November 29, 2012

Crispy Polenta with Puttanesca

crispy polenta with puttanesca

Wasn't polenta one of those trendy 90's foods like pasta and Chilean sea bass?  It was the decade of carbohydrates (carbs were good, fat was bad, and yet we all got fat). Then Dr. Atkins came along and pasta, bagels and potatoes were tossed over like a chatty Pollyanna on a lifeboat. I think we're more balanced now, some carbs, some protein (and increasingly from vegetable sources) and not worrying about it too much. Sensible.

Today I thought I'd revisit polenta and make it from scratch. If I had known it was this easy, I never would've bought those pre-made rolls in the grocery store. You can top it with just about anything, a fried egg like my daughter, an arugula salad like my other daughter or like me with a quick puttanesca sauce.  I like how the bold, acidic flavors of puttanesca are offset by the creamy polenta.


Serves 4-6 
(Makes approximately 9 three-inch rounds with leftover scraps)

3 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
2 cups polenta/corn grits
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt

November 25, 2012

Pretzel Jammy Tarts

Pretzel Jammy Thumbprints, tarts, pretzel cookie

Today I'm tweaking my mom's beloved holiday jammy tarts.  I can do this because I know she'll still make her classic version and I'll get to enjoy this delicious cookie two ways. These have the au courant salted sweet flavor, fruity jam and crunchy pretzels.  The cookies have both pretzel "flour" I made by pulverizing mini pretzels in my food processor, and pretzel bits on the outside of the cookie.  I make them on the large side (so it feels like I'm eating fewer?), but you could make bite-size ones (like my mom does) and they would be quite elegant. This is one good cookie.

Pretzel "Flour"

Pretzel Jammy Tarts

Makes approximately 2 dozen

1 cup butter (two sticks), room temperature
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 egg yolks (save whites)
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 cups mini pretzels*, divided
1 cup flour
1 cup pretzel flour (see directions below)
2 egg whites, beaten lightly
Jam of your choice

* look for pretzels without corn syrup or sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375º. 

2. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. 

3. Put 3 cups of pretzels into the food processor and run until it resembles a coarse flour (don't worry if it's not completely uniform). Pulse other 3 cups of pretzels into tiny pieces (or bash in a plastic bag with a rolling pin). Put in a shallow bowl and set aside.

4. Cream butter and sugar with a mixer. Add egg yolks and vanilla and mix until combined. Add flour and pretzel flour and stir until combined. It won't be a smooth dough but will come together when you scoop and roll it. Form into balls (approximately one inch) by rolling gently between your hands. Roll in egg white, then in pretzel crumbs.

5. Put on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes, then remove from oven and make small indentations in the center with a small spoon. Add a spoonful of jam. Return to oven and bake for an additional 6-7 minutes. Immediately remove from cookie sheet and place on racks to cool. 

Rolling in crushed pretzels

Peach and strawberry jam
Pretzel Jammy Tarts Thumbprints
Jam added - back to oven for 7 minutes
All done

November 21, 2012

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup

This is something I never thought I'd make (maybe a throwback to fussy childhood eating and it looked like a throw-everything-in-the-pot kind of soup with suspicious things floating around), but I wanted to bring a meal to a friend who recently had surgery and knew this was a favorite of hers, so I decided to give it a go. What a nice surprise. Tons of complimentary flavors and textures - heat, citrus, smoke, herby, creamy and crispy all in familiar and healing chicken broth. Plus avocado, cilantro, crunchy tortilla strips and lime that you add to your own bowl, which is always fun. So fresh and satisfying.

Tortilla Soup

Makes 4-6 servings

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or use a purchased rotisserie chicken)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion
2 red or yellow sweet peppers
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 jalapeno pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 15 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes, drained
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 lime
2 avocados, diced
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed and roughly chopped
Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
Sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 350º

2. Put chicken breasts on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 20-25 minutes until cooked through. Cool and shred with a fork. Set aside.

3. Dice onions and sweet peppers. Mince garlic. Cut the top off the jalapeno, split in half lengthwise, remove seeds and white membrane then chop into a fine dice (try to touch it as little as possible with your bare hands - the substance (capsaicin) it leaves behind burns like the dickens and takes a while to wear off).

4. Heat the olive oil in a large soup kettle over medium heat and add onions and peppers. Saute until soft, 10-15 minutes, then add tomato paste, garlic, cumin, paprika and jalapeno. Saute for another few minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic, then add chicken stock, salt and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and add beans and shredded chicken. Partially cover and leave alone for 20 minutes or so.

5. Squeeze half a lime into the soup, stir, and serve with lots of avocado, cilantro, tortilla strips, cheese, sour cream and maybe a bit more fresh lime juice.

Tortilla Strips

6 flour or corn tortillas
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400º. Cut tortillas into 1/2 inch strips. Toss with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and bake for 12-15 minutes, turning halfway through so they brown evenly. Cool and serve with the soup.

November 18, 2012

Pear Apple Cranberry (Leftovers) Crisp

Pear Apple Cranberry Crisp

It's clean-out-the-fridge day and I need a reward for cleaning out the nasty plastic containers of leftovers and far beyond their purchase date dairy items. Opening these things and dumping their contents into the trash...the odor of spoiled food...beyond words. Are you hungry yet?

I have a few pears, apples and a partial bag of cranberries that need to be used so I'm putting them all together in a crisp. Sometimes I make the topping rustic, with oatmeal and chopped walnuts, but today I thought I'd try something a little softer and more refined. So no oatmeal and finely ground almonds (almonds and pears are great together) instead of walnuts.

The result is warm fruit topped and laced with crispy sweet crumbs. Add a spoonful of vanilla ice cream while it's still warm and I promise it will bring you to a happy place. It worked for me.

Leftovers (Pear Apple Cranberry) Crisp

Serves 4-6

4 1/2 cups (approx.) mixed apples, pears
1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup toasted almonds
1 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick cold butter, cubed

Preheat oven to 350º

Peel, or partially peel, pears and apples, cut into one inch chunks and put into an 8 x 8 baking dish. Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice and toss to combine.

Grind almonds in a food processor until you have a coarse meal. Add flour, sugars, salt and butter cubes and pulse until incorporated and sandy looking. Cover fruit with topping, banging dish gently on countertop so it sifts throughout the crisp. Bake for 45 minutes or until brown on top and bubbly around the edges. Let cool for 15 minutes then serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

November 14, 2012

Savory Corn Pancakes

Savory corn pancakes

Here's another one from Dorie Greenspan, whose warm and light-hearted writing is like a balm. Corn pancakes that have lots of fresh corn flavor and, here's the shocker, the corn comes FROM A CAN! I can't tell you the number of corn recipes I've been put off by because I don't want to soak, roast, remove silks, and cut those ricocheting kernels from the cobs. Plus, who can find good fresh corn this time of year anyway? Hello pantry...

These are so good on their own (OK, maybe as a side dish) drizzled with a tiny bit of butter and a sprinkle of salt, but you can also make tiny ones (like a blini) and serve them as an appetizer with a spoonful of black bean salad, or sour cream and smoked salmon, or shredded BBQ chicken, or whatever else you can think of that would be tasty with corn.

She recommends frying them in canola oil, but I found that with my good nonstick skillet I needed just a whisper of oil and they turned golden and didn't stick. But you may need to experiment with your own pan.

They freeze fairly well. So these are a good choice for a make-ahead party appetizer. Just thaw and reheat in the oven or microwave the day of your party.

Corn Pancakes

From "around my french table" by Dorie Greenspan

Makes 6 Servings

1 16 oz. can corn (with no added sugar or corn syrup - check label), drained
2 eggs
6 tablespoons flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
Canola oil for frying

1. Preheat oven to 250º

2. Put everything in the blender and puree (it won't be completely smooth).

3. Wipe a cold nonstick pan with a paper towel soaked with a little canola oil*, or put a few tablespoons of oil in a regular pan.  Place over medium heat until hot.

4. Pour batter by spoonfuls (for tiny blinis) or larger if you like, onto skillet. Cook a few minutes until golden (make sure they don't brown too fast, or the center won't be cooked through) and flip. Cook another minute and remove to a plate lined with a paper towel, then to sheet pan lined with parchment and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve. Alternately, you can cool and freeze them (separating layers with a pieces of wax paper or parchment). Rewarm in oven or microwave.

* According the this New York Times article, the only time to grease a nonstick pan is when it's cold. That way the oil adheres to the pan and not the food.

November 10, 2012

Salted Nut Roll Leftover Bars

When procuring Halloween candy to give out to the kiddies, I tend to buy a bag or two of stuff they like and a bag of stuff that my husband and I like. This year it was Skittles® for them, and Salted Nut Rolls® for us. Some kids like them, but others gave me a look that said, "that might as well be a carrot".

So I've got a lot of leftover nut rolls and I decided to try to make bars with them. Why do I feel compelled to take an already plenty sweet goodie and add more sugar, fat and carbs to it, I can't say. I just really like a chewy bar and am always on the lookout for an excuse to make them. The basic dough is a Blondie recipe adapted from Joy of Cooking.

Salted Nut Roll Bars

Makes 9 large bars

12 "fun size" Pearson's Salted Nut Rolls®
1 stick butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/4 cup AP flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350º

2. Butter the inside of an 8 x 8 pan. Slice candy bars and set aside. Put flour, baking soda and baking powder into a bowl and whisk to combine.

3. Melt butter in large saucepan until boiling. Boil for 3-4 minutes stirring constantly until brown. Take off heat and stir in brown sugar and honey. Let cool a bit, then add flour mixture and stir until combined. Add candy bars and fold in (they will melt, but the flavor, sticky caramel and crunchy peanuts will be left behind).

4. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely and cut into squares. 

Optional Topping: Melt 7-10 candy bars in a bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds, mix vigorously and spread immediately over cooled bars for chewy, crunchy topping that is totally unnecessary but delicious nonetheless.

November 6, 2012


Tom Douglas Tomato Soup

Holy cat, this soup is good. Tom Douglas, of the Dahlia Bakery in Seattle, thank you for sitting in with NPR's Splendid Table last week and offering this recipe. EASY, EASY, EASY and delicious. Don't be put off because there is a little cream in this - a few tablespoons won't hurt you and may save you from being hungry five minutes after you eat it.

I didn't add celery seed or oregano because I didn't have it on hand, or sugar because I like a more acidic tomato flavor, and it was still a knock-out. Because it requires so few ingredients (and you probably have most of them in your pantry right now), it comes together quickly.

Freshly made croutons are really worth the extra effort, but you could have this with toast, or a grilled cheese sandwich or a stack of saltines and still be content. This will certainly make our regular dinner rotation.

Tasty Tomato Soup with Croutons
Adapted slightly from  The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook by Tom Douglas

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
2 (28 ounce) cans whole tomatoes
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon sugar

Heat butter and oil in heavy 4 quart pot. Thinly slice onions and add to pot. Saute over medium low heat until translucent, about 15-20 minutes. Peel and smash garlic and add to pot. Saute for another 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and all their juice, breaking them up a bit with the back of your spoon. Add cream, salt and pepper (and other spices, if you choose) and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes then puree in batches in the blender (or use an immersion blender, if you're lucky enough to have one of those).

Half loaf crusty bread
2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter

Preheat oven to 375º.

Remove crust from bread and cut into 1 inch cubes. Toss with butter or oil and lay out on a baking sheet (lined with parchment, if you like). Bake for 15 minutes or until golden. Serve in soup.

Easy homemade croutons

Tom Douglas Tomato Soup

November 3, 2012

Rustic Apple Cupcakes

I can't stop cooking with apples. They're so crispy and delicious this time of year. Today I was craving some kind of apple cake and came up with this recipe. It's similar to a few I found floating around out there, but most of those recipes have lots of vegetable oil as the bringer of good things fat and moist. I get it that oil makes cakes moist kind of grosses me out and I think it's a missed opportunity to add flavor. So I used a combination of butter, applesauce and oil. I also added some brown sugar because I think it delivers a toastier kind of sweetness. Chopped apples and walnuts give these nice rustic texture and great fall flavor.

The batter is so good that I might have left more behind in the bowl than I really needed to in order to clean it up with my finger. Naturally, I made cream cheese frosting to go on top. I couldn't help myself. But these cupcakes really don't need it. You could simply pretty them up with a dusting of powdered a tiny coffee cake, which they resemble in flavor. Enjoy!

This version (with powdered sugar )
 is my breakfast choice with a cup of coffee.

Rustic Apple Cupcakes

Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes

1/2 cup unsweetened/natural applesauce
1/3 cup butter (5 1/2 tablespoons), softened
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 eggs
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3 cups diced Granny Smith apples (approx. 2)
1 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 350º

Peel and dice apples into 1/4- 1/2 inch chunks. Toast walnuts in oven (350º for 10 minutes), cool and chop.

Cream butter and sugar (it won't be completely smooth). Add oil, applesauce, vanilla and eggs and beat until incorporated. Put flour, baking soda, salt and spices into a separate bowl.  Sift into batter and mix just until incorporated. Fold in apples and walnuts.

Line a muffin pan with paper cupcake liners and fill 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes or when toothpick comes out clean.

This is my afternoon choice, with a cup of tea.

Cream Cheese Frosting

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons butter, softened
3 1/c cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

Beat cream cheese and butter until smooth, then add powdered sugar and extract and beat until combined.

Note: You could also add a teaspoon of cinnamon when you put in the powdered sugar - it would be delicious in combination with the apple flavor.

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