Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sweet simplicity: Vanilla pudding and butter cookies

I'm sure some will think I'm crazy, but on occasion I like to make pudding from scratch. The stuff you buy in the box and mix with milk just doesn't do it for me--it's always too thin and tastes too artificial. The real stuff isn't all that difficult to whip up, and it tastes so much better.

This particular recipe comes from an issue of Everyday Food. I like to pair the finished product with a few simple butter or shortbread cookies, though strawberries or raspberries--and a dollop of whipped cream--sure sound tasty right about now...

Homemade Vanilla Pudding

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups milk
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter (salted or unsalted, whichever you prefer)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Have ready a fine-mesh sieve over a medium bowl.

In a medium saucepan, off heat, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Gradually whisk in the milk, and then whisk in the yolks.

Whisking constantly, cook mixture over medium heat until the first large bubbles form and burst. Reduce heat to low and cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute more.

Remove from hear, and immediately pour through sieve and into bowl. Stir in vanilla and butter. Cover pudding with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold.

Serve with butter cookies and sweetened whipped cream.

Makes about 6 servings.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Who needs takeout when you can make it yourself?

My husband, David, adapted this recipe from a great vegetarian cookbook, The Compassionate Cook. The original version of the recipe called for tofu instead of vegetarian beef, left out the green beans, used less turmeric, etc. It just goes to show that this recipe can stand up to quite a bit of tinkering, so go ahead and use whatever ingredients you prefer.

Cashew Fried Rice

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 medium yellow onion
1 pound vegetarian ground beef (we like the GimmeLean brand for its sausage-like flavor)
5 cups cold cooked rice
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garlic powder
4-8 ounces frozen green beans or peas (a nice handful)
1/2 - 1 cup cashews

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, salt and sugar and stir until combined. Set aside.

Pour 1 tablespoon oil into a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the beef and chopped yellow onion and cook, stirring regularly, until cooked through (about 5 minutes). Remove beef and onions from the pan and set aside.

Place skillet back on heat and add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the beans or peas and cook until heated through, then add the rice, sauce mixture, beef and onions, turmeric and garlic powder and cook for 3-5 minutes (until everything is nice and hot). Stir in cashews and serve.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Chocolate chip cookies for the cruelty-free crowd

David's sister, Jan, just paid us a visit and while she was here the two of us made some chocolate chip cookies together. Usually when I bake I go all out--butter, eggs, whole milk, the works. But Jan always seems to make the best chocolate chip cookies, despite the fact that they're vegan.

I don't know where Jan got this recipe from--we chose it because it didn't call for egg substitute (I didn't have any on hand and wasn't about to go back to the store). Jan found them a little greasy, but I thought they were just what the doctor ordered--especially after they cooled off a bit.

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup margarine
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated or turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream together the margarine and sugars in a large mixing bowl. Add the vanilla once everything has been combined nicely.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Slowly mix into the creamed mixture until incorporated (be careful to not over mix). Stir in the chocolate chips. (Mixture will be crumbly).

Form dough into walnut-sized balls and place on a cookie sheet (each sheet should allow 12-16 cookies). Bake for about 11 minutes. Cookies will flatten as they cool--don't worry!

Eat hot, maybe with some ice cream dolloped on top, or wait until they've cooled off (if you can!).

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The perfect brunch--courtesy of Cafe Nola

Today, David and I decided to venture outside of the lovely little nest we've created in Seattle (that can be a scary proposition--believe me). Our destination: Bainbridge Island--just a hop, skip and jump (or ferry ride) away from downtown.

As soon as we got onto the island, we made a beeline for Cafe Nola, a restaurant that was profiled earlier this year on the Food Network show, Giadda's Weekend Getaways. In particular we were hoping to try the caramel pecan french toast that made Giadda squeal with delight (literally).

It was, of course, wonderful. Though if I were in charge of the kitchen I'd add a bit more of the caramel and the pecans. Really, can you have too much of either? Here's the good news, though--the recipe for the dish was added to shortly after Giadda's show aired, so I can make it exactly as I want, whenever I want (and I may just take myself up on that little offer, since hoofing it over to Bainbridge just for french toast could become a little pricey).

Café Nola Caramel Pecan French Toast

1 loaf challah bread
Melted butter, to oil griddle
6 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 orange, zested and juiced
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

Cut challah bread in 1-inch thick slices. Allow to sit out for awhile to dry out.

Heat griddle to 350 degrees F and lightly brush with a butter soaked piece of paper towel.

Combine eggs, heavy cream, orange zest and juice, cinnamon and ground nutmeg in a shallow wide dish. Dip the slices of bread into the egg mixture allowing it to soak in on both sides. Transfer to each piece to the hot griddle and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Try to flip only once.

Serve topped with store-bought caramel sauce, chopped pecans and orange bourbon butter.

For the orange bourbon butter:

1 pound unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons orange flavored liqueur (recommended: Cointreau)
2 tablespoons bourbon
3 tablespoons orange zest

Cream the butter in a mixer. Add the bourbon and orange zest and mix well. Leave at room temperature and serve with the French toast.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pesto for the masses

My husband's take on the traditional pesto is not only easy on the wallet, it's easy in every other way as well. If you'd like to dress it up a bit, add sauteed mushrooms and/or cubed tofu (or whatever protein you prefer) as we do.

If you're really looking to impress, make sure you try the sun-dried tomato variation. Heck, try it even if you aren't trying to impress. I promise you'll love it.

David's Poor Man's Pesto

½ cup olive oil
2 cups (half of a large bunch) fresh parsley, stems removed
1 teaspoon dried basil
5 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup ground almonds
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 pound pasta, cooked (reserve a few tablespoons of water)

Toss all of the ingredients (except the pasta, of course) into a blender or food processor and pulse until fully combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Toss with cooked pasta.

If it seems dry, stir in a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta water until it reaches your desired consistency.

Serve topped with more Parmesan and whatever other toppings (sauteed mushrooms, fried/cubed tofu, etc.) you prefer.

Sun-dried tomato variation: Reduce fresh parsley to one cup and replace with about 30 sun-dried tomatoes that have been reconstituted in hot water for about 20 minutes (use the freeze-dried variety, not the ones packed in oil). Continue as above, using the same ingredients and following the same instructions.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Let them eat cake--doughnuts, that is

Ever since my husband and I moved to Seattle, I've been obsessed with doughnuts and other sweet, cakey things. That's probably because we seem to be surrounded by them--the world-famous Top Pot Doughnuts is just a short walk away, and the Pike Place Market (with its wondrous Pike Place Bakery) is similarly close.

I certainly don't mind walking to get a pastry now and then--in fact, I prefer it--and the creations we buy at Top Pot and Pike Place Bakery aren't going to break the bank (doughnuts run about $1.50 each, while rolls and other goodies come in around $2.50), but I always prefer making something myself if it's any sort of possibility.

So, this weekend I decided to try my hand at making my own cake doughnuts. Although I ran into a few problems along the way and ended up with less-than-perfect pastries, I think the end result will be more positive for those who actually have all the ingredients on hand when they start the process and don't have to wait a few days before frying them up.

Classic Cake Doughnuts

¼ cup vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs (at room temperature)
1 cup canned evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 - 4.5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt

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

In a standing mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and shortening together on medium speed until just combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the milk and vanilla and combine until the mixture is light, about two minutes.

Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt into a medium bowl.

Reduce the mixer’s speed to low and add the flour mixture until just combined. (The texture of the dough will be soft and loose). Transfer dough to a large piece of plastic wrap and wrap it well (make sure you scrape off all the dough clinging to the paddle). Refrigerate the dough for four hours or overnight.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the chilled dough out into a rectangle about ½-inch thick. Dip the edges of a 2 ½-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 or shortening into a tall, heavy bottomed put (or skillet) to fill it about 1/3 of the way to the top. Heat the shortening over medium heat until a thermometer inserted into the oil registers 360-375 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 2-3 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 or shortening returns to about 375 degrees F. between batches).

For sugared doughnuts, roll in sugar and cinnamon sugar while still warm. If covering in confectioners’ sugar, let doughnuts cool before rolling in the sugar.

Another possibility: top with a sugary frosting and some sprinkles. To make the frosting, put approximately one cup of confectioners' sugar in a small bowl and add one or two teaspoons of milk (for my doughnuts, I added one drop of red food coloring as well). Stir until smooth, adding more milk as needed to achieve a thick but spreadable frosting. Spread onto cooled doughnuts and top with sprinkles.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Now that's what I call a sweet roll!

No recipe here. If that's what you're looking for, you may as well move right along. But how can you resist looking at such a delectable sweet as this? That's exactly what I thought when I first saw this cream cheese-topped cinnamon roll at the Pike Place Bakery here in Seattle. Well, actually, I couldn't resist buying it and eating it--looking at it was third on the list, just a smidge ahead of talking a photo of it.

I also bought some dried figs at the market today, which will be sliced up and put atop a pizza (along with some crumbled brie and caramelized onions) tomorrow night. I'll tell you more about that if I can remember (and I'm not in a food coma). In the meantime, viva la Seattle!

Friday, February 16, 2007

My latest lunchtime obsession

For those who know me all too well (i.e., my husband), it's no surprise that I'm currently eating the same lunch day in and day out. This is a cycle I always get into--one week I'm obsessed with a certain cereal (most recent example: Kashi GoLean Crunch!), the next I've moved on to curry tofu wraps. It's never ending, and really a bit maddening.

So, my current lunchtime fave is a homemade concoction that has my hubby scratching his head. Here's what it entails:

1 cinnamon-raisin English muffin (I like Trader Joe's whole wheat 'British muffins'), toasted
2 eggs, sprinkled with salt and pepper and fried (with yolks broken, of course)
a few shavings of a sharp white cheese (manchego, baby!)

I fry the eggs separately while the muffin is toasting. I like my eggs salty and peppery, but you go ahead and do whatever pleases you most. If my husband ate eggs, he'd put about a tablespoon of cayenne pepper on his, but that's another story.

Anyway, when the eggs are done to your liking (I like mine hard), drop them on top of one half of your cinnamon-raisin muffin, sprinkle with a bit of the cheese, and then top with the other muffin half.

I know the cinnamon-raisin and egg combination (and cheese, for that matter) sounds a bit disgusting, but believe me when I say it's not.

I'm sure I'll get over this obsession soon enough, but I certainly won't be tossing away the recipe!