April 16, 2014

Mocha Dirt Cake

Mocha Dirt Cake

mocha dirt cake

You can find the recipe for this mocha dirt cake over at Minnesota Monthly, where I've been writing about all things coffee for the past week. This alluring sweet has coffee grounds in the "dirt" layer and espresso in the creamy filling. It's an addictive combination of crispy, creamy, sweet but not too and would be a show stopper on your Easter table. Check it out here. 

April 14, 2014

For better iced coffee, back away from the drip-pot...

cold brewed coffee

I'm writing over at Minnesota Monthly today about how to make delicious cold-brewed coffee. Turns out, I was doing it all wrong. Check it out here

This is the nice woman from Caribou who set me straight. Thanks Liz!

April 11, 2014

Blueberry Tart

Blueberry Tart

My tart pan is a long rectangle that I fell for over at Tartlette. She's figured out how to shoot it so the whole thing fits in the camera frame. I have not, so please forgive the extreme close-ups. Plus, I wanted you to see the tiny flecks of vanilla in the whipped cream. Can you spot them? 

Fruit desserts are my favorite and I like them really packed with whatever fruit they're showcasing. Tarts are fun because they're like boxes you can fill up with anything your heart desires, in this case tiny wild blueberries I've had in my freezer for a month. The challenge is to see how many you can fit in without spilling over. I think I could've squeezed in another half cup so I've accounted for that in the recipe. Fruit always shrinks during baking, unlike dough which gets bigger, so you have those two elements slugging it out while you wait for the kitchen to smell sweet. 

The vanilla whipped cream was a flourish that is completely unnecessary but rather delicious. Requires some planning ahead because you need to steep it, then cool down before whipping. Regular whipped cream would be just fine too, or nothing at all. 

Blueberry Tart

Adapted from Saveur, August 2011
Makes one 13 3/4" x 4 1/2" x 1" tart

Tart Dough
1 cup old fashioned oatmeal
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
pinch salt and cinnamon
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

1. Put oatmeal, almonds, flour, salt and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined. Add butter and pulse until the size of baby peas. Dump onto counter and gather into a rectangle (or whatever shape your tart pan is—you don't have to roll it out this is more like a crumb crust than a pie crust). Press firmly into bottom and sides of tart pan, trimming the excess off the top. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 400ยบ. Bake tart crust for 15 minutes until slightly golden. Remove from oven and, using a spoon, press down puffs in crust. Spoon blueberry mixture in and return to oven for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely. Brush with warmed up blueberry jam (makes it look prettier) and top with whipped cream, if desired.

2 1/2 cups wild blueberries (fresh or frozen—if frozen don't thaw)
Zest from lemon
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup blueberry or other jam, optional for glaze

1. Toss blueberries in a bowl with lemon zest, cornstarch and sugar.

Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1. Put cream in a heavy saucepan. Split and scrape vanilla and add to cream along with brown sugar. Stir and heat until bubbles appear around the edges then cover. Stir, then turn off heat and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain into a jar and refrigerate until cold. Whip until stiff peaks form and serve.

April 4, 2014

Feta "Crackers"

Feta crackers

I don't have much to say about these other than I realize they look more like a biscuit than a cracker.  It's been one of those happy hectic weeks with little sleep and today, I'm out of words. These are just damn good teeny tiny flaky flavorful bites. The inspiration comes from Dorie Greenspan—she calls them Cheez-It-like. I agree insomuch as the crispy, layered texture is concerned. After that the flavor and, well, frankly, aftertaste kicks to patootie off the red box. 

Easy too, as long as you have a food processor. I should call this blog "Me and My Newest, Bestest Buddy and Big Toe...Food Processor" given how much I rely on this piece of equipment. 

Note: This recipe makes 20 but they're small. Plan on at least 5 per person for an appetizer. 

March 27, 2014

Za'atar Chicken and Avocado Salad

 Za'tar Chicken and Avocado Salad

I love simplicity. Blue oxford shirts, straw brooms, cotton aprons, hardcover books, kindness (much simpler than clever). And sometimes, it's how I like my food. This week I've eaten a lot of POW! foods—spicy rice bowls and falafel burgers, so I was in the mood for something quieter tonight. I adore the flavor of white onion and avocado together–such a nice contrast of sharp and crunchy and creamy and rich. The chicken adds heft and the herbacious flavor of Za'atar (see note) is so good but doesn't overpower. Plus it's a fun word to say, "Za'atar, you rotten scoundrel!"

Note: Za'atar is a middle eastern spice blend traditionally made up of equal amounts of sesame seeds, thyme and sumac. You can make your own or find it at a middle eastern market or speciality spice store.

March 21, 2014

Chicken with Asparagus and Leeks

This is a quick meal — one of a very few I have up my sleeve and I think it looks like spring on a plate.  Crisp, delicate asparagus and leeks, cheery lemon zest and parsley, sunny egg noodles and tender dead chicken.

Whoops. Did that last one ruin it for you? Does it help to know that this particular chicken had free rein of her spacious yard, enjoyed an organic diet and was the unfortunate victim of a freak accident involving a puddle and a faulty electrical socket foolishly placed near the hen house so the farmer could recharge her iPhone? This bird didn't see it coming and didn't feel a thing. Well OK, I don't know about that, but buying organic does make me feel better about the carnivore in me that really enjoys a slab of meat a few times a week.

These are chicken thighs which I have been trying to love because the organic version is quite affordable, but really, I miss my breasts. Not MY breasts (well, I miss those too  — nursing two kids did a number on them) but the lovely white meat that comes from chicken breasts and has such mild flavor. You can use whichever you prefer.

March 16, 2014

Gorgonzola Walnut Arugula Pizza

Every so often we'll make pizza at home, sometimes with dough from a local joint and sometimes we make it ourselves. Today my teenager and I made it from scratch using a recipe from the Joy of Cooking which included 10 minutes of kneading (kneading dough always engenders an appreciation of professional bakers who must have seriously muscular forearms and hands). Our kitchen is on the chilly side, like the rest of the old house, so we proofed the dough in the oven. I learned this trick from a cooking class I took at the Mansion on Forsyth Park, a fantastic restaurant Savannah, Georgia in a gorgeous, decadent space that really makes you feel the swell of Savannah...darlin'.  You preheat the oven to it's lowest setting then turn it off and place your bowl of covered dough inside. The residual heat makes the dough rise nicely without putting it in harms way (i.e., agile dogs who will eat raw dough with an enthusiasm they usually reserve for pencils and shoelaces). 

This is my favorite way to top homemade pizza — onions caramelized with white wine, garlic, olive oil, pungent Gorgonzola cheese, crunchy walnuts, a handful of spicy arugula and squeeze of lemon just when it comes out of the oven. 

March 10, 2014

Everything Lemon Vinaigrette

Everything Lemon Vinagrette


I feel a bit sheepish posting this recipe - it's so simple - but it is one of my greatest hits, a recipe I get so many compliments on that I feel compelled to share. It improves nearly everything it dresses - salad, pasta, chicken, fish, crusty bread...your hand. I buy lemons in bulk largely due to this dressing.

Spring vegetables will be here soon along with other harbingers of the season (mud, jumbo bottles of windshield washer fluid and the celebratory stuffing of heavy coats, hats and gloves into the basement closet) and this is lovely on those too, particularly asparagus and artichokes.

A few words about juicing lemons. I have found through MUCH trial and error that the most efficient way to juice a lemon is with a sharp pointed wooden reamer and a small sieve placed over a bowl. You get the most juice out of the lemons with no seeds, minimal pulp and easy wash up. Beats any juicer gadget. Also, this dressing is best if it's emulsified - easy with a standard or hand immersion blender or you can go old-school and whisk the oil in slowly.

March 4, 2014

Buttermilk Mashed Cauliflower

Buttermilk Mashed Cauliflower

I'm a bit late to the party on this one. I blame the grumpy old man in me that occasionally pops up. Why wouldn't you want to eat potatoes? Mashed potatoes are one of the worlds great foods! Why are you trying to trick the children and fool your husband by passing off cauliflower as potatoes? Just serve the dang mashed potatoes! Well...Grandpa, that's not the point. Cauliflower tastes good, it's really healthy and it's fun to try something different.

So I finally did and now I get what all the fuss is about. Cooked and smoothed cauliflower is a very different animal from cauliflower on the veggie tray or roasted in the oven. Creamy and comforting - it won't fool anyone that's it's mashed potatoes, but holds it's own as a delicious side dish.

I simmered the buds in buttermilk to add some tang and richness. Don't be alarmed when you see the buttermilk curdle.  Those solids are like buttermilk cheese and will smooth out and enrich the end product.

February 27, 2014

Mini Salted Lemon Cheesecakes

Mini Salted Lemon Cheesecakes

The Oscar's are my Superbowl Sunday.

When the kids were younger, my husband and I had an unspoken agreement - I would be primary so he could watch the big game in January and he would return the favor a month later for the Academy Awards. And for the past 10 years we've had a small group of friends over to watch the awards with us. We love every minute - the competition, the spectacle, the clothes!, the back stories, the honoring of actors who have achieved a milestone or died during the past year (I'm sure this year there will be a segment devoted to Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Aren't we all so sad to see him go too soon? Didn't you love how quiet and human his acting was  - always with a little smirk directed only at himself and never a judgement of others? Tough one.)

This year I'm making these individual lemon cheesecakes with a some salt flakes lodged into the lemon curd. The salt makes the lemon more intense and brings out the sweetness in the crust and filling. This recipe makes nine but you could easily double it for more minis or triple the filling and double the crust for a full size cake (the lemon curd recipe makes plenty).

February 20, 2014

Kale Salad with Chimichurri and Hummus

Kale Salad with Chimichurri and Hummus

I'm stretched. One old house, two kids, two dogs, one husband with a demanding job and various volunteer commitments have left me flailing.

Each thing is suffering in some way - either the kids don't have enough of my focused face time  or I forget to submit the form for their entry to this, membership to that or registration for the other thing. The dogs are bouncing off the ceiling, chewing the runner on the stairs and following me around e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e looking hopefully into my eye when they can catch it hoping I'll take them for a walk or to the dog park. My husband wants me to listen to his work challenges, their progression and resolution and also please tell him where he needs to be when and could I email him directions too.

I communicated wrong dates for the school fundraiser because as I was typing the email for it I was mentally already on to the next thing. I missed our daughter's parent-teacher conference, twice! Once because I was planning rides to a 4th grade roller skating party - the other time I was probably wrist deep in biscuit dough, listening to Fresh Air and having a grand ole time.  No tiger mother here. I know people are starting to think to I'm a flake. I might be... but that's not why I'm messing up. I just have too many bits and pieces tap-tap-tapping on the inside of my brain. My untoned caboose is jumping from one track to the other without any quality control measures and I find I'm rolling along with a missing wheel or two. It's not my finest hour.

Calgon, take me away. Or should I say Julia Child?

(At this time I'd like to thank anyone who's actually read to this point and didn't skip ahead to the recipe. It's this kind of free therapy that is keeping me sane).

We've been eating loads of this salad ever since they started packaging baby kale into easy to rip open plastic tubs (which are even easier to recycle now that Mpls has gone to single sort recycling bins). I've been wanting to try Smitten Kitchen's Ethereal Hummus recipe so I'm using that as a creamy base which kale has no trouble holding up to.  It's worth the trouble. You drag your fork through the hummus, then scoop up some crunchy salad dressed in a ka-pow chimichurri dressing and it's a bright combination of creamy, crunchy, rich and fresh. If you don't like chimichurri, just use lemon and olive oil on your salad and it will be just as great, but milder.

February 16, 2014

Chorizo Noodle Frittata

Chorizo Noodle Frittata

Chorizo Noodle Frittata

Like many others around the world, we've been watching a lot of the Olympics this week and being dazzled by freshness and intensity of the athletes. The downhill skiers take my breath away as does the height and pitch of the course (scary!) and I must say I was kind of thrilled by the women's snowboard cross event. That sport is growing on me. The announcers are enthusiastic and helpful and my only quibble is with the amount of camera time devoted to Bode Millers pretty wife and the mic on her that captures her pep talks with Bode which sound fake even though they're probably not. It's that weird thing where it's impossible to act naturally once you know you're being photographed or recorded. It's why people wave and smile like lunatics or shout "wooo!".

Anyway, we've been bringing our dinner plates to the floor in front of the TV and that's a treat - talk of sports and athletes makes for easy conversation and it's nice to root for the same team. Go USA!

This noodle frittata recipe is based on one from Food & Wine Magazine. I get so many food magazines and have vowed to try more recipes from them (plus don't you just love to say the word "noodle"?). I've been disappointed by frittatas in the past - too eggy and rubbery. Not so this one. This dish is creamy, super flavorful and has a nice soft, yet firm texture. It's substantial and would be good for brunch or dinner. Also great the next day warmed up in the microwave. Maybe better.

Note: bowl is on floor, dog is not on table.

February 11, 2014

Pineapple Banana Bread

I started making this banana bread a week ago.  That's when I had some spotted and fragrant bananas in the basket on the counter sharing their musty perfume with the sandwich bread. That first loaf was kind of awful. Great flavor but heavy, dense and a bit wet. So I've been playing with the recipe since adjusting the amount of pineapple, bananas, flour and fat and I think I finally got it right with this one (the fourth loaf). 

I love the flavor of pineapple and banana together (makes me think of something I'd drink on a beach with a fish taco, no shoes and no schedule) but both contain a lot of moisture which can seriously weigh down a baked good. So I tried an America's Test Kitchen tip of microwaving the bananas to get them to release some of their moisture but...it didn't work. This is probably because the bananas I used weren't brown enough (I was running out of patience in nailing this thing). However, I'm still recommending it because I know you wouldn't dream of making banana bread with hard, sunny yellow, unfreckled bananas but will instead wait for those that usually end up forgotten at the bottom of someone's lunch bag or purse and are the reason banana bread exists at all. I'm confident those kind of bananas will behave just as Christopher Kimball says they will and release abundant liquid which you can reduce on the stove and add back into your batter to make your bread incredible. I did it with the pineapple and wasn't disappointed. 

I used coconut oil because of seemed to fit the tropical theme and I like it as a substitute for butter or vegetable oil.  Wish I could say it made this vegan but there are eggs so....maybe next time.

February 4, 2014

Thai Beef with Coconut Rice & Cilantro Yogurt

Thai Beef with Coconut Rice & Cilantro Yogurt

A few years ago on a chilly Friday evening we were at our friends John and Faye's house hanging out in their kitchen and catching up over a beer while the kids played in the basement (a popular way for us to spend Friday nights when the kids were younger). We decided to order takeout from a great Thai place in the neighborhood and Faye ordered her favorite, a beef salad called Laab. I'd never had it before and was surprised to see that the beef wasn't cut into strips as I had imagined but was ground into small pieces like, well, hamburger. I thought ground beef was strictly the purview of North Americans and Europeans. Hamburgers, shepherds pie, pasties and that kind of thing. Well let me tell you, humble ground beef becomes quite a showy flower when it's combined with a few Thai staples and fried until it gets a little crispy around the edges. This is my version of that dish. It's savory, tangy, bright and feels good-for-you. 

I paired it with fragrant basmati rice cooked in coconut milk, crunchy raw vegetables (julienned just for fun and because I got a new tool for Christmas that makes it so easy*) and a tangy cilantro yogurt sauce. A fine meal that comes together quickly. I wish my photos did it justice but I was itching to eat this and decided they were "good enough". By the time I loaded the pictures onto my computer it was too late and every morsel had been consumed. So you'll have to trust me on this.

January 31, 2014

I Sing the Baker Imperfect...

(Cream Scones with Brown Sugar Icing)

Scones with Brown Sugar Glaze

Scones with Brown Sugar Glaze

Sadly but predictably, the inspiration for this post title comes not from the Walt Whitman poem but from the song from the movie, Fame. What was I doing during the poetry units in numerous English classes in high school and college that I missed the opportunity to understand and appreciate poetry? What boy was I thinking about or hangover was I nursing or amusement was I planning for the night? I'm not proud, but there you have it. So many missed intellectual opportunities in the pursuit of love and fun. Sigh.

I was thinking about poetry today because the recipe for these scones comes from a local woman who is a baker, takes the most beautiful pictures and writes a soulful blog, vanillabeanblog.com. Her recipe is a good one and although my scones are a bit irregularly shaped, they are delicious and I think perhaps more homey and lovable for their slightly wonky appearance. The jagged angles get nice and crunchy and are a pleasant contrast to the soft buttery cake inside. Sweet, but not too. Imperfect - like me, but still striving.

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