27 January 2010

Comforting Oat Cookie (Perfect for Breakfast)

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is the assortment of random cookbooks I acquire from friends and family.  Since my loved ones know I adore all things cooking-related, I am often on the receiving end of a spur-of-the-moment purchase, great sale purchase or it-has-food-on-the-cover-so-I-knew-you'd-love-it purchase.  I am always entertained by these gifts because I always discover something I might have otherwise missed.  I received a few cookbooks that fall into this category this year.  One of which I had never heard of, but I have loved looking through is Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros.

Homemade Cranberry Butter made a delightful filling to the cookies.

Apples for Jam is one of the most visually appealing books I have ever perused. There are beautiful doodles and family snapshots, lots of personal writing in adorable fonts, and of course, tons of eye-catching photographs.  Did I forget to mention the colors?  Well the colors used in this book are incredibly important - the entire cookbook is organized around color!  With sections such as Orange, Gold, Monochrome, White and Brown, you realize how important color is to food.  Personally, I would have thought the first thing I wanted to cook from this book would have come from the Orange or Yellow or Stripes (!!!) sections, but surprisingly, the first recipe I tried is from the Monochrome section.

It is a very simple recipe for Oat Cookies.  Tessa Kiros writes, "These are plain, healthy, and good.  You could serve them for breakfast instead of oatmeal sometimes, with a mug of warm milk."  I couldn't agree with Tessa more.  The cookies are very simple, with a clean oatmeal flavor shining through in every bite.  I threw them together in a snap with pantry ingredients.  I think the only change I would make in the future would be to allow the dough to sit for a couple hours or overnight before baking - the oatmeal and whole wheat flour have a slightly raw flavor that would be reduced with a rest period. I liked these cookies best with a tart schmear of homemade Cranberry Butter (I promise to post the recipe soon!).  I also think using this recipe as a basic oat cookie to add dried fruit or chocolate chips to would be great.  My last kudos to Tessa on this recipe? It only makes 25 cookies (I think I got more like 18-20 out of the recipe)!  As a single gal, I really appreciate a small baking recipe.  I do not need 5 dozen warm cookies taunting my from their cooling racks.

If you enjoy the visual aspect and design layout of books, I highly recommend picking Apples for Jam up to browse.  It is a very unique, pretty cookbook with lovely writing.  Thanks to my parents for randomly giving me this book for Christmas!

I was inspired to play with Monochrome - 
cookie dough in black and white looks interesting!

Oat Cookies
from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros

1 egg
2/3 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1 t vanilla extract
5 1/2 T butter, softened
1/2 cup AP flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 t baking powder
1 cup quick cooking oats (I used old-fashioned)
1 1/2 T milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Whip the egg, sugar, and vanilla together until the sugar has dissolved.  Beat in the butter and then sift in the all-purpose and whole wheat flours and baking powder.  Add a pinch of salt and the oats, and mix well with a wooden spoon. Stir in the milk.  With lightly moistened hands, shape the dough into walnut-sized balls and put them, well spaced, on the baking sheet. Flatten them a bit so they look like mini-hamburger patties.  Bake for about 15 minutes until they are golden around the edges (they might still be a little soft on top).  Cool on a wire rack and then keep in your cookie jar for up to 5 days.

24 January 2010

Warm and Hearty Almost White Chili

While recently browsing the internet, reading blogs and bookmarking recipes, I noticed the Pioneer Woman's recipe for White Chili. Now for those of you who live under an internet rock and don't know, Pioneer Woman is one of the rock stars of blogging.  Her entire site is homemade and incredible.  I am so impressed by her willingness to learn and adapt to create such a popular site.  Why don't I have her drive to learn photography?? Anyhoo, before I turn into a total fan-girl here, I just have to say that you should visit her blog and at least read Black Heels to Tractor Wheels (her love story) if nothing else.

Back to that chili- PW's recipe appealed to me because it was simple and looked like it would be the perfect meal for a frigid night. We had plenty of frigid in early January, so the time to make this meal came sooner rather than later.  I ran into a bit of a hiccup with this chili, but it was not due to the recipe.  My crappy marrow beans would not cook through!  Literally I left this pot on the stove for a solid 9 hours, hoping that the beans would be as luscious and creamy as I imagined they should be. They never quite made it.  My dried beans must have been old. It happens.  Next time I will use canned beans or fresher dried beans.

 The god-forsaken beans that wouldn't cook!

Since the beans never cooked as quickly or nicely as they should have, some steps were skipped and some modifications were made.  I was so pissed off at the chili by 10:00 PM that I completely forgot to add the thickening milk and masa (one of the parts of this recipe I was most excited to try!).  Of course, my chili was quite thick from cooking for so long, so I am not sure if it needed the thickener.  Also, since I didn't eat the chili for dinner on the night I had originally intended, I never bothered to add the chicken in to the beans.  So it turned into a vegetarian meal, which I was completely happy to eat.  I would definitely make this recipe again, but I would first offer up to the Bean Gods that my beans actually cook!

I happened to enjoy this chili most with a big spoonful of homemade guacamole on top.  The creamy, spicy avocado really melted into and complemented the chili.  Here is my recipe for guacamole, which I make almost weekly.

Simple Hearty White Chili
adapted from Ree Drummond/The Pioneer Woman

1 whole large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 27 oz can Hatch green chiles, drained and chopped
8 oz dried marrow beans (any white bean should work, could used canned)
8 cups chicken stock
2 jalapenos, chopped
1 1/2 T ground cumin
1 t smoked Spanish Paprika
1/2 t cayenne pepper
salt to taste
pepper to taste
Optional Garnishes: Sour Cream, Cilantro, Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Tortillas

In a dutch oven over medium-high heat, saute onions, jalapenos and garlic for 2 minutes. Add chopped green chilies, then rinsed beans. Pour chicken broth into the pan. Add all the spices except salt. Place lid on pot and reduce heat to low.
Cook for 2 hours or until beans are done.(or 9 hours!)
Check seasoning and adjust, adding salt and cayenne to taste.
Garnish as desired.

20 January 2010

Indian Comfort Food: Parsi Spicy Squash and Legume Stew

The love affair with Indian food continues...

I originally had this dish way back in June, when my sister prepared it as part of our vegetarian Indian feast.  I was hooked.  I remember telling her that I didn't want any rice on my plate because it used up valuable stomach space that could be used on this stew (and the delicious cauliflower and potatoes).  My feelings for this stew are no different today after making this dish for myself.  I ate it for dinner, and I immediately knew I would be eating it again the following night for dinner.  In fact, it was so delicious that I invited friends over to dine on my leftovers!  I feel quite confident that they loved this stew as much as I did the first time I had it.

The stew is full of nutritious vegetables.  Feeling more and more confident with Indian food, I did make some changes to the vegetable ingredients based on what I had on hand.  I really think you can adapt the vegetables to anything you have available, as long as they can stand up to some simmering.  Lucky for me, Laura had given me some of the spice mixture she ground for this stew back in June.  It was quite convenient having the pre-made spice mixture in my cupboard from her.  But I know that it really isn't all that hard to grind and blend your own spices if you have a spice/coffee grinder.

I am submitting this post to Shelby over at the Life and Love of Grumpy's Honeybunch who is hosting January's round-up of Family Recipes.  Since Laura originally made this dish for me, and I think I owe most of my knowledge of Indian cooking to her, it seems like an appropriate entry.  I hope to continue cooking and loving vegetarian Indian food with Laura only a phone call away for assistance as needed.  Be sure to check out Shelby's blog for the round-up and details on future Family Recipes events.

Sabzi Dhan Shak (Parsi Spicy Squash & Legume Stew)
Adapted from Julie Sahni, Classic Indian Vegetarian And Grain Cooking and The Spiced Life Blog

This is not at all a complex recipe, although it does take about 1 1/2 hours (including cooking time) to prepare. However, unlike Western soups and stews, it is built by adding layers--first the legumes are cooked, then the veggies are added, and then last the flavoring ghee is added. So while the directions may look complex, as though you are making 3 different dishes, you really are not.

For the legumes:

3/4 cup yellow split peas
1/4 cup split and skinned yellow mung beans (moong dal)
3/4 cup pink or red lentils
4 1/2 cups water (you could add more if you like stews thinner)
2 T minced ginger
1 T minced garlic
2 t Parsi dhanajeera powder (see below; you could sub garam masala)
1/4 t ground cloves
1 1/2 t turmeric
1 t paprika or cayenne, to heat preference
2 bay leaves (I forgot these to no detriment)
2-8 fresh, hot green chilies, minced (I seeded because of kids)
pinch of salt

For the vegetables

3/4 lb chopped tomatoes (I used ~1 cup halved grape tomatoes)
3/4 lb winter squash or sweet potato (I used 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" chunks)
2 zucchini (grocery store size), cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes (I omitted)
1 yellow squash (grocery store size), cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes (I omitted)
1 large red onion, cut into thick slices
1 sweet bell pepper, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks (I used 2- 1 red and 1 yellow)
1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernals
I added about 1 cup frozen peas
2 cups water

For Flavoring Ghee

5 T ghee
1 1/2 t black/brown mustard seeds
2 t cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 T minced garlic
juice of half lemon
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Start the legumes: Put all of the legume ingredients into a large (at least 5 qt, I used 6 qt) pot and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and briskly simmer, partially covered, until the split peas are fully cooked but not mush. This will take about 35-40 minutes.

Add the vegetables: Add all of the prepped vegetables along with 2 cups of water to the boiling legumes (I missed that at first and thought they cooked separately). Continue to briskly simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes until, until the veggies are fully cooked but still hold their shape (Josie requested softer veggies, so we cooked ours longer). When they are done, turn off the heat and add the flavoring ghee (see next).

Meanwhile, make the flavoring ghee: Measure out the all of the ghee ingredients and have them ready by your cooktop (in separate piles). Heat the ghee in a small frying pan over high heat. When it is very hot, add the mustard seeds and cover with a lid. Let them pop for about 30 seconds or until they slow their popping and then add the cumin seeds. When the cumin begins to darken, add the chopped onion and cook it, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until it turns brown (mine took longer as I was working from too small of a burner). Add the garlic and let it cook an additional 20 seconds. Add the lemon juice and coriander and immediately pour the contents of the pan into the finished stew. Mix gently to distribute the seasoning. Salt to taste.

Parsi Dhanajeera Masala
Julie Sahni, Classic Indian Vegetarian And Grain Cooking

3/4 cup coriander seeds
2 T cumin seeds
1 1/2 t black/brown mustard seeds
1/2 t fennel seeds
1 T white poppy seeds
1 T black peppercorns
1/2 t whole cloves
3 inch cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
1 T whole green cardamom pods
5 bay leaves
1/4 t saffron threads
1 t freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 225 F. Put everything except the saffron and nutmeg in a large roasting pan and spread them out to make a single layer. Place the pan on the bottom shelf of the oven and roast for 30 minutes or until the spices are lightly browned. Mix and turn occasionally to prevent burning. During the last 5 minutes, add the saffron and nutmeg.

Remove the spices to cool. When they are cool, grind the spices in a spice mill, mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. Store in a cool, dry space up to 3 months.  (Obviously I kept the spices longer than 3 months, and it tasted fine.)

17 January 2010

Moist and Fluffy Spiced Banana Muffins (for my horse)

I think when bad stuff happens in my family, the women bake.  I know for certain that this is true for me.  I am fairly certain it is true for my mom and sister.  I am sure my mom's inability to bake right now is making our current bad stuff extra bad for her.  My parents are having their kitchen remodeled.  It is something my mom has fantasized about for years, and she is finally getting exactly what she wanted.  However, she is also suffering the side effects of no kitchen.  How does one properly prepare for the reality of having your kitchen completely gutted for over 6 weeks?  And then how do you cope with the bad stuff when you can't bake?

When I learned that our family horse of over 28 years had to be euthanized this past Wednesday, I was devastated.  I spent the morning visiting Peanut Butter, feeding him apples, rubbing his neck and trying to make him comfortable.  While I was with him, we didn't have the final word from the veterinarian yet, but it was apparent to me that he was too sick to live comfortably.  Peanut Butter had a disease which made his feet sore at the best of times and abscesses grow at the worst of times.  This was the worst of times, and the infection spread to his leg bone.  He lost the use of one of his front legs, and when you hear that a horse cannot survive with 3 legs, it is true.  I have never seen something as upsetting as Peanut Butter trying to move without the use of his front leg.

Peanut Butter wants you to know that he usually takes better pictures than this,
but this is the picture I took of him on Wednesday morning.  Old, bedraggled, covered
in straw and dirt from laying too much but still so sweet and lovable.

I was very close to Peanut Butter.  When I was very young, my siblings and I played for hours in his field.  He never cared which kids were out with him as long as no intimidating men were around (he strongly preferred females).  He was very gentle with children.  As I grew into an angsty teenager, Peanut Butter was my best friend.  I spent countless hours with him, hugging him when I was sad and having my hug returned in a particularly wonderfully horse-y way.  He would wrap his head and neck around my shoulders and lean on me in the most comforting way.  He would nuzzle and nibble along my back, and basically just offered me the silent understanding I really needed during those tumultuous teenage days.  We remained close friends, and I would be sure to visit him like he was a part of the family when I came home from college.  In the spring, I looked forward to grooming him, as there is something intensely satisfying about pulling clumps of hair off of a horse.  Maybe it was because I knew Peanut Butter was just so grateful for the assistance.  You could almost hear him groan in pleasure like a dog being rubbed.  Honestly, Peanut Butter's place in our family was more like a dog than a horse.  He would beg for food with a plaintive whinny or, on occasion, escape his field and come onto the back porch to beg.  I don't know how you could ever say no to his sweet, liquid horse eyes.  What is it about horse eyes anyway?  He loved cookies, bread, apples, beer and sugar cubes.  He was gentle and beautiful, and I will miss him.

I am grateful that I could bake to help me deal with this particular bad stuff.  I don't like to talk when I am upset, and I need to do something to help me deal- these muffins helped me deal (as well as several other meals I have since prepared for my parents - cooking provides a serious distraction when I am upset).  The spice mixture in these muffins makes them really unique.  I never would have thought to add coriander to a spice muffin or quick bread.  It is a lovely, floral addition. I don't really notice it individually, but it blends nicely with the other spices so these aren't your average banana muffins. I think I like this muffin best at breakfast with a schmear of cream cheese.  My parents have enjoyed them as well for more of a light dessert. Peanut Butter would have loved them any which way he could get them as long as they came with an affectionate rub.

Going Bananas Morning Muffins
According to Eugenia Hall, "With these around, there's no such thing as no time for breakfast."  This recipe was featured in Penzeys One, Volume 2, Issue 6.

1 2/3 cups mashed fully ripe bananas (4 or so medium)
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar (I used light brown)
1/2 cup white sugar
3 T butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup milk (I used half and half)
6 T vanilla yogurt (I used 0% vanilla Greek yogurt)
1 T pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups unbleached flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground coriander
1/4 t ground allspice
1/4 t ground mace
1/4 t ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease 12 regular sized muffin tins.  In a medium bowl, blend the brown and white sugar together with a spoon.  Add the cooled melted butter and stir into the sugar mix until fully absorbed.  Add the milk, yogurt, eggs and vanilla to the bowl and stir until combined.  Add the mashed bananas and stir well.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices and stir to combine.  Add half of the flour mixture to the wet mixture and fold it in until it is just barely combined. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture, again  stirring it in by hand until it is just barely combined; do not over-beat.  Pour the batter into the prepared muffin pan; the tins will be almost completely full- do not panic.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until done.  Allow muffins to cool for a few minutes, run a knife or spatula around the edges gently and remove from pan. Let cool fully on a wire rack.

12 January 2010

Delicious Indian Basmati Rice with Spinach

So I promised another 660 Curries recipe, and I am coming through on that promise right now.  Since making the dal recipe I just posted and the rice dish I am telling you about today, I have made several more vegetarian Indian meals.  I cannot talk enough about how much I have fallen in love with vegetarian Indian food. I must sound like a complete broken record.  Think of me as a girl who just went on 3rd date with the guy she thinks she's gonna marry.  That is how I feel. All gushy and happy and in love. Delicious food makes me all aquiver with excitement.

This rice dish was a lovely complement to the Masoor Pyaaz Dal. It wasn't hard for me to throw together while I was fretting over the dal.  I loved the very clear, explicit instructions that Raghaven Iyer gives in his book for preparing perfect Basmati rice. In fact, I have used his method for cooking plain Basmati rice and been thrilled with the results.  He even goes so far as to give different times based on electric or gas stove tops - so handy and informative!  I felt comfortable making a slight addition to the rice, which was to include extra chopped, fresh spinach at the end of cooking to increase the vegetables in my meal. 

Buttery Basmati Rice with Spinach and Onion (Palak Pulao)

from 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer

1 cup basmati rice
2 tablespoons ghee
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 medium red onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 cups firmly packed fresh spinach leaves, well rinsed, patted dry, and
coarsely chopped
sea salt to taste (optional)

Place the rice in a medium-sized bowl. Fill the bowl halfway with water, to cover the rice. Gently rub the slender grains through your fingers, without breaking them, to wash off any dust or light foreign objects (like loose husks), which will float to the surface. The water will become cloudy. Drain this water. Repeat three or four times, until the water remains relatively clear; drain. Now fill the bowl halfway with cold water and let it sit at room temperature until the grains soften, 20-30 minutes; drain.

Heat the ghee in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they sizzle, turn reddish-brown, and smell aromatic, about 5-10 seconds.  Then stir in the onion and add a handful of spinach. Lower the heat to medium and stir until the greens wilt, about 1 minute. Repeat until all the spinach has been added. Then cook the onion-spinach mixture until all the liquid has evaporated and the onion has turned soft and honey-brown, 15-20 minutes.

Add the drained rice and toss it gently with the onion-spinach mixture. Pour in 1 1/2 cups cold water, and add the salt if desired. Stir the rice once to incorporate the ingredients. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook until the water has evaporated from the surface and craters are starting to appear in the rice, 5 to 8 minutes. Now (and ONLY now) stir once to bring the partially cooked layer from the bottom of the pan to the surface. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting. Cook for 8-10 minutes (8 for an electric burner, 10 for a gas burner). Then turn off the heat and let the pan stand on that burner, undisturbed, for 10 minutes.

Remove the lid, fluff the rice with a fork, (I added an additional handful of chopped spinach here) and serve.

11 January 2010

The Best Christmas Gift: 660 Curries

I am in love with a new (to me) cookbook: 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. My sister gave me this book (and three others!!) for Christmas!  How lucky am I? I have previously mentioned my newly discovered obsession with vegetarian Indian food, and this book plays right into that obsession.  The best part of 660 Curries is that it lays the foundation for learning to cook Indian food.  And trust me, I am in dire need of that foundation.  I lamented to my boyfriend just how upside and backwards I feel in the kitchen while cooking Indian - a sensation to which I am totally unaccustomed!  I just don't have that intuitive feel for it yet, but I am learning.  Every dish I make gets easier and having Iyer's book as a handy reference is a great comfort.  A happy bonus?  I love Raghavan Iyer's writing style! He is so personable, and his passion for Indian cuisine is so apparent.

I knew immediately which dish I would be making first from this book after browsing for a few minutes: Red Lentils with a Caramel-Sweet Onion Sauce or Masoor Pyaaz Dal.  How could I see the "caramel-sweet onion sauce" and not immediately want to eat it?  Then when I actually read the recipe, Iyer commented that it was the perfect quick, easy dal to make for a weekday supper.  Since I have so little experience with Indian food, a quick and easy dal seemed the right place to start.  I was also inspired rather late in the day, and I had to run to an Indian grocery store for a few ingredients, so the quick time line was especially appealing.  The best news? Iyer was honest when he said it was quick and easy!  I managed to make it and the rice dish I ate with it in about an hour - not too bad considering my insecurities and inexperience.

Even better?  The dal was creamy and delicious, with a sweet caramelized onion note.  The spices were mild, but I could, of course, taste the cumin and cardamom (my first time with cardamom - I had no idea those little pods were papery and not hard... I had a totally irrational fear of cracking them open to get to the seeds!). It paired perfectly with the rice dish (also from 660 Curries) that I selected.  Never fear, I will post that recipe too.

Thanks again to both my sister and Raghaven Iyer for opening a world of food to me!

Red Lentils with a Caramel-Sweet Onion Sauce (Masoor Pyaaz Dal)
from 660 Curries by Raghaven Iyer

1 cup skinned split brown lentils (salmon-colored in this form, masoor dal), picked over for stones
1 t cumin seeds
1 t rock salt (I subbed kosher salt)
½ t cardamom seeds from green or white pods
½ t whole cloves
½ t black peppercorns
3 or 4 fresh Thai, cayenne, or Serrano chiles, to taste, stems removed
¼ cup ghee or canola oil
1 large red onion, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 large tomato, cored and finely chopped
½ t ground turmeric

Place the lentils in a medium-size saucepan.  Fill the pan halfway with water and rinse the lentils by rubbing them between your fingertips.  The water will become cloudy.  Drain this water. Repeat three or four times, until the water remains relatively clear; drain.  Now add 3 cups water and bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium heat.  Skim off and discard any foam that forms on the surface.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pan, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, 18 to 20 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, combine the cumin seeds, rock salt, cardamom seeds, cloves, peppercorns, and chiles in a mortar.  Pulverize the blend with the pestle, scraping the sides to contain the mixture in the center, to form a gritty, pulpy mass.

Heat the ghee in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and the pulverized spice mixture. Stir once or twice.  Then cover the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion turns caramel-brown with a deep purple hue and the spices smell sweet, 20 to 25 minutes.  (Meanwhile, when the lentils are tender, simply keep them warm, covered and over very low heat.)

Stir the tomato and the turmeric into the onion mixture and cook, uncovered, until the tomato softens a little, 2 to 4 minutes. (The tomato juices will deglaze the skillet, releasing the browned bits of onion and spices.)

Add the onion-tomato mixture to the dal, and stir once or twice.  Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the flavors mingle, 3 to 5 minutes.  Then serve.

07 January 2010

Another Thumb's Up for Matzo Toffee

See, I haven't forgotten that I promised you the recipes for my Christmas treats.  Here is the first of three!

I must say that I bookmarked a recipe for Matzo Toffee on Noble Pig's blog last spring during Passover.  It took me quite awhile to finally make the decadent candy, and it was worth the wait.

I can honestly say that this toffee flew off our holiday table.  I made two full batches, and I was worried my parents were going to insist I make more.  Fortunately Laura came home with some similar toffee candy that made our parents equally happy. The Matzo Toffee is sweet and crunchy, with a seriously appealing caramelized sugar edge.  Of course, I had to gild the lily and add a little  hefty sprinkle of sea salt to add that delicious salty contrast.

The other bonus about this recipe?  It takes about 10 minutes to throw together.  It was so delicious and so impressive on our holiday spread, and people had no idea how quickly I threw it together. A simple show stopper for any gift basket, I think this definitely needs to be included in your candy-making-repertoire.

I used a box of matzo that was left over from Passover 2009 - I don't know if I should admit that or not, but the stuff doesn't seem to get stale (obviously the package was unopened until December when I made the candy). Thank you very much to Mary who provided me with the box!

Matzo Toffee
adapted from Noble Pig Blog

4-6 sheets of matzo
1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 ounces good quality chocolate or chocolate chips
about 1 handful chopped, salted nuts

1-2 teaspoons good quality sea salt, to taste

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Line the sheet with matzo, breaking extra pieces to fill in any spaces.

In a heavy saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar together over medium heat.  Stir until the butter is completely melted and beginning to boil.  Continue to boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Working quickly, pour the mixture over the matzo, covering it completely with a heatproof spatula.  Place the pan in a 350 degree oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Make sure to keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn. 

Remove the pan from the oven and immediately cover the matzo with good quality chocolate or chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli 60% cacao).  Place back in the oven for 5 minutes or until the chocolate is melted.  Remove from the oven and spread the chocolate evenly.

Sprinkle the chocolate immediately with nuts and salt (I did one batch with cashews and one batch with almonds).

When the chocolate is completely dry, break into many pieces.  I found it kept well for several days - at least 10 or so. 

05 January 2010

The Richest Baked Pasta Dish You'll Ever Try

Do you have tons of winter squash around your house from this autumn's haul? I do, so I try to notice new and interesting winter squash recipes while I am browsing the internet.

A couple months ago, I bookmarked a recipe that I read about on Shelby's blog, The Life and Loves of Grumpy's Honeybunch for Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Pasta. The picture on her blog tempted me, and I knew I would be throwing this recipe together ASAP for dinner.

When I finally got around to making the recipe, I wasn't disappointed. The butternut squash roasts into a creamy, caramelized treat. The rosemary is a fragrant addition that truly complements the sweet butternut squash. Similarly, the bacon is the perfect salty counterpart to all that sweetness.

I will be honest and admit that this dish came out a little rich for me. I ate one bowl of it, and then I was done. I couldn't eat any leftovers, and I gave most of the pasta to my parents. My mom loved this dish. Even though I couldn't eat more than one serving, I think this is still a worthwhile recipe. I think I might back off on the bacon - maybe cut it in half - and serve it as a side dish instead of a main course.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Pasta

from Cooking Light, March 2004

Mini penne pasta works well in this dish since it's about the same size as the squash. You can also use elbow macaroni, shell pasta, or orecchiette.

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash
Cooking spray
6 sweet hickory-smoked bacon slices (raw)
1 cup thinly sliced shallots
8 ounces uncooked mini penne (tube-shaped pasta) (I used Barilla Plus mini penne and only used 5 oz of dry pasta)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded sharp provolone cheese
1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425°.
Combine 1/4 teaspoon salt, rosemary, and pepper. Place squash on a foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with salt mixture. Bake at 425° for 45 minutes or until tender and lightly browned. Increase oven temperature to 450°.
Cook the bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving 1 1/2 teaspoons drippings in pan; crumble bacon. Increase heat to medium-high. Add shallots to pan; sauté 8 minutes or until tender. Combine squash mixture, bacon, and shallots; set aside.
Cook pasta according to the package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain well.
Combine flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly with a whisk; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until slightly thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add provolone, stirring until cheese melts. Add pasta to cheese mixture, tossing well to combine. Spoon pasta mixture into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray; top with squash mixture. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until cheese melts and begins to brown.

Yield: 5 servings

02 January 2010

A New Year? It's Time for a New Meatloaf!

Okay, I admit the title is a little weird, but what the heck! 2010 could be the year of the meatloaf - and why not start the new year off with a bang? This dish could soon become a favorite at your house. It takes a familiar dish and turns it completely upside down by adding delicious Southeast Asian flavors. You end up with a tender, moist meatloaf that is light but incredibly flavorful. It was the perfect healthy meal to wake up my taste buds and get me out of a winter funk.

I originally found the recipe for Vietnamese Meatloaf on my sister's blog, The Spiced Life. I think her results were a little mixed, but her review enabled me to make some changes along the way that made my results delicious. I decided to use ground turkey for my meatloaf, and I was thrilled with the results. I often find ground turkey a little on the icky side - just something about the taste that I need to cover up or improve on - and the ingredients in this meatloaf perfectly camouflaged that icky-ness.

The carrots and onion also kept the meatloaf moist, which is really important when using turkey. I also have to say that this meatloaf would not be nearly as enjoyable without the nuac cham on the side as Laura suggested. I more or less doused my meatloaf with nuac cham, which I had used to marinate a simple salad of sliced carrots, radishes and onions. The salad alongside the meatloaf was amazing, all covered in the tangy, sweet, salty nuac cham "dressing".

Visit Laura's blog for instructions on how to make nuac cham to your taste (I like mine a little chili-garlic paste added in!).

Cha Dum (Vietnamese Meat Loaf)
Adapted from The Spiced Life and Nancie McDemott

8 oz ground turkey
1 1/2 oz dried rice vermicelli (or try mung bean threads)
2 T finely chopped shallots or red onions
1 T minced garlic
1/4 cup shredded carrots
1 T fish sauce
1 T superior dark soy sauce (if you don't have this ingredient, try adding 1.5 T of fish sauce and 1 T of brown sugar)
1-2 T chili garlic sauce (to taste)
1 beaten egg
small handful of chopped cilantro, 1 T reserved for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Set aside a small baking dish.

Place the rice vermicelli in a bowl and pour hot water over them. Leave them to soak until pliable, 10-20 minutes. When they are pliable, drain them and then place them on a cutting board and roughly chop them. Set aside in a large bowl. Add to that the carrots, onions and garlic. Add the meat and mix with your hands until the ingredients are roughly but evenly distributed (i.e., do not over mix). Add the egg, fish sauce, soy sauce, chili garlic paste, and cilantro and mix again with your hands until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Do not over mix.

Shape the meat mixture into a round on the baking dish. Bake until it is firm, fragrant and cooked through, 30-40 minutes. Let the meat loaf cool for 10 minutes in its pan, and then transfer to a serving platter. Serve with fresh veggies, such as romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes and carrots, and nuoc cham. Garnish with reserved cilantro.

Serves 2