Friday, December 21, 2012

Peppermint Brownie Pie

Wow, how December flies. It seems like I was just planning all kinds of treats and goodies for Christmas snacking, and now the Solstice is upon us and all I’ve posted is a recipe for Gingerbread Muffins. (Although I did bake a batch of these M & M cookies that were just as good as they usually are.)

Well, here’s a fairly decadent Christmas dessert that won’t have you slaving away for hours. It’s basically a straightforward brownie batter baked in a pie crust and served in wedges because, hey, it’s a pie. I’ll admit I used a store-bought pie crust to make this, the kind that come rolled up, two to a box. I have made it with Easy Cream Cheese Pastry as well, and that was quite good. Just about any single-crust pastry recipe will probably do. It’s kind of all about the brownie filling anyway. There’s a bit of peppermint extract in that brownie batter to give it some holiday essence, but you could certainly replace it with vanilla extract (or even almond or rum extract) if you don’t want the mint.

For me, the chocolate and peppermint combination means Christmas, so I like it there for my holiday dessert. The mint isn’t the only highlight of this pie, however. It’s dense and gooey, especially when served while still a bit warm. It also keeps well, which is good because it’s rich enough to make it difficult to eat the entire pie in one day, unless you have a crowd to feed.

I particularly like this Peppermint Brownie Pie a la mode with candy cane ice cream, but, alas, one of my many holiday failings this year is the lack of something so festive on hand. I’m sure come January, I’ll appreciate the busy-ness that kept me from over-baking and overindulging this year!

Peppermint Brownie Pie
Adapted from Midwest Living December 2009

Pastry for 9-inch pie
½ cup unsalted butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3 eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon peppermint extract
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring frequently. When most of the butter and chocolate have melted, remove from the heat.  Stir a few more times to melt the remaining chocolate.  Let stand 20 minutes to cool.

2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 9-inch pie plate with the pastry dough and crimp as desired. Set aside.

3. In a medium-size bowl, beat the eggs. Beat in the butter and chocolate mixture. Beat in the sugar, vanilla, and peppermint extract.  Beat in the flour.  Stir in the chocolate chips.

4. Pour the mixture into the pastry shell. Bake at 350 F for 55 minutes or until the filling is puffed and appears dry, glossy and slightly cracked.  Cool on a wire rack. Serve slightly warm or completely cooled with ice cream or whipped cream.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Another recipe like this one: Layered Brownie Ice CreamDessert (Try it with peppermint ice cream!)

One year ago: Eggnog Muffins with Streusel Topping, Pork and Tangerine Stir Fry

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gingerbread Muffins

Before you think I’ve gone off the deep end of Mount Crumpet into full Grinch-itude, here is an actual holiday-flavored recipe. A good one, too.

These gingerbread muffins are nicely spicy with plenty of ginger paired with molasses for a classic flavor. They have a soft texture that’s still in the quick bread range, so you could have them for breakfast and argue that you’re not eating cake. Speaking of quick bread, I think you could probably convert this recipe into gingerbread by pouring the batter into a bread pan. Or, you could probably make it a coffee cake by putting it in a cake pan and sprinkling a brown sugary streusel on top. Both of those variations would require a change in baking time. You could also add some dried fruit or crystallized ginger or chopped nuts.

Perhaps if I was entertaining I would try something fancier with these flavors. (Heck, even gingerbread cookies seem fancy to me right now.) For the moment, however, I’m content with simplicity in my holiday flavors. And muffins are definitely simple, and, I’d say, versatile, since you could eat these for breakfast or dessert or afternoon coffee or tea or to fuel you through decorating and shopping and visiting and, well, more baking.


Gingerbread Muffins
Adapted from The Ultimate Muffin Book by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon fine salt
2 large eggs
½ cup dark brown sugar
1 cup milk
1/3 cup unsulphured molasses

1. Melt the butter. Set aside to cool.

2. Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray or line with paper liners.

3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Whisk or sift to combine. Set aside.

4. Beat the eggs until smooth and frothy. Beat in the cooled butter until smooth. Add the brown sugar and beat until well combined. Whisk in the milk and molasses, continuing to beat until smooth.

5. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

6. Distribute the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups. Bake at 400 F for 22 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out with no wet batter clinging to it.

7. Remove from the oven and cool 10 minutes in the pan. Gently remove from the pan and cool another 5 minutes or so on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Freeze leftovers and warm in the microwave to serve.

Makes 12 muffins.


One year ago: Cranberry Bars

Monday, December 3, 2012

Lentil Soup with Winter Vegetables

But it’s December, you say. Shouldn’t The Messy Apron be splashed with tempting photos of holiday treats featuring festively colored sprinkles and enough sugar and fat to induce regret in January? Shouldn’t you be baking up a blizzard? Sating your winter sugar zombie? Abusing your license to cookie?

I wish I were. And maybe soon I will be, but to tell you the truth, December has sneaked up on me once again. It’s shameful, really. It’s not like I don’t know it’s coming. It’s not like I don’t have several thousand seasonal recipes to try. It’s not like I don’t loooooove cookies. But until I can clean up the kitchen (again), get enough sleep, get over a head cold, make a space for the Christmas tree, bring up the decorations from their tomb in the basement, and figure out what to give everybody for Christmas I can’t seem to think straight about homemade holiday indulgences.

A while back, however, before December even finished its stealthy approach, I did make a comforting and flavorful lentil soup. I was surprised by how much beautiful flavor resulted from the addition of the sort of homely celeriac and rutabaga.  Chicken broth also gave this thick soup an additional richness, but you could use vegetable broth instead.

This soup is quite healthy but also filling and not at all boring. It might just be a good foil for those forthcoming indulgences. Assuming I ever get around to making any. Hey, at least I haven’t given up and loaded a shopping cart with boxed cookies…yet.


Lentil Soup with Winter Vegetables and Kale
Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine, March 2011

You could make this soup vegan by replacing the chicken broth with vegetable broth or water.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into ¼” to ½” pieces
1 medium celeriac, peeled and chopped into ¼” to ½” pieces
1 medium rutabaga, peeled and chopped into ¼” to ½” pieces
1 ½ teaspoon salt plus more to taste
1 pound green lentils, rinsed
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon black pepper
8 cups chicken broth, plus more as needed
1 small bunch kale, stems removed, chopped

1. Pour the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook just until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, celeriac, rutabaga, and salt. Cook, stirring often until the vegetables begin to soften, about 10 minutes.

2. Add the lentils, oregano, basil, thyme, bay leaf, pepper and broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and boil gently until the vegetables and lentils are tender, about 20-30 minutes. Stir in the kale and cook about 10 minutes more. Add more broth or water if the soup is too thick. Taste for salt and other seasonings and adjust as needed.

Makes about 8 servings.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Rum-Spiked Date Bars

“Why is the rum gone?” – Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
No, in this post’s title I’m not talking about establishments of questionable character peopled by patrons of equally questionable character and their companions for the evening in whom they hope to induce a state of inebriation and consequent personal benefit. I don’t even know anything about those things. Really. And until recently I knew almost as little about the crumbly yet gooey cut-out-of-a-pan-in-a-rectangular-fashion cookie known as date bars.

I can’t remember how long ago I made these bars. Two weeks? Could it be three? It was well before Thanksgiving, anyway, but it seems reasonably appropriate to tell you about them now as I’m thinking about letting my Squash Certificate expire and renewing my seasonal License to Cookie.

This is my little spin on a classic date bar recipe as I found it in Bon Appetit Desserts by Barbara Fairchild. This was kind of a bold move for me, since I’m not really that “into” alcohol. (How many times have I said that on these pages, only to allow a good recipe to make a liar out of me?) I even passed over the golden colored dark rum in the cupboard and reached for the more intensely flavored black spiced rum. To ensure that the rum flavor did not boil away as I cooked and infused the dates, and armed with the success of these eggnog muffins, I added a splash of rum extract as well.

It’s hard for me to say just how much the rum extract achieved in terms of flavor in the case of these bars. The black spiced rum I used (Kraken brand…can I admit I bought it for the label?) gave the date layer a darkly rich and pleasantly bitter tone, and, since I didn’t test the recipe without the extract, I’m not sure which source of rum flavor was the dominant one. Much like someone who has enjoyed enough rum, however, I don’t really care.

This is not to say that these bars are all about the rum, however. They are delightfully sweet and gooey with a delicious caramel flavor contributed by the dates and by the brown sugar in the surrounding buttery crust and topping layers. Those crust and topping layers, which have a fabulous taste and texture themselves, seemed to be too crumbly to hold together when I pressed them into the pan, but there’s enough butter in the mix (yum!) to hold the dry ingredients together as they bake and the date layer is sticky enough to help keep things in place.

In addition to just leaving the rum out (see headnote in the recipe below) I think this recipe could go in many different directions with some simple substitutions and/or additions. How about orange liqueur with the dates and some orange zest in the crust, for example? Or what about a dried apricot version with amaretto? Could this go on long enough that I could be content with simply making all the various versions of these bars that I could think of, eschewing any other type of cookie? …Don’t count on it!

Date Bars with Spiced Rum
If you wish to make these without the rum, you can replace it with an equal amount of water and replace the rum extract with additional vanilla extract.

1 ½ cups chopped pitted dates
1 cup water
½ cup black spiced rum (I used Kraken brand), or rum of your choice
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon rum extract

1. Combine the dates, water and rum in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and boil gently until the dates are very soft and the mixture is thick and syrupy. This should take about 15 minutes, but rely on texture more than time. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare an 8-inch square baking pan by spraying it with nonstick spray or smearing it with butter.

3. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt. Pulse a few times to combine well. Add the cut-up butter and pulse several times until the mixture is just starting to form moist clumps. Make sure the butter gets evenly distributed by stopping the processor and stirring the bottom of the mixture to the top if necessary.

4. Press about half of the flour mixture firmly into the bottom of the prepared baking pan to form a crust layer. Stir the rum and vanilla extracts into the cooled date mixture and spread the date mixture over the top of the crust layer. Top with the remaining flour mixture and press gently into place.

5. Bake until the edges are brown and the center is set, about 40-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into squares to serve.

Makes 16-20 servings.

Another recipe like this one: Graham Cracker Almond Bars

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Thoughts

There’s really a great deal to be thankful for. Really. There is. But, I’m not the type to drape my words in honey comb, waxing sappily over how wonderful the world really is. Sometimes gratitude simply means seeing what’s really important and recognizing its importance. Sometimes I’m simply grateful for the fact that there’s little of material value that I truly need or even want. Sometimes what I’m most grateful for is that I have not had to be institutionalized this year...yet.

Let’s face it, the days are darker and colder (although not much; this is a warm November here) and one thing or another is bound to unduly stress us out. Whether we like it or not, by Thanksgiving the end of the year is barreling over the river, through the woods and up our own driveways, threatening to taunt us with what might have been. I hate that. So I kick it in the teeth!!

We need a break, a release, a chance to cut loose. A celebration, if you will. A big dinner, if you dare! We humans are resourceful, resilient, relentless. We will survive because we invented holidays! Since we also need food to survive, let’s have celebrations about having enough food and include lots of food! Sure, we’ll share it with everyone who shows up. We’re not greedy, we’re grateful!

And this year, I’m cooking! Here’s what I hope to get on the table…

Appetizers including Chex mix, raw vegetables and dip, crackers and cheese
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Wild Rice Casserole (provided by my aunt)
Roasted Squash Puree seasoned with warm spices
Cranberry Sauce
Pumpkin Pie

…wish me luck.

And I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. Give thanks, yes. Be grateful, yes. But most of all celebrate and be HAPPY!

Some of the rest of my true thoughts on Thanksgiving are summed up in this post from a couple years ago, and I weigh in a little more on the holidays in general in this post.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pumpkin Alfredo

Are simple recipes boring? I suppose if you’re stuck cooking bland food for a picky eater (or, as I would call him/her, a big pain in the neck!) and would like to venture out into something more daring and complex, simple would indeed be boring. But simple can be fabulously delicious, too, especially if you make the effort (and, alas, spend the extra cash) to acquire high quality ingredients to fill a relatively short list of recipe requirements.

Take this Tortellini with Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce, for instance. It was promoted as a kid’s meal in the October issue of Food Network Magazine, probably because of its mac-and-cheese-like qualities, sneaky healthiness in the form of added pumpkin, and the fact that busy parents could throw it together pretty quickly. If you have a trusted brand of packaged pasta, know where you can get good quality canned pumpkin and heavy cream, and can shell out the dough for a hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano, this dish can be elevated from a quick-and-convenient-get-it-on-the-table-before-everybody-gets-cranky weeknight supper to something quite decadent and delicious. The fact that it still happens to be quick and easy to get on the table before everybody gets cranky is just an added bonus.

I’ll admit that I used canned pumpkin when I tried this recipe. The convenience was too alluring. And the squash I tried to cook and puree just turned out too dry and lumpy and chunky to be used here. I hate to admit it, but most of the time the canned pumpkin I buy actually tastes at least as good as the homemade pumpkin and squash purees on which I spend so much time. You win some, you lose some.

This recipe is definitely a winner, and, as has happened a lot lately, I’m almost as pleased by how easy it is as I am by how good it tastes. Almost. The rich and creamy sauce spiked with slightly sweet and earthy pumpkin would be hard to beat with anything, easy or difficult, simple or complex, convenient or downright pain in the neck.


Tortellini with Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce
Adapted from Food Network Magazine

Other filled pastas or plain noodles would be just fine with this sauce in place of the cheese tortellini.

18-20 ounces cheese tortellini (fresh or frozen)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons finely minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup pumpkin or winter squash puree (canned is fine)
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
about 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ cup grated parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
finely chopped parsley and additional parmesan for garnish, if desired

1. Cook the tortellini in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain, reserving about ½ cup of the cooking water, and keep warm.

2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until soft and just beginning to brown, about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute more.

3. Add the pumpkin and cook about 1 minute more, stirring frequently. Add the cream and stir until smooth. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and boil gently for about 5 minutes or until the cream begins to thicken.

4. Stir in the nutmeg,  parmesan cheese and black pepper. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Stir in the cooked tortellini and cook just until well coated and heated through. Add some of the reserved cooking water if the sauce seems too thick. Serve with parsley garnish and additional parmesan cheese if desired.

Makes about 4 servings.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

These Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins are my most recent seasonal contribution to the Saturday morning baking category. Sure, when I have a Saturday free, I’d like to be able to make quiche or a French toast casserole or some kind of egg and bread strata. Instead, my feeble brain has had to be content with simple quick breads like Apple Cinnamon Coffeecake or, of course, muffins.

These particular little simple quick breads are quite delicious. The tart, juicy cranberries cut through the sweet pumpkin and spice for something a little different. It seemed like a fabulous idea to combine these two favorite late-fall ingredients so I stashed away the recipe when I came across it. Well, ahem, it took me just a little time to get around to trying it. Okay, maybe more than a little time. Like, the coupon on the bottom of the page on which the recipe is printed expired in January…2009!

Aaaaaanyway, I can now say without further delay that these muffins are delicious. They’re also almost as foolproof as they are tasty. I can attest to this because it was only after I had distributed the muffin batter into my muffin pan that I realized that I forgot to put in the pumpkin. I quickly scraped the batter back into a bowl, stirred in the pumpkin, cleaned out the pan, and tried again with good enough results that nobody would know I had goofed. (This is why my Saturday mornings have to be simple!)


I don’t use paper liners when I make muffins, preferring to just spray the pan well with cooking spray. I reserve liners for cupcakes (which I almost never make). So, if my muffin doesn’t have a paper liner, then it’s not cake, right? That’s one of the major differences between cake and breakfast, right? That’s what I keep telling myself. I think I’ll also keep telling myself to make some more of these muffins.


Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins
Adapted from an advertisement for Ziploc brand storage containers 

If you use frozen cranberries, there is no need to thaw them.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice
¼ teaspoon fine salt
1 large egg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
¼ cup milk
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree (I used canned)
1 cup fresh (or frozen) cranberries, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray the cups of a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray (or line them with cupcake liners.)

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, Pumpkin Pie Spice, and salt. Whisk together to combine well. Set aside.

3. In another medium-size bowl, lightly beat the egg. Add the cooled butter and whisk together to combine well. Add the sugar and brown sugar and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the pumpkin.

4. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir together until just moistened. Stir in the cranberries.

5. Distribute the batter evenly in the muffin pan with each cup being about ¾ full. (I only got 11 muffins from this mixture.) Bake at 375 F for about 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out without any wet batter clinging to it.

6. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Cool completely or serve warm.

Makes 11-12 muffins. Freeze leftovers in a zip-top freezer bag.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Squash and Kale Frittata

I’m still in a rut of sorts, I guess. No post for days and days. I finally get something simple and seasonal and delicious on the table and it’s still more days and days until I can write it up. Still, for all its lateness and simplicity this frittata with butternut squash and kale is nothing to be ashamed of.

I based this on a recipe from Vegetarian Times magazine, but the original recipe had more eggs and sweet potatoes instead of squash. I pared the number of eggs to four, since I’ve had success making quick frittatas that way and I just didn’t have the energy to mess with things too much. I really think sweet potatoes and winter squash can be used almost interchangeably with some variation in cooking times and slight flavor changes. (Usually sweet potatoes are sweeter than squash in my experience.) The kale was a cinch to acquire, since there’s still some alive in my garden despite the many frosty nights.

After selecting my seasonal ingredients, I simply held to basic frittata theory and all was well. Once my onions, squash and kale were cooked, I poured over an egg mixture flavored with Dijon mustard. I like to partially cook the eggs in the pan, then put the pan under the broiler, but not right up to the broiler. I think I originally did this in hopes of causing less stress on my nonstick pan, but I like the way the frittata “bakes” a good distance from the broiler as well. Of course I wasn’t putting this in the oven at all until I sprinkled it with a generous portion of feta cheese.

You could really vary this simple dish many, many ways, even using leftover roasted vegetables or roasted vegetables and sausage or any kind of cooked greens. I was pleasantly surprised by the combination of flavors in this particular variation. Squash and kale, perhaps both being autumnal in nature, complement each other well. I added a chile pepper for extra punch, but you wouldn’t have to if you don’t like it. The subtle zing of the Dijon mustard is quite nice enough to enhance the dish without any added spice.

No, I’m not ashamed of this dish at all. For its somewhat rustic simplicity, it’s quite fabulously flavored, nourishing and satisfying. With any luck, this quick fix will get me out of the doldrums caused by workday weariness and darkening days so I can post about more good stuff more often!

Winter Squash and Kale Frittata with Feta
Based on a recipe in Vegetarian Times magazine

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 medium chile pepper, minced
12 ounces winter squash (I used butternut), peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
¾ teaspoon coarse salt, divided
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 large eggs
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 large curly kale leaves
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
1. Heat the oil in an oven-proof nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally for about 8 minutes, or until softened and beginning to brown. Add the minced chile pepper and cook about 1 minute more.

2. Add the squash, ½ teaspoon salt and pepper to the onion mixture. Cook, turning occasionally until the squash is softened, but still firm enough to hold its shape, about 20-25 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a medium-size bowl, combine the eggs, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, milk and Dijon mustard. Whisk together until lightly beaten and well combined. Set aside.

4. Preheat the broiler and place a rack just above the middle of the oven. (I like to heat the frittata from above, but not place the pan so close to the broiler.) Remove the thick stems from the kale and discard. Finely chop the leaves. Add to the squash mixture when the squash is done. Cook until the kale is well-wilted, about 3-5 minutes.

5. Pour the egg mixture over the squash mixture, keeping the squash mixture in an even layer over the bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring just a little and gently, until the egg is set around the edges of the pan. The middle should still be runny. Evenly distribute the feta cheese over the top of the frittata.

6. Place the frittata in the oven and bake (with the broiler) for 8-10 minutes until the egg is firm throughout and the frittata is lightly golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and let stand at least 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 4-6 servings.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cheddar Jalapeno Scones

I made these Jalapeno Cheddar Scones a while ago to accompany this black bean soup. The recipe, which I adapted from this one at smitten kitchen, made enough to accompany the leftover soup as well, so I was happily eating this delicious combo for a few days. I wish I had saved some scones, or at least saved some cheddar cheese (I still have plenty of jalapenos from my garden) so I could have tasted and/or made them again before writing this. It’s not that I forgot how good they are in the meantime. It’s just that the nostalgia is almost painful. I want some more.

As a basic scone recipe this one is very nice, with a good ratio of butterfat to flour that makes an almost flaky scone that goes a little past biscuit texture. To me, that’s how a scone should be (although I’d probably be content to eat them even if they miss this mark.) The diced jalapeno chiles and tiny cubes of cheddar cheese are fabulous additions that bump up the flavor and in the case of the cheese, bump up the richness and, well, the butterfat, too.

Some of that cheese couldn’t help but leak out of the scones and onto the pan as they baked. I decided to take this as a gift. A gift of crispy, toasty sharp cheddar bits reminiscent of Parmesan fricos. Plenty of cheese stayed right where I put it inside the scone to make little, slightly gooey sharp cheddar-y pockets. Even though I used two whole jalapeno chiles, their spiciness did not overwhelm the scones. The cheese is still kind of the main event with the chile pepper taste as a background flavor.

I didn’t really change this recipe much from the original, except to add a bit of stone-ground cornmeal. I liked the addition of that flavor along with the chiles and I liked the added grainy, slightly crunchy texture as well. These are really a winner, and I think I might be making these scones instead of cornbread to go alongside bowls of chili or stew. Of course, that would mean getting out to get some more cheddar cheese. While the rain and gloom of the very day that I’m writing this make it a perfect day for a warming stew with a savory scone accompaniment, those same characteristics make it a day unfit for going out to acquire cheddar. Some days, you just can’t win!

Cheddar Jalapeno Scones
Adapted from this recipe at smitten kitchen

I made these scones into 8 large triangles. You could cut them smaller or cut them with a biscuit cutter to make them round.

Since scones quickly lose their prime texture, I recommend freezing any leftover scones as soon as you can. Defrost in the microwave to enjoy the leftovers.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
½ cup stone-ground cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, divided
½ cup heavy cream
2 eggs
¼ pound sharp cheddar cheese, diced
2 jalapeno peppers, minced

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. In a small skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the diced jalapenos and cook, stirring often until soft, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

2. Place the cheddar in a small bowl. Add the cooled chiles and about 1 tablespoon flour. Toss to coat. Set aside.

3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the remaining flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Add the remaining butter pieces and cut in with a pastry blender, or with a knife or fork, or rub it in with your fingers until the butter is all coated with flour in pea-size pieces. Stir in the cheese and chiles.

4. In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the cream until well-combined. Add to the flour mixture and gently mix together to form a rough, crumbly dough. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and gently knead until it all comes together.

5. Shape the dough into a disk about ¾ to 1 inch thick. Cut into 8 triangles. Arrange the triangles on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Bake at 400 F for about 25 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm or just cooled.

Makes 8 fairly large scones.

Another recipe like this one: Spinach and Feta Scones withDill

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Simple Black Bean Soup

A pot of chili is pretty easy to whip together and goes a long way toward enhancing a fall sports tailgating experience or warming up a dreary fall evening. I hate to admit this, but lately, even a pot of chili seems like a lot of work. It’s really quite shameful.

And so I returned to this old soup recipe that I think I had clipped from a box of Saltine crackers many years ago. Like maybe 15 years ago. Seriously. I no longer seem to have the original clipping, but the soup still tastes as good as I remember it. And it’s really very simple to make for all its heartiness and good flavor. Once you chop and sauté and onion and some garlic, the rest is pretty much just pouring beans, broth and salsa out of cans and jars, running a blender for a few seconds, and waiting around for the soup to cook.

I did cook dried black beans for this soup, but you could certainly use the more convenient canned beans, too. I’m sure that’s what I used to do when this was one of the few recipes I had been brave enough to tackle. I just happened to have the dried beans this time. I also still happen to have fresh chile peppers from my garden, but you could use crushed red pepper flakes to spice up your soup is that’s more convenient.

Of course, you can control the spiciness as much as you want by selecting the salsa to match your tastes. I used a simple tomato and pepper bottled salsa that was labeled "medium" in heat. You could make it super-spicy with "hot" salsa or mild or fruity or whatever. You could also make this a vegetarian, or even vegan soup by replacing the chicken broth with vegetable broth or water.
This recipe is my go-to black bean soup, partly because it is so delicious, but also because it requires very little effort. There is no shortage of black bean soup recipes out there, however, and you can pick and choose from among the ingredients in as many of them as you want to make your own custom concoction. Just don’t neglect the recipes on all those ingredient packages. They, like this one, just might be pretty darn good.

Black Bean Soup with Salsa
Adapted from a recipe on a box of crackers (I think)

I used reduced-sodium chicken broth and home-cooked black beans to make this soup. If you are using other products that might contain more salt, you may wish to reduce the added salt in the recipe. Taste for salt at the end and add more if needed.

2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon coarse salt, or to taste
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 small to medium fresh chile pepper, minced
4 ½ cups, or about 3 (16 ounce) cans, black beans, drained
2 cups chicken broth (I used low sodium)
3 cups prepared salsa
2 Tbs lime juice 

1. Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, and chile pepper. Cook and stir about 1 minute more.

2. Meanwhile, place about half the beans and 1 cup chicken broth in a blender. Process until smooth. Pour into the cooked onion mixture. Stir in remaining beans, salsa and remaining chicken broth.

3. Bring to a low boil and simmer about 30 minutes or until everything is very tender. Stir in the lime juice. Taste for seasoning and add salt if desired.

Makes 6-8 servings. This soup freezes well.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Apple Cinnamon Coffeecake

I’ve been making this cake for a couple of years. It’s really quite simple and very delicious, but I never got a photo of it, so I didn’t share it here. As it turns out, photos of this Apple Cinnamon Coffeecake do not do it justice. It mostly looks humble and, well, brown. The proof of this cake is definitely in the tasting. Well, the fact that it’s very easy to make does a lot to recommend it, too.

Since I like to have this for breakfast, I usually prepare as much of the recipe ahead of time as I can. I stir together the dry ingredients, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set it aside at room temperature. I melt the butter, whisk it well with the egg, add the vanilla and store the mixture in the refrigerator. I prepare the streusel topping and keep that in the refrigerator as well. Then, when morning comes and I get myself geared up for cake-baking, I just have to peel and chop the apple, combine the wet and dry ingredients, stir in the apple, pour the batter into a greased baking dish and top it with the streusel while the oven is preheating.

Once the cake is baked, we eat it warm. It’s deliciously spiced and studded with apple and has a slightly grainy added flavor from the addition of some whole wheat pastry flour. The streusel kind of melts into the top of the cake to form a layer that’s not quite a glaze but is heading in that direction rather than resembling a crumb topping.

This cake is flavorful and comforting right out of the oven on a cold fall weekend morning. And it’s probably best that I tend to eat it first thing in the morning, because then I can balance the inevitable second (or third) piece by taking it a little easier the rest of the day. This coffeecake is also very good for a few days after it is baked, as long as you remember to refrain from eating all of it right away. A quick blast in the microwave restores its warm-cake mind powers. And you know warm cake, especially when it features fresh fall apples and cinnamon, has mind powers. Consume at your own risk.


Apple Cinnamon Coffeecake
Adapted from CookingLight magazine.

for the streusel topping
¼ cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons cold butter cut into small pieces
for the cake
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
¾ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup diced peeled apple

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  To make the streusel topping, combine the brown sugar, 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and ½ teaspoon cinnamon in a small bowl.  Whisk together to combine.  Add the cold butter pieces and work into the flour mixture with a fork or your hands until the butter is evenly distributed in small, crumbly pieces.  Set aside.  (Cover and refrigerate if making ahead.)

2. Combine 1 cup flour, whole wheat pastry flour, sugar, baking powder, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and salt in a medium-size bowl.  Whisk or sift to combine.  Set aside.  (Cover and store at room temperature if making ahead.)

3.  In another medium-size bowl beat the egg with a whisk.  Whisk in the melted butter.  Whisk in the milk and vanilla extract.  (Cover and refrigerate if making ahead.)

4. (Preheat oven to 350 F and peel and chop the apple before proceeding if the other ingredients have been prepared ahead.)  Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until almost combined, but a few dry spots remain.  Stir in the apple.

5.  Grease an 8-inch square baking dish or spray it with cooking spray.   Pour the batter into the dish and spread it evenly.  Sprinkle the streusel mixture evenly over the top of the batter.

6.  Bake at 350 F for 40-45 minutes or until a wooden pick (or other cake-tester) inserted in the center comes out free of wet batter.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack 10 minutes.  Serve warm from the pan.  Cover leftovers, which will keep for a few days.  Rewarm in the microwave.

Makes 9 servings.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Macaroni and Cheese with Poblano Chiles

I have no memory of ever eating baked, crumb-topped macaroni and cheese as a child. My experience seems to have been limited entirely to the stuff in the blue box. It was one of the first things I learned to make (along with condensed canned soup), but I never got past that. In fact, I can’t even directly trace how I ever learned to make mac and cheese from scratch at all.

I haven’t posted any straight-up mac and cheese recipes on The Messy Apron. (This recipe could be considered a variation with extra stuff in it.) Probably the biggest reason is that I usually don’t measure the ingredients. I typically just boil up about half a box of noodles, make a roux with roughly equal amounts of butter and flour, turn it into a béchamel sauce by adding, I don’t know, some milk, and turning that into cheese sauce by melting in a few big handfuls of cheese. Sometimes I stir the sauce into the noodles and eat it right away. Sometimes I spoon it into a casserole dish, top it with buttered breadcrumbs and bake it.

This time, I did the latter, but I also added roasted poblano chile peppers and a good dose of smoked paprika. Oh, and I also measured the ingredients so I could tell you about my macaroni and cheese in recipe form.

Not too long ago (in this post and this post), I was substituting for poblanos with a combination of bell pepper and hot chiles, largely to avoid somewhat inconvenient extra shopping trips. Well, while I was picking up my must-have apples and squash, I grabbed some poblanos that happened to be at the same market so I could put exactly that ingredient in my cheesy noodles. Poblano chiles kind of look like extra dark green, extra skinny bell peppers, but they’re actually pretty spicy (although less spicy than little chiles). These were a bit past their prime by the time I photographed them. If you’re picking out fresh ones to buy, you probably could do better than these wrinkly-skinned ones, though they were just fine to eat.

I loved the slightly spicy addition to my macaroni and cheese. Just as much, I loved the chile flavor beyond its spice and the smokiness added by roasting the peppers and by the smoked paprika. You wouldn’t have to add these extras to make good mac and cheese. (This is not a particularly creamy, gooey version, though it is quite cheesy. Add milk to the sauce to make it creamier.)  You could also simply add the roasted chiles and/or smoked paprika to your favorite macaroni and cheese recipe. Especially if you like the idea of those flavors and are an expert at your own style of the dish…and don’t want to be so formal as to measure anything.


Macaroni and Cheese with Roasted Poblanos and Smoked Paprika
I used the broiler to roast my chiles, but you could also use a grill. There are more details on roasting peppers in this post. I highly recommend using rubber gloves to handle the chiles.

2 medium poblano chiles
8 ounces dry macaroni noodles
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
6 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese, about 2 firmly packed cups
1 ½ teaspoons smoked paprika
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (I used whole wheat)

1. Preheat broiler (or gas or charcoal grill). Place the chiles on a foil lined baking sheet. Place the baking sheet on a rack on the top position in the oven just under the broiler. (Or place the chiles directly on the grate of a grill.) Broil until the skin of the chiles is blackened and blistered all over. Turn the chiles to expose all sides to the heat. Remove from the oven and place in a medium-size bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand until cool enough to handle.

2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Using rubber gloves to protect your hands from the peppers, peel the blackened skin from the chiles and discard. Remove the stem, core and seeds from the peppers and discard. Finely chop the remaining pepper flesh and set aside.

3. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until slightly firmer than you would eat it.  Drain and set aside.

4. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Stir or whisk in the flour and cook, stirring frequently to keep the flour from forming lumps, for a minute or two.

5. Stir in the milk. Cook over medium-low to medium heat, stirring frequently, scraping the bottom of the pan to keep the sauce from scorching, until the sauce boils. Boil for about 30 seconds to 1 minute or until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat.

6. Stir in the cheese and smoked paprika. Place the cooked noodles in a large bowl (or, as I do, in the emptied pasta-cooking pot). Pour over the cheese sauce and stir to coat the noodles. Stir in the roasted chiles. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning if desired. (Actually, you could eat the macaroni and cheese at this point and you wouldn’t have to bake it with the breadcrumb topping if you don’t want to wait.)

7. Spoon the macaroni and cheese into a 2 quart baking dish. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and melted butter. Stir to coat the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top of the macaroni and cheese.

8. Bake at 375 F for about 20 minutes or until the topping is brown and crisp and the inside is bubbly throughout.

Makes about 6 servings. (4 if everyone’s hungry.)


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cherry Tomato Clafouti

I’d really appreciate it if you’d allow me another summer vegetable recipe. Yes, it’s October and summer is over, but I really don’t want to be the one to break that news to my cherry tomato plants. The days are still long enough and warm enough for them to ripen, and they’re continuing to produce delicious, juicy, sweet jewels.

I’m pretty sure I cut and pasted this recipe from the blog Baking Bites two years ago. I try not to hold it against myself that I just got around to trying it now. Don’t be scared by its weird name. A clafouti is really just a cake-y custard, or perhaps a custardy cake. Traditionally, a clafouti is a dessert (like this one with cherries), but this is a savory version, and it’s just as delicious.

I used a 10-inch, well-seasoned cast iron skillet for this recipe, which worked marvelously, but you could use something else of similar size. The resulting savory clafouti turned out quite a bit like a frittata, but I must share this secret: this is even easier than frittata! And frittata is really pretty darn easy! The egg and flour mixture is not only simple to mix together, but seems to be quite forgiving in performance. It puffs up in the oven, then sinks a bit when it cools, but there’s enough flour and baking powder to keep it from flopping it into a mess of weeping eggs.

This savory custard-cake is well flavored with plenty of fresh basil and feta cheese and generously studded with pockets of slumped cherry tomatoes. Since I was using plenty of salty feta, I kept the additional salt quantity small. I think it could have used just a smidge more salt, but I left exactly what I did in the recipe below and recommend salting to your own taste. Of course, you could use a different kind of cheese as well, such as goat cheese or cottage cheese. Then you could adjust the salt accordingly, depending on how salty (or not) your cheese is.

I knew, more or less, what to expect from this kind of batter, but I was really pleasantly surprised by how good this dish tasted. I can’t believe I waited so long to try it. Who knows how many more ripe tomatoes I’ll have this season? But a few more handfuls will be a good excuse to make this again. The weather forecast indicates, however, that there may be too few days of good tomato-ripening weather left. I better start collecting green tomato recipes!


Savory Cherry Tomato Clafoutis
Adapted from the blog Baking Bites

The amount of added salt in this recipe is on the low side. You could add a pinch more if you find egg dishes to be bland.

about 30 small cherry tomatoes (I used Sungold variety)
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
3 large eggs

1 cup milk
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped or torn
1/3 cup feta cheese

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Butter a 10-inch cast iron skillet. (You could probably use a cake or pie pan instead.) Arrange the cherry tomatoes evenly over the bottom of the skillet. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Whisk together to combine well. Whisk in the eggs and milk until smooth. (There should be no lumps of flour.) Stir in the basil and feta cheese.

3. Pour the flour and egg mixture over the cherry tomatoes in the pan. Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350 F. Continue baking 25-30 minutes more or until lightly browned. A knife inserted in the center should come out clean. Let stand for about 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 4-6 serving. Leftovers can be refrigerated and reheated for a day or two.

Other recipes like this one: Cherry Clafouti (sweet), Zucchini Frittata with Tomatoes on Top, Potato and Bacon Frittata

Friday, September 28, 2012

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies

Finally, an apple recipe. This is not because I’ve run out of zucchini or cherry tomatoes or kale. It’s just that all these lovely apples are so easily available and so delicious, and let’s talk about those already. Sheesh!

I’d tossed around the idea for a while of making a cookie based on this one but with dried apples and either cinnamon or caramel flavored baking chips. Well, I had planned to make my own dried apples, and I’ve done this with great success using a food dehydrator, but I just couldn’t get around to doing it again. For a couple years. Again: Sheesh!

Anyway, I came across a good-looking recipe in Tish Boyle’s The Good Cookie that required no apple dehydrating, but just a bit of sautéing instead.  This is an oatmeal cookie, with much of what you’d expect from an oatmeal cookie, but which, I was happy to discover, was even better than most. Just one apple is needed and, while I used Apple Jack brandy to enhance its flavor after cooking it up in a pan with butter, you could use apple cider or apple juice concentrate. In fact, I think the cookies would be just fine without any of those liquids at all.

I added cinnamon flavored baking chips to these cookies, which tasted great with the apple and oats. I also added a pinch of nutmeg, which I think serves to enhance the flavor combination of apples and cinnamon. When the cookies are fresh, there are nice bits of tender apple in just about every bite. Something unusual happened to my cookies after they sat overnight, however. The apples kind of dissolved into the cookie, becoming unrecognizable, but keeping the cookies pleasantly moist with a hint of apple flavor.

While the lovely local apples were the inspiration for trying this recipe, the most important thing I learned was that this is a really great oatmeal cookie recipe. The texture is moist and pleasantly chewy but not crumbly or sticky. There’s plenty of brown sugar to give them a slight caramel-y flavor and there’s a good ratio of oats to flour.  I used regular rolled oats, but the original recipe called for quick oats. Since the rest of the recipe is so well-balanced and flavorful, I have to trust that quick oats would work, although I found the regular oats to be just fine.

It think the basic cookie dough here is going to be my new go-to oatmeal cookie and it could be varied in many ways: different spices, dried fruit (raisins, of course), or maybe even chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, peanut butter chips….I love this recipe! Especially with the apple, of course.


Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from The Good Cookie by Tish Boyle

You could replace the apple brandy with apple cider or apple juice concentrate if desired.

10 tablespoons butter (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons), room temperature, divided
1 medium apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped (1/4-inch cubes)
2 tablespoons apple brandy (such as Apple Jack or Calvados), optional
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly-grated
1 ¾ cups rolled oats
1 cup cinnamon flavored baking chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add the apple and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes or so.  Add the apple brandy if using and cook about 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and set aside. 

2. Place the remaining 1 stick butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer (or other large bowl). Add the brown sugar and granulated sugar. Beat at medium speed until creamy and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth.

3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and oats. Stir to mix well. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Stir until just moistened.

4. Stir in the cinnamon chips. With a spoon or spatula, gently stir in the cooked apple. (Dough can be chilled for a few hours at this point if desired.)

5. Lightly spray cookie sheets with cooking spray or line them with parchment.  Scoop and drop the dough by heaping tablespoons (I used a 1 ½ inch scoop) onto the prepared pans. Flatten each dough mound slightly with your hands or the back of a spoon.

6. Bake at 375 F for 11-13 minutes or until set in the middle and gently browned on the edges. Let cool on the pan for a minute or two, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies. Store in an airtight container for a few days.