want (the size you see in the pictures are from a 10-scone batch).

Keep flouring your knife and slide it under the wedges like a spatula, then carefully lift them onto the prepared baking sheets. Again, the dough will be wet--just pat any misshapen scones back together with your fingers. Bake 15 to 16 minutes, or until scones are lightly browned and a cake tester comes out clean. If you using 2 baking sheets, swap their positions halfway through. Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Blueberry Oat Bran Muffins

After a few months without much variance in my breakfast routine, I'm happily into scones and muffins again. If my last effort wasn't exactly your cup of tea, maybe you'll like these blueberry muffins.

They are everything you can hope for in a healthy muffin. The texture is tender and moist, the lightly sweet oat bran flavor is mellow and nutty and the tops have a crackly coating of coarse sugar. I shouldn't be surprised at how good they are considering the original source.

I also have to mention that I tried a new brand of frozen blueberries--Stahlbush Island Farms, found at Whole Foods Market. They're so noticeably sweet and flavorful compared to others I've tried. I made pancakes using some of these berries mixed with my grocery store's brand of organic wild blueberries, and the difference in taste was huge--by that I mean, the Stahlbush fruit actually tasted like blueberries. They sell a whole array of frozen fruit, and I think these muffins would be awesome with the berry blend.

If you don't come across this brand where you live, don't dismay. Just try as many different ones as you can since quality seems to vary. These are also one of the more expensive options in the freezer case, and I think you tend to get what you pay for with frozen berries.

Blueberry Oat Bran Muffins

Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

This is simply a good muffin that also happens to be low-calorie and lowfat. I'd like to try it with other frozen berries, or a mixture. I didn't toss my berries with flour, but think doing so will prevent them from clumping together and sinking so much, as they did in the muffin above--this change is reflected below. If you use fresh berries, you may skip this step. Whole wheat pastry flour keeps the crumb light and tender while adding nutrients, but you can substitute all-purpose flour if you like.

Makes 12

120 grams oat bran (1 cup plus 3 Tbs)
120 grams whole wheat pastry flour (1 cup), plus extra for dusting berries
100 grams sugar (scant 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs buttermilk
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 heaping cup frozen blueberries (do not thaw)
Coarse sugar (such as turbinado or demerara) for sprinkling (substitute granulated if necessary)

Preheat oven to 350 F and line a standard muffin pan with 12 paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oat bran, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate medium bowl, beat the eggs. Add the buttermilk, oil and vanilla; whisk to combine. Pour egg mixture into flour mixture and stir just until dry ingredients are moistened.

Spread frozen blueberries on a large cutting board or other work surface and lightly sprinkle with flour. Toss gently to coat berries with flour. Pick up the berries, shaking off as much excess flour as possible and add to the batter; fold gently to combine.

Pour batter evenly into prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to finish cooling. Serve warm or at room temperature. Muffins may be frozen and thawed at room temperature, or in the microwave on low power.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gingery Sweet Potato, Veg and Sausage Soup

I've been making soup once a week since before the holidays. Usually on Wednesday nights when I'm not running to the gym and have plenty of time to cook. I make enough to eat the leftovers on Thursday plus a lunch or two. This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy the short, dark, wintery days.

I made plenty of soup when we lived in Fort Lauderdale, but now I'm enjoying it even more. I don't really think about cooking anything else on Wednesday nights--I just consider what kind of soup I want. I have a nice cache of new recipes bookmarked, and I have no problem repeating old favorites (like this one I'm making tomorrow!).

Last week's soup was inspired by this recipe from 101 Cookbooks. It's easy because you just put nearly everything in a pot and go. The original recipe, from the book Love Soup by Anna Thomas, is vegetarian, but I made some additions to turn it into a heartier main course. While I have plenty of veggie soups in my repertoire, I often like a little meat to help me feel satisfied. A can of cannellini beans and crumbled turkey sausage worked well with the sweet potatoes, greens and fresh ginger.

Since you don't start out by sauteeing carrots, celery, onions and spices to build flavor as in some soup recipes, I recommend using a good-tasting vegetable or chicken broth. The generous amount of ginger will give it a nice lift without coming off too strong. Have you been making more soup lately? If you have a current favorite recipe, feel free to leave links in the comments!

Gingery Sweet Potato, Veg and Sausage Soup
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

I used Jennie O fresh turkey sausage, but I think simple ground turkey breast would work just as well--it's also lower in sodium. You can mix up the types of greens you use (kale, Swiss chard, mustard, escarole, broccoli rabe) but I'd recommend at least 2 different ones for textural contrast. Heartier greens will need to simmer longer than delicate varieties.

Serves 5 to 6

1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced into half moons
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 fresh turkey sausage links, or 3/4 lb ground turkey breast
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 cups water
1 large sweet potato (about 14 oz), chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger
8 oz chopped collard greens
8 oz spinach leaves
1 (14 oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until very tender and golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. You want it to caramelize, so stir just occasionally and reduce the heat to low after about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Wipe out the skillet and turn heat to medium high. Coat with cooking spray and squeeze the sausage out of its casings into the pan (if using ground turkey, just add it to the pan and season with salt, pepper and spices of your choice--chile powder, cumin, paprika, etc.). Break up the meat with your spatula as it cooks. When turkey is cooked through, transfer to a paper towel lined plate to absorb excess fat and blot with additional paper towel on top if using sausage. Set aside.

While the onions and sausage cook, get the soup going: Add the broth, water and ginger to a large saucepan or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sweet potato, return to a simmer, cover and cook for 3 minutes. Add the collard greens, cover and simmer for 5 minutes, or until just tender. Add the spinach, cover and simmer 1 minute or until tender.

If necessary, you can partially cover the soup and let it rest off the heat until the other components are finished. When ready to serve, put the pot over medium-low heat to warm and stir in the beans, onion and sausage. If soup seems too thick, add an additional cup of water and bring to a simmer just to warm through. Taste for seasoning (you'll probably need some salt) and serve immediately.

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