Recent Posts

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cure for the Common Macaroon

Sometimes my curiosity gets the best of my cooking sense; it can turn out intriguingly well or unusually strange. It is kind of like fishing in a sense- despite the fact you have caught many fish in your life before and in the same spot with the same bait, when the slightest element is changed the whole trip, or dish in this sense, goes to pot. On the occasion of experimentation the other night when Dawn was grading papers, I looked through the cabinets to figure out what I could concoct cookie-wise. Dawn becomes a bit scared when I begin making unusual noises in the kitchen such as mincing objects that sound like they should not go into a certain dish, and this occasion was no different. I told Dawn before I searched through the cabinets that I wanted to make polenta pound cake to which she responded, "we don't need that much dessert."

After more brain storming I found white grits, shredded coconut, ginger root, and apple cider. A combination of ingredients seldom thought of together and you may be thinking it sounds rather hair brained yourself, yet the result is a sort of revamping of coconut macaroons from their mundane stupor. Life consists of juxtapositions and cooking is no different evidenced in the flavor profiles of sweet & sour, crispy & succulent, crunchy & gooey, and salty & sweet just to name a few. These cookies played on the crisp toasted coconut up against the moist grits livened by the fresh ginger. I will toast and grind some coriander when I make them again but for this experiment I used a pinch of cumin for earthiness. They say that curiosity killed the cat but in this case it turned out pretty well.

Ginger Coconut Macaroons

4 T. peeled pureed ginger
4 T. apple cider
1/2 t. cumin
3/4 C. white instant grits
1 3/4 C. water
1/2 tsp. plus 1 T. vanilla extract
5 T. all purpose flour
4 T. shredded coconut plus 1/3 C. for topping (all toasted)
1 T. balsamic vinegar for topping
1/3 C. dark brown sugar plus 1/4 C. for topping
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 tsp. baking powder
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toast grits until toasted corn aromas begin emanating and grits begin to become tan. Dump into microwave safe bowl with water and sugar and cook in microwave for two minute intervals, stirring to avoid clumps, until grits are cooked but still slightly soupy. Toast coconut in cast iron skillet until an amber hue. Remove grits from microwave and add cider, flour, ginger, coconut, cumin, and vanilla. Once mixture has cooled some add egg, baking soda, and baking powder. Scoop heaping tablespoons of mixture, which will be on the wet side, onto silicone baking sheet covered pan. Bake for approximately six to seven minutes.

While cookies are baking heat vanilla, balsamic, and sugar in small pan until thickened into a light syrup. Once cookies come out of the oven, while still hot, dip tops of cookies in syrup and into toasted coconut. Let cool and enjoy. 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sweet Pick Me Ups

Daniel and I have noticed (and are very very appreciative :)) of the rise in comments on our blog lately, so I thought it may be a little time for some reflection. Not too long ago, Eat Live Travel Write posted about why she began her blog, and although we've only been doing ours for a few months, its quickly become a part of our routine that is enjoyable and rewarding. It's interesting what our original thoughts about how the blog would shape up were in comparison to what it looks like. 

Because I like to bake, and Daniel likes to cook, we somewhat assumed my posts would mainly be baked goods or desserts, and Daniel would post on the never-ending experiments in the kitchen when he gets a chance to cook. Looking back, I realize that we are at the brink of the holiday season, and I haven't posted a single solitary sweet so far. As I began writing a post on this super-super-sweet Caramel Cashew Tart from a recent issue of Bon Appetit, I felt a slight twinge of guilt however. I know that I'm already overwhelmed trying to decide what to desserts to make for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I'm even lucky enough to have a few birthdays throw in the mix (my dad was a Christmas eve baby) with the extra excuse to make more, and am still feeling stressed at the decision. So, fear no more, you will not get a desert from me. Not today anyway.

Instead, I thought I'd offer you not one, but two breakfast treats to hold you over until your turkey, ham, tofurkey, etc., has finished or to please your out of town or overnight guests. The pumpkin scone recipe is still under construction. I've struggled with the pumpkin scone for sometime, as I would like a traditional scone texture, but would still like it to...I don't know...taste like pumpkin. These come pretty close to what I've been searching for. They're a little more chewy than the traditional scone, but either way they still pair nicely with a cup of coffee. I didn't want them overpoweringly sweet, so I dusted mine with a little bit of granulated sugar while they were still warm. Alternatively, you could of course add a cinnamon and powdered sugar glaze or a nice frosting swirl to achieve some extra sweetness.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Scones
3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 tbsp chilled heavy cream plus more for glaze
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 375°F. Prepare baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine first 10 ingredients in large bowl, blending well. Using back of fork or pastry cutter, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cranberries and toss to distribute evenly. Whisk heavy cream ,pumpkin, and egg to blend in small bowl. Gradually add pumpkin mixture to dry ingredients, stirring minimally until evenly moistened.
Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Gently knead to bind. Pat inf 3/4-inch-thick round. Cut the round into 6 wedges. Arrange scones on prepared sheet, spacing at least 1 inch apart. Brush scones with cream to glaze* (optional).
Bake scones until puffed and brown and tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 22 minutes. Serve warm. 

The second breakfast treat pictured above are part of a batch of pumpkin biscotti from Simply Recipes . Suffice it to say, these were amazing. Daniel I think was a little bored with my overzealous use of pumpkin this fall, and he was not excited about the infamously dry hard biscotti, but these were quite tasty. The link to the recipe is posted above. I did have to bake mine a little longer and leave them out a little to dry, and of course I had to alter the spice's a little (or double the cinnamon, ginger, and cloves), but the cookies were quite tasty and the recipe was quick and simple getting them into the oven. 

Hope these ideas come in handy as you get ready!!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bits of Simplicity

The other day Dawn and I went exploring all around Columbus looking for some different haunts and muses that we had yet to see. We went to some old favorites like North Market for the last outside market day and some other local shopping ventures before being pleasantly surprised by a visit to Carfagna's Italian Meat Market. As we walked in the door it had the ambiance of a tiny local grocer from back home with the smell of pork wafting through and a sense of personality that is often sought but never found at large grocers.

With the butchers' joking with a younger colleague about his date the prior evening and him desperately attempting to change subject, the personality was warming and specialized as we found excellent carnaroli arborio, small vintage Italian wines, and more meat varieties than I could name. I passed by rabbit saddles and marvelous double-smoked bacon making it a miracle we didn't spend a fortune. The Spanish chorizo definitely ended up in the basket as well as a pack of prosciutto chunks that I envisioned in a rich marinara sauce.

For some reason, maybe subconscious, the idea of baked pasta came to mind as I pulled the prosciutto out of the fridge. After preparing some macaroni  noodles as it seems we have a surplus of them lately (still some of the pantry oath that is more or less a a loose guideline) and sauteing the onion and crushed garlic, I cleaned the pan out and crisped the thin sliced prosciutto to add some texture then the tomato paste and dry red wine to add needed richness to the dish. The way disparate ingredients become intermingled amazes me sometimes and this dish is no exception. The rich tomato and pork nature of the dish make it a quick week night winner that is sure to please.

1/2 # prosciutto chunks finely diced
3/4 # al dente macaroni noodles
1 small can tomato paste
1/3 C. middle-aged fontina or gruyere cheese (I used the homemade fresh milk cheese I had in the fridge)

1/3 C. mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp. anchovy paste

1/2 medium spanish onion finely diced
5 cloves diced garlic
4 T. olive oil for sauteing
1/3 C. dry red wine (such as chianti)
1/4 C. whole calamata olives

Preheat oven to broil. Saute onion and garlic for about 4 minutes or until slightly browned. Add tomato paste, olives, anchovy paste, and wine and cook until reduced but still thinner than desired consistency. Add cooked macaroni noodles, as I see these hold the sauce better, and stir the ingredients together in oven-proof skillet for a couple minutes. Sprinkle cheese on top and cook in oven on middle rack for 4 minutes or until cheese becomes bubbly and golden brown. Remove from oven, allow to cool at least 5 minutes, then slice into pie shapes, and enjoy. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Holiday Pizza; AKA Early Ideas for Leftovers

I'll admit, I'm one of those stubborn people who complain about Christmas items showing up in the store before Halloween is over. And rightly so, in my opinion. I love Christmas. I'll never forget how shocked Daniel was to experience just how much my Mom, Sister, and I love Christmas.  And, now that Halloween is over, I'm ready to be in the Holiday mood. I wont start playing my Christmas movie marathons until it gets a little closer, but I'm already looking forward to an evening with Jimmy Stewart and claymationed Rudolph, not to mention the baking and candy-making marathons.

Anyways, on to the recipe before I get too excited. With the holidays on my mind, I reflected that it seems as if its been a little while since we blogged about a unique pizza creation. So, while I should have been thinking about school and reading, I decided to try a new 'Thanksgiving-esque' Pizza. Naturally, I decide this under our new 'eat from the pantry' policy, which I more or less failed at. Already. One week in. Oh well.

Originally I wanted to do something that included turkey, cranberries, kale and pumpkin. While at the store, I forgot about the turkey, could only find dried cranberries, and the decided to allocate the kale for another meal. I did however find some tasty Brussels sprouts and portobello mushrooms to make up for the green and 'meaty' portions of the pizza. Ideally, I think it would be fun to try and make it again with some Thanksgiving leftovers, maybe making a tart with a stuffing crust instead, but for a weeknight 'fun' meal, this worked pretty well.

Coming home, and still not working on school, I set to roasting the Brussels sprouts, soaking the cranberries in hot water, sauteing the mushrooms with some butter and sage, and making a savory pumpkin sauce with onions, sage, and garlic. Combined, the steps did eat up some time, but I could have easily done most of them in advance before heating up the pizza stone and putting the pizza together. Although Daniel came home and looked at it somewhat hesitantly, overall it turned out well. I look forward to trying it again and hope it may serve as some inspiration for you to use your Thanksgiving leftovers!

Dawn's Thanksgiving-esque Pizza

Prepared pizza dough; recipe available here.

1/4 Cup Dried Cranberries
1/2 Cup Warm Water
2 Handfuls Brussels Sprouts (8-10)Rinsed
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to Taste
1/2 Portobello mush room cap; chopped
1/2 Tbsp Butter
1 Tsp Dried Sage
Salt and Pepper to Taste

1/2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 Small Onion
3 Cloves Garlic
1 Handful Fresh Sage, sliced thinly or 2 tbsp dried
1 Cup Pumpkin Puree
1/4 Cup Dry White Wine
1/2 Cup Chicken Stock
1 Tbsp Dried Thyme
1/4 Tsp Smoked Paprika (Optional)
Salt & Pepper to Taste

1. Preheat oven to 400. If doing in one cooking session, place pizza stone in as well to preheat. If using dried cranberries, place cranberries in small bowl with hot water. Let stand until ready to top pizza.
2. Toss Brussels sprouts with olive oil and season with salt and paper. Place on roasting sheet. Roast for approx 30 minutes, carefully stirring every 5-8 minutes. Sprouts should be brown on the outside with a few crisp black spots.
3. Meanwhile, in small saute pan, melt butter over medium heat and saute mushrooms 5-7 minutes, adding sage midway. Season with salt & pepper. Set aside.
4. In medium saucepan, add remaining olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil and pan are warm enough, place diced onions and minced garlic in and saute until onions are transparent and garlic begins to brown. Deglaze pan with white wine, stirring constantly. Add pumpkin, stock, and spices. Reduce heat and simmer 10-15 minutes until you achieve an appropriate consistency.
5. Once brussels sprouts are done, set aside until cool enough to handle. Increase heat to 475. Once cool enough to handle, cut brussels sprouts in half.
6. Once oven is heated, place cornmeal on pizza peel. Toss pizza dough to desired thickness and shape. Add pumpkin sauce and arrange toppings. Top with shredded cheese if desired (Parmesan & Fontina Cheese recommended).
7. Place cornmeal on pizza stone. Carefully slide pizza onto stone and cook 8-10 minutes until crust is golden brown in color.
8. Carefully slide pizza onto peel and remove from oven. Allow to cool 3-5 minutes before slicing.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Seafood Tribute

Our trips (California, Mexico, Florida, and England) are definitely on my mind at this moment and it has mixed with my cooking routine. Dawn and I are trying to stick to what is in the pantry before our trips to reduce the huge amount of ingredients in it, to regiment ourselves, and to save some money. My grandmother and great-grandmother are always on my mind when I begin thinking about Southern dishes and these dishes are no exception. I had the seafood left over from the Halloween wine tasting Dawn and I went to- that we made a seafood melange pizza and lump crab dip- and with the cold weather creeping on here in Columbus last week, a nice seafood stew sounded appropriate.

My grandmothers gumbo consists of a healthy dose of crushed tomatoes, lump crab meat, minced shrimp and bits of okra that give it a silky texture similar to her tomato gravy. The crumbs I attempt to carry away from cooks I have known are reaches at knowing their mindsets and ingredient combinations so as to add tidbits to my own knowledge. This in essence also passes their wisdom along to those I run into contact with. My grandmother also always serves her gumbo on top of a bed of long grain rice and never with filé powder. Maybe it is a Floridian switch from our Cajun neighbors to the West, but variety and locality are the spices of life.

From what I remember, my grandmother also uses garlic, onion, horseradish, tomato, okra, and heavy cream for added smoothness. My version is similar other than omitting crab meat and adding mussels, squid, clams, and several different vegetables and seasonings. Instead of adding rice to the bottom of the bowl for starch I made some oniony hush puppies as I can see my granddad on the screen porch with the blue flame burning beneath the cast iron dutch oven, spider in hand dipping and rolling those golden orbs of hush puppy goodness. Two generations later I use ingredients my grandmother has probably never heard of- the tanginess of fish sauce and bite of chili paste for a more complex edition. And now I pass the baton on to others hoping like the fly on the wall I can see the crumbs of gumbo, hush puppies, or grits I have passed on to the future.

850 Gumbo
(Approximately 5 servings)
¾ # smoked sausage
¼ # each- clams, shrimp, mussels, and squid
¼ C. garlic chili paste
1 C. ketchup
1 quart seafood stock
¼ C. (Korean) fish sauce
1 large spanish onion roughly diced
6 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons Louisiana hot sauce
1 T. olive oil and 1 T. bacon grease for sautéing 
½ C. each  mixed vegetables- corn, okra, red, and bell peppers
3 T. Parsley
1 t. worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté onions and garlic on medium heat with olive oil and bacon grease until softened in large stock pot approximately five minutes. Add seafood and simmer for a couple minutes until flavors are combined. Add ketchup, garlic chili paste, and hot sauce and simmer for about five minutes or until liquids begin to thicken some. Add seafood stock and lower temperature after placing lid on pot and simmer for at least one hour stirring occasionally. Ten minutes before desired consistency add parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
Can be refrigerated for up to four days and reheated before serving.
Onion studded Hush Puppies
(Makes approximately 16)
½ spanish onion finely chopped
1 C. yellow cornmeal
½ C. all purpose flour
½ t. baking soda
1/3 t. baking powder
1 t. cayenne pepper
½ C. buttermilk shaken
1 T. bacon grease
1 egg
2 ½ C. vegetable shortening for frying
Combine ingredients in bowl and avoid over stirring. Spoon 1 teaspoon drops of hush puppy mix into 350 degree oil and cook until slightly over golden brown turning constantly. Break open first hush puppy to make sure it is set in center.
English Cheddar Cheese Grits 
(Makes 4 small servings)
1 C. quick cooking white grits
1 ½ C. water
1 t. smoked Spanish paprika
½ C. grated sharp white English cheddar
1/3 C. grated monterrey jack cheese
1/4 C. heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine water and grits over medium heat in small saucepan. Stir continuously until slightly more runny than desired consistency. Reduce heat and add cheeses, heavy cream, paprika, and salt and pepper. Serve piping hot. Grits should be taken off heat before desired consistency as they become thicker when cooling.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Unsophisticated Noodle

After looking through all of the pictures I took of this dish, I've decided that there is some implicit characteristic in the macaroni noodle that makes it seem...unsophisticated. Maybe it's the years of associating the noodle with the yellow powdery 'cheese,' or the kindergarten craft projects where the dried noodle takes center stage, but I quite honestly considered giving you another soup or dessert recipe and skipping one of the few dinners I've had a chance to cook lately. Obviously, I changed my mind.

As Daniel mentioned earlier, we're trying (he with more success than I...) to stick to what's in the pantry and only purchase fresh vegetables. So, after staring aimlessly I decide that the ingredients I need to use include leftover macaroni noodles (another long story), and some chicken leg pieces. I quickly decided to roast the chicken, because to be honest, that's my new favorite way to enjoy chicken because of flavor and moist dinner it creates with minimal work from me. And then there were the noodles...what to do with the noodles...

You can find a simple roast chicken recipe here. As you can guess, I left the leg piece whole and didn't make the sauce or vegetable part and it worked well.
To try to keep it simple, all I did was saute an onion, garlic, and a few green, red, and yellow peppers and then raided the canned section of our pantry for tomato products for tomato paste and diced tomatoes, and added a cup or so of red wine to give the sauce a slightly more earthy flavor to compliment the basil I covered the chicken in. Once the tomato sauce mixture was assembled, I added in the leftover noodles to basically warm them up in the sauce while the chicken finished.

Peppery Tomato Sauce with Macaroni Noodles
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 Green Bell Pepper
1/4 Red Bell Pepper
1/4 Yellow Bell Pepper
1/2 Small Onion
1 Garlic Clove
1 Small Can Tomato Paste
1 Can Stewed Tomatoes
1/2 Cup Dry Red Wine
1/2 Cup Water
1 Tsp Basil
1 Tsp Thyme
Salt & Pepper to Taste
2 Cups Cooked Macaroni Noodles

1. Slice peppers and onion thinly; mince garlic. Saute vegetables in saucepan with olive oil until tender over medium high heat.
2. Add can of tomato paste, stir about one minute. Add stewed tomatoes, red wine, and spices. Add water as needed to thin to appropriate consistency. Once sauce is slightly thin, add cooked macaroni noodles. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally until noodles heated through and ready to serve. 

Suffice to say, not my most blog-worthy looking dinner ever, but it was still quite tasty, and was a success at not going to the store to pick up something else. We'll see how the rest of my dinner's go sticking with this 'no going to the store' thing...


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Intro to French

With a brand new tart pan sitting on the counter and ever fragile figs that had a short life ahead, a couple days ago my thoughts shifted to making a savory tart. I am not too familiar with French cooking at this point in my cooking repertoire, but am striving to become more familiar and this seemed like a poignant starter course.

 Scanning through recipes for guidelines, I came across a recipe for a tart crust by David Lebovitz which was extremely simple to construct and ended up tasting delicious other than the texture being a bit too crumbly. On second opportunity I would bake the crust longer before adding the filling.

I settled on hot Italian sausage to go with the figs to create a spicy/sweet contrast as undoubtedly unethical as it is to combine Italian sausage with a French tart. The fusion turned out nice with the creaminess of the potatoes and balsamic vinegar and lemon juice for an acidic zing.

Dawn and I are trying our best to work with only the ingredients we have in the freezer/fridge/cabinet other than fresh vegetables before our trips coming up in December. We are flying to Los Angeles to sail to Ensenada, Mexico, the second week of December, back home to Florida for a week, a week back in Columbus, and then off to England for about nine days. So, any suggestions for eating, whether dishes or restaurants, in L.A. or England would be awesome.

French Pastry Dough
One 9 (23 cm) tart shell
Adapted from a recipe by
Paule Caillat of Promenades Gourmandes

90 g (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used canola)
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
150 g (5oz, or 1 slightly-rounded cup) flour

Preheat the oven to 410º F (210º C).
1. In a medium-sized ovenproof bowl, such as a Pyrex bowl, combine the butter, oil, water, sugar, and salt.
2. Place the bowl in the oven for 15 minutes, until the butter is bubbling and starts to brown just around the edges.
3. When done, remove the bowl from oven (and be careful, since the bowl will be hot and the mixture might sputter a bit), dump in the flour and stir it in quickly, until it comes together and forms a ball which pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
4. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch (23 cm) tart mold with a removable bottom and spread it a bit with a spatula.
5. Once the dough is cool enough to handle, pat it into the shell with the heel of your and, and use your fingers to press it up the sides of the tart mold. Reserve a small piece of dough, about the size of a raspberry, for patching any cracks.
(Paule takes a fork and reinforces the dough to the sides, which I didn't find necessary.)
6. Prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork about ten times, then bake the tart shell in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown.
7. Remove from the oven and if there are any sizable cracks, use the bits of reserved dough to fill in and patch them.
I find it best to pinch off a small amount of the reserved dough, roll it gently between your fingers to soften it, then wedge it into the cracks, smoothing it gently with your pinky.
8. Let the shell cool before filling.

Spicy Fig Tart
5 black mission or brown turkey figs peeled mashed
¾ # hot Italian sausage
3 chopped cloves of garlic
2 small baking potatoes thinly sliced
½ yellow onion finely chopped
3 chopped fresh basil leaves
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice
¼ C. grated gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Start by sautéing onion, garlic, and potatoes then transfer to a plate. Brown sausage then add onion, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice, and figs. Add the initial ingredients back in and cook on medium heat for about five minutes until cohesive. Add chopped basil and incorporate just before adding to tart crust for baking. Sprinkle gruyere over filling and bake for nine minutes or until gruyere begins to turn golden brown. Slice and enjoy.