Monday, April 30, 2012

Roasted Garlic and Cauliflower Soup

A few days back I ordered what sounded like a wonderful idea at the time.  A cauliflower chowder.  I envisioned a rich, creamy broth studded with tender cauliflower florets.  What I received was heavy on the salt, more cheesy than creamy, and light on any cauliflower flavor.  

I thought I could do better.  But a cream of or cheesy cauliflower soup didn't seem quite right for our warmer spring weather.  I wanted the rich cauliflower flavors, and a creamy texture, without the heavy dairy.  Thus this recipe was born.

And yes, that is a whole head of garlic listed...

the recipe is my own

Serves 8-10

The Ingredients:
1 head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
6 cups vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp chili powder

The Process:
Preheat the oven to 400.

Lightly oil a large baking dish.  Arrange the cauliflower and garlic clove in the baking dish, creating an even layer.  Drizzle with 2 Tbsp olive oil and toss to coat.  Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender and beginning to brown.

In a large stock pot over medium high heat, heat the remaining oil and add the onion.  Saute until the onion is tender, about 5-7 minutes.   Add the stock, roasted cauliflower and garlic, and spices.  Bring the soup to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes or until the garlic and cauliflower are butter soft.

Remove bay leaves.  Using an immersion blender, or food processor blend the mixture until smooth.

Serve warm, garnished with a cauliflower floret.

The Review:
As I sampled the soup throughout the process I became slightly distraught.  The lovely light cauliflower flavor was there...wonderfully caramelized.  But the garlic?  Where had all of that garlic gone?  The a tad on the bland side.  Thus went in the salt, chili powder, thyme...

And it seemed a little thin...not quite as creamy as I envisioned.  In retrospect I probably used more broth than necessary.  This did make a TON more soup than I was anticipating.  But I have envisioned a remedy for that next time around...whirl up some cannellini beans along with the cauliflower for some added thickness without too much flavor.

But the soup was a hit nonetheless.  The garlic made a much more pronounced appearance a day or two later after the soup had rested in the fridge.  When not quite pipping hot all of the nuances of flavor came forward.  Including the heavenly roasted garlic.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cheesy Risotto

In my mind, risotto is bestowed the role of a culinary staple.  The dish appears so basic, and in its simplicity, highly adaptable.  When I made the goal of attempting 100 new recipes, this was at the top of the wish list.  Now, nearly a year and a half into the project, I am finally getting around to stirring in that broth, one ladle full at a time.

Something about the dish intimidated me.  Risotto was a dished reserved for date nights at fancy restaurants, where time and care are poured into every dish.  Establishments where one savors every bite with a sip of well paired wine.  I knew not much was involved in risotto, ingredient wise.  But I am impatient.  And the time need to slowly coax the creaminess out of the rich was a block.

I finally overcame that block.  Risotto is a labor of love.  It tried my patience to its limits, as I carefully watched each addition of broth slowly absorb into the rice.  But it is a labor I will be attempting again.

This basic variation of the classic Italian rice dish gains extra creaminess from the two types of cheese added: fontina, the highly melt-able cheese, and Parmesan to pump up the flavor.  I suspect any combination of a melting cheese and more flavorful variety would work as well.

adapted from 1001 Recipes, edited by Martha Day

yields 4 servings

The Ingredients:
4 cup chicken stock
3 Tbsp butter, divided
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups abrorio rice
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup fontina cheese, diced
2/3 cups grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

The Process:
In a medium sauce pan, heat the chicken stock to a gentle simmer.  Keep warm.

In a large saucepan, melt half of the butter with the olive oil.  Add the onions and garlic.  Saute over medium high heat until the onions are tender and translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the rice and stir to coat evenly.

Slowly pour in the white wine.  Bring the liquid to a gentle simmer, stirring continuously.  Once the wine has been absorbed, add the warm chicken stock, one ladle full at a time, allowing each addition to be fully absorbed before adding the next.  Patience is key.  Stir gently and continuously.

Once about half of the stack has been absorbed, add the fontina cheese and stir until melted.  Continue to add the stock as before. 

After the last ladle of stock has been absorbed, at the rice is creamy in texture ans slightly al dente, stir in the remaining butter and the Parmesan cheese.  Remove the risotto from the heat..  Cover and let rest for 3-5 minutes before serving. 

Serve warm with a sprinkling of your favorite herbs.

The Review:
After all is said and eaten, I really cannot figure out why I waited so long to make risotto.  Its classy, high maintenance veneer has been marred.  And I will never look at restaurant risotto the same way.  Nothing quite compares to the creaminess achieved with home made.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Homemade Buttermilk Ricotta

Ricotta is a ridiculously simple cheese to make.  In truth, the process is not very different from paneer which had the added step of an additional pressing to form a firm brick of cheese and goat cheese, which uses goat's milk instead of cow's milk.

With the arrival of the ice cream maker in our household, I seem to have a lot more whole milk on hand.  What better use of that extra milk than homemade cheese?  Whole milk has the perfect fat content for a rich and creamy ricotta, though any percentage of milk will work to.  Buttermilk is used in lieu of lemon juice or vinegar.  The benefit is a much more tender curd without the sharp tang.

adapted from the recipe at Napa Style

each quart of milk yields approximately 1 cup of ricotta

The Ingredients:
4 parts whole milk
1 part buttermilk
pinch of salt

The Process:
Line a sieve with several layers of cheesecloth or muslin and set aside.

Pour the milk and buttermilk into a large non-reactive saucepan with a heavy bottom.  Heat slowly over medium high heat, stirring the milk constantly to prevent scorching.  Bring to a gentle boil and stop stirring. It will look like nothing is happening until the milk reaches about 175-180.  Once the mixture reaches this temperature curds will begin to form and clump on the surface.  Gently stir to encourage the curds to separate from the whey.  Stir infrequently at this point...over stirring will break up the curds too much and yield a drier ricotta.  Once the curds appear to have fully separated remove the pot for the heat.

Ladle the cloudy liquid (whey) through the clothe lined sieve, working slowly to avoid breaking up the curd.  Once most of the whey has been ladled out of the pot, carefully pour the rest of the curd/whey mixture through the sieve.  Allow most of the liquid to drain.  Gather the edges of the cloth together to form a bag.   Thread a dowel or the handle of a wooden spoon through the knot and suspend the bag over a pot or the sink.  Allow to slowly drip drain for about 30 minutes.  Resist the urge to press the ricotta.

Remove the ricotta from the muslin bag and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to one week.

Homemade ricotta can be used in any recipe where ricotta is called for.

The Review:
This was by far the most moist, tender and flavorful ricotta I have ever tried.  The curds were plump without being huge, and they weren't super tiny either.  Previous attempts at cheese have all been resounding successes (even on the occasions when I wasn't trying to make cheese...).  But this ricotta was hands and shoulder above the rest.  Why?  Aside from the amazing texture?  The tang of the lemon juice was not present.  The lack of acidic flavor really let the creaminess of the dairy shine through.

So how does this cook up?  By the spoonful the ricotta blew me away, but how many of us sit down with a bowl of this cheese on a regular basis?  More often than not, the ricotta is added into another dish.  In our case it was a baked ziti, courtesy of my husband.  Even mixed into a dish, this ricotta was a noticeable improvement over most store bought varieties.  The next test will be ricotta waffles this weekend...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Deceivingly Delicious Dry Rub and Mop Sauce

Get put the grill, smoker or broiler pan.  This dry rub and mop sauce was nearly life changing.  In my naive youth, my concept of BBQ was a rack of ribs or half a chicken served slightly charred, a little smokey and slathered in a heavy sweet red sauce.  Now I still enjoy a good squirt of Sweet Baby Rays at a family BBQ, but I've since learned that you needed smoother a good piece of meat...but you do need to compliment it.

the recipe is my own

yields enough rub and mob for 2 racks of ribs

dry rub
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp parika
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp ground pepper
1 Tbsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp brown sugar

mop sauce
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup apple cider
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp Dijon style mustard
1 Tbsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp ground ginger

The Process:

For the rub, combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and mix until well combined.  Apply the rub to chicken, beef or pork prior to grilling or broiling.

For the mop, in a medium bowl, whisk together all six ingredients until well combined.  Brush over the meat periodically while grilling or broiling.  Serve remaining mop on the side.

The Review:
Easy peasey.  Mix, rub, grill, mop, flip, grill, mop, serve.  Almost any cut of meat will work with this rub and mop combination.  Though I crafted it with lighter meat, particularly pork ribs and split chicken in mind.  I fear the mop may be a tad sweet for some beef cuts.  I'll rise to that challenge when I come to it.

In the rub, the cumin was the dominating flavor, but not too overpowering.  I personally adore cumin and prefer it over the go-to cayenne and chili powder...adds more depth without the heat.  But maybe that's not your cup of tea.  Maybe you need more chili powder.  Or perhaps turmeric is you thing.  Go for it.

While the rub laid an amazingly flavorful groundwork for the ribs, the mop elevated to mouth watering heights.  The brown sugar and apple cider was just sweet enough to cut through the dripping fat, and caramelize into was can only be described as meat candy.  Usually those charred little bits on the end are long ignored.  Not so here.  Meat candy I tell you.  The ginger warmed it up and complimented the sweetness.  And who doesn't love a bit of garlic.

With a mob and dry rub as flavorful as these, who needs to use BBQ sauce.  Not a single condiment was added to the dinner plates as we devoured the ribs and licked our fingers clean.   Baby back ribs were a huge success.  Next time around the chicken comes up to bat...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bacon Wrapped Asparagus

I came to the conclusion long ago that most vegetables are vastly improved by roasting at extremely high temperatures.  Allowing them to them and crisp, only a touch of salt and drizzle of oil added to help them on their way.

But then again, I was always one to eat my veggies.

Some people need a little more coaxing.  When roasting isn't enough, bacon usually does the trick.

We're in luck right now.  Asparagus is coming into season. Not the thick woody stalks the occasionally show up the rest of the year.  I'm talking about the thin delicate green spears lined up like attentive soldiers.  It only takes one bad experience to turn some on off of these wonderful vegetables.  For me it was the chewy fibrous stalks that turned me off, interspersed with the occasional serving of mushy canned asparagus.  Why, why, why!  Serving such a wonderfully tender vegetable in such an abysmal state turns off many a child.

This preparation may be the key to winning their hearts back.

Did I mention the bacon?  I never claimed this side dish was completely guilt free...

adapted form Jessica's recipe at How Sweet It Is

yields 4 bundles

The Ingredients:
1 bunch of asparagus, the thinner the better
4 slices bacon
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp sesame oil
1 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
1to 2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)

The Process:
Preheat oven to 400.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top. Spray the rack with nonstick spray. (I use this method to broil meat a lot wonderfully in lieu of a broiler pan!)

In a small bowl, whisk together oils, brown sugar and garlic. Set aside.

Snap off the woody asparagus ends by holding one spear firmly and bending it until it breaks, it should break at the point where the stem becomes tough.  Discard the tough ends.  Divide the asparagus into 4 even bundles tightly wrap a piece of bacon around the bundle. Place on the wire rack seam-side down and repeat. Using a pastry brush, generously brush the spears with the oil/sugar mixture. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. 

Roast for 35-40 minutes, or until bacon is crispy and the tips are slightly charred. The bundles may also be grilled over hot coals.  Serve warm.

The Review:
I've wrapped asparagus in bacon before, but this was the first time I roasted the bundles or added a glaze.  Both push the dish to the next level.  Usually I would pan fry the bundles, butt hey you are left with the puddles of bacon fat that start to practically deep fry the asparagus.  Don't get me wrong...that in and of itself is pretty amazing.  But by roasting the bundles on a rack, the fat can drip off, creating a crispier bacon, more tender asparagus and that wonderful caramelization from the glaze.

Oh that glaze.  Bacon and brown sugar go hand in hand in our household.  That slight bit of sweet.  Oh my word...

A few weeks later we tried bacon wrapped bundles again, this time sans the glaze.  The smokey flavor from the grilled added yet another amazing dimension to the dish, but after having that hint of brown sugar on the last was much missed the second time around...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Jerked Chicken Skewers and Cantaloupe Dipping Sauce

Ross is to blame thank for this recipe.  I found myself with a Friday evening with both of us off and no immediate plans.  Dinner dates at home often result.  So when I asked what he'd like me to make, and we remembered the chicken breasts in the freezer, he promptly requested Caribbean.  Rather than just dust the chicken with Jerk seasoning I hunted down this marinade.  And voila!

Added bonus, this recipe gave us the extra incentive to finally break down and buy a grill.  Grilling season is upon us after all!

Adapted Bob Marley's Restaurant, recipe posted at Foodnetwork

The Ingredients:
for the marinade:
1 onion, finely chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 dried red chili, finely ground (or 2 Scotch bonnet peppers)
1 tsp ground black pepper
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp cider vinegar

for the skewers:
2 pounds chicken breast, cut into large cubes
bamboo skewers
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup lime juice

for the dipping sauce:
one quarter of a cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and cubed
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of cayenne pepper

The Process:
for the marinade: 
In a medium bowl, whisk together all of the marinade ingredients (or puree in a blender or food processor until well combined.) Place the chicken in a large freezer bag.  Pour the marinade over the chicken.  Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

to prepare and cook the chicken skewers:
At least 2 hours before grilling, soak the bamboo skewers.  Combine 1 1/2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of lemon or lime juice in a pint glass.  Place the skewers in the glass to soak

Prepare the grill or preheat the broiler.

Thread 4-5 cubes of chicken onto each soaked skewer. Discard the marinade.  Grill or broil the skewers for 2-3 minutes per side.  Serve immediately with dipping sauce.

for the dipping sauce:
Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.   Season with addition cayenne or salt to taste.  Chill until ready to serve. 

The Review:
 In the darken light it became harder and harder to see how our skewers were doing on the grill.  Some came off a little blackened.  But that's okay, right?  It is jerk chicken after all.  But even with the generous charring suffered on some, the chicken remained tender and incredibly flavorful.

I adore marinades and spice blends such as this one.  A little kick of spice.  A hint of sweet.  A burst of salt.  And just a touch of sour.  So many layers of flavor!  Serve along grilled pineapple...pure bliss.

The sauce was the big surprise though.  I didn't have cucumbers, but a gorgeous cantaloupe was sitting off to the side in my kitchen.  Cucumber melon combinations are so common...if the compliment each other so well, why not try subbing one for the other.  The result was surprisingly successful.  The creamy and slightly tart base suggested a tziziki, but the sweetness of the cantaloupe, along with a subtle earthiness (it is known as musk melon for a reason) created something completely unique.  The recipe made quite a lot, and it doesn't keep very long in the fridge before it begins to separate (there is a LOT of water in the melon...)  Maybe three days.  And this is a sauce much better the first day. Try to make up only as much as you think you can use.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mom's Split Pea Soup with Ham

Growing up, ham usually formed the centerpiece of our Easter brunch or dinner.  A few days later this meant we would be treated to a wonderful split pea soup loaded with smokey and salty bits of ham.  My mom's secret?  The ham bone.  Into the pot it would go with peas, seasonings, and a few extra veggies.  The soup is ridiculously simple.  I suspect I don't make it often only for lack of a ham bone.  Tossing in a handful of cooked meat at the end just isn't the same as letting that hock simmer in the broth for hours on end.

Adapted from childhood memories, with some help from Mom and the BHG cookbook.

serves 6-8

The Ingredients:
1 meaty ham bone, about 1 to 1 1/2 lbs
2 cups split peas
1 onion, finely diced
1 potato, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
2-3 carrots, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 Tbsp fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp marjoram
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste

The Process:
Place the ham bone in a 4-qt slow cooker.  Add peas, diced vegetables and seasonings.  Pour chicken stock and water over the top.  Cover and cook on the low heat setting for 8 to 10 hours or on high for 4 to 6 hours.  Remove the ham bone.  As soon as it is cool enough to handle, remove any meat from the bone and coarsely chop or shred.  Return the meat to the slow cooker.  Remove the bay leaf and season with salt and pepper to taste.

The Review:
Isn't it amazing, how one big bowl of soup can whisk you back to everything that was good ans wonderful about childhood?  I love this soup.  I love how simple it is.  I love the sweet bits of carrots, the tender bits of potato, the salty bits of ham and the savory bursts of thyme.  I love the soup even better the next day when it has thickened the the consistency of book paste.  But I am a bit odd like that.  And I am a bit of a bibliophile.  Though I never ate paste as a child...that I can recall.  It brings to mind one of my favorite childhood books...Cloudy with a Chance a Meatballs (don't ask me about the film, I was too horrified to even bother seeing it...)  The image of pea soup fog stuck with me all of these years.

Sorry...tangent.  But most dishes like this seem better the next day.  And nothing is quite the same as generous shreds of ham off of a meaty hock that has been simmering with tender peas for the entire day.

I'm sad it's been devoured already.  I kind of want to buy a ham hock just to have more soup...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ginger Pear Ice Cream

The combination of ginger and pear has been on my mind as of late...blending the two in a creamy base seemed like a no brainer...

The recipe is my own

Yields about 5 cups

The Ingredients:
3 anjou or Bartlett pears, peeled, quartered and cored
1 cup water
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh ginger, minced
pinch of salt
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup candied ginger, coarsely chopped (optional)

The Process:
Whisk together the water, honey, lemon juice.  In a medium saucepan combine the liquid and the pears.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the pears are tender, about 30 minutes.  Discard liquid and allow the pears to cool.

Once cool, puree approximately two thirds of the pears in a blender.  Finely dice the remaining fruit.  Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium-heat combine the cream, whole milk, salt and sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the minced ginger. Bring to a simmer, cover, remove from heat, and infuse for one hour.

Strain the milk into a 2-qt bowl using a sieve lined in cheesecloth  (to remove any ginger fibers).  Stir in the pear puree.  Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours, or preferably overnight.

Transfer cream mixture to the ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer's directions.  After about 10 minutes add the diced pear and candied ginger.  Once the ice cream reaches a soft serve consistency (about 20-30 minutes in my ice cream maker) transfer the mixture to a 5-6 cup container and freeze for an additional 2 hours. 

The Review:
I may or may not have accidentally curdled the milk.  It may or may not have inspired other ideas.  You may or may not see an interesting ricotta recipe down the road...

Kitchen mishaps aside...this ice cream turn out pretty well.  The cream MUST be heated with the milk to avoid curdling.  And I knew ginger was acidic.  These things happen.   Given the little mishap, I'm not sure you can lighten this recipe up by using half and half.  You may need the full fat content to prevent such separation.   But you never know...

The ginger flavor was outstanding.  Not to spicy.  Wonderfully warm.  Perhaps a touch too sweet.  The pear, well...I think the pear may have held this ice cream back a bit.  The flavor wasn't very present.  If anything the fruit may have added some nuance to the sweetness of the ice cream.  But none of the flavor.  The puree had the ill effect of making the ice cream slightly grainy as well...I'm not cure if this was due to the fiber in the pears, of the water in the puree crystallizing.  It wasn't a bad mouth feel...but certainly not the creamy concoction I was hoping for. 

Next time around...I'm nixing the fruit and sticking with ginger.  I bet it would be lovely with a bit of candied ginger mixed in...

Oh...and if you ice cream maker instructs you not to fill beyond a certain point, I highly recommend heeding that advice.  Ice cream overflows are not pleasant to clean up!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Leek and Potato Casserole

Schedules have been odd as of late.  As a result the cabinets and fridge host the most interesting array of ingredients.  Almost barren.  A few staples hide here and there, but enough is lacking to put me in a fit.  No rice?  Only a few dribbles of milk?  The scenario is quite sad, actually.  I really need to make a trip to the store.

But those leeks...sitting forlornly on the shelf in the fridge...begging to be used.  My first impulse was to toss them in the slow cooker with some potatoes and vegetable stock.  Soup is so nice to have on hand.  Especially in the midst of a spring cold snap.

But inspiration hit.  Or maybe it was an overdose of scalloped potatoes at Easter...

Either way, the path was cleared for this twisted version of scalloped potatoes.

The recipe is my own

serve 6-8

The Ingredients:
1 1/2 lbs Yukon or Russet potatoes
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 medium leeks
1 Tbsp fresh thyme
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup yogurt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup shredded cheese (Cheddar, Gruyere, Munster or any other good melting cheese)

for the crumb topping
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs
2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese

The Process:
preheat the oven to 350

Clean the leeks by cutting off the root tip and dark green tops and removing the outer tough leaves. Slice in half lengthwise and fan out the layers. Rinse well under cold running water to remove and sand and grit.  Thinly slice the leeks crosswise.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat and add the sliced leeks, thyme, salt and pepper.  Saute until the leeks are tender and just beginning to brown.   Whisk in the yogurt, sour cream and broth.  Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes. 

Meanwhile peel the potatoes and slice crosswise into thin coins.  Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking dish and arrange the potatoes in overlapping rows.

Add the cheese to the leek mixture and stir until slightly melted.  Spoon the leek mixture over the sliced potatoes and spread into an even layer.  Cover with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes.

In a small bowl combine the butter, bread crumbs and cheese into a coarse blend.  After 40 minutes, remove the foil and sprinkle the crumb topping over the casserole.  return to the oven and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until the crumb top has browned and the potatoes are tender.

The Review:
The slightly sweet leeks played so wonderfully against the subtle sourness of the yogurt and sour cream.  I almost forgot the potatoes were hiding underneath.  This was a surprisingly light, though very hearty dish...serving well as a main course in a pinch.  It wasn't bogged down with a lot of cheese or heavy cream, though I did miss the richness so often associated with scalloped potatoes.  And the hunt for a better crumb top begins.  I have the idea of an adult mac and cheese tossing around in my head and would love to be able to perfect a butter crumb crust before then...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Honey Kissed Hot Cross Buns

When I was little, perhaps 6 or 7, my sister traveled to Denver for the Suzuki Institute.  She was already quite the violin player.  My parents brought me along for the ride, though I didn't play anything at that point.  So what is a 6 year old to do at a huge music gathering like this while her big sister hones her string playing prowess?  Well, pick up the penny whistle of course!

Of all the things that I experienced that week, the little ditty they taught us to play on the penny whistle stuck with me (well, that and memories of hiding in the basement of a strange building as a huge tornado descended  into downtown Denver...that was quite a year).

Hot cross buns, 
hot cross buns.
One a penny,
two a penny, 
hot cross buns

I remember that song so well, but I cannot recall ever actually eating a hot cross bun.   This Easter season I wanted to give these spicy rolls a shot...and further improve my rapport with yeast.   This recipe is loaded with diced dried fruit well beyond the scope of traditional raisins.  Brushed with honey straight out of the oven they have the most heavenly glow!  Perfect for that Easter Brunch!  Even if it is celebrated a few days late...

adapted from Hester's recipe at Alchemy in the Kitchen

yields 12 buns

The Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1 tsp grated orange zest
7 g dry active yeast  (1/4 oz package)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup mixed dried fruit (apricots, apples, prunes, figs, etc) finely diced
1/3 cup raisins, currants or dried cranberries
1/4 cup honey
1 1/4 cup milk
1 large egg

for the cross:
3 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp water

for the glaze:
1 Tbsp honey

The Process:
 Into a large bowl combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, allspice, yeast, olive oil, and dried fruit. Mix well.

Pour the milk into a small saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in the honey and stir until dissolved.  Warm the milk to between 80 to 95.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the beaten egg, and about half the milk. Slowly add the remaining milk, stirring and folding to completely moisten the flour.  The dough should start to pull away from the sides of the bowl. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, adding more flour as necessary.  Knead for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and no longer tacky. Form into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover and allow to rise until double in size, about 90 minutes

After the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly oiled work surface.  Divide the dough in half, and half again to form four equal portions.  Gently pull each portion into a log, about 2 inches in diameter and 6 inches long.  Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, cut each portion into 3 equally pieces.  Roll each portion into a ball, trying to pull the dough taunt on one side.  

Line a baking sheet with non-stick baking parchment.  Place the buns on the sheet, spacing about 1 1/2-inch apart.  Gently push down to flatten, ever so slightly.  Cover the buns with cling wrap and allow to rise undisturbed until doubled, about one hour.

To make the paste for the cross, in a small ziploc bag combine the flour and water.  Massage the bag until a uniform paste is formed.  

Preheat the oven to 375.

When the buns have doubled in size, remove the cling wrap.  Snip a corner off of the ziploc bag containing the flour paste (the less you snip off, the finer a point you will have for piping). Carefully pipe a cross over the top of each bun. 

 Place the buns in the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer the buns to a cooling rack and immediately brush them with warmed honey.

The Review:
Warm, welcoming and just kissed with sweetness!  Just the look of these is a far cry from the royal icing laden varieties sold at the supermarkets during the spring.  It is almost a pity they are only sold around the Easter season.  They make the perfect breakfast roll..spicy, studded with fruit and not terribly sweet.  The yeasty smell tempted us the entire drive to our friends as we took a batch along for Easter dinner.  Paired with ham?  Heavenly.  But these buns are certainly sinful in their own rite.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Single Serving Veggie Lasagna *Gluten Free*

This is not your typical veggie lasagna.  For one, there are no anemic vegetables  swimming in a gluey cream-based sauce.  And?  No noodles.  No kidding!  Slice zucchini thin enough and it will fool even the most devout pasta-holic.  I promise.  Well, maybe maybe it won't fool them.  But I doubt they'll complain much.

The individual loaf pans make these a breeze to serve as well.  No fighting over utensils.  No runny mess of cheese and sauce oozing in to replace the missing slices.  And who needs a plate when you can enjoy it right out of your own personal pans!

When I first started assembling these there was much grumbling and groaning.  All of the slicing, blanching, sauteing, mixing, baking...sheesh!  For the amount of time I was looking into spending on these I was hoping for something stellar.  It took a while before it dawned on me that this in no more time consuming than traditional noodle and meat lasagna...possibly even less so given that the zucchini noodle blanch quicker than the noodle boil and the onions cook down faster than the meat usually browns.  If the time is a deterrent, make huge batch and freeze them for later...either pre or post baking (it doesn't really matter). 

yields four single serving lasagna

The Ingredients:
2 medium zucchini
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups ricotta
1 egg
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp fresh grated Parmesan
2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend (Mozzarella, Provolone, Parmesan, Fontina, Romano and Asiago)
1 large bunch fresh spinach
3 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce

4 mini loaf pans

The Process:
Preheat the oven to 350.

 Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a gentle boil over medium high heat.  Cut off stem end of the zucchini.  Using a mandolin, vegetable peeler or a sharp knife cut the zucchini lengthwise into 1/8 - inch thick slices.  Quickly blanch the zucchini in the salted water, about 1-2 minutes.  Drain the zucchini ribbons and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the 2 cloves of garlic, onions and mushrooms.  Saute until the mushrooms and onions are tender, 8-10 minutes.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, remaining garlic, egg, oregano, parsley and basil until well combined.  

Gather all of the ingredients to assemble the lasagna.

Lightly oil the each of the four loaf pans.  In the bottom of each mini loaf pan, layer 2-3 ribbons of zucchini, completely covering the bottom.  Top with a layer of 6-8 spinach leaves, and 3-4 slices of tomato.  Spread about 3 Tbsp of the ricotta mixture over the vegetables and sprinkle with about 3 Tbsp of shredded cheese.  
Spoon a thin layer of the mushroom and onion mixture on top of the cheeses.  Top with a layer of tomato sauce.  Repeat all of the layers.  Finish with a layer of 2-3 zucchini ribbons, 3-4 slices of tomato and a generous sprinkling of shredded cheese.

Cover each of the mini lasagna loosely with aluminum foil.  Bake for 30-35 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown.  Allow the lasagnas to cool for 5 to 10 minute prior to serving.

The Review:
Was this recipe worth all chopping, slicing, dicing and cursing.  The meat loving pasta-holic in my household claimed not to miss the meat or the noodles (though he would have preferred I nixed the mushrooms).  A huge plus for those wonderful vegetables.  Come summer when our CSA boxes start to arrive, I suspect many a veggie will endure a similarly tasty fate.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Multigrain Buttermilk Waffles

A huge thank you to Audra from The Baker Chick and her mother for the inspiration for this recipe!  A few weeks back, Audra posted a pancake recipe that would make her mother proud.  Given my current obsession with my waffle maker, I was curious to see if the batter would waffle. Sadly, the batter as is didn't waffle so well.  After some poking around, I came across a recipe of Martha Stewart's that uses a similar flour to buttermilk ratio.  I thought I'd give it a try using Audra's multigrain base.  Plus a few extra twists.

They are not quite as healthy, given the amount of butter added (I've already halved the amount Martha used, without any terribly ill effect).  But the multigrain base is a wonderful change of pace from plain flour.

Inspired  by The Baker Chick and adapted from Martha Stewart

yields 4-6 eight-inch waffles

The Ingredients:
2/3 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup cornmeal
2/3 cup whole wheat  flour
1 Tbsp wheat germ
1 Tbsp flax meal
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs, separated
1/4 cup applesauce
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

The Process:
Preheat oven to 200 and heat up the waffle iron.

In a food processor or blender mix the oats, cornmeal and whole wheat flour until finely ground.  Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar until well combined.  

In a large bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg yolks, and melted butter until smooth. Add the dry ingredients to the buttermilk mixture and whisk until just combined, do not overmix.  There should still be some lumps in the batter.  This will yield a much more tender waffle.

In a separate mixing bowl with an electric beater, or by hand with a strong wrist action, whisk the egg whites until they hold soft peaks.  Fold the whites gently into the waffle batter, until just combined.  Again, do not over mix!  The batter should retain as much air as possible from the whites.

Brush or mist the waffle iron lightly with oil and spoon batter into waffle iron, spreading quickly with a spatula to cover the entire griddle surface (amount varies depending on waffle iron, mine uses just over 1/2 a cup). Cook according to iron manufacturer’s instructions.

Transfer finished waffles to rack in oven to keep warm and crisp. Make more waffles in same manner.

Serve warm with toppings of your choice.

The Review:
These waffles had the nuttiest flavor and most interesting texture to date.  The myriad of grains provided a wonderful mouth-feel, the little flecks of grain made their presence known.  Yet the waffles were soft and spongy throughout...a pillow made for sopping up whatever sweetness you poured on top.  They didn't become soggy, per say.  But I doubt they would hold up to any toppings heavier than syrup and butter.  The exterior did not have that wonderful crispness.  At least the first day.  Frozen and re-heated in the toaster, the waffles achieved the best of both worlds.*

I suspect the lack of crispness was due to the use of applesauce.  The applesauce is heavier and moister than the oil or butter typically used.  I wanted to try to keep these on the healthier end, so had substituted 4 Tbsp of butter from the original recipe for 1/4 cup of applesauce.  For a crisper waffle  increase the butter to total 8 Tbsp (1 stick/ half a cup) or use 1/2 cup oil instead.  An extra Tbsp or 2 or sugar may help as well.

As to flavor...the 1/4 tsp of cinnamon provided just the slightest hint of warmth to play off of the nuttiness of the grains.  Feel free to add 1/2 tsp of vanilla, or any combination of baking spices to your preference.

These waffles, while not the best of those I've tried to date, were wonderful considering the health content of all of the grains included.  Who says healthy waffle need taste like cardboard?

*Even though only two of us typically enjoy Sunday morning waffles, I have gotten into the habit making a full recipe and freezing the leftovers to eat for breakfast throughout the week.  To freeze and reheat:

Allow the waffles to cool completely in a single layer...stacking the waffles may cause some to flatten or become dense.   Once cool, portion out the waffles into single serving sizes and store in sandwich or quart size ziploc bags (we usually do 2 quarters of a waffle per bag...1 quarter fits nicely into each slot on out toaster).  Label each bag with the waffle type and date (I make waffles almost every other times I'll have as many as 4 varieties in my freezer!)  Freeze.  Will keep for 2-3 months.

To reheat, toast in the toaster as you would any other freezer waffle.  Instant homemade Eggos!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Twice Baked Cardamom Sweet Potatoes

As a child, my only exposure to sweet potatoes came in the form of a marshmallow and pecan studded mush swimming in brown sugar, honey and butter.  My young mind was agog to see such a sickly sweet side dish served up as a vegetable during the holidays.  For years, this was the only way a could fathom preparing the bright orange spud.

Then the spell was broken.  Sometime late in college I was introduced to the baked sweet potato.  Grated this first deviation from the holiday norm was also swimming in butter and brown sugar.  But the scales had fallen from my eyes.  Sweet potato fries with garlic cracked the facade even further.  Savory with sweet?  No brown sugar and cinnamon?  I needed more.   Sweet potato gnocchi with brown butter and thyme, cheesy scalloped sweet potatoes,baked sweet potatoes topped with chili, sweet potato soups and stews, sweet potato pancakes...the doors had suddenly been flung wide open...

Now I use sweet potatoes far more regularly than russets, Yukon and even baby reds.

This recipe is a simple twist and a classic twice baked potato.  Indian spices remain one of my favorite pairings with this beautiful root vegetable.

the recipe is my own

yields 4 side servings

The Ingredients:
2 large sweet potatoes
1 russet potato
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cumin, ground
1/2 tsp cardamom, ground
1/2 tsp salt

The Process:
Preheat the oven to 400. 
Pierce each potato in several places with a skewer the tines of a fork.  Place the potatoes directly on the rack in the center of the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Rotate the potatoes and bake an additional 30 minutes, or until tender. They should yield slightly when pressed.  Remove potatoes from the oven, and turn the reduce the oven heat down to 350.

Allow the potatoes to rest until cool enough to handle.  Slice the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise.  Scoop out the flesh of the potatoes, leaving a 1/4-inch shell.  Reserve the flesh. Set the sweet potato shells aside in a baking dish.  Remove the flesh from the russet potato, reserving with the sweet potato flesh.  Discard the skin.

In medium bowl, combine the potato flesh, yogurt, salt, cumin, and cardamom.  Mix until well blended.  Spoon the mixture into the potato shells, mounding slightly. 

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minute or until the potato skins begin to crisp and the top a lightly golden.  Serve with a dusting of cumin or cardamom powder.

The Review:
Savory, sweet and slightly salty.   The potatoes were a huge hit with our dinner guests, despite the lack of presentation.  Sweet potatoes do seem to have an elevating effect on the whole meal...

The cardamom is a warm spice that most people can't quite place.  It hinted at cinnamon, particularly when paired with the sweetness of the potato, but the flavor is so distinct.  Slightly exotic.  But again, so familiar.  It is a great substitute for cinnamon whenever I want to push people slightly out of their culinary comfort zone.

The garlic and cumin heated things up a bit and took the dish out of the realm of the typical sweet potato prep.  No brown sugar and marshmallows here!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Thai-Inspired Roasted Chicken

I do not roast chicken frequently enough.  Which is a huge shame.  They are so ridiculously simple--a bit of salt, pepper and oil; a hot oven; one hour.  Done.  The bird practically presents itself.   And my favorite part...picking the last bits of meat off of the carcass and making my own stock.  Growing up that was one task I was always happy to help my mom with after we had eaten our fill (as did the dog...I wasn't too terribly careful about keeping a scrap to two from hitting the floor).

It doesn't take much to make a memorable meal.  Nor is much needed to notch the roast chicken up to the next level.  Dara certainly sent this simple roast through the roof with this amazing Thai-inspired recipe.  I was eagerly waiting the opportunity to try this recipe out.

adapted from Dara's recipe at Generation Y Foodie

serves 4-6

The Ingredients:
for the marinade
1 1/2  cups low sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup or a small handful fresh cilantro
2 Thai chilies (seeded for less heat)
2 tsp ground coriander
2 small limes, juiced and zest
1 Tbsp tamarind paste

for the chicken
4 to 5lb roasting chicken
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 lime, juiced
fresh cracked pepper to taste
1 Tbsp coarse sea salt
1 small handful of cilantro, washed
1 lime, quartered

The Process:
for the marinade
Rinse the chicken inside and out, drain and pat dry.  Place in a gallon-sized freezer bag.

In a food processor or blender, combine all marinade ingredients and pulse until pureed. Pour marinade over the chicken in freezer bag.  Squeeze out excess air and zip shut.  Marinate in the refrigerator for 3 or more hours or preferably overnight.

to roast:
Preheat the oven to 425.

Lightly oil a roasting pan slightly larger than the size of the chicken.  Layer the sliced onions on the bottom of the pan, building them up more towards the side.

Remove chicken from the bag of marinade and and loosely pack cilantro and quartered limes into the cavity.    Discard the remaining marinade.  Place the chicken in the roasting pan amid the onions.  Rub the chicken with olive oil.  Drizzle with lime juice and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. 

Roast at 425 for 45-60 minutes  or until internal temperature reaches 165 and the juices run clear.  Remove from oven, tent loosely with foil and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.

Transfer to a serving platter with the onion, garnish with additional lime and cilantro.  Carve and serve!

The Review:
The picture does not do this bird justice.  Though it is hard to set up a good photo with a hungry crowd in the wings!   My husband understands the quirkiness our mealtimes have become infused with.  He'll smile in quiet bemusement.  Dinner guests and friends still eye me and my camera with bewilderment.... 

As with many other brined and marinaded meats, this bird was amazingly moist and tender.  The skin crisped up beautifully (though I think mine could have benefited from another 5-10 minutes in the oven.  The lime penetrated the meat through and through provided a wonderfully refreshing tang. 

While the bird was incredibly flavorful, much of the uniqueness of the marinade dissipated.  Hints of lime, cilantro and fish sauce were present, but not the heat I was expecting.  Granted, my bird did only marinate for about four hours. I do think quite a bit more garlic, ginger and perhaps a bit of lemongrass is called for should I try this version again. That being said, the stock I made from the carcass was infused through and through with the wonderful Thai influence.  I'll have to save it for a Southeast Asian inspired soup!

Though honestly, I think the onions were my favorite part. After simmering in the lime and cilantro scented chicken drippings, these were bursting with sweet and savory flavor.  It was a shame I only sliced up two!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Classic Vanilla Ice Cream

Happy birthday to me!  My man is a smart one.  When I birthday rolled around a while back, not only had he been paying attention to my endless wish list of kitchen gadgets, he chose the ones that would benefit him and our friends the most.  Well, truth be told, any kitchen gadget is the gift that keeps on giving in our household.  If you show up, you are likely to be fed...

Enter the ice cream maker.

I pondered for quite some time about which concoction to tackle first.  So many wonderful ice creams, sorbets, gelatos and yogurts danced in my head.  And with our weather turning to summer in no time flat, chilly treats are certainly called for.

It seems only proper that the inaugural scoop be a classic vanilla.

David Lebovitz has many a wonderful recipe.  I felt confident heading to him for advice after perusing the little recipe book that came with the maker.  But I was stymied to see so much egg added to what he called an ice cream.  Call me a purist.  Call me a snob.  I adore custards and ice creams equally, but I was raised by a woman who took great pride in being a car hop at Zarder's in Milwaukee.  We had the differences between custard and ice cream drilled into us at a very young age...

So no egg.  Just cream, whole milk, sugar and vanilla.  I did follow Lebovitz's advice about using both vanilla bean and vanilla extract.

adapted from the Cuisinart recipe book included with the maker
 and David Lebovitz's classic vanilla ice cream recipe (sans egg)

yields about 5 cups

The Ingredients:
1 cup whole milk
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup  sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

The Process:
In a medium saucepan over medium heat combine the whole milk, salt and sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk with a paring knife, then add the bean pod to the milk. Bring to a simmer, cover, remove from heat, and infuse for one hour.

After one hour, remove the vanilla pods* from the steeped milk.  Whisk in the heavy cream and vanilla extract.  Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours, or preferably overnight.

To make the ice cream, set up the ice cream maker, add the cream mixture and prepare according to the manufacturers instructions.  Once the ice cream reaches a soft serve consistency (about 20-30 minutes in my ice cream maker) transfer the mixture to a 5-6 cup container and freeze for an additional 2 hours. 

*keep the pods for other uses.  Rinse the pods of the cream mixture and allow them to dry out completely. Store in an air tight container to use in other recipe later on.  Or bury the pods in a jar of granulated sugar to impart a wonderful vanilla essence to the sugar.  Use the sugar in future baking to add an extra hint of vanilla to cookies, cakes and more.   They may also be submerged in a high proof flavorless alcohol (a high quality vodka or everclear) to create a vanilla extract.  The flavor will not be as potent as that of a whole bean, seeds still intact...but even the pod will impart a large amount of flavor to the alcohol.  Allow to sit for at least two weeks, shaking every few days, before use.  Use as you would regular vanilla extract.

The Review:
Breyer's has long been my favorite provider of classic ice cream flavors.  This was incredibly close to that pure ice cream ideal.  It was not as rich, creamy or heavy as the various custard varieties out there.  Nor was this ice cream lighter than air as some of the more adulterated varieties of ice cream (but I'm also not keen on adding hfcs, guar gun, carrageenan, mono and diglycerides or any other number of unpronounceable additive to my ice cream to achieve that artificially creamy quality...)

But pure simple vanilla flavor with a wonderfully smooth texture was dished up.  The vanilla flavor was beyond compare to other vanilla ice creams I've tried.  David Lebovitz has something going with the use of vanilla bean AND extract.  I did splurge and use Mexican vanilla extract.  Though I know the run of the mill McCormick vanilla beans I used were not the best quality out there.

Still amazing.  I look forward the other more involved ice cream concoctions that will come out of this birthday present!