Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cookies for Breakfast: Peanut Butter and Banana

As most kids know, the human condition is characterized by an overwhelming desire to eat cookies for breakfast. Let there be no more deprivation! Just make the right cookies, like from the recipe for Peanut Butter and Banana Breakfast Cookies that I got from an old clipping from Midwest Living magazine.

These cookies are soft and chewy, heading just a little toward a dense muffin in texture, but not quite cakey enough to call them a muffin, or even a muffookie or cookuffin. They’re definitely a cookie. They may be loaded with all kinds of high Whole Food Quotient good-for-you stuff like whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and oatmeal, but they have enough brown sugar, bananas and raisins to keep them from tasting like some kind of nuts-and-twigs health food breakfast. Their flavor is quite peanut-butter-and-banana forward, and if you like that combination, you probably won’t be disappointed. These cookies are not particularly sweet, however, at least not as sweet as you might expect your average cookies to be.

I was surprised by how much I loved these little breaches of proper breakfast food law. I don’t think I had ever eaten anything peanut-butter-and-banana flavored before (my husband eats the storied sandwiches, but I never found the need to follow him on that road), but I can really say it’s delicious here. I’ve also got oats on the brain right now (I’m hoping to have more on that in a future post), so their subtle flavor and chewy texture was quite satisfying.

Of course, any time I’m given a chance to make myself a batch of cookies for breakfast, I’m going to jump at it. And if they taste wonderful, that’s just icing on the cake. Mmmmm….cake for breakfast…that’s another story.

Peanut Butter and Banana Breakfast Cookies
Adapted from Midwest Living magazine, October 2007

These cookies really are best the day they’re made. You can freeze them as soon as they cool and thaw as needed, however, and they’re still very good.

½ cup smooth peanut butter
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 medium bananas)
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup wheat germ
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (I think you could use “quick oats,” too)
1 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease cookie sheets or spray them with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer, combine peanut butter and butter. Beat with an electric mixer or using the paddle attachment of the stand mixer at medium speed until well-mixed and fluffy, about 30 seconds.

3. Add the brown sugar and beat until combined. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well-combined. Beat in the mashed banana.

4. In another bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, wheat germ, baking soda, and salt. Sift or stir with a whisk to combine well.

5. Gradually mix the flour mixture into the peanut butter mixture. Stir in the oats and raisins.

6. Scoop about ¼ cup dough for each cookie and drop on the prepared cookie sheets, about 4 inches apart. Bake at 350 F for 15 to 17 minutes or until the tops and edges are just browned. Cool 1 minute on the pan. Remove the cookies from the pan and cool on a wire rack. The cookies are best when enjoyed within several hours of baking, but they also freeze well.

Makes 20 cookies.

Other recipes like this one: Double Banana Walnut Pancakes, Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies with Black Walnuts, Apricot and Almond Cookies with White Chocolate

Two years ago: Roasted Cauliflower, Chickpeas and Olives

Monday, March 26, 2012

Infused Sesame Oil and Sesame Noodle Salad

I love sesame oil. I love it so much that I probably would have been happy for the rest of my life (at least with regard to sesame oil) if I had never run across the concept of infusing it with other flavors. I did run across this concept, however, years ago in the form of Chinese Five Flavor Oil in A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider.

Sesame oil infused with scallion, ginger, chile, and Szechuan peppercorn flavors had to be even better than plain sesame oil didn’t it? Well, I certainly thought so, and I made some of this a long time ago. Unfortunately, I don’t really remember it, nor do I remember why I didn’t make it again right away. That just meant I had to make it now, to see what the heck was the matter with me in my previous cooking life.

A taste of this attempt at Infused Sesame Oil gave me a clue as to why I might not have been all that excited about it before. The infused flavors are subtle, and this recipe is really enhanced by the Szechuan peppercorns, which I’m sure I hadn’t used before. (There was a time that they were virtually impossible to get in the U. S.). I’m always delightfully amazed at the way Szechuan peppercorns zing on my tongue (I recently read that this sensation is caused by hydroxyl-α-sanshool, in case you’re interested), and their use in this infusion lends a small touch of that sensation to the oil. I’m sure I was missing that, all those years ago, without really knowing it.

I stayed with A New Way to Cook for my first application of this tasty oil and made a very simple noodle salad with just a bit of the oil in the dressing. I love the cold slippery noodles and the sesame-soy-vinegar flavor of the dressing, which is meant to replace heavier, more caloric peanut butter or tahini dressings, and does so very nicely. I kept the salad pretty basic (much like the recipe in the book), largely because I usually have the ingredients in this simple version on hand. And perhaps if I know that it can really be this quick and easy, I’ll remember to make it more often. Of course, as the seasons progress, other ingredients could be included, like thinly sliced bell pepper, cucumber, or spicy greens.

You could use plain sesame oil to make the noodle salad if you don’t want to make the infused oil. If you do flavor your oil, however, you’re probably going to have to find some other uses for it. (It makes about ¾ cup.) You could use it wherever you use plain sesame oil, including in salad dressings (such as those in this recipe and this recipe). I also like to drizzle it on fried rice and I’ll even cook with it if I really want that particular flavor in whatever I’m sautéing. With all the flavored oil I now have in the refrigerator, I’m hoping to test it out even more in the next few weeks. Of course, I love the Sesame Noodle Salad so much, I could just make that about a hundred times and still be pretty happy.

Infused Sesame Oil
Adapted from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider

I only had canola oil to use instead of peanut oil. It was fine, but I think peanut oil would be more flavorful.

My oil didn’t turn out very spicy, but I think that’s because my dried chile peppers have been in my cupboard too long.

2 scallions (green onions)
8 slices very clean fresh ginger root (each about the size of a quarter)
½ cup Asian sesame oil
¼ cup peanut or canola oil
1 dried red chile pepper, broken into several pieces
1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns

1. Cut off the roots and about half of the dark green part of the top of the scallions. Cut the ginger slices in quarters.

2. Combine the sesame oil and peanut oil in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat. To test whether the oil is hot enough, drop in a small piece of the chile. If it sizzles in the oil, add the remaining chile. (If not, heat longer and test again.) Heat the chile in the oil only for about 5 seconds.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the scallions, ginger, and Szechuan peppercorns. Cover the pan leaving the lid partially vented. Let stand for at least an hour, but preferably longer, up to 8 hours.

4. Strain out the solid ingredients. Use as you would plain sesame oil, or keep in the refrigerator in a sealed jar for up to 3 months.

Makes about ¾ cup.

Sesame Noodle Salad
Adapted from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider

8 ounces spaghetti (or use Asian noodles, or whatever long noodle you like)
1 tablespoon Infused Sesame Oil (see above) or plain Asian sesame oil
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
½ cup finely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
¼ cup finely chopped roasted peanuts

1. Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until as tender as you like. (I usually cook mine a little more tender than the definition of al dente.) Drain the spaghetti and rinse with cold water until cooled. Drain completely and place in a large bowl.

2. In a small bowl, combine the Infused Sesame Oil, tamari or soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar. Whisk together until well combined.

3. Add the scallions and cilantro to the bowl with the noodles. Pour over the dressing mixture and toss all together to combine ingredients and coat with the dressing. Chill if desired. Sprinkle the peanuts on top of the noodles. If making this salad ahead, wait to add the peanuts until just before serving.

Makes about 4 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Noodles with Cilantro, Green Onions and Peanuts (a warm noodle dish with a different “dressing”; Warm Noodles with Cilantro and Coconut Lime Dressing

Two years ago: Turkey Salad with Sherry Vinegar and Smoked Paprika

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Potato Cheese Patties

I used to make these little potato and fresh cheese patties fairly often, but, since I’ve never written about them in these pages, that must mean I haven’t made them since before April 16, 2009 when I started this blog. I’m absolutely certain I would have told you about them if I had.

These potato patties are pleasantly easy to make. Really, they’re just mashed potatoes flavored with fresh cheese, scallions and a few dashes of seasoning (which you could totally customize to your own taste), formed into cakes and browned in a pan. Most of the time required to make them is spent waiting around (or doing something else if you’re one of those people) first while the potatoes cook and cool, then while the patties chill until firm.

I made the queso fresco for these this time, using the recipe for “Fresh Cheese, the Easy Way” in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. The method is the same as for this homemade cottage cheese (also from that cookbook). The curds are just squeezed together and drained longer to make a firmer cheese. Of course, you could use store-bought queso fresco and I think other shredded cheeses, such as cheddar or Monterey Jack, would work, too.

The original recipe is titled “Ecuadorean Potato-and-Cheese Patties” (or Llapingachos Ecuatorianos), but I definitely took them out of Ecuador by adding Aleppo pepper, which has its roots in Syria and Turkey. You wouldn’t have to use Aleppo pepper (I just happen to love it), and could replace it with crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne, or you could leave it out entirely for a less spicy potato patty. I like to serve these with salsa and sour cream on top, but if you’ve got good fresh tomatoes or a nice fresh pico de gallo in season, that would be fabulous, too.

In fact, you could change a lot of things in this recipe to make it more to your taste. I think the proportions of the main ingredients are just about right for a potato cake that holds together well, so I probably wouldn’t mess too much with that. Other seasonings, such as curry powder might be welcome in taking these in another direction, and, as I suggested above, other cheeses would probably be good as well. I really have to go back to making these deliciously simple little potato cakes more often, although with all the variations I could try, they may never go back to Ecuador again.

Potato Patties with Fresh Cheese and Scallions
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, April 2001

I really recommend using a starchy baking potato for this recipe. When I’ve tried other types, such as red boiling potatoes, the patties did not hold together well.

1 ¼- 1 ½ pounds Russet or other baking potatoes
1 ¾ teaspoon coarse salt, divided
3 ounces queso fresco, crumbled
1 medium scallion, finely minced (about 2 tablespoons)
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or crushed red pepper flakes or 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2-3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil for frying

1. Peel and coarsely chop the potatoes. Place them in a medium-size pot. Add 1 ½ teaspoons salt and enough water to cover the potatoes by a few inches. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20-25 minutes.

2. Drain the potatoes and place them in a medium-size bowl. Mash with a potato masher until well-smashed. Some small potato chunks are okay. Set aside to cool about 15 minutes or until cool enough to handle.

3. Add the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, queso fresco, scallion, cumin, chili powder, and Aleppo pepper. Stir until well combined.

4. Form the potato mixture into patties about 2 ½-3 inches in diameter. (You should get about 12 of them.) Place them in a single layer on a pan or tray and chill about 20 minutes or until firm.

5. Film the surface of a large (preferably nonstick) skillet with canola oil (about 1-2 tablespoons). Heat over medium heat until shimmering. Place as many potato patties in the pan as will fit without crowding. Cook 3-5 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom. Carefully flip the patties with a spatula and continue to cook 3-5 minutes more or until browned. Remove from the pan and repeat with the remaining chilled patties, adding more oil to the pan if needed. Serve with salsa or pico de gallo and sour cream.

Makes about 12 patties, or about 4 servings. These are great for any meal, and leftovers are nice at breakfast.

Other recipes like this one: Grilled Potatoes with Lime-Herb Dipping Sauce, Spicy Potato and Tomato Gratin with Caramelized Onions

Two years ago: Celeriac, Potato and Wild Rice Soup

Monday, March 19, 2012

Brown and Wild Rice with Asparagus and Peas: Salad for an Early Spring

It’s hard to know which direction to go in my seasonal adventures when the seasons become as messed-up as my kitchen! Summer has recently fallen out of the sky, crushing the end of winter and taking over for spring. This unsettles me not a little. It’s as hot as July, but the typical May and June foods haven’t even been planted let alone harvested. One hardly even knows what to eat!

I was in denial about this uncomfortable phenomenon, but I’ve finally begun to adjust. I got out the grill, dared to plant some arugula and mesclun lettuce mix in pots, and compromised my local food principles (it’s not the first time, nor will it be the last) by buying some asparagus, which I usually wait for until May or June. Since the salad weather was upon me, whether I was ready or not, I used some of this asparagus in a brown and wild rice salad. I also tossed in some frozen peas, nice fresh parsley and green onions (aka scallions), and topped it all off with a simple lemon vinaigrette.

I love wild rice, and the brown basmati rice I used with it here is a good partner. The dressing is quite tart (you could adjust it to taste), but the starchiness of the brown rice, grassy, tea-like notes of the wild rice, and the sweetness of the peas and asparagus all hold up under it well. This whole salad also holds up well in the refrigerator for a couple days, and it’s nice to have its springtime, whole-food goodness waiting for me when the heat (yes, heat!…in March! Minnesota!) makes me want a lazy lunch or side dish for supper.

This kind of salad is wide open to many improvisations, and you can customize it based on whatever you have available. White beans, Parmesan or feta cheese, and toasted almonds would all be good to add, and you could experiment with other herbs. As the seasons progress (if they even remember how to do so properly), you could switch in other vegetables like green beans, sugar snap peas, radishes, zucchini, cucumbers…well, it seems like I’m getting in the right mindset after all. Maybe I am ready for an early spring, or summer, or whatever this is.

…and I’ll spare you my commentary on global climate change.

Brown and Wild Rice Salad with Asparagus and Peas

4 ounces asparagus spears
1 cup cooked and cooled brown rice
1 cup cooked and cooled wild rice
½ cup frozen peas, thawed (or fresh peas if you have them)
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
3 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
a pinch or a few grinds black pepper
1 teaspoon honey

1. Break or cut the tough ends off the bottom of the asparagus spears. Cut the spears into 1-1 ½ inch pieces. Place the pieces in small microwave-safe bowl or baking dish. Add a splash of water to the dish and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Poke several holes in the plastic wrap. (This will allow steam to escape while cooking.)

2. Microwave on high power 2 minutes. Very carefully (the steam will come gushing out) remove the plastic wrap from the bowl and place the cooked asparagus in a colander or sieve. Run cold water over the asparagus to cool it. Drain well and place in a large bowl.

3. To the asparagus, add the brown rice, wild rice, peas, parsley, and scallions.

4. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Whisk together until well blended and smooth. Alternatively, you could combine the dressing ingredients in a small jar and shake vigorously to blend.

5. Pour the dressing over the asparagus mixture and toss to coat and evenly distribute the ingredients. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Makes 4-6 servings. Cover and refrigerate leftovers.

Other recipes like this one: Barley and Wild Rice Salad with Cranberry Vinaigrette, Three Grain Salad with White Beans and Artichokes, Spring Vegetable Tabbouleh

Two years ago: Dark Rye Bread

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Minne-soda Bread

Bakers all over the blogosphere are making Irish Soda Bread in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day. Soda bread, which is much like a giant biscuit, is a good choice for this holiday, since it has the word Irish in the title, but it also has a more universal appeal than some other dishes for this holiday. It’s pretty quick and easy, tastes good, is non-alcoholic, and doesn’t involve corning beef.

I remember really liking the soda bread I made ages ago from my Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (which is now getting kind of old), but I don’t think I ever made it again, not even for St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe it was because I don’t really know that much about being Irish or the connections of soda bread to being Irish. Sure, I’ve read Frank McCourt, but I don’t think his memoirs touched the least bit on soda bread. Anyway, it was time for me to jump on the blogosphere bandwagon (blogowagon?) and get back to soda bread. I still don’t know much about being Irish, but I now know a little about being Minnesotan, so I made my soda bread with a little Minnesota spin. A Minne-soda bread, if you will.

And a quintessential Minnesota ingredient is wild rice, so I put some in my bread in the form of cooked wild rice grains and wild rice flour. It may be difficult to find wild rice flour, which is just ground wild rice, much the way wheat flour is ground wheat grains. It is also somewhat expensive, so if you don’t think the quest for it is worth your time and money, you can replace it with more whole wheat pastry flour. I was lucky enough to find my wild rice flour locally. (It came from this place, although, as I am writing this it seems to be out of stock.) If you like wild rice and are a little adventurous in the kitchen, I recommend trying to get some.

The flour adds the wonderful grainy, grassy, slightly tea-like taste of wild rice to the whole loaf. Since it is gluten free, however, it needs the wheat flours (I used both all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flour here) to make a biscuit-like quick bread that holds together. It is still slightly dense and just a little crumbly, but that is the nature of whole grain baking, and I’ve come to love that nature. I think you could probably add wild rice flour to a gluten-free mix if you like the flavor and I’ve been thinking of adding it to the multigrain flour mix I like to use (from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce).

The cooked wild rice gives the soda bread even more flavor and a pleasant texture. When the loaf is fresh, the wild rice grains are lightly crispy, which was a nice surprise. As the loaf softens upon standing, the grains also soften to a chewier texture. The dried cranberries, which could have come from Minnesota, but more likely came from just over the river in Wisconsin, add their delicious, fruity sweet-tartness and chewiness. This soda bread is not sweet, since the only added sugar is that which went in to sweetening the dried cranberries. I loved it this way because the taste and aroma of the whole grains is wonderful, but I’m thinking a sweetened version might have to include some Minnesota maple syrup. I stirred some of that very syrup into some softened butter and spread it on my Minne-soda bread to test the theory, and it was quite fantastic.

Folks may think of Minnesota as a place where mostly people from Scandinavia and Finland settled, but if I understand it correctly, the Irish had the idea before they did. And of course, the Native Americans, had the idea first, as well as the idea to harvest the wonderful wild rice, or Mahnomin, so perhaps this recipe is a combination of ideas. No, it doesn’t make up for the errors of the past, but it does make up a mighty fine soda bread. A Minne-soda bread.

Soda Bread with Wild Rice and Cranberries
Based on an Irish Soda Bread recipe from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1989 edition.

You can use more whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour instead of the wild rice flour.

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup wild rice flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup cooked wild rice
½ cup sweetened dried cranberries (Craisins)
1 egg
¾ cup buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper or by greasing it with oil or cooking spray.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, wild rice flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir together with a whisk to mix well. Stir in the wild rice and cranberries.

3. Lightly beat the egg in another bowl. Whisk in the buttermilk until well combined.

4. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir together until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Gently knead the mixture in the bowl to form a rough ball and ensure all the dry ingredients are moistened.

5. Shape the dough into a slightly flattened ball, about 6 inches in diameter. Place the loaf on the prepared baking sheet. Cut a cross-shape into the top of the loaf about ¼- ½ inch deep. Bake at 375 F for about 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 12-16 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Grandmama’s Buttermilk Biscuits, Cranberry Walnut Cornbread

Two years ago: Beef and Guinness Pot Pie

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cheesy Baked Pasta

Usually when I make macaroni and cheese, which isn’t very often, I don’t really follow a recipe. I don’t even write down what I did, which makes reproducing something that turned out especially well nearly impossible. Well, this time, I began with a real recipe for something that’s basically a kicked-up mac and cheese and when I deviated from it, I actually wrote down what I did. Maybe this blog is good for me after all.

This cheesy baked pasta dish is loaded with leeks for lots of flavor, but also deviates from simpler macaroni and cheese recipes by adding an egg to the sauce. The result is a richer sauce that begins to feel a sort of like a custard with lots of pasta embedded in it. I also decided to take the onion theme a little further by adding some scallions, and my love of sour cream and onion potato chips (which I almost never actually allow myself to eat) inspired me to stir some sour cream into the sauce mixture as well.

While leeks bring dishes a nice, delicate onion flavor with just a hint of something reminiscent of garlic, they can also bring a lot of dirt, which is really not cool. Since the sandy grit can get way down into the layers of the leeks, I like to rinse off the obvious dirt on the outside, then slice the leeks and dunk the slices in a big water bath. This method is kind of like washing spinach or salad greens and if you swish the leek slices around and gently rub them together the sand will be washed away and settle out while the leeks float. I then just gather them up and drain them. The process is a bit of work, but, of course, gritty food is unacceptable.

This baked pasta dish is rich and cheesy, but also pleasantly tangy from both the sharp cheddar and the sour cream. The onions, both the leeks and the scallions, aren’t overpowering, but they do add a lot of flavor. You could make this an even richer dish by using whole milk (I used 2%). Of course you could make this into anything you want just by remembering that it is a modified mac and cheese, but the slight custardy nature of the sauce made me think I might be able to use these flavors in a soufflé. Well, even though I pared down the size of the original recipe, I’ve still got some leftovers to contemplate before I move off in other directions. Lovely, rich, sour-cream-and-onion-y, delicious leftovers.

Cheesy Baked Pasta with Sour Cream and Onion
Based on a recipe from Bon Appetit, March 2009

You can boil the water and cook the pasta while preparing the sauce.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups thinly sliced leek, white and light green parts, well washed (about 2 medium leeks)
½ cup chopped scallions
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups milk (I used 2%)
8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese (about 2 cups, packed)
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 egg
½ cup sour cream (I used reduced-fat)
8 ounces short pasta (I used penne rigate)

1. Prepare a shallow 2-quart baking dish by spraying it with cooking spray or lightly greasing with butter. Preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and stir to coat with the melted butter. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat about 10 minutes or until the leeks are tender. Stir occasionally. Do not allow the leeks to brown.

3. When the leeks are tender, stir in the scallions, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook 2 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add the flour and cook, stirring frequently, about 1 minute.

4. Stir in the milk. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often. Add the cheese and mustard and stir until the cheese has melted. Remove from the heat. Taste the cheese sauce and add salt or other seasonings if desired. (I did not add any salt to my sauce.)

5. In a medium bowl, combine the egg and sour cream. Whisk together until smooth. Remove about ½ cup of the cheese mixture and whisk it into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour the egg mixture back into the remaining cheese mixture and stir until smooth.

6. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is a little more firm than you like to eat it. (The pasta will soften more as it bakes with the sauce.) Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

7. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir until well coated. Pour or spoon the pasta and sauce into the prepared baking dish. The sauce may seem loose and runny, but it will firm up upon baking.

8. Bake the pasta mixture at 400 F for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce is set and the top is gently browned. Remove from the oven and let stand about 10 minutes.

Makes about 4 large or 6 smaller servings.

Other recipes like this one: Broccoli Cheese Casserole with Mustard Rye Croutons, Chicken and Vegetable Tetrazzini, Spaghetti Squash Casserole with Bacon and Cheddar

Two years ago: Spaghetti Pie

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Chocolate Granola

I’m afraid Grandmama’s Biscuits were a bad influence on me. Their fluffy, white flour goodness put me in a refined-grain spiral of delicious destruction. I followed them with a loaf of homemade white bread and a batch of this no-knead white bread dough from which I made a rustic loaf to serve alongside Italian Chickpeas with white pasta and some Pain au Chocolate.

It was time for some high WFQ* therapy, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to make something that tasted great. I hadn’t made Granola for a while, so I thought I’d try a new recipe. Okay, so this recipe had been languishing in my stash for over 4 years. All the more reason to dig it out and make some chocolate granola.

This recipe follows the basic theory of granola-baking with which I have become familiar, but there are a few twists as well. The usual sweet, syrupy coating that covers and flavors the rolled oats and nuts is spiked with bittersweet chocolate. The coating mixture is thick, and I found it easiest to get my hands right in to get it well-distributed amongst the oats and almonds. The granola then bakes at a lower temperature for a shorter time than in other granola recipes I’ve made. This makes for a slightly less crunchy and toasty granola, but also one without burned chocolate in it.

I focused on the affinity between chocolate and almond flavors when making changes to the original recipe. I used chopped almonds, almond oil, which I love in granola anyway, almond extract in addition to vanilla, and dried cherries. You could use whatever nuts you like, canola oil, all vanilla extract, and whatever dried fruit you like. I do, however, highly recommend the chocolate-almond-cherry combination.

This granola is not super-sweet, so doesn’t quite demand to be served for dessert instead of breakfast. The chocolate flavor is there but subtle and the almonds and cherries performance-enhance each other deliciously. I’m thrilled that under the chocolaty coating there resides chopped almonds and whole grains. Otherwise, I’d have to feel guilty about the way I keep returning to the bowl for handful after handful of this lovely, semi-sweet granola.

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

Chocolate, Almond, and Cherry Granola
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine, December 2007

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
¼ cup wheat germ
1 cup chopped almonds
½ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons almond oil or canola oil
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup dried cherries

1. Preheat oven to 300 F. Prepare a large, rimmed baking sheet by lining it with a silicone baking mat or parchment or foil coated with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, wheat germ and almonds. Set aside

3. In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, honey and almond oil. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is warm and forms a thick paste.

4. Add the chocolate, salt and cinnamon. Stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Return to the heat and warm gently if the mixture cools too much to melt the chocolate. Stir in the vanilla and almond extract.

5. Pour the sugar mixture over the oat mixture and stir or work with your hands to combine. I found that working the mixture with my hands allowed for more even distribution of the thick coating. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

6. Bake at 300 F for 20 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and place the pan on a wire cooling rack. Stir the granola again. Let stand until cooled slightly. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the dried cherries. Cool completely.

Makes 6-7 cups. Store for a few days at room temperature in an airtight container or freeze in a freezer-safe container or zip-top bag.

Other recipes like this one: Granola, Gingerbread Granola, Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies with Black Walnuts (you could use almonds instead of the walnuts)

One year ago: Barley Pancakes with Orange Juice and Vanilla

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ricotta Tart with Peppers and Onions

A couple weeks ago, I fell under the spell of brightly-colored vegetables trucked in from Florida. Those cute, little, super-sweet miniature bell peppers came a long way to my table, but they went even further in brightening my day as icons of pure sunshine and a promise of something other than this odd, dull season between winter and spring.

 While I think I would have been happy just eating these peppers by the handful, I did try them in a real recipe as well. I slowly cooked them along with some onion and stuffed them into a ricotta tart based on this one. The first attempt was delicious, but the filling was too shallow in the crust, so I decided to try again (there were really a lot of these peppers in town).

I could have made a smaller tart (I have a smaller rectangular tart pan), which would have required an adjustment in the crust recipe. Unfortunately, though I had never had a problem before with this style of crust (made with olive oil), my first crust for the pepper tart was a disaster and had to be tossed out and the second one was only mediocre. I really didn’t feel like it was a good time to try scaling down the crust recipe to make a smaller tart.

I made a greater volume of filling instead. It was the simplest solution and made a great tart. The peppers and onions were delicious and the proportion of eggs and ricotta cheese make for a firm but reasonably fluffy filling. I made my ricotta using the recipe here at The Splendid Table, although I used a mixture of 2% and whole milk, which is what I had in the refrigerator. I think you could swap out some of the ricotta for other cheeses if you like, or add some sausage, olives or feta cheese. I was very happy with the addition of dried herbs and fennel seed to both the crust and the filling, but, of course, you could adjust that to taste as well.

When I made the second version of this tart, represented by the recipe below, I had much more success with the crust, so I’m still willing to endorse it as a good choice for savory tarts. It might need a bit of coaxing to cover the pan properly, but its taste and texture are great. And it’s a great new place to nestle those cute little peppers that are so far from home.

Ricotta Tart with Peppers and Onions
Partially based on a recipe in Eating Well magazine

For the crust:
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour
¼ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon ground or crushed fennel seeds
¾ teaspoon fine salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons cold water, divided

For the filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces sweet bell peppers, preferably red, yellow or orange, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
4 ounces onion, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 large eggs
½ cup ricotta cheese
¼ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon ground or crushed fennel seeds
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. To prepare the crust, combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, ¼ teaspoon dried basil, ¼ teaspoon dried oregano, ¼ teaspoon ground fennel seeds and fine salt in a medium-size bowl. Whisk together to combine well.

2. Add the 1/3 cup olive oil and 4 tablespoons water. Stir together until all of the dry ingredients are well moistened, gradually adding the remaining water as needed. Gently knead and press the dough together into a ball. Form the ball into a firm disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 400 F. Prepare a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom by spraying it with cooking spray or brushing it with oil. (A nonstick pan may not require this step.) On a floured surface, roll the chilled dough into a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Transfer the dough to the tart pan and press it into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Trim away any extra dough and use it to patch any holes or press it into the bottom of the pan.

4. Gently prick the surface of the dough on the bottom and sides with a fork. Place the tart pan on a large baking sheet for ease of handling. Bake at 400 F until just beginning to brown, about 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack at least 15 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, heat the 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peppers, onions and ¼ teaspoon coarse salt. Cover and cook about 5 minutes. The peppers and onions should have released some of their juices.

6. Uncover, reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are very soft and the onions are golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook and stir about 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

7. Place the eggs in a large bowl. Beat with a whisk. Add the ricotta, ¼ teaspoon dried basil, ¼ teaspoon dried oregano, ¼ teaspoon ground fennel seeds, and Parmesan. Stir well. Stir in the cooked peppers and onions and parsley.

8. Transfer the egg mixture to the prepared tart crust. Bake (on the baking sheet) at 400 F for about 30 minutes or until the filling is set and beginning to brown on top. Cool slightly. Remove the outer rim of the pan and slice to serve.

Makes 6-8 main-dish servings.

Other recipes like this one: Chard Tart with Feta Cheese and Olives, Summer Squash Galette with Summer Squash and Feta, Corn and Green Onion Tart with Bacon

One year ago: Three Grain Salad with White Beans and Artichokes

Two years ago: Almond Butter Granola Bars