Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Traditional Italian Christmas Cookie: Pizzelles


I just want to say that I love pizzelles. There are many, many recipes for them, and I have tried a good many myself. But I keep coming back to one that I was introduced to decades ago: a traditional recipe, made with butter instead of oil (as many modern variations seem to do) and anise seed instead of anise extract or oil. The resulting pizzelle is tender and subtly flavored, perfect with tea, coffee, or a glass of dessert wine. 

Tender Traditional Italian Pizzelles

6 eggs, room temperature 
1 1/2 cups cup sugar
1 cup butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract 
2 tsp. anise seed
3 1/2 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat your pizzelle iron/maker and follow the mfrs. directions for preparing the grids.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar. Add the cooled butter,
vanilla, and anise seed. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and add to the egg mixture, mixing until very thick and smooth. (Batter will be slightly glossy.)


The batter should be stiff enough to be dropped by a scant tablespoon into the center of a preheated pizzelle iron/maker. Close and clamp the lid; bake until steaming abates, about 30 to 45 seconds. Cookies should be very pale golden or barely browned at all.  Remove carefully to a wire rack; cool completely before storing. 

This cookie is somewhat fragile, so handle with care. Store in a tightly covered tin with waxed paper between layers. The flavor improves overnight. An excellent make-ahead cookie that keeps well for a week to ten days.

NOTE: The batter can be covered tightly and refrigerated to be used up to 24 hrs. later, if desired. 

Makes about six dozen.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Cape Breton Memory: Oatcakes

While touring the Cabot Trail on gorgeous Cape Breton, Nova Scotia this past September, we stopped along the roadside at a little bakery that advertised coffee and baked goods. Inside the case was a treat labeled 'oatcakes $1.50'.  Since I wanted something to go with the coffee, I bought a couple of them, and they turned out to be one of the culinary highlights of the whole trip! Determined to find a recipe for them when I returned home, I scoured all of my cookbooks first. Lo and behold, The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion held exactly what I was looking for: A slightly sweet, nutty flavored shortbread-inspired oatcake recipe that is very like the confection I sampled on Cape Breton. This is our new favorite cookie to have with hot tea on cold nights.

Sweet Oatcakes
from: The King Arthur Cookie Companion

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar (7 ounces)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup (3 1/2 ounces) rolled oats, coarsely ground in a small food processor (do NOT use quick oats)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Farenheit.  Lightly grease two 9 inch round cake pans (I also line mine with parchment paper rounds)

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, salt, brown sugar, and the vanilla. Beat in the baking soda, flour, and oats.
Divide the dough in half and press each half into the prepared pans, smoothing the surface with your fingers. Prick the dough with a fork in an attractive pattern.
Bake the shortbread for 35 to 45 minutes, until it's golden brown around the edges. Remove it from the oven and loosen the edges with a table knife. Wait 5 minutes, then carefully turn the shortbread out onto a clean work surface, all in one piece.  Using a pizza wheel or a sharp knife, cut each round into 12 wedges. (Do this while the shortbread is warm; if you wait until it cools, it won't cut easily.)  Transfer the wedges to a rack to cool.

Makes 2 dozen shortbread wedges.

Store in a cookie tin for up to a week.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Claire's Black River Apple Salad

Claire scored a home run a few days ago with a flirtation into the salad realm. She was so excited about the results that she shared them immediately. So before I lose this altogether, I better get it into the blog. The name is derived from the blue cheese that she used in it: It is a variety made in Wisconsin, by the Black River.

Claire's Black River Apple Salad

2-3 granny smith apples, medium-diced,
2-3 tbsp. each:
  • chopped cilantro
  • blue cheese crumbles
  • chopped toasted walnuts
  • shredded carrot
  • paper-thin sliced celery
  • plain aioli (or mayo);
1/4 tsp. jalapeno, very finely minced
pinch of sugar
squeeze of lime juice
salt + pepper to taste

Toss all together and allow the flavors to marry for at least a couple of hours in the refrigerator. Excellent with a heavy dish that needs a bit of brightening, like braised beef short ribs, garlic stuffed pork loin roast or the like.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Raiding the Mom Archive


My Mom has a really good recipe for french onion soup. She no longer cooks,  but while tidying up her recipe drawer, I came across her tattered recipe, which I know I have, but don't know exactly where. This time it won't escape: The blog captures all.

As everyone who makes french onion soup knows, the secret to great flavor depth  is to brown the onions low and slow, allowing them to carmelize properly. One of my tweaks is to add a bay leaf to the stock when  heating it for even more flavor depth. My sister-in-law has her own twist as well: Instead of beer, she uses Taylor port. I can vouch for the sensational results. No matter how you tweak it, it's an easy, basic, and excellent recipe.

Marian's French Onion Soup

2 very large Spanish onions
3 TBLSP. butter
1 TBLSP. extra virgin olive oil
12 ounces of beer
3 TBLSP. flour
32 ounces (4 cups) beef stock or beef broth
one can of beef consomme -or- consomme Madrilienne
a baguette of good french bread, sliced to the desired thickness and allowed to dry out for several hours -or-
use day old french bread
 8 slices provolone cheese and/or good swiss cheese

Cut up the onions in rings and separate. In a very large frying pan, melt the butter then add the olive oil. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat until tender, golden brown and carmelized. This takes some time, so be forewarned. Add the flour and continue to cook, stirring, for five to ten more minutes.

In a 4 quart saucepan, stir together the beef stock, consomme and beer. Heat thoroughly. Ladle out a few cups and pour over the onions, stirring until all the brown bits are incorporated. Pour the onion mixture into the 4 quart saucepan into the remaining stock mixture and stir until well blended. Adjust the seaoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Preheat oven to 400F. Place 8  individual ovenproof soup dishes on a rimmed cookie sheet. Place some of the onions in the bottom of each soup bowl, add a baguette slice, add the remaining onions, and then fill each 3/4 full with stock..  Add a slice of your preferred cheese (or two!) cheese on top. Carefully place the cookie sheet on the center oven rack and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until cheese is bubbly.

Makes 8 servings.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Traditional July Treat with a Twist

July ushers in a host of fresh produce all over the country. In our area, July means fresh blueberries. Which means fresh blueberry pie, pancakes, coffee cake, and of course, MUFFINS. This could be the best blueberry muffin recipe ever. 

Blueberry Muffins

2 cups fresh blueberries, picked over, washed and dried
1 1/8 cups sugar plus 1 teaspoon 
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 cup), melted and slightly cool
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Lemon Sugar Topping:
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh zest of a lemon 
Mix together the sugar and lemon zest and set aside until ready to bake muffins.

For the muffins: Adjust the oven rack to the upper middle position and preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Line a 12 muffin tin with muffin papers or spray with non-stick baking spray. 

Bring 1 cup of the blueberries and 1 teaspoon of the sugar to simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, mashing berries with spoon several times, stirring frequently, until berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1/4 cup, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and cool to room temperature (takes about 15 minutes).

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large mixing bowl. 

Whisk remaining 1 1/8 cups sugar and eggs together in a medium bowl until thick well blended, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter and oil until combined. Whisk in buttermilk and vanilla until combined. Use a rubber spatula and fold the egg mixture and remaining cup of blueberries into the flour mixture JUST until moistened. (Batter will be lumpy - don't overmix). 

Spoon batter into paper muffin cups, completely filling cups.  Place 1 teaspoon of the cooked berry mixture into the center of each batter-filled muffin cup, and swirl into the batter with a skewer, spreading the berry flavor throughout. Sprinkle lemon zest/sugar mixture over each muffin. Bake until muffin tops are golden brown and just firm, 17 to 19 minutes, rotating muffin tin front to back halfway through baking time. Cool muffins in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool 5 additional minutes before serving. 

Makes 12. 



Picnic Cakes

Need a cake for a crowd, picnic, reunion or other summer event? Sheet cakes are the answer. Here's one from my friend Nancy in Houston:

Mom's Chocolate Cake
from The Houston Chronicle

For the cake:
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup vegetable oil 
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup buttermilk mixed with 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix flour, salt, and sugar in large bowl. In a saucepan, combine butter, oil cocoa and water; bring to a boil, remove from heat. Pour the boiled mixture over the dry ingredients and mix. Add buttermilk and stir just until blended. Add eggs, cinnamon, and vanilla. Beat well and pour into a greased and floured 9 x 13 pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until at toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool.

For the frosting:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup cocoa or 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 tablespoons buttermilk
16 ounce box confectioner's sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine butter, chocolate or cocoa and buttermilk in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Add the powered sugar a little at a time, beating well between additions; add salt and blend well. Add vanilla and mix. Frost cake after it has cooled completely.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Everything's Better With Bacon: Pear and Spinach Salad


We're just getting started on a long, hot summer, so here's another salad recipe that keeps the heat out of the kitchen during the hottest part of the day. Make-ahead salads are great when you've had all the energy sucked out of you by just such a hot day. Enjoy with a nice, long glass of iced tea, or some other icy beverage.

Pear and Spinach Salad

for the dressing:
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup (4 ounces) very fine olive oil

Whisk together the honey, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and mustard. In a thin stream, whisk in the olive oil until all of it is incorporated and the dressing emulsified. Season with a little salt and pepper, cover, and refrigerate. 

for the salad:
2 quarts fresh baby spinach
1 pound chilled Bartlett pears, pealed and sliced lengthwise -or- a chilled 16 ounce can of pear halves, sliced, drained
a chilled 8 ounce can of crushed pineapple, drained
12 ounces of smoked bacon, fried crisp, drained, blotted with paper towels, and either chopped or broken into bits.

Arrange the spinach on a large platter. Top evenly with the fruit, then sprinkle all over with the bacon. Drizzle the dressing over all. 

Makes 8 to 10 side salad servings, or 4-5 entree servings.



Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pavlova!


Hands down, one of our absolute favorite desserts. It's Australia's national dessert, much like apple pie is our American national dessert. 

Even people who *say* they don't like desserts love this. It's beautiful and looks impressive. It has a deep, dark secret, too: It looks like it took hours to make, but actually it's very easy and takes very little time. 

Angela's Pavlova

6 egg whites
pinch of salt
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 pint (16 ounces) heavy cream

A pint of fresh red raspberries
A pint of fresh blueberries
A pint of fresh blackberries
2 cups fresh sliced and sugared peaches
Note: this is the fruit I use; you may substitute your own fresh favorites.

Beat egg whites intil foamy; add the salt, then add the sugar gradually. Mix in vinegar, then add the vanilla last. Beat until stiff but not dry peaks have formed.

Cover a LARGE rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper, and lightly butter the parchment paper.  Pile the meringue into an 8" mound in the center, making an indentation in the top. (It should look like a volcano crater with it's top blown off.) The meringue will spread out a lot while baking, so be sure to make the meringue very tall and the indent quite deep. 

Bake for 40 to 43 minutes at 300 degrees, --do not peek!-- then turn off the oven and leave the meringue in it for an additional 40 minutes longer, making sure not to open the oven door. Remove from oven to cool completely. Very carefully remove the pavlova shell to a very large round serving platter.

At serving time:
Whip the heavy cream until stiff, and mound the whipped cream into the center crater of the meringue. Top the whipped cream with the fresh fruit; not all of it will fit onto the top of the pavlova. Slice into generous wedges and add additional fruit to each serving. 

Bliss!

Serves 8 to 10 with generous slices and lots of fruit


Any leftover pavlova can be refrigerated overnight, loosely covered. It must be eaten within 24 hours; the whipped cream is fairly fragile. 


Summer Meals: Tortellini Salad with Grilled Chicken


Sometimes it's just too hot. Salads of all kinds are the mainstay of a lot of my summer meals. Salads that are the meal.

Tortellini Salad with Grilled Chicken
this is a fine salad even without the grilled chicken, so don't hesitate to enjoy it that way

3 packages refrigerated cheese tortellini
1 zucchini, blanched, then plunged into ice water
1 yellow squash, blanched, then plunged into ice water
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2 red bell peppers, cut into fine strips
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced celery
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill

2-3 cups  washed, dried, and chilled fresh baby spinach

1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 cup very fine olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

shredded parmesan cheese
pint package of fresh grape tomatos, washed, dried, and chilled

2 or 3 boneless chicken breast halves, washed and patted dry
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


Cook the tortellini per package directions for aldente pasta. Drain, then rinse immediately under very cold running water. Drain very well, then place in a very large mixing bowl  (I use a stock pot). Remove the zucchini and yellow squash from the ice water and slice into very thin wheels. Cut the wheels in half, then add to the pasta. Add the red onion, red bell pepper, celery, and dill toss the mixture to blend well.

For the dressing, mix together the white wine vinegar, mayonnaise, and mustard in a deep bowl. Whisk in the olive oil very slowly in a thin stream until it is completely incorporated and emulsified. Season the dressing with salt and pepper to taste.

In another bowl, add the spinach and toss with a very small amount of the dressing, just enough to barely coat it. Sprinkle with a tablespoon or so of the shredded parmesan cheese. Arrange the spinach along the bottom and sides of a large shallow serving bowl/dish.

Set aside a 2-3 tablespoons of dressing. Toss the tortellini salad with the remaining dressing, adding an ounce or so of the shredded parmesan. Refrigerate, covered, for six hours or overnight.

Prepare the chicken: On a very hot grill, cook the chicken breasts that have been seasoned with salt and pepper for 8 to 10 minutes per side. Remove from grill to a dish, then sprinkle with the lemon juice and set aside, covered, for 10 minutes or so. Slice the chicken against the grain into thin slices.

To serve as an entree: Spoon entree-sized portions into individual serving bowls or plates and top the salad with the slices of the warm grilled chicken. Garnish  with some of the grape tomatoes,  drizzling with some of the reserved dressing. Garnish with more parmesan, and finely chopped dill,  if desired.

To serve as a side salad: Garnish the top of the salad with grape tomatoes, and a little finely chopped dill and parmesan, if desired. I usually do not add grilled chicken when I make this as a side. It's a great picnic salad for a crowd.


Serves 6 or so as an entree, or 12-15 as a side salad.



Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Cake Among Cakes


Hard to believe this recipe hasn't made it up here yet! Thanks to Claire, it's finally getting its place of honor.  I tried a lot of carrot cake recipes, and slowly evolved my own over time. This one, if I do say so myself, is perfect. We've been making it for a couple of decades now. It's a darn big cake, so it's a good recipe to use for a big birthday party or family gathering.


NICKI'S CARROT CAKE

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Grease and flour 3  8" round cake pans

combine and set aside for 30 minutes or so:
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel (fresh orange zest is best, but dried peel can be used)

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil (Wesson!)
4 eggs

sift together:
2 1/2 cups flour (I use King Arthur All Purpose flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg OR mace
pinch of ginger
pinch of cloves
pinch of allspice
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

2 1/2 cups grated carrots
3/4 cup shredded coconut
3/4 cup finely cut or chopped walnuts
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Beat together the sugars and oil until well blended. Add eggs, one at at time, beating well after each addition. SLOWLY  add sifted ingredients and beat well. Add soaked orange peel and any remaining juice, then the carrots, coconut, walnuts, and vanilla.  

Pour into the greased and floured pans, and stagger the pans on the same middle rack of a preheated 325 degree oven. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the center is not sticky. Remover from oven, cool 7 minutes (no more!) then remove from pans and finish cooling on a rack.


CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

one 8 ounce brick of cream cheese PLUS one 3 ounce brick of cream cheese
1 1/2 pounds (24 ounces) confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks butter (6 ounces), melted and room temp
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Beat the cream cheese bars together well, then add the confectioners sugar and salt slowly on very low speed. Gradually increase speed and combine well. Add the melted butter very slowly, incorporating the butter as you go, and then add the vanilla. Beat the frosting on high speed for several minutes until smooth and creamy, then spread between the cooled cake layers and on top and sides of cake. 

Makes a large 3 layer 8" cake, serving at least 12