Sunday, December 19, 2010

Spinach and Sausage Soup

For our Healthy Thanksgiving, I went in search of soup recipes that were broths instead of creams. To my dismay, the “fall” or “harvest” soups all contained squash. And we all know what happened the last time I peeled and cut up squash. I gave up my search, but not before bookmarking an intriguing recipe that I came across while exploring “you might also like” links.

This recipe has all of the usual vegetables (except squash) found in vegetable soups with the interesting addition of pearl barley and Italian sausage. I have to admit that my first reaction to reading “1 pound mild Italian sausage” was Yuck! Italian sausage and vegetable soup are not something that go together well.

For some reason, I kept going back to it and finally bookmarked it when I got tired of following links to find it. One crisp autumn day when I knew that I would be outside most of the afternoon, soup seemed like the perfect dish to chase away the chill. I decided to try this recipe.

Making it was simple. Even though I forgot to buy the spinach, the end result was delicious. The perfect antidote to a damp, chilly day. It is one of those rare dishes that is just as good the first day as it is the second day. In spite of my initial aversion, the Italian sausage was the perfect complement to the vegetables and barley. I didn’t drain the sausage enough before adding it to the soup because the next day, there was a thick layer of fat on the soup when I took it out of the fridge. I scraped it off before reheating. That got me thinking that I needed to find a low fat alternative to the sausage. Why not turkey?

Specifically leftover turkey from Thanksgiving. Instead of my usual pot pies, I would make this healthy soup and substitute turkey for the sausage. This time, the soup was very, very bland. I realized that the seasoning in the sausage had transferred to the soup, giving it loads of flavor. To make a turkey version, I need to add more seasoning than just salt, pepper and fresh thyme.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!


Spinach and Sausage Soup

(source: Pinch My Salt)


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks of celery, sliced
1 pound red potatoes, cut into bite size pieces
5-6 cups chicken stock (homemade, or low-sodium broth)
½ cup pearl barley
1 pound mild Italian sausage
1 large bunch of spinach, thick stems removed, roughly chopped (about 4 cups packed)
Salt, to taste
Herbs or seasoning of your choice – I used some fresh thyme

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes or until onions are softened. Add potatoes, 5 cups of stock, and barley. Turn up heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30-45 minutes or until barley is tender. Meanwhile, squeeze sausage from its casings, crumble and brown it in a skillet. Drain fat and set the sausage aside. When barley is tender, add spinach and sausage to the soup and fresh herbs if you are using them. Add more stock if necessary or desired, bring soup back up to a simmer and let cook for another 15 minutes. Season to taste with and pepper.

Serves 6

Recycle: olive oil bottle

Compost: onion skins, celery leaves, spinach stems

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rustic Pear Pie

I’ve had a heavenly recipe for sweet potato pie bookmarked for quite a while. I was sure that I could use it for our Healthy Thanksgiving. Sweet potatoes are healthier than pumpkins. But, like regular potatoes, the problem was what was added to them to make the pie filling: butter, sugar, milk and eggs.

Back to the drawing board or, rather, my recipe basket. I have a large basket where I throw copies of interesting recipes I come across in print publications. I knew that somewhere in that basket was a recipe for a pear pie that did not involve most of the unhealthy ingredients found in pumpkin and sweet potato pie recipes. It took a little digging, but I found it. It was part of a menu from the April 1, 2006 issue of Family Circle Magazine.

The recipe calls for a prepared piecrust. I opted for a homemade one using a recipe from Martha Stewart. I called on A’s expertise (she works in the nutrition field) to determine which was healthier, shortening or butter. She recommended I go with butter because it has far less trans-fats than shortening. With this in mind, I used Martha’s Basic Pie Crust which makes enough for a single crust pie.

I liked this recipe because it uses a food processor to blend the ingredients. I was surprised at how effortlessly the pastry came together. I’m seriously considering using my food processor for all of my pie crusts despite the fact that it is a pain to clean. This was also the easiest pastry I have ever rolled. In the future, I think I will use a shortening crust with this recipe because when it came time to fold the pastry over the pear filling, the pastry was quite limp. Instead of forming a nice pocket as you would expect from a stiffer shortening crust, Martha’s butter crust was more like wrapping the filling in a scarf.

I discovered that my A&P carries three varieties of pears, Anjou, Bartlett and Bosc. I don’t know if there are any taste differences but in terms of size, three Bartlett pears weigh almost exactly 1 ½ pounds as called for in the recipe. The recipe doesn’t specify that you should peel the pears but I couldn’t imagine that leaving the skins on would enhance the flavor or texture, so I peeled them. Unlike the Mushroom-Wild Rice stuffing, the 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg enhanced, rather than overpowered, the pears and brown sugar. I left out the butter and could also have skipped the milk and sugar on the crust.

The end result was delicious. The recipe recommends the pie be served warm but I also liked it straight out of the refrigerator the next day. I’ve now added another fruit pie to my small repertoire.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!




Basic Pie Crust
(source: Martha Stewart)



1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for rolling
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
½ cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water


In a food processor, briefly pulse flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons ice water. Pulse until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed (if necessary, add up to 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon at a time). Don’t overmix.

Turn dough out onto a large piece of plastic wrap. Fold plastic over dough; press to shape into a 1-inch-thick disk. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour (or up to 3 days).

On a floured piece of parchment paper, roll dough to a 14-inch round with a floured rolling pin. Wrap dough around rolling pin, discarding paper; unroll over a 9-inch pie plate. Gently fit into bottom and up sides of plate (do not stretch dough).

Using kitchen shears, trim dough to a 1-inch overhang. Fold under itself to form a rim, and press to seal. Using thumb and forefinger, crimp rim of crust. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to 1 day.

One 9-inch crust.




Rustic Pear Pie
(source: Family Circle Magazine, April 1, 2006 issue)
 



3 ripe but firm Bartlett pears (about 1 ½ pounds total)
¼ cup light-brown sugar
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 refrigerated prepared piecrust (from a 15-ounce box)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut up
1 tablespoon heavy cream or milk


Heat oven to 400°.

Cut pears in half; remove cores. Cut in thin slices. In large bowl, toss with 3 tablespoons of the sugar and the nutmeg.

Place piecrust on work surface; gently roll out to 14 inches in diameter and place on ungreased baking sheet. Mound pear slices in center, leaving a 2-inch border. Dot butter over pears. Fold edge of crust up and partway over filling. Repair any tears by pressing pastry together. Brush pastry edge with cream. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar.

Bake on the bottom shelf at 400° for 35 minutes until filling is hot and crust is golden; place foil loosely over pie if crust browns too quickly. Let cool on pan or rack 10 minutes before serving. Can be baked ahead and reheated at 400° until warmed through. Serve with ice cream, if desired.

Compost: pear cores and skins

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Cookie of the Week - Angelettis

As I have noted previously, baking Christmas cookies was not a holiday tradition in my family. Because I’m not sure what is considered a Christmas cookie, I rely on lists such "Classic Christmas Cookies" or "Favorite Christmas Cookies" to guide me. Martha Stewart has several slide shows showcasing Christmas cookies on her site. While most of the cookies are familiar to me, a few are not.

I had never heard of Angelettis. The picture didn’t even seem attractive which I found surprising considering how meticulous Martha is (see below). A quick glance at the ingredients only pointed up two unusual ingredients, anise extract used in the cookies and lemon juice used in the icing. I decided to try them out to discover why Martha is so keen on them.

Like most Martha Stewart recipes, this one is very rich. It uses 6 eggs in the cookie batter and an entire box (16 ounces) of confectioners’ sugar in the icing. My only quibble with her is with the size of the bowl used to sift the dry ingredients into. Four cups of flour is a lot of four and requires a large bowl, not a medium bowl. Be very careful adding the dry ingredients to the liquid ingredients. They take a bit longer than usual to be incorporated into the liquid. Keep your mixer on low. Any faster and you should be prepared to be enveloped in a cloud of flour. The batter is very stiff, but scoops nicely into balls. I was surprised when they kept their shape instead of spreading out while baking. Fifteen minutes seemed long, but was exactly right.

Next up was the icing. Believe it or not, ¼ cup of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of water will dissolve an entire pound of confectioners’ sugar. The result is rather tart. I was hesitant to use it on the cookies which tasted great on their own but I was glad I did. Once on the cookies, the lemon taste was not obvious. It added a little tang to an otherwise very sweet cookie.

It turns out that I know these cookies. I have eaten them in the past. I can’t remember when or where, just that they were really good. Now I’m glad to have the recipe and to add it to my cookie repertoire.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!





Angelettis
(source: MarthaStewart.com)
 



4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
6 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or anise extract
1 box (16 ounce) confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
Coarse sanding sugar, for decorating


Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla; beat until is incorporated. With mixer on, gradually add four mixture; beat until dough comes together.

Scoop dough into tablespoon-size balls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or a nonstick baking mat. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, stir together confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons water. Place wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Once cookies have cooled, top with icing. Sprinkle with sugar, and let stand until icing is firm.

Makes about 6 dozen.

Recycle: vanilla or anise extract bottle

Compost: eggshells

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Easy Roasted Potatoes

Do potatoes fit into a healthy Thanksgiving? It all depends on the preparation. Potatoes themselves are quite healthy. It’s what you put on them that renders them unhealthy. Sour cream, butter, cheese, gravy and, of course, the whole milk or cream used in mashed potatoes.

For our Healthy Thanksgiving, I was in search of a roasted potato recipe. I envisioned a little oil, a little salt, a little pepper, pop them in the oven and presto! Healthy potatoes. Reality rarely lives up to my imagination.

It seems that you can either fry them in oil or roast them in butter. I did find one recipe on BHG.com that roasted potatoes in olive oil, but used onion powder instead of “real” onions. I wasn’t happy about it, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I was intrigued by the use of baby potatoes. The ones I bought weren’t all that tiny. At least not tiny enough so that halved I was confident that they would cook all the way through. Potatoes, like carrots, are very dense and require a long to cook. There’s nothing worse than uncooked potatoes or carrots in a dish. Just to be safe, I cut up some of the larger potatoes into quarters instead of halves.

My biggest problem turned out to be logistics. I solved the one-oven problem by cooking the stuffing on top of the stove instead of baking it in the oven. But there was no getting around the fact that roasted potatoes, like roasted turkey, need to be in the oven. And potatoes need a long time to cook. In this case, 60 minutes. Turkey needs 30 minutes to "rest" after cooking, so I was left with a 30 minute overlap in the oven.

I finally solved the problem when I realized that a small turkey uses a small pan, so I could turn it sideways and slide the potatoes and their pan in right next to it. Phew! That was close.

In the end, I was correct about the size of the potatoes, as well as the onion powder. The potatoes didn’t cook all the way through and I didn’t care for the chemical taste of the onion powder. Real onions would have been preferable. The garlic was also an unwelcome guest to our feast. I think a little bit of poultry seasoning would have been more appropriate.

Verdict: What were they thinking???





Easy Roasted Potatoes
(source: BHG.com)
 



3 medium round red or white potatoes (1 pound), cut into eighths, or 10 to 12 tiny new potatoes (1 pound) halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
⅛ teaspoon paprika
1 clove garlic, minced


Place potatoes in a greased 9x9x2-inch baking pan. In a small bowl combine oil, onion powder, salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic. Drizzle oil mixture over potatoes, tossing to coat. Roast, uncovered, in a 325°F oven for 45 minutes. Stir potatoes; bake for 10 to 20 minutes more or until potatoes are tender and brown on the edges.

Makes 4 servings.

Recycle: olive oil bottle

Compost: garlic skins

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Mushroom-Wild Rice Stuffing

My search for a stuffing recipe for our healthy Thanksgiving had two parameters. It had to be healthy and it had to be cooked on top of the stove. I don’t have room in my oven for both a turkey and a dish of stuffing. My dream kitchen has two ovens. For now, I have to deal with a kitchen with only one.

When A and I were discussing the possibility of doing a healthy Thanksgiving, wild rice stuffing came immediately to mind. Whole grain, no nasty carbs and it’s cooked in water, not butter. Turns out that I was wrong about that last point. Seems every recipe I looked at, had butter in it.

I finally settled on a recipe from one of my favorite recipe sites, BHG.com. Not only is it cooked in water, but it also has a variety of fresh mushrooms, an excellent source of minerals such potassium. Healthy, indeed.

It should have occurred to me that if the rice recipe I normally make calls for 2 cups of water and 1 ½ cups of rice resulting in 6 servings, then a recipe that uses 4 cups of water and 2 cups of rice was going to result in a huge amount of rice. The line "Makes 12 servings" should likewise have been a clue.

I should also have done some quick conversions when I put mushrooms on my shopping list. One cup equals 8 ounces, so 8 cups equals … a lot of mushrooms. I bought two packages of 8 ounces each. One each of button and baby Portobello, conveniently pre-sliced.

Lastly, I should have done some comparisons among recipes that use nutmeg. My initial impression was that nutmeg would give it an interesting flavor. As it indeed might if only 1/8 teaspoon were used, but an entire teaspoon of nutmeg completely overwhelmed the delicate flavors of the mushrooms and rice and ruined this dish.

I would like to try this recipe again, but cut it in half, use chicken stock and just a pinch of nutmeg.

Verdict: What were they thinking???


Mushroom-Wild Rice Stuffing
(source: BHG.com)





1 cup uncooked wild rice
4 cups water
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1 tablespoon instant chicken bouillon granules
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
8 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (such as stemmed shiitake, baby Portobello, and/or button)
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups shredded carrots

Rinse wild rice in a strainer under cold water about 1 minute. In a 4-quart Dutch oven, combine wild rice, the 4 cups water, the brown rice, bouillon granules, salt, and nutmeg. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in mushrooms, celery, and onion. Return to boiling; reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and cook about 25 minutes more or until rice is tender, stirring occasionally. Drain. Stir in carrots. Serve immediately. Makes 12 servings.

Make-Ahead Tip: Prepare Mushroom-wild Rice Stuffing as directed; spoon into a 3-quart casserole. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Bake, covered, in a 325 degree oven for 65 to 75 minutes or until heated through.

Compost: celery leaves, onion skins

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

OldRoses’ Brined Turkey

This recipe is still evolving. Stay tuned for annual updates on upcoming Thanksgivings.

I decided to join the 21st century this year and brine my turkey. Actually, I decided last year, but the recipe that I was using called for a dry brine which seemed counter-intuitive. I made a mental note to look into "wet" brining this year.

Last December I made a Cuban Pork dish for Christmas that required the meat be marinated overnight. I wasn’t able to find cooking bags at the grocery store, so I improvised with a clean, unused garbage bag. I placed the marinade and the pork shoulder in the bag, which was in turn placed in a large salad bowl on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator. The meat was turned periodically to ensure that all of it marinated properly.

My plan was to do the something similar to my turkey this year. I found cooking bags, not where I was looking for them last year in the plastic bags aisle, but in the "seasonal aisle" where A&P had helpfully assembled everything you could possibly need to cook a Thanksgiving meal. They were probably in that aisle last year also, I just wasn’t looking there.

All of the brining recipes I saw online required that the brine be cooked and then cooled. I was pressed for time this year, so cooking and cooling were out of the questions. I thought I had found a recipe that didn’t require pre-cooking the brine but when I looked at it Thursday morning, I realized that I was wrong.

Of course this is my kitchen where nothing ever goes right. The first roadblock that I ran into was that this turkey was too large for my big salad bowl. I didn’t realize that a 12 pound turkey was so large or that my salad bowl was so small. The second roadblock was the thinness of the bags. These bags were meant to cook the turkey in. I don’t know if there are special "brining" bags as opposed to "brown in" bags. And the third thing to go terribly wrong that morning (bad things always seem to come in threes) was that I didn’t have all of the (correct) ingredients for the brine.

No problem. I just improvised. I placed the turkey in the bag on the counter. I partially filled the bag with water using the sprayer. I dumped in 1 cup of sea salt instead of the proper amount of kosher salt, several hard shakes of ground pepper instead of pepper corns, ½ bunch of fresh thyme instead of a whole bunch and 5 bay leaves that have been sitting in my cupboard for an unknown period of time. I omitted the sugar because our theme was "A Healthy Thanksgiving". Besides, I couldn’t wrap my head around adding sugar to what seemed like a perfectly respectable brine/marinade.

I added more water and then I tried to close the bag. This is where I began to run into serious trouble. No matter how tightly I twisted the twisty tie, the water kept going sideways instead of up and covering the turkey. Plus, that bag seemed awfully thin. Was it strong enough to hold a 12 pound turkey and several gallons of water? I didn’t have a container large enough to put it in. I began to have visions of putting the bag in my fridge before work then returning home to find that it had burst while I was out, leaking all over my refrigerator and kitchen floor.

What to do, what to do.

I know! Garbage bags are really strong. How about I put the turkey bag inside a garbage bag? That way, if the turkey bag breaks, the garbage bag will hold all the water instead of spilling it. I should become a spokesperson for Glad Trash Bags.

I’m happy to report that the thin turkey bag didn’t burst. It seemed almost a shame to rinse all of those lovely ingredients from the turkey on Thursday morning, but I needed to get as much salt off the turkey as possible.

I was making wild rice stuffing on top of the stove, so I stuffed the turkey with the same herbs and apples that were so successfully last year.

Basting, as I discovered in my research, has become controversial. One school of thought says that pre-basted turkeys don’t need basting while another school of thought says that basting is done primarily to ensure the skin cooks and browns properly. A third school of thought says that constantly opening the oven door to baste the turkey lowers the temperature of the oven and prevents the turkey from cooking properly. I baste because I am old-fashioned. Normally I use butter but for our healthy meal, I decided to go with prepared chicken broth.

A recipe that I saw online recommended adding your choice of herbs to the broth such as sage or thyme. I couldn’t decide which to use, so I used them all by adding poultry seasoning. The broth that I used was Kitchen Basics, recommended by the Taste of Home Cooking School that A and I attended. I had previously used it in a soup recipe which came out very salty. Thanks to the brining and chicken broth, our gravy was much too salty.

Verdict: Needs work.

OldRoses’ Brined Turkey


OldRoses’ No-Cook Brine
1 cup sea salt
½ bunch fresh thyme
1 tablespoon ground pepper
5 bay leaves

Stuffing
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
10 sprigs fresh thyme
½ bunch flat leaf parsley
2 small onions, halved
2 small apples, cored and halved

Baste
1 8 oz container chicken broth
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

Place turkey in a large plastic bag and partially fill it with water. Add brine ingredients. Add more water until turkey is covered. Refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.

Heat oven to 325°F. Discard brine and rinse turkey well. Pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle the pepper into main cavity of turkey; add thyme, parsley, half the onions and half the apples. Truss legs with kitchen twine. Put remaining apples and onions in neck opening and tuck neck skin under bird. Baste with seasoned chicken broth.

Cook a 12 pound bird for 4 to 4 ½ hours or until a meat thermometer registers 180°F, basting every 30 minutes.

Compost: parsley stems, onion skins and apple skins

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas Cookie of the Week - Gingerbread Boys

I bought my Betty Crocker cookbook in 1980. It is the 1974 edition and showing its age. Not only are some of the ingredients outmoded, the names of some of the recipes are definitely non-PC. For instance, the recipe for gingerbread cookies is called "Gingerbread Boys".

Comparing this recipe to the one I made last year, really shows up its age. Shortening instead of butter, no egg versus 1 egg, ¾ teaspoon of salt (yikes!) compared to ¼ teaspoon, ungreased baking sheet versus greased baking sheet. Betty’s version was also more difficult to roll out. The dough is very sticky.

The cookies came out perfectly. When all was said and done, I have to admit that Betty won the taste test hands down. This is the way to make gingerbread boys (and girls).

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!



Gingerbread Boys
(Source: Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, 1974 ed.)


½ cup shortening
½ cup sugar
½ cup dark molasses
¼ cup water
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour*
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon soda
¾ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
Raisins
Candied cherries or red gumdrops
Citron
String licorice
Decorators’ Icing


Cream shortening and sugar. Blend in molasses, water, flour, salt, soda, ginger, nutmeg and all-spice. Cover; chill 2 to 3 hours.

Heat oven to 375°. Roll dough ¼ inch thick on lightly floured cloth-covered board. Cut with gingerbread boy cutter; place on ungreased baking sheet.

Press raisins into dough for eyes, nose and buttons. Use bits of candied cherries and strips of citron and string licorice for other trims. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Immediately remove from baking sheet. Cool. Trim with Decorators’ Icing.

About fifteen 4-inch cookies.

*If using self-rising flour, omit salt and soda. If using quick-mixing flour, add 3 tablespoons milk.

Note: For crisper cookies, roll dough 1/8 inch thick. Bake 8 minutes. About 2 dozen cookies.

Recycle: molasses bottle

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Healthy Thanksgiving





OldRoses’ Brined Turkey
Mushroom-Wild Rice Stuffing
Easy Roasted Potatoes
Maple Glazed Sweet Potatoes
Cranberry-Orange Relish
Whole Wheat Bread
Rustic Pear Pie


In searching for a theme for our Thanksgiving meal this year, we took note of the effort of our First Lady, Michelle Obama, to encourage healthy eating habits especially among children. We surfed the web and scoured our cookbooks for healthy alternatives to the traditional Thanksgiving menu. We hope that our meal will inspire our readers to consider dishes with less salt, fat and calories for their own holiday meals.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christmas Cookie of the Week - Snickerdoodles

I started my holiday baking early this year because … does anyone really need a reason to start their holiday baking early? Maybe it’s because of all the pre-Thanksgiving Black Friday sales that it feels like the Christmas season is upon us.

Christmas cookie baking was not a tradition in my family, so I am unfamiliar with a lot of the traditional recipes. I saw this recipe on the Martha Stewart site last year, but ran out of time before I could try it out. So I bookmarked it for this year. I just liked the name.

I was kind of at loose ends this weekend, craving something sweet but feeling too lazy to bake anything complicated. Cookies came to mind, then Christmas cookies and Snickerdoodles popped up. It seemed like an easy and fun recipe to try.

A and I recently attended a cooking class sponsored by Taste of Home. One of the things I learned was that the difference between parchment paper and wax paper is that parchment paper has more paper than wax and wax paper has more wax than paper. I’ve been substituting wax paper for years because it’s what I have on hand. I’m more confident now in my substitution and didn’t hesitate to line my cookie sheets with wax paper rather than Martha’s recommended parchment paper.

She doesn’t say whether the butter should be softened or not, so relying on my years of baking experience, I softened the butter before using it. It didn’t affect the end result at all that I can tell.

Martha, perfectionist that she is, uses an ice cream scoop to form balls of dough. My ice cream scoop is like the ones used by “professional” ice cream scoopers rather than the round ones favored by Martha and her ilk. So I just used a spoon to scoop out small amounts of dough which I then hand rolled as I do for meatballs. Balls of batter are much more fragile than balls of meat, so they lost some of their shape, becoming a bit bumpy, when I rolled them in the cinnamon sugar. Fear not! They baked into attractive round cookies which did indeed spread quite a bit as they cooked.

I’m a much lazier cook than Martha, so I couldn’t be bothered with two baking sheets on different racks in the oven, rotating them halfway through their baking times. I baked my cookies one dozen at a time, one cookie sheet at a time in the middle of the oven and they came out perfectly.

As for the taste, well, that’s a little difficult because I’ve never tasted a Snickerdoodle before. I can say that I don’t care much for the taste of the cream of tartar and the amount of cinnamon needed to counteract that taste is too much. I felt like I had overdosed on cinnamon after eating only one cookie.

Verdict: Not bad, but I won’t be making this one again.




Snickerdoodles
(source: MarthaStewart.com)



2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup pure vegetable shortening
1 ¾ cups sugar, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, plus more if needed
2 large eggs


Preheat the oven to 400°F, with one rack in top third and one rack in bottom third of oven. Line baking sheets with Silpat baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.

Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine butter, shortening, and 1 ½ cups sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs, and beat to combine. Add dry ingredients, and beat to combine.

In a small bowl, combine remaining ¼ cup sugar and the ground cinnamon. Use a small (1 ¼-ounce) ice-cream scoop to form balls of the dough, and roll in cinnamon sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are set in center and begin to crack (they will not brown), about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets after 5 minutes. Transfer the sheets to a wire rack to cool about 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to the rack. Store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Makes 4 dozen.

Recycle: cream of tartar and cinnamon bottles

Compost: eggshells

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Moroccan-Spiced Seared Scallops with Green Grape and Lemon Relish

First of all, I have to confess that I didn’t make this entire recipe. There is a huge controversy in the comments section over the “preserved-lemon shortcut”, some saying that it works and others that it is totally implausible. Add in the fact that I am not a huge fan of grapes and you are left with spicy scallops. Which is all that I wanted anyways.

I learned my lesson with the shrimp salad and instead of ordering 1½ lbs of scallops at the seafood counter, I asked for 8 scallops. They weighed 0.8 lbs. Doubled, that would be 1.6 lbs. The recipe makes 4 servings and I was looking for two servings. So I would have to say that 1½ lbs of scallops is exactly right if you are cooking for four people.

I made a huge error with the spices. I wasn’t paying much attention to the directions and added a full teaspoon of cinnamon, instead of the ¼ teaspoon called for. I tried to remove some of the cinnamon (don’t ask). After the scallops were cooked, I was very disappointed that the seasonings seemed bland. I had been expecting something that would make my tongue dance, but all I got was vaguely cinnamon-y chalk. I blamed it on the excess cinnamon until I ate the leftovers the next day. People who hate cumin say that it tastes like a smelly armpit. I happen to love cumin so I couldn’t even imagine what they were talking about. I can now. Overnight, the cumin had successfully wrested control of the flavor from the cinnamon and I can truthfully say that the second time around the scallops tasted like a smelly armpit.

Much like the controversial “preserved-lemon shortcut”, the cooking instructions for the scallops are completely implausible. If you sear a scallop on the outside, leaving the center translucent and repeat the same operation on the other side, you end up with a scallop that is cooked on the outside and raw on the inside. That’s what translucency means in a scallop: raw. Raw scallops don’t have much flavor and I’m not even sure that they are safe to eat that way so I would recommend ignoring the cooking instructions and cooking the scallops until they are white all the way around.

Verdict: What were they thinking???


Moroccan-Spiced Seared Scallops with Green Grape and Lemon Relish
(source: Fine Cooking)


1 medium lemon
Kosher salt
1 ½ cups seedless green grapes, quartered lengthwise and at room temperature
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tsp. ground turmeric
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground ginger
1 ½ lb. large all-natural “dry” sea scallops, side muscles removed
Freshly ground black pepper

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the lemon in strips (yellow part only). Reserve the lemon. In a small saucepan, combine the lemon zest with ½ cup water and 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until the liquid reduces to about 1 Tbs., about 10 minutes. Drain, rinse, drain again, and pat dry. Finely mince the lemon zest and combine it with the grapes, 2 Tbs. of the olive oil, scallions, cilantro, and mint in a medium bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the cumin, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger.

Pat the scallops dry. Season them liberally with salt and pepper and coat them with the spice mixture.

Heat 1 Tbs. of the olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add half of the scallops and cook, turning once, until seared on the outside but still translucent in the center, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a warm plate. Repeat with the remaining 1 Tbs. oil and scallops.

Divide the scallops among 4 plates and serve with the relish. Cut the reserved lemon into quarters and squeeze over the scallops and relish. Serve immediately.

Recycle: olive oil bottle

Compost: lemon peel, roots and ends of scallions, cilantro stems, mint stems,

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rustic Red Raspberry Turnovers

Yuck! Blech! Eww! Dee-sgusting, as a younger relative of mine used to say. What started out as an experiment in new flavors and pastry technique ended up in the garbage. Seriously, doesn’t the title sound wonderful? And I was able to find fresh, organic raspberries on sale for half-off at the grocery store. This recipe was literally begging to be made.

Starting from the inside, the fruit filling was much too tart. So sour, in fact, that my ears hurt when I sampled the turnovers. I was intrigued by the use of cinnamon and nutmeg, spices I normally associate with apples, but their flavors were completely lost in overwhelming sourness of the raspberries.

I’m going to have to make a more concerted effort to find my heavy maple rolling pin. Rolling out refrigerated pastry with a wimpy rolling pin is just too difficult. I thought using my non-stick rolling pin with a sticky butter pastry would allow me to get away with little or no additional flour. Not as much as I would have liked.

And, yes, I have multiple rolling pins. I collect them along with wooden spoons. Perhaps I should rename this blog “The Rolling Pin and Wooden Spoon”?

I don’t recommend using old-fashioned wide champagne glasses as pastry cutters. I didn’t have a 4” round cookie cutter, so I substituted the glasses which are a little narrower. Their edges aren’t really sharp enough to easily make the cuts.

And lastly, if you run into this recipe online, ignore the comments recommending that you cut the baking time in half. As sensible as it sounds that 20 minutes at 400°F is too long for tiny pastries and will burn them, it’s not. I pulled mine out after 10 minutes, as the commenters recommended, and they had barely cooked. Nor was the taste anything special.

The one good thing to come out of this whole mess is that I discovered how easy it is to make pastry dough in a food processor. I may retire my trusty pastry blender.

Verdict: What were they thinking??




Rustic Red Raspberry Turnovers

(source: Fine Cooking)



Buttery Shortbread Pastry Dough

9 oz. (2 cups) bleached allpurpose flour
7 oz. (14 Tbs.) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
1 Tbs. chilled heavy cream
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. table salt


In a food processor, combine the flour, butter, egg, sugar, cream, lemon juice, and salt and pulse until the dough starts gathering together in big clumps. Turn the dough out onto a counter and gather it together. Shaper the dough as directed in the recipe you’re making.

Yields enough dough for 1 single pie crust, 8 mini tarts, or 12 turnovers


Rustic Red Raspberry Turnovers

1 recipe Buttery Shortbread Pastry Dough
4 tsp. granulated sugar; more as needed
1 tbs. all-purpose flour
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
2 cups (8 to 10oz.) fresh red raspberries, rinsed and air-dried or patted dry with paper towels
1 to 2 Tbs. milk


Divide the pastry in half. Pat each half into roughly a square shape about 1 inch thick, wrap each in plastic, and chill for 20 minutes.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. On a lightly floured surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll out one square of the pastry into a 9x14-inch rectangle. If the dough is too sticky, dust it too with a little four. Cut the dough into six rounds, each about 4 inches in diameter. Remove the excess dough from around the rounds and discard or save for another use. Run a metal spatula under each round to separate it from the counter.

In a large bowl, stir the 4 tsp. sugar and the flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the raspberries and gently toss to coat. Taste and add more sugar if the fruit seems tart.

Put a heaping tablespoon of raspberries (three to six berries, depending on size) in a single layer on one half of each dough round. Press gently to flatten the berries a bit. Dampen the pastry edges with a little water and carefully fold the other side of the dough over the berries to make a half moon. Press the edges of the dough together with your fingers or the tines of a fork. If any small cracks formed in the, pinch them together as best you can with damp fingers. Use a spatula to transfer the turnovers to the baking sheet.

Repeat this process with the remaining half of the pastry dough and the rest of the berries. When all the turnovers are assemble, refrigerate for at least 15 min. and up to 4 hours. Meanwhile, position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F.

When ready to bake, brush the tops of the turnovers (but not the edges or they will get too brown) with the milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 min. Transfer to a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Compost: eggshell, lemon rind

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Vegetable Curried Rice

Stop reading. Go directly to the recipe and then your kitchen. You will be making this rice for dinner tonight. Yes, it’s that good. And so easy. I made it to accompany the lackluster Crumb-Coated Red Snapper. It was the only flavorful thing on my plate.

I have to confess that I left out the veggies and nuts. Corn makes me gag. I always pick out the peas from the fried rice when I get Chinese take-out. And as much as I like almonds, I don’t like my rice to be crunchy.

But even with most of its ingredients missing and canola oil substituted for the olive oil, this rice dish was a real treat. I will be making it often.

Please ignore all of the above if you are one of those unfortunate people who hate curry. I happen to love curry, so this is the perfect recipe for me.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!



Vegetable Curried Rice

(source: Taste of Home)



½ cup uncooked long grain rice
1/3 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
½ teaspoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/3 cup frozen corn thawed
1/3 cup frozen peas, thawed
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted


In a small saucepan, cook rice and onion in oil until rice is lightly browned and onion is tender. Stir in the broth, curry powder, salt and turmeric. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 12 minutes.

Stir in corn and peas. Cover and simmer 3-6 minutes longer or until rice and vegetables are tender. Sprinkle with almonds.

Yield: 4 servings.

Recycle: olive oil bottle

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Crumb-Coated Red Snapper

Ah, the cool breezes of fall have arrived. As my windows have closed, my kitchen has opened. I can finally turn my stove on. For my inaugural fall meal, I chose a quick and easy fish fry. I’ve been trying to eat healthier, trying to stay away from fried and fatty foods, but since this recipe only uses two tablespoons of oil, it didn’t seem unhealthy.

I see a lot of fish recipes that call for Red Snapper but I can never seem to find it offered for sale. I substituted Tilapia. I also substituted canola oil for the olive oil. I just don’t like the taste of olive oil. Canola oil confers the same health benefits as olive oil without the heavy taste. Canola has now become my go-to oil.

I was quite disappointed with this recipe. The breading was what attracted me initially. I liked the idea of the Parmesan cheese and lemon-pepper combination of flavors but they disappointed. Perhaps the quantities need to be increased. This recipe was singularly tasteless.

Verdict: Totally tasteless



Crumb-Coated Red Snapper
(source: Taste of Home)



½ cup dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning
¼ teaspoon salt
4 red snapper fillets (6 ounces each)
2 tablespoons olive oil


In a shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs, cheese, lemon-pepper and salt; add fillets, one at a time, and turn to coat.

In a heavy skillet over medium heat, cook fillets in oil in batches for 4-5 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Yield: 4 servings

Recycle: oil bottle

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Shrimp Salad Rolls with Tarragon & Chives

This past summer was one of the hottest summers on record. Wait. Don’t I say that every year now? Gotta love global warming. My kitchen is normally closed during the summer, but I usually manage to sneak in a few meals during cool days. This year, I couldn’t even do that. The 90° days were relentless. I rapidly grew sick of salads, sandwiches and tuna salad and was desperate for some variety.

Thank goodness for email. I subscribe to several different recipe sites who send me daily or weekly emails full of seasonal recipes. Summer is not usually good because most of the recipes are barbeques and I don’t own a barbeque and, as noted above, I was sick and tired of salads and sandwiches. When this recipe arrived in my inbox, I perked right up. Not tuna and wraps could easily be substituted for the rolls. I don’t eat a lot of bread.

It also gave me a chance to try fresh tarragon. It was a revelation. I rarely use fresh spices, so I am accustomed to dishes needing 24 hours to reach full flavor. This recipe was fantastic from the first day. I’ll be adding tarragon to my herb garden next year.

Other than peeling all that shrimp, this is an easy recipe to make. You can eat it in rolls or wraps, or as a salad, like I did. I’ll definitely be trying the lobster variation next summer when my local grocery has a sale on lobster.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!





Shrimp Salad Rolls with Tarragon and Chives
(source: Fine Cooking)



Kosher salt
2 lb. Large shrimp (31 to 40 per lb.), preferably easy-peel
¾ cup finely chopped celery with leaves
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup finely sliced fresh chives
1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh tarragon
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice; more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
6 hot dog rolls, preferably New England-style split-top rolls

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until bright pink and cooked through, about 2 minutes. The water needn’t return to a boil. Drain in a colander and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Shell the shrimp, devein if necessary, and cut into ½- to ¾-inch pieces.

In a large bowl, stir the celery, mayonnaise, chives, tarragon, lemon juice, ¼ tsp. salt, and ¼ tsp. pepper. Stir in the shrimp and season to taste with more lemon, salt and pepper.

Position a rack 6 inches from the broiler element and heat the broiler to high. Toast both outside surfaces of the rolls under the broiler, about 1 minute per side. Spoon the shrimp salad into the rolls, using about ⅔ cup per roll, and serve.

Variation: Make it a lobster roll: Substitute 1-1/2 lb. (4 cups) cooked lobster meat for the cooked shrimp.

Compost: leftover lemon, celery, chives and tarragon

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Piecrust

One would think by now that I would have learned the two most important rules in cooking: Never try out a new recipe when company is coming for dinner and never, ever enter an untried crust recipe in a pie baking contest.

Even I can’t believe that I had no idea how the crust tasted when I entered my pie on Saturday morning. Especially considering what I had gone through to get to that point. The Granny Smith apples that I had used in last year’s filling were a disaster. They were too tart and too hard. I don’t like my apple pies to be crunchy. Since I was going back to my regular filling, I decided that I needed to change my crust recipe. I took a peek into my Silver Palate Cookbook and fell in love. Pastry crusts with shortening or butter are familiar, but one with both? And who puts sugar in their pie crusts? I had to try it out.

I have arthritis in my hands, so mixing stiff pastries is difficult for me. I used chilled butter, but opted for room temperature shortening. Mixing wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated so I probably could have used chilled shortening also. As for the ice water, I distinctly remember the woman who gave me the cookbook and who was also the most fabulous cook I had ever met, told me that ice water in pie crusts was absolutely necessary. Cold water wouldn’t do. It had to be ice water. So I gamely filled my glass measuring cup with water and dropped ice cubes in to create my ice water.

I used a pastry blender to mix my ingredients but balked at tossing it with a fork after adding the ice water. In the past, I have tried using my favorite wooden spoon to blend in water with disastrous results. I always use my pastry blender. Judging from A’s comments after tasting the crust, perhaps I should have used a fork. I also skipped the "smearing" step. I couldn’t see the point.

Not surprisingly, the toughest part was trying to roll out chilled pastry. I couldn’t find my heavy maple rolling pin so I had to use my lighter everyday rolling pin. I wasn’t able to roll the pastry as evenly or as thinly I wanted. Big disappointment.

Something I should have remembered about pastry dough using butter is that it browns/burns more easily than pastry dough using shortening. I should have left my aluminum foil edging on longer than I usually do. I wasn’t happy with how brown the edges became.

As for the big taste test, I was happy with it because it tasted much less flour-y and dough-y than my usual Betty Crocker recipe. A had a different take on it. She pointed out that it was tough. There are two things that can make a crust tough: too much flour and too much handling. I think that I was guilty of both.

A just got a new silicone mat that she is raving about. I am still using my old fashioned pastry cloth to roll my pastry. I have to use a lot of flour to keep my pie crusts from sticking to it and my rolling pin. I’m definitely going to take A’s advice and invest in some new technology.

And now I understand the "smearing" step. In my zeal to mix the water and dry ingredients, I probably went overboard with the pastry cutter. If I had tossed it with a fork and then smeared the result on the counter (or a new-fangled silicone mat), I could have mixed the ingredients just as effectively but with a lot less handling.

I’m going to try this recipe again but follow the directions to the letter. If the result is still not great, I have plenty of time to find a new crust recipe for next year’s apple pie baking contest!

Verdict: Needs a do-over


Piecrust
(Source: The Silver Palate Cookbook)


2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) sweet butter, chilled
6 tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water, as needed

Sift flour, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl. Add chilled butter and shortening. Working quickly and using your fingertips or a pastry blender, rub or cut fat into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Sprinkle on ice water, 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time, and toss with a fork. Turn dough out onto your work surface, and, using the heel of your hand, smear dough away from you, about ¼ cups at a time. Scrape it up into a ball and wrap in wax paper. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours.

Roll dough out to ¼-inch thickness on a floured work surface. Line a 9-inch pie plate with half of the dough. Crimp edges for a single-crust pie.

For prebaking, line dough in the pie plate with foil and fill with beans or rice. Bake in a 425°F oven for 8 minutes, then remove beans and lining. Prick bottom of dough with a fork and return pie plate to oven to 10 to 13 minutes longer, or until crust is golden brown.

Makes one 9-inch double crust, or two 9-inch single crusts.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Orange-Scented Bittersweet Chocolate Cake

Obviously dessert for the Valentine dinner had to involve chocolate. That was a given. And the theme was “pairings”, so it had to be chocolate-something. I considered chocolate-raspberry, but raspberries aren’t in season now, so I decided on chocolate-orange instead. This recipe sounded good, but not difficult to put together. Frankly, after the Buche de Noel, I wanted something simple. (The original recipe includes a blood orange compote served on the side, but I skipped that.)

The ingredients don’t require comment, except for the chocolate. The recipe specifically states that the chocolate should not exceed 61% cacao. After perusing the available options at the grocery, I decided to go all out and get the Ghirardelli 60% cacao. Unfortunately, I had written on my shopping list the one pound of chocolate required for the cake, but forgot to add to that the additional 6 oz needed for the glaze. Realizing this on the morning of the dinner, I opted to make the glaze out of ordinary chocolate chips. Oh, and light rather than dark corn syrup. I don’t use corn syrup very often as it is, and really can’t see keeping two bottles of the stuff.

This recipe goes together really easily. You don’t even need a mixer, just a couple bowls and a spoon or whisk. Also you can just melt the chocolate/butter mixture in the microwave.

The recipe calls for a 10” cake pan with 2” high sides. I just used my 9” springform pan. You do want high sides because this recipe makes quite a bit; my pan was full. I’m wondering whether a 10” pan may be essential in this case. I did bake it until the tester came out with “moist crumbs attached”, which turned out to be over an hour (although I have doubts about my oven’s thermostat). But the cake was dry on the outer edges and maybe a little bit underdone in the middle. Which is not entirely a bad thing, because the middle was moist and fudgy.

I’m not sure why the recipe suggests applying the glaze only in the center. I would apply it all over, like a frosting.

The flavor was absolutely out of this world. It totally blew me away. It also blew away my coworkers, when I took the leftovers in the next week. Cut the pieces small, because it is heavy and rich. Very chocolatey without being too sweet. It also freezes beautifully. I don’t see anything wrong with making the glaze from regular semisweet chocolate chips. Whether the cake itself would be as good made with regular chocolate chips, I don’t know. I may have to do some research on this point…

Verdict: Yum! This one's a keeper!

Orange-Scented Bittersweet Chocolate Cake
(source: Epicurious.com)




Cake:

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur
2 teaspoons finely grated orange peel
4 large eggs
3/4 cup sour cream


Glaze:

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup

For cake:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325°F. Lightly butter 10-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper; butter parchment.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Combine chocolate and butter in large metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water; stir until chocolate-butter mixture is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water; add both sugars, orange liqueur, and orange peel and whisk until blended (mixture will look grainy). Add eggs, 2 at a time, and whisk until just blended after each addition. Whisk in sour cream. Add flour mixture and stir in with rubber spatula just until incorporated. Transfer batter to prepared pan; spread evenly.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack 30 minutes. Run small knife around sides of cake to loosen. Invert cake onto rack; peel off parchment. Cool cake completely (center may sink slightly).

For glaze:
Combine chocolate and butter in small metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water; stir until chocolate-butter mixture is melted and smooth. Whisk in corn syrup. Cool glaze until barely warm but still pourable, about 10 minutes.

Pour glaze onto center of cake. Using small offset spatula, spread glaze over top of cake, leaving 1/2-inch plain border around top edge. Let stand at room temperature until glaze sets, about 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with cake dome and store at room temperature.

Recycle: liqueur bottle, sour cream carton, corn syrup bottle

Compost: eggshells

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chicken Mole

Why in the world would I want to make a recipe from a book that was the most poorly written tome I have ever had the misfortune to read? I was asking myself this question as I was chopping onions and peppers, trying not to burn myself with the jalapeño. I decided that it was because the recipe itself was taken from a website not authored by the woman who “wrote” the book I found it in.

Shopping for this recipe was fun. Since it wasn’t specified in the recipe, I went with diced tomatoes rather than whole ones because everything else is diced. There were no chipotle chilis (a dried pepper) in my market nor was there anything labeled “green chili pepper” so I bought a jalapeño pepper. I knew that it was green, it was a pepper and it packed enough heat that one was plenty. I should have inventoried my spice cabinet. Turns out I had almost no chili powder so I substituted Mexican style chili powder.

This recipe smelled terrific while it was simmering. I love dishes, by the way, that don’t need a lot of fussing over while they are cooking. It also thickened up surprisingly quickly after the addition of the cocoa and sugar.

The first night, all I tasted was heat. All spice, no depth. I thought by the second night when the flavors had had a chance to meld and mellow it would be better. Instead, it was just muddy. One substitution I shouldn’t have made was boneless breasts for the boneless thighs. Normally, I am not a fan of dark meat but in this case the more flavorful dark meat would have combined better with the spicy sauce.

This was my first taste of a mole sauce. I wasn’t impressed but it may be due more to this recipe in particular. I am reserving judgment on mole sauces for now. But I won’t be making this recipe again.

Verdict: Not bad, but I won’t be making this again.


Chicken Mole
(source: www.sweatnspice.com)


1 (14 ounce) can tomatoes
8 skinned & boned chickn thighs
1 chipotle chile, or to taste
2 teaspoons cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, chopped fine
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 green chili pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped fine
½ cup water
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 tablespoon sugar

Place all ingredients except cocoa and sugar in a large pot. Cover and simmer until chicken si very tender (about an hour). Remove chicken from pot. Add cocoa and sugar. Simmer sauce until thick. Return chicken to sauce and heat 5 to 10 minutes to blend flavors. Serve over rice.

Recycle: tomtato can, spice bottles

Compost: garlic skins, onion skins, pepper seeds and membranes

Monday, April 05, 2010

Blondies

Chocoholic that I am, I have a strange paritality for Blondies. I’ve only tasted commercially prepared ones. My search for a decent recipe so that I can whip up my own whenever the mood strikes, has so far proved fruitless.

This past weekend during my search for a new cake/cookie/brownie recipe to try, I ran across a cookbook that I wasn’t aware that I owned, Our Best Recipes by Better Homes and Gardens. Published in 2003, it features recipes from their past as well as contemporary offerings. One of those recipes is for Blondies.

It was love at first sight. I had all of the ingredients on hand except the chocolate chips. And it can be made in one bowl with only a wooden spoon for mixing. I melted, stirred, spread and sprinkled, then popped it in the oven with much anticipation. One direction I didn’t follow which I should have was to cut them while warm. I waited until the following day when they were rock hard from spending the night in the fridge. Cue the pizza cutter.

My anticipation was for naught. When I finally tasted them the following day when any home-baked good is at its most flavorful, these were strangely tasteless. My search for a Blondie recipe continues.

Verdict: What were they thinking???

Blondies
(source: Our Best Recipes by Better Homes and Gardens)


2 cups packed brown sugar
⅔ cup butter
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces (6 oz.)
1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 13x9x2-inch baking pan; set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar and butter; heat and stir over medium heat until butter melts and mixture is smooth. Cool slightly. Using a wooden spoon, stir in eggs, one at a time; stir in vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

Spread batter in prepared baking pan. Sprinkle with chocolate pieces and nuts. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean (avoid chocolate pieces). Cool slightly on a wire rack. Cut into bars while warm.

Makes 36 bars.

Recycle: vanilla bottle

Compost: eggshells

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Lemon-Ginger Chicken

I was trying to come up with a main dish for our “Pairings” dinner when one day “Lemon-Ginger Chicken” popped into my head. I have no idea where that came from. I don’t believe I’ve ever made, or even eaten, it before. But it sounded good. Maybe because it was winter and spicier foods were more appealing just then.

As with the Ginger Carrot soup, I had a little trouble finding a recipe in which lemon and ginger were the only main flavor components, but finally found one on the Betty Crocker website. In honor of the occasion, I decided to buy real gingerroot instead of just using the powdered stuff. I’d never used it before, and was pleasantly surprised at the lemony fragrance that arose as I was grating it. Ah, now I see why this is paired with lemon….this pair has a lot in common! Hmmm, I thought, I wonder if this stuff tastes lemony too….YYAAAHHH!!! I’d momentarily forgotten about things like ginger beer…Okay, so this couple has some differences too…

Both the chicken and the sauce proved to be very quick and easy to put together. Especially when you don’t bother to flatten the chicken breasts first. In this case, however, you do need to be sure you cook the chicken long enough that it’s cooked through. Following the suggestions of some of the reviewers at the original website, I doubled the sauce recipe.

The chicken itself proved disappointing. I couldn’t taste the lemon or ginger at all, and I did taste an off-flavor that I thought might have come from the oil. The sauce was good, though.

A day or two later, when I had the leftovers for lunch, the off-flavor was gone, but I still couldn’t taste the lemon or ginger on the chicken itself. Maybe I should have applied the breading more heavily; there was a fair amount of it left over. The sauce had so much cornstarch in it that it had thickened to about the consistency of aspic, even after reheating, and the lemon flavor in it now seemed too strong. Also, there was really more of it than was necessary.

Although I think the lemon-ginger combination has serious potential for a good long-term relationship, this particular dish doesn’t show them off to best advantage.

Verdict: What were they thinking?

Lemon-Ginger Chicken
(source: bettycrocker.com)



Chicken
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (1 1/4 lb)
1/2 cup Original Bisquick® mix
1/4 cup Progresso® plain bread crumbs
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon grated gingerroot
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Lemon Ginger Sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon grated gingerroot
1 drop yellow food color
Lemon slices, if desired

Between pieces of plastic wrap or waxed paper, place each chicken breast smooth side down; gently pound with flat side of meat mallet or rolling pin until about 1/4 inch thick.

In shallow bowl, mix Bisquick mix, bread crumbs, lemon peel and gingerroot. Pour 1/2 cup water into another shallow bowl. Dip chicken into water, then coat with Bisquick mixture.

In 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook chicken in oil 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, until juice of chicken is clear when center of thickest part is cut (170°F).

Meanwhile, in 1-quart saucepan, mix lemon juice, 1/4 cup water, the sugar, cornstarch, gingerroot and food color. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened and bubbly. Pour sauce over chicken. Garnish with lemon slices.

High Altitude (3500-6500 ft):
Cook chicken in oil 11 to 13 minutes or until meat thermometer inserted in center of chicken reads 170°F.

Recycle: oil bottle

Compost: rest of lemon

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Rice Pilaf with Thyme

I have a tendency to get into ruts. Whenever I need a starch, I automatically make rice. Just plain old white rice. It’s quick and easy. Much quicker and easier than the mashed potatoes I was raised on. And mashed potatoes are so not good for you. I’ve been experimenting with other ways to make potatoes such as roasting them, but cleaning them and cutting them, and herbing them and finally roasting them takes so much time and effort. It’s much easier to throw 1 ½ cups of rice into 2 cups of water, simmer for 20 minutes, then turn off the heat and let it steam for another ten minutes. As they said in the commercial, “perfect rice every time”.

I need to get out of my rice rut. Since I was making chicken, I decided to go with rice pilaf. My first instinct was to revisit the Wild Basmati Pilaf recipe, making the changes I had planned on. After reviewing the recipe, I decided that it had too many ingredients and too many steps. I had been suffering with “flu-like symptoms” all week and wanted something easy to prepare. Like plain old white rice.

Next I hit the internet. Who knew there were so many variations of rice pilaf? It seems it can be made with every conceivable ingredient and seasoning. I didn’t even know where to start. Fortunately, Martha came to my rescue. She offers a very simple recipe using fresh thyme which I was also using in the chicken recipe.

I think I will have to take A’s advice and buy a timer that can time more than one thing at a time. I had difficulty (because I was so ill) timing both the chicken and the rice. Luckily, the rice was forgiving and I was able to “guesstimate” the cooking time and have it come out right. Better than right. This is an easy and delicious recipe that I’ll be making again and again.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!

Rice Pilaf with Thyme
(source: Martha Stewart.com)


1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, chopped
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 ½ cups canned reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup long-grain white rice
2 sprigs fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium. Add onion; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden, 8 to 9 minutes. Add broth, and bring to a boil. Stir in rice and thyme.

Reduce to a simmer; cover, and cook until rice is just tender, 15 to 17 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes; fluff with a fork.

Serves 4

Recycle: chicken broth can

Compost: onion skins

Friday, April 02, 2010

Roasted Chicken with Garlic-Sherry Sauce

I try to make it a habit to cook a new main dish recipe and new dessert recipe every week. Since I cook mainly on weekends, that means that my weekend meals are usually not very good. This weekend was a one of those rare weekends when the dinner I cooked turned out to be delicious. I daringly tried both a new main dish recipe and a new side dish recipe (Rice Pilaf with Thyme, both of which were definitely standouts.

This was my first attempt at brining. I ran into two minor snags. Cooling the brine to room temperature took far longer than I anticipated. And I didn’t have any plastic bags larger than one gallon. I resorted to my fallback bags which in this case were scented. My concern was that the scent would permeate the chicken. It didn’t, instead permeating my refrigerator reminding me that I needed to change the box of baking soda.

Normally when making any chicken dish, I use boneless breasts no matter which cut of chicken the recipe calls for. I don’t much care for wings, legs or thighs. In this case, I opted to go with the bone-in breast halves as specified. Big mistake. They were very thick. They cooked, but were rubbery. I prefer my chicken to be cooked to a firmer texture. The advantage to using boneless breasts in a recipe like this is that if they are too thick, they can be pounded thinner to ensure that they cook properly.

I had been sick all week and so rested while the chicken was baking and the rice was boiling. Another big mistake. When the chicken came out of the oven, I realized that I hadn’t sliced the eight cloves of garlic. Which became six large cloves because I had neither the time, the energy nor the patience to slice two more. I was also perplexed by the instruction to “cube” the butter. I’ve melted butter, softened butter, even sliced it into pats, but am clueless as to how one “cubes” butter. I settle for cutting it into large slices which melted quite nicely into the sauce.

Other than the rubbery texture of the chicken, this dish was perfection. The sauce had body without being too heavy. The garlic was there but not obnoxiously so. The sherry added an “exotic” note to the sauce. And the fresh thyme was lighter and yet more flavorful than the dried thyme that I am accustomed to using in recipes.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!


Roasted Chicken with Garlic-Sherry Sauce
(source: Taste of Home)


2 quarts water
½ cup salt
4 bone-in chicken breast halves (12 ounces each)
¾ teaspoon pepper, divided
2 teaspoons canola oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
½ cup sherry or additional reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 fresh thyme sprigs
¼ cup butter, cubed
1 teaspoon lemon juice

For brine, in a large saucepan, bring water and salt to a boil. Cook and stir until salt is dissolved. Remove from the heat; cool to room temperature.

Place a large heavy-duty resealable plastic bag inside a second large resealable plastic bag; add chicken. Carefully pour cooled brine into bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible; seal bags and turn to coat. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours, turning several times.

Drain and discard brine. Rinse chicken with cold water; pat dry. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon pepper. In a large ovenproof skillet, brown chicken in oil over medium heat.

Bake, uncovered, at 400°F for 20-25 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 170°F. Remove chicken and keep warm. Drain drippings, reserving 1 tablespoon.

In the drippings, sauté garlic for 1 minute. Ad the broth, sherry or additional broth and thyme. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Discard thyme. Stir in the butter, lemon juice and remaining pepper. Serve with chicken.

Yield: 4 servings

Recycle: canola oil bottle, chicken broth can, sherry bottle, lemon juice bottle

Compost: garlic skins

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Outrageous Carrot Cake

Who can resist a recipe that is billed as “outrageous”? I certainly can’t. I’ve been making the same carrot cake recipe for years. It’s from the Soft As Silk cake flour box. It tastes alright, but I would prefer something denser and moister. It was also my first taste of cream cheese frosting. Who knew it was that good?

At first glance, the two recipes are identical. A closer look revealed some differences. The outrageous recipe uses canola oil. The SAS recipe uses mayo. The outrageous recipe uses only cinnamon. The SAS recipe uses cinnamon plus allspice or ginger. The outrageous recipe includes carrots, pineapple, walnuts and coconut. The SAS recipe has no coconut. Although it wasn’t what I was looking for, I was intrigued enough to give it a whirl.

Looking over the baking directions, I was struck by the fact that you must bake the layers on different racks and then turn and reverse them. I understand that this is necessary to ensure that they bake evenly, but I was taught that you should open the oven door as little as possible to keep the temperature even. Uneven temperatures will prevent your cakes from baking properly.

I elected to bake all three layers on the same rack. When I checked them after the recommended 25 minutes, I discovered that the edges were rapidly overbaking and pulled away from the sides of the pans. 15 minutes of cooling in the pans later, I discovered that the layers were very greasy when I removed them from the pans. I’m not sure if it was because I elected to grease the pans instead of spraying them with nonstick cooking spray (banned in my kitchen) or because the recipe uses canola oil instead of my usual mayo.

The taste was too cinnamon-y and I intensely disliked the texture of the coconut in the cake. Add that to the greasiness of the cake and I see no reason to call this recipe “outrageous”. The frosting was really good, though.

Verdict: What were they thinking???

Outrageous Carrot Cake
(source: Cooking Club of America)


Cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 eggs
2 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ cups canola oil
2 ½ cups finely grated carrots (about 6 carrots)
2 (8-oz.) cans crushed pineapple in juice, well-drained
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Frosting
12 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 cups powdered sugar
1 ½ cups finely chopped walnuts, if desired

Evenly space 2 baking racks in oven. Heat oven to 350°F. Spray bottom and sides of 3 (9x2-inch) round cake pans with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottoms with parchment paper; spray parchment with nonstick cooking spray.

Sift flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into medium bowl.

In large bowl, beat eggs and sugar at medium speed 1 to 3 minutes or until thickened and slightly lighter in color. Beat in oil at low speed. Stir in flour mixture until blended. Stir in carrots, pineapple, coconut and 1 cup walnuts until blended. Divide batter evenly among pans. Bake 25 minutes; turn and reverse cake pans. Bake an additional 10 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and cake pulls slightly away from sides of pan. Cool in pans on wire rack 15 minutes. Invert onto wire rack; remove parchment. Cool completely.

To make frosting, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl at medium speed 3 minutes or until blended and smooth. Beat in vanilla. Add powdered sugar; beat at low speed 1 minute or until blended and smooth.

Place 1 cake layer on serving platter or cardboard round; spread with 1 cup frosting. Repeat. Top with remaining cake layer; spread top and sides with thin layer of frosting. Coat sides with another smooth layer of frosting; spread remaining frosting on top. Press 1 ½ cups walnus onto sides of cake. Refrigerate leftovers.

Cake can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated, or 3 weeks ahead and frozen. To freeze, place cake in freezer until frosting is firm; wrap in plastic wrap, then heavy-duty foil. To defrost, place in refrigerator overnight; remove wrapping. Serve at room temperature.

20 servings

Recycle: canola oil bottle, pineapple cans, vanilla extract bottle

Compost: egg shells, carrot peels

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Italian Sausage Meatball Rigatoni with Vodka-Tomato Sauce

When this recipe was delivered to my inbox, I bookmarked it immediately. I happen to have a bottle of vodka left over from my cocktail experiments. I was also intrigued by meatballs that are baked in the oven rather than fried on top of the stove.

White bread is not something that I normally have on hand so I used plain old bread crumbs from a can which I did soak in the milk for 5 minutes. Grating onions was an adventure. I haven’t cried that much since our first cat died. In the future, I may take a cue from a French movie I once saw where one of the characters was slicing onions while wearing a snorkel and mask. I wonder if you can rent snorkels like you can rent scuba gear? Unlike most of my experiences, this recipe did, in fact, yield 24 meatballs but they seemed awfully large to be fully cooked after 15 minutes in the oven.

Making the sauce was simple although I question whether the 15 minute reduction indeed reduced the vodka or merely boiled away the alcohol. The crushed red pepper and black pepper gave it a nice kick. And I really liked it over the rigatoni rather than the more usual spaghetti. The meatballs were a disappointment. They were nowhere near cooked through after 15 minutes. My guess is that they needed at least twice that much time.

Verdict: Not bad, but I don’t think I’ll be making this again


Italian Sausage Meatball Rigatoni with Vodka-Tomato Sauce
(source: Cooking Club of America)


½ cup fresh white bread crumbs
½ cup milk
¾ lb. bulk mild Italian sausage
¾ lb. ground beef (85% lean)
1 medium onion, coarsely grated
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon salt, divided
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper, divided
12 oz. rigatoni
¼ cup butter
2 large garlic cloves, minced
⅔ cup vodka or chicken broth
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
¾ cup whipping cream
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Heat oven to 425°F. Combine bread crumbs and milk in large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Mix in sausage, ground beef, onion, ½ cup of the cheese, parsley, ½ teaspoon of the salt and ¼ teaspoon of the crushed red pepper until well-blended. Shape into 24 (1 3/4-inch) balls. Place on rimmed baking sheet. Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until cooked through and no longer pink in center. Cover loosely with foil.

Cook rigatoni in large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions; drain.

Meanwhile, melt butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook garlic 30 seconds or until fragrant. Stir in vodka; reduce until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, cream, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, remaining ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper and black pepper; bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Spoon sauce over rigatoni; sprinkle with remaining ½ cup cheese. Top with meatballs.

Recycle: milk bottle, vodka bottle, tomato can

Compost: onion skin, parsley stems, garlic skins

Friday, March 12, 2010

Carrot with Ginger Soup

I still have some carrots from this year’s (or, more accurately, last year’s) garden, and I thought a good use for them would be to make a carrot soup for the Valentine’s dinner. Since the theme this year was “pairings”, we came up with ginger-carrot soup. But at first I had trouble finding a recipe. There are quite a few out there, but they all seemed to have one of two problems. Either they included so many other ingredients that they were actually “ginger-carrot-and-fifteen-other-things soup” and thus didn’t really fit the theme, or they had just a few ingredients but the reviews indicated that they were “bland”, “boring”, etc. Finally I found a recipe that contained few other flavor components, and that got good reviews.

As a bonus, this recipe contains detailed instructions about pureeing the soup. Follow these and you should avoid the type of disaster OldRoses suffered last Thanksgiving.

The ingredients were pretty much as in the recipe, except that I used light cream instead of whipping cream; in a recipe like this, I doubt many people would notice the difference. I also sprang for real ginger, since I also needed it for the chicken dish (more on that here).

The recipe calls for 2 pounds of carrots. I wasn’t sure I had enough of my home-grown ones, so I bought a one-pound bag and used a pound of my own. Now, I should explain that the ones I grew are a purple variety. So when the carrots were simmered, the purple color leached out into the broth. When it was all pureed (without accident, I might add - I used a blender rather than a food processor), the whole thing took on a mauve color, which was perfect for Valentine’s Day. Oh, and the garnish in the picture is a particularly pretty carrot slice that I reserved for this purpose.

When I first tasted this soup, I was disappointed. The chicken broth flavor came out more strongly than I had expected, and I didn’t detect the ginger at all. But, by a day or two later, things had improved. The chicken broth flavor had receded and a lemony flavor from the ginger was present now. If you didn’t know there was ginger in it, you might think it was lemon instead, yet there’s the hint of a bite to it. I’m wondering whether the ginger level should be upped just a bit…

Verdict: Not bad...I might make this one again.

Ginger Carrot Soup
(source: foodnetwork.com)

2 tablespoons sweet cream butter
2 onions, peeled and chopped
6 cups chicken broth
2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 cup whipping cream
Salt and white pepper
Sour cream
Parsley sprigs, for garnish

In a 6-quart pan, over medium high heat, add butter and onions and cook, stirring often, until onions are limp. Add broth, carrots, and ginger. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are tender when pierced.

Remove from heat and transfer to a blender. Don't fill the blender more than half way, do it in batches if you have to. Cover the blender and then hold a kitchen towel over the top of the blender*. Be careful when blending hot liquids as the mixture can spurt out of the blender. Pulse the blender to start it and then puree until smooth. Return to the pan and add cream, stir over high heat until hot. For a smoother flavor bring soup to a boil, add salt and pepper, to taste.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with dollop sour cream and parsley sprigs.

*When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

Recycle: broth can, sour cream tub

Compost: veggie peelings/trimmings


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tuscan Rabbit Ragù

No, I haven’t lost my mind and eaten the Easter Bunny. I’m still caught up in recipes from the New York Times. They had an article on slaughtering and cooking rabbit. I kind of enjoyed the image of urban hipsters attending a workshop to learn how to kill and butcher animals. One attendee even brought her own knives.

Naturally, the article was followed by recipes, of which this one sounded really good. Except for the rabbit, of course. I decided to try it using chicken instead.

I was intrigued by the use of red onion, which tends to be sweeter than yellow onions, and by the lack of garlic. Seems like most everything I cook has garlic in it. I was disappointed when I couldn’t find pancetta or prosciutto at my local grocery store and had to settle for bacon. Ditto the Parmesan cheese rind. I’m still scratching my head over the “nonreactive” pot. I’ve never seen a pot that reacts. Reacts to what? How? Must be an urban hipster thing.

Olive oil that “shimmers”. Interesting concept. I didn’t see any “shimmering”, but it did get hot. Cooking veggies in oil for 25 minutes is okay. Not so much the bacon. Bacon cooked in oil gets soft and greasy. I think I would have preferred cooking the bacon first until crispy, removing it and then adding the olive oil and veggies, adding the bacon back in with the rabbit/chicken.

After simmering for two hours, I was pretty hungry. So hungry, in fact, that I forgot to add the thyme and rosemary at the end. Served over my usual rice (what I had in the house), it was pretty good. Then I remembered the thyme and rosemary and added it for the following night when it was even better. I’ll definitely be making this again. With chicken.

Verdict: Yum!! This one’s a keeper!!


Tuscan Rabbit Ragù
(source: NYT.com)


3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
¼ pound pancetta, bacon or prosciutto, diced
One 3- to 4-pound rabbit, cut into 6 or 8 pieces
1 cup white wine
A Parmesan cheese rind, optional
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 to 3 cups chicken stock or water
Salt
Black pepper
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary.

Place a large, heavy-bottomed, nonreactive pot over medium-low heat. Add olive oil and when it shimmers, add onion, carrot, celery and pancetta. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and caramelized (about 25 minutes).

Raise heat to medium-high. Add rabbit. Brown lightly on all sides. Add wine and stir, scraping bottom of pan. Add cheese rind if using, tomato paste, bay leaves and stock or water. Stir well, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, stir, and reduce heat to low.
Simmer, lid slightly ajar, until meat is tender and nearly falling off the bone, about 2 hours.

Remove rabbit from sauce. When cool enough to handle, shred rabbit. Return meat to pot. Add thyme and rosemary, and season with salt and pepper. Reheat gently before serving. Ragù may be spooned over warm polenta or tossed with pasta, butter, more fresh herbs and grated Parmesan or pecorino Toscano.

Yield: About 4 cups, or 4 to 6 servings.

Recycle: olive oil bottle, wine bottle, tomato paste can

Compost: onion skins, carrot peels, celery leaves, bay leaves

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Peanut Butter Cookies

I have totally outdone myself. Always on the lookout for interesting recipes and taking great pride in finding them in the most unlikely places, I found a delicious recipe for peanut butter cookies on a blog written by a poet on Writing.com. Got that? Blog? Poet? Writing site? Nothing to do with cooking except that poets cook too and apparently blog about it.

I used to make peanut butter cookies. This recipe intrigued me because it is made with creamy peanut butter whereas I had always used chunky peanut butter because that is what I had in the house. And it uses shortening instead of the butter I was accustomed to using. The big question was whether or not these cookies would be as rich and peanut-y as the cookies I used to make.

I’m not sure if it is appropriate to discuss why I stopped eating peanut butter and making peanut butter cookies. Being an omnivore and an omnivorous reader, I came across an article many years ago that talked about the amount of rodent droppings and insect pieces that were allowed in the manufacture of peanut butter. After reading that, I was rendered incapable of consuming peanut butter.

I decided that I would attempt to put aside my aversion to peanut butter and try out this recipe. The recipe is originally from the Crisco site. Although it calls specifically for Jiff, the blogger assures us that we can use any brand that we want. She uses a store brand. I bought Jiff because it was on sale. She does insist that only Crisco brand shortening and Gold Medal Flour be used but that’s not a problem for me. I use both. I will share her directions exactly as she wrote them because they are, like her, delightful.

I did make one critical error. I had a bag of Heath Milk Chocolate Toffee Bits in my freezer that were just crying out to be used. I was wavering between the peanut butter cookies and whatever cookie recipe was on the Heath bits envelope when I discovered that the recipe was in fact, a peanut butter cookie recipe that was nearly identical to this recipe. Problem solved! Or so I thought. Turns out that the Heath Milk Chocolate Toffee Bits added nothing to the cookies.

My initial question was answered in the affirmative. Not only were these cookies as rich and peanut-y as the recipe I used to make, but because they are made with creamy peanut butter, they taste a lot like Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. But without the chocolate. So you know what I’m going to do next time I make them, right? Add milk chocolate chips to them, of course.

Verdict: Needs a do-over


Peanut Butter Cookies
(source: Crisco.com)


¾ cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup shortening
1 ¼ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 egg
1 ¾ cups flour
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda

Heat oven to 375°F.

Combine peanut butter, shortening, light brown sugar, milk and vanilla in mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed of electric mixer until blended. Add egg. Beat just until blended.

Combine flour, salt, and baking soda. Add to creamed mixture at low speed. Mix just until blended.

Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased Air-Bake cookie sheet. Flatten slightly in crisscross pattern with tines of fork.

Bake one baking sheet at a time at 375°F. Set timer for 7-8 minutes. Bake until set and just beginning to brown. Underdone is better than overdone – experiment on the timing to get them the way you like them.

Prepare second cookie sheet to have ready to put in oven when you take the first one out.

Cool first batch two minutes on baking sheet.

While cookies are cooling, put second batch in oven. Set timer.

Place sheets of foil on counter top or table. Remove cookies with pancake turner to foil to cool completely. Keep a paper towel handy to clean off pancake turner when it gets cookie “residue” on it. You need a good clean turner to move the cookies without messing them up.

Rinse off cookie sheet in cool water and dry before putting next batch of cookie dough on it. (This is her tip, not Crisco’s instruction. She says that it gives each batch of cookies the same starting point – clean, cool cookie sheet.)

Prepare cookie sheet to have it ready to put in oven when you take out the second batch.

Eat some of the first cookies. You have to test them to know if they are done to perfection or if you need to adjust the time.

Repeat steps the above steps until all cookies are baked.

Recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies of which you will have eaten at least one per baking cycle, so you will be a few short up final count. Cookies go wonderfully with a freshly brewed cup of Folgers French Roast Coffee – no additives like sweetener or creamer, natural or artificial – drink it stout and black.

To make Heath Bits Peanut Butter Cookies, reduce flour to 1 ½ cups and add 1 cup toffee bits. Use remaining 1/3 cup toffee bits (from 8-oz pkg) for topping, sprinkling on each cookie before putting in oven.

Recycle: peanut butter jar, milk jug, vanilla bottle

Compost: egg shell