December 29, 2008

Baked Brie

These may not be the most appealing pictures but this is so so good.  I know it's anything but healthy, but it was the holidays...?

This is also so easy to make and you can do just about any combination of fillings you want from sweet to savory.  I have seen many a baked brie done with preserves inside but my favorite combo is brown sugar, dried fruit and nuts. 

Mine sort of exploded a little this time but there was no mess because I cooked it in the aluminum pan from the frozen pie crust.  It was warm, slightly sweet, slightly salty, buttery and delicious.  It's really difficult not to eat the whole thing.

Baked Brie
Ingredients

1 tbsp brown sugar, packed
2 tbsp dried cherries, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp slivered almonds, crumbled
1 wedge double or triple cream brie (I like to use the wedges instead of rounds because they have less rind)
1 frozen pie crust or puff pastry

Preparation
Preheat oven as directed on frozen pie crust of pastry box.  Take frozen pie crust/ pastry out of the freezer to defrost.  Chop dried cherries and put them in a small bowl with brown sugar and almonds.  Mix together.  Cut brie in half lengthwise and sprinkle half the brown sugar mixture onto the inside of the brie.  Cover with other half. (This is optional but I like to to it because it allows the filling to be distributed throughout the brie).  Sprinkle half remaining filling over the bottom of defrosted crust/ pastry, place brie on crust and sprinkle remaining filling on top.  Fold crust over brie so all is covered.  Cook as directed on the back of frozen pie crust or puff pastry.

December 27, 2008

Citrus Salad with Star Anise Syrup

Yum yum yum yum yum.  This is a great way to use seasonal winter fruits.  It's simple, the ingredients list is short, but also complex because of the star anise.  Plus it makes for quite a pretty presentation.  However, I will say that cutting all of the fruit away from the pith is rather time consuming and difficult... but then again I don't think my cutting skills are all that.

So I don't like Sambuca or those black licorice flavored jelly beans but I do enjoy a hint of anise.  I actually think this salad could have used more.  I only made half but used the full amount of star anise plus an extra.  

The way I feel about anise and licorice flavor in general kind of reminds me of the way I feel about fennel.  I unknowingly tried a piece of raw fennel at my friend's Christmas party a few years back and was extremely put off by the flavor, which made me think I hated fennel.  But recently I've realized it's a great spice to add to meat dishes or stews and is one of the delicious spices often used in sausage.  So basically I've concluded that subtlety and pairing is the key.  Some things you don't like as a main ingredient or by themselves can actually be great when used in smaller amounts or combined with something different.  So don't write something off if you don't like it one way because it may be phenomenal another.

P.S.- When I was in China this summer I had edamame that was boiled in water flavored with star anise and it was a delicious and unlikely combination.  I have yet to try it at home though.

Citrus Salad with Star Anise Syrup
From Gourmet

Ingredients
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 5 large ruby red or pink grapefruit
  • 4 blood oranges

Preparation

Dissolve sugar in water in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring. Add star anise and simmer 5 minutes. Let stand off heat 30 minutes.

Cut peel, including white pith, from fruit with a sharp knife. Cut segments free from membranes into a bowl. Squeeze juice from membranes into bowl.

Add syrup with star anise to fruit and juice and stir gently. Remove star anise before serving if desired.

*Can be made 1 day ahead and chilled.

December 25, 2008

Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread

Another ginger dessert? I'm not sick of them yet because I only ate one of the gingersnaps and gave the rest away as holiday gifts.  Anyway, what's more Christmas-y than gingerbread?  

I searched epicurious for too long on Christmas Eve looking for the perfect dark, soft, sticky and spicy gingerbread recipe and this is it.  I followed some of the reviewers' comments and reduced the white sugar by 1/3 cup, added 1 tsp. more cinnamon, used cocoa powder instead of flour on one of my pans and did half applesauce half oil.  Also, this recipe is usually made using one bundt pan but I like my gingerbread in squares, so I separated the batter into two 8 x 8 brownie pans.

It came out so well.  It was super moist and had a sticky caramelized sugar crust covering the top and sides.  The original recipe says to serve it with powdered sugar and unsweetened whipped cream but I think it tastes great with a little vanilla ice cream... what doesn't?

When I ate this I also had it with a piece of chocolate cake my mom made.  I mixed the two together on my fork and loved it.  Has anyone thought of chocolate gingerbread yet?  I think it would taste amazing.  Maybe next Christmas...

Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread
Adapted from Gourmet*

Ingredients
  • 1 cup oatmeal stout or Guinness Stout (I used Guinness Stout)
  • 1 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cardamom
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar (I used light)
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/8 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3/8 cup vegetable oil

This gingerbread is better if made 1 day ahead and will keep three days covered and stored at room temperature. 

*my changes are included in the ingredients and preparation.  Click the "Gourmet" link to see the original recipe.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter two 8 x 8 brownie pans and dust with flour, knocking out excess.

Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, then cool to room temperature.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in applesauce, oil, then molasses mixture. Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.

Divide batter evenly between pans and rap pan sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles (oops I did not do this). Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 35 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack, cool completely and cut into squares.

December 21, 2008

The Best Gingersnaps and a Note on Gift Wrapping

I first tried these gingersnaps about a year ago at a lunch at my friend Thom's house.  He invited a few friends over to his parents house for a lunch/ get together before the holidays and his mom had prepared tons of sweets, one of which was these gingersnaps.  I thought they were so good I asked for the recipe and unlike my mom (who doesn't really like sharing her recipes), his mom was more than happy to.  In fact, this recipe was selected, along with nine others to be included in a holiday magazine put out by one of the local grocery stores.

Aside from being delicious, these cookies are also really easy to make and always come out well.  Crunchy on the outside and coated with raw sugar and chewy in the middle with tiny pieces of crystalized ginger.  You really can't go wrong (er, except for the fact that they are made with Crisco... but they are so good...).  I actually can't stand crystalized ginger or any ginger for that matter by itself, but in these cookies, it's delicious.  

Here's a photograph of the boxes of cookies I sent my boyfriend's family for the holidays.  I included another picture in my post about madeleines.  Anyway, if you love baking, homemade cookies, candies or anything always makes a great holiday gift.  I think people, especially those who don't bake, love getting things like this because it shows you put a good amount of time, energy and thought into their gift.  It's also a lot more personal than just going to the store and buying something.  You can make them look really professional.

I used some old Sephora boxes my mom saved and covered the logo with these pretty Paris stick-on labels.  Then I lined the inside with a layer of festive tissue paper and some plastic wrap so the cookies would stay fresh.  Finally, I used colorful ribbon to seal and decorate the boxes.

Helen's Gingersnaps
From Helen Wall

Ingredients
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 finely chopped crystalized ginger
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter flavored solid shortening (I used Crisco even though it grosses me out*)
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses (I used dark)
1/2 cup raw sugar

Preparation
Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Stir in crystalized ginger and set aside. In a large mixer bowl beat sugar and shortening at medium speed until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg and molasses.  Add flour mixture and beat at low speed until just combined. Cover and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Shape dough into 1 inch balls, each about 1 tbsp. and roll in raw sugar.  Place 2 inches apart on parchment lined (lining them is not really necessary) baking sheets.  Bake at 375 degrees until cookies crack, about 10 minutes. Let cool and store in airtight containers.

*I feel like I should try these with regular butter to see if there is any difference because I really hate using something as unnatural as Crisco as an ingredient.  If anyone makes these using regular butter, let me know how they turn out!

December 19, 2008

No Knead Bread

So here is another instance of me not being original.  I feel like almost everyone who has a food blog has tried this, if not posted about it.  But I had to.  It came out looking so perfect, so professional, I was almost astonished I had made it.  And it was so so easy but it did take quite a lot of time, about 21 hours of rising, yep, that's almost a day.  Oh and those nice looking marks on the top of the bread, I wish I could take credit for them but it just happened.  I just dropped a lump of flour, water, hardly any yeast and salt into a pot and this is what came out. Crazy.

Here is a link to the original recipe of no knead, which uses all white flour.  The only change I made from that was to use half white and half whole wheat to get a heartier, healthier bread.  I also used oat bran and a little bit of flour to coat the bread, if you were wondering what those little specs were.  But there are many other modifications you can make as this article by Mark Bittman discusses.  So I'm not going to post the recipe because it's all over the place, just follow the link and in about 24 hours you'll be able to enjoy great bread too.

December 18, 2008

Peppermint Bark

This year I thought I had come up with a great idea: to make my own peppermint bark.  But it turns out that everyone else already seems to have had that idea because I've seen recipes for it on countless blogs and websites.  Oh well.  Anyway, it's still an easy alternative to buying the stuff for $20 at places like Williams Sonoma and it tastes just as good... maybe better.

I added an extra layer of finely crushed peppermint in-between the dark and white chocolate layer for extra crunch.  You could also flavor the dark or white chocolate with peppermint extract if you want even more peppermint flavor.

My bark turned out a bit marbled because the white chocolate I used didn't melt to the same consistency as the dark; instead it turned into more of a paste, which required more spreading.  So even though I had refrigerated and hardened the dark chocolate before I put the white over top, the spreading I had to do melted some of the dark chocolate and I got a marbled finish.  It still looks ok though and the taste was not effected at all.

You can use any kind of chocolate you want, just make sure it's something you would want to eat plain since this isn't going to be melted and put into a cake or chopped and added to cookies.  Also aside from peppermint you could add pretty much anything you want to chocolate bark.  I was thinking about doing a dark chocolate, dried cherry and sliced almond one as well but then got a bit lazy. 

Peppermint Bark
Ingredients

2 bars dark chocolate broken into chunks (I like to use 70%)
1* bar white chocolate (Lindt or Ghiradelli work well)
3- 4 medium candy canes crushed

1 cookie sheet
1 sheet parchment paper or a silpat baking mat

*I like a thinner white layer because I don't like white chocolate as much, but you could do even amounts

Preparation

Place candy canes in a freezer safe plastic bag (the plastic on freezer bags is thicker and can withstand the candy cane pieces' sharp edges).  Use a rolling pin or mallet to smash the candy canes into small pieces. Melt dark chocolate in a double boiler.  After all the chocolate is melted pour it onto a parchment covered baking sheet.  You can pour it all in one spot, then spread it into the desired shape with a spatula.  Take about 1/3 of the candy cane pieces and sprinkle evenly over the dark chocolate.  Refrigerate until hard. About 15- 20 minutes.

5 minutes before you take out the dark chocolate begin melting the white in a double boiler.  Once the white is melted take the hardened dark chocolate out of the fridge and pour the white the white over, spread lightly as needed to cover the dark chocolate evenly.  (Hopefully you have better luck than me, but marbled bark is... artistic?) Once the white is spread, sprinkle the remaining candy cane bits evenly over top.  Place back in the refrigerator to harden. 

Once hard cut the bark into uneven chunks with a sharp knife.  It is probably best to store it in the refrigerator after it is cut.

December 17, 2008

Perfect Madeleines

This is the first time I've made madeleines.  My mom bought a pan for them last summer but since I am so rarely home I haven't had a chance to try it out.  But now it's winter break and with a month off from school I have plenty of time for baking.  Plus baked goods are the perfect gift, especially since I love making them.  These cookies are wonderful to give away because they always look gorgeous thanks to the sea shell shaped molds they are baked in. 

My mom has a recipe for coconut madeleines and as much as I love coconut the flavor isn't really what I'm in the mood for around the holidays.  I found this recipe on 101 Cookbooks and it looked perfect.  Simple, flavorful and reliable. Heidi says her friend Lahna has been using this recipe for years.  

And it was everything I expected it to be.  The flavors were subtle but definitely present and the cookie seemed both light and rich at the same time.  I think the browned butter really adds to these.  Also, madeleines are great because they are a nice in-between.  Not quite a cookie and not quite a cupcake.  They make a lovely snack with a nice hot cup of black tea.

Madeleines
Adapted from  101 Cookbooks
Makes 2- 3 dozen

Ingredients
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used bleached)
4 large eggs
a pinch of salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

extra butter for greasing pan
extra flour for pan
powdered sugar for sprinkling

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350. Melt butter in a small pot over medium heat until brown and nutty smelling, about 20 mins.  Strain with a paper towel or mesh strainer to get ride of solids (I was getting rid of burned crusty bits- ew). Cool butter to room temperature and work on the rest of the recipe as the butter cools.

Grease pan, make sure to get all of the ridges, then flour.  Put eggs and salt in a bowl and beat until thick (double or triple the volume you started with) about 3 minutes with an electric mixer.  I did this by hand so it took a bit longer.  Continue mixing and add the sugar in a steady stream.  Whip for 2 minutes or until mixture is thick and ribbony.  Next fold in lemon zest and vanilla until just combined.

Sprinkle in the flour and fold to combine.  Then fold in the butter mixture only stirring to bring everything together.  (I am compulsive over-mixer so recipes like this are always tough for me)

Pour the batter into a liquid measuring cup such as a pyrex and then pour into madeleine molds until 2/3- 3/4 of the way full.  Bake for 12- 14 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.  Unmold immediately after removing from the oven.  Cool on racks and dust with powdered sugar.

December 16, 2008

Easy Homemade Hummus and a Light Lunch

I started making my own hummus about 2 years ago when I realized how simple and how much more cost efficient it is.  Also, when you make it yourself you can control how much oil and other flavorings you put in.  Before, when I made hummus I used to reserve some of the water from the canned garbanzo beans and add that to the hummus to thin it.  But recently (aka today) I've started adding water instead and I think it makes a pretty big difference; no more of the unpleasant can-like flavor I just couldn't seem to pinpoint before.  Anyway this took about 5 minutes to make.  All you need is a good blender or Cuisinart and you're set.

Below is the pita sandwich I made for lunch.  I just started liking olives (I know, what is wrong with me?) but I have always loved cucumbers.  They are so light, crisp and always wonderfully fresh tasting so they make a great sandwich filler.  I also think they go really well with hummus and olives because they help balance out the strong flavors and somewhat heavy texture that both provide.  

I think this sandwich would also be great with chopped roasted red peppers, feta or white beans in addition to the cucumbers, olives and hummus.


Easy Homemade Hummus
Ingredients

1 can garbanzo beans, drained
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1- 2 tbsp water

paprika for sprinkling on top
lemon wedge

Preparation
Add all ingredients to the Cuisinart, starting with 1 tbsp water.  Blend until a paste forms.  Scrape the sides to make sure all of the beans are incorporated.  Add more water if needed. Blend again until the mixture becomes your desired texture (I like mine a bit grainy). Sprinkle hot paprika over top and garnish with a lemon wedge.

December 8, 2008

Wheat Germ and Banana Muffins

I am very particular about bananas, as I suspect some other people are too.  I like them when they've just turned yellow, even with a tint of green but after 5 or so brown spots, I just can't eat them- that is unless they are hidden in a bread or cake or muffin.  I have this "extra banana" problem often, because I eat about 1 a day so it seems silly just to buy 3 at the grocery store, but then before I can get to all 7 of them, some start browning.  And since I don't like to have things going to waste, I find myself making banana-y baked goods often.

While these "Wheat Germ and Banana Muffins" may not have the most appealing name, they are really good.  What I like most about them is that they taste like a muffin should taste.  Not like those cupcakes disguised as muffins sold in most bakeries.  I also think they are fairly healthy and adaptable.  You could make half with nuts and half without, add chocolate chips, use more whole wheat flour, substitute applesauce for part of the oil, make a crumbly wheat germ topping- no matter what, I think these would still turn out a quality muffin... well maybe that whole chocolate chip thing would make them a cupcake, but it's debatable.

Now back to bananas for a minute.  My roommates and I left some out over Thanksgiving break while we were away (this may be the cause of our new fruit fly (?) problem) so being the first one back I saw them and decided to put them in the freezer, skins on and all, until I would have time to turn them into something more appealing.  So I put them in the freezer for a few days and then defrosted them in the fridge (note: they only take a few hours to defrost so you don't need to take them out a day ahead, which I did) and they were SO mushy.  I touched the skin and it felt like it was filled with slime.  Anyway, to use them in the muffins I just scored down the middle with a knife and emptied the insides into a bowl- it was kind of disgusting (don't worry no graphic shots), but made these great muffins.


Wheat Germ and Banana Muffins

Adapted from Bon App├ętit

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup toasted wheat germ
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 3)  - I just used 3 large ones without measuring
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line 16 muffin cups with foil muffin papers. Sift first 4 ingredients into medium bowl. Mix in wheat germ. Combine bananas, milk, eggs, oil and vanilla extract in large bowl and whisk to blend. Mix in dry ingredients. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, dividing equally.

Bake muffins until tops are golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

December 7, 2008

Spiced Cider Cranberry Sauce

Before I left for Thanksgiving break I bought a bag of cranberries at the Farmer's Market because they were so perfect looking and seasonal. I had planned on making some cranberry sauce before I left but soon realized I had way too much work to think about such things. Luckily cranberries keep very well. They can be kept in the fridge for 3 weeks to a month and in the freezer for much longer than that. So when I got back from break, surprisingly not cranberry-ed out from Thanksgiving, I decided to make some.

I had read a recipe on epicurious about a cranberry sauce using dried cherries and cherry cider and coincidentally my roommate and her family had made a similar one for their Thanksgiving- and she said it was amazing. Since I wasn't really in the mood to go out into the cold searching for cherry cider I decided to improvise and just make my own cranberry sauce using some things we already had.

Since I had no less work coming back from Thanksgiving break and thus no time to buy any groceries for about a week, I pretty much ate this cranberry sauce with everything. In oatmeal, on top of yogurt, as a sandwich spread, by itself, whatever- and it was all quite delicious. And if I can give you any advice I would say, DO NOT skip the cherries. When boiled in the cider and cranberries they puffed up and filled with juices that burst through your mouth after the first bite.

Spiced Cider Cranberry Sauce (with apples and dried cherries)
Ingredients

1 12 oz bag cranberries
1 cup Spiced Apple Cider
1/3 cup dried cherries (tart or bing- I did a mixture)
1 apple, peeled and chopped (I used a pink lady)
1/3 cup sugar*
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preparation

Bring the cider to a boil, peel and chop the apple then coat pieces with cinnamon. Add the sugar to the cider and when it has dissolved add the cranberries, dried cherries and apple. Boil until the cranberries begin to burst and the sauce thickens- about 15 minutes.

*I like my cranberry sauce pretty tart, so you may want to add a bit more sugar to this recipe if you'd like something sweeter.