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.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Zucchini and Feta Dip

I know, I know. The autumnal equinox has come and gone. It’s fall already. Apples. Winter squash. But just allow me one more zucchini recipe for the end of the summer harvest season. Chances are you can find some more zucchini in your garden or your friend’s garden or a farmer’s market. And chances are you can find an occasion to serve this delicious and simple dip.

I got this idea from The Splendid Table radio show. The recipe starts with grilling sliced zucchini, which, as it turns out, is a brilliant way to get flavor into the famously bland vegetable. That grilled zucchini is mashed up and stirred together with feta cheese, lemon juice, sour cream and a bit of fresh oregano.

I think it’s absolutely essential to cook the zucchini on some kind of grill (gas or charcoal, although, I’ll admit, my gas grill ran out of propane last time I made this and I finished my zucchini in a grill pan on the stove). The slightly smoky, charred flavor it brings to the dip is what makes it special. Actually, it’s what makes it delicious. The grill char functions as a secret ingredient. Zucchini on its own would be totally uninteresting. That is not what’s happening here. What’s happening here is tangy sour cream and lemon juice balanced with briny feta and smoky grilled zucchini.

I left this dip pleasantly chunky, requiring a sturdy scooping implement, such as a pita chip. I suppose you could pulse it in the food processor if you wanted something smoother. I liked the tender zucchini and soft feta chunks embedded in the creamy sour cream. I also liked the bit of oregano, but I’m thinking fresh mint or parsley would be a good substitute. (I would use more of each of those than I used oregano in this recipe.) This dip is one of the biggest flavor surprises of the year and has quickly become my favorite application of the end-of-season piles of zucchini.


Grilled Zucchini and Feta Dip
Based on an idea from The Splendid Table

I used an 8-ball zucchini about the size of a softball for this recipe.

1 medium zucchini
olive oil
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely minced fresh oregano
½ cup sour cream

1. Preheat a charcoal or gas grill. Cut the stem from the zucchini.  Cut the zucchini into about ¼-inch slices. If using a long zucchini, slice long-ways so the pieces can be more easily grilled. Brush both sides of the slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2. Place the zucchini slices on the heated grill. Cook until soft and lightly charred on both sides. Remove from the grill and cool slightly.

3. Coarsely chop the cooked zucchini and place in a medium bowl. Briefly mash with a potato masher until still a little chunky. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper or lemon juice as needed. Serve with pita chips, raw vegetables, crackers, etc.

Makes about 2 cups.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Potato and Kraut Cakes

If you were to search for sauerkraut on this site, you will find only that this dish reminds me of something sauerkraut-like and this soup would be good served with a side of sauerkraut. This could mean that I haven’t made anything at all with sauerkraut in about 3 and a half years. The kraut drought ends now!

And how! (Sorry, I’ve been watching too many Three Stooges shorts.) These potato cakes are fabulous, and all the more so because they’re not served with sauerkraut. They are sauerkraut. In fact, by volume, there’s about the same amount of sauerkraut as there is grated potato. There’s so much sauerkraut in these potato cakes that they can’t help but be highly flavorful. 

I was also concerned that all that sauerkraut would not allow the potatoes to hold together in patty form, that they would be soggy and fall apart when flipped in the pan. A couple of things prevented that. First, the kraut should be squeezed dry before added to the potato mixture. The less liquid there is, the stickier the mixture can be.  Second, I made the patties smaller than suggested by the original recipe, which came from Food Network Magazine. Smaller cakes have less chance of being weak in the middle and I found that the smaller I made them, the easier they were to flip over in one piece. I made 6 or 7 patties from this mixture, and I think you could make even smaller ones, or tiny cakes to serve as appetizers.

I was really pleasantly surprised by the good, strong, well-balanced flavor of these potato-kraut patties. The starchy potato mellows the intensity of the sauerkraut even as the sauerkraut punches up the potatoes. The mustard was a bonus addition, one that wasn’t in the original recipe, but which I loved nonetheless. I also adapted the warm sauce in the original recipe into a simple sour cream and mustard garnish. Since I used a rather spicy mustard, the whole flavor experience was quite intense.

I could eat these potato cakes as a meal all alone (and I did bring a couple of them to work for lunch one day), but they’d be great alongside ham or kielbasa. They also were great with a side of bratwurst on a bun with even more sauerkraut. Indoor tailgate heaven, I think.


Potato and Sauerkraut Cakes
Adapted from Food Network Magazine

You can leave the skins on the potatoes or remove them as you wish. I found that as I grated the partially-cooked potatoes, most of the skin slipped off in one large piece.

¾ pound waxy potatoes (I used small red potatoes)
1 pound sauerkraut
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup finely chopped scallions
1 teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon spicy whole grain mustard
canola or vegetable oil for frying

 ¼ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons spicy whole grain mustard

1. Pierce the potato skins all over with a fork. Place them in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high power for about 3 minutes to partially cook. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

2. Meanwhile, rinse and drain the sauerkraut, squeezing out as much liquid as you can. Place the drained sauerkraut in a bowl.

3. Preheat oven to 200 F. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, grate them on the large holes of a box grater (skins and all if desired, although the skins are likely to come off in one piece and can then be discarded).  Add the grated potatoes to the bowl with the sauerkraut. Add the parsley, eggs, scallions, salt, pepper, flour and 1 tablespoon mustard. Stir together to combine.

4. Heat the oil in a large, preferably nonstick, skillet over medium heat. Form the potato mixture into 6 to 8 patties and fry in batches in the hot oil until brown on each side, about 15 minutes total. Remove from the pan with a spatula and keep warm in a 200 F. Oven until ready to serve.

5. Combine the sour cream and 2 tablespoons mustard and stir until smooth. Serve the potato cakes with a dollop of the sour cream mixture.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Another recipe like this one: Potato Patties with Fresh Cheese and Scallions

Friday, September 14, 2012

Turkey Tomatillo Chili

I’d like to take a minute to tell you how happy I am that fall seems to have arrived. It’s been a hot summer, but right now, the days are sunny but cooler and the nights are crisp. I know it’s still possible for the temperatures to soar again, or for there to be a Hot-tober for a third year, but for now, I’m comfortable. Sigh.

This cooler weather and the beginning of the televised football season (I’ve had another grumpy baseball year, so have more or less given up on that sport for now) means chili, of course. It also means bratwurst and bean dips and grilled potatoes and such, but my most recent indoor tailgating meal involved a light and tangy chili with ground turkey, peppers and tomatillos.

This recipe is based on the Turkey Chili Verde recipe from The Ultimate Cook Book by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. I suppose you could find other similar ones out there, but these authors publish reliable recipes. I’d made this one before, keeping closer to the original, which contains poblano chiles. Again, I had nice bell peppers and jalapenos instead, so I substituted them with good results. I also skipped the step of roasting the peppers. I think I must have just done that because I was too tired to include the extra step.

While I’m sure roasting (or grilling) the peppers would have added more deliciousness (I can’t remember whether I did that when I made this chili a few years ago), my chili was quite good with plain peppers. I used a red bell pepper, which erases the “verde” part of the original, but which is also nice and sweet (and was what I had on hand). This time of year all the peppers seem to be excellent, so I think any bell pepper will do.

Really, the tomatillos are the most important part of this chili recipe anyway.  I just love them. They’ve got a texture and acidity like extra-firm tomatoes, but also an especially tangy, kind of fruity punch that goes so well in a light chili. The original recipe gives permission to use canned tomatillos, and I’d say that if that’s all you have available, they make a fine substitution. I had some lovely fresh ones from the farmer’s market. They were so delicious and really didn’t require much extra preparation. Yes, the papery husks need to be removed, but they come off easily. They should also be scrubbed or rubbed well with a brush or cloth to get the slightly sticky residue off their skins.

Since this is basically the same as any other chili or stew, there’s just a lot of chopping and simmering and waiting. Waiting while it slowly bubbles away to make a rich, meaty, tangy, spicy and satisfying bowl of hot and comforting goodness to celebrate the arrival of fall.

Turkey Tomatillo Chili
Adapted from The Ultimate Cook Book by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt, plus more to taste
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 (more or less to taste) jalapeno chiles, stems removed, minced
1 to 1 ¼ pound ground turkey
1 pound fresh tomatillos, husks removed, scrubbed and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or about 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
4 cups chicken broth
3 cups cooked white beans (about 2 16-ounce cans), drained and rinsed
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1. Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and salt and sauté until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and chiles and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds more.

2. Add the turkey to the pan and cook, stirring to crumble, just until it is all no longer pink. This should take about 5-8 minutes. Add the tomatillos, oregano and cumin and cook about 1 minute more, stirring frequently.

3. Add the chicken broth and beans. Bring to a gentle boil. Cook, uncovered, at a very low boil for about 1 ½ hours, stirring occasionally.

4. Stir in the cilantro and lime juice. Taste for salt and add more if desired.

Makes 6-8 servings

Monday, September 10, 2012

Zucchini Coffee Cake

We start talking about zucchini in July, all excited at the lush bounty of this eagerly producing garden plant. Then September rolls around and there’s still a ton of the stuff and it keeps coming and we don’t want to waste healthy food and we wonder what to do with it all and why we planted so much (or any) in the first place.

 This year I planted a variety known as “8 Ball” zucchini, so called because the fruits are round instead of tubular. Like the long zucchini, they’re best when picked small, and I had visions of stuffing them and baking them, much like I do with small winter squashes. I haven’t got around to trying that yet. These little 8 Balls, however, shred just as well as any other zucchini (and taste the same, too), so are just as useful in baked goods.

Recently, I tried a coffee cake moistened and textured with said zucchini shreds. It was based on a recipe in Pillsbury: The Complete Book of Baking. The original recipe called for all-purpose flour, but I increased the Whole Food Quotient by substituting some of the flour with a multigrain flour mixture. I also used regular oats instead of quick-cooking oats, simply because I almost never have quick oats in the house.

This cake is wonderfully moist, a little dense, and just a bit crumbly so that it’s best eaten with a fork. The flavor is a little malty and nutty from the multigrain mix and a little caramel-y from the good dose of brown sugar. It’s quite delicious and satisfyingly sweet, but also more complex than a white-flour cake would be. The recipe makes a pretty big cake (13” x 9”), but it lasted well at room temperature, and I think it could be refrigerated or even frozen to extend its life if necessary.

This is really easy to throw together. All of the cake ingredients are mixed together in one bowl (I used a heavy-duty stand mixer). The batter is poured into a prepared pan, sprinkled with an oat and brown sugar streusel and baked. You don’t even have to wait until the cake completely cools to enjoy it, since it’s quite nice while still warm.  It’s quite nice a few days later, at room temperature, too. And, as part of its name implies, this Zucchini Multigrain Coffee Cake is really delicious with a side of coffee (or espresso!).


Zucchini Multigrain Coffee Cake
Adapted from Pillsbury: The Complete Book of Baking

I used the multigrain flour mix from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce, which is 2 parts each whole wheat, oat and barley flours and 1 part each millet and rye flours.

For the topping:
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup multigrain flour
½ cup rolled oats
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup unsalted butter 

For the cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup multigrain flour mix
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
2 cups shredded zucchini
½ cup butter, at room temperature
¼ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs 

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease, oil, or spray with cooking spray a 13 x 9-inch pan.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the topping ingredients, mixing with a fork or rubbing with your fingers to work in the butter until crumbly.  Set aside.

3. Combine all of the cake ingredients in a large bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer.  Mix at low speed until just moistened.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle evenly with the prepared topping. Bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or completely cooled.

Makes at least 12 servings.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Homemade Hot Pepper Sauce

My chili pepper plants may have overachieved. Like some kind of tiger mother, I encourage such behavior, especially since Bon Appetit magazine published a simple recipe for homemade hot sauce with nothing more than fresh chiles, salt and vinegar. I made half of the original recipe. Even though my pepper plants produced plenty I’d planted just a pair. The 8 ounces of fresh red chiles I used made about a cup of sauce, which will be plenty for us to use in the months to come.

This recipe is simple and its deliciousness is entirely dependent upon the flavor of the chile peppers. Fresh chiles with their stems removed are processed to a rough paste with coarse salt and then mixed with white distilled vinegar and allowed to stand for a few days. The mixture is processed again to form a puree and strained. That strained liquid is your hot sauce.

My chiles are pretty spicy, so my sauce is quite fiery. It’s mostly pure liquid hot chile essence, which is what hot sauce is all about.  I was surprised that it didn’t taste more vinegary, like a buffalo sauce, since there’s quite a bit of vinegar in the recipe. It must be that the pure hot hot hotness takes over completely. I don’t have a problem with that.

While I had lots of small, red chile peppers, you could use whatever chiles you like. If you’re a hot sauce or chile pepper enthusiast, you could try a variety of peppers or combinations. I’m thinking of making some jalapeno sauce from the other pepper plants I’ve got. (They’re doing well in my garden, too.) I’m also thinking of trying other varieties in the garden next year, just to expand my hot sauce experimentation.

I recommend some pretty serious caution when working with chiles in this recipe. Every time I touch a cut chile, the spicy oils get on my hands and don’t come off for hours, even with serious scrubbing. Sometimes my hands start burning after supper. Actually, it’s really weird. But seriously, the pepper paste and puree created in this recipe are even more potent when it comes to chile power. It’s also fairly volatile, so be careful where you breathe, too. And for the love of all that is good and decent, don’t touch your eyes until you’re absolutely certain there’s no more hot stuff on your hands!

You probably don’t need me to tell you how to use this stuff. It goes with everything, depending on your personal taste. Since there’s now plenty of it in the refrigerator, I’m going to have to start using it in more places. I’ve put it on my eggs so far and, as all you enthusiasts know, that’s a delicious application for hot sauce. It looks like things are going to be a bit spicier around here!

Homemade Hot Pepper Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine
Be very careful when handling chiles, chile paste, and the resulting hot sauce in this recipe.

8 ounces fresh chile peppers, any variety
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3/4 cup distilled white vinegar

1. Remove the stems from the chiles and place them in the bowl of a food processor. Add the salt and process to a coarse paste.

2. Transfer to a glass jar. Loosely cover the jar with a lid and let stand at room temperature for at least a day and up to seven days. (I let mine stand about 5 days or so.) You can taste the mixture regularly and decide when to move on to the next step. The longer the mixture stands, the more chile flavor you will have.

3. Pour the mixture into a blender. (You could also use a food processor for this step.) Process for about 1 minute or until smooth.

4. Strain the pureed mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a funnel placed in a jar or bottle. Press the thick mixture through the sieve with a rubber spatula or spoon to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Store in the refrigerator for up to four months. The hot sauce is likely to separate upon standing, so shake before using.

Makes about 1 cup.

One year ago: Zucchini Wheat Bread