Saturday, February 27, 2010

Raindrops on roses...

On days when our house just can't seem to get warm I like to bake cookies. The oven is normally on for a few hours, and everybody, of course, is perfectly fine with the fact that the house is warm and there are fresh, homemade cookies to be found. I have tried a few different varieties, but cookies are one area that I don't really stray from the mainstays: chocolate chip, peanut butter, sugar, refrigerator (at Christmas) and every once in a while I will do something different, like peanut butter thumbprints (I know that isn't really different), or I will add different types of chocolate chips or perhaps toffee chips (divine!). Now, perhaps you noticed a very common cookie that I didn't include in that list, namely, oatmeal raisin. There is a reason for that. I am not was not terribly fond of oatmeal raisin cookies, and I have a very valid reason for that. Have you noticed that the raisins get this burned taste? Maybe you like that, but raisins are not my favorite to begin with, so then when they taste burned I pretty much have no desire to eat them. I like the cookie part of oatmeal cookies, so I have often considered altering the recipe slightly, i.e. omitting the raisins, but I just haven't gotten around to doing it.
Lately, though, I have been purchasing my rolled oats in bulk from a large warehouse store (read: Costco). I use it for a myriad of things I cook, from meatballs to butternut squash muffins, and rolled oats are better for you than instant oatmeal, so I try to fix that for breakfast about twice a week. Anyway. I have a lot, I mean a lot of oatmeal laying around, so I decided to look in my no-fail recipe book and make some oatmeal cookies from that recipe.
I substituted dried cranberries for the raisins, and added semi-sweet chocolate chips, just because chocolate is good in everything. Well, almost. They were awesome! The cookie is so soft and chewy, with a very buttery flavor accented with just the right amount of sweetness. We couldn't stop eating them. My Dad named them his new favorite cookie.

The next time I made them I used white chocolate instead of the semi-sweet, and that was also wonderful. A little on the sweet side, but if you are a sugar fiend like my sister you will really enjoy that.
The variations are virtually limitless. We like dried cranberries a lot. If you like dried apricots, that would be delicious with the white chocolate chips also. Just about any dried fruit would be great and you could put white, semi-sweet, milk chocolate or dark chips. Coconut, walnuts, pecans or almonds would be absolutely incredible!
I recommend making a double batch and sharing with your friends or the elderly in your neighborhood or church-they will love you for it!

Oatmeal Cookies
makes about 48 cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 cups rolled oats or quick-cooking oats
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Spray 2 or more baking sheets with vegetable-oil cooking spray or line with parchment paper or silpat.
Stir together the flour, baking soda, kosher salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.
Stir together the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until creamy and blended. Alternatively, use an electric hand mixer. Add the egg mixture to the butter mixture in two additions and beat until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Reduce the speed to low, slowly add the dry ingredients, and beat until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Stir in the oatmeal, cranberries and chocolate chips.
Drop rounded tablespoons of dough about 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the edges of the cookies are golden and the centers are barely cooked, about 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer the cookies to wire rack and let cool completely.

Bake half the cookie dough, then wrap the rest in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze for later baking. The dough keeps for 1 week in the refrigerator and 1 month frozen.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hush, puppies

Have you ever had hush puppies? Not Long John Silver's flavorless, cornmeal mass that sucks the moisture out of your mouth, although that is probably the hush puppy you are acquainted with. The only flavor there is oil tainted with something slightly fishy. Those were the items left in my paper bag after talking myself into giving their restaurant one more try.
After seeing a recipe in one of my cookbooks, I thought about how much better EVERYTHING tastes when you make it at home, and fish and chips is a fun weeknight dinner, so why not throw hush puppies in the mix? I searched for my favorite mix for beer batter (McCormicks-just add water) and finally found it on sale once again. I decided we were going to have a deep fried feast! Cod is a lovely fish to use (red snapper is nice, also, just make sure you despine) and homemade french fries are always a big hit.

So, I plugged in my deep fryer, loaded with vegetable oil and mixed together the hush puppies. Pretty basic ingredients, increasing the amounts of seasoning and adding some others and then, when the oil was ready, I dropped the mixture in. As they drifted to the top, I turned them, making sure both sides turned a nice, deep golden brown. I scooped them out and transferred them to a towel to drain, then piled them on one of my plates. As soon as the first little blurb came out that was too small to be a real hush puppy, I popped it in my mouth (to test the flavors) and wow! First, there was the gently crunchy exterior things get when they are fried at home. It almost melts in your mouth. Then, a soft, flavorful center with just the perfect texture was the next sensation to overwhelm me. Mmmmm....was all I could say.

My son ran into the kitchen, no doubt smelling something cooking and began rifling through the pantry. I offered him one (it is amazing how children can instantaneously know something is either deep fried or loaded with sugar) he devoured it and promptly demanded more. Son Number 2 then saw his brother was eating something, and decided he would also like to partake. It's a good thing this recipe made so many! I, of course, continued sampling about one from each batch I fried up (you don't want anything to be amiss...) and after the kids were done with their appetizer, there were still plenty for dinner, and plenty left over.
With the fish and chips it made a lovely dinner!

I read that these got their name because they were thrown to hunting dogs to keep them quiet. They also work in a similar fashion when thrown to your children...

Hush puppies
2 cups stone-ground cornmeal

1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1/2 cup very finely minced onion
1 stick celery, very finely minced
1 large egg

Optional: 1/4 cup finely minced scallions
1/4 cup finely chopped bacon (in case you were worried the calorie content was not high enough)

Preheat oven to 200°F.

Heat 1 1/2 inches oil in a 4-quart wide heavy pot over medium heat until it registers 375°F.
Meanwhile, whisk together cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together buttermilk, onion, and egg in a small bowl. Slowly pour buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients, stirring until just incorporated.
Fry rounded tablespoons of batter (about 10 per batch), turning occasionally, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes per batch. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Return oil to 375°F between batches. Keep hush puppies warm in oven.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Morning or evening

There is something decidedly comforting about having breakfast for dinner. I don't believe the same can be said about having dinner for breakfast. I am one of those people that loves breakfast. If we go out any time before noon I want to eat breakfast out. I love places like the waffle shop where I can get potatoes, eggs, some sort of breakfast meat with biscuits and gravy. During my last pregnancy I absolutely craved eggs over easy with toast. Not something I usually eat, but it sure sounded good.
Whenever I read about a new recipe for breakfast food, I just have to try it. I have come across so many delicious recipes, I almost can't decide what to make at times.
The sad thing is, my husband doesn't share my affinity for breakfast. I love it all: scones, waffles, pancakes, bacon, eggs, sausage, casseroles, baked eggs in cream, eggs benedict, bagels, biscuits and gravy, stratas, frittatas, french toast, oatmeal, cold cereal, breakfast breads, muffins, cinnamon rolls, coffee, orange juice, omelettes, donuts, breakfast burritos, fried potatoes, bagel sandwiches, english muffins, etc. Really, the list could go on and on. My husband, on the other hand, doesn't really like eggs for breakfast. If it was up to him he wouldn't even eat breakfast. I have convinced him it is healthier for him to eat breakfast than to skip it, but he normally doesn't eat that much and he normally just wants carbs.

So, we end up eating a lot of things like pancakes, waffles, muffins and breakfast breads. I am always trying different pancake recipes, I have made pumpkin pancakes, sweet potato pancakes, oatmeal pancakes, buttermilk pancakes, chocolate chip get the picture (I just really can't stand making the same things. It's a curse.)
I made pumpkin pancakes with cider syrup, and they were awesome. Then, I got a magazine that had apple cinnamon pancakes with cider syrup and I thought, 'I made those before' (I hadn't...children put holes in your memory). So, anyway, the recipe said to use grated apple. As I thought about making these, grated apple didn't appeal to me. I have peeled and cut up apple and put it in pancakes, but envisioning grating an apple was doing strange things to my desire to make these pancakes. I thought about just peeling, coring, and dicing an apple, then running in the food processor until a little lightbulb in my head went on *ding*. I have applesauce in the fridge, how about just subbing that? So, with a few alterations, (changing a few of the spices and upping the amount of applesauce) these pancakes were born.
I have made them two more times since (that was last week...) and everybody loves them. My son asks for 'mancakes' and the kids squeal when they start coming off the griddle...the cider syrup really adds a delicious flavor. It tastes exactly the way you would expect. Now, if you don't have pancake mix on hand, just make your favorite pancakes, and add the applesauce (don't change your recipe) and cinnamon, and top with the cider syrup. Fantastic!
Now, if I could just get them to last long enough to take a picture...

When greasing the griddle, I like to spray it with a non stick cooking spray (read: PAM) then put about a teaspoon of butter in also, to give the pancakes a nice buttery taste, without relying on the butter to keep it from sticking.

2 cups complete pancake mix
1-1/2 cups water
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup apple cider or juice
2 tablespoons butter, cubed
1 tablespoon lemon juice


In a small bowl, stir the pancake mix, water, apple and cinnamon just until moistened.
Pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto a greased hot griddle; turn when bubbles form on top. Cook until second side is golden brown.
Meanwhile, for syrup, in a small saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice. Stir in cider until smooth. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until thickened and bubbly, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low; cook and stir 2 minutes longer. Stir in butter and lemon juice. Serve with pancakes. Yield: 12 pancakes (1-1/4 cups syrup)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Valentine's Day dessert

When considering the greeting card holiday known as 'Saint' Valentine's Day, we are bombarded by reds and pinks in every grocery aisle, on every checkstand magazine rack and there are giant advertisements crowding Starbucks, the post office, department stores and malls across America. I was recently in my grocery store of choice and I noticed they were advertising a meal for two that could be purchased for just $80. Even if you don't know how to boil water, this deli will provide the means for you to have a steak dinner with rich bernaise sauce, some decadent dessert, complete with an appetizer and vegetable. You also have the option to eat out. Any restaurant will pitch that what every woman wants is to be treated to her favorite meal, even if it's McDonalds.
Our tradition has been to eat out on our Anniversary, which happens to be very close to Valentine's Day, being February 4th, and to eat in on Valentine's Day. Thereby we avoid the Valentine's Day crowds and still have the best of both worlds. I do love eating out, and this year on our Anniversary we ate three delicious meals at three different restaurants (I will soon be writing about where you should eat if you are in Santa Cruz or Carmel by the Sea). On the other hand, I do love eating in. There is something so rewarding to making that special meal for that special someone. On every special occasion my husband requests essentially the same meal: Steak, green beans, potato. Cheesecake. So, I have found many different ways to make steak, and I make the same cheesecake, year after year.
Don't get me wrong. I love cheesecake. We had it in place of a traditional cake at our wedding because we both love it so much. But sometimes I just wish I could make something else. Something that demands a little more, something daring. Yet, we always end up at cheesecake. Not chocolate cheesecake, or pumpkin cheesecake, or cookie dough cheesecake, or even cheesecake with cherry topping. Just plain, old, plain cheesecake.
So, I have decided to begin a new tradition. In the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, I make many different desserts that sound delectable to me, for myself, as my Valentine's Day present to myself, and we have several different types of chocolate dessert for about three weeks straight. Like this Milk Chocolate Souffle. It is divine. Now, I believe dark chocolate has a very solid place in this world, but there is something about milk chocolate that speaks to me on a different level. Take this souffle, for example. It is not too grand for a weeknight meal. Just a few common ingredients: good quality milk chocolate, eggs and heavy cream, and in a short time you have a delicious dessert worth that little bit of extra effort.

When I saw this recipe, I decided I needed to try it. I have made souffles before, but this one just sounded delicious. It also had a nougat topping that sounded just wonderful. I made a few very minor alterations, as in, I omitted the toasted almonds and used extract instead of the called for liquor, and we loved it.
While it may not become a new tradition for Valentine's Day, it will definately be tucked away for an impressive do ahead dessert (it can be made up to six hours in advance and refrigerated).
Then, on Valentine's Day, we will still have cheesecake.


12 ounces high-quality milk chocolate (such as Lindt, Perugina, or Valrhona), chopped
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt
6 large egg whites, room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar

Nougat whip:

1 large egg white, room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

For Soufflés:

Special equipment: 8 3/4-cup soufflé dishes
 Butter eight 3/4-cup soufflé dishes; sprinkle with sugar, tilting cups to coat completely and tapping out any excess. Arrange prepared soufflé dishes on large baking sheet.
Combine chocolate and cream in large metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove bowl from over water. Stir egg yolks and salt into chocolate mixture. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add 2 tablespoons sugar, beating until semi-firm peaks form. Using rubber spatula, fold 1/4 of beaten egg whites into chocolate mixture to lighten. Fold remaining egg whites into chocolate mixture in 2 additions. Divide chocolate mixture among prepared soufflé dishes, filling dishes completely. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.

For nougat whip:

Using electric mixer, beat egg white in medium bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add honey, beating until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes.
Combine cream and amaretto in another medium bowl and beat until thick and soft peaks form. Fold whipped cream mixture into meringue. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and chill.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Bake soufflés on baking sheet until puffed and tops feel firm, about 16 minutes if at room temperature and about 18 minutes if chilled.
Serve soufflés immediately, passing nougat whip alongside.

Monday, February 1, 2010

My obsession

I have noticed, as I have perused magazine articles, cookbooks and blogs, that those who find food more than just fuel tend to move from one recipe induced obsession to another. This is the pattern that most often occurs in my experience:
Step 1. I read about a new recipe (or see it when I am lucky enough to have time to watch Food Network). I think, 'I should try that. It's different, I have most of the ingredients or could come by them easily enough and it sounds so good.'
Step 2. I pull the recipe out of a magazine and place it in my 'to make' pile. (PS I would not recommend doing this as I have found that they get lost and/or misplaced. It is easier to just leave it in the magazine) After reading and rereading the recipe several times over so I know what I need for it, how much time it will take, etc. it somehow makes its way to my menu sometime in the next month. That, or, if I am especially excited about this particular recipe, I just randomly decide one night to make it. So I go out and buy any ingredients I need and make a night of it.
Step 3. We decide that it was decadent. So much better than a restaurant. So much cheaper than a restaurant, and just absolutely delicious.
Step 4. Repeat with minor alterations.
Step 5. See step four.
Step 6. See step five.
You get the idea.
Take for instance, gnocchi with peas and chanterelles. In case you are wondering, chanterelles are mushrooms (you know who you are out there). I look at the recipe and decide to leave them out, because my husband is not a big fan of mushrooms. Now, he would eat them if I made this dish, and he probably would really like it, but I don't keep mushrooms around all that much because they are not that popular with the family (oftentimes our dinner party includes my mom, dad, and teenage sister). So, I would probably substitute something safe, like proscuitto, ham or bacon, that has been fried up real crispy and tossed in with the peas and cream sauce.
The possibilities are endless. It is great with tuna in place of the meat. No truffle oil? I use plain extra virgin olive oil. I had extra gnocchi, so I threw them in the freezer before I cooked them and just threw them into the boiling water frozen. 
The next time I went to make gnocchi, a sad thing happened. I couldn't find the recipe I had pulled out of the magazine. So, I looked up the recipe online, and lo, and behold, discovered a recipe for gnocchi with butternut squash, mushrooms and sage in brown butter. Again, we omitted the mushrooms, but I had a butternut squash sitting on my counter, waiting to be roasted and pureed for muffins and soups. I cut up the leftover and reserved it to use in this recipe.

The recipe also called for purchased herb gnocchi, but part of the joy of eating it is making it from scratch. So I continued searching until I found the recipe I had used before. I found it, and combined the two. I heated olive oil and some butter in a saucepan and cooked the sage in it. I then removed the sage with a spatula and dumped the roasted squash in. I had cut it into about 3/4 in. pieces, and I sprinkled the entire thing with salt and pepper. I waited until a nice crust had formed and then turned them in the pan. The aroma was delightful. The sweet, mellow flavor of the roasted squash combined with the browned butter and some freshly grated Pecorino Romano is absolutely seductive. Sprinkle the crispy sage leaves on top and you have a comfort meal to cozy up with on a cold winter night.
The funny thing is, gnocchi won't be my favorite for long. As a matter of fact, I feel it being slowly replaced by something else...

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