Sunday, February 21, 2010

Butter Up Your Vegetables

This is the time of year I really miss my garden. The only local grown signs up at our favorite grocers are for root veggies and a few wrinkly skinned apples. The last squash from our backyard fall harvest is long gone. There are no more homegrown veggies in my freezer. There are California and South America stickers all over the produce aisle.

There is a way to flavor up those long distance cousins to our own local grown broccoli, green beans and asparagus. It doesn’t much matter if you stir fry, steam or microwave your veggies, whether they are purchased from the produce aisle or the frozen foods section. Add a pat of this yummy orange garlic butter to any plain cooked vegetables and you’ll add a flavor lift to get you through ‘til growing season.

1 four ounce stick of salted butter or margarine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

Leave butter out until soft and whip until fluffy. Fold in remaining ingredients; mold into a rectangular log: wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. It’ll last for four to six weeks. Just before serving, scoop or cut about 1 tablespoon of garlic orange infused butter and let it melt on top of two cups of any cooked veggie. Toss and serve.

For an extra taste boost; drizzle the veggies with a tablespoon of Grand Marnier or other orange favored liqueur before tossing with melted orange garlic butter. Anther suggestion: add a pat of this butter to a plain piece of fish or chicken after baking, steaming or grilling.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Almond Joy

I was 13 years old in the late 1960s when the Galloping Gourmet was a television cooking show hit. It wasn't until twenty years later, not long after Sheila Lukins and The Silver Palate Cookbook got me hooked on cooking, that I discovered Graham Kerr and his Minimax series. He taught me that all it takes is a little experimenting with a traditional recipe to make it better for you without losing the traditional flavor.

It’s not a given that I adjust a recipe to be healthier. But a pound of butter in one loaf cake always seemed a bit over the top when elevated cholesterol levels run in the family. And who doesn’t love pound cake? I read about a group of cooks who delivered homemade pound cakes to families left homeless and devastated in the aftermath of Katrina. Welcome gifts for hungry folks.

After trying lemon pound cake, chocolate pound cake (using cocoa powder to keep the fat content down) and plain Jane vanilla pound cake, my family's all-time favorite is almond pound cake. As for Graham Kerr, he’s just turned 76 years old in January and he’s still inspiring cooks to Do Yourself a Flavor with special features on radio and television for the National Cancer Institute’s 5 a Day program.

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Dash of salt
2/3 cup sugar
½ cup slivered almonds
½ cup unsalted butter or margarine, softened
½ cup egg substitute, or 2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray one 8 x 4 inch loaf pan generously with your favorite cooking spray/flour.

Place slivered almonds into a food processor. Use chop mode on high speed to make finely ground almonds. Add the flour, baking soda and salt to the almonds in the processor and pulse for a few seconds to blend well. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs whites or egg substitute and beat well. Beat in almond and vanilla extracts and yogurt until well blended, about one minute on medium high.

butter/egg mixture to processor and process batter for about one minute. If using a mixer, beat on low speed for one minute, then beat on medium high for another minute. Pour batter into the loaf pan and bake on a rack centered in the preheated oven for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in pan for 10 minutes before releasing the cake from the pan and placing it to cool thoroughly on a wire rack, about an hour. Sprinkle lightly with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Devilishly Delish Sipping Chocolate

Woke up this morning craving hot cocoa for breakfast -- problem, not a single package of cocoa mix in the house. Where there's a will there's a way and a quick look through the cabinets found everything I needed to stir up a batch of homemade cocoa mix. In no time I was happily sipping away.

Adding the usual whipped cream or mini-marshmallows makes a nice finish. But a dollop of cold frothed milk with a swirl of old fashioned chocolate syrup is the final fantasy for hot cocoa lovers. A cold milk frother will run about twenty dollars at any specialty kitchen shop. Just one sip of hot cocoa or coffee coming through a cold cloud of fluffy frothed low-fat milk will make you wonder how you ever got by without it.

The secret to my homemade m
ix is the addition of chili powder. Measure carefully. Just the right amount will enhance the chocolate flavor of your drink to downright sinful but too much will give new meaning to hot cocoa!

2 cups nonfat dry milk powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup powdered nondairy creamer
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
Dash of salt

Add all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Whisk until it's all evenly blended. Store the mix in a tightly covered container at room temperature. Makes about 4 cups of mix. Spoon 3 or 4 rounded teaspoons of the cocoa mix into each cup. Add boiling water and stir vigorously. The mini chips will melt away making the drink extra rich and chocolaty.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's No Sacrifice

I have no idea who won the Pancake Day race in Olney. Mardi Gras beads have been stashed away. Paczkis and other sweet treats are indulgences of yesterday. Ash Wednesday, the sobering season of Lent starts with a no meat fast day. On the menu -- hot satisfying veggie paninis.

Panini literally means little bread, Italian for a sandwich. Delicious and nutritious vegetarian panini is easy to prepare using ingredients you may even have on hand. Fresh mushrooms add a thick meaty texture to a vegetarian treat. Try other types of sliced mushrooms, grated Swiss cheese and spinach for a different taste.

And if Father Michael happens to ask about Lenten sacrifice, I'll simply say we had grilled cheese sandwiches for supper. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. As for Friday's fish, I'm thinkin' lobster roll. Waddaya think?

1 tbsp olive oil
2 large portabella mushroom caps
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 red pepper, roasted, peeled and sliced into thin strips
¼ cup chopped green olives
6 ounces soft goat cheese
1 cup baby arugula leaves
8 slices sourdough bread, ¾ inch thick

Using a small spoon, scrape the undersides of each mushroom cap to remove the black "gills" before slicing each mushroom cap in half. Slice the mushrooms into strips crossways.

Heat oil in medium sized frying pan over medium-high heat; add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes or until until the mushrooms are tender and natural juices are released. Stir in garlic and thyme; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small bowl mix the cheese, chopped olives and red pepper; spread evenly on bottom half of four bread slices. Arrange the mushrooms, and spinach leaves, evenly on top of cheese mixture. Top each with a plain bread slice and press firmly.

Place sandwich in preheated sandwich grill (according to manufacturer’s directions) for about 5-6 minutes or melt a pat of butter in a fry pan and brown each side about 4 minutes each until lightly browned. Cut sandwiches in half to serve. Makes four sandwiches.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

No Sense Wasting Perfectly Good Rosemary

It was just a little sprig of green poking through the snow in the herb garden. That rosemary was begging to be picked. Grilled lamb chops suddenly sounded irresistible. Then I found the broccolini and surprisingly sweet smelling strawberries from California in the produce aisle. To hell with the snow.

In between shoveling the driveway out front, I managed to fire up the grill on the patio out back in a shake of my fist at old Mother Nature. But my defiance didn't go so far as to throw on a summer sundress -- I dressed seasonally. Flannel lined jeans, a turtle neck, several layers of clothing, but not so many that movement was restricted.

Too bad I didn't have a pair of those fingerless gloves and maybe a nose warmer. My hands and cheeks got a little cold but it was worth it. The chops were great and well, broccolini is high in Vitamin C. And the strawberries? Pure sunshine.

1 garlic clove, minced
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Dash of cayenne pepper
8 loin or rib lamb chops, one inch thick

In a small bowl mix all ingredients except chops. Place the chops in a large zip lock storage bag and pour marinade over the meat. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, but not longer than twelve hours, turning several times to fully coat meat with marinade.

Fifteen minutes before cooking, preheat a gas grill to medium-high.

Cook the chops for 7 minutes per side or until firm and resilient to the touch for medium, about 5 minutes per side for rare-pink. Make a slit into one of the chops to check for doneness. Remove chops from the grill while still pink. The meat will continue to cook as they rest. Serves four.

Translation: Chocolate to Die For

Courtesy of the Williams-Sonoma kitchen, right off the back of a box holding a Bouchon Silicone Baking Mold for little cakes that look like wine corks. The French word for cork is bouchon. My JP saw a picture of delectable little chocolate cakes dusted with powdered sugar and couldn't resist. The baking mold, recipe included, landed under the Christmas tree with a card that said To Mom with love.
I finally broke open the box and freed up the mold for first use last night using the recipe exactly as called for. Well, almost exactly. I substituted a whole Lindt 3.5 ounce Chili Chocolate bar for the 3 ounces of bittersweet chocolate -- quite sure that any good dark chocolate would do and I was correct. Believe me when I tell you that if you love deep, rich chocolate taste, you'll be hooked on chocolate corks.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
1/3 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Dash of salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the bouchon mold with your favorite cooking spray and set the greased mold on a baking sheet (you can use a mini-muffin tin but I highly recommend investing in the real thing).

Place butter and chocolate pieces into a heatproof bowl and microwave about 1 minute, or until just melted. Stir once. Let cool 10 minutes.

In a second bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a third bowl, whisk together sugar, egg and vanilla until well mixed and uniformly light yellow in color. Add melted chocolate and butter mixture and whisk briskly until well combined. Add flour and cocoa mixture and mix well.

Scoop two tablespoons of the batter into each well of the mold. Transfer the mold, still on the baking sheet, to the oven and bake until the tops of the chocolate corks are shiny and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached, about 20-22 minutes of baking time.

Remove from oven and place the mold on a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Carefully invert the mold to remove the chocolate corks and turn them right-side up on the rack for another half hour before dusting with confectioners' sugar. Makes 12 to die for chocolate corks.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Is it Summer Yet?

A day at the beach with shrimp or lobster rolls, a bag of potato chips and a cheap wine cooler sounds like heaven about now. You might recall that I started daydreaming about summer back in January. I know that warm days are not in the immediate forecast. Hell, the Weather Channel warned me that another dusting of snow is on the way.

But there's something to be said for indulging in a little bit of fantasy -- so I headed to Costco this afternoon and bought a pound of precooked shrimp to mix up a batch of yummy shrimp salad. After all, winter is only a temporary affliction. Tomorrow I think I'll drag the grill out onto the patio. Stay tuned.

1 pound large cooked shrimp, chilled, peeled and coarsly chopped
1 tablespoon capers
2 sweet gherkin pickles, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped ( dried just won't do)\
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

In a medium bowl stir together mayonnaise, mustard and lemon juice until smooth. Stir in capers, pickles, cayenne pepper and parsley. Fold shrimp pieces into the sauce and chill one hour before assembling into sandwiches using toasted thick sliced sourdough or challah bread. Makes four sandwiches. Tastes great with tomato soup for a fast and easy weeknight supper.

Tomorrow is Pancake Day

Forty days penance and sacrifice coming up fast but first, it's party time. Mardi Gras beignets (sweet fried dough). Paczkis (pronounced punch-keys), sugary Polish donuts. Swedish semla, a sweet bun filled with almonds and sweet cream. In the United Kingdom, pancakes became a great way to use the foods that were given up for Lent – milk, butter, sugar and eggs.

The humble pancake has been featured in recipe books as far back as 1439. And there have been annual Pancake Day races all over London since 1445 -- the most famous in Olney, Buckinghamshire. The aim of a pancake race is to run as fast as you can while tossing a pancake in a frying pan. Some races have teams doing a relay, some have competitors in fancy dress. All quite silly and great fun to watch. Now that's a tradition worth a good laugh ... let the races begin!

2 cups flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups milk
2 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter

dash of salt
cooking spray

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and soda. In another bowl, whisk together milk, egg yolks, and melted butter. Blend into the dry ingredients just until all ingredients are moistened. Beat egg whites in seperate bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold into the batter until well incorporated.

Evenly coat the bottom of a large skillet with cooking sray then heat the skillet over medium heat. When skillet is hot enough for a drop of water to sizzle, scoop pancake batter onto the skillet in about 1/4-cup portions, spreading slightly. When edges are rather dry and bubbles are popping and bottoms are nicely browned, about 2 to 3 minutes, turn over and cook the other side until browned, about 2 minutes longer.

Delish plain with butter and syrup or with any number of add-in ingredients tossed gently into the batter at the last minute. Pictured pancakes have honey roasted sunflower seed and a handful of fresh blueberries. Other yummy add-in ideas include berries of any kind, chopped apples coated with cinnamon sugar before tossing into batter, chopped dried fruits, granola, chocolate chips, banana slices (add a bit of lemon juice so they don't blacken while cooking) -- use your imagination!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

No Small Potatoes

The old expression originated from farmers who tossed the little ones aside as not good enough to please discriminating potato shoppers. Times sure have changed. Fingerlings, baby reds, gold and purples are all the rage. Have you priced small potatoes lately?

As a little girl I wanted to be Heidi -- you know, THE Heidi. Living in the mountains with her grandfather and eating porridge every day. What in the world does a childhood fantasy have to do with potatoes, you ask? Well, porridge was actually oatmeal and I wasn't too keen on having oatmeal for supper, so I convinced my mother that Heidi (AKA me) much preferred mashed potatoes. I ate nothing but mashed potatoes with peas every night for weeks. And I still love creamy whipped potatoes.

Someday I'll tell you about being six years old with dreams of becoming a flamenco dancer. Suffice it to say, the Heidi phase was far less challenging for my poor mother, who was totally determined not to snuff the creativity from a lively little girl with a big imagination. LOL

2 pounds medium size red bliss potatoes, peels left on and cut in half
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup mild goat cheese
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Put potato halves in a large saucepan. Cover with water; bring to a boil. Cook over medium-high heat for 20 to 25 minutes or until tender; drain. Return potatoes to saucepan; add milk and sour cream. Beat with hand mixer on medium high until fluffy. Reduce mixer speed to medium low and stir in the cheese. Top with butter and season lightly with salt and pepper. Serves six.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

No Snow-mageddon Here!

Schools closed, the library shuttered early and the dairy case at the grocery store was wiped out by noon. Finally, at around two in the afternoon, the flakes started falling. So far it's a bust as snow storms go -- a fine coat of barely there white stuff slushed into oblivion by homeward bound evening commuters.

Meanwhile, life goes on. Paul brought the snow shovel and the last of our home grown butternut squash up from the basement. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, baked butternut and there's plenty of leftovers for tomorrow. The shovel is at the back door. We're ready for the blizzard ... if it ever shows!

1 large (2-3 pounds) butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon grated cinnamon stick (ground cinnamon works as well)
1/4 teaspoon grated ginger root (ground ginger works here too)

1/4 cup melted butter or margarine
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best)

Place squash cubes in a 2 quart casserole or baking dish. Sprinkle with spices and brown sugar. Drizzle with melted butter and lemon juice. Bake uncovered in 375 degree F oven for 40-50 minutes or until fork tender. Serves four.

Friday, February 5, 2010

We'll see tonight after dinner ...

... how much snow there will be. That's what my friend, roommate and fellow Democratic National Committee member said. We've been watching out the window, waiting for the blizzard to arrive.

Southwest Air cancelled our flights home. Sure enough it's snowing out there and we're expected to be stuck in Washington, DC until Sunday. But no white out yet. Before I left home, I baked up a batch of fudge brownies with the hope there would be one left for me upon my return. Fat chance!

6 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
¾ cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs
Dash of salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chunks
½ cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water melt the bittersweet chocolate and the unsweetened chocolate with the butter, stirring until the mixture is smooth, remove the bowl from the heat, and let the mixture cool about 10 minutes or until lukewarm. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the sugars and vanilla. Next, add the eggs, 1 at a time, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the salt and the flour, stirring until the mixture is just combined, and stir in the chocolate chunks.

Pour the batter into a buttered and floured 13- by 9-inch baking pan, smooth the top, and sprinkle nuts on top. Place pan on the center rack of your oven, bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool brownies completely in the pan on a rack then cut into 12 large bars.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Catching a Break: Tea and Crumpets

The whole idea of afternoon tea is to slow down. What goes better with a nice hot cuppa than good old fashioned crumpets? Easy to make and very, very yummy -- a cross between a pancake and an English muffin.

A pat of butter and a spoonful of sugar-free jam make for a healthier way to recharge those midday batteries than a chocolate bar. And you can make a batch then freeze them for convenience -- just pop them in your toaster until they are warm and crispy.

1/2 cup warm water (105° - 115°)
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour or bread flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups warmed milk (warm not hot)

In a large bowl, stir the honey into the warm water. Sprinkle the active dry yeast over the top and let it sit until it bubbles, about 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover and let it sit for about half an hour in a warm place. Lightly grease a griddle or frying pan and the crumpet rings (I use two egg rings). Place the rings onto the griddle and preheat.

Pour about 3 tablespoons of batter into each ring and cook over medium low heat until set, about 10 minutes. (Avoid cooking them too quickly.) The top should be full of holes when they are ready to turn. Remove the crumpets from the rings, turn, and brown the other side, if desired, for a minute or so. Repeat until all the batter is used. Serve warm with butter and jam. Freeze uneaten crumpets for another afternoon. Makes 10-12 crumpets.