Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Not-so-secret Top Secret Amish Sugar Cookies

When the name of a cookie is so long, you know there's a story behind it.

First graders at my children's school had a heritage project before Christmas this year.  They needed to research a country their family was from, a holiday that country celebrated, and then create a poster, and present their research in a living museum. On their poster, a recipe needed to be included.

On my dad's side of the family, we have Amish roots (yes, I know this isn't a country, but it's interesting, especially in Texas!).  J choose to research the Amish and we scrambled to find a recipe. I goggled Amish cookies (because, we all know, My name is Melani, I have a baking problem and when given an option, I bake).  I found sugar cookies pop up several times.

These aren't your normal cookie cutter sugar cookies.  They aren't crispy like sand tarts, nor flat like cookie cutter cookies.  This are cake like and domed.  By themselves, they are relatively unimpressive, but top them with some white icing and sprinkles (or a raisin in the center like I remember my aunt making them.  I opted not to included the raisins because it reminds of breasts), they are something else.

For the winter party, we were asked to share Ethnic foods and this was ours.  A bit of stretch, I know, but the whole project was a bit of a stretch for us.  The cookies were a hit with kids--a mom who was there told me all the kids loved them and J also told me how everyone loved them.  He told them though that no one could have the recipe because it was a Top Secret Recipe.

I laughed, this was the first time I've ever made the recipe and it was published in a cookbook.  So, without further ado, here is your Christmas gift--a not-so-secret Top Secret Recipe.

This will yield 6 dozen cookies (or more) depending on how big you make the cookies.

Amish Sugar Cookies
from my mom

1 1/2 c white sugar
1 2/3 c brown sugar
1 1/8 c (18 T) butter, at room temperature
4 eggs
6 1/2 c flour
3 t baking powder
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 1 /2 t salt
1 1/2 c buttermilk
1 1/2 t vanilla

6 T butter, at room temperature
3 - 4 c confectioners sugar
1 t vanilla

For the cookies:  Cream together the sugars and butter until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and mix thoroughly.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add dry ingredients to the sugar/butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk and vanilla (start and end with the dry ingredients).  Drop by teaspoonful (the kind you eat with, not the kind you measure with) onto a cookie sheet.  Bake in preheated 350 degrees oven for 12 - 14 minutes (depending on size).  You can check for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center of one--the edges may be starting to brown just a hair.  Cool on a rack.

For the icing:  Cream together 2 c confectioners sugar and butter in a bowl (I use a handheld mixer). Add the vanilla.  Add the remaining confectioners sugar a bit of a time, adding water to help achieve desired consistency.  Taste periodically to find the desired sweetness (and how much confectioners sugar you need).  

Ice the cooled cookies and decorate with sprinkles, a raisin, or leave only iced.  Let icing harden, then store in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or waxed paper.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Fennel

Lest I bombard you with only sweets recipes this month of December, I am including a chicken recipe.

I love this recipe for several reasons.  One, I love roasted fennel.  It is one of my favorite things.  Two, I  can marinade this while we're at swim practice and then just roast it when we get home and still eat a reasonable time.  Three, I love the clementines.  Four, well, that's all.  I don't love the chicken (except for the skin, which is wonderful here), but I don't love chicken in general.

The original version called for "fancy" alcohol.  I don't like to buy alcohol just for cooking, so I substituted wine.  If you want to stay true to the original recipe, use arak, ouzo or Pernod (I don't even know what two of those are…)

This will serve 4 - 6, depending on who your carnivores are.  We serve this over brown rice or couscous.  I have never bothered with the sauce because we've been too hungry and the amount of sauce already seemed too reduced to mess with, but I am sure it would tasty.

Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Fennel
adapted from Jerusalem by Ottolenghi

6 1/2 T dry white wine (or chicken broth or water)
4 T olive oil
3 T freshly squeezed orange juice
3 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 T coarse grain mustard
3 T brown sugar
2 (or feel free to use more!!) medium fennel bulbs, cut in half lengthwise and then quartered (8 pieces from each bulb)
1 lg chicken, cut into 8 pieces (I cut each breast into 2 pieces and save the backbone/wings for stock)
4 clementines, unpeeled and cut horizontally into 1/4" slices
1 T thyme leaves
1 T fennel seeds, lightly crushed (with a back of a knife or mortal and pestle)

In a large mixing bowl, combine white wine, olive oil, orange juice, lemon juice, mustard, and brown sugar along with 1 T salt and 1 1/2 t black pepper.  Whisk well.

Add fennel wedges, slice clementines, thyme, fennel seeds and chicken to the olive oil mixture.  Coat the solids with the liquid and cover tightly.  Marinate in the refrigerator for a 2 hours to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 475.  Transfer the marinated chicken, fennel, and clementines to a half sheet pan (cookie sheet) in a single layer and pour marinade over top.  Roast in oven for 35 - 45 minutes or until chicken is dark brown and cooked through.

To serve, transfer clementines (yes, the peel is edible, and quite wonderful), fennel wedges, and chicken to a platter.  Garnish with parsley if desired.  Serve with rice or couscous.

Optional sauce:  Before serving, remove chicken from the baking pan.  Pour the remaining roasted marinade into a small pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Simmer until the sauce is reduced to 1/3 c.  Pour over the chicken.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Dark Chocolate Pecan Sea Salted Toffee aka I Do Like Toffee! Toffee

"I can make the toffee," I told my neighbor when we discussed what we were going to make for our book club meeting we were co-hosting.  I make tortes, soufflés, and Italian bread from scratch so what was toffee?  Little did I know.

The month we hosted book club, we read Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist.  When she described making toffee I thought it would be so easy.  What is there to it?  It's just like caramel sauce but hardened.

Wrong and wrong again.  After my first total toffee fail, I remembered Jen Hatmaker blogging about repeated toffee fails and how she could never figure out what in the world she was doing wrong.  Just expect to fail your first time, ok?  Low expectations folks, low expectations.

What I learned:

Shauna Niequist's recipe made it look way too easy and I needed to look elsewhere, say the Pioneer Woman with her step by step instructions with pictures!!

Start with melted butter, don't melt the butter with sugar, I'm convinced that's where my problem lay (because it was a problem from the get go).

Stir constantly.  Usually when recipes say stir constantly, I ignore them.  Don't ignore this instruction.  Stir constantly.

If this recipe doesn't work, goggle toffee mistakes and expect everyone to give you conflicting advice.  Then find a food blog that you generally have good success with and try their instructions.  It's just sugar and water and butter folks, it's not like you're throwing out chocolate or a tasty fruit or vegetable.

It's ok to mess up and try again.

Here's the version I came up with--a lot of the Pioneer Woman's and a little bit of Shauna Niequist's.

from The Pioneer Woman and Shauna Niequist

1 c (16 T or 2 sticks or 8 oz) butter, melted
2 c  (or 8 oz) sugar
1/2 t salt
3 T water
1/2 t vanilla (optional)

1 c good quality dark chocolate chips or chunks
1/2 c or so chopped pecans (you can use more or less depending on your whim)
1 t good quality coarse sea salt--fleur de sal or a fancy salt

In a saucepan (I use my stainless one--not my cast iron one because it heats up faster), combine melted butter, water, salt, and sugar.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Cook over medium-high heat (a 6 or  7 on my stove), stirring gently the whole time.  Using a candy thermometer, bring the sugar mixture to 298 degrees faranheit or until it is a deep amber color.  (I like candy thermometers.  If your mixture doesn't seem to be reaching 298, turn up the heat a bit).  Be very careful not to let any of the melted sugar get on your skin.  I have a scar to show what it can do to you on my wrist.

Remove from the heat and pour onto a rimmed baking sheet (cookie sheet) lined either with parchment paper or a silpat.  Let cool until solid to the touch.

In a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips.  Pour it over the toffee and top immediately top with pecans and sea salt.  Let cool until solid and rather hard.  Break into irregular pieces and serve.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

My Favorite Gingerbread Cookies

This recipe is a source of contention in my house.  I think this is the perfect recipe.  Curtis does not.

See, the problem is, I don't love gingerbread.  The molasses is too strong, as is the ginger.  I like a milder gingerbread then, so I can ignore the strong flavors.  Curtis loves all things ginger…ginger snaps, ginger bread…ginger ale…He also loves molasses.  Thus, he doesn't like this recipe, for the exact reasons I love it.  So every Christmas, we have gingerbread cookie wars.  There's often a lot of gingerbread cookies in our house, because we both want to make *our* recipe.  I refuse to make Curtis's recipe, because I won't eat them, and vice versa.

Makes 5 - 6 dozen depending on the thickness and shape of your cookies

Mel's Favorite Gingerbread Cookies
from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

4 c flour
1/4 c finely ground almonds or hazelnuts (I like almonds)
1 T ground ginger
1 1/4 t ground cinnamon
1 t baking soda
3/4 t salt
1/2 t nutmeg (freshly grated is best)
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t ground black pepper
1/4 t ground cardamom
1 c butter, at room temperature
1 c dark brown sugar
2/3 c molasses
1 large egg
2 t vanilla
3/4 t freshly grated orange zest
1 t finely grated fresh ginger (ginger root)

Combine flour, ground nuts, ground ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cloves, pepper, and cardamom in a medium bowl.

In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, using an electric mixture.  Add the molasses, egg, vanilla, orange zest, and fresh ginger.  Mix well, until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes.  Add the flour mixture and mix until combined.

Divide the dough in four discs.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour to 3 days (or you can freeze if you want to save it for longer).

Place on disc on a lightly floured surface and roll out a scant 1/4" thick.  Cut out the desired shapes using cookie cutters, dipping the cutters in flour as needed to prevent sticking.  Transfer to baking sheets lined with parchment paper (or a silpat or just well greased).  Repeat with remaining discs, rerolling scraps as needed.  Bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven for 15 minutes or until the cookies are firm and the edges are golden.  Decorate as much or little as desired.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Palestinian Meatball Soup

I went looking for this recipe thinking of an light Italian broth, tiny meatball, and vegetable type of soup.

This soup does not fit that description at all, what so ever.

This soup is a hearty, warm-your-healthy-bones soup (in other words, not a sick and I want to feel better soup).  This soup is the I spent an hour outside building a snow man with my kids and am freezing kind of soup.  Or, since here in our part of Texas we can't build many snowmen, it is the strong north wind, we're a bunch of wimps, it's 35 degrees out of type of soup.

This soup contains a spice mixture called baharat.  To make the baharat, you need a spice grinder (or mortal and pestle, which I can never figure out how to operate correctly).   The spices in baharat are pretty easy to find, especially if you can buy them bulk somewhere.  The recipe for baharat makes enough for three recipes of this meatball soup.  Make it all at once and set aside (in a tightly sealed container) and save it for next time.

The original recipe calls for freekeh, an ancient Middle Eastern grain.  The first time I made this recipe, I thought I had freekeh, but it turned out to be farro, so I used that instead.  The second time, I searched two stores (including Whole Foods) for freekeh and couldn't find it so I used the red wheat berries I had at home instead.  Both substitutions worked great.  Bulgur is also suggested by the original recipe authors.  Maybe one of these time I will visit a few more stores to attempt to find freekeh.  For now, I am happy with my substitutions, both of which were easy for me to find at Whole Foods.

We all like this soup, especially the meatballs.

This will serve 6 - 8 depending on the size of your eaters.

Palestinian Meatball Soup
adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Baharat Mixture:
1 t black peppercorns
1 t coriander seeds
1 small cinnamon stick, coarsely chopped
1/2 t whole cloves
1/2 t ground allspice
2 t cumin seeds
1 t cardamom pods
1/2 t whole nutmeg, grated

To make baharat:  place all the spices in a spice grinder and grind until a fine powder is formed.  It will keep for 8 weeks in an airtight container.

1 lb ground beef
1 sm onion, finely diced
2 T flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/2 t ground allspice
1/4 t ground cinnamon
3 T flour
2 T olive oil

2 T olive oil
1 lg onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, peeled if desired and cut into 3/8"cubes
2 celery stalks, cut into 3/8" cubes
1 (14-oz) can diced tomatoes (with their juice)
2 T tomato paste
1 T baharat mixture (see above)
1 T ground coriander
1 cinnamon stick
1 T superfine sugar
1 c cracked freekeh, farro, or wheat berries (red or white)
2 c beef stock
2 c chicken stock
3 1/4 c hot water

chopped cilantro
lemon wedges

To make the meatballs, combine ground beef, onion, parsley, allspice, cinnamon, 1/4 t pepper, and 1/2 t salt.  Mix well with your hands and form into 24- 30 meatballs (or more or less depending on how big  you like your meatballs).  Heat the oil in a dutch oven or soup pot and fry the meatballs over medium heat until golden brown on all sides and cooked through.  Remove from pot and set aside.

In the same pot, add a little olive oil if the pot looks dry.  Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes, scraping the browned meatball bits from the bottom of the pan.  Stir in the carrots and celery and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, baharat mixture, coriander, cinnamon stick, sugar, 2 t salt, 1/2 t pepper, and cook for another minute, stirring frequently.  Stir in the grain (freekeh, farro, wheat berries, etc) and cook for 2 - 3 minutes.  Add the beef and chicken stocks, hot water, and meatballs.  Bring to boil, cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 - 45 minutes (cooking time depends on the type of grain you are using), stirring occasionally, until the grain is tender.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve sprinkled with chopped cilantro (don't skip this step.  This dish needs the cilantro) and with lemon wedges on the side (you can step this if you want).

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Camping Pancakes

Part of the fun of camping for me is finding camping type of recipes that also taste good.  Yes, I could get a box of pancake mix and just add water, but I would rather eat food that is slightly better for me while I am camping (and that tastes better too).

My first pancake recipe, I liked just fine, but M wouldn't eat them.  This is also a problem.  When we're camping I want a meal that everyone will like because they're not many backup options (besides apple cake, toasted over a fire).  Our go to at home pancake isn't an option either--that one involves soaking oatmeal in milk and beating egg whites until stiff.  Not happening while camping, I can assure you.  

This recipe is the perfect recipe for camping pancakes.  The dry ingredients can be prepared ahead of time.  I pre measure the yogurt and take 4 eggs.  Shazam.  We have pancakes.  The yogurt makes me feel a little better about the all white flour, as does the lack of oil.  

The best part?  We all really like these, they are only slightly more complicated than the just add water box mix and they perfect made in the open air.

This makes enough for the 5 of us.  Occasionally we have leftovers (depending on how much apple cake and bacon we have also eaten).

Aunt Edna's Yogurt Pancakes
adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen who got it from the Pioneer Woman

1 c minus 2 T flour
2 T sugar
2 t baking soda
1 t salt

2 c plain yogurt (not Greek--you need the extra moisture)
4 large eggs
1 t vanilla (optional--I use this at home, not while camping)

If camping:  Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large container with a lid.  Pack in dry food box until it is time to eat.  When ready, add the yogurt to the container of dry ingredients, stirring gently to just combine (it's ok for it to be lumpy).  Add the eggs and gently stir them in, being careful not to over mix.

Cook on black skillet on camp stove or over a fire if you are really ambitious and confident of your fire building/cooking skills.

At home version:  Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add the yogurt and stir gently.  In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs and vanilla.  Add to yogurt/flour mixture and stir until just combined, being careful again not to over mix.

Cook on hot griddle.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

(Crock)Pot Roast

It's finally getting colder here for days at a time.  The soup and roast recipes are coming out, for nothing says warmth like the smell of meat roasting at home.

This recipe started out as an oven recipe.  I however, needed a crockpot recipe, so I adapted it.  I must admit, I overcooked it the first time, but the flavor was wonderful.  Next time, I'll be sure to time it to take it out when it's done and not leave it on warm for two or three hours than it should be.

(Crock)Pot Roast
adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks

1 (2 lb) chuck roast
2 T olive oil
2 onions, cut in half
6 - 8 carrots, cut into 2 inch slices
1 c red wine or beef stock
2 - 3 c beef stock
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 lb potatoes, cut into chunks

Heat olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the onion halves and brown them on both sides.  Put onions in the slow cooker.  Brown carrots in oil and transfer to the slow cooker.  If the pan looks dry, add a little more olive oil.  Sprinkle the roast generously with salt and pepper.  Brown the roast in the pot, turning until it is nicely browned on all sides.  Transfer to slow cooker.  Pour wine or 1 c beef stock into pot.  Stir, scraping the bottom with a spoon to release all the tasty browned bits.  Pour into slow cooker.

Add the potatoes and sprigs of thyme and rosemary to the slow cooker.  Pour in beef stock (start with 2 c, if meat looks dry during cooking, add the third cup).  Cook on high for 5 hours or on low for 8 - 10 hours.

To serve, meat from slow cooker.  Allow to rest for a bit (10 minutes will do) and then slice.  Serve on a platter with carrots and potatoes.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Crunchy Pappardelle

This is another recipe out of the fabulous Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi.  For some reason, my kids weren't fans of this.  However, Curtis and I were so I'll be making this again!

Just a warning, this recipe does use a lot of pots and pans.  Deal with it.  It's totally worth it.

This serves 4.

Crunchy Pappardelle
adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

1/4 c olive oil
6 c button mushrooms, halved (or quartered or sixthed depending on how big the mushrooms are)
3/4 c white wine or water
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs, leaves picked and chopped
3/4 t sugar (if you aren't using wine, omit)
1 c heavy cream
grated zest of 2 lemons
6 T chopped parsley
6 T panko or white bread crumbs
1 -2 bunches broccolini, leaves removed and cut into 2 1/2" long pieces or 2 - 3 small heads of broccoli, cut into small florets
1 lb dried pappardelle

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.  At the same time, bring a medium pot of slated water to a boil for the broccoli/broccolini.  While the water comes to a boil, heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms begin to brown and release their juices, stirring occasionally.  Add the wine/water, bay leaf, thyme leaves, and sugar (if using wine).  Bring to boil and reduce the liquid by 2/3rds.  Add the cream and stir to mix.  Bring to a boil, then remove from heat.  Taste and add plenty of salt and pepper.  Keep warm.

In a small pan over medium heat, toast the panko until golden, stirring as needed to brown evenly.   Be sure to watch closely--the panko browns quickly.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the parsley and lemon zest.  Set aside.

Cook the pasta until al dente, according to package directions.  Reserve about 1 c of pasta water and then drain pasta once al dente.  While the pasta cooks, cook the broccoli or broccolini in the medium pot of water until bright green and crisp tender (about 2 minutes for broccolini--longer for broccoli).  Drain.  Add the broccoli to the mushroom sauce and stir.

Place the pasta in a large serving bowl.  Add the mushroom/broccoli sauce and half the lemon zest/parsley mixture and toss to combine.  If the pasta looks dry, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water.  Stir the remaining lemon zest/parsley mixture with the golden panko.  Sprinkle over top of the pasta.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Baked Mac and Cheese

Months ago, a friend asked me for this recipe.  I still haven't given it to her, so I am just adding it here.  I was shocked to find it wasn't already on this blog--I've been making it five years as my go to baked mac and cheese recipe.

This recipe has lots of different cheese.  You don't really need to use all the cheeses--just aim for 4 cups of cheese, whatever combination floats your boat.  However, be sure to use the velveeta--it helps make the mac and cheese creamier.

This is not a healthy recipe.  If you don't already know this, I'll let you in to a little secret--mac and cheese is not healthy to start with.  This one is particularly bad for you, so make it on occasion and enjoy it thoroughly!

Makes one 9x13" pan and serves about 6 (to maybe 8 depending on serving size)

Baked Mac and Cheese
adapted from the

3/4 lbs (12 oz) elbow macaroni
4 eggs
1/3 c Velveeta cheese, cut into small cubes (small is important so it melts quickly)
5 T butter, melted
2 c half and half, divided
4 c grated cheese  (recommended:  2 c cheddar, 1 c mozzarella, 1/3 c Asiago, 1/3 c Gruyere, 1/3 c Monterey Jack)
dash of salt
black pepper

Cook the macaroni according to the package directions to al dente.  Drain and keep warm.  Whisk the eggs in a large bowl while the macaroni cooks.  Add the Velveeta, butter and 1/2 c of half and half to the eggs.  Add the hot macaroni and toss until the Velveeta is melted and mixture is smooth (if the Velveeta doesn't melt the whole way, that's ok too).  Add the remaining 1 1/2 c half and half and the grated cheese.  Season with salt and pepper and toss until completely combined in a large bowl.

Pour the mixture into a 9x13" baking pan and bake for 1 hour in a preheated 325 degrees oven.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Pumpkin Cupcakes with the Best Icing Ever

Many months seem to have desserts that belong to them.  June, July, and August are for ice cream, popsicles, and cold desserts.  September is for apple desserts.  October is for all things pumpkin and cupcaky.  December is for cookies. January is for sneaking in bread pudding once I'm done trying to eat healthy.  February is for cherry and strawberry desserts. Spring and summer months (depending on where you live) also get berry crisps, strawberry tarts, and other light, not so filling desserts.

November gets pies.  Every imaginable kind of pie.  Some pumpkin desserts make the cut, but mostly, it's pies.  November is not for cupcakes.  Sorry, November.

Yet, here it is, November 10 and I am posting a cupcake recipe.  I still have pureed butternut squash in my fridge and there was that school fall festival yesterday, complete with a cake walk.  I made cupcakes.  They were fabulous.  So November, you can have these cupcakes too, especially if they sneak in at the beginning of the month, before the pies take over.

We were thankful these were mostly donated to the school cake walk.  Otherwise, Curtis and I would have eaten way.too.many.  The icing was incredible--salted caramel.  One cupcake was all we each got and it was just enough to leave me thinking about exactly how good those cupcakes were and how lucky two cake walk winners were.

If you want, you can make the salted caramel sauce days in advance.  Just refrigerate and then reheat before to room temperature (so it's pourable) before using.  If you don't feel like messing with making caramel, you can also use store bought salted caramel sauce.  Just be sure to buy the good stuff (with real ingredients, not the cheapest on the shelf).

A single recipe makes 15 cupcakes.  Go ahead and just double the recipe.  Share the love.

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Icing
adapted from

3/4 c (12 T) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 c flour
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
1 c cooked pumpkin (butternut squash) puree or canned pumpkin
1 c brown sugar
1/2 c sugar
1 t vanilla
2 large eggs

Salted Caramel Sauce:
1 c sugar
6 T butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1/2 c heavy cream
1/2 T fleur de sel or other fancy, coarse sea salt (it's worth it to buy this in bulk folks.  Totally worth it)

3/4 c (12 T) butter at room temperature
2 c powdered sugar
1/2 c salted caramel sauce (from above)

For the cupcakes:  In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium (or medium-low, up to you, I like medium) and cook, swirling occasionally, until the butter turns golden brown.  Watch carefully to prevent from burning.  The butter should smell nice and nutty.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  Meanwhile, in a small to medium bowl,  whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  In a larger bowl, stir together the pumpkin, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and browned butter.  Add the flour mixture and whisk until just combined.  Line muffin cups with paper liners.  Fill each cup  3/4 full.   Bake in a preheated 325 degrees oven 20 -25 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack after they have cooled a bit and allow to cool completely before icing.

For the salted caramel sauce:  While the cupcakes bake, make the caramel sauce.  Heat the sugar in a small saucepan over medium to medium-high heat.  Stir in the sugar as it begins to melt and stir frequently until the sugar is melted.  Once the sugar has melted, no longer stir.  Swirl the pan if you need to stir the sugar.  Continue cooking the sugar until it reaches a deep amber color (a lighter amber color will give you a milder flavor), being careful not to scorch it.  If you are unsure, use a candy/fry thermometer and cook until the sugar reaches 350 degrees.  Carefully add the butter and stir (caramel will bubble up vigorously when things like butter or cream are added).  Stir until the butter is melted.  Remove from heat and stir in the cream.  Sir in the fleur de sel.  Melted sugar is extremely hot.  Let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then you can pour into a jar or other storage container.

For the frosting:  Beat the butter until light in color and fluffy.  Add the powdered sugar and continue to beat until the sugar is incorporated.  Add 1/2 c of the salted caramel sauce and beat to combine.  Increase the mixer speed to medium-high (depending on your mixture) and beat until airy and fluffy.

Frost the cooled cupcakes.  For embellishment you can drizzle extra caramel sauce on top or top with a square pretzel (my favorite!).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Banh xeo or Vietnamese Crepes

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi continues to please!

I decided this would be a good recipe based on the three daikon radishes that had been sitting in my crisper drawer for 6 months.  I figured it was time they were used, especially since we are due to get fresh daikon in box soon.

Let me start by telling you, I am not a crepe maker.  I've attempted it twice now, and well, both times things haven't gone well.  This time resembled the first time.  My crepes were too thick and sticking to the pan--they ended up as scrambled crepes instead of the real deal.  Thankfully, this time I had someone to bail me out.

As I stood, baffled, over the crepe pan, Curtis walked into the house in his biking clothes.  He had biked home from work and came over to see what I was doing.  "Your batter is too thick," he informed and then moved me out of the way and took over.  Whew.  In no time, he had the batter at the right consistency, heated up a second pan, and cranked up the heat on the first pan.  Before long, he was flipping crepes off the crepe pan (into the air--all fancy like) and pulling beautiful crepes off both the crepe pan and cast iron skillet.

That's one of the great things about being married.  Sometimes, when one of us is floundering, the other one call bail us out.

We learned a few things here:

•The pan temperature needs to be very hot.  The cast iron skillet works better than the crepe pan because it holds the heat better.

•The batter needs to be very thin.

•A single batch is probably plenty, but a double batch worked perfectly because there was a lot of room for trial and error.

•The electric griddle we use for making pancakes would probably work beautifully for this recipe.

Once we got the crepes off the pan in crepe shape, we served them straight the kids.  I was nervous we the filling wouldn't satisfy the kids or the taste of the crepes would throw them off.  Nope!  They loved the crepes.  J ate three and the other two each ate two.  The crepes tasted wonderful and the sauce was fabulous (the boys even ate the sauce.  M boycotts sauces on principal, unless we're talking maple syrup).

This recipes calls for enoki mushrooms.  I tried two stores (HEB and Whole Foods) and couldn't find them.  I finally found a cute bundle of them at our closest Asian grocery store.  I'd like to use them, but need to have the energy and time to go to multiple stores to source them.  If you want to add a meat, you can cooks some shrimp or prawns to add to the fillings.  HEB had the rice flour--which makes the recipe vegetarian (if you substitute sweet soy sauce for the fish sauce) and gluten free.

Serves 4 -5.

Bahn xeo or Vietnamese Crepes with Fresh Vegetables and Herbs
adapted a hair from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

1 1/3 c rice flour
1 egg
1/2 t salt
1 t ground turmeric
1 3/4 c (1-13.66 oz can) unsweetened coconut milk
a bit of sunflower oil

2 1/2 T lime juice
1 1/2 T sesame oil
1 T brown sugar
1 T rice wine vinegar
1 T (or more, to taste) fish sauce (nuoc mam) or sweet soy sauce
2 t grated fresh ginger
1/2 t salt
1 garlic clove, crushed (optional)
1 fresh red chile, finely chopped (optional)

1- 2 large carrots, peeled and thinly shredded
1 daikon radish, peeled and thinly shredded
4 green onions, sliced on an angle
1 fresh green chile, cut into long thin strips
1 1/2 c snow peas (or more--we love these), cut into long thin strips
1/2 - 1 c cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1/3-2/3 c basil leaves (preferably Thai basil), roughly chopped
1/4 c mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 c mung bean sprouts
1 c enoki mushrooms

Blend the rice flour, egg, salt, and turmeric in a large bowl.  Slowly whisk in the coconut milk, whisking well to avoid a lumpy batter.  Add more coconut milk or water (put water in the coconut milk can to get all the coconut milk out) until the batter is the consistency of light cream.  Set aside to rest.

Prepare the filling ingredients if you haven't already done so.  Put each filling in it's own bowl so people can choose what they want.

Whisk together all the sauce ingredients and adjust the flavor adding more red chile if using or fish sauce (if using).  Set aside.

To cook the crepes, add more coconut milk or water to the batter if it has thickened while resting.  Heat up a large nonstick frying pan (or a cast iron skillet or an electric griddle--the electric griddle doesn't let you swirl the crepe batter around though, which is kinda fun).  The pan should be pretty hot.  Add a little sunflower oil.  Put some batter in the pan, if not using an electric griddle, swirl it around to cover the surface.  Once the bottom is golden brown, carefully turn the crepe over.  If the crepe isn't cooked enough or the pan isn't hot enough, the crepe will probably stick and you'll end up with scrambled crepes.  Remove from pan and repeat with remaining batter.

Place a crepe on each plate and top desired fillings in the middle of it (like a taco!).  Drizzle some sauce over top and fold or roll up.  If desired, drizzle some extra sauce over top.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Apple Cake (Not the bundt kind)

For years, I would make Jewish Apple Cake a couple of times each fall.  It was a production.  Great numbers of apples needed to peeled and sliced.  I carefully tried to divide a batter into thirds.  I prayed when it was time to remove the cake from the pan.  Would it stick or would it come out cleanly and be presentable?

Last year, I found a new apple cake recipe.  Sadly, I haven't gone back to the Jewish Apple Cake since.   I discovered this new cake was the perfect camping cake.  I make it in a 9x13" pan and all weekend, we snack on the cake--for breakfast while we wait for breakfast to be made, as a mid-morning/mid-afternoon snack, for dessert for lunch.  It's perfect.

I also don't peel the apples or thinly slice them--cubing them is just fine.  Sometimes, I mess up and don't follow the directions exactly--more than once, I forget put a layer of brown sugar/butter in the middle so I put a double thick layer on top.  Regardless, this cake is good and gets eaten quickly, whether we are camping or at home.

Makes one 9x13" pan

Apple Cake
adapted from

1 1/2 c yogurt, well stirred (don't use Greek, it's too thick and doesn't have enough liquid)
2/3 c oil
a scant 1/4 c fresh lemon juice
1 c sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 t vanilla
1 1/2 lbs tart apples, such as Granny Smith
2 1/2 c flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 t cinnamon

1 c brown sugar
1 fat T cinnamon
4 T butter, at room temperature

Whisk together the yogurt, oil, lemon juice, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl.  Core the apples and chop into 1/2" chunks.  Stir the chopped apple into the liquid ingredients.  Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and 1/2 t cinnamon into the liquid ingredients and stir just until no lumps (minus the apples) remain.

In a separate small bowl, combine the brown sugar, 1 T cinnamon, and butter.

Pour half of the apple batter into a greased 9 x 13" pan.    Sprinkle half the cinnamon-brown sugar mixture over the apple batter.  Carefully spread the rest of the batter over top.  I find it's easiest to do this by dropping it by large spoonfuls onto the cinnamon-brown sugar and then carefully connecting the spoonfuls with a rubber scraper.  Sprinkle the remaining cinnamon-brown sugar over the top.

Bake 45-55 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean in a preheated 350 degrees oven.  If it is browning too fast, cover it with foil at the end.  Let cool on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before cutting.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Eggplant Croquettes

I have a new secret cooking boyfriend, Yotam Ottolenghi.  I own his cookbook, Jerusalem, and recently decided to check out his book, Plenty, from our public library.  I looked through the entire cookbook twice before I noticed it was missing meat.  Two times until I finally realized this cookbook was vegetarian.  

That's my definition of a fabulous vegetarian cookbook--you don't miss the meat.  There aren't a lot of fake meat products (that have been processed like crazy).  In fact, there are zero fake meat products and limited tofu and soybean recipes.  Fabulous!  In my opinion, it is up there with the Moosewood cookbooks (which are my absolute favorite vegetarian cookbooks).  This cookbook is going on my Christmas wish list--maybe the dog will get this one for me.  Until then, I need to share a few recipes here so I have them in case the dog forgets what to get me.

Now that I have mastered frying, after many, many failed attempts, this recipe was relatively simple.  It is a time consuming recipe, but most of the time was letting eggplant drain (30 minutes) and chill (20-30  minutes).  Hands on time wasn't bad at all.  Everyone in my a family ate these, until.....until...M dissected the croquettes because I wouldn't tell her what was inside it and she discovered there was, horror of horrors, eggplant.  

The dipping sauce that accompanies the croquettes is a basic mayonnaise.  It is completely optional, however I would recommend serving a dipping sauce with this--a flavored mayonnaise, marinara, tartar sauce, or whatever your favorite sauce for breaded, fried foods are (the kids used ketchup).

This serves 6.

Eggplant Croquettes
adapted slightly from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

4 medium eggplants
2 medium russet potatoes, cooked, peeled, and smashed 
1 large egg, beaten
5 oz feta, crumbled
3 T grated Parmesan
1/2 t salt
black pepper
1 3/4 (or possibly more) c dried white breadcrumbs (or panko)

canola, safflower, or sunflower oil for frying

Optional Mayonnaise
1 egg yolk
1 small garlic clove, crushed (optional)
1 1/2 T lemon juice
1/4 t salt
1/4 c grapeseed or olive oil (the oil gives the mayo a lot of it's flavor)
1/4 c olive oil
2 T chopped tarragon (optional, again this gives a lot of the flavor though)

Roast the eggplants (I prefer on a hot grill, as if I was making baba ganoush.  Char all the sides until the eggplant is very soft).  Cool the eggplants slightly, until you can touch them, make a slit along each eggplant and use a spoon to scoop out the flesh.  Leave the black skin behind.  If there are lot of seeds, you can also discard some of them (but try to avoid taking out a lot of flesh).  Place the flesh in the colander and discard the skin (and seeds if you removed some).  Let drain for 30 minutes or more to get rid of some of the liquid.

Place the eggplant flesh in a large bowl.  Add the smashed potatoes (not mashed with milk, just smashed up), egg, feta, Parmesan, salt and a dash of pepper.  Stir together with a fork.  Add half the bread crumbs and stir.  The mixture should be solid enough to hold its shape, but it will still be very sticky.  If you need to, add more breadcrumbs until the mixture will hold together.

Remove the mixture from the bowl and divide it into four.  Roll each portion into a thick sausage about 1 inch in diameter.  Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs on the work surface and very gently roll the eggplant/potato mixture in them until  they are completely coated.  Carefully transfer to a baking sheet and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.  If the long snakes (sausages, I'm a mom) break apart when you are transferring them, that's ok.  Stick them back together the best you can.

While the croquettes refrigerate, make the mayonnaise.  In a small bowl (or a small food processor if you have one), place the egg yolk, garlic, lemon juice, and salt.  Using a handheld mixture fitted with a whisk (or you can whisk by hand), whisk the mixture on high speed.  While you whisk, slowly add the oils, one after another, in a slow, steady stream.  When the mixture resembles mayo (thick and creamy), fold in the tarragon.  Store in fridge.

Cut each cooled snake into 2 1/4" barrel-shaped pieces.  Pour enough frying oil--I use canola or safflower--into a heavy skillet (I use my black cast iron skillet) to come up about 3/4 inches on the sides.  Heat up the oil over medium high heat (to around 350 degrees.  I find the secret to successful frying is a frying/candy thermometer, which is very different than a meat thermometer because it goes much hotter).  Fry the croquettes in small batches for about 3 minutes, turning them to color them evenly.  Transfer to the paper towels to drain. 

Serve hot with a dipping sauce.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Shepherd's Pie

My library books are due tomorrow.  While that normally wouldn't make a difference to a recipe blog, if you have recipes from library books to modify, it makes a big difference.

While I have enjoyed the two recipes I made from Greenspan's Around My French Table, it's not one that is going on my "to buy" list.  Too fancy and time intensive.

This recipe started out in the fancy and time intensive way.  However, I strayed a great deal from the traditional French Hachis Parmentier (fancy pants French way of saying Shepherd's Pie).  I'm including a quick method and a slower method along with a couple of other changes I want to try next time I make this.

This serves 4 - 6.  If you want to make this ahead of time, do all but the potatoes.  Cook and mash the potatoes immediately before it goes in the oven.

Shepherd's Pie
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Around my French Table

Slow Version Meat
1 lb boneless beef chuck, cut into 1" cubes
1 small onion, sliced
2 carrots, sliced 1/4" thick
1 stalk celery, sliced 1/4"thick
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 t salt
1/4 t whole black peppercorns
6 c water

1/2 lb ground beef
1 t tomato paste
1-2  c mushrooms, sliced

Fast Version Meat
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 small onion, diced
2 carrots, cut in half and sliced 1/4" thick
1 stalk celery, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 - 2 c mushrooms, sliced
1 t tomato paste
1- 3 c beef broth (you will use this as needed, amt will vary)
salt to taste
2 T parsley, chopped

The Topping (for both versions)
2 lbs potatoes, quartered (or cut into medium chunks)
1/2 c milk
1/4 c heavy cream (optional, can also just use an extra 1/4 c milk)
3 T butter, at room temperature
1/2 c Swiss type cheese (swiss, emmenthal, gruyere, comte, etc), shredded (optional)

For the slow version:
Put the beef chuck, onion, carrots, celery, cloves, parsley, bay leaf, salt, peppercorns, and water into a large soup pot and bring to a boil.  Skim off the foam that comes to the surface.  Lower the heat and simmer for 3 1/2 hours.  Strain the solids from the broth (meat and vegetables), reserving broth.  You won't use much of the broth, you reserve the extra broth for the next time you make the fast version of this.  Transfer the meat to a cutting board and chop into small pieces.  The meat will fall apart.  Set aside both the meat and the vegetables.

Put a large skillet over medium heat.  Brown the ground beef.  Add the mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms release their juices.  Stir in the tomato paste. Add the reserved vegetables and chopped beef.  Stir in a cup of the reserved broth and bring to boil.  You want the beef and vegetables to be moist, but not runny.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour into a 2 qt oven casserole dish.  Set aside.

For the fast version:
In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the ground beef.  Add the onions, celery, and mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms release their juices and the onions have softened.  Add the garlic and saute another minute.  Stir in the carrots.  Add the tomato paste and 1 c beef broth.  Bring to a boil and simmer until the carrots are tender, adding more broth if the mixture gets dry.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in the parsley.  Pour into a 2 qt casserole dish.  Set aside.

For the topping (both versions):

While the ground beef browns, put the potatoes in a medium pot and add just enough water cover potatoes.  Bring the covered pot to a boil and simmer until potatoes are fork tender, about 20 minutes.  Drain well.  As soon as you are able, peel the potatoes (potatoes should still be very, very hot).  Heat up milk/cream.  Mash potatoes (I use an electric mixer to do this, you can do it however you prefer).  Pour in milk/cream, add butter, and continue to mash.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Scoop the mashed potatoes over the meat and vegetables, spreading them evenly throughout the pan. Sprinkle grated cheese over top if desired.  If you want, you can also dot the top with small pieces of butter (use a total of 1 T butter).

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until filling is bubbly and the potatoes are golden. (If you don't use butter or cheese, the potatoes won't be quite as golden).

Monday, September 2, 2013

Old School Baked Beans

The problem with blogging again is that I am finding a backlog of recipes to add and not enough time to add them!  I was going to add a butchered version of Dorie Greenspan's Shepherds Pie (except she uses the fancy french name, but I am not).  I also wanted to add the recipe for the Green Chile Pesto (also known in these parts as Cilantro Pecan Pesto).  I also made serious alterations to Greenspan's Espresso Cheesecake Brownies I wanted to document for posterity.

Alas, I am posting none of those wonderful recipes tonight because this one recipe blew everyone of those completely and totally away.

I'm talking about Baked Beans.  Baked beans the way they are supposed to taste, without being overly salty, without mystery ingredients, with only minimal use of a can opener.  These baked beans start with dried beans and end either with a long, slow stint in the oven or a day in the crockpot.

We all loved these beans.  My boy, J, who's six these days, told me these were the best beans he's ever had.  He had to qualify the statement though.  "Not because you made them, Mommy.  Because they're just like the beans we had at Vacation Bible School."  ??????  What?????  To which, M, who's eight, helped me out and said,  "We've never had beans at VBS."  "Oh yes,"  John replied.  "Not this year, but last year."  What??????  I am fairly confident our VBS snack goddess (can I say that?) didn't serve the kids baked beans, either homemade or out of can.  But whatever.  My beans were that good.

I modified 100 Days of Real Food's recipe for slow cooker baked beans, basically because I didn't start this recipe two days ago.  In the original recipe, the beans do their first soak overnight (like is typical with dried beans.  Personally, I've had little success with the quick soak/boil method and prefer the soak in a bowl overnight method).  Then, they simmer away in a crockpot for 10 - 12 hours.  Yep.  Didn't start the beans until last night and didn't have twelve hours (to be on the safe side) between when I rolled out of bed and supper.  So, here's the one day, heat up your whole house even though it's 100 degrees out but I don't care because I WANT BEANS!!! version.

A note on quantities.  I halved this recipe.  I never, ever should have done that.  We served the beans sparingly, worried that if we ate to our heart's content, we may not have leftovers.  I wanted leftovers.  Next time, I am not halving the recipe.  (Note to self:  DON'T HALVE THIS RECIPE!!!)

This serves 8 - 10 if you eat something besides baked beans for supper.

Old School Baked Beans
adapted from

2 1/2 c (approx 1 lb) dried navy beans (or Great Northern beans).
8 oz bacon, diced
2 - 4 red sweet peppers (or 1 red or green bell pepper will do as well), diced
1 onion, cut into 1/8th's
1 c water
1 - 15 oz can tomato sauce
1/2 - 3/4 c maple syrup (I thought 3/4 c was a bit too sweet)
3 T yellow mustard
3 T apple cider vinegar
2 t chili powder
1 t salt, or to taste

Soak the beans overnight in a bowl, covered with two inches of water (about to your second knuckle--more than the beans in the bowl).  Be sure to remove any stones that may be in with the beans.

The next day, fry the diced bacon.  Drain on paper towels, reserving fat.  Drain the beans well.  Place the beans, bacon, pepper, and onion in the bottom of a large casserole dish.  Pour in water and tomato sauce.  In a measuring cup, combine maple syrup, mustard, vinegar and chili powder.  Pour over the beans and combine.  If desired, pour a T or so of the reserved bacon fat over the bean mixture as well (a little flavor boost!  Why waste good bacon fat?).

Bake in a preheated 325 degrees oven for 2 hours.  Lower the heat and cook for an additional 2 1/2 - 4 hours, or until beans are soft.  Stir every 1/2 hr or so.  If beans look dry, add a little additional water.

Before serving, removed onion wedges if desired.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

King Ranch Casserole

Back in the day, I taught at a public school.  While public school lunches are notorious for their nastiness (that pizza?  those hamburgers?  Neither live up to their names), there were two days I would always buy....enchilada day and King Ranch day.  The enchiladas....oh my...greasy truck stop...two enchiladas loaded with extra jalapenos and a side of beans on top of my cornbread.  (I don't even want to know the calorie count).  The King Ranch Casserole was....ugh...too good for words.

These days, my kids' school still has enchilada day, and I try to go whenever they do (it's only once a month, usually a Thursday, unlike pizza which is almost every Monday).  However, King Ranch Casserole has gone by the to be remembered, "back in the good old days"  (unlike the stewed tomatoes and pimiento cheese sandwich not good days).

Last week, I remembered King Ranch Casserole.  I googled it and was disappointed.  Then, I remembered my favorite site for all recipes Texan:  The Homesick Texan.  Not only did the Homesick Texan rise the challenge, the recipe contained no directions that sounded like "open up a can of..." and had no corn!!

Mmm....bliss in my oven in the middle of August.  My King Ranch craving was met and I knew I would at least post one more recipe to this blog before I took another 9 month break.  M loved this.  I made it a hair too spicy, so the boys didn't eat it quite as well.  Next time, I'll dial down the spice a little...or maybe not, then I'd get more to myself.

This serves 8 - 10 (or 12.  It makes an 11x7" pan).

King Ranch Chicken Casserole
adapted ever so slightly from the Homesick Texan, because the recipe was almost perfect

1 1/2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken (I used thighs.  They're cheaper and more flavorful)
6 t lime jiuce
4 t chile powder (I like New Mexico blend--great flavor and not too spicy)
1/4 c olive oil
4 T butter
1/2 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 poblano (optional--may want to taste the poblano first to see how much of it you want to use), diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T flour
1 t cumin
1 c chicken broth
1/2 c half and half or heavy cream
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes  (or a 10-oz can of Rotel or 2 c fresh tomatoes plus 1/4 c diced jalapeños)
1/3 c plain yogurt or sour cream
1/2 c cilantro, chopped
10 corn tortillas
3 c cheese, cheddar or a mix of pepper jack and cheddar

Season the chicken with 4 t lime juice, 2 t chile powder, and a dash of salt.  In a skillet over medium heat, cook the chicken in the olive oil for 10 minutes per side or until cooked through.  When chicken is   cooked through, remove from heat and shred when it is just cool enough to handle.  Season with salt and pepper as needed.  Set aside (you should have about 3 c of chicken).

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onions and both peppers. Cook for 10 minutes or until onions have softened.  Add the garlic, flour, cumin, and remaining 2 t of chile powder. Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add the chicken broth and cook until mixture has thickened.  Stir in the half and half and tomatoes.  Cover the pot and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  After 15 minutes, stir in the sour cream, remaining 2 t lime juice, and 1/4 c cilantro.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat.

Soften the tortillas (either dry--over a comal or in a little oil in a black skillet).  Ladle 1/2 c of the sauce into the bottom or a 11x7 pan (you can use and 9x13 pan, it will just not be as thick).  Top with 5 tortillas, tearing tortillas as needed to be sure the entire pan is covered.  Add half the chicken, followed by 1/2 the sauce, 1/2 the remaining cilantro, and 1 1/2 c grated cheese.  Repeat the layers, ending with the cheese.

Cook uncovered in a preheated 350 degrees oven for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbling.  Serve immediately, topping with sour cream, salsa, and more cilantro as desired.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Vegetable Pot-au-Feu

One of my favorite cookbooks is Dorie Greenspan's Baking:  From My Home to Yours.  The recipes are rich, comfort food, gift worthy desserts.  I've worked my way through it, particularly the scones/muffins section and the cookies section.  I've attempted a few of her cakes with good results.  It's a book that has a permanently reserved space on my top-tier cookbook shelf.

A few years ago, Dorie (we're on a first name basis, you know?) came out with a new cookbook, Around my French Table.  I hemmed and hawed over whether or not I should buy it and I eventually decided against.  It just sounded too fancy.  I perused it at the bookstore and most of the recipes were heavy on meat, making it just a company cookbook (not an everyday cookbook, since we eat meatless at least half the week or more most weeks).  I finally realized I could check this book out of the library.

My expectations were more or less correct.  I found a handful of recipes I wanted to try, but not enough to warrant buying the book, at least not now.

This recipe is the exception.  In this vegetable pot-au-feu, vegetables have a starring role and it is a main dish (most of the vegetarian recipes in this cookbook are relegated to side dishes).  We loved it, M and Curtis especially.  I made poached eggs to serve in it, and learned for next time, the kids would rather go eggless.  That makes it even easier!

I made this in a wok, like Dorie suggested, but a dutch oven or soup pot would work just as well (and I'll probably use that next time).  Dorie also said this wasn't good leftovers--don't tell that to M!

This serves 4 - 6.

Vegetable Pot-au-Feu
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Around my French Table.

2 T olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small to medium onion, thinly sliced
1 leek, halved lengthwise and well rinsed, sliced
3 medium potatoes (6 small), sliced 1/4" thick
2 - 4 small to medium carrots, cut on the diagonal into 1/4" slices
3 c water (can also use vegetable or chicken stock)
1 2-inch piece lemongrass, split lengthwise
8 - 12 asparagus stalks, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2" pieces
4 - 6 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
1/2 lb spinach, chard, or kale, stemmed, washed, and coarsely sliced
4 large eggs, hardboiled or poached
slices of crusty bread, toasted

Heat the olive oil over medium hat.  Add the onion and leek, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until they just begin to soften, about five minutes.  Toss in the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Stir in the potatoes and carrots, followed by the water and lemongrass.  Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered, until the vegetables are almost tender, about 10 minutes.  (While the vegetables are simmering, you can cook the eggs).  Add the asparagus and shiitake mushrooms to the vegetables and cook for an additional 4 minutes, or until tender.  Stir in the spinach (or other greens) and cook until  spinach (or greens) are slightly wilted.  Spinach will take about 2 minutes, chard slightly longer, and kale even longer.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.

To serve, place a slice of toasted crusty bread in a bowl.  Ladle soup over top and slice in the egg.  Serve immediately (I found it easiest to serve at the counter, not on the table).

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Curried Rice Salad

I've started feeling like I'm in a bit of a cooking rut this summer.  I seem to just be making the same (wonderful, nonetheless) meals over and over.  That's saying something too, since I had three weeks of not really cooking smack dab in the middle of the summer.

Maybe it's the multitude of eggplant, peppers, and summer squash that brings about the cooking doldrums.  Maybe I'm just a little bit lazier this summer (that could be the case, because its been a really enjoyable summer...).  However, I was ready for some new inspiration.

I have a list of potential cookbooks I'd like, but I've learned, I have limited real estate for cookbooks.  I would like to find cookbooks that I cook many recipes from and that are different than the recipes I'm already using.  Plus, the recipes need to be heavy on vegetables and not so heavy on meat.

Jerusalem has been a great match for that, but I needed more.  So, I went to the public library.

This recipe is from one of my library cookbooks.  It's a great Sunday afternoon meal, perfect for taking to the pool and eating there.  It didn't use eggplant or summer squash, which was a disadvantage, but frankly, I'm tired of both those.

We all loved it, except for M.  J was thrilled that it was vegetarian--that boy's deciding he's not a big fan of meat.  I'll definitely make this again (and just let M fend for herself for supper. She's 8.  She can handle that).

This originally called for fresh tomatoes, of which I had none.  I omitted them and didn't miss them at all.  I also didn't really measure the vegetables, just eyeballed it.  This is the kind of recipe where you can do that without many negative effects (however, please, measure your spices).  This reminded me of a curry dish, minus the meat or sauce.

Serves 4- 6.

Curried Rice Salad
adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special

1 c uncooked brown rice
1/2 t turmeric
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt
2 c water

1 c celery, diced
1 c sweet peppers, diced
1 c apples, diced
1/2 c currants or raisins

1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c lemon juice
1 T brown sugar
1 T fresh ginger root, grated
1 1 /2 t cumin
1 t curry powder
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t coriander
1/4 t cardamom
salt to taste

Greek plain yogurt
cashews, toasted and chopped
mango, diced (optional)

In a saucepan, combine the rice with the turmeric, 1/2 t cinnamon, 1/4 t salt, and water.  Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes or until the rice is tender.

Meanwhile, combine the vegetables in a large bowl.  Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, brown sugar, ginger root, cumin, curry powder, cinnamon, coriander, and cardamom.  Pour it over the vegetables and fruit and salt to taste.

Cool the rice for 15 minutes, then toss it with the vegetables and dressing.

Serve room temperature or cold, garnishing with yogurt, cashews, and mangoes, as desired.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


This is quick becoming one of our summer favorites (up there with Bun Chay, Taco Salad, and Sicilian Stir Fry).  Despite doing this CSA thing for the past five plus years, our kids are still not fans of eggplant and zucchini.  Curtis and I are still kinda iffy on both of those as well, especially zucchini.

Well, this recipe has no zucchini.  It does use eggplant and cucumbers.  We love this and have adapted it to the kids by also adding some grilled marinated chicken breasts.  Everyone's happy.  First bite and once again, I remember how wonderful summer can be.

This recipe calls for savory mango pickles.  Some day, I hope to have the time to locate those (I know what store to look at, I just haven't braved it this summer with three kids in tow), so I am leaving them in the recipe.

adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

2 large eggplants (or 3 - 4 small or medium ones), peeled leaving a zebra like pattern (one strip peeled, one peel left on, etc)
1 1/4 c sunflower or canola oil

1/2 - 1 lb seasoned chicken breasts
sourdough bread, ciabatta bread, or fresh pita (I usually use bread)
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
savory mango pickle (optional)
2 medium ripe tomatoes, diced
2 small cucumbers (1 med-lg), diced (if you use a large one, peel and seed cucumber as well)
1 1/2 T parsley
lemon slices

Tahini Sauce:
2/3 c tahini
1/2 c water
2 T lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)

1 1/4 oz cilantro (thin stems ok)
1/3 oz parsley (thin stems ok)
1 - 2 hot green chiles, coarsely chopped
1/2 t cumin
1/4 t cardamom
1/4 t cloves
pinch of sugar
1/4 t salt
1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)
2 T olive oil
2 T water

Cut eggplants widthwise into slices 1 inch thick.  Sprinkle them on both sides with salt, spread on baking sheet or kitchen towel, and let stand for at least 30 minutes (this helps remove some of the water).  Pat dry with paper towels or clean kitchen towels.

While the eggplants sweat, prepare the tahini sauce.  In a small bowl, combine tahini, water, and lemon juice.  The consistency should be of honey or a little runnier.  Add a little extra water if needed.  Taste and add salt as desired.  Sauce can be store in the fridge for up to a week, just stir well before using (and add a little more water if needed).

Prepare the zhoug.  Finely chop all the zhoug ingredients (not including olive oil or water).  Add the water and olive oil and combine to make a coarse paste.    If you have a small food processor, you could also pulse all the ingredients (including olive oil and water) until you have a coarse paste.  Zhoug will keep in the fridge for up to three weeks (but ours never lasts that long!).

After the eggplant have sweated for 30 minutes or so, heat the sunflower or canola oil in a heavy frying pan.  Make sure the oil is very hot (it almost looks like it starts swirling around in the pan by itself, it shouldn't smoke though, and you definitely don't want it catching on fire) and fry the eggplant slices in batches until nice and dark.  Flip the eggplants once.  Add oil if needed.  When the eggplant is done, it should be nice and squishy in the center.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  While the eggplant fries, grill the chicken.

To serve:  Slice the chicken into thin strips.  Put the hardboiled eggs, diced tomatoes, diced cucumbers, and mango pickles on a platter.  I don't mix things together because we all like different combinations.  Put the parsley in a little bowl and serve the lemon slices as well.

Make the eggplant and chicken into open-faced sandwiches.  Spoon tahini sauce over the bread.  Follow with eggplant slices (or chicken), some more tahini sauce, eggs, tomato, cucumbers, and top with zhoug.  If desired, you can squeeze a lemon over top or season with salt and pepper.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Vanilla and Intensely Rich Chocolate Frozen Custard

I have learned this summer that frozen custard and ice cream are not the same thing.  I prefer frozen custard.  Ice cream tends to leave that funny, fat coating on my spoon and then on my tongue.  Frozen custard leaves none of that but doesn't sacrifice richness.

This chocolate frozen custard is intensely rich.  I am a chocolate lover and I only could manage one scoop.  I'm not complaining.  It's not often ice cream or custard has such a wonderful chocolate flavor.

The base for the chocolate is a vanilla recipe.  The vanilla recipe received mixed reviews in my family.  M thought it was great, Curtis not so much.

Vanilla Frozen Custard
adapted a hair from Bon Appetit magazine

1 1/2 c heavy (whipping) cream
1 c milk (I use skim without any problems)
1/2 c sugar, divided
pinch of salt
1 t vanilla
5 large egg yolks

In a medium saucepan, combine cream, milk, 1/4 c sugar, pinch of salt, and vanilla.  Bring the mixture just to a boil, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat.  In a heat proof bowl or glass measuring cup (my preference), beat the 5 egg yolks and the remaining 1/4 c sugar, until pale yellow and thickened (it should form "the ribbon").  Gradually whisk in 1/2 c or so of the hot milk.  This is tempering the eggs so they don't scramble when they are come in contact with the hot milk.  Slowly whisk the hot egg/milk mixture into the saucepan of milk and cream.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat a wooden spoon.  (In other words, if the custard is on the back of the spoon, you can draw your finger through the custard and it doesn't run down over the finger line immediately.)  Be careful not to overcook so the eggs don't scramble or clump.

If your custard is smooth, pour into another bowl.  Place bowl in a bowl of ice water and stir occasionally until custard is cool.  Process according to your ice cream maker directions.  Try not to eat all of the custard before you freeze it, which is always an issue for me.

The plain vanilla frozen custard makes about 3 1/2 c.

Chocolate Frozen Custard
adapted from the Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream Book

one recipe of vanilla frozen custard, hot off the stove
1/2 c sugar
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped

Place unsweetened chocolate and 1/2 c sugar in a bowl.  Pour the hot vanilla custard over the chocolate and sugar.  Let sit for a couple of minutes or so and then stir to melt and incorporate chocolate.  Place bowl of chocolate custard over another bowl of ice water and stir occasionally until custard is cool.  Process according to your ice cream maker directions.

The chocolate frozen custard makes about 1 quart.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Spiced Chickpeas and Summer Vegetable Salad

I know it's been a long time since I've added any recipes.  A usual, its a new cookbook that causes me to start adding recipes.  For Christmas this year, the dog gave me a cookbook again.  Her choice was superb:  Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.  I want to be sure next summer when I am scrambling to come up with recipes using eggplant, cucumbers, and the likes, I remember these recipes.

Normally I shy away from cookbooks by restaurant owners or Food Network personalities.  They seem full of themselves and full of ingredients that are either terribly expensive or terribly hard to find.  Not so for Jerusalem.  Although Ottolenghi owns restaurants bearing his name in London, the recipes are easily accessible.  The recipes are mostly kosher and heavy on vegetables.   Many of the summer vegetables use limited stove/oven time as well, which is nice when it's over 100 degrees outside and I really don't want to heat up my oven any more.

This the first recipe to share.  We love it, especially the spiced chickpeas. My margin note?  "The spiced chickpeas are divine!"  I made a few changes.  The original recipe called for a dressing on top of the vegetables.  I left that out.  Additionally, because with five people we are bound to like different things, I did not mix the vegetables together, I left them in separate piles on the serving platter.  I used the vegetables I had (two kinds of sweet peppers), I omitted those I didn't (radishes).

Remember to start the chickpeas the night before you want to eat this meal.

This serves 4.

Spiced Chickpeas and Summer Vegetable Salad
adapted from Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi

1/2 c dried chickpeas
1 t baking soda

2 small cucumbers, cut into 2/3" dice (seed and peel if you prefer)
2 large tomatoes, cut into 2/3" dice
8.5 oz radishes, cut into 2/3" dice (optional)
1 -2 sweet peppers, seeded and ribs removed, cut into 2/3" dice
2/3 oz cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/2 oz parsley, coarsely chopped

1 t ground cardamom
1 1/2 t allspice
1 t cumin
1/4 t salt

Greek yogurt

Soak the chickpeas overnight in a large bowl with plenty of cold water and baking soda.  The next day, drain, place in a large saucepan and cover with water twice the volume of the chickpeas.  Bring to a boil and simmer, skimming off any foam that may gather on top.  Simmer for an hour or until the chickpeas are tender.  Drain and set aside.

Mix the cardamom, allspice, cumin, and salt on a plate.  Roll the cooked chickpeas gently through the spices.  Heat 1 T olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the chickpeas and fry for 2 - 5 minutes.  Gently shake the pan so they cook evenly and don't stick.  Remove from heat and keep warm

To serve, put each vegetable on a serving platter. (Alternately, combine all the vegetables and herbs and place in a low bowl.  Top with warm chickpeas.)  Serve the chickpeas in a small bowl.  Allow everyone to take the vegetables they want and top with chickpeas.  Serve with pita and drizzle Greek yogurt over top if desired.