Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Grandmama's Biscuits

**Note: This recipe has been updated and, hopefully, improved in a new post, here.

Much like Harry’s grandmother’s pumpkin pie recipe, her buttermilk biscuit recipe is perfectly delicious. It’s old-fashioned and unpretentious and leaves me with little desire to try any other biscuit recipes.

I thought I would have so much to say about Grandmama’s biscuits when I finally got around to posting their recipe to The Messy Apron. The words I can come up with just aren’t enough, though. Even the thousands of words painted by these mediocre photos fall short. No, I would have to make these biscuits and feed them to you while they’re warm, the aroma of their baking still floating gently in the air, for me to get my point across. I really, really wish I could do that.

I don’t know what makes these biscuits special. I suppose in a bygone era, they weren’t special, just the food that someone who loved you made on a regular basis, the food that you didn’t even know was an endangered species of sorts, doomed to fall to whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids. But special they are now, special enough to make only once in a while so their fluffy, refined flour and copious amount of butter don’t completely annihilate our higher WFQ* lifestyles.

Much like with a decadent dessert, the deviation from a high WFQ is totally worth it when it comes to these biscuits. They’re soft, layered, flaky and buttery. They’re slightly tangy from the buttermilk, sufficiently neutral to accompany just about anything, just as a good biscuit should. I recently baked them to serve alongside this stew and was reminded just how wonderful they are, just how perfect Grandmama’s baking must have been.

Okay, may lightning strike me down, but I did change one thing, kind of a big thing, in Grandmama’s recipe. The original called for “yellow Crisco,” which I never have on hand, so I use butter. I’m sure that back before shortening was believed to be the cheap and easy (and, erroneously, healthier) alternative, butter would have been the preferred fat for homemade biscuits. Either that or lard, and I never have lard around either. Anyway, the butter is great and I won’t apologize for using it.

These biscuits are best served shortly after they come out of the oven, but they’re fine the next day after a bit of refreshing in the microwave. I rarely serve stews without them and they’re quite nice with a bit of jam the next morning (if you can manage to keep from eating them all right away.) They’re also not too shabby as the base for strawberry shortcake. Well, I just made myself hungry for biscuits all over again, and wish I had enough buttermilk left to make more. Then I’d have you over for a snack and you could get a genuine appreciation of what I’m trying to tell you about how great Grandmama’s biscuits are!

* WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

Grandmama’s Buttermilk Biscuits

3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon fine salt
5 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup cold butter (1 stick)
1 ½ cups cultured buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 450 F. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Sift or whisk together to combine.

2. Cut the butter into small chunks. With a pastry blender or knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it is well-distributed and the butter pieces are smaller than peas and coated with flour. (I usually end up using my hands to work in the butter satisfactorily.)

3. Add the buttermilk and stir gently until all of the flour mixture is moistened. Gently knead in the bowl a few times to get the dough to come together and incorporate all the buttermilk.

4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently pat it out to about 1 inch thick. Cut the dough into about 12 biscuits with a round cutter or an inverted glass. (I used a 2 ½-inch biscuit cutter.) Place the cut biscuits on a baking sheet. (I line my baking sheet with a silicone baking mat.)

5. Bake at 450 F for 10 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Serve as soon as they are cool enough to eat. Leftovers are nice when warmed in the microwave. The biscuits also freeze well.

Makes about 1 dozen biscuits.

Other recipes like this one: Sour Cream Drop Biscuits with Lemon and Thyme (flavorful, but not as good as Grandmama’s), Spinach and Feta Scones with Dill

One year ago: Hummus

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Carne Thurday: Beef Stew with Mushrooms

Both my husband and I grew up in homes in which the guidelines of Lenten fasting were pretty strictly enforced. While neither of us celebrate the tradition of a pre-Lent Fat Tuesday binge, we seem to have involuntarily drifted into a tradition that we now refer to as Carne Thursday. Since Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent are supposed to be free of meat eating (although fish doesn’t count…I’ll withhold my opinion on that subject), the Thursday after Ash Wednesday has us feeling almost compelled to eat meat. There’s nothing quite like being told you can’t have something to make you want it more.

This year for Carne Thursday, I made a beef stew. This one was relatively simple, flavored with red wine and mushrooms, both of which are quite compatible with red meat. I based it on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine that I had clipped ages ago, but I took out most of the process of the original recipe. That original process involved wrapping up fresh herbs in cheesecloth and marinating the beef along with those herbs in red wine. I figured that since a stew cooks low and slow for so long, I’d let the braising process itself make the flavor happen and skip the marinating step. Besides, it seemed like it would be especially messy, even for me.

I also cut down the size of the recipe, partly to avoid an inundation of leftovers (although this was great a couple days later), and partly to keep the cost of the meat more manageable. I’ve started buying a locally-raised grass-finished beef when I can, and the farm that sells theirs locally has a very nice stew beef. As it is for most people, buying more sustainable foods requires a bit of a sacrifice for me, so I try to buy less but better. You could use whatever stew meat you like, or cut up a chuck roast, which is something I often do for stew.

This stew was rich and delicious with an earthy complexity contributed by the red wine and an unhidden mushroom flavor. I used an inexpensive (very) Cabernet-Merlot blend for the wine, which I thought would work well here, but I also knew I would like to have some of the rest of the bottle in a glass to accompany the stew. I had the pleasure of using locally grown cremini mushrooms in my stew as well, and they were fabulous.

For me, a meal of stew, on Carne Thursday or otherwise, isn’t complete without biscuits on the side. In fact, I usually find myself enjoying the biscuits at least as much as the stew. That’s probably because I usually make them from a fabulous buttermilk biscuit recipe that came from Harry’s Southern grandmother. You (or perhaps y’all) just can’t beat ‘em. I’ll have to tell you about them soon!

Beef Stew with Red Wine and Mushrooms
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light, July 2008

The amount of added salt needed for this recipe will likely depend on the amount of salt in the beef broth you use. Taste the stew and decide how much it needs.

2 tablespoons canola oil or vegetable oil
1 pound beef stew meat (or chuck roast) cut into 1-2 inch pieces
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
¼ teaspoon pepper, divided
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, cut into quarters
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup dry red wine
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups beef broth

1. Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the beef, ½ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides. Remove the meat from the pot and set aside in a bowl.

2. Add the onion and carrot. Cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the mushrooms and cook 3 minutes more, stirring frequently. Add the garlic. Cook and stir about 1 minute more.

3. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables. Cook and stir until the flour has coated everything. Add the wine. Cook and stir about 1 minute, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.

4. Add the browned beef and any juices that have accumulated in the bowl. Add the thyme, bay leaf and beef broth.

5. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and boil gently for about 1 ½ hours or until the beef is very tender. Lift the cover and stir occasionally. Tate the stew for salt and adjust if needed. (This will probably depend on how much salt is in the broth you use.)

Makes about 4 servings. Serve with biscuits and the rest of the bottle of red wine.

Other recipes like this one: Beef and Guinness Pot Pie, Beef Stew with Tomatillos and Roasted Poblano Chiles

One year ago: Parsnip Souffle with Gruyere

Two years ago: Naan with Whole Wheat Flour

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pasta with Prosciutto and Orange

Long, wiggly pasta tossed with paper-thin prosciutto all coated in a creamy sauce flavored with orange. That’s all that’s going on here. It promises to be fragrant and flavorful, comforting and a bit indulgent. It’s uncomplicated but still somewhat sophisticated.

Well, of course I complicated things just a little. I couldn’t get the idea of roasting citrus fruits out of my head after making this chutney, so I ramped up this simple dish, which comes from Bon Appetit magazine (you can see the original here at Epicurious), ever so slightly by adding some roasted orange slices. They gave it some additional chewy texture, a gently bitter and slightly acidic contrast to the creamy sauce, and, naturally, even more orange flavor.

I simply brushed the orange with a bit of olive oil and roasted it just like I did the Meyer lemons for the chutney recipe. While this adds a significant amount of time to the preparation of an otherwise quick and easy dish, it’s not difficult, and you could roast the orange ahead of time. For me, it was worth the additional effort (and additional dishes and pan to wash) because I really thought the orange pieces added a lot to the dish. Perhaps it’s a bit unusual to toss chunks of roasted orange in with noodles in cream sauce, but I found it fabulous. If you’re willing to consider the additional oranges, but you don’t like the bitterness of orange rind and pith, you might be able to remove it and add just the orange flesh to your pasta.

While I’m still excited about roasted citrus slices, I think I’m even more excited about the possibilities of variations on the basic techniques in this dish. How about a lemon-flavored sauce tossed with pasta and asparagus in the spring? Or a lime sauce with shrimp or scallops, cilantro and scallions? With or without the added roasted citrus those ideas both sound delicious to me. And as simple as they could be, I’m sure I’ll find some way to complicate them, creating even more dirty dishes in the process.

Pasta with Prosciutto and Roasted Orange
Adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2011

The original recipe calls for 12 ounces of pasta. I only had 10 ounces of fettuccine, and found that to be a good amount to go with the other ingredients.

2 medium-size navel oranges
olive oil for brushing the orange
10 ounces dried long pasta (I used fettuccine)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces thinly-sliced prosciutto, chopped or torn into bite-size pieces
½ cup heavy cream
freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
salt to taste if needed

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F (about 205 C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Brush the paper or mat with a thin layer of olive oil.

2. Cut about ¼ inch off each end of one of the oranges and discard those ends. Cut the orange into slices about ¼- ½ inch thick. Arrange the slices in a single layer on the oiled and lined baking sheet. Brush the orange slices with more olive oil

3. Place the orange slices in the preheated oven and roast for 10 minutes. Turn the slices over and roast about 10 minutes more. If any begin to brown, remove them from the pan. Continue to roast until the oranges have just a few brown spots. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool.

4. When the roasted orange is cool, cut the slices into bite-size wedges. Remove the orange part of the zest of the remaining orange (I like to use a microplane grater) and set aside. Squeeze the juice from the zested orange and set aside.

5. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is just a bit firmer than you like to eat it. Reserve about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water. (I try to time the pasta cooking such that it is done just when it is time to put it in the pan. If your pasta is done cooking early, drain it, being sure to reserve the some of the water, and keep it hot.)

6. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the prosciutto and cook until browned and crisp.

7. Add ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water, the orange juice, orange zest and heavy cream. Bring to a boil.

8. Add the cooked pasta and roasted orange pieces. Toss with the sauce and prosciutto and cook until the sauce is thick and has coated the pasta. If the sauce seems too thick or dry, add more of the reserved pasta water.

9. Stir in the Parmesan cheese and black pepper. Taste for salt and add some if desired. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese.

Makes about 4 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Roasted Meyer Lemon Chutney; Pasta Carbonara with Garlic Scapes and Garlic Chives; Pasta with Yellow Squash, Corn and Bacon

One year ago: Winter Squash and Chickpea Salad with Apricots and Tahini Dressing

Two years ago: Chickpea Stew with Dried Apricots

Friday, February 17, 2012

Beans with Bacon and Onions

This simple bean dish is a big fat phony. It lies right to your face with its homeliness. It threatens to turn you away with a suggestion of boredom, as if it was just another bowl of beans. Its simplicity lures you into making it anyway, though, and that’s where the magic begins. The magic of bacon and onions, that is.

Yes, this is a simple bean dish, something that uses up the rest of a pot of beans you may have cooked up for something else (you can use canned beans, too), and the last few onions, and that leftover chicken broth still in the refrigerator. It’s warm and comforting on chilly nights. It lends itself to endless substitutions, tweaks, and flavor enhancements. All of those things are great characteristics of a go-to weeknight or lazy weekend recipe. But what really sold me on it was the bacon and caramelized onions. They’re magic.

This recipe is from The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider, so, as the book’s title may suggest, it comes complete with carte blanche for the cook and you really could do whatever the heck you want with it. I’ve made this many times, and probably made some kind of improvisation each time I made it. Recently, I used pinto beans, which is what I happened to have cooked and ready, but I think you could use just about any kind of bean. I used some of my homemade red wine vinegar instead of the balsamic in the printed recipe. I also elected to keep the bacon out of the stewing process because I like it to remain crisp, and sprinkled it on top of my bowl of beans at the end.

I wrote up the recipe below to reflect the way I put it together this month, but who knows what I’ll do with it another time. You certainly can take it and do what you want with it as well. Just don’t underestimate it. It might just seem like a pan of beans, but there’s nothing quite like the aroma of onions frying in bacon fat to make you believe in magic.

Stewed Beans with Bacon and Caramelized Onions
Adapted from The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider

4 ounces thick-sliced bacon, chopped
1 pound yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
2 medium-size garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 cups cooked pinto beans (drain and rinse the beans if using canned)
2 dried bay leaves
1 ½ cups reduced or low sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Place the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook until the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on a paper towel. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings.

2. Return the pan to the heat and add the onions and salt. Stir the onions in the pan until all are coated with the bacon fat. Cover and cook over medium heat about 5 minutes or until they appear juicy in the pan. Uncover and continue to cook until the onions are very tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally. This should take about 20-25 minutes.

3. Remove about half of the onions and set aside. Add the beans, garlic, bay leaves, chicken broth, vinegar and sugar to the onions in the pan. Stir well, scraping any browned bits that are on the pan. Bring to a low boil and cook until the liquid is thick and the mixture has the consistency of a stew, about 20 minutes.

4. Remove the bay leaves and add the pepper to taste. Taste for seasoning (especially salt) and adjust as needed. Spoon into bowls and top with the reserved bacon and onions to serve.

Makes about 4 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Soup Beans; White Bean Stew with Tomatoes and Rosemary; White Bean Soup with Bacon, Squash, and Kale; White Beans with Sage and Garlic

One year ago: Yogurt Tortillas with Whole Wheat Flour

Two years ago: Black Bean and Corn Croquettes with Cilantro Cream Dipping Sauce

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Butterscotch Pudding

I didn’t go with a chocolate dessert this year for Valentine’s Day (although I did bake some Mint Chocolate Cookies late last week). It isn’t that I didn’t want something rich and creamy and decadent. I just had my rich and creamy and decadent in the form of butterscotch pudding instead.

I decided it was kind of sad that I didn’t really know how to make pudding from scratch. I’ve made more bread pudding than that creamy, gooey puddle of sweet dessert that Americans usually think of when someone says “pudding.” The few attempts I can remember trying were not very interesting, and I had come to feel like maybe there was a reason that pudding mixes in a box are as popular as they are. Heck, I like them, but I’m determined to master homemade recipes whenever possible.

I think some of my disappointments had their roots in recipes that weren’t all that great to begin with, or were compromised by a reduced-calorie philosophy. While my body type requires such a philosophy, I decided to start at the beginning and make real butterscotch pudding with whole ingredients (plus refined sugar). I think Pablo Picasso said something about having to master the rules before you can begin to break them, and I am, as yet, no master.

I reviewed several recipes and chose the one in The New Best Recipe by the editors of Cooks Illustrated magazine. (The one in The Joy of Cooking is similar, and probably great as well, and maybe I’ll try it someday, too.) These recipes are meticulously tested, so I figured it was likely to go well, and I was right. There’s no skimping in this recipe, which is loaded with butter, whole milk, heavy cream and egg yolks and flavored with a generous amount of dark brown sugar. And it’s just as rich and creamy and deliciously flavorful as it sounds.

There’s always a bit of delicacy in cooking eggs and dairy, and my milk mixture did separate a little as it cooked, giving the pudding a texture that was just a tad short of perfectly creamy. I think this may have been because I used a locally produced cream-line whole milk, which is wonderful, but perhaps prone to separation. I’m just guessing here, and I could have done something else that caused the tiny particles to separate out of the colloid. I don’t really care, because the pudding was wonderful: caramel-y sweet, super rich and thick. Definitely something I would serve in small bowls and eat slowly, savoring every delicious spoonful.

Butterscotch Pudding
Adapted from The New Best Recipe from the editors of Cooks Illustrated

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups dark brown sugar, gently packed into the measuring cup
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
3 egg yolks (from large eggs)
¼ cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Place the butter in a medium-size, heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt over medium heat. Add the dark brown sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is bubbly.

2. Gradually whisk in the heavy cream and continue whisking until very well combined and all the sugar is dissolved.

3. Gradually whisk in the milk. Heat the mixture just until it begins to boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pan. When the mixture begins to boil, remove it from the heat.

4. In a medium-size bowl, beat the egg yolks together with a whisk. Gradually whisk about ½ cup of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks. Whisk in the cornstarch until completely combined. Gradually mix the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the hot milk mixture. Stir well to combine.

5. Return the mixture to medium heat and cook, stirring slowly with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until a few bubbles reach and burst through the surface, just a few minutes. The mixture should be smooth, thick and glossy. Stir in the vanilla extract.

6. Strain the pudding mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Divide the pudding between about 6 small dessert bowls or ramekins if desired. Cover with plastic wrap. Place the plastic wrap directly on the pudding surface to prevent a skin from forming, if desired. Chill for 3 hours or more before serving. Serve cold.

Makes about 6 servings. Keep leftovers chilled for up to a few days.

Another recipe like this one: Butterscotch Pumpkin Fudge 

One year ago: Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies with Black Walnuts and Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake with Chocolate Crust

Two years ago: Stout Bread with Chocolate and Dried Cherries

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Root Vegetables in Spaghetti Sauce

Sure, the sun is getting higher in the sky and I’m beginning to crave those lovely fresh green things that are still months away, but I’m not too sad about the inevitable persistence of winter just yet. That’s because I’m still grooving on roots and tubers, those sweet and starchy winter storage vegetables. This week, I put them in my spaghetti sauce. (Which I served with penne instead of spaghetti.)

This might seem like an unusual place to use a parsnip or a rutabaga, but I got the idea from a recipe in Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman. The winter vegetables are slowly braised in a tomato sauce, taking up residence where you might usually find bell peppers or even eggplant and zucchini. There’s also a whole, lovely, delicious head of garlic left in whole cloves that cook down to a buttery, rich and very welcome addition to this wonderful sauce.

The original recipe called for celeriac (aka celery root), but they’re hard for me to find after early January. Rutabagas, on the other hand, are forever, and I love them, so I put half of a large, sweet one in my sauce. The vegetables need to be very finely chopped in order to cook in anything like a timely fashion, so I followed Chesman’s advice and went at them with a food processor. This worked really well. In addition to significantly reducing the workload for this recipe, it also allowed the vegetables to almost melt into a moderately chunky sauce.

The sweetness of the carrot and parsnip nicely balances the acidity of the tomatoes and red wine, and the more complex flavor of the rutabaga gives the sauce a unique and delicious richness. The garlic is garlic, wonderful, wonderful garlic, nicely mellowed by the long, slow cooking. I won’t say “no” to garlic.

This sauce takes a long time to cook (at least 2 hours), but once you get the vegetables peeled and coarsely chopped, there’s little left to do but wait for them to simmer. There’s a lot of sauce in this recipe, and I currently have some in the freezer to test whether I can store it effectively there long-term. (I can only go so many days in a row with leftovers.) I really like this stuff, and hope to make it one of my winter go-tos. If nothing else, it’s a delicious way to use up some lingering roots. Even if I have to admit that it is an unusual place to use a rutabaga.

Tomato Sauce with Root Vegetables
Adapted from Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman

The amount of added salt needed will likely depend on the amount already present in the canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Taste the sauce and adjust for salt as you like it.

1 medium carrot, peeled
1 medium parsnip, peeled
1 small to medium rutabaga (or half of a large one), peeled
1 medium yellow onion, peeled
¼ cup olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
1 head garlic, about 10 medium cloves, separated, peeled and left whole
1 ½ cups water
1 cup dry red wine (I used a Cabernet-Merlot blend)
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste if desired
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
cooked pasta of your choice for serving
grated Parmesan cheese for serving

1. Coarsely chop the carrot, parsnip, rutabaga and onion. Place them in a food processor fitted with a chopping blade and pulse until very finely chopped, but not completely pulverized. Remove any larger chunks of vegetables and cut finer by hand if desired.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the finely chopped vegetables and cook, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables have begun to soften. Add the garlic cloves and cook, stirring, one minute more.

3. Stir in the water and scrape up any browned bits that may have formed on the bottom of the pan (I had few if any). Add the wine, tomato paste, tomatoes, bay leaves, basil, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and bring to a boil.

4. Cover, reduce the heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally, for 2- 2 ½ hours, or until the vegetables are very soft and practically melted into the sauce. Taste for salt and other seasonings and adjust as desired. Seek out, remove, and discard the bay leaves. Serve with hot cooked pasta (I used penne rigate this time) and a generous grating of Parmesan cheese.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Pasta with Shredded Winter Vegetables, Simple Tomato-Garlic Sauce, Pizza Sauce

One year ago: Soup Beans

Two years ago: Bittersweet Almond Amaretto Truffles

Monday, February 6, 2012

"Ultimate" Cappuccino Muffins

It’s very rare for me to have breakfast without coffee anymore, and with this muffin recipe, I can make mine a double. That’s because these delicious little babies have a hefty dose of scalded milk with espresso powder right in the batter. I’m not saying I could eat one (or two or three) for breakfast and forgo the cup of coffee, but in the event of some kind of coffee-brewing mix-up, I could probably survive.

This recipe comes from The Ultimate Muffin Book by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. These authors have never steered me wrong, and I love these Cappuccino Muffins. I added a little almond extract to my muffins and stirred cinnamon directly into the batter (rather than sprinkling it on top as in the original recipe) just to customize them a bit.

I think you could customize these muffins many, many other ways as well. I’d like to add some cocoa, or the chocolate chips or hazelnut flavored syrup suggested in the book. Perhaps I could also use this coffee-infused scalded milk method to flavor up other goodies like coffeecakes, pancakes, or a loaf of bread. I’ve also considered cutting the amount of butter in the muffin recipes in this book, but I don’t get much beyond considering. I’m terrified to mess with all that deliciousness.

Of course, any further variations I might try would take some long-term preparation. It just isn’t safe for me to attempt rampant creativity in the morning before I’ve had my coffee or coffee muffin. Perhaps I’ll stick to this version of the recipe for a while. I can’t imagine I’ll get tired of it any time soon. A couple of these muffins make for the breakfast of champions! Well, coffee-drinking champions, anyway.

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

You could use instant coffee, which might be easier to find in decaf, in place of the espresso.

8 tablespoons butter (1 stick)
1 cup milk (I used 2%, but whole or skim will also do)
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Prepare a 12 cup muffin pan by spraying the cups with cooking spray or lining them with paper liners.

2. Melt the butter and set aside to cool.

3. In a small saucepan, heat the milk just until boiling, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pan. You just want to go until there are a few bubbles, not a full boil. Whisk in the instant espresso and set aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

4. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Whisk together to mix well.

5. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the egg and the cooled butter until well combined. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent cooking the egg. Whisk in the vanilla and almond extracts.

6. Add the egg and milk mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined and all the dry ingredients are just moistened. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each about ¾ full.

7. Bake at 400 F for about 18 minutes. You can test to make sure the muffins are fully baked by inserting a wooden pick in one. It should come out without any wet batter sticking to it.

8. Remove the muffins from the oven and cool them in the pan on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan and let stand on the wire rack until they are cool enough to eat. Store leftovers in a zip-top plastic bag for a day or two, or freeze, well wrapped, for longer storage.

Makes 12 muffins.

Another recipe like this one: Rhubarb Sour Cream Muffins (Got rhubarb from last summer in your freezer? Or is it just me?)

One year ago: Red Flannel Hash with Spicy Mustard

Two years ago: Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Everything's Coming Up Roasted: Meyer Lemon Chutney

The only time I ever made chutney, it turned out like a dessert sauce that some absent-minded cook had accidently mucked up with onions and vinegar. Not cool, or at least not my style. I wasn’t going to be the next great lover of chutney. When I saw this recipe at 101 Cookbooks, however, I just knew things would change. For one thing, this chutney isn’t made of berries and garlic.

It’s mostly made of lemons, but there’s a twist. Those lemons are sliced and roasted, then blended with shallots, olive oil, and just a bit of honey. I could just imagine it: slightly caramelized lemon flesh, juice, and rind, a little sharp bite from the shallots, as much honey as I wanted so it wouldn’t be too sour. Then I got the idea of trying it with Meyer lemons, which are a cross between a lemon and an orange and taste like super-sour oranges.

The Meyer lemons worked beautifully. They did release some juice while roasting that promptly caramelized and charred, so you’ll definitely want to line your baking pan with something disposable or with a silicone mat (although the charred juice was even difficult to get off my Silpat). I also used less shallot in my version, simply out of laziness. The original recipe called for the shallots to be soaked in cold water to tame their harshness. I wanted to skip that step, and I figured that including fewer shallots would also be less harsh, so that’s what I did. This exposes me as a lazy cook, but it made fine Roasted Meyer Lemon Chutney.

I ended up blending the ingredients long enough that the lemon juice and generous amount of olive oil emulsified, creating something like a chunky, tart, and slightly bitter mock mayonnaise. It’s creamy and loaded with pure but slightly caramelized Meyer lemon flavor, pleasantly tart and not so fruity that the shallots and olive oil clash negatively. It’s wonderfully delicious and surprisingly easy to make. (The hardest part for me was poking the seeds out of the lemon slices.)

Another reason I hadn’t become a chutney-lover was that I couldn’t find anything particularly satisfactory to do with it. Such has not been the case with this one. It is good spread on crackers, mixed with cream cheese and spread on celery sticks (and more crackers), and slathered on a chicken salad sandwich or a deli chicken sandwich. I didn’t add any herbs, but think it would be good with the basil or mint suggested in the recipe with which I started, or a pinch of finely minced rosemary. I’d also like to try it folded into hot rice (perhaps basmati or jasmine?) or in the dressing of a potato salad (like this one), or stirred into an aioli for dipping roasted vegetables. And could I make this with other citrus fruits: oranges, limes, or tangerines? Kumquats perhaps?

And so I can say that my life has indeed been changed for the better with this delicious chutney recipe. I may now give other chutney recipes a try and become a chutney evangelist! I hope I don’t become too annoying.

Roasted Meyer Lemon Chutney
Adapted from this recipe at 101 Cookbooks where it was adapted from All About Roasting by Molly Stevens

This is a good place to use organic lemons, but if you can’t, be sure to scrub your lemons well to remove any residues.

You could use regular lemons here. Since they will probably be larger, I suggest using just 3, or about 15-20 ounces total.

4 Meyer lemons (about 3 ounces or 90 grams each)
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot (about ½ ounce or 15 grams, or one small shallot)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) honey, plus more to taste
¼ teaspoon (about 2 heavy pinches) coarse salt, plus more to taste
a few grinds of black pepper from a pepper mill (or a pinch of ground pepper)
¼ cup (about 60 ml) olive oil (preferably extra-virgin), plus more for brushing the lemon slices

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F (about 205 C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Brush the paper or mat with a thin layer of olive oil.

2. Cut 1 lemon in half and set it aside. Cut about ¼ inch off each end of the remaining 3 lemons and discard those ends. Cut the 3 lemons into slices about ½ inch thick. Remove any seeds from the lemon slices. Arrange the slices in a single layer on the oiled and lined baking sheet. Brush the lemons with more olive oil

3. Place the lemons in the preheated oven and roast for 10 minutes. Turn the lemon slices over and roast about 10 minutes more. If any begin to brown, remove them from the pan. Continue to roast until the lemons are very tender and have just a few brown spots. Remove the roasted lemons from the pan and set aside to cool.

4. When the lemons are cool enough to handle, place them in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Add the shallots and honey. Pulse the processor several times until the lemons are coarsely chopped.

5. Add the juice from ½ of the lemon you set aside earlier plus the salt, pepper, and olive oil. Process until the chutney is creamy, but there are still some visible lemon chunks. Taste the chutney and add salt, pepper, honey or lemon juice to taste. Transfer to a small bowl or storage container and let stand for at least 2 hours.

Makes 1 ¼- 1 ½ cups. Best served at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate leftovers, which will last for several days.

Another recipe like this one: Feta and Lemon Vinaigrette

One year ago: Beer Cheese Soup with Bratwurst (sniff, sniff…no Packer Super Bowl this year)

Two years ago: Potatoes Anna with Hidden Beets