Monday, May 23, 2005

Tex-mex four ways

I often jokingly tell my husband that we make all of our dinners using the same ingredients: garlic, onion, bell pepper, tomatoes and either beans or ground beef ("soy" beef for us, as David is vegetarian). It's partially true, of course, as you'll see from the recipes below (check out the ingredient list for my Mexican Lasagna for further evidence).

Luckily, while the recipes below include similar ingredients, they're different enough in taste (and are coupled with differing sides) that they all warrant being made from time to time.

Taco Soup
This first recipe comes from Paula Deen, the great Southern cook of FoodNetwork fame. It's more of a stew than a soup, really, but who cares? It's wonderful regardless--any time of day and any time of year.

Top with a dollop of sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped chives and/or sliced jalapenos and you've got yourself a quick and hearty meal.

2 pounds ground beef (or vegetarian crumbles)
2 onions, diced
2 15-ounce cans pinto beans
1 15-ounce can pink kidney beans
1 15-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
1 14-ounce can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 14-ounce can tomatoes with chiles
2 4-ounce cans diced green chiles
1 4.6-ounce can black olives, drained and sliced, optional
1/2 cup green olives, sliced, optional
1 (1 1/4-ounce) package taco seasoning mix
1 (1-ounce) package ranch salad dressing mix

Brown the ground beef and onions in a large skillet; drain the excess fat, then transfer the browned beef and onions to a large slow cooker or a stockpot.

Add the beans, corn, tomatoes, green chiles, black olives, green olives, taco seasoning, and ranch dressing mix and cook in a slow cooker on low for 6 to 8 hours (or simmer over low heat for about 1 hour in a pot on the stove).

Ladle into bowls--on top of corn chips, if you have them :)

David's Yankee Bean Pot
One of our best friends introduced me to this dish. It resembles the Taco Soup listed above, but it has more depth of flavor--probably thanks to the ketchup, relish and onion soup mix. It's great on its own, but it's made all the better by serving alongside tater tots (!) or on top of a baked potato.

1 pound vegetarian "crumbles"
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup pickle relish
½ cup green pepper, diced
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (or soy sauce, for vegetarians)
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 package onion soup mix
1 15-ounce can vegetarian baked beans
1 16-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 16-ounce can stewed tomatoes

Combine all ingredients in a 5-quart crock pot and cook on low heat for about 6 hours (or place in a large stockpot and simmer over low heat for about 1 hour on the stove). Adjust seasonings and serve.

Classic Picadillo
I found this recipe on a flyer from Whole Foods. I'm not sure if it's really a "classic" recipe, but it has satisfied us enough that we make it fairly regularly. For a bit more depth of flavor, add a pinch or two of dried oregano and a bay leaf when you first start sauteeing the vegetables (removing the bay leaf before serving).

3 tablespoons oil
2 pounds ground beef (of vegetarian "crumbles")
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
2/3 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup green olives, sliced
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
salt and pepper to taste
3-4 cups cooked white rice

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat; brown ground beef or crumbles. Remove from pan and add onions, peppers and garlic, ccoking until softened, about five minutes. Add tomatoes, raisins, olives, vinegar and brown sugar; stir and then cover and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer for 15 minutes more.

Adjust seasonings and stir over white rice.

Black Bean and Vegetable Burritos
This is the first meal I ever made for David. After we had been dating for a while we started having each other over for dinners on Friday nights. I had never knowingly cooked anything vegetarian, so I decided to start with something easy. This dish (which I got from the fantastic was not only easy, it was delicious--so much so that it regularly appears on our kitchen table.

1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 red pepper, chopped
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
2 teaspoons minced, seeded jalapeno chile
Flour tortillas

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onions, bell pepper and garlic and saute over medium heat until softened, about six minutes. Add cumin and chili powder and stir until combined. Add corn, beans and tomotoes and bring to a simmer. Continue cooking, stirring occassionally, until heated through. Add jalapenos (if using) and then salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon about a cup of the filling into each tortilla, top with cheese and sour cream (if desired), roll up and serve.

When life hands you lemons...

... don't make lemonade, make a nice bowl of lemon curd instead! Not only is it good all by itself (perfect eaten with a spoon while standing in front of the fridge), but it's even better spooned over vanilla ice cream, layered in a trifle or spread between cake layers.

Lemon Curd
I believe this recipe originated in the pages of Fine Cooking magazine, but I'm not certain of that. Anyway, I've changed it a bit for my tastes, adding more butter and decreasing the lemon juice. Also, I prefer my curd sans zest, but feel free to include it if that's your thing.

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
½ cup fresh lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)

Beat the butter and sugar until it's light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and yolks and then stir in the lemon juice. The mixture will look curdled, but don't panic--it'll come together soon enough.

Pour the mixture into a small (2-quart) saucepan and cook over low heat until smooth (stirring constantly). Turn up the heat to medium and stir constantly, without letting the mixture come to a boil, until it thickens enough to leave a path on the back of the spoon when you drag a finger through it.

Remove from heat and stir in zest if you're using it. Pour into a small-ish bowl, press plastic warp on the surface (to prevent a skin from forming) and refrigerate until cool.

Lemon Mousse
The only thing better than eating lemon curd straight from the fridge is to transform it into a light, lemony mousse (which also can be eaten straight from the fridge!). This is too easy: just whip up some lightly sweetened whipped cream and fold it into the curd.

Like the plain curd above, this recipe is wonderfully adaptive. I think the best way to eat it is piped into a bowl or ramekin and topped with fresh berries, but I'm sure it's good eaten any way you can think of.

1 batch lemon curd
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1-2 tablespoons sugar

Pour cream and sugar into chilled bowl and beat (preferably with an electric mixer--unless you really want to work your arm muscles!) until the cream holds stiff peaks.

Stir one-fourth of the whipped cream into the curd to lighten it a bit and then gently but firmly fold in the remainder.

Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Beans and rice with a twist (and a kick)

This recipe was inspired by a recipe I saw in an issue of Vegetarian Times magazine. David (my husband, in case you haven't already picked up on that) loves spicy food, and we both love anything featuring curry powder (and coconut milk), so it's no surprise that this has become one of our favorite, and most regularly-made, meals.

Curried Beans and Rice
The vegetarian brats can be left out completely, if you prefer, or replace them with a can of chick peas (drained and rinsed) or a block of cubed and pan-fried tempeh.

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 white onion, diced
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (leave the seeds in if you'd like more of a kick)
3 cups water
2 cups uncooked basmati rice
15-oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. salt
3-4 tsp. curry powder
3-4 vegetarian sausages/brats (Tofurky brand kielbasa are perfect), cut into ½-inch slices

In large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic and jalapeno pepper and cook, stirring often, until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Stir in water, rice, beans, coconut milk and seasonings and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover and cook until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in sausage/brats, cover and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Spoon onto plates and serve hot.

Makes 6-8 servings.

Not your mama's lasagna

My husband and I love southwestern/tex-mex food, so I came up with this recipe to satisfy our cravings for something using our favorite ingredients but tastes and looks a bit different. Not only does it fill both of those bills, but it's easy to whip up as well--all you have to cut up are the onion and red bell pepper!

Mexican Lasagna

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
1-2 teaspoons ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup corn
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 14 oz. cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 16 oz. jars of salsa (I like to use a chipotle-corn salsa)
1 14 oz. can refried black beans
2 cups shredded cheese (whichever kind you prefer)
24 small corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium saucepan or skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, red bell pepper and garlic and saute until softened slightly, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper and cook for another few minutes. Add corn, tomatoes, beans, and about ½ jar of salsa and cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes more (until all ingredients are heated through).

Put refried black beans in a medium bowl along with a few tablespoons of salsa and stir until loose (it needs to be spreadable but not runny).

Spread ½ jar of salsa in the bottom of a 9x13 baking pan. Top with six corn tortillas. Spread half of tomato-bean mixture on top of tortillas. Top with six more tortillas. Spread black-bean mixture on top of tortillas, then top with one cup of cheese. Top with six more tortillas and then last half of tomato-bean mixture. Arrange last six tortillas on top of the bean mixture and top with another ½ jar of salsa and remaining one cup cheese.

Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, until cheese has melted and filling has cooked through. Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes before slicing and serving. Top with sour cream, guacamole, sliced jalapenos, etc.

Makes about 10 servings.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

For adults only: Five-spice glazed chickpeas and apples

I've been wanting to whip up something using apricot preserves for quite some time. I've also wanted to use my Chinese five-spice powder in something other than my "fire and spice" mixed nuts (I'll have to post that soon).

What I ended up with was this dish, which incorporates many ingredients that I like to use: Chick peas, red onion, the five-spice powder and couscous. It isn't really Indian or Middle Eastern, but it certainly contains flavors from that region.

And, if you're going to follow this recipe fairly closely, heed the "adults only" warning. The cayenne and five-spice powder give it quite a kick!

Five-Spice Glazed Chick Peas and Apples
If you want, use cubed and fried tofu in place of the chick peas. Also, feel free to substitute rice for the couscous.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 red onion, chopped into biggish pieces
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, and cut into chunks
1 can chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
salt to taste
1/2-1 cup apricot preserves
2 cups couscous
2 cups vegetable broth or water

Pour oil into medium skillet and heat over medium heat. Add onion and apple chunks and cook until softened slightly. Add chickpeas and then cayenne pepper, five-spice powder and salt to taste. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add apricot preserves to skillet and stir until preserves melt and coat vegetables. Taste and add spices and/or salt if desired. Add more preserves or a little broth if you'd like more of a sauce.

Meanwhile, bring broth to a boil in a smallish saucepan. Remove from heat, add couscous and cover. Let sit for 5 minutes. Uncover, fluff couscous grains with a fork, and serve topped with chick-pea mixture.

Christmas (cookies) in May

Who says the winter holidays have a lock on sugar cookie cut-outs? Sliced into flowers, butterflies or other "summery" shapes, they're just as delightful in the warmer months as they are in the colder ones.

The other two recipes below are similarly adaptable for use in spring and summer. You don't have to change a thing for my mom's skillet cookies, and the meringues can be made sans candy canes and chocolate chips--just replace them with citrus zest or extract for a light, chewy cookie that will be welcome any time of year.

Frosted Sugar Cookies

Nearly every Saturday from May to October, my husband (David) and I go to the local farmer's market. We rarely pick up any of the wonderful fresh produce, though, or any of the other home-grown goodies (meats, cheeses, honey, etc.) either. Instead, David grabs a cup of coffee and an apple fritter, while I make a bee line for a bakery that sells the most wonderful frosted sugar cookies.

This recipe isn't the one used by that bakery (as far as I know), but the resulting soft and chewy cookies taste just as good.

½ pound (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt

Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and extracts and beat until combined.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the creamed mixture and mix until combined.

Form dough into a disk and wrap tightly. Chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours or more.

Let dough come to room to room temperature while preheating oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out dough to 1/4 of an inch and cut into desired shapes. Place on prepared baking sheet a few inches apart and bake for about 10 minutes for soft cookies, 12-14 minutes for crunchier cookies.

Place on a rack to cool and then frost.

Powdered sugar frosting:
1 pound box powdered sugar
4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour sugar into a medium-sized bowl. Place water, corn syrup and butter into a separate, small bowl and microwave on high power until butter has melted.

Pour over powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Add vanilla extract and stir until combined. If frosting to too thick to spread, add a bit more water or milk; if it's too thin, add more powdered sugar.

Skillet Cookies
My mom has made these buttery, date-filled gems during the holidays for as long as I can remember. I'm not sure why I rarely make them the rest of the year; I'm guessing it's because I enjoy looking forward to them for 11 months and then fully relishing them for the month I have them (as if they last that long).

They're certainly easy--the only step that's at all complicated is when you add the eggs. Stir ferociously when you add the eggs to the (hopefully cooled) butter-date mixture; if the mixture is too hot, you'll scramble the eggs instead of incorporating them into the dough!

1 cup butter
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
4 cups Rice Krispies cereal
2 cups finely chopped dates
1 cup chopped nuts, shredded coconut or powdered sugar

In heavy saucepan, melt butter and sugar over low heat. Add dates and continue to cook until mixture comes to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Add milk to well-beaten eggs; stir into hot mixture. Return to low heat and boil for two minutes. Cool completely.

Stir in rice krispies and nuts. Roll into small balls and then in coconut or sugar.

Peppermint Fluffs
This recipe has been pulled from my mom's recipe box so many times it should have a permanent spot on her counter. Seriously, these "cookies" are that good--it's hard to eat just one.

The great thing about them is that they're so adaptable. Leave out the chips, replace the crushed candy with zest or extract, add nuts--let your imagination run wild.

3 egg whites
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
½-1 cup chocolate chips
2-4 tablespoons crushed peppermint candies

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.

Beat egg whites and salt until foamy; add sugar and beat until stiff. Lightly fold in vanilla, chocolate chips and candy (being careful not to deflate the whipped whites).

Drop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

This sure beats Froot Loops!

If you read the previous post ("Breakfast of champions") and want some "real" food to go along with your morning sweets, try some of these recipes. They aren't exactly healthy, but they taste so wonderful you won't care.

Golden Granola

I love granola, especially when paired with some fruit and yogurt, but the stuff you buy at the grocery store is usually filled with unpronounceable ingredients and is pretty darn expensive. This is one of many recipes I've tried, and it is by far my favorite. Feel free to adapt it to your own tastes--pine nuts and macadamia nuts are especially good additions, and other dried fruits would be tasty as well.

2 cups old-fashioned oats
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1/2 cup roasted salted sunflower seeds
1 cup natural unsalted cashews
1 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup pure maple syrup (or honey)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
2 teaspoons mild-flavored (light) molasses
1/2 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Place oats on large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until oats are lightly toasted, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Transfer baked oats to large bowl.

Increase oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Spray same rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray.

Mix shredded coconut, nuts and sesame seeds into baked oats. Whisk maple syrup, vegetable oil, dark corn syrup, and light molasses to blend in small bowl. Pour over oat mixture; toss to coat evenly.

Spread granola on prepared rimmed baking sheet. Bake 12 minutes. Mix in raisins. Bake until deep golden, about 12 minutes longer. Cool granola on sheet and then break into pieces.

Makes about 5 cups.

Pan-Seared Oatmeal-Raisin Squares
I first came upon this recipe in an issue of Cooking Light. I've altered it slightly to meet my own tastes--it's a fairly adaptable recipe, so feel free to tweak it yourself. I like the squares topped with the cinnamon syrup recipe listed below, but it seems like a nice fruit compote would also be a good pairing.

3 cups water
1 cup milk
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups steel-cut oats

Combine water, milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; stir in oats. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally. Spoon oatmeal into an 8 or 9-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray; cool to room temperature. Cover and chill at least 1 hour or until set.

Using a sharp knife, cut oatmeal into 4 equal squares cut each square in half diagonally to form 8 triangles.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oatmeal triangles; cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove from pan and serve warm with syrup.

Makes 8 triangles.

Orange-Flecked French Toast with Cinnamon Syrup

What can be easier than a batch of French toast for breakfast or brunch? You just slice up some bread, dip it in a mixture of eggs, milk and sugar, and fry it up until it's golden brown. Here is a simple, tasty recipe that will brighten anyone's morning.

If you don't have Grand Marnier, or would prefer to leave it out, go ahead; the final result will be just as delicious.

Oh, and don't ignore the variation noted at the end of the recipe!

French Toast:
1 loaf challa or other rich, eggy bread
6 large eggs
3/4 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier (or other orange-flavored liquor)
2 teaspoons orange zest
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Cinnamon Syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

To make the syrup: Combine 1 cup of water and brown sugar in a heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Boil until the syrup reduces to 1 cup, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream and cinnamon. Keep the syrup warm. (The syrup can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Rewarm before serving.)

Meanwhile, prepare the French toast: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Slice bread crosswise into 3/4-inch thick round slices. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until well blended. Add the cream, milk, sugar, liquor, zest and cinnamon and whisk until well mixed. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter on a large nonstick griddle over medium heat. Dip 3 slices of bread into the custard, turning to allow both sides to absorb the custard. Grill the soaked bread slices until they are golden brown and firm to the touch, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the French toast to a baking sheet and keep them warm in the oven. Repeat with the remaining butter, bread slices, and custard.

Transfer the French toast to plates. Lightly dust with the powdered sugar. Drizzle the cinnamon syrup over and around the French toast and serve immediately.

Variation: Take a page from Giada De Laurentiis' book, Everyday Italian, and use thick slices of panettone in place of the challa (or other) bread.

Mile-High Biscuits with Mushroom Gravy and Scallions
I came upon this recipe while searching the New York Times' website for "must visit" restaurants in Charleston, South Carolina. A profile of that city's Hominy Grill restaurant included this recipe, which I had to try. It's a nice, vegetarian-friendly change of pace from the heavy, sausage-laden biscuits and gravy recipes I'm used to.

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
4 tablespoons chilled butter
3 ounces chilled vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups milk

Mushroom gravy:
8 ounces mushrooms
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk, plus more as needed
Tabasco sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
3 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions, for garnish.

For the biscuits, begin by preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut the butter and shortening into the flour until slightly crumbly. Add the milk, and stir gently until mixture comes together.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly (less than 10 strokes) and loosely shape into a ball. With floured hands, pat into a large disk about 1 1/4 inches thick. Using a floured 3-inch biscuit or cookie cutter, cut into 12 biscuits. Place on a baking sheet about two inches apart (or place as many as possible in 8- or 9-inch round cake pan).

Bake biscuits until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.

For the gravy, begin by finely choping mushrooms.

In a large skillet over medium-low heat, melt butter, then add mushrooms. Saute until liquid released from mushrooms has evaporated and they begin to brown.

Reduce heat to low, add flour and stir constantly for 2 more minutes. Slowly add milk to mixture, stirring constantly. Allow mixture to thicken for a minute or two, then add more milk as needed to achieve the consistency of thick gravy. Season to taste with Tabasco sauce, salt and pepper.

To serve, place two biscuits on each plate. Top with mushroom gravy and scallions.

Breakfast of champions

I know we're supposed to start our day on the right foot, with a balanced mix of fruits and grains, proteins and carbohydrates. But once in a while you just want something bad for you--full of fat and sugar and not even remotely healthy. All of the recipes below fit that bill and more.

Classic Cake Doughnuts
I got this recipe from my grandmother, who was nice enough to help me make my first batch. I prefer these to the glazed, yeast-raised variety--especially if they're covered in chocolate--but don't tell that to my husband or sister-in-law! Make a batch of both and everyone will be happy.

1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup canned evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon fine salt
Vegetable oil for frying

Melt the shortening in a small saucepan over medium heat. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and shortening together on medium speed, until just combined. Add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the milk and vanilla, and continue beating until the mixture is light and somewhat fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Pour the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, mace and salt into a medium bowl and whisk to combine.

Reduce the mixer's speed to low and add the flour mixture until just combined. The dough will be very liquid and "loose" at this point--don't worry, that's how it's supposed to look at this stage. Transfer the dough to a large piece of plastic wrap and wrap it well. Refrigerate the dough for 4 hours or overnight.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the chilled dough out into a rectangle about 1/2-inch thick. Dip the edges of a 2 1/2-inch-round doughnut cutter in flour and cut the dough into doughnuts. Place the doughnuts and holes on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Put enough vegetable oil into a tall, heavy-bottomed pot to fill it about a third of the way up. Heat over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer inserted in the oil registers 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

Working in batches, fry the doughnuts and holes, turning once, until they are golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the doughnuts to the paper towels to drain and cool. Repeat until all the doughnuts and holes are fried. (Make sure the oil returns to 375 degrees F. between batches.)

For sugar-coated doughnuts: Roll them in sugar or cinnamon sugar while they are still warm. Or, let them cool completely before rolling in confectioners' sugar.

For glazed doughnuts: Combine 1 cup confectioner's sugar with 4 teaspoons hot milk and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Drizzle over cooled doughnuts.

For chocolate-glazed doughnuts: Melt 1/3 cup unsalted butter and 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate in a saucepan until melted, remove from heat. Whisk in 2 cups confectioners' sugar until smooth. Gradually stir in ¼ cup warm water until the mixture reaches the desired consistency. Dip the tops of the doughnuts in the glaze.

Chocolate variation: Combine the melted shortening with 3 ounces of melted chocolate before adding to batter.

Makes about 2 dozen doughnuts and holes.

Yeast-Raised Doughnuts
Here's another recipe given to me by my "granny." Although these are fine covered in sugar and cinnamon, they're downright deadly (in a good way) dipped in a sugar glaze. If you prefer jelly-filled doughnuts, simply cut the dough into rounds (without holes) before frying and fill with jelly (using a pastry bag and tip) once they've cooled.

2 envelopes active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup shortening
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 quart vegetable oil for frying

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water, and let stand for 5 minutes (mixture should be foamy).
In a large bowl, mix together the yeast mixture, milk, sugar, salt, eggs, shortening, and 2 cups of the flour. Mix for a few minutes at low speed (if using a stand mixer) or stir with a wooden spoon. Beat in remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl.

Knead for about 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Place the dough into a greased bowl and cover with a thin towel or plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise until doubled in volume. You'll know the dough is ready when you poke it with two fingers and the indentation remains.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently roll out to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut with a floured doughnut cutter. Cover doughnuts loosely with a cloth and let sit out to rise until doubled in size.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in confectioners' sugar and vanilla until smooth. Remove from heat, and stir in hot water one tablespoon at a time until the icing is somewhat thin, but not watery. Set aside.

Heat oil in a deep-fryer or large heavy skillet to 350 degrees F. Slide doughnuts into the hot oil using a wide spatula. Turn doughnuts over as they rise to the surface. Fry doughnuts on each side until golden brown. Remove from hot oil and place them on a wire rack to drain.

While doughnuts are warm, roll in mixture of sugar (1/2 cups) and cinnamon (1 teaspoon). Or, dip them in a glaze made of 1/3 cup butter, 2 cups confectioners' sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla and about 4 tablespoons hot water.

Overnight Sticky Buns
I have to say these are one of my favorite things to make. They're easy to whip up (and practically foolproof, really) and they never fail to impress me (or others) with their appearance and flavor.

1 envelope active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup warm water
¼ cup honey, maple syrup or corn syrup
¼ vegetable oil
¼ cup orange juice
3 ¾ to 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter, softened
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
2 tablespoons grated orange peel (optional)

½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup butter or margarine
¼ cup corn syrup
1/8 cup water
1 cup chopped pecans

In the bowl of an electric mixer, dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in warm water. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, mix honey, oil, orange juice and ½ cup water. Add to the yeast mixture.
With the mixer set on low speed, gradually add the flour, about 1 cup at a time, to the yeast/sugar mixture. Continue adding until a solid ball of dough has formed and has pulled away from the sides of the mixer bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (3 to 5 minutes total).
Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Take the dough (in bowl) out of the refrigerator the next morning and let sit out for about 40 minutes. While the dough is coming to room temperature, combine topping ingredients and spread on the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish (or spoon into the bottoms of 1-cup muffin tins).

After dough has reached room temperature, punch it down and turn out onto lightly floured surface. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough into a rectangle approximately 9x14 inches. Spread butter/margarine over dough, leaving a ½-inch border on all sides. Sprinkle sugar, cinnamon and orange peel over butter.

Starting with long edge, roll dough into a spiral, jelly-roll style. Pinch edges together to seal. Cut roll into 12 pieces. Place slices in baking dish. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until rolls are almost doubled in size (about 30 minutes).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Uncover rolls and bake until light golden brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove pan from oven and let cool slightly. Invert rolls onto a cookie sheet and serve.

Makes 12 rolls

Monday, May 09, 2005

Hey, these scones don't suck!

I've always respected scones more than enjoyed them. Traditional scones just aren't flavorful (read: sweet) enough to catch or keep my attention for more than a few bites.

That all changed when my husband, David, and I first paid a visit to a local eatery called Lazy Jane's. Jane, the proprietess, is known for her "world class" scones, and that's exactly what we found when we ordered a few of her triple chip (featuring chocolate, white chocolate and butterscotch chips) scones on our first visit.

Ever since then I've been looking for a scone recipe that closely resembles the ones at Lazy Jane's. I struck out (horribly) until recently, when someone shared a drop scone recipe in the pages of Bon Appetit.

Triple Chip Scones
Although the recipe below contains three kinds of chips like those found at Jane's, you can alter them to your liking--coconut, nuts, toffee chips and dried berries all seem like good additions to these buttery, sweet pastries.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
½ cup (each) chocolate, white chocolate and butterscotch chips
1/2 cup (or more) chilled whippingcream
1 large egg

As always (or nearly always), preheat your oven before beginning (this time to 400 degrees F). Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet and set aside.

Pour the first four ingredients into a medium bowl and whisk to combine (you can sift it if you want to make it harder on yourself, but there's really no need).

Add the butter and, using your fingertips, rub it into the flour mixture until a coarse meal forms. Add the chips and stir to combine.

Pour the 1/2 cup cream and egg into a small bowl and blend with a fork or whisk. Gradually add cream mixture to dry ingredients, tossing with a fork until dough comes together in moist clumps. Add more cream by teaspoonfuls if the dough seems dry.

Knead the dough against the side of the bowl just until it comes together (a few strokes at most). Turn out dough onto the baking sheet and lightly press it into a 4x8-inch rectangle. Cut scones into 2-inch squares and place about 2 inches apart. Bake until golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 18 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, May 06, 2005

It's a (homemade) marshmallow world

I know what you're thinking. "You can make your own marshmallows?" And once that thought leaves your befuddled brain, it's followed closely by: "Why would you want to make your own marshmallows? You can buy them for 69 cents a bag at the local grocery store."

The answer to the first question is, as you can see below, "yes." The answer to the second question is, well, those 69-cent marshmallows you buy at the store are dry, chewy (if you're lucky) bits of nastiness. Homemade marshmallows, on the other hand, are soft, tender, pillows of perfection ready to be put to any number of tasks. You can eat them "plain," put them in a steaming hot cup of cocoa (or, like my sister-and-law, add them to a cup of coffee), dip them in chocolate or white chocolate for a simple confection, or use them in any of the recipes listed below.

If your goal is to eat them out of hand, though, you may want to skip by the "plain vanilla" version and move straight on to the chocolate variation instead. They're dense and decadent in a way no store-bought marshmallow will ever lay claim--a perfect amalgamation of marshmallow and fudge.

Vanilla Marshmallows
One note of warning here: You must have a candy thermometer and a stand mixer (a splash guard's a good thing to have, too) to make these. Not only would it take forever to whip these up with a hand-held mixer, I'm sure you'd be risking bodily harm. And that's never good.

4 envelopes gelatin
1 ½ cup water
3 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract p
powdered sugar and potato (or corn) starch for dusting

Line a half-sheet pan with a 1-inch rim with aluminum foil (for thicker marshmallows, use a 9x13-inch pan). Coat the foil with vegetable oil or non-stick spray. Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment.

Pour 3/4 cup of the water in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the gelatin over to soften.

Put the sugar, corn syrup, remaining 3/4 cup water and salt in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until it reaches the soft-ball stage (234-240 degrees F). With the mixer at full speed, pour all of the hot syrup slowly down the side of the bowl. Be careful as the mixture is very liquid and hot at this point and some may splash out of the bowl. Whip until the mixture is very fluffy and stiff, about 10 minutes. Add vanilla extract and mix for about one minute more.

Pour mixture into the foil-lined pan and smooth with an oiled offset spatula so that it's level with the top of the rim (it won't completely fill the pan). Allow the mixture to sit, uncovered at room temperature for 10 to 12 hours.

Mix equal parts powdered sugar and potato (or corn) starch and sift generously over the rested marshmallow slab. Turn it out onto a cutting board or counter, peel off foil and dust with more sugar/starch mixture. Slice with a thin-bladed oiled knife or oiled cookie cutters. Dip all cut edges in sugar/starch mixture and shake off excess.

Marshmallows will keep several weeks at room temp in an air-tight container.

Chocolate variation:
Replace initial 3/4 cup of water in mixing bowl with 1/2 cup of cocoa dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water in a separate bowl. Soften gelatin in an additional 1/4 cup cold water in mixing bowl. Add cocoa mixture to mixing bowl and proceed with recipe as above.

To get a lighter texture as well as a lighter chocolate flavor, reduce cocoa to 1/4 cup.

Vegan Marshmallows
Why aren't the regular marshmallows listed above vegan, you ask? Well, gelatin is made from horse hooves--a no-no for most vegans (and vegetarians, for that matter). So, for those seeking an animal-friendly marshmallow, I give you the following recipe (found while perusing the great website, eGullet).

By the way, you can order the vegan/kosher gelatin on line at Barry Farm Foods.

3 tablespoons kosher/vegan gelatin
1/2 cup water
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Put the gelatin and ½ cup water in the bowl of a stand mixer and let it sit for about an hour.

Once about 30 minutes have passed, begin to preparing the "syrup." Place the sugar, corn syrup, ½ cup water and salt in a heavy saucepan over low heat and stir until dissolved. Raise heat to medium and bring mixture to a boil. (Helpful hint: When the mixture starts to boil, cover it about 3 minutes to allow any crystals which have formed to be washed down from the sides of the pan. Be careful, though, not to let the mixture boil over.) Uncover and continue to cook (without stirring) over medium heat until the mixture reaches the firm-ball stage (240-244 degrees F).

Remove saucepan from heat, turn on the mixer to high and slowly pour the syrup over the gelatin. Continue to beat mixture for about 10 minutes, until it is light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract and beat for another minute or so.

Pour the mixture into an half-sheet (jelly roll) pan or a 9x13-inch pan that has been lined with foil and coated in oil. When it has dried for about 12 hours, remove it from the pan, cut it into squares with a knife or pizza cutter dusted with cornstarch, and store the fully dusted pieces in a closed tin.

Confetti Squares
If you're going to make your own marshmallows, you have to make some rice Krispie treats, right? Well, you certainly could, butI prefer this colorful (and more flavorful) take on that old childhood favorite, cooked up by marshmallow maven (who would have thought?) Martha Stewart.

9 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
12 cups marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
6 cups Cap'n Crunch cereal
6 cups Froot Loops cereal

Grease a 9x9x2-inch baking pan with oil or shortening; set aside.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add salt and marshmallows; stir with a wooden spoon until melted. Remove from heat. Add cereal and stir until combined.

Press cereal mixture evenly into baking pan. Let cool, about 30 minutes. Cut into 3-by-3-inch bars. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

S'mores Squares
Here's another wonderful recipe developed by Ms. Martha. If you're going to make this one, I'd make thicker marshmallows to start with--using a 9x13-inch pan instead of the jelly roll pan mentioned in the first recipe.

1 batch vanilla marshmallows, cut into 2-inch squares
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 6 tablespoons room temperature, plus more for pan
1 ½ cups crushed graham-cracker crumbs
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Brush a 9x9-inch baking pan with melted butter.

In a large bowl, combine graham-cracker crumbs, 7 tablespoons melted butter, and remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Press mixture firmly into prepared pan. Transfer pan to oven, and bake until the crust has set, 15 to 18 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a simmer. In a medium heat-proof bowl, combine chocolate with remaining 6 tablespoons butter. Set the bowl over the simmering water, and stir until chocolate and butter have melted. Pour chocolate mixture over cooled graham-cracker crust. Using an offset spatula, spread chocolate mixture into an even layer. Transfer to refrigerator, and chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Cut chocolate crust into nine 3-inch squares. Top each square with a marshmallow, and place assembled s’mores under the broiler just until marshmallows turn golden brown, about 20 seconds. Serve immediately.

Fluffernutter Bars
The following recipe comes from my mom. They're another family favorite, though they're known at our house as "salty peanut chews." Not the most appetizing name. So, I changed the name to "fluffernutter bars," as they remind me a bit of the famed sandwich made of marshmallow creme and peanut butter.

1 package yellow cake mix
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups marshmallows
2/3 cup corn syrup
¼ cup butter or margarine
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12-ounce package peanut butter chips
2 cups Rice Krispies cereal
2 cups peanuts

Mix together first four ingredients (cake mix, melted butter, egg and vanilla) and pat into 9x13-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately sprinkle with marshmallows. Return to oven for 1-2 minutes or until marshmallows begin to puff. Cool while preparing topping.

In large saucepan heat corn syrup, margarine, vanilla and peanut butter chips just until chips are melted and mixture is smooth, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in cereal and nuts. Immediately spoon warm topping over marshmallows, spreading to cover. Chill and then cut into squares or rectangles.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A slice for you, two slices for me (sweet quick breads)

There's an old English proverb that goes "Never fall out with your bread and butter." That's especially true if the bread in question is of the sweet, and quick, variety. Quick breads are one of those foods that can be prepared and enjoyed by anyone. There's no need for yeast, no need for kneading, no need to wait around while the dough rises and proofs. You just mix the ingredients together, dump the resulting dough into a loaf pan, bake it, cool it and eat it.

The quick breads below are perfect for breakfast or brunch, or as an afternoon (or after-dinner) snack. Enjoy a slice (or two) plain, or smeared with some cream cheese, butter or anything else that tickles your fancy.

Lemon-Blueberry Loaf Cake
Anyone who knows me knows I love rich, decadent desserts. But I also love simple treats that highlight just a few, fresh flavors. This loaf cake is an example of the latter. It's completely uncomplicated, easy to whip up in a jiffy, and full of wonderful, summertime flavors. Serve slices topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of fresh blueberries - or make a fantastic trifle using cubes of the cake, lemon curd and whipped cream.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
3-4 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries or frozen, thawed, drained (dust with flour to keep them from sinking during baking)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8x4-inch loaf pan.

Combine first three ingredients in small bowl. Using electric mixer, cream butter with one cup sugar in large bowl until mixture is light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add lemon peel. Mix in dry ingredients alternatively with milk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Fold in blueberries.

Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake until golden brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes (check at about 50 minutes). Cool 30 minutes in pan on rack. Turn bread out of pan and cool completely on rack.

Makes one 8-inch loaf.

Strawberry Bread
I love strawberries, but I rarely use them in recipes. I'm not sure why--maybe it's because I've found so few recipes that make good use of them. This recipe, I think, does just that. The resulting bread looks beautiful (a pale pink) and tastes even better.

If you want to spoil yourself, spread a little softened cream cheese on a slice before you gobble it down :)

3 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 cups sliced strawberries, lightly mashed
1 ½ cups cooking oil (substitute applesauce for some of the oil, if desired)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 8x4-inch loaf pans.

Beat eggs with an electric mixer on medium until thick and light. Add sugar and beat just until combined. Add oil (and applesauce, if using), and mix once again until combined.

Stir dry ingredients together. Add to the sugar-egg mixture and stir until just moistened. Fold in mashed berries.

Bake for about 50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Loosen edges and remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack. Wrap and store overnight before slicing.

Cranberry-Banana Bread
I found this recipe on another great blog called "Chocolate & Zucchini." The resulting bread tastes as good as it looks--the tart cranberries a perfect complement to the sweet banana.

Although the cranberries are a nice change of pace, feel free to substitute other berries (fresh or dried) if cranberries are hard to come by.

1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 small bananas, sliced and mashed
1 cup cranberries, chopped
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees. Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan.

Using a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the eggs one by one, mixing well between each addition. Add in the banana and cranberries, the water and the vanilla extract. Mix again until blended, but not too much : just until everything's combined.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add the dry ingredients into the batter, and mix until just combined--don't over-mix.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for approximately 55 minutes or until the top of the cake is nicely brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Let rest for ten minutes, then run a knife around to loosen the sides, and turn out on a rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread
My mom has made this bread every summer for as long as I can remember. At first, I wouldn't eat it--the idea of zucchini as an ingredient in something sweet disgusted me. But after getting up the courage to finally try a bite, I was hooked. It's sweet (but not too sweet) and incredibly moist. If you don't eat the whole loaf in a few days (not likely, but I guess it's possible), wrap it well and freeze it for later.

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup chocolate chips (can also add a handful of walnuts, if that's your thing)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9x5-inch bread pans (can also use smaller pans or muffin tins as well).

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs, oil and vanilla. Mix well. Stir in zucchini. Fold in chips and walnuts (if using).

Turn batter into pans. Bake for about 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out to cool completely.