Tuesday, March 31, 2009

TWD - Coconut Butter Thins

How can you not love a shortbread recipe that has thin in its name? I mean, they say to me "Eat more! We're thin!"

This week's delicious Tuesdays with Dorie pick is an addictive shortbread cookie brought to us by Jayne of The Barefoot Kitchen Witch. I made these at the end of a baking/cooking extravaganza weekend that left my kitchen looking like this:

I know what you're thinking. Did rogue chefs break into my house, trash the kitchen, and run? No, I did this all by myself. As an aside, if you think redoing your kitchen will provide the push you need to keep it tidy all the time, the answer is no. I am still the same person who does three things at a time and completes none of them.

Back to the cookies. That they somehow escaped from this kitchen unscathed is a miracle. That's one good thing about being in TWD. I really have to produce finished products on occasion so I can photograph them and write about them on this blog.

I went for the recipe as written by Dorie the Great. It was, after all, Sunday night, and I was tired after a day of trashing my kitchen cooking and baking. Fortunately I had everything I needed, including the appropriately sized Ziploc bag. Like I said, I was tired so my macadamias (I used salted as encouraged by Dorie) weren't chopped into teeny tiny pieces. I rolled the dough out in the bag to the exact measurements (I hear you guffawing out there...but it was close) put it in the refrigerator, contemplated cleaning the kitchen but went to bed instead.

The next morning, I cut open the bag, and cut 30 cookies of varying sizes. I didn't bother putting the slab of dough on the cutting board, because I figured it would be easier to scrape them off the bag than it would be to scrape them off the cutting board, and it worked pretty well. I hoped they would maintain their blocky shape after baking, but knew from the P&Q that they likely wouldn't.

They were definitely done after 18 minutes. I wished I checked them a minute sooner since I find shortbread is overcooked if it is slightly brown around the edges. I waited a few minutes for them to cool before I sampled one. It was delicate, buttery (but not overly so) and had the slightest hint of lime. Once the cookies cooled, they were chewy and complex. I would have liked more lime flavor so next time (and oh, will there be a next time) I will probably double the lime zest.

Make these. Now. They're lovely and would adapt to a myriad of variations. Try them with pine nuts and rosemary in place of the coconut and macadamias. Or leave in the coconut and macadamia and jazz them up with curry powder. Go for it. After all, they're thin.

Monday, March 30, 2009

How do you say "thank you"?

Recently, I've been thanking the ones close to me with these decadent chocolate toffee cookies I first saw on Smitten Kitchen. But that made me wonder, how do YOU thank the people near you, whether it's your landlord for fixing your backed up kitchen sink on Thanksgiving or your favorite baby sitter for agreeing to take care your kids three nights in a row. If you want to give them an extra special thank you, do you bake something, cut roses from your garden or buy a small gift at your favorite boutique (like Target)?

For me, it's almost always baking. Sometimes it's killer chocolate cake or brownies. Or cranberry bread. Or a very special Dorie cheesecake. This weekend it was these delectable cookies. One bite and you'll be hooked. I used Skor bars this weekend and much preferred them to the Heath bars I've used in the past.

Please weigh in on how you say 'thank you' when the words alone don't seem adequate? Feel free to include or link to recipes! And if you can think of a way I can thank Deb Perelman, the force behind Smitten Kitchen, for all of the joy, good food and inspiration she has given me, I'd love to hear that too.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

CEiMB - Chicken with Mango Barbeque Sauce

Somehow, my internal calendar broke down for this one. I was together enough to buy all the ingredients but I mysteriously forgot that I needed to cook them until I woke up this morning. Uh oh.

Fortunately, Ellie's recipe is pretty easy to put together, and I was able to make the mango barbeque sauce before work. After work, I opted for slicing the chicken breasts rather than pounding them. The grill is still buried behind construction materials in the garage, so these had to be sauteed in a pan and finished in the oven. Even so, this was easy and quick once the sauce was made. And good news: the sauce is even better if you make it in advance. I tasted it right after I made it and it was OK, but not thrilling. After it hung out in the fridge all day, it was delicious! I used less sauce for the marinade than Ellie called for, but only because I wanted more to put on the cooked chicken.

This yummy pick is courtesy of Aggie at Aggie's Kitchen. Thanks, Aggie! My only regret is I wish it was mango season, so the mango would contribute its exotic aroma and taste in a more impactful way. 

Check out what the other Craving Ellie in My Belly bloggers did here. And definitely check out the book The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger. It's chock full of yummy recipes that are healthy and delicious.

Barefoot Bloggers - Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts

Anne Strawberry picked this week's recipe, and although I already loved Anne and her lovely blog plenty, I have yet another reason to appreciate her. Tomato and goat cheese tarts rule!

Ina Garten is teaching me to appreciate frozen puff pastry. First it was these ridiculously easy sticky buns. Now, tomato and goat cheese tarts for dinner on a weeknight? I am so there.

This recipe calls for sauteing thinly sliced onions and garlic until caramelized, and layering the cooled onions with goat cheese, sliced tomatoes, shaved Parmesan, topped with a chiffonade of basil.

I almost let the voices in my head take over again, but I resisted. I stuck with Ina's recipe as written, except I added the basil after the tarts came out of the oven, and I cut them square rather than round so there wouldn't be any puff pastry waste. One sheet of puff pastry yielded four tarts, and it felt really decadent to eat two of them for dinner. They were very filling! And amazingly tasty. M., who eschews butter because of his cholesterol, didn't once ask how I prepared them. I think it was "don't ask, don't tell" night.

Next time (which could be tonight!), I plan to substitute sun dried tomatoes for the fresh, and mozzarella cheese for the goat cheese. Or maybe tapenade under the onions with capers and pine nuts. Or pesto under sun dried tomatoes with goat cheese and fresh basil. Or walnut oil with sauteed wild mushrooms and a garnish of arugula salad lightly dressed with vinaigrette. Or... Stop it, Leslie!

I may even shrink these delightful tarts to party size, serving them with any or all of the above toppings, making the perfect two or three bite appetizer. They have excellent do-ahead potential for impressing your guests with how seemingly effortless it is to pull an awesome hors d'oeuvre out of the oven and serve it to stunned guests. Heck, if I did that, I'd be stunned!

You'll find the recipe for this delicious and versatile tart in Back to Basics, or here, or on Anne's site. If you'd like to join us, we're having a blast cooking, baking and blogging our way through Ina Garten's recipes. You can find out how to join us here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TWD - Blueberry (and Candied Apple, and Chocolate Chip) Crumb Cakes

Yes, you read that right. This was the day I lost my mind.

First of all, I promise this won't be a marathon TWD post like last week's Yogurt Cake. Because, truly, I'm exhausted from this week's assignment. Oh, it's an easy cake to put together and all that. But when you're crazy like I am, and the voices in your head refuse to be silenced, it can get a little out of control. Especially when you decide to make all three versions you've been considering. On the same morning. On a weekday. Before work. Let's just say that even if I round down, I was still half an hour late for work.

My three ideas were Dorie's original blueberry, a vanilla bean version with chocolate chips, and one that I'm calling candy apple. I did almost all the prep work the night before, including making a triple batch of the crumb topping. I left the apple prep and making 3 batches of the batter for the morning. My plan was to caramelize the apples in a saute pan with butter and sugar. I have used this technique for apple pies since I read about it in the New York Times several years ago, and I love how the deeply browned apples absorb the cinnamon that is stirred in at the end. Pink Stripes had the same idea and offered it up in the P&Q.

I did the blueberry version first, and it looked like Smurf cake when I put it in the oven. I used frozen berries since fresh really aren't in season yet, and they colored the batter a lot. Mentally, I figured it was good I was making two other cakes since purple isn't the most appetizing color for a crumb cake. Then I sliced and sauteed the apples with butter and sugar and set them aside to cool. For the chocolate chip version, I added the contents of 1/2 a vanilla bean to the batter. I tossed the crumb topping on there and put it in the oven. Lastly, I added the cooled caramelized apples to the batter and put that in a pan, throwing all the remaining crumb mixture on top, smoothing it some and putting it in the oven.

During all of this, the crumb topping mix was sitting out on the counter.

The first cake baked uneventfully for 65 minutes before it tested done. It puffed up uniformly and the crumb topping browned beautifully. Success! When I was fetching it from the oven, I noticed the other two had butter slicks of varying sizes. Uh oh.

It took FOREVER for the chocolate chip version (which had been the second cake to go in the oven) to test done, and by that time, it was overdone. This was distressing, not just because I was late for work, but because the knife kept coming out with wet goo on it when I tested it. I realized that the crumb topping had somehow separated and the butter slick made it seem like the cake wasn't done even though it was. It was the butter slick that wasn't testing done.

We discussed the pool of butter problem on the P&Q, and we're still in the dark about why it happened. I thought leaving the crumb mixture out on the counter meant it wasn't cold enough to set properly, but Barbara took hers out of the fridge and put it on her cake and into the oven immediately, and she had a small pool of butter. So it's a mystery for all you food scientists out there.

After all the drama (less than last week, but still not uneventful), all three cakes were a hit. The chocolate chip version was in the oven for about 85 minutes, so its bottom was a little too brown, but it still got raves (I couldn't really taste the vanilla, so maybe I need to add more). The blueberry was the first to disappear, and the purple color didn't show in the finished product (magic!). The apple was amazing, the caramelization adding both sweetness and bite to the meltingly tender apples. If you'd like to try this version, here's how you do the apples (they're also great on top of vanilla ice cream):

Caramelized apples (adapted from the New York Times)

5 Gala apples, cored, peeled, sliced lengthwise into 6 pieces, each piece sliced crosswise 1/4" thick
4 T butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Melt the butter in a large skillet (not non-stick) over medium heat, then add the apples. Overcrowding the apples will keep them from browning properly. Sprinkle with the sugar and stir to distribute. Cook, stirring only occasionally, until the apples have taken on a deep caramel color. As the apples brown more, they require more attention. If they get a little sticky or the pan seems unusually hot, add a pat of butter. Once the apples are well-browned and tender, remove pan from the heat. Stir in cinnamon. Set aside to cool before adding to the batter.

To use these apples in Dorie's recipe, eliminate the extra 2 teaspoons of flour, the blueberries and the lemon zest. The cinnamon for the apples is in addition to what is called for in the cake.

We have Sihan of Fundamentally-Flawed to thank for this versatile and delicious recipe. Check out what the other TWD bakers did here. I can't wait to see how they interpreted Dorie's recipe!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

CEiMB - Greek-Style Stuffed Peppers

Craving Ellie in My Belly is headed to Greece this week! I've never been to Greece but this is a great way to experience some of the flavors without throwing down a wad of cash or eating my weight in baklava.

Ali at The Healthy Hostess (check out her blog, you'll love it!) picked this recipe just for us, and I was excited because I still had some feta leftover after we made the baked shrimp with tomatoes a few weeks back. Feta isn't my favorite cheese but I'm trying to develop a liking for it. These peppers gave me another opportunity.

I'm not a beef lover. In fact, I ate no meat at all for over 20 years. It was just three years ago that I started eating chicken and turkey and beef every once in a while. So I decided to substitute ground turkey for the beef. Why is it that packages of ground turkey weigh exactly 1.25 pounds? I mean, most recipes call for a pound. I piled the extra ground turkey in the bowl and dumped in the other ingredients. The nagging voice in the back of my head was whispering "saute the onions, saute the onions..." but I ignored it, as I usually do. And I regretted it, as I usually do. 

I decided to go natural, and donned a pair of gloves and mixed the ingredients with my hands. I mixed them really, really well. Rookie mistake. Unless you like solid stuffing in your peppers. Yeah, me neither.

This recipe was pretty easy to put together. I added powdered garlic and smoked paprika for extra flavor and wish I had added more. The flavor was a little understated, but all in all it was good. If I make this recipe again, I think I'll move the flavors to Italy, using a little mozzarella cheese in place of the feta and using homemade tomato sauce instead of the canned tomatoes. Oh, and I'll be more careful about overmixing the meat. 

If you'd like the recipe, you'll find it here. And check out what the other CEiMB members did here. They're a great group who really inspire me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

TWD - French Yogurt Cake

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie pick is French Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze. It was Liliana's turn (of My Cookbook Addiction) to pick, and she really hit it out of the park. I proved that is it impossible to mess up this cake, as did a few other bakers, judging by the comments on the P&Q.

I made this recipe twice. The first time, I doubled the recipe as I needed to be able to serve twenty ladies with it. It requires no butter, and mixes in one bowl!! It rose as it baked and looked pretty spectacular. I let it cool five minutes before running my thin knife around the edges and dumping it out of the loaf pan. It didn't want to come, didn't want to come then POP! it came out and landed on the rack. I say came out, but that's not the whole story. Most of it came out. The rest stayed in the pan. Why oh why did I spray not butter as Dorie recommended?

I may have said a bad word at this point. I mean, when will I learn not to start baking at 8:25 on a Sunday night? I oh so carefully extricated the second one with a thin, flexible silicone flipper and pondered my options. I would have to make another cake.

As I was measuring the almond meal, I realized that when I doubled the first recipe, I quadrupled the almond meal. So my first two loaves, even the one I eased out of the pan without incident, weren't going to be fit to eat. I forged on anyway, again doubling the recipe to make two cakes, baked and cooled them and went to bed (it was almost midnight, and the next day would be the first work day after the time change). I figured I would make lemon curd to serve with the cake and all would be well.

I dragged myself out of bed at 5:30 to make lemon curd for the yogurt cake. I had skipped the marmalade glaze as I couldn't find lemon marmalade and I'm not big on orange marmalade. I had exactly enough eggs for a double recipe of lemon curd (this is one of my insanities; I double everything I make for social gatherings). I figured I would use the egg whites to make meringues as a fallback, pick up whipping cream at Safeway on my way home from work, and let the meringues sit in the oven all day while I worked. This is another of my insanities. Time is very elastic in my mind. I have to be at work at 8, and I do have to shower, dress, and drive to the office. Any reasonably sane person knows you're not going to pipe out 25 meringues and bake them, make lemon curd and get in to the office before 10:00. But that was my plan. And it hinged on not goofing up on cracking any of the eggs and thereby polluting the pristine whites, which have to be completely free of fat to whip to their airy best. Miraculously, I didn't have any yolk breakage, and all went according to plan with the curd, except I didn't cook it long enough and it was slightly eggy. I have existential difficulties in serving a dessert that isn't perfect.  Eggy lemon curd? Not perfect.

This was when I went to plan C. I gave up on bringing a home baked dessert and went to Costco on my way home to buy a cheesecake and a chocolate cake. This I did even though I didn't yet know if the lemon curd was truly too eggy to serve. So I toddled on home, sliced a piece of the French Yogurt Cake, spooned the lemon curd over it, supplemented it with sliced organic strawberries, said a little prayer and took a bite.

It was amazing. The cake is perfect...it isn't exactly a pound cake, but it's not like a quick bread either. It has some lemon zest that hints at lemon without hitting you over the head. I made peace with the lemon curd. I washed and sliced the strawberries and relaxed. The world did not end.

But this, dear readers, is not the end of our story. The next day, I tasted the loaf with double the almond meal. It was wonderful, nay, almost better than the one I didn't screw up. I quickly threw together a batch of hot fudge and took it to work (with the leftover lemon curd). The Costco cakes I purchased but didn't need? They went to work, too. They were good, but not Dorie-good. As we know, that's a whole different level of flavor.

So this cake is not only good, it's easy, darn near impossible to mess up and it's beyond versatile. That's a real keeper in my book. I can't wait to make it again with cinnamon instead of lemon, or with maple syrup to replace some of the sugar. Or with chai spices. Or...

People ask me all the time "How are you not as big as a house with all the baking you do?" Even though I'm doing battle with an extra 20 pounds, I try to eat fairly healthy and one of the best tools for me has been recipes by Ellie Krieger. Maybe you've seen her on Food Network. I always thought she was a little smug, but once I tried her recipes, that girl can be as smug as she wants! Her food is delicious and healthy. She cuts out the unnecessary bad stuff and keeps the flavor, and most of her recipes are ridiculously simple.

Why am I telling you this? There's a group of us who make her recipes and blog about it. We call it Craving Ellie in My Belly. We take turns picking the recipe and we all blog about it on Thursdays. It's the perfect antidote to the poundage from Tuesdays with Dorie. If you'd like to join us, email Sara and Nick at cravingellieinmybelly@gmail.com. Ellie got me to eat, and even enjoy, brussels sprouts!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Yogurt, elevated

One of my biggest obstacles to losing the last 10 20 pounds is my love of all things dairy. I have friends with varying degrees of lactose intolerance, and I am sincerely sorry whenever I think about what they are missing.

When I crave something creamy and delicious, I often reach for yogurt in one form or another. I lean to fat free and low fat, and fat free Greek yogurt is frequently the one I go for. It's thick and creamy, and good with both sweet and savory adornment. This week, I got to indulge my love of lemon and my love of yogurt by utilizing some left over lemon curd. Yes, I made my own lemon yogurt. Here's how you do it:

Put desired amount of yogurt (I used low-fat Stonyfield Farms Organic Vanilla) in a bowl. Pour leftover lemon curd over yogurt to taste. Sprinkle with toasted nuts or granola. Eat. Repeat. Lick bowl (only if no one is looking). Feel virtuous for using up leftovers AND getting in a calcium serving.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - Chicken Picatta

This week's Barefoot Bloggers recipe is Chicken Picatta, chosen for us by Lindsey of Noodle Nights and Muffin Mornings. I was excited about this one as it is easy and inexpensive.

I did take a short cut. I bought sliced chicken breasts, so I didn't have to pound them. This is such an easy recipe that dinner was ready early...that never happens! I served it with brown rice and steamed broccoli. The pan sauce was delicious with the chicken (and the broccoli). The sauce tasted a little too lemony on its own, but with the chicken it was spot on flavor wise.

There are one or two things I will do differently next time. After sautéing, the chicken bakes on a sheet pan with parchment paper. That made the bottom of the chicken soggy. I think I'll bake it on a rack over the sheet pan so the bottom gets heat and stays crisp. I would also double the sauce since it was so good and such a natural to put over your veggies. I might also saute some spinach in that pan sauce and pour the whole thing over the chicken.

Give this one a try! It's awesome and easy, a perfect Tuesday night dinner.

You can find the recipe here. If you'd like to join us in cooking and blogging about Barefoot Contessa recipes, here's how you do it.

CEiMB - Fish Tacos with Chipotle Cream

On a day following many days on which I ate not the right things in excessive quantities, I made these...

I usually approach Ellie's recipes with a healthy dose of skepticism. I mean, the ingredients don't always read like greatness on a plate. But the magic of her recipes is the result is always better than the sum of the parts. 

Add these fish tacos to the list of the recipes that made my mouth dance when I took the first bite. 

Let me back up and start again.

This week's Craving Ellie in My Belly recipe is Fish Tacos with Chipotle Cream. It was chosen by one of my favorite bloggers, Sara at imafoodblog. I had almost made this on several occasions, and truth be told, it was on the short list when I picked a few weeks back. I only needed to buy corn tortillas, shredded cabbage and a new bunch of cilantro (but I do that every week pretty much). I had corn and two halibut filets left in the freezer. Sweet!

I defrosted the halibut and was almost ready to pour the marinade over it when M. came in from the gym and announced we were going to Santa Cruz for lunch. The fish and marinade went back into the fridge. We went to the Crow's Nest and sat outside. Here's the view (I didn't bring the camera so this is from their webcam...it was clear and sunnier when we were there):

It was the first warm, sunny, blue sky day in a while so we put the fish tacos on hold.

The next day, I decided that this non-stop diet of chocolate covered pecans and Nutella truffles needed a healthy interlude. The antidote: fish tacos. Not just any fish tacos, but healthy fish tacos. With chipotle cream.

Ellie calls for grilling the fish fillets, but the grill is stuck behind the construction detritus in the garage, so I pan sauteed them in olive oil. I warmed the corn tortillas in a non-stick skillet, and dumped everything on these and rushed outside to take a NATURAL LIGHT PHOTO. Isn't this beautiful?

I like how the fish is juicy but well-browned, the big pile of cilantro, the random kernels of corn, the shards of cabbage...err, where's the cabbage? Run back in the house, toss some cabbage on it and presto, the photo at the top of the post. I like this one better since it showcases how awesome the fish turned out. Allie watched while I took photos:

Since I already told you it made my mouth dance, let me caution you to temper the amount of chipotle you use if you don't like spicy food. We like spicy, so it's all good, but you may find the level of heat to be too much. 

This recipe will move into my regular rotation. It was easy, tasty and healthy. I celebrated by eating two truffles. 

Check out what the other CEiMB members did this week here. You can find the recipe on Sara's blog or on the Food Network website. And by all means, take a look at the book. It's jam packed with healthy choices that are delicious!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

TWD - Lemon Cup Custard

I love lemon. Lemon squares, lemon tarts, lemon sorbet, lemonade, lemon chicken, lemon pound cake, lemon chiffon, lemon cheesecake, lemon curd scones, lemon yogurt, lemon Jolly Ranchers, lemon meringue pie...

I hear you shouting "OK Forrest, we get it. You like lemon."

In fact, if there's a chocolate dessert and a lemon dessert to choose from, I typically go for the lemon, even though I am a total chocolate nut. Maybe that has as much to do with the sorry state of most restaurant chocolate desserts, but it also speaks to my passion for the sweet, tart, floral notes of the lemon. So I was overjoyed when Bridget of The Way the Cookie Crumbles selected the Lemon Cup Custard for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.

Knowing how lemon crazed I am, I cut this recipe in half (that way I was only at risk of eating three of them, about a cup of milk and two eggs: no biggie). I used the full amount of lemon zest called for in the recipe because I wanted to boost the lemon flavor but I didn't have any lemon oil or extract. This was a very easy recipe, but I added a couple of steps just because I'm a maniac.

I always, always strain custards after incorporating the hot milk. Dorie didn't ask us to do this, but as you can see, there were some egg solids in the strainer so I was glad I did.

I also poured the reserved hot milk into a measuring cup, since I found it impossible to whisk, strain and pour all at the same time. I found that the milk wasn't that hot after letting it sit, covered, for 30 minutes. I think the 30 minutes was needed to infuse the custard with the flavor of the lemon zest, but I'm not sure this gave the custard its best start in life.

The recipe called for baking the custards 40-45 minutes. They were definitely done at 40 minutes, maybe even over done. I let them cool and put them in the refrigerator for about 12 hours before serving.

I didn't have problems with it wiggling off the spoon as Dorie said it might, so I may have over baked it. In fact, it was very eggy. The lemon flavor was so faint that I regret not buying the lemon oil. I used a Meyer lemon, and they are more delicately flavored than traditional lemons. All in all, I'm glad I made it, but I may experiment with one of Dorie's playing around suggestions next time.

Check out what the other TWDers did here. I'm expecting great things from them in terms of flavor creations! And if you'd like the recipe, you'll find it here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

CEiMB - Sesame Stir-Fried Chinese Greens

This was another easy and delicious recipe from Ellie Krieger! It was chosen just for us by Joanne of Apple Crumbles. I have been trying to eat more greens recently and this one gave me the chance to try a new one to boot!

The recipe couldn't have been easier unless Ellie came to my house and cooked it for me:  Cut up the greens (I used Napa cabbage), saute in a little canola oil, add soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil. Serve. 

It looked uninspiring in the pan...

And even in the bowl it was feeling a little shy...

I tasted it and it was good, but I felt it needed a nudge to greatness, so I added garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes and roasted salted peanuts. That's when it stood up and said "Eat me for dinner."

So I did.

This wonderful recipe would work with mustard greens, escarole, and bok choy. And many others, for sure. If you'd like the recipe, you can find it over at Joanne's, or here.

Just a casual poll...does anyone else look at their close up stove shots and go "Geesh, I really need to clean this thing!?" It looks like I salt my cooktop pretty liberally, the food, not so much.

Please come back next week (no promises on a cleaner cooktop) for Fish Tacos with Chipotle Cream, hosted by one of my bloggie faves, Sara of imafoodblog.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

No TWD this week

I'm passing on TWD this week. The group is making the Chocolate Armagnac Cake. We don't do alcohol and it's an integral part of this recipe. Please check back next week for the Lemon Cup Custard. My kitchen is overrun with Meyer lemons, so this is a timely pick!