Saturday, August 28, 2010

Zucchini Bread with Pineapple


I'm sure that most of you gardeners out there are up to your ears in zucchini by now and are scrambling for any delicious way to eat them before they go bad, and you've probably already had as many zucchini bread recipes thrown your way as you can bear, but hear me out. I'm not a huge zucchini bread fan (pumpkin is my go-to squash for bread making), but this stuff is good. I came across the recipe on this website a few weeks ago and bookmarked it, thinking I might, maybe, one day, sometime in the distant future, want to try zucchini bread. A few days later, I purchased a ginormous bag of zucchini at the farmers' market (four bucks for a huge bag- enough to fill a brown paper grocery bag!) and decided it was time to give zucchini bread another chance. Usually, I'll test out a few different recipes and find different aspects I like about each and then combine them into one uber-recipe, but this bread is almost perfect as is. I do sometimes swap out half the flour for wheat flour and play around with the nuts and dried fruit, and I omit the nutmeg because that screams "HOLIDAY SEASON" to me, but the base recipe yields a deliciously moist breakfast bread that I wouldn't want to change.

Zucchini Bread with Pineapple
Adapted from Simply Recipes

Ingredients:

3 eggs
1 cup olive oil
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups coarsely grated zucchini (I grate mine a bit finer when using wheat flour, just because I prefer the texture that way).
1 can (8oz) crushed pineapple, drained
3 cups all purpose flour (or replace half with wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup raisins

1 Preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixer, beat eggs. Add oil, sugar, and vanilla; continue beating mixture until thick and foamy. With a spoon, stir in the zucchini and pineapple.

2 In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. A third at a time, add dry ingredients into wet and gently stir (by hand) after each addition. Add the walnuts and raisins, blend gently.

3 Divide the batter equally between 2 greased and flour-dusted 5 by 9 inch loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in to the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool thoroughly.

Makes 2 loaves.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fig and Balsamic Jam, a la Thomas Keller


While perusing the produce section of my local Whole Foods yesterday, I had a temporary moment of stupidity as I walked up to two precariously balanced pyramids of fresh figs and suddenly just had to have some. I know very well that figs are one of the most perishable fruits out there and that they need to be eaten soon after harvesting, and that there is nary a fig tree anywhere here in the greater Chicago area, so therefore these figs would probably, well, stink. Yet somehow, my brain completely short circuited and I happily skipped out of the store with two pints of fresh figs and delusions of some sort of blue cheese/fig/prosciutto hors d'oeuvre that I could nibble on over the course of a languid summer afternoon while reading a book on my front porch overlooking Napa Valley (yes, the whole valley. Hey, I said "delusional," didn't I?). Fifteen minutes later, as I stood in my cramped town home kitchen with an adorable babbling two month old on my hip, I tasted a fig and realized that my prosciutto-wrapped daydream was not meant to be, and that I needed to find a plan B.


Plan B came in the form of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home.
If you have never perused this book, get thee to thy local bookstore and take a gander. Thomas Keller (he of The French Laundry *insert choir of angels*) is the man. I can't think of one recipe of his that I've tried that didn't rock my face off, and this one is no exception. Some of his recipes can be a bit fussy, but this one is simple: Cut up fruit, add balsamic and spice, simmer, finish with lemon juice, and cool. If you're wary of the ingredients (vinegar and peppercorns in jam?), don't be. The balsamic vinegar simmers down enough to lose most of the vinegary punch and adds sweetness, and the peppercorns add just enough of an earthy undertone to keep it from getting too sweet. If you've ever had mulled wine with peppercorns, it's very similar. The resulting jam is just sweet enough to still fall in the category of jams eligible for smearing on toast for breakfast, but savory enough to be well-utilized as an ingredient in tomorrow night's dinner. I'm eying a pork roast recipe in Ad Hoc at Home that calls for a cup of the jam. If you don't have access to fresh figs, dried figs will work perfectly fine, too.

Fig and Balsamic Jam
Ad Hoc at Home, Thomas Keller

Ingredients:
2 lbs. Black Mission figs, stems removed and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (use a good-quality sweet balsamic)
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, tied into a sachet (I ran out of cheesecloth and ended
up using a tea ball)
Fresh lemon juice

Directions:
Combine the figs, sugar, balsamic vinegar, and a sachet in a large saucepan and attach a candy thermometer to the pan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, stirring to break up the large pieces of fig, keeping a chunky consistency, until the jam reaches 215 to 220 degrees F. Remove from the heat.

Remove the sachet and stir in the lemon juice to taste. Spoon the jam into a canning jar or other storage container, cover, and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for up to 1 month.

Makes 2 1/2 cups.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sour Cherry Jam, Lebovitz style


In case you haven't noticed, sour cherry season (or, as I think of it, most awesome fruit to bake with EVER season)is lamentably short. They're still available at the markets here in Chicagoland, but if I were a betting woman, I'd bet they won't be around for more than another week or two. If you've never worked with sour cherries, get thee to thy local market pronto and buy some. That sweet cherry pie you usually make will absolutely sing if you swap sour cherries for the bings.


No-Recipe Cherry Jam

From David Lebovitz


1. Buy as many cherries as you feel like pitting. Figure one pound of cherries will make one good-sized jar of jam. Plump, dark Bing cherries work really well, although Burlats are good, and if you can find sour cherries, your jam will rock.

2. Wear something red. Rinse the cherries, remove the stems, and pit the cherries. Make sure to remove all the pits. Chop about ¾ of them into smaller pieces, but not too small. Leave some cherries whole so people can see later on how hard you worked pitting real cherries. If you leave too many whole ones, they'll tumble off your toast.

3. Cook the cherries in a large non-reactive stockpot. It should be pretty big since the juices bubble up. Add the zest and juice of one or two fresh lemons. Lemon juice adds pectin as well as acidity, and will help the jam gel later on.

4. Cook the cherries, stirring once in a while with a heatproof spatula, until they're wilted and completely soft, which may take about 20 minutes, depending on how much heat you give them.

5. Once they're cooked, measure out how many cherries you have (including the juice.) Use 3/4 of the amount of sugar. For example if you have 4 cups of cooked cherry matter, add 3 cups of sugar. It may seem like a lot, but that amount of sugar is necessary to keep the jam from spoilage.

6. Stir the sugar and the cherries in the pot and cook over moderate-to-high heat. The best jam is cooked quickly. While it's cooking, put a small white plate in the freezer. Remain vigilant and stir the fruit often with a heatproof utensil. (Wouldn't it be a shame to burn it at this point?) Scrape the bottom of the pot as you stir as well.

7. Once the bubbles subside and the jam appears a bit thick and looks like it is beginning to gel, (it will coat the spatula in a clear, thick-ish, jelly-like layer, but not too thick) turn off the heat and put a small amount of jam on the frozen plate and return to the freezer. After a few minutes, when you nudge it if it wrinkles, it's done.

If not, cook it some more, turn off the heat, and test it again. If you overcook your jam, the sugar will caramelize and it won't taste good and there's nothing you can do. Better to undercook it, test it, then cook it some more.

Once it's done and gelled, add a bit of kirsch if you have it, clear cherry eau-de-vie which will highlight the flavor. Or add a few drops of almond extract, but not too much, or it will taste like a cheap Italian cake. Ladle the warm jam into clean jars and cover. Cool at room temperature, then put in the refrigerator where it will keep for several months.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Robert Linxe's Chocolate Truffles


Ok. I know these may look less like something you would want to eat and more like, well, let's face it, a pile of poo, but trust me- you want to eat these. Robert Linxe is famous for his outstanding truffles, and unfortunately it's taken me until now to learn that Gourmet *moment of silence* printed the recipe with his little secret almost ten years ago. TEN YEARS. It's embarrassing how far behind the curve I am on this one. This was a fun recipe to make, and infinitely adaptable. I steeped some peppermint leaves in the cream for half an hour and added some homemade peppermint extract (the mint cream alone wasn't strong enough for my taste), but I imagine these would be great with anything from almond to hazelnut to Kahlua. Linxe's secret is that he pipes the ganache centers onto a parchment lined tray and then freezes them, then rolls them in a smear of melted chocolate in his hands to create a thin shell, then rolls them in cocoa powder (giving them the appearance of real truffles, straight from the ground. Cute, eh?). Once set, that thin coating of chocolate turns into a shell that lightly shatters as you bite into them, giving way to smooth ganache. I know you know this already, but make sure to use high-quality chocolate (he recommends Valrhona, but Scharffen Berger or Callebaut work well, too) since it's the star of the show here. It may seem expensive to use the good stuff, but you'll thank yourself in the end.


Ingredients

11 ounces Valrhona chocolate (56% cacao)
2/3 cup heavy cream
Valrhona cocoa powder for dusting

Preparation

Finely chop 8 ounces of the chocolate and put in a bowl.

Bring heavy cream to a boil in a small heavy saucepan. Make sure your pan is small, so you'll lose the least amount of cream to evaporation, and heavy, which will keep the cream from scorching. Linxe boils his cream three times — he believes that makes the ganache last longer. If you do this, compensate for the extra evaporation by starting with a little more cream.

Pour the cream over the chocolate, mashing any big pieces with a wooden spoon.

Then stir with a whisk in concentric circles (don't beat or you'll incorporate air), starting in the center and working your way to the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

Let stand at room temperature until thick enough to hold a shape, about 1 hour, then, using a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch opening or tip, pipe into mounds (about 3/4 inch high and 1 inch wide) on parchment-lined baking sheets. When piping, finish off each mound with a flick of the wrist to soften and angle the point tip. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt 3 more ounces of the same Valrhona and smear some on a gloved hand. Gently rub each chilled truffle to coat lightly with chocolate. The secret to a delicate coating of chocolate is to roll each truffle in a smear of melted chocolate in your hand. Linxe always uses gloves.

Toss the truffles in unsweetened Valrhona cocoa powder so they look like their namesakes, freshly dug from the earth. A fork is the best tool for tossing truffles in cacao. Shake truffles in a sieve to eliminate excess cacao. Store truffles in the refrigerator.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fava Bean Puree


As you can probably surmise from my glaring absence over the last 3 months, things have been a bit hectic around here lately. We've been thrown a few curve balls that have kept me out of the kitchen and out of the blogging world, but the Lord has blessed us immensely throughout everything and we now have a beautiful baby girl.


Since I missed most of springtime produce, I feel like I have to play catchup on a few recipes, starting with this fantastically simple recipe for fava bean puree from Alice Waters, the queen of all things fresh and seasonal. I ate it on toasted slices from a french baguette, but it's great by itself or on pita, and you can also skip the mashing/pureeing step and eat the beans whole. I skipped out on the fresh rosemary (rosemary and I didn't get along well during the pregnancy, and I'm still a bit wary of it) and it was still delicious. This dish is equally delicious if you skip the mashing and leave the beans whole.



Fava Bean Puree
From Chez Panisse Vegetables
3 lbs. fresh fava beans
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 bay leaf
1 small sprig rosemary (I left this out)
1 sprig thyme
1/2 lemon


1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Shell fava beans and discard the pods. Parboil the shelled beans for 1 minute. Drain them and immediately plunge them in ice-cold water for a few minutes to cool. Drain them again and remove their pale green skins, piercing the outer skin of each bean with your thumbnail and popping out the bright green bean with a pinch of your other thumb and forefinger.

2. Warm about 1/2 cup of the olive oil in a shallow, nonreactive saute pan. Add the beans and salt lightly. Add garlic, herbs, and a splash of water. Cook the beans at a slow simmer, stirring and tasting frequently, for about 30 minutes until they are completely soft and pale green and easily mashed into a puree. Add another splash of water from time to time to prevent the beans from drying out and sticking to the pan.

3. When the beans are done, remove and discard the herbs, and mash the beans into a paste with a wooden spoon, or pass them through a sieve or food mill, or puree with a food processor. Taste for seasoning and add more olive oil and a few drops of lemon juice to taste. If the puree is at all dry and tight, add still more olive oil. Don't be stingy with the oil; good olive oil is as important to the flavor of the puree as the beans. Serve warm or at room temperature, by itself or spread on grilled bread. Makes about 3 cups.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Double Vanilla Cupcakes: Respect the Bean


Why does vanilla have such a poor reputation? People will often refer to the boring and mundane as "just vanilla," which leaves me with the distinct impression that these naysayers have never had anything outside the realm of artificial vanilla extract. Pure vanilla, REAL vanilla, with its over 150 aromatic and flavor compounds (versus the artificial stuff's whopping 1), is anything but boring. The bean deserves respect.


These cupcakes are anything but boring, and they don't include any ingredients that push the vanilla bean off its well-deserved pedestal. The cupcake flavor is perfect, leaving me with no desire to change it, thought I do want to experiment with the texture a wee bit by adjusting the recipe to use cake flour instead of all-purpose, and by whipping the egg whites and folding them into the batter to make a lighter cake. Change or no change, this recipe will probably make a regular appearance in my kitchen.


Double Vanilla Cupcakes
(adapted, with slight changes, from here)

Ingredients

Cupcake

1 ½ cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg plus 2 egg whites
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1/2 to 1 vanilla bean (I used a whole bean)

Frosting

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (I used closer to a cup of butter)
1 1/4 cups of powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. While the oven preheats cut open and scrape out the seeds of a vanilla bean. Place the seeds, empty bean, and the milk into a small saucepan. Heat to just under a simmer for a few minutes being careful not to scald the milk. Remove from heat and allow the milk to steep and cool. (Be sure to remove the bean after it cools. Wash it and then place it out to dry so it can be used again.)

2. Beat the butter for about 3 minutes on medium speed, then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat for 30 seconds. Add the egg whites, one at a time, beating for 30 seconds each.

3. In one bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another whisk together the vanilla steeped milk, vanilla extract, and sour cream.

4. Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the butter sugar egg mixture in alternating additions (dry-wet-dry method), starting and ending with the flour. Mix until just combined being sure to not overbeat.

5. Divide the batter into cupcake papers in a muffin tin and bake at 350F for 18-20 minutes or until slightly golden brown. Be sure to rotate the cupcakes after the first 15 minutes to ensure even baking. Be sure to keep a close eye as these can get overbaked quickly. Allow to cool on a wire rack. Frost when cooled.

Frosting

Beat the butter and slowly add in the powdered sugar. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean and beat in.


Makes about 1 dozen cupcakes (I managed closer to 20 small cupcakes)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pan-Seared Sea Bass with Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange Sauce


Recently, I purchased more Meyer lemons than would probably be considered suitable for one person to own, and, not surprisingly, ended up having to zest and juice more lemons than one pair of pregnant hands should ever have to zest and juice; now, my freezer has its own Meyer lemon section (is this sentence still going?) and I've been coming up with all sorts of fun ways to incorporate the aforementioned zest and juice into my life.

Of all the different ways I've used these wonderfully sweet and tart lemons, this is probably my favorite so far. At its core, this sauce is a citrus butter sauce, but it is rounded out with lightly caramelized shallots and a bay leaf that keep it just outside of the realm of "overwhelmingly tropical." It's delicious over a wide variety of seafood (grilled shrimp or seared scallops, for a start) and vegetables (especially asparagus), but I swear the first time I drizzled this over a piece of pan-seared Chilean Sea Bass, I heard the fish whisper you complete me. I heartily agree.

Pan-Seared Chilean Sea Bass with Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange Sauce

I served mine over roasted asparagus and topped it with some caramelized shallots, but I imagine this would be good over a variety of other vegetables or grains.

For sauce:

1 tablespoon of butter
3-4 Tablespoons shallots, minced
Juice from 1 Meyer lemon
1/2 cup blood orange juice
1/2 bay leaf
6 Tablespoons of butter, cut into Tablespoon-sized bits,
Salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

1. Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until tender and just beginning to color (do not brown them), about 3 minutes.

2. Add the lemon and orange juice and bay leaf and simmer on low until reduced by about half (about 5 minutes). Stirring constantly, add butter one tablespoon at a time, incorporating each piece fully before adding the next. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and serve over sea bass.

For Fish:

Olive oil
(2) 6 oz. portions of Chilean Sea Bass
Salt and pepper

1. In a medium saute pan, heat a couple tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Season sea bass with salt and pepper, then place in pan and saute on both sides, turning only once. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your fish, but fish is done when it flakes easily in the center with a fork.

Friday, March 12, 2010

What I Eat When There's Nothing to Eat


Today's post will have to be short, because I'm pretty sure my coherence will fall apart after just a few minutes. My brain is losing its battle with mental fog that I blame partially on pregnancy hormones and partially on a sinus infection that just won't quit.


I haven't felt like venturing into new recipe territory over the last few weeks (with the exception of a wonderful vanilla bean pound cake that I want to tell you about sometime in the near future), but I've managed to scrape together good meals from pantry staples and reimagined leftovers. Any time I roast vegetables in the oven, I save the leftovers; I also follow this general recipe to clean out my leftover fresh veggies at the end of the week (just saute them in a bit of olive oil while the pasta boils). Tossed with pasta, a drizzle of olive oil, and your favorite soft cheese (I always have chevre on hand), leftover vegetables make for an insanely easy lunch on those days that you want something delicious but just don't feel like putting in a lot of effort.

Favorite Easy Pasta Dish


Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook a handful of your pasta of choice until al dente. While pasta boils, either reheat leftover roasted/grilled vegetables in a saute pan or saute fresh greens and vegetables in olive oil until just tender. Drain pasta, reserving some pasta water, and toss pasta in saute pan with vegetables. Add a bit of reserved pasta water and simmer just until you have a thin sauce, then add several chunks of soft cheese and stir into pasta.

In the photos, I used leftover roasted asparagus, an assortment of mushrooms, and yellow peppers, but you can use just shallots and garlic, or onions with cherry tomatoes and a pinch of red pepper flakes, or whatever else you have lurking in your kitchen.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cocoa Brownies


These luscious little beauties have been popping up all over the blogosphere lately, and though I've bookmarked the recipe more than once, I've been skeptical about how good they could really be. My preferred brownie recipes have always incorporated melted chocolate into the batter, and even though I had yet to find that brownie (you know, THE ONE, the perfect marriage of texture and flavor), I didn't give much thought to this recipe, because what's a brownie without melted chocolate?


Heaven in your mouth, if you must know. A brownie like this leaves you in awe of its unhindered deep chocolatey-ness, makes you wonder where its dense, fudgy texture with its paper-thin crinkly top has been all your life, and makes you vow to never love another brownie again. I may sound ridiculous, but I'll bet that you'll be writing your own love sonnets to these brownies after you try them. The melted chocolate that I thought I loved most about other brownies turned out to be exactly what was coming between me and my brownie nirvana due to the presence of cocoa butter, which can really tamp down all the great qualities of cocoa. I was tempted to serve these with ice cream and homemade caramel sauce, but I just couldn't imagine that those usual bells and whistles would make these showstoppers any more impressive than they already are. Use a good quality cocoa powder for these. Splurge on something other than Nestle and Hershey's (I hate to call them out by name, but they just won't cut it in this case). I recommend cutting them into small squares, because they satisfy even the most voracious chocolate craving after only a couple of bites.


Alice Medrich's Cocoa Brownies

10 tablespoons (141 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (280 grams) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (82 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup (66 grams) all-purpose flour

1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

2. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. It looks fairly gritty at this point, but don’t fret — it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added.

3. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Spread evenly in the lined pan.

4. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.

5. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Back to Basics: Extracts


I would be remiss if, during a kitchen basics-themed month here at FLMH, I didn't write a post on extracts. Extracts have to be the easiest, least labor intensive thing that will ever come out of your kitchen. Most of us don't think twice when we pay six bucks for a couple ounces of vanilla extract, but in reality, extracts are some of the most expensive items by volume that most of us have in our pantries. When compared with how simple and inexpensive they are to make at home, the expense of the store-bought extracts seems needless. I know the thought on many of your minds is "but what if I want vanilla extract? Aren't vanilla beans expensive?" Well, yes, if you're buying them at the grocery store and paying sixteen dollars for two scrawny beans. There are, however, plenty of places online where you can order beans in bulk for a much more reasonable price (I use saffron.com). I can get a half pound of good-quality beans here for fifteen or sixteen dollars, the same price I'd pay for two or three beans at my local
grocery store. That's usually about forty five beans, folks. Do the math.


The general ratio for a single-strength vanilla extract is three beans to every cup of liquor, but you can double the amount of beans for a stronger extract. Most recipes I've seen on the blogosphere call for vodka, but I prefer to use rum for vanilla extract because I like that warm kiss that rum lends toward baked goods, and I find that rum compliments the vanilla flavor more effectively than vodka does.

Vanilla Extract

3 vanilla beans, split
1 cup liquor (I prefer rum, but vodka is more popular)

Place beans and liquor in a glass jar and seal. Before use, store for at least 6 weeks in a cool, dark place, gently shaking every few days.

Want to make peppermint extract? Fill a jar with clean peppermint leaves that you've slightly bruised with your hands and top off with vodka. How about a citrus extract? Fill a jar with orange or lemon zest (or a combination of both), being careful to not include the pith, and top with vodka. Anise? Drop some star anise into a jar and, well, you get the picture. No matter what kind of extract you make, let it sit in a cool, dark place for at least six weeks (preferably two months) and give the jar a little shake every few days, and voila! You've got yourself a great homemade extract.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Back to Basics: Homemade Oreos


I debated whether or not I should categorize this post as "back to basics" because I don't necessarily think of cookies as a pantry staple. But, let's face it, most people have some sort of packaged cookie on hand at all times, and most of those cookies just aren't as wonderful as they're cracked up to be. As a child, my favorite cookie was the Oreo; I remember being able to eat them by the sleeve (does anyone else miss having the metabolism they had when they were 11?). Now, I can't get past the chemical taste, but I can remedy that problem by making them myself. I can't claim that this is more convenient than just buying them at the store, but they definitely taste the way an Oreo should taste, minus all the funky tasting stuff. The recipe recommends 10-12 minutes of baking, but my cookies were done after only 9 minutes, so you may want to start checking yours around 8 minutes.



Cream-Filled Chocolate Sandwiches
(Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies)


1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus more for flattening cookies
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
Vanilla Cream Filling (recipe follows)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Into a bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, beat to combine. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour mixture; continue beating until dough is well combined.

3. Using a 1 1/4" ice cream scoop, drop dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets about 2" apart. Dip bottom of a glass in sugar, press to flatten cookies to about 1/8" thick. (You may need to carefully remove dough from glass with a thin metal spatula).

4. Transfer to oven and bake until cookies are firm, 10-12 minutes (mine only took 9), rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer baking sheets to wire racks to cool completely.

5. Place cream filling in pastry bag fitted with a coupler and pipe about 1 tablespoon of filling onto the flat side of half the cookies. Place remaining cookies on top and gently press on each to squeeze filling to the edges. Filled cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Vanilla Cream Filling
(Makes about 1 cup)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1. With an electric mixer, cream butter and shortening until well combined.

2. On low speed, gradually add confectioners' sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to combine. Set aside at room temperature until ready to use.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Marsala Poached Pears


One of my favorite ways to end a meal is with a bowl of summer berries topped with a wisp of freshly whipped cream. Sadly for me, summer berries just aren't happening in February, so I need to get my fruit fix elsewhere. Enter the poached pear. I've always enjoyed baked autumn and winter fruits, but somehow I missed the boat when it comes to poaching fruit. It just never appealed to me, and I was content to lend my poaching skills only to eggs, fish, and chicken. I should kick myself.


The only thing I can say about this is BEST. PEAR. EVER. That, and EASIEST dessert ever. Seriously, you just peel a few pears and put them in a covered pot with some wine and spices, walk away for 20 minutes, bask in the smell of the slowly reducing spiced wine, then plate the pears and pour the reduced sauce over them. That's it. As with most things this simple, you can always cater the spices to your palate. If you want to dress it up, serve with ice cream or whipped cream; if you're me and see no reason to discriminate, serve with both.

Marsala Poached Pears
(Adapted from Simply Recipes)

Ingredients

4 bosc pears, peeled, stem still attached, 1/4-inch of bottom sliced off so pears can easily sit upright
1 cup dry Marsala wine (or Madeira)
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 star anise
4 cloves
1/2 stick cinnamon

1. In a saucepan just large enough to fit all of the pears, place the Marsala wine, sugar, lemon juice, star anise, cloves, and cinnamon. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium and place the pears in the pan, standing upright. Cover the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes (if you want, baste with the liquid a couple of times during the cooking), until the pears can easily be pierced with a fork. Very firm pears make need to cook for up to 20 minutes.

2. Remove the pears to a serving dish. Keeping the pan uncovered, let the Marsala syrup boil down for a few minutes until it is a thick syrup. (If it begins to caramelize, remove pan from the heat and add a little water to the pan to stop the cooking.) Pour syrup over pears and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Back to Basics: Chai Tea


If you were to take a cursory glance at my spice cabinet right now, you'd find a fairly disorganized melange of spices that probably need to be replaced sometime soon. Many of my spices are reaching the end of their usable shelf life, so my newest obsession is replacing all of my ground spices with their whole counterparts and grinding my own as I need them. It's not as time consuming as it sounds, and home ground spices pack a lot more flavor than their pre-ground counterparts. Don't believe me? Take a cinnamon stick and put it through an electric coffee grinder (preferably a metal one, so it doesn't absorb flavors and pass them on to whatever you grind next) and then smell your freshly ground cinnamon next to that powdered cinnamon you bought in bulk two years ago. See? No comparison.


Grinding aside, whole spices can be used in several different ways, most of which replace our favorite drink mixes. I've seen everything from instant coffee with cardamom to instant hot cocoa with anise... but really, how hard is it to make your own cocoa and pop a couple of anise stars in it? Are we really THAT pressed for time, or have we just gotten so used to having everything pre-made that we don't stop to think about how easy it might be to do it ourselves?


At the moment, my favorite application of whole spices is chai tea. I love its versatility and how you can omit several spices, add different spices, and have fun with it until you find something that's perfect for you. Many people use a strong black tea, but I prefer a lighter jasmine tea- it gives the spices more room to shine- and I like to drink mine cold (though it is still quite good hot). I absolutely love the clove/cardamom/anise flavors, but I've added fennel with good results, and if I plan to drink it hot, I'll add a thick strip of orange zest to perk things up a bit.

Chai Tea
(Adapted, with small changes, from here)

Ingredients

2 cups water

1 3″ cinnamon stick

8 cloves

10 cardamom pods (preferably green, but black will work too)

5 black peppercorns

2 Anise Stars

1 1″ piece of ginger

2 tsp loose jasmine tea

1 thick strip orange peel

2 T sugar

1 cup 2% or whole milk

1. Begin heating water in a pot on high. Smack cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom pod with the flat side of a knife to break them up a bit. In a dry sauté pan, toast cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, peppercorns, and anise stars (be careful not to burn them). Cut the ginger piece in half and smack the ginger with the flat side of a knife to break it up a bit.

2. Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods (make sure you get all the little center seeds, that’s the real flavor), peppercorns, anise stars, ginger, and tea to the water. Boil on high for 12 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the orange peel, sugar, and milk. Continue to cook for about 3 minutes more, being careful not to let the milk boil over.

3. Strain into mugs or into a small pitcher. Can be enjoyed hot or cold.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Back to Basics: Homemade Marshmallows


This month at Milk and Honey, I'm posting a series of basic recipes that I strongly feel everyone should have at their fingertips. We take so many things in our pantries for granted, but what would we do if there was a run on mayonnaise or on our favorite spice mixes? Go without? I certainly would not; after all, most of our favorite pantry items predate the industrial process by at least several hundred years, meaning that people used to make these things from scratch, without hesitation, as a way of life. Purchasing the pre-made stuff may be convenient, but that perceived gain in convenience is more than lost in flavor and quality. The sad part is that most of these beloved items are incredibly easy to make, but we are so far removed from the process that we assume that preparation must be either time consuming or difficult. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be surprised by how quickly most of your pantry favorites can be made and by how any from-scratch item trumps its store bought counterpart in the flavor department.


I can't think of a better way to start this series than marshmallows. As a teenager, I learned how long marshmallows have actually been around, and it blew my mind. The mallows to which I was accustomed were so obviously processed and chemically treated that I couldn't fathom what they should taste like in their original form. What kept me coming back for more? Pure ignorance. Now that I know better, I like to keep the ingredients for mallows on hand at all times. They make great gifts, and they take rice krispie treats, hot cocoa, and s'mores to a whole new level. This recipe is for basic marshmallows, but flavor additions are limitless. Try adding slices of fresh ginger to the pot while the syrup boils for ginger mallows, or add lavender and Lillet to the final stages of whipping for a classier, grown-up treat. If you like your mallows a bit softer, reduce the whipping time; for firmer mallows, increase it.

Homemade Marshmallows
(Adapted from Alton Brown)

Ingredients:

3 packets unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Nonstick spray

1. Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.

2. In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

3. Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.

For regular marshmallows:

1. Combine the confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.

2. When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

3. Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners' sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

For miniature marshmallows:

1. Combine the confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Line 4 half sheet pans with parchment paper, spray the paper with nonstick cooking spray and dust with the confectioners' sugar mixture.

2. Scoop the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round piping tip. Pipe the mixture onto the prepared sheet pans lengthwise, leaving about 1-inch between each strip. Sprinkle the tops with enough of the remaining cornstarch and sugar mixture to lightly cover. Let the strips set for 4 hours or up to overnight.

3. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces using a pizza wheel or scissors dusted with the confectioners' sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining sugar mixture and store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Anadama Bread


I have had this recipe sitting on my bookshelf, twiddling its thumbs and patiently waiting for me to pay any attention to it, for over a year. An entire year, people! I have no good reason for unjustly ignoring other than I simply haven't gotten into the habit of baking my own loaf bread yet. Yes, I, Miss Everything From Scratch, still purchase our weekly loaf of sandwich bread at the grocery store and, with each sandwich I eat, I lament the fact that I didn't take the time to make my own bread and vow to do it the next week. Sadly, "next week" came and went about 52 times and now I am kicking myself for all the time I've lost with this fantastic loaf and its soft, hearty, moist, and flavorful characteristics.


This particular recipe comes from Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" (which, if you don't already own, you should go buy). Though the recipe may look long and tiresome, it's not difficult, and doesn't require a lot of hands-on time. I prefer this bread sans butter, jam, or honey; it's perfectly balanced, quite moist, and needs no additions (though it does make the best peanut butter and preserves sandwich I've ever had). For you molasses haters out there, don't be scared. The molasses is present, but up against the subtly nutty cornmeal soaker, it takes a backseat, spares you the full spectrum of its flavor profile, and pulls through with just a hint of sweetness and depth. On that note, I think it's time for another slice.

Peter Reinheart's Anadama Bread

Soaker:

1 cup (6 oz.) cornmeal, preferably coarse grind
1 cup (8 oz.) water, at room temperature

Dough:

4 1/2 cups (20.25 oz.) unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons (.22 oz.) instant yeast
1 cup (8 oz.) water, lukewarm (90-100 degrees F)
1 1/2 teaspoons (.38 oz.) salt
6 tablespoons (4 oz.) molasses
2 tablespoons (1 oz.) shortening or unsalted butter, at room temperature
cornmeal, for dusting (optional)

1. The day before making the bread, make the soaker by mixing the cornmeal and water in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight at room temperature.

2. The next day, to make the dough, stir together 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, the soaker, and water in a mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and ferment for 1 hour, or until the sponge begins to bubble.

3. Add the remaining 2 1/2 cups of flour, the salt, molasses, and butter and stir (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) until the ingredients form a ball. Add water if necessary to make a soft, slightly sticky mass.

4. Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook), sprinkling in more flour as needed to make a tacky, but not sticky, dough. The dough should be first but supple and pliable and definitely not sticky. It will take about ten minutes of kneading to accomplish this (or 6-8 minutes in the electric mixer*). The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77-81 degrees F.

5. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment the dough at room temperature for about 90 minutes, or until it doubles in size.

6. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide it into 2 equal pieces of 24 ounces, or 3 pieces of about 16 ounces. Shape the dough into loaves** and place them into bread pans that have been lightly oiled or misted with spray oil (the larger loaves should go into 9x5" pans and the smaller loaves into 8 1/2x4 1/2" pans). Mist the tops of the loaves with spray oil and loosely cover tops with plastic wrap.

7. Proof at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the loaves crest fully above the top of the pans. (If you want to hold back any of the loaves, place them in the refrigerator without proofing, where they will hold, or retard, for up to 2 days. Remover them from the refrigerator about 4 hours before baking and proof them at room temperature, or until ready).

8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Place the pans on a sheet pan and remove the plastic wrap. Mist the tops with a spray of water and dust with cornmeal.

9. Place the sheet pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the sheet pan for even baking and continue to bake 20 to 30 minutes***, or until the loaves are golden brown, including along the sides and the bottom, and register at least 185 to 190 degrees F in the center. They should make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.

10. When the loaves are done, remove them immediately from the pans and cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before slicing or serving.

NIC NOTES:

* My dough needed 11 minutes with the dough hook before it passed the windowpane test. Also, depending on the brand of flour you use and the humidity levels in your kitchen, you may have to add what feels like quite a bit of flour or water to your dough.

** To shape your loaves, flatten the measured piece of dough with your hand, folding in the edges to make an even-sided rectangle about 5" wide and 6 to 8" long. Working from the short side of the dough, roll up the length of the dough one section at a time, pinching the crease with each rotation to strengthen the surface tension. The loaf will spread out as you roll it up, eventually extending to a full 8 to 9". Pinch the final seam closed with the back edge of your hand or with your thumbs. Rock the loaf to even it out; do not taper the ends. Keep the surface of the loaf even across the top. Place the loaf in a lightly oiled loaf pan. The ends of the loaf should touch the ends of the pan to ensure an even rise.

*** My loaves were done after 32 minutes (20 minutes, turn, then 12 minutes). Your time may vary.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Change of Pace


Most mornings, my breakfast consists of the same thing: unsweetened steel cut oats with raisins and a splash of milk. If I'm feeling adventurous, I might throw some dried cranberries in the mix and really shake things up. The rest of my day can be pretty fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, and I'm perfectly happy with that, but mess with my morning bowl of oats? Never.


However, I've recently decided to break out of my breakfast rut. I'll probably never be able to eat eggs and bacon first thing in the morning, but granola I can do. (I know you're thinking "You're breaking out of an oatmeal rut with... oatmeal?" but hey, they're rolled oats, not steel cut, and they're sweetened. Baby steps).

This is just a base recipe to which you can add nuts, spices, and dried fruits to build a personalized granola. Try macadamia nuts with dried mango and pineapple, walnuts with dried cranberries and blueberries, or keep it simple with just almonds and raisins. Substitute cardamom for the cinnamon, vanilla for the almond extract, honey for the maple syrup, or go buck wild and throw some molasses in there.

Basic Granola Recipe
Adapted, with changes, from Alton Brown

3 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2-3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, cinnamon, and brown sugar (and any nuts, if you use them)

3. In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, salt, and almond extract. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color.

4. Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Add any dried fruit and mix.

Friday, January 22, 2010

My New Favorite


Maybe I'm jumping the gun, but I can't wait for spring to get here. I woke up the other day with a wicked craving for something grilled, some watermelon, and potato salad. I even contemplated making some southern style sweet tea, which I'm pretty sure I can chalk up to pregnancy cravings since I've never in my life wanted to drink something that sweet. In an attempt to assimilate with these crazy cold-weather notherners, I planned to fire up the grill and make a completely unseasonal summertime meal; however, my feelings changed the second it started sleeting outside. Fortunately, by that point, the only thing I was still craving was potato salad, and fortunately, I made some.


I've been told I'm too picky when it comes to potato salad, but I just don't have much appreciation for a flatly-flavored, mushy potatoes loaded down with mayo. It's kind of gross, really. This salad, though, has just enough mayo to bind everything together, plenty of radishes and pickled cucumbers (I'll get back to those in a minute) to provide a welcome burst of crunch, and a hearty dose of dill to keep the flavor bright. It's my new favorite potato salad.


I would urge you to make an extra batch of the pickled cucumbers. I ended up eating so many of them from the bowl while they were pickling, I wasn't sure that I would have enough for the salad. They're delicious, addictive, and they're so easy to make, I can't think of a reason to not have them in my refrigerator at all times for salads and sandwiches.

Dilled Potato and Pickled Cucumber Salad
(Adapted from here)
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 1-pound English hothouse cucumbers, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 10 medium), unpeeled, cut into large bite-sized pieces
Additional coarse kosher salt
1/2 cup very thinly sliced white onion
4 radishes, trimmed, thinly sliced
1/3 cup mayonnaise (use more or less, depending on how much mayo you like)

Directions:
1. Stir vinegar and 2 teaspoons coarse salt in small bowl until salt dissolves. Place cucumbers and 1/4 cup dill in heavy 1-gallon resealable plastic bag or plastic container. Add vinegar mixture; seal bag. Turn or stir several times to coat. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight, turning or stirring a few times.

2. Pour cucumber mixture into large sieve set over bowl. Drain at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours. Discard brine.

3. Cook potatoes in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain. Cool potatoes completely. Place potatoes in large bowl; sprinkle generously with coarse salt and pepper. Add drained cucumbers, onion, sliced radishes, and remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons dill; toss to blend. Let stand 1 hour. Stir mayonnaise into salad. Season generously with salt and pepper, if desired. (Salad can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Mound salad in bowl. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Banana Blueberry Muffins with Lemon Glaze


Wow. Has it really been almost 2 weeks since I last posted? I wish I had a spectacular recipe for all of you patient readers out there (yes, all two of you!), but all I have to offer right now are these muffins. At the moment, I have a fantastic caramel pudding setting up in the fridge and a very promising potato salad doing its thing, but I'll have to tell you about those later.


I baked these muffins in an attempt to find a healthy-ish baked good to pack in my husband's lunch. I expected a moist, flavorful muffin with bursts of blueberry goodness; however, all I got out of these was a slightly dry muffin with not a whole lot going for it in the tastiness department. I did manage to salvage them with a lemon glaze because, let's face it, anything can be improved with lemon glaze. Yes, it may negate anything healthful about these muffins, but what good is a healthy muffin that you don't want to eat?

Banana Blueberry Muffins with Lemon Glaze
(Adapted from Martha Stewart)

1 cup whole-wheat flour (spooned and leveled)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas (about 1 pound)
1/3 cup reduced-fat (2 percent) milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup frozen blueberries


Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. In a bowl, whisk together flours, wheat germ, baking soda, and salt.

2. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In another bowl, mash bananas with a fork (you should have 3/4 cup); stir in milk and vanilla.

3. With mixer on low, alternately add flour mixture and banana mixture to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix just until combined. Fold in frozen blueberries.

4. Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 28 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Let cool in pan 10 minutes; transfer muffins to a rack to cool 10 minutes more.

To make lemon glaze: Combine the juice of one lemon with enough powdered sugar to create desired consistency (I like mine a bit on the thick side). Drizzle over muffins while they cool on the rack.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pork and White Bean Ragout


I seem to have a knack for unintentionally keeping recipes to myself for entirely too long. I've made many a delicious meal, documented them with honest intentions of blogging them ASAP, and then promptly let my culinary ADD take over and completely forgot about it until months later when I found the photos lurking in my archives. Such was the case today when I was cleaning up my photo folders and came across pictures of these gorgeous blood oranges I enjoyed a few months ago (you know, the ones I didn't tell you about). In case you were wondering, they were as delicious as they were beautiful.


Of course, in my usual fashion, I bought a few more oranges than I could eat and had to find other uses for them, which brought me to this recipe. The blood orange juice and red wine (sangria, anyone?) give this dish a wonderfully bold, fruity element, but the paprika, cloves, and chili flakes lend enough spice and heat to remind you that this is a dish for cold winter nights, not for muggy summer picnics. My only complaint was that the rosemary almost overwhelmed the dish in a not-so-pleasant, piny sort of way. For a less woodsy experience, I'd suggest using less than the requested 3 branches.


Pork and White Bean Ragout
(adapted, with small changes, from here)

1 cup dried white beans, rinsed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 pound boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Grated zest and juice of 1 blood orange
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
3 branches fresh rosemary (I would use a bit less next time)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Small pinch red chili flakes
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Place beans in a saucepan, cover with water by 2 inches, bring to a boil, cook 2 minutes, cover and set aside to soak 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 4-quart casserole and brown pork without crowding over medium-high heat. Remove. Add onion, garlic and bell pepper. Sauté over low heat until soft. Stir in paprika, cloves and zest. Stir in orange juice and wine, scraping bottom of pan. Return pork to pan. Set aside until beans have finished soaking, then drain beans and add. Add rosemary, black pepper and chili. Bring to a simmer.

3. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 hours, until beans are tender. Add water occasionally, if needed. Season with salt. Leave in casserole for serving or transfer to a serving dish. Scatter parsley on top before serving.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Quick and Easy Chocolate Buttercream


I made this cake for Christmas, and though I was a little underwhelmed by the cake itself (almond and my picky preggo palate just weren't jiving that day), I loved the chocolate buttercream. It's a lighter chocolate flavor, so if you're looking for a death-by-chocolate sort of deal, this is not your frosting (though I do have something to post for you fellow chocoholics later). I'm a bit surprised by how much I liked this, considering it's a quick buttercream and not the cooked meringue style I usually prefer; however I do think it could be improved upon with a bit of Bailey's. Either way, I like this for a quick, not-too-heavy on the chocolate chocolate buttercream. It's not the greatest for decorative piping, but it works enough for the basics.


Chocolate Buttercream
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

3 cups butter, at room temperature
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. bittersweet chocolate, chopped, melted and cooled(I used Callebaut)

1. In a large mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter until creamy.
2. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, and beat until incorporated into butter.
3. Add vanilla and salt, beat until incorporated.
4. Add chocolate and beat until chocolate is thoroughly mixed and buttercream is light and fluffy.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

...And in the Morning, I'm Makin' WAFFLES!


If you're wondering what that "whoosh" sound was, that was the sound of the holiday season flying by at breakneck speed, leaving all of us in its wake wondering what to do next. From New Year's until the first signs of warm weather, I always get this sense that I'm meandering through some sort of suspended animation, trapped in a cold-weather induced mental fog with my head down and my eyes focused on my feet. I don't know why I always feel so subdued this time of year, but I do know that it doesn't take much more than a waffle to coax me out of my semi-hibernation. Though I prefer the classic yeast-risen waffle, this recipe is worth keeping in your repertoire for whenever you need a waffle fix, fast. The batter comes together quickly, and although it doesn't create a waffle as light and fluffy with as crisp of an exterior as some of the yeasted Belgian waffle recipes do, it's definitely got a leg up in those categories compared to most of the other quick batter waffles I've tried.

Buttermilk Waffles
(Adapted from Mark Bittman)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
2 eggs, separated
4 Tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then stir in the buttermilk, egg yolks, butter and vanilla.

2. Preheat the waffle iron. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks, then gently fold into the batter.

3. Spread a half cup to cup or so of batter onto the waffle iron and bake until the waffle is done (amount of batter and bake time will vary, depending on your waffle iron). Serve immediately.