Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Better Breakfast

Vito had to go to the vet today and his daddy is traveling, so it was a work-from-home day for mommy. That meant many wonderful things ... sleeping in an extra hour, barely caring what I wore today, and having a super delicious HOT breakfast!

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and so I never skip it. Although I come pretty close. My usual morning routine involves grabbing a Chobani from the fridge and running out the door with coffee in hand. Seeing as how breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, that's just not satisfying. Don't get me wrong ... I love my Chobani. But 10 times out of 10, I'd opt for a steaming bowl of satisfying oatmeal if I could!

The Quaker instant stuff is ok in a pinch, but if I'm going to have oatmeal for breakfast I'm headed to the opposite end of the spectrum: overnight oatmeal. If you have a slow cooker and you haven't done this yet, you're completely missing out. I discovered this deliciousness the last time Bill was out of town (and I spent lots of my down time browsing Pinterest). I made it twice while he was gone and hadn't made it since because he'd complain that I was cooking mush. Here was an excellent opportunity!

This should actually be a perfect weekday breakfast because it's ready and waiting for you when you wake up in the morning. The problem is that it involves preparation the night before, which I'm not always in the mood for when I've had an exhausting day. Since I was getting a little extra sleep last night anyway, I figured it was worth the few extra minutes to toss all these yummy ingredients in the slow cooker.

Apple Cinnamon Overnight Oatmeal
2 apples, peeled, cored, and cubed
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup water
1 1/3 cups oats
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Raisins and chopped nuts (optional)

Combine apples, oats, milk, water, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in slow cooker. Cover and turn to low. About 7 hours later, wake up to a delicious, oat-y breakfast. Top with raisins and/or chopped nuts, if desired, and dig in.

Note: You can toss all of the ingredients directly in your slow cooker, but I hear there's risk of torching your oatmeal if you oversleep. Each time I've made it, I've done a sort of double boiler method, where I place a bowl in the slow cooker and surround it by water. The ingredients go in the bowl and there's no risk of burnt oatmeal in the morning.

Note #2: There are also tons of variations on this oatmeal ... maple pumpkin, cranberry almond, blueberry, you name it. Google it for dozens of ideas, or get creative on your own! I'm dying to try to pumpkin variation, but haven't had any pumpkin puree on hand when I've made the oatmeal yet.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Famous Cookie

I've been absent from LoVBites for far too long (nearly 6 months, I realized today!), but I figured now was as good a time as any to jump back in. While my posts may not be regular again for quite some time, I at least feel compelled to share with my few readers some of the best, most fun, most special recipes I'm cooking up this holiday season. And how better to start than with the famous cookie ...

If there's one cookie that knocks everybody's socks off, that everyone squeals about, that I get constant requests for, it's this one. And the funny thing is, it's not really a cookie at all. It's more like a mouthful of heaven, to tell you the truth. Or just a really delicious, unique confection. It is the chocolate covered Ritz peanut butter sandwich.

My friend Sue introduced me to this little nugget several years ago when we worked together. And it was such a revelation. Peanut butter and Ritz Crackers: A perfect duo. Peanut butter and chocolate: A perfect duo. Peanut butter and Ritz and chocolate: A perfect trio? Indeed!

I loved these treats so much and so many people went gaga for them over the years that I made them as my wedding favors. Yes, it was time consuming. Yes, it was nuts. And yes, it was worth it. Those very wedding favors inspired friends who are typically out of place in the kitchen to master the recipe and make them holiday traditions. And there's really no greater compliment than for someone to bring your recipe to their own family's table and make it a part of their memories.

You won't believe how simple they are ...

Chocolate Covered Ritz Peanut Butter Sandwiches
1 box Ritz Crackers
1 tub creamy peanut butter
Approximately 1 lb. chocolate flavored bark (and white chocolate bark, if desired)
Paraffin (also known as Gulf Wax)
Colored sprinkles or non-pareils (optional)

Spread a healthy helping (1/2 tablespoon or so) of peanut butter on one Ritz cracker. Create a sandwich by placing a second Ritz on top. Repeat until you've exhausted every sleeve of crackers, placing finished sandwiches on a tray of baking sheet. (Snacking, in moderation, is allowed during this process. In fact, it's nearly impossible to resist.) Place trays of sandwiches in the refrigerator or freezer to set, about 4 hours or overnight.

Prepare new rays or baking sheets by covering them with parchment paper.

Create a double boiler by placing a medium glass bowl over a same-size sauce pan with approximately an inch of barely simmering water. Place chocolate bark in bowl. (Traditionally, Sue and I melt about 3 parts chocolate to 1 part white for a nice balance. I've also made them sans white bark and they're equally delicious.) Shave about half a teaspoon of paraffin from the block into the melting chocolate and stir to combine (this will help the sandwiches set and help prevent melting). Stir until completely melted and smooth.

Using metal tongs (we've tried a number of different implements and these seem to have the best grip and prevent the most damage), dunk a sandwich in the melted chocolate. Firmly (but not too aggressively!) tap the tongs on the side of the bowl to rid the sandwich of any excess chocolate (which will cause unsightly pooling around the bottom). Place dipped sandwich on parchment-lined sheet. Repeat with each sandwich, pausing every so often to sprinkles sandwiches with decorations (which will only stick when the chocolate is still wet!).

For faster setting, return dipped sandwiches to refrigerator or freezer. Or, allow to set at room temperature.

Note: Feel free to get creative with variations .. chunky peanut butter in place of creamy, graham crackers in place of Ritz, even Nutella in place of PB! Sue and I have also taken to tucking a mini pretzel twist in the center of some of the sandwiches (as shown in the one I took a bite out of above!).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Little Sweet, A Little Heat

You know what I found at the Metro Market? Fingerling sweet potatoes! Who knew such a thing even existed? I'll tell you who: no one. I came to that conclusion when I searched for a recipe and came up empty. Plain old fingerling potatoes? No problem. Fingerling potatoes of the sweet potato variety? Not so much.

But you know what happens when the Google turns up no results ... I have to turn to my good old fashioned ingenuity. (Ok, a heap of ingenuity with a dash of Food Network inspiration.) And that resulted in a pretty delicious sweet potato hash!

Now I know a lot of people aren't sweet potato fans because when it comes to the line between sweet and savory, these veggies are definitely toeing it. But even combined with the sweet red bell pepper and the sweated red onion, you're going to find that this dish has a savory punch from the cumin and red pepper flakes that bring the heat. We served this hash alongside Bill's famous Fourth of July ribs, but I imagine it would be incredible with a fried or poached egg, a dash of Cholula, and a couple slices of toast for breakfast!

Sweet Potato Hash
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
3/4 lb. fingerling sweet potatoes (or 1 large regular sweet potato), peeled and diced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 green onion, thinly sliced

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and red peppers. Cook until softened, stirring occasionally, 2 to 3 minutes. Add potatoes, cumin, salt, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often, until potatoes are fork tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in half of green onion. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with remaining green onion, and enjoy!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Fancy Fourth of July

Here's one good reason my posts on LoVBites have been relatively sparse over the last few months: We eat turkey burgers about once a week. And really, I thought, who needs a weekly post about turkey burgers? Well, the more I contemplate it, the more I believe you do. Because in the dozen or more times I've cooked them, we haven't had two alike.

You might wonder how it's possible to conjure up so many variations of the blah, boring, bland turkey burger. It becomes easier when you neglect to write your recipes down (or, you know, when you're neglecting to blog regularly ... sorry about that). Many of the burgers I've made have been pretty similar, and lots of them have been accidental hybrids of a couple recent recipes. But tonight's version was mostly intentional and totally delicious.

I figured it was time to take these burgers up a notch and way past time to put some of the ingredients hanging out in the fridge to good use. See, I have really high hopes at the beginning of each week that my menu will include something more than the norm. I buy ingredients meaning to make a dish I stumbled upon that intrigued me, but suddenly it's 7:30 and we've just finished working out and the prospect of spending an hour in the kitchen no longer excites me. So today when I stared at the browning baby portobello mushrooms and the quickly ripening gruyere cheese (originally intended for kale and mushroom lasagna and zucchini gratin), I felt a stroke of genius coming on ... even if that genius was to be mixed into some ground turkey.

And so I give you the recipe for a very fancy Fourth of July ... a nice, lean burger, packed with portobellos, laced with gruyere, and smothered with caramelized onions. Mushroom haters take heed ... if you've never tried chopped mushrooms in your burgers, you don't know what you're missing. Yes, they're practically calorie free and they add a good amount of volume to your burger, but they also add loads of flavor and keep what could be a devestatingly dry burger much more moist. Leave them out if you must, but I promise you won't be disappointed!

Fancy Turkey Burgers with Portobellos, Gruyere, and Caramelized Onions
1 lb. ground turkey
3/4 cup baby bella mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1 oz. gruyere, shredded
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon porcini salt
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper
"Just in Thyme" caramelized onions (recipe follows)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. When ingredients are thoroughly combined (but not overly mixed), shape into 2 patties. (Did I neglect to mention these are giant, feed-me-protein-I-just-finished-P90X turkey burgers? You can make 3 or 4 burgers if you're more modest than us.) Place on plate, cover with plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Preheat grill pan over meium-high heat and spray with cooking spray. Grill burgers, about 7 minutes per side, or until a meat thermometer registers 165 degrees. Top with caramelized onions and serve on toasted buns.

"Just in Thyme" Caramelized Onions
1/2 large yellow onion
1 tablespoon butter
3 sprigs fresh thyme

In a small skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onions and season liberally with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add thyme and continue to cook until onion is very soft and deep brown, about 10 minutes more. Reduce heat as necessary to avoid charring or burning the onions.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Shaping Up Chips and Salsa

Since beginning P90X, Bill and I have overhauled the way we eat. Now don't be mistaken. We're not on "diets," per se. That term seems so temporary, as if you're cutting back for a period of time to reach a stated goal. For us, this isn't about seeing certain numbers on the scale. Instead, it's about being able to finish this program without feeling like we want to die.

I'd say what we're experiencing is more of an awakening of sorts. An opening of our eyes to lighter, fresher, better-for-you foods. We cut out tons of fats and sugars and introduced way more fruits and veggies. And while we'll probably be a bit less strict about it when our 13 weeks of P90X is up, I think this is a lifestyle we've adopted now and a habit that will be (I hope) hard to break.

While it really has gotten easier to curb cravings after a while, every few days we still find ourselves engaged in a self-pity fest over the foods we miss the most. For Bill, it's simply pizza. For me ... well, it's a lot of things. But sitting on the patio at a Mexican restaurant indulging in chips and salsa and margaritas ranks right up there.

The salsa on its own isn't the problem. It's those fried tortilla chips and those sugary sweet, calorie-loaded cocktails. I'm still working on finding the right "skinny" version of my favorite cocktail, but at least I've perfected a better-for-you version of the best snack on the planet. All it took was a leftover package of some flour tortillas, some cooking spray, a sprinkling of salt, and a very hot oven. Oh, and the best salsa recipe ever.

Bill and I polished off an entire platter of these baked chips and roasted salsa sitting on our backyard patio this afternoon (sans margaritas, unfortunately).

Baked Tortilla Chips and Roasted Salsa
For Chips
4 to 6 small or medium flour tortillas
Cooking spray
2 teaspoons salt

For Salsa
2 Roma tomatoes
1 jalapeno pepper
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Juice from 1/2 lime
Salt, to taste

Preheat broiler and line rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place tomatoes, jalapeno, and garlic cloves on prepared sheet. Roast 16 to 20 minutes, turning once halfway through. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray large baking sheet with cooking spray. Using a pizza cutter, slice tortillas into wedges. Place wedges evenly apart on prepared baking sheet. Spray liberally with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, turning once or twice for even browning. Remove from oven when chips are golden and crisp.

Remove skin from tomatoes, jalapeno, and garlic. In a small food processor, pulse jalapeno and garlic. Add tomatoes and pulse until evenly broken, about 5 or 6 times. Place mixture in small bowl and stir in onion, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. You'll be tempted to eat it with a spoon, but I promise it's tastier with the chips. Enjoy!

Oh, and in case you're curious, each 1/4 cup serving of salsa has about 23 calories. And depending on the type of tortillas you choose, 8 chips will have approximately 110 calories.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Recreating: Potato Crusted Halibut

Preparing for my mom's impending move to Milwaukee has been nothing if not sentimental. It's the reason for me yammering about things like Pound Puppies and Popples, Lisa Frank and Lipsmackers, and getting embarrassingly teary-eyed over boxes of Trolls and Beanie Babies while the house I grew up in is cleared out and packed up.

Behind all that junk, though, there are a lot of memories. But those memories aren't all of material things ... They're also of time spent around favorite tables, in favorite restaurants, with favorite dishes, enjoyed with your favorite people. Some of the memories are almost long forgotten, tucked away for safekeeping. And some of them are newer, fresher, reminding you that memory making is a process that endures forever and there are many yet to be made.

Now that I know the tucked away memories have a slimmer chance of being recreated in the same places, I have to begin bringing them into my own kitchen. So out come to recipes (or as close as I can come to the originals), some old, some new, some homemade, some not. These are the foods that will remind me of home, long after "home" is no longer the city by the Bay.

This particular dish is a more recent find from one of our favorite restaurants in Walnut Creek (a not-quite-home city that I'm sad to leave behind simply for the shopping!). Stanford's served an amazing halibut special, crusted in a potato-fennel mixture and served over a bed of rice that sat surrounded by a delicious river of tomato sauce. I'm glad to say that on my very first attempt, I recreated an almost perfect version ... and will be doing so many more times to come!

Potato Crusted Halibut with Red Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 small onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper
1 small russet potato, peeled
1 lb. halibut fillets, skinned
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Heat oven to 400 degrees.

To prepare sauce, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a saucepan. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add Italian seasoning and cayenne and stir to combine. Add tomato sauce, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, cover, and turn heat to low.

Shred the potato on a box grater (try to avoid shredding your knuckle, like I did!). Pat potatoes dry between paper towels. Pat halibut dry with paper towels. Spread 1/2 tablespoon mayonnaise over the top of each fillet. Press each fillet, mayonnaise side down, into shredded potatoes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. When hot, carefully place each fillet, potato side down, in skillet. Cook, without moving, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to rimmed baking sheet and place in oven, cooking another 6 to 8 minutes until halibut is opaque and flakes easily.

Serve fillets over a bed of rice surrounded by sauce.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sensible Sesame

There's no doubt that our commitment to P90X has me and Bill eating a bit differently than we did in the past. It's not that we were unhealthy before, it's just that we showed a bit less restraint because we love food so much. Now, a lot of people will tell you that when you make a healthy change like this you stop craving junk. Those people are liars.

There are days when I can think of nothing more spectacular than a giant banana spilt or an ooey, gooey slice of deep dish pizza. Add to these cravings the mysterious little Chinese fortunes that I keep finding in my purse or wallet (weird, I know), and you have a recipe for disaster. When I come across one of those thin, little strips of white paper proclaiming that my luck is about to change, I'm pretty sure it doesn't mean that calories suddenly don't count. Nonetheless, it makes me want nothing more than crispy fried, sticky sweet deliciousness in a takeout container.

Luckily, Martha Stewart must feel the same way. And so she came to my rescue when I landed on a lighter version of sesame chicken a few weeks ago. I immediately pinned that shiznit! I've had less-than-perfect experiences with some of Martha's recipes in the past, but this one proved to be a winner. The egg white and cornstarch coating gives the chicken just a little boost in the crisp department, and the sauce is the perfect balance of sweet and saucy (in fact, I was wishing there was more of it!). I'm not going to guarantee that you won't miss the crunchy, deep-fried batter you'll find on the real thing, but this is certainly a suitable substitute (at least until we reach a point when we can indulge!).

Lighter Sesame Chicken
1 cup rice, uncooked
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 egg whites
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups broccoli, cut into large florets

Bring 1 1/2 cups water and rice to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 18 minutes. When done, remove from heat, fluff with fork, and keep covered to keep warm.

Meanwhile, prepare sauce by combining honey, sesame seeds, soy sauce, and garlic in a small bowl. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together egg whites, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Add chicken and toss to coat.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, turning occasionally, until golden and opaque throughout, 6 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare broccoli buy bringing a small amount of water to a simmer over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add broccoli, cover, and cook 4 to 6 minutes, until broccoli is bright green and tender.

Add broccoli and reserved sauce to skillet with chicken and toss to coat. Serve over rice.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Berry Good Scones

I've discovered lately that if I spent nearly as much time blogging as I did perusing Pinterest, I'd have much less anxiety about keeping up LoVBites. But the benefit of spending hours each week browsing Pinterest is that I have an endless supply of recipes to try (and then find time to write about).

Undoubtedly, my best-built pin board is "Sweets to Make." This is despite the fact that we're still in a minimum 90-day sweets freeze at our house. But when I have guests coming over, that's as good an opportunity as any to break the ban. It gives me the freedom to bake something delicious, knowing I can have a taste and send the rest home with friends!

I stumbled across this amazing-sounding recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod last weekend, and since I happened to have all of the ingredients on hand I thought scones would be a nice treat to send home with Tiff and Steph. The strawberry-ricotta combination sounded delightful, and when the blogger described using them as the base for strawberry shortcakes, I was sold!

There are a few things about this recipe that I discovered needed some tweaking, which is why I'm classifying them as "berry good" instead of "berry amazing." First, there was a note in the recipe that the ricotta makes the dough super sticky, requiring you to mix in some extra flour while shaping the scones. That seemed simple enough, but it turned out the dough was downright unworkable and I had to mix in massive amounts of flour during shaping. I might consider upping the amount of flour from the start (by at least half a cup, if not more). Also, the cooking time was noted as 15 to 20 minutes. I always err on the side of caution and start at the lower baking time. At 15 minutes, my scones weren't even close to browned and definitely not cooked through. At 20 minutes we were getting there, but they still weren't quite set. I added time in 3 to 5 minute increments and I think I eventually pulled them out, nicely browned but possibly still a bit soft in the middle, at 40 minutes. The ricotta may have been the culprit here, too.

Nonetheless, I ended up with perfectly good scones. They're more moist than your typical scone, but also much more flavorful than the dry bricks you often find! My quest for the perfect scones recipe will continue, but with a few adjustments I think this one could come close!

Strawberry Ricotta Scones
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 cups flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter, cut into cubes
1 cup fresh strawberries, chopped
Milk, for brushing
Sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 400. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Whisk together egg, buttermilk, lemon juice, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Add ricotta and whisk until combined. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine sugar and lemon zest. Rub together with your fingers until fragrant. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon sugar mixture. Add butter pieces to the flour mixture and toss just until the butter is coated with flour. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until you have pea-sized clumps of butter and flour.

Pour liquid ingredients over dry ingredients and stir with spatula until just combined. Don’t over mix the dough. Gently fold in strawberries. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface and gently knead the dough. If dough is too sticky, add more flour as you knead. Pat dough down into a disk, about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 8 wedges.

Transfer scones to prepared baking sheet and brush with milk. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake 15 to 20 minutes (or 40!), or until scones are golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack and serve.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

(Very Belated) Easter Quiche

Yes, I realize that Easter was nearly a month ago. But with less and less time to blog, my stack of recipes to write about is really piling up. There are some I'm sure I can skip, but there are two reasons I felt compelled to sort through the stack and post about the quiche I made for Easter brunch: 1) It was amazingly delicious, and 2) It was a Julia Child recipe.

I most likely haven't mentioned it (probably because it's mildly embarrassing), but once of the reasons I began LoVBites was because I was inspired by the movie Julie and Julia. Now, I never had the intention of cooking my way through Julia Child's masterpieces, but I did think it would be fun to document my adventures in the kitchen. Hopefully, I've succeeded and at least one or two of you out there agree :)

Somewhere along the line, I may have divulged this sort-of secret to Stephanie, because I opened my birthday present last month to find two books authored by Julia herself: Mastering the Art of French Cooking and My Life in France. It's really a shame that these books weren't already in my collection, but leave it to Steph to help me fill out my library. With Easter just a couple weeks away at that point, I knew I have to sift through Julia's encyclopedic-sized collection and find the perfect brunch recipe. Leek Quiche, or Flamiche - Quiche Aux Poireaux, seemed like just the one.

I have to confess to one thing before we move on ... because Julia seems to rival Paula Deen in her love of butter, I made a few adjustments to this recipe. I've provided Julia's measurements alongside mine in case you are braver than I am and want to attempt the recipe in all of its full-fat glory. Your quiche might be more delicious than mine, but know that mine was also scrumptious and a bit less guilt inducing.

Leek Quiche (Flamiche - Quiche Aux Poireaux)
Our entire Easter spread.
Serves 6 to 8 (or 4 to 6 if you're as generous as Julia)
For the Pastry Dough
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 stick butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (or for Julia, 1 1/2 sticks chilled and cut into 1/2-inch "bits")
2 tablespoons shortening (or for Julia, 4 tablespoons chilled)
(A scant) 1/2 cup ice water (plus droplets more as needed)

For the Filling
1 lb. white of leeks, sliced (about 3 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
3 eggs
1 cup heavy whipping cream (or for Julia, 1 1/2 cups)
Pinch nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (or for Julia, Swiss)
(for Julia, 1 tablespoon butter, cut into pea-sized dots)

Measure dry ingredients into the bowl of a food processor. Add butter pieces and shortening. Flick the machine on and off 4 or 5 times. Turn the machine on and add the scant 1/2 cup water. Immediately flick the machine on and off several times, and the dough should begin to mass on the blade. If not, "dribble" (I love Julia's very proper culinary terminology) in a little more water and repeat, repeating again if necessary. Dough is done when it has begun to mass, but do not over mix it. Scrape dough onto floured work surface and proceed to the fraisage.

The fraisage is a final blending by hand. With the heel of one hand (not the palm, which is too warm), rapidly press the pastry by two spoonful bits down on the board and away from you in a firm, quick smear of about 6 inches.

Gather the dough again into a mass, knead it briefly into a fairly smooth round ball. Sprinkle lightly with flour and wrap it in waxed paper (or plastic wrap ... because really, who used waxed paper anymore?). Freeze 1 hour or refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, roll the dough out quickly (its high butter content will make it difficult to handle if you're too slow). Lightly flour the dough and roll it into a 9-inch round (Julia goes on at length about the rolling technique, but I think you can figure it out). Butter your pie dish (or spray it with cooking spray, like I did) and gently lay your dough in the dish. Press the dough lightly into the bottom and up sides of the dish. Trim off excess, then use your thumbs to make an even rim around the top of the dish. Prick bottom of pastry with a fork at 1/2-inch intervals.

Lola was very curious about what I served for Easter brunch.
Line the pastry with foil and add pie weights. Bake on the center rack of a 400 degree oven for 8 to 9 minutes. Remove foil and pie weights and make 2 to 3 minutes more.

In the meantime, you can stew the leeks. Add leeks, water, salt, and butter to a heavy bottomed, covered saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat and stew gently 20 to 30 minutes until leeks are very tender.

Beat eggs, cream, and seasonings in a mixing bowl. Gradually stir in leeks. Pour into partially-cooked pastry shell. Sprinkle with cheese (and butter, if you're using Julia's recipe). Bake in upper third of oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until puffed and browned (and center appears to be set). (Julia didn't tell me to, but I protected the crust with foil to keep it from over-browning. I highly recommend you do the same.)

Allow to cool for several minutes before cutting and serving.

By the way, this was extremely time consuming, but the end result was worth it. I may only attempt Julia's other recipes for special occasions, but I'm super proud to have accomplished at least one!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mastering Meringue

I've never felt like I needed a reason to bake, but with Bill's recent P90X obsession I've been making an effort to cut back. We've replaced our occasional trips to Kopp's for frozen custard with sugar-free popsicles and the pounds of Italian cookies my mom mailed us for Easter were banished while we munched on rice cakes and orange slices. Of course, this can't go on forever, but I'll humor him for awhile. In the meantime, I'm snatching up any excuse I can to break this ban on baking.

Luckily, a perfectly good excuse came around this week with Laura's birthday. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Laura, she's my employee who we very affectionately refer to as my minion. And yes, she's aware that we refer to her as my minion.) Not only was this a good opportunity to bake a batch of cupcakes, but the recipe I selected also gave me a chance to master meringue!

I've attempted meringue frosting on one or two occasions with just o.k. results. For one of my America's Test Kitchen Blogger Challenges last year, I used Martha Stewart's "7-Minute Frosting" (which takes way beyond 7 minutes to make). The process was kind of complex and it didn't yield perfect results - my frosting was a little grainy and it didn't hold its shape. No one wants droopy frosting, so I needed to find a fix.

Then along came the April 9 page of my Food Network recipe-a-day calendar! I think I was trying to ignore this delicious cupcakes with lemon meringue frosting recipe, until Laura pointed out that it sounded delish. Then I realized I had to make them. First, I couldn't disappoint Laura with a sub-par cupcake on her birthday, and second, I had to redeem my meringue-making skills.

Here's what I discovered the main difference is between this recipe and Martha's: heat. I'm convinced now that Martha's frosting was sort of melty because the recipe asks you to beat it over a double boiler for too long. This recipe calls for just a couple minutes of heat (long enough to dissolve the sugar) and then continued beating off the heat until you reach those beautiful stiff peaks. It was absolute perfection, both in appearance and taste. I need to find more friends with birthdays so I can make these amazing cupcakes again!

Vanilla Cupcakes with Lemon Meringue Frosting
For Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup milk

For Frosting
4 egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Pinch cream of tartar
1 to 2 drops food coloring (I used red for pretty pink cupcakes!)

Position oven rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with 12 cupcake liners.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt together in medium bowl. In separate bowl, beat eggs and sugar with handheld mixer until foamy, about 2 minutes. While beating, gradually pour in butter and then vanilla. With mixer at low speed, add half the dry ingredients, then all the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients. Divide batter evenly among cupcake liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of cake comes out with just a few crumbs attached, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool cupcakes in tin 10 minutes. Remove to wire rack and cool completely.

To prepare frosting, bring a few inches of water in a small saucepan to boiling over medium heat. Choose a heat-proof mixing bowl that will just fit over the saucepan without touching the water. OFF THE HEAT, whisk by hand the egg whites, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt. Set bowl above boiling water and continue whisking by hand until sugar has dissolved, about 2 minutes. REMOVE FROM HEAT and beat with electric mixer at medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. Add food coloring and continue beating at high speed until stiff peaks form, about 2 minutes. If the bowl is still a bit warm, place it in the fridge for 10 minutes before frosting the cupcakes.

I piped my cupcakes by filling a Zip-loc bag and snipping off a corner, but you can also use a spoon or offset spatula to frost these little cuties. Next time I think I'd like to use a knife to create little peaks in the frosting ... and maybe I'll break out the food torch to fire them up like baked Alaska!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lost Recipes: Stir Fried Beef with Green Beans

First of all, let me say that I feel terrible about my two-week absence from LoVBites. I swear I still cook, I just haven't had time to write about the deliciousness being produced in my kitchen. This is mostly due to the fact that Bill has forced me into a full three months of P90X and Tony Horton is monopolizing my evenings. This means that we often don't eat dinner until 8:00, and because of that our dinners are sometimes much less exciting. I currently have about 52 boneless, skinless chicken breasts in my freezer, if that tells you anything.

Nonetheless, I have a back log of amazing recipes I want to get around to sharing. This is actually one I made pre-P90X, and I was reminded of it when I pulled the other half of the flank steak out of the freezer the other day. (I made Korean barbecue with that half, which was amazing but not blog-worthy. I just used a bottle of CJ Korean BBQ Kalbi marinade that I picked up at World Market - but you should go buy it! It was delicious!)

Stumbling across this picture of the stir fry was a good reminder that I want to repeat this recipe, or perhaps a variation of it. We don't make a ton of stir fries in our house, but this particular dish made me wonder why not! It was a perfect little pot of steamy, flavorful beef and veggies, just a little bit spicy and a little bit sweet.

Teriyaki Stir Fried Beef with Green Beans and Mushrooms
6 oz. flank steak, cut into 2-inch strips with the grain, then 1/8-inch thick strips across the grain
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
4 oz. mushrooms, chopped
6 oz. green beans, trimmed and halved
2 tablespoons water

Toss beef with 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon sugar in small bowl. Let marinate at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour. In separate bowl, whisk remaining soy sauce, sugar, broth, rice vinegar, cornstarch, and pepper flakes. In another bowl, combine 1/2 teaspoon oil, ginger, and garlic.

Drain beef, discarding the marinade. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a non-stick skillet over high heat. Add beef in a single layer, breaking up clumps. Cook without stirring for 1 minutes, then stir and continue to cook until meat is browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer beef to a clean bowl.

Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to skillet and heat over high heat. Add mushrooms and cook until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add green beans and cook, stirring often, until spotty brown, about 2 to 4 minutes. Add water, cover, and cook until beans are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes longer.

Uncover and clear the center of the skillet. Add garlic mixture to clearing and cook, mashing mixture into the pan, until fragrant, about 15 to 30 seconds. Stir garlic mixture into vegetables. Return beef, along with any accumulated juices, to skillet and stir to combine. Whisk broth mixture and add to skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 30 seconds. Serve on a fluffy bed of rice.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Birthday Banana Pie

Bill may not agree, but I think his birthday is a special occasion. In fact, I think the entire month of March is a special occasion and I'm pretty upset that it's over. It's the entire family's birthday month (me, Bill, Vito, and Lola!), plus we get to celebrate the birthdays of a few great friends in there, too.

Obviously, with all of these birthday, March is a pretty busy baking month. And birthday baking typically brings me great joy. This year, however, baking brought me great frustration on Bill's birthday. In the past, Bill has put in requests for pretty simple stuff, like yellow cake with chocolate frosting (from a box, no less!). But this year I thought I'd switch it up with something that sounded beyond delicious ... Banana Caramel Cream Pie.

I'm not gonna lie .. this pie was tough. With the steps involved, I knew I was in for a full afternoon of pie-making. But I didn't know it was going to be quite as trying as it was. Luckily, I was able to regroup and salvage everything so in the end, the pie was pulled off.

My first bump in the road came with the crust. I can't explain it, but the crust in the original recipe didn't hold up in the oven. It literally slid down the sides of the pie plate and collapsed during baking. I've NEVER seen a pie crust do that before! But since I had my custard and caramel sauce made by that point, I wasn't about to give up. I turned to the tried and true America's Test Kitchen, and made a modified version of their sweet pie dough. (Modified because the recipe I used was for a 6-inch pie and I was making a 9-inch. I had to wing it a bit.) This didn't yield perfect results (I probably need to adjust with just a bit more of everything, especially the butter), but at least I ended up with a perfectly-shaped-to-the-dish crust. The proportions in my recipe below could use a little tweaking, but will be adequate.

I also ran into a minor snag with the custard filling. I would have liked it to set up a bit more than it did, but I'm almost certain it's because I used skim milk instead of whole. For such a special occasion, I normally would have bought whole milk and done the recipe right. But it completely slipped my mind, so I had to use a substitute. It still tasted delicious, it's just not quite as thick and rich as it could be.

I should also mention that I had a near-disaster with the caramel sauce. It seemed to be taking much longer than the recipe-stated 5 to 6 minutes for the syrup to boil, so I took a chance and turned my back to roll out my pie dough. What seemed like seconds later, I turned around and what was supposed to be a deep amber syrup was verging on mahogany! I ripped it off the burner as fast as I could and mixed in the cream. Miraculously, it was saved ... and turned out to be some of the most delicious caramel sauce ever! The one improvement I could have made: more salt. The recipe didn't indicate an amount (just "to taste") and I definitely could have used a heavier hand. Add as much as a teaspoon (and maybe a half) if you really like salted caramel.

I'm not quite sure how I pulled it off in the end, but I was fortunate to end up with a pretty amazing Banana Caramel birthday pie for Bill. I'll cross my fingers that if you attempt it you won't make the same missteps as me (but still end up with a masterpiece in the end!).

Banana Caramel Cream Pie
For Crust
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons vegetable shortening
8 tablespoons butters, cut into pieces and chilled
5 to 7 tablespoons ice water

For Filling
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 bananas, sliced
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 tablespoons butter

For Topping
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, and salt. Pulse to combine. Scatter shortening and butter over flour mixture and process until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Transfer to medium bowl. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons ice water over mixture. Using rubber spatula, stir and press dough until it sticks together. Add additional tablespoons ice water as necessary to help dough come together.

Turn dough out onto floured counter. Shape into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate about 1 hour (or place in the freezer about 20 minutes). Before rolling dough, let sit on counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes.

Roll dough into 9-inch circle. Press into pie plate and trim edges. Bake 25 to 35 minutes, or until crust is golden and firm. Remove from oven, place on wire rack, and allow to cool completely.

Prepare filling by combining sugar, salt, cornstarch, and flour in a heavy saucepan. Over medium-low heat, slowly whisk in the milk.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat egg yolks. When milk mixture begins to boil, transfer 1/2 cup of milk to egg yolks and whisk to temper. Add entire egg mixture to milk mixture. Continue whisking until mixture coats the back of a spoon and is smooth and thick. Remove from heat and strain into a medium bowl. Stir in butter and vanilla. Stir in 1 cup sliced bananas. (Reserve remaining banana slices.) Allow mixture to cool.

Prepare caramel sauce by combining sugar and water in another heavy saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to a boil without stirring. If necessary, use a wet pastry brush to wash sugar crystals off sides of pan. Boil until sugar is a deep amber color, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully whisk in cream (careful, it will bubble up!). Stir in butter and salt to taste. Remove to bowl and allow to cool completely.

Prepare whipped cream by beating heavy cream on high in stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Add sugar and vanilla and beat on high until stiff peaks form, about 5 to 6 minutes. Chill and reserve until time to serve.

Build pie by layering one third of custard mixture in crust. Drizzle with caramel sauce and add a layer of sliced bananas. Repeat layer. Add final layer of custard. Refrigerate pie, uncovered, until custard is set, about 2 to 3 hours. Before serving, top with whipped cream and drizzle with additional caramel sauce.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Brownie Battle

You might remember that I've had some brownie blunders in the past. In fact, I've just never had fantastic luck with bars, in general. My edges come out crisp and delicious, but my centers are almost always undercooked. (And please don't recommend that stupid "all edges" pan ... unlike most people, I think the middle brownies are the best!)

After my biggest brownie fail, my BFF saved the day with a pretty decent recipe. Her fudgy brownies were amazing, but I still felt like we hadn't quite achieved perfection. Then Bill decided to make brownies on Valentine's Day. I wished him luck and explained my brownie blues. And he proceeded to make some of the most delicious, thick and fudgy brownies I'd ever tasted. Needless to say, I was pissed. This called for a brownie bake-off.

My original intent was to use the same recipe he did, confident that I could make them better. Well, when the day came for me to bake my brownies, I was short an egg. So I had to improvise. He'd used an America's Test Kitchen recipe, so I figured it would be easy enough to locate a similar one (that hopefully called for 2 eggs instead of 3!). Instead, I came across a Quicker Turtle Brownie recipe in a past issue of Cook's Country which looked nothing like Bill's recipe. Since I was going to have to improvise anyway, I may as well start from scratch.

Following the general steps of their recipe, I concocted the one below. It has significantly less chocolate, butter, and sugar than Bill's recipe, and it's a bit more cakey than fudgy. But the one complaint I heard about Bill's brownies was that they were SO dense and rich. So I think mine struck just the right balance!

While we didn't compare them side-by-side because they were a baked a couple weeks apart (which explains why I don't have a picture of Bill's version), the memory was fresh. I don't think he's actually admitted it yet, but I definitely think that my recipe takes the cake ... which makes up for that pumpkin pie throwdown that I lost.

My "Quicker, Basic" Brownies
1 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line 8-inch square baking pan with foil. Spray foil with cooking spray.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, microwave butter and chocolate, stirring occasionally until smooth, about 1 minute. Whisk sugar, eggs, and vanilla into chocolate mixture. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, mixing until combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan and spread into an even layer. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out with just a few crumbs attached, about 40 to 50 minutes.

Do your best to let them cool completely before slicing and serving :)

Bill's "Chewy, Fudgy" Brownies
5 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
8 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons cocoa
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 8-inch baking pan with foil. Spray foil with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl set over a pan of almost-simmering water, melt chocolates and butter, stirring occasionally until mixture is smooth. Whisk in cocoa until smooth. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.

Whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture. Stir in flour with wooden spoon until just combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan, spread into corners, and smooth surface with a spatula. Bake until slightly puffed and toothpick inserted in center comes out with a few sticky crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes.

Let cool, remove from pan, and slice just before serving.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Geek Over Greek

Perhaps it's because Bill is a fan of feta, or maybe it's the irresistible tomato-cucumber-red onion combination I love so much, but I totally geek out over Greek food. I've made yummy Greek salads, I've mastered my own homemade tzatziki, and most recently I stumbled upon this amazing chicken gyro that I put to the test.

Just look at it! The soft pita bread, all those fresh veggies, the salty cheese, the moist and flavorful chicken pieces ... who wouldn't want to take a giant bite of this gyro?! My ONLY complaint about this recipe is the sauce. I wasn't overly impressed with the simple tzatziki made with just yogurt and dill in the original recipe, so I attempted a hybrid with my mastered tzatziki (linked above). The addition of lemon juice and a pinch of salt helped, but I missed the cool cucumber flavor from my recipe. I'll make these gyros again, but next time with my own sauce.

Lemon Chicken Gyros
For Gyros
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
2 flatbreads or pitas
Handful baby spinach leaves
1 tomato, diced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
For Sauce
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons fresh dill, minced

In a medium bowl, whisk together oregano, thyme, garlic, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil. Add chicken, toss to coat, cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from bowl and saute about 5 minutes per side, until no longer pink.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine yogurt and dill (i added a tablespoon of lemon juice and a hefty dose of salt). Wrap flatbreads in slightly damp paper towels and microwave 15 to 25 seconds to soften and warm.

On each flatbread, spread a thick layer of tzatziki. Top with spinach, tomatoes, red onion, and feta. Divide chicken between flatbreads. Serve!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ballpark ... Bread?

With spring training in full swing, I'm conjuring up images of my favorite ballpark foods. Maybe it's the snow we've had over the past few days, but I'm longing for a sunshine-y day at the ballpark with a Summer Shandy in one hand and a soft pretzel in the other. So when I happened upon this recipe in one of my daily Food Network emails, I got excited.

Homemade soft pretzels have been on my recipe wishlist for about a year now, and now seemed like as good a time as any to try them out. I'm very happy to report that my first swing at pretzel-making was not a strikeout! (It also wasn't a home run, but probably a standing triple, so that's pretty good!) If you're wondering where I fell short, it was in the pretzel shaping department. Who knew it was such hard work to stretch and roll a rope of pretzel dough? I got impatient, so my pretzels ended up sort of squat, looking a bit more like rolls. I felt a little better when I stumbled across a picture of Alton Brown's homemade soft pretzels and they looked a lot like mine do - we'll call them rustic rather than refined.

Squat or not, at least they taste delicious! They have the same pull, the same slightly sweet crust, and the same soft and chewy interior as the real thing! Now to figure out how to replicate the little cup of nacho cheese ...

Homemade Soft Pretzels
1 cup milk
1 package active dry yeast
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 1/4 cups flour, plus more for kneading
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking soda
Sea salt

Warm milk in a saucepan to about 110 degrees. Pour into medium bowl and sprinkle in yeast. Let yeast soften, 5 minutes. Stir in brown sugar and 1 cup flour. Soften butter and stir into mixture. Add remaining 1 1/4 cups flour and salt to make a sticky dough.

Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead, adding more flour if needed (and I needed a lot of it, probably close to 3/4 cup), until smooth but still slightly sticky, about 5 minutes. Shape into a ball, place in a greased bowl, loosely cover and let rise in a warm place (like on top of the stove) until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and grease a large baking sheet. Punch dough down, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. (If the dough seems tight, cover and let rest until it relaxes, about 5 minutes or so.) Divide dough into 6 pieces, then roll and stretch each piece with the palms of your hands into a 30-inch rope (my ropes were probably closer to 20 inches because I got impatient). Form each rope into a pretzel shape. Arrange pretzels on prepared baking sheet.

Dissolve baking soda in a cup or so of warm water. Liberally brush each pretzel with soda solution, then sprinkle with sea salt. Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack, then play ball!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Between a Crisp and a Hard Place

Growing up, I remember both my mom and my grandmother being obsessed with biscotti. I assumed the addiction was sort of like coffee ... an acquired taste. When you got old.

Well now that I am old, I have a minor obsession with both coffee and biscotti. I can't get enough of either (though luckily the biscotti hasn't become a daily habit like the coffee). Bill's been feeding my addiction by bringing home biscotti from the bakery at the Public Market every time he heads downtown. But as delicious as those biscotti are, I've had a hankering for homemade.

On one of my trips to the Public Market with Bill a few weeks ago, I came across these awesome little candied ginger nibs at the Spice House. They were sitting next to a recipe for ginger pecan biscotti, so I had to snatch that up. Little did I know that it would only serve as inspiration.

I took a stab at the recipe I grabbed from the Spice Market. But take a look at these ingredients:

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup candied ginger nibs
1/3 cup chopped pecans

Theirs vs. Mine
Do you see the problem? A couple of eggs and a teaspoon of ginger are my only liquid ingredients? Something didn't seem right ... and upon taking them out of the oven, something didn't taste right.

Aside from the wet to dry ingredient ration, there were a couple other problems with this recipe. The 400 degree baking temperature was a bit extreme, and the ground ginger plus ginger nibs made the cookies just a bit too ... ginger-y. I knew these biscotti had potential, and I'm never satisfied with a failed recipe, so I turned to a tried and true source for something I could work with - Martha Stewart.

Martha gave me what I knew would be a no-fail recipe that I tweaked to suit my needs. I took the base of her biscotti, added some stuff to suit the flavors I was after, and voila! I had perfect ginger pecan biscotti AND a recipe all my own!

Where the original biscotti came out of the oven brittle and crisp and a bit too zesty, my recipe was everything biscotti should be ... dense, hard, and the perfect blend of ginger-y, citrus-y, nutty flavor! And yes, there is a major difference between "crisp" and hard." Crisp cookies have their place, but they're dry, brittle, and crumby. Hard cookies, like biscotti should be, are dense and smooth. I'm super happy to have achieved just that!

Ginger Pecan Biscotti
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/3 cup pecans, chopped
1/3 cup candied ginger nibs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, combine butter and brown sugar. Beat in eggs, then stir in vanilla. Mix in flour mixture until well combined. Stir in lemon zest, pecans, and ginger nibs until combined.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Shape into a log, about 14 by 3 inches. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Bake until firm, lightly browned, and slightly cracked on top, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool about 15 minutes.

Transfer log to cutting board and using a sharp serrated knife, cut biscotti on a diagonal into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange slices on baking sheet and bake another 15 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking time. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Monday, February 27, 2012

More Mexican

My reasons for loving Mexican food go far beyond margaritas. At least one other fantastic reason to love Mexican is because some recipes are so freskin' easy to prepare in a pinch. When it comes to tacos, quesadillas, and as I recently discovered, tostadas, deliciousness is seriously only minutes away.

I don't have a good reason why, but I've never been much of a tostada person. Must be because they're so tricky to eat (as Bill learned, they really do have to be parallel to your plate or you risk losing all of your toppings!). But when I came across this recipe for chicken and mushroom tostadas, I knew I had to give them a whirl. I switched them up a bit (flour vs. corn tortillas, queso fresco vs. manchego cheese, omitting the corn), but these were just as yummy as I'd figured they would be! In fact, I'm super stoked that I picked up this tortilla baking tip - I can think of infinite topping possibilities that will make super quick, super tasty dinner ideas!

Chicken and Mushroom Tostadas
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 6-inch flour tortillas
4 oz. mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup queso fresco, crumbled
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Brush both sides of tortillas with olive oil, place on rack, and bake until crisp and lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes.

Heat remaining oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and jalapenos, season with salt, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Top warm tortillas with chicken-mushroom mixture and crumble cheese on top. Return to oven and bake until cheese is melted, about 1 minute.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Roast Post: Mexican Times Three

If there's one thing I get constant cravings for, it's Mexican food. Ok, so it's mostly for chips and salsa and margaritas, but I love me a good taco or enchilada, too. Luckily, I'm discovering that good Mexican food isn't so hard to pull off at home (especially when you have a husband who makes fab margaritas to go with it!).

These are recipes inspired by a few I found in the "One Big Roast, Three Great Meals" chapters of my America's Test Kitchen Cooking for Two books. I have yet to perfect the carnitas (though I made a very good version here). This version was good, but not as rich and flavorful as other carnitas I've had. However, I think I've nailed the (mock) posole. I've never had an authentic posole to compare it to, but this was one delicious soup! It was thick and spicy and hearty and all-around yummy! Oh, and my mango salsa ... amazing. It's the perfect balance of spicy and sweet and so, so fresh. In fact, I just might go dig into that salsa now ...

Mexican Pulled Pork (Carnitas)
1 (3 lb.) pork butt
2 cups water
1 small onion, peeled and halved
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
Salt and pepper
1 orange, halved

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine pork, water, onion, lime juice, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a large Dutch oven. Juice the orange and add the juice and orange halves to the pot. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover, transfer pot to oven, and cook until meat is very tender, about 2 hours.

Remove pot from oven and turn oven to broil. Discard orange halves, onion, and bay leaves. Remove pork to cutting board. Bring braising liquid to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook, stirring often, until liquid is syrupy and reduced to about 1 cup, about 8 to 12 minutes.

Using 2 forks, pull pork apart. Gently toss with reduced braising liquid and season with salt and pepper. Spread pork in an even layer on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet.

Place baking sheet on lower-middle oven rack and broil until top of meat is well-browned and edges are slightly crisp, about 10 minutes, flipping once. Serve with warm tortillas and desired garnishes (I chose the onion-cilantro-lime mixture I wrote about here). Reserve about 2/3 of meat for other recipes.

Spicy Mexican Pork Stew (Posole)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons chipotle chile in adobo, minced
1/8 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup canned hominy, drained and rinsed
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked pork
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in shallot and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in garlic, chili powder, chipotles, and oregano and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute.

Stir in chicken broth and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Stir in hominy and bell pepper, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until bell pepper is just tender, 5 to 10 minutes.

Stir in pork and continue to cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Off heat, stir in cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Grab a spoon!

Pulled Pork Nachos with Mango Salsa (um ... Nachos)
For Salsa
1 mango, peeled and chopped
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1/3 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt (to taste)

For Nachos
24 multigrain tortilla chips
1/2 cup cooked, pulled pork
1/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Sour cream, for topping

To make salsa, toss all ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside.

To make nachos, heat broiler. Layer half of chips in a small casserole dish. Layer half of pork and half of cheese over chips. Top with remaining chips, then pork, then cheese. Broil until cheese is melted and pork is heated through, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and top with 1/2 cup salsa and a dollop of sour cream. Dig in!

If you like these recipes, you may also like ...
Quick Chicken and Cheese Tamales
Chicken Tortilla Soup
Enchilada Suizas Stacked Casserole

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Doughnut. Dusted. Delicious.

You know that I'm crazy about cinnamon. And I'm even crazier about cinnamon sugar. So crazy, in fact, that I'd make a meal of cinnamon sugar toast in college when there wasn't anything appetizing in the dining hall (which was often).

Perhaps the only thing more perfect than cinnamon sugar toast is a cinnamon sugar dusted doughnut. Better yet if it's warm ... I'm getting weak in the knees just thinking about it! Trouble is, doughnuts aren't good for you. But muffins (in appropriate portion sizes) aren't so bad, right? That's why I got so excited when I came across this recipe for cinnamon sugar muffins that just so happen to taste just like cinnamon sugar doughnuts.

This recipe is headed into regular rotation, especially since it cuts the hassle of hauling out the toaster, and the guilt of gulping down a doughnut. These muffins are cake-y, dense, and delicious. If you take a bite when they're still warm, you'll know what heaven tastes like. Trust me. They'll be your new favorite!

Cinnamon Sugar Dusted Doughnut Muffins
For Muffins
1 3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup milk

For Cinnamon Sugar Coating
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a muffin tin liberally with non-stick cooking spray.

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, combine oil, sugar, egg, and milk. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stirring enough just to incorporate.

Distribute batter evenly among cups of muffin tin. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out with just a few crumbs attached. Allow muffins to cool in pan 5 minutes, then, using a butter knife, loosen edges of muffins from pan and remove to a wire rack.

For coating, melt butter in a bowl. In another bowl, combine cinnamon and sugar. Dip slightly warm muffins first in butter, rolling to coat, and then in cinnamon sugar (rolling to coat again). Return to wire rack to cool (or not ... it's incredibly hard not to eat them at this stage!).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Better with Cheddar

I know I told you yesterday that I was making an effort to seek out more healthy recipes ... but that doesn't mean I'm not going to splurge once in a while. The way I see it, any meal cooked at home is going to be healthier than a meal out. So there's no reason why I can't occasionally cook something creamy and rich and sort of decadent ... like some amazing cheddar chive polenta!

I happened across this recipe for Italian sausages and sauteed apples in one of my Food & Wine cookbooks (I swear, I want to cook this book from cover to cover, there's so much good stuff in it!). The authors suggested serving these sausages with cheesy grits, but I didn't bother flipping to that recipe. I have a go-to polenta recipe from (where else?) America's Test Kitchen, so I broke that out. I'd never made the polenta with cheddar, nor had ATK told me I could, but I figured it couldn't hurt. But it did hurt ... it hurt so GOOD!

I don't know where this cheesy, gooey, delicious cheddar chive polenta has been all my life, but I know where it's going. In my belly. Much more often. Was it better than ATK's original parmesan polenta? Heck yes! This was another dish Bill and I couldn't stop eating straight from the pan. It's dangerous, but hey, I'm a risk taker.

(Oh, and the sausages and apples were delish, too. I'm sure the polenta regrets overshadowing them.)

Italian Sausages with Sauteed Apples and Cheddar Chive Polenta
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 sweet Italian sausages (I used chicken, my fav from Sendik's)
1/2 cup water
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 tablespoon cider vinegar
Salt and pepper
Cheddar Chive Polenta (recipe follows)

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown sausages on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add water to skillet, cover, and cook until sausages are done and water is mostly evaporated, about 7 to 8 minutes.

Add apples and fennel seeds to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until apples are tender and browned, about 8 minutes. Stir in vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve atop cheddar chive polenta.

Cheddar Chive Polenta
1 1/4 cups water
Pinch salt
Pinch baking soda
1/3 cup polenta
1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup cheddar, shredded (I used a delish beer cheddar)
1/2 tablespoon fresh chives, snipped
Salt and pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in salt and baking soda (the baking soda helps make this recipe quick, so don't skip it!). Slowly whisk in polenta. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to low and cover.

After 5 minutes, whisk polenta to break up any clumps. Cover and cook, without stirring, about 10 to 15 minutes longer. Polenta will be loose, but will thicken as it stands.

Off heat, stir in butter until melted. Gently stir in cheese until melted. Stir in chives. Season with salt and pepper. Dig in!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Light is Right

If you're not already obsessed with Pinterest, I'm sure it's only a matter of time. I resisted for a while, but gave in when my BFF started telling me about all of the fabulous recipes she was finding. Since then, I've wasted spent approximately 10,000 hours browsing boards, pinning, and repinning recipes like mad. It's fantastic.

The problem is, Pinterest must be populated primarily with fatties. Because every delicious recipe I find is so terribly bad for you. Homemade Twinkies? Homemade Peanut Butter Cups? Homemade Twix? Yes, please! But in moderation.

I felt like I was packing on the pounds just reading this recipes, and I haven't even worked up the courage to make any of them yet. So I'm determined now not to pin every fattening dish I feast my eyes on ... instead, I'm making a concerted effort to build a collection of lighter recipes, like this honey lime chicken that a fellow blogger adapted from Sunset magazine (based in the Bay - yay!). I thought a nice tossed salad with honey lime vinaigrette would make a perfect, light accompaniment. I adapted the vinaigrette recipe from one I found on Good Housekeeping's website and it's a keeper. Just the right balance of sweet and tangy and a cinch to make in a pinch!

Honey Lime Grilled Chicken
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large zip-top bag. Add chicken breasts and turn to coat. Refrigerate overnight.

Preheat grill pan over medium-high heat. Spray pan with non-stick cooking spray. Gently lay chicken breasts in pan. Grill 7 to 8 minutes per side or until a thermometer registers 165 degrees, adjusting heat as necessary to prevent chicken from charring.

Serve chicken alongside mixed greens with honey lime vinaigrette (recipe follows).

Honey Lime Vinaigrette
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

In a small bowl, whisk lime juice, honey, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Second Shot at Soup

True story: I was all geared up to write a post about Bill's favorite chicken tortilla soup (which I made last week) and then I realized I'd written that post before. A year ago. No wonder Bill had been begging me to make a batch!

Good thing I have a backlog of dishes I haven't written about yet. And the next one on my list wasn't a far cry from what I'd originally planned to write about. This sopa seca (or dry soup) jumped out at me from my Food Network Favorites cookbook. I loved that it's a cross between a soup and a casserole and sort of blurs the line between Italian and Mexican. I was also intrigued because it sounded like a version of spaghetti pie, which Tiff just recently introduced me to when she brought it to our Super Bowl party a couple weeks ago. And Tiff, your spaghetti pie was very good, but you have GOT to try this recipe!

I made some modifications from the original, most notably in substituting regular vermicelli for the fideos (or vermicelli bundles). You try finding fideos in a Midwestern grocery store. It's impossible. And don't even think about asking one of the high school boys in the aisle. I'm quite sure he'd have no idea. My substitution was just fine (at least as far as I can tell, but I've never had another sopa seca to make a fair comparison). If you have, please weigh in!

Sopa Seca (Dry Soup)
1 tablespoon olive oil
12 oz. vermicelli, broken
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups canned whole tomatoes, crushed
1 to 2 chipotle chilis in adobo, minced
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-heat heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, oregano, chili powder, and bay leaf, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes along with their juices. Add chipotles, increase heat to high, and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth, vermicelli, salt, and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently, uncovered, about 5 minutes. Stir in chicken.

Remove bay leaf. Transfer mixture to baking dish, sprinkle with cheese, and cover loosely with foil. Bake until cheese melts, about 20 minutes. Let stand several minutes before serving.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sweet Heart Bites

Valentine's Day calls for a sweet treat and this year I thought I'd do something a little bit fancy. I looked at dozens of recipes over the weekend and finally decided that these cutout cookies were too pretty not to make. Little did I know, however, that I was digging deep into Milwaukee's roots when I chose them!

This recipe is adapted from one found on the Taste of Home website. I got multiple questions today about what a "linzer" cookie is, to which I replied, "I have no idea. It's just what the recipe was called." That seemed to satisfy everyone else's curiosity, but not mine. Of course I had to google (or more accurately, bing) it tonight to get a real answer. Naturally, I came across a credible answer from Wikipedia.

I suspected these cookies bore some relation to Linzer Torte, an Austrian specialty named for the city of Linz. It typically has a crumbly pastry crust with a layer of fruit preserves and a lattice top. Similarly, these cookies have a butter-y, nutty crumb texture with sweet jam in the middle. (As a side note, I used Smucker's Simply Fruit, which is absolute perfection. It tastes like fruit instead of sugar! Oh, and the seedless variety is an absolute must. The cutouts will bear a resemblance to stained glass absent the icky seeds.)

Where does Milwaukee come in, you ask? As I continued my research, I discovered that this dessert became popular in the U.S. in the 1850s when an Austrian traveler brought the Linzer Torte to Milwaukee. That's right, people. I made a local specialty without even knowing it! How's that for a little Midwestern love?

Raspberry Jam-Filled Linzer Heart Cookies
1 1/4 cups butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups almond flour
Seedless raspberry jam
Confectioners' sugar (which would have made them even prettier, but I forgot I was out after making this delicious fudge frosting a few weeks ago)

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. In another large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Gradually add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in almond flour. Refrigerate 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut with 3-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter. From the center of half the cookies, cut out 1-1/2-inch hearts.

Place cut cookies on ungreased baking sheets. Bake10-12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Spread 1/2 teaspoon jam over bottom of solid cookies. (Here's where you'd sprinkle cutout cookies with confectioners' sugar, if you had it.) Carefully place cutouts over jam.

Oh, and don't forget the best part of making these cute little cutouts ... you'll end up with 36 adorable, scrumptious little hearts to bake! And popping a handful of those will make you feel so much less guilty than eating a few cookies ...