Wednesday, October 31, 2012

everyone loves a pumpkin.

Marketing the seasons is nothing new. According to retailers, school starts in July, Halloween in August, Thanksgiving in September, and Christmas...well, it seems like any time is a good time to start your Christmas shopping.

The pumpkin market, though, is in a class all by itself. When fall hits, every restaurant, coffee shop, and grocery store plasters their walls with posters advertising pumpkin spice fill-in-the-blank. The pumpkin phenomenon may have gotten out of hand. This assertion might make me sound like an old lady screaming at trick-or-treaters to get off my lawn...except I'm about to offer you a pumpkin recipe.

One of my friends had a pumpkin-themed potluck last night, and as much as I make fun of the pumpkin trend, everyone brought something delicious that included pumpkin. Pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin salad, pumpkin pizza, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, a fabulous pumpkin bourbon milkshake (heavy on the bourbon, light on the pumpkin)...the list goes on. I decided to go whole hog (whole gourd?) and hollow out an entire pumpkin, stuff it, and bake it.

I knew I would get points for presentation, but I honestly didn't have incredibly high hopes for this combination of flavors. As it turned out, they melded perfectly. Although my serving method wasn't perfect--I just stuck a spoon into the stuffing, so most people only ate that and didn't get any pumpkin--I combined the two on my plate with wonderful results. Next time I would follow the directions Dorie Greenspan offers and either slice the pumpkin with the stuffing for individual portions, or scoop it all into a big bowl and mix it up.

I made a vegetarian version, but if you're only serving this to meat eaters I would definitely add some bacon or sausage. You can use pretty much any combination of bread and cheese--whatever you think would go well together. No matter how you make it, this is one pumpkin recipe worth trying.

pumpkin stuffed with everything good
adapted from dorie greenspan
serves 6 as a side or 4 as a main course 

1 medium cooking pumpkin, 3 to 4 pounds
about 4 c bread, torn into chunks (I used cranberry pecan)
6 oz cheese, shredded (gruyere, emmentaler, cheddar, or whatever you like)
4 cloves garlic, minced
about 1/2 c heavy cream
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper 

Place the oven rack on the bottom Preheat the oven to 350. Cut out the top of the pumpkin, leaving a large enough hole for your hand to fit. Remove the seeds from the pumpkin, and save them if you'd like to toast them. Rub the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl combine the bread, cheese, and garlic, and mix with your hands to combine. Stuff the pumpkin with the bread-cheese mixture, filling it but leaving space to put the cap back on.

Combine the cream with as much nutmeg, salt, and pepper as you think is necessary, and pour the cream mixture into the pumpkin, covering the bread but not submerging it in liquid.

Place the cap back on the pumpkin and place it on a parchment-lined cookie sheet or in a Dutch oven. I used a Dutch oven to make sure my pumpkin wouldn't collapse, but it held up remarkably well. Bake for about 2 1/2 hours or until the pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork. I removed the cap after about 2 hours to let the top of the stuffing brown. Prepare to impress your friends and family!

Monday, October 8, 2012

a recipe to share

Have you ever had an experience that totally turned you upside down, that reminded you what's important? Of course you have; everyone has. (So I hope.) I visited my friend Cara in Austin last week for my fall break, and it helped me remember what matters, what brings meaning to our lives: human connection. That may sound trite or overly sentimental, but I don't mind so much. It's still true.

After 72 waking hours in Austin (but who's counting?), on Saturday I came home to Nashville, back to the realities of school, work, and a routine. It felt a bit like a crash back into normal life, but at least I can hold on to a few things: memories, a lesson or two, new sources of hope. It also helped that I came home to friends, and even better, shared three dinners in a row with them.

I wish I could share everything about my trip with you all (or most of it, anyway). For now, though, I can only offer a great recipe to enjoy with others. This recipe for Hungarian goulash, a beef stew, is a childhood favorite of mine. No, I'm not Hungarian, but when I was growing up my mom made it all the time. It's easy, humble, comforting, and delicious. This recipe makes way more than one person could eat alone, so share it with people you love.

hungarian goulash
adapted from williams-sonoma essentials of slow cooking
serves 4-6

1 tbsp vegetable oil
it photographs humbly as well.
1 1/2 - 2 lbs beef chuck, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 quart reduced-sodium beef broth
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
1 bell pepper, chopped
3 medium red potatoes, diced
3 medium carrots, chopped
Sour cream (optional)

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil.  Meanwhile, season the beef with salt and pepper. Add the beef to the pan and brown on all sides, 5-7 minutes (you may have to work in batches to ensure that the beef browns rather than steams). Remove the beef from the pan and place in a large slow cooker.

Add the onions to the pan and cook until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the paprika, caraway seeds, oregano, tomato paste, and broth, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and pour into the slow cooker over the beef. Add the canned tomatoes and their juice and stir to combine.

Cover and cook until the beef is tender, about 6 hours on the low-heat setting. Uncover and stir in the bell pepper, potatoes, and carrots, and re-cover. Turn the slow cooker to high and cook until the potatoes are tender, 2 1/2 - 3 hours longer.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with sour cream, if desired. Crusty bread is a nice addition as well.

Monday, September 3, 2012

sesame-crusted feta and fig sandwiches

When school starts, I consider it fall. No matter that the high reaches 90 degrees most days and I can still get good tomatoes at the farmer's market; I'm ready for it to be sweater weather (and stay that way--I can pass on winter, thank you). Today, Labor Day, marks the "official" end of summer, and it's a bit cooler and rainy and at least it LOOKS like fall outside, so I made a decidedly autumnal sandwich for lunch. And it was one of the best sandwiches I've ever had...which is saying a lot, since anything on bread pretty much qualifies as my favorite food.

This is a bit more labor-intensive than a ham and cheese on wheat, but the extra effort pays off. The nuttiness of sesame seeds plays off the sharp tang of feta, and the figs' already considerable sweetness deepens with a quick toss in a saute pan and a drizzle of honey. The bread is almost secondary, but a nice hearty whole-grain works well (I used Whole Food's Seeduction bread, one of my favorites despite the name). Now that I think of it, though, this recipe might work even better as a salad, on a bed of arugula perhaps.

sesame-crusted feta and fig sandwiches
adapted from serious eats
serves two

4 oz. block feta
1 tbsp butter
4 figs, quartered
1 tbsp olive oil
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tbsp honey
4 slices of hearty bread

Slice feta into approximately 1/4" slices and place on a plate in the freezer to harden, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until bubbly, 2-3 minutes. Add figs and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine sesame seeds, coriander, and red pepper on a medium plate. Remove feta from freezer, dip each slice in egg and coat all sides evenly with sesame seed mixture.

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Saute feta until golden on both sides, turning carefully with tongs, a minute or two per side. Remove from heat.

Top each slice of bread with feta and figs, season with salt and black pepper, and drizzle with honey.

Friday, August 3, 2012

my favorite potato salad

 I love the word "salad"; it can cover a multitude of sins. Especially in the South, where salads usually involve something creamy--mayonnaise, cream cheese, even cool whip--they are often much less healthy than they sound. I won't say I'm above such mayo-laden delicacies as grape or broccoli salad, but sometimes I want something a little more complex and a little less heart-stopping. Earlier this summer my mom asked me to make some potato salad for dinner at the beach, and based on a recipe I liked and what we had in the fridge, I came up with the recipe below. It's creamy, yes, and I don't know that I would call it health food, but it's more than potatoes+mayo+celery, and it is absolutely delicious warm or cold.

my favorite potato salad
adapted from food52
serves 4-6

10 or so medium red-skinned potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs), cut in half
Olive oil and kosher salt, for roasting
1/2 c Greek yogurt
1/4 c mayo
2 tbsp sweet pickle relish
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1 green onion or 1/4 large onion, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
A few shakes Tabasco
1/2 tsp Creole seasoning

Preheat oven to 400. Toss potatoes with olive oil and kosher salt, and roast until cooked through and golden brown on the bottom (40-45 minutes). Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl to make the dressing. When potatoes are done and you're ready to serve the salad, cut them into bite-sized pieces and toss with the dressing. Don't do this until you're ready to serve the salad (warm or cold is fine), since the potatoes soak up the dressing pretty quickly.

P.S. - I made a much larger batch of this for a meal we served this week at The Nashville Food Project, alongside pulled pork, maque choux, and banana blueberry cake. It's not up yet, but in the next few days they will have the recipe for maque choux on their website feature Cook for a Crowd. Check it out!

Monday, July 9, 2012

blueberry-basil breakfast bowl

I promise these berries are of the blue variety.

Although recently my blog posts have been few and far between, I have been spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I'm the summer kitchen intern (or Kitchen Intern, if I'm feeling self-important) at this great organization called The Nashville Food Project, and although that means I'm working with food all day most days, I still usually want to cook for myself when I come home. I try to get all my cooking done at night, dinner first, then breakfast and lunch to take with me for the next day. This isn't any different from my school-year routine, but because I have more free time now I'm trying more new recipes than usual, including the one you're about to read!

Most of the time "new" recipes that attract me remind me of something I already like. This is a perfect example. Oatmeal is my default breakfast, but when it's 100+ degrees outside it's hard to get excited about a hot bowl of anything. When I saw The Kitchn's recipe for a breakfast blueberry and grain salad, I knew I had to make it. (This epiphany might have had something to do with the 8 pints of blueberries I had just bought on sale at Whole Foods.) So I did, and I ate it every day for breakfast last week. Tonight I decided to make another batch, but I changed a few things: more berries, fewer nuts, basil instead of nutmeg. I think my version is an improvement on the original, humility be damned.

I know the name I gave this recipe has a lot of "b"s--I was always a sucker for alliteration. And blueberries. And, as you probably already know if you know me, breakfast. This hits all three. You can substitute almost any grains, fruits, spices or herbs, and nuts or seeds you want, but make sure you come up with an equally snappy title for your new version, please.

blueberry-basil breakfast bowl
adapted from the kitchn
makes about 8 servings

1 c steel-cut oats
1 c quinoa
1/2 c millet
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
4 1/2 c water
3/4 tsp salt
2 lemons, zest and juice
1/3 c basil, chopped
1/2 c maple syrup
1 c Greek yogurt
1/2 c pecans, toasted and chopped
3 c blueberries

Mix the oats, quinoa, and millet in a fine mesh strainer and rinse for about a minute under running water. Set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the rinsed grains and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until they begin smelling toasted. Pour in 4 1/2 cups water and stir in 3/4 teaspoon salt and the zest of 1 lemon.

Bring to boil, cover, turn down the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes, then remove the lid and fluff with a fork. Spread hot grains on a large baking sheet and let cool for at least half an hour.

Spoon the cooled grains into a large bowl. Stir in the basil and the zest of the second lemon.

In a medium bowl whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil with the juice of both lemons until emulsified. Whisk in the maple syrup and yogurt. Pour this into the grains and stir until well-coated. Stir in the toasted pecans and blueberries. Taste and season with additional salt, if necessary.

Refrigerate overnight (or as long as you can stand it). This will keep in the fridge for several days and also freezes well, if you can't eat it all up in a week.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

grandma's pickles

About six months ago, I bought a dozen pint-sized jars with the intention of canning something. I made three jars of preserved lemons to give as Christmas gifts and promptly relegated the three-quarters-full box of jars to the back of my pantry, along with my cake decorating supplies and three bags of leftover potato chips from Jason's Deli.

But it's summer now, and high time for preserving any and everything this season has to offer. I thought about making strawberry jam just a little bit too long, and the season passed me by. Cucumbers are starting to come in, though, so I decided to make the cucumber lime pickles my Grandma used to put up. She also made strawberry jam, and peach, too, although the peach often ended up crystallizing in the back of our refrigerator (sorry, Grandma!).

These pickles,! Besides tasting like my childhood, they are the highlight of any sandwich--sweet and vinegary, crunchy and sharp and stickily delicious. They take some time, 2 or 3 days, but I promise they're worth it. Make them. Make them now.

P.S. - I have nine jars, lids, and tops left and am itching to make some kind of jam or preserves, even though it's too late for strawberry. If you have a good canning recipe for an in-season (or soon to be) fruit or vegetable, please share!

"old south" cucumber lime pickles
cukes, pre-pickling
from Mrs. Wages
makes 12-14 pint-sized jars

7 lbs pickling cucumbers, sliced
1 c Mrs. Wages pickling lime
2 gal water
8 c distilled white vinegar, 5% acidity 
8 c sugar
1 tbsp salt (optional)
2 tsp mixed pickling spices (Ball and Mrs. Wages both make these)

special equipment:
sterilized canning jars, lids, and screw-on tops (sterilize the jars and tops by running them through the dishwasher; instructions for the lids to follow)
boiling water bath canner (I just bought this inexpensive one)

Stir together pickling lime and water in canner (without rack; that comes much later). Add cucumbers; cover and let soak for at least two hours or overnight.

Remove cucumbers from lime water; discard lime water. Rinse cucumbers three times under running water. Wash canner and put cucumbers back in it; cover with ice water and let soak for three hours.

Remove cucumbers from water; discard water. Combine vinegar, sugar, salt, and pickling spices in canner. Bring to a low boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove syrup from heat and add cucumbers. Soak 5-6 hours or overnight.

Bring cucumbers and syrup to boil in canner and let boil for 35 minutes. Meanwhile, take out sterilized jars and tops, and boil a small pan of water. Once water boils, place lids in it to sterilize them and turn the heat off. After cucumbers and syrup have boiled for 35 minutes, fill jars with cucumbers and syrup, leaving 1/2-inch headspace (you may have to make more syrup to fill the jars). Remove lids from small pot of water, and top and cap each jar.

Place rack in canner and fill with water. Bring water to a boil, then place jars on the canner rack, making sure the jars are completely covered with water. Bring water back to a boil and leave jars in boiling water for 10 minutes (this step is called processing). Remove jars from water and let sit until cool. If done correctly the jars should seal, and when you press down on the lids they should not pop back up. If they do pop up, try turning them upside-down, pushing the lid in, and letting them sit that way for awhile; sometimes this will seal them. Still no dice? Sorry, you'll need to refrigerate those jars. If the lids don't pop back up, though (yay!), the unrefrigerated pickles will keep indefinitely, probably until next cucumber season. Store in a cool, dry, place, and refrigerate before serving. If you want someone to like you, give them a jar.
a trick grandma taught me

Saturday, June 2, 2012

indian-spiced sesame butter cake

Any time a friend's birthday rolls around, I offer to bake a cake. I like making things for people I love, but I'm also always looking for an excuse to bake--so it's a win-win situation!

Most people request the basics--funfetti, chocolate, the occasional red velvet--and I'm happy to make those. It's a special treat, though, when someone asks for something a little bit different. I get to experiment, try something new, and use ingredients other than sugar, butter, and chocolate. My friend Marriah's birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, but she left this morning for the summer. We were trying out my new grill last night anyway (thanks, Emily and Jon!), so I offered to bake her a small birthday/bon voyage cake for dessert. What kind did she want? I quote from her texted response: "almost savory, or middle eastern spices, or anything with strawberries...that's all over the map, i trust whatever strikes your fancy!"

Ah, freedom!

I took her at her word and made a variation on a cake I'd been meaning to try for some time: a peanut butter cake with garam masala. I made it a touch more exotic by switching out the peanut butter for tahini. The resulting cake had a nutty, warmly spiced flavor and tasted like no other cake I can remember having. I served it with this newly popular one-ingredient banana ice cream, drizzled with honey and topped with sesame seeds. Next time I'll go with vanilla ice cream instead, as the banana overwhelmed the cake's delicate sesame flavor. I loved the cake by itself, too, and think it would make a great coffee cake as it's not too sweet. This venture made me want to try some new unusual combinations, so if your birthday's coming up soon and you want a chocolate avocado cake or an elderflower lemon cake, you know who to call! (And to be honest, I also love a good fun-fetti cake as much as the next person.)

Note: I divided the original recipe by three because only a few people were coming over. If you'd like to make a bigger cake, just use the original recipe (link below).

indian-spiced sesame butter cake 
adapted from The Luna Cafe
makes one 8-inch layer or 8 cupcakes

3/4 c flour (3 oz.)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garam masala (optional)
4 tbsp butter (1/2 stick), at room temp
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c tahini (or peanut butter, if you're fresh out of tahini)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1/4 c buttermilk or milk
Optional accompaniments: honey, toasted sesame seeds, ice cream

Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8-inch cake pan or line a muffin tin with 8 cupcake liners.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and garam masala. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar using a mixer at medium-high speed for 2-3 minutes. Add tahini, vanilla, and egg, and continue mixing until you have a uniform mixture. Blend in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with 2 additions of buttermilk. Do not overmix, as this will make the cake tough rather than tender.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan or muffin tin and top with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If you'd like, top with a scoop of ice cream, a drizzle of honey, and a few toasted sesame seeds.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

the holy grail of southern food

Fried chicken. What tastes more like the South? Okay, so sweet tea, biscuits, collards, peaches, boiled peanuts, and cornbread could all give it a run for its money, but when I think of Sunday dinner (served at noon, after church) I think fried chicken. I grew up in a tiny town in South Carolina, and every Sunday my sister and I went out to eat with our grandmother at one of two places: Frye's (a local meat-and-three buffet) or Pizza Hut. They were the only two restaurants open on Sundays, so we had our choice between fried food and stewed vegetables and faux-Italian. Of course, we often chose Pizza Hut (rutabagas didn't hold quite the same appeal as breadsticks), but when we went to Frye's I always got the fried chicken. I don't think it was actually that great, but my memory of it is. And isn't that all that matters?

I made my own fried chicken for the second time (and the first successful time) last week. On my second try I used the Lee Brothers' recipe, and I endorse it fully. It came out perfectly seasoned with a golden crisp crust--everything fried chicken should be. I followed the recipe to a T, and although it's not difficult it IS messy. From what I could tell, brining and oil temperature are key. The first time I fried chicken my oil was too hot, and the breading burned before the meat could finish cooking. If you keep the oil between 325 and 350 degrees, everything will turn out just fine.

almost done!

sunday fried chicken
adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, by Matt Lee and Ted Lee
serves 4

1 qt water
1/3 c salt
about 3 c peanut oil, lard, or sunflower oil (what I used)
1 recipe Lee Bros. All-Purpose Fry Dredge (combine the following):
   1/2 c all-purpose flour
   3 tbsp stone-ground cornmeal
   2 tsp salt
   1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 lbs chicken legs and thighs (about 6 legs and 6 bone-in thighs)

At least four hours (up to eight hours) before you begin frying, combine the water and salt in a very large bowl, stirring until salt dissolves. Place trimmed chicken pieces in brine, cover the bowl, and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator two hours before frying to allow chicken to come to room temperature.

When you are ready to make the chicken, place a large cookie sheet lined with a cooling rack (if you have one) or paper towels in the oven and preheat to 250 degrees.

Pour the oil into a large skillet, to a depth of about 1/2 inch. Heat over medium-high until oil reaches 325 degrees on a candy thermometer.

While the oil is heating, place the fry dredge in a medium bowl. Remove each piece of chicken from the brine and dredge it thoroughly, then place chicken on a plate within easy reach of your skillet.

Once your oil is at 325 and your chicken is dredged, start frying! Place enough chicken pieces (skin-side down) in the skillet to cover the bottom. Cover the skillet if you want (this will make it go faster, but I wanted to watch), and cook until the bottom side is golden brown, about 6 minutes. Make sure you monitor the oil temperature and adjust the heat to keep it between 325 and 350 degrees. Turn chicken and fry the other side until it is golden brown as well. Turn again and fry three minutes, and then once more, a final three minutes.

Use tongs to remove the chicken from the skillet and place it on a rack in the oven to keep warm. Follow the same procedure to fry the rest of the chicken.

When all the chicken is done, serve immediately--preferably with cornbread or biscuits and three vegetables, one of which should be macaroni and cheese (my other two were coleslaw and roasted summer squash).

fried chicken leads to happiness.

Monday, April 9, 2012

happy easter.

A poem, care of my mom, since I haven't gotten around to blogging about the wedding cake I made last weekend (yes, a wedding cake!).

Anyway, I just loved this and hope you will, too.

An excerpt from Wendell Berry's "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front":

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

cookies for breakfast (or lunch, or a snack...)

I have a gigantic sweet tooth. I like to think I come by it naturally (my sister has the same condition, if you can call it that), but no matter the source it's there. My regular winter breakfast is oatmeal with almond milk, cinnamon, and a sliced banana, so I even start my day with something a little sweet.

These cookies are kind of a grab-and-go version oatmeal, akin to granola bars. Most of the "breakfast cookie" recipes I've seen include some measure of white flour and a fair amount of sugar, and although I'm certainly not opposed to either of those, I try to hold off on having them until after lunch. The only added sugar in this whole recipe is 1/4 c of maple syrup, which comes out to 1 tsp per (pretty large) cookie. Calling them "cookies" might be a bit of a misnomer, but I just like thinking that I'm eating dessert for breakfast.

These go great with tea or coffee, or they're delicious alone. You can also make any number of substitutions to this recipe; if you prefer different sweeteners, fats, grains, seeds, spices, or dried fruit, feel free to give them a shot. If you want more of a "real" cookie taste, chocolate chips would be a great addition (clearly, since the original recipe uses them).

breakfast cookies
adapted from 101 Cookbooks
makes one dozen large cookies  

2 medium bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c maple syrup
1/4 c peanut butter
2 c rolled  oats
1/4 c wheat germ
1/4 c flax seeds
1/2 c dried coconut
1/4 c dried dates, chopped
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 and line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Combine first four ingredients in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl, stir together remaining ingredients; add to banana mixture and mix together until thoroughly combined (you can use a spoon or your hands, although it's a bit sticky).

Scoop dough into 1/4-c. portions and place on cookie sheet. Press down a bit to make them as tall or flat, neat or messy as you'd like. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes (longer if you'd like them to be crunchy rather than chewy).

The cookies will last a few days in an airtight container, or freeze them for up to a month and pop one into the toaster for a quick, healthy breakfast.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

the best thing about the super bowl (no, it's not the commercials)

I couldn't care less about professional football, but I love the Super Bowl. Any event that requires that you have a drink in hand and consume copious amounts of chips and dip gets an A+ in my book. 

But what to make? In my opinion, this is one of the only times during the year when it's perfectly acceptable to throw together sour cream and Lipton onion soup mix and call it an appetizer. But why would you want to do that, when there are so many other options out there? Well, maybe you're having 20 people over to your house and you just don't feel like whipping up a dish with the same number of ingredients as there will be guests.

So, I've come up with a few suggestions depending on your level of commitment and concern for nutrition. I'm dividing these recipes into "classy" and "trashy". This might sound a bit elitist, but honestly I would be happy eating any of the dishes from either category. I'm a little embarrassed that I like some of the trashy recipes, but hey, everyone (okay, almost everyone) wants that kind of food every once in awhile.

"classy" recipes:
hot buttered soft pretzels: I've always wanted to make soft pretzels, and King Arthur Flour's recipes consistently deliver.  
yoghurt-spinach dip, 'borani esfanaaj', in the persian manner:  this wins the prize for the longest name. (food52)
spicy maple cashew popcorn:  I like to add bacon to this, and you can substitute whatever nut you have on hand. (Cooking Light)

"real" texas chili con carne:  I'm not even a big chili fan, but this looks fantastic. (Serious Eats)
caramelized pork banh mi:  an amazingly flavorful sandwich that's worth the prep.

jacques torres' chocolate chip cookies:  my roommate made these once, and they were the best chocolate chip cookies I had ever tasted. (Martha Stewart)
the baked brownie:  probably my favorite brownie recipe, by the famed Brooklyn bakery. (Brown Eyed Baker)

"trashy" recipes:
sausage balls:  I loved these as a kid, which may help explain my childhood physique. (Paula Deen)
ranch oyster crackers:  a family friend used to make these for Christmas gifts, and they are addictive. (
italian sausage and cheese dip:  "the ultimate Super Bowl dip"? We shall see. (Better Recipes)

mexican chicken casserole: starts with a layer of crushed doritos. Enough said. (jam hands)
party ham sandwiches: if you've ever been to a tailgate in the South, you've had these. Don't let the ingredient list throw you--they are delicious. (Southern Living)

homemade kit kat bars:  I have yet to try these, but they're on my list. (Serious Eats)
compost cookies:  these straddle the trashy/classy line, as the recipe is from Momofuku Milk Bar, but the ingredient list includes 1 1/2 c of snack foods (I use potato chips and pretzels). (Live! with Kelly)

Friday, February 3, 2012

shortbread, the little black dress of cookies

Okay, so maybe that metaphor is a little far-fetched, but shortbread is incredibly versatile, elegant, and, let's be honest, anything with that much butter in it has to be sexy. know you want some of this.

I decided to make shortbread for a dinner party I went to last night, and I happened to have a few ounces of good dark chocolate and candied orange peel in my cupboard, so that's the combination I went with. This recipe would be perfectly lovely on its own as well, or with an endless number of other additions. A few possible combinations, before I get to the main recipe:

-1/2 c chopped white chocolate + 1/2 c of your favorite dried berries
-1 tsp cinnamon (mixed into flour) + 1 c toasted chopped pecans
-1/3 c dried coconut + 1/3 c chopped dark chocolate + 1/3 c slivered almonds
-3/4 c shredded parmesan + 1 tbsp fresh chopped rosemary
-3/4 c shredded sharp cheddar + 1 tbsp red pepper flakes
-1/3 c cooked diced bacon + 1/3 c crumbled bleu cheese

shortbread master recipe
adapted from sarabeth's bakery: from my hands to yours
makes about 2 dozen

16 tbsp (2 sticks) salted butter (my preference), at room temp and cut into 1/2" cubes
1/2 c sugar (for sweet shortbread only)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (sweet only)
grated zest of 1/2 lemon (sweet only; use your judgment depending on flavor additions)
2 c all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
flavor additions of your choice

Preheat oven to 350, and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Beat butter on using a mixer set to medium-high speed until it is smooth, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest if using, mixing until light in color and texture, about 3 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour and salt. Mix until thoroughly combined, about 3 minutes. Fold in extra ingredients, if using.

If you're working in a hot kitchen, refrigerate the dough until it's slightly cooler than room temperature. Place dough on a lightly floured counter, lightly flour the top of the dough, and roll it out into a 1/4-inch-thick rectangle. Using a medium cookie cutter, cut out the shortbread, and place each them about 1 inch apart on the cookie sheets. Gather up the scraps, roll out again, and cut out more until you've used all the dough. Refrigerate the cookies until firm, 20-30 minutes.

Bake until the edges are very lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cook on the pans. Shortbread can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for about 5 days.

Okay, so they don't LOOK that sexy, but it's all about the attitude, right?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

homemade bagel brunch

By now, it's probably pretty clear that I love breakfast and brunch food. And why shouldn't I? The first meal of the day often includes my three favorite food groups:  bread, fruit, and bacon. While I usually go for oatmeal during the week (quick oats + banana + cinnamon + soy milk), I like to give breakfast its due on the weekends.

I spent New Year's at the beach for the first time since 2008, and it was marvelous. On January 1st, we had a lovely brunch anchored by homemade bagels, courtesy of my sister and brother-in-law's friend Chrissy. They are phenomenal, and they actually seemed somewhat manageable to make. Maybe these will be my next DIY food project (homemade yogurt in the making as I write this!), but for now I'll just post a recipe and a few pictures for you to enjoy.

We had half plain and half sesame, but you can make them however you'd like. The sesame ones went like hotcakes (which I guess they kind of are). They're great with lox and cream cheese, and we had a lovely fruit salad on the side. We also had breakfast casserole, granola, and sausage, but really, the bagels are impressive enough on their own.

homemade bagels
courtesy of Chrissy Braden, adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
makes a dozen medium-sized bagels

3/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 2/3 c warm water
3 tbsp granulated sugar
3 tbsp malt syrup, molasses, or honey*
1 lb 6 oz bread flour (about 4 1/2 c)**
1 1/2 tbsp salt
toppings of your choice

 *Although the original recipe calls for malt syrup, Chrissy uses more readily available molasses. If she doesn't have enough molasses, she just adds a little extra sugar to the mix. I've also seen recipes that use honey, so you could probably use almost any syrup you want. 
**Chrissy has also made these with half bread flour/half whole wheat flour, and they turned out well.

Whisk together active dry yeast and warm water. Let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add sugar, 1 tbsp molasses, flour, and salt. Knead until dough forms (the dough will be a little sticky), plus 5-10 minutes more. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2 hours.

Divide dough into 12 pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 20 minutes.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. With lightly oiled hands, roll each piece of dough into an 8"-inch-long cylinder, and shape into a circle to make the bagel.

Place bagels on prepared sheets at least 2" inch apart. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let sit for another 20 minutes or until slightly puffy.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Fill a stockpot with about 4 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add the remaining molasses.

Gently drop bagels into the water, putting in as many as possible without them touching. After 30 seconds, flip bagels over and simmer for another 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon remove the bagel and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Top with toppings of your choice. Repeat with remaining bagels.

Immediately place baking sheets in oven and bake for 5 minutes. Then rotate sheet and lower oven temperature to 350 degrees. Continue to bake until the tops of the bagels begin to turn a golden brown, about 10 minutes. Flip bagels over and continue to bake until the tops are golden brown, about 5 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Although I don't know why you wouldn't eat them all immediately, these will keep in an airtight container for about 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 weeks. Slice them before freezing for easy toasting.