Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Dining with the Bloggers - March 30th

From the moment I laid eyes on Barrett's photo and recipe for his Mexican Black Bean Tart With Cornmeal Crust, I knew I was going to have to try it. I loved everything about it...from its ingredients (especially the black beans) to its being a tart. With this week's Dining with the Bloggers theme being "Pies and Tarts - Sweet and Savory", the time had finally come (yay!).

Since I was preparing this just for me and I wasn't sure how well it would do as leftovers, I decided to cut the recipe in half and cook it in 10-cm individual tart pans. I made 3, but I think I could have made 4 without much trouble. I found that the timing provided by Barrett worked perfectly for these smaller tarts as well. I didn't attempt to locate Chihuahua cheese and instead used the suggested substitution of mozarella and jack cheese.

Barrett commented in his post that he was particularly proud of the cornmeal crust, and rightly so. It is delicious in its own right, but it is also a perfect accompaniment to the spicy black bean filling. It is corny, buttery and wonderfully crisp. The finished tarts were beautiful and delicious - absolutely perfect in every way. I even relished the leftovers which I reheated in the microwave. Although the crust was not as crispy, it did not get at all soggy and the flavors and textures were still incredible. I was sorry to see the last one go! I have no doubt that I will be making Barrett's tart again!

I wonder what Zarah found ... maybe something sweet for dessert?

Monday, March 28, 2005

Mondays with Maida - Praline Wafers

Page 46 in the old book / page 77 in the new book

These are very thin, crispy, candy-like cookies that are supposed to be reminescent of New Orleans pralines. They are very sweet and have brown sugar and pecans in them, but to my mind the similarity ends there.

I had a terrible time making these because I made one very big mistake. I've been successfully using parchment paper for years and never thought twice about using something different (although I do have Silpat mats that I use from time to time, I feel that parchment is less fuss). You may recall I mentioned way back when that the old book routinely calls for lining the cookie sheets with foil, while the new book specifies parchment. I knew that these cookies were going to be extremely thin and fragile and for some reason got it in my head that maybe the foil might be a better bet. DO NOT use foil to line the cookie sheets for these cookies! I ended up tossing a good deal of the first batch in the trash, still attached to the foil.

Supposedly, when the cookies have been baked the correct amount of time, they will come off the foil easily. I was able, with great difficulty, to remove the first sheet of cookies (which I think was probably slightly undercooked) from the foil. I put the second sheet back in the oven for a couple of minutes and then they came off easily enough, but the next two sheets never came off the foil. I put them back in the oven over and over again, but they were stuck fast. I switched to parchment for the last sheet of the first batch and all of the hastily prepared second batch and had no trouble with sticking. Live and learn!

Given my history with these cookies, I was probably a harsh critic. They are good, but I didn't find them particularly satisfying as a cookie. With only two tablespoons of flour (for 28 cookies), they really are more like candy than a cookie. They are incredibly easy to make, though. They take about three minutes to mix in a saucepan, shaping is not much of an issue (just be sure to distribute the pecans), and removing them from parchment is not a problem.

However, judging by how quickly they were consumed in my office and the responses of the cookie panel, you might want to disregard my opinion!

Suzanne: "At first taste, I thought the cookie was too sweet. Then I realized it tasted like a crunchy, chewy, pecan pie. The cookie was thin and lacey. Rating - 3.5"

Denny: "Another one that I wouldn't normally like, but did. Rating - 3.8"

Laura: "Yummy! Melts in your mouth with just the right amount of crunch! Rating - 5"

Phil: "More a wafer than a classic cookie - thin, chewy, sweet, with an occasional ripple of pecan. Tends to stick to those back molars for further snacking. For weight watchers may be one of the more lethal cookie varieties since it appears such a slim wafer is not very caloric. Rating - 4.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.2

Next week – The Farmer's Wife's Pecan Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Thursday, March 24, 2005

IMBB 13 - Peanut Butter (or muffin)'s

IMBB 13 almost snuck past me this month - falling on a Thursday for the first time and coming so close on the heels of SHF 6. But luckily I was checking on a few of my favorite blogs last night and saw an early entry. I didn't want to miss this one - Maki of I was just really very hungry is hosting the 13th edition with the theme, My Little Cupcake (or muffin) - so I made myself some (or muffin)'s.

By all rights these shouldn't have turned out at all, and while I think they still need some adjustments, they came out surprising well. My approach was slap-dash at best. While I was eating my dinner this evening I looked at the muffin recipes in two cookbooks to get some general guidelines for amounts of dry ingredients, wet ingredients, eggs, and leavening. Then I took my idea - a savory peanut butter muffin with cornmeal and whole wheat flour - and wrote down amounts that seemed in line with the other recipes.

They are not very sweet at all, with a nice light texture and a little crunch from the cornmeal. On the down side, they were a little dry and the flavor was a little more subtle than I'd hoped for. I had originally planned to use a quarter teaspoon of cayenne, but chickened out and used only an eighth. I would increase the cayenne next time. I think I might also try increasing the peanut butter slightly - perhaps to half a cup. I had originally planned to use peanut oil, but I didn't have any. Once long ago I had some roasted peanut oil and I think that might be very nice in this recipe.

Peanut Butter (or muffin)'s

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne
2 eggs
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup natural peanut butter (salted)
2 tbs canola oil
1 cup milk
sesame seeds and fleur del sel for sprinkling on top

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Mix in the brown sugar, then the peanut butter, then the oil, and finally the milk. Using a spatula, stir in the dry ingredients, just until incorporated. Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups and sprinkle with sesame seeds and fleur de sel. Bake at 375 F for 25 minutes.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Dining with the Bloggers - March 23rd

I hate to rush through this post - the recipe I found this week is really wonderful. And just look at that lovely Dining with the Bloggers logo that Zarah made. It's just that it's late and I really must get to bed...

Our chosen theme this week is Rice. I looked all over and for some reason had a little difficulty finding something that appealed to me. I think part of the problem was that my criteria extended beyond taste...I wanted easy too. I knew I wasn't going to fit the cooking in this weekend, since I had other cooking projects planned, so I needed something quick and easy. When I get home in the evening (usually around 7:30 or so) I'm ravenous and if I can't get dinner together quickly I start stuffing my face with whatever munchies I can lay my hands on.

Fortunately, when I came to Deb's blog, In My Kitchen, a search for "rice" turned up a simple and delicious recipe for Asparagus & Rice Soup with Pancetta and Black Pepper (and I just realized that I completely forgot to put in the black pepper!). Besides sounding yummy and being easy, this soup had asparagus in it. I had just been admiring the asparagus this weekend at Whole Foods - seeing those slender little sprouts only served to further whet my appetite for Spring. So Monday evening after work I made a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up some asparagus and then rushed home to whip up some soup. I'm not exagerating when I say I had dinner on the table 45 minutes after I got home, and before starting the soup I went through my mail, checked my email and fed my cat. The soup couldn't have been easier - but do pay heed to Deb's warning about overcooking the asparagus. It happens fast!

So I had my first dose of Spring and it was good. It was very good!

Don't forget to stop by Zarah's to see what she found. Good night!!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Mondays with Maida - Lemon Walnut Wafers

Page 45 in the old book / page 78 in the new book

These are small lemon flavored cookies with walnuts. They are crispy around the edges and slightly soft in the middle. They were very easy to make and especially good just out of the oven. My mom loves all things lemon and I think I'll be making these next time they come to dinner.

This week the newly convened "Cookie Panel" gives me a hand evaluating the cookies for the first time. When I asked them help me out with this, I never dreamed that any more than the recipe would be critiqued. Turns out, though, that my execution of the recipe is also the subject of their evaluation! I was tempted to go back to them and ask that they only consider the recipe, but I think that the problems that I had with this recipe (and any recipe) are probably worth discussing, since others may have similar difficulties.

My main problem (again) was with timing. These are very small cookies and you really don't want them to have too much color. The cookies in my first batch were a little too large (based on the number of cookies the recipe specified), but these cookies were favored over the smaller ones by those that had one of each. I think making the cookies a little bigger would also make them less likely to overcook.

The greatest strength of these cookies is their surprisingly intense lemon flavor. They have both lemon juice and lemon rind in them and these provide a wonderful citrus taste that you seldom find in a cookie or cake unless it has been doused with a syrup or glaze after baking.

So now the Cookie Panel will tell you what they thought...

Suzanne: "Intense lemony flavor. Crunchy with soft center. Great with vanilla ice cream. Good with coffee. Rating - 4"

Denny: "Lemon Walnut Wafers are not on my list of favorites but I'd still rate these a 4. Very good. A few were baked a little too long but no noticeable burned taste. Rating - 4"

Laura: "Very nice and lemony! Rating - 3.5"

Phil: "Strengths - distinct lemon flavor nicely tempered by walnut chunks. Weaknesses - more like a cookie than a wafer. Some variability in texture and flavor for two cookies sampled. One a bit dry, the other just right. Happened to chill half of the preferred cookie having to rush off to a meeting. Chilling seemed to diminish the lemon flavor a bit. Rating - 3.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.75

Next week – Praline Wafers

Nutrition Facts

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Meet the Cookie Panel

If you’ve been reading my regular Mondays with Maida series, you know I’ve been bringing cookies into my office nearly every week. I decided to enlist the help of a few of my coworkers in evaluating the cookies each week. That way you’ll get several points of view. I’ve asked that each week they rate the cookie on a scale from 1 to 5 (5 being the best possible score) and give me some brief comments. After collecting their ratings and remarks for the first cookie (to be posted tomorrow), I think I can say they won’t be afraid to tell it like it is!

I asked each panelist to jot down what they like in a cookie. Here are their responses:

Suzanne: “1. Anything chocolate or with chocolate chips; 2. Anything with nuts; and 3. I prefer a crunchy cookie rather than a cake textured cookie.”

Denny: “I am honored to be on the CCC (Cathy’s Cookie Committee). I generally like Chocolate & Nuts or Nutty.”

Laura: “Depending on my mood and taste at the moment, I like all kinds of cookies (crunchy, chewy, thin, thick, with nuts, without nuts, etc…).”

Phil: “Willing to try just about any type of cookie with the exception of the really unconventional (e.g. cicada cookies or anything with bugs in them). Generally biased in favor of cookies that aren’t dry. Favorite ingredients include: chocolate, most nuts, cranberry, prune, or a noticeable hint of interesting spices.”

Lest you think that Phil has been watching too much “Fear Factor”, I should explain his remark about cicada cookies. During last spring’s Brood X cicada emergence, another coworker actually baked some cicada cookies. I didn’t hear about these until after the fact, but I’m with Phil on this one. I like cookies, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere!

Friday, March 18, 2005

SHF 6 – A Tale of Two Puddings

It’s Sugar High Friday once again. This time it is hosted by Debbie of words to eat by and the theme is Stuck on You (Caramel). Up until today I had never caramelized sugar. It was one of those things I was sort of afraid to do. If nothing else, at least I have cleared that hurdle.

I somehow got in my head I wanted to make caramel pudding. I was googling about and came across an old Fanny Farmer recipe for Caramel Junket. I’d heard of Junket before but wasn’t really sure what it was. While the term is commonly used to refer to the dessert itself, it is actually the brand name of the rennet tablets used to create the desserts. According to the maker of the tablets, desserts made by adding rennet tablets to milk are more properly called rennet-custards.

I managed to find Junket tablets at Whole Foods, so I gave the Caramel Junket (or should I say Caramel Rennet-Custard?) a try. Melting the sugar to make the caramel was easy enough, though I had some trouble when I added the boiling water. The caramel seized and I ended up with a couple of chunks that never did dissolve back into the syrup. Warmed milk, the crushed junket tablet, a little salt and vanilla are then added to the caramel syrup. The junket must be left in a warm place until it sets and then it is chilled.

It’s possible that I rushed the process – I was in a hurry to have a taste and get my photos. Or maybe using skim milk was not a good idea. In any case, I’m pretty sure something went wrong. My guess is that junket doesn’t have a firm set. It also doesn’t feel thick and creamy in your mouth. But I don’t think it should have been separating as badly as it was after I spooned some out of the dish. The caramel flavor was barely noticeable and I found the thin, jiggly texture totally unappealing.

So, back to the drawing board. I decided to combine the junket recipe with my favorite chocolate pudding recipe (a recipe that Debbie is also a fan of) to create my own caramel pudding. I followed the same procedure for making the caramel and had better luck this time around with getting the caramel completely dissolved after adding the boiling water. While the end result was much better than the junket, the caramel flavor was still a little weak. One thing I forgot to do that might help is to add a pinch of salt. I’ve included that in the recipe below. I was pleased to find out that the Moosewood chocolate pudding recipe from which my recipe is derived is very resilient and can probably tolerate quite a bit of fiddling. I’m thinking butterscotch, then maybe lemon …

Caramel Pudding

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup boiling water
2 cups skim milk, warmed
3 tbs cornstarch
a pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla

Put the sugar in a heavy pan over medium-high heat and caramelize the sugar. Add boiling water (careful – it will bubble and steam ferociously when you first add it) and continue cooking until reduced to 1/3 cup. The caramel will seize when you add the water, but keep stirring and it should dissolve back into the syrup. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add a ladleful of the warmed milk and stir, then add the rest of the milk, the cornstarch and the salt. Put the pudding back over medium heat and cook, stirring continuously, until it starts to simmer. Reduce the heat and continue cooking and stirring for another three or four minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into serving dish(es) and chill.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Dining with the Bloggers - March 16th

It seems of late that many Blogger food-bloggers are taking matters into their own hands and creating some much needed "categories" or themed archives of their own. I keep hoping that Blogger will see the light and add support for categories, but deep down I know that I too will soon be setting up some sort of make-shift arrangement here at my little kitchen.

As I prowl about the constantly expanding food blog universe in search of good-tasting recipes, I am increasingly grateful for both the official and unofficial forms of these helpful indexes. Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy has a particularly nice one. It sits right at the top of her home page and provides quick access to 76 different recipes (wow!) under six headings.

Quite conveniently for me, one of those headings corresponded with our Dining with the Bloggers theme this week - "Breakfast". I had been looking about for a granola recipe and was happy to find that Amy's granola sounded quite good and didn't have an extravagant amount of butter in it.

Until I started thinking about what to make for this week's Dining with the Bloggers, it had not occurred to me to make my own granola. But it turns out that homemade granola is as easy to make as it is delicious. It is also, as Amy points out, something that lends itself to improvisation. You can tailor it to your liking in so many different ways. I didn't venture far from Amy's recipe as written for this go-round, but look forward to being a little creative the next time. For this occasion I used the recommended oats, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and walnuts and then added the optional raisins and cinnamon.

I'd recommend that you definitely include the optional cinnamon. I tasted the granola before and after adding the cinnamon and I think it makes all the difference. This granola is not as sweet as most store-bought, but I found the more subtle sweetness to be just right - particularly if you're adding some fresh fruit. I've been eating it with cold skim milk and banana and enjoying it tremendously. I'll bet it would also be good stirred into some yogurt.

OK, time to go see what Zarah is serving for breakfast. Her weekend waffles will be a hard act to follow!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Mondays with Maida - Date-Nut Wafers

Page 44 in the old book / page 76 in the new book

These are large, thin and crispy cookies with chewy bumps here and there from the dates and walnuts. They're loaded with butter (aren't they all?) and are flavored with a little cinnamon.

The recipe calls for whole dates cut in four or five pieces. Normally I would cut them in slices, but I decided it would be quicker to cut them in quarters by cutting once lengthwise and then once crosswise. Don't be tempted to use those horrid extruded date pieces...there's no comparison! These cookies really spread, so only five will fit on a cookie sheet. The instructions recommend that you flatten the dough slighty with the back of the spoon so that the dates and walnuts won't be all bunched up in the middle of the cookie. The dough is soft and sticky, which makes this a little tricky, but using one spoon to push the dough off the back of the other helps.

These were wonderful! The texture is fantastic and I loved the hint of cinnamon together with the dates. They held up well the second day in that they stayed crisp, but pack them carefully! They are quite fragile and being so large makes them even more likely to break.

Next week – Lemon Walnut Wafers

Nutrition Facts

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Did you know?

Maybe I'm the last to know, but did you know you can freeze eggs? I can't count how many times I've thrown out whites or yolks because all I needed was one or the other. I was making cookies today that used two egg yolks and started wondering if I could freeze the whites. I googled "freezing egg whites" and came upon this page at the American Egg Board web site.

Not only can you freeze egg whites as is, you can freeze whole eggs by beating them slightly to blend before freezing, and you can even freeze egg yolks with a little preparation. You must add either salt, sugar or corn syrup to the yolks to prevent them from becoming too gelatinous (apparently freezing causes them to thicken to such an extent that they become unusable). If you will be using the yolks in something savory, add 1/8 teaspoon salt for each 4 yolks and blend. If you plan to use the yolks in something sweet, add either 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar or corn syrup to 4 yolks and blend.

Eggs will keep in the freezer for several weeks. They can be thawed overnight in the refrigerator. If you're in a hurry, they can be thawed under cold running water.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Dining with the Bloggers – March 9th

I cheated a little on our theme this week. Zarah had proposed a theme of cupcakes and muffins – coincidentally the same as the upcoming IMBB hosted by Maki this month. I had not made either muffins or cupcakes from any blogger recipes in the past, so I paid visits to some of my favorite blogs on the lookout for tempting recipes. I found a muffin recipe that I wanted to try but was still hunting for a cupcake recipe (my original plan was to try one muffin recipe and one cupcake recipe), when I came across a gorgeous Chocolate Zucchini Cake at Simply Recipes. Not cupcakes, not muffins… cake.

I really wanted this cake, so I decided to turn it into cupcakes. I cut the quantities down to one third the original size (since there were three eggs in the cake, that seemed easiest) and made 6 large cupcakes. I overloaded the cups which caused the tops to run together – I should have made 7 or 8 rather than 6. I used the glaze recipe that accompanies the cake recipe, but made it a little thicker by adding additional sugar.

The cupcakes were wonderful – moist and chocolaty with nuts inside and sweet vanilla icing on top. It was all I could do to wait until after dinner to try one. Moments after the first I was biting into a second … so much for portion control! I highly recommend this recipe – I’m sure it’s really great as a full-sized cake too.

Zarah will have found another wonderful muffin or cupcake recipe for you to try also…I’m betting on cupcakes! :-)

Monday, March 07, 2005

Mondays with Maida - Sunflower Coconut Cookies

Page 42 in the old book / page 75 in the new book

On reading the recipe, my first impression of these cookies was that they had everything but the kitchen sink in them - and it didn't seem to make much sense. It makes sense when you eat them, though. The coconut and oatmeal make them nicely chewy; the orange juice, orange rind and lemon rind give them a wonderful fruity flavor; and the sunflower seeds (yes - sunflower seeds) add a little crunch. There are raisins in there too, doing what raisins do...

There is nothing unusual about how these cookies are put together. The recipe mentions that they have a tendancy to burn on the bottom and suggests that you "be prepared to slide extra cookie sheets under the sheets holding the cookies - at least under the one on the lower rack." Of course I read this after the first batch was in the oven. I only have two cookie sheets, so I inverted a jelly roll pan on the lower rack and put the cookie sheet on top of it.

The texture of these cookies held up very well the second day - the outside didn't soften up at all. While these cookies were a little sweeter than I would have preferred, they were very good. The fruity flavor from the citrus was delicious and a nice change of pace from the recent spate of spice cookies.

Next week – Date-Nut Wafers

Nutrition Facts

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Dining with the Bloggers – March 2nd

I realize there are places where it’s warm this time of year… but it sure isn’t here! I love soup anytime of year, but particularly when it’s cold out. I also tend to favor one-pot meals and things that freeze well and can be reheated – soup fits the bill perfectly. I think too that soup lends itself to improvisation, which may be why there are so many enticing recipes out there. I’ve only tried a few, but I look forward to trying many more.

A few weeks ago I tried the Tomatillo and Sweet Potato Soup from the hungry tiger. Tomatillos, tomatoes, and garlic are roasted and then pureed and combined with sautéed onions, vegetable broth and seasonings. The recipe calls for sumac which I didn’t have, but I consulted the Cook’s Thesaurus and substituted a little lemon juice. The resulting soup is sweet, tangy, and hearty. It is quite different from anything I’ve ever had – probably because of the tanginess of the tomatillos. I enjoyed it from the start, but found it grew on me even more as I consumed the leftovers.

Just last week I made a gigantic batch of the Culinary Muse’s Skinny Soup. She’s not kidding when she tells you to “get out your largest pot”. Don’t let the name fool you, though. With a whole pound of lentils in it, this soup is a meal that is tasty and fills you up. There’s quite a bit of chopping to do, but it’s an easy soup to throw together. And with the huge quantity it makes, you can eat it all week and still have more for the freezer. How great is that?

With all those great soups out there, Zarah is bound to have found another yummy one. If you haven’t already, stop by Food and Thoughts to see for yourself.