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This past holiday weekend was a great excuse to open the recipe books and search for new recipe to bring to the family gathering. I always jump at the opportunity to bring something so I can try another recipe in my never decreasing stack. The challenge when having to transport something to another location is temp. I don’t want a recipe where it has to be served chilled or served hot – I just can’t guarantee that I can pull that off when driving all around town. When I saw these tarts could be served room temperate – score! The original recipe called for the zucchini slices to be folded and placed in a concentric circle so it would form a rose. Well that sounded a bit complicated to me and maybe too much zucchini to support the small pie crust circle it would sit on. I decided to just use 2 zucchini slices and place the folded edges against each other which made for an interesting look in itself.

These were perfect bite size delights! Within a matter of minutes there was only 1 left. Why will no one eat the last one!? The pie crust was a bit sweet and the goat cheese a bit tangy. The zucchini was perfect – it still had a bit of crisp when biting into it but not a mushy mess. This recipe will be transferred to my permanent collection. I can’t wait til my garden starts producing an abundance of summer squash so I have reason after reason to make these over and over again!

Mini Goat Cheese Zucchini Tarts

adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients

  • 1 refrigerated pie crust (half of 15-ounce package)
  • 48 2-inch-diameter zucchini slices, cut into 1/16- to 1/8-inch-thick rounds (this is 1 to 1 1/2 zucchinis)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme
  • 3 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp pepper (more or less to taste)

Preparation

Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (or SilPat). Place pie crust on floured work surface. Using a shot glass (or a biscuit cutter about 2 inches in diameter) cut out 24 rounds; transfer to prepared sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Place in freezer until dough is firm, about 30 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; keep frozen.

Toss zucchini with 1 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Let stand 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Place zucchini in another medium bowl; toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and thyme.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread goat cheese generously over each frozen dough round. Fold 2 zucchini slices in half and place atop 1 dough round. Repeat with remaining zucchini and dough (reserve any remaining zucchini for another use). Sprinkle with Parmesan and pepper. Bake until crusts are light golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads

It may not be the night before Christmas, but visions of holiday desserts are dancing in my head. Just the other night I drifted off to sleep (all snug in my bed) thinking about the wonderful pumpkin whoopie pies a friend of mine recently made. The pre-sleep thoughts turned into a dream of me devouring a giant chocolate whoopie pie with peppermint filling. Yum!

The holidays bring with them many evenings of baking and it is always more fun with friends. Jen and I got together with the idea of turning my dream into reality! I had to go recipe hunting online and was having a hard time coming up with just the right thing.  We ended up using the Epicurious whoopie pie recipe and then Jen and I experimented with some frosting recipes until we found a good, fluffy one.

Cake Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg

To make the cakes:

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl until combined. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl.

Beat butter and brown sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. It will take about 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a handheld.  Add egg, beating until everything is well combined. Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.

Spoon heaping tablespoon-sized mounds of batter about 2 inches apart onto 2 large baking sheets lined with parchment. Bake until tops are puffy and cakes spring back when touched, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack to cool completely.

Filling ingredients:

  • 12 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 3/4 tsp. peppermint extract
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups marshmallow creme
  • candy canes or peppermint candy

To make the filling:

Beat the butter and powdered sugar together with a mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and salt. Beat in the marshmallow creme until incorporated.

Assemble the pies:

Spread a rounded tablespoon of filling on the flat sides of half of the cakes. Top them with the remaining cakes. Roll the pies in crushed peppermint candies covering the exposed filling.

This is not a dream, this is how they will look!
Once assembled and the first bite is taken, you will be pleasantly surprised by the flavor combination. The cake is rich; cocoa prevails over sugar. This recipe calls for Dutch-processed (which means the cocoa has been treated with an alkali to neutralize its natural acidity) and creates a lovely, dark cake. The texture, density, and amount of cake is in perfect proportion to the light, yet sturdy mint filling which doesn’t ooze out when you take a bite. The crushed candy cane adds an interesting and satisfying third texture to the dessert. You can adjust the size of your peppermint pieces according to your taste, but personally we loved the big crunchy pieces.

If that isn’t enough to convince you to whip up a batch, here are a few added benefits:

  • They are easier to eat than cupcakes (you don’t get frosting on your nose)
  • There is always enough frosting to last until the end of the cake (unless you are a squisher…and you know who you are)
  • They are good for the earth (no paper muffin cup needed)
  • They vary in flavor, size and shape so you can invent your own!

Our version of whoopie pie is pretty close to what seems to be the “traditional” recipe (dark chocolate cake with white vanilla or marshmallow filling). We just added a little winter flair and some honest crunch. For more information on this popular treat, please read the New York Times article by Micheline Maynard: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/18/dining/18whoop.html.

Whoopie!!!

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Ah, Thanksgiving. The start of a wonderful and painful gastro-relationship. All the rich, comfort foods spread out on table after table. More food than any one person could eat, oh but do I try! A staple on these tables is pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie – maybe the only pie I do not like. I try every year, but I just don’t like it. I don’t know if it is the combination of spices or the mushy texture, but I just don’t like it.

I am not a quitter though and so I thought I would try making something with pumpkin for the family Thanksgiving dinner. Every restaurant in town has pumpkin cheesecake on its menu right now so it got me thinking, can I change that into ice cream? All the recipe books I have only seem to have a recipe for pumpkin ice cream so off to the internet I went… it was harder than I thought to find a recipe! I ended up making some tweaks and this is what I ended up:

Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream
adapted from this post from Desserts for Breakfast

8 oz cream cheese
about 9 Tbsp pumpkin puree (or half of a 15oz can of pumpkin)
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
zest of 1 lemon (I would omit this next time, I did not like the texture it added to this smooth, creamy dessert)

1. Using a hand mixer, blend all ingredients until smooth.
2. Chill mixture thoroughly in the fridge, then freeze in your ice cream maker.

And the result…
The initial bite and the pumpkin flavor jumps right out, but then it is followed by a sour-like creaminess. The sour cream and cream cheese continue to stay strong bite after bite. This would be wonderful served along with gingersnap cookies, something that has its own “bite” to it.

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When I announced that I was making a vegetarian casserole for dinner the other night my sweetie said, “What the WHAT? This is not Top Chef and I am not Natalie Portman!”

I chuckled and explained that he need not worry about protein deficiency because my chosen recipe called for quinoa! Quinoa is a complete protein grain. It is wheat-free, gluten-free and provides 6 grams of protein per serving. You can read more about it on Wikipedia or the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center website.  If you have never seen quinoa, here are some photos I took while preparing dinner…

Dry Pre-Washed Quinoa
Dry Quinoa
Cooked Quinoa
Cooked Quinoa
Not so scary–right?

Quinoa is only one part of this delicious recipe. Other key ingredients include smoked cheddar, leeks, eggs, potatoes and thyme.

Baked Quinoa Casserole with Baby Potatoes and Cheese
Adapted from The Best Casserole Book Ever by Beatrice Ojakangas
(Serves 4)

1 pound potatoes (with skin on), cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large leeks, cleaned up, halved lengthwise, and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large green bell pepper, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
4 large eggs
1/2 cup milk (I used half and half)
1 cup quinoa, cooked according to package directions (about 1/2 cup dry quinoa)
1 1/2 cups shredded smoked Cheddar cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or your favorite spice)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a shallow 2-quart casserole with butter
2. Put the potatoes in a pot with enough water to cover and cook until they are soft, about 15 minutes. Set aside. Wash the leeks, pat dry, and cut into 1-inch pieces.
3. Place a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the leeks and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes, or until the leeks and garlic are tender. Add the peppers and cook, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes, until peppers are cooked but not soggy. Remove from the heat and set aside.
4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and milk together. Stir in the quinoa and add the cheese, potatoes, bell pepper mixture, salt, pepper, and thyme. Transfer to the casserole dish.
5. Bake, uncovered, for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Baked Quinoa Casserole
Quinoa Casserole
This casserole was really good. It was a refreshing change from normal dinners because it reminded me of quiche and other eggy, breakfast foods. However, at first bite, the sophisticated thyme and smoky cheddar reassured me that this was an appropriate dish for any meal. The casserole was quite filling and we had a lot of leftovers.

The recipe is a bit tricky. A tip if you make it: the recipe calls for 1 cup cooked quinoa, prepared per package instructions (so actually you need a bit less than 1/2 cup dry quinoa). Make sure you (unlike me) cook it ahead of time, or at the same time as the vegetables. Also, this recipe takes awhile, so if you like to conserve energy, don’t preheat the oven until you have started mixing all the ingredients in the bowl!

Credit for this casserole goes to the cookbook author, Beatrice Ojakangas–a Minnesota chef! Beatrice graduated from the University of Minnesota and is now based out of Duluth, Minnesota. Her book, The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, was inducted into the KitchenAid Cookbook Hall of Fame in association with the James Beard Foundation. You can find tons of recipes on her site: http://www.beatrice-ojakangas.com.

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Homemade Pizza Dough

I have never made my own pizza dough. The closest I have got is mixing up a package of Jiffy pizza dough. The idea of waiting for pizza dough seemed crazy to me, when I want pizza the longest I want to wait is 10 minutes for a frozen or 30 minutes on a fresh delivery. However, whenever I open a recipe book, I feel like pizza dough is always staring back at me – especially considering I have only been reading bread recipe books lately. I thought this lazy Sunday would be my chance, turn this lazy Sunday into a post!

Recipe
from “Making Fresh Bread”
Note: I immediately doubled the recipe that was in the book and thought I would make two 10-inch rounds – one for now and one I will try freezing for later. Why cut open a packet of yeast and not use the whole thing? Plus, if I am going to take the time to do this, might as well get 2 pizza rounds out of it at once.

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp active dry yeast (this is nearly one packet, but measure still)
2 Tbsp olive oil
6 Tbsp lukewarm water

Directions:

1. Sift the flour and salt together into a bowl and stir in the yeast. Make a well in the center and pour in the oil and lukewarm water. Stir well with a wooden spoon until the dough begins to come together, then gather with your hands until it leaves the side of the bowl. Turn out onto a lightly floured counter (or  SilPat!) and knead well for 5-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.

2. Brush a bowl with oil (or I just sprayed with cooking spray – easy). Shape the dough into a ball, put into the bowl and cover with a damp dish towel. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until the dough has doubled in volume.

3. Brush a cookie sheet with oil (or line with a SilPat). Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter, punch down with your fist and knead for 1 minute. Roll or press out the dough to a 10-inch round. Place on the prepared cookie sheet and push up the edge slightly all around. Cover the cookie sheet with a damp dish cloth and let rise in a warm place for 10 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the tomato sauce, if using, over the pizza bottom almost to the edge. Sprinkle with cheese and other toppings. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and crisp.Picture 264

5. Since I had made up an extra pizza round, I decide to partially bake it, then freeze for later use. I baked this for 8 minutes at 400 degrees.

Picture 267

So how was this pizza dough? Well, it had problems…

  • Problem 1 – it didn’t rise. The lead me to do a bit of research: reasons for why dough doesn’t rise. So the basic chemistry of bread to know is that salt kills yeast and sugar feed yeast. This recipe doesn’t have any sugar, which means I really should have paid more attention the temp that it was rising in. The dough was nearly impossible to stretch out and roll, but I hadn’t made it this far to just scrap it – I was going to use my pizza dough that evening!
  • Problem 2 – the pizza crust was not cooked enough. I knew I should have partially baked the crust before adding the toppings! I knew it. But I was trying to follow the recipe to a T. Next time – prebake, no matter what!

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What is a girl to do when it is 6pm and you have a potluck party to be at in 1 hour? Make fresh bread of course! I thought it would be fun to show up with warm bread right out of the oven, served along side homemade raspberry preserves (thanks Auntie!) and herb compound butter. Looking through the bread book, I found a recipe for Irish Soda Bread. It takes 30 minutes to bake and there is no rise time (because it has no yeast), plus all you have to do is shape the dough into a circle and throw it on a cookie sheet – very easy and rustic looking.

Recipe
from “Making Fresh Bread”
4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Brush a cookie sheet with oil (or line with a SilPat).

2. Sift the flour, salt and baking soda together in a bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in most of the buttermilk (I reserved 1/3 cup). Mix well, first with a wooden spoon and then with your hands. The dough should be very soft but not too wet. If necessary, add the remaining buttermilk.

3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured counter and knead lightly and briefly. Shape into an 8-inch round. Put the loaf onto the prepared cookie sheet and cut a cross in the top with a sharp knife.

Picture 240

4. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom with your knuckles. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly and serve warm.

Picture 244

What do I think of this bread? It was nice. It is not a sandwich bread, that is for sure and I don’t think it would stand up to toasting. It is somewhat crumbly and even more so the next day. It would make a nice breakfast bread (for jam and butter) and could have dried fruit mixed in for a more flavorful experience.

 Picture 247

Also – the herb compound butter was easy to make! While the bread was baking, I mixed the stick of butter, I had set out on my counter before I left for work, with finely chopped thyme (1 tbsp) and green onions (1/2 tbsp).

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I don’t have patience or imagination when it comes to cooking. But I do enjoy baking. I like following exact directions and using specific measurements. Now that fall (or winter if you look at the temp gauge right now) has arrived I feel like I can bake again and have that oven on for an hour or two at a time! I plan to bake a lot of bread this season and here is one outcome…

I started measuring ingredients at 11:30 am and was done and ready to let the dough rest and rise by 11:50 am. By 4pm my loaf was out of the oven. So yes, baking bread appears to take an entire day, but most of that is downtime and hardly any prep time.

Picture 229

Recipe
from recipe book “Making Fresh Bread”
2 cups whole wheat flour + 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 envelope active dry yeast
1 Tbsp butter
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water

vegetable oil, for brushing
pinch of salt dissolved in 2 Tbsp water, to glaze

Some notes regarding the ingredients:

  • The recipe calls for ‘bread flour’, but I am not buying anymore “special” flour. I actually split the flour between white and whole wheat because whole wheat flour was some “special” flour I bought months ago and I am still trying to use it all!
  • I ended up using an additional 1/4 cup of water because the whole wheat flour really soaks up moisture.

Directions
1. Blend the flour and salt together into a bowl and stir in the yeast. Add the butter by using your fingertips to squish it into the flour mixture. Make a well in the center and pour in the lukewarm water. Stir well with spoon until dough begins to come together, then knead with your hands until it leaves the side of the bowl. Turn out onto a lightly floured counter and knead well for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.

2. Brush a bowl with oil (or spray with cooking spray). Shape the dough into a ball, put it into the bowl, and cover with a damp dish towel. Let rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours, until the dough has doubled in volume.

3. Brush a 7 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 3 1/2-inch loaf pan with oil. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured counter and punch down with your fist. Let rest for 10 minutes, then, with a lightly floured hand, flatten the dough into a rectangle the same width as the pan. Fold it into 3 and place in the prepared pan, seam side down. Cover the pan with a damp dish towel and let rise in a warm place for 40-80 minutes, until the dough has reached the top of the pan.

dough_risen

4. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Brush the top of the loaf with the salt-water glaze and bake for about 40 minutes, until it has shrunk from the sides of the pan, the crust is golden brown, and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the base with your knuckles. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Some notes regarding the directions:

  • Instead of kneading on a floured surface, I used my much loved and much abused SilPat. This way I don’t need to add any extra flour to the dough and I don’t have the feeling like I should have bleached my counter before squishing dough into it.

Picture 236

So, it has been a few days now and what do I think of this bread? Well… I think it is too heavy. Maybe a result of the whole wheat flour (and not using the bread flour). One slice of bread feels like it weighs a pound and that is before I spread my pound of butter on it! I also have this reoccurring problem with homemade bread where I am instructed to fold the dough into thirds and then put it in the pan to rise for the last time (See Step 3 under Directions). Well the folds never really come together. So when I am eating a slice of bread it falls apart into thirds. So I wonder if I really have to fold the dough into thirds, or if I could just roll it into a log and stick it into the pan.

All in all, I still have to say – there is nothing like a buttered piece of homemade bread.

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