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I’m not a huge coconut fan, but my dear husband is and it’s his birthday so there you have it. I had visions of a beautiful two-layer cake with fluffy white frosting and loads of golden toasted coconut sticking out in curly spikes. Well, this is nothing like that but man alive, it’s the best darn coconut cake I’ve ever tasted.
Now I’m not making any claims that this is the cake it was intended to be. Let’s face it, it looks nothing like the picture. I cut the recipe in half and used a 9″ round pan, so I’m guessing mine is a thicker version of its Martha Stewart self. Oh, and there’s the matter of frosting (specifically, the fact that mine has none).
I’ve never made 7-minute frosting, but they sure did make it sound easy. Not so much. I started by scrambling the eggs. Now I know this wasn’t in the instructions but I was not deterred! So as not to waste six eggs and a whole lot of sugar, I put it through a sieve and kept going. I cooked and cooked and cooked those strained eggs until they almost reached the appropriate temperature. Then I threw them into the stand mixer and went to town on high speed for 10 minutes (as instructed). That was where the volume was supposed to quadruple, producing a light, fluffy, and highly stable frosting with a lovely sheen. Or, in my case, marshmallow fluff.
Meanwhile, I cracked, peeled, and shredded a fresh coconut and toasted it to a lovely shade of tan, only to find that it had very little flavor and a somewhat bark-like texture. With no frosting to adhere it, it just didn’t make the cut.
A little powdered sugar and a lovely cake stand to the rescue – by the time we dug in, the cake’s appearance was the last thing on our minds. Tender crumb, delicious coconut flavor, and a slightly crispy and chewy outside edge – heaven.
Because I totally forgot! Seriously, I was so distracted by little feet at my feet and big feet coming home from a long day of work, that I completely neglected to take photos.
I am forgetful, so this is not entirely suprising.
I learned about these little gems a few weeks ago when a fellow Dining Diva selected El Salvador for our upcoming dinner gathering theme. She selected pupusas for the main event and invited us all to get our hands messy by making them with her last weekend. Last night’s repeat wasn’t quite as successful, making it clear that these babies take practice. The masa needs to be just right, the filling flawlessly seasoned, and the pan perfectly oiled and heated.
Despite the lack of photographic proof, these pupusas must be documented. They are delicious. And not just a little bit, not just because I needed a break from hum drum taco night, not because I was way too hungry to judge properly.
Served with curtido, a fresh pickled slaw, these are a winner.
I used a recipe from Whats4Eats.com but this is really just the beginning. Practice is the main ingredient that cannot be substituted.
So a few weeks ago my coworkers and I started planning a potluck. And, of course, we needed to make up goodie bags for everyone because, well, we all like to cook and bake and enjoy having excuses to do both.
For no explicable reason, I had a sudden urge to make caramel popcorn with salted peanuts.
I browsed my favorite bloggers for ideas – Deb then Joy – and then checked to see if Martha had a good recipe (or twelve, as it turns out). Fortunately, I’m not the first person to have had a sudden craving for crunchy, caramelly, nutty deliciousness.
I settled on Deb’s version from Smitten Kitchen, a spicy, salty, and sweet popcorn that she adapted from The Craft of Baking, a cookbook not in my collection but possibly soon to be if the other recipes are anywhere near as delicious as this one.
I made a full batch with peanuts first, including just 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne (barely noticeable except a little bit at the end) and about 2 teaspoons of kosher salt.
Then I decided that I really needed to make more for the potluck crowd (plus some to keep at home) so I made another half-batch with unsalted almonds. I mixed them all up together and they were outrageously yummy!
One quick note about making the caramel. I was a little nervous about making this for the first time without a specific temperature in the instructions. I started with a candy thermometer and it ran up to about 260 degrees before I pulled it out of the pot. I then decided to let it get a little darker brown before continuing, so I’m guessing that it probably got up to 270 before I added the baking soda. For the second batch, I left the thermometer out completely and just used my judgment. Both batches came out great!
A month or so ago I tried scallion pancakes for the first time (while on a day trip for work). Suffice it to say that lunch with colleagues was the highlight. They were DELICIOUS. Crispy on the outside, chewy and layered on the inside…how did they DO that?
A few weeks later, the fabulous Dining Divas set a date for a long-overdue potluck gathering with a theme, as luck would have it, of Dim Sum. And worlds collide…
So I started searching. I found several great recipes from The Cooking of Joy (a great blog that sadly seems to have been abandoned), Ming Tsai, and The Kitchn, as well as a few how-to videos on YouTube.
In the end, I combined several recipes into one. They are best eaten right away but I also reheated them for the Dining Divas in a pan with a little oil and the whole platter disappeared!
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup warm water
1 large bunch scallions, thinly sliced
Vegetable oil for cooking
Slowly add the water to the flour, mixing with a wooden spoon until it starts to come together. Knead with your hands, adding more water as needed until the dough forms a nice smooth ball. Brush the dough ball with oil, place in a bowl, and cover with cling wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (I did the first batch overnight and then decided to do a second batch at the last minute…I couldn’t tell the difference).
Knead the dough for a minute or two and then let rest for another 30 minutes, if you have time.
Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Cover the ones you aren’t using right away so they don’t dry out.
Roll out one ball of dough until it is super thin…you can almost see through it! It’s really amazing how resilient this simple dough is. I used the back of a jelly roll pan, very lightly oiled.
Brush the dough lightly with oil, then sprinkle with salt and scallions (try one first and see how it goes…my first one was too salty so I adjusted the others). Starting on the long edge, roll the dough into a log.
Cut the log into two shorter logs.
Take one piece and twist it a few times, then coil it up. Flatten it slightly with your hand, then let it rest for a few minutes while you do the others. Roll each one into a pancake, about 1/4″ thick. Some scallions might poke through, but that’s okay!
Put about a tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium heat. The oil should be shimmery and it will sizzle when you put the pancake in. When you cook the first side, you’ll start to see the dough turn a little bit transparent after 3-5 minutes…almost a light grey color. It will be nice and brown on the bottom…then flip it and cook for another 2-3 minutes on the second side.
Cut into wedges and serve right away with dipping sauce.
Adapted from Ming Tsai’s Ginger Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sugar
Combine ingredients and dip!
If only I had discovered the glory of Gourmet magazine a little bit sooner. But, no. I had to subscribe precisely nine months before Conde Nast decided to pull the plug. The inequity!
Two consolations followed.
First, a subscription to Bon Appetit arrived in place of the last few issues of my Gourmet subscription. Pretty and entertaining but, let’s face it, just not the same.
Second, Rob’s dad bought himself an iPad, which I borrowed for just enough time to discover the Gourmet Live app…another less than equal publication, but a substitute nonetheless.
This next recipe comes from the latest issue of Gourmet Live (whose content still expires despite having a paid subscription – robbed, I tell you! – but, I digress).
It’s pretty quick, it’s definitely easy, and it is wholly satisfying in the my-body-is-thanking-me-for-this kind of way.
I actually took this photo the next morning while packing leftovers for Grandpa’s lunch…not quite as vibrant looking as the night before, but you get the idea! It was amazing to see such rich colors become muted during the cooking process.
Curried Red Lentil Stew
Serve with basmati rice (and plain yogurt if you wish, though it is quite saucy on its own)
6 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 2×1″ piece peeled ginger, quartered
5 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
5 cups water (plus a little extra)
1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
3/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 cup red lentils (they really look orange)
3 medium carrots, quartered and chopped roughly
3 cups chopped trimmed spinach (we used 3 oz. frozen)
1 cup frozen peas (we were all out so we left them out!)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
Steamed basmati rice, roasted cauliflower (salt, EVOO, roast at 450 until tender), fresh cilantro, plain yogurt.
Heat 1/4 cup oil over medium heat in a heavy pot. Saute onion with a little salt until golden (8-10 minutes).
Puree garlic and ginger with a little water in a spice grinder or food processor until very smooth. Add to onion and cook until water evaporates and the onion begins to fry a bit in the oil. Add spices and stir for one minute. Stir in lentils and 5 cups water, then simmer covered while stirring occassionally for 30 minutes. Add carrots and remaining salt and simmer another 15-20 minutes, covered.
Stir in spinach and peas and cook another 3 minutes, uncovered. Stir in cilantro, salt and pepper to taste. Add a little water if needed to achieve desired consistency.
Heat remaining 2 tbsp. oil in a small saute pan until shimmering. Add cumin seed and pepper flakes and fry for one minute, then add this mixture to the stew before serving.
After watching many Cook’s Illustrated test recipes come and go from my email inbox, I finally received one that interested me enough to give it a try. I have mixed feelings about the experience, but judging by how quickly these ginger snaps disappeared, I’d say it was a success.
2 ½ cups (12 ½ ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups packed (8 ¾ ounces) dark brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 large egg, plus 1 large yolk
½ cup granulated sugar
Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in bowl.
Place brown sugar, molasses, and fresh ginger in second bowl.
Heat butter in 10-inch skillet over medium heat until melted. Lower heat to medium-low and continue to cook, swirling pan frequently, until foaming subsides and butter is just beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and cayenne. Cool slightly, about 2 minutes.
Add butter mixture to bowl with brown sugar and whisk to combine. Add egg and egg yolk add whisk to combine. Add flour mixture and stir until just combined (use a wooden spoon and be prepared to work for it!). Cover dough tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. (Dough can be refrigerated for up to two days, or frozen for up to a month.)
Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place granulated sugar in shallow baking dish or pie plate. Divide dough into heaping teaspoon portions; roll dough into balls about the size of small walnuts. Working in batches of 10, roll balls in sugar to coat. Evenly space dough balls on prepared baking sheets, 20 dough balls per sheet.
Place one sheet on upper rack and bake for 15 minutes. Transfer partially baked top sheet to lower rack, rotating 180 degrees, and place second sheet of cookies on upper rack. Continue to bake until lower tray of cookies just begin to darken around edges, 10 to 12 minutes longer. Remove lower sheet of cookies and shift upper sheet to lower rack and continue to bake until beginning to darken around edges, 15 to 17 minutes. Slide baked cookies, still on parchment, to wire rack and cool completely. Cool baking sheets slightly and repeat step 3 with remaining dough balls.
(Note: After reading this through again, I just realized that I completed messed this last part up – I put both sheets in then rotated and swapped them after 15 minutes…much less complicated but could account for the very dark edges on half of my cookies. I guess I just have to try again!).
This year, I asked Rob what he would like for his birthday breakfast, choosing from any treat in the world. Without hesitation, he responded, “sticky buns”. I immediately thought of Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa), who seems to always have the most perfect recipes for decadent brunch treats. To my surprise, I could only find reference to an amazing older recipe, along with a newer “easy” version employing frozen puff pastry. Well, I’m sorry. Her sticky pecan topping may have looked perfect, but this was no time for shortcuts.
Next stop, Smitten Kitchen. If anyone would have found a deliciously sweet breakfast treat and perfected it, it would be here. Right? Well, turns out Smitten is more of a cinnamon swirly bun type of gal. You know the ones…spiral buns with cinnamon and raisins in between the layers, frosting on top. Close, but not the upside-down gooey, nutty, caramelly jobs that I was aiming for.
Time to improvise. Could I combine Ina’s luxuriously sticky topping with Smitten’s homemade dough? Worst case scenario, it’s only somewhat amazing, and I make another batch. Or some eggs to wash them down.
Most Amazing Upside-down Pecan Raisin Sticky Buns
Start with Smitten’s dough recipe for Cinnamon Swirl Buns.
While rising, prepare Ina’s topping. Combine 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature with 1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed until smooth (she recommends a stand mixer with paddle attachment, which I did). Measure out 1/2 cup pecans, chopped in very large pieces. Distribute the butter/sugar mixture evenly among 12 muffin cups and top each butter mound with the pecans.
Press down dough. Transfer to a floured work surface and roll out to a rectangle (this is where my instructions start to get a little loosey goosey), about 12″ x 15″. Brush the dough with melted butter (a couple of tablespoons should do it). Sprinkle about 1/2 cup brown sugar and a few teaspoons of cinnamon, then about a cup of raisins over the dough. Starting at the longer side, roll dough into a log. (Note: this is where I refrigerated mine the night before. In this case, the second rise takes a little longer).
With seam side down, trim the ends off if needed. Cut the log crosswise into 12 equal slices (about 1″ wide each). Place one spiral in each muffin tin, then cover with a towel and let rise once more until the dough is nice and soft (one hour; two if you refrigerate after the first rise). They will be bulging out of the muffin tin at this point and you’ll wonder how on Earth they will keep from exploding all over the inside of your oven, but fear not. I suppose you could try putting them into one big pan if you like. Say, they might even come out lighter and more delicious that way. Round two?
Anyway, once they’ve risen for a while in a nice warm spot, bake them off for about 15-20 minutes in a 350 degree oven. I recommend a lined baking sheet on the rack below to catch the butter drippings (I never said these were good for you).
Allow them to cool for a few minutes in the tins before turning them out onto a platter. You do have to scoop out the extra nuts and gooey bits, but that’s not such a bad problem to have. Plan on having a crowd at the ready to eat these when they’re warm and fresh (or at least one other person).
I found this recipe in Bon Appetit this month and decided to give it a try for Valentine’s Day. It looks amazing! Very easy to make but does take some time since you have to chill it between adding layers. If you’re in the mood for something extremely decadent, reminiscent of a turtle but slightly more elegant, give it a try. Sinfully delicious. Full recipe can be found on the Bon Appetit website.
This recipe is as delicious as it is easy. With a food processor, it whips up in a snap. I pulled this from The New York Times Cook Book, edited by Craig Claiborne.
1 pound fresh mushrooms
1 quart chicken broth (I use vegetable bouillon)
1 medium onion, chopped
7 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk (I use 2%)
1 cup heavy cream (I use light cream)
1 teaspoon or more salt
White pepper (I use fresh ground black pepper)
2 tablespoons sherry (I have yet to do this but it sounds delicious!)
Instructions (modified slightly from the original)
Wash the mushrooms and trim stems if needed. Slice six caps and reserve. Chop the mushrooms in a food processor and transfer to a large soup pot. Chop the onion in the food processor and add to mushrooms. Add broth and simmer for 30 minutes.
Saute the reserved sliced caps in 1 tablespoon of butter and reserve for garnish.
Melt remaining butter in a saucepan, add the flour, and stir with a wire whisk until blended, making a roux. Meanwhile, bring the milk to a boil and add all at once to the roux, stirring vigorously with the whisk until the sauce is thickened and smooth. Add the cream.
Add cream sauce to the mushroom broth and season to taste with salt, pepper, and Tabasco. Reheat and add the sherry before serving. Garnish with sauteed sliced mushrooms. Delicious served inside a lightly toasted bread bowl as a main course or with toasted chiabatta or baguette as a starter or lunch course.