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Monday, December 16, 2013

Melanie's Biscochitos

I've lived in New Mexico for nearly seven years. I find much that is endearing about the state but one of my favorite things is New Mexico's official state cookie, the biscochito. While I was familiar with red and green chile, ristras, and sopapillas, I'd never heard of the cookies before moving here. As soon as I tasted biscochitos I became an instant fan. These gems are melt-in-your-mouth sugar cookies studded with anise seeds and dipped in cinnamon sugar while they are still hot. It's a spectacular flavor combination.

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Melanie's Biscochitos


Source: my sister-in-law, Melanie Peterson, who grew up in Albuquerque.
Makes about 6 or 7 dozen

2 c lard
2 eggs
1 1/4 c sugar
1/4 c milk
1 T vanilla extract
5 1/2 c all purpose flour
5 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 to 2 T anise seed according to taste
cinnamon-sugar (mix cinnamon into sugar to taste)

Cream the lard, eggs, sugar, milk, and vanilla together until smooth. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and anise. Add to the wet mixture and stir well. This will become a rather stiff dough. At this point you can refrigerate the dough or you can roll and cut immediately.
On a very well floured surface, roll the dough to about 1/4 inch thick and cut with a cookie cutter. Bake on an un-greased cookie sheet at 350F for about 10 minutes or until the cookies are just barely starting to turn light brown on the edges. Remove from the cookie sheet immediately, and while they are still warm, dip cookies in a cinnamon-sugar mixture. I find this is most easily done in a shallow dish, such as a pie plate. Place on rack to cool. 

Note: You may be somewhat dismayed at the amount of lard this recipe calls for but it is the lard that gives these cookies their pleasing texture. I'd rather eat lard than shortening especially if it is leaf lard. (I'll admit I worry that shelf stable hydrogenated lards have the same problems as shortening.) I have rendered my own lard from pork fat when I can't find leaf lard. You can find all sorts of instructions for rendering online, but here is a good one.

About altitudes: I've only cooked this at high altitude so I know it works. If you bake this at a lower altitude than 4,000 feet, let me know how they turn out. I know we could tweak it, but sometimes cookies don't need to be changed much.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Dad's Guacamole

Growing up, my dad was the one who made the guacamole. His recipe is simple, but perfect. I've never tried a more complicated recipe that I like better. Dad's guacamole features in a family favorite on Christmas Eve, which we will post shortly.

As with most guacamole, the quality of your avocados is key. And after years of using avocados and making guacamole myself, I still make mistakes and open avocados before they're ready or after they've gone south. But it's happening more infrequently. You want the skin to be black, and the fruit to give a little when you push on it. But too much give means the avocado is past its prime! 



The trick to the correct texture is to whip the guacamole with a fork for a long time. I made the batch above, and my dad, the guacamole master, made the batch below. You can see that his has a smoother, creamier texture.


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Dad's Guacamole


1 ripe Hass avocado
1 teas lemon or lime juice (fresh is tastier, but bottled works just fine)
1 clove garlic, minced
salt to taste, fairly heavy

Mash the avocado with a fork. Add lemon juice, garlic, and salt. Mix until somewhat smooth. Whip with a fork by hand for a minute or two for a smoother and creamier texture. 


i lick the bowl, every time

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Whole Wheat Croissants

I'm pretty excited today. I baked my first homemade croissants. They are pretty darn good, but I'm not bragging if I give credit to the original poster, David Lebovitz (my favorite ice cream recipe author). All I did was follow a recipe which took attention 3-4 times, but really wasn't very time consuming. It was a bit of a rolling pin work out, though. Since I'm enthused about this, I'm just going to include the link and hope you'll go there. I plan to post the recipe sometime, but not today.

One of the great things about this recipe is that it has some whole wheat flour which helps me feel less guilty about tearing into a croissant.


 

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 Whole Wheat Croissants


Source:  David Lebovitz: living the sweet life in Paris

Yield: 6 large, rich croissants

For the recipe, please click on the link above. Lebovitz gives great directions. However, one thing I noticed was that he instructs you to leave the point on the top of the croissant but none of his photos of his croissants show that he did that himself. I found that in at least one case the point slipped off towards the back. Next time I will try it with the point underneath, or nearly.

Here's another photo to tempt you:

These aren't quite as beautiful as Lebovitz's but not bad for a first try.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Creamy Turkey and Wild Rice Soup

Making broth from the Thanksgiving turkey carcass makes all the holiday work even more worthwhile. What a fragrance! This is my favorite way to use the broth I make a couple of days after the big feast. I don't feel like I'm eating leftovers when I eat this soup.


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Creamy Turkey and Wild Rice Soup


Adapted from: Cook' Country Magazine
Serves 6-8

for the broth:

2 T unsalted butter
2 onions, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 turkey or chicken carcass, cut into large pieces (this is particularly nice if it has been smoked)
3 c white wine (if you prefer, use water but add 1-2 T white wine vinegar just before serving)
6 c low-sodium chicken broth, canned is fine

Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook onions, celery, and turkey carcass until lightly browned. Add wine (or water) and chicken broth and simmer over medium-low heat for at least an hour. Strain broth, discarding solids.


for the soup

1 c wild rice
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 teas dried thyme
1/4 teas baking soda
1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 c heavy cream
3 c chopped cooked turkey
salt and pepper

Wipe out the Dutch oven and toast the rice over medium heat until it begins to pop, 5-7 minutes. (Last time I made this, the rice didn't pop and almost scorched. At that point, I figured it was ready so I went ahead without the popping.) Stir in the turkey broth, carrots, thyme, and baking soda and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until rice is tender, about an hour. Whisk the flour and cream in a small bowl until smooth. Slowly whisk the mixture into the soup. Add the turkey (and vinegar if you didn't use wine) and simmer until the soup is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.

Note:

I think making broth from a turkey carcass will yield more than what this recipe yields (about 2 quarts of broth). When I made this last week, I had cooked the broth the day before, so I substituted 2 quarts plus a cup or two. It wasn't completely accurate, I imagine, but it worked.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Classic Turkey Stuffing

About 34 years ago we learned about roasting a turkey on a Weber grill and have done it every year since. Colette doesn't even know how to cook a turkey in an oven. We love the taste, the smell, the moist texture of the meat and we enjoy having the oven free to cook everything else that accompanies a Thanksgiving meal. The turkey and the stuffing have become my jobs, spreading the work out, which goes a long way towards making the last Thursday in November a happy day.

on the stove top before going into the bird
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Classic Turkey Stuffing


We can't remember the source, but its likely an old Betty Crocker cookbook.
Stuffs a 12-pound turkey with little or none left over for cooking outside the turkey and serves around 6

9 cups torn or cut bread pieces, preferably sour dough or another dense bread
3/4 c chopped onion
1 1/2 c chopped celery
1/2 c butter
1/2 teas salt
1 1/2 teas rubbed dried sage, the fresher, the better
1 teas dried thyme
1/2 teas pepper

Melt butter and add the onion and celery, cooking over medium low heat until they are translucent. Add the seasonings and stir for 30 seconds. Add the bread and toss. Stuff the turkey cavities lightly. Secure with kitchen twine and or skewers. Place turkey on the grill and cook.



Stuffing is one of the Thanksgiving essentials in our family so we have always made more than will fit in a turkey. We cook it on top of the grill during the last hour of turkey roasting and mix it with the stuffing that comes out of the turkey. We find the mixture of wet (from inside the turkey) and dry (from the grill top) best. Heat the stuffing that was in the turkey in the microwave to make sure the stuffing has reached its "safe" temperature of at least 165F and then mix with the "dry" stuffing.  Keep it in a 200 degree oven until serving time.

For excess stuffing, make rectangular foil pans so you can fit stuffing around the turkey on top of the grill. Place these on during the last hour or so that the turkey is roasting.

Note from Colette:

For years, I've torn the bread and left it out to dry a couple of days before Thanksgiving. However, Cook's Illustrated scientists indicate that stale bread and oven-dried bread aren't quite the same and the end result is better if you dry your bread pieces in the oven, rather than allowing them to go stale on the counter. Apparently stale bread will end up soggy compared to the oven-dried bread. To dry the bread, heat oven to 325F and place bread (about a pound of bread) in a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 45-55 minutes stirring occasionally and turning the tray once. Cook until the pieces are golden brown and dry. See this link for more information.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal

I live in a high desert that is becoming more desert-like all the time. Unlike many places, it is noteworthy when we get a snowstorm in December. This storm is beautiful but cold enough for me to want to eat comfort foods. I tried this oatmeal this morning. I'm certain it can take other tasty additions like chocolate chips, chocolate nibs, and/or some chopped peanuts.



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Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal


Adapted from The Washington Post which adapted it from French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano (a great read, by the way)
Serves 2-3

1 c old fashioned oatmeal
2 1/3 c water
1/4 teas salt
2 T honey, optional (a good use for any honey that has crystallized--eyeball the measurement in that case)
2 T creamy or chunky peanut butter
1 banana, cut into 1/4-inch slices (if you like more fruit add a second banana; I'm going to next time)
1/3 c milk
1/2 teas unsalted butter

Combine the oatmeal, water, and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring, over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, until thickened and creamy. Add the peanut butter, banana, milk and butter; mix gently to combine. Cook for 1 minute. Serve while hot.

The flavor improves overnight so double it and eat it again the next day. Stir in a little milk to loosen it up while warming the oatmeal. 

The view from my back porch this morning.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Cranberry Pomegranate Salad

This fruit salad comes from a Spackman family cookbook my mom compiled about 15 years ago. It includes favorite recipes from my Grandma Spackman, her 14 children (of which my dad is number 3), and their spouses. Specifically, this recipe is from my Uncle David and Aunt Kim, who called it Thanksgiving Cranberry Salad. I agree with my Uncle David that it's good anytime, so I changed the name. This salad is a tasty accompaniment to pie for breakfast on the day after Thanksgiving.



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Cranberry Pomegranate Salad


Source: David and Kim Spackman

4 c fresh cranberries
2 c sugar
2 c red grapes, halved
1 c heavy whipping cream, whipped
1 c pineapple tidbits
1/2 c walnuts, toasted, cooled, and chopped
seeds from 1 pomegranate (separating the seeds from the peel and pith is easier in a bowl of water--the seeds sink and the pith floats)

Finely chop cranberries, in a food processor if possible (it's much easier). Add sugar and let stand 8 hrs or overnight. Place in colander and drain for 1 hour. Prep the remaining ingredients, stir everything together, chill, and serve. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pecan Pie

I used to make pecan pie using the ubiquitous corn syrup recipe. Pecans made the pie a favorite with me, in spite of my aversion to overly sweet desserts (just today I read a description of this American specialty as "candy in a pie shell"). About 10 years ago I discovered the following recipe and have made it most years since. There are more nuts than usual which makes it all the better.

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Pecan Pie


Adapted from:  David Rosengarten's Taste: One Palate's Journey Through the World's Greatest Dishes
Yield: one 9-inch pie

One unbaked pie crust:  see either Vodka Pie Crust or Grandma's Old Fashioned Pie Crust  
6 T unsalted butter
1 c firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teas salt
3 large eggs
3/4 c light corn syrup
1 T vanilla
1 c finely ground pecans
1 1/4 c coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 400 F. Prick the bottom and sides of the pie shell with a fork and line the shell with some oiled aluminum foil (oiled side down). Add some pie weights (or rice or beans--at least an inch deep). Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove shell from the oven and lower the heat to 275F.

In the meantime, start the filling: In a metal bowl set over simmering water, melt the butter. Remove the bowl from the heat, and whisk in the sugar, salt, eggs (one at a time), corn syrup, and vanilla. Replace the bowl over the simmering water, and stir until the mixture is shiny and quite warm to the touch (about 130 degrees). Remove from the heat and stir in all of the pecans.

Pour the filling into the partially cooked pie shell and return to bake on a rack placed low in the oven. On the lowest rack, place a cookie sheet to catch any spills. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the center feels set but still slightly soft. Cool at least 4 hours. Serve with barely sweetened whipped cream.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Crusty Skillet Cornbread

Over the years, I've used a number of cornbread recipes, most cooked in a cake pan. When I tried cooking cornbread in a skillet, I became a fan of the extra crust on the bottom of the bread.


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Crusty Skillet Cornbread


Adapted from:  Food Network which credits Richard Jones
Serves: 8

2 c corn meal
1/2 c flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
2 t baking powder
3 T sugar
4 eggs
1 1/4 c buttermilk
1/2 stick butter

Heat oven to 375F. Place butter in a 9-inch cast iron skillet and put in the preheating oven to melt the butter, watching to make sure it doesn't scorch. Mix all dry ingredients together. Stir eggs into buttermilk and add to dry mixture. Remove skillet from oven and carefully swirl to coat the skillet with butter. Mix remaining melted butter into batter. Pour the batter into the hot skillet and bake for 25-30 minutes until it has a golden brown crust. Cut into wedges and serve hot.

Do not let this cornbread sit too long in the skillet following the meal. It will become damp on the bottom and will rust your skillet.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

I believe this is Michael's all-time favorite of my baked goods. I remember eating (and loving) them growing up, and now because they're such a favorite, my children will grow up on them. The muffins by themselves are delicious, but the almond and sugar topping make them truly extraordinary.

Last night I taught a group of teenage girls about the muffin method and high altitude baking using this recipe. I shared with them the multiplier I learned from pastry chef Romina Rasmussen, at Les Madeleines in Salt Lake City. As I prepared to teach them the multiplier, I figured out a rough estimate for people that don't have a kitchen scale. For each cup of flour in a recipe, add an extra 1 T. And for each cup of sugar, subtract 1 T. These adjustments will work at elevations around 4500 feet; people near 3,000 or 6,000 feet will have to make different changes. 

Do try these muffins. They're a great use for old bananas!



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Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins, Original


 Yields about 16 muffins

1 1/2 c flour (half whole wheat adds some nuttiness)
1 c sugar
1 teas baking powder
1/2 teas soda
1/2 teas salt
1 c mashed banana (2 1/2-3 bananas)
1/2 c butter, melted
1/2 c buttermilk (+1 T if you use whole wheat flour)
1/2 teas vanilla
1 egg
1/2 c semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Topping:
3 T sliced almonds
2 T sugar

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt in one bowl. Whisk banana, butter, buttermilk, egg, and vanilla in a separate bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until just combined (or a little less).

Stir in chocolate chips. Fill paper-lined muffin tins about 2/3 full. Mix almonds and sugar together, and sprinkle on tops of muffins. Bake at 375F for 20-25 minutes, until a tester or toothpick comes out clean. 

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Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins, High Altitude (4500 feet)


Yields about 16 muffins

219 g (approximately 1 1/2 c + 1 1/2 T) flour (half whole wheat adds some nuttiness)
186 g (approximately 3/4 c + 3 T) sugar (alternatively, measure one cup and then remove 1 T)
1 teas baking powder
1/2 teas soda
1/2 teas salt
1 c mashed banana (2 1/2-3 bananas)
1/2 c butter, melted
1/2 c buttermilk (+ 1 T if you use whole wheat flour)
1/2 teas vanilla
1 egg
1/2 c semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Topping:
3 T sliced almonds
2 T sugar

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt in one bowl. Whisk banana, butter, buttermilk, egg, and vanilla in a separate bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until just combined (or a little less).

Stir in chocolate chips. Fill paper-lined muffin tins about 2/3 full. Mix almonds and sugar together, and sprinkle on tops of muffins. Bake at 375F for 20-25 minutes, until a tester or toothpick comes out clean. 

Grandma's Apple Crumb Pie

My dad's mother, Lydia Jane Savage Peterson, baked a week's worth of pies most Monday mornings and in numbers large enough for a family of eight. Dad loves apple pie in particular and told my mom he would peel all the apples if she would make the pies. I'm not certain when this recipe became the family favorite but it's the only apple pie I remember eating. As I grew up we didn't have pie every week, but we ate them often and there was never a Thanksgiving or Christmas without this pie. I can't resist the shortbread crumb topping and as a child often annoyed my mother by picking bits off. My fingers have never have been tempted by frosting on a cake, but it is all I can do to leave these crumbs alone.

One piece of advice: bake two of these pies, at least. This pie makes a sublime day-after-Thanksgiving breakfast. On Black Friday I'd rather sit eating apple pie than fight bargain-hunting crowds. My brother, Sam, recently taught me the best way to eat it early in the day--pour cream over your piece of pie. Nothing like keeping up the calorie count.



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Grandma's Apple Crumb Pie


Source:  Betty Peterson

1 9-inch pie unbaked pie shell, see either Vodka Pie Crust or Grandma's Old Fashioned Pie Crust 

6-8 cooking apples, depending on the size (I like golden delicious)
1/2 c sugar
1 teas cinnamon
2 T cornstarch

Peel and slice the apples into a bowl. Sprinkle the sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch over the top. Stir until well blended. Place the apples into the pie shell and set aside. I like to have so many apples that the pie is a bit mounded at this point. When they cook, the apples will shrink and mounding ensures a thick pie.

For the topping:

1/3 c salted butter
1/2 c sugar
3/4-1 c flour, to make crumbly short bread struesel

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the sugar. Then add the flour.  I like the crumb topping to have some fairly big crumbs--about the size of a pea and up to the size of a small marble. If you add to much flour, it will be more powdery, which is all right but not quite as attractive. So start with the smaller amount of flour. If the mixture looks more like a dough than crumbs, add a bit more flour.

Spread the topping over the apples. This can be difficult if you've mounded the apples quite high. Just use one hand to catch the crumbs that roll off and put them back on. There may be a few apple slices that peek out but that will change as the apples settle during baking and cooling.



Bake at 375F for 50-60 minutes, until the apples are softened. You may see some bubbling of the thickened juices. Remove from oven and let cool. If you can't wait and eat the pie warm, it won't stay in wedges, but it will taste wonderful anyway.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Orange Refrigerator Rolls

I first tasted these rolls soon after we entered the Air Force and moved to Mather AFB in California for Leon's navigator training. While there we made friends with Bob and Joyce Lemmon and their little boy, Bobby. Joyce made these rolls for us and I've been baking them ever since, even though I already possessed a superb recipe for rolls. Since I've insisted on serving both types of rolls, our family has had 68 rolls when we've eaten Thanksgiving dinner, even when it was just the five of us. We never have polished them off, not really come close, except when we've had company. But it has been nice to enjoy the bounty.

Almost ready to go into the oven.



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Orange Refrigerator Rolls


Source:   Thanks to Joyce Lemmon for her contribution to decades of good eating
Yields 36

Soak for 10 to 15 minutes, until you see some bubbling action:

2 pkg or 4 1/2 teas active dry yeast
1/2 c warm water

Add to yeast and water:

1/2 c sugar
1/2 c butter
3 beaten eggs
2 teas salt
3/4 c warm water

Stir in:

4 c flour

This is a very soft dough; don't add more flour. Let rise until double. Mix down, cover and place in the refrigerator (it will keep 3-4 days, if you stir it down occasionally). About three hours before serving, stir the dough down and divide half of the dough out of the bowl.  Roll this first portion of dough into a thin rectangle, using ample flour on a pastry cloth or counter. (Repeat with second half.)  The dough will be very sticky. Don't stir in more flour, but use plenty of flour as you roll the dough out.

Spread with Orange Butter:

zest of 1 large orange
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c very soft butter

With a pizza slicer cut into 1 inch slices and roll. Place in 3 well oiled or buttered muffin tins. Let rise to the top of the tins, about 2 hours, depending on the heat.

Bake at 375F for 8-12 minutes. Check for browning. Use a fork to remove rolls from the tins and serve immediately.

It is hard to see, but here is the orange butter spread over the soft dough.

Grandma Betty's Twelve Hour Rolls

I remember my mother making these rolls often when I was a teenager, not just for Thanksgiving. The recipe is a good one for a busy cooking day since the dough can be mixed and set aside for a long time. If the cook can restrain herself and use only the called for amount of flour, the rolls will be amazingly light and buttery.

There are some rather old fashioned methods in this recipe, but I'm not going to change them. Twelve Hour Rolls are perfect as they are.



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Grandma Betty's Twelve Hour Rolls


(In spite of the title, the timing of these rolls is rather flexible.)

1/2 c warm water
1 pkg or 2 1/4 teas active dry yeast or instant
1 T sugar
1 c milk
1/2 c butter
1/2 c sugar 
3 eggs
1/2 c sugar
3/4 teas salt
4 c all purpose flour (no more)
more butter, melted, for brushing the tops of the rolls.

Mix together the water, yeast, and 1 T sugar. Allow to it sit out for 10-15 minutes until bubbly.

Scald the milk (place in a small saucepan over medium high heat and nearly bring it to a boil, stirring occasionally--you'll see tiny bubbles around the edges of the milk). Place the butter in the hot milk and let it melt. Pour the milk and butter into a medium bowl and allow to cool to lukewarm and add the yeast mixture. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and stir in the 1/2 c sugar. Add this mixture to the milk mixture. Add the salt and flour and stir well. The dough will be very sticky. Do not add more flour for it will make your rolls tougher and drier.

This is the sticky dough after it has risen 5-6 hours.

Butter a very large bowl. Place the dough in this bowl for the rise. Cover and leave out overnight, if convenient, or let stand for 5 hours. Do not refrigerate.

Stirring the dough down before rolling.


Stir the dough with a wooden spoon or spatula. Turn out half of the dough on a very well floured board (or pastry cloth--my preference). Roll into a 14- to 15-inch circle, quite thinly (about 3/8" thick). Brush with melted butter and cut circle into 16 wedges.




Roll lightly starting at the wide end. Place the rolls on an oiled sheet pan with the sharp tip under the roll against the pan. Brush the tops with melted butter.


Allow the rolls to rise for 3 1/2 to 4 hours or so (this rise can depend on the heat and the weather, so keep an eye on them). Don't let them rise for too long or they will lose volume and deflate. (I've never had them completely collapse but they can flatten if left to rise too long.)

Thanks to Sam Peterson for photos.


Bake at 375F for 8-12 minutes being careful not to let them over-brown.

Note:

Instant yeast usually doesn't need to be mixed with water beforehand to bloom. However, I've never tried this recipe without blooming my yeast. Therefore, I can't say how it will turn out if you add dry yeast to the dry ingredients. 

These rolls are almost pastry like and need a very light hand. This is why I like a pastry cloth and pastry stocking. The dough may stick a tiny bit on the floured cloth, but not usually.


These rolls are exceptionally good when they are hot out of the oven. I don't bake them ahead but instead throughout the Thanksgiving meal. It does mean a lot of ups and downs for me, but it seems a small sacrifice. Others may choose to bake the rolls ahead. I suggest you cook them the day you are going to eat them because they are very perishable. Even a day makes a huge difference in their quality. If you decide to make them beforehand, wrap tightly and freeze, thawing just before the holiday meal.

Having written this, I realize it may take some timing manipulation to get them to the table hot. I do such things as place them in a warm room if they are rising slowly or in a cool spot (even the garage) if they are nearly ready to bake, but I'm not ready to bake them.  You may rightly say its not worth the bother, but make sure you get a cook's snack and eat one when it is just out of the oven.

My mom also used this recipe to make Parker House rolls, by cutting in circles and folding them, not quite in half. I've not done that except in her kitchen. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Spaghetti Squash with Parmesan and Sage

I love spaghetti squash, as long as its cooked completely. And it has been surprisingly difficult for me to master this skill. Finally I've been able to accomplish consistent results by roasting the squash for an hour and 15 minutes, or a little longer if the squash is quite large. Since this is winter squash season, here is my favorite way to prepare spaghetti squashes.

This particular squash came from our garden--one of our many volunteers.



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Spaghetti Squash with Parmesan and Sage


Source: Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop

1 medium spaghetti squash (about 3 lbs)
3 T unsalted butter
1 T minced fresh sage leaves (or about 1 teas dry)
1/3 c grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400F. I cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, spray a baking sheet, and place the squash halves on the sheet. The original recipe recommends baking the entire squash on a baking sheet after making several slits with a paring knife. Either way, bake until a skewer glides easily through the flesh, about 1 1/4 hrs.

Melt the butter in a small, light-colored or shiny skillet over medium heat. When the butter stops foaming, add the sage leaves and cook until they release their flavor into the butter and the butter has turned golden brown, about 1 minute. Remove the skillet from the heat.

If you baked the squash whole: slice the squash in half lengthwise, and scrape out and discard the seeds with a spoon. Drag a fork through the flesh to pull the strands of squash away from the skin. Place the squash strands in a large bowl. Toss with the sage butter and cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

Apple-Cranberry Pie

Here's another Thanksgiving recipe. Mom made it the first time, when Cook's Illustrated published it 6 or so years ago. I loved it so much that I have made it every year since, wherever I am for the holiday, and it's always popular. The tartness of the cranberries cuts the sweetness of the apples in a delightful way; it's delicious by itself or a la mode. And perfect for breakfast the next day!

The recipe uses the Vodka Pie Crust, which is easy to make and manipulate. And there is always some leftover dough for pie crust cookies.



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Apple-Cranberry Pie


Source: Cook's Illustrated

2 c fresh or frozen cranberries
1/4 c orange juice
1 c sugar plus 1 T for top of pie
1/2 teas ground cinnamon
1/2 teas salt
1/4 c water
1 T cornstarch
3 1/2 lbs sweet apples such as Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Fuji, or Braeburn (6 to 7 medium), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 recipe Vodka Pie Crust
1 egg white, beaten lightly

Make pie dough and refrigerate. 

Bring cranberries, juice, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally and pressing berries against side of pot, until berries have completely broken down and juices have thickened to jamlike consistency (wooden spoon scraped across bottom should leave clear trail that doesn't fill in), 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in water, and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix 1/2 cup sugar, remaining 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cornstarch in large microwave-safe bowl; add apples and toss to combine. Microwave on high power, stirring with rubber spatula every 3 minutes, until apples are just starting to turn translucent around edges and liquid is thick and glossy, 10 to 14 minutes. Cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

While fillings cool, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees. Remove 1 disk of dough from refrigerator and roll out on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll into pie plate, leaving at least 1-inch overhang. Ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

Transfer cooled cranberry mixture to dough-lined pie plate and spread into even layer. Place apple mixture on top of cranberries, mounding slightly in center; push down any sharp apple edges.

Roll second disk of dough on generously floured work surface (up to 1/4 cup) to 12-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over pie, leaving at least 1-inch overhang on each side.

Using kitchen shears (scissors), cut evenly through both layers of overhanging dough, leaving 1/2-inch overhang. Fold dough under itself so that edge of fold is flush with outer rim of pie plate. Flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with tines of fork to seal. Brush top and edges of pie with egg white and sprinkle with remaining tablespoon sugar. Using sharp paring knife, cut four 1 1/2-inch slits in top of dough in cross pattern.

Place pie on preheated baking sheet and bake until top is light golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees, rotate baking sheet, and continue to bake until crust is deep golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack to cool at least 2 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

The two fillings can be made ahead, cooled, and stored separately in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Grandma Betty's Sweet Potatoes in Butterscotch Sauce

Betsy and I have decided we're going to post a few Thanksgiving recipes but we won't be able to supply photos of the finished products until after the big day. 

I'm a confirmed sweet potato lover these days, but when I was young I thought they were disgusting unless they were served in this form. Even marshmallows couldn't tempt me. (I'm certain a large part of my problem was that other sweet potatoes I was exposed to were canned, making them mushy and stringy at the same time.) I don't know where my mom came upon this recipe but it has graced our Thanksgiving tables as long as I can remember. Since this feast is the only time I eat the dish, it is one of the reasons I enjoy the holiday. I'm already looking forward to these sweets.



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Grandma Betty's Sweet Potatoes in Butterscotch Sauce


5 medium-large sweet potatoes
1/4 c butter
4 T flour
1/2 c light corn syrup
1 c brown sugar
1 c water
3/4 c chopped pecans or walnuts (to increase flavor, toast in a skillet until aromatic)

Cook sweet potatoes until they are softened but not completely cooked. They should resist a testing fork or knife blade. My mother boiled her sweet potatoes, but I have taken to roasting them in the oven at 350F for 45-60 minutes depending on their size. Either way will work, as would microwaving (although it would take a long time for 5 sweets). Allow to cool until you can handle them. Peel the skins off and slice sweet potatoes 3/8" to1/2" thick. Place in a two to three quart baking dish. Your oven heat should be changed to 225F.

Melt the butter, add the flour, and cook for a few minutes. Add the water, corn syrup, and sugar. Stir and cook until simmering and thickened. Stir in the nuts. Pour the sauce over the sweet potatoes. Cover, place in the oven, and cook for 5 hours. The sauce will thicken considerably and the sweets will finish cooking.

Note:

Since this method of cooking will tie up your oven for a long time on a busy cooking day, I advise cooking them a day or two ahead, unless you have two ovens. Cool and refrigerate them until nearly time for serving. Reheat in the microwave. They don't seem to suffer. You may also cook the sweets ahead of time, refrigerate for up to two days, peel, slice, and cover with the sauce and cook for the required time.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lemon Berry Trifle

Although the season has passed, I admit this trifle is one of my top five favorite summer desserts. However, it can be enjoyed any time of the year if you use frozen berries, or some fresh berries available in supermarkets year round nowadays. The original recipe is based on blackberries but the past year or so, I've used  raspberries because of the raspberry glut at my house. I believe you can mix and match berries with great success.

In my household of two, I make individual trifles rather than one big one. Cake in a trifle is supposed to soak up juices but by the time we could finish a whole trifle, everything would be disagreeably soggy. If you are interested in a big trifle, just multiply amounts and place in a trifle dish or glass bowl.

Unfortunately I have lost my copy of the original recipe and have searched unsuccessfully both around the house and online. For some time I haven't needed to use the recipe since it is composed of several items brought together. Use what you find below as a guideline and tweak it to your liking.


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Lemon Berry Trifle


Serves 3-4

12 ounces, by weight, berries (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, or combination)
6 T sugar
one slice pound cake per serving, purchased or home made
3 T Chambord or limoncello, optional
1/2 c lemon curd bottled or home made
1 c whipping cream

Mix berries with sugar and lightly mash them with a fork or potato masher. If you are using strawberries, you may prefer to slice them. Let macerate for at least 30 minutes, but longer will likely result in more juice. 

Whip cream to soft peak stage. Lightly fold lemon curd into the cream, leaving streaks of cream visible.

Cut pound cake into 3/4-inch cubes.

Compose the dessert:  place the cake cubes in the bottom of a wine glass or dessert dish. If you are using it, drizzle the Chambord or limoncello over the cake. Spoon the macerated berries on top. Finally, add a generous dollop of lemon curd cream.

Notes:

This is another one of those recipes which can be changed to suit tastes of the cook. The proportion of lemon curd to cream can be varied so it is heavier in lemon or cream flavors. You may also want to add a T of sugar to the cream, although it is plenty sweet for my tastes.

You may buy the lemon curd, but to make sure it tastes as good as possible, use real whipped cream.

If you haven't a scale, 12 ounces of raspberries equals about 1 1/2 cups; 12 ounces of blackberries are closer to 2 cups.

Other cakes will work well here, too, although I am not sure that angel food cake would be as good, partly because of its airy texture. I have often used Hot Milk Cake, although if I know I am going to use it in this recipe I will use lemon extract as a substitute for the almond extract called for in that recipe.

I think other fruits that are complemented by lemon would work in place of the berries. I'll bet peaches or nectarines would be tasty. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Fresh Ginger Tonic

Fall rolled in and so did viruses. For the past month or so, we as a group have been putting up with colds, laryngitis, croup, etc. Yesterday Betsy asked me for this recipe, which I totally forgot about when it was my turn (she and her family were at my house keeping my spirits up).

I found the recipe in the book Sarah Moulton Cooks at Home where Moulton credits Michelle Beckles, a Food Network contributor and producer. Both swear that ginger tea can do wonders. I've not experienced full healing when I've used the tonic, but perhaps I didn't drink it often enough.  

Here at the beginning of the sicker seasons, I'll post this recipe in hopes that it will provide some comfort, if nothing else.

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Fresh Ginger Tonic


Yield 5 cups

5 c water
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole cloves
2- or 3-inch piece fresh ginger (depending on your tolerance for spicy heat), peeled and grated
honey to taste, optional

Bring water to boil with the cinnamon and cloves. Remove from heat and add the ginger and honey and allow to steep for 10 minutes. (If you are using raw honey, do not add honey at this point; the heat will destroy all the benefits that come from unpasteurized honey. Wait until the tea has cooled somewhat to add the honey. You will have to do some stirring to help the honey dissolve.)

Strain well, discarding the solids. This tonic is good hot or cold.

Note:

I find the easiest way to peel ginger is to scrape the skin off with a metal spoon. I like to use my microplane for grating, although the smallest holes on a box grater would work fine, too.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Here's a treat for Halloween. The zucchini here makes the cake very moist, and the espresso powder enhances the chocolate flavor. I'm not a huge fan of frosting, so I love the chocolate glaze, too. As I looked up the source to post, I found a note about mixing the chocolate chips with half-and-half as another topping option, which sounds decadent.

Now for the trick. My boys' birthdays are 5 days apart, on either side of Halloween. I made this cake for the October birthday, but guess what. Mom was the only one to eat a piece! Next year I'm putting candles in ice cream.

A note about altitude: I have made both the original recipe and a cake with altitude adjustments. I can't remember a difference, but I also haven't tried them side by side.



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Chocolate Zucchini Cake


Source: King Arthur Flour http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/chocolate-zucchini-cake-recipe

Cake:
8 T butter
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 3/4 c sugar
1 teas vanilla extract
1 teas baking soda
1/2 teas baking powder
1/2 teas salt
2 eggs
1/2 c sour cream, buttermilk, or yogurt
2 1/2 c flour (I use a mix of wheat and all-purpose)
3/4 c dutch process cocoa
2 teas espresso powder, optional
3 c shredded zucchini (about one 10" zucchini)
1/2 c chocolate chips (I like dark)

Icing:
1 c chocolate chips (I used dark this time, but might try semi-sweet next time)

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, oil, sugar, vanilla, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until smooth. Beat in the eggs. Stir in the sour cream, buttermilk, or yogurt alternately with the flour. Add the cocoa and espresso powder, mixing until smooth. Fold in the zucchini and 1/2 c chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top springs back lightly when touched, and it seems set. To ice the cake: Slide the cake out of the oven, sprinkle it evenly with the 1 c chocolate chips, and return it to the oven for 5 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven, and use a cake spatula or rubber spatula to spread the chocolate chips into a smooth glaze. Cool on a rack.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sweet Potato Wedges with Lime Mayo

I travel with recipes. Not so much when I'm staying in a hotel, or visiting my brothers in Europe, but when I know I'll have time to cook and people to cook for. Our recent trip to Albuquerque was a perfect opportunity. I brought an entire cookbook with me, along with probably 10 recipes printed out. We ate these lovely sweet potato fries for lunch one day, with BLTs. The dip is tangy and cuts the sweetness of the fries nicely.

The cookbook I brought was Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach, who also authored this recipe (although it's not in the book). My friend Susie gave me the book for Christmas last year, knowing my penchant for not only recipes, but writing about food. Jenny describes the development of family dinner in her home over the course of her life as she wed, had children, modified her career, and as those children grew. Jenny's approach is practical and funny, and she includes tips for entertaining as well as mid-week meals. In addition to the book, she maintains a blog at http://www.dinneralovestory.com/.


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Sweet Potato Wedges with Lime Mayo


Source: Jenny Rosenstrach and Andy Ward via http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/sweet-potato-wedges-with-lime-mayo

3 sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs), peeled, each cut lengthwise into 8 wedges
2 T vegetable oil
Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper
1/3 c mayonnaise
1/4 teas finely grated lime zest
2 teas fresh lime juice
Chopped fresh cilantro (for serving)

Preheat oven to 450F. Toss sweet potatoes and oil on a foil-lined large rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, turning once, until golden brown and crisp, 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk mayonnaise, lime zest, and juice in a small bowl.

Season fries with salt, top with cilantro, and serve with lime mayo for dipping.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Uncle John's Aebleskivers

My brother John served his LDS mission in Denmark. Later, when my family visited his family he delighted us by making ableskivers. We loved dipping the spheres in a variety of sweets. I wanted to learn how to make them since our visits were rare; at this time we were living overseas. Ableskivers are fairly well known to American diners nowadays but in the late 80s it was difficult to find an ableskiver pan. We finally found one at Smith and Edwards, the big overstock store just off I-15 north of Ogden, Utah. I hauled the cast iron pan to Bahrain in my luggage. I soon found that cooking these for a family of hungry eaters would be more efficient  if I had a second pan. I procured another. (I have to give credit where credit is due and admit that John gave me one pan but I can't remember  if it was the first or the second. I do remember the Smith and Edwards shopping experience, however.) You should be able to find a pan (or two) in a number of places. But Google will spell it aebleskiver in an online search.

For years these have been a Saturday morning favorite breakfast or Sunday dinner when I have family or friends eating with me. During their recent visit, Adam and Gabe got to eat ableskivers for the first time.



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Uncle John's Aebleskivers


Yield: lots and lots--when I made these for my grandsons I kept careful count but have since lost the record. I believe it likely the yield was around 85. This recipe could be easily halved.

4 eggs, separated
3/4 c sugar
5 c flour (you may substitute up to half wheat flour or wheat pastry flour, if you like)
1 T baking powder 
4 c milk, plus a bit more if needed
1/2 teas cardamom powder, optional
1-2 T butter, melted, for the pan
jams, sugars, honey, etc., for dipping

Place the aebleskiver pan over medium heat and preheat the pan. Depending on your stove you will have to watch and change to keep the heat at a level that doesn't burn the outside of the aebleskivers before the insides are cooked. A scorched but gooey aebleskiver is, to say the least, undesirable. 

Whip the egg whites to a stiff meringue. Set aside. In a large bowl mix the egg yolks and stir in the sugar. Measure flour in a bowl and stir in the baking powder and cardamom, if using. Add the flour and milk to the egg yolk mixture, alternating 3 times, stirring well with each addition. The batter should be like a thick pancake batter. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. You're ready to cook.

You may oil the pan with cooking spray but I like to have a bowl of melted butter and a pastry brush nearby to lube the pan between batches. This is the best way to get butter on these spheres.

Once the pan is oiled or buttered, use an ice cream disher to pour the batter into the pan up to the level of the opening. Of course, if you don't have a disher, just use a quarter cup measure. Let the aebleskivers cook until browned on the bottom then turn them over using a chopstick. The tops will be covered with bubbles, like pancakes just before turning. I push the stick right down the middle to the bottom of the batter and pull it up to flip it over. There will be runny batter held by the cooked portion of the sphere; just let it flow into the bottom and set the cooked part on top. You may have to re-seat the aebleskiver a bit with your fingers or the back of a spoon. Let them continue to cook. Knowing when these are done becomes easier with experience. Use a toothpick as a tester and keep cooking until there is no liquid clinging to it. The toothpick can also be used to remove the aebleskivers from the pan when they are done.

I like to cook several batches of aeblelskivers before calling a big group to the table and keep them warm 200 degree oven.

Allow diners to choose from several options for dipping: cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar, demerara sugar, jam, honey, or Nutella. Each person should place several dippers and some aebleskivers on a plate and dig in.

If there are leftovers, they can be frozen for a month or so. They'll start to get a bit tough if they are in the freezer longer.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Fresh Tomato Soup

Yes, I know it's fall now and most people don't have garden tomatoes anymore. However, I came home from my trip to New Mexico to find that a bunch of green tomatoes I picked before the freeze had turned red while sitting in my basement. So, I seized the opportunity to make fresh tomato soup.



Obviously these pictures are two different batches of this recipe. In the top picture, the soup is blended enough to make it soup, but it was still a little chunky. The vegetables were unpleasantly crunchy, so for the second batch, I cooked the vegetables for quite a long time and then blended for maybe 20 seconds.  This soup was pleasingly smooth and lighter in color. Paired with grilled cheese sandwiches, this is a fabulous meal.

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Fresh Tomato Soup


Adapted from Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop

2 T olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 small carrot, peeled and minced
1 small celery stalk, minced
1 teas minced fresh thyme or oregano (or 1/2 teas dried)
3 lbs ripe tomatoes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 c chicken or vegetable stock
shredded fresh basil leaves (optional)
croutons (optional)

Prepare the tomatoes. Place the tomatoes in boiling water for about a minute, then plunge into a bowl of ice water. Core, peel, and chop the tomatoes. You should have about 4 c pulp. Depending on the size of your tomatoes, this can take a while. About halfway through preparing your tomatoes, and depending on how soft you want your veggies, you may want to start the vegetables.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook over medium heat until softened. (The original recipe says about 5 minutes, but I probably did 15-20 minutes.) Add the herb and tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes lose their shape, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the stock and simmer until the flavors have blended, about 5 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender until quite smooth. Adjust the seasonings and serve immediately. Basil and croutons sound like a nice garnish, although I've never done it. Also, the original recipe reports that the soup works well chilled.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Salted Crispy Rice Treats

Betsy and I spent 10 days together just before and during the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta which ended Sunday. Michael was able to join us for a few days, too (limited leave days, you know). The little boys were with Mommy at Grandma and Grandpa's house so I feel pretty spoiled to have had them all with us.

I made this grown-up version of the familiar treat while my visitors were with me. Betsy and I both feel a little shamefaced that we share an affection for Rice Krispie Treats, at least the homemade kind. But our fondness for the confection grew recently when I found this recipe. The original instructions don't call for drizzling melted chocolate over them but I couldn't see that it would hurt anything. It didn't!




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Salted Crispy Rice Treats


Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
Yields 16 2-inch squares

1 stick (8 T) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1/2 teas flaky salt
1 pkg. (10-oz) marshmallows, large or miniature
6 c crispy rice cereal, regular or brown rice
1 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, optional

Butter an 8-inch square cake pan (it will need to have 2-inch sides)

In a large pot, melt the stick of butter over medium-low heat. It will foam, then turn clear golden, start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently and watch closely so it doesn't get darker than the color of a pecan shell.

As soon as the butter has browned, remove it from the burner. Stir in the salt and then the marshmallows. The residual heat should melt the marshmallows but if you need to, return to very low heat for a short time. The marshmallows should be smooth but retain their opaque whiteness.

Remove the marshmallow mixture from the stove and stir in the cereal, stirring it until coated. Spread into the prepared pan and press it firmly into the corners. Use a piece of parchment or wax paper, sprayed with oil to keep it from sticking. If your hands are tough, you can butter your fingers and press the mixture down without resorting to the paper. Apparently a silicone spatula will work fairly well, too.

Let cool. Melt chocolate in microwave, 10-20 seconds at a time, depending on your microwave's power. I  used a spoon to drizzle the chocolate, but it wasn't very efficient. Just yesterday I read that you can put warm chocolate into a ziplock bag, clip a tiny bit of a corner, and squeeze a thin drizzle out. I haven't tried this; I'll report back when I do.

You may also mold this in a 9X13 cake pan, but the treats will be thinner, of course. I'm sure you could double it, too.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Lemon Curd

The first time I tasted Lemon Curd was when I lived Bahrain and a British neighbor gave me some she had made. I've been a fan ever since, although I often purchased it after that first tasting. Since finding this recipe, I eat it only when I can make it. One must become comfortable with tempering eggs for a custard because that is what curd is; although it is flavored with fruit juice rather than cream or milk.

Lemon Curd can be used as a spread on bread, scones, or crumpets (if you can find them). It makes a lovely topping for cake, ice cream, or cheesecake.



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Lemon Curd


Source: cooksillustrated.com

1/3 c lemon juice, from 2 lemons
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/2 c sugar
2 T unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1 T heavy cream
1/4 teas vanilla extract
pinch table salt

Heat lemon juice in small nonreactive saucepan over medium heat until hot but not boiling. In the meantime, whisk eggs and yolk in medium nonreactive bowl; gradually whisk in sugar. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle hot lemon juice into the eggs, then return mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or heat resistant spatula until mixture registers 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and is thick enough to cling to a spoon. When the spoon or spatula leaves a clear trail (which quickly disappears) in the bottom of the saucepan, the curd is ready. If you leave it on the heat any longer, the spatula will leave a wide, clear trail as the curd becomes thick and pasty. (For good photos of what to look for go to cooksillustrated.com and look at the photos at the end of the recipe.)

Immediately remove the pan from heat and stir in the cold butter until incorporated; stir in cream, vanilla, and salt, then pour cur through a fine-mesh strainer into a small nonreactive container. Cover the surface of the curd directly with plastic wrap; refrigerate until needed. After the curd has cooled you may remove the plastic and cover with the lid of the container.

Notes:

This recipe can be easily doubled, which is what I usually do.

At higher altitudes water boils at a lower temperature than at sea level. In candy making one lowers the target temperature to correspond with the temperature difference; for example, at my altitude, I subtract 10 degrees. I've thought it might be the same in this recipe, but I have found that at 160 F, the curd is not sufficiently thickened.  However, it gets a bit too thick if I let it cook to 170 F. Cooking to 165 F results in the best texture. Those of you at a similar elevation (4900 feet) may want to do the same. It's best, though, to use the photos at Cook's Illustrated as a guide. 




 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Polenta, Two Ways

It's hard for me to believe I didn't discover polenta until 10 years ago. I never saw it on a menu at an Italian restaurant and certainly never heard it mentioned. I adore polenta and am glad to have come across it, even later in my life. I think some cooks have avoided it because old recipes instructed cooks to stir for 45 minutes or so. That isn't necessary, although it should be cooked slowly at a very low temperature to let the flavors develop (except for the microwave method, also included below). Apparently it is a traditional peasant food; versatile, rather inexpensive, and fairly quick to prepare.



Corn ground for polenta. For more info see this: http://food52.com/blog/3698-cornmeal-vs-grits-vs-polenta-vs-masa


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Stove-top Polenta


Adapted from What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin
Serves 4-6, in spite of coming from a book about single dining

1 cup uncooked polenta, not instant
1 teas salt
4 c water
butter
grated cheese

Bring 4 cups water to a boil. Gradually stir in the polenta in a slow steady stream, then add the salt. Lower the heat to medium if you are cooking over gas or to low if you are cooking on an electric stove. Stir until the polenta has absorbed enough water to make an even mass, more or less. Lower the heat even more, to the lowest setting. At this point you can leave it alone, stirring just now and then to make certain it isn't sticking. It should be cooked for at least 30 minutes to have the best texture and flavor. The longer it cooks after that, the better. (I find it usually takes me 30-45 minutes to prepare a topping so if I start the polenta first, everything is ready at the same time.) Once done, add 1 T salt and 1/2 c grated parmesan cheese. Other cheeses, especially left over odds and ends may be used. According to Madison, fontina and mozzarella are good as are Gorgonzola or other blue cheeses. Taste to check the salt; stir in more, if needed.

At this point, spoon polenta on your plate and top with a meat sauce, braised greens, sauteed mushrooms or serve with chicken or pork. There are plenty of suggestions on the internet. Also see the note accompanying Italian Braised Green Beans. 

See notes below.

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Microwave Polenta  


Adapted from cooksillustrated.com
Yields 3 1/2 cups

1 c medium grind cornmeal or polenta 
3 1/2 c water 
1 teas table salt 
pepper to taste

In a 2-quart Pyrex measuring cup, covered with plastic wrap, microwave cornmeal, water, and salt at 100% power for 6 minutes. Uncover and stir thoroughly, then continue to microwave at 100% power until polenta is creamy and fully cooked, 5 to 6 minutes longer. Stir in pepper.

Stir in 1-2 T butter and 1/2-3/4 c parmesan cheese. Check for seasonings and serve. 

Notes:

If you leave out the cheese, polenta can be a tasty breakfast with fruit and a bit of cream. (I suppose it wouldn't be bad if the cheese is left in. You choose.)
 
When polenta cools, it becomes rather solid. You may use it as left overs in the solid form. Cut into pieces and heat in olive oil (this has a tendency to pop, a little like popcorn, but it is tasty). 




Greens Beans in Yogurt-Dill Sauce

Although it is rather early for the middle Rio Grande Valley, we've experienced a couple of light freezes this past weekend. I'm disappointed because we should get a couple more weeks of growing temperatures, at least. However, I won't be sorry to see the last of the mosquitoes (for this season). I feel sad these beans are among the last I will pick this year.

I've posted two green bean recipes back to back. I'm launching a one-woman assault on green bean casserole for Thanksgiving, which is just around the corner. This recipe features something that is fresher, simpler, and tastier than that traditional recipe. Another of its advantages for a holiday dish is it should be served at room temperature and can be prepared ahead of time.


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Greens Beans in Yogurt-Dill Sauce


Adapted from Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop

1 pound green beans, ends snapped off
1/2 c plain yogurt, either reduced fat, or full-fat, but not non-fat (which is full of weird chemicals)
1 medium garlic clove, minced
2 teas minced fresh dill leaves
1/8 teas cayenne pepper, or to taste

Bring several quarts of water to a boil in large saucepan. Add the beans and about 1 teas salt.Cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain, shake as much water off as you can, and then spread out over a clean towel so they dry quickly. Let the beans cool for several minutes.

While the beans are cooling, mix the yogurt, garlic, dill, cayenne, and salt to taste in a small bowl (I don't add extra because I salt the water). Place the beans in a large serving bowl. Spoon the yogurt sauce over the beans, toss, taste for seasoning, and serve immediately.

Notes:

If you can't find fresh dill in November or December, coarsely crush some dill seed in a mortar and pestle and mix it with the yogurt mixture. Start with half a teaspoon; if you need more, add it.

You may cook the beans and make the yogurt mixture ahead (as much as a day) and refrigerate them until 20-30 minutes before serving. At that point stir the yogurt mixture into the beans and serve. Doesn't that sound nice for a day with lots of cooking?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Italian Braised Green Beans

Before the growing season is over I must share one more method for using those older, tougher green beans that have hidden from the harvester until they are too big to miss. Those who don't garden may not run into these beans, although sometimes supermarket produce departments offer beans that look considerably past their prime. This recipe may be useful to us all. Let me point out that the beans will resemble canned beans in color but will be superior in flavor and texture. Don't be afraid to try something that isn't "crisp-tender."

My well-used copy of the book, Vegetables Everyday by Jack Bishop, is the source for this recipe, correctly titled "Braised Green Beans with Tomatoes, Olives, Capers, and Basil." I must admit I feel annoyed with recipe titles that list every ingredient. So I changed the title; rather too broadly, I fear. Bishop himself muses that it should be called "Green Beans Puttanesca."


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Italian Braised Green Beans


Adapted from Jack Bishop's Vegetables Everyday
Serves 4 as a side dish

1 T extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 pound green beans, ends removed
4 tomatoes, canned or fresh, chopped, and juice from the can to equal 1 c or 1/2 c water
12 large Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
1 teas drained capers
1 T minced fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a sauce pan or a saute pan. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the beans and stir them well with the oil and garlic. Add the tomatoes, olives, and capers and bring the liquid to a boil. Add some salt (approximately 1/2 teas) and pepper; if you use fresh tomatoes you'll have to add more salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the beans are quite tender but not mushy. Stir a few times while the beans simmer.

For a side dish, remove the cover from the pan and cook to evaporate the remaining tomato liquid. Stir in the basil and check seasonings; serve immediately.

Note:

The other night, I used this as a topping for polenta and was pleased with the results. However, I advise doubling the tomatoes for use as a sauce and skip the evaporating step.  

If you want to make this more puttanesca-like, add a pinch of red pepper flakes for more heat.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fresh Peach Pie

I'm in mourning because it's the last week or so of fresh peaches in Utah. I still have a quarter bushel of Hales to enjoy, but then we're back to canned peaches.

This pie recipe is supposed to solve the common problem of soupy peach pies. My first attempt was still a little soupy; I'm not sure if it's altitude or if I had too much juice in the mashed peach mixture. But the flavor is amazing. It tastes so strongly of peaches--just peaches--that I preferred the pie on its own, without ice cream. I also enjoyed that the filling was not too sweet. The pie dough is easy to work with, and the "mock" lattice top is a nice substitute for weaving. Sadly, though, it didn't produce any leftover dough for pie crust cookies! This will definitely be on the list of peach desserts for next year's peach season.


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Pie Dough for Lattice-Top Pie


Source: Cook's Illustrated

3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces and frozen for 30 minutes
10 - 12 tablespoons ice water

Process flour, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined, about 5 seconds. Scatter shortening over top and process until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter over top and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses. Transfer to bowl.

Sprinkle 5 tablespoons ice water over flour mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to evenly combine water and flour mixture. Sprinkle 5 tablespoons ice water over mixture and continue using folding motion to combine until small portion of dough holds together when squeezed in palm of your hand, adding up to 2 tablespoons remaining ice water if necessary. (Dough should feel quite moist.) Turn out dough onto clean, dry counter and gently press together into cohesive ball. Divide dough into 2 even pieces and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap disks tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 2 days.

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Fresh Peach Pie


Source: Cook's Illustrated

3 lbs peaches, peeled, quartered, and pitted, each quarter cut into thirds
1/2 c (3 1/2 oz) plus 3 T sugar
1 teas grated lemon zest plus 1 T juice
1/8 teas salt
2 T low- or no-sugar-needed fruit pectin (Cook's Illustrated recommends Sure-Jell for Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes and Ball RealFruit Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin)
1/4 teas ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
1 recipe Pie Dough for Lattice-Top Pie (see above)
1 T cornstarch

Toss peaches, ½ cup sugar, lemon zest and juice, and salt in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour. Combine pectin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and 2 tablespoons sugar in small bowl and set aside.

Remove dough from refrigerator. Before rolling out dough, let it sit on counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes. Roll 1 disk of dough into 12-inch circle on lightly floured counter. Transfer to parchment paper–lined baking sheet. With pizza wheel, fluted pastry wheel, or paring knife, cut round into ten 1¼-inch-wide strips. Freeze strips on sheet until firm, about 30 minutes.

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Roll other disk of dough into 12-inch circle on lightly floured counter. Loosely roll dough around rolling pin and gently unroll it onto 9-inch pie plate, letting excess dough hang over edge. Ease dough into plate by gently lifting edge of dough with your hand while pressing into plate bottom with your other hand. Leave any dough that overhangs plate in place. Wrap dough-lined pie plate loosely in plastic wrap and refrigerate until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, transfer 1 cup peach mixture (try to get only peaches, not any juice) to small bowl and mash with fork until coarse paste forms. Drain remaining peach mixture through colander set in large bowl. Transfer peach juice to liquid measuring cup (you should have about ½ cup liquid; if liquid measures more than ½ cup, discard remainder). Return peach pieces to bowl and toss with cornstarch. Transfer peach juice to 12-inch skillet, add pectin mixture, and whisk until combined. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and pectin is dissolved (liquid should become less cloudy), 3 to 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, add peach pieces and peach paste, and toss to combine.

Transfer peach mixture to dough-lined pie plate. Remove dough strips from freezer; if too stiff to be workable, let stand at room temperature until malleable and softened slightly but still very cold. Lay 2 longest strips across center of pie perpendicular to each other. Using 4 shortest strips, lay 2 strips across pie parallel to 1 center strip and 2 strips parallel to other center strip, near edges of pie; you should have 6 strips in place. Using remaining 4 strips, lay each one across pie parallel and equidistant from center and edge strips. If dough becomes too soft to work with, refrigerate pie and dough strips until dough firms up.

Trim overhang to 1/2 inch beyond lip of pie plate. Press edges of bottom crust and lattice strips together and fold under. Folded edge should be flush with edge of pie plate. Crimp dough evenly around edge of pie using your fingers. Using spray bottle, evenly mist lattice with water and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.

Place pie on rimmed baking sheet and bake until crust is set and begins to brown, about 25 minutes. Rotate pie and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees; continue to bake until crust is deep golden brown and filling is bubbly at center, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Let cool on wire rack for 3 hours before serving.