Monday, November 15, 2010

CLU: Lentil Soup

The current theme over at Cookbook Lovers Unite is "Warm and Cozy." Daylight savings time has ended. It's dark outside, and, here in New England, it's getting cold. Even on days that reach the 60s during daylight hours, it is dropping into the 20s and 30s at night. I'm not quite sure where summer went. As a matter of fact, I feel like it was just yesterday that I was out picking strawberries. But, somehow, it became November.

This is particularly astonishing to me because I so clearly remember this time last year. I was a bundle (a very large bundle) of anticipation. With each passing week, I was getting more and more anxious to meet my baby. At every store, I'd feel a twinge of nervousness when I saw the holiday displays. That means this baby is really going to arrive!! And now, here I am, with an 11-month-old baby. Where did the time go?

Oh yeah. This post was supposed to be about lentil soup. So, based on the Cookbook Lovers Unite theme, I browsed through my Nigella Lawson cookbooks. Because, to me, when you mention needing a "warm and cozy" recipe, I think of Nigella. There's something so homey and comforting about her books, her personality, her recipes.

I am on a never-ending search for the perfect lentil soup recipe I ate it once, at a restaurant in Florida. I was visiting my Grandma, and it came with my meal. I can't remember the name of the restaurant. I only remember the perfect lentil soup, and the regret I now feel about not asking for the recipe. What was the worst thing? They said no? Now I'll never know.

So, I search and I search. I make lentil soup recipe after lentil soup recipe, and, sadly, it's never the one. This one looked very promising. Pancetta? Scallions? Carrot and celery and garlic, all pureed? Sounded perfect. It wasn't. It was a decent lentil soup. But it wasn't perfect. It wasn't that golden bowl I ate in Florida. And so the search continues.

Lentil Soup
adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson

4 carrots, roughly chopped
3 oz pancetta or bacon, chopped
6 scallions
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups lentils
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 3/4 cups canned chopped tomatoes
8 cups water

Put the carrots into a food processor with pancetta, scallions, parsley, thyme and garlic. Process to a mush, and then heat the oil in a Dutch oven and cook over medium heat, until they are soft.

Stir in the lentils, then add the mustard, tomatoes, and water. Bring to a boil and
simmer gently for 1 hour or thereabouts.

Yield: 10 servings

Sunday, November 14, 2010

IHCC: Italian Baked Chicken and Pastina Casserole

This week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs is "Kid at Heart." I immediately knew which Giada recipe I was going to make. Why? Because the word "pastina" was in the title.

Pastina, to me, is quintessential kid food. It's tiny and cute. And it was one of my favorites when I was a child. My favorite Campbell's soup was, by far, chicken and stars. I just loved the itty bitty stars floating in there, and how they practically melted on my tongue. My mom used to make me pastina boiled in her chicken soup when I was sick. The restorative powers of the soup and the fun bits of pasta always made me feel at least a little better.

There's something about the texture that tiny pasta creates that I just love. I remember, when I was an early teen, discovering couscous. I had it for the first time in the Moroccan restaurant at Epcot Center. It was a revelation to me--a dish made solely of tiny pasta? And used in place of the (in my eyes, disgusting) mashed potatoes you see so often in America? Sign me up! I've been a couscous aficionado ever since.

This recipe was so promising. I mean, how can you go wrong with tiny pasta, cubes of chicken, mozzarella cheese, and breadcrumbs? You can't, really. But this recipe tried hard. It really turned out to be no more than the sum of its parts. Pastina? Check. Tomatoes? Check. Mozzarella? Yup, that's what's sticking to the roof of my mouth. Chicken? Uh-huh. But, there was just so unifying element that brought it all together. Instead, you just felt like you were eating a bowl of little pasta, tomatoes, chicken, cheese, and breadcrumbs. Nothing special. Kind of bland. Oh well.

Here's the recipe. I will say this--the bland flavors probably make this great kid food. I can see a picky four-year-old loving it. It's the adults who will be kind of disappointed.

Italian Baked Chicken and Pastina Casserole
from Everyday Pasta by Giada DeLaurentiis

1 cup pastina pasta (or any small pasta)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup cubed chicken breast (1-inch cubes)
1/2 cup diced onion (about 1/2 a small onion)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for buttering the baking dish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until just tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Drain pasta into a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes. Add the onions and garlic, stirring to combine, and cook until the onions are soft and the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes more. Put the chicken mixture into the bowl with the cooked pasta. Add the canned tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine.

Place the mixture in a buttered 8 by 8 by 2-inch baking dish. In a small bowl mix together the bread crumbs and the Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta mixture. Dot the top with small bits of butter. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Serves 4
Cost: $1.65 per serving

Sunday, November 7, 2010

IHCC: Halloween Spice Cake

This week's theme over at I Heart Cooking Clubs was "Out of Italy." This means that we were to find a Giada recipe that did not come from Italy. Not an easy feat, given that Ms. De Lauretiss has been dubbed "The Italian Princess" (Wolfgang Puck called her this on The Next Food Network Star this past season). Everything that was overtly from "somewhere else" just didn't appeal to me this week.

So, for my weekly recipe, we left Italy and, well, stayed here. "Here" meaning the US. I made the Halloween Spice Cake, on the assumption that Halloween as we know it is a very American holiday. Of course, upon making the bread, er, I mean, cake, I thought it wasn't nearly as appropriate for Halloween as for the winter holiday season. Oh well. The interpretation of the theme is loose, okay?

Now, on to the details about the cake. It is easy to prepare. Your typical mix the dry, mix the wet in another bowl, add the dry to the wet, and bake. The problems arose in getting the cake to set. I had read about other folks having the same problem in the reviews of the recipe and scoffed to myself, "Food Network website users--they're probably novice bakers, who don't use oven thermometers, and therefore have no idea that their ovens are running cold." Nope. Not the Food Network website users who have the problem. I think Giada needs to check the temp in HER oven. 40 to 45 minutes? No way. More like 50 to 60.

That said, I baked my cake for 55 minutes, and the middle was still a little squidgy when it was cooled and set up. Blame it on the fact that I was drinking a rather strong Dark & Stormy while it baked. Or just impatience. Or both. But, in the end, it worked out. The squidgy parts are the best now that it has cooled.

The taste of this cake is definitely very spicy. At first bite, I thought, "Wow. This is very strong, and I'm not sure it's all that good." But then I took another bite, and another. And realized that this cake is highly addictive. I think it's the influence of all that ginger. There's an afterburn on your tongue that lingers, and makes you want more. So, I went from the first bite, thinking that this recipe would get a 3 on my 1 to 5 scale (which, in my household means "it was fine, but with so many recipes in the house, why make it again?"), to last bite, thinking that this recipe would get a 4 ("very, very good, and will be made again."). But, a funny thing happens with this cake. I ate a piece for breakfast about two hours ago, and I'm craving another piece now. Really craving it. Talking myself out of it only by reminding myself that I lost two pounds over the last week, and I don't want one spice cake to undo that in one day. Which means that this recipe will probably join my pantheon of quick breads that I take everywhere (the other two, so far, are my Zucchini Bran Bread and a Pumpkin Bread from Wilson Farm--both of which I should probably post about some day). Talk about a sleeper recipe! I never would have expected that at first bite.

So, that's three recipes from Giada that I have made and really enjoyed. Who would have thought? I suppose I'll continue with this group. Maybe she's growing on me after all.

Halloween Spice Cake
Butter, for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce (I bought little individual cups so I wouldn't have to open a whole jar)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice.

In a large bowl, beat the sugars, oil, applesauce, eggs, and vanilla extract to blend. Add the dry ingredients and stir until just blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool the cake for 10 minutes. Unmold the cake and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Udon-Shiitake Stir-Fry with Sake and Ginger

As you can probably tell from my post about Homemade Lo Mein, I love Asian noodle dishes. I love lo mein. I love pad thai. I love rice noodles. I love udon noodles, in all their incarnations, from a soupy bowl full of veggies and broth, to a savory saute with a sauce. So, when I found the recipe for Udon-Shiitake Stir-Fry with Sake and Ginger in Vegan Planet, I knew I had to make it.

I hit noodle gold with this recipe. The sauce is sweet from the shiitake and agave, yet earthy from the mushrooms and sesame oil. The shiitakes are silky and a little meaty while the udon noodles are wonderfully chewy. At the end of each mouthful, the ginger lends a bracing bite.

These noodles were as good as any I can get at an Asian restaurant in my area. And the recipe is so fast to make that it is on the table before take-out could possibly be. I know these noodles will become a regular in my household.

Udon-Shiitake Stir-Fry with Sake and Ginger
adapted from Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson

12 oz udon noodles
2 tsp. sesame oil
3 Tbs. sake
3 Tbs. tamari or other soy sauce
2 Tbs. agave syrup
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
8 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, and caps thinly sliced
1 Tbs peeled and minced fresh ginger

1. Cook the udon noodles according to package directions. Drain and toss with sesame oil. Set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine the sake, tamari, and agave until well blended. Set aside.

3. Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add teh shallots, mushrooms, and ginger, and stir-fry until the mushrooms are tender, about 3 minutes.

4. Stir in the sake mixture and udon noodles, and cook, stirring, until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Serve hot.

This says it serves 4. In my house, it only served 2. We didn't have any sides or salad, so perhaps that is why.

Friday, October 29, 2010

IHCC: Cinnamon-Chocolate Fudge

This week's theme over at I Heart Cooking Clubs is "Chocolate Cravings." Oh yes, I have chocolate cravings. Often. But, I have to admit, it was hard for me to find a chocolate Giada recipe that was crave-worthy. So many of hers are combined with espresso, and, while I can tolerate it sometimes, I am not a coffee fan. So, I finally settled on this one chocolate recipe that I had bookmarked back when I had cable and would watch Giada's show almost every day. I wanted to save it for the holiday season, but I guess testing it out beforehand is a good idea.

I made the Cinnamon-Chocolate Fudge recipe, which is available on Food Network's website. It's easy to make. Very easy to make. Dangerously easy to make. Why is it dangerous? Because this stuff is GOOD! I would venture to say that the sea salt is NOT optional. It completely takes this fudge and elevates it to something special, something out of the ordinary, and something totally addictive. Sweet from the chocolate and sweetened condensed milk, warming from the cinnamon, and salty from the sea salt. The flavors all pop in your mouth, and before you know it, you're reaching for a second piece. My advice: Cut them in very very small squares so you won't feel so bad about going back for more.

Be sure to hop over to I Heart Cooking Clubs to see what other folks made for their chocolate craving week.

Cinnamon Chocolate Fudge

Butter, for greasing the pan
1 (14-ounce) can
sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure
vanilla extract
1 pound (about 2 cups) bittersweet (60 percent
cacao) chocolate chips (recommended: Ghiradelli) see Cook's Note
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, at room temperature
Kosher or flake salt, optional

Butter the bottom and sides of an 8 by 8-inch baking pan. Line the pan with a sheet of parchment paper, about 14-inches long and 7-inches wide, allowing the excess to overhang the sides. Set aside.

In a medium glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the condensed milk,
cinnamon, and vanilla. Stir in the chocolate chips and butter. Put the bowl on a saucepan of barely simmering water and mix until the chocolate chips have melted and the mixture is smooth, about 6 to 8 minutes (mixture will be thick).
Using a spatula, scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle with salt, if desired. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours until firm.
Run a warm knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the fudge.

Remove the fudge to a cutting board. Peel off the parchment paper and cut the fudge into 1-inch pieces. Store refrigerated in an airtight container or freeze.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Doughnuts

This is my first ever Daring Bakers Challenge. And, let me tell you, it turned out worlds better for me than my first Daring Cooks Challenge. The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

I can already see that this challenge is going to be a total "gateway drug" for me. See, I've always had this fear of deep frying. But, we pulled out the Fry Daddy for the occasion and found that, really, frying isn't so bad. And the results were soooo good. Too good.

Let's start from the beginning. I chose the pumpkin doughnut recipe from the ones Lori had posted. Since it was a crisp fall day when I decided to tackle the challenge, it seemed appropriate. Mixing the dough was easy--no different than any other dough. Waiting while the dough chilled was not easy. It never is. Waiting is not my strong suit.

I didn't have biscuit cutters, so I ended up using a juice glass for the "big" cut, and a shooter for the hole. They turned out just fine using these instruments, and it made me feel better that I didn't have to buy new equipment for the challenge.

As always, patting out the dough, cutting it, gathering the scraps, and re-patting them out got tedious. This is why I hate cut-out cookies. I know, at some point, I'm going to have to get used to the idea. Kids, in my experience, love using cookie cutters, and I really want to be the kind of mom that will let my child choose the recipes we bake together, regardless of the procedure. So, I'm thinking I need to warm up to the roll-and-cut process in the next few years.

The end result was amazing doughnuts. They had a crunch on the outside, and a soft, chewy cake texture on the inside. I ate way too many on the first day. By the second day, they had lost the crunchy exterior. Still, they were better than any store-bought doughnut I could buy--even in the little bakery down the road that specializes in doughnuts.

I should mention that I left my doughnuts completely unadorned. No glaze. No powdered sugar. Nothing. I just felt like that would be gilding the lily.

And, so I've made my gateway recipe. Now I find myself daydreaming about cider doughnuts, chocolate doughnuts, gingerbread doughnuts, yeasted doughnuts, jelly doughnuts...Oh my, Daring Bakers, what have you done to me?
Cost: $0.21 for 1 doughnut and 2 doughnut holes
Yup, you read that right. You get 1 doughnut AND two doughnut holes for just 21 cents. Next time you go to that big chain, think about how high their mark-up must be!

Friday, October 22, 2010

IHCC: Italian White Bean, Pancetta and Tortellini Soup

I recently stumbled upon I Heart Cooking Clubs. I love the idea of getting to know one author/chef really well during a six-month period. I just wish I had found the group earlier, when they were focusing on Mark Bittman or Nigella Lawson. Right now, their focus is Giada De Laurentiis. Given this fact, I'm thinking I'll participate every now and then, but I just can't commit to six months of Giada.

That said, when I saw that this week was "Potluck," I figured I would play along. I pulled out my cookbook specifically looking for a soup. Why a soup? Well, I spent last Friday through about Wednesday with the worst cold I've had in about two years. I know I'm lucky to have gone that long without it. I had a remarkably healthy pregnancy, and my immune system seemed to be in tip-top shape for the first ten months of my son's life. So, I was pretty frustrated when I got sick, as unused to the situation as I had become. It certainly didn't help that I was sick and running on Advil Cold & Sinus for my brother-in-law's wedding.

Anyway, all that aside, I chose the Italian White Bean, Pancetta, and Tortellini Soup. I find it kind of interesting that Swiss chard is not mentioned in the name of the recipe. The greens definitely featured prominently in the end result.

This was my first time using pancetta. It did not disappoint. The pancetta infused the whole soup with a rich, meaty undertone. Without it, I think the soup would have been lackluster, like so many of the other "beans and greens" soups I have made over the years. As much as I hate to admit it, I need some highly flavored meat (bacon, pancetta, chorizo) to make my greens palatable.

The soup turned out more than "palatable." It was filling, warming, and deeply nourishing in a "good for the soul" kind of way. I wish I had had this recipe on hand when I was a CSA member toting home huge bunches of chard and kale and collards every week. Now at least I know a good way to get in my greens.

Italian White Bean, Pancetta, and Tortellini Soup
adapted from Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis

3 Tbs olive oil
4 oz pancetta, chopped
3 shallots, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups chopped Swiss chard
6 cups chicken broth
1 (9 oz) package frozen cheese tortellini
freshly ground black pepper

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta, shallots, carrot, and garlic and cook until the pancetta is crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the beans, Swiss chard, and broth.

Bring the soup to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the tortellini and cook 8 minutes, until just tender. Season with pepper and serve.

Makes 5 servings

Cost: $3.22 per serving

Thursday, October 21, 2010

First Cookbook Lovers Unite: Open-Face Veggie Sandwiches

I recently started a new blogging group for people who love their printed cookbooks as much as I do. Cookbook Lovers Unite will have a theme every other week to make a recipe from a cookbook and then blog about and share. The first theme is "Your First Love." I wanted to hear what books started the obsession for other cookbook addicts.

My first cookbook love wasn't the first cookbook I ever owned. It wasn't even the second or third. Just as your first love isn't necessarily your first date, it took a few books before I found the one that started it all.

The Horn of the Moon Cookbook started it all for me. I'm not sure why. It's such an unassuming book. The cover is a drawing. There are no pictures in the book at all--just some line drawings and text. The author is not a celebrity. No one was promoting the book in a magazine, on a display in front of the store, or with a show on The Food Network. Nope, it was just a regular old book on a used bookstore shelf, and somehow it caught my attention.

It was the weekend of October 18-20, 2002 when I found the book. I know the date because it was my one-year anniversary with my boyfriend (now my husband). We had gone up to Vermont to see a concert, and stayed with friends who lived in Burlington. While we were wandering in downtown Burlington, in the bitter, biting wind, we ducked into a used bookstore. While browsing, I spied The Horn of the Moon, and something drew me to it. I bought it, after consulting with my boyfriend, not knowing that it would change me.

I read the cookbook cover to cover in the following months, marking recipes I wanted to try to make. This was no small step for me. I come from a family that doesn't like to cook. That's putting it nicely. My mother CAN cook--and what she makes she makes quite well--but she hates the process. My grandmothers? Don't make me laugh. At my wedding shower, everyone gave me a recipe card with a special dish from her kitchen. I don't have one from my Grandma because she couldn't think of a single thing that she cooks--she just orders take out or (more likely) goes to a restaurant. So, I wasn't from the cooks. But, I was determined to try, and this book was going to be my gateway.

These open-face sandwiches were my first foray into the cooking world. Kurt and I made them over and over and over again. We were so proud of our accomplishment. (Looking back, of course, this is an incredibly simple recipe, but we were just beginners.) To this day, the smell of broccoli and thyme sauteing reminds me of our tiny, crammed apartment in Somerville, MA. It reminds me of cozy meals around our tiny table, of cooking in a galley kitchen so cramped that we could barely work back-to-back. It reminds me of brisk November days, walking the half mile to the grocery store, and then walking back carrying the bags, and how warm my cheeks would feel when I got back into the apartment and turned on the stove. This recipe reminds me of the early days of living together, and learning to cook together.

It's amazing to me that this one innocent-looking book sparked the cookbook collection that I have now--that the 200-plus cookbooks in my house all sprang from that one impulse buy in Vermont.

Here's to beginnings--of a lifelong love of cookbooks, of a relationship that is now nine years old, and of a new blogging group where we can share the joy of the printed cookbook.

Broccoli Mushroom Sandwich with Three Cheeses
adapted from Horn of the Moon Cookbook by Ginny Callan

1 Tbs olive oil
2 cups chopped broccoli
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1/4 tsp salt
4 slices rye bread
1 1/2 cups crumbled blue cheese (I use much less)
8 small slices mozzarella cheese
8 small slices cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375.

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add oil, then broccoli and thyme. Cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and salt and cook until just barely tender. Remove from heat and drain any excess juices.

Place bread on a cookie sheet. Top each piece of bread with the broccoli-mushroom mixture. Spread the blue cheese over, followed by slices of mozzarella, and then cheddar. Bake for 10 minutes. Serve open-face.

Makes 4 servings.

Cost: $2.61 per sandwich

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Daring Cooks: Stuffed Grape Leaves

Today is my first Daring Cooks Challenge. Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. And, boy, was it a challenge...

Not that the recipe itself was so hard to make. It definitely had more steps than I'm used to lately. And it had some techniques I haven't tried before--weighing down the rolls with a Pyrex dish comes to mind. But, really, the challenge, for me, was to make something I've never tried before, and, quite frankly, never really had the inclination to.

Let me tell you, I did NOT feel any more inclined toward this after smelling the grape leaves. Picture driving near the ocean on a really humid day. The kind of day where the ocean doesn't smell fresh and clean anymore--it smells salty and fetid. I remember those kinds of days back when I lived on Long Island--when I would be driving down by the beach and think, "My goodness, something smells rotten!" Yeah. That's how the grape leaves smelled.

And THEN, as I'm carefully pulling each leaf apart from the others, since they were packed so tightly in the jar, I find a dead, preserved ladybug. I'm not kidding. There was no mistaking what it was. It was still intact, and red and black (though the red had slightly faded). At that point, I seriously considered scrapping the whole project. But, I found the insect on the very last leaf I had unraveled, so I trudged on and tried not to think about it too hard.

The results were, well...disgusting. I'm sorry. I understand that this might have been to some people's taste. It just wasn't to mine. The whole house reeked from the grape leaves, and you can't taste without using your nose. The texture was okay, but it was just a spiced meatball wrapped in an unappetizing leaf. No thanks.

I hope everyone else had fun with the challenge, and that their results were more pleasing to their palates. As for me, I'll try next month's challenge and see where it takes me. I guess Daring means risking failure or disappointment. The recipe worked just fine, it was just my personal preferences that failed me. Better luck next month, I guess.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Cranberry Sauce Conundrum

I have a really bad habit of letting food go to waste. I know it's a terrible thing to do, and I feel guilty every single time I throw away uneaten food that has gone bad in the refrigerator. I'm trying very hard to mend my ways, but sometimes it just isn't easy.

The other night, I had half a can of whole-berry cranberry sauce in the fridge. I had tried to use half of it in a recipe that failed miserably (not the recipe's fault--we had an ingredient go bad and didn't realized until it was too late in the process. We ended up eating grilled cheese for dinner that night.). So, there sat half a can of cranberry sauce. To be completely honest, the jelled consistency of the stuff grosses me out. But, keeping in mind that I have been trying so hard not to throw food away, I started looking for a recipe to use it up.

There is a new-ish website out there called Eat Your Books. I signed up for a lifetime membership back in May. Basically, they index cookbooks. You create a bookshelf with the cookbooks you own, and viola--you have a searchable database of the recipes on your cookbook shelves. Right now, only about 50% of my cookbooks are indexed. That's still a lot of recipes to search from--according to the website, when I log in, exactly 22.465 recipes, to be exact.

I performed such a search and found the perfect recipe to use up the cranberry sauce. As a bonus, it would also use the juice of the orange that was sitting in fridge, divested of its zest. The recipe was for Orange Cranberry Muffins from Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food.

So, I quickly mixed together the streusel topping, whipped up the muffin batter, scooped them out, sprinkled the topping on as well as I could (the muffin cups were over-full, so it was hard to make the streusel stick), and popped them in the oven in time to sit down and watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory on DVD. While I watched the hilarious antics of the ever-endearing nerds, my house started to smell ridiculously good. The kind of good that makes your stomach rumble and your mouth water, even though you just ate dinner an hour ago.

These muffins were a wonderful solution to my cranberry sauce problem. As a matter of fact, they were such a good solution that they have created their own problem. When I make them next, what will I do with the other half of the can of cranberry sauce? I guess that just remains to be seen. In the meantime, I would strongly urge you to make these muffins when you get the chance. They have the perfect fall/harvest taste. They are tender, and buttery, with a subtle crunch from the streusel topping. And, every now and then, if you are lucky, you bite into one of the whole cranberries, which gives you a joyful tart pop on the palate.

Orange Cranberry Muffins
adapted from I'm Just Here for More Food

The Streusel:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped almonds
3 Tbs butter

The Muffins:
8 Tbs unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp orange extract
1/2 cup plain yogurt
orange juice from 1 orange
3/4 cup canned whole-berry cranberry sauce

1. Mix streusel ingredients until cohesive, but still crumbly.
2. Preheat oven to 350, and grease a muffin tin.
3. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl.
4. Cream together the butter and sugar.
5. Add the eggs and mix until combined.
6. Add remaining wet ingredients. Then dump all the wet ingredients into the dry. (I do this the other way around--dumping the dry into the wet, and I'm not sure it makes any difference. Alton would probably disagree, though.)
7. Scoop the batter into 12 muffin cups. The book says to fill them to the top. Mine crested over the top. They still turned out great.
8. Sprinkle with streusel topping.
9. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
10. Allow muffins to cool before taking out of the tins.

Yield: 12 muffins
Cost: $0.36 per muffin

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Empty House Cupcake

What do you do on a Saturday night, when the baby is asleep and the husband is out at his brother's bachelor party? Make cupcakes, of course!

I was faced with this scenario this evening. The house was so quiet that you could hear a pin drop...well, except for the hum of the monitor, but I don't even hear that anymore (yet the tiniest sound of movement through it clicks back into my consciousness). Even the dog is jumping and barking at phantom noises. I closed a cabinet, and she was barking at the front door.

The recipe I chose was for Doughnut Cupcakes. They promised the taste of a doughnut without the deep-frying. I'm all for that! The recipe comes from the King Arthur Baking Sheet CD I bought last weekend--this one from the Jan/Feb edition back in 1993. They came from a column entitled "Take It Easy," and they certainly delivered on that promise. From the moment I decided to make the cupcakes to the time they were cooling on the wire rack was only 50 minutes. That time probably could have been even faster, if I hadn't had to wait for the oven to preheat.

I did make two adjustments to the original recipe. First, it called for shortening. Yuck! I will not allow Crisco in my house. So, I subbed in butter, as I always do. I expect better of King Arthur, but maybe times were just different in 1993, and they didn't realize how bad shortening is (though it was always a vile substance, so I'm skeptical). Second, the original called for regular milk. I didn't have any in the house, so I used buttermilk.

The results were quite yummy, if not quite doughnut-like. Of course, that could be because of my substitutions. To me the biggest similarity to doughnts was the nutmeg and cinnamon sugar flavors. Nevertheless, they make a very satisfactory cinnamon-sugary cupcake.

Doughnut Cupcakes
adapted from King Arthur Flour Baking Sheet Jan/Feb 1993

1/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

2 Tbs butter, melted
cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 350.

In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the milk and egg. Add the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt, and beat at medium speed of an electric mixer for 2 minutes.

Spoon batter into 12 muffin cups, filling each about halfway. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Brush tops of cupcakes with melted butter, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Wait 10 minutes, then remove from pans to cool completely.

Makes 12 cupcakes

Cost: $0.14 Yup, that's 14 CENTS per cupcake. You can't beat that!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chicken and Rice "Stoup"

People have very strong opinions about Rachael Ray. I've heard it all--she's annoying, her recipes lower our standards for food, she's just cashing in, etc, etc, etc. Well, I'll tell you this. The woman knows how to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes, and when you are a new mom, that is invaluable. Over the last nine months, I have fallen in love with Ms. Ray's recipes and cooking/writing style. For quick meals, she uses very little processed ingredients--from the recipes I've picked (and there have been a lot of them since Jasper was born), the most packaged ingredients I've used are canned broth and some frozen veggies. Not bad at all. And the recipes really deliver--of the many I have tried, we have only disliked one and had one complete disaster (which was not the recipe's fault--it was cook's error). I will openly admit that I own almost every Rachael Ray cookbook, and I will further state that they are used more than any other single author on my shelves at the moment (which says a lot, considering that I have close to 200 cookbooks on those shelves).

The weather has been getting brisk here in New England, so I decided to make a Chicken and Rice "Stoup" recipe, from 365: No Repeats. "Stoup," for those not well-versed in Rachael Ray-speak, is somewhere between a soup and a stew. This one was warm, and comforting, with perfect seasonings. And, it was super easy to make. Very little active time was involved, so that dinner could get on the table and the baby could be entertained all at once. This recipe is a keeper. I'm sure it will grace my table throughout the cold weather season.

Chicken and Rice Stoup
adapted from Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats

2 cups chicken stock
3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs unsalted butter
1 1/2 to 2 lbs chicken breast tenders, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium leeks, cut lengthwise and then sliced into half-moons
1 bay leaf
1 cup carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 tsp. dried thyme
6 cups chicken stock (I used Swanson)
1 1/2 cups white rice

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and butter. When butter melts, add the chicken to the pan and saute until lightly golden on both sides, about 4 minutes.

Add leeks, bay leaf, carrots, celery, and thyme. Cook for about 3 minutes, until the leeks wilt down.

Add all 6 cups of stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice and cook until rice is just tender, 15 to 18 minutes. (There was no instruction in the original recipe for the cover to be on or off, so I left it off. It worked fine this way.) Adjust salt and pepper seasoning to taste.

Serves: about 6

Note: If you have leftovers, the rice will absorb all the liquid, giving you a "chicken and rice" meal, with no "stoup." This was fine with me--it was still delicious--but, if you want the soup consistency, have another can of broth on hand to thin it out when you reheat.

Cost: $2.69 per serving

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New to the Kitchen: Cost Analysis & BYOB

I am adding a new feature to my blog, starting with the the previous post. From now on, I will be including a cost analysis for each of the recipes I make. Why, you may ask? The last year has brought many changes to the neon celery kitchen. Among those changes has been a move from being a two-income household to just the one. While our change has been (mostly) by choice, I think a lot of people are finding themselves in similar situations these days. So, I thought I would share my calculations with you.

For me, calculating the cost of each recipe is a way to keep track of where my grocery money is going, and gives me confirmation that cooking at home is not only healthier for our bodies, but also for our wallets.

Along the same lines, I have joined up with BYOB--that's "Bake Your Own Bread." They are a group of bloggers who have taken the pledge to bake all of their own breads, rather than buying them at the grocery store. They are an inspiration to me, and I am looking forward to the challenge.

I hope you enjoy the new features. Happy cooking/baking!

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Politically Incorrect Bread

I just got home from Vermont. I love Vermont. The rolling hills are beautiful. The air is fresh and crisp and clean. The people are friendly. There's a chance you might see a moose. And the King Arthur Flour store is there. The only thing I don't like about Vermont is that I have to spend a good portion of my visit giving myself pep talks about why I haven't just picked up and moved there yet. (Work, work, and work. There just aren't jobs in my husband's field there, and we need money to live--even in Vermont.)

As a bonus for going to the beautiful wedding of close friends, I got to visit the King Arthur Flour store. That store is so dangerous for me. But, I did walk out relatively unscathed. I bought a one-pound bag of cinnamon chips, because it has been driving me crazy that I can't find them (the supermarket sells cinnamon chip muffins, but not cinnamon chips--so where do they get their cinnamon chips????). I also bought a CD with the first ten years of the Baking Sheet--King Arthur's newsletter--on it in PDF format.

Upon returning home, I had some distinct emotions. The first was travel-weariness. In the last six weeks, we have traveled to Chicago, Florida, and Vermont. All with an infant. Not easy. I am standing firm that I am not leaving for an overnight trip until Thanksgiving. The other emotion was excitement for fall. Fall has already come to Vermont, it seems. New Hampshire is lagging behind. And then, as excitement for fall almost always translates for me, I was ready to bake.

So, I opened up my new CD and found a recipe for a bread machine bread that would work well for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Kurt starts a new job tomorrow, and we don't know what the lunch situation will be--if there will be a fridge, a mircowave, etc. So, a sandwich is a safe bet. And a sandwich on homemade bread is just that much better. I found a recipe for "Squaw Bread" that looked very interesting, if a bit derogatory. I mean, who uses the term "squaw" anymore? In any case, the recipe looked good, and I decided to try it.

The results were excellent. The whole grain flavor doesn't overpower the whole loaf. Instead, it lends a sweetness to the soft, chewy bread. It was just perfect under a schmear of cream cheese for breakfast this morning.

Squaw Bread
adapted from King Arthur Flour's Baking Sheet Mar-Apr 1997

Makes 1 (1 1/2 lb loaf)

3/4 cup (6 ounces) buttermilk
1/2 cup (4 ounces) water
2 Tbs. canola oil
1 1/2 Tbs honey
2 Tbs raisins
2 Tbs light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup (3 ounces) rye flour
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 tsp. yeast

In a blender, blend buttermilk through brown sugar. Put this mixture into bread machine, followed by the rest of the ingredients. Bake on basic or white bread program, with light crust setting.

Cost: $1.69 for the loaf
Specialty whole grain sandwich loaf at supermarket bakery: $2.99
I submitted this post to the BYOB monthly round-up. You can see what the other BYOB bakers were making in September by clicking here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters

Funny how life works. On Friday night, I was thinking that I would finally get a chance to bake this weekend. Since I had to run out to the grocery store for dinner ingredients quickly, I chose my recipe rather haphazardly. I seemed to recall a chocolate chip and peanut butter cookie that I made once upon a time, that Sally the dog had eaten before I had really gotten my fill.

I baked said cookies last night. I logged into my blog this morning, and reread my last post about the recipe. And I found that I made this same recipe during Labor Day weekend two years ago. What are the chances??? And where on earth did the time go?

In any case, the cookies are still wonderful. Oh my, that Dorie Greenspan knows how to build a super dessert recipe. The woman should be considered armed with butter and very dangerous to the waistline. But, she sure does deliver.

I am happy to report that I have kept these cookies on the stove, behind a tea kettle and big old empty Dutch oven so that Sally cannot steal them. So far, so good. So very, very sinfully good.

For the link to the recipe, I am sending you to one of my most favorite blogs. Rebecca's posts never fail to make me smile, and very often have me laughing out loud. If you haven't read her blog before, you should really consider starting now. Here is the recipe (and a great post).

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Homemade Lo Mein

Lo mein is one of my favorite foods. Kind of strange, I know. It's among the lowliest of Americanized Chinese food dishes. It's generally an afterthought on the Chinese buffet tables, or one of those slightly-cold, very greasy dishes that you get at the mall food court. But, I love good lo mein.

I suppose one of the reasons I like the noodle dish so much is that it is connected, over and over again, to fond memories for me. When I think of lo mein, I think of Mother's Day at my Aunt Fran's house. We would all sit around and take an hour to decide what we were ordering from the Chinese take out place. My grandfather would hold court, tallying up what everything would cost, so that we could get the most expensive item possible (boneless spare ribs) for free. Back then--or maybe it's more of a Long Island thing--if you ordered "x" amount, you would get an egg roll free, this amount, and you would get wonton soup, etc, all the way up to the coveted boneless spare ribs. We ordered more food than we ever needed, and probably spent a good deal more than the boneless spare ribs would have cost, but getting it for free made Grandpa happy.

Lo mein also brings me back to my first apartment off campus, and the year I met my husband. There was a decent Chinese restaurant around the corner called Chef Chang's. My husband (well, boyfriend at the time) and I would often drop into Chang's for lunches--you couldn't beat the $5.95 luncheon specials. The one I ordered was always the chicken lo mein, an egg roll, and a cup of hot and sour soup. To this day, picturing that dining room in my head brings me back to the feeling of lazy Saturday afternoons with no responsibilities except to maybe get home early enough on Sunday night to write a quick paper or two.

When I found the recipe that forms the base for my homemade lo mein, I knew I had to try it. After all, I'm kind of a lo mein addict. It turned out perfectly--exactly what I had been searching for. As a bonus, this recipe costs less than a dollar per serving--though it could be more, depending on what you add to it. This recipe is so fast and so easy that we made it almost every week during the first few months after my son was born. And, so, this lo mein joins the memory pantheon. I'm sure, when I taste this dish years from now, that it will bring me back to Jasper's newborn days. It will remind me of the sleepless weeks when we were struggling to get Jasper to gain weight. It will remind me of my seemingly permanent station in the rocking chair, nursing, then sitting together while Jasper slept and I watched the Food Network (or read, if I could get an arm free to hold the book). Jasper will most likely come to remember this meal as "when Mommy was in a big rush." Let the lo mein memories continue.

Homemade Lo Mein
Serves about 4, depending on additions
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs sesame oil
2 cups shredded cabbage from a bag
1/2 cup chopped green onion
8 oz. angel hair pasta
4 Tbs. soy sauce

Optional additions:
handfuls of bean sprouts (in my house, this one isn't an option--it's a staple)
any and all veggies you want to use (I've found that 1/2 a bag of the frozen stir-fry veggies works very well.)
cooked chicken, shredded (I only do this when I have some that I have to use up)

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
2. Heat oil and sesame oil in skillet. Add any "heartier" veggies that you plan to use--broccoli, carrots, etc. If you are using frozen veggies, throw them in now. Sautee until just slightly cooked.

3. Add cabbage and green onion and saute for about 5 minutes more.

4. Add pasta, and soy sauce, and, if you are using them, the bean sprouts and chicken. Toss so that the pasta gets completely coated in the oil and soy sauce, and so that veggies are distributed evenly.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

Summer in a Bowl

There are some things that can only be enjoyed during the summer. Corn on the cob. Fresh, sweet, juicy peaches that have been picked from the tree that day. Heirloom watermelons with sherbet orange flesh. And tomatoes. Real, vine-ripened tomatoes, still sun-warm when you bite into them. In my case, a rainbow of heirlooms, ranging from the tart and tangy green zebra to the mellow and sweet yellow "peach."

This dish is about summer. It's about the freshest ingredients, used at the height of ripeness--and almost no embellishment. And yet, somehow, with so little cooking and so few ingredients, it will be the best meal you eat all season. This is the dish you dream about in the darkest days of January, when the snow is falling, and summer seems like it will never come.

I came across this recipe in Moosewood Cooks at Home, one of my go-to cookbooks. It's so simple that you really don't need a recipe at all. Boil some pasta. Throw chopped super-fresh super-ripe tomatoes into a food processor. Add garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and a few fresh basil leaves into a food processor. Whirl it up until it's smooth. Chop up some extra tomatoes for garnish. Cube some fresh mozzarella cheese. Drain the pasta. Put it in a bowl. Toss it with the mozzarella while the pasta is still piping hot. This creates gooey strands of cheese throughout the dish. Toss with the pureed sauce and chopped tomatoes. Serve, preferably with some nice crusty bread, and maybe a light green salad. That's it. But, it's perfect. The season, captured in a bowl.

You can find the recipe here, or feel free to improvise. I have submitted this entry to Grow Your Own #45. Be sure to check out the round-up there, to see what other bloggers have made using produce from their own gardens and farms.

Friday, May 28, 2010

MIA: Missing in Action/Mother in Action

It's been five months since I've posted. Five life-changing months. On December 17, 2009, my little Jasper was born. He's a healthy, happy baby boy. And, somehow, he's swallowed the last five months of my life whole. Don't know where the time has gone. Yet, somehow, the little 7 lb 6 oz, 21-inch newborn is now 14 lbs 11 oz, and 26 3/4 inches long. All of a sudden, it seems, he's rolling over, and laughing, babbling and grabbing at my food. Clearly, time has passed, but I'm not sure where it has gone.

I'm hoping to start blogging again. The Jazz Monkey appears to be taking naps now. So, perhaps, maybe, if I'm lucky, I will be able to start writing again. Maybe even baking again.

In the meantime, here's to a long weekend, the vegetable garden sprouting, and strawberry season peaking over the horizon.