Monday, March 31, 2014

Archive Recipe of the Week: Green Pea Hummus

This is the time of year when we desperately look for Spring wherever we can find it, but aren’t quite optimistic enough to believe in it for real. The snow is gone from our yard, but we know better. Last year it snowed heavily on May 2nd. I might be putting away my warm sweaters, but you can bet my hoodies aren’t out of reach. Local hot-houses are producing some edible green things, but even the weeds aren’t poking through the brown, matted blanket of debris in the yard and garden.

And then we cheat. We have to. There won’t be green peas in pods for, well, for a long time yet. It’s too depressing to think of just how long. So, while no one is looking, we acquire a bag of frozen peas. They are Spring. They ARE!!

Cheating on the end of winter in such a way is rich and delicious if you make this Green Pea Hummus. It’s like a traditional chickpea hummus with frozen peas (or fresh if you happen to have a crazy bumper crop) instead of the chickpeas. You could season it as you like, but I like the lemon juice, a bit of spice in the form of Aleppo pepper, and garlic. The first time I posted this recipe, I happened to have garlic scapes available, which I used in place of the garlic. Sadly, the season is rather premature for those as well, so I used garlic cloves in my most recent batch.

While green peas may seem lighter and less stodgy than chickpeas, a bit of caution may be in order when indulging in this dip/spread. There’s still plenty of tahini in this recipe, which makes Green Pea Hummus deceptively filling. I know. I ate way too much of it on the night I made it. But it was sooooo good. And can you blame me for overindulging in a bit of fresh, green Spring at the end (or what we hope is the end) of such a long winter?

Green Pea Hummus

Adapted from Cooking Light magazine 

10 ounce package frozen green peas

½ cup chopped parsley (I used flat-leaf)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
3 cloves garlic or (¼ cup garlic scapes, chopped, if you have them)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the frozen peas and cook about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl of ice water. Drain well. (You could also drain from the boiling water and rinse in cold water until cool.)

2. Place the drained peas and the remaining ingredients except for the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Process until nearly smooth, stopping to scrape the sides as needed. With the machine running, pour the olive oil, through the opening in the top of the food processor lid. Continue to process until very smooth.

3. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and chill until ready to serve. Serve with sturdy chips, such as pita chips or bagel chips.

Other recipes like this one: Hummus, Asparagus and Goat Cheese Dip

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Celebratory Pan of Brownies

The new oven is here! I can bake again! You cannot imagine the relief!

Okay, maybe you can. It’s not that unusual to be temporarily without an oven. But it seemed that I was deprived for a long time. And then I was sick in bed the day it was delivered. And then the delivery truck got a flat tire, so it was delivered later than expected. And then I went out of town for the weekend. Finally Monday arrived! But what to bake?

How about some no-brainer brownies? Brownies are kind of a no-brainer anyway, since you can please so many people (including myself) with a pan of them. And these brownies are pretty easy to throw together. They get their chocolate from cocoa rather than melted chocolate, so there’s a step I didn’t have to deal with and I could make them from what I had on hand.

But, oh, who would have thought that the stuff I had on hand could be made into something sooooo delicious! Nicely moist. Somewhere between cake-y and fudge-y. Super chocolaty. Definitely worthy of a celebration. We enjoyed them just a bit warm (celebrations like this just can’t wait, you know), and they got lots of enthusiastic thumbs-ups from my fabulous co-workers the next day.

I adapted these from The Ultimate Brownie Book by Bruce Weinstein, barely changing anything. I did add a bit of instant espresso powder, since I’ve become a believer that it really does enhance just about anything chocolaty. I also added a heaping cup of bittersweet chocolate chips. What does “heaping” mean? That’s entirely up to you, but I wouldn’t recommend skimping on a celebratory pan of brownies.

Cocoa Chocolate Chip Brownies
Adapted from The Ultimate Brownie Book by Bruce Weinstein

If you’re an ice cream sundae enthusiast, I really think these could be used to make a fabulous brownie sundae.

1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa powder, sifted so all the lumps are removed
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine salt
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
½ pound (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 heaping cup bittersweet chocolate chips.

1. Prepare the oven to bake the brownie by placing a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheating to 350 F. Prepare a 13 x 9 inch baking pan by greasing it well with your preferred method. I use a Pyrex glass pan and lots of nonstick cooking spray.

2. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder in a medium-size bowl. Whisk together to combine thoroughly.

3. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer (or in a large bowl if you’re using a hand-held mixer), combine the butter and sugar. Beat together on medium speed until pale yellow in color. This should take a few minutes.

4. Add the eggs one at a time, thoroughly beating in each egg before adding the next. After adding the last egg, beat for 1 minute. Beat in the vanilla extract.

5. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Stir gently just until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Try not to beat the mixture and deflate it. Stir in the chocolate chips.

6. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. The batter will be thick. Gently spread it to the edges of the pan.

7. Bake at 350 F in the lower third of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.

8. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. For best results, cut into squares and serve from the pan with an offset spatula. Between you and me, these can be enjoyed while still a bit warm when the chocolate chips are still a little melted.

One year ago: Butter Pecan Pancakes

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Millet and Rice Salad with Sweet Chile Dressing

I made this salad to test the concept of Thai sweet chile sauce, which you can find in larger supermarkets alongside the other Asian condiments, in a vinaigrette over a grain salad. Why grain salad? Because I have plenty of whole grains in my pantry that aren’t doing anybody any good just sitting there. Why Thai sweet chile sauce? Because I love it.

For a condiment with the word “chile” in its title, Thai sweet chile sauce isn’t really all that spicy. I had hoped it would pack a bigger punch in this salad, but I really liked this salad anyway. If you’d like something spicier, you could always add some kind of hot sauce to the dressing. The short grain brown rice and millet that I used here can take in a lot of flavor, so I kept adding chile sauce and rice vinegar until I thought the flavor was right. The result is hearty, as rice and grain salads tend to be, but lightly sweet, tangy and refreshing.

I really like the combination of scallions, red bell pepper and peanuts as additions to the rice and millet, but different seasons could certainly call for different vegetables. I’d especially like to add diced cucumbers, peas or snap peas, or even diced radishes or some little snips of toasted nori. The peanuts could also be replaced with sunflower or sesame seeds if you avoid peanuts, and, while I really like the flavor of the roasted peanut oil in the dressing, you could replace that with canola oil or some other neutral-tasting oil.

I start the recipe instructions with uncooked millet and rice, but if you already have some cooked grains on hand, you could, of course use those instead. I chose these grains because they needed to be used up, and I like the combination. The short grain brown rice has a pleasantly floral fragrance and the chewy millet fills in the spaces between the rice grains. The flavor of neither grain is very strong, so they’re great as a foundation for this flavorful salad.

Millet and Rice Salad with Sweet Chile Dressing
The cooked rice amounts to a generous 3 cups and the millet about 2 cups. You can start with these measurements if you happen to have cooked grains on hand.

You could certainly use a different kind of rice or a different grain than millet to make this salad. Just adjust cooking water and times as needed.

1 cup short grain brown rice
½ cup millet
3 cups water, divided
½ cup diced red bell pepper
½ cup finely chopped scallions
3 tablespoons roasted peanut oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
¼ cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons Thai sweet chile sauce
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped peanuts (I used lightly-salted cocktail peanuts)

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the rice and 2 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently until the rice is tender and the water is absorbed. Meanwhile, combine the millet and remaining 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and boil gently until the millet is tender and the water is absorbed. Transfer both of the cooked grains to a bowl to cool. Stir gently occasionally to keep from getting too sticky.

2. When the rice and millet have cooled to room temperature, stir together along with the red bell pepper and scallions.

3. In a small bowl, combine the peanut oil, sesame oil, rice vinegar, chile sauce and salt. Whisk until well combined and slightly thickened. Pour over the rice mixture and stir to coat. Stir in the chopped peanuts.

Makes about 6 servings. Leftovers will last a few days in the refrigerator, but the peanuts will likely soften upon storing.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Chocolate Pudding

This is a good news and bad news post. The bad news first: I currently do not have an oven. I have not had one for several days and I won’t have one for another week. Allow that to sink in for a few moments. I’ll wait….I’m not sure you’re fully understanding this. I do not have an oven!!!! My oven is broken! It has passed on! It is a late oven! Do you have any idea how traumatic this situation is for me?!? How can I make my weekly loaf of sandwich bread? Or this granola? I can’t even keep these waffles warm and crisp!

Well, beyond all this panic, as I said, there is good news. The stovetop still works. That means I can at least cook every day. And that means I can make pudding for dessert. Pudding is usually comforting enough, but it does an even greater good when I can quickly make it with ingredients I usually have on hand and equipment that has yet to go to hell on me.

I don’t know if I’ve ever made chocolate pudding from scratch before. This is really a day for tragedies, I guess, because that’s quite painful to admit. And after I tasted this one, which is really basic and quite simple to throw together (who knew?,,,okay, I should have), my shame was complete. I have been an idiot to neglect such delicious loveliness just because I had the ability to bake things. It’s rich and creamy and nicely chocolate-y. It’s really, really hard to put down the bowl once you start digging in, which is part of the reason I cooled it in a big bowl, but served it in little ones.

This pudding gets its chocolate flavor from unsweetened cocoa powder, which I enhanced a bit with instant espresso. That little bit of intense coffee just gives the chocolate a boost, but I think if you want to go full mocha in your pudding, you could add even more. And speaking of adding flavor, do yourself a little educational favor and taste the pudding before and after adding the butter and vanilla. It just might give you an appreciation for those humble ingredients.

And I hope you’ve been a better human being than I and have always had an appreciation for good ol’ homemade chocolate pudding. Chocolate Pudding: it’s good news.

Chocolate Pudding
Adapted from Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine

I used nonfat milk to make this pudding, but low fat or whole milk would be great, too.

You wouldn’t absolutely need the instant espresso in this recipe, but if you have some on hand, use some here.

2/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 ½ cups milk
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a medium size saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch and cocoa. Whisk together to combine. Slowly whisk in the milk making the mixture as smooth and lump-free as you can. Whisk in the egg yolks.

2. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring or whisking very frequently. I used alternately used a whisk (to keep things very smooth) and a rubber spatula (to keep things from sticking to the bottom of the pan) to stir. Continue heating and stirring until the mixture just begins to bubble and splatter. This takes about 20 minutes.

3. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the espresso powder. Whisk in the butter and vanilla extract, stirring until the butter has completely melted.

4. Pour into a medium-size bowl. (If you are picky, you can strain the mixture with a fine mesh sieve at this point. I didn’t bother.) Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the top of the pudding surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until completely cooled.

Makes 4 or 5 servings. Keep refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Another recipe like this one: Butterscotch Pudding

Monday, March 10, 2014

Archive Recipe of the Week: Beef and Guinness Stew or Pot Pie

St. Patrick’s Day is just a week away and I have nothing to report that is either green or Guinness-y. That just leaves me the perfect opportunity to give some love to this Beef and Guinness Stew that I tend to serve every year.

In the past, I’ve presented this as a pot pie because I served it in individual stew bowls with a puff pastry lid. You wouldn’t have to do that. Well, you wouldn’t have to, but I highly recommend it. In fact, you could do that with just about any thick stew. Just give it a pastry covering of some kind and you have pot pie.

This is just such a good stew/pot pie, however, that I don’t want you to miss out on it’s fabulous beefy and peppery flavors just because you don’t have pastry skills or some kind of frozen or refrigerated pastry on hand. It’s usually pretty easy for me to pass up a beef dish, but when that beef is flavorfully slow-cooked, I’m in trouble. It’s also easy for me to pass up a bottle of beer, but when you give the dark, rich flavor of Guinness to a slow cooked beef stew, we’re talking about something different entirely. Something so good it’s worthy of a celebration.

Don’t let the brined green peppercorns in the ingredient list scare you. They’re just black peppercorns in a younger stage bottled in brine. They’re delicious and if you haven’t tried them, I’d recommend getting your hands on a bottle to use in this stew. In fact, I can’t think of any other recipe I use them in and I still find them to be worth the purchase. You can find them near the capers (and pickles, etc.) in supermarkets.

And – trust me – it’s worth saving out one bottle of Guinness just to make this stew. Celebrate responsibly!

Beef and Guinness Stew or Pot Pie
Modified from Gourmet magazine

Making this stew into a pot pie is optional, but really good.

2 lb boneless beef chuck
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
2 Tbs canola or vegetable oil, divided
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ½ Tbs tomato paste
1 ½ cups beef broth
1 (11.2 ounce) bottle Guinness or other Irish stout
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp drained brined green peppercorns, coarsely chopped
2 fresh thyme sprigs or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound peeled potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ (17.3 ounce) package puff pastry (1 sheet) (or more if needed), thawed

1. Pat the beef dry with paper towels if it is damp on the surface. Cut the beef into 1-2 inch cubes. Combine the flour, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the cubed beef and toss to coat with the flour mixture.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven, over medium heat. Add the beef in one layer and cook, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the browned beef from the pot and place in a clean bowl or on a clean plate. Repeat with the remaining beef, adding more of the oil as needed.

3. When all the beef has been browned, add the onion to the pan. Cook over medium heat 3 minutes. Add garlic and ½ cup beef broth. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

4. Stir in the tomato paste and cook 1 minute. Add the beef and any juices that may have accumulated in the bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup broth, Guinness, Worcestershire sauce, brined green peppercorns and thyme.

5. Bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer 1 hour. Add the potatoes. Simmer about 1 hour more or until the beef is very tender. Remove the lid for the last 30 minutes to thicken the stew if desired. Remove the stems from the thyme sprigs if you used fresh thyme. The stew can be made ahead of time or served without a pastry covering at this point.

6. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Spoon stew into 4 oven-proof single-serving crocks or soup bowls. Cut the puff pastry sheet into 4 squares. (You can cut it smaller or larger, or use more than one sheet, depending on the size of the bowls you are using.) Place 1 sheet of puff pastry on top of each filled bowl. Gently press to adhere to the sides of the bowl. Cut 2 to 3 slits in the top of the pastry to allow steam to escape as it bakes.

7. Place the pot pies on a baking sheet for easy transfer to the oven. Bake at 450 F 10-15 minutes or until the puff pastry is well browned. Remove from the oven and let stand 5-10 minutes. The stew under the pastry will be very hot.

Makes about 4 servings

One year ago: Orange Butter Cookies

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mocha Granola

This may be my new favorite granola. I’d have to test it side by side with this peanut butter granola to be sure. I really like that peanut butter granola, but boy oh boy is this Mocha Granola good.

This recipe is really just a simple twist on this chocolate granola, but I think it turned out better in texture and flavor than the chocolate granola did. I know that good bakers often use coffee or espresso to enhance chocolate-y goodness in treats like brownies and cakes, so it may not be that much of a surprise if the espresso powder makes chocolate granola better. Of course, I didn’t just add a smidgeon of coffee flavor to boost the chocolate. I gave the chocolate enough of a wallop to change its name to mocha.

Mocha Granola is just as easy to make as any other granola, except you have to treat the chocolate a little more delicately.  I baked this granola (as well as the other chocolate granola I’ve made) at a lower temperature and for a shorter time to prevent the chocolate from burning. I also gave the whole pan of oats, nuts and coating a good stir earlier in the baking process than usual. The coating is thick and stiff when it first goes on the oats and nuts (I used almonds, but hazelnuts would be pretty nifty as well), so I just let it melt a little in the oven, then stirred things up to distribute the coating better.

There is definitely a real coffee presence in the flavor of this granola, making it perfect for breakfast as far as I’m concerned. You might even be able to get your morning cereal and coffee all in one bowl, if you’re so inclined. As much as I like this Mocha Granola, however, I don’t think you’ll see me taking any chances by skipping my cup of coffee.

Mocha Granola

4 cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped almonds (or hazelnuts)
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 300 F. In a large bowl, combine the oats and almonds. Set aside.

2. In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, honey and canola oil. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is smooth.

3. Add the chocolate and stir until it has completely melted. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the espresso powder, salt, cinnamon and vanilla.

4. Pour the brown sugar mixture over the oat mixture in the bowl. Stir to coat the oats and almonds as well as possible. The mixture will be thick.

5. Spread the mixture out onto a baking pan lined with a silicone mat (or line the pan with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray). Bake at 300 F for about 5 minutes or until the chocolate mixture has melted. Stir to re-distribute the coating as well as possible.

6. Bake about 20 minutes more, stirring every 8 minutes or so. Be careful not to burn the coating mixture. Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. (Remove earlier if the coating appears to be near burning.)

7. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container. Can be frozen in a freezer-safe container or zip-top freezer bag for a few months.

Makes about 6 cups.