Monday, December 26, 2011

Steak Salad with Creamy Horseradish Dressing

Steak Salad with creamy horseradish dressing

If your Christmas dinner featured prime rib or beef tenderloin, you probably have some pretty rockin' leftovers.  Horseradish sauce and leftover beef were made for each other.  This salad is a way to feature that delectable combo without total over-the-top decadence.  The dressing is light and tangy - no mayonnaise, just a little bit of plain yogurt, lemon juice, and of course, horseradish.  The salad is comprised of whatever you like - for me it was baby greens, cubed white cheddar (use gorgonzola if you have some), a bit of crumbled crispy bacon, and a hard-boiled egg.  And the steak, of course. 

Enjoy!

Creamy Horseradish Dressing

2 tablespoons plain full-fat yogurt
juice of 1/2 a lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
a pinch of salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together and drizzle over salad.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Spiced Apple Cider

hot spiced cider

This Christmas Eve, let's gather 'round the tree and sing carols with family and friends.  Let's pass a plate of cookies and exchange a gift or two.  Let's listen for the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof, and watch the snow fall quietly outside.  Let's sit in front of the fire together, hands wrapped around steaming mugs of hot and cheery cider.

spiced cider ingredients

I hope this Christmas brings comfort and joy to your home, and a renewed sense of the presence of God and light in your life.  Merry Christmas!

Hot Spiced Cider

2 quarts apple cider
2 oranges
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole star anise
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the oranges in long strips.  Place orange peels and whole spices in a heavy pot on the stove.  Slice oranges in half and squeeze the juice into the pot.  Pour apple cider over, cover, and place over a medium flame until cider just begins to bubble.  Remove from heat and allow to steep.  Strain and discard solids, and return to the pot over a low flame, or to a slow cooker on low.  Add a bit of bourbon or dark rum to each mug as you serve - you wouldn't want that extra kick of holiday cheer to cook off!


Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas in Chicago

December 2011 190

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Yesterday I finally got over to the Christkindlmarket to have some glüwein and wienerschnitzel for lunch.  Every December, Chicago's Daley Plaza transforms into a German American Christmas market, complete with lots of different German food, handmade gifts and ornaments.  It's always crowded with people eating sausages and drinking hot spiced wine, and nobody seems to mind the cold.  Tomorrow is the last day, so get your glüwein while you still can!

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries

Brussels Sprouts and Cranberries

It's almost Christmas!  This veggie dish is a holiday table triple-threat: seasonal, healthy, and so festive!  I'm taking it to a Christmas potluck party this afternoon; if you're thinking that bringing brussels sprouts to a potluck is a bold move, you are right.  We'll see how it goes.  But these are so pretty and taste so good!  Good enough that I'm going to make them for Christmas dinner at my parents' house, too, to go alongside the ham and potatoes.  Yum!  Can't wait!

brussels sprouts and cranberries

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries

2 pounds brussels sprouts, halved, woody ends trimmed
1 bag fresh cranberries, picked over for questionable ones
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Coat a rimmed baking sheet lightly with cooking spray.  Arrange the brussels sprouts in a single layer, and spray them with cooking spray.  Roast sprouts for 15 minutes, stir, add cranberries to the baking sheet, and roast 10 more minutes, until sprouts are slightly caramelized, and berries pop.  Remove from oven, cool slightly, and transfer to a bowl.  Add lemon juice and zest, ginger, and maple syrup, and stir to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.




Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Russian Tea Cakes

December 2011 115

This Saturday morning, I woke to one of the most lovely things you can see the week before Christmas: a light dusting of snow falling merrily from the sky.  I promptly donned my boots, coat, and obnoxious drug store Santa hat, grabbed a ladder, and went out to the front of the building to put up a few twinkly lights.

December 2011 111

Our Christmas decorations went up a little at time this year.  After Thanksgiving, I brought up the box from the basement, and we've just been taking a few things out and putting them up around the house when we have spare moments.  The advent wreath was first.  Then a funny little snowman who counts down the days until Christmas.  We got a tree, and then a few days later, decorated it with lights.  A few days after that, we finally got around to the ornaments.  It's been really nice.

Christmas Stockings

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Russian tea cakes are my all-time favorite Christmas cookie.  The instant hit of sweetness when you bite through the outer layer of powdered sugar, the tender, crumbly cookie, the crunchy walnuts.  They are practically perfect in every way.

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Russian Tea Cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons powdered sugar (plus 1 cup extra for rolling)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup softened butter (2 sticks)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix on low until well incorporated.  Scoop a tablespoon of dough at a time, roll it into a ball between your palms.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 15-18 minutes, until cookies are just set and barely beginning to brown on the bottom edges.  Remove from oven, allow to cool 2 minutes on the pan and roll in powdered sugar while still hot.  Cool completely.

Yield: about 3 dozen cookies

Note: In an airtight container, these keep well for at least a week.  They have never lasted that long in our house.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pomegranate Goat Cheese Salad

pomegranate goat cheese salad

In between facefuls of Christmas cookies, I've been trying really hard to eat a lot of fresh fruits and veggies this month.  It leaves me feeling strong and fresh and healthy.  And while this certainly isn't news, I am always amazed by the steadiness of my energy level and mood when I'm well-rested and well-fed.  This week, when I'm working all day and singing most evenings, that steady energy is vital.

behold mighty pomegranate

Pomegranates are so very strange to look at, and not that easy to eat; it's easy to see why the ancient Greeks called them "fruit of the dead."  You can eat them for their powerful antioxidants, their juicy crunch, their fabulous taste, or simply because while you're eating, you can close your eyes and pretend to be the mythical Proserpina, kidnapped and doomed to spend half of each year as Queen of the Underworld.  Now that's cool.

Proserpina (Persephone)

Pomegranate Goat Cheese Salad

This salad would be a perfect addition to a Christmas dinner, with its festive red and green.  It's also a fantastic lunch during a long day of Christmas baking.  The recipe makes enough for lunch for one, but is easily expanded to serve a crowd.

Salad:
2 cups baby greens
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
a handful of whole hazelnuts
1 ounce soft goat cheese

Dressing:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper

Place the hazelnuts in a small skillet over medium heat and toast until fragrant, tossing periodically, about 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.  Place greens in a salad bowl, and arrange pomegranate seeds, goat cheese on top.  Roughly chop the hazelnuts and toss them in.  Whisk together olive oil and lemon juice and drizzle over salad.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Caramelized Pear Gingerbread

Caramelized Pear Gingerbread

My Google calendar looks sort of like a game of Tetris, played by someone who really knows how to play, like my mother-in-law.  (Really, you should see her play - it's unbelievable.)  It feels like it, too.  As soon as I fit something in, something else comes floating down from the top of the screen.  

Another party?!
Are you starting to feel like this, too?  Are you feeling the inevitable stress of the season?  Let's take a tiny step back.  In the midst of frantic shopping, wrapping, mailing, partying, caroling, and decorating, let's just take a moment to pause and enjoy.  Let's bake gingerbread, just for fun.

Here's some good news: this gingerbread has to bake for more than an hour.  And then it has to cool.  So put it together, pop it in the oven, and check some other things off your list while your house fills with the smell of spicy sweet gingerbread.  When it's cooled, put on your favorite Christmas music, make yourself a cup of tea, sit in front of your tree, and enjoy a slice.  It is dense, moist and spicy.  It's got molasses, honey, caramelized pears and pecans, and three kinds of ginger.  And hopefully it's just the thing to scare your inner Grinch away, so that you can really enjoy this wonderful time of year!

Caramelized Pear Gingerbread 1

Caramelized Pear Gingerbread
Adapted from 101cookbooks.com

Ingredients:
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup unsulphured molasses
3/4 honey
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup milk (2%)
1 tablespoon freshly ground ginger root
1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger

3 firm ripe pears, such as Bosc, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped pecan halves
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a medium saucepan, combine butter, water, molasses, honey, and brown sugar.  Place the pan over low heat, and stir frequently until butter is melted and ingredients are well combined.  Remove from heat, and pour mixture in a bowl to cool.  In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice and cloves, and set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large heavy skillet over high heat.  Add pears, and cook about 3 minutes, until beginning to caramelize.  Stir in pecans, brown sugar, and cinnamon, and cook a couple more minutes, until pears are soft but still retain their shape.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Lightly coat the inside of a nonstick Bundt pan with cooking spray, and pour pear mixture into the bottom, spreading evenly.  Add eggs to cooled molasses-butter mixture, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add milk and stir to combine.  Fold in dry ingredients, and don't let the lumps get you down - they'll take care of themselves.  Stir in fresh and crystallized gingers, and pour batter gently over the pears in the pan.  Place cake pan on a cookie sheet and bake 75-90 minutes, until top of cake springs back when lightly touched, and cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool 15 minutes in the pan, and then gently invert it onto a wire rack to cool completely.  This is pretty tricky, since the cake pan is still hot.  I put the rack upside-down over the cake pan, and then used a kitchen towel to flip it over.  It would be nice to have a friend help you with this, but you can totally do it on your own.

The cake keeps well in the fridge.  Allow it to come back to room temperature before serving, to get the full moisture and texture back.  15 seconds per slice in the microwave works well, too, if you don't have hours and hours to wait (aka if you want to eat it for breakfast).



Friday, December 9, 2011

Beef Empanadas (aka Cowboy Pockets)

Bacon Date Empanadas

This morning when I walked out the door, there was snow on the ground!!!  We've had a couple of flurries so far, but nothing that stuck.  I love the first snow that sticks!  It makes me want food that sticks... to my ribs, that is.

Har har har.

The brand of creativity in the kitchen changes when the temperature drops, from "What am I going to do with all this fresh produce?" to "What else can you do with meat and potatoes?"  It's dark by the time I get home (actually, by the time I leave my office at 4:30), and I'm just not motivated to do little grocery shops as often as I am in the summer.  The past couple of nights, I've just started pulling things out of my fridge and freezer, and seeing what comes of it.  Leftover soup, crackers and cheese?  Perfect.  Leftover roast chicken + leftover quinoa + frozen peas and green beans + carrots, ginger, garlic, and soy sauce + an egg = Chicken Fried Quinoa.  Genius.

Last night, I was staring at this giant tub of dates that's in the fridge.  I got them at Costco a couple of weeks ago, as a challenge to myself.  It's like Iron Chef - the secret ingredient is... DATES!


Have you ever had bacon-wrapped dates?  They are amazing.  There's nothing else to them!  Wrap bacon around a date.  Bake it.  How about Larabars?  Are you shocked that there's nothing else in most of them besides dates and nuts?  They taste like candy!

To tell you the truth, I've never had a traditional empanada.  Apparently they have olives, raisins, and hard-boiled eggs in the filling.  That didn't sound particularly appetizing to me, so this recipe is my take.


Beef Empanadas

Beef Empanadas (aka Cowboy Pockets)


For the dough:

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup rye flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 cup butter, cold and cut into smallish pieces OR frozen and grated using a food processor
2 eggs, lightly beaten with 2/3 cup cold water
2 tablespoons white vinegar

Sift together flours and salt.  If using cold (not frozen) butter, blend it into the flour using a pastry blender or your fingers, until the mixture resembles bread crumbs, with some pea-sized pieces remaining.  If using frozen, grated butter, simply stir into the flour (it's like magic).  Using a fork, stir in eggs, water and vinegar just until the dough forms a shaggy mass and holds somewhat together.  Add a few more drops of water if needed.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a couple of times to form a cohesive ball.  Divide dough in half, and shape each half into a flat rectangle.  Wrap separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling:

3 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef (not too lean! I used 85% lean)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
10 dates, chopped

In a large heavy skillet, saute bacon until crisp.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.  Do not discard bacon fat.  Add onion and carrot to drippings, and saute until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.  Add garlic and cook 1 more minute.  Add beef, breaking it up as it browns with the back of a wooden spoon.  Season with salt, pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, and thyme, and cook until evenly browned, about 5 minutes.  Add tomato sauce and dates, stir to combine, and cook until liquid is reduced but still moist, about 5 more minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed, and stir in reserved bacon.  Transfer to a plate and allow to cool slightly.

To make the empanadas:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Remove dough from the refrigerator one half at a time.  Cut each half into 6 equal pieces.  On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a circle about 6 inches in diameter.  Spoon about 3 tablespoons of filling into the center of the circle.  Moisten the edges with a little bit of water, and fold over to form a semi-circle.  Crimp edges with a fork.  Brush tops lightly with egg wash (1 egg beaten with a splash of water) and score with a sharp knife.  Continue with remaining dough and filling.  Bake about 25 minutes, until golden.  Allow to cool slightly.  Serve with sour cream.

Note: to make ahead (or eat later), prepare empanadas (do not bake), and then freeze on baking sheets.  Remove and bake as needed!  Homemade hot pockets!

Yield: 1 dozen empanadas

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Anise-Almond Biscotti

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I learned a lot of things about myself when I spent a month in Italy in college.
  • I don't like to make grammatical mistakes, even in other languages.
  • I like Italian coffee bars. Espresso or cappuccino, a biscotto or cornetto. A real cup, and a few seconds to enjoy.  No 20-ounce sugar-free, non-fat, super duper caramel latte, no giant mediocre muffin, none of this to-go nonsense.
  • I can live without peanut butter.
  • I love-love-love the flavor of anise. It started with my first sip of Sambuca, and I haven't been able to stay away since.
The word "biscotti" is the plural of "biscotto," which literally means "twice-cooked." You bake them once in a flat, oblong loaf, and then you slice them and bake them again!

biscotti loaves

biscotti

These flavor of these cookies is subtle and sophisticated.  They make a fantastic gift, because they are fancy and impressive, and they keep well without becoming stale.

Give some away in cute little tins, but save a few for breakfast!

Anise-Almond Biscotti
adapted from Brown Eyed Baker
 
1.5 cups roasted unsalted almonds
2.5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon anise extract
3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon anise seedes
Turbinado (raw) sugar for decorating the top

Preheat oven to 375.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment and set aside.  On a different rimmed baking sheet, arrange the almonds in a single layer.  Place in the oven and toast until golden and fragrant, about 6-8 minutes.  Cool completely.  Sift together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt, and set aside.  Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add anise extract and beat to combine.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add flour mixture and stir to combine.  Stir in almonds and anise seeds.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead to form a cohesive ball.  Make sure the nuts and seeds are evenly distributed.  My dough was very sticky, so make sure to have extra flour handy for your hands.  Divide dough in half, and shape each half into an oblong loaf, about 18 inches long, 6 inches wide, and 1 inch thick.  Don't worry too much if these loaves look smooth and pretty - it doesn't matter after you cut them up.  Transfer carefully to parchment-lined baking sheet and bake about 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time, until the loaves are golden and firm.  Transfer parchment and loaves to a wire rack and cool 20 minutes.  Decrease oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Using a serrated knife, slice loaves on the diagonal into 1/2-inch slices.  Place a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet, and arrange slices cut-side up.  Bake about 30 minutes, and let cool completely on the rack.

Yield: about 4 dozen


Friday, December 2, 2011

7 Quick Takes: Dear Santa...

What's on your Christmas wish list this year?  A fancy electronic doo-dad?  A designer handbag?  Before the whole month of December sweeps by in a giant wave of parties and wrapping paper and baked goods, I wanted to give you some great gift ideas for your foodie friends, no matter what your budget!  Click on the pictures to be redirected to Amazon.com to view details and order these items!

1.
An enameled cast-iron Dutch oven is a perfect gift, especially as we are entering into stew and braise season.  These pots are equally at home on the stove, in the oven, and on a holiday table.  Le Creuset is the most popular and well-known brand, and they come in beautiful colors, but it comes with a designer price tag.  I use a 5.5-quart Martha Stewart Collection pot that I got as a wedding present more than three years ago, and I absolutely love it.  I looked around online, and apparently they've stopped making that particular one, but as long as the pot is enameled cast iron, I'd say go for a deal.  The 5.5-quart size is a great all-purpose soup-stew-braising-baking pot, and I use mine all the time.  It heats really evenly, so you can get a perfect sear on meats without scorching.  I've even used it to make pudding.  Check at your local TJ Maxx, Marshall's, or HomeGoods to find discounts on the Le Creuset brand.

2.

Oh Kitchen Aid, oh Kitchen Aid, how lovely are your features...  This thing is amazing.  It kneads dough, whips cream and egg whites (meringue, how I love thee), and creams butter in the flashiest of flashes.  If you already have a Kitchen Aid, I've heard great things about the ice cream maker attachment.  (I have heard equally lackluster things about the pasta machine attachment, but to be fair, I have never tried either one.)

                                       3.                                                  4.
A couple of different thermometers for you to consider.  On the left is a simple one that hangs from one of the shelves in your oven, and tells you the actual temperature inside!  The temperature gauge on an oven can have a 10- to 15-degree swing, and do you really want to risk that when you're baking?  I didn't think so.  The little one on the right is great for roasting meats - stick the probe in, set the digital part on the counter, and close the door.  No more opening the door and letting all the heat escape while you poke the meat (and release the juices!).  You can even set an alarm that goes off when the inside of the meat reaches the desired temperature.  Done and done.

5.

A Microplane grater/zester.  I finally bought myself one, and used it for the first time last night.  Oh. My. Gosh. I can't tell you how many times I have accidentally grated my knuckles while trying to zest a lemon or grate some fresh ginger.  If only I had known sooner that for ten measly dollars, my fingers could be saved... This thing is a miracle.  Get it.

6.


Tongs!  Another amazingly useful tool.  Before I had these, I didn't know I needed them.  Now, I find myself reaching for them all the time.  My favorite use for them: tossing hot pasta in a homemade sauce.

7.


This past weekend, I was rolling out the dough to make the butter horns (our homemade crescent rolls), and I was getting flour all over my black shirt (BLACK?!  What was I thinking?).  And then I remembered that old-timey stroke of genius, that item of clothing that has been worn by generations of women, but somehow forgotten by ours, THE APRON.  I have one, but I don't wear it, because it's indecent.  It's me as Venus.  It's...  funny and scandalous.  So it's basically like I don't have one.  But!  I want one and I love the ones they have at Anthropologie.  They're are whimsical and sweet.

Visit Jen for more quick takes!  Have a great weekend, friends!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Look what we made!

Post-Thanksgiving ritual: grapefruit and green tea for breakfast, and the advent wreath!

I think I'm addicted to yarn crafts.  I just finished my first sweater (!) during the drive up to Michigan and back this weekend, and my sister and I have established a new holiday tradition - the post-Thanksgiving Christmas craft project!


Knitting with double-pointed needles is ca-razy.  Believe it.
For our first annual post-Thanksgiving Christmas craft project, we made crocheted wreaths!  So easy and fun - they only took about an hour or so to make.  Since all the women in my family tend to not be able to sit still, crafting is a great way for us to get in some quality time.  It allows our hands to be doing something while we focus attention on each other.


Here's what we needed.  Not a lot, eh?

And here's what we got:


We're silly.  Want to make your own?  Oh my goodknits!  You can!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving: What To Drink

Hesketh sparkling rose


Choosing an appropriate wine for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, with all its rich and varied components, can be a tricky thing.  There are a few different ways you can successfully go, but in the end, it's going to come down to personal preference.  If you're feeding a crowd, it's best to have some options.  The black pepper and mineral notes of a bold California Zinfandel provide a more interesting contrast than you might get from other, smoother reds.  My favorite is Storybook Mountain Vineyards Eastern Exposures Zinfandel.  For white, choose a Chardonnay that's not overly oaky, like Robert Mondavi Private Selection.

If you're a guest, consider bringing something a little more unexpected, like a sparkling wine.  Last year, I brought a sparkling dry rosé from Hesketh Wines which was unanimously loved.  A visually celebratory wine with a faint pink color, its dry effervescence provided some much-needed levity to the otherwise heavy and complex flavor profile of the meal.  And there's just something about bubbles that signals a special occasion.



Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pumpkin Bread

It seems to me that it happened every single year in elementary school: there would be one day when we crowded around a bowl and made pumpkin muffins.  To this day, every time I open a can of pumpkin, that memory comes flying back.  It's as powerful as the smell of tempera paint or that hand soap in the bathrooms.  Isn't it strange how specific and tangible olfactory memory is?


This is my take on a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, the Fannie Farmer Baking Book.  When I was growing up, I think I baked almost every single cookie in it.  It's a fantastic reference book - every chapter begins with a "Basic Master Recipe" that goes through the steps for bread, pie, cake, quick breads, crackers, and cookies in painstaking detail.  There are drawings and suggestions for pairings and substitutions.  Most of all, everything I've ever made from it has turned out beautifully.  It also contains the recipe for the best scones in the world.  It's a great book.  When I moved out of my mom's house, I bought myself a copy, knowing that it wouldn't feel right to be in the kitchen without it!


This is a dense, spicy bread, studded generously with dates and nuts.  After the bread is baked, the dates become moist, unidentifiable pockets of sweetness.  It's best within a day or two, but after that it's fantastic toasted and spread with salted butter.


Pumpkin Bread

1 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup oat flour (grind old fashioned oats in the blender until powdery)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup melted butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2/3 cup milk
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1 cup chopped pitted dates
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease and flour two standard loaf pans.  Stir together dry ingredients in a large bowl.  In another bowl, stir together butter, sugar, eggs, milk, pumpkin puree, dates and walnuts.  Add to dry ingredients and fold together, taking care not to over mix.  Divide evenly between loaf pans and bake 50-65 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pans for 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.

Yield: two loaves

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mushroom and Leek Wild Rice

Thanksgiving in my parents' house always goes about the same way.  Mom wakes up super early and makes coffee and homemade cinnamon rolls with nuts and raisins.  I'm the next to get up, and then we'll sit down together and start going through the stack of old, splattered, hand-written recipes that make up our family's traditional dinner.  Bajee's stuffing, supremely moist and studded with fruit and pecans, Grandmom's traditional cornbread stuffing, candied yams, cranberry sauce and orange-cranberry relish, fluffy pale green jello salad, crescent rolls, the obligatory green vegetable, and 3 kinds of pie: pumpkin, cherry, and pecan.  Nothing changes, and I wouldn't want it to.  This is the one day a year when I believe that nothing can be improved about the meal.


We cook all day, stopping briefly to eat the cinnamon rolls when they're ready and catch a glimpse of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  I always feel slightly bewildered when I see recipes for things like appetizers and starters for Thanksgiving.  It boggles my mind that people would put time and effort into fussy, complicated appetizers for people to eat before the biggest meal of the year.  There are so many problems with that!  First, who has time to make them?  Second, if people are munching on appetizers and snacks all day, how will they have room for dinner? 



Even though I think appetizers and new side dishes have no business near a Thanksgiving dinner, I am not immune to the pull of these things in other contexts.  So I'll make sausage, fig, and cranberry stuffing, or twice-baked sweet potatoes with chipotle-pecan streusel, or sweet potato cupcakes with toasted marshmallow frosting (!) some other time.  And I'll also eat mushroom and leek wild rice, stuffed into roasted winter squash, all week for lunch.

Mushroom and Leek Wild Rice

This would be a great vegan entree for Thanksgiving, if you tend that way.

1 cup wild rice, rinsed well
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
3 large portobello mushroom caps
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch leeks, cleaned well, and sliced
1/4 teaspoon celery seed (or 1 rib fresh celery, chopped, if you have some on hand)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup dry sherry
salt and pepper to taste

Place dried mushrooms in a medium bowl, and pour 3 cups boiling water over them.  Allow to steep for 20 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft, and the liquid is caramel colored and very fragrant.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the mushrooms and set aside.  Pour the mushroom broth into a medium saucepan with the wild rice, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.  This can take anywhere from 45-60 minutes, depending on the brand of rice you use, so keep your eye on it. 

While the rice is cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Gently scrape the gills from the portobello mushrooms using a spoon, taking care not to scoop out the mushroom flesh.  Slice into 1/2-inch-thick strips.  Arrange on a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for about 10 minutes, until mushrooms are tender. Set aside.

Place olive oil in a wide shallow saucepan or skillet over medium heat.  Add leeks and saute 2-3 minutes, until soft.  Chop porcini and portobello mushrooms into bite-sized pieces and add to the pan.  Add seasonings and stir to combine.  Add sherry, and deglaze the pan, scraping up any brown bits.  Stir in wild rice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. 

Yield: 4-6 servings

Note: This dish tastes great as is, but if you're not vegan, stir in a couple of tablespoons of butter after removing the finished dish from the heat.  The butter adds a silkiness and finesse that makes it taste even more like a special occasion.

"Your life is an occasion.  Rise to it." -Mr. Magorium




Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Southern Comfort Apple Pie and Thoughts about Crust

T-MINUS ONE WEEK UNTIL TURKEY DAY!

Are you ready?



Up until very recently, I had experienced nothing but failure when I tried to make pie crust on my own.  Oh, I could cobble together something moderately respectable, but I would never have called it a success.  So when my mom came to visit this summer, I dragged her to the kitchen to show me exactly how it's done.

There are a lot of different opinions floating around out there about pies.  Butter, lard, or vegetable shortening?  A combination?  Food processor, pastry blender, or by hand?

Here are my conclusions, based on a couple of months of research:

FATS:
Butter is best for flavor, but the crust does not hold shape as well as a combination butter-shortening crust.  Read this article for a full run-down on the pros and cons of different fats (and, incidentally, a step-by-step photo recipe of my preferred method for making dough).

METHOD:
I like the food-processor method.  It's consistent, it's easy, and it's fast.  If you want to do it by hand, there's a great tutorial over here.  I love the idea of doing it by hand.  I really do.  And I may change my mind in the future, but for now, this method is really working for me.

OTHER INGREDIENTS:
When I was baking test pies for the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest, I had this idea in my head that I should bake something extra-special into the crust.  I blame Pushing Daisies for putting a bee in my bonnet.



I tried baking in a little maple syrup, a little lemon zest, honey...  And none of them worked.  Pie dough is a very delicate balance, and you can't just throw extra things in.  The one exception I've found is Heidi's rye pie dough, which is hands-down the dreamiest, easiest-to-handle, flakiest, most amazing pie crust I've ever made or tasted.



The key ingredient, I've found, is patience.  Don't cut corners, don't rush, and you'll come out the other side with a buttery, golden pie crust you can be proud of.

Southern Comfort Apple Pie
adapted from 20 Something Cupcakes

It's important that you use a deep-dish pie plate for this recipe, because the caramel filling expands while baking, and you really, really don't want hot sticky stuff bubbling out of the pan onto your oven.  I baked my pie on a cookie sheet just in case, and my pie plate is ginormous.

Basic All-Butter Pie Crust:
This recipe makes enough for one 8- or 9-inch double-crust pie, two single-crust pies, or one 10-inch deep-dish single-crust pie.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
4-5 tablespoons ice water

Place flour and salt in a food processor with the blade attachment.  Pulse a few times.  Place half of butter cubes into food processor and pulse a few times, until pea-sized clumps form.  Add the rest of the butter, and pulse only two or three times, just to break it up a little and coat it with flour.  The next step will take care of the bigger pieces.  Add apple cider vinegar and water, one tablespoon at a time, pulsing a few times after each addition, and stopping the moment the dough starts to come together.  If it gets too wet, it's impossible to work with, and really hard to fix.  Dump the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, squeeze into a disc (or two, for two crusts), wrap tightly, and let rest in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes.  All day is fine - the colder it is, the easier it is to roll out.

Topping:

1/2 cup pecan halves, roughly chopped
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter

Place sugars, cinnamon, salt and flour into a food processor fitted with the blade attachment.  Pulse a few times until well incorporated.  Add butter and pulse a few times more, until uniform small-ish pieces form.  Remove to a bowl and stir in pecans. Set aside.

Filling:

5-7 medium-size baking apples, such as Cortland
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup Southern Comfort liqueur

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Peel and core the apples, and slice into 1/4-inch thick slices.  In a large skillet, melt 1/2 cup butter over medium heat.  Add apples, and saute for about 5 minutes.  Add sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg, stirring to combine.  Using a slotted spoon, remove apples to a baking sheet, leaving as much liquid as possible.  Add Southern Comfort to the skillet, and cook about 10 minutes, until alcohol is burned off and mixture is thick.  Remove from heat and return the apples to the skillet, stirring to coat.  Roll out pie crust to a 1/8-inch thick circle, and place gently in pie plate.  Flute edges and prick all around bottom and sides with a fork.  Pour apple filling into prepared crust, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace at the top.  Sprinkle with pecan topping, and bake 50-60 minutes, until filling is bubbling and topping is crisp and brown.

Serve with unsweetened whipped cream.


Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup

Wait, what?

Did I just say "vegan cream" like it was no big deal?  Ew!  EEEWWWWWWW!!

I think it's weird when people decide to go vegan, and then all they eat is super-processed meat and dairy substitutes.  That stuff is the devil!  Tapioca cheese?  Non-dairy creamer, which is basically just corn syrup?  Tofurky?  I just threw up in my mouth a little.  Don't even get me started on vegan bacon.  *shudder*

I mean, why mess with these abominable food substitutes when there are perfectly delicious all-natural unadulterated vegan things you could eat?


This lovely soup has nothing weird or processed in it, and also nothing that came from an animal.  I am totally on board.  Did you know about the magical creamy properties of raw cashews?  It is nothing short of a revelation.  Now, I'm not going to lie to you and say, "Oh my gosh!  It tastes exactly like cream!"  Because it obviously does not taste anything like cream.  But if you eat this soup, which tastes delicious in its own wonderfully nutty way, you'll feel better, and so will your skinny jeans.  Plus, I assume that in eight short days, you will be stuffing your face with many, many delicious things that contain real cream and real butter, so why don't we do ourselves a favor and make up for it now?

P.S. Just for the sake of full disclosure, that toast in the photo has real, non-vegan, from-a-cow cheddar cheese on it.  I am not a vegan.  Clearly.  I just think real plant-based food is fun.


Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup

adapted from Joy the Baker

Trivia: the thing that makes Worcestershire sauce un-vegan is anchovies.

1 1/2 cups raw cashews
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 heads broccoli, washed and separated into florets
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard seeds
black pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
4 cups water

Place raw cashews in a bowl with enough water to fully cover, and soak for one hour.  Drain.

Steam broccoli until tender and bright green.  Drain and set aside.

Place the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add onions and saute until translucent, about 5-6 minutes.  Add garlic and cook one minute more.  Add seasonings, and continue cooking for a few seconds.  Toss in the cooked broccoli, mix it all up, remove from the heat and set aside.

Place half of cashews, half of broccoli mixture, and 2 cups water into a blender, and blend until smooth.  Pour into a soup pot over low heat, and repeat with remaining ingredients.  Add lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce, and more water if desired.  Serve warm.

Yield: 4-6 servings.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Carrot-Cherry Breakfast Cookies


Good morning!  Happy Monday!  Oh, I know you're not happy it's Monday.  I'm not terribly happy about it either.  The better the weekend, the sadder it is when it ends.  So I brought you a present to make you feel better.  Cookies for breakfast, jam-packed with healthy vegan stuff!  We are starting this week off on the right foot!




What kind of weekend did you have?  Fun?  Responsible and productive?  Both?  I had the apartment to myself, and I had a whole mental list of things that I wanted to get accomplished, including:
  • finally switch my closet from summer to winter
  • purge said closet of things that either don't fit me or I hate and never wear
  • clean all the things!
  • take a yoga class
  • buy some new winter clothes
  • get the plants in from the porch so that they don't die in the frost

Here's what I actually did:
  • drank wine while knitting and watching Cars 2
  • danced around the house to Adele and Maroon 5 (I've got the moves like Jagger.  Yes I do.)
  • cooked for 8 hours straight
  • met friends for drinks at a new-to-me bar in my neighborhood
  • brought treats with me everywhere I went

Sometimes you just have to scrap your sensible list and do what feels right.  I mean, obviously you'll get back to the list sometime.  And these cookies are great for that.  They are perfect try, try again cookies.  Yummy, soft, spicy, and so healthy.  Hope you love them as much as I do! 


Carrot-Cherry Breakfast Cookies
adapted from Joy the Baker

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
3 tablespoons millet, rinsed well
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 heaping cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

Position racks in the upper half of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.  Whisk together oil and maple syrup, carrots, cherries and ginger, and add to the dry ingredients, folding to combine.  Let mixture rest for 5 minutes. 

Spoon mixture by heaping tablespoonful onto pans and bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned.  Allow to cool on pans for about 5 minutes, and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.