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, January 11, 2010

Cranberry-Orange Cornmeal Scones

It's been ages since I've made one of my favorite things--scones. I finally resolved to do it yesterday and use up a little bit of buttermilk biding its time in the refrigerator. So within an hour of getting up this morning, I had a warm batch of cranberry-orange scones with a golden color and crunchy texture thanks to a little bit of cornmeal in the dough.

I can't believe it's well into the second week of the new year, and I haven't had anything blog-worthy to post until now. I've made Hoppin' John(no ham hock this time, but plenty of leftover baked ham added at the end), for New Year's of course, and this soup.

My favorite things I've cooked lately have been simple, but absolutely wonderful vegetable dishes, like braised red cabbage, which I'm adding to my permanent repertoire (I used this recipe, minus the bacon, plus dried thyme and chile flakes). Although I've cooked Brussels sprouts multiple ways, I hadn't done a high-heat roasted version with plenty of coarse salt before--the result was so good, it doesn't feel like you could possibly be eating a vegetable. Here are a few recipes to consider if you want to try it.

So now that I've posted these blog-worthy scones, I hope you enjoy them. They're big and satisfying, but not-too-decadent treats made with whole grains, so you can keep any New Year's resolutions you may be working on. Happy New Year and thank you for reading my blog in 2009!

Cranberry-Orange Cornmeal Scones
You can substitute all-purpose or white whole wheat flour for the whole wheat pastry flour. A topping is optional for these scones, but I like a sprinkling of coarse sugar for texture and a little extra sweetness.

Makes 8

1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (234 g)
3/4 cup medium stone ground cornmeal (123 g)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
Zest of 1 medium orange (preferably organic), finely grated
6 Tbs unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
1/3 cup dried cranberries (40 g)
1 egg, for egg wash (optional)
Turbinado or other coarse sugar (such as sanding sugar), for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg and orange zest.

Add the chilled butter cubes to the dry ingredients, toss with your hands briefly to coat the butter and mix with a pastry blender (you can also use your hands or a fork) until the large chunks of butter are broken up and you have a sandy mixture with pea-sized chunks of butter remaining. Pour in the buttermilk mixture and stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in the cranberries.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and quickly knead into a ball. Flatten slightly with your palm to form a thick disk. Sprinkle dough with flour and use a rolling pin to roll the dough into an 8-inch circle, about 1-inch thick. Dust a large knife with flour and cut the dough into 8 wedges. Transfer wedges to the prepared baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. If using, beat the egg with 1 tablespoon water. With a pastry brush, lightly coat tops of scones with egg. Sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake 20 to 24 minutes or until bottoms are light golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Transfer to wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Chive & Goat Cheese Biscuits

Have you planted fresh herbs yet? With Memorial Day weekend just behind us, you still have plenty of time to get going. Every time I snip some mint, rosemary or thyme from the little plants on windowsill, and I feel so satisfied with myself for saving cash on the packaged herbs I'd otherwise be buying from the grocery store.

With the nearly constant warmth and sunshine in Florida, I keep herbs all year round. Some are easier to grow than others, and believe me, I do the bare minimum to keep the poor plants going. Rosemary is the stalwart--nothing could bring that little guy down. My mint, even when I thought I'd taken all it had to give, managed to regenerate anew over several weeks and is now filled out with fresh leaves. I had thyme that grew tangled strands for months, but then was overtaken by miniscule flying pests and quickly capitulated. I've tried basil a couple times, but can't figure out how to stop the icky white bugs that glom onto the lush leaves.

One of the most recent additions to my herb garden are chives. One day, I figured it would be a better value to buy a whole plant for $4 rather than a little pack (of which I'd use a fraction for one or two recipes) for $3. The chives multiplied a few times over and seem so far invulnerable to pests (how these critters get up and into my fifth floor apartment is utterly baffling). Before I bought my plant, I didn't realize all the potential uses I'd find for chives: they add oniony flavor with no aftertaste to omelets, soups, dips and grilled food.

Like many herbs, chives are also a great match for goat cheese. Ever since I made this sweet potato version, Dorie Greenspan's recipe in her book, Baking, has been my go-t0 prototype for biscuits. It's totally uncomplicated, not overburdened with fat, and produces tall, flaky, irresistible results. Other herbs would work here too. Maybe rosemary, thyme, mint or a combination. I want to try a Feta version soon, as well. Although a new twist on this beet soup using carrots and golden beets inspired the biscuits, you could just as easily eat them with a summer salad. If you're contemplating your first herb garden, Ari of Baking and Books recently wrote a fantastic post on how to get started even if you don't have a yard--check it out!

Chive & Goat Cheese Biscuits
Adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan
I used 2 ounces of goat cheese, but I think the recipe could support up to 3 ounces if you're especially crazy about it.

Makes 8 to 9 biscuits

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
1 Tbs. chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and a few grinds of black pepper together in a large bowl. Add the butter and toss to coat it with flour. Using your fingertips (my preference) or a pastry blender, pinch and toss the butter and flour until you have a rough, sandy mixture with some pea-size lumps of butter, some ragged flakes and a variety of odd-shaped bits. Do not over work the butter.

Add the buttermilk and toss gently with a fork until most of the flour is moistened. Add the goat cheese and chives and continue tossing to distribute the cheese and chives. Knead dough inside the bowl 3 or 4 times so that you have a fairly uniform consistency and no dry bits of flour remain. Use a light hand and work the dough as little as possible. 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 2 to 2-1/4 inch 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.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown on the bottom. Serve right away with butter.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sweet Potato Biscuits

I'm still shocked by this, but I think I might like these sweet potato biscuits even more than my favorite cornmeal biscuits that I've made about a dozen times by now. As you'll see, they don't require many ingredients and very little work as far as stamped biscuits go. The sweet potato flavor is mellowed by baking, yet strong and satisfying.

When I make simple, healthy soups, I love--love!--to serve them with a buttery bread. Having a reason to whip up homemade quick bread becomes a major motivation for the soup-making. I had already decided on the celery root soup with Swiss chard from the last post, and started thinking about delicious fresh-baked accompaniments. And from a magazine story I was working on involving Thanksgiving recipes, I happened to have an abundance of whipped sweet potatoes (to serve 10, of course) hanging out in the fridge...

I've been aware of sweet potato biscuits for years, but the opportunity to make them never arose until now. I suspected they might be valued more for the novelty than the taste. I was totally wrong. They are really tasty, and somehow less fussy than my other favorite biscuits. I adapted a recipe from the eminently reliable Dorie Greenspan, so that may have had something to do with it. I used some whole wheat flour and reduced the sugar a bit, to add some substance and cut the sweetness. They are now a permanent part of my biscuit rotation.

Have you ever baked or eaten sweet potato biscuits? If not, try these and report back!

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Adapted from Baking by Dorie Greenspan
Dorie's recipe calls for 2 (15-oz) cans of sweet potatoes in light syrup, drained and mashed. I cook sweet potatoes often and tend to hand leftovers, so that is what I used here. Mine were seasoned rather elaborately with ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cayenne vanilla, salt and pepper plus a bit of coconut milk and chopped pecans...whew. But just salt and pepper would be fine.

Makes 9 to 12

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 Tbs. (packed) brown sugar
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled
1 cup seasoned, mashed sweet potatoes
1 egg, for egg wash (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flours, salt, cinnamon and brown sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter and toss to coat it with flour. Using your fingertips or a pastry blender, pinch and toss the butter and flour until you have a rough, sandy mixture with some pea-size lumps of butter, some ragged flakes and a variety of odd-shaped bits. Do not over work the butter.

Add the sweet potatoes and toss gently with a fork until all the flour is moistened and you have a soft dough. Knead dough inside the bowl 3 or 4 times so that you have a fairly uniform consistency. 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 2 to 2-1/4 inch 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, crack egg into a small bowl, add 1 Tbs. water and beat. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat tops of biscuits with egg wash. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown on the bottom. Transfer to a rack to cool. If you can wait, cool 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Dorie says the sweet potato flavor grows more pronounced, and I agree! Serve with butter.

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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Oat Bran-Banana Muffins with Raisins

Another Thanksgiving weekend is behind us. I hope yours was as much fun as mine! I got to spend it in Connecticut with a big bunch of family and tons of great food. The cranberry sauce with pears and ginger I posted last week turned out great. The pumpkin-cranberry bundt cake I made for the 2nd year running was also would be a good one throughout the holiday season.

Fortunately my holiday travel was a breeze, and I’m back in Fort Lauderdale. Besides going to the gym and doing laundry today, I haven’t done much. But I did make these muffins.

I planned it all out last week. You see, I spotted this recipe on Cheaty Kitchen when I was just clicking around some food blogs, and immediately realized it was the perfect answer to a problem. I had exactly 3 too-ripe-to-eat bananas, and as time passed I feared they would go to waste. When I realized I not only had the 3 bananas the muffins called for, but also every other ingredient, I got baking!

I liked them so much, I bought more bananas before I took off for the holiday so they would get nice and black while I was away. If you’re in the same boat after your Thanksgiving travels (or just bought too many bananas), give these a try. They’re really quick, so it’s no problem to do them in the morning. They are also very healthy, full of whole grains and no processed sugars. But don’t even worry about that—they’re just really tasty. The bananas and canola oil make them moist and the just-right level of sweetness comes from raisins and maple syrup. The whole grains make them hearty and dense. If you use non-dairy milk, they are vegan. If you’re feeling like me, a healthy homemade goodie should be just perfect right now.

Oat Bran-Banana Muffins with Raisins
Adapted from Cheaty Kitchen. Original recipe from Nutrilicious by Edith Rothschild

These are vegan if you use soy, rice or almond milk. Once these muffins are completely cool, they freeze very well. Defrost at room temperature for an hour and a half or so.

Makes 12 muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup oat bran
2 Tbs. ground flax
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup raisins
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup milk (regular or soy)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
sunflower seed, for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fill a standard muffin pan with 12 paper liners, or coat with butter or cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oat bran, flax, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the raisins.

In another bowl, whisk together the bananas milk, canola oil and syrup. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until no more dry bits remain. Scoop batter into the muffin pan, and sprinkle sunflower seeds over muffins. Bake 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean and sides of muffins are golden. Cool in pan for a few minutes, then transfer muffins to a rack and cool completely.

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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 03, 2008

Favorite Things: Blueberry-Cornmeal Pancakes

These are my favorite pancakes. While plain-jane buttermilk pancakes are okay, I really love them with just about any embellishment--fruit, whole grains, ricotta, citrus. But these are the absolute best. The recipe is simple, with buttermilk, stone ground cornmeal, whole wheat flour, lemon zest and a smattering of blueberries. Maple syrup is a must.

Like I said, this is a simple recipe. It's your basic buttermilk pancake formula, so to make sure they're as exceptional as they should be, use good stone ground cornmeal, like Bob's Red Mill. The medium grind is just right (this is the stuff I use for cornbread and biscuits, even cake, so buy a bag--it's versatile). Also use buttermilk rather than regular milk or milk soured with lemon juice. The buttermilk has a unique consistency and makes these pancakes, moist, tender and light, not heavy and dense.

Yet another great thing is that you can use frozen blueberries that have been thawed and patted dry. Of course you can use fresh ones too, but I love making these any time of year. Those are all the tips I can possibly offer--the rest is easy!

I did celebrate my birthday last weekend, by the way, but I decided to forgo a big, gooey cake and save myself for next weekend. We're going to celebrate my 30th with a little trip to New York City and do some serious festing. Skipping the cake worked out well because that left room for pancakes!

Cornmeal-Blueberry Pancakes
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated magazine
I prefer medium ground cornmeal for these pancakes. Whole wheat pastry flour helps with their light texture, but white whole wheat or all-purpose also work well. You can use fresh blueberries when they're in season.

Makes about 16 4-inch pancakes

2 cups frozen blueberries
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups stone ground cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 Tbs. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 lemon
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup water
Cooking spray

Rinse the blueberries in a colander to help them thaw. Spread on a paper towel, pat dry, and set aside to finish drying.

Melt the butter and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg. Finely grate the zest from about three-quarters of the lemon and add to the egg (reserve lemon for another use). Whisk buttermilk, water and melted butter into the egg mixture. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Gently stir until just combined. If mixture is very thick, add 2 to 4 additional tablespoons of water.

Preheat a large skillet on medium-low to medium heat. Coat generously with cooking spray. Pour 1/4-cup portions of batter into skillet, spreading slightly if needed. Dot pancakes with blueberries. Cook until bubbles begin to appear in batter and bottoms of pancakes are golden brown. Flip and cook until opposite sides are golden and pancakes are cooked through. Coat with additional cooking spray for each batch. Serve right away with maple syrup.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008


If you've never had straight out of the oven popovers, you don't know what you're missing. With just eggs, milk, flour, salt and butter, you get big puffs with a crisp exterior and an airy center. Actually, if they work out for you, there isn't much substance in the center--just thinly stretched pieces of the eggy, cream puff-like dough. If you've had gougeres, that's probably the best comparison, but these are airier, thanks to that popping effect.

I used to make them according to a recipe in King Arthur Flour's Baking Companion, which calls for mixing in a blender. This is easy for sure, but the King Arthur bakers recently re-jiggered their recipe and discovered that whisking the batter by hand makes the puffiest popovers. I came across the King Arthur blog describing the results a few days after Mike and I screwed up a batch of popovers by inaccurately halving it and ended up with leaden shells rather than light, crisp puffs.

It was total serendipity that I came across the King Arthur blog on the topic, and we tried them again the next weekend, this time with the correct measurements and the whisking method. Perfect popovers! The picture above looks just like the ones on their blog, where you can see the difference in puffiness with 3 different methods.

But aside from all the little details of my popover adventures, I just want to make one thing clear--you have to try these sometime! Sure you could make homemade dinner rolls with yeast and hours of rising time and kneading and shaping. Or you could just whisk together 5 ingredients and get a really delicious accompaniment to your meal. I love these as a starch with steak and salad or fish and roasted veggies. And plan for 2 or 3 popovers per person--they are very easy to eat (with butter, naturally).

The only thing to consider is coordinating the rest of the meal so you don't have to open the oven more than once (quickly) while they cook. It helps the popovers reach their fullest potential. Otherwise, there aren't many simpler ways to make a dinner feel special. After all the great fall cooking ideas you guys suggested in the comments for my last giveaway, I figured I should contribute something too!

I'm linking to the popover recipe on King Arthur's website. I followed it as written, but was just a little heavy-handed with the salt--as I tend to be when baking. They specify King Arthur flour in the recipe, but I used another brand and it worked great (but I do generally recommend all the KA flours).

I'm going to do another cookbook giveaway this week, so stay tuned! Remember, you can always sign up to receive new post delivered to your email box, so you won't miss anything. Just type your email address in the box below my picture in the left sidebar.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Favorite Things: Cornmeal Biscuits

This is one of my favorite recipes. I've been making it for less than a year or so, but every time I want a bread-y thing to go with soup or stew, this is what I crave the most. It gets annoying because I'd like to try other biscuits and breads, but I just like these so much! Consistency also comes into play-- they turn out perfectly every time I make them.

I have mentioned these cornmeal biscuits as an aside in other posts and sent you to the original recipe from Cooking Light magazine. I'm tired of looking for that link and mentally dividing the recipe in half whenever I make them, so I decided they deserved their own post at last. You may notice that the CL recipe should yield 24 biscuits. When I halve the recipe, I've never get more than 9, despite rolling the dough as indicated and using the same size biscuit cutter. By the way, the iris in my photo is apropos of nothing; but I happened to have some lovely flowers and wanted to jazz up the shot.

The original recipe calls for half all-purpose and half whole wheat flour. I use only my trusty whole wheat pastry flour instead. It provides a tender, small crumb and is easier than using two different flours. I think white whole wheat flour would work too, if that's what you have at home. Of course, simple all-purpose flour is acceptable, but then you would miss out on all the nutrients and fiber that make these biscuits healthy while satisfying even the most intense carb craving.

There aren't too many other ingredients to discuss here. The recipe is incredibly simple, but the results are outstanding. For the cornmeal, use 100% whole grain stone ground varieties, NOT a generic, "enriched" supermarket cornmeal product. It doesn't have to be an expensive, boutique brand; just an unprocessed, whole food. Well-stocked supermarkets will carry it, but you may need to visit a health food store. Three great brands are Bob's Red Mill (I'm currently using their medium grind), Hodgson Mill and Arrowhead Mills.

Sorry about being so bossy there, but without good ingredients, a simple recipe like this just won't fly. I almost forgot about butter. If you can eat these without a generous pat of good butter, you're a better person than I.

Cornmeal Biscuits
Adapted from this recipe in Cooking Light magazine
For the whole wheat pastry flour, you may substitute: white whole wheat, all-purpose, or half all-purpose and half whole wheat.

Makes 9

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (9 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup stone ground cornmeal (2 1/2 ounces), medium or fine grind
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Scant 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
1 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, mix the poppy and sesame seeds and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder and salt; whisk thoroughly. Add the chilled butter and work it into the flour mixture with your fingers for a minute or two until a few small chunks and plenty of shaggy bits remain.

Add the buttermilk to the bowl and stir just until the flour mixture is moistened; do not over mix. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface, knead once or twice with floured hands and shape into a ball. Flatten the ball of dough slightly, sprinkle with flour and use a rolling pin to roll dough into a 3/4- to 1-inch thick disk. With a 2 1/2-inch cutter, stamp out biscuits, dipping cutter into flour each time. Transfer biscuits to baking sheet. Quickly roll remaining dough into a new disk and stamp out more biscuits, flouring the cutter each time. Repeat until you've used up all the dough.

Lightly brush biscuits with egg white and sprinkle with seed mixture. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until bottoms are deep golden brown. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes, transfer to rack and cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. These freeze exceptionally well; defrost at room temperature.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How to Make Scones

First off, welcome to anyone who's visiting for the first time from NPR's website. Hopefully, you'll stay and snoop around the archives. Well, I took my first shot at cooking on camera! I've been wanting to try this out for awhile now, and doing a story on quick breads for's Kitchen Window column finally motivated me to do it.

Technique is important when it comes to a simple recipe like this one for healthy oat scones with fruit and nuts. Without gobs of butter and heaps of sugar to soften the focus on any baking errors, good technique is what ensures great taste and pleasing texture. Working gently and quickly is the key, and that's what I demonstrate in the clip.

Go to to get the recipe for Oat Scones with Dried Cherries and Walnuts and read my article titled, Breakfast Baking: Better Fast Food, which also includes recipes for Banana-Raspberry Muffins with Almonds and Mango Colada muffins. I love all the recipes (good thing since I have a freezer full of test batches), but I have to confess that the Mango muffins are my current favorite.

And finally, I must give credit and huge thanks to my husband, Mike, who shot this clip. Please don't tell him that this video has gotten over 300 views on YouTube as of 2pm EST or I think I'm going to have the next Gus Van Sant on my hands (not Good Will Hunting Van Sant, but Paranoid Park Van Sant). Really though, I could not have made it without his patience and organization. Wow, that turned into a bad Oscar speech...cue the orchestra and enjoy the clip!

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Lemon Buttermilk Scones with Currants

I found a great scone recipe last week. I had a craving for lemon scones, or more specifically for that bright, fruity flavor you get when you pack a scone or a pancake with citrus zest. I had buttermilk on hand from making yet another batch of these whole wheat-cornmeal biscuits (mentioned in this post), which I'm absolutely addicted to. I often find myself throwing away buttermilk that's past it's expiration date, so if I can at least make two recipes with it before it spoils, I'm happy.

I set out to find a lemon scone recipe with buttermilk (as opposed to cream or regular milk), and this one, previously published in Sunset magazine perfectly fit the bill. Plus it called for dried currants which I really like and also had on hand. You could just as easily use raisins since currants can be hard to find outside the holiday season. I also think these scones would be wonderful with dried blueberries. And what about doing an orange-cranberry version?

The texture of the scones is moist and dense (which I like) and not too sweet (which I also like). The lemon glaze is a little tart, but so good. As usual, I made a few changes to the original recipe, mainly substituting whole wheat pastry flour for all-purpose. I also hear that the various white whole wheat flours now available (King Arthur and Eagle brand make versions) do really well in scone and cookie recipes, though I haven't tried them myself.

One last note on flour: I love to measure my flour by weight using a kitchen scale. It's so fast and easy, plus there's no futzing with measuring cups. However, I've had a few not-so-great experiences with too-flat cookies and scones lately, and the source of the problem finally dawned on me--most recipes are tested by spooning flour into a measuring cup and leveling it with a knife. This method results in a greater quantity of flour than if you measure by weight according to the label on the package where 1/4 cup equals 30 grams. When I went back to spooning and leveling for this recipe and another cookie recipe I tested last week, I had excellent results. The lesson is that you have to prepare a recipe the same way that it was made during testing. But, so I don't have to throw out my beloved scale, I'm going to take the weight of a spooned and leveled cup of flour and use that from now on.

Lemon Buttermilk Scones with Currants
Adapted from this recipe, originally published in Sunset magazine

A note on equipment: When I make cookies, I like using insulated or "double layer" baking sheets, which allow are to circulate below the cooking surface, between the two layers (one brand name is "Air Bake"), so the bottoms of cookies don't brown too quickly. BUT, when it comes to scones, a regular, heavy baking sheet works best and allows for even browning and baking. If you don't have whole wheat pastry flour, substitute all-purpose. Regular whole wheat flour will result in a strong wheaty flavor and heavier scone, so I'd advise against using it.

2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks and chilled
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
1 large egg
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1/3 cup dried currants
2/3 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda to the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to blend. Add the cold butter chunks and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal with a few larger chunks. You can also do this in a large mixing bowl with a pastry blender and/or your hands.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg, buttermilk and lemon zest until blended. Add the flour mixture and the currants to the egg mixture and stir just until thoroughly moistened. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a ball. Pat or roll the dough out into an 8-inch circle, about 1-inch thick. With a sharp, floured knife (flouring the knife before each cut prevents smashing the flaky layers when cutting), cut the dough into 8 wedges and place on prepared baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 20 to 24 minutes, or until scones are lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean.

Let scones cool on pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Place parchment paper under cooling rack to catch icing drips. Combine the powdered sugar and lemon juice to make a glaze. Drizzle over scones with a spoon while still warm. Allow icing to set and serve. These scones freeze very well; defrost, covered, at room temperature.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Carrot Curry Soup and Cornmeal Biscuits

I’ve always been one to favor chunky soups over smooth, creamy purees. Probably because I was afraid the purees contained an unholy amount of actual cream. I’ve recently figured out that this is not the case. Simply pureeing vegetables will give you a thick, satisfying texture with little or no cream.

I’ll just say up front that I love this carrot soup. It is so thick, rich and loaded with curry flavor. It is mostly made of carrots (shocking, I know) simmered with cumin seeds, red curry powder and some potatoes, which provide extra body and creaminess. Once all your veggies are peeled, it’s really easy, too.

I started with a carrot soup recipe from Once Upon a Tart, a cookbook I really like (and have used mostly for scone recipes and this soup). I opted for coconut milk (reduced fat works fine) to give the soup just a little extra creamy oomph and some more Asian flavor. I honestly thought I would need to punch up the seasoning at the end, but the curry and cumin flavor is perfectly assertive and balanced.

Soup demands bread, rolls or biscuits on the side, so I made these cornmeal biscuits from Cooking Light. For a lighter recipe, they worked really well AND you can make them easily in one bowl; you don’t have to bother with a pastry blender either, just work the very cold butter in with your fingers. The only change I made was to use all whole wheat pastry flour instead of half AP, half whole wheat. Also, they needed a good 4 or 5 extra minutes in the oven.

If you’re celebrating Easter today, have fun! I think I’ve made lamb for the past 3 or 4 years, but today we’re cooking all Asian food. As has been customary for the past 3 years, we were awakened at 6:30am by some lunatic in our building who plays Christian rock CD’s excessively loudly (penetrating ear plugs loud) once a year on this day…awesome. And by that I mean, not awesome.

Carrot Curry Soup
Adapted from Once Upon a Tart by Frank Mentesana and Jerome Audureau

I like the flavor and medium-spicy heat level of Spice Islands red curry powder. If you have a very spicy curry powder, use the lower amount.

Serves 4 to 6

1/2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large white onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine (about 2 tablespoons)
1 generous teaspoon cumin seeds
2 to 3 teaspoons red curry powder
2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and chopped (about 2 small)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus up to 1 cup additional for thinning soup
1 (14 oz.) can coconut milk (lowfat or regular), divided
2 fat lime wedges, plus additional for serving
chopped cilantro, for garnish

Heat the butter and oil in a large soup pot over medium-low heat; add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until very soft and lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the ginger, cumin seeds and curry powder; cook for about 3 more minutes, stirring continuously. Add the carrots and potatoes; stir for 2 minutes. Add 3 cups of the chicken broth and 1 cup of the coconut milk. Season again with salt and pepper, as desired. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer and cooked, covered, until carrot and potato is very soft, 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove from heat and use a hand-held immersion blender to puree soup. You can also do this in batches in a blender. You should have a very thick consistency. Return to low heat and add the remaining coconut milk, reserving about 3 tablespoons for garnish. Add up to 1 additional cup of chicken broth to get the consistency you want. Squeeze in the juice from the 2 lime wedges. Taste and add more salt and pepper or lime juice as needed.

Ladle into bowls and drizzle with coconut milk in a swirl pattern. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with lime wedges.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

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'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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Friday, February 15, 2008

The Cornbread Gospels Review and Almond-Herb Biscuits

I’ve never been a big fan of the single-subject cookbook. That is probably because I’ve never encountered one that totally charmed me like The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon, author of Passionate Vegetarian. What makes great single-subject cookbooks is a passion – or more accurately, an obsession – with your subject. If you can transfer that passion to your readers, you’re well on your way to a successful cookbook.

Dragonwagon makes such a case for cornbread and the people who make it, I wondered why I was never aware of its “specialness” before. Cornbread tells the story of America beginning with Native Americans who viewed corn as the foundation of life. It also tells the story of how people lived in different regions of the country, especially the Northeast and the South.

Dragonwagon spins the histories of cornbread with an engaging tone and unravels the associations and references to cornbread in folklore, music and literature. She also does an excellent job of setting things straight, like the differences – sometimes absolute, often with shades of gray – between northern and southern cornbread. In the south, cornbread was and often still is a “daily bread,” simple and healthful enough to eat regularly. And traditional southern cornbread isn’t sweet, while in the northeast, cornbread was a specialty baked good or a “sometime food,” as they’d say on Sesame Street.

The book is organized in a way that I’ve never had trouble finding the types of recipes I’m looking for. The first three chapters are on basic cornbreads by region: Southern, Northern and Southwestern. Next is an intriguing chapter on Global Cornbreads covering arepas, roti and other variations from Africa, Greece and more. Then there are several chapters on the other types of cornmeal-based foods: Babycakes includes muffins (I can't wait to try DK's Banana-Ginger Corn Muffins and High Desert Blue Corn Muffins with Sage and Toasted Pine Nuts), biscuits and other little things; Yeasted Cornbreads includes recipes for Herb-Scented Whole Wheat Cornbread and Glazed Maple Cornmeal Rolls; Soulful Spoonbreads is all about puddings and soufflé-type dishes; Both Sides Now is mostly pancakes and other griddled goodies like George Washington’s Favorite Corn Cakes, “Last Rows of Summer” Waffles and Newport County-Style Thin and Lacy Jonnycakes; finally, Crisped Cornbreads covers fried things like Hush Puppies and Fritters.

Every recipe has an introduction that not only describes very adequately what type – indulgent, healthy, heavy, light – of cornbread you're going to get, but reveals the source or history of the recipe, often in very personal terms. A good chunk of the recipes in the book were handed to or dictated to the author from friends and acquaintances who were only to happy to share “their cornbread.” The Southern chapter, for instance, has many recipes named after their source. Many of these recipes are similar save for a small but often critical variation; cornbread is such simple food that a small change like adding a tablespoon of sugar makes a difference.

Simplicity also requires good technique. Truman Capote’s Family’s Cornbread suffered from my lapse in common sense. It took no time to assemble the recipe, and while I was waiting for my oven to heat, my eggs must have separated from the other wet ingredients; not giving them a good whisk before combining with the wet ingredients resulted in a funky layer of egg in my cornbread. Having learned my lesson, Ronni’s Appalachian Cornbread, very similar to Truman's and basic – no flour, no sugar, 1 egg – was perfect right out of the oven, the ideal daily bread.

From the Global chapter, I tried Pan de Elote or Real Mexican Pan Cornbread, a very light, savory bread that formed a custardy layer on the bottom of the pie pan—delicious.

Dragonwagon’s recipes are easy to follow and don't skimp on useful details. She takes the pressure off by letting you know what substitutions work and which ones are not okay. She’s adamant about using stone ground cornmeal for its truer flavor and natural quality as opposed to “enriched” (read: heavily processed) versions that you’ll find in any supermarket. I am able to find a lot of “southern” ingredients in Florida, but my grocery store only had processed cornmeal - sad. Luckily, a natural food store like Whole Foods has plenty of natural options.

The last recipe I tried was sort of “fancy:” Savory Almond Herb Biscuits. I absolutely loved these – simple drop biscuits full of flavor from toasted almonds, sautéed onion and garlic and fresh herbs. There are so many recipes I’ve bookmarked, and I haven’t even gotten to the extensive section of Great Cornbread Go-Withs, full of vegetable dishes, beans and soups that make a happy pairing with cornbread; not the mention the Sweet Somethings with recipes that will please fans of bread pudding. One final note: if you’re set on buying this cookbook, make sure you have a cast iron skillet to prepare all those fabulous southern cornbreads as they were meant to be.

Savory Almond Herb Biscuits
Adapted from The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon
You can use all AP flour instead of the whole wheat pastry flour. Lacking buttermilk, I used Dragonwagon’s suggestion for a substitution: thin some all-natural plain yogurt with water until it’s the consistency of thick buttermilk. It worked perfectly.

Makes 12

1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted in a heavy skillet (toasting is essential) and coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, divided use
1 small onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup stone ground cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cup buttermilk or thinned plain yogurt
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
1 generous tablespoon assorted fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary or sage (I used mostly rosemary)

Preaheat oven to 450 degrees. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Heat a heavy skillet (same one you toasted the almonds in) to medium. Add a scant tablespoon of the butter, then add the onion, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for 2 minutes more and set aside.

Combine the cornmeal, flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Cut the remaining butter into the flour mixture or quickly blend with your hands until the mixture is all shaggy bits and fine crumbs.

Scrape all the onion and garlic into the flour mixture. Add the buttermilk and stir just to combine, stopping when there are still a few dry clumps. Stir in the almonds and herbs, seeing that all the dry bits are moistened.

Drop the batter by scant 1/4-cupfuls onto the baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden on the bottom. Serve right away with butter.

I received this book as a review copy.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Meyer Lemon Muffins

There is no shortage of sunshine in Florida this time of year, but there has been a sad lack of Meyer lemons. I may have been able to go to the beach and get a tan, but I was missing my little ray of culinary sunshine until now.

A few weeks ago, Whole Foods Market finally had a few Meyer lemons in stock, but they were sorry little specimens. The thin, sweet peels were so blemished they wouldn’t have been much use in a tart or scone recipe. Depressing as it was, I had to pass them up. Then a few days ago, we were shopping at Publix, the dominant Florida supermarket chain. Publix is a decent store, but I sometimes wonder if the lack of supermarket competition in these parts gives them an excuse to let things slide.

Apparently, that’s not the case. I’ve been known to curse the Publix, often vehemently, when they don’t have a certain ingredient or the well-traveled produce doesn’t look so great. When I saw a bin of beautiful Meyer lemons with smooth skin the color of egg yolks, I was singing the supermarket’s praises. They’ve also been delighting us with a lot of great regional beers lately, but that’s another story.

Anyway, I bought three lemons. This was a totally arbitrary number since I didn’t know what I would use them for. But you don’t just pass up the first perfect Meyer lemons of the year. You just don’t.

Being too busy to use them, I watched my lemons nervously for a couple days before I got it together and started googling for recipes. I found these tempting scones, a pudding cake and a soufflé, but it was this muffin recipe from the Los Angeles Times that called out to me. First off, it required exactly three Meyer lemons. Even better, and the thing I find unique, is that these muffins use the whole lemon. Just trim the stem, remove the seeds and chop it up roughly in a food processor or blender.

The flavor you get in the muffins is incredible. There’s no mistaking what’s in there—not pure lemon, but pure Meyer lemon. You can taste the special qualities of the fruit easily—less acidity and lemony sweetness. It’s a really simple recipe with a short ingredient list too. The dainty muffins are buttery, very moist, and dense so they’re quite satisfying. I love the look of the lemon baked on top. If you could ever describe a muffin as utterly juicy, this is it.

Meyer Lemon Muffins
Adapted from this recipe by Donna Deane for the Los Angeles Times
The original recipe instructed you to fill the muffin molds halfway to yield 18 muffins. I did not want my muffins to be so very tiny, and I only own one muffin pan. So, I filled the 12 molds about 3/4 full and discarded the leftover batter. I got normal-sized, but not large muffins, so I think it worked out well. I also thought the amount of sugar was a bit high, so I reduced it to 3/4 cup. This resulted in a mild sweetness level which was good, but I think next time I would go with the full cup of sugar. I also substituted whole wheat pastry flour for half of the AP flour, as I usually do, with good results.

Makes 12 to 18 muffins (see headnote)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup granulated sugar plus 2 tbs., divided
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 Meyer lemons, divided use
2 eggs
1 cup lowfat milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, 1 cup of the sugar, baking soda and salt.

Take 2 of the lemons, trim off the stem end and cut into 1-inch pieces, carefully removing the seeds as you go. Put the pieces in a food processor or blender and process until finely chopped, but not pureed.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the milk, butter and chopped lemon and whisk to combine. Pour the lemon mixture into the flour mixture and stir just until all the ingredients are moistened.

Coat 12 or 18 regular size muffin molds with nonstick spray, butter or paper liners. Fill them 3/4 full for 12 muffins (you’ll have leftover batter) or 1/2 full for 18 muffins. Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle over the muffins. Thinly slice the remaining lemon into 6 or 9 pieces and cut the pieces in half. Place one lemon slice on each muffin, pressing gently. Bake for 22 to 24 minutes for 12 muffins, 20 minutes for 18 muffins. Finished muffins should be light golden on the bottom and sides. Cool for 2 minutes in the pan, then run a butter knife around muffins to loosen and transfer to a rack to cool.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cinnamon Oat Scones

Is everyone having a nice weekend? Good. I can't believe Christmas is nearly here. Christmas on Tuesday works out well--four day weekend! I've already done most of the baking I planned on, and I've bought and wrapped all the presents. Nothing left to do but hang out and have fun.

So, if you're just hanging out like me, here's a great scone recipe for you. I made these a couple weeks ago right after I saw Anna's post. I think I've mentioned that I love scones, and I really love testing new recipes hoping to find that magic combination of basic scone ingredients that makes the perfect moist, buttery treat. When Anna called this the best oat scone ever and said she wouldn't be looking further for oat scone recipes, I was very excited to try it. I don't think she speaks those words lightly. If you need more convincing, it's a Cook's Illustrated recipe, so that means it was tested every which way in the pursuit of oat scone perfection.

If you like scones with oats, this is definitely the ultimate. I can't eat one of these for breakfast without getting up from my computer (I love eating and reading blogs on weekday mornings), finding Mike and exclaiming, "Best scones ever!"

I guess the picture looks pretty basic, but the scones are anything but. Without an insane amount of butter, they are incredibly buttery and moist. I'll also say they're on the sweet side, especially if you use the cinnamon chips. The toasted oats don't make them seem "healthy," but add another dimension of texture and nutty flavor. Seriously, they're melt-in-your-mouth good. The flavor of the oats is also a nice match for whole wheat pastry flour if you like making whole grain scones. I didn't use any white flour, so these awesome scones were also really nutritious.

If you don't have or don't like cinnamon chips, use any add-in you want. There are some suggestions in the recipe headnotes. My grocery store only sells cinnamon chips around the holidays with the seasonal stuff (I have no clue why they're a seasonal item), so if yours is the same way, pick some up and try them in these scones, as well as plenty of other things. King Arthur also sells mini cinnamon chips year round if you're desperate.

You can see Anna's version here. I included the recipe below for convenience, and because I tweaked a few things, like using whole wheat pastry flour. I also cut the amount of butter by a tablespoon just because I ran out of unsalted butter--for shame! I can't think of any more ways to say how yummy these scones are, so I'll just thank Anna for posting about them!

Cinnamon Oat Scones

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated and Cookie Madness
If you don’t have cinnamon chips, use another add-in like raisins, dried currants or chocolate chips. This recipe is a great base for all of them, and would also be good plain. You also might want to switch the cinnamon for ginger or 1 tablespoon of citrus zest. Note that you’ll be raising the oven temperature after toasting the oats.
Makes 8 scones

1 1/2 cups oats, old fashioned or quick (not instant)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry or all-purpose flour, or a combination
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 9 chunks and chilled
1/2 cup half and half
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup cinnamon chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spread the oats on a cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes or until fragrant and lightly browned. Set aside to cool.

Raise oven heat to 450 degrees F.

In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Pulse a few times to combine. Add butter chunks to flour mixture and pulse until mixture is the size of small peas.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, half and half, and vanilla. Spoon out 1 tablespoon and set aside to use for brushing tops.

Add the flour mixture and the oats to cream mixture and stir until almost mixed. Add the cinnamon chips (if using) and continue mixing just until mixture comes together in a ball.

On a lightly floured surface, shape the ball into a 7-inch circle (about 1 inch thick). With a floured knife, cut into 8 wedges, and place wedges 2 inches apart on a non-stick or parchment lined baking sheet. Brush with reserved cream mixture. Bake 14-18 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until scones are lightly browned and cooked through.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Black-Eyed Pea Stew and Creamy Corn Muffins

In my last post, I wrote, if a meal consists of a comforting stew and some homemade biscuits or corn bread, life is good. Well, I wasn't just trying to convince you to make my Seafood-Corn Chowder and Whole Grain Herb Biscuits (which you should!)--I really meant it. This is another meal that proves my theory.

As I was looking at my list of TBB recipes ("to be blogged"), I saw this stew and these easy corn muffins. Both recipes are from October's Cooking Light, and I tried them out a few weeks ago, but am just getting around to posting now. I've been doing a lot of cooking lately, so sometimes things get stuck in the blogging pipeline!

If you've always wanted to cook dried beans instead of popping open a can, here's your chance. It's hardly more work than straining and rinsing canned beans, as long as you allow enough time for your beans to transform from hard and dry to toothsome and creamy. If you haven't cooked dried beans before, you'll have to trust me when I tell you it's totally worth it. I don't hesitate to use canned beans in a lot of situations, but I think they taste better when I cook them myself. Actually, it's probably more of a texture than a flavor thing. Just think of canned corn versus corn freshly trimmed off the cob--both have sweet flavor, but the texture of fresh corn retains that smooth snap even when cooked in a soup or casserole.

I can't believe I just used canned corn as an example above because these tangy corn muffins actually depend on a can of creamed corn for their excellent, moist texture. It goes to show that certain foods are more suitable for some recipes than for others. I wouldn't heat up a can of creamed corn as a side dish, but it's a perfect shortcut to a healthy corn muffin. As much as I love the classic Skillet Corn Bread I usually make to go with a stew like this, the scallions, sour cream, sharp cheddar (and even the creamed corn) in this recipe appealed to me--it's important to try variations on your favorite recipes to keep things fresh, don't you think?

Below is my adaptation of the Black-Eyed Pea Stew recipe. As for the corn muffins, I didn't change a thing (except using whole wheat pastry flour instead of AP), so here is the link to the recipe on Cooking Light's website. I like to make regular size muffins, but the recipe also gives directions for making them in mini muffin tins.

By the way, this Thursday is the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau wines for 2007. I love, these light, fruity, slightly fizzy young red wines from Beaujolais region of France. Though not everyone agrees, I think the best of these wines, made from the Gamay grape, are tasty, fun and easy to drink. Check back here on Thursday for the perfect meal to go with your stash of Nouveau!!

Black-Eyed Pea Stew with Kale

Adapted from Cooking Light
Don't bother slicing the turkey sausage; just squeeze it out of the casing directly into the pot.

Serves 4 to 6

2 cups dried black-eyed peas
1/2 tbs. olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
3 spicy turkey sausages (like Jennie-O Turkey Store brand), casings removed and meat crumbled
4 cups vegetable broth (I like Swanson's)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 dried bay leaves
1 tbs. cider vinegar
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
10-12 oz. bag chopped kale, mustard or collard greens

Rinse beans and pick over. Add to a large pot and fill with water to cover by several inches. Bring to a rapid boil and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse beans.

Heat oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add sausage; cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add vegetable broth, raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Add peas, salt and pepper and bay leaves. Cover and reduce heat; simmer for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in vinegar, tomatoes and greens. Simmer 10 minutes or until beans are tender. Taste for seasoning and serve.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Healthy Seafood-Corn Chowder and Whole Wheat-Herb Biscuits

About a week ago, we could not decide what to eat for dinner to save our lives. The best we could do is decide we wanted fish, maybe salmon. Don’t you hate it when you just don’t know what you feel like eating (and cooking)?

Sometimes when this happens, I try to focus on things that I know will taste great no matter what mood I’m in. For me, if a meal involves biscuits or cornbread, life is good. I really enjoy making these quick breads, and since they go best with warm, comforting soups and stews, you suddenly find yourself with the makings of a delicious meal.

I’ve been wanting to try some biscuit variations after seeing some ideas in the November issue of Food & Wine. I decided to makeover my classic Buttermilk Biscuits with whole wheat flour. I added some herbs and some very good cheese, which is a decadent thing in a biscuit that’s already good and buttery. These biscuits have tons of flavor, and are a very different twist on the classic. I’m going to experiment more with them.

As for the Corn-Seafood Chowder, this was one of those recipes I put together on the fly that turned out even better than I’d hoped for. I remembered making a lighter seafood chowder a couple years ago that really turned out well, despite the omission of heavy cream. I used chicken broth and lowfat milk thickened with just a little bit of cornstarch. the texture is great, there is no raw, floury taste, and I promise this chowder does not have any tell-tale “lowfat” qualities--there's bacon after all. And it cooks in about 30 minutes total because there are no ingredients that require a long simmering time--the shrimp and scallops take just 2 minutes at the end!

Just a quick update on the Cranberry-Almond Crostata: Mike took down the last piece yesterday. This tart holds up just fine if you store it at room temperature, well-covered, for 2 to 3 days. I'm loving cranberries these days! I have a Cranberry-Lemon-Walnut Scone recipe to share soon, and there's a cranberry coffee cake I'm dying to bake!

Healthy Corn and Seafood Chowder
In the past, I’ve found the quality of fresh sea scallops at the supermarket to be somewhat uneven. So we recently started buying frozen sea scallops, and they are consistently delicious and sweet with a firm texture. I like the Whole Foods brand, but try what’s available where you shop--fresh or frozen--and see what you think. A good-quality fresh, dried chile powder is important for this dish because it adds not only flavor, but color. Don’t forget a good fistful of Italian parsley to sprinkle over the finished soup. The crisp, herby flavor is a nice counterpoint to the creamy chowder.

5 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 jalepeno, seeded and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
pinch dried marjoram or oregano
1/4 cup AP flour
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups lowfat milk
1 medium russet potato, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups frozen sweet corn
1 tsp. mild chile powder
2 tsp. corn starch dissolved in 1 tbs. water
1/2 lb. medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
3/4 lb. sea scallops, cut into 2 or 3 pieces each
Fresh parsley for garnish

Cook the bacon in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Transfer to a paper towel, leaving about one tablespoon of fat in the pot. Add the onion and jalapeno, season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes, or until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic, thyme and marjoram and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle the flour over the onion mixture and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring well to combine. Add the chicken broth and milk. Raise the heat to high and cover until the liquid comes to a boil. Add the potatoes and return to boiling. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until potatoes are just tender.

Add the corn, chili powder. Return chowder to a simmer and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Add the shrimp and scallops and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, or until seafood is opaque and cooked through. Stir in the reserved bacon. Serve garnished with fresh parsley.

Whole Wheat Herb Biscuits with Comté
I use a bit of dried thyme to punch up the flavor of the fresh thyme, which is sometimes not as potent as I like. If you don’t have fresh thyme, you can use 1/2 tsp. of dried thyme total. Comte is a French cheese similar to Gruyère. Either one is a great choice, as is Fontina.

Makes about 8 2-inch or 6 3-inch biscuits

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
7 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram
1/3 cup grated Comté or Gruyère cheese

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add the cold butter and work it into the flour using your fingers to break up the chunks of butter into slightly flattened bits. At this point, the dough will still be very powdery and should not come together. Add the buttermilk, all the herbs and the cheese and stir gently with a wooden spoon just until all the flour is dampened. If you still have a lot of excess flour, add a few more drops of buttermilk until you have a barely cohesive, shaggy mass of dough--do not over mix. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat it together with floured hands. Flatten into a thick disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to several hours.

While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the disk of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1⁄2 inch thick. Use a floured metal 2 to 3 inch biscuit cutter to stamp out as many biscuits as you can, dipping the cutter into some flour with each biscuit and placing on the prepared baking sheet. Collect the dough scraps, quickly re-roll and finishing stamping out biscuits. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve immediately with butter.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Buttery Buttermilk Biscuits

This post is all about why you’ll never go to Kentucky Fried Chicken again. If you are reading this blog, there is a good chance you’re not a big KFC fan, but that’s not important. I know my readers love delicious homemade food, from the healthy to the indulgent, so read on because I want you to have both!

You might contend that fried chicken and biscuits falls into the indulgent category, but it doesn’t have to be the antithesis of healthy eating. We made this classic southern meal for the very first time, and it was so good without being particularly difficult, that we plan on doing it again very soon.

I suggested to Mike that we try our hand at this meal because I really wanted an excuse to make homemade buttermilk biscuits. Being a quick bread, they are not very different from one of my favorite obsessions, the scone. The recipe in a recent issue of Food & Wine was incredibly simple, with only four ingredients. I made one small change and mixed the dough with my fingers instead of a pastry blender or other tool.

I recently read in Cook’s Illustrated that this method would help create a biscuit with more flaky layers because the butter would get pinched and flattened by your fingers instead of getting turned into coarse crumbs by a pastry blender or food processor. Since hand mixing is the easiest way to go, and my biscuits had plenty of flaky layers, I definitely recommend it. Keeping the dough cold (so the butter stays solid prior to baking) and using a sharp biscuit cutter that will not smash together the layers you have created, are also important steps.

In a very distant childhood food memory, I recall the KFC buttermilk biscuit being the best part of the meal, but my homemade version beats the memory hands down. They are even better than the Pillsbury biscuits that come in the paper can that pops open. I’ve written up the biscuit recipe today, and I will give you the fried chicken in my Wednesday post, along with some tips to make this meal just healthy enough to have it whenever you get nostalgic for dinner in a bucket, only tastier.

There are quite a few Buttermilk Biscuit lovers in the blogosphere; here are a few recipes:
Accidental Hedonist's Buttermilk Biscuits

The Buttermilk Biscuits on Baking Sheet rise gorgeously high

Orangette’s Buttermilk Biscuits are made with Southern Flour (I don't know what it is, but I think I'd like it)

Mile High Biscuits from Meathenge look especially tasty modeled by Southern Biscuit Barbie

Buttery Buttermilk Biscuits
Adapted from Food & Wine magazine and Natalie Chanin
With so few ingredients, each one should be the best, so use a good quality unsalted butter that you really like. I used Plugra European style that you can find in most supermarkets. Kerrygold Irish butter and Organic Valley butter are two other brands that are delicious and widely available.

Makes 8

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 stick unsalted butter
¾ c. buttermilk

Prep the butter up to several hours ahead. With a floured knife, cut it into ¼ to ½ inch cubes. Spread the cubes out on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Whisk together the flour baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the cold butter, fold into the flour and combine, using your fingers to break up the chunks of butter into slightly flattened bits. At this point, the dough will still be very powdery and should not come together. Add the buttermilk and stir gently with a wooden spoon just until all the flour is dampened. If you still have a lot of excess flour, add a few more drops of buttermilk until you have a barely cohesive, shaggy mass of dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat the dough together with floured hands. Flatten into a thick disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.

While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the disk of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to ½ inch thick. Use a floured metal 2 ½ to 3 inch biscuit cutter to stamp out as many biscuits as you can, dipping the cutter into some flour with each biscuit. Place biscuits on the baking sheet. Collect the dough scraps, quickly re-roll and finishing stamping out biscuits. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until risen and lightly browned. Serve immediately with butter.

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