Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 in Review

2011 has been an odd year for me. I have to admit that overall, it wasn’t so good. But, I did move into a new home, launched a new blog about books and reading, and had a lot of great things to eat.

This year, I got to tell you about some favorite, oft-enjoyed recipes like Soup Beans, Yogurt Tortillas with Whole Wheat Flour, Whole Wheat Cornmeal Bread with Basil and White Beans with Sage and Garlic; I found a new, tasty way to use up beets and yet another way to make a cabbage slaw; and I made a somewhat sputtering effort to get more out of my cookbook collection (I think I smell a New Year’s resolution). I stuck with seasonal and fresh ingredients, but still got my cookie on (much to the dismay of my waistband…another resolution?)

2012 will have more of the same, if I have anything to say about it, and I think I do. I’m feeling like whole grains in January, perhaps some naughty sweets in February, and maybe a cocktail or two for celebrations (or whatever!). What I’m looking forward to most in 2012, however, is the possibility of planting my own vegetable garden. That’s right, the new yard has room for digging, so we’ll see how green is my thumb. You’ll be hearing about it for sure, because the worst that could happen is that we all learn a little something from my failures. Wish me luck!

I attempted to compile a concise list of my favorite recipes from 2011, perhaps a top 10 or even 11 in honor of the year. What I ended up with is a list of 16 of my absolute favorites. I just couldn’t narrow it down any further, and typed these below before I could think about it too much more. If you ask me tomorrow, I’d probably come up with a different list.

I wish you all the best in 2012. Happy New Year!!

Should auld recipes be forgot
And never brought to mind;
Should favorite dishes be forgot,
Just check in the archive!

2011 Favorites
Roasted Winter Vegetables and Sausage
Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust
Winter Squash and Chickpea Salad with Apricots and Tahini Dressing
Creamy Parsnip Slaw with Peppers and Olives
Warm Noodles with Cilantro and Coconut Lime Dressing
Radish Leaf and Peanut Pesto
Wheat Berries with Bacon, Arugula and Tomato
Rhubarb Custard Bars
Lemon, Lime and Basil Cookies
Fried Squash Flowers with Fresh Sage
Chickpea Tostadas with Tomato and Cucumber Pico de Gallo
Apricot and Raspberry Tart with Crumble Topping
Broccoli with Sweet and Spicy Almond Sauce
Chai Spice Cashew Butter Cookies
Pasta with Shredded Winter Vegetables
Eggnog Muffins with Streusel Topping

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pork and Tangerine Stir Fry

I’ve started doing this every year. I make a Chinese-style stir fry to eat while watching A Christmas Story. Of course, I don’t wait until it is played all day on Christmas, but I pick a relatively quiet night before Christmas (not so easy to do, as it turns out) and celebrate with a DVD and a theme dinner.

This year, I came across a Pork and Tangerine Stir Fry in Bon Appetit magazine that seemed perfect: a new ingredient to try (Asian sweet chili sauce), a seasonal ingredient (tangerines), and a way to use up the cabbage I had left after making this salad (I replaced the bok choy in the original recipe). And, it turned out to be delicious!

I loved the tangerines in this recipe. I was able to get my hands on some really pretty organic ones, which I recommend, since they are simply cut into wedges with the peel intact. (If you have conventionally-grown tangerines, scrub the skins well before cutting them up.) I like the way they contribute some bitterness (from that intact peel) that goes well with the tender pork and slightly sweet and spicy sauce.

I’d be happy to make this every December, especially if I can continue to get such nice tangerines. I’m not planning on having such a meal for Christmas dinner, though. We’re having roasted meats and sweet treats at my grandmother’s house. And if someone’s dog ruins our meal, we’ll be many miles from a Chinese restaurant.

Pork and Tangerine Stir Fry
Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine

4 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
1 ¼ pounds pork tenderloin, cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil, divided
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
½ teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns, crushed
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 small tangerines, cut (with peel) into thin wedges
4 cups chopped red cabbage
¼ cup Asian sweet chili sauce
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
5 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
½ cup chopped cashews

1. In a medium-size bowl, combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce, cornstarch and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Stir until smooth. Add the pork and toss to coat. Set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium-high to high heat. (If you’re fast in the kitchen, go for high, otherwise, you might want to try medium-high.) Add the ginger, Szechuan peppercorns and red pepper flakes. Cook and stir 30 seconds.

3. Add the pork and stir fry until browned on all sides and cooked through. Remove the pork from the pan to a clean bowl and set aside.

4. Add the remaining tablespoon peanut or canola oil to the wok and heat over medium-high to high heat. Add the tangerines and cook and stir for 30 seconds. Add the cabbage. Cook and stir until the cabbage is tender-crisp, about 4-5 minutes.

5. Return the pork to the pan. Add the Asian sweet chili sauce, cinnamon, scallions, cashews and remaining 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Cook and stir until the liquids come to a boil and thicken slightly. Serve with rice.

Makes about 4 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Spicy Chicken Stir Fry, Szechuan Broccoli and Water Chestnut Stir Fry, Root Vegetable and Cabbage Stir Fry with Ginger and Lemon

One year ago: Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Two years ago: Spicy Chicken Stir Fry

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Eggnog Muffins

I like to pretend that muffins aren’t cake and serve them for breakfast and brunch. Typically, muffins are put into the category of “quick breads,” so called because they are bread-like foods that do not use yeast for leavening and therefore do not require the time it takes for yeast to rise. Perhaps, they should be called “quick cakes,” because they are faster to put together than cakes, needing only a quick stirring of the wet and dry ingredients together, but, let’s face it, they’re still cake. Nothing with this much butter and sugar isn’t a cake.

And nothing with this much eggnog flavor isn’t for Christmas (or whatever holiday you like to celebrate in eggnog-marketing season). These muffins get their festive flavor not only from eggnog, but also from a hefty dose of nutmeg and a splash of rum extract. I like to use freshly-ground nutmeg, and, since there’s a whole teaspoon of it in these muffins and their topping, I use a spice grinder (a coffee grinder that I use only for spices), to save time over a hand grater. I had to buy rum extract just to make these muffins, since I had never used it before. Now, I believe it is required to make any baked goods have a chance of tasting anything like real eggnog. In these muffins, it kicks up the authentic flavor without making them boozy.

There’s also a delicious, sugary streusel topping on the muffins, which is in turn laced with nutmeg. It bakes up nicely with just a little added crunch, and it sticks well to the muffins, even in the freezer. They might still be good without it, but they’re fabulous with it, so I’m not going to mess around.

These muffins smell delicious as the nutmeg and rum extract are released into the kitchen as they bake, and I loved them right away. Their flavor was just a teeny-tiny bit flat, however, so I added a smidge of salt to both the batter and the streusel topping. (There was no salt in the original recipe.) The difference was quite noticeable, but, while I could detect the salt just a bit in the streusel, the batter just tasted better in a less definable way.

As I said, I like muffins for breakfast and brunch, and I think these would be a great addition to a Christmas morning gift-opening (you know, to keep everyone from getting crabby early in the morning) or a Christmas brunch. To have them done early, I get as much ready as I can the night before I want to bake them. I make the streusel topping and refrigerate it, then mix together the dry ingredients. Then, I can melt the butter and mix it with the other wet ingredients and finish the muffin batter the next morning while the oven is preheating. To save even more time, you could have the eggnog measured out and the eggs released from their shells and waiting in the refrigerator.

I’m really tempted to gush on and on about how good these muffins are, with their eggnog and their nutmeg and their rum flavor and their sugary topping. I’m always a little concerned, however, that a reader won’t like them as much as I do. Then again, if you hate eggnog, you probably haven’t read this far, so I say crank up the holiday cheer and try these lovely muffins!

Eggnog Muffins with Streusel Topping
Adapted from Midwest Living December 2008

For the topping:
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
pinch fine salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces

For the muffins:
½ cup butter (1 stick)
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
1 cup dairy eggnog
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon rum extract

1. To make the topping, combine the 1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, pinch salt, and ½ teaspoon nutmeg in a small bowl. Whisk together. Add the butter and work it into the flour mixture with your hands or with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease or spray with cooking spray a muffin pan with 12 cups, or line the cups with paper liners. Set aside.

3. To make the muffins, melt the ½ cup butter and set aside to cool.

4. In a medium-size bowl, combine the 2 ¼ cups flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, ¼ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon nutmeg. Whisk together. Set aside.

5. In another medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Slowly whisk in the melted butter until well-combined. Whisk in the eggnog, vanilla extract and rum extract until smooth.

6. Pour the butter mixture into the flour mixture. Stir together until just combined. The batter will be thick.

7. Spoon the batter evenly among the cups of the prepared muffin pan. Each cup should be about ¾ full. Distribute the topping mixture generously over each filled cup. (Squeeze it together with your hands to make larger clumps if desired.) You may have more topping than you need.

8. Bake at 375 F for 18-22 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out without any liquid batter sticking to it. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool about 5 minutes. Carefully remove the muffins from the pan (the muffins and the pan will still be hot) and cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12 muffins. Store in an airtight container or zip-top bag or freeze.

One year ago: Milk Chocolate Chip and M&M Cookies

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tart Cranberry Bars

We now enter the gloomy days at the end of the year when we need a little holiday cheer. If the sun shows itself at all, it’s so low in the sky that even little cranberries cast long shadows. Sugar zombies like me get our holiday boost from super-sweet cookies, candies and cakes, but not everyone has such a sweet-tooth, or can tolerate all that sucrose for long.

Here’s a dessert that manages to be not too sweet (in fact, not really sweet at all) while maintaining its integrity as dessert. It’s a cranberry-based custard filling on top of a very crunchy, cookie-like crust. Since there are so many cranberries flavoring the filling, which is only sweetened with some sweetened condensed milk, it is quite tart. In fact it’s very tart, and lovers of the sour will likely love this dessert. (My husband did.)

As delicious, pretty, festive, and relatively easy to make as this dessert is, I have to admit that there are some inconveniences involved in putting it together. First of all, the crust contains a small amount of graham flour, which was not hard to find, but it had to be found outside my pantry. (Now I have quite a bit left and I’ll have to do some research to find good ways to use it up. Should be fun!) I think one might be able to substitute whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour if one does not have graham flour readily available.

Also, I could not find a 7-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, so had to use part of a 14-ounce can. I almost goofed, so I’ll give you this warning: unlike most of the liquids we bake with, a fluid ounce of sweetened condense milk is not equivalent to an ounce in mass. This means that to measure out 7 ounces, you’ll have to weigh out 7 ounces. And a couple more things. The recipe calls for cooking a pound of cranberries, which usually come in 12-ounce packages. You may be able to buy cranberries in bulk, but if not, you’ll have to buy 2 packages of cranberries and have some left over. (They freeze very well.) The original recipe simply directs the cook to blend and strain the cooked cranberries, but straining the very thick cranberry mixture was not a trivial task. It took some time and effort to press the mixture through a sieve, so be prepared for that step to take a little time.

Despite all these little inconveniences, this is a great recipe. It’s probably a little healthier than some of the chocolate-encrusted sugar bombs that are everywhere right now. These are very pretty bars with a lovely red filling, so they would look very nice on the table as well.

Cranberry Bars
Adapted from Vegetarian Times magazine

1 pound fresh or frozen cranberries
½ cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup graham flour
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup lemon juice
7 ounces (by weight) sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks

1. Combine the cranberries and water in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes, or until the cranberries pop and slump and the mixture has thickened. Set aside and cool completely.

2. Place the cooled cranberry mixture in a food processor or blender and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Place a sieve over a medium-size bowl. Pour the blended cranberry mixture into the sieve. Press the mixture through the sieve, collecting the thick juice in the bowl. A rubber spatula is a good tool for this procedure. Continue forcing the mixture through the sieve until only seeds and other solids are left. Scrape off the outside of the sieve to retain as much of the mixture as possible. Discard the solids.

3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease or spray with cooking spray an 8-inch square baking dish, or line it with parchment or foil.

4. To make the crust, melt the butter and set aside. Combine the all-purpose flour, graham flour, sugar and salt in a medium-size bowl. Add the melted butter and vanilla and stir until all the flour is moistened.

5. Press the crust mixture evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes.

6. While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. Stir the lemon juice into the cranberry mixture. Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk. Whisk in the egg yolks.

7. When the crust has finished baking, remove it from the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 F. Pour the filling mixture on top of the crust and smooth it out to make it even if necessary. Return to the oven and bake at 300 F for about 25-30 minutes or until the filling is set and just wobbles slightly when shaken.

8. Cool and chill. Cut into squares and serve cold or at room temperature.

Makes about 16-20 servings. Store covered in the refrigerator.

Another recipe like this one: Lime Bars with Graham Cracker Crust

One year ago: Milk Chocolate Chip and M&M Cookies

Two years ago: Cream of Carrot and Parsnip Soup

Thursday, December 8, 2011

License to Cookie: Chocolate and Peppermint

If you witness some devious hand-rubbing and maniacal laughter from my corner of the world, it’s because I take the holiday season as my personal license to make (and eat) as many cookies as I want. I start out with bigger plans than I can carry out, of course, but cookies do get made (and eaten) every year, and 2011 is no exception.

I love this recipe for chocolate cookies with peppermint bits in them (I use Andes brand Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips). It came from my aunt Tina, who, sadly, is no longer with us, so I think of her very fondly every time I make these cookies. The original recipe called for half of a green Andes mint to be placed on top of each cookie just as the pan comes out of the oven. When the mint has melted, it is gently swirled (the back of a spoon works well for this) so that it spreads out over the top of the cookie. This makes for very pretty and elegant cookies, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making them this way.

One year, however, I discovered the Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips, which are a pretty red and white, and can just be dumped into the batter, streamlining the process a bit. I add the whole 10-ounce package to the batch, and that makes cookies that are so minty, you’ll feel it in your eyes and nose when you open the oven.

These cookies are also plenty chocolaty. A 12-ounce package of semisweet chocolate chips, melted, and a load of dark brown sugar and butter form their base, and they come out lightly crisp and chewy. The dough must be chilled prior to shaping or it will be too soft. It also freezes well, which I do often, since I can’t (or shouldn’t) eat a whole batch of cookies in a couple days, even if I do share them with my husband.

These cookies are fabulously delicious! I can’t say enough about how yummy they are, so I won’t even try. Okay, I will say that they’re a chocolate and mint-lover’s dream, and I have a hard time not gobbling up more than my fair share. They’re also fairly easy to make and it’s easy to make them look pretty. The chilled dough is easy to roll into balls that give you a nice, round cookie when baked and the pretty red and white peppermint bits show through nicely. I’m firmly convinced that Santa Claus would love these wonderful cookies. That is, if you can actually save some for him.

Mint Chocolate Cookies
From my aunt, Tina Thibeault

If you would prefer a slightly less minty cookie, you could follow the procedure I described above using green or red Andes mint candies.

You should be able to find Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips in the baking aisle near the chocolate chips.

¾ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 ½ cups dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
a 12-ounce package semisweet (or bittersweet) chocolate chips (about 2 cups)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
a 10-ounce package Andes brand Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips

1. In a medium-size saucepan, combine butter, dark brown sugar, water, and chocolate chips. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until about half the chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat and stir until the chocolate has completely melted. (If necessary, rewarm the mixture gently to finish melting.)

2. Pour the mixture into a large bowl (or the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer) and let stand 10 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk or sift together. Set aside.

4. Add the eggs to the chocolate mixture and beat at medium to high speed until well blended. (You can use a hand mixer or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.) Gradually add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until well blended.  Stir in the Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips. Refrigerate the dough until it is easy to handle and no longer sticky, probably about 2 hours. (Or, refrigerate the dough overnight and allow it to warm up so that it is easy to handle when you wish to bake.)

5. Coat cookie sheets with a thin layer of nonstick cooking spray, or line them with parchment paper. Roll the chilled cookie dough into 1 ½ to 2-inch balls and place them at least 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

6. Bake at 350 F for 10-12 minutes or until the cookies appear set and slightly dry on top. Cool on the pans about 2 minutes.  Remove from the pans and cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 6 dozen cookies. Store cookies in an airtight container.

Other recipes like this one: Milk Chocolate Chip and M&M Cookies, Chocolate Cinnamon Hazelnut Cookies, Chai Spice Cashew Butter Cookies, Bittersweet Almond-Amaretto Truffles

One year ago: Butterscotch Pumpkin Fudge

Two years ago: Gingerbread Granola

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Granola Bread

I know what you’ve been thinking all these months: What ever happened to The Messy Apron Cookshelf project? That challenge I gave myself to cook and bake more from my overflowing cook-bookcase. Forgot about it? Yeah, me too.

Really, I’ve begun to use my cookbooks more as reference material, and then I scavenge actual step-by-step recipes from magazine clippings and the internet. For some reason, a recipe always seems more new and exciting if it was just published, even if it’s pretty much the same thing as or a variation of a recipe that’s residing in a well-trusted cookbook. And so my cookshelf continues to be undeservedly neglected.

Recently, I found myself with a bowl of leftover homemade Granola that was threatening to go stale (I failed to stick it in the freezer when I traveled for Thanksgiving.) I decided to try the granola bread recipe from Artisan Breads in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. The recipes in this book are quick to put together and time and the dough itself do most of the work.

This is quite a flavorful recipe with some whole wheat, cinnamon, honey and, of course, the granola. The dough is very wet and spreads into a fairly flat loaf when shaped into a boule, or round loaf, as I did. The baked bread is soft and chewy, with just a bit of crunch that I think would vary depending on the composition of the granola. The original recipe calls for it to be baked in a pan, but I liked the idea of a rustic round bread for breakfast.

At least I was planning to have this for breakfast after an overnight rising of the dough in the refrigerator. Nothing went wrong, really, except that I didn’t read the recipe far enough ahead, and didn’t realize that it needs more time between refrigerator and oven than the other recipes I tried from this book. It was still delicious and quite comforting when served slightly warm on a dreary and cold Saturday morning. It had to be brunch, but at least it was still before noon.

This is great served with a little butter, but I also loved it with my current favorite spread, which is cream cheese mixed with pumpkin butter. (My pumpkin butter is homemade from this recipe at smitten kitchen.) I think there are a lot of ways you could accompany this, and, since it’s a 1 ½ pound loaf, there’s probably plenty of bread to try more than one of them.

Overnight Granola Bread
Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

The hands-on time for this recipe is very short, but the dough needs to rise for several hours in the refrigerator, and another hour and forty minutes at room temperature before baking.

1 cup warm water
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 envelope-style package)
¼ cup honey
1 ½ teaspoons canola or other neutral-tasting oil
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup granola (I used this granola)

1. In a large container, mix together the water, yeast, honey, oil, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and granola, making sure all the flour is moistened.

2. Cover with a towel and let stand at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until the dough rises and then collapses.

3. Keep covered with the towel and place in the refrigerator overnight or up to 5 days. If storing longer than 1 day, store it in a container with a lid. Cover with the lid, but do not completely seal it, allowing some place for air to circulate into the container.

4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Work the dough into a rough ball (it will be quite wet and sticky) and place it on the lined baking sheet. Let stand for 1 hour and 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375 F. (Allow time for your oven to preheat while the loaf is rising.)

5. Cut a large X in the top of the loaf with a sharp knife. Bake at 375 F for 45 minutes. The bread should be dark brown. Cool on a wire rack. Can be cut and served slightly warm. I like to cut a piece off the loaf and split it horizontally to spread it with butter or cream cheese mixed with pumpkin butter.

Makes a 1 ½ pound loaf.

Other recipes like this one: Stout Bread with Chocolate and Cherries, Multigrain Baguette, Sweet Pumpkin Focaccia

One year ago: Radish and Carrot Slaw with Zesty Citrus Dressing

Two years ago: Spinach Salad with Apples and Maple Walnut Vinaigrette

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Winter Vegetables with Pasta

Hearty, stodgy, starchy winter vegetables really lend themselves well to the long cooking processes, like stewing and braising and roasting, that warm up the kitchen nicely as the cold weather settles in. Weeknights are often too hectic for more leisurely cooking methods, however, so if you want root vegetables and squash on busy days (don’t we all) you either have to be very organized (ya, right) and make dishes ahead when you have the time, or find something quick and easy.

Well, a nice way to get quick-cooking roots, tubers and squash is to shred them. And a nice way to feature those quick-cooked shredded veggies is to toss them with pasta. Perhaps I sound like I know what I’m talking about from vast experience, but really I just learned this easy recipe from Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman.

This is really quite simple. If you have a food processor with a shredding disk, most of the work is done for you. The hardest thing is peeling the vegetables, which can really be a pain in the knuckles, depending on what you use. Stick to easier things to peel like carrots, parsnips and turnips if you want to save even more time. Once you get everything peeled and shredded, the dish only takes as long to make as it takes to cook the pasta.

You can use whatever winter vegetables you like to make this dish, which is further flavored with broth, white wine, and plenty of butter. I used Red Kuri squash, rutabaga, parsnip and celeriac (aka celery root), but would probably also be very happy with carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes and even daikon radishes. This might even be a good use for the leftover odds and ends of root vegetables that you’re not sure what to do with. If you’re insane, you could even use beets (not my idea of a good time), although the red varieties will turn your dish that tell-tale weird color. (No hiding beets here.)

This dish can cure your hunger and clean out your vegetable bin on a cold winter night, but, most importantly, it tastes great. The vegetables meld together into a mellow flavor and an almost saucy texture, which, I have to admit, is significantly enhanced by the butter. (I left some of the fat out of the recipe, but I think there’s still plenty there.) Humble root vegetables and squash are elevated to something pretty elegant here, but I’ve always thought they deserved higher status anyway. Except for beets, of course. My Pasta with Shredded Winter Vegetables is a beet-free zone!

Pasta with Shredded Winter Vegetables
Adapted from Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman

I used reduced-sodium chicken broth in this dish. If you use one with more salt, reduce the amount of added salt and adjust to taste as needed. Use vegetable broth for a vegetarian option.

¾ pound uncooked fettuccine or linguini
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cups peeled and shredded assorted winter vegetables (such as winter squash, turnips, rutabaga, celeriac, parsnips, carrots, etc.)
4 medium-size garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup dry white wine (I used a very inexpensive Chardonnay)
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. (You can begin step 2 while the water is heating.) Salt the water and add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is tender but not overcooked. Drain the pasta and reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water.

2. While preparing the pasta, place 2 tablespoons of the butter and the olive oil in a large skillet. Heat over medium heat until the butter melts. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons butter into very small pieces and set aside.

3. Add the shredded vegetables, garlic, onion, salt and pepper to the heated oil and butter in the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, about 8 minutes or until the vegetables are beginning to soften.

4. Add the wine and broth. Cook about 5 minutes more or until the vegetables are tender. Taste for tenderness and for salt and cook longer or add any seasonings if needed. If the pasta is not finished cooking, keep warm.

5. Add the cooked pasta and reserved 2 tablespoons butter to the pan. Toss to mix well until the butter is melted. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking water if needed to form a moist sauce.

Makes 4-6 main-dish servings. This would probably also be good as a side dish with meat or some other protein.

Other recipes like this one: Pasta with Squash Puree and Blue Cheese Sauce, Winter Vegetable Galettes with Cheddar, Mustard and Caramelized Onions, Shaved Vegetable Salad with Cider-Sage Vinaigrette

One year ago: Beet and Orange Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Two years ago: Winter Vegetable Galettes with Cheddar, Mustard and Caramelized Onions

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pears and Blue Cheese in Rice Salad

So now we’re in that little lull between the big Thanksgiving dinner and the next wave of holiday gatherings. If you’re like me, you’ve still got to eat something. I suppose it would be best if that something had a high Whole Food Quotient (WFQ), some whole grain energy and an antioxidant or two. There’s a lot to do and some unhealthy treats between now and the end of the year, and we might as well be nutritionally geared up for that. Of course, it would be nice if it also tasted good too.

Here’s a recipe I think I might be using to fill the gap between cookie snacks and big dinners. It’s a brown rice salad that’s light and refreshing as well as flavorful and nutritious, and it’s got some seasonal ingredients as well. It’s got pears and walnuts and cranberries, and a good punch of blue cheese. I found the original version in an advertisement for a particular brand of brown rice. Since pears are pretty abundant and I had some blue cheese left over from making this pasta dish, I gave it a try.

I couldn’t remember if I’d ever eaten pears and blue cheese together, but it seems to be a fairly popular combination. I have to say I liked it here, even though blue cheese is not my favorite flavor in the world. I think you could also use something else if you don’t like the blue vein-y stuff, like feta or goat cheese or even something milder. I also think you could use apples in place of the pears, dried cherries or even raisins instead of the dried cranberries, and pecans or hazelnuts instead of the walnuts. You could even continue to morph this salad or others like it to match the season as desired.

All I know is that with all the shopping, traveling and cookies I see in my near future, I think I’m going to need a few dishes like this high WFQ salad to keep me going in the right direction.

Brown Rice Salad with Walnuts, Pears and Blue Cheese
Adapted from Lundberg Family Farms

3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon coarse salt, divided
¼ teaspoon black pepper
3 cups cooked brown rice
1 large pear, cored and finely chopped
½ cup chopped toasted walnuts
1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese (I used a domestic Gorgonzola-style cheese)
1/3 cup dried cranberries

1. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper. Vigorously whisk together until well-combined.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the rice, pear, walnuts, blue cheese and dried cranberries. Pour the lemon juice mixture and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt over and stir until the salad is well combined and the ingredients are well-coated with the dressing. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Makes about 6 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Barley and Wild Rice Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette, Chicken and Rice Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

Monday, November 21, 2011

Persimmons in Cranberry Sauce

You don’t have much time. I hope you have all your plans set and ready to go. Did you buy the turkey? Have you set a schedule for thawing it? And what about the mashed potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie? And the cranberry sauce? You’re not thinking of serving The Can, are you?

Well, I’m a die-hard homemade whole-berry cranberry sauce lover, and have made it my personal mission to see that any Thanksgiving table with me at it is going to have some. (After experiencing one sad, sad Thanksgiving that had neither cranberry sauce nor pumpkin pie, even after I asked what I could bring, I vowed to never let it happen again.) While this basic recipe is very good and easy and is probably what I’ll bring to our celebratory table, I recently tried something with a bit of a twist, just for fun.

I based this recipe on one I found at Epicurious after searching for something interesting to do with the Fuyu persimmons I saw at the local supermarket. I had never even eaten persimmons before, but I figured that if they were fruity, they might be nice in cranberry sauce. They do have a mild, sweet fruity flavor, sort of in between a mango and a melon, and that balanced nicely with the tart and slightly bitter cranberries. The flavor of the persimmons also went well with the red wine and whole spices I simmered with the cranberries. (The wine and star anise were in the original recipe, but I added the cinnamon stick for some extra kick.)

This is a good recipe to try if you’re looking for something a little different and very pretty for your holiday table. It’s also good if you want to try something easy that’s just a little exotic, unexpected, and perhaps somewhat impressive, but not too weird. If you don’t want to go with the persimmons, I think the cranberries, wine and spices would make a pretty spectacular dish on their own. Or you might be able to stir in diced apples or pears.

And for those of you who insist on the weird jellied stuff in the can: Ugh! There’s nothing I can do for you. You’re on your own.

Cranberry Sauce with Persimmons and Spice
Adapted from Epicurious

12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries (do not bother to thaw if frozen)
½ cup dry red wine
¼ cup water
1 cup sugar
1 whole star anise
1 small (3-4 inches) cinnamon stick
3 Fuyu persimmons (about 1 pound), trimmed and chopped into about ½ - inch pieces

1. Combine the cranberries, red wind, water, sugar, star anise and cinnamon stick in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a boil. Boil gently for 5-8 minutes or until the cranberries have split and slumped. Stir occasionally.

2. Remove from the heat and let stand 10 minutes.

3. Remove the star anise and cinnamon stick. Stir in the persimmons. Cool to room temperature to serve or chill if making ahead. Best served at room temperature.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Another recipe like this one: Cranberry Sauce (a more traditional whole-berry sauce)

One year ago: Mulled Apple Cider

Two years ago: Grandmama’s Pumpkin Pie

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Little Stuffed Winter Squash

My favorite application of the very small, sweet winter squashes is to cut them in half and stuff them with something. I don’t have to peel or chop the squash or even take the time to scoop cooked squash out of its skin and puree it. And each squash half makes a nice, neat, cute little serving. In addition to providing a flavorful accompaniment to the stuffing, the squash also serves as a convenient containment vessel, kind of like the fried tortilla or bread bowl, only less caloric and with a higher WFQ*

These little squash usually have names that are more like terms of endearment, like sweet dumpling, sugar loaf, heart of gold and delicata. Okay, so maybe that last one doesn’t really work, but you get the point. They tend to be fairly sweet and a bit easier to handle than their bigger cousins. I like to roast them for a while before cutting them, which makes them soft enough to cut through more neatly as well as easily, so I can make them into nice bowls for stuffing.

Recently, I stuffed some with a Southwestern-style combination of black beans and rice. This is a really easy stuffing to throw together, and the measurements of the ingredients aren’t all that important. You can make more or less of the stuffing depending on how big your squash bowls are, or you can double it to stuff more squashes. You can also partially cook the squash and cook the stuffing a day or two ahead and just assemble and bake an hour or so before you serve. (You may need extra baking time of you have chilled the pre-cooked ingredients.)

So, have you planned your Thanksgiving meal yet? And how about your vegetarian guest?  You know, the one that you always forget to accommodate. (And who can blame you? You’re busy!) The one you always tell that he or she can just eat the side dishes, and then you forget that you made the mashed potatoes with chicken broth until after he or she eats half the bowl, and then you keep your mouth shut, but feel guilty until Easter. Well, this would be a nice main course for your vegetarian friend or relative (or self.)

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

Beans and Rice Stuffed Squash
This dish is vegan if you leave out the sour cream garnish.

2 small winter squash, such as sweet dumpling, heart of gold, delicata or very small acorn
1 tablespoon canola, or other neutral-tasting oil
¼ cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup bell pepper (I used red)
½ teaspoon coarse salt, divided
1 medium to large clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup cooked brown rice
½ cup cooked or canned black beans
½ cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 scallions, finely chopped
sour cream for serving, optional

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Pierce the skin of the squash in several places. Put the squash in a 13 x 9-inch baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.

2. Cut the squash in half parallel to the stem as neatly as you can. Scoop out and discard the seeds. Return the squash halves to the baking dish, cut side up. If you turned off the oven while the squash was cooling, preheat it to 375 F again.

3. Heat the oil in a medium-size skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook until the onion and peppers are soft and beginning to brown, stirring frequently. Add the garlic, cumin chili powder and crushed red pepper flakes and cook 1 minute more.

4. Add the rice, beans and vegetable broth. Cook and stir 3-5 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed, but the mixture is still very moist. Stir in the cider vinegar and scallions and remove from the heat.

5. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt over the insides of the squash halves. Spoon the rice mixture into the squash cavities, evenly distributing it between the four halves. Cover the dish with foil and bake at 375 for 30 to 45 minutes or until the squash is very soft. Garnish each serving with a dollop of sour cream if desired.

Makes 4 servings. Wrap and chill leftovers and warm them up in the microwave.

Another recipe like this one: Quinoa Stuffed Squash

One year ago: Creamy Cabbage and Potato Soup

Two years ago: Crunchy Cabbage, Cauliflower and Apple Salad

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cashew Butter Cookies

Any writing about baked goods that you may read on The Messy Apron is going to have a strong pro-cookie bias, even though I’ve posted relatively few cookie recipes so far. I can’t give a good excuse for this poor representation of my true feelings, except, perhaps, as someone with a sluggish metabolism, I really shouldn’t eat a lot of cookies. The holidays are beginning to rush at us, however, and I shall take that as my license to cookie!

Recently, I made some cookies that have rocketed their way to Most Favored Cookie status. I was armed with this recipe from Cooking Light magazine (which I had somehow collected in many forms from magazine clippings to internet bookmarks) and a fresh batch of homemade Chai Spice Cashew Butter. The original recipe called for macadamia nuts, but I didn’t think it would be much of a stretch to substitute cashews instead. Besides, the cashew butter I made had a consistency that so much resembled the cookie dough we all sample before baking (or eat half of) that I just had to put it in a cookie.

I continued the chai-style spice theme from the cashew butter into the cookies by adding a smidge of each of the same warm spices. I also added some chopped cashews along with the dried cranberries in the original recipe, and they added some welcome crunch. These cookies are soft and moist, but not cake-like or crumbly. They’re chewy in the middle and gently crispy on the edges and they come out with a lovely smooth but crackled surface.

The flavor of these cookies is a bit more sophisticated with its creamy and crunchy cashew representation and subtle hint of spice. Their construction can also be a bit sophisticated if you make your own cashew butter, but I’m convinced you could substitute another nut butter, whether from your kitchen or from a jar. The rest of the cookie-making is pretty standard, much like any other drop cookie.

If you really want the full Messy Apron Chai Spice Cashew Butter Cookie experience, however, you may have to make your own cashew butter. Or, I could just share the fabulously delicious cookies that I made with you. Except, um, well, you see, um, they’re all gone.

Chai Spice Cashew Butter Cookies
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup Chai Spice Cashew Butter (or cashew butter of your choice)
½ cup sweetened dried cranberries
½ cup chopped cashews (I used roasted and lightly salted cashews)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and allspice. Whisk together until well-combined. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer, place the butter, sugar and brown sugar. Beat together until well creamed and fluffy, about 1 or 2 minutes.

3. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well-combined. Add the cashew butter and beat until well combined.

4. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in the dried cranberries and cashews. (If desired, you can cover and chill the dough for up to a day until ready to use.)

5. Prepare a cookie sheet by spraying it lightly with cooking spray or lining it with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Scoop the dough in heaping tablespoons. Roll the dough into a ball and place on the baking sheet. Gently press the ball to flatten slightly. Place the dough balls at least 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.

6. Bake at 375 F in the center of the oven for 10-11 minutes or until the cookies are just beginning to brown on the edges. Cool on the pan 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool on wire racks.

Makes about 30 cookies. Store in an airtight container.

Other recipes like this one: Apricot and Almond Cookies with White Chocolate, Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies with Black Walnuts, Chocolate Cinnamon Hazelnut Cookies

One year ago: Savory Squash Bread Pudding with Bacon and Onions

Two years ago: Potato and Bacon Frittata

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cashew Butter

I think I actually bought the bag of cashews just to make this nut butter. That doesn’t explain why the package had been opened before I was preparing to make it. I don’t know what caused that, except, possibly, for some good, old-fashioned snacking. Oh well, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been thinking about a sweetened and spiced cashew butter for a long time. Yup. That’s the kind of thought that can distract me from other, more important things, like putting away the groceries or clearing the noxious weeds out of the back yard.

I sweetened my cashew butter with a little honey, but you could use another sweetener, such as agave nectar or maple syrup if you prefer a vegan option. I also wanted some warm spices, so I went with a sort of chai-inspired blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves and allspice. This is somewhat similar to the Pumpkin Pie Spice blend I used here, and that would be good, too, as would, as usual, just plain cinnamon. Or nothing at all. It will still be deliciously fragrant just from the delicately sweet cashews.

Nut butters are pretty trivial to make if you have a good food processor. (If you don’t have one, make friends with someone who will let you borrow hers. They’re great fun, and just dangerous-looking enough to add some thrill to kitchen drudgery.) Just throw in the nuts and give them a whirl. Of course, when I do this, I’m always half convinced that I’m never going to be able to create a smooth nut butter, and will only have a big, pile of ground nuts on my hands. Then, after five minutes or so of work (by the food processor. I’m mostly just standing there.), the pasty stuff that’s trying to become a nut butter gets kind of hot from all the friction of the spinning blade. At this time, I’m convinced that it won’t be nut butter before my very expensive piece of kitchen equipment blows itself to pieces all over the house.

It took about 10 or 12 minutes of processing to make this cashew butter, but I’m happy to say there were no casualties. Just a nice, smooth, firm cashew butter with more of the consistency of cookie dough than peanut butter from a jar. I was able to spread it on a slice of bread, and it was pretty darned delicious. It is concentrated cashew flavor, lightly sweetened and delicately spiced, in a spoon-able form. If you love cashews, this is the secret indulgence for you.

I also put this Chai Spice Cashew Butter in some cookies. Again, pretty darned good (understatement!) I’ll have to tell you about those sometime. Soon.

Chai Spice Cashew Butter
I used cashews that were roasted and lightly salted. I think you could use raw cashews or unsalted roasted cashews, but you might want to add a pinch of salt.

10 ounces (about 2 cups) roasted and lightly salted cashews
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
¼ teaspoon ground allspice

1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Process until very smooth, scraping the sides as necessary. This could take 10 minutes or more.

Makes about 1 ½ cups.

Another recipe like this one: Pasta with Cauliflower and Cashew Sauce

One year ago: Sweet Pumpkin Focaccia

Two years ago: Chocolate Orange Bread

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Applesauce (and Pumpkin?) Cake

If you were to quickly peruse recent posts to this site (go ahead, I’ll wait…), you’ll see that I’ve been doing a lot of baking. Maybe it’s that the most prolific autumn ingredients (apples and winter squashes) taste best to me when enveloped in flour and butter and spices, then baked and, often, frosted. Or maybe it’s because as the days get colder, I can’t justify turning up the thermostat just for me, but I can justify turning on the oven because I plan to share.

I’ve got more recipes for apple cake than anyone needs, but I rarely try any of them, possibly because I can’t decide which one to bet on. Finally, I went with this applesauce cake from smitten kitchen because, well, I’ve been making applesauce. Actually, I’ve been making this Applesauce with Pumpkin and Spices, and I wanted to see if it would behave well in a cake such as this.

Applesauce with Pumpkin and Spices gets a gold star for its conformity, at least in this application. I just substituted it equally for the plain, unsweetened applesauce in the original recipe and it worked just fine. In fact, I quite liked the little bit of added pumpkin flavor. I also used the Pumpkin Pie Spice blend I threw together a little while ago, which saves time in measuring out individual spices. It also draws a little more attention to the pumpkin-spice quality of the cake. You could use whatever spice blend you like, or just use cinnamon and it will still be delicious.

Another change I made to the original recipe was to bump up its Whole Food Quotient (WFQ). Yes, applesauce and pumpkin in a cake can already take it dangerously into the health-food category, but I also put in some whole wheat pastry flour. I could definitely taste it in the cake, even through all the apple and pumpkin and spice flavors, but I’ve acquired a taste for its nutty, wheat-y flavor. If you or someone else who is going to eat the cake haven’t developed this resistance to the taste of whole grains, you can substitute it with more all-purpose flour.

Since I’ve had problems getting higher WFQ cakes neatly out of their baking pans (they can be a little crumbly), I left this cake in the dish and served it from there. Since this super-moist cake with its deliciously tangy and sweet cream cheese frosting should be refrigerated to store, the cake pan also made a handy storage vessel. I think it was probably firm enough, however, as evidenced by the nice, neat squares it could be cut into, to turn it out on your fanciest serving plate.

Not that this is a formal, fancy cake. It comes together quickly and easily, and requires no fussy procedures. The reward is much greater than the effort, especially since it’s such a good excuse to turn on the oven and warm up the house.

Applesauce and Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from smitten kitchen

I think you could substitute the Applesauce with Pumpkin and Spices with 1 cup plain, unsweetened applesauce and ½ cup pumpkin puree if you wanted the pumpkin-apple experience without having to make Applesauce with Pumpkin and Spices.

For the cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice (or spice mix of your choice, or cinnamon)
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups Applesauce with Pumpkin and Spices or unsweetened applesauce

For the frosting
5 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon Pumpkin Pie Spice (or spice mix of your choice, or cinnamon)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter or spray well with cooking spray an 8-inch square baking dish or pan. Set aside.

2. To make the cake, in a medium-size bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice. Whisk together until well-combined. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, beat together the whole stick of butter and brown sugar until the mixture is fluffy, about a minute or two. (Use a hand-held electric mixer or heavy-duty mixer if you can.) Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Beat in the 1 teaspoon vanilla and the Pumpkin Applesauce.

4. Mix in the flour mixture a little at a time. Stir until just combined.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake at 350 F for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out without any raw batter clinging to it. (Since this is a moist cake, it may come out with some moist crumbs.) Remove the cake from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

6. When the cake has cooled, prepare the frosting. In a medium-size bowl, combine the cream cheese 3 tablespoons butter, and ¼ teaspoon vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Sift in (please sift…I often forget and end up with lumpy frosting) the powdered sugar and Pumpkin Pie Spice. Beat until smooth. Spread the frosting evenly over the cake.

Makes 9-12 servings. Store in the refrigerator.

Other recipes like this one: Beet and Orange Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, Maple Cake with Walnuts and Dates

One year ago: Barley and Wild Rice Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette

Two years ago: Pasta with White Beans and Pesto

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cranberry Cornbread

Even though I’m not quite done putting winter squash and apples into everything I cook or bake, it’s now time to put cranberries into everything, too. So, say I’m serving chili on a rainy Sunday afternoon while we watch football. Well, here’s a Cranberry Walnut Cornbread recipe from The Best Quick Breads by Beth Hensperger to serve alongside it.

Normally, I’m not all that fired up about accompanying my spicy-savory eats with something sweet, but this cornbread works. The cranberries are tart and tangy and there’s no doubt that it’s cornbread, which is contractually obligated to compliment a bowl of chili. It is a little sweet, but not so much so that you’ll think you’ve been served your dessert early.

The original recipe called for baking this in a loaf pan, and I’ve done that several times and been very happy. I really like to make cornbread in a cast iron skillet, however, and decided to try this recipe that way, too. Not only does it take cornbread less time to bake when the batter is spread out in the skillet, but it also develops wonderful crunchy brown edges. These edges are sturdy and make a nice handle for picking up a wedge of bread and dunking it point-first into some spicy chili (or winter squash soup!). They’re not just for handling, though, since those crispy, caramelized bits are super-delicious too.

I borrowed this skillet baking method from the cornbread recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. I particularly like the technique of preheating the cast iron pan with some of the butter, which not only heats the pan, helping to create those coveted crunchy edges, but also provides an instant greasing of the pan. I just brush the melted butter all over the pan before pouring in the batter. There’s usually a bit of a pool of butter around the edges, even after the excess butter is poured into the batter, and I think that contributes to the brownness and crunchiness of the cornbread edges as well. Did I mention that I like the brown and crunchy edges?

While I’m plugging this as an accompaniment to a savory, steamy bowl of something good, its sweetness is quite satisfying on its own. I’ve had a wedge of it for breakfast, and I definitely wouldn’t turn my nose up at a chunk of it alongside my afternoon coffee or tea…even though those wonderfully crispy edges tend to soften when the cornbread is stored and reheated.

Cranberry Walnut Cornbread
Adapted from The Best Quick Breads by Beth Hensperger

You can bake this cornbread in a loaf pan, but increase the baking time to 35-40 minutes.

6 tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup yellow cornmeal (I used stone-ground)
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. While the oven is preheating, place 2 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet. Put the skillet in the oven to preheat it and melt the butter.

2. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, brown sugar, salt and baking soda. Stir together with a whisk until well combined.

4. In another medium-size bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the melted butter. Remove the preheating skillet from the oven. Brush the 2 tablespoons of butter that was melted in the skillet all over the bottom and up the sides of the skillet. Pour any extra into the egg mixture and whisk it in. Set the skillet aside.

5. Whisk the buttermilk into the egg mixture. Pour this liquid mixture into the cornmeal mixture. Stir together until just combined. Stir in the cranberries and walnuts.

6. Pour the batter into the cast iron skillet. Bake at 425 F for about 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm from the skillet

Makes about 8 servings. Leftovers can be stored in a zip-top bag for a day or two, but may dry out quickly. Refresh leftovers in the microwave.

Other recipes like this one: Pecan Cornbread with Bourbon, Coconut Cranberry Quick Bread

One year ago: Pecan Cornbread with Bourbon (It looks like I always make cornbread this time of year!)

Two years ago: Roasted Winter Squash Puree

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Homemade Pita Bread

I don’t know what is more exciting, the fact that I can make my own pita bread or that it’s really pretty easy. It all starts out as a fairly standard bread dough, not that much different than the dough for a basic sandwich bread. The magic must be in the extra yeast and sugar. And magic it is! You just roll out balls of dough into flat discs, bake them at high temperature for just a few minutes and the discs blow up into big balloons. It’s really pretty fun to watch. That balloon collapses upon cooling, forming a handy pocket just right for sandwich fixings.

I started with a recipe from The Joy of Cooking and swapped in whole wheat flour for some of the bread flour. I also changed a few things in the procedure. While I used a pizza stone to bake the breads, I eliminated the step in which the stone is sprayed with water before baking. The last time I tried this, I ended up with a broken pizza stone. Not cool! I’ve found that the breads come out just fine if I don’t spray any water in the oven. It not only saves the stone (and I’ve heard of folks who broke their oven light bulbs by spraying water in the oven), but it saves a round of opening and closing the oven as well.

A pizza peel is also nice for transferring the dough disks into and out of the oven, but you could use a cookie sheet, or even carefully place them in by hand. You also could use an inverted baking sheet instead of a pizza stone to bake the breads upon. Just be sure to preheat it.

These pitas are soft and fluffy with a nice whole wheat flavor. The pockets on this batch turned out to be very delicate, that is just a thin layer of dough separated when it ballooned out in the oven. The outer edge of the pocket tears easily, but I don’t mind. I just made my own pita bread!

It might also happen that the pocket doesn’t form in the bread, especially if the dough gets kinked or folded when rolling out or transferring to the oven. While this is disappointing, you can still carefully cut into the bread to make a pocket if you like, or wrap the whole soft pita around your chosen sandwich filling. Luckily, experience seems to help this problem, and I rarely have it happen anymore.

Pitas are sneakily easy to make, especially if you use a heavy-duty stand mixer to mix and knead the dough. (I’ve been doing this lately to save time.) Once you get to the stage where the balls of dough are ready to be rolled out and baked, the whole thing only takes about half an hour, (assuming you can bake 2 breads at once.) If you have any experience making bread dough, you really should try this. If you’ve got an oven window and light, you might want to call in all the youngsters to watch the pitas puff up. Heck, call me in to watch. I love seeing them puff up.

Just make sure you tell everyone that you made your own pita bread. Nobody will give you credit as the magician you are if they think you just went to the store.

Whole Wheat Pita Bread
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1 ¼ cups warm water (about 100 F), divided
4 teaspoons active dry yeast (or about 2 envelopes)
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour (or a little more if needed), divided
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 ½ teaspoons salt

1. In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer or other large bowl, combine ¼ cup water, yeast and sugar. Let stand for about 5 minutes or until the yeast is foamy.

2. Add the whole wheat flour, about 1 ½ cups bread flour, butter and salt. Mix with the paddle attachment until well blended (or mix with a spoon if not using a mixer). Exchange the paddle attachment for the dough hook or turn out the dough on a floured surface. Knead the dough with the dough hook or by hand for about 10 minutes gradually adding in the remaining bread flour, or more if needed. The dough should be smooth and stretchy, but still very soft and a little tacky.

3. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a large bowl that has been greased or coated with cooking spray (I use the mixer bowl). Grease or spray the top of the dough ball and place a piece of plastic wrap on top. Cover the bowl with a towel and let stand until approximately double in size, about 1 hour.

4. Gently inflate the dough and form it into a new ball. Let stand for a few minutes. Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball. Lightly flour a surface on which to set the dough balls. Cover with a towel and let stand for 20 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven and a pizza baking stone or inverted baking sheet to 450 F. I put my pizza stone on the bottom of the oven, since it doesn’t have a heating element there. You can put your stone or baking sheet on the lowest rack in the oven.

6. On a floured surface roll one dough ball into a round disk about 1/8 inch thick. Try to get it as round and smooth as you can. Place the disk on a peel or a floured cookie sheet or inverted baking sheet. Repeat with a second dough ball. Slide the two discs onto the preheated pizza stone or baking sheet.

7. Bake about 3 minutes. The dough should puff up and brown just a bit. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. The balloon will collapse as the bread cools. Repeat with the remaining dough balls. To serve, cut the circles to expose the pockets and stuff with desired fillings, or wrap the whole pita around desired fillings.

Makes 8 pita breads. They will keep for a few days in a zip-top bag, or you can freeze them for longer storage.

Other recipes like this one: Naan with Whole Wheat Flour, Yogurt Tortillas with Whole Wheat Flour

One year ago: Squash and Pinto Bean Chili

Two years ago: Roasted Winter Squash Puree