Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake

Much like Guestblogger Alita, I can't get enough cranberries this time of year. I love cake for breakfast so there is no question that I will be trying this recipe out soon. Thanks to Alita for the perfect holiday brunch recipe! --A Crafty Lass

I love that it is cranberry season - I can’t stop myself from buying fresh cranberries every time I go to the store this time of year. But, it always surprises me how quickly they disappear from the produce section after the holidays, so I usually freeze a few bags and use them well into the new year.

I love the cranberry's bright red tartness and the way they kind of melt when baked. Their nutrient content and antioxidant qualities aren’t bad either! Cranberries are a “superfood” and any time I can incorporate healthy ingredients into my desserts, I consider it a small victory.

Over the years, I have developed several cranberry baked goods into my repertoire. Family favorites include a simple but delicious Cranberry Orange Scone & a brilliantly red Cranberry Upside Down Cake. This particular recipe is well on its way to being a new favorite. It's suitable as a morning cake and pairs well with a hot cup of coffee or tea. It will likely grace our table for Christmas morning brunch.

The Bottom:
  • 3 cups fresh cranberries
  • ¾ - 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest

The Cake:

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1¼ cup all purpose flour
  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

The Topping:

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • ½ tsp ginger
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup oats
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the cranberries: Toss the cranberries with ¾ cup sugar (a little more if you want a sweeter version), cinnamon & orange zest and pour into a greased 9-in square pan.

Prepare the cake: cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, milk, extract & orange zest and mix well. In a small bowl, combine the flours, baking powder & salt and add to the butter mixture. Drop the batter by spoonfuls over the cranberries & carefully spread to cover the entire surface.

Prepare the topping: combine the sugars with the ginger, cinnamon and oats and cut in the butter until it become crumbly. Sprinkle the oat mixture over the cake and bake for 40-50 minutes.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Shelly's Crab Dip

I am fortunate to have been in a book club for almost 10 years. My girls and I have read close to 100 books and discussed them over riotous nights of wine and hysterical laughter. One of the best things about our club is that we all love to eat, cook, bake and drink.

There are six of us and we switch off hosting - whomever hosts also picks the book. Whomever hosts also has had the shared of experience of having a complete and total pre-book club meltdown due to things just not going as planned. The thing is, we've all had some unfortunate kitchen disasters, or picked a crappy book, or just couldn't get it to all come together, but that's never what anyone remembers.

What we remember is the time that Lisa strutted out of the kitchen triumphantly presenting a crown roast of pork (with the little hats!) for our always special Christmas book club, or Tanya making so many courses, including 2 kinds of bread that she baked herself, that we all waved off dessert and sort of moaned for a while. Or when Christie borrowed her parents Raclette grill and introduced us to the joys of eating cheese on absolutely everything. Diana, our calmest member, knocks out multi-course dinners like it's a breeze, leaving us in awe of her total togetherness which her husband claims isn't the case in the hours before we all arrive.

This dip, from one of our alumni who moved to California a few years ago, is a book club classic. Shelly would always serve it as we arrived next to some delectably greasy tortilla chips she would buy from the Mexican restaurant down from her house. I have made it countless times since and it stands to reason it's so's essentially fat+fat+crab=goodness. I have doubled the recipe for parties and watched it disappear fast. I like to serve it with some carrots so I can pretend they will somehow make it less unhealthy. What are carrots good for anyway if not as a vehicle for dip?

For about 2 cups:

  • 6 ounce can lump crab meat, drained
  • 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 scallions, white and light green parts chopped
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

In a bowl stir together the crab meat, cream cheese, mayo, scallions and red pepper flakes until thoroughly combined. Refrigerate until ready to use. This dip can be made a day ahead. Serve with tortilla chips and carrots.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Parsnip Fries with Thyme and Lemon

Not only had I never eaten a parsnip until about 5 years ago, I'm certain I had a hard time even identifying them amongst all the produce in the grocery store. Originally I had them in a stew and it was definitely not love at first bite. They sort of laid there in the broth, beige and flavorless.

One thing I've learned over the years is that my preferred method for preparing most vegetables is to roast them. The heat of the oven transforms many humble vegetables into something pretty magical much in the same way that grilling does.

These parsnip fries are one of my favorite side dishes although admittedly, after I made them for this post, I just sat down and ate the whole batch on their own for lunch. I also stirred a little lemon juice into some mayonnaise and dipped the fries into it, which--yum. The herbal spiciness of the thyme really compliments the parsnip flavor, and the counterpoint of the tart zest livens them up considerably.

For 2 servings:

  • 2 parsnips
  • 1½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Kosher salt
  • Zest of half a lemon

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Peel the parsnips and trim each end. Cut the parsnips into half-inch thick slices. Place them on a baking sheet and toss with the olive oil, thyme and a generous pinch of kosher salt so that they are evenly coated. Put the baking sheet in the lower third of the oven.

After 10 minutes, toss the parsnips. Return to the oven for 10 minutes more. Toss again and place in the oven for an additional 5 minutes or until they are golden brown all over.

Remove the thyme stems and discard. Taste, and season with more salt if needed. Sprinkle with the lemon zest and serve immediately.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pomegranate Citrus Salad

I so look forward to autumn foods like pumpkin, cranberries, Brussels sprouts and pomegranates. I never tire of these flavors. Pomegranates in particular remind me somehow of the holidays and I think the jewel-like seeds add festive sparkle to a dish.

When good ingredients are on hand, sometimes simplicity is best. This composed salad is one of my go-to brunch dishes. The bracing citrus slices are sweetened and enhanced by the honey and orange liqueur "dressing" while the fresh mint not only contributes contrasting color but a freshness as well. The pretty pomegranate seeds are tart, juicy and a little crunchy.

A very sharp knife is essential here otherwise the citrus slices will get mangled. It comes together in no time and can even be made ahead a few hours and refrigerated. Pour the honey mixture over the dish right before serving it.

For 4 servings:

  • 2 oranges
  • 1 ruby red grapefruit
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon Cointreau
  • 3-4 mint leaves, thinly sliced

Cut each end off the oranges and grapefruit and then cut the peel and pith off the sides so only the fruit remains. Slice the citrus into 1/4-inch slices. Arrange the slices on a serving platter. Scatter the pomegranate seeds over the citrus.

In a small bowl, stir together the honey and Cointreau. Drizzle it over the fruit. Sprinkle the mint over the top and serve.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Roasted Cauliflower & Orzo Salad

This started as a clean-out-the-fridge meal that turned into something amazing. Sometimes, happy accidents occur in the kitchen and this is one of them. The funny part is, I had to go out and re-buy the ingredients I was trying to use up in the first place in order to make this again and fine tune it for this post.

I used my favorite Raisin Fennel Bread for this recipe and it worked out splendidly. Any sort of crusty baguette will suffice, although the raisins really added something so throw in a handful if using a different type of bread.

I loved all the components of this dish: the caramelized cauliflower, the toasty croutons, the almost creamy spinach-flecked orzo and the astringency of the balsamic vinegar. However, I urge you to give plain old cauliflower this high-heat roasting treatment all on its own. It makes for an excellent side dish.

For 2-3 servings:

  • 3 cups cauliflower florets
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups cubed crusty bread such as the Raisin Fennel Bread
  • 1 cup orzo
  • 3/4 cup frozen, chopped spinach, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2-3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, combine the cauliflower, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, red pepper flakes, and a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to coat. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 15 minutes, stirring the cauliflower once. Add the bread cubes to the cauliflower and toss with a spatula to coat. Return the pan to the oven and roast for 5-10 minutes more until the cauliflower is browned and the bread cubes are golden and toasty.

Meanwhile, cook the orzo according to the package directions. During the last 2 minutes of cooking, add the spinach. Drain and return to the pot over low heat. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the Parmesan cheese and salt to taste.

Pour the orzo onto a plate and spoon the cauliflower mixture over it. Drizzle with the balsamic and serve immediately.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Miso Ginger Soup with Tofu Noodles

Today I was at my favorite Asian grocer, United Noodles, stocking up on some essentials I had run out of: rice vinegar, miso paste, sesame oil, and The Chef's favorite tea - Genmai-cha which is a toasted brown rice tea (very unusual but delicious, try it). I also had my eye on their vast tofu section because when you're penny-pinching like I am these days, you can't do better than tofu for a high-protein, low-fat, inexpensive meal.

A package of tofu noodles caught my eye. I knew tofu noodles existed but I've never tried them until today. I was betting they would be perfect in a soothing miso soup so I headed home and had this soup on the table in no time. It was so satisfying and perfect for a cool fall day.

The noodles themselves are fantastic. Pleasantly chewy and very healthy, they boast a mere 20 calories per 4 ounce serving. Be forewarned, they have sort of an alarming smell when you open the package so after you drain the liquid off of them, rinse them like crazy.

For 3-4 servings:

  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 6-¼-inch thick slices of ginger
  • 4-5 large dried shiitake mushrooms
  • ¼ cup white miso paste (the yellow-looking one)
  • 8 ounces tofu noodles
  • Scallion greens, chopped
  • A few drops of toasted sesame oil

  • Put the mushrooms in a bowl and pour boiling water over them, to cover. Cover the bowl and allow to steep for about 20 minutes. Drain off the water, pull off the tough center stem, and slice the mushrooms. Set aside.

    In a medium saucepan, add the stock and ginger. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and simmer for 5 minutes more. Remove the ginger and discard. Add the miso paste and stir until it dissolves. While the soup is simmering, drain the tofu noodles and rinse, very thoroughly, under cool water. Add the noodles to the soup and simmer for an additional 5 minutes.

    Ladle the soup into a bowl and sprinkle with the chopped scallions. Add a few drops of sesame oil and serve.

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Lentil and Squash Curry

    Last week I joined the millions of Americans who are unemployed. I wasn't exactly expecting to get laid off so after the initial shock, The Chef and I tried to come up with a plan as to how we can prevent ourselves from becoming hobos who live under a bridge and eat beans out of a can.

    Admittedly, I tend to sort of buy whatever I want at the grocery store. It's so tempting to grab a wedge of creamy blue cheese, some fancy Spanish crackers sprinkled with sugar and anise seeds, or a grass-fed steak to grill. These luxuries are nice, certainly, but they don't determine whether I am able to put together a good meal or not. Being frugal has caused me to be inventive, resourceful, and to not overlook everything I already have in the freezer, fridge and pantry.

    Feeling like contestants on Top Chef, we have been knocking out meals all week that solely use ingredients we already had on hand. The Chef threw together a delicious pork, mushroom and potato stew that we served over brown rice. He made his famous Salty Butterscotch Pudding for dessert (a future blog post, I promise). And I whipped up this delicious curry that is a definite keeper. I had a similar curry at a restaurant recently and tried to recreate those flavors here.

    One thing to be aware of - curry powders can vary like crazy. I used a sweet curry powder and started with 1 tablespoon. I kept adding more, eventually ending up using 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons.

    For 4-6 servings:
    • 2 tablespoons canola oil
    • 1 medium onion, chopped
    • 4 cups cubed butternut squash
    • 1-15 ounce can diced tomatoes
    • 1 can light coconut milk
    • 2 cups water
    • 1 cup brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
    • 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons curry powder (or, to taste)
    • 4 ounces frozen chopped spinach

    Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the squash and stir to coat with the oil, cooking for about 3 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk, water, lentils, salt, red pepper flakes, and 1-2 tablespoons of the curry powder.

    Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. The curry should be thick. Taste it and add more salt and curry powder if needed. Stir in the spinach and simmer the curry for about 10 minutes more. Serve with warm whole wheat pita bread.

    This curry freezes well. Once cool, ladle the curry into a freezer bag, carefully pressing out any air, and store in the freezer.

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    Crusty Wheat, Raisin and Fennel Bread

    Anyone who has made the revolutionary no-knead bread that has become so popular knows that it’s a method that turns out a rustic, crusty, professional looking loaf every time. I’ve made a few different variations on it but this one is my current favorite.

    As it sometimes goes in the kitchen, the first loaf I made was a disaster that sadly ended up in the trash. I got a little overzealous at the thought of adding whole wheat flour to it and clearly, after I pulled the flat, dense, brick of a loaf out of the oven, I knew that I had overdone it. The second time, I backed way off the whole wheat flour and it was a definitive success. I think the next time I make it, I will change the ratio a bit and see if I can’t get a ½ cup more whole wheat flour in it.

    The raisins and fennel seeds was an idea given to me by my sister-in-law who had it in a restaurant and was taken with the bread. It’s really an excellent combination of flavors – the raisins add their golden sweetness while the fennel seeds somehow keep it savory.

    For one large loaf:

    • 3 cups all purpose flour
    • 1 cup white whole wheat flour (available at King Arthur and Trader Joe's)
    • 2½ teaspoons kosher salt
    • ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
    • ½ cup golden raisins
    • 1½ teaspoons fennel seeds
    • 1¾ cups cool water

    In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, and yeast. Stir in the raisins and fennel seeds. Pour in the water and stir until a soft, shaggy dough has formed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free place overnight.

    After 12 hours or so, the dough will be bubbly. Lightly flour a work surface. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the floured surface and with floured hands, knead it a few times, cover with a clean towel, and let it rest for 15 minutes.

    Lightly grease a clean bowl, form the dough into a ball and place in the bowl. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and set aside for 1-2 hours. The dough is ready for baking when a small indentation remains after you poke it with your finger. If it springs back, it needs more time. The amount of resting time it needs is dependent on the warmth of your kitchen.

    Place a heavy, oven safe dutch oven with a lid such as a Le Crueset onto the center rack of the oven and turn the oven on, bringing it to a temperature of 450 degrees. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the lid off the pot and place the dough into it, giving the pot a shake to even the dough out. With a knife, you can create a few slashes in the top of the dough, about a half-inch deep, for decoration. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the pot and bake for 10-15 minutes longer, so that the bread is a deep, golden brown.

    Remove the pot from the oven and turn the bread out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

    Saturday, November 7, 2009

    Frost-Proof Produce

    I thought it noteworthy that the bundle of herbs and vegetables photographed above were picked out of the garden today - after 3 unwelcome, albeit brief, October snowfalls, several hard frosts, and generally cooler temperatures than normal.

    After the first weird, early October snow, I wrote about running out into the garden and rescuing my tomatillos. I wrongly assumed that besides my Brussels sprouts, everything else left in the garden would wilt and die an unfortunate snowy death. This was true for the tomatoes, of course, but my peppers did not fare any better, almost instantly becoming soggy and strangely translucent. I really blew it by not picking all the peppers sooner.

    However, what has remained and even continued to grow has been bountiful. Pictured above is Lacinato Kale, Curly Parsley, Flat Leaf Parsley, Garden Sage, French Tarragon, English Lavender, Greek Oregano, Thyme and Rosemary. Not pictured are my adorable Brussels Sprouts which I have been routinely slicing off the large stalks and eating with pleasure.

    Very soon I will dry the rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme in my food dehydrator which works like a charm because it seals in the green herbal color while maintaining the plant's strong flavor. As for the parsleys, those are best frozen as I personally don't think they provide much flavor as a dried herb. The kale is currently being blanched and frozen in 1 cup portions to eat throughout the winter.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    Braised Buttery Leeks

    Thanks to The Chef, for guestblogging one of my favorite side dishes. He's been making these delicious leeks for me, usually accompanied by a lamb burger, for many years. In fact, I think the first time I ever had leeks was when he made this recipe for me. I loved them instantly. --A Crafty Lass

    Under-appreciated here in the United States, leeks are an elegant yet sturdy member of the onion family that will grow just about anywhere. I had my first taste of leeks in England as the perfect braised accompaniment to a lamb dish and liked the pairing so much that I now rarely make one without the other.

    We grow Blue Solaize Leeks from Seed Savers in our garden, and anticipate increasing our planting for next year. As the perfect soup and braising vegetable, leeks are like money in the bank come harvest time…perhaps the reason why their image used to appear on British one pound coins.

    For 4 servings:
    • 3 large leeks
    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 1½ cups chicken broth
    • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
    • Salt and pepper to taste

    Trim the root end of the leeks and discard. Cut off the dark green part of leeks, leaving only the white and light green parts behind. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise. Rinse thoroughly.

    In a large skillet or pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and sauté them for about 5 minutes, then add the broth. Bring to a simmer, cover the pan, and allow to cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes.

    Remove the leeks and arrange them on a serving platter. Turn the heat up to high and reduce the broth until saucy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the leeks and garnish with the parsley. Serve immediately.

    Adapted from a recipe in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    Cider Whiskey Cocktail

    Happy Halloween!

    It's not often (never) that I have gotten a request to create a drink or recipe but last week a good friend of mine, troubled by the current state of economic affairs said to me, "you should do a cocktail blogpost this weekend, I drink whiskey." So, in honor of my stressed-out friend, I present you with the Cider Whiskey Cocktail.

    Generally speaking, I'm not much of a whiskey drinker. My Irish heritage commands I drink it though so occasionally I'll have an Old Fashioned and, come to think of it, it is an essential component in my famous (in my mind anyway) Holiday Egg Nog.

    I wasn't at all sure what sort of cocktail I would come up with but today I found myself making my twice-yearly shopping trip to Trader Joe's to stock up on my favorite items. I have always been fond of their Spiced Apple Cider and instantly wondered how whiskey would be combined with it. I headed home, mixed it up, and drank in the smooth whiskey overtones with apple cider undertones. This is not a sweet drink, and the spices in the cider are subtle. I found it to be both sophisticated and seasonal. Now, I want to try a heated version with a cinnamon stick garnish.

    For one drink:
    • 2 ounces Irish Whiskey
    • 3 ounces Spiced Apple Cider
    • 2 drops Peychaud's Bitters
    • 2 thin slices apple, for garnish

    Fill a low-ball glass with crushed ice. In a cocktail shaker combine the whiskey, cider and bitters. Give it a few good shakes and pour over the ice. Garnish with the apple slices and drink this soothing concoction.