Thursday, December 29, 2011

S'mores Cookies

This post has been a long time coming, due to end-of-semester business and subsequent illness. I rarely ever fail to be sick during the holidays. This case of bronchitis was more severe than usual - I can't remember the last time I had a triple-digit fever! Fortunately, I had no Christmas-specific recipes planned to blog about. These cookies did not suffer from the wait, since they are suitable for any chilly night, Christmas or not, in a snug armchair with a steaming mug of hot cocoa.

While these are easy cookies to make (just a normal cookie recipe, popped out of the oven a bit early to add the toppings, then popped back in), I did run into one hiccup. The cookies need to be removed from the oven while the middles are still squishy so that the chocolate and marshmallows will stick. I baked the first batch using my convection oven function, which usually turns out more consistent golden-brown cookies. But when I removed them after seven or eight minutes, the middles had already set to the point where I couldn't add any toppings. I switched to the normal oven settings for the next two batches, and even then they were a little firm at seven minutes, though I was able to add the toppings. The next time I make these, I will not rely on a timer, but rather watch for the appropriate level of doneness myself.

The fun part comes once the cookies are back in the oven, chocolated and marshmallowed. The marshmallows puff up with steam until they look like little balloons (see the last picture below), and then deflate as they cool, creating a neat bubbly effect (see the top picture above). I also think that it's cute that the Hershey's logo doesn't melt away in the oven. It makes for a more authentic s'more.

So whether you're gathered around an open fire or not, s'mores can be enjoyed all winter long. And unlike traditional s'mores, these cookies can be dipped into your hot cocoa for extra goodness!

S'mores Cookies
Slightly adapted from Obsessed with Baking.

1 3/4 c flour
1 c graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 c butter, softened
3/4 c sugar
3/4 c light brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 c mini chocolate chips
miniature marshmallows (the recipe I used said 1 1/2 c, but it depends on how many you put on each cookie)
2 Hershey milk chocolate bars, roughly chopped

Whisk the flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

Cream the butter and sugars together in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla, mixing until well combined. Slowly add the dry mixture, then stir in the chocolate chips. Refrigerate dough for 1-2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat baking sheets with cooking spray.

Roll the dough into tablespoon-sized balls and place onto the cookie sheets (you might want to spread yours out more than I did - I tend to crowd my pans, which can result in uneven baking).

Bake between 5-8 minutes (depending on your oven) until edges are set and middles are still moist. Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and quickly top with chopped milk chocolate and mini marshmallows.

Return to the oven for another 2-3 minutes until cookies are fully baked. Cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cranberry Bread

Since posting about cranberry ketchup in October, I've quietly gone through at least five pounds of fresh New Jersey cranberries. When I spy that bin at the farmers market, I can't contain myself. I need more of the jewel-like berries that keep so nicely in my refrigerator or freezer. And because I keep buying them, I have to come up with tasty cranberry-laden recipes to try.

I thought a nice quick bread would be a great way to enjoy some of my stash, but when I started looking through recipes, most required ingredients I didn't have on hand (namely oranges). I'm not a huge fan of cranberry-orange anyway. I thought I was going to have to make something up myself . . . then I found this recipe from Martha Stewart. Martha clearly knew what I was looking for - not an insipid little loaf with a handful of sweetened, dried cranberries, but one packed with bright, fresh fruits. It makes for a very tart, but satisfying, final product. And since it's rather low-cal (without trying to be - those cranberries take up a lot of space), it's one holiday treat you won't feel guilty about!

Cranberry Bread
Adapted from Martha Stewart.

4 tbsp butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 c flour
1 c light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
3/4 c milk
12 oz cranberries (fresh or frozen, not dried - and don't forget to pick them over to remove any stems or rotten berries)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.

In another bowl (I actually prefer to do this in my pyrex measuring cup - I measure out the milk, then add everything else to it), combine the egg, milk and butter. Pour the wet mixture onto the dry mixture and stir to combine. Fold in cranberries.

Coat a loaf pan with baking spray. Spoon the dough into the loaf pan and spread evenly.

Bake for 75 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes or so, then remove to a wire rack. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Peanut Butter Birthday Tart

Behold, Jeff's birthday tart!

This post is rather late because I got caught up with work and Thanksgiving. Que sera sera.

This is a recipe that I've been working on since his last birthday. Last year, I made the peanut butter pie pictured in this post, from my Bride and Groom First and Forever Cookbook. As I mentioned in the post, I liked it, but it wasn't perfect. I thought peanut butter filling with a peanuty crust was overkill and, while the Hershey's kisses were pretty, the chocolatey flavor was not well-integrated into the rest of the pie. Jeff and I both loved the concept, but I was sure I could do it better.

As I made other peanut buttery things over the year, I kept this tart in mind, thinking about how I might alter it. These peanut butter cup bars from Brown Eyed Baker were pretty awesome. I thought that a layer of ganache like this could go well on my pie, but while the filling, blended with graham cracker crumbs, mimicked a peanut butter cup perfectly, it was a little heavy for a pie portion.

With that in mind, I decided to make this peanut butter cup tart from Confections of a Foodie Bride for a late summer party. It had a nice layer of ganache, a creamier peanut butter cream and a chocolate crust - all the elements of a perfect peanut butter tart, in my estimation. The ganache was perfect, the peanut butter cream good (although I thought my original recipe was better), but the crust, made from chocolate cookie crumbs, did not meet expectations, as it crumbled into nothingness when the tart was sliced. It was a bit of a mess, really. While everyone thought it was delicious, I still felt I could do better.

So when Jeff's 30th birthday rolled around earlier this month, I decided to put together my own version of the peanut butter tart. I would combine the chocolate ganache, peanut butter cream and a more substantial chocolatey crust. It would be the perfect storm of peanut butter tarts. I chose the chocolate short dough recipe from The Secrets of Baking, the peanut butter cream from the Bride and Groom cookbook, and the ganache from the Foodie Bride tart (although, at the last minute, I thought it would be a bit too rich, so I went with some whipped cream instead).

The result? Excellent. The crust had just enough heft to balance out the lightness of the peanut butter cream. I missed the ganache a bit, but for a tart that the two of us would have to finish in a few days, the lighter whipped cream was a better option. If I were to make this again for a group, for which smaller slices would be preferable, I would totally go for it. And since this is definitely going into my repertoire of bring-to-a-party recipes, I'm sure that day will come soon!

Peanut Butter Tart
Chocolate short dough:
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 c cocoa powder
1 c butter, softened but still cool
1/2 c powdered sugar

Peanut butter cream:
1 1/2 c heavy cream
3/4 c powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 c smooth peanut butter

Whipped cream:
1 1/2 c heavy cream
1/2 tsp cornstarch (I like a little cornstarch to stabilize my whipped cream, but adding too much will affect the mouthfeel)
1 tsp sugar (most recipes prefer powdered sugar, but I usually use granulated. Since I only lightly sweeten my cream, it is not hard to get the granulated sugar to incorporate)

Chocolate short dough:
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and cocoa powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until lightly creamed. Scrape down the bowl, add the sugar and mix for about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl again.

Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together (about 30 seconds).

Remove the dough and pat it into a disc shape. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 3 days. (I am not sure I like this method - I refrigerated mine overnight and it was hard as a rock - I had to over-warm it to get it soft enough to roll out. Next time I might shorten the refrigeration period.) Lightly flour your work surface, then roll the dough into a 12" circle. Lay the dough onto a 10" tart pan, press into the crevices, and cut off the excess.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Adjust the rack to the lower third of the oven. Prick the bottom of the pastry shell with a fork. Line the tart with parchment paper (crumpling the parchment paper first helps it to lie flat)and fill with pie weights or beans. Bake 15-18 minutes. Remove the weights and parchment and bake another 6-8 minutes. Cool completely.

Peanut butter cream:
In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, combine the cream, sugar and vanilla. Beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.

In another bowl, combine the peanut butter with about half of the whipped cream mixture. Fold together with a rubber spatula until well combined (the peanut butter will want to stay lumpy, but keep stirring and spreading it with the spatula and it'll get there)

Then add this mixture to the remaining cream and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Do not over mix!

Pour the filling into the cooled crust and spread evenly.

Whipped cream:
In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, combine cream, sugar and cornstarch. Whip until stiff peaks form. Spread cream on top of peanut butter filling.

Enjoy right away or refrigerate until serving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

My kitchen smelled like comfort this morning - the beautiful, homey smell of buttered carrots. It reminded me of holidays when I was younger - the scent of warm, simmering goodness wafting upstairs, luring me down from my bedroom. I'm not sure what about the scent made me so nostalgic, really - I can't remember my mom ever making anything like this soup (probably because her picky, stubborn children would have refused to eat it).

I will eat it now, though, and gladly! I originally pulled out this recipe to use up some of the six pounds of carrots I got at my last CSA pickup of the season. Jeff and I thought it was delicious - the sweetness of the carrots and sweet potatoes complement one another beautifully, and the spices are a lovely accent. It's a delicious creamy soup for a chilly day. Hopefully it will be just as lovely a beginning to tomorrow's Thanksgiving dinner!

Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup
From Cooking Light's Way to Cook Vegetarian.

3 tbsp butter, divided
1 c onion, chopped
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 lb carrot, chopped
3 c vegetable stock
3 1/2 c water
1/4 c half-and-half
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Heat a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Melt 1 tbsp of butter. Add the onion to the pan and cook 4-5 minutes, until softened and tender.

Add the nutmeg and cinnamon and cook another minute, stirring. Move the onions to one side of the pan and add 2 tbsp butter to the other. Increase the heat to medium-high to melt the butter and let it brown slightly. Add the sweet potatoes, carrots, stock and water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer about 35 minutes, until vegetables are soft.

Ladle one-third of the soup mixture into a blender. With the center piece of the lid ajar so as to release some steam, and covering the lid with a dish towel to prevent splashing, puree the soup until smooth. Pour into another vessel, then repeat with the remaining two thirds.

When all the soup is pureed, season with salt and pepper (since I use salt-free homemade stock, I need to add a lot more salt than the recipe calls for). Add half-and-half and stir until well-combined. Serve hot!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Vegetable Samosas

Who needs to order out when you can make your own samosas? This was fairly quick and quite easy - the next time I have extra mashed potatoes lying around, I'm definitely going to do these again. Other than the egg roll wrappers, and perhaps the lentils, these are easy to throw together from ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry!

Anything wrapped in dough is a good call, in my opinion. These are comforting little packets of Indian flavor, ready for an appetizer, side dish, or even a snack. They were great with a little of our homemade spiced apple chutney, canned earlier in the season. Since the process was fairly quick, I would consider bringing these to a party as a crowd-pleasing appetizer.

My one complaint is that, in trying to keep things light, Cooking Light doesn't call for enough oil to get these truly crispy. You can see in the pictures the nice crispy spots where each samosa touched the pan - other than that, they got a bit doughy. I think some extra oil in the pan would fix this, however. And if you want to keep them light, just stick with the original recipe.

Vegetable Samosas
From Cooking Light's Way to Cook Vegetarian.

1 1/4 c mashed potatoes (we used two medium-sized, peeled russets with a little butter and half-and-half)
1/4 c cooked yellow lentils
1 1/4 tsp curry powder
1 tsp butter, softened
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 c frozen petite peas, thawed
12 egg roll wrappers
1 egg, lightly beaten
cooking spray (or a few tbsp oil)

Combine potatoes, lentils, curry powder, butter, salt, and cumin in a medium bowl. Fold in peas gently.

Slice each egg roll wrapper into two long rectangles. Brush the edges of each wrapper with egg. Add about 1 tbsp of filling near the bottom edge of the wrapper. Take one of the bottom corners and fold up to the opposite edge, forming a little triangle. Seal the edges well. Continue to fold like you are folding a flag, sealing the edges tightly as you go. Repeat with remaining egg roll wrappers.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the pan with cooking spray (or add oil, if you'd prefer). Lightly coat samosas with cooking spray and add to pan. Cook about 1 minute each side, then drain on paper towels.

Serve with your favorite chutney!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Garlic Naan

I am vindicated!

I have not made a yeast bread since this debacle last year. I found it much more disappointing than I acknowledged in that post. I have been reticent to use yeast again, since it takes so much time out of my day to get such a mediocre result.

When I saw this recipe in the Vegetarian Times that I got from my neighbor (thanks, Marie!), I knew I had to give it a shot. I planned a nice Indian dinner for Sunday afternoon, determined to conquer the naan. To my extreme delight (no, seriously, I was bouncing around and grinning the whole time), it went beautifully. The dough rose perfectly, was easy to roll out, and started sizzling as soon as it hit the pan. As soon as the first one was flipped, I knew we had it. It looked like naan! It looked like something you could buy at the grocery store or be served at an Indian restaurant. It was perfect - bubbly on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside. If I weren't so stuffed, I'd grab another right now!

From now on, there will be no fear. I will plan to make fresh bread on a weekend. There is no reason I should not make my own pizza dough and flatbreads. I will even go back to making sandwich bread. I can do this! Although in the near future, while I still have a huge tub of plain yogurt to use up, I may be sticking with this naan!

Garlic Naan
From Vegetarian Times November 2011.

1/4 oz active dry yeast
3 1/3 c bread flour
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 c whole-milk yogurt, at room temperature! (I neglected to notice this direction before proofing my yeast, so we had to jump through hoops trying to warm it up a bit.)
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp garlic, minced

Stir yeast into 1/4 c warm water (105-115°F). Let stand 10 minutes.

Whisk together 3 c flour, sugar and salt. (If using a stand mixer or food processor to knead, combine these things in your machine. I preferred to do this one by hand. If not kneading by hand, include all the flour.)

Combine yogurt, 2 tbsp olive oil and 3/4 c warm water (105-115°F). Pour this mixture and yeast mixture into flour mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine (or use your machine!). When the dough forms a ragged ball, pour it out onto a floured surface (using that remaining 1/3 c flour) and knead until all the flour is absorbed and the dough has become a smooth ball (or use your machine). Place your kneaded dough into an oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise 45 minutes to an hour, until doubled (I used the proofing setting on my oven and it was perfect in 40 minutes or so).

Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured counter or board. (Sorry, but in my haste to get it divided, I neglected to get a picture of the risen dough.) Divide dough into eight roughly equal pieces. Form each one into a ball, then press into a small disk. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow to rest 10 minutes.

Combine 1 tbsp olive oil with minced garlic and let stand, so the oil begins to absorb the garlic flavor. Preheat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, until a drop of water evaporates on contact.

After the dough has rested, on a lightly floured surface, roll each ball into an 8" round.

Transfer to the piping hot skillet and cook 1-2 minutes, until the bread begins to bubble up and the bottom begins to turn golden brown (you can lift the edge with tongs to check its progress).

Flip and cook for another minute, pressing down with a spatula to deflate any big air bubbles, until black blistery patches begin to appear on the bottom (and it looks like naan!).

Transfer to a serving plate, brush with garlic-oil mixture and serve with a nice curry!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New York Chocolate Show

Yesterday, Jeff and I went up to New York to attend the New York Chocolate Show with his sister Andrea. When Andrea had mentioned it last year, I had sighed with jealousy. This year, when the time came, she was good enough to remember my sighing and invite us.

We arrived at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea promptly at 10 am, when they began letting people in. We were disappointed to learn that no re-entrys were allowed - we had been planning a lunch break at a local restaurant to cleanse our palates before another round of chocolate. Instead, we had to push back our reservation a bit in order to get the most out of the show.

Nearly every booth had samples to try. I thought most of the samples were fairly commonplace - white, milk and every possible percentage of dark chocolate. The Granada Chocolate Company, pictured above, offered a 100% bar. That was too bitter for me to even try, but Andrea enjoyed it.

More to my taste were these Prestat truffles. The middle box of truffles has luscious, liquidy caramel with sea salt surrounded by a creamy chocolate shell. I took this picture to remind me to go back and buy a box . . . unfortunately, I still forgot. I might have to try and get some online!

There were mouth-wateringly delicious French macarons from Francois Payard. I love this pyramid, designed to protect the delicate shells. We bought ours from a different vendor - Mad Mac - who had them in chocolate and salted caramel flavor.

Andrea commented that there were not nearly so many molded chocolates as last year. I only noticed a few vendors who had them, but every one I saw was gorgeous. Look at the top row of the above picture - check out the glossy finish on those chocolates!

And this vendor, 2 Chicks with Chocolate, made such colorful ones! I don't think this picture, with all those shadows in the way, does them any justice. Besides being delicious, these were works of art!

I did taste some delicious things that I did not get pictures of. One was the white chocolate strawberry bar from Co Co. Sala. The dried strawberry was absolutely packed with flavor, which was a beautiful complement to the creamy white chocolate. They also had a very interesting white chocolate with salt and pink peppercorn. Another was a white chocolate with poppy (not poppy seeds, but actual poppy flower) from, I believe, Des Lis Chocolat. It had some of the flavor you would expect from poppy seeds, but much lighter.

Everything wasn't straight-up chocolate - this patisserie had a wide variety of tasty little treats. It's too bad that, by the time we got over there, were were all suffering from palate fatigue and sugar shock. There is, sadly, only so much chocolate you can eat in a day (especially when they won't let you leave the show to take a break!). I left the show feeling that if I didn't see another piece of chocolate until Christmas, it would be too soon. (Of course, having had more than a day to recover, I've already changed my tune!) It was nice to pass this spice vendor on the way out and be refreshed by the savory scents!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sweet Potato French Toast

The end of daylight savings time has some nice perks. Because Jeff and I have been waking up at the crack of dawn (he may contest this, but I certainly wake up when he does, even if I refuse to get up some days), we have time to do fun things in the morning, like experiment with French toast!

I bought a loaf of soft sweet potato bread from Whole Foods yesterday. When I was exploring the refrigerator this morning, contemplating breakfast, it struck me that this would make a brilliant French toast. I was not disappointed.

Other than the idea, I take no credit for this recipe at all. I simply stood by and watched Jeff do his thing. The distribution of labor in our kitchen is a bit idiosyncratic. I am responsible for masterminding the menu, procuring foodstuffs and making sure perishable items get used in a timely manner. I take care of the prepping and chopping, most of the side dishes and all of the baking. Jeff is responsible for handling and preparing meats as well as all breakfast foods. (While I think myself equal to throwing down a batch of pancakes or waffles if I had to, there are some breakfast things, like any style of eggs, at which I am hopeless. Jeff's breakfast mastery is not likely to be challenged any time soon.) So this morning, once I had suggested my brilliant plan, I stepped back onto the sidelines and let Jeff take action. This is what he did:

Sweet Potato French Toast
A la Jeff.

2 eggs
2 tbsp butter
4 slices sweet potato bread
2 tsp cinnamon sugar

extra butter and maple syrup, to taste!

Preheat a griddle over medium-low heat. Add 2 tbsp butter (you can use a knife to spread it around where you plan on placing your bread). In a shallow dish, crack the eggs and beat lightly with a fork. One at a time, dip each slice of bread into the egg, turning to coat well.

Place the slice carefully on the griddle, sprinkle with about 1/2 tsp cinnamon sugar, and repeat with the other three slices. Cook 4-5 minutes, until the egg begins to turn golden brown.

Flip each slice and cook another minute or two until the other side is caramelized (our griddle was too hot at this point, so the sugar burned on several of the slices - it might be a good idea to turn the griddle down for the second side). Serve topped with extra butter and maple syrup for a delicious fall treat!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Foodie Gift Box!

I just wanted to brag about the lovely gift box I received the other day from my brother, in return for services rendered during his grad school application process.

He made a comment a few months ago about sending me a fruit basket when the process was all over. I declined. I prefer my fruit local and in-season (or at least what comes out of cold storage at the neighborhood orchard - apples are a year-round commodity at my farmers market). He had also been bugging me for weeks to email a friend of his who works at a natural food company, InterNatural Foods, to get some free samples of their products. Since I neglected to do this, and since I turned down his other suggestion, he arranged to have those samples sent as my thank you gift.

When the box came, I was intrigued, but still skeptical. I've really become anti-industrially processed foods, including organic stuff. I don't want super-processed, vitamin-fortified snack bars or organic mac-and-cheese mix or spelt and quinoa snack crackers. But when I opened the box, to my delight, I found no such things (well, perhaps the blueberry licorice falls into that category, but that's it). I was sent a box of ingredients, many of which I use all the time! And, even better, these "samples" were full size! As you can see above, I have a whole selection of new cooking oils, unrefined sugar, cocoa powder, yeast packets, bouillon cubes, delicious Swiss chocolate, and several other things to start using. I'm most excited about the roasted peanut oil (which I had tried finding in grocery stores, to no avail) and the full-sized container of fleur de sel.

The box, shown above, was just an assortment of food products in packing peanuts and some bubble wrap. There was no invoice, no information about the company, and no solicitation of any sort. I was not asked to tout their products on my blog. Given the generosity of the company in sending me these lovely things, however, I will at least try to mention when I am using their products from now on!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Collard Greens with Apple and Balsamic

It's been a while since I've posted. I've had a billion things to do and have felt like I've been falling behind in everything. Only in the last few days have I been able to tie off some of my loose ends and move on. That means that I have the leisure to blog again, and perhaps get caught up on some posts that I've had on the back burner.

I made these collard greens with apple and balsamic vinegar almost a month ago. Collards are incredibly healthy and can be very easy to prepare. This preparation blanches them before stir-frying to speed up the cooking process. The light, crisp apple is a nice contrast to the dense, almost meaty greens, and the balsamic provides a lovely acidic sweetness at the end.

This could be a nice addition to your Thanksgiving table - a nice light contrast to the heavy traditional side dishes.

Collard Greens with Apple and Balsamic
From The Best of Food and Wine 1995.
1/2 lb collard greens
1 1/2 tbsp canola oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 small tart apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced lengthwise (I used a freshly-picked Winesap)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Remove the stems and center ribs from the collard greens. (I fold mine in half along the stem and pull the leaves down. They should tear off neatly from the stems. I learned this from Paula Deen before I'd ever even considered trying collards.) Chop the leaves into bite-sized pieces.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Cook the collards for 5 minutes, then drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook 2 minutes, until softened, stirring frequently. Add the apple slices and cook another 2 minutes, until tender.

Add the collards to the pan and stir until well combined. Increase the heat to high, add the balsamic vinegar and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute or two, until greens are coated. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, and serve. Easy peasy.