Friday, January 21, 2011

As Comforting as Comfort Food Gets!

Shoot, who doesn't love a perfect golden crusted grilled cheese sandwich? There's even a Baltimore based restaurant chain dedicated to the joys of every mom's fall back dinner special.

With a big flavor boost from homemade lightly herbed bread sliced thick, the classic grilled cheese sandwich is still the perfect partner for a bowl of homemade tomato soup. Both recipes below are easy and delish.

3 cups bread flour
1/4 cup non-fat dry milk powder
1 tablespoon finely grated cheddar
1 teaspoons fresh ground sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dried winter savory (or oregano)
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon very warm tap water
1 quarter ounce package quick rise dry yeast
1 teaspoon honey

Combine flour, milk powder, cheese, salt and herbs in food processor with a dough blade attachment. In a small bowl mix warm water honey and dry yeast. Allow yeast mix to sit 3-5 minutes.

Using 1 tablespoon oil, grease a large bowl, set aside.

Add yeast mix to flour in processor and pulse ingredients to moisten well. Add 1 tablespoon of oil. Continue to pulse mixture until it forms a soft dough, about five minutes. Place dough in greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover with a damp cloth; let rise in a warm draft free spot 55-60 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Punch down dough. Form into a loaf shape and place in a well greased 8.5 X 4 inch loaf pan. Let rise in a warm drafty free spot until loaf rises about 1 inch over the pan (about 30-45 minutes). Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. The crust should be a golden brown. Let cool before slicing.

CLASSIC GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH                                                           
4 slices bread
4 slices American cheese
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon olive oil

In a small bowl, mix olive oil and melted butter. Place two slices of cheese on two bread slices, top with remaining bread slices. Lightly brush outside of each sandwich with oil-butter mixture. Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add sandwiches and cook 3-4 minutes on each side or until crust is golden and cheese is melted. Makes two sandwiches. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chase Away Snow Blues Cookies

Yup, it's another day of no school, skeleton crews and shoveling here in western Massachusetts. This time, I'll be watching for the plow guy and ready to run out in my penguin pants, furry jacket and morel boots holding my snow shovel and looking as pitiful as possible so he'll not dump the entire street full of snow bank in front of our house!

It's also a perfect baking day.  What could possibly be better on a cold snowy evening than a cup of hot cocoa and a citrusy sugar cookie? These crunchy treats are made with ingredients from favorite vacation spots: reminders of pleasant sunny beach days to come. I should call them Cape Cod Key West Hawaii Cookies!

1 cup sugar (I like to use Florida crystals but any sugar will do.)
3/4 cup butter flavored shortening
1 large egg
2 cups white whole wheat flour (King Arthur makes this, but all-purpose flour will do)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup macadamia nuts, chopped (Hawaii)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (Cape Cod)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh grated lime zest (Key West)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Combine 1 teaspoon lime zest and 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside.

Beat together 3/4 cup sugar, shortening and egg in a large bowl at medium speed until creamy.  Using a wooden spoon, mix in flour, baking powder and soda.  Blend thoroughly -- about 20-30 hand strokes with a wooden spoon. Add nuts, craisins and lime zest. Mix well.

Shape dough into one inch balls. Roll each ball in the set aside lime sugar mixture. Place each ball two inches apart on a cookie sheet and flatten to approximately 1-1/2 inch circles.  Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges look dry and light golden in color. Make sure not to over bake. Cool a minute or two, then remove cookies from baking pan to a wire rack to cool completely before storing. Makes about 3 dozen cookies at 65 calories each.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Even Carnivores Will Like It.

Friends come in all shapes and sizes, ethnic and lifestyle varieties. Makes life and dinner conversations lively and interesting.  But when it came to dietary preferences, especially when vegetarians and meat eaters sit at the same table, a menu that satisfied without someone feeling odd man out was a challenge.

And then I found a recipe for mushroom leek pie: a big success at an informal buffet as a choice but not quite ready for a sit-down dinner party. So me being me, I fiddled around and came up with this super healthy and elegant adaptation at 220 calories per serving. Open with a flute of champagne, add a mixed green salad with your favorite dressing plus a fabulous dessert like Bananas Foster... who could complain??? 

1 cup thinly sliced leeks
1/2 cup canned vegetable broth
1 cup coarsely chopped mushrooms (any kind will do, but we like Baby Bellas best)
8 sheets frozen phyllo dough, defrosted
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces Chevre (mild goat cheese)
1 teaspoon poppy or sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place leeks and broth in a large covered skillet on medium for 6-8 minutes or until leeks soften. Add the mushrooms, cover and cook another 2-3 minutes. Remove cover, lower heat to medium low and cook until liquid has been absorbed by the veggies. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.  

For each strudel, layer two phyllo sheets, making four double sheets for filling. Lightly brush one side of each flat double sheet with olive oil. Fold the unbrushed side over the oiled side to make a four layer thick phyllo square. Brush the edges with a little more oil. Spoon one quarter of the veggie mix and crumble one ounce of Chevre along one edge of each prepared phyllo square.Tuck in the sides of each pastry and roll them up to seal in the filling. 

Place the strudels on an ungreased baking tray and brush the tops with oil. Sprinkle with your choice of poppy or sesame seeds and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden in color. Makes 4 strudels, serve immediately. Rosemary pear conserve or homemade cranberry sauce as a side are lovely flavor enhancers.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Best Blizzard Line of the Day

"I am off to get my supply of bread, eggs and milk for the level three French toast warning. And some brandy in case things get really bad," courtesy of friend and fellow foodie, Janet Beyer.

Here is a basic French toast recipe. Perfect or a snowbound morning. While you're at it, check this site out: French Toast Weather Report!

4 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine sugar
Dash of salt
8 slices bread (I love love love challah French toast)
Butter favored cooking spray
2 tablespoons butter
Maple syrup

Break eggs into a wide, shallow bowl or pie plate; beat lightly with a fork. Stir in sugar, cinnamon, salt, and milk. Over medium-low heat, heat griddle or skillet coated with a thin layer of cooking spray.

Place the bread slices, one at a time, into the bowl or plate, letting slices soak up egg mixture for a few seconds, then carefully turn to coat the other side. Soak/coat only as many slices as you will be cooking at one time. Transfer bread slices to griddle or skillet, heating slowly until bottom is golden brown. Turn and brown the other side.

Serve French toast hot with butter and syrup. Serves 4.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Chocolate pudding, plain, simple, good.

Most of last week I was down for the count with the head cold from hell. Too sick to eat never mind cook but everyone else still wanted supper. For the most part, they manage pretty well on their own at my house, right down to dessert.

And that dollop of whipped cream isn't from a store bought aerosol can. We aerate our own cream, and add flavors like chocolate syrup, vanilla and even spiced rum or ginger brandy with a great gadget - an iSi whipped cream dispenser.

3 cups skim milk
2/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons flour

Beat egg yolks in saucepan. Add three cups milk and stir well.  In a medium sized bowl, mix flour, sugar, and cocoa.  Add cocoa mixture to saucepan ingredients.  Cook pudding over low heat and whisk constantly until it comes to a low boil and the consistency thickens. Remove saucepan from heat and add vanilla. Pour into individual serving glasses while still warm. Cool before serving. Garnish with cream if desired. Makes 6 portions, about 140 calories each.