Friday, December 27, 2013

An Italian-American Holiday Tradition: Turkey Meatballs (from Molto Italiano)

These are so good and so easy! 

Spaghetti and meatballs at Christmas was one of the family traditions I loved best growing up in my 
Italian-American household. For days before the holiday, my Uncle David would tend-to and simmer a big pot of red sauce with meatballs, pork sausage and sometimes pork ribs too. We'd dip slices of fresh Italian bread slathered in salted butter into the sauce to satisfy our hunger pangs as the hours until Christmas ticked by. Then, on the big day, we'd heap the meatballs and sauce, dark and rich, onto al dente spaghetti and top everything off with grated parmesan cheese! 

*I grew up on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Every Wednesday and Saturday my grandfather would bring fresh loaves of Italian bread from the Sunrise Bakery to our house. Last time I checked, their bread is now only sold at Crosby's Marketplaces (in Beverly and Hamilton, MA) and perhaps only on Saturday mornings. If you live near there you should definitely try it!

My uncle would also make a big roast beef that was perfectly pink inside and crusty and delicious outside (my mom always called it "roast beast" ala The Grinch). It was a real treat to get a delicious crusty slice off the end of the roast right after it came out of the oven. Salty goodness.

Because I was/am too preggers to travel this year, the hubby and I hunkered down in NYC, just the two of us and our bump, and decided to make spaghetti and meatballs with red sauce our Christmas Eve tradition. I used Mario Batali's turkey meatball recipe because it is fabulous, easy and the meatballs always come out nice and fluffy. This recipe is particularly great because the turkey meat is much lighter than the usual pork/beef variety. Bonus!  

I followed Batali's recipe almost exactly. I didn't make his sauce, however, or my own for that matter. I just used Whole Food's Organic Italian Herb Tomato Sauce to which I added a teaspoon of dried oregano, 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme and 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary. It was SO good.

Mario Batali's Turkey Meatballs from Molto Italiano (only very slightly altered)
Polpettine di Tacchino
Yield: about 30-40 small meatballs
2 lbs ground turkey
1/2 cup milk, any fat content you have on hand is fine
2 large eggs, beaten
2 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs, I pulsed mine so they ranged from fine to chickpea sized
4 gloves garlic, minced finely
1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced finely
1/2 Tablespoon red pepper flakes
Tablespoon kosher salt
Tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 475.

In a large bowl toss together the bread crumbs, garlic, rosemary, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Add the milk and eggs and toss everything to combine it. Add the meat and gently massage it with your fingers or a wooden spoon. Your don't want to overwork the meat, but you do want to get all the lumps and knots of meat kneaded out and work the entire mass into a fluffy consistency. 

Gently roll a heaping tablespoon of the mixture between wet palms to shape. Be careful to use a light touch and not pack the meat together into a hard ball. Place each meatball just a little apart from the next in a casserole dish coated with olive oil. 

Once the meatballs are all formed. Cook them for 15 minutes at 475While they're cooking, make a simple sauce or doctor up a jarred one. 

After 15 minutes remove the meatballs from the oven and reduce the heat to 350. Toss the meatballs in the sauce and bake for an additional 45 minutes to 1 hour. Garnish with chopped parsley and Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve hot with crusty bread and al dente spaghetti. So good!!!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Amanda Hesser's Chocolate Dump-It Cake

This double-chocolate cake is good. I mean damn good. If you are a cake lover, you'll be in heaven. If you are not a cake lover, which neither my husband nor myself are, you'll still be in heaven. So there!

This cake is very rich but also light somehow, so you won't feel like you're about to have a heart attack after just a few bites. Amanda notes that her family refrigerates this cake, which was a big reason why the recipe appealed to me, and I highly recommend the chill. The result is a dense, rich, moist, cool cake that is simply everything a cake should be (but so very rarely is). 

I do have to say that the recipe is a bit fussy, or rather the frosting is, but after a couple of run-throughs I'm sure it feels like a no-brainer and the frosting is good enough (chocolaty, creamy and not too sweet) that it's definitely worth learning. 

Amanda Hesser's Chocolate Dump-It Cake from Food52
Yield: 10 respectable slices
cups sugar
ounces unsweetened baker's chocolate
1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup water
cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
teaspoons baking soda
teaspoon baking powder
teaspoon iodized sea salt
cup milk (I used low-fat)
teaspoon apple cider vinegar (I used Bragg's, shaken)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
teaspoon vanilla
sliced almonds for decoration (optional)

For the frosting:
1 1/2 cup Nestle’s semisweet chocolate chips, melted then cooled but still viscous
1 1/2 cup sour cream, warmed slightly

First things first, set your sour cream out on the counter so it will come to room temp and then begin to warm up by the time you are ready to ice this bad-boy.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. 

Place the sugar, unsweetened chocolate, butter and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally until all of the ingredients come together, then remove from the heat. The chocolate may look a little grainy but this is ok.  

Stir the milk and vinegar together (to make quick buttermilk) and set aside. 

Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together and also set that aside.  

Grease and flour your cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment, which you should also grease and flour. Amanda suggests using a 9-inch tube pan as the batter is quite wet/soupy and the edges can become dry before the center sets. I don't have a tube pan, so I used two 8 x 1 1/2 inch cake pans and tried to be sure not to over-bake.

Set the pans on a cookie sheet(s) to catch any drips. Mine didn't even come close to dripping/overflowing but if you use a tube pan and it's rather full, I'd be sure to follow this step just in case.

When the melted chocolate mixture is just warm to the touch, whisk it into the milk mixture and then add the slightly beaten eggs and vanilla. Then whisk in the dry ingredients until just combined. If the batter is very lumpy, which mine was despite having sifted the dry ingredients, you may want to pass it through a sieve using your whisk to get the flour lumps out. 

Pour the batter into your prepared pan(s) and bake in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes (but check at 20-25) until a toothpick in the center comes out clean

Let the cake cool in it's pan for about 10 minutes or so, then remove it, being sure to support the cake while you do so. Finish cooling it on a rack.

Now for the frosting, and sorry I didn't take any photos of this process...

While the cake cools, melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler. The melted chocolate and sour cream must be at about the same temperature to mix without becoming lumpy/grainy, so this part is a bit tricky. 

The chocolate will start to solidify at room temperature, or at least mine did, so I set it in a cold water bath to cool it while I set my sour cream on top of the warm oven to warm it gently to get the cooling/warming timing to aline more quickly.

I occasionally stirred both (separately) to get rid of any cold/hot spots. Using an instant read thermometer, I then checked the temps until each got both to about 78 degrees. I then briskly whisked a small amount of each together in a separate bowl to check to see if they'd meld and they did. 

Once you reach this step and the temps are good, just dollop a generous scoop of each in the new bowl and briskly whisk together a little at a time until smooth. NOTE: if you get a lumpy frosting, you can set the bowl in a warm water bath and whisk to try to get it to come together again. You can also try passing it through a sieve to remove the lumps.

Be sure the cake is completely cool before icing with an offset spatula for the best results. Press sliced almond onto the sides for a pretty finish if you like. 

After icing, refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. The frosting is soft, so refrigerating helps it to set up nicely. I liked the cake even better the next day. Yum, yum, yum!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lactation Cookies with Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Dried Cranberries and Toasted Pecans

I baked these lactation cookies for my dear friend Melissa who just gave birth to a breathtaking baby girl!Melissa and I have been co-preggers until now, we even started trying to conceive around the same time in a half-joking (but luckily successful) pregnancy pact. I am over the moon for Melissa and so excited to join her in new-mommy-hood in less than a month and a half! 

*I sent the special ingredients along with the cookies in her care package so she won't have to go scouting for them if she decides to make more!

The main ingredients that make lactation cookies "lactation cookies" are brewer's yeast, flaxseeds and oats. All are considered to be galactagogues, aka substances that improve lactation. Please note that brewer's yeast is bitter. I bought the debittered variety too and I can still taste just the slightest hint of bitterness in the final product (just the faintest after-taste). I think most folks wouldn't even notice it, as these cookies are really yummy, but do keep the bitterness factor in mind and stick to the 2 Tablespoons of brewer's yeast in the recipe. 

Flax is also bitter if it's rancid, so be sure to taste test it first to be sure that it's fresh, even if you just bought it. I'm warning you about this because, unfortunately, I had to toss my entire first batch of this recipe because it was so dang bitter. Arghhhh! 

To balance the brewer's yeast, you'll also want to keep the sugar at 2 cups (I know, ouch), feel free to use agave or honey for half the brown sugar if you want. Being that these are for lactating mom's who need a bunch of extra calories, fat and nutrients to feed their little ones, not to mention a kick of sugar to help get through the day, I feel ok about the richness of this recipe. Plus I used (and generally always do) all organic ingredients and whole grains, so these are pretty darn wholesome all things considered.

Lactation Cookies with Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Dried Cranberries and Toasted Pecans
Based on Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Lactation Cookies by Noel Trujillo 
Yield: about 3 dozen cookies @ 2 tablespoons of dough per cookie
4 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons flax seed meal *Taste this before proceeding to ensure it's not rancid/bitter
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon iodized table salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup steel cut oats *feel free to just use whatever oats you have on hand
1 cup dark chocolate *or any chocolate variety you like (optional)
1 cup raisins or dried cranberries
2 cups toasted chopped pecans
2 Tablespoons brewer's yeast *Note: brewer's yeast is bitter so stick to 2 T

Preheat your oven to 350°F. 

Place your pecans on a cookie sheet and toast for about 10-12 minutes until fragrant. 

Grind your flaxseeds, if they aren't already ground, and hydrate them with the 4 Tablespoons of water. I used golden flax seeds,, which are supposed to be more nutritious than the darker variety, and ground them in my spice/coffee grinder. Be sure to taste your flax meal mixture before moving forward with this recipe. If it tastes bitter that means it's gone rancid and you'll need to toss it out and get some fresh flax.  

I used my stand mixer for this whole process but you can use a handheld mixer if you prefer and just fold in the ingredients once you get to the flour stage. Cream the butter and brown sugar until it's fluffy. Add the eggs and then the flaxseed mix (taste test first!) and vanilla. Add the brewers yeast (just 2 Tablespoons), baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Add the flour. Stir in the oats, dried cranberries, dark chocolate chips and toasted chopped pecans. 

Using a tablespoon or soup spoon, scoop the batter in rounded mounds of about 2 tablespoons each. Roll them between wet palms, flatten slightly and set about and inch apart on your baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let them set up for a few minutes on the pan, then move them to a rack to finish cooling.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Banana Cream Pie for Thanksgiving? Yep, that's right!

I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving!

Ours was wonderful and busy. My husband's folks came to NYC from Nashville and we ran all over the city checking out the holiday windows and taking care of various to-do's like building the baby's crib (pictured below!). We also still managed to make and consume a gigantic feast. Priorities, y'all!

The one menu item I wanted to share with you is for the only thing that I completely followed someone else's recipe for. That's a rarity for me but this custard is totes off-the-hook! Also, I recognize that banana cream pie is a pretty unorthodox Thanksgiving item but my husband requested it and I love banana cream pie so I thought, what the heck.

About 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about a pack and a half of crackers)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the crust:
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Pulse the graham crackers into a fine crumb in your food processor (or break them up in a bag using a rolling pin or something similar). Pulse in the salt. On low speed, add in the butter until the crust starts to pull away from the sides. Press the crust into a 9 or 10 inch glass pie dish. Bake for 15 minutes until fragrant and golden. Allow the crust to cool while you make your custard.

Custard: I followed this recipe from the Memphis restaurant McEwen's on Monroe as posted on Epicurious. This is an outstanding custard recipe. It's crazy easy and insanely good. 
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4-5 ripe bananas, peeled, cut on the bias

To make the custard:
Whisk the sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the whipping cream and whole milk gradually, then add the egg yolks. Split a vanilla bean and scrape in the seeds then toss in the vanilla bean husk. Whisk the custard over low-medium heat until it thickens (and I mean thickens) and just comes to a boil, about 6-8 minutes. Pull it off the heat as soon as it comes together. This will happen all at once, so do not leave the pot once you get started. 

Whisk in the unsalted butter and vanilla extract. Find and discard the vanilla bean husk. Transfer the custard to a large bowl set in an ice bath to cool. Cover completely with plastic wrap so a skin does not form. Stir occasionally so the custard cools consistently throughout.

To construct your pie: This is how I wanted my bananas to look but I was too rushed for time.
Spread 1/2 of the custard over your pre-baked crust. Top with sliced bananas, then spread the rest of the custard over that. Cover the custard with bananas sliced on the bias and chill. Ideally you should chill the pie for about 8 hours but I chilled mine for only two and it was still awesome though it was definitely even better the next day.  

Oh and here's the crib!

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Tale of Two Pumpkin Pies: Ina Garten's Ultimate Pumpkin Pie w/ Perfect Pie Crust & Fresh Ginger Pumpkin Love Pie

Reeeee-Poooooost! In honor of Thanksgiving, I wanted to repost two excellent recipes for that oh-so Thanksgiving-y treat, pumpkin pie. Ina Garten's Ultimate Pumpkin Pie and Perfect Pie Crust is totally quintessential. 

The spiciness of this pie packs a punch but it's definitely THE traditional pumpkin pie, perfect for those who want to hit the nail on the head. 

For something a little more outside-the-box, I highly recommend this recipe for Fresh Ginger Pumpkin Love Pie. The zesty, sweet, fluffy, chiffon-like pumpkin interior along with the crunchy, buttery streusel topping is out of this world. The crust is also wonderfully flavorful and loaded with spices and ginger. 

I have to be honest, I don't really like traditional pie/tart crust. Even if it's perfectly made (flakey, buttery, melt-in your mouth, perfection level) I'm like, meh, I just want the filling and a tiny bit of crust to help me transport it to my mouth. I much prefer toasty, nut-infused, or better yet, graham-based crusts, but that said, it's cool to know how to make good crusts of all kinds and both of the crusts above are worth adding to your repertoire. I'm not sure what pie I'll be making yet for this year, but I have a salted-caramel chocolate pecan pie bookmarked, so keep an eye out for that!  

I want to wish you all a wonderful holiday and hope that, if you are celebrating, you get to do so with the ones you love. It's so important to take the opportunity to tell each of your loved ones just how much they mean to you. We never know how much time we'll get with our dearly beloved, so be mushy and sentimental, or don't and just help with the dishes. Every effort is worth it.

Give squeamish teenage nieces and nephews bear hugs, snuggle chubby cheeked wee-ones, sit with and really listen to the stories of your the grands and greats, remember those who are no longer in this realm, and try to just be yourself and let that be good enough for everyone, especially you. ....Also, take lots of cat naps! 

That's our cat, Phil, demonstrating.

Peace y'all!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Super Moist Cake with Pears and Dark Chocolate

This cake is incredibly moist, fluffy and delicious. It's definitely a keeper!

The recipe below is an adaptation of the Bittersweet Chocolate Pear Cake recipe in Angel Adoree's gorgeous and fun book, The Vintage Tea Party. It's a wonderful snack cake but it's also elegant enough to serve after a fancy dinner AND it's very easy to make. SCORE!

Super Moist Cake with Pears and Dark Chocolate
Adapted from the Bittersweet Chocolate Pear Cake recipe in The Vintage Tea Party Book by Angel Adoree
8 Tablespoons (4 ounces) salted butter, browned (plus more for greasing the cake pan)
NOTE: if you use unsalted butter be sure to add 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3.5 ounces all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon good vanilla
6 ounces granulated sugar
4 Bose Pears (3 diced and 1 sliced for decorating)
4 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350. 

Prepare the following, so everything will be ready as you need it....

Dice three pears and set aside. Halve and core the fourth pear and slice it thinly to decorate your cake pan as you would an upside-down cake. You can simply skip this step if you prefer and just dice all four pears and add them at the end (see below).

Sift together the flour and baking soda and set aside. Weigh out your sugar and set that aside. Roughly chop the chocolate and set it aside as well. Phew!

Plop the butter into a small saucepan and set it on the stovetop over a low flame. 

Take another generous pat of butter and grease then flour a 9 inch springform cake pan. Set it on a baking sheet. Arrange the thinly sliced pear on the bottom of the pan so it looks nice. Again, feel free to skip this step if you prefer. The fan looks pretty but it's not a show stopper, so do whatcha like.

Now turn your full attention to the stove and brown your butter (tutorial here) by heating it over a low/medium flame for about until it's toasty and just beginning to brown. It can burn in an instant, so watch it carefully throughout the process. When it's finished browning, pour it into a bowl to stop the cooking process. Set that aside.

Into a large mixing bowl, crack 3 eggs and mix with an electric mixer on medium/high for 3-4 minutes until very light and fluffy. You want to get as much air into the eggs as possible.

Beat in the vanilla and then add the sugar in three additions. The mixture will begin to take on a meringue-like shine. 

Add the warm browned butter in a stream while beating until it's fully incorporated. Add in the sifted flour and baking powder and mix until just combined. 

Pour the batter into your prepared cake pan and distribute the chopped chocolate and diced pears evenly over it. The batter will rise up and cover everything during baking, so don't worry that it looks like there's way too much chocolate and diced pears in comparison to batter. 

Note, the original recipe calls for 6 ounces of chocolate, so if you are a chocolate lover, feel free to add a bit more. If you dislike chocolate, go ahead and skip it entirely. The recipe is great either way.

This is what it will look like going into the oven.

Bake for 40 minutes, checking for brownness at the halfway point. My cake was far from set-up at 20 minutes but it was already quite browned, so I covered it with foil for the remaining 20 minutes so it wouldn't burn.

Check the center of the cake with a toothpick at 40 minutes. If it comes out clean, it's done. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes.The edges will pull away from the sides of the pan on their own after about 10 minutes or so. Use a thin blade to make sure nothing is sticking before you release the springform ring to remove it. 

After you remove the ring, place a cooling rack onto the bottom of the cake (you may want to cover the rack with parchment to ease transfer later) and flip the cake over so you can remove the bottom portion of the pan. Again, use a thin blade so you can remove that piece without disrupting your pear design, if you chose to make one. 

Allow the cake to cool before serving. This cake keeps well for about 4 days in an airtight container.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Cookies with Chocolate Chips and Raisins

If you remember me mentioning my curious lack of pregnancy appetite back in my August French Yogurt Cake post, well this is my update on that state of affairs.

Since I hit my 3rd trimester (10 weeks or so to go, y'all!!!) I have been HUNGRY. Still not as hungry as I expected based on how our culture talks about pregnancy and hunger, but hungry nonetheless. My biggest pregnancy cravings: cookies and sandwiches. Since I don't really want to reveal (read: admit) how much mayonnaise I put on my sandwiches, I've omitted them from my blog. But the cookies, well, you can probably already tell that's where I've been "at", so to speak.

These are a adapted from the Quaker Oats Vanishing Oatmeal Cookie recipe located in the inner lid of every canister of their oats. They are delicious, buttery, chewy and rich in cinnamon warmth and goodness. Perfect for the cool, brisk weather and sublime with cold milk.

Feel free to swap-in dried cranberries for the raisins and/or to omit the chocolate or try using butterscotch or white chocolate instead. Yum!

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Cookies with Chocolate Chips and Raisins
Adapted from the Quaker Oats Vanishing Oatmeal Cookie recipe
Yield: About 2 dozen cookies if using two heaping tablespoons of dough per cookie
1/2 cup plus 6 Tablespoons salted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 cups oats
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips or finely chopped chocolate (I used bittersweet but you can use any kind you like/have on hand or omit it)

Preheat your oven to 350. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the softened butter and sugars. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until fluffy. 

Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt and add them to the batter, mixing briefly to combine. 

Add the oats, raisins and chocolate chips and stir with a spoon or spatula to combine. 

Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes, or do my roll-up-in-advance-method. Cool the cookies on the pan for a few minutes then move them to a rack to finish cooling. They are really great warm. 

If you plan to roll these up in advance and bake them off as desired, flatten them a bit before freezing as they won't spread much during baking.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Easy One-Bowl Pumpkin Maple Granola. Eat autumn for breakfast!

Spicy pumpkin breakfast goodness. Make it in one bowl, bake it in two pans. Eat this homemade, omega-rich breakfast all month. Nuf said!

Pumpkin Maple Granola
½ cup pumpkin puree
4 oz container or heaping 1/3 cup applesauce
1/2 cup real maple syrup
1/4 scant cup of organic canola oil (omit if you wish to reduce the fat here)
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, ground, 1/4 teaspoon allspice, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg)
5 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pepitas
1/4 cup coconut ribbons

After baking add…
1 scant cup dried cranberries

Preheat your oven to 325F. Combine the wet ingredients, salt and spices in a large bowl and mix well. Add the oats, nuts/seeds and coconut and toss to combine.

Spread the granola onto two large baking sheets so most of it has contact with the pan. Bake for 40 minutes. Stir with a spatula at the half-way point. Be sure to remove the pans from the oven one at a time when you do this so you don't risk spilling granola into your oven, which may burn and at the very least be annoying to clean up. I speak from experience here:-).

After 40 minutes is up, check for crispness. If the granola still seems a bit moist, bake for another 10-15 minutes. If the granola is done and the nuts look toasty but not at risk of burning, I often cut off the oven at this point and let the granola cool off in there with the door slightly ajar.

Once the granola is cool, add the dried cranberries and store in an airtight container for up to a month.  Serve with yogurt, fruit or milk for a hearty, healthy breakfast or snack.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Whole Wheat Ginger Chocolate Hermit Cookies

These cookies are delicious and oh so very autumnal. 

They have a chewy, soft interior and a slightly crispy outer shell so they taste and feel more like hermits than gingersnaps. Despite the sugar, they also have whole wheat flour, fresh ginger and dried fruits, so they're actually somewhat healthy. These little delights taste wonderful with piping-hot black coffee because they cut it's bitterness perfectly and the richness of the coffee accentuates the ginger flavor. YUM! 

I got the base recipe I adapted below from Amelia Morris' blog Bon AppĂ©tempt, which is my absolute, hands-down favorite blog. She got it from the wonderful book, Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson. 

I made a bunch of adjustments to utilize the ingredients I had on hand and because I just can't help myself. I didn't have whole wheat pastry flour, so I added some powdered milk (which I store in the freezer) to regular whole wheat flour to up the protein content. I didn't do a comparison, so I don't know if the powdered milk made a big difference, but my feeling is that it didn't. So basically, what I'm saying is, just use whatever flour you have on hand and don't worry about the powdered milk if you don't have any or can't find it. Let me know how your variations turn out!

The same goes for the dried fruit. The original recipe calls for dried apricots but any dried fruit will do. I think the prune (it sounds so much nicer to call them dried plums!) and raisin combo was a nice substitution for the sweet/tartness of apricots. I also reduced the sugar in the recipe. The cookies are quite sweet, so I would highly recommend that adjustment.

Whole Wheat Ginger Chocolate Hermit Cookies
from the book Super Natural Every Day via the blog Bon AppĂ©tempt
Yields about 40 small cookies (using about 1 heaping Tablespoon of dough per cookie)
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 cups whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons powdered milk (omit if using whole wheat pastry flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 Tablespoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup salted butter (the original recipe calls for unsalted but I didn't have any on hand)
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons fresh ginger, finely minced or grated  
1 large egg
1 cup golden raisins and prunes (about half and half), finely chopped (or any dried fruit)
1/2 cup brown or large-crystal sugar for sanding the outside of the cookies (optional)

Combine the flour, baking soda, ground ginger and salt in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Heat the butter in a small saucepan until it's just about melted, then cut off the heat and add the molasses, sugar and minced fresh ginger. Let it come to room temperature while you chop the chocolate and dried fruit(s). 

Once the wet mixture has cooled, whisk in the egg quickly and well. 

Pour the wet over the dry and stir until combined. Dump in the chocolate and dried fruit(s) and stir so everything is well distributed.

Preheat the oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment or a Silpat style mat.

Pour about 1/2 cup large crystal sugar in a bowl for sanding the cookies. I used plain old organic brown sugar because that's what I had. It worked well but you can omit this or just put a pinch on the top of each cookie, which is what I'll do next time.

Using a tablespoon or soup spoon, scoop out a heaping tablespoon of dough and roll it between your palms so it's nice and round. Then roll each cookie in sugar. 

You may need to press the sugar into the dough with your palm and fingers so it sticks because this is not a wet dough. Place the cookies about and inch or so apart on your prepared baking sheets and press down to flatten each one slightly. 

Bake for 10 minutes (check at 8) they should be crackled and look slightly uncooked between the cracks. 

Allow the cookies to cool on the sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a rack to finish cooling.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sprouted Orzo with Lacitano Kale, Corn, Purple peppers, Garlic, Onion and Mint

This recipe is my way of getting some dark leafy greens into my system (and yours!). I have NOT been in the mood to eat any lately, so I'm "hiding" them in some pasta (already training for toddler feedings, oh yeah!). The sprouted orzo is from the wholesale section at Whole Foods. I'd never seen it before but I'm sure it exists elsewhere. This recipe can be eyeballed, so here are the basic proportions. Oh, and it was very tasty!

Sprouted Orzo with Lacitano Kale, Corn, Purple peppers, Garlic, Onion and Mint
One bunch lacitano kale
2 ears fresh corn, kernels shaved off the cob
2 medium purple peppers, diced
1 small red onion, sliced into half-moons
3-4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 bunch mint, roughly chopped (add at the very end)
juice on one lemon (add at the very end)
salt and pepper to taste
Whole Wheat Sprouted Orzo (about 2 cups is perfect)

Heat a large pot of water on the stove for the orzo. While it's coming to a boil, wash and chop all your veggies, throwing them all (except for the mint and lemon) into a large pan or skillet as you finish prepping each one. 


Drizzle with olive oil, add a liberal pinch of salt, and heat over a medium/high flame. The residual water from rinsing the veggies will help to soften everything up quickly. Once everything is hot and wilted but still crisp, add more salt and pepper to taste and cut off the heat. 

Once the water in boiling, salt it well and add the orzo. Cook for 8-11 minutes until al dente. Strain the orzo well and toss it in with the veggies. Add the chopped mint and lemon juice and taste for seasoning. Serve hot, at room temp, or cool. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Iced Orange Pecan Short Bread Cookies & Casue Sweets Shout Out!

Be proud of yourself, make these!

I recently got the chance to take cookie decorating class with the founders of Casue Sweets, a fabulous boutique cookie shop here in NYC. It was a revelation.

Casue Sweets is owned by twin sisters Carolyn and Susanne, aka Ca-Sue. They produce designer, made-to-order cookies that are almost too pretty to eat. But do order them and do eat them, because they are delectable. 

To create their designs, the sisters often use one-of-a-kind cookie cutters, or even individually hand-cut each cookie, to make just about any shape a customer can dream up. Check out their website and facebook page to see the impressive variety and sophistication of their designs.

As for me, I love to cook and bake (hence this food blog) but I generally shy away from desserts that require careful attention to detail. I'm somewhat impatient (read very impatient), so I'm not naturally drawn to the idea of piping and such, but I felt so empowered after the class that I was inspired to give it a go on my own. I'm pretty thrilled with how these came out.

As you can see. I was practicing my decorating skills, so I played around with a bunch of designs. I ended up with so many cookies that I decided to bag 'em up as favors for my baby shower. Just a little over three months until baby, y'all!!!

The cookie recipe below is based on the actual recipe used at Casue Sweets, which the sisters were kind enough to send each of us home with (thank you so much!). It's a shortbread cookie, versus the more oft-used sugar cookie, and I think it is a wonderful change-up. 

I decided to make a citrus icing and I wanted to play around with the recipe to make it more my own, so I added the orange juice and zest, pulverized, toasted pecans and buckwheat flour to the dough. I am so happy with the results. The flavor is warm and toasty but also bright and citrusy and the cookies have a tender/crumbly/crisp shortbread texture. They're also not too sweet, which is a bonus because the icing is very sugary. 

Buckwheat Pecan Orange Shortbread Cookies

Yield: 30-60 cookies depending on the size of your cookies. I got just short of 60.
1 lb unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed lightly
1 1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 cup buckwheat flour
4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup pulverized toasted pecans*
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon orange juice
1 Tablespoon orange zest

*Toast the pecans at 350 for 10-15 minutes until fragrant. Cool before pulverizing in your food processor.

I used my stand mixer for this recipe, but a hand mixer will work fine here too. Cream the butter and sugar on medium/low until light and fluffy. Add the buckwheat flour, pulverized toasted pecans, salt, vanilla, OJ and zest and combine on medium/low speed. Add the flour in two additions, mixing on low until just combined. 

 Check out my beautiful antique Kitchen Aid. It was my husband's grandmother's.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board and bring it together. It should be just a tad crumbly (mix in more flour before turing your dough out if it seems too wet in the mixing bowl). Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. 

Preheat your oven to 325. Take a chunk of dough, about two cups worth or so, and put the rest back in the fridge covered tightly. On a floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a sheet about 1/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into your desired shape(s) and transfer each cookie carefully to a prepared baking sheet (parchment or silt pat) using a spatula. 

The dough is delicate but forgiving, so if it breaks, just patch it back together or start again. I kept rolling the scraps back into the next chunk of dough I grabbed from the fridge and the texture didn't suffer at all (see, forgiving!). This dough also keeps it's shape really well while baking, so you can fit a lot of cookies on each sheet.

Once your oven is preheated, bake each sheet separately in the center of the oven for 14 minutes. Allow the cookies to firm up on the sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. The gals at Casue Sweets said their recipe keeps really well in an airtight container in a cool/non-humid location, or even frozen (not yet iced), so I'm guessing the same goes for these guys, although due to the nuts, which can go rancid, I'd say eat them within two weeks unless you freeze them. You may also decide to freeze the unbaked dough and roll and bake as desired.

The icing I used for these cookies is based on the recipe for Glace Icing that the ladies at Casue Sweets gave us (double thanks so much!). I reduced it a bit but the general proportions are similar. First, I made a looser base icing that could be used to "flood" the cookies. After coloring it (see below), I poured off about three cups worth and then added additional sifted confectioner's sugar to the remainder to thicken it for piping. 

Cookie Icing
Yield: I had enough for about 60 cookies with quite a bit leftover.
6 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (plus extra for thickening the icing for piping)
4 oz lukewarm water
1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
4 oz light corn syrup

Sift 6 cups on confectioner's sugar into a large bowl, or into the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the water and begin mixing on the lowest speed with your stand or electric hand mixer, then add the lemon juice and corn syrup. Keep mixing until everything is fully incorporated and the icing is shiny. It should be viscous enough that it runs smoothly off a spoon but not so wet that it looks like it would just run off the edges of the cookies. Basically, it should spread easily but not be runny. If your icing is too thin, simply sift in more confectioner's sugar a few tablespoons at a time until it looks right. 

Pour about 3/4 of the base flooding icing into a squeeze bottle or tupperware container with a tight fitting lid, be sure to cover it well to keep it from hardening.

Just mixing by hand now, to the remaining icing add more sifted confectioner's sugar by the tablespoon until the consistency is thick enough that it's difficult to stir. If you lift you spoon up, the icing should fall very, very slowly (glop). You want it to be thick so it sets up right away and creates a boarder to keep the flood icing in check.

As for coloring, I used Chefmaster Food Coloring, as well as their liquid whitener. Per the gals at Casue Sweet's instruction, I added the whitener to the base icing to make it more opaque before adding the coloring. Thus results in hues that are brighter and more saturated. Here are some tips on coloring icing from the blog Sweet Sugar Belle

To ice the cookies, run the perimeter (all edges) with the thicker piping icing. Then squeeze the flood icing around in the center. I used a toothpick to spread it out. Add sprinkles or additional colored icing for marbling before the flood icing sets.

I decided to make the main flooding color a sort of Tiffany Blue/Green. I pulled off a bit of the blue icing and added rose pink, which, in combination with the blue/green, came out as the pretty mauve below. Based on the technique I learned in the Casue Sweets decorating class, I added a drop or two of the mauve on top of the flood icing before it set. Then I swirled it with a toothpick for that marbled effect. 

The icing can be refrigerated for up to a month so long as it's covered airtight, but let it come to room temp before you use it on cookies. On a similar note, only decorate fully cooled cookies. Any residual warmth will cause the icing to spread out, melt and separate on your cookies. No good!

Another rule of thumb is that if you plan to add any additional piping over your flood icing, you be sure to allow the base icing to dry and set for 8-12 hours first.

If you live in the NYC area or plan to visit, I highly recommend contacting Casue Sweets to inquire about a decorating class. If you can't make it to the area for a class, or even if you can, order up a batch of their cookies for your next special event. You guests will be amazed.