Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 in Review

2010 was the first full calendar year, January 1-December 31 of The Messy Apron. That’s 100 posts (this is number 101), about the same number of recipes and countless mediocre photos and apron cartoons that I nonetheless hope helped tell their respective stories. Wow! I think this thing has officially become a habit!

This year, I put several old favorites into what I hope is a user-friendly form suitable for sharing, and explored new messy and seasonal adventures, like homemade seitan , soufflé and clafouti. I tried out new ways to use the mountains of great vegetables I get from the CSA . I continued to increase the WFQ* of our diet, but also indulged in the occasional delicious treat. I even found a new place to hide beets that’s pretty darn tasty. There were also a few recipes of dubious merit that I hope you enjoyed reading about anyway, such as an eggplant stew, and Maple Cake with Walnuts and Dates that just weren’t as perfect as I would have liked. Believe me, there were plenty of others that never even made it that far.

Some of those bombs and near misses, such as a vegetable pot pie with a squash topping, deserve another look, and I’ll be revisiting them in hopes of posting recipes here next year. There are also a few, like some fried squash blossoms I worked on last summer, that just weren’t quite ready for their close-ups and I plan to get the details ironed out so I can share them. I think there are still a few more old favorites and variations on posted recipes that deserve some time on the front page as well. With some luck, there will be more great recipes than failures in 2011. I doubt you’ll ever hear about those inevitable inedibles, however, unless they were absolutely hilarious.

As difficult as it was, I’ve limited myself to a Top 10 list of recipes posted in the last year. Here are my favorites of 2010, in no particular order. Happy New Year!!

Peanutty Noodles
Caramel Corn
Plum Upside-Down Yogurt Cake
Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Roasted Cherry Tomato and Olive Galette (yes, that’s two recipes, but they were in the same post)
Pasta with Yellow Squash, Corn and Bacon
Spaetzle with Cabbage, Bacon and Onions
Stout Bread with Chocolate and Cherries
Beef and Guinness Pot Pie
Bean and Corn Croquettes
Spinach and Feta Souffle

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Party Dip

At this point, you may be in holiday overdrive. Perhaps you’re so overwhelmed with treats and sweets that even the thought of another piece of candy, cookie, cake, or even sweet piece of fruit is making you sick. If so, I just have one thing to say to you: I don’t understand you at all.

Nonetheless, there’s more to holiday party food than the sugary stuff. I’m partial to savory cheesy things with some green vegetables applied for a little WFQ*, like hot and melty spinach and artichoke dip.

The dip I’ve been making for years is made simple with canned artichoke hearts (you could use frozen) and frozen spinach. It gets flavor and gooiness from mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, then some tangy creaminess from both cream cheese and sour cream. Plenty of garlic adds even more great flavor.

About half an hour in the oven turns a dish of this mixture into a bubbly, hearty dip that’s best served with sturdy chips, like pita chips, or with crackers (although tortilla chips are good, too). It serves a bunch as an appetizer or part of a party buffet, but you can also make half the recipe for a smaller group. It can also be mixed up at least two days ahead, covered and kept in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake and serve. The leftovers are also fine re-heated in the microwave.

This dip should satisfy vegetable lovers and cheese lovers alike. And, if you’re only a cheese lover, I suggest trying this dip anyway, since the flavors and textures of the artichokes hearts and spinach are relatively mild and subtle. Besides, with all the cookies and candies and cakes and so on that you’ve already eaten, perhaps those vegetables will help the New Year’s resolutions go a little more smoothly. Hope you’re having a healthy and happy holiday season!

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Adapted from a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

I use reduced-fat cream cheese and sour cream in this recipe. You can make a richer dip with full-fat products, but I do not recommend fat-free.

1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese, plus a little more for the top
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ tsp black pepper
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 (13-14 ounce) can artichoke hearts (or about 8 ounces frozen, thawed), drained and chopped
2 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese, softened
½ (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine all ingredients (except the extra cheese for the top of the dip) in a large bowl. Stir to combine well. Spread the mixture into a baking dish (1 ½ quart is a good size.)

2. Sprinkle the top of the dip with a little more mozzarella. Resist the urge to really load up the top with cheese, since once it melts, it will form a formidable chip barrier. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Let stand for a few minutes before serving.

Makes about 5 ½ cups, probably serving 10 or more as an appetizer.

Other recipes like this one: Bean Dip with Sour Cream, Salsa and Cheese, Roasted Red Pepper, Garlic and Onion Dip

One year ago: Spicy Chicken Stir Fry

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Festive Comestibles: M&M Cookies

The best thing about a big winter holiday with major religious significance as well as secular appeal is the monumental opportunity it offers for making and eating celebratory foods. Hey, this is a food blog. I hope you weren’t hoping for something more profound than that.

Well, okay, so it isn’t all about the cookies, but I do get giddy when it’s time to make them, then I get panicky as I try to decide which cookies to make and worry that I don’t have enough flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and various forms of chocolate, nuts and other wonderful things that make my holiday world go ‘round.

Eventually I calm down and make a batch of chocolate chip cookies decorated with M&M candies. Everybody who likes cookies likes chocolate chip cookies and everyone who likes candy likes M&Ms. And if you make these cookies with festive red and green M&Ms, they instantly become Christmas cookies.

If one wishes to make these cookies pretty as well as delicious, it doesn’t really work to stir the M&Ms into the batter. Instead, I use a trick I learned working in bakeries, I press balls of dough (proto-cookies) into the M&Ms just before I put them on the baking sheet. Since the candy coating of the M&Ms doesn’t really contribute much flavor to cookies, I don’t stir any into the dough at all, but just use chocolate chips. Since I usually bake these with milk chocolate M&Ms I match that flavor with milk chocolate chips, but I suppose you could get some dark chocolate M&Ms and use semisweet or bittersweet chips if you’re aiming to please the 60% cacao and up crowd.

For years, I wasn’t quite satisfied with the look of my M&M cookies, because they just didn’t end up with enough pretty candies on top. The cookies spread in the oven, leaving empty, boring zones on top of each cookie. So, partway through the baking time I open the oven and press a few more M&Ms into each cookie that looks like it needs some gussying up. This is ever so slightly dangerous, what with the hot oven and all, so do not allow your children to help with this step. Please take the time to do it, however, if you have any respect for true cookie beauty. (They’ll taste great no matter what you do.)

Of course, you can use whatever color candy you want and make these for whatever season you want, but cookies are most expected in the red and green season, I suspect. And there are only a few more baking days until the big holiday. Merry cookie, or, um, Merry Christmas!

Milk Chocolate Chip and M&M Cookies
Adapted from various chocolate chip drop cookie recipes.

This dough can be baked immediately after mixing, but I find that a nicer cookie results if the dough is chilled at least a few hours, preferably overnight.

1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 (11.5-12 ounce) package milk chocolate chips
1 (11.6 ounce) package M&M candies (plus more if needed), preferably in seasonal colors

1. Place the butter, granulated sugar and dark brown sugar in a large bowl or in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until pale in color and very creamy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each is added. Beat in the vanilla extract.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Stir or whisk together to combine well. Add to the butter mixture a little at a time and mix on low speed until well combined.

3. Add the chocolate chips and either stir them in with a spoon or mix them in slowly with the electric mixer until well distributed through the dough.

4. Cover the dough and chill for at least 2 hours, or wrap very well and freeze for up to a month (I have frozen it longer.)

5. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 F. Lightly spray cookie sheets with cooking spray or line them with parchment paper. Place the M&Ms in a small bowl.

6. Scoop or pull pieces of cookie dough about 1-1 ½ tablespoons in size and shape into rough balls. Press the dough balls into the M&Ms. Gently press the M&Ms into the dough and set the dough balls on the prepared cookie sheet(s), candy side up and at least 2 inches apart.

7. Bake at 375 F. Partway through baking, the cookies will have a chance to spread leaving space for additional M&Ms. Open the oven and gently press additional M&Ms in the top of the cookies. Continue baking for a total of about 10-11 minutes, or until the cookies are browned on the edges and lightly browned on the top.

8. Remove from the oven and cool on the pan on a wire rack for about 2 minutes. Remove the cookies from the pan and cool completely (actually, they’re perfect a little warm) on a wire rack. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for a few days or wrap well and freeze.
Makes 50-60 cookies.

Another recipe like this one: Apricot and Almond Cookies with White Chocolate

One year ago: Gingerbread Granola

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sugar Zombie

I was out in the blogiverse reading this post from the David Lebovitz blog last month when I stopped to laugh over the author’s response to some sublime apricot bars he had sampled: “I’m sure they thought I was some sort of sugar-zombie the way I attacked it.” “OMG!” I thought. “Sugar zombie. This time of year that is soooo me. LOL!” I loved the thought of us enthusiastic holiday munchers roaming around half comatose, half hyped-up on a sucrose jag, moaning for “Suuuggaarrr! Suuuggarrr!” I don’t know about you, but holiday sweets get me through the winter.

I try to stay out of the brightly colored candy aisles at the stores and keep as many of my treats homemade as I can. They’re not any healthier, for the most part, but at least I put the effort and love into them before devouring them (or sharing them) and moving on to the next victim. Recently, I got around to updating a recipe I tried years ago for a butterscotch fudge flavored with butterscotch chips, pumpkin and spices. I remembered it as being super sweet and just too big of a batch, even for this sugar zombie, so I set about to make half a batch with possibly a little more flavor.

I know I shouldn’t do this, but I changed several variables at once when tackling this adaptation. I halved the recipe, substituted brown sugar for some of the white sugar, and added cream cheese to provide some tang to counteract the sweetness. It occurred to me that this could be a complete disaster, but I proceeded anyway. Luckily the recipe came out quite well with the texture of the fudge not suffering from my additions and substitutions and the flavor improving the way I had hoped. There’s nothing like successfully changing a candy recipe to make you feel like you know what you are doing.

Actually, this recipe is based on the nearly foolproof fudge recipes that contain marshmallow crème, which is sort of the cream of mushroom soup of the candy recipe world. Stir in the marshmallow cream and the texture of your fudge will be just right without much fuss or delicate procedures. I think I may have proved with this recipe, that marshmallow crème can make up for a serious deficiency of expertise. I do, however, have to apologize for one thing. The recipe below will leave you with half a can of evaporated milk, half a jar of marshmallow crème, and a little less than half a package of butterscotch morsels. We’re just going to have to find something else to do with them.

This fudge is indeed quite sweet, but the other flavors are really wonderful. The pumpkin and some of the spice and sweetness are at the forefront, then the butterscotch comes in. Finally, the spices push through at the end and echo in your mouth even after the fudge is gone. Sweet and sugary, yes, it is, but the other flavors are strong and interesting enough to create at least a more sophisticated sugar zombie.

All you chocolate zombies, however, are just going to have to find a different recipe.

Butterscotch Pumpkin Fudge
Based on a recipe from AllRecipes.com

You can replace the spices with 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice if desired.

I used an 8”x8” pan, which resulted in thin pieces of fudge. Use a smaller pan for thicker chunks.

1 cup white granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup butter
1/3 cup evaporated milk
¼ cup pumpkin puree (or other sweet squash puree)
2 tablespoons cream cheese (regular or reduced fat)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
6 ounces butterscotch morsels (such as Nestle brand)
3 ½ ounces marshmallow crème

1. Spray an 8” x 8” (or slightly smaller) baking dish or casserole with nonstick cooking spray or line it with parchment paper. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine the white sugar, brown sugar, butter, evaporated milk, and pumpkin. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and submerge it into the boiling mixture without touching the side or bottom of the pan.

3. Cook the mixture on medium heat, stirring frequently, until the thermometer reads 234 F, about 10-15 minutes. (The temperature is far more important than the time.)

4. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream cheese until completely incorporated. Use caution as the mixture may bubble and splatter and is very hot.

Stir in the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and butterscotch morsels. Keep stirring until the morsels are completely melted and the mixture is smooth. If the mixture cools too much to melt the morsels, put the pan over very low heat to help them melt. Stir in the marshmallow cream until smooth.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread it evenly.

Let stand at room temperature until completely cooled. Cut into squares and store in an air-tight container with layers separated by wax or parchment paper, preferably in the refrigerator. It will keep for several days.

Other recipes like this one: Bittersweet Almond Amaretto Truffles, Grandmama’s Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes

One year ago: Gingerbread Granola

Monday, December 6, 2010

An Embarrassment of Radishes

Usually, radishes aren’t too hard to handle. The little red and white spheres or oblong shapes come in small bunches. A few can be easily chopped or sliced to perk up a salad or they can be munched on their own in one or two bites. They’re spicy and exciting for their size, but don’t cause too much trouble.

I’m not here to talk about that kind of radish.

It turns out that those little radishes have assertive big brothers that come out to play in the fall and winter. Our CSA boxes have been bulging with such fine specimens for weeks, which means, long-lasting as they are, they’re starting to accumulate in the refrigerator. We have the long, white daikon radishes that you may have seen in supermarkets, but also red daikons and Spanish black radishes. Each has a slightly different flavor, although that flavor is familiar if you’ve ever eaten any kind of radish before. Sure, like their little red and white buddies, they’re good cut up and served raw alongside carrot and celery sticks or broccoli and cauliflower florets, but with the sheer mass of them I now have on hand, it seems that radishes aren’t just for snacking anymore.

The white daikons, I’ve used in Asian flavored slaws, even before subscribing to this CSA. (A little bit is good added to this salad.) They are usually quite mild in flavor and have a pleasant, jucier crunch. The red daikons are round rather than long, and look like turnips on the outside. Cutting them open, however, reveals a magenta-colored flesh that is fairly strong in flavor. These can even be a little funky as well as zingy with some of that fuming sensation that can kind of go up your nose. They will definitely assert themselves in a salad or as a garnish. The Spanish black radishes are something new to me. Their skin is truly, strikingly black, but they are creamy white on the inside. They taste pleasantly spicy and peppery.

I decided to use up some of these delicious radishes in bulk by shredding them along with some lovely, sweet and very bountiful carrots, also from the CSA. I adapted a couple of recipes for shredded jicama and carrot salads, since the texture of jicama is similar to that of the radishes. The dressing I used is vibrant with citrus juice and zest as well as chili powder, cumin and coriander. I didn’t add anything spicier since the radishes are spicy enough on their own.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well the flavors meld rather than compete with each other in this slaw. There’s a little bitterness from the radishes, of course, but it is complemented by the orange and lime zest, perked up by the acidity of the juice, and sweetened up by the carrots and the touch of honey in the dressing.

You could use any combination of radishes or even just the more readily available white daikon to make this salad. You could also use jicama instead, or all carrots, or probably any other shred-able slaw ingredients. That is, if you don’t find yourself with quite such an embarrassment of big, crunchy, strong and spicy winter radishes in your refrigerator.

For lots more on radishes, including recipes, check out this post from Cook Out of the Box, by Peggy Hanson, who writes great stuff about the food in our CSA boxes.

Radish and Carrot Slaw with Zesty Citrus Dressing
Based on recipes in Cooking Light magazine

I used a food processor with a shredding blade to grate the radishes and carrots. You could use a box grater. The texture will likely be finer.

Each of the types of radishes I used here should be peeled before shredding.

2 cups peeled and shredded daikon, red daikon or black radishes or a mix
2 cups peeled and shredded carrot
½ cup finely sliced red or yellow onion or scallions (green onions)
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon ground coriander seed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Combine the radishes, carrots, onion and cilantro in a large bowl. Set aside.

2. In a small bowl combine the remaining ingredients. Whisk until well-combined. Pour over the radish mixture and mix well to coat all the ingredients with the dressing. Serve right away or chill. Leftovers will last a few days in the refrigerator. Re-toss leftovers if dressing has puddled in the bottom of the bowl.

Makes about 6 servings.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winter Squash Risotto: As Far as I Know

As far as I know, I know how to make risotto. The only risotto I’ve ever eaten, with the exception of a taste of a chain restaurant offering from my grandmother’s plate, I have made myself. Since what I’ve been making seems to match well with what I’ve read that risotto is supposed to be like, and, more importantly, tastes very good, I’ll have to assume I know what I’m doing. I could be wrong.

I’ve tried several recipes for risotto with various ingredients added for flavor, but the method is pretty standard. Short grain rice, typically Arborio (although I’ve also read about Carnaroli rice) is slowly plumped in successive additions of broth while the cook stirs more or less continuously. That sounds demanding and daunting, or at least not something for the really busy or the really lazy to attempt. Actually, you don’t need to be that much of a perfectionist to tackle risotto. It does take some of your time and attention, say, significantly more than microwaving a Hot Pocket, but nothing is tricky and the labor isn’t grueling.

You can put just about anything you like in your risotto pot, and my recipe files contain risotto for all seasons. Recently, I made a winter squash risotto, since I’ve got an abundance of that vegetable again this year, flavored with a little onion, garlic and fresh sage. Based on what I could find in my sketchy notes on what I tried last year, there seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to squash risotto. One involves roasting cubed squash or simmering it in broth before starting on the rice, then stirring the cooked squash pieces into the risotto later.

The other method involves stirring squash puree into the nearly-finished risotto, and this is what I did in the recipe below. Peeling and chopping winter squash loses its novelty for me pretty early in the season so I tend to roast and puree most of my CSA squash. Several zip-top bags full of the stuff have already accumulated in the freezer (I’m afraid to look, but there might even be some of last year’s crop buried in there, too), and using it was just easier. I can’t find any evidence in my notes of where I might have got the idea to make squash risotto this way. Convenient and at hand as the squash puree may be, however, I find it hard to believe that I came up with this method entirely on my own.

The flavors of this dish are soft and subtle. The risotto is very creamy, but the creaminess comes only from the squash puree and the starch that the rice gives up as it is stirred with the broth. Oh yeah, and the little bit of Parmesan cheese that I stirred in at the end. The squash flavor isn’t overwhelming or cloying and the tanginess of the cheese and earthiness of the fresh sage balance it well. I serve this as a main dish, with a salad or fruit, but you could serve it as a side along with turkey, chicken, pork, or pretty much whatever you like. Overall, I find this risotto hot, creamy, nourishing and comforting for a cold time of the year. As far as I know, that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.

Winter Squash RisottoI used a homemade vegetable broth with very little salt added. It's a good idea to taste the risotto, especially near the end of cooking, and decide if it needs more salt.

5 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon kosher (coarse) salt
1 medium garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
¾ cup roasted winter squash puree or canned squash or pumpkin
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Pour the vegetable stock into a medium saucepan. Warm just until beginning to simmer. Keep hot, but do not boil.

2. In another medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and salt and sauté 5 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic, sage and pepper and cook 1 minute more. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat well with the oil mixture.

3. Stir in the wine. Cook, stirring for about 1 minute. Add about ½ cup of the heated broth and cook, stirring constantly until the broth is nearly all absorbed. Repeat, adding about ½ cup of broth at a time and stirring more or less constantly, for about 20-30 minutes.

4. After about 20 minutes and/or only about 1 cup of warm broth remains, taste the rice to determine if it is near done. The rice should be tender, but not yet mushy. There should be a very little bit of firmness left in the center of the rice grains. If the rice is not yet done, continue adding broth and stirring as described above.

5. When the rice is creamy and tender, stir in the squash puree. Cook and stir until heated through. Stir in the Parmesan cheese. Taste the risotto for salt and add more if desired. Serve right away for best texture. (Discard any remaining broth or reserve for another use.)

Makes 4-5 main dish servings or about 8 side dish servings. Cover and refrigerate leftovers. They can be reheated, and are still quite good, but will not be as creamy as when just made.

Other recipes like this one: Pasta with Squash Puree and Blue Cheese Sauce, Savory Squash Bread Pudding with Bacon and Onions

One year ago: Winter Vegetable Galettes with Cheddar, Mustard and Caramelized Onions

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ain't Mis-beet-havin'

A perusal of The Messy Apron archives will indicate that it’s been a long time since I’ve complained about beets. I miss that.

It’s not that I don’t have plenty of beets from the end of the summer/fall CSA share lurking in the refrigerator, all nutritious and long-lasting…and unpalatable. Or that there won’t be more coming in the winter share boxes. Oh no, there are plenty of beets. There will always be plenty of beets.

I’m getting braver with my beets, trying to find new dishes in which to hide them, and with my latest experiment I had some fear that I might be taking things a bit too far. I worried that I was creating a conflict between good and evil on the scale of Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore.” I was going to introduce the unholy beet to possibly the most pure and beautiful food in all the world. Yes, I took the ultimate risk. I put beets in a cake.

I started with this recipe from Cooking Light magazine. The recipe writers promised me that this would be like a carrot cake, which made good sense, since even I know that carrots and beets are a pretty good match. I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance, however, and added more flavor to the cake wherever I could. I swapped out vegetable oil in favor of butter and exchanged milk for orange juice. I also added some vanilla, extra cinnamon and orange zest. The frosting, which contained no beets, was very promising on its own, but I fiddled anyway. It called for orange zest, but, since I only had one orange and its zest sacrificed itself to the cake batter to fight the taste of the beets, I put in some Grand Marnier instead. The liqueur matched the orange in the cake, but also gave the frosting an extra air of sophistication. You could replace it with milk and put the orange zest back in if you wish.

The original recipe was for a double layer cake, but I thought that was too much pressure. If the taste was too beety to be enjoyed, that would have been too much work and too much waste, so I made half the recipe. (Besides, only two people would be eating it.) The result is one 9-inch round cake with plenty of cream cheese frosting (I halved that recipe, too).

The cake batter is quite shockingly purple-red, but bakes up golden brown. I shredded my beets using the food processor, so they were more coarsely shredded (ie, in larger pieces) than they would be if you use a box grater. The authors of the recipe suggested, “You may want to wear an apron while grating the beets because they tend to splatter.” Way ahead of you…but even armored with an apron, being up to my elbows in beet juice is pretty unappealing to me. If you use a box grater, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am.

I have to say I really like this cake. I can taste the beets, but only a little. The holiness of cake prevailed over the beets, perhaps even converted them to the side of light. The flavor of the orange pulls the beets out of the abyss and, surprisingly, keeps it from being cloyingly sweet. The frosting, which is quite sweet, but which I could nonetheless eat with a spoon, is a smooth and rich accompaniment that probably does more than its fair share of the work in making this a delicious dessert. You can hide a lot of sins and misbehavior with cream cheese frosting.

And so, I found one more reason to stop complaining about the healthy and bountiful beet. I will bake and eat this cake again. Perhaps it can even bring me to renounce my beet-hating. Well, let’s not get too excited just yet.

Beet and Orange Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

½ pound beets
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup butter, melted
1 egg
1 teaspoon finely shredded orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

4 ounces cream cheese (I used reduced fat)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier (optional)
1 ½ cups powdered sugar (aka confectioner’s sugar)

1. Prepare the baking pan: Trace the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan onto parchment paper. Cut out the circle. Spray the sides and bottom of the inside of the pan with nonstick cooking spray (or use a generous amount of oil or butter). Place the parchment circle in the bottom of the pan and spray it with cooking spray.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Trim the ends of the beets and peel off the skin. Shred the beets in a food processor or with a box grater. (You should have about 2 loosely-packed cups of shredded beets.)

3. In a large bowl or in the bowl of a heavy duty mixer fit with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar, brown sugar, melted butter and egg. Beat on medium speed until smooth. Add the orange zest, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and shredded beets. Mix until well combined.

4. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Stir with a whisk or sift to combine. Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and beat at medium-low speed until well combined. Add ½ of the orange juice and beat to combine. Repeat with another 1/3 of the flour mixture and the rest of the orange juice. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat to combine. Stir the batter with a spoon or rubber spatula to ensure no dry spots remain.

5. Pour or spoon the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread evenly. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. If you wish to test to ensure that the cake is done, insert a wooden pick into the center of the cake. It should come out without any raw batter attached.

6. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully invert the pan to remove the cake and peel off the parchment circle. Cool completely on the wire rack.

7. To make the frosting, in a medium bowl beat together the cream cheese, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract and orange liqueur if using with an electric mixer. Add 1 cup powdered sugar and beat slowly until the mixture is smooth. Add the remaining powdered sugar and beat until smooth.

8. Spread the frosting over the top of the completely cooled cake, all the way to the edge. Some of the frosting may dribble over the side.

Makes 8-10 servings. Store leftovers, covered, at room temperature for a few days.

Another beet and orange recipe: Black Beans with Beets and Oranges

Monday, November 22, 2010


I’m all in favor of feasting. I think the best way to celebrate something, anything, is with a collaborative effort of creative culinary minds resulting in a groaning board that is quickly but gratefully dismantled by hearty eaters. My best and fondest memories are of such events, almost always with family, and occasionally with good friends. It usually seems like it’s all about the food, but cheerful chatter and lots of laughing are always a big part of the celebration, too. I’ve been fortunate that way.

I’ve never really hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for more than two people (including myself), but I contribute when I can (this year, again, I’m bringing the pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce), but I’d have to be an idiot to not recognize the effort that goes into choreographing such an event for a crowd. As difficult and perhaps stressful as that huge meal can be to put together, especially with the average Thanksgiving dinner expectations, it’s becoming just as difficult to keep genuine gratitude at the forefront of the celebration. If one were merely to watch television commercials to determine the gist of the American cultural scene of late autumn, one might think Thanksgiving is merely the kickoff of the Christmas shopping season with the Big Dinner as a carbo-load for Black Friday shopping. And this kickoff date seems in danger of creeping ever earlier (as soon as the Halloween candy and decorations are sold off at clearance prices, the Christmas stuff takes their place on the shelves). Will we soon be tricked into skipping Thanksgiving altogether because it’s not as marketable as other holidays?

I think we’re smarter than that. I think we need holidays and activity to help us through the dark and the cold and the snow of the approaching winter, but we know what they really mean at their core, and that doesn’t have to be the same thing for all of us. I think most of us know what we are fortunate to have and we are grateful for it, even if it is not the same kind of thing for which others are grateful. You don’t have to subscribe to a particular or any religion or feel that you owe someone to celebrate and give thanks.

So, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving, and hope you have a fabulous celebration. I also hope you can take some time between unfastening your tightening belt and the football game and the shopping spree to remember what is good in your life, especially the simple things. Laugh a little. Have some fun. Dig in to a good meal if possible. Offer a toast or two, or a prayer if that’s your preference. Actually say, “Thank you,” to the folks in your life who deserve it. And, for goodness sake, thank the person or persons who cooked your Thanksgiving dinner!

While it’s probably best if you already have your Thanksgiving meal planned by now, here are a few recipes from The Messy Apron archives that I think would go well on a Thanksgiving table.
Broccoli Stem and Kohlrabi Slaw
Cranberry Sauce (the can is out of the question!)
Crunchy Cabbage, Cauliflower and Apple Salad
Grandmama’s Pumpkin Pie
Red Cabbage Slaw with Apples and Cranberries
Roasted Vegetables
Spaghetti Squash Salad with Greek Flavors
Spinach Salad with Apples and Maple Walnut Vinaigrette
Sweet and Tart Broccoli Salad
Wheat Berry Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Maple Walnut Vinaigrette

And, if you’re serving people who prefer a vegetarian meal, you might consider main courses such these:
Quinoa Stuffed Squash
Winter Vegetable Galettes with Cheddar, Mustard and Caramelized Onions
Winter Squash and Leek Empanadas with Sage
Winter Squash and Onion Curry with Yogurt Sauce

Friday, November 19, 2010

Spiced and Spiked: Mulled Apple Cider

And so the season begins. The season of fighting off the gloom and depression of the dark and cold days of winter with holidays and celebrations and gatherings and, say it with me, really great food. Many of us visit and give thanks and give gifts. Some worship, some cook, some feast, some fight, and some shop ‘til they drop. Some spice up the days to get by, while others prefer to have their holidays spiked.

I believe it’s a basic fact of human nature that we need these celebrations too keep us from going off the deep end during the late fall and winter, especially in places with excruciatingly short days and cold temperatures and snowy roads. I really think, however, that we put too much pressure on ourselves (as well as our friends and families) when it comes to these year-end celebrations. Sure, we set out to give honor and thanks to and for what is important to us, and generously wish to find the perfect gifts for loved ones or make the season brighter for those who may not have enough. But, let’s face it: we all too often make ourselves crazy in the process.

Because we need to calm down a bit to stay sane, to sit back and relax and contemplate what is meaningful to us, or what we are thankful for, or why exactly it is that we can’t stand to be in the same room with Aunt Mildred, I offer you a warm and flavorful apple cider drink for your sipping pleasure. Because we also need to spice up these darkening days, this cider is steeped with a handful of sassy spices as well as a few strips of orange peel. Because a spiked drink may be just what the nerves seem to need, there is also an optional plug of apple brandy.

This cider is quite spicy, and I really went through the cabinet in hopes of creating an especially complex flavor. I recognize that the average kitchen, even during the holidays, might not be stocked with quite so many whole spices, and I think you could leave out what you don’t have and still make something pretty good. Heck, I forgot to put the cardamom in last time I made this and, while I, tasting critically, could tell it wasn’t there, the cider was still delicious and comforting. Really, the cinnamon is the most important part and you could probably make a delightful cider without anything else added. Don’t put the added pressure on yourself of going out to gather spices in the cold.

The apple brandy (I used Apple Jack) brightens the flavors of the final beverage, and it might also serve to brighten the conversation at your next gathering. You can leave it out, and if you do, this becomes a nice drink for breakfast or an afternoon break. I tend to split the batch and spike half of it for evening relaxation and leave the rest untainted for morning or daytime sipping.

Whatever you celebrate or use as an excuse to gather over the next six weeks or so, I hope you have a pleasant and peaceful time. Spiked or just spiced, you make the call, but perhaps also take the time to sit back and sip rather than gulp in the whole holiday season while giving thanks, enjoying your loved ones and taking in some really great food.

Mulled Apple CiderThe amount of alcohol in this drink is modest. Adjust it to your liking or leave it out entirely.

8 cups (2 liters) fresh apple cider
6 cardamom pods, crushed
3-4 small chunks crystallized ginger (about 1 heaping tablespoon or 15 ml)
6 whole cloves
6 whole allspice berries
2 whole star anise
3 4-inch (about 10 cm) cinnamon sticks
1/4 inch (about 0.5 cm) chunk whole nutmeg or ¼ teaspoon (1 ml) grated nutmeg
4 1-inch (2.5 cm) wide strips orange peel
½ cup (125 ml) apple brandy, such as Calvados or Apple Jack (optional)

1. Pour the cider into a large pot. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the brandy. Cover and bring to a boil.

2. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, covered, for 30 min. Turn off the heat and let stand 30 minutes more.

3. Strain out the spices or remove them with a slotted spoon. To serve, return the cider to the heat and warm until hot. Stir in the brandy if using. Serve hot or refrigerate and rewarm as needed.

Makes 10-11 6-ounce (175 ml) servings.

Another recipe like this one: Ginger Spice Ice Cream

One year ago: Cranberry Sauce

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Soup for Supper

When I made this soup, it seemed a quaint reminder of when it used to get cold this time of year, and one liked a bit of hearty soup for supper to help keep oneself warm. Though it wasn’t particularly cold outside, I happened to have lots of lovely red potatoes, many nice, large leeks, one honking huge head of Napa cabbage, and a soup recipe from the Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special cookbook. The days were getting shorter, even if they weren’t as cold as they have since become, and I was feeling a little under the weather, so soup it would be.

This soup is creamy but manages to remain light-feeling because the creaminess is provided by reduced fat cream cheese rather than cream. I also sneaked in some Gruyere cheese, which I love in cream soups with potatoes. The cheese brought along some additional richness, but not so much as to leave and oil slick on the soup. Its sharp, nutty flavor is subtle alongside the cabbage and the spices, but it’s definitely there, and is worth stirring in.

Speaking of the spices, the original recipe called for caraway, which is a no-brainer with cabbage as far as I’m concerned, but I also added some coriander seed to go along with it. I like the combination, and the coriander gives the stoic, storage-vegetable taste of cabbage and potatoes a bit of a citrusy lift. I coarsely ground whole spices, which I think results in the most flavor, and I didn’t mind the extra pop of spice that the little pieces gave to each spoonful.

I used Napa cabbage here, because that’s what I had, but the original recipe called for green cabbage. I think the Napa, which is leafier and less crunchy, may have cooked more quickly than regular green cabbage, but not so much as to require a major change in the recipe instructions. Savoy cabbage would probably also be good, although I find is flavor to be stronger, so be ready for that.

To save time and dish-washing, I used an immersion blender to puree the soup. It leaves behind some fibers and spice bits that the regular blender might pulverize, but I don’t mind if my creamy soup has a little substance as well. This was one of those simple recipes that I had a feeling I’d start making pretty often, especially if a bit of cabbage or a few potatoes need using up. If, however, I keep making it as long as that gigantic cabbage lasts, I might have my fill of the stuff until next winter.

Creamy Cabbage and Potato Soup
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special

While I used chicken broth in this recipe, you could use vegetable broth or water to make the soup vegetarian.

2 tablespoons butter
2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts, well washed
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
4 cups chopped Napa cabbage (or other green cabbage)
2 cups sliced peeled potato
3 cups chicken broth (I used fat-free reduced-sodium)
3 ounces reduced fat cream cheese
½ cup (about 2 ounces) shredded Gruyere cheese
freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a Dutch oven or other large soup pot. Add the leeks and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and cook 10 minutes, lifting the lid to stir occasionally.

2. Pulse the caraway seeds and coriander seeds in a spice grinder (I use a coffee grinder) a few times until they are coarsely ground, or crush them with a mortar and pestle.

3. Add the cabbage and the coarsely ground spices to the leek mixture. Cover and cook about 5 minutes, or until the cabbage is well wilted, stirring occasionally.

4. Add the potatoes and chicken broth. Cover, bring to a boil and cook 25-30 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.

5. Remove the soup pot from the heat. Stir in the cream cheese and puree the soup, either with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender.

6. When the soup is pureed, stir in the Gruyere cheese. Taste for salt and add more and black pepper to taste. Rewarm if necessary.

Makes 4-5 servings.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Winter Instincts

I remember my school teachers going to great pains to force home the point that human beings, unlike animals, have no instincts. None whatsoever. Everything we do is learned behavior. Hmmm. Why, then, if she is not drawn by some innate drive to put on a layer of warm fat for the winter, would a cook take something relatively low in calories and high in vitamins and fiber, like, say, butternut squash, and mix it together with bread, eggs, half and half, cheese and bacon? Does she not need these additions to get her through the coming dark days?

I suppose if that cook (she shall remain nameless, but she wears an apron that’s usually pretty messy) is making a savory bread pudding to serve for supper as the days get shorter and colder and the winter squash from the CSA threatens to surpass its built-in freshness date, she could be acting within the realm of learned behavior after all. That’s not to say that this recipe is difficult or overly complicated, requiring much learning to master. If you have squash or pumpkin puree on hand, either store bought or homemade, there’s not much more to this than there is to making French toast.

I, I mean this cook, made a custard with eggs, butternut squash puree, and half and half (milk would work, too, and would have fewer calories, but it was the day before shopping day and the milk was almost gone), flavored it with Dijon mustard and a little nutmeg, and soaked homemade whole wheat bread in it. She then stirred in crisp bacon, onions that had been caramelized in the rendered bacon fat, and some nutty Gruyere cheese, and baked it all into a rich, savory and flavorful bread pudding.

It’s best to use a loaf or remnant of a loaf of bread that you can cut into thick slices and then into chunks. I’ve made this with both whole wheat and white bread, and both work well. It is also better to use day-old or older bread, since it is dry and can keep its shape and soak up the custard, plus the recipe uses up the bread that might otherwise just get stale. I did just make this with fresh bread, however, because that was all I had, and it was still very good.

And so, the cook, while adding calories to her diet for the winter, learned to make a pretty good savory bread pudding in the process. The sweetness of the caramelized onions compliments the sweetness of the squash, and the smoky bacon and tangy Dijon mustard provide a pleasant contrast that keeps the sweetness from getting cloying. This is a filling and comforting supper dish, and only needs a salad to go along side it, but it would probably be very good brunch fare as well. Perhaps the simple and wholesome squash doesn’t need bread and eggs and bacon and cheese to make it good. Well, if we’ve learned anything today, it’s that need is a relative term.

Savory Squash Bread Pudding with Bacon and Onions

4 slices thick-cut bacon
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
water for cooking the onions, if needed
2 large garlic cloves, minced
4 eggs
1 cup half and half or milk
1 cup pumpkin or winter squash puree, such as Roasted Winter Squash Puree
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¾ teaspoon kosher (coarse) salt, divided
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 ounces (about 1 cup) shredded Gruyere cheese
8 ounces whole wheat or white bread (preferably day-old) cut or torn into 1 to 2-inch chunks

1. In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. Chop or crumble when cool enough to handle. Remove all but about 2 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat from the pan.

2. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add the onions and ¼ teaspoon salt to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally 20-25 minutes or until very soft and brown. Add water, a tablespoon or two at a time, if the onions seem to be browning too quickly. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

3. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 350 F. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the half and half or milk, squash puree, Dijon mustard, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, black pepper, and nutmeg. Whisk all together until well-combined. Add the bread and stir to coat the bread well. Let stand 10 minutes.

4. Stir the crumbled bacon, cooked onion mixture and the Gruyere cheese into the bread mixture until well-combined.

5. Spray or brush a 2-3-quart shallow baking dish or casserole with nonstick cooking spray, oil or butter. Spoon or pour the bread mixture into the dish and smooth it out so that it is even in the dish. Cover and bake 30 minutes at 350. Uncover and bake 10 minutes more. Cool slightly before serving.

Makes 6-8 servings. Refrigerate leftovers and reheat to serve.

Other recipes like this one: Sweet Pumpkin Focaccia, Winter Squash and Leek Empanadas with Sage, Winter Squash and Onion Curry with Yogurt Sauce

One year ago: Potato and Bacon Frittata