Friday, May 27, 2011

Hiatus (but not for too long, really)

This has happened to me before. For no particular reason I've just lost my Crafty oomph. There hasn't been a lack of cooking and baking in our house, I just find that right now I've lost a little of the work + home + blog balance so I need a little blog holiday to sort myself out.

There are also plans to do some housekeeping around this place. I'd like certain aspects of the site to be reorganised and redesigned. I have some ideas brewing for a new way of doing things - a better way, I hope.

So in the meantime, enjoy the beautiful Spring or Autumn depending on where in the world you are, and I'll be back soon.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Beet Cashew Dip

I got a Cuisinart for my birthday. Not the little one- cupper that requires 4 chop+repeats to process an onion either. I got the 11-cup model and I worship it. I’ve watched as it effortlessly chops a whole variety of veg in 10 seconds, whirls peanuts until they become peanut butter, and processes a perfect batch of hummus at lightening speed. It rules. Therefore I’ve been coming up with things to chop and this recipe, which should really be called the fastest dip ever, was a successful experiment. If you’ve got a food processor, this dip will be ready in under 10 minutes. If you don’t, you should come over and use mine.

Am I wrong in thinking that beets are something that most people don’t like as a kid but grow to like later? Maybe that’s just me? Anyway, I can’t imagine people shying away from this magenta concoction which is bright, earthy tasting and could be thought of as a beet pesto. It pairs well with the Seeded Lavash Chips and also works beautifully as a spread for sandwiches topped with thin slices of cucumber  and butter lettuce.

Make sure to grate the Parmesan yourself using a microplane grater and don't pack it down when you measure it; the dip will be overly cheesy (yes, there is such a thing...I think) and will mask the pure beet flavor.

For about 1½ cups:
  • 1/2 cup unsalted cashews
  • 1½ cups canned sliced beets, drained
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled, quartered
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until a coarse puree forms. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for several days, stirring well before serving.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lentil Quinoa Curry

It was my birthday last Saturday. I'd been dreading it for months because unfortunately I turned 35 - which in my book is officially old. I don't feel 35; I'm not sure I even look it. But it's crept up on me somehow and I've had a hard time shaking the feeling that I'm late for something.

M had to go out of town for work and all my friends are back home so I was by myself. I was on the verge of pulling the covers over my head and waiting for it to be over but instead had a fairly excellent solo day. I sat in the sun on a park bench and ate a big lemon bar from a local bakery for lunch. I sipped a glass of champagne later that night at a nearby restaurant and ate a gorgeous cheese platter consisting of a wedge of Spanish blue, a ruby-stained poached pear, rustic crackers, truffled honey and dried fig.

The next day I woke up and felt different. Not anxious, or lonely, or fretting but instead really quite happy. I know that my life is beyond good and there's nothing I can do about finally reaching my scary age. It is what it is. I felt energised, and cooked and cleaned my way through the day.

My new, older (maybe wiser) self invented this quick curry out of odds and ends in the pantry. It's healthy, filling and topped with crunchy bits of apple, pistachio and coconut. It might seem a bit strange not to simmer the lentils and quinoa together with the other ingredients but I know that those lentils can turn their cooking liquid murky and I wanted to preserve the bright orange curry. I ate a big bowl of it with warm slices of naan and froze the rest of it for future lunches.

For 4 servings:
  • 3/4 cup french lentils
  • 1/3 black or red quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sweet curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 14 ounces (400 ml) light coconut milk
  • 14 ounces (400 ml) stock or water
  • 1 small crisp, tart apple, diced
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios
In a medium pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add the lentils and quinoa and briskly simmer until just tender, about 15-20 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot and saute until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the curry powder, garam masala, and salt. Stir for a minute more. Stir in the coconut milk and brother and turn up the heat to bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer.

When the lentils and quinoa are done cooking, add it to the curried broth and simmer for 5 minutes more. Taste, and season with more salt if needed. Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped apple, pistachios and coconut. Serve with warm naan. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chocolate Buckwheat Pancakes

There’s this Simpson’s episode where Bart says to Marge – “Mom, can I have ice cream for breakfast?” and Marge says “Absolutely not! You’re going to have chocolate chip pancakes with maple syrup instead.” I was reminded of that while making these but really, they are pretty good for you. Yes, I liberally splashed maple syrup all over them and yes, M did wonder aloud how they would taste with whipped cream on top. But still, these chocolately cakes are delicious and filled with buckwheat flour, cocoa powder, banana and buttermilk. 

The buckwheat gives the pancakes a lightly toasted, sort of earthy flavor which matches perfectly with the cocoa. The recipe makes quite a few cakes but they keep well in the refrigerator for a few days and freeze nicely. Pop them in the toaster or the microwave to reheat. This morning I ate them with a big dollop of vanilla yogurt, slices of pear and some chopped pecans.

The chocolate flavor isn't very intense despite the deep brown color. Feel free to stir in some chocolate chips. I've done it before and the pockets of melted chocolate made them more suitable for dessert instead of breakfast, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

For about 18 pancakes:
  • 1 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 very ripe banana, mashed
  • 2¼ cups buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, and baking soda. In another bowl, whisk together the banana, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla and melted butter. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk together until smooth. Let the batter rest for 15 minutes.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, use a 1/4 cup scoop and pour into the skillet. Flip when there are a few bubbles on the surface. Cook for a minute or two more. Repeat with the remaining batter. Keep the pancakes warm while they are all being cooked. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mushroom Udon Noodles

I've never been in Australia during the April/May months, which is Autumn here, and keep reminding myself that things are sprouting and greening and defrosting back home. The Midwest extremes of humid summers and frozen winters is a thing of the past for me and the seasons here seem to shift gently into one another. Even though it is only slightly cooler than it has been, especially at night, I can feel myself beginning to crave some comfort foods.

For me, a heaping pile of noodles tends to satisfy that craving. I love thick, chewy udon noodles and the two kinds of mushrooms add another layer of chew to the dish. They are lightly seasoned with ginger, garlic, soy and sesame.

The list of ingredients may look long but don't be wary, this is meant to come together fast and minimal effort is needed. Besides a bit of chopping and measuring, the ingredients are sauteed while the noodles cook. A big bag of baby spinach is called for here and it will all cook down nicely. Just stir it in in batches.

For 2-3 servings:
  • 6 ounces (180 grams) udon noodles
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 3.5 ounces (100 grams) oyster mushrooms, tough stems trimmed
  • 3.5 ounces (100 grams) shiitake mushrooms, tough stems trimmed and caps thickly sliced
  • 6 ounces (160 grams) bagged baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing cooking wine or dry white wine
  • 7 ounces (200 grams) baked tofu, cut into small cubes*
  • 1½ tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives or scallions
Place the noodles in a pot of salted boiling water and cook according to package directions.

While the noodles are cooking, heat the oil over medium high heat in a large skillet or wok. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes. Add the spinach in large handfuls at a time until it cooks down. When all the spinach has been cooked, add the wine and cook until nearly evaporated, a couple minutes more. Add the tofu and noodles and stir to incorporate with the vegetables. Add the soy sauce and sesame oil and toss again. Tongs are helpful for this task. 

Spoon the noodles into bowls and top with the chives or scallions and serve sriracha on the side for those who like it spicy.

*I like a baked tofu that is "honey soy" flavored but use whatever you prefer and is available.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Seeded Lavash Chips

Lately I've been taking a stand on purchasing hummus. Week after week I buy it at the store and vow to quit it because it's overpriced and never as good as I know it can be and when I look at the few ingredients it just seems logical to make my own. Certain things really irk me to pay for like chai tea, most pasta dishes, and apparently hummus so I make resolutions about never shelling out money for them again. Ever! Or at least until it re-happens and I have to re-declare.

I rounded up some chickpeas, tahini, lemons, garlic and olive oil and followed Cook's Illustrated's recipe for making the "best" hummus. It wasn't hard and I was kicking myself for not doing it sooner. While I was at it, I also made these easy, tasty chips from large rounds of whole wheat lavash. Crisp and golden after a blast in a hot oven, they came out with great crunch from the seed mixture.

The chips were perfect with the hummus and were addictive enough to eat on their own too. Although lavash is similar to pita, I thought these were better than pita chips I've made in the past. Lavash is softer and thinner which makes them crisp up perfectly with very little oil needed. They undoubtedly can handle endless variations of spices, seeds, herbs and oils. 
  • 3 round whole wheat lavash breads (10-inch size)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon flaked sea salt
Heat the oven to 400f (200c). Stir the seeds and salt together in a small bowl and set aside.

Cut the breads into thin wedges. Brush both sides with olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the seeds over the tops and place in the center of the oven. Bake until the chips are golden and crisp, about 10 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool before serving. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Raspberry Bittersweet Friands

Since moving to Australia I've been eyeing up all the desserts here which tend towards the small, individual, pretty kind. There are tiny tarts, coconut covered lamington squares and a variety of "slices" which are bar cookies to Americans. As much as I love a giant frosted cake - especially if people are standing around it singing happy birthday to me, I've become taken with a dessert that can be enjoyed in a few bites.

I discovered friands one day when I was grocery shopping. As I was passing by the section with various baking sheets, utensils and things I spotted an odd-looking muffin pan. It simply said "friand pan" and so I went home and googled it. It seems that friands are a thing here and in New Zealand and are closely related to the French financier.

Although I looked at 10 different recipes, they were all essentially the same. Egg whites, almond meal, confectioner's sugar, melted butter and a touch of flour are combined and baked in the special oval-cupped pan. At first I was going to make a batch with just raspberries but I spied a bag of bittersweet chocolate chips in the cupboard and decided it wouldn't hurt to add those in too.

I love everything about these cakes. They are buttery with a crisp exterior and tender, cakey interior. Serve them warm so that chocolate oozes and mixes with the raspberries. A final dusting of sugar is all they need.

For my friends outside of Australia, a regular muffin pan can be used to bake these.

For 8 friands:
  • 7 tablespoons (100 grams) unsalted butter
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 2/3 cup almond meal*
  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup confectioner's (icing) sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • Extra confectioner's sugar for dusting
Heat the oven to 350f (180c). Grease 8 cups of a friand or standard muffin pan. Melt the butter and then set aside to cool.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whisk until foamy, about a minute. Change to the paddle attachment. Sift the flour, sugar and almond meal over the whites and beat on low speed until just combined, scraping down the bowl if necessary. Add the raspberries and chocolate chips and beat for 30 seconds more.

Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, divide the batter amongst the 8 cups. Place in the center of the oven and bake until the cakes are puffed and the edges are golden, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. After 15 minutes, remove from the pan and serve warm or at room temperature. Lightly dust with the confectioner's sugar right before serving.

*To make your own almond meal, place a cup of whole raw almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they are very finely ground. Be careful because if they are ground too much they will become almond butter. Sift the almond meal, setting aside the large pieces that wouldn't sift and measure out 2/3 cup for this recipe. Reprocess any larger pieces and store the extra almond meal in the refrigerator or freezer.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Roasted Pepper Salad

We made an Italian-style feast the other day that consisted of some ultra-rich macaroni and cheese, green beans in a tomato/Parmesan sauce, and this salad. I thought that we needed something light and fresh to offset all the heavier cheese flavors of the other dishes and this really was just the right thing to serve.

I started by roasting red and yellow peppers and then added layers of flavor on top of them. Orange, hot chile, toasted almonds, raisins and plenty of fresh oregano were laced through the peppers. A drizzle of high-quality olive oil and a touch of sea salt finished it.

This salad, with it's bright red colors and flecks of green and orange, is gorgeous. I served it at room temperature and tossed all the ingredients at the table right as we were sitting down to eat. We ate the leftovers the next day for lunch and it was just as good so feel free it to make it ahead of time too.

For 4 Servings:
  • 3 large red, yellow or orange bell peppers
  • 1 small hot red chile pepper, seeded and minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
  • 1 tablespoon toasted slivered almonds
  • 1 tablespoon golden raisins
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • Fresh orange juice, sea salt and olive oil to taste
Set the peppers on a hot grill or place under the broiler. Roast, turning occasionally until the skins are blackened and blistered on all sides. Place the peppers in a large sealable bag, seal, and set aside for 15 minutes. Remove the peppers from the bag and peel off the skins. Carefully pull or cut out the core and seeds and discard. Cut each pepper into 6 slices and place on a platter.

Scatter the chile, oregano, almonds, raisins, zest and salt over the peppers. Give them a squeeze of fresh orange juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Toss the salad before serving and adjust with additional salt, oil or juice if needed.

The salad will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for a few days.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hazelnut Honey

A couple months ago, M and I went on a wine tour of the Swan Valley which is about an hour drive Northeast of where we live. I had never been on a proper day long tour before of any wine region and I loved it as much as I always figured I would. We were chauffeured around wine country, passing by row after symmetrical row of grapes, learning about the local varietals and tasting an abundant amount of wine. There was such overwhelming natural beauty there. I found myself standing under a grape arbor, glass of wine in one hand, reaching up to pluck a grape with the other hand, and thinking that nothing could be better than that.

Amongst the many things I learned that day was that wine tours equal all sorts of other culinary indulgences: chocolates and nougats, locally sourced olive oils, rich tawny ports, jams, and cheeses. At one winery they had sparkling jars of canned chutneys, relishes, and jams using different wines. I noticed a jar of honey with hazelnuts suspended at the top. The ingredients just said honey, hazelnut liqueur, and hazelnuts. Easy enough. I set the jar back down and have finally gotten around to making a batch of it myself.

This required buying a bottle of Frangelico which I was hesitant to do because of the hefty price tag. I figured that it would last forever like so many specialty liqueurs do. However, after perusing the Frangelico website and seeing a cocktail that was simply Frangelico, soda and lime my bottle is now half empty. It is delicious - make one now if you can.

But back to the honey...this is officially my new favorite homemade gift. Although simple, it's quite special. I drizzled it over some roasted pears for a quick dessert and imagine that it would shine on a cheese platter, perhaps alongside some pungent blue cheese.

For 1 cup:
  • 1 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons Frangelico
  • 10-15 hazelnuts
In a small saucepan, combine the honey and the Frangelico over medium-low heat. When the honey is warmed through, turn up the heat until it just starts to boil, stirring constantly. Immediately remove from the heat and set aside for a few minutes to cool slightly.

Carefully pour the hot honey into a sealable glass jar. Set aside, uncovered, while toasting the hazelnuts.

Heat the oven to 350f (180c). Place the hazelnuts on a rimmed sheet and bake until just golden, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven, place in the center of a kitchen towel, and rub together until their skins come off. Put the hazelnuts in the jar with the honey and seal. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Brazilian Shrimp Stew

There is this very lovely small grocer in Fremantle, Australia called Kakulas Sister where shoppers need to squeeze through aisles that are stacked high with almost any international food that one could ever be looking for. A strong coffee scent hits you when you walk in and I try and practice buyer's restraint as I weave through the vinegars, honey, rich yogurts and cheeses, meats, barrels filled with grains, rice and flours, bags of dried chiles hang from the ceilings and little pastries lined up next to the register.

My last trip there I spotted a Pan de Queso mix, a Brazilian cheese bread, and bought it thinking I'd make some sort of South American meal. I had actually eaten these years ago when Guestblogger Alita's family had a Brazilian foreign exchange student who made them for everyone. I knew M would love them and they really are a fun, tasty little bread - chewy, cheesy and slightly exotic.

I paged through my cookbooks wondering what to make with them and came across a tasty-sounding stew that is apparently quite traditional in Brazil. I had some shrimp in the freezer and supplemented what I had with some dark chicken meat. The shrimp and chicken are bathed in a tomato coconut sauce and seasoned with a hearty dose of lemon juice and peppers.

I cooked the stew and baked the bread on a sunny Sunday. We took our plates out onto the balcony for a leisurely lunch and about 10 minutes later we laughed at how quickly we had cleaned our plates. M and I agreed that this was one of our new favorite meals.

For 4 Servings:

  • 1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into small pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, stemmed and minced
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 15 ounces whole tomatoes in juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
In a large ziploc bag combine the shrimp, chicken, garlic, jalapeno, lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Seal, pressing the air out, and place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Puree the tomatoes in a blender until smooth and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and saute, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato puree and another 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened, about 10 minutes. 

Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Stir in the shrimp, chicken, and all of the marinade allowing to simmer until the meats are just cooked through, about 3-5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Garnish with the chives and serve with steamed white rice and the warm pan de queso. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beet, Leek & Barley Soup

Beets (or beetroot as they refer to it) are a popular vegetable here in Australia and I've been eating more and more of them. You rarely see a burger without a few slices of beet tucked into the bun which is a real favorite of mine now that I've had it a few times. I grew up not liking beets for no particular reason besides the fact that they were a bit odd-looking and tasted a little like dirt. Now though, that earthiness is appealing and they seem to be good just about every way that I have them.

That deep, purple-red hue is astonishing and I love the way that this soup looks. The sweet leeks play off the beets natural sweetness and the chewy barley adds some nice heft. The astringency of the lemon juice and the freshness of the dill is a needed garnish - I don't think the soup is quite as good without them.

I haven't had borscht in years but this soup is definitely a simpler, lighter cousin of the original. With just 6 ingredients and a little simmering this very pretty soup was being slurped up alongside the Guinness Rosemary Bread I recently made.

For 4-6 Servings:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
  • 3 beets, peeled and cubed
  • 1½ cups cooked barley
  • 4 cups stock
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the beets and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the stock and barley and bring to a simmer. Cover, and simmer until the beets are tender, about 45-60 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper, adding more stock or water to thin the soup if desired. Ladle into bowls and top with some lemon juice and dill.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Maple Egg Cups

Once, a long time ago, a friend of mine who shall remain anonymous (ok fine it was Guestblogger Alita) and I gained some weight. Kind of a lot actually. We blamed it on winter and the lack of daylight and our hectic workloads - but the fact is there was only one culprit and it's name was the fun-sounding MxGxxxxxx.

There was a MxDxxxxx's that both of us passed by on our way to work and it became a frequent (daily) occurrence to swing by the drive-thru, eat it furtively in the car, and be on our way. Now, if you have never had such a thing and believe me, I know it's a touch horrific to admit that you have, I'll explain it to you. A scrambled egg, cheese and your choice of bacon or sausage is sandwiched between two pancakes that had these delicious pockets of maple syrup in them.

I pride myself on cooking healthy, mostly organic, often vegetarian, locally-sourced meals at home the majority of the time. You can imagine what a dirty little secret this was. To this day when either of us has gained any sort of weight we qualify it by saying things like - "I mean, I'm not MxGxxxxxxx weight or anything."

This brings me to the cute egg cups pictured above which are reminiscent of the sweet+salty+savory goodness of yesteryear. Whole wheat toast is brushed with a butter/maple syrup glaze and filled with a thin slice of prosciutto. An egg bakes in the center and they are so tasty. Perfect for a brunch-style gathering, the prep is minimal and they can bake while mimosas are being sipped. And, you don't have to eat them in secret.

For 6 cups:
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 6 slices whole wheat bread, crusts cut off
  • 3 thin slices prosciutto, cut in half
  • 6 eggs
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 350f (180c). Melt the butter with the maple syrup. Brush the inside of 6 cups of a standard muffin pan with the melted maple butter. With the palm of your hand, flatten the bread. Brush both sides of each slice with the maple butter and tuck into the muffin cup. Press the prosciutto into each one. If there's any maple butter leftover, drizzle it evenly over the prosciutto. Carefully crack an egg into each cup and grind black pepper over the top.

Place in the center of the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Check the doneness of the egg and continue baking if you'd like the yolk more set. The baking times will vary depending on personal yolk preference. 

Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spinach Feta Pie

Here's one of my favorites from Guestblogger Alita. I've been eating and making this recipe for years. The variations are endless, everyone seems to love it, and it's great as an unusual brunch dish or a vegetarian main course. Leftovers reheat perfectly too. --A Crafty Lass

Years ago I was invited to a 3-day creative retreat which was held at a spa located on a serene old farm about an hour West of Minneapolis.The retreat may have been informative, I don't really recall - because the most memorable thing I took away from that retreat were recipes for two items that my cooking repertoire would suffer without!

The chef on staff thankfully introduced me to this amazing rice and egg-based pie, and also a "healthy" wheat germ brownie, that may appear here soon. I make this pie pretty regularly and never hear complaints. To keep us from getting bored of this menu staple, I've taken liberties with the recipe over the years. We all quickly decided that this one, filled with Greek flavors, is our favorite version.

The original recipe was basically white rice, spinach, feta and eggs, topped with cheddar cheese but for this post I wanted to mix it up a bit. Erin and I often bounce ideas off of one another, sharing recipes frequently, and after brainstorming together decided that some added Greek-oomph would make this dish shine.

I upgraded the white rice to brown rice for the added fiber and other nutritional benefits and mixed in lemon, herbs and olives. I did struggle with the topping, thinking that cheddar was a little off-theme, but the bubbly, gooey cheese on this is a must, so I went with it. Enjoy this served with a spinach or Greek salad on the side.

For 6 Servings:
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/3 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 4 ounces (115 grams) crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 10 ounces (280 grams) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 10 kalamata olives, sliced
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 400f (200c). Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat and saute the onions and the garlic for 3-5 minutes. Stir in the flour and salt. Gradually add the milk, stirring with a whisk until well-blended. Stirring constantly, bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, 1-2 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and gently stir in the cooked rice, feta, eggs, lemon juice, herbs, spinach and olives.

Pour the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese over the top and bake for 30-35 minutes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Guinness Rosemary Bread

I wanted to make something for St. Patrick's Day that used Guinness besides Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake, which admittedly is one of the best things ever. Something savory instead of sweet. Stout and chocolate go so well together though and I'm itching to make some Guinness ice cream that I read about a while back. Maybe next year.

This year though, I remembered a recipe for beer bread that my mom had given me years ago. Hers required just 4 ingredients: beer, white flour, sugar and butter. The yeast in beer works with the self-rising flour to make a dense, quick bread type of loaf. The ease in which this comes together is unbelievable. A loaf can be baking in the oven within 15 minutes, start to finish. For real.

I made some modifications using Guinness of course and then ramping up the fiber with some whole wheat flour. I used honey instead of sugar and then topped it with both rosemary and the richly-scented flaky smoked salt that Maldon makes. I absolutely love this salt. Buy some if you see it.

Like all bread, it smelled amazing while it was baking. The herbal, smokey topping melded perfectly with the barely sweet, stout-infused loaf. This is really best eaten the day you bake it, served warm with a little butter.

Erin go Bragh!

For one loaf:
  • 12 ounces (350 ml) Guinness, room temperature
  • 2 cups whole wheat self-rising flour
  • 1 cup white self-rising flour
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon flaky smoked salt such as Maldon
Heat the oven to 350f (180c). Combine the Guinness, flours and honey in a large bowl. Stir together until just moistened. The batter will be quite thick. Grease a standard, greased loaf pan and spoon the batter evenly into it.

Drizzle the butter over the top. Sprinkle with the rosemary and salt. Place in the center of the oven and bake for about 45 minutes.

Place on a wire rack and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Take out of the pan, slice and serve warm.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Quick Carrot Bean Salad

In most of the cookbooks I own, I have post-it notes on many of the pages flagging recipes I'd like to try one day. Or, stuck in the first page, is a handwritten list that I jotted down when going through the book for the first time. I also have a long list on my laptop of ideas I have for recipes to try and eventually blog about one day. My inspiration often comes from these orderly sources or sometimes I can make something quite good on the fly.

This quick salad is one of those freestyled meals that actually worked. The other morning, with one eye on the clock, I was faced with bringing an emergency frozen meal to work for lunch, buying something over my break, or spending a few extra minutes attempting to whip something together. In the interest of eating up what we have, I made this in 15 minutes and still managed to find myself on the 7:40 am train.

I threw the rice in the steamer and got to work - carrot chopping, pine nut toasting, a little assembly and leftover buttermilk dressing to anchor the whole dish together. The salad is crunchy, savory, herbal and sweet all at once and made for a satisfying work lunch.

For 3-4 Servings:
  • 1 ½ cups cooked jasmine rice
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup dried currants
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
  • 1 can borlotti beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk dressing*
For the dressing, combine 1 cup buttermilk, 2 chopped garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup chopped dill, 2 chopped scallions, a tablespoon of chopped tarragon, and a 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil in a blender. Swirl together until emulsified. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use - up to one week.

While the rice is still warm, combine the rice, carrots, currants, pine nuts and beans in a bowl. Pour the dressing over, toss again and serve at room temperature.

Buttermilk Dressing recipe adapted from the Buttermilk Farro Salad recipe at 101 Cookbooks.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Buttermilk Walnut Muffins

I woke up Sunday morning early, feeling full of energy. I peeked in the fridge and was confronted with odds and ends and leftovers and condiments stuffed into it. The pantry was no better so I declared that there would be no more grocery shopping until we ate everything already in the house.

The day before we had hosted a leisurely afternoon lunch with friends and I had made Heidi's very delicious Buttermilk Farro Salad. The salad itself was fantastic - plump grains and crisp shaved vegetables soaked up the tangy dressing nicely. Since I had half container of buttermilk left over, I set to work on these muffins.

Buttermilk in baked goods is like a magical ingredient, infusing the dough with moisture and a nice cakey texture. I stirred in finely chopped walnuts and leftover candied mixed peel I'd used around Christmas in these Pistachio Cookies. The muffins were sweetened with just a touch of honey but the cardamom sugar topping added a second layer of sweetness. To really let these muffins shine, serve them warm, straight from the oven with some additional honey and softened butter.

For 12 muffins:
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped candied mixed peel or 1 tablespoon finely grated citrus zest
  • 1 cup buttermilk, well-shaken
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup honey
Heat the oven to 400f (200c). In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cardamom, set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Stir the walnuts and citrus peel into the flour mixture. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, butter, and honey. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just moistened. The batter will be thick and lumpy.

Grease a muffin pan. Spoon the batter evenly into each cup. Sprinkle with the cardamom sugar and bake in the center of the oven until puffed and golden, about 15-18 minutes. Let cool slightly on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Serve warm with butter and honey.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Zucchini Rice Pilaf with Mexican Flavors

I've been way too hot lately which has translated into me being a bad, bad weeknight dinner cook. We had grilled cheese sandwiches one night (delicious), french toast with cinnamon and strawberries another night (again, yum) and lots and lots of popsicles. I should mention that I didn't make any of it. I laid sideways on the couch and read about good healthy cooking in a few much-loved cookbooks instead.

By the time Thursday rolled around I was determined to put something good and wholesome on the table. M rubbed a few filets of snapper with a nice chile powder and grilled them for just a few minutes per side. Meanwhile I was in the kitchen chopping away, whipping up this heavy-on-the-vegetables pilaf. I loaded it with onions, garlic, chiles and lots of little cubes of green zucchini. Fresh super sweet corn kernels got tossed in alongside the heartiness of chewy brown rice and black beans. A hint of tangy mild Tabasco was stirred in and the whole dish was topped off with crunchy pepitas and chunks of avoacdo.

Despite a bit of prep work, the pilaf was simple to make and doesn't require much actual cooking time, particularly if the rice is cooked in advance. It would make an excellent filling for a burrito and could accompany any number of latin-infused menus. 

For 4 servings:
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno chopped (seeded if you want less heat)
  • 1 medium zucchini cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 ears corn, kernels cut off the cob
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups cooked long grain brown rice
  • 1 teaspoon tabasco (I used the green one)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted pepitas
  • 1 small avocado, diced
Heat the oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and jalapeno. Saute, stirring frequently until the onion is lightly browned and soft. Add the zucchini, season with salt, and cook for a few minutes more. Add the corn, black beans, rice and tabasco. Stir thoroughly until all the ingredients are warmed and cooked through. Taste and season with additional tabasco or salt if needed.

Spoon the pilaf into a serving dish and top with the avocado and pepitas.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chickpea & Almond Soup

I'm not sure what possessed me to make a soup in the middle of an Australian summer. Maybe I was missing my pals in the deep freeze on the other side of the world, maybe I was tired of eating food that didn't require cooking, or maybe I just wanted to make something with saffron in it because it's pretty. Who knows. What I do know is that I was sweating like mad while I was cooking it and sweating just as much when I had a steaming bowl in front of me. Somehow, with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, it was perfect and simple and elegant despite the 100 degree (Fahrenheit) heat.

This soup is a version of a Mark Bittman recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I love this book. I know his original book is a staple for a lot of people but I much prefer this one and have a long list stuck in it detailing his innovative meatless recipes I can't wait to make.

I went the easy route with my version and used canned chickpeas rather than dried and added a couple small potatoes because they were sitting on the countertop staring at me. I skipped the onion altogether and upped the garlic ante instead. It played off the almonds, potatoes and chickpeas nicely. The almonds are an unusual addition and I was curious to see how they would behave in soup. M & I both loved it and would make it again. The fact that dinner was on the table in half an hour was just a bonus.

For 4 servings:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1 cup diced yellow potatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic and saute until just golden. Add the almonds, potatoes, saffron and a large pinch of salt and pepper. Saute for a couple minutes more. Add the chickpeas and the stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. Taste and season with additional salt if needed.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Truffled White Bean Dip

One Friday night after a long week of work, I got home and wanted only to sit in the sun on my balcony with M, a glass of wine, and some good, leisurely snacks. I surveyed what we had on hand and pulled out a wedge of Gruyere, olives, pickles, table water crackers, and Pink Lady apple slices. Wanting something a bit more substantial, I grabbed a can of cannellini beans and thought that I would dress them simply with a vinaigrette. I did just that but also started mashing them up with roasted garlic and sea salt. I drizzled a tiny bit of truffle oil over the top. With minimal effort, I had a pretty good platter in front of me.

Those beans were GOOD. Mellow and creamy with just the right hints of salt and savory truffle. The dip was so good that I made it again, and again, and finally wrote down the recipe. I've made variations by adding a pinch of chili flakes on one occasion and some chopped fresh basil on another. Both were great but the truffle oil is what makes it special.

This is the perfect recipe to have for a last minute hors d'oeuvre. I make mine on the chunkier side, roughly mashing the ingredients together with the back of a fork. For those of you with a food processor, it would be a breeze to puree it all together for a smoother, creamier dip.

For about 1 cup:
  • 1 large roasted garlic clove
  • 15 ounces (400 grams) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon good-quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon truffle oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Combine the garlic, beans, olive oil, vinegar, a 1/4 teaspoon truffle oil, and the sea salt in a bowl. Stir together and mash with a fork until you've reached the desired consistency. Drizzle the remaining truffle oil over the top, grind some pepper over it and serve alongside crackers and crudites.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Brandied Fig & Banana Milkshakes

I was skyping with one of my best gals, Manda, the other day when she told me about the most delicious milkshake she had at a local restaurant. She said - "it had figs and bananas in it and you must make it." I immediately thought BRANDY which her shake didn't have but we both agreed that yes, a liquored-up version might just be the best thing ever.

It should come as no surprise that I was right. I sucked down that first sip of shake and decided that brandy makes everything better. It reminded me a bit of a Brandy Alexander but was sweet with banana and slightly crunchy with the pureed tiny fig seeds. I love the hint of cinnamon which seems to marry the two fruits together and complements the strong vanilla flavor.

The recipe itself is a guideline. I think shakes are something that require a little tinkering based on personal preference. If you want your shake to be extra-thick so that the straw stands immobile in the middle then either add more ice cream or less milk. The brandy was perfect for my tastes but might be a touch strong for other people so don't add the full amount at first. Taste and decide.

As M and I sat slurping down our milkshakes BEFORE dinner (so naughty), I thought that they would make for a fun, unexpected end to a dinner party. The brandied figs would also make a splendid topping for a vanilla sundae along with some chopped nuts and chocolate sauce.

For 2 shakes:
  • 1/3 cup dried figs, stemmed
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 scoops vanilla ice cream
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 banana, cut into large chunks and frozen
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon for garnish
In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the figs, brandy and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick and put the brandy and figs in the refrigerator until cold.

In a blender, combine the figs with the brandy, ice cream, milk, and banana. Blend until smooth. Pour into two glasses and sprinkle with the cinnamon.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rich Red Pizza Sauce

I grew up eating thin crust sausage and mushroom pizzas at Fox Hole in McHenry, Illinois. I'd head to Lou Malnati's for a Chicago deep dish and had my first wood-fired pizza at a little Italian joint in London. My girlfriends and I would polish off a couple pizzas at Punch or Pizza Nea in Minneapolis on a regular basis. I love them all. 

What I don't love are the pizzas I've sampled in Australia. They are just...missing something. The crust isn't quite right or the cheese isn't cooked enough or the sauce is too subdued. The Aussies love their pizza because they're on offer everywhere we go, I'm just still searching for that great, perfect pie.

While I search, M and I have become near experts at making pizzas at home. I make the dough and the sauce, while M is in charge of shaping the dough, topping distribution, and cooking the pizza. He's come up with this addictive little trick where he brushes the crust of the pizza with honey before he bakes it---crispy, sticky, goodness. 

I have started making larger batches of sauce and freezing it in 1-cup portions. The sauce itself is loaded with flavor from the fresh herbs, garlic and imported Italian canned tomatoes. The red wine cooks down and adds depth to the other ingredients. It freezes beautifully and having it on hand is very useful, particularly if you've got some frozen dough at the ready too. 

For about 5 cups:
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4-14 ounce (400 gram) cans diced Italian tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup fruity red wine
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until just golden. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, sugar, salt and red pepper flakes. Stir together and bring to a simmer. 

Simmer, stirring occassionally until the sauce has thickened about 30-45 minutes. Stir in the oregano and basil. Taste and add more salt if needed. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Puree the sauce until smooth in batches in a blender, being careful to only fill it halfway so it doesn't erupt into a molten mess. 

Pour the sauce into plastic containers or ziploc freezer bags and freeze until ready to defrost and use.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Coconut Macadamia Blondies

I've been a blogging slacker this week but thanks to my good pal, Guestblogger Alita, I got a needed reprieve so that I can do some cooking and get back on schedule. I'm sure you'll all enjoy these delicious-sounding blondies. ---A Crafty Lass

In deciding what special treat I wanted to bake for my Valentine, I thought about his all time favorite cookie. I know he's not alone - you know the ones, those delicious Samoas that the cute little Girl Scouts so innocently sell us every year. I feel so good supporting them and teaching them about goals, making money and people skills (at least that is what one little girl told me - good sales pitch for a 8 year old, I thought!). In case the one person on earth who hasn't tried these cookies happens to be reading this today, the cookie is covered in caramel and coconut and of course drizzled with 5 perfect lines of chocolate. That purple box doesn't last long at our house - once you open it, you might as well not close it again!

Since my sweetie is not a big chocolate fan like me, I thought a cookie bar or blondie would be a good base, and after taking stock of my baking cabinet, I settled on a cross between the above mentioned Samoas and the always popular white chocolate macadamia nut cookie. So, I cooked up a recipe for Coconut Macadamia Nut Blondies. And, much like that purple box, this pan of bars did not last long!
  • 1 stick of butter, melted (8 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup coconut (heaping)
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
Preheat over to 350f. Line an 8x8 baking dish with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the melted butter with the brown & white sugars. With a spoon, mix in the egg, vanilla and salt until combined. Slowly mix in the flours, coconut, white & chocolate chips and the macadamia nuts until blended.

Pour the batter into the lined pan and smooth the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes, the center should still be a little soft. Let them cool a little on a wire rack before removing them from the pan. Slice into squares and present to your favorite valentine!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tropical Tea Bread

Cyclone Bianca (a fancy sounding tropical storm I think) is swirling around the Western Australia coast bringing small bursts of rain, thunder, and hot humid heat that makes the air thick with a misty haze. I barricaded myself in the apartment, reluctantly turning the air conditioner on and waited to see what would happen during my first ever cyclone experience.

Bianca sort of fizzled out so while I waited for the squally winds that never came, I baked to pass the time. I sorted through some old Gourmet magazines and came across one from years back, "The Island Issue" and marveled at how many recipes I had made out of it. That was during my tropical phase when I wanted to eat nothing but Jamaican food.

One recipe in particular caught my eye for a simple loaf of Coconut Bread. I baked it and changed it so much that it hardly resembles the original but I suspect I might have improved it. The same coconut base exists but I substituted all the regular flour with whole wheat. I infused the batter with ground cardamom, fragrant grapefruit zest, and a dash of rum extract. The original recipe calls for water but I thought plain yogurt would add some needed moisture. It came out beautifully, subtly sweet, and although I ate it plain I'm sure some butter and marmalade would be a superb addition.

For one loaf:
  • 4 cups sweetened flaked coconut, divided
  • 2 cups whole wheat self-raising flour
  • 1¼ teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated grapefruit zest
  • 1 teaspoon rum extract
Heat the oven to 350f (180c). Spread 3 cups of the coconut out on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake, stirring occasionally until lightly golden and toasty, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour into a food processor. Pulse until finely ground.

In  a large bowl, stir together the ground toasted coconut, the remaining cup of untoasted coconut, the flour, and the cardamom.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat together the butter and brown sugar until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then beat in the yogurt, zest and rum extract. Add in the coconut mixture and mix until just combined.

Grease a standard loaf pan. Spoon the batter into the pan and spread the top evenly with a spatula. Place in the center of the oven and bake until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, and then turn out of the pan and let cool completely.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chicken with Spicy Date Couscous

When I get home from work, I immediately shed my work clothes which just feels so good, doesn't it? Then it's off to the kitchen to whip up something for dinner. I've had quick dinners on the brain lately and have been bookmarking and writing down ideas that will result in me being fed and relaxing on the couch by 7pm. The other day I stared vacantly into the refrigerator and was confronted with the familiar puzzle: all sorts of food, nothing to eat. I suspect this goes hand in hand with a closet full of clothes yet nothing to wear.

I persevered and came up with this superquick, very tasty weeknight dinner. I had the chicken ready to go which, when pounded thin, cooked in no time flat. I cooked the couscous in some stock with frozen peas, sweet chopped dates, toasted pine nuts and a good pinch of deeply spicy garam masala. The entire dish gets garnished with fresh basil. It's spicy, fresh and interesting all at once.

Speaking of good, fast recipes, I've been catching Jamie Oliver's show 30 Minute Meals lately for some inspiration. I've always liked him but now that I'm a regular viewer I sort of love him. His enthusiasm for cooking is infectious and the man can definitely throw together a fantastic looking meal. I recently downloaded his free iPhone app as well and am blown away by the innovative design and functionality of it. If you don't have it, get it.

For 2-3 servings:

  • 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 2 teaspoons peanut oil
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1¼ cup chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon peanut oil
  • 3/4 cup couscous
  • 1¼ teaspoons garam masala
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup pitted, chopped dates
  • 1/3 cup peas
  • 1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
Place the chicken in a large ziploc bag. Pound the chicken until it is about 1/2-inch thick. Coat with the peanut oil and season generously with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Preheat a grill on high heat or alternatively, heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Set aside and keep warm.

In a medium saucepan, combine the chicken stock and peanut oil over high heat. When it comes to a boil, stir in the couscous, garam masala, salt, dates, and peas. Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for 5 minutes. Uncover and stir.

Divide the couscous amongst two plates. Sprinkle the pinenuts over the top. Thinly slice the chicken and place on top of the couscous. Garnish with the fresh basil and serve.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fresh Mint & Lime Cookies

I am really good at making a Mojito to the point that if I order one at an actual bar, I'm usually disappointed. It's all about tasting and balancing things out along the way. The mint gets muddled with sugar, the lime juice and some pulp are stirred in, the rum is poured and then all of it topped off with some soda water. I taste and then add more of everything if it needs it. Finally, I present the lucky recipient with my perfect cocktail and give them a warning not to drink it too fast because they're such a fussy cocktail to make that I can't be bothered ever making more than about four.

These buttery sugar cookies are infused with Mojito flavor and remind me what a good combination mint + lime really is. The zest provides a burst of green citrus and is rounded off by the refreshing, sparkling taste of mint. The cookies themselves are crisp on the edges with a delicate crumb, prettily flecked with hints of herb and lime.

The dough can be a bit difficult to work with when rolling it into balls so if it sticks to your hands, wet your hands in ice water first and that should help. Keep an eye on them in the oven too, they can go to lightly golden around the edges to smelling of burnt butter quick.

For about 5 dozen:
  • 1½ cups (340 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup superfine granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh mint leaves
  • 2 teaspoons grated lime zest
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • Extra granulated sugar for flattening cookies
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg, mint, zest, and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Add flour to creamed mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350˚f (180˚c). Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place balls 2-inches apart on a baking sheet lined with a silpat. Grease bottom of a glass with butter, dip into a bowl of granulated sugar and flatten each cookie ball (repeatedly coating the glass in sugar as needed).

Bake 7-9 minutes or until edges are lightly golden. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Smoked Salmon, Apple & Pea Salad

After living in Australia for 4 months now, I'm still in that phase where I'm enamored with certain produce, seafood, and foodstuffs that seem exotic to the American me. Any native Aussie would be undoubtedly unimpressed with things like the lobster-esque local creature called marron, or the plentiful piles of dates, or the sweeter, thinner ketchup (called "tomato sauce" here...confusing, no?).
The other day my shopping trip yielded a thick piece of smoked salmon from Tasmania. Tasmania! I have to remind myself that it is an actual place, let alone where actual salmon swim in the sea. I had no specific plans for the smoky fish but found myself tossing chunks of it together with matchstick pieces of crisp, tart Pink Lady apples and some sweet baby peas.
Besides tasting delicious, this salad is very pretty. I mixed in some spring green baby cos (romaine) leaves and dressed it with a simple mustard vinaigrette. It needed a bit more crunch (or maybe I just needed an excuse to make some croutons) so those went into the salad bowl as well.

For 2 Salads:
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped shallot
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 ounces (80 grams) smoked salmon, pulled into chunks
  • ¼ cup peas, thawed
  • ½ Pink Lady apple, julienned
  • Handful of croutons, preferably homemade
  • 2 cups baby cos (romaine) lettuce leaves
  • 2 teaspoons tarragon leaves
Whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, shallot and salt in a small bowl until emulsified. Set aside.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a salad bowl, toss together with a couple tablespoons of the vinaigrette to taste, and serve immediately.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Gnocchi with Roasted Cauliflower & Hazelnuts

Here's a comforting, creamy gnocchi dish from Guestblogger Alita. Mmmmmm, cauliflower and hazelnuts! This recipe should warm up all my coldweather pals. ---A Crafty Lass

It's January in Minnesota which means we see gray skies or snowflakes every day while our beautiful landscape is laying dormant, buried under a thick blanket of snow and ice. And as crazy as it sounds, I
love Minnesota, so I've adapted to the cold. The key is to be well equipped to survive and possibly even enjoy a Minnesota winter: down jacket, hat, scarf, mittens, and tall boots are all required but maybe most important: some good comfort food!

My family's favorites include grilled cheese with a bowl of roma tomato soup, a pan of lasagna to share with friends, a steaming bowl of wild rice soup with homemade bread and of course, creamy macaroni and
cheese. These nourishing recipes all help us get through the long months of cold and ice.

This gnocchi recipe will be added to that list of favorite comforts from this day forward. The fluffy potato gnocchi paired with the sweet, nutty flavor of roasted cauliflower and bright red peppers are sauced with light cream and topped with the delicious crunch of toasted hazelnuts. It is just what you need on those cold, dark January nights.

So, here's to the days getting longer again, and hope for the annual, but too short lived "January Thaw" to arrive very soon.

For 4 servings:
  • Half of a red bell pepper, chopped in large chunks
  • Half a head of cauliflower, broken into small florets
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 package of gnocchi (approx. 1 pound (.45 kg), depending on brand)
  • 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
Toss the cauliflower florets & red pepper chunks with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil along with a generous pinch of salt & pepper. Roast for about 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees. Roast the hazelnuts in a separate pan for the last 5 minutes of this process. While the cauliflower is roasting, saute the garlic and onions in a skillet with the two remaining teaspoons olive oil over medium heat. Remove from the heat and add the vegetable broth. Slowly whisk in the cream and return to the heat. Simmer gently until the sauce thickens.

Meanwhile, cook the gnocchi according to the package directions (drop in boiling water & cook approx 3 minutes). Drain and gently toss the gnocchi with the roasted cauliflower, peppers and sauce. Plate and sprinkle with roasted hazelnuts. Enjoy and stay warm!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Saganaki with Pickled Figs

One hot hot hot day I found myself dining alfresco at a Greek restaurant in a busy neighborhood outside of Perth. M and I were sipping on some daytime cocktails and ordering from the Mezze menu, which are little dishes similar to tapas, when my eye spotted “Saganaki with Pickled Figs”. I immediately thought – Hot cheese! Figs! Pickled stuff! I ordered it and loved it.

A couple weeks later in my own kitchen, I pickled the figs overnight in a simple brine. They plumped up and took on the lightly salted, astringent liquid which tempered the fruit’s natural sweetness. The next day I seared the cheese and presented 4 beautiful plates of contrasting flavors. It made for a divine Mediterranean start to the meal.

Saganaki in Greek cuisine refers to the frying pan the cheese is cooked in, not the cheese itself, which I just discovered about 10 seconds ago after I googled it. There are several cheeses that can be used here – kasseri or haloumi are probably the most common. These cheeses hold their shape when cooked and have a mild, salty quality to them.

I used the leftover pickled figs in a salad with lots of red leaf lettuce, some walnuts, a sprinkling of chevre and some sliced leftover steak. It was tasty! I can also see them chopped up, stirred into some couscous and topped with a handful of chopped fresh herbs.

For 4 servings:
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 6 ounces (180 grams) haloumi or kasseri cheese
  • *Pickled figs, drained
  • 2 cups baby rocket (arugula)
  • Lemon wedges
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Cut the haloumi into 4 rectangular pieces about a ½ inch (1.25 cm) thick.

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a skillet. When it’s hot, add the haloumi and cook, searing on one side until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes. Flip and repeat on the other side. Keep the haloumi warm while the other ingredients are being plated.

Divide the rocket amongst 4 plates. Add 4 fig halves to each along with a wedge of lemon. Put a piece of warm, seared haloumi in the center, grind a little pepper over the top and serve at once.

*Pickled Figs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2/3 cup white vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup dried figs, cut in half from stem to end
Stir together all the ingredients except the figs in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Put the figs in a sealable container and pour the hot brine over them. Allow to cool for 30 minutes and then cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to a day ahead.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tortellini & Spinach Soup

I'm back to work full-time after a loooong hiatus. I still haven't gotten my routine down and find myself forgetting the little tips and tricks required of us working folks. Currently I have blisters from walking partway to work in stupidly tall (but awesome) heels so I've taken the bus to rectify my nonsensible shoe problem and have missed it, twice.

Back in my working days I was pretty good about making a weekly meal plan and sticking to it. I would plan meals for 5 days, counting on having leftovers for dinner one night and eating out another night. My grocery lists were meticulous, written down by department, so I could zip through the store without much hassle. The meals that were more time-consuming would get partly made, or at least prepped, on the weekend and the other nights I had a repertoire of quick dinners in rotation. This soup is one of them.

My mom made something like it when I was growing up and I've tweaked it and changed it over the years. It takes about 20 minutes from start to finish to make and is so very good. It's hearty, healthy and when made with high-quality Italian tomatoes, fresh tortellini and garnished with salty Parmesan and bright lemon it encompasses so many of my favorite flavors.

When you get home from work and are wavering between buying something quick, ordering takeout, or eating cereal for dinner, make this instead.

For 3-4 servings:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 14 ounces (400 grams) diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 8 ounces (250 grams) frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 2 cups reduced sodium chicken stock
  • 2 cups fresh tortellini
  • Grated Parmesan and lemon wedges for garnish
Warm the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, salt and red pepper flakes, stirring occasionally for 5 more minutes. Stir in the spinach and broth. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Add the tortellini, turn the heat down to a strong simmer and cook, until the tortellini are tender, about 5-6 minutes. Taste and season with more salt if necessary.

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with the fresh lemon and Parmesan.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

200 Posts Later...

Oh how satisfying it is to reach this milestone.  Two years ago when I started this blog, I was maneuvering my way through a galaxy of millions and was trying to find a voice and a style. I just wanted to be good at it. I remember when I was a kid there were certain things I could do. I could ice skate backwards with some twirls thrown in. I could spell like nobody’s business and have the elementary school spelling bee trophies to prove it. I could hit a smoking backhand in tennis and do one-handed cartwheels all over the yard.

As I got older and dissolved into adulthood with its responsibilities and car payments and retirement savings plans and happy hours I found myself not able to get back that childhood sense of satisfaction. This may sound trite but it was really through cooking that I was able to remember. When I won the blue ribbons at the Minnesota state fair for my jams, it was the first time in a very long time that I got my swagger back.

Now there is hardly anything so gratifying as pulling off a dinner party, tackling an impossible sounding recipe, or effortlessly whipping together a favorite meal like an old pro. On the flipside, I’ve had enough kitchen disasters happen that I’m barely phased when something burns, crumbles, falls, or refuses to rise. I promptly take out my camera, document the massacre, and send it off to my pals who will laugh and commiserate with me. They in turn do the same to me and I love it.

And so a blog, like much else, is always going to be a work in progress but I’m finding my way. This next year I hope to eat new things, get back into canning, and learn to like cilantro (I'm kidding! As if!). Thank you for reading and commenting, it means so much to know that you are all out there.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Prawn & Potato Pie

Happy New Year everyone!

Normally I like to be able to say - "don't be alarmed by the long list of ingredients" or something along those lines but that sentiment does not apply here. This is fussy to make, there's no getting around it. But look! Cubes of potatoes are combined with sweet, chopped prawns, creamy leeks, mellow gruyere and laced through with fresh dill.

If you’re feeling chipper one morning, the radio is on, and you’ve got a mimosa at the ready then making this pie isn’t really a burden at all. Paired with some sparkling and fresh fruit this made for a delicious brunch. I can also see it served for dinner alongside a lettuce salad dressed with mustard vinaigrette. I love brunch, perhaps because brunch often involves morning cocktails, and am eager to encounter the next great strata or coffee cake or quiche recipe. This pie flirts with being a quiche but doesn't contain enough eggs for such a classification in my book.

This dish is based on an old Cooking Light recipe but I’ve changed it so much that it barely resembles the original. I liked the idea though: a prawn (or shrimp) pie filling in an easy pat-in-the-pan crust. I make my crust with half quinoa flour and really enjoy the subtle nutty note it imparts. That, plus the touch of cornmeal, makes for a sturdy crust.

Leftovers reheated nicely the next day.

For the crust:
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup quinoa flour
  • 2 tablespoons coarse cornmeal
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • ¼ cup ice water
  • ½ teaspoon white vinegar
Whisk together the flours, cornmeal, and salt. With a pastry blender, work in the butter until pea-sized crumbs form. Stir in the ice water and vinegar. The dough will be crumbly. 

Spray a pie plate with cooking spray. Pour in the crust and press it evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the plate. Bake for 5 minutes at 375f (190c). Set aside on a cooling rack while the filling is being prepared. Leave the oven on.

For the filling:
  • 4 small fingerling or other yellow-fleshed potato
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 ounces (50 grams) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 9 ounces (.25 kg) uncooked prawns, tails removed and coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup grated gruyere
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
Cook 4 small yellow potatoes in boiling salted water until just tender. Drain and set aside. When cool enough to handle, cut into cubes. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs and cream cheese with a mixer until blended. On low speed, beat in the flour, mustard and evaporated milk. Stir in the prawns, gruyere, dill, salt, and reserved potatoes.

In a nonstick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring frequently, until just soft, about 10 minutes. Stir the leeks into the filling.

Pour the filling onto the crust, evenly distributing the ingredients. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 40 minutes so that the filling is set and the top is golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.