Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sledding and Hot Cocoa

Two days ago we finally got a little snow...just barely enough for sledding. My daughter got a carpet sled for Christmas, and she has been dying to use it. In fact, she decided that if she didn't get to use it at least once before her February 11th birthday, that the winter would be pretty much washed up. So I promised I'd take her sledding today after school, as it was a balmy 20 degrees F compared to yesterday's 6 degrees F. As soon as she arrived home from school she got into her snow clothes, called a neighbor friend to go with her and off we went. Our window of opportunity was pretty small since it still gets dark fairly early and the deeper cold quickly creeps back in. She and her friend romped merrily on the sledding slope, built a make-shift ramp so they could get some air and went up and down over and over again. When the time came to round them up to go home, a mere 45 minutes later, they were completely rosy-cheeked and red-nosed, frozen to the core. So as soon as we got home it was hot cocoa time. I recently came across this recipe in Good Housekeeping magazine which I adapted to our taste. It hit the spot, topped off by what we have come to affectionately call a marshmallow "fart". That is a spoonful of marshmallow cream, plunged into the hot cocoa. After several seconds of being submerged, it pops off the spoon and up to the surface to the delight of my daughter. It's the little things.......

Hot Cocoa Mix
adapted from Good Housekeeping

3/4 c. cocoa powder (I like Valrhona or Cocoa Barry)
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla pod with seeds
3/8 tsp kosher salt
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 oz. mik chocolate, coarsely chopped

1. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of food processor with metal blade.
2. Process until ingredients are all powdery.
3. Place 3 Tbsp cocoa mix into a microwave-safe mug along with 1 1/4 c. milk.
4. Heat on high for 1 minute; stir. Heat on high for 1 more minute or until heated to your liking. Stir to blend.
5. Store leftover cocoa mix in an air-tight container at room temp for up to 6 months.

Baking Pretzels

My daughter, S., is wildly in love with soft pretzels. One of her favorite treats is to get one when she happens to accompany me on a shopping trip to Sam's Club. She loves the buttery goo and salt and considers it an entree, in fact, if it is anywhere near meal time. I see the appeal of the soft consistency, but I find them rather sweet and non-descript otherwise. I have always thought that our pizza dough would make a fine soft pretzel, but never really made the time to explore it further. Then recently I was reading Desserts by the Yard by Spago pastry chef, Sherry Yard, and it included a soft pretzel recipe! It was good timing because I had some pizza dough on hand. I had a lot of fun with this. I didn't follow any instructions except for the part on boiling the risen pretzels. I just cut the dough I had into strips and rolled them into ropes as big as they would go, which wasn't very big (so I ended up with fat, pudgy pretzels). Then I shaped them into pretzels and let them rise, covered, on a parchment lined baking sheet. Then I prepared the boiling liquid according to Sherry's recipe, except I didn't have any beer in the house, save for a non-alcoholic beer left over from my dad's last visit (he has a brain injury and can't have alcohol any more...this for a guy who used to brew his own quite well). So I got the brew going and once the pretzels were risen, I boiled the pretzels then baked them. It was a little magical, to be honest. The pretzels turned a mahogany color in the oven, and the exterior had a nice crust to it while the interior was moist and ciabatta -like in texture with a great chew. They were oh, so good and had a wonderful rustic sensibility to them, unmatched by the box store's uniform blandness. They are easy to make and fun to share. They don't hold over well though. I placed the extras in a zipped baggie and the next morning they had lost their crust and the salt had dissolved into the pretzel. The texture was completely awful. I suspect you could wrap in foil, freeze, thaw, then re-fresh in a hot oven with decent results, but just in case, make them fresh and eat 'em up!
The How To's
liquid recipe adapted from Desserts by the Yard
Pizza dough (Whole Foods sells a good one, very inexpensive)
Liquid for boiling:
8 c. water
1/4 c. beer
1/4 c. baking soda
1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
canola oil
1. Remove dough from refrigerator and cut into even strips. Roll strips on clean work surface into ropes as long as they will go, about the diameter of a Sharpie. Shape into a pretzel by making a U shape, twisting the legs together then bring the ends down over the bottom of the U.
2. Place pretzel dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet, sprayed with Pam spray. With fingers, widen the holes of the pretzel and re-shape gently. Repeat with remaining dough.
3. Cover pretzels with plastic wrap sprayed with Pam, Pam side down, and let rise at room temp until almost doubled, about 30-45 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
5. When pretzels have nearly risen, combine, water, beer, baking soda and brown sugar in a 10 wide non-reactive saucepan ( I used my 6.5 qt. enamel cast iron pot), bring to a simmer.
6. Cut the parchment paper surrounding each pretzel so you can lift the pretzel to the pot using the paper underneath it.
7. Gently flip the pretzel into the simmering liquid, 2 at a time, and cook for 10 seconds, flip and cook other side for 10 seconds. Remove with slotted spoon or skimmer, allowing liquid to drain back into pot, and place onto new parchment-lined baking sheets, rounded side up. Repeat with remaining pretzels.
8. Brush each pretzel lightly with canola oil and sprinkle with desired amount of salt.
9. Bake at 450 degrees F ** for about 10-15 mminutes, or until dark brown . Remove from oven and serve warm plain or with mustard, if that's your style.
** Sherry Yard recommends baking in top and bottom third of oven and rotating halfway through baking time. I didn't do that and had excellent results.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chicken Green Chile

Today it is cold and lightly snowing in northern Colorado. It is so pretty. We just had a week of weather in the 60's so now it's back to winter! Chilly weather really makes me want to eat warm food, especially soup. I just love soup. It is defintely one of my comfort foods, and I love the whole one pot meal bonus that comes along with it. So today I am making my Chicken Green Chile. This was a staple on my winter menu at my now shuttered business for 5 years! Then one day I was out with my hubby for a little light lunch and I ordered a very mediocre chicken green chile soup. As bad as it was, it had one element I really loved in it....rice! So I adapted my recipe to include some rice and then added another off the shelf ingredient, green chile salsa, that just added so much to my old recipe. I love it more than ever now! I'm only sorry my old customers didn't get this version. I can't wait to dig into a bowl with a sprinkling of cheese on top and piece of warm corn bread! Buen provecho!

Chicken Green Chile Soup

1 c. diced onion
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 tomatillos, papery skin removed, pureed
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3/4 c. diced roasted green chiles (I roasted a meaty poblano, you can use canned)
1 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 c. canned diced tomatoes in juice
8 c. chicken broth
2 Tbsp green chile salsa, such as La Victoria Brand*
1/3 c. long grain brown rice (I like Uncle Ben's)
4 c. diced or shredded cooked chicken meat (Rotisserie chickens are great for this)

1. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a 6 qt. stock pot. Saute onion and garlic until softened and translucent.

2. Stir in pureed tomatillos and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients except chicken and rice. Bring to a boil.

3. Stir in rice. Return to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Stir in chicken and cook until just heated through.

5. Serve hot, topped with shredded cheese and sour cream, if desired, and fresh warm cornbread on the side.

*This is a fairly zippy ingredient, rated "medium." If you prefer your chile more mild, reduce or omit this ingredient. You can also pass some on the side for those who prefer even more heat.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

No Bake "Cookies"

I was reading a post on Artisan Sweets today about cornflake cookies. It was a lovely story about her great aunt's baking and hand-written recipe book. I remember looking through my grandmother Byrnes' handwritten recipe book as well, wondering about the funny measurements and how anything managed to come out well when it called for a soup spoon of this or a tea cup full of that (maybe those items were a standard size at one time, but that's not the case now)! It made for a nice trip down memory lane. But what it really reminded me of is a no-bake cornflake cookie I have made several times.

I was given a gift of Nigel Slater's Real Food during a business trip to London a couple of years ago. He is a well-known Bristish food writer and this book is full of pretty straight-forward yet wonderfully appetizing food using fresh, beautiful ingredients of uncompromising quality. So it was kind of funny to find a small little recipe for a no-bake cookie which he calls "Chocolate Cornflake Cakes." I have taken to calling them Nigel's Fudge Crunchies, and let me tell you, they are crazy delicious if you want just a quick little sweet treat. Of course the secret lies in using very good chocolate. The other reason they are so tasty is the golden syrup called for, which is a quintessential Bristish ingredient. I have found it at Whole Foods, and I know it can be ordered on line from Amazon. I was expecting it to be very similar to corn syrup, but it is so much nicer. It is cane syrup and has an intoxicating aroma kind of like burnt sugar and a wonderful flavor. Give them a try!

Nigel's Fudge Crunchies
adapted from Real Food by Nigel Slater

50 g. unsalted butter

1/4 c. Lyle's Golden Syrup

100 g. bittersweet chocolate (I use 64%)

75 g. cornflakes

a few grains kosher salt (itty bitty pinch)

In a small heavy saucepan, combine the butter, syrup, salt and chocolate and place on burner over low heat.

Stir constantly until butter and chocolate are melted. Gently stir in cornflakes until evenly coated. Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in refrigerator to set. Keep best covered in the refrigerator.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Blood Orange Sorbet to die for

This is just a little hats off to Aran at Cannelle et Vanille. I made her Blood Orange Sorbet today, following the recipe calling just for juice and simple syrup. It was beautiful. It was fabulous. It was extraordinary. It was refreshing. It was mouthwateringly delicious!! If you have access to blood oranges and an ice cream maker it is a must try. My entire family was completely enraptured by it. My preteen son was sucking the last little bit of melted sorbet out of the hallowed out orange half I served it in. He couldn't get enough of it. Everyone had second helpings. It is uniquely wonderful. Here are pictures and a recipe (it's the pink one). I need to go now and buy more oranges. One batch wasn't nearly enough. TTFN!

Saturday Morning Pancakes

Growing up we had pancakes often on the weekends. I have loved them forever. We would have them plain or mix in blueberries when we had them or finely chopped apple pieces in the fall. I loved them every which way and still do. I have two kids, a son and a daughter, but only my son is pancake lover. My daughter loves to help me mix them up, and she enjoys the taste of the batter raw, but there her love stops. My son will never turn down the offer of freshly made pancakes for breakfast. When he was little he loved mini chocolate chips in them (ok, I have never really liked that combination so much). As he got older (he is 4 months shy of 13 now) he stopped wanting chocolate chips and wanted them plain. So that is where we are at now. Plain pancakes with pure maple syrup (Mrs. Butterworth's is not welcome here). It is part of my east coast upbringing again. We lived in maple country. I love the trees. I love the syrup. I love the candy, the butter, the sugar.....you get the idea. Maple flavored....I don't think so.

So on my quest to find the perfect pancakes I made several stops. I usually loved the stop I was on at any given time. Then I saw Alton Brown do a show on pancakes on the Food Network many years ago and the perfect pancake was found. Homemade pancakes have such pure flavor. When properly baked on the griddle they get a wonderfully toasty exterior which reveals a light and pillowy interior that just yearns to soak up butter and syrup. They are seriously fluffy, not rubbery and dense. I use a cast iron griddle on my stove to make them. It takes a while to heat it up, but it is my favorite griddle for pancakes. I just preheat it on low for a good 15 minutes and then pancake magic happens.That's when I get an almost lacy golden exterior on each pancake with just the very lightest whisper of a crackle to it. I also like to use a combination of regular milk and buttermilk so I get that nice tang from buttermilk, but it's a little mellower. The whole house smells so good while they are cooking, too. You just can't beat it!

Pancake Mix
adapted from Alton Brown

1 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 c. buttermilk*
1/4 c. milk*
1 egg, room temp (put it in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1/8 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat your griddle (electric griddle 350 degrees F).
2. Combine all dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk together.
3. Combine milks and heat for 30 seconds in microwave. Whisk in egg and vanilla.
4. Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour in the milks and immediately pour in melted butter.
5. Quickly whisk together to moisten all the ingredients, but don't over-mix. Some lumps are ok.
6. Sprinkle a few drops of water to see if griddle is ready. They will bounce about when griddle is hot. Grease griddle with butter or vegetable oil. Wipe off excess.
7. Pour batter onto griddle (I like to use a 1/4 c. measuring cup for this).
8. When edges start to set and a few bubbles appear on the edge, pancake is ready to flip. On my cast iron griddle this happens quickly. So keep on eye on yours.
9. Cook the second side which could take from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes depending on what your cooking implement is.
10. Serve 'em up with warm pure maple syrup and butter and get 'em while they're hot!

* Note: At altitudes hovering around 5,000 ft as I am, I find I need about 2 Tbsp more or so of milk and/or buttermilk for the right consistency.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Hot Fudge Sundaes

Is there anything better than a hot fudge sundae? I think it has to be one of the finest American desserts when done well. It all has to do with the hot fudge sauce itself. Growing up back East we had Friendly's Ice Cream shops. I would have sworn forever that they had the best hot fudge on the planet. As a college student I remember walking 4-5 miles round trip just for a hot fudge or Reese's Pieces sundae when it was "that time of the month," and nothing short of something chocolate and gooey would squelch my cravings. Years later my mother would go shopping in Vermont where she discovered Mother Merrick's hot fudge and that was divine. I don't know if it still exists or not. Then for a long time I had a hot fudge void in my life (thank goodness there were always good brownies around to satisfy the gooey chocolate thing). I longed for a really fudgy hot fudge sauce, and yet all that I could find were the overly sweet, scarcely chocolate flavored brown concotions in jars at the supermarket. Then several years ago Martha Stewart came to my rescue with a recipe for the really best hot fudge. Luckily I clipped it because I have never been able to find it on her web-site. The only hot fudge sauces that show up now are more ganache in make-up, and I am sorry, but ganache as awesome as it is, is not hot fudge. This has that slightly sticky, slightly chewy characteristic that true hot fudge should have, and the flavor of good old-fashioned fudge, the kind you need to have a candy thermometer for. Luckily the hot fudge recipe is even easier than that....no thermometer necessary! I have tweaked it a bit over the years and now I consider it perfectly delicious with the addition of apple cider vinegar, vanilla and a pinch of instant espresso powder. It is equally good on ice cream as it is on my finger! I just made some tonight to the delight of my children who have been begging me to make it for a week. Best of all, it lasts in the refrigerator many weeks (assuming it isn't devoured sooner) because there is no cream in it! So grab your favorite flavor of ice cream and be a kid again! Nuts and a cherry are optional!

Dangerously Delicious Hot Fudge Sauce
10 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped ( I usually use 60%)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
4 oz. unsalted butter, cubed
pinch kosher salt
very small pinch instant espresso powder
1/2 c. water
1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 c. light corn syrup
3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1. In a heavy bottom saucepan, combine chopped chocolate, butter, sugar, water, salt, vinegar and espresso powder.
2. Place pan on medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until butter is melted and mixture is smooth.
3. Stir in corn syrup and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
4. Reduce heat to low and simmer mixture for 8-10 minutes or until slightly thickened and very glossy.
5. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
6. pour into a heat-proof container and cool slightly before using.
7. Keep leftovers refrigerated, covered, re-heating gently in microwave for future use.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Homemade Pizza

I mentioned how much we like to make homemade pizza in an earlier blog. In fact, I am probably as crazy about pizza as I am about cookies. A good pizza makes me a happy camper indeed. I would take it over a steak any day(it's that whole no carb left behind thing again...) !I am from NY, upstate, but still...the pizza there is no slouch. Family-owned Joe's Pizza in tiny Rotterdam , NY makes some of the best pizza I have yet to eat anywhere. Growing up we would even argue over which style to get. My mom and I preferred the round pies with the very thin center and pillowy crust (which we would then fight over), while my dad and brother seemed to like the tray pizza, which was rectangular and evenly thick everywhere. The ratio of bread to toppings is then way off in my opinion. I am not sure which my sister preferred. After moving to California I developed even more reverence for well made pizza, because when I first moved there in the mid 80's there wasn't much good pizza to be found there. That was about the time Wolfgang Puck started the whole California pizza craze, but it didn't really impact the mainstream pizzerias, of which there were far too many non-descript chains. However, over the years I was able to find a couple worthy makers, including Peppino's in Mission Viejo and The Pizza Bakery in Newport Beach. In the meantime I started trying to perfect my own homemade pizza. Up until then I wasn't a fan of homemade pizza at all. It was usually very bread-y with over-cooked toppings and undercooked dough. Gross! One thingI learned is that the dough has to hit something very hot when it goes into the oven (in the summer I put my pizza stones on my grill grates and heat them up. The very shallow space inside really mimics a pizza oven nicely...more on that another time). So I gradually began playing around and came up with a dough I love:

Pizza Dough
1 3/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 tsp honey
1 1/4 c. warmish water
3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1.Combine yeast, honey and water in a measuring cup and stir to mix. After about 5 minutes mixture should look foamy.
2. In bowl of food processor fitted with metal blade, place flour and salt. Pulse to mix.
3. While pulsing the processor pour water- yeast mixture and 2 Tbsp. olive oil into flour mixture. Pulse in short bursts until you get a smooth soft dough that is moist but not sticky. You may need to add a little more flour, about 1 Tbsp at a time, pulsing machine between additions until proper consistency is reached.
4. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and knead briefly (it really isn't very important here in my experience). Divide dough into 4 or 5 even pieces. Form each piece into a smooth ball and place on a parchment -lined baking sheet brushed with olive oil (turn balls to coat evenly). Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge. I like my dough to develop slowly so I let it rise 24 hours in the fridge. You can leave it out on the counter and let it rise in an hour or 2 depending on how warm it is, if you prefer.
5. I let it rise only once. Once it is risen I make sure my oven is preheated to 475 for at least 30 minutes. I alternate using pizza stones (place in oven while pre-heating) or upside down heavy duty half sheet pans (place in oven 5 minutes prior to baking pizzas).

From here it is no longer a recipe per se. At this point I have all my toppings ready and I dip each dough ball into flour and place them on a piece of parchment paper. They are very easy to stretch and manipulate now. Even my kids and their friends have gotten quite adept at it. I like mine thin in the center and pillowy on the outside. When it comes to sauce less is more. Too much sauce just makes the crust soggy in my opinion. A restrained amount adds the flavor but allows the bottom crust to crisp up. My favorite topping is either fresh tomatoes and onions or no sauce, spinach leaves, mozzarella and blobs of ricotta cheese...pizza bianca! Your own imagination is the limit. Just use a light touch. The great part here is that because of the parchment (which I trim to be the size of the individual pies), I don't need to be adept with a pizza peel. I use a rimless baking sheet to slide my little pizzas right onto the stone in the oven and can remove them about 10 minutes later with a pair of tongs! It is really fun to watch the dough blister up and turn golden brown. Everyone loves creating their own magical combination of ingredients, too. It takes a little time to prepare everything, but the actual work is rather minimal. The reward, however, is extremely high. I was thinking I had nearly mastered the art of homemade pizza. However, I recently came across the A16 cookbook and they wax poetic about imported "00" flour from Italy and this really simple no cook tomato sauce that I now think I will have some more experimenting to do in the near future!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Best Damn Roasted Potatoes Ever

I have been making an effort to clear out the old and unwanted since Christmas. About a week ago I took a stab at my office. I needed to clear out stuff from my now shuttered business and re-organize to give myself some space for new good things to come in. While going through a stack of magazines I came across a recipe in the Janury 2007 issue of Fine Cooking for Crispy Smashed Potatoes by Susie Middleton. I didn't recall ever seeing it before, and yet as soon as I saw the picture of the golden, crisped edged potatotes, I knew I had to get cookin'! The recipe calls for pre-cooking baby red potatoes just until tender, draining them, smashing them, cooling them, and re-cooking them. The smashed potato reminds me of peppermint swirls or pinwheels in potato form. You just have to try these!

Crispy Smashed Potaotes
adapted from Fine Cooking, January 2007

12-15 baby red potatoes
2 3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 c. extra virgin Olive oil

1. Put potatoes in a large saucepan in one layer with 2 tsp of salt and enough water to cover by 1 inch.

2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-35 minutes until potatoes are cooked through and easily pierced with a skewer. Don't over-cook or they'll just be mush.

3. Set up a double layer of clean dish cloths. When potatoes are done, remove potatoes individually to dishcloths to drain.

4. Unless you have asbestos fingers, use another clean dishtowel, folded into quarters, to gently press down on each potato with the plam of your hand. Flatten to about 1/2" thick. Don't worry if some break apart a bit.

5. Line a half sheet pan with foil and top with parchment paper. Carefully transfer flattened potatoes to sheet pan. Cool c ompletely. (Can be prepared up to this point 8 hours ahead, cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate).

6. Preheat oven to 450 (or convection set to 400 degrees). Pour olive oil over each potato, gently lifting to make sure some oil runs underneath to well coat both sides. Sprinkle potatoes with remaining 3/4 tsp salt (might want a little more) and roast for 30-40 minutes, turning once gently with a spatula or tongs. Potatoes will be done when they are crispy and deep brown around the edges.

We enjoyed these along a roasted pork roast with roasted veggies and homemade pear sauce. I can truthfully tell you that had we made a meal of only these potatoes, not one of us would have complained. I always remember Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Eat, Pray, Love saying in Italy she felt like she was on the no carbohydrate left behind tour. Yes, indeed that is it exactly! I could have easily eaten the whole lot by myself...with a smile! These are not to be missed. I envision them subbing in for potato skins with cheese, sour cream and bacon on them. The skin gets so crackly it nearly shatters. The salt just keeps everything going crazy in your mouth. They are gorgeous to look at! Use them as an appetizer, a side dish or a meal. I can hardly wait to make them again, and again, and again, and........

Friday, January 9, 2009

Greek Yogurt and Cake

Several days ago I watched a Barefoot Contessa episode on the Food network where she made a lemon yogurt cake with blueberry sauce. I am a big fan of her recipes. They are delicious, work beautifully and are usually very straightforward. I had never tried her lemon cake from Barefoot Contessa Parties and so I thought I'd do a bake-off to see which one I liked best.

I am also a huge fan of Greek yogurt, especially the Fage brand. If you have never tried it you must. I always buy the non-fat kind. It is thick and creamy with a nice pleasant tang. When berries are plentiful I eat a dollop with fresh berries for breakfast. It is completely transformed with even the slightest drizzle of honey, but honestly I like it straight from the tub, too. It is surprisingly rich and yet so good for you! It could easily stand in for sour cream as a garnish on anything.

Anyhow, I got to work on my lemon cakes, using the Greek yogurt on the yogurt version and soon had 2 golden and fragrant loaves emerging from the oven. My kids were begging for a piece before we had let them cool. I tortured them by making them wait! Once cooled and iced we cut into them. They are both good in different ways. The original version has a very delicate crumb and a subtle lemon flavor. I threw in a teaspoon of poppy seeds just for fun. The yogurt cake was more moist and dense with a more assertive lemon flavor. My kids preferred this one, but after a few more tastes I think I prefer the original. However, my all-time favorite Lemon cake is from the original The Silver Palate Cookbook, and I haven't made that one in a while, so I think I might get that one out and give it a try again soon. I so love lemon...if nothing chocolate is available!

Turns out after all that I still had some yogurt left-over so I decided to try Ina Garten's Sour Cream Coffee Cake recipe also from Barefoot Contessa Parties subbing the Greek yogurt for the sour cream. I make this cake often, and we eat it morning noon and night, so it never lasts long. We all adore it (I love the ribbon of streusel that winds its way through the moist buttery crumb, and the maple glaze on top is addicting)! It came out great with the yogurt. It's not so much that I care about making it healthier because when it comes to sweets I am all about using the real stuff- butter, sour cream, sugar....I can eat a bowl of salad later if I've over-indulged my sweet tooth. It was just fun to try something new with another ingredient I am crazy about to see how it worked....like a charm!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Puff Pastry Pizza Tarts

My husband is on a business trip, and I was thinking about what to make for dinner all day for my two kids. When my husband is gone for dinner, it makes dinner a much more low-key affair. Still I like to make sure the kids eat pretty well. One of our family favorites is make your own pizzas. I make fresh dough balls and everyone stretches out then tops his/her own individual pizza. We love it, and they taste great. However, make your own pizza requires advance planning , and today I didn't do any of that. But I did have a box of puff pastry in the freezer. Puff pastry pizza tarts...why not? The kids loved the sound of it, and so we got to work. We cut out rounds of dough and then with a slightly smaller cutter, marked a ring half way through the dough where the toppings would go. Mine had pesto, mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and sweet onions. The kids had...you guessed it, pepperoni and cheese. Still they came out looking so great!The outside crust puffed up around the filling and the cheesy topping bubbled and browned beautifully. Dinner was done in 15 minutes! Why hadn't I ever thought of this before? Best of all they were the cutest little 3" or so size which made them even more fun in the eyes of my kids. It's just one more reason to love the versatility of puff pastry! We threw in some yogurt, green beans and grapes and called it a meal!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Candied Walnuts

I first fell for candied nuts in a salad when I had them at the California Pizza Kitchen in Newport Beach, CA years ago. They were generously sprinkled among the mixed field greens and coated with a balsamic vinaigrette. I thought they were the best thing ever! I have made candied nuts in a skillet by just caramelizing sugar with a touch of butter or oil and tossing in the nuts to coat. But then about a year ago I saw a recipe in Southern Living Magazine for a recipe by Laura Werlin that used an entirely different method and powdered sugar of all things! They sounded amazing and looked wonderful so I had to try them. They came out perfectly! Since then it has been my go to recipe for candied nuts. I have also discovered that I like them even better when I use pecans instead of walnuts. The recipe calls for cayenne pepper, and for eating as a bar snack or with cheese I would make them as directed. However, since I mainly use them in salads I just use a small pinch of cayenne for subtle spice. If you decide to make them the same recipe is here on the Food Network site, though I find they take about 20 minutes to candy and brown sufficiently. Keep your eye on them. I'd recommend doubling the recipe because you will want that many once you try them. I noticed I get two slightly different variations depending on whether I use kosher salt or Maldon Sea Salt. Try it for yourself and see which you prefer. Once you make them, get out those field greens, sprinkle in some dried cranberries along with some cheese ( I love it equally with crumbled feta, blue cheese or shards of Parmigiano-Reggiano) and mix up a Balsamic Vinaigrette. Here's my recipe:

1/2 c. good Balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
1/2 tsp. honey
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. canola oil
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil

1. Whisk together vinegar, mustard, honey , salt and pepper.
2. Combine oils and slowly drizzle into vinegar mixture, whisking constantly (or use blender).
3. Taste and adjust seasoning to suit you.

This one is a little acidic, but it plays nicely off of the sweet nuts and cranberries in the salad. Make it sweeter if you prefer. It will last several weeks in the fridge. I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, January 4, 2009


Cookies are my most favorite sweet....ok maybe tied for favorite with ice cream. I was reading a little discussion today among 3 well-known food writers about cookies and it got me thinking about my favorite compact sweet.

As a trained pastry professional I know how to create elaborate desserts using mousses, glazes and all manners of cakes and crusts. I really enjoy making them all, but in the end a simple little cookie makes me the happiest. I think it is just in the fact that it is a hand held yummy that I don't have to share. If they are small enough I feel like I can have more than one without feeling too bad about it. In that small size I can create all kinds of flavor and texture profiles. I can make batches of dough and bake just a few or the whole thing, reserving what's left in the freezer for another day.

I grew up the daughter of a chocoholic and so my earlier experience with cookies revolved around chocolate ones, homemade and store-bought (Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Mystic Mints -my personal fave- and of course Girl Scout thin mints). It wasn't until I was older that I discovered there were other cookies to try that weren't chocolate. What a revelation! Now, I am my mother's daughter, and chocolate is close to being my middle name, but I was delighted to have my cookie world blown wide open when I discovered some non-chocolate alternates. In school, under the tutelage of cookbook author and talented teacher Nick Malgieri, I discovered his amazing recipe for snowball cookies, which I like to call Russian Tea Cakes. Crumbly, buttery and fragrant from the toasted pecans, they just melt away in your mouth instantly. The other cookie I came to love were his cantuccini, a Tuscan biscotti that is really crunchy and wonderful. I made both of those when I had my pastry shop in Tustin, CA. Rosie's Bakery in Cambridge , MA introduced me to another wonderful cookie, a buttery, delicate dough I cut out into hearts usually and sandwich with raspberry jam and dust with powdered sugar. I always called them Raspberry Jewel Hearts. Unbelievable! In my first job out of school I learned about Rugelach. Oy vey! They are so good- those little flakey cream cheese pastries rolled around cinnamon-sugar and nuts (I'll admit I make a brownie filled version that is really my favorite...what can I say?). I've since gone on to discover other non-chocolate favorites like snickerdoodles ( I have a pumpkin variation that is to die for!), oatmeal scotchies, lemon sugar cookies, ginger crinkles, gingerbread (beats the heck out of sugar cookies for decorating and eating any day of the week...a shame it is seen only at Christmas!) and many more.

These days I do all of my baking at home for friends and family and it includes a lot of chocolate in the form of brownies, chocolate chip cookies, M&M chocolate Chip Cookies-a top seller at my last business- (love these last 2 straight from the freezer!), my own Glazed Maple Oatmeal Walnut cookies and a family favorite we call Cocoa Snaps, which aren't snappy at all but rather fudgy with a nice crackle on top.

Just this past Christmas I came up with a sandwich cookie variation using gingerbread that got rave reviews. I always use Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe for gingerbread. It is the best! I rolled out the dough, cut out 36 small 2" rounds and placed them on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Out of half of the rounds I cut out a 1" center making rings. I sprinkled the rings with turbinado sugar for sparkle, texture and crunch and baked those off. Once cooled, I made a lemon glaze with enough powdered sugar, fresh lemon juice and the zest from a lemon just to make it spoon-able but not too liquid-y. After stacking a ring cookie on a solid round, I filled the hole with the lemon glaze. Then let them set to firm up the glaze, about 1 hour. They are really pretty and the lemon ginger combination is a winner! Try it! Once I figure out how to add photos to the blog, I'll show you just how beautiful they are!

I can go on and on about cookies and I am sure this won't be my last word on the subject. I think I hear my mixer and chocolate chips calling me now!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Homemade Applesauce

I grew up in Upstate New York where apple picking was a highlight of my childhood. My parents favored Macintosh apples at the time, and we would pick several bushels each fall. Most of them were meant for eating straight up which we all did with gusto. However, my mother would create apple magic by transforming others into a wonderful-cinnamon laced, slightly chunky applesauce. Coming home from school to that smell filling our kitchen was nothing less than heavenly. I now live in Colorado where there are plenty of wonderful apples but not any u-pick in my area. Nonetheless, I have made cooking applesauce a tradition in my home, and my family happily gobbles it up. I usually make a large batch hoping to freeze half for later (I never did learn how to can, so the freezer is my big-batch friend). I might start with a dozen or so apples, Fuji being my apple of choice, or more recently, a mix of Fuji and Honeycrisps. I peel and slice them on this great peeler I picked up at Williams-Sonoma a few years back. I put them in a big pot, add a cup of apple cider (when I have it) or water, throw in a plump vanilla bean which I have split and scraped into the apples and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Once the apples are good and tender -some may even have fallen completely apart- I remove the apples from the heat, take out the vanilla bean and puree the whole thing in my food processor or with my immersion blender. Then I taste it for sweetness, adding at the most 1 tablespoon of sugar and give it a sprinkle of cinnamon to taste. Careful there...too much is not a good thing! Many times I even throw in a handful of frozen or fresh cranberries to the pot along with the apples, which once pureed gives the sauce the most beautiful rosy hue. My kids love to eat it hot from the pot, but it lasts a good week in the fridge. It brings me back home every time I make it and makes me have that same cozy feeling I had as a kid. Try it with pears too! See if you can get some over-ripe ones for cheap, omit the cinnamon and just use the vanilla bean. I doubt you'd need any sugar at all. You might even want to squeeze in a few drops of fresh lemon juice to balance the sugars. The pear version happens to be my family's favorite, but for me homemade applesauce is the dish that says fall and all is well in the world.