Thursday, December 3, 2009

We've Moved

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I migrated all the content you see here to the new address.  I had to switch before I get too comfy with blogger. Wordpress has better functionality for what I'm doing. See you over there!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Texas Pralines

These are always a hit at Christmas so I'm busting them out early this year. I usually make these or Almond Toffee as gifts for friends and teachers.  It's not a good idea to double this batch because you can't get them all onto the wax paper before they start to crystallize in the pot.  You just have to clean up and start over each time.  Cleaning the pot immediately, while it's still hot also saves alot of hassle.

Texas Pralines

1 C white sugar
½ C brown sugar
¼ C milk
1tbsp butter
1 C pecan pieces
1 tsp vanilla

Mix first 5 ingredients and bring to a boil.  Boil by clock 1 ½ minutes.  Remove from stove, add vanilla and beat until creamy.  Drop by spoonful onto wax paper.

Blueberry Pie

Blueberry pie is now my husband’s favorite. Well, he actually said it’s tied with Apple Pie for his number one ranking.  That is a huge complement coming from a man who grew up with two master pie makers in the family!
I decided to make it as a warm up for the holiday season. Since I've been baking Breakfast Apple Crisps by the dozens, it was time for a new fruit in our pie.  It’s pretty labor intensive the first time around and requires special secret ingredients I didn’t have on hand (tapioca and a granny smith apple).  I made it as close to the original recipe as possible but skipped the tapioca grinding and pie-hole cutting to save a few dirty utensils.  But, do NOT skip the rimmed baking sheet underneath in the oven or you could have a huge mess in the oven.  I used frozen wild blueberries and it was tart with the added lemon juice/zest.  The ice cream we put on top was indispensable in cutting the tartness and making it the perfect pie.
It really doesn’t leak all the blueberries out in the pie plate and stays in its beautiful little pie-slice shape on the plate.  So much so that my toddler tried to pick it up and eat it like a pizza.  Baby thought the crust was spectacular too.

Blueberry Pie (a la Cooks Illustrated)
Serve with Ice Cream! 
This recipe was developed using fresh blueberries, but unthawed frozen blueberries (our favorite brands are Wyman’s and Cascadian Farm) will work as well. In step 4, cook half the frozen berries over medium-high heat, without mashing, until reduced to 1 1/4 cups, 12 to 15 minutes. Grind the tapioca to a powder in a spice grinder or mini food processor. If using pearl tapioca, reduce the amount to 5 teaspoons. Vodka is essential to the texture of the crust and imparts no flavor; do not substitute.

Foolproof Pie Dough
2 1/2
cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces), plus more for work surface
teaspoon table salt
tablespoons sugar
tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into 1/4-inch slices
cup vegetable shortening , cold, cut into 4 pieces
cup vodka , cold (see note)
cup cold water
Blueberry Filling
cups fresh blueberries (about 30 ounces) (see note)
Granny Smith apple , peeled and grated on large holes of box grater
teaspoons grated zest and 2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon
cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca , ground (see note)

Pinch table salt
tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into 1/4-inch pieces

large egg , lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water

1. For The Pie Dough: Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about two 1-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogenous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds; dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour. Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
 2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into 2 even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.
 3. 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 on each side. Working around circumference, 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 while preparing filling until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.
     4. For The Filling: Adjust oven rack to lowest position, place rimmed baking sheet on oven rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place 3 cups berries in medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Using potato masher, mash berries several times to release juices. Continue to cook, stirring frequently and mashing occasionally, until about half of berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 8 minutes. Let cool slightly.
   5. Place grated apple in clean kitchen towel and wring dry. Transfer apple to large bowl. Add cooked berries, remaining 3 cups uncooked berries, lemon zest, juice, sugar, tapioca, and salt; toss to combine. Transfer mixture to dough-lined pie plate and scatter butter pieces over filling.
     6. Roll out second disk of dough on generously floured (up to 1/4 cup) work surface to 11-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. Using 1 1/4-inch round biscuit cutter, cut round from center of dough. Cut another 6 rounds from dough, 1 1/2 inches from edge of center hole and equally spaced around center hole. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over pie, leaving at least 1/2-inch overhang on each side.
  7. Using kitchen shears, trim bottom layer 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 mixture. If dough is very soft, chill in freezer for 10 minutes.
8. Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until juices bubble and crust is deep golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes longer. Transfer pie to wire rack; cool to room temperature, at least 4 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Breakfast Apple Granola Crisp Remix

It's not dessert, but it feels like it!  Today marks my third batch after recently stumbling upon the recipe at SmittenKitchen.  I love the story behind the creation of this crisp almost as much as I love the crisp itself—new mom exhaustion requires something spectacular to look forward to in the early early mornings with baby.  I share this philosophy and for the first year of my son’s life ate raspberry almond coffee cake almost every day.  Alas, I've had to cut back on my coffee cake because I'm the only one who will eat it (it's pretty decadent).  A huge perk of this crisp is that I’ve gotten my son addicted to it as well. He skips the yogurt and mostly eats the apples, but if I’ve gotten a bit of fruit, oat, and flax in him then I’ve done my job.

I tweaked her recipe significantly since I have 2 mothers-in-law that are experts at 1) apple pie, and 2) granola.  I had to pay homage to the family recipes by swapping out cornstarch for flour in my fruit.  The other big change was reducing the lemon to make it tasted more like “less sweet apple pie.”  The lemon tartness may also have something to do with the level of sweet vs. tart in the apples.  I adore Fuji's and they're pretty tart, hence the lessening of the lemon.  I also added raisins and flax because those are my favorite parts of making homemade granola.  I’ll potentially try subbing maple syrup for the honey, but only it just depends on what’s in the pantry.

Breakfast Apple Granola Crisp Remix        

3 lbs apples (giant Fuji’s require less peeling and coring), sliced medium
¼ C raisins
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp lemon
1 tbsp flour
1 tsp cinnamon

Granola topping
¼ C honey
1 stick butter
2 C rolled oats
½ C flour
½ C sliced almonds or chopped pecans
2 tbsp golden flax seeds

Preheat oven to 375°.  In a 13x9x2 Pyrex, mix everything but topping together with your hands.  In a medium saucepan or medium microwaveable bowl, melt butter and honey together.  Pour melted butter/honey mix over remaining ingredients and stir until coated. 

Spread topping mixture over apples and cover evenly.  Don’t leave apples exposed or they’ll dry out.  Bake for 45-55 minutes or until apples are tender and topping is browned.  Tent with foil if granola browns to early.

This dish keeps well in the fridge, just reheat and top with some greek yogurt.   You can go for a sweetened yogurt since there’s not much sugar in the recipe.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fench Lentil Soup

French Lentil Soup

Let me preface this by saying that I have never ordered lentil soup at a restaurant nor have I really had a good version from a can.  Annabel Karmel’s First Foods introduced me to lentils when I was madly making mini lentil cakes for my son.  They are absolutely delicious and I’m sure everyone can’t wait until Baby W gets old enough for them to go back into the rotation.  Logic follows that if lentils are delicious in cakes, they would be delicious in a soup. 

After some cookbook and internet research, I discovered that of the 3 kinds of bulk lentils that I had purchased, only one was soup-worthy.  The others would disintegrate.  The winning lentil was the French green. 

After a rinse, a pick-over, and a cross-reference between and Cooks Illustrated, I made every effort to follow the spirit of the traditional recipes with a few changes.  The key ingredients that I would not have added off the cuff were diced tomatoes and balsamic vinegar.   These sound like a strange addition, but disappeared completely in the final product and only imparted a slight acidity.           

The other odd-ball thing in the recipes was to puree a portion of it.  If other types of lentils disintegrate, why not use them to make it heartier instead of dirtying another utensil.  I went ahead with it because I was trying out a smoked sausage that I hadn’t tasted before.  The idea being that I could cook the sausage in the smaller portion of the soup and if it was awful, not ruin the entire batch.  2 dirty pots and a dirty emersion blender later, sausage tasted fine and we added the heartiness.  I doubt I’ll do it in the future because it ends up with a chili-like heaviness and I wanted something more delicate.  The smokiness could have had that effect as well.

French Lentil Soup

slices bacon (only if you’re not using sausage)
large onion , chopped fine (about 1 1/2 cups)
medium carrots , peeled and chopped medium (about 1 cup)
medium cloves garlic , pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)

1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes , drained
bay leaf
teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
cup lentils (7 ounces), rinsed and picked over
teaspoon table salt

ground black pepper
cup dry white wine
cups low-sodium chicken broth (I used homemade stock but would save the stock for something that’s not going to compete with bacon next time)
cups water
cup diced smoked sausage
teaspoons balsamic vinegar
tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
INSTRUCTIONS [adapted from Cooks Illustrated]
1.     1.  Fry bacon in large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and bacon is crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Add onion and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, bay leaf, and thyme; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in lentils, salt, and pepper to taste; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until vegetables are softened and lentils have darkened, 8 to 10 minutes.

2.     2.  Uncover, increase heat to high, add wine, and bring to simmer. Add chicken broth and water; bring to boil, cover partially, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until lentils are tender but still hold their shape, 30 to 35 minutes; discard bay leaf.
3.    3.   Add sausage if using and simmer 10-15 minutes more to heat through.
4.     4.  Puree 3 cups soup with emersion blender until smooth, then return to pot; stir in vinegar and heat soup over medium-low until hot, about 5 minutes. Add Stir in 2 tablespoons parsley and serve, garnishing each bowl with some of remaining parsley.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lemon Caper Chicken, Spinach, Rice

This one isn't a splashy meal, but it epitomizes what's important to me in a dinner: 1 meat, 1 starch, and one veg.  My husband prefers to sauce everything on his plate, so he'd include the sauce as a prerequisite.  But if I add sauce to the pre-req's, I may as well add bacon because it's always on hand and almost always makes it into a meal in one form or flavor.  It's funny that I didn't realize how tied I was to this "nutritional trinity" until I had to flake out on a side dish or two due to lack of time or ingredients.  It's so disappointing to have a lonely starch with no veg.

Lemon Caper Chicken
This meal does not require any prep earlier in the day (i.e.,no naptime chores) and allows us to eat dinner at a reasonable hour after the kids are in bed.

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp EVO
1/4 C flour

Salt and pepper chicken. Pour flour onto a plate.  Press chicken into flour on both sides, shaking off excess.  Heat butter and oil in a large skillet (12") on medium high heat.  Saute chicken for 4 minutes on each side and remove to plate to stay warm.

Pan Sauce
1/2 small onion
1/4 C white wine
3/4 C chicken broth
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp capers

Saute onion in same skillet as chicken until softened.  Deglaze with white wine. Add broth, lemon nad capers.  Reduce for 10 minutes. Add chicken back to pan to cook through, another 10 minutes.

Sauteed Spinach with Bacon
Giant box of baby spinach (think it's 1-2 lbs)
2 slices bacon
2 cloves garlic
lemon squeeze

Rinse spinach.  Fry 2 slices bacon in a large dutch oven with lid.  Remove bacon when crisp and drain on paper towels.  Add garlic and cook 1 minutes.  Add damp spinach to pot with bacon drippings and toss to coat. Cover and let steam for 5 minutes until wilted.  Remove lid and allow water to evaporate.  Salt and pepper and squeeze lemon juice. Serve immediately.

Rice in a box
Why on earth would I chop and prepare ingredients to jazz up rice when it is one of the easiest and tastiest modern conveniences?  I love Far East Pilafs and rice  mixes.  They are never mushy and if you start them at the beginning of your prep time, you have a hot easy side in 30 minutes.  I learned that the rice/starch is always the time intensive factor in any meal so it always gets first priority on the stove.

Which reminds me, this whole meal was very stove intensive.   I long for the day when I can have all 4-5 burners raging without wonting for space.  The fact is, my pots and pans often encroach onto other burners and I have some flames that are more reliable than others.  So, I made the rice and then re-used that burner for the spinach when it was done.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bouillabaisse (aka Fish Stew)

Fancy name and apparently it can be much more fancy and time consuming than what I  made. Call it fish stew, call it bouillabaisse, or cioppino, but call it delicious. I scanned several recipes until I found ideas of what I already wanted to do.  I mostly just looked for the secret ingredients that showed up in most of the recipes:  fennel, saffron, and fish stock.   I will say I agree with Cooks Illustrated that you must combine some sort of firm fish (halibut/grouper), flaky fish (snapper), and shellfish (mussels, scallops, shrimp) to get the right textures in play.  I also learned that the fish counter keeps frozen fish stock so that I will never have to buy or deal with fish bones and shells (hooray!).

The leftovers were absolutely devoured by my toddler. He even sopped up all the juices with the garlic bread and ate fennel without knowing it.  (Big parenting win!)


4 small Snapper fillets (thanks to Uncle Stanley's fishing success!)
4 scallops
5 shrimp (keep stocked frozen)
3 leeks or 1 small onion
1 small fennel bulb, slice thin
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 pinch saffron
4-6 C fish stock (can substitute a fortified version of clam juice if not available)
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes

In a large Dutch Oven, heat 1 tbsp olive oil.  Add leeks and fennel and cook over medium heat until softened. Add garlic and cook 1 more minute.  Add stock, saffron, and tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Simmer 20 minutes until veggies are soft.

Heat broiler and make garlic bread while you simmer.

Add snapper, cook 2 minutes. Add shrimp and scallops and cook 2 more minutes.  Turn off heat. Serve.