Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Let's talk menus!

This is how I'll make my favorite cranberry sauce tomorrow!


This year I'm home for Thanksgiving and doing all the cooking (with some help from Mike, of course). I spent tons of time going through magazines and cookbooks before finalizing my menu. I wanted to do this blog post this morning, but I had to get some work done, and then I spent 2 hours cooking! I'm proud to say I've made turkey stock for the gravy and stuffing and put together the dough for my pecan tart.

So if anyone else is taking a break from prepping for tomorrow, let's dish! What's on your menu? Have you gotten a jump on things, or will you rise early and cook up a storm? Are you trying some new recipes or sticking to old favorites...share!

Here is my menu, along with some links to recipes where available:

Brined Roast Turkey with Giblet Gravy


Oyster Stuffing with Turkey Stock


Cranberry Sauce with Pears, Ginger & Garam Masala


Caramelized Brussels Sprouts


Pecan Tart

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Easter Menus

I am back from the IACP conference in Denver and slowly recovering from 5 days of talking about food, writing about food, and especially eating food. Really good food. And now Easter is just a few days away. Wanna know what I want for the holiday? Bourbon. I went to a fantastic seminar/tasting at the conference (which I'll post about later), and I've been having happy Bourbon dreams ever since.

Wanna know what I'll actually have for Easter? Turkey. But not just any turkey--full-on Thanksgiving roast turkey with all the trimmings. It's for a magazine assignment, and I'm sort of looking forward to it. It's not unusual for magazines to work 6 or more months ahead, especially when it comes to holiday stories. Luckily, I bought an extra bag of fresh cranberries and stuck them in the freezer, in case of emergency.

I will, however, miss cooking an Easter ham. It's what we always ate when I was growing up, so it just feels like the right thing to have on Easter. For those who celebrate Easter, do you have a specific food tradition?

If you're in search of ideas, I put together a brunch menu and a lunch/dinner menu from my archives. This was fun to do and makes me want to cook this stuff, turkey or no turkey! Oh, well. Maybe I'll try a ham in a week or two after all the turkey leftovers are finished.

A Mingling of Tastes Easter Brunch

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

One more idea for your Irish feasts. This time it's cabbage, meat and potatoes, with an Eastern European inflection. Of course, the cabbage made me think of this dish for St. Patty's Day, but it's actually my take on a family recipe from my Polish grandmother.

A few years ago, I did a little research and found out one of the proper names for it is golumpki, but there are so many variations. I don't know how to spell my grandma's particular variation, so I'll stick with golumpki. Despite the clumsy name, the flavors of this satisfying dish are straightforward and assertive flavors.

My grandmother's tomato sauce had a tangy flavor in my memory, and I recreated it by seasoning canned sauce with white wine vinegar and sugar. Some crushed garlic cloves add another layer of flavor. In the ground meat filling, you'll almost always find white rice. I used my favorite long grain brown rice and it worked wonderfully. It's not totally traditional, but it adds more flavor and nutrients, so it's hardly egregious.

Along with the rice, goes allspice, paprika, chile powder, parsley and half a finely minced onion. My grandmother's special touch was to grate the onion on a box grater to make it extra juicy and fine. Last night, Mike was prepping the meat, and he preferred the chopping method. For a uniform, finely chopped onion, he's your man.

As we put this dish together last night, it reminded me of lasagna, in that it's not complicated, but takes a little time and a few steps before you can put everything together. You do have to blanche the cabbage by sticking the whole head in a big pot of boiling water for a few minutes. It softens up the leaves for easier rolling. Cook your rice in advance too, especially if you're using brown. Or steam some for your dinner today and make extra for stuffed cabbage tomorrow.

My grandmother always served this with simple, creamy mashed potatoes. That's not my personal favorite (I'll take mashed sweet potatoes; or the chunky, garlicky mashed red potatoes with skins.), so I did these easy broiled, sliced potatoes instead. I can't believe I didn't figure out this method years ago. You get a wonderfully browned, chewy texture that's kind of like a healthier version of pan-fried potatoes.

Happy St. Patty's Day!

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Golumpki)
Serves 4

Tangy Tomato Sauce:
1 (29 oz.) can tomato sauce
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the flat side of knife
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
1 Tbs. sugar

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:
1 large head of cabbage
1 lb. ground beef
1 cup cooked brown or white
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 Tbs. chopped parsley, plus additional for garnish
½ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. chile powder
½ tsp. allspice
½ tsp. coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the sauce, bring the tomato sauce and garlic cloves to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Season with black pepper and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Add the vinegar and sugar and continue simmering for five minutes more. Remove from heat.

To make the cabbage rolls, trim as much of the tough stem from the cabbage as you can without separating the leaves. Add the entire cabbage to a large pot of boiling water and cook for 3 minutes, or until the leaves start to separate. Drain and run large outer leaves under cold water to stop the cooking. Pick 8 large, intact leaves and pat dry. Save the rest of the cabbage for another use or discard. I like to tuck some of the extra leaves into the baking dish to serve with the golumpki.

Add remaining ingredients to a large bowl. Gently combine with your hands or a spoon.

Pour about 1 cup of the sauce into a large casserole dish and spread to coat evenly. To assemble the cabbage rolls, place one cabbage leaf on a cutting board with the stem end facing you. Trim up to 1-inch of the stem end if very thick. Place half a cup of beef filling in the center of the leaf, fold in the sides and roll into a tight bundle starting with the stem end. Place the bundle into the casserole dish and continue with the remaining leaves and filling.

Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the rolls and bake for 45 minutes. They are done if the sauce is bubbling and the cabbage rolls are firm to the touch. Rest 5 to 10 minutes, sprinkle with additional parsley and serve with potatoes.

Easy Broiled Potatoes
Serves 4

2 to 3 white potatoes, cut into ¼-inch rounds
Olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Red wine vinegar, for serving (optional)

Preheat broiler to high. You can switch your oven to broil during the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking time for the cabbage rolls. They will finish baking in the oven’s residual heat.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Arrange potatoes in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil or use a pastry brush to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Broil 8 to 10 inches from heat until potatoes are golden brown and tender, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Sprinkle with parsley and pass red wine vinegar at the table if desired.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

St. Patrick's Day Recipes

Guinness Brownies

Time is flying so quickly that I thought Monday was only the 6th. So, between my inability to read the calendar and daylight savings time, I'm all discombobulated. On Sunday, we were wandering through Whole Foods, and I noticed displays of Murphy's Stout, Guinness and Dubliner Stout Cheddar (really tasty, by the way!). It took a minute before I realized all these goodies were front and center because St. Patty's Day is right around the corner.

Irish Potato Chowder and Soda Biscuits in the background.

In order to be ahead of the curve when it comes to holiday food, I'm posting some favorite perfect-for-St. Patty's recipes. I just realized I have enough Irish-themed things to qualify for a pretty decent round up. This year, I'd love to make a batch of Guinness Brownies, but I may also opt for this pistachio cookie recipe I've been holding onto since last year. My wedding anniversary is actually two days after St. Patrick's Day, so that is the big celebratory occasion I look forward to in March. Still, there's no reason why I can't toast three years of marriage with a pint of Guinness and a glass of champagne.

Do you have a favorite recipe for St. Patrick's Day? Is it all about the Guinness and the Bailey's Irish cream, or do you go traditional with cabbage and potatoes? I love how holidays give us a reason to cook or bake something we wouldn't normally do.

Guinness Brownies - Dense and chocolatey with a hint of stout. This is just a great brownie.

Guinness Cupcakes - Light, airy crumb and addictive espresso buttercream.

Guinness Beef Stew - Never make a stew with beer? You must taste what you've been missing!

Irish Potato Chowder - Creamy. Hearty. Bacon-y. Yet, all in all it's still a pretty healthy soup.

Whole wheat Irish Soda Bread - Plain, simple and really easy. Spread it with unsalted Irish butter. I love this.

Irish Soda Biscuits - The same simple soda bread done as a drop biscuit.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Roasted Beet Risotto

Let's do a quick, informal survey.

Do you make risotto?

A yes or no in the comments will suffice, but I'd love to hear when you turn to this creamy, satisfying rice dish and what your favorite additions are. And if the answer is no, why not? I'm not one to cook rice as a side dish all that often, although I do like brown rice flavored with scallions and garlic. When it comes to risotto, however, I hardly put it on the same plane with simple steamed rice.

From the method of cooking, to the rich, toothsome end result, risotto is more than just a grain dish. Most of the time, I made it the main meal. I like to add poached chicken, but shrimp or roasted veggies are nice. If you do want to make risotto a side dish, then I think you may as well make it memorable. I usually try to avoid gushingly purple prose when describing food, but what can I say? Stained a striking hot pink and bejeweled with roasted beets, this risotto is a stunner.

Unlike the red wine risotto with arugula I made a while ago, this version gets all its gorgeous magenta color from fresh roasted beets. The recipe has no twists whatsoever; it's risotto 101. You can roasted the beets a day or a few hours ahead. It's an extra step, but it couldn't be easier. If you've only had canned beets (I still like tossing the shredded ones in salad), you'll love the clean, earthy taste of fresh ones.

I made this risotto to go with steaks for a fantastic Valentine's Day dinner that actually happened the day after. Because it's an all-veggie risotto, I think it's well suited for a side. But no one would mistake it for an afterthought.

I found this recipe on the Gourmet magazine website and was sold by their (much more beautiful than above) photo. I cut the recipe in half and omitted the wine, which I tend to do if I don't have an open bottle of white. If you want to make this vegetarian, use mushroom broth instead of chicken. Here's an old post of mine describing the basic risotto technique, with step-by-step photos. And here is one of my all-time favorites, Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Mushrooms.

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Baklava Small Batch Recipe


Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a chance to cook some great food for the holidays. If you want a traditional and healthy meal to celebrate New Year's Day, you have plenty of time to make Hoppin' John, the easy stew made with black-eyed peas. The peas will bring you luck all year.

You don't have to soak them overnight--just bring to a boil for 3 minutes, remove from heat, cover and soak 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans and go on with the recipe. This is called the quick-soak method and may be used for any kind of bean. If you can't find ham hocks for the stew, you can always add bacon or chunks of cooked ham at the end.

If you're still in party mode, then make baklava (all those nuts are good for you, by the way). I did it for the first time last week, and it was so much easier than I imagined when I thought about making it all those times. Phyllo is easy to work with, and everything else is a snap. It looks really impressive and tastes incredible--I love the crunch of phyllo dough. I made a small batch and decided to post it that way because I couldn't find a small recipe anywhere.

You can use any combination of walnuts, almonds and pistachios (others would be okay, I think, but those 3 are the traditional choices). You can also use just one. I used walnuts and almonds, which Mike loved, but I think I'd like it with just walnuts.

Did you guys cook anything special for New Year's Eve? We took a little trip to Chicago where much eating and drinking was done, so we had a very low-key night. Do you typically cook a special dish for New Year's Day? I'm looking forward to my black-eyed peas.

And finally, thank you to everyone who has read and commented on this blog throughout the year. I really appreciate every one of you, even if I don't say it all the time! I hope the year brings great things to you and your families!


Baklava
This recipe makes a small batch of this sweet, nut-filled phyllo pastry. If you would like to use a 9 x 13 pan, double the recipe and do not cut the raw phyllo dough in half. You will need a pastry brush to butter the delicate phyllo sheets.
For filling:
8 oz. raw, whole almonds
8 oz. raw walnut halves
3 Tbs. sugar
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cardamom
1/8 tsp. cloves
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into chunks
8 oz. phyllo dough (such as Athens brand), at room temperature

For syrup:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
2-inch strip orange peel
1-inch strip lemon peel
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 tsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and roast until nuts are lightly browned in the center, tossing once, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until chopped. Be careful to avoid grinding nuts to a paste. Transfer to a large bowl.

Spread walnuts on the same baking sheet you used for the almonds and roast until lightly browned, turning once, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to food processor and chop. Add to bowl with almonds. Stir in sugar, cinnamon, salt, cardamom and cloves. Raise oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Add butter to a small bowl and melt in the microwave. Unroll the phyllo and place on a cutting board. Cut crosswise through the rectangular phyllo to form two smaller rectangles; cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel. Phyllo dough dries out quick when exposed to air. With a pastry brush, butter the bottom and sides of an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 inch square baking dish.

Lift towel and add one piece of phyllo to dish; replace towel (keep the phyllo covered in this manner as you work). Lightly coat phyllo sheet with butter. Top with another piece of phyllo, turning it 90 degrees so the sheets are overlapping; coat with butter. Repeat until you’ve layered 8 sheets of phyllo, coating each one with butter. Top with one-third of the nut mixture. Cover with 8 more sheets of phyllo and one-third of the nuts. Repeat with 8 more sheets of phyllo and the remaining nuts. Finish with 8 more sheets of phyllo (you’ll have some left over). It goes like this:

1) 8 sheets phyllo
2) nuts
3) 8 sheets phyllo
4) nuts
5) 8 sheets phyllo
6) nuts
7) 8 sheets phyllo

With a sharp serrated knife, cut into 12 pieces. Be sure to cut all the way through to the bottom of the dish. Once baked, phyllo will shatter when cut. Bake 30 minutes or until phyllo is golden brown.

When baklava is nearly done baking, make the syrup: combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat, stirring often, until thickened slightly, 7 minutes. Remove peels and cinnamon stick.

When baklava is finished, cool on a rack 5 minutes. Pour syrup over baklava, allowing it to run between the cut pieces. Cool completely, several hours. May be made up to one day ahead. Baklava keeps 7 days at room temperature, covered with plastic wrap.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Gifts for Foodies

I heard that today could be the biggest online shopping day of the season. If you're still looking for gifts for your favorite foodie friends, I have some ideas. Everyone loves books, so I've suggested three of my recent favorites. Plus, there are some cool kitchen goodies and eclectic eats. And if you're thinking this is the year for homemade gifts, you'll find my picks at the very end. Happy gifting!


The Art & Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet, $32.00. This weighty, impressive book with plenty of full-color photos will delight your favorite baker. It's a well-rounded, comprehensive reference, and it's full of tips revealing "what the pros know." With plenty of sweet and savory recipes, it's a great collection. Get a taste of Mushet's familiar-with-a-twist style with this recipe for Butterscotch Pie on Gourmet.com.


The Spice Merchant's Daughter by Christina Arokiasamy, $19.77. Quite the opposite of the previous book, this is a small little jewel full of specialized recipes. Arokiasamy's mother ran a spice shop in Kuala Lumpur, and she weaves her stories in with her recipes with are tailored for American home cooks. A great gift for the cook who loves to dive into a particular cuisine and explore it in depth.


Fat by Jennifer Mclagan. $21.45. What a great idea...Mclagan tells us everything we ever wanted to know about fat, including how to exploit all its unique properties for our culinary enjoyment. There are tons of great recipes, from pâté (pork fat) to shortbread (butter). This is a book any cook, short of the truly fat-phobic, can enjoy. To learn more, read this interview with the author by fabulous food writer, Monica Bhide, on Salon.com.


File Folder Chopping Boards, $85.00. These are pricy, but I think the design is so cool!



Cuisinart Handheld Blender, $49.99. The kind of gadget you don't know you need until someone gives it to you as a holiday gift. It is so nice for pureeing soups--no more transferring to your blender in batches. And this model comes with a mini chopper--bonus!


Nigella Lawson Salt Pig, $16.95. I received this from my lovely husband last Christmas. I have no idea why it's called a "pig," but it's so cute, stylish and useful!


Rose Petal Preserves, $6.99. I love rose petal preserves, jams and jellies. They are popular in France, the Middle East, Greece and more, I'm sure. Unfortunately, they're tough to find in the United States. Definitely a fun stocking stuffer for foodies who always want to try new tastes.



Mustapha's Moroccan Harissa, $7.99. For heat lovers! A dollop of this spiced chile sauce can perk up tagines, roasted lamb, flatbread, and plenty of non-Moroccan dishes too.



Koeze Cream Nut Peanut Butter, $8.50. Sold through fab specialty foods retailer, Zingerman's, this natural, artisan peanut butter is described as "velvety" and "intense." I'd wrap it up with some of your favorite chocolate bars for a sort of d.i.y. chocolate-peanut butter experience.

Make it Homemade:

These chocolate capuccino cookies with cinnamon chips are my new favorite easy drop cookie since making them a couple weeks ago. Big shout out to Cookie Madness--these are keepers!

Russian Tea Cakes, Pecan Crescents, Mexican Wedding Cakes...I call my version of these easy, soft, buttery cookies Pecan Balls. They freeze well and are sturdy enough for gifting.

Spiced nuts are such a simple idea, it doesn't seem like they could be so addictively good. Make a few batches and package them in mason jars with pretty ribbons and you'll have a gift that will be well-appreciated.

Spritz cookies! Do you have a cookie press? I just bought one and I'm going to use this recipe. Just think about how much better your homemade butter cookies will be than anything your friends and loved ones can buy. And so cute!

Bacon Brittle. Enough said. That link will take you to the recipe, and I wrote about it here.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Apple, Pomegranate and Honey Salad


Did I mention that I made two Thanksgiving dinners before Thanksgiving? If you've read the last few weeks' posts, you know that I wanted to try out new side dishes and roast my own turkey at home before I went to have the real holiday with my family in Connecticut.

So, instead of making a huge spread just for me and Mike at home, I had one meal consisting of turkey and a couple of other dishes, and another meal of substantial sides like cornbread-chorizo stuffing and this seasonal salad.

If a side salad requires any effort at all, I save it for a special occasion. Our stand-by everyday salad is just baby greens, red onions and diced tomatoes dressed with a splash of olive oil and either balsamic or lemon. This is definitely a bit more special. I think this would be a beautiful addition to a Hanukkah spread--I know honey and pomegranates often pop up on Jewish holiday menus. Replacing the apple with avocado would also play up the Hanukkah theme.

The honey dressing here adds a nice sweet note. I used raspberry vinegar, but if you only have red wine vinegar in your pantry (or Sherry vinegar), use that by all means. The type of lettuce you use is flexible too, although I wouldn't go with anything too peppery, like arugula. One thing you shouldn't substitute or skip is the fresh mint. I'm a fan of this herb in many dishes, but even a little bit adds a wonderful bright hit of flavor that complements the pomegranates and apples. Even if you don't make this part of a holiday meal, it's a great way to use in-season pomegranates in a tasty, healthy way.


Apple, Pomegranate and Honey Salad


Cut the pomegranate in half crosswise and submerge one half in a bowl of water while you remove the seeds by hand. The seeds will sink to the bottom so you can lift any flesh out of the bowl, then strain the seeds. This method also keeps the juice from staining your work surface.

Serves 4

For salad:
2 small heads Boston lettuce, or other mild-tasting lettuce, leaves separated and torn into bite-size pieces (about 6 cups leaves)
1 Fuji apple, thinly sliced
1/3 cup very thinly sliced red onion
1/2 pomegranate, seeded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

For dressing:
2 tablespoons canola
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoons honey

In a large bowl, combine lettuce, about 3/4 of apple slices (save the rest for a snack), onion and pomegranate seeds. Combine all dressing ingredients in a small jar with a tight lid and shake well until emulsified. Drizzle about 3/4 of the dressing over salad and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Add additional dressing if necessary. Add the sunflower seeds and mint and toss again. Arrange salad on individual plates and serve.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Green Beans with Meyer Lemon Sauce and Hazelnuts

Here is my final Thanksgiving side dish. I was floundering about how to prepare this vegetable side. I love to do green beans, or even Brussels sprouts, with Pancetta or bacon--it's a holiday, so bring on the pork, right? But, I also appreciate balance. I already had stuffing with chorizo sausage, so I though the vegetables should go in a different direction.

I didn't know what direction that should be, however, until we were wandering around the produce section of Whole Foods and found beautiful, reasonably priced Meyer lemons. I don't ever remember seeing them this early; their peak is January and February. Once they were in my hot little hand, I knew exactly what to do with the green beans.

This simple pan sauce doesn't involve any real tricks, just textbook flavor-building. You slowly saute a pile of shallots in butter, then add wine, lemon juice and your blanched green beans. I had hazelnuts on hand and they were very nice here, but you could easily go with almonds or pecans. If you aren't lucky enough to stumble on Meyer lemons this week, use regular lemon juice. Just taste and add a generous pinch of sugar if you think it's a little tart.

Before I come to the end, I must mention my turkey. Jennie-O sent me an "Oven Ready" homestyle turkey to try. I was excited by the prospect of fool-proof, perfectly moist and delicious turkey with practically zero effort. I love the fact that it was mess-free and virtually no-maintence, BUT it wasn't as fool-proof as I'd hoped... I roasted the turkey for less than the 3 1/2 hour cooking time required, and it came out on the dry side. I think it would have been done in about 2 hours and 45 at most. Lesson: Even fool-proof turkeys must be watched closely! Don't be lured into complacent turkey roasting like me! And use a meat thermometer...

Have a wonderful week and enjoy the holiday wherever it takes you. I'll be back after Turkey day.

Green Beans with Meyer Lemon and Hazelnuts

Toast the hazelnuts in a dry, heavy skillet on medium heat until golden brown.

Serves 4

1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
1 pound green beans
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup sliced shallots
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon (or 3 tablespoons regular lemon juice)
Zest of 1 Meyer

Blanche the green beans: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the beans and boil 3 to 4 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Drain and immediately plunge beans into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking and retain color. Leave beans for a few minutes, drain and set aside.

Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet on medium-low. Add the shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until very soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the lemon juice and simmer until reduce by about half. Add green beans and toss to coat with shallots and lemon sauce. Stir until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and add lemon zest. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts. Serve immediately or cover and reheat in microwave.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Silky Chestnut Soup

The next Thanksgiving recipe from last weekend's cooking extravaganza is this easy, healthy chestnut soup. I love chestnuts, and now that they are easy to find pre-roasted in jars, cans or vacuum packs, you can enjoy them without the doing the roasting yourself.

Several years ago, I got the notion to roast some fresh chestnuts and nearly blinded myself. I forgot to cut slits in the skin to let the air out, so the nuts exploded in my face when I took the baking sheet out of the oven. It was harrowing (and really funny, after the shock). Suffice it to say, I don't roast chestnuts anymore.

But I love them as much as ever. They go in one of my favorite stuffings and they are great with Brussels sprouts. A lot of recipes for chestnut soup use cream, but this one gets a silky texture simply from pureeing the chestnuts with onions, leeks and chicken broth. There are a few other ingredients but that's basically it.

We had a lot of ideas about how to play around with this soup. Instead of brandy, you could use sherry or fruit brandy. You could add milk to give it some creaminess and lighten the color. You could garnish it with creme fraiche (as much as I love using Greek yogurt as a garnish, the creme fraiche would be just right in this particular case). Speaking of garnish, the chopped chestnuts that turn crispy from a quick saute are delicious, so don't skip that step!

Silky Chestnut Soup
Adapted from this recipe by Alex Urena for Food & Wine magazine

Serves 4 as a first course

3 tablespoons canola oil
One 14-ounce vacuum-packed jar of cooked and peeled chestnuts (2 1/2 cups)
1 medium onion, minced
1 leek, white and tender green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 teaspoons honey
4 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth (or vegetable broth)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon Cognac or brandy
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add 7 of the chestnuts and cook until crisp and browned, stirring often. Remove from pan and cool. Finely chop and set aside.

Add the onion and leeks to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the honey and stir well. Add the broth and remaining chestnuts, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.

Puree soup in a blender, working in batches. Taste for seasoning. May be covered and refrigerated at this point for 24 hours. To serve, return soup to the pot and reheat. Add the brandy or Cognac, and garnish with reserved chopped chestnuts and parsley.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing

I've talked about my love of cornbread many, many times, but this is my first ever cornbread stuffing. Why? Because all the recipes I came across seemed too rich, too bread-y, just too much. Then Mike put the idea for cornbread stuffing in my head last week, and a couple days later I saw this recipe in Gourmet.

This stuffing is straightforward, incredibly tasty and a lot less heavy (read loaded with butter) than most stuffing recipes of any kind. You absolutely need to make the homemade cornbread, which is a snap. It's also one of the nicest southern-style cornbreads I've tried.

My go-to skillet cornbread uses a combo of stone ground cornmeal and flour for a tender, not too crumbly texture. I had tried all-cornmeal versions, but they were just too quick to fall apart. In this recipe, an extra egg and plenty of buttermilk solves that problem, resulting in an all-cornmeal bread that you could eat on its own with butter.

So, my first cornbread stuffing was hugely successful, although I think it could be the centerpiece of a meal by itself--who needs turkey? Be sure to read the recipe headnote regarding chorizo. I would have just included links to the original recipes, but I liked these so much, I wanted to record them here for easy retrieval! One last tip: the leftovers were great with a fried runny egg.

Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, Nov. 08 (original)

The success of the stuffing utterly depends upon the homemade cornbread. Luckily, it’s easy and may be made a day or two ahead. Spanish chorizo is cured and ready to eat, as opposed to Mexican chorizo, which is fresh and must be cooked. Failing to find Spanish chorizo at our supermarket, we used Niman Ranch fully cooked chorizo from the refrigerator case. It’s not authentic to either country, but because it is such a lean, high quality product, it worked wonderfully—probably better than the real thing! If using a product like this, there’s no need to remove the casing.

Serves 6

Skillet cornbread (recipe follows)
1 Tbs. canola oil
5 oz. Spanish chorizo, casing removed and sausage chopped
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
3 celery ribs, coarsely chopped (2 to 2 1/2 cups)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbs. chopped garlic
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and coat a 2 to 3-quart shallow baking dish with cooking spray. Cut the cornbread into approximately 1/2-inch pieces and spread them out in a single layer on 2 sheet pans with sides. Bake for about 20 minutes, or bread is dried out, switching positions of the pans and tossing the bread about halfway through. Cool and transfer to a large bowl.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chorizo and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add onions and celery, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and oregano and cook 2 minutes more. Add to cornbread.

Whisk together broth and egg, then pour over cornbread mixture and toss well. Transfer to baking dish. Coat a piece of foil with nonstick spray and cover baking dish tightly. Bake in upper third of oven for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake until top is golden, about 15 minutes more. Stuffing mixture may be prepared up to 1 day ahead; add broth and egg just before baking.

Skillet Cornbread
Adapted from Gourmet magazine (original)

If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can still make your own cornbread, but it won’t have the same crispy, browned edges. Just melt the butter in the microwave and bake the bread in a buttered pie plate.

1 1/2 cups stone ground yellow cornmeal, preferably medium-grind
1 tbs. sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups cups well-shaken buttermilk (do not use powdered)
3 Tbs. unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and heat a 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven for 10 minutes.

Whisk together the cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and buttermilk.

Take the hot skillet out of the oven (careful, handle is HOT) and add the butter. Return to the oven until butter melts. It may brown a little, but watch closely so it doesn’t burn. Remove the skillet from the oven, swirl the skillet to coat the sides with butter, and pour the excess butter into the egg mixture. Whisk well.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently stir them just until combined. Pour into the hot skillet and return to the oven. Bake 20 to 24 minutes, or until light golden brown spots appear on top and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack, then remove cornbread from skillet.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Ginger

I had a two-day Thanksgiving feast this past weekend. I'm going to celebrate the actual holiday in Connecticut with family, but since Thanksgiving food is so fun to cook (and eat), I like to do a meal for me and Mike. That way, I get to try out whatever recipes I want, and we get to have our own leftovers!

Of course, having this blog is also great motivation to do a Thanksgiving trial run. In the next week, I'll post all the recipes I tried this weekend. One fabulous cornbread stuffing recipe came straight from Gourmet magazine and another was an online find, but the rest are originals. Everything we made was delicious, and I'm glad I decided to go all-new, rather than repeating any old favorites (like this chestnut stuffing).


The first one I'm posting is this cranberry sauce that I put together after reading many other cranberry sauce recipes. None were quite what I wanted. This uses slightly less sugar than the norm, but it's not at all too tart. The sweetness gets balanced out by the savory flavors of diced jalapenos and garam masala. The prominent flavor of fresh ginger is fantastic and completes the slightly Indian vibe.

I'm not sure which recipe from the weekend is my favorite, but I have to say that we loved this cranberry sauce. It's my favorite ever. Mike said it was "really interesting," and he meant that as a big compliment--which I loved! It's also great on sandwiches or, honestly, just eaten with a spoon.

Cranberry Sauce with Pears and Ginger

The spice of the fresh ginger is the big flavor in this not too sweet cranberry sauce. If you don't like the taste of fresh ginger, use half the amount. Garam masala is a mild Indian spice blend that you can find at ethnic markets and large supermarkets. This is a quick recipe, but it requires 3 hours of chilling time (you can always speed things up with the freezer though).

12 oz. fresh or frozen defrosted cranberries
1 pear, cored and chopped into 1/3-inch pieces
1 Tbs. finely minced fresh ginger
2 small jalapeno chiles, seeded and finely diced
1/4 cup water
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime (about 1 Tbs.)
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. garam masala
1/4 tsp. salt

Add all ingredients to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook 7 to 9 minutes, or until cranberries pop, pears soften and mixture thickens. Stir often to prevent sticking on the bottom of the pan. Transfer to a serving dish or storage container and chill uncovered for 3 hours. May be made up to 2 days ahead; cover after 3 hours. Serve chilled.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Coconut Cake with 7-Minute Frosting

I've been wanting to make a coconut cake for Mike's birthday for a few years now. But in the recent past, he's asked for German chocolate and carrot cake. They both contain coconut, but that does not put them under the category of "coconut cake." Not even a little bit.

So this year, Mike said a straight-up coconut cake would do, and I knew exactly where to turn for a recipe. All I wanted was a great cake - light, moist texture; two layers; filling; and good frosting. With no designs whatsoever on reinventing the wheel, I knew I'd use a recipe I pulled out of Good Housekeeping magazine a few months ago. The issue had Paula Deen on the cover, and inside she was noshing merrily on this cake. If it was good enough for her, I figured I couldn't go wrong.

Then, the funniest thing happened. One of my regular blog reads, Cookie Madness, posted an easy coconut cake that was rated very highly by Anna, who I believe more than the things I read in Good Housekeeping (no offense to GH, but you know...). So I decided to make her recipe, which she sourced from recipezaar.com, instead. But, before I baked, I took a quick look at the Paula Deen recipe to see how they differed. Want to guess what happened? They were exactly the same. Now I had a cake with glowing endorsements from all fronts.

This is a great cake. It's easy. I will never tell you to crack your own coconut in the interest of purity, and neither does this recipe. Simple canned coconut milk flavors the cake. A tangy filling made from sour cream, sugar and shredded coconut adds an interesting tangy note. And finally, there's the 7-minute icing. This is an old recipe. I don't know its origins, but it's the one that's kind of like marshmallow fluff, only better. There's no butter - just sugar and egg whites - so it's not as dense with fat and calories as buttercream.

I followed Anna's version of the recipe, which she cut in half to fit 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Paula's version is for 3 (9-inch) pans, and I had no interest in having that much cake in my house (plus, I only have 2 cake pans). Here is Paula's full recipe on the Food Network site, if you do want that much cake (nothing wrong with that). And here's the 7-minute frosting.

As I said, Anna baked her cake in 2 8-inch pans, and that's the ideal size. I thought I could get away with my 2 9-inch pans and just have thinner layers. Once I made the batter, however, I knew it was not enough to respectably fill both pans (and I'd already buttered and floured them, darn it!). So, I just poured all the batter in one pan, baked a little longer and cut the cake in half horizontally with a large serrated knife. I had never performed this cake operation before, but it was wonderfully easy. Just like the rest of the cake.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Easy Sweet and Sour Cocktail Meatballs


Finally, I have a semi-sensical reason to post this meatball recipe! I actually made these ridiculously easy, totally delicious sweet and sour cocktail meatballs when the Super Bowl was on. It would have been nice to post about them before the game, but since that did not happen, I was waiting for one of those occasions when people are looking for easy appetizers to serve—like Memorial Day.

I’m heading off to Key West (we’ve live in Fort Lauderdale for almost 4 years and never been!) this weekend for scuba diving, pie (!) and absolutely no work issues to worry about—and maybe a Margarita, you know if the spirit moves me. But, if you’re having a party or a cook out and want to add a little more meat to menu, this one’s for you. It took me forever to find a recipe for sweet and sour meatballs because I was searching for Swedish meatballs and wondering why all the recipes I found were not at all what I had in mind. For some reason, I thought Swedish and sweet and sour were the same thing, but alas, no.

When I finally located an easy one on Receipezaar.com, I didn’t really care that it did not sound to me like the ultimate meatball recipe—I just liked that it was easy. Well. Despite the fact that these take no weird ingredients and very little time and effort, they are totally delicious and addictive. It’s that secret—or not so secret—ingredient, Heinz chili sauce and a good hit of brown sugar. You don’t have to fuss around frying the meatballs first; just simmer them in the sauce where they become moist and wonderful. You can make this ahead and reheat it anyway you like. Put out a jar of toothpicks and they will disappear faster than Tom Brady’s dreams of a perfect season.

Sweet and Sour Cocktail Meatballs
I adapted this recipe from one on Recipezaar.com. It called for garlic powder, which I don’t like and don’t have, so we seasoned our meatballs like we tend to season basic burgers. You can use just salt and pepper; adobo seasoning; chili powder or cayenne pepper; or a few pinches of dried herbs. We cooked a tiny bit of meat in a skillet to check our seasoning. I recommend this easy extra step, so you can go forward with the confidence that your big batch of meatballs is going to be perfectly seasoned. I haven't tried these with turkey, but I think it would work well, and the cooking method would keep the meat pleasantly moist.

1 lb lean ground beef
1 tsp. onion powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 egg
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (seasoned or unseasoned)
12 ounces chili sauce (such as Heinz)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Combine beef, seasonings, egg and breadcrumbs. Cook a small patty to check seasoning and adjust if needed. Form into small meatballs.

Pour the chili sauce into a large, heavy skillet or saucepan; fill the chili sauce bottle with water, shake well and add to skillet. Add the brown sugar and lemon juice; bring to a simmer.

Add the meatballs to the sauce; cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until cooked through. If you leave them on longer, it’s okay. Transfer to a bowl and serve right away or cover and chill and reheat in the microwave.


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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Derby Day Brownies with Bourbon-Soaked Raisins

Let me start by saying that putting raisins in brownies is not something I would normally do. With a few notable exceptions (chocolate dipped strawberries come to mind), I don't usually like chocolate and fruit together. When I came across a brownie recipe with raisins that actually sounded appealing, I had to embrace that feeling and give it a try.

I am usually a little late with getting holiday or themed recipes on the blog--for example, I forget St. Patrick's Day was right around the corner and missed my chance to make some green pistachio cookies I wanted to try. Last weekend, Mike mentioned that the Kentucky Derby is coming up on May 3rd, so I made a mental note to blog about an appropriate, preferably bourbon-laced, recipe since the Mint Julep is the official derby drink.

The brownie recipe, from Baking by Dorie Greenspan, called for raisins soaked in dark rum, and right away I thought of switching it up to bourbon. Thus, I could complete a derby-themed recipe and indulge my current preoccupation with brownie-making. As it turned out, you can't really detect the bourbon in the final product, and the raisins--while a nice change of pace--were a little distracting to both me and Mike (despite the handful of semisweet chips I sprinkled on top because I felt a need to balance the fruit with even more chocolate). The raisins sort of got in the way of an otherwise really great brownie. On the other hand, if you like chocolate and dried fruit, you'll really like this.

The recipe produces a thick, moist (but not wet), fudgy brownie. I used fine quality bittersweet chocolate (Lindt 70%), as specified; great chocolate makes a great brownie. I also liked the addition of cinnamon in this recipe, and I raised the quantity to 1/4 teaspoon, which created a slightly spicy, but not overpowering, flavor that gives these brownies added interest. This is a nice recipe, so if you want to go with a derby theme sans raisins, just skip that part, tip in a shot of bourbon and you're good to go!

Fudgy Brownies with Bourbon-Soaked Raisins
Adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan

This recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate, so I would look for something with a 65 to 75% cocoa content. I love cinnamon and always have a fresh, potent Vietnamese variety on hand (Spice Islands found in most supermarkets makes a good one); if your cinnamon isn't very strong or past its prime, add a little extra or replenish your supply.

Makes 16 brownies

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
1/3 cup raisins
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish, line with foil and butter foil; or use nonstick foil and skip the butter.

Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and microwave on medium power for 1 minute; stir thoroughly. Microwave again for 15 to 20 seconds and stir. Repeat, if necessary, until chocolate is just melted (don't let it get too hot and watch it closely to avoid burning). Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine raisins, water and bourbon; bring to a simmer and cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, salt and cinnamon.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs and sugar and beat on medium speed until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Add chocolate mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. Add flour mixture and beat on low speed for 30 seconds (flour won't be completely incorporated). Finish mixing in the flour by hand with a rubber spatula. Fold in the raisins along with any liquid in the saucepan. Scrape the batter into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the top and press slightly into the batter with a flat hand.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes (mine took 57 minutes), or until top is dry and crackled and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean (a few moist crumbs is good; wet means it's not done yet). Cool on a wire rack. Use the edges of the foil as handles and lift brownies out of baking pan. Transfer to a cutting board and cool completely (alternatively, refrigerating brownies makes them easy to cut if you don't mind chilling them). Cut into 16 squares.



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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Thai Fried Hardboiled Eggs

If you still have hardboiled eggs leftover from Easter, here’s the perfect way to save them from neglect. It’s not complicated, but it’s so different that you’ve got to try it!

This is a recipe from a Thai cookbook I bought when we were over there. It's one of those things where we looked at the picture and said, “Hmm, deep fried eggs…how can that be bad?” We made them as a snack on Easter, and if we had fried more than just 4 eggs, we would have eaten them all.

They taste just like regular hardboiled eggs - no oil gets inside - except with a warm, crispy outer layer. The cookbook called for a sauce made with tamarind pulp. All I had was tamarind concentrate, which I use in my pad Thai, so I improvised a dip with that, sugar and a splash of fish sauce. I really think any Asian dipping sauce you like would work with these – there are so many ready made sauces you can buy, or whipping one up yourself is just as easy. Tamarind has a very sharp, sour, and citrusy flavor, so try aiming for something sweet and tangy. In this picture, you can see the fried crust better...

Our whole Easter (except dessert, but I'll get to that later) had a Asian theme. While we had the pot full of hot oil going, we decided to make some coconut shrimp (actually, those were all Mike)...

There may have also been some shrimp and pork wontons, but there is no photographic evidence of alleged wontons.

And for breakfast, we had kimchi and rice bowls with eggs. This is our new favorite thing. The Asian grocery store we've been frequenting lately seems to be Korean-owned because they sell huge jars of this fantastic, fresh (as fresh as a condiment made of fermented cabbage could be) kimchi. It's got a good heat level, but not too much for me, and the cabbage is just a little crisp. I love it, and I think Mike could eat it by the pound.

Anyway, I put some in a bowl with brown sushi rice (any rice would be great) and top it with fried eggs - a perfect meal! It was my dinner tonight, actually. So, if you're feeling adventurous, try frying some hardboiled eggs. We did it because we've never seen it before, but it's really good!

Thai Fried Hardboiled Eggs with Tamarind Sauce
Adapted from Authentic Recipes from Thailand by Sven Krauss, Laurent Ganguillet and Vira Sanguanwong

For 4 eggs; make as many as you want.

Canola oil for deep frying
2 large shallots, sliced
4 hardboiled eggs, peeled
chopped cilantro for garnish (optional)

For dipping sauce:
3 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce

Thoroughly combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Taste and adjust flavors to your liking - this is not an exact science. Alternatively, use any sweet/tangy dipping sauce.

Using a deep fry thermometer, heat oil about 3 inches deep in a medium saucepan to 350-360 degrees. Try to maintain this temperature as closely as possible the whole time. Fry the shallots until golden; drain on paper towel.

Fry two eggs, turning once or twice, until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining eggs. Slice eggs in half lengthwise and serve with dipping sauce, shallots and cilantro.

A quick note: Mike and I are going to Boston this weekend to celebrate our 2 year wedding anniversary (it was actually March 19th). So, you probably won't be hearing from me until Tuesday, since I'm crazy with trying to finish up a work project before I go.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Irish Potato Chowder Recipe

I am sneaking in one more St. Patty’s Day-inspired recipe. This is what I made to eat with my Irish Soda Biscuits from the previous post. It is a quick, healthy chowder recipe that I modeled after my Corn and Seafood Chowder.

I spent an inordinate amount of time debating what else I should add to this chowder. I originally conceived it as a “vegetable chowder” instead of just focusing on the potatoes. But, the idea was to have an Irish theme, and it doesn’t get more Irish than tender chunks of russet potatoes. Leeks and scallions provide a vegetal counterpoint to all that wonderful starch; a handful of Irish cheddar adds richness and protein; and bacon just makes it all good.

When I told Mike over the phone about making this chowder for myself on Wednesday (he travels for work every week), he said, “You made chowder without me?” in a sweetly pathetic voice. Well, I have to eat too, don’t I? I didn’t have the heart to tell him about the biscuits until the next day. I did save him plenty of leftovers, which are excellent.

Irish Potato Chowder
You can add anything you want to this simple, healthy chowder. Cut back on potatoes a bit and add carrots, parsnips or sweet potatoes, for example. If you don’t have marjoram, use all thyme.

Serves 3 to 4

5 slices bacon
2 large leeks, trimmed of tough outer leaves, sliced lengthwise and chopped in to 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram
2 tbs. all-purpose flour
2 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups lowfat milk
1 tbs. cornstarch dissolved in 1 tbs. water
2 tsp. white wine vinegar, cider vinegar or lemon juice
1 cup grated Irish cheddar cheese (about 2 ounces)
5 scallions, thinly sliced

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium-low heat. Drain on paper towels, break into pieces and set aside. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat from the pot. Add the leeks and season with salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, thyme and marjoram; cook one minute, stirring constantly. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Add potatoes and give them a few turns to combine. Add the broth and milk, season again, cover and bring to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir in cornstarch mixture to thicken chowder slightly. Stir in vinegar and bacon pieces. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. Ladle in to bowls and serve topped with cheese and scallions.

Kiss me, I'm giving you some great Irish recipes from other blogs:

Skillet Irish Soda Bread from Smitten Kitchen - I wish I had thought of this!
Irish Buttermilk Scones from Albion Cooks - Super-simple and perfect.
Agnes O'Sullivan's Brown Bread from Tea & Cookies - With whole wheat flour, bran and wheat germ.
Irish Lamb Stew with a Twist from Simply Recipes - This recipe amps up the flavor.
Bailey's Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies from Baking Bites - Reminds me of those days when I drank Bailey's with reckless abandon.

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Irish Soda Biscuits and Southeast Asia


Irish Soda Biscuits have absolutely nothing to do with Southeast Asia. But, I do want to tell you about a piece I wrote for NPR.org's Kitchen Window column titled, Food and Longing in Southeast Asia. The story is about how food is essential to an authentic travel experience. AND, there are recipes for Vietnamese Seafood Stew in a Clay Pot, Thai Spicy Shrimp Salad and Greens with Chile and Garlic.

I also did an interview for NPR's food podcast (you can either download it to your MP3 or listen directly from the NPR website). There's a link right at the top of the story. I hope you'll read and listen and let me know what you think!

Well, now. March 17th is right around the corner. The Irish may not have the endless culinary traditions of France, Thailand or Spain, but they've go soda bread. I love the simple whole wheat Irish soda bread based on a recipe from a church cookbook we had when I was a kid. I've mentioned it multiple times, and here's the link again.

This year, I thought about trying a new soda bread recipe. Maybe a jazzier one with raisins, caraway seeds, sugar, multiple eggs...maybe I'd even put it in a loaf pan. But that's not really Irish, ya know? Their food didn't exactly result from living in a land of plenty. The traditional food of Ireland is simple, hearty peasant food, and I'm happy to eat it.

So I decided to adapt my favorite, dead simple recipe to biscuits. I actually didn't change anything but the shape and the baking time, but that's all the change I was up for. These are a perfect companion for soup. And don't forget the sweet Irish butter.

Irish Soda Biscuits

Makes 8 large biscuits

2 c. whole wheat flour (or any combo of whole wheat, whole wheat pastry and Irish style)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 c. buttermilk
2 tablespoons honey
Turbinado or other coarse sugar (granulated works too), for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk and honey. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the flour mixture. Stir until all the flour is moistened.

Scoop dough onto the prepared baking sheet to make 8 (roughly 2 1/2-inch wide) biscuits. Sprinkle sugar over tops of biscuits. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes (mine took 17), until bottoms are light brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer to a rack and cool completely. Serve at room temperature.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cardamom Waffles with Rose Petals

I think cardamom is a sexy spice. The word even rolls off your tongue in a sexy way...despite having the word "mom" in it. This sweet, slightly botanical spice is highlighted in these simple waffles, with only a hint of vanilla to play up the intensely aromatic flavor of the cardamom.

This is a perfect breakfast to celebrate Valentine's Day. It is light, but indulgent; familiar, yet exotic. Since there is just one main flavor note, I like to make it count with freshly ground cardamom. I've become so smitten with this spice that grinding it in my mortar is an absolute pleasure. I like to leave the mortar on the counter instead of washing it right away so I can walk by and smell the scent of cardamom. I may as well just dive into the hyperbole pool here and call it...intoxicating.

This recipe came from the February issue of Gourmet. I wanted to make it as soon as I saw it, but there are only so many opportunities for sweet weekend breakfasts, and things can fall by the wayside. Then I realized that these waffles would be perfect with the rose petal jam I recently bought at Whole Foods Market. I tasted rose petal jam a long time ago when I went to Nice, France. We went to the factory where the jam was made, and I fell in love with the experience of eating something so fragrant you could swear you were simply putting a rose in your mouth. I brought a couple jars home, but I never found the jam again after that.

Doing my Christmas shopping this year, I discovered Zingerman's, the Ann Arbor deli and gourmet food store that carries some truly unique products. They had rose petal preserves, but sold out of it before I could order any for myself. When I saw it at Whole Foods I was thrilled and immediately tried to think of something I could bake to eat it with.

The rose preserves and the cardamom waffles were gorgeous together. I'm a maple syrup girl all the way, but I couldn't stop talking about how much I loved the spiced waffles simply dusted with powdered sugar and a dribble of jam. Gourmet recommended lingonberry preserves and Mike ate his waffles with strawberry (I generously offered him rose jam, but he found it to be a bit of an acquired taste). Any dark fruit preserve (you know, not apricot or peach) will be delicious. The rose preserves I bought are actually available through the company right here...cool!

I figure if you're planning a Valentine's breakfast, you'll be holding out for the weekend when you can relax and enjoy something fabulous. I was so in love with these waffles that it didn't occur to me that they would also be wonderful with champagne...so you can take that under advisement.

Have a sweet Valentine's Day!

Cardamom Sour Cream Waffles
Adapted from this recipe from Gourmet magazine
You can use all AP flour if you want. If you're using regular table salt instead of coarse salt, reduce quantity to a generous 1/4 teaspoon.

Makes 8 waffles

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom (from about 12 pods)
2 large eggs
1 cup lowfat milk
1 cup reduced fat sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
Preserves and powdered sugar for serving

Preheat a waffle iron.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cardamom.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs slightly, then whisk in the milk, sour cream, vanilla, honey and butter. Whisk into the flour mixture until just combined.

Coat the waffle iron with oil or nonstick cooking spray and cook waffles according to manufacturer's directions. Sift powdered sugar over waffles and top with preserves.


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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Super Bowl Snacks: Bacon Brittle and Spiced Nuts

I'm really looking forward to the Superbowl because it's a great excuse to make really fun food. And because I'll get to see Tom Brady crush Eli Manning...yippee!

If you serve even one of these recipes to people on Superbowl Sunday (or any day), they will remember you for throwing the best Superbowl party ever. Serve both and people may not be able to handle all the tastiness--these snacks are unbelievably addictive.

I made them both over the holidays, and the bacon brittle was a surprise stocking stuffer for Mike. I had never made any kind of brittle by myself, but the process went smoothly, and it turned out perfectly. It's pretty well established that a little salt makes sweet things a million times more delicious. When that salt comes in the form of bacon, you've really hit the ultimate expression of the idea. Whatever doubts you might have about this recipe, just banish them and go for it. At the very least, you'll have fun breaking the brittle up with a hammer (in the photo above, the brittle is set, but not yet cracked into shards).

I followed this simple recipe, which was adapted from Obsession with Food. I did however use slightly more bacon, about seven slices. Needless to say, use the best bacon you can find for this recipe. Overly salty, watery stuff will reduce the deliciousness considerably. For planning purposes, note that this brittle stays hard for about 48 hours after you make it, then gets progressively softer.

The spiced nuts are another take on sweet and salty, this time with some fresh rosemary thrown in. I've been making these for years, since I saw the recipe in Nigella Bites. Nigella adapted it from the Union Square Cafe, a great restaurant in New York. When I was there on business a few years ago, that's where I went for dinner the first night because I remembered Sara Moulton talking about it on her old cooking show, and I loved Sara. I think they had bar nuts when I went, but they weren't quite like these.

I love these nuts. Anytime you're having people over, you won't go wrong if you put these out. They are incredible warm, and not really any less incredible after they've cooled. You can make them a day ahead if you want. I tweak the recipe a bit every time I make them, and I always start with different quantities of nuts. You can't really go wrong here if you use fresh rosemary, good salt and a chile seasoning you like. I use standard cayenne pepper, but you can use any ground chile.

If the Superbowl isn't your thing, wouldn't your Valentine love one of these treats? If he's a man who likes meat, you cannot fail with the Bacon Brittle.

Sweet and Spicy Roasted Nuts
Adapted from Nigella Bites
The nuts must be raw because you’re going to do the roasting and salting. My grocery store sells mixed bags of Brazil nuts, walnuts, pecans, cashews and hazelnuts in the produce section. Another good idea is to hit the bulk bins at a natural foods store and make your own mix. If you want more nuts to feed a crowd, scale the quantities up as needed.

Approximately 1 1/2 cups raw mixed nuts
1 tbs. finely chopped fresh rosemary (do not substitute dried)
pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 tbs. dark brown sugar
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
1 1/2 tbs. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet and roast until lightly browned and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Give the tray a shake and turn the larger nuts once or twice during roasting, watching closely so they don’t burn.

Meanwhile, combine the rosemary, cayenne, sugar, salt and butter in a bowl. Add the hot roasted nuts and toss well to coat. Serve warm or cool and store in an airtight container.

Need more snack ideas? Here are a few picks from my archives:

1) Oktoberfest Crostini - great party bites with bratwurst and sauerkraut
2) Catalan Flatbread with Piquillo Peppers, Caramelized Onions and Anchovies - the title is a mouthful, but these appetizer pizzas are really easy to make!
3) Mini Corn Cakes with Guacamole - a great munchie if you're serving chili too.
4) Phyllo Triangles with Lamb, Onions and Pine Nuts - perfect if you want to go a little bit exotic.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Duck Guazzetto and More Links to Holiday Recipes


The last few work days before a big holiday are always torture, and now is no exception! I can’t wait to kick back and revel in some holiday indulgence--not to mention presents. They’ve been taunting me from under our tree for weeks now because Mike is very conscientious about getting presents wrapped early. It’s really cute, actually. Plus, it motivates me to get my wrapping done too, instead of saving it for the last minute, as usual.

One thing that’s really helped us enjoy the whole Christmas season this year is NOT saving all the fun stuff up for the 24th and 25th. Tomorrow, for instance, we plan to open a bottle of Port we got last summer when we did some wine tasting in Los Olivos, California. We always buy Port at Christmas, but in past years we’ve opened it on Christmas day when we’re already stuffed and can’t fully enjoy it. This year, we’re using it to celebrate nothing more than, “Hey, it’s Thursday”. Little things like this really perk up an average weeknight.

When it comes to food, there are so many “special” recipes we want to cook for Christmas, that this year we decided not to pick just one. Last weekend, we made Duck Leg Guazzetto, a dish I think is truly, utterly phenomenal. It’s a recipe by Lidia Bastianich that was published in the January ’07 issue of Gourmet. The homemade, toasted pasta is so easy you’ll think you missed a step (and NO pasta machine is required!). The slow cooked duck legs become fall off the bone tender in a braise flavored with wine, rosemary and whole cloves. You must shave Parmigiano-Reggiano on top, and it’s bliss from there. I posted the recipe and pictures nearly a year ago, but after making it again last weekend, I just had to revisit it on the blog. It would make an incredible centerpiece for an intimate holiday meal.

If you’re still thinking about what to cook for the holidays, whether it’s Christmas Eve, New Year’s or, “Hey, it’s December 28th,” I have some ideas for you. Some appeared on this blog, and some are from other fabulous food blogs.

From Mingling:
Spaghetti Bolognese with Chestnuts: Your favorite meat sauce with a little something special.
Brussels Sprout-Chestnut Tart with Pancetta: "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire..."
Big Italian Meatballs with Creamy Polenta: A meatball that's a meal.
Exotic Rack of Lamb: Sexy, fancy, perfect for holiday.


A duo of elegant vegetarian tarts: Caramelized Onion and Blue Cheese Tart and Swiss Chard Custard Tart with Yeast Crust


And for dessert...

Chewy Chocolate Cookies with Mini Peanut Butter Cups
Cranberry-Almond Crostata: Take advantage of those fresh cranberries in this lovely recipe!
All in One Holiday Bundt Cake: apples, pumpkin, cinnamon, cranberries, maple and pecans (whew!)--all the flavors of the season in one great cake.

From Some of My Favorite Foodies:
A gorgeously seasonal Pomegranate and Spinach Salad from Brilynn of Jumbo Empanadas
An authentic Cassoulet from Veronica's Test Kitchen
Chocolate Macarons with Peppermint Ganache from Anita of Dessert First--I'll be trying my hand at French macarons this weekend with Anita's and Helene's posts as a guide!
The Espresso-Chocolate Shortbread Cookies from Deb of Smitten Kitchen--or any of her other cookies!
The show-stopping Crunchy Chocolate-Chestnut Cake from Ivonne, aka Cream Puffs in Venice
Chestnut and Pear Tart from Dorie Greenspan's blog is another show-stopper. Can you tell I like chestnuts?


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