Thursday, September 26, 2013

Nasturtium Vinaigrette

My nasturtiums were some of the very few plants that did well for me this year in my garden. Perhaps the fact that I planted three packages of seeds contributed to that success. I like the slightly peppery, slightly perfume-y flavor of the flowers and will toss them in green salads or even in place of the squash blossoms in this soup. It was kind of exciting to find a recipe that actually called for them as a flavor element and I capitalized on my opportunity to try this simple salad dressing with nasturtium petals in it.

This mostly tastes like a basic vinaigrette with a ghostly hint of complexity from the flavorful petals. It would probably go best on your mildest green salad ingredients. (The late-season lettuce I ate it with was a little bitter and may have masked some of the more delicate floral flavors.) Something really mild, like sprouts, might be a tasty companion, too. 

I decreased the proportion of olive oil in this recipe just because I prefer my salad dressings a little more acidic and less oily. For a more traditional vinaigrette, you could increase the oil to up to ½ cup. You could also use a different vinegar, but I would recommend something relatively mild to keep the flavors of the flowers coming through.

It’s mostly just fun and pretty and unique to put edible flowers in salads and you could use others in this dressing or in the salads you dress. Just be absolutely certain that the flowers you’re planning to eat are indeed edible. It’s also a good idea to use flowers that haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. And be sure to clean them thoroughly, too. Lots of little bugs love flowers as much as we do and you may need to swish out your flowers in a water bath to keep those critters out of your lunch or supper.


Nasturtium Vinaigrette
Adapted from Vegetarian Times magazine

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
¼ cup finely sliced nasturtium petals

1. Combine all the ingredients except the nasturtium petals in a small bowl. Whisk until very smooth. Stir in the nasturtium petals.

Makes about 1/3 cup salad dressing.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Parsley Hazelnut Pesto

I don’t write very much about the parts of my life outside of what I just cooked or baked. Trust me, it would be extremely boring. But allow me to say just this one thing about the work-week that just ended: it was 11 days long. And a second thing: this is not the first time this has happened to me. And just one thing more: I’m a leeeeetle bit tired!

I regret that the above statements are true and contribute to the paucity of posts in the last fourteen months or so. Luckily, it’s not really that big of a deal to throw some herbs and some toasted nuts in my food processor. This means something fresh and delicious and new can still happen at supper time. This week I got my stuff together enough to toss a parsley and toasted hazelnut pesto with pasta along with some fresh local green beans and scallions and a few cherry tomatoes from my lackluster backyard garden.
The parsley-hazelnut pesto here has a greater proportion of nuts than in other pestos I’ve made. I love hazelnuts and had plenty in the freezer (the rest of a bulk bag I got to make this cake), and, since I didn’t even plant basil this year, I was happy to try this slightly different, slightly nuttier take on pesto.

This thick sauce is fresh and herbal with just a bit of toasty nuttiness from the hazelnuts, which I prepared as described in this post. It’s also got a bright burst from lemon juice and zest that livens it up. There’s not much to do but plug in the processor and go, and then decide what to toss with the results. Really you can use whatever vegetables you have on hand, but I described how I made my simple supper (which also left plenty of leftovers to provide a few lunches this week) below.

I may not be able to post to these pages as much as I would like, and I may not be able try as many new dishes as I’d like, but I still love to do this. I still have a stack of cookbooks and recipe clippings and ideas a mile high and the hopes and dreams of getting to try all of them keep me excited. I’ll keep making messes, and I hope you’ll keep coming along for the ride!!


Parsley Hazelnut Pesto
Adapted from Bon Appetit

2 cups parsley leaves and tender stems (preferably flat-leaf parsley)
2/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned and allowed to cool
finely grated zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves
½ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil, preferably extra-virgin

1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine the parsley, hazelnuts, lemon zest and juice, and garlic. Process to form a coarse paste. Stop to scrape the sides once or twice to incorporate everything.

2. With the machine running, gradually add the olive oil through the opening at the top of the machine. Process until smooth, scraping the bowl occasionally. Taste for seasoning and add salt or lemon juice as desired. Serve as you would any pesto sauce. (See recipe suggestion below.)

Makes about 1 cup pesto. Refrigerate leftovers. This pesto will not brown when stored as a basil pesto does.


Pasta with Parsley Hazelnut Pesto, Green Beans and Cherry Tomatoes
Also adapted from Bon Appetit

This is a recipe only by the most casual definition. Substitutions and adaptations can be made at will.

8-10 ounces whole wheat or multigrain short pasta (I used whole wheat rotini)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chopped scallions
2 cups coarsely chopped green beans, steamed or blanched
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
About 1 recipe Parsley-Hazelnut Pesto (see above)
grated Parmesan cheese to taste
additional salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook pasta in boiling salted water until it’s done the way you like it. How do you know? Taste it! Drain the pasta and reserve about a cup of the cooking water.

2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the scallions and sauté 3-4 minutes or until just softened. Add the green beans and cook about 1 minute more. Add the cooked pasta and about 2/3 of the pesto and toss to coat. Add some of the reserved pasta water to thin out the pesto. Add more pesto if needed. (It’ll probably depend on how much pasta you cooked.)

3. Stir in the cherry tomatoes and Parmesan cheese to taste. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve with more Parmesan.

Makes 4-6 servings.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Peanut Butter Energy Bars

I have what is popularly known as a Busy Schedule. Do you? Of course you do. We all do. And if we weren’t busy we wouldn’t need schedules.

As a way to remain at least somewhat faithful to my Busy Schedule, I rely heavily on individually packaged store-bought granola bars. Now, I’m a homemade girl when it comes to, well, as much as I can, and it has always disturbed me to buy so many granola bars. They rarely let me down, though. They taste good and carry me to the next meal, and, to be honest, I’m really not that concerned about their lack of completely pure healthfulness. A change of habit in this regard has been hard to perform.

There are probably 700 or so homemade granola bar recipes out there, so it was hard to know where to begin, especially when it’s hard to compete with the convenience of simply opening a little package. I do love these and I used to make them more often, but they require me to have granola on hand, which doesn’t always happen (even though I love this granola recipe and this one and this one…curse you Busy Schedule!). They also require powdered milk, which I don’t really use for anything else regularly.

And so one day, this Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Energy Bar recipe drifted to the top of my monstrosity of a recipe pile. It really looked easy and it really looked delicious and it really looked like I had all the ingredients on hand and therefore no excuse to put off trying it any longer.
This is an absolutely delicious and extremely simple homemade replacement for the industrially derived granola bar. There’s a simple list of ingredients and they all go together in a fashion compatible with the average Busy Schedule. They are energy dense, and therefore not really a weight-loss food, but unlike with a prepackaged bar, you can easily cut these into smaller portions.
The solid stuff of these bars is a combination of oats and crisp rice cereal along with some raisins (you could use other dried fruit) and almonds (you could use other nuts). This is all held together by a mixture of peanut butter (you could use another nut butter) and honey flavored with a bit of both vanilla and almond extracts. And by the way, almond extract, which I think has great power anyway, is fabulous in peanut butter treats. I added it to go with the almonds, but it’s a delicious flavor enhancement for the peanut butter as well.

These granola bar replacements are quite chewy but they’re less dense and crispier than many chewy store-bought bars. That, I suppose, is thanks to the crispy rice cereal. They’re best stored in the refrigerator to keep them from getting too soft, but if you take a little time to individually wrap them, they can be just as grab-and-go from the refrigerator as from the cupboard.

And I do suggest you should grab and go with these Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Energy Bars. They’re just so good! Delicious. Easy. Just so good!


Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Energy Bars
Adapted from Cuisine at Home magazine

2 cups rolled oats
½ cup raw almonds
1 cup crispy rice cereal (such as Rice Krispies)
1/3 cup raisins
¼ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup creamy peanut butter
½ cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread the oats and almonds out on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Set aside to cool.

2. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray or spread it with oil or butter. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, combine the cooled oats and almonds, crispy rice cereal, raisins and salt. Set aside.

4. Combine the peanut butter and honey in a small saucepan. Warm over medium heat and stir until the peanut butter melts and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.

5. Pour the peanut butter mixture over the oat mixture. Stir until well coated. Press the mixture firmly into the prepared 8-inch pan. Chill until firm. Cut into bars and wrap individually for convenience if desired. Keep refrigerated.

Makes 9 bars (or cut them smaller for lower calorie snacks).

Other recipes like this one: Almond Butter Granola Bars, Peanut Butter Granola


Friday, September 6, 2013

Blueberry Muffin Cake

Hey! I actually got around to baking that blueberry muffin cake I mentioned in my Blueberry Recipe Fantasies post! That’s kind of an exclamation point type of occurrence around here. It seems that I just haven’t been able to get to many new recipes lately. Cake will have to make up for that. (FYI: Cake makes up for lots of things.)


This cake is really quite simple. It’s basically a blueberry muffin batter baked in a cake pan. You can use a quick bread method of batter assembly, meaning that you can combine the wet ingredients, combine the dry ingredients, and then stir them together. Unlike in a fancier cake recipe, there are no multiple alternating additions of ingredients. And, unlike in a muffin recipe, there’s no distribution of the batter into muffin cups. Just dump it in a pan and throw it in the oven.

Really, you can do this with many (if not most or even all) muffin recipes. The essence of any “coffee cake” is it’s “quick bread” nature. The end product is actually better if you don’t spend much time fussing. That is, you don’t want to over-mix the batter. Just stir until there are no longer any pockets of dry ingredients. It’s amazing how well this kind of thing turns out when you consider how lazy the baker is allowed, nay, expected, to be.

This cake is quite moist, sweet and a little dense, good for dessert, coffee breaks and breakfast. Of course, the quality of your blueberries will make a difference in your cake’s flavor, and I was fortunate enough to have a load of good ones from earlier this summer in the freezer. I added a crumb topping, the same as the one for these muffins, but without the nutmeg. It bakes up a little crunchy on the top and, of course, adds a fair amount of sweetness as well. I think it makes the cake a little bit special without much extra effort.

The original recipe called for the use of a spring form pan. You know, the kind with the removable sides that we usually use for cheesecakes (like this one). I was going to use a regular cake pan instead, but when I decided to add the crumb topping, I saw the wisdom of using the spring form. How else would I get the cake out of the pan without flipping it over and destroying the topping? Well, if you don’t have a spring form pan, I think you could just serve slices of cake right from a regular round cake pan, or you could just skip the crumb topping and still make a pretty good cake.

You could also make this in a muffin tin, I’m sure, but I don’t know how many muffins the recipe would make or how long they should bake. If you’re a little squeamish about baking cakes, give yourself a chance with this recipe or something like it. It’s really no more difficult than making blueberry muffins.

And it might just be time for us to admit once and for all that muffins are cake anyway.


Blueberry Muffin Coffee Cake with Crumb Topping
Adapted from Fine Cooking

I used nonfat milk to make this cake because that’s what I had in the refrigerator. I think any milk will do.

For the topping:
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
pinch salt
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
For the cake:
¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon fine salt
2 large eggs
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups (about ¾ pound) fresh or frozen blueberries (do not thaw if frozen)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring form pan with cooking spray or spread it with butter or oil.
2. To make the crumb topping, whisk together the 1/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar and pinch salt in a small bowl. Add the 2 tablespoons cold butter pieces and combine with the flour mixture using a pastry blender, a fork, or your hands. Work it until you make a crumbly mixture with small bits of butter well coated with flour and sugar. Set aside.

3. Melt the ¼ cup butter. Remove from the heat and cool.

4. In a medium-size bowl, combine the 2 cups flour, 1 ¼ cups sugar, baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt. Whisk or sift together to combine. Set aside.

5. In another medium-size bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a whisk. Gradually whisk in the melted butter. Whisk in the milk and vanilla.

6. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula just until most of the flour is moistened. Add the blueberries and stir in just until well-distributed.

7. Pour or spoon batter into the prepared pan. (It will be thick.) Spread evenly. Evenly sprinkle the prepared crumb topping onto the batter. It should cover the whole cake.

8. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean. Place on a wire cooling rack and run a knife along the edges of the cake. Cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the sides of the spring form pan. Cool completely or enjoy slightly warm.

Makes 10-12 servings

Other recipes like this one: Rhubarb Yogurt Cake, Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake