30 December 2008

Bouche de noel

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

This recipe had so many components and steps I'm not quite sure where to start. I made it a few weeks ago the night before my last paper was due. I started the bouche de noel and the editing at around 7pm and wrapped up at 12:30am...but had about another 45 minutes of prep on the cake in the morning before I headed to school to turn in the paper.

Wow... this post sounds really boring. I think it's because I don't really have much good to say about this month's challenge. I normally don't mind when a Daring Bakers' challenge takes forever as I feel like I am learning along the way. This time though, I think something got lost in the translation/conversion of the recipe from French and Metric into English and Customary. I was confused about pretty much everything, how long to cook each component, what consistency it should be and don't even get me started on using gelatin (suffice to say - never again). Luckily the bouche came out pretty well in the end (despite a disastrous creme brulee layer that wouldn't set at all) . Everyone enjoyed it but I think it's safe to say... I'll never make it again.

I hate to be so negative, espcially when I know how much work everyone put into this so thinking my hardest, I've come up with a few things I've learned from this recipe:

1) Gelatin is disgusting and I feel completely vindicated in my refusal to eat or use it for the past 12 years. Next time I'll use a vegetarian alternative.

2) If caffeine after 5pm keeps you up at night, eating a mocha bouche de noel at 10:30pm is not a good idea.

3) I am really spoiled as so many blogs, recipes and cookbooks are in my native language and units of measure. I have a newfound respect for those of you who translate languages and measures to work on Daring Baker's challenges or other recipes.

24 December 2008

Cranberry Applesauce

I'm about to head to the airport but I thought I would try to get this post up, as I've been so bad about posting this month. I made this cranberry applesauce first for Thanksgiving and then twice after that since it's so good. Not only is it a gorgeous, deep burgundy but it perfectly balances the tastes of cranberry and apple and takes only about 10 minutes of prep work to make. In fact, I think I'm going to go have a bowl of it now. Recipe after the jump.

Cranberry Applesauce
Adapted from Cuisine at Home
Makes about 5 cups

2.5 lb (1kg) apples, your favorite variety (probably 4-5 apples, depending on size)
1, 12oz (350g) bag fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed and picked over to remove stray stems and                           wonky berries
2 C (500ml) apple cider
1/2 C (50g) sugar, with another 1/2 C in reserve
1/4-1/2 t. cinnamon (depending on your taste)
1/4-1/2 t. ground ginger (depending on your taste)
pinch of salt

- Peel the apples. Core and chop half the apples into chunks- whatever size you like (bigger if you're a fan of chunky applesauce, smaller if you like it smoother). Shred the remaining apples on the largest holes of a box grater.

- Put the apples and all the rest of the ingredients in a heavy pot over medium heat. Bring to a bowl and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 30-45 minutes or until most of the cranberries have popped. It's actually rather fun to hear them pop away as you're cooking. The sauce will have thickened slightly and turned an almost uniform cranberry color.  Give the sauce a taste and add more sugar, cinnamon and ginger until it's just how you like it.

- Remove the sauce from the heat and let cool, it will continue to thicken as it does. Serve immediately or store in the fridge.

10 December 2008

Amazingly Fast Chocolate Cake

Last night I hit a brick wall in my studying. All I wanted was something sweet and chocolatey and sugary to make me feel a bit better about my research paper that is currently in more trouble than a certain governor who thought he could sell a Senate appointment to the highest bidder. I hadn't gone shopping this weekend so we had no treats to speak of in the house. In fact we didn't have much of anything. I was about ready to sacrifice my principles and make a run to 7-11 when I remembered a post I had read a while ago on Food Network Musings that mentioned a microwave chocolate cake.

I ran to the computer, found the
recipe and scaled it back to an individual serving. It came together in about 2 minutes and after 1:20 in the microwave I had a mug of chocolate cake. Was it perfect? No- it didn't have the deep chocolate flavor I was looking for. The texture was a bit strange too, it didn't have the tender crumb of a baked cake, more of a spongy, baked pudding consistency but it did in a pinch. I feel like I can conquer the recipe though. Maybe it's the lack of progress in my paper, but I really just wanted to get something right...

A day elapsed since I wrote the previous section and I've had another go at the cake and...VICTORY!!! I decided to make a few modifications that really improved the flavor and texture of the cake. To boost the cocoa flavor, I heated the milk and butter in the microwave then stirred i the cocoa powder and nuked it for another 10 seconds. Since the first cake was sort of spongy I cut the amount of flour in half, which I hoped would give it a finer crumb and more tender texture. Last- I used only about a quarter of an egg, to keep it from getting a firm, baked pudding texture and slightly reduced the sugar, as I like my chocolate less sweet. I took it out of the microwave after only 45 seconds, when the center was clearly set but the sides were still very moist and dug in.

The cake turned out amazingly well. It had a deep chocolate flavor and color and a crumb strikingly similar to a real baked cake. It only takes about 4 minutes to put together though and uses 1 mug and set of measuring spoons (or kitchen scale)-- I don't know what else to say about it, other than that I would actually serve it to guests- it was that good.

Amazingly Fast Chocolate Cake
Serves 1, or 2 if you're feeling generous

I've made this in both a cafe au lait style wide mug with a rounded bottom and a ramekin- both worked perfectly. If you use a regular mug, be sure to mix very well so there's no dry ingredients stuck in the bottom edges.  

20g (1 and 1/3 T.) butter
30g (2T) milk
7g (1T) cocoa powder (I used Dutch processed)
30 g (2T plus 1t.) sugar
10g egg, lightly beaten (about 1/4 of the egg)
splash vanilla or other extract
15g (1T) flour
pinch baking powder (less than 1/8t., so little it didn't even register on the scale)
tiny pinch of salt

- Heat butter and milk in mug in microwave until butter is melted. Stir in cocoa powder and microwave on high for 10 seconds.

- Stir sugar, egg and extract into the cocoa mixture than add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until smooth. If you've got room in the mug you could beat a little air into the batter it too.

- Now it's time to cook the cake. This part will depend a lot on your microwave oven. Mine is nuclear powered and the cake cooked in only 45 seconds but yours might take longer. I suggest starting with 45 and adding more time if needed. The cake is done when the center is set but the sides haven't pulled away from the mug and are still a bit shiny and moist looking. You could turn the cake out onto a plate... or you could just grab a spoon and enjoy right from the mug.

Spaghetti with Crispy Garlic Chard Ragout*

This is another recipe I found in one of my mum's magazines- Gourmet, to be exact. You might remember I mentioned making a Giada de Laurentiis recipe a few weeks ago for pasta and chard that was utterly underwhelming.  Well this Gourmet recipe was exactly what I was hoping for the first time around: delicate chard infused with garlic punctuated by sharp bites of feta cheese, briny olives and bursts of sweet raisin, all topped off with crunchy garlic chips. Basically perfect. So good in fact, that I ate the leftovers for 3 meals running, something that I never do.

The recipe below is very similar to the original with some minor modifications. I cut back on the amount of pasta from a carb overloaded 1 lb. for 4-6 people to 10 oz. and shifted the other proportions accordingly (well maybe I decreased the amount of oil significantly to...). Give this one a try- it does take a little time but it's well worth it. Recipe after the jump.

Spaghetti with Crispy Garlic Chard Ragout
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Serves 4-

10 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
1/2 c. pasta cooking water
3 T. olive oil
8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/3 c. raisins
bunch of Swiss Chard (a small handful when you grab around the stems), stems and center red ribs chopped into bite sized pieces and leaves roughly chopped
1/2 t. salt
fresh black pepper
1/3 c. kalamata olives, roughly chopped
4-5 oz. feta cheese

- Set a large pot of water for the pasta on to boil.

- Add oil and garlic to a large skillet (I used a non-stick since that's what I've got) over medium heat and cook garlic until golden, around 3 minutes. Remove garlic to a paper towel lined plate.

- Add onion to remaining oil in skillet ad cook until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add the raisins and cook for a minute than add the chard stems and give a good stir. [Timing note- add the pasta to the pot of boiling water now] Add in 1/2 c. water, the salt and several grates of pepper to the onion and chard stems and turn the heat up to medium high. Pop on the lid and let it bubble away for 5 minutes then stir in the leaves, recover and cook for another 5 minutes (until the chard is tender).

- Drain spaghetti (don't forget to save 1/2 c. of the pasta cooking water). Toss the spaghetti with the chard mixture and olives, added as much pasta water as you need to coat everything. There won't be that much sauce, but it shouldn't look dry. Plate the pasta and top with crumbled feta and garlic chips and enjoy.

*I know this doesn't seem like a traditional ragout and it isn't but I needed a better name for this dish than pasta with chard and garlic.   I wanted something that would convey a little sophistication and excitement and since one of the meanings of ragout, according to Merriam-Webster, is mixture I though it would work just fine.

09 December 2008

Crock Pot Cassoulet

Finals and some technical problems have kept me out of the kitchen and away from the computer for a while so thank you for your patience with the lag in between posts. Just one more week to go and I will finally be done with the semester and able to cook and catch up on everyone's blogs but for now I'll try to do a few quick posts.

One of my favorite things to do when I'm home is look through my mum's cooking magazines. She gets them all: Gourmet, Bon Appetite, Cooks Illustrated and a few smaller ones as well. I love flipping through and picking out recipes that look good, even though I'm not sure everyone else does as I'm constantly interrupting to read out recipe titles and say 'oh-doesn't this sound good.'

I found a recipe for a slow-cooker version of cassoulet, a French bean stew that generally takes days to make otherwise, and, as I'd just discovered my grandma's old Rival crockpot from circa 1972 in the basement of my dad's house, I decided I'd give it a try. I had to modify the recipe a bit to reduce the scale as I think modern slow-cookers are bigger than the older ones and I also left out the chicken as the recipe just called for it to be cooked in a foil packet on top of everything else in the cooker which sounded sort of odd to me. I also used bone-in St. Louis style ribs as opposed to boneless country style pork ribs (that the recipe called for), but feel free to use whichever you can find.

The cassoulet turned out very thick, with a rich sauce that was perfect to soak up with French Bread. Recipe after the jump (one last note-- you can make this in a Dutch oven if you don't have a crock pot.)

Slow Cooker Cassoulet
Adapted from Cooks' Country Magazine
Serves 6-8

1 lb. navy beans (any small white bean will do)
2 lb. Pork ribs, cut into 1 in. chunks
1 T. vegetable oil
8 oz. reduced fat kielbasa, slicked into thin pieces
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. dried thyme
3.5 C. chicken stock
1/2 C. white wine
1, 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 t. salt

- Pick through beans to remove any non-bean objects. Put in a saucepan and add water to about 1 in. over the beans. Bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes to soften. Drain beans and add to slow cooker.

- While the beans are cooking, pat pork dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and brown pork on both sides, working if batches if needed so as not to overcrowd the pan. As each batch finishes, toss the pork into the slow cooker.

- Once you have finished browning all the pork, add the kielbasa to the pan and brown for a few minutes. Remove kielbasa to a paper towel lined plate, cover and stick it in the fridge until later.

- Add the onion and salt to the same pan, along with a little extra oil if needed. Turn heat down to medium and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion is softened. Add garlic and thyme and cook for an additional minute. Pour in the wine, broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan to get the fond (tasty brown stuff on the bottom of the pan). Carefully transfer the hot onion liquid mixture to the slow cooker.

- Cook the cassoulet on low in the slow cooker for 6-7 hours,* stirring every 30 minutes or so (or when you remember-- you just want to make sure the beans on the top cook too) until the pork is tender.

- When you are ready to eat stir the reserved kielbasa into the slow-cooker and allow to heat for about 10 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper and serve with crusty bread.

*If you haven't got a slow cooker, just do this part in the Dutch oven over low-heat. You want the cassoulet at a low simmer for the entire cooking period.

29 November 2008

Sweet and Salty Bacon Carmel Cupcakes

When I saw the Shuna Fish Lydon recipe that Dolores, Alex and Jenny picked out for this month's challenge I wasn't that excited. Carmel Cake with Brown Butter Icing just didn't sound like my thing and as my fellow Daring Bakers kept talking about how overwhelmingly sweet the cake turned out, I realized I would have to try to get creative on this one. It's not that I don't like carmel or browned butter but sweet has never been my preferred flavor and that seemed to be what this cake was about. I like my chocolate dark, fruits tart and sugary icing kept to a minimum. I was trying to decide what I could do to keep to the original recipe yet provide a counterbalance to the sweet carmel and icing when I hit upon bacon. Now I am not the first one to put bacon into a dessert or even a cupcake but I will admit I felt pretty daring doing it.

I decided to mix crumbled bacon directly into the cupcake batter so Zach cooked up a pile of bacon on baking day then it was time for me to get to work. First off, I made the carmel. A lot of bakers posted about the problems they had with this step, so I read over some helpful instructions and got to work. I stood over the boiling sugar keeping a close watch (and had bucket'o ice water handy in case of emergency) but brought the carmel to the smoking point without problem. It was sort of scary to pour the water into the boiling carmel, but a strainer perched on top of the pot prevented any spillover or splashing.

Next I put together the batter which was relatively simple compared to past challenges- cream butter and sugar, add dry wet dry and done. I spooned some plain batter into the prepared tins and then crumbled in the bacon. I did have some last minute hesitation, worried that I was going to wreck a whole recipe but went ahead with it anyway. As the cupcakes baked, I browned the butter and made the frosting. I had a little taste of the frosting before I iced the cupcakes and I'm very glad I did. It had a nice consistency but I couldn't really get over the browned butter flavor. It was so strong I found it almost offensive and just piped a tiny bit onto each cake and topped each with a sliver of bacon.

For the moment of truth I invited M&S over (you remember M--, he gave me the romanesco). They were a bit leery of the bacon in the cupcakes but we all pulled off the wrappers and had a bite. Success. Everyone liked the bacon cupcakes. The smoky, salty flavor of the bacon balanced out the overwhelming sweetness of the carmel cake. The cake itself turned out a beautiful golden texture and was really moist, thanks to all of the sugar. S-- and Zach liked the frosting much more than I did and piped some extra onto their cakes.

Will I make this one again? No, I don't think so but I will be trying bacon in other desserts in the future.

25 November 2008

Another Perfect Party Cake

I ended up baking a birthday cake on short notice this weekend and returned to what is now and old favorite, Dorie Greenspan's perfect party cake, the one that I made as my first Daring Bakers Challenge. This time I made the full four layers and it came out so well that I thought I'd share the picture with you. 

If you're looking for a cake to make for a group- this one is it. Lemon, berries and coconut look beautiful and are a great alternative to the typical vanilla and chocolate combos plus the cake is pretty easy to make and the full cake serves about 20.

One quick tip-- less is really more when it comes to the jam filling.  I sort of overdid it on this one.

24 November 2008

Cranberry Prosecco Cocktail

This recipe was on the back of a Cuisine at Home magazine a few years ago. It seemed like just the kind of drink to start Thanksgiving off with-- bubbly and festive but not too sweet and actually rather sophisticated. It's delicious and I will give you the recipe as written with only two further thoughts:

1) This only makes enough for about 6 drinks- I'd advise on a double recipe.
2) Don't discard the fruit pulp after you've squeezed the juice out of it. As my dad and I discovered it's delicious and can be served with your meal as a relish.

One last thing- the photo is part of the image that appeared in the magazine as I didn't have any photos of my own. Recipe after the jump.

Cranberry Prosecco Cocktail
Serves 6, easily doubled
From Cuisine at Home

1.5 C. fresh or frozen cranberries (reserve 6 berries)
1 C. cranberry juice cocktail
1 C. sugar
juice and peel of one orange
1 bottle Prosecco or your favorite sparking white wine

- Pulse cranberries and juice in a food processor or blender until the berries are roughly chopped.

- Add berry mix, sugar and juice and peel of the orange to a small saucepan and simmer for about 10 minutes or until syrupy. Strain syrup and cool to room temperature.

- When ready to serve add 1-2T. syrup to your glasses than top with the sparking wine. Add a reserved berry and serve.

Two tips- use a fine mesh strainer to strain the syrup and don't chill the syrup, leave it at room temperature or it will thicken.

What is it?

I apologize for the lack of posting lately. I actually have been cooking but I haven't quite figured out how to shoot in the light in the new house and all of my photos are turning out to be blurry, discolored messes. In addition, my computer has a bad cold and refuses to upload anything at the moment so I have to find alternate sources for pictures uploading.

My friend M-- offered to pick me up a romanesco at the farmers market this past weekend and since I'm never one to turn away food, I happily took him up on the offer. I'd heard of it and seen a few pictures online but nothing prepared me for my first encounter. It was sitting there in M--'s kitchen, perched on a rather nice looking cutting board. The fractal nature of the romanesco looks even stranger in person and 3-D than in a picture. I was actually afraid to touch it as it sort of looks like it should have hidden spines or something...

M-- assured me that it wouldn't bite and I very gingerly picked it up and couldn't stop staring at it. I was really acting sort of rude as M-- and I were talking and I just kept staring at the romanesco like a crazy person. I was listening to M-- though and got from him both some cooking tips and the factoid that romanesco is not some genetically engineered super plant, but an old variety from Italy.

I followed M--'s advice and cut the romanesco up into florets and steamed it for a few minutes until just tender. Zach and I dipped it in olive oil and grapefruit juice (I didn't have a lemon on hand). Though I was a little nervous about taking the first bite, the romanesco was really good. It had more of the texture of cauliflower but with a nuttier, fuller taste. I would definitley make it again but I might take M--'s other suggestion and get a head of romanesco to use as a centerpiece next time I have people over for dinner.

17 November 2008

Potato and Onion Tortilla (Spanish Omelette)

Third in the brunch series.

Aside from the muffins and the laban, I thought I needed something a little more substantial for the brunch. I wasn't expecting anyone to come starving because of the time-frame, but I didn't want anyone to leave hungry. A Spanish omlette seemed like the perfect solution, but given my
history with them I was a little nervous trying it out for company. The Joy of Cooking book that I'd been using had a recipe for one and I decided to give it a try, with a few modifications along the way...

The recipe called for a substantial amount of olive oil (step number one according to a friend who lived in Spain) and a fairly low egg to potato ratio. It also called for cooking first caramelizing the onions onions, then cooking the potatoes in a skillet on the stove. As I had other things to do in the kitchen that night and as I was making a double recipe and felt like getting to bed before 2am, I decided to tempt fate by cooking the potatoes and onions in the oven. I finely sliced the onion, then peeled and sliced the potatoes as thinly as I possibly could. I spread them out over 2 baking sheets (since I did a double recipe) and liberally poured on the olive oil, salt and pepper. I roasted it for about 35 minutes at 400F, stirring every 10 minutes or so for even browning.

Then I beat the eggs in a large bowl and mixed the potato onion mixture with the eggs. I think this was a key step and once I was definitely missing the last time around. This ensures an even coating and that you won't have a really dry section of the tortilla. I heated up my cast iron skillet and trying to silence my inner monologue about trying to reduce fat, poured about a quarter of an inch of olive oil into the pan. I've had disasters in the past combining eggs and cast iron and really did not want to have one at 10pm that night. Once the pan was nearly smoking, I poured in the egg mixture and then turned the heat down. I could see the oil come up around the sides and was duly horrified but the tortilla slid right out of the pan when it was done.

The next morning I warmed the tortilla in the oven, then cut it into wedges and set it out. Judging
from the fact that there were no leftovers, I think everyone liked it.

Potato and Onion Tortilla (Spanish Omelette)
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking: Party Foods

1lb. (450g) potatoes, peeled
1/2 lb. (225g) onion, cut in half and sliced
2 T. (45ml). olive oil (plus more for frying the tortilla)
salt and pepper
5 eggs

- Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut the onion in half and slice it into thin half moons. Peel the potatoes and slice them as thinly and evenly as you possibly can. Spread the potatoes and onions out on a large pan, pour on 2 T. of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Use your hands to mix until everything is evenly coated. Roast for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until the onion is soft and golden, and the potatoes are beginning to brown. Remove from oven.

- Beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Carefully add the potatoes and onions to the eggs and stir to coat.

- Put an oven safe skillet over medium high heat with about 1/4 in. (1/2cm) of olive oil in the bottom. When the oil just started to smoke, pour in the onion mixture. Use a spoon to even out the mixture in the skillet and turn the heat down to low. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until the tortilla begins to set. Transfer the skillet to the oven and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes or until cooked through (no jiggling eggs when you shake the pan. Carefully slide the tortilla out of the skillet and serve, or cool and refrigerate for the future.

13 November 2008


Second in the brunch series.

I went to the library to study last week and one of the books on display caught my attention. It was a Joy of Cooking book about party foods and since I knew we were going to have people over, I grabbed it on the way out. A lot of the recipes were a little too fussy for what I was looking for but the Laban, homemade yogurt cheese rolled in paprika and mint, kept catching my attention every time I flipped through the book.

My grandma, who was perpetually watching her cholesterol, used to make yogurt cheese but I hadn't had it in years. It's really simple to make, just take plain yogurt and let it strain for a day on the counter, then transfer it to the fridge to firm up overnight. Then it's ready to use. Laban (at least my version of it) has the consistency of softer cream cheese with a creamy, tangy taste. It's yogurt, but it's not yogurt at the same time, as the flavor has deepened. The sweet paprika and mint coating made the laban look great on the plate and added an unusual but delicious flavor. The laban went over really well- I will be making another batch in the near future.

Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Makes 18 grape sized balls

2 C. plain, lowfat yogurt
1.5 t. salt
1 T. sweet paprika
1 t. crushed dried mint
Equipment: bowl, mesh strainer, cheesecloth (or coffee filters)

- Line the mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth or two layers of coffee filters. Place the strainer over the bowl. Mix the yogurt and salt and pour into the strainer. Fold the cheesecloth over the top, or place a coffee filter on top. Let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

- Place a few coffee filters or paper towels on a plate. Turn the cheese out onto the plate and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight. The cheese will be slightly dry on the outside.

- Mix the paprika and mint. Form balls of the cheese (I did mine grape sized) and roll in the spice mix. Serve immediately.

12 November 2008

Apple Cinnamon Muffins and an Occasion

What's the occasion? Well my 102nd post on the blog and the first time (besides moving in) that we've had more than 4 people over to the new house. I'm really proud to have gotten up to 102 posts and I have to thank each and every one of you for taking the time to read my blog. Everyone who has emailed or posted a comment- thank you, I really do love hearing from you. I started this blog as a way to force myself to write down recipes instead of just making something once and really wishing I could recreate it. In the past 8 months I have made some old favorites and found some new one thanks to all the great food bloggers out there. There is so much out there to cook I really have no excuse to ever say 'I don't know what to make for dinner'. I'd also to thank my fellow Daring Bakers for coming up with challenges that always push my baking abilities to the limit. So- thank you everyone.

Besides the blog milestone the other occasion was a sort of drop by to see the house brunch we had on Saturday. With everyone schedule's starting to get crazy at the end of the year Zach and I decided to have an early open house that friends could drop in for. I wasn't exactly sure how many people would come by or when, so I wanted to make some light brunch food that could sit at room temperature for a few hours. Since I am not a morning person (understatement of the year) I also wanted to make and prep as much as I could on Friday night, so I would have as little to do on Saturday morning as possible. Muffins were a natural choice as I could make the batter the night before and bake them in the morning. I made a few other things, which I'll be posting about later in the week.

These muffins are based on the basic recipe in Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food. I substituted milk and vinegar for the yogurt the recipe called for and added the apples and spices. This recipe will make 24-30 muffins, depending on how big you like them but you could easily split it in half or double it. It's perfectly fine to mix up the batter at night and store in the fridge (well covered) till morning. When it's time to bake the batter up, scoop it directly from the bowl to your greased muffin tins and do not stir the batter!. Stirring will cause it to deflate and leave you with leaden muffins.

Apple Cinnamon Muffins
Makes 24
Adapted from a recipe by Alton Brown

Wet Ingredients:
1.5 C. lowfat milk
1 T. apple cider vinegar
1 C. vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 C. (205g) sugar (yes the sugar is a wet ingredient here)

Dry Ingredients:
4.5 C. (606g) all purpose flour
4 t. (20g) baking powder
2 t. (6g) baking soda
fat pinch of salt
1 t. cinnamon
3/4 t. ground ginger
10 grates nutmeg

1 lb (450g) apples, chopped into small pieces (I did mine in 1/4 in. cubes)

- Baking prep (the day you will bake the muffins). Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a muffin tin or two.

- Put the first 7 dry ingredient in a bowl and mix with a wisk till well combined. Add the apples and stir to coat them with flour.

- In another bowl mix the wet ingredients till well combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with a wisk until just combined. The batter will be slightly lump and may have a few dry spots but this is ok.

- Fill you muffin tins, filling each up about 3/4 or all of the way. Bake for 18-20 minutes until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean.

- Carefully remove the tins from the oven and flip each muffin onto its side in the tin by inserting a butter knife on the side of the muffin and using it to gently turn the muffin. This will allow steam to escape and prevent soggy muffins. Serve immediately.

11 November 2008

Pumpkin Spice Mousse

Ever since K* got a pumpkin spice cupcake at Baked and Wired a few weeks ago and let me try a piece, I have been completely obsessed with pumpkin desserts. This is a totally new phenomenon for me, as I've never really liked pumpkin pie so I've been on the lookout for recipes. I found one for baked pumpkin custard in an Argentinian cookbook I have that I really wanted to make for some friends but life intervened and I knew I just wouldn't have the time to do it right.

I started searching for faster pumpkin dessert recipes and came across one for a pumpkin mousse by Alton Brown. It was on a short video clip on the Food Network website and was the kind of recipe that I almost never make (involving canned pumpkin and instant pudding mix) but since it was an Alton Brown recipe I though it would taste all right. My grocery store didn't have the pumpkin spice pudding mix he called for, so I substituted vanilla and added my own spices. To dress it up a little I made some spiced walnuts for the top too and crushed up a few gingersnap cookies for a texture contrast.

The mousse was what I always want pumpkin pie to be- light and creamy but with a distinctive pumpkin and spice flavor. No one I served it to had any idea that it was just canned pumpkin and pudding mix and everyone loved it. This recipe is so ridiculously easy I know I'll be making it again. Recipe after the jump.

Pumpkin Spice Mousse
Adapted from Alton Brown
Makes 6 servings

1 C. heavy cream
1 14 oz. can pumpkin puree
1/3 C. milk
1 package vanilla instant pudding mix
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. ground allspice
5 grates fresh nutmeg*
1/4 C. spiced nuts for serving (optional)
a few crushed gingersnaps for serving (optional)

- Whip cream to soft peaks.

- In a medium bowl wisk together the pumpkin and milk, then add the pudding mix and spices and stir to combine. Fold in the whipped cream- it's ok for it to be a bit streaky, I think it gives it a homemade look.

- Spoon the mousse into custard cups, cover and refrigerate for 4 hours and then serve with the spiced nuts and gingersnaps. Keeps well in the fridge for a few days too.

*If you happen to have pumpkin pie spice in the house you could use it in place of the spices.

06 November 2008

Indian Spiced Chicken Bites

Did I really promise to post this one a week ago? Well, a few things have happened between then and now and we've got a new President elect. The entire time I've lived in the DC area has been under one President so I'm very interested to see what happens to the city when a new administration comes in. I'm picturing a mass exodus of staffers and lobbyists and an influx of new ones... But I will get back to the point of this blog, which is food.

To go with the curry I made last week I wanted to make some kind of protein. I had initially thought to make spiced tofu, but the local grocery store didn't have any and I really didn't want to bike to the grocery store as it was raining and dark and I was starving. Instead I bought a boneless, skinless chicken breast. I tend to think that this cut of meat has very little flavor so on the ride home I tried to think of what to do with it.

I wanted something with Indian flavors to go with the curry and remembered that a former Indian roommate of mine once marinated chicken in spiced yogurt and it was settled. I used another Alton Brown recipe initially intended for salmon as the base, changed it up a bit to use what I had in the spice cabinet, and stirred in some Greek yogurt. I cut the chicken into chunks and let it marinate for about half an hour while I fixed the rest of dinner, then broiled it.

It smelled delicious and the quick cooking under the broiler allowed it to brown slightly while not overcooking the meat. The yogurt spice mix gave just the right amount of flavor and tang to the chicken and it went perfectly with the curry. It would be really good on a party buffet too, instead of the usual chicken skewers.

Indian Spiced Chicken Bites
Makes about 20 bites

About a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bit sized chunks
3 T. Greek style yogurt
2 t. vegetable oil (optional)
1/2 t. salt
1/3 t. fresh ground black pepper
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. onion powder
1 clove garlic, mashed into a paste
cayenne pepper to taste

- Prep the chicken by removing any excess fat and cut it into chunks.

- Mix the remaining ingredients into a bowl. Give the mixture a taste to see if you like the spice balance before you add any chicken. Once the mixture is spiced to your liking, add the chicken and stir to coat. There won't be a lot of the spice mixture but it should just coat all the chicken pieces. Let sit for 30 minutes (if you have the time).

- Preheat your broiler to high and prep your broiling pan with foil. Arrange the chicken on the broiling tray with some room in between each piece. Broil for 4-5 minutes on each side or until cooked through and lightly browned. Serve immediately.

31 October 2008

Weeknight Curry

I love curries. Indian, Thai, East Asian, I love them all. I didn't grow up eating curry and in fact never had it till I was an exchange student in Denmark (strange place for it I know). While I was there I took a Danish cooking class with some of the other students. We made the basics- meatballs, leek stuffed meatballs and anything else you can imagine with ground pork. My strongest memory though is going into the spice pantry and getting the jar of curry at the beginning of every class. My group was a bit obsessed and we put curry in everything. Most of the time it worked out and, well, everyone has to try curried spaghetti sauce once in their life right?

I hope the intervening years have given me a bit more appreciation for the flavors that make up curry and less desire to dump it on anything and everything. I still usually resort to a premixed curry powder but when I was searching for some recipes on the Food Network website last week, I came across one for curry that didn't call for curry powder. Normally, these kind of recipes seem to call for about 10 specialty spices I don't have but this one called for spices I knew I had on had. As an added bonus it also called for a bag of frozen veggies (not usually something I do, but as we just moved and I wasn't sure I could find a knife it sounded perfect).

I made a few small adjustments to the recipe as I most of my spices were ground and not whole and I left out the fennel seed as usual (no anise flavor for me, thank you). To thicken the curry, Alton Brown called for plain yogurt and cornstarch, an idea which I really liked as it would give the curry a creamy flavor without all the fat of coconut milk. I decided to use a low-fat Greek yogurt for extra creaminess, as it's already so thick, I left out the cornstarch called for. The last change was to add a third a cup of raisins since I always like something sweet in curries.

Zach and I both really liked the curry. Easy, cheap and healthy and it had so much flavor. To go with it we had basmati rice and spiced chicken, which I will post about this weekend.

Weeknight Curry
Adapted from Alton Brown
Serves 4 (along with a protein) or 2 on its own

Tip: I think it's helpful to measure out the spices and put them in bowls according to when they get added.

1, 1 lb. bag mixed frozen vegetables
2 t. vegetable oil
1/2 t. mustard seeds
1/2 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground turmeric
1/2 t. onion powder
1/2 t. ground coriander
1/8 t. ground cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, crushed with the flat of your knife and skin removed
2 dried red chiles (stems and seeds removed if less heat is desired)
1/4 t. sugar
1/2 t. kosher salt
2/3 C. (6 oz.) lowfat greek yogurt
1/3 C. raisins or chopped dried apricots or other dried fruit
ground black pepper to taste

- Poke a few holes in the vegetable bag and defrost the vegetables in the microwave.

- Eat the oil in a medium non-stick skillet. Add the mustard seeds and cover with a splatter screen. Cook until the seeds begin to pop.

- Add the cumin, turmeric, onion powder, coriander, cinnamon, garlic and chiles. Cook gently for 3-4 minutes to lightly brown the garlic. Add the vegetables, sugar and salt and cook on medium-high until the vegetables are hot.

- Put the yogurt in your serving bowl along with the raisins. Add the hot vegetables and stir to combine. Add pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

30 October 2008

Mustard Glazed Salmon

For the first night in our new house not eating pizza, I made two recipes I found on the food network website, both from Giada De Laurentiis. The first- spaghetti with chard sounded amazing but wasn't that remarkable but the second, broiled salmon with a mustard glaze that I was ambivalent about making turned out great. It was one of those, 'why haven't I been doing this all along' moments and a recipe I will come back to again. It took about 3 minutes to put the glaze together and 5 to cook the salmon and that was it.

I did change up the recipe a bit... as Zach and I aren't the biggest mustard fans around. I decreased the amount of mustard and didn't add any full grain mustard or mustard seeds. I also used dried herbs and fresh garlic, as that was what I had on hand. And since we had a bottle of bubbly open (well we had to celebrate the house) I added a tablespoon of champagne instead of white wine.

One other note on the fish. I went to the grocery store fully intending on getting fresh fish but the only salmon they had was farm raised with added dyes. As I am really trying to stick to the recommendations on my pocket card (well worth printing out if you don't have one) I decided to buy frozen wild Alaskan sockeye, one of the best choices according to seafood watch. I thought the fish had great flavor and cooked well under the broiler.

The mustard glaze provided just enough bite to enhance the flavor of the salmon without overpowering it. I went really lite on the glaze as I was a bit afraid of the mustard flavor but I found myself wanting to put more on.

Mustard Glazed Salmon
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis
Serves 2

2, 4-6 oz. sockeye salmon fillets
1 T. quality mustard (not the kind that comes in the yellow squeeze bottle)
1 t. vegetable oil
1/4 t. crushed dried rosemary
1/4 t. crushed dried thyme
1 t. white wine

- Preheat broiler to high. Grease a sheet of tin foil, place it on the broiling tray thenplace the salmon on it and season with salt and pepper. Mix remaining ingredients in a small bowl.

- Broil the salmon for 2 minutes then spoon on the mustard sauce and broil for another 3-6 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked to your liking. Serve immediatley.

29 October 2008

Daring Bakers- I Love You or How I Made the Best Pizza Ever

Well the title pretty much said it all. I had given up hope of ever making a decent pizza at home but thanks to Rosa from Rosa's Yummy Yums, host of this month's challenge that's all changed. This was the easiest dough to put together-- the recipe even calls for cold water so there's no chance of accidentally killing the yeast. The overnight rise in the fridge allowed the flavor of the dough to develop but I think the secret was patting the dough (in pizza size balls) out into disks before the second, room-temperature rise. That made it so much easier to toss the dough into a the pizza form. I say toss the dough like I'm a piazzola or something but the truth is that my first attempt at tossing the disk on my knuckles to stretch it out went a bit too well too quickly resulting is a torn mess that was paper thin in some parts and an inch thick in others.

I was a bit disheartened but just mashed it back into a ball and started on the second dough. This time I treated the dough very carefully as I realized how light and delicate it was. I floured my hand and very gingerly picked up the dough disk and set it on top of my folded knuckles and started using a gentle outward and upward motion of my hands to stretch and rotate the dough. Once it was thin enough (which for me is pretty much paper thin) I set it down on a floured cookie sheet and topped it with olive oil, fresh chopped tomato, torn fresh basil and mozzarella cheese, all in very small quantities.

The pizza stone was fired up in the oven and I attempted to transfer the pizza from the sheet to the stone. That attempt was quickly thwarted as the pan was too big for the oven (ah the joys of my old kitchen). I didn't know what to do but felt I had to make a quick decision before I let all the heat out of the oven so I stepped back and sort of threw the pizza off pan and onto the stone. It made it about 2/3 of the way on the stone and the rest was on the floor of the oven and hanging out the door. There was no way I could move the pizza at that point, so I just folding over the part that was hanging out and left it to cook.

After about 5 minutes the toppings were bubly and more importantly, the crust had achieved the much vaunted state of crispy blackness**- you know, the one where the crust is crispy and golden-brown except for a few spots that have gotten black and crisp? Not burnt-- just so crisp I never thought I could achieve them in my home oven.

Well-- to sum up this long story-- this dough is amazing and you must make it at home. Also-- do yourself a favor, get a pizza stone.* My cost about $15 at Target and now I'm planning to bake all sorts of yeast breads on it.

*Well, after my incident, you may want to invest in a pizza peel too.

** I was so impressed by the crispy blackness I though it should be the picture for this post. Oh- my kitchen table is not usually so messy but I made the pizza a few days before we moved...

Pizza Dough
Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter)

4 1/2 C. (607.5 g) bread flour or all purpose flour
1 3/4 t. Salt
1 t. Instant yeast
1/4 Cup (60g) Olive oil
1 3/4 Cups (420ml) ice water
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting (I just used AP flour)


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl.

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky.

3. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

4. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

5. You need to refrigerate the dough overnight. Your options are to place the dough on a oiled baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap or to put each dough ball into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. The point is that the dough must be separated into individual balls and shouldn't touch each other.

6. Put the dough into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


7. 2 hours before you make it the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

8. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

9. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.
During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

10. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

11. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Your crust is very thin-- it can't support a 'pizza hut' set of toppings. Less really is more here.

12. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes or until toppings are bubbling and the bottom is brown and crisp.

13. Remove from oven and eat!

21 October 2008

Some news

Some of you might have noticed a distinct lack of new posts on this blog in the last month. I can almost always make time for cooking but the past few weeks have been so hectic there have been a lot of pasta nights and straight up spoonfuls of peanut butter instead of balanced meals. I have been waiting for something to go wrong before telling you this but it finally seems like everything is really going to work out; Zach and I are buying our first house! After months of looking everything suddenly came together and then started happening so fast I was completely knocked off guard. I hope this will excuse me from the lack of posting recently and I hope to make it up once we are in the new house. We move this Saturday so there probably won't be much blog activity for another week or so-- but do check back then.

Tortellini Soup

I went up to Boston this weekend to visit D-, my best friend from high school. Whenever we're together we make all of our favorite foods and since my visit coincided with Canadian Thanksgiving (D-'s boyfriend is Canadian) we got to have biscuits and green bean casserole and roast chicken. That, combined with homemade cookies, candies and everything else we ate made me promise to keep things light in the kitchen this week.

D- had mentioned she was going to make tortellini soup for dinner one night this week, so I decided to follow her lead. I'd never made tortellini soup but since I love all things pasta, it sounded good plus it had the added bonus of being really easy to fix. I honestly felt a little Sandra Lee (shudder) when getting everything together since I used store bought broth (with added onions, carrots, celery, garlic, peppercorns and a bay leaf) along with package tortellini. It really felt like cheating but after letting the soup simmer for an hour and then adding in the tortellini (which I cooked separately so I could evenly divide them for leftovers) it really tasted as close to homemade as possible. Well- I thought it did taste homemade but Zach detected some slight hint of packaged broth. His palate must just be more developed than mine. Recipe after the jump.

Tortellini Soup
Serves 8

2 qts. packaged chicken (or vegetable) broth
1 qt. water
1 T plus 1 t. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 heart of celery, chopped (I buy the whole thing then pull it all apart- then I have the stalks for snacking and the heart for cooking)
1 fat clove garlic, smashed
10 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh dill, divided
1 package premade cheese tortellini (I used Barilla brand shelf-stable kind)

- Heat 1 T. olive oil in a large soup pot. Add the veggies and garlic and cook over medium heat until softened, but not browned, 7-10 minutes.

- Add the stock and water along with the peppercorsn, bay leaf and 3 springs of dill. Bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer and cook for at least 20 minutes or an hour if you have time.

- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil and cook tortellini according to package instructions, making sure to keep them al dente. If you will be serving all of the soup right away, drain the pasta and add to the soup before serving. If you are saving most of the soup: put the drained tortellini in a bowl and mix with 1 t. olive oil to prevent sticking, measure out the pasta into 8 equal portions (I did this by the divide and conquer method on my cutting board). If you are really averse to soggy pasta in your soup like I am, wrap all the portions you are going to save in plastic wrap and store along side the soup. Then when you are ready to heat the leftovers, you can heat the soup and tortellini separately and they won't get soggy.

16 October 2008

Virginia Wine Country

Every once in a while, there will be a thing (food, activity, ect.) that I don't try for the longest time thinking that I just won't like it. I like to think that most of the time I'm proven right when I finally do get around to it- like the time I tried straight up fennel (too licoricey) or mussels, which weren't bad but I just couldn't really understand why they were good, other than the butter sauce. Other times, I'm horribly and terribly wrong about my supposed aversion and end up kicking myself that I've spent so much time not eating or doing something.

I've been in the DC area for a while now and for the past few years I've known that Virginia is a wine producing state. Having lived briefly in Austria and having had the chance to go wine tasting in Sonoma, I thoroughly looked down on Virginia wine. It certainly didn't help that all the examples I had tasted were more Hawaiian Punch than something you'd serve at a dinner party; however, when A-'s mum came to town and invited us to go wine tasting with them, I thought 'why not?'

We set out on the most gorgeous fall day with sunny skies and crisp air and drove west to Loudon County. After only 40 minutes in the car we were transported to a rural town not unlike the one I grew up and and totally different from downtown DC. To get to the first winery, we turned off the main road and bumped down a single lane dirt track for two miles before turned onto Willocroft's driveway.

We parked next to an old barn with the sign 'tasting room' by the open doors and then wandered in. For $2 we tried seven wines (beat that California). Some I liked better than others but to have the person who makes the wine explaining everything and talking about winemaking in Virginia was great. He asked about what we like and what we could taste in the wine and even though we were all far from professional in our descriptions, we had fun doing it.

After a rather circuitous detour we stopped at Doukenie Winery. This one backed onto a mountain and we drove through fields of vines on the way. Besides the usual reds and whites, we tried two dessert wines, one made of blackberries (along with grapes) and the other one made just with raspberries. We even got a piece of dark chocolate to try with the raspberry wine, to see how it would work off the taste of the berries. It was amazing and something I could definitely get used to.

We hopped back into the car and headed to the poshest tasting of the day. Hillsborough Vineyards does have a million dollar view and a gorgeous tasting room in a converted stone barn, but being rushed through a tasting of tiny pours didn't exactly endear us to the place. Neither did the wines for that matter. All of them were blends with names like 'moonstone' and 'serafina' but they didn't have that much individual character.

For the last stop of the day was at Loudon Valley Vineyards and by then I was definitely feeling the effects of all of the tasting and decided to share with Zach. The staff at Loudon Valley was so friendly and you could tell the really cared about the wines. After tasting a rich, port-like wine we decided to call it quits and head back to the city but I am already planning my next trip to the Virginia wine country.

If you're interested in wine making in Virginia, check out this website.

10 October 2008

Thai Style Cucumber Radish Salad

The other night I made teriyaki salmon for dinner (I shouldn't really say made- more like heated since it came pre-marinated from Trader Joe's) and I wanted something sour to have with it to cut the sweetness. There was a cucumber in the fridge, along with a bunch of CSA radishes which made me think of the pickles sometimes served at Thai restaurants. After a quick online search I had a few recipes that could be made in around 5 minutes. I sliced the cucumber and radishes and poured over the the juice? sauce? pickling liquid? well, whatever i should call it. It pickled for about an hour while we took a walk and baked the salmon and then it was done. Very quick and easy- crunchy and sour with just a hint of sweetness.

Recipe after the jump.

Thai Style Cucumber Radish Salad
Serves 2 

1 small cucumber, sliced very thinly
2 small radishes, scrubbed well and thinly sliced
1/3 C. seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 T. sugar
1/4 t. chili sauce
1/2 t. red pepper flakes

- Mix last 4 ingredients in a small bowl then add the cucumber and radishes. Let sit at least 30 minutes and serve.

Autumn Gallette with Better For You Crust

After making the butternut squash ravioli, I had about two cups of roasted squash left over. Since the ravioli didn't wow me, I wanted to do something sort of exciting with the rest of the squash. I resolved on making a sweet butternut squash galette for desert. I went as far as making the pie dough before realizing that I wasn't particularly hungry and Zach wasn't home so it was rather pointless to bake. The next day at work, I was thinking of how to turn the sweet galette into something acceptable for dinner (only on my breaks, of course). I started talking with my co-worker S-- about ideas. I suggested goat cheese to balance out the sweetness of the squash and add some visual color contrast and she suggested craisins (dried cranberries) for more flavor. We both agreed that walnuts would be an excellent addition for some crunch (and a little bit of healthy fat to balance out the pie crust) but I knew they would have to be easily removable since Zach has an aversion to nuts.

The resulting galette came together in about ten minutes and was on the table 40 minutes after that. Along with some green beans, it was a totally satisfying dinner. Very comfort foody and rich with the pie crust, but not totally unhealthy since I had made a lower-fat crust* and butternut squash packs a Vitamin-A power punch. I will definitely make this galette again, maybe without the crust for something a bit healthier. With the crust it makes a great option for a vegetarian dinner, or as a side dish for a dinner when you have both meat-eaters and vegetarians in the crowd.

* I really didn't set out to make a low-fat pie crust. I was all set to make make a regular one when I took a look at the recipe. There was no way I was going to put a whole stick of butter into a cup of white flour. I decided to go with a two to one ratio of white to wheat flour and decreased the butter from eight to five tablespoons and told the little voice in my head to be quiet. The crust turned out way better than I expected- it was still flaky and crumbly and the addition of wheat flour went really well with the butternut squash. The best part- I didn't feel nearly as guilty eating something in pie crust for dinner as I normally would.

Autumn Galette
Serves 4

2 C. butternut squash, cut into 1 in. cubes and roasted (see below)
1 recipe pie crust (see below)
2 oz. goat cheese
1/4 C. dried cranberries
2 T. walnuts, chopped

- Preheat oven to 450F.

- Roll out pie dough in the plastic bag (see below) to a circle about 12 in. in diameter. Leaving a 2 inch border on the outside of the circle, add the squash then sprinkle on the goat cheese, cranberries and walnuts. Carefully fold up the sides of the galette to cover the outer edge of the filling. If the crust breaks just pinch it back together.

- Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and serve. The galette keeps very well in the fridge for a day or two. Reheat in the toaster oven.

Better for You Pie Crust

2/3 C. (4 oz.) white flour
1/3 C. (2 oz.) wheat flour
1/2 t. salt
5 T. butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1/4 C. ice water.

- Mix the flours and salt in a bowl. Add the chilled butter cubes. Use the tips of your fingers to work the butter into the dough using a rubbing motion between your thumb and index fingers (like you are feeling a piece of fabric) until the butter is is evenly distributed and the mixture looks like coarse sand.

- You want to be able to form the dough into a ball using the least amount of water possible which will depend on your flour and the humidity of your kitchen. Start by adding two tablespoons of the ice water and stir together. Add more water only if needed.

- Form the dough into a ball and then place it into a gallon size ziploc bag. Flatten the dough into a disk and (if you have time) refrigerate for 30 minutes before using. The dough can be made several days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator- just take it out about 30 minutes before you need to use it or the butter have made it a solid mass that is impossible to roll out.

01 October 2008

Butternut Squash

I was so good about getting my reading done this weekend that by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around I had finished nearly all of it and was mentally wiped out. I had been planning to make a butternut squash soup for dinner that night but then decided I needed a culinary challenge instead since it had been so long since I'd actually cooked anything besides pasta for dinner. I was thinking of things to do with butternut squash and my mind wandered in the pasta direction. I love getting butternut squash ravioli out in restaurants and the weather has turned decidedly fall-late, so I I decided to try making it at home. After searching around for some recipes on the internet, I decided to go with a Giada de Laurentiis recipe from the food network website, with a few minor modifications.

Though tempting, I decided not to try to do the dough by hand, mostly because we don't have a pasta roller and I didn't particularly want to cover the entire counter in gummy pasta reside. Instead, I opted for the wonton skins recommended by Giada. The recipe itself was quite simple- roast the squash, combine with ricotta cheese, onion and garlic and fill the ravioli. The hardest part was peeling and cubing the squash. My method is to cut the round part of the squash off first, leaving me two pieces with flat sides. Then I put each piece flat side down, and cut it in half again from top to bottom, than in half once again until I have eight pieces. I usually use a knife to cut off the skins, but this time decided to try using a vegetable peeler. It took a little while to do since I had to go over it a few times but I think I wasted less than with the knife method.

Once the squash was cubed I roasted in a a bit of olive oil and then combined it with the other ingredients. Then I called in the reinforcements to shape the ravioli. The recipe said it would make about 36 but we filled all 48 wonton skins with a lot of leftover filling. I cooked about 18 for us immediately and froze the rest for later. Giada suggested a brown butter sauce for the ravioli and I complied- using about half the recommended butter. We were out of cranberries so I substituted raisins and omitted the walnuts since Zach really doesn't like them.

Overall the ravioli were good but missing something. I'm not quite sure what, maybe our squash wasn't as sweet as others, or the texture of the wonton wrappers wasn't quite the same as pasta dough. Making ravioli once has made me want to try it again and hopefully the filling will turn out better next time. I'm not giving the recipe here- as I didn't really love this one but you can find Giada's recipe

29 September 2008

Better late...

Yes, I am a few days late with this month's Daring Bakers challenge but I am so glad I did it. This was the first savory challenge I've done and also the first that didn't require me to buy any special ingredients, or take half a day. Not that I'm complaining- I like to spend time in the kitchen, but with the way this month has been going I had given up hope of completing the challenge until I actually took the time to read the recipe.

This month we made lavosh crackers. As the challenge was hosted by two of our alternative bakers, Natalie from Gluten A Go Go and Shel of Musings From the Fishbowl the idea was for all of us to try our hand at gluten-free baking and a vegan dip but our hosts kindly gave us instructions for wheat based crackers as well. I chose to do the wheat option since I had everything for it already in the house and I didn't get around to the dip quite yet...

I was shocked at how quickly and easily the crackers came together. Basically mix, stir, knead. Then let it rise for an hour and a half and roll out as thinly as you possibly can top and bake. That's it. I decided to top my crackers with sesame seeds (on one half) and molasses sugar (on the other) to have both savory and sweet crackers. The sesame seeds didn't adhere to the crackers as nicely as I would have liked them too but that was my only and admittedly very minor issue with the whole recipe.

The crackers are crisp, delicious and totally satisfying, not to mention way cheaper than store-bought. I'm going to try to make a batch every week for Zach and I to take with our lunches so I'll keep you posted if I come up with any really good flavors.

One note: I did use a mix of white and whole wheat flour instead of the straight white called for in the recipe. I thought it came the crackers extra flavor, and fiber, yet didn't overpower the delicate nature of the crisps. Feel free to use all white flour if you want

Lavosh Crackers
Adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering The Art of Extraordinary Bread
Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

1 C. (4 oz.) white flour
1/2 C. (2.75 oz.) whole wheat flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. yeast
1 T. sugar
1 T. vegetable oil
1/2 C. warm water
1 T. sesame seeds for topping
2 T. dark brown sugar for topping

- Stir the first 5 ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add the oil and about half of the water. Stir together. Keep stirring and adding water until the dough forms a ball.

- Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 10-15 minutes. Add more flour if the dough starts sticking to your hands. The dough should be shiny and sort of springy when you're done kneading. To test if it's ready you can pinch off a piece, flatten it into a disk and gently pull on the edges. It should stretch into a very thin membrane. If it rips immediately, keep kneading.

- Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for about 90 minutes or until doubled in bulk. (About 30 minutes before your dough is ready heat your oven to 350F)

- Divide dough in half (with a sharp knife). Lightly grease your work surface and set the dough down. Pat in to a rough square shape and lightly flour the top. Roll out as thinly as you possible can (we're talking paper-thin). You might need to give the dough a few breaks while rolling to allow the gluten to relax. Transfer to a cookie sheet. Repeat with the other dough.

- Brush the top of the dough with a little bit of water and sprinkle on your topping.

- Bake for 15-25 minutes or until golden brown. Baking time really depends on how thick your dough is. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes in the pan then break apart and serve or store in an airtight container.

23 September 2008

Couscous, Shopska Style

I know my posts have been few and far between in the past few weeks. I wish I could tell you that I have been cooking up a storm and have a backlog of recipes to post but that's sadly not the case. Between the start of the semester and everything else that has been going on I haven't been in the kitchen that much. Last night was an exception, more because I needed to clean out the fridge than any noble nourishment purpose. Read More!

I had some peppers, half a cucumber, small tomato and feta cheese- all the fixing for a Shopska salad (a kind of Balkan vegetable salad). Since this would be our dinner I decided to make turn the Shopska into a pasta salad by mixing it with the Israeli couscous I picked up on the weekend. The whole dinner took about 20 minutes to put together. While the water boils and the couscous cooks you can chop the veggies, then everything gets tossed together with olive oil, red wine vinegar and feta cheese. That's it. Despite the simplicity the salad is light, fresh and delicious. We had it for dinner, but it would be a great side dish to grilled chicken or fish.

I'm entering this recipe in the Monthly Mingle, which this month is Sensational Sides, hosted by Ruth at Kitchen Experiments in place of Meeta, who usually hosts.

Couscous, Shopka Style
Serves 2 for dinner, for as a side dish

1 C. Israeli style couscous
1 1/3 C. water, or a mix of water and broth (I did 1 C. water, 1/2 C. chicken broth)
1/3 white onion, chopped
1 C. cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 small tomato, diced
1 bell pepper, or two small peppers, diced (any color you like, though orange would be prettiest)
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. olive oil
3 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

- Set the onion in a bowl full of cold water and swish around then leave till you are ready to assemble the salad. This will help make it a bit less pungent.

- Bring the water (and broth) to a boil in a medium saucepan, stir in couscous and reduce to a simmer, cook for 8-10 minutes or until couscous is tender.* If you notice that you pot has run dry and a few more tablespoons of water.

- While the water boils, chop up the veggies. When the couscous is cooked, stir in the vegetables, oil and vinegar and a few grates of pepper and then the feta cheese. Taste for seasonings and serve immediately.

The salad keeps well in the fridge for a day or two, just fluff with a fork before eating.

*If you use straight water to cook the couscous, add a good pinch of salt to it with the pasta.

20 September 2008

A Peachtree in the City

A few weeks ago I was headed downtown to meet some friends when I came across the most amazing thing. At first I thought that my eyes were playing tricks on me, that I didn't actually see the bright orbs hiding among the leaves on the tree. I approached the fence and flat out stared. Outside the Colombian Embassy, in the middle of Washington, D.C. stood a peach tree. Not some spindly, sick looking tree but a full, green tree, seemingly unaware of its urban surroundings. As I stood at the fence gazing at the tree I noticed all the fruits within arms reach had been picked and only those further in remained. This made me really happy- to see the tree there next to the busy street in it's own world just a few feet from the busy street.