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