Saturday, September 26, 2009
I really have no memory of eating Oatmeal Raisin Cookies at any other time in my childhood, and to this day I cannot even see one without thinking of my grandma and her basement full of goodies. Every now and again I will think of my Grandma's cookies and get a hankering to make some of my own.
Unfortunately this isn't my Grandma's recipe (I have no idea where I would even find that!) But they still have that delicious baked raisin taste that reminds me of her. They are chewy on the inside, just a tad crunchy on the outside, warm and hearty and perfect for Autumn. The key to this recipe is really two things - the type of sugar, Muscovado, which is a pure unrefined cane sugar (brown sugar but without Molasses) and the fresh grated Nutmeg. They both add a warm spiciness to the cookies that make them absolutely delicious.
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
115 g Butter (about 1/2 cup), softened (just leave it out of the fridge for an hour or two)
2/3 cup Muscovado sugar (you should be able to find this at any whole food or organic grocery)
1 egg, at room temp
3/4 tsp Vanilla Extract
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
fresh grated nutmeg (about 1/4 tsp)
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup raisins
Cream together butter, sugar, egg and vanilla with an electric mixer.
Whisk or sift together the flour, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture.
Stir in the oats and raisins until well combined. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for an hour or two.
Preheat oven to 175 C (350 F).
Drop the dough in small rounds onto parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until just browning on the edges.
Friday, September 18, 2009
More to the point - chocolate cake. It happens. A lot. Usually I will make chocolate chip cookies because they are fast and I can just eat the dough when its like, a serious emergency. Which it sometimes is. What? I am not ashamed. Sometimes, I need sugar and chocolate and I need it NOW.
But this time, I needed chocolate. And more chocolate. And I kinda really wanted it in the form of a bread-shaped cake substance. I figured if I am craving something my body is just trying to tell me something right? Shouldn't I listen?
At any rate, this worked marvellously to make my day a whole lot better. Its simple and it freezes well and its packed with chocolate, just like I like it. It would be great for a tea time snack or a dessert. I am thinking Death by Chocolate - a slice of this topped with chocolate ice cream and covered in hot fudge. Whip cream is optional.
Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cake
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 Tbs Cocoa Powder
2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup milk
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 F / 180 C. Butter all sides of a loaf pan.
Mix together butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, then mix in vanilla and cocoa powder.
Whisk together Flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add half of this to the butter mixture and combine. Stir in the rest until well combined. (side note: I had the slightest inkling to just stop here and make some kind of cookie-ish creation with the dough at this point. I might still try it sometime)
Stir in the milk a little bit at a time, then mix with an electric mixer until smooth (I did it this way to prevent everything flying all over my kitchen when I turned the mixer on. Feel free to adjust as necessary)
Stir in the chocolate chips. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and cook in oven for 30 minutes to an hour (sorry for the crazy time window but it just depends on your oven. I cooked for 30 minutes in my convection oven and that was just about right. Use the toothpick method if needed)
Let cool for 20 minutes or so before removing from pan. I recommend an additional 20 minutes before slicing.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Not only is Quinoa super good for you, it tastes amazing. I love the texture. You can use it as a replacement for rice, couscous and other grains (it is Gluten Free) and its super fast and easy to make.
This dish isn't just healthy because of the Quinoa either. I had all these beautiful violet and yellow carrots I got at the market (which for some crazy but awesome reason were only 1 euro for about 2 kilos worth), some left over zucchini, and tomatoes sitting in my fridge. Combining them all in this salad makes it a powerhouse of vitamins and other nutrients.
Did you know that the cultivated carrots original color is Purple? They date back to the 900s in Afghanistan. Wild carrots are even more ancient - with seeds up to 10 thousand years old having been found. I love ancient food! This dish brings together all these super healthy and ancient foods in a beautiful colorful dish. It would make a great side dish, but we ate it as our whole meal and it was delicious and filling - and did I mention colorful? Everything turns a pinkish-purple color, combined with the greens and reds from all the veggies. I loved it!
Colorful Quinoa Salad
1 cup Quinoa
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup water
2-4 tbs lemon juice
1-2 tsp lemon zest
2 tbs chopped fresh basil
1 tsp fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
4 carrots (2 purple, 2 yellow or any mix of colors you can get your hands on), sliced into rounds
1 or 2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cup chopped zuchhini (like half a normal sized zucchini)
1/2 cup chopped onion (about 1/4 of a large onion)
2 tbs tomato paste
1/4 cup white wine
salt & pepper
First, drain the water out of your zucchini. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let sit for 20 minutes or so, then pour off the excess water and pat dry.
In a medium saucepan, heat a bit of olive oil over medium heat. Add 2 cloves garlic, lemon zest and a pinch or two of salt. Saute garlic until fragrant and soft, but not yet browning. Just about one minute. Add 1 tbs of basil and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute. Add in the vegetable broth and water and bring to a boil. When it reaches a boil, add the Quinoa and 1 tbs lemon juice and give it a stir. Bring liquid back to a simmer, then reduce heat, cover and allow to cook until Quinoa has absorbed all of the liquid. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat around 2 tbs olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and carrots and give it a stir. Cover and let cook for around 3 or 4 minutes. Uncover and stir. Add zuchinni and tomato and garlic. Let saute for another 10 minutes or so, until veggies have all gotten nice and soft and maybe just browning. Raise heat slightly and add herbs and let saute another minute or two, until it starts to brown. Add the white wine and cook until it reduces down. Add tomato paste and stir to combine it all together. Stir in Quinoa.
Remove from heat and enjoy :)
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Germany has a long tradition of Plum cake - every bakery is full of it this time of year - and all those cakes feature these Zwetsche plums, known as Italian Prune plums in the States. While this isn't a traditional German cake at all, I couldn't resist making these super ripe sweet plums into an upside down cake so that they would bake down in all the brown sugary goodness.
It is delicious - and pretty. You can eat it warm or at room temp - but if it you make it ahead of time don't flip it out of the pan. Refrigerate it in the pan, then rewarm in the oven and flip before serving.
You can of course use just about any fruit with this and it makes a great way to show off in-season goodies. I altered the recipe only slightly - I was using a smaller pan and found that I could use a lot less brown sugar and fruit. Oh - and thanks David for always including grams in your recipes!
Upside Down Plum Cake
For the fruit layer:
3 tablespoons butter (45g), salted or unsalted
1/2 cup packed (170g) light brown sugar
fruit: 5 plums sliced (I cut into eigths)
For the cake layer:
8 tablespoons (115g) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature.
1 1/2 cups (210g) flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (125ml) milk (David recommended whole but I used 1 percent and it was fine)
1. Melt the 3 tablespoons (45g) of butter in an 8-inch cake pan. Add the brown sugar and cook while stirring, until the sugar is melted and begins to bubble. Remove from heat and let cool.
2. Once cool, arrange the fruit in a pinwheel design, in the center of circle of fruit I put one diced plum, skin side down (so that it would look perty when flipped over). Set aside.
3. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350F. (190C)
4. Beat the 8 tablespoons (115g) of butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time, until smooth.
5. Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
6. Stir in half of the flour mixture with a spoon, then the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients. Do not overmix: stir just until the flour is barely incorporated into the batter.
7. Spread the batter over the fruit, then bake for 30 to 45 minutes to one hour (depending on the size of the pan, and the thickness of the batter and whether you are using a conventional or convection oven) The cake is ready when it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and the center feels just set.
8. Remove from oven, let cool about 20 minutes, then place a plate on top, and wearing oven mitts, flip the cake out on to the plate, taking care, as there may be some hot caramel that might escape.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
But that doesn't mean I can't have a little taste of it right here at home. The markets are full of dirt cheap Zucchini, Eggplant and tomatoes that are sure to disappear in the coming weeks. Eating on a (extremely tight) budget means I like dishes that use those inexpensive in-season veggies, makes a ton, and is delicious to eat as leftovers. Ratatouille is the perfect dish.
This is a dish that requires a bit of prep. I mean, normally when a recipe tells me to do something as silly as peel the eggplant I laugh and say "no thanks". However, this was my first time making this classic so I did (almost) exactly as I was told and I do not regret it at all. It is delicious, rich, smooth and will make lovers out of any vegetable hater you serve it too. Promise. Its really a very simple dish, all the slicing and basting aside, and the flavor of all the vegetables come together in a way that is simply sublime. Oh, and guess how much this cost? Just guess. A whopping 3 euros.
I found this to be a very forgiving and flexible recipe. You can make several hours or a day ahead, and while its fun to get everything just right - if you slice the veggies different, or under cook the zucchini (like I did) - well, it still tastes just as good (no food snobbery around here). Now that I have made it once, I will have fun playing with different ingredients and flavors as I try this again and again (oh, yes, this will be eaten many more times at this house).
We enjoyed plain as a main course with a glass of wine and some nice music on the patio while fantasizing about our vacation in the South of France; but I can imagine cooking this up on a Saturday afternoon with the fam, watching the Pixar classic by the same name, and eating with some roast lamb, or even tossed in couscous, pasta or eaten cold on sandwiches.
based on this recipe by Julia Child
1/2 pound eggplant
1/2 pound zucchini, trimmed
1 8-ounce onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
2 green bell peppers, thinly sliced into strips
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1 pound firm but ripe tomatoes, seeded, cut into thick strips
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1 or 2 tablespoons thyme
Peel eggplant; cut lengthwise into slices, then cut into 3-inch-long, 1-inch-wide strips. Cut zucchini into same size strips. Place vegetables in a separate bowl or colander; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Let stand 30 minutes. Drain; dry with paper towels.
Preheat oven to 425 F / 204 C. In a small shallow pan, toss eggplant with a bit of olive oil and roast in oven until starting to brown - around 10 minutes. Meanwhile, working in batches, add zucchini to a heated skillet with olive oil; sauté until light golden, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to plate; reserve.
Add a bit more oil to skillet; heat over medium heat. Add onion and peppers; sauté until just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
Place tomato strips atop onion-pepper mixture in skillet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover skillet; cook over low heat until tomatoes begin to juice, about 5 minutes. Uncover; baste vegetables in skillet with juices. Boil until juices are almost evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes.
Transfer 1/3 of onion-pepper-tomato mixture to 2 1/2-quart pot; sprinkle with a bit of the parsley, basil and thyme. Top with half of eggplant and half of zucchini, then remaining onion-pepper-tomato mixture; sprinkle with herbs. Layer remaining eggplant and zucchini over; sprinkle with a bit more of the herbs. Cover; simmer over low heat 10 minutes.
Uncover; tilt pot and baste with accumulated juices. Pour a bit of red wine over the whole pot (not too much - a glug or two). Increase heat to medium; simmer uncovered, basting several times with pan juices until only 2 to 3 tablespoons juices remain in pot, watching closely to avoid scorching, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes longer (I had a lot of juice and this phase took awhile). Season with salt and pepper.
Monday, September 7, 2009
However, I have been committed to make more things from scratch whether or not a mix is available - especially things that have such a short list of ingredients that are all part of my regular pantry. A little while back I visited the Lindt Chocolate museum, followed by a (very long) visit to the museum gift shop. It was full of every kind of amazing chocolate product you can think of and the largest selection of high-cacao-percentage bars and powders I have ever seen. It was glorious. I picked up some amazing Cocoa made from fair-trade South American beans and I knew right then and there the first thing I made with it would be brownies.
I really did my research. I must have read every brownie recipe known to woman, and when it came time to make them my chocolate-loving instincts really kicked in. I knew I wanted moist fudge like brownies that were so chocolaty only a true chocoholic would appreciate them. Be warned - I really think I succeeded.
These Brownies have a perfect flaky top crust, get the perfect amount of crunchy on the edges, and have a deep, dark, and rich chocolate flavor (enhanced by a shot of espresso). Little bursts of milk chocolate from the chips are just the bonus that will put you over the edge into chocolate bliss. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and any guests might never leave.
Double Chocolate Espresso Brownies
120 g Butter (roughly 8 1/2 tbs)
1 cup Sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
handful milk chocolate chips
3 1/2 Tbs good Cocoa Powder (preferably Broma process NOT dutch process - it has a more intense chocolate flavor)
about 10 g semi-sweet chocolate (a small chunk or two of semi-sweet baking chocolate)
1 shot of espresso*
In a double boiler (you can just use a pyrex bowl over a small sauce pan) over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the cocoa powder and semi-sweet chocolate and espresso and stir until well combined. Remove from heat.
Place chocolate in a mixing bowl (can use same bowl as you used to melt it in - just let it cool down a bit) and stir in sugar until well combined and dissolved. Add vanilla and eggs and quickly whisk until all well combined. Fold in flour and salt.
Pour into a buttered/floured 8 in square pan (or round). Sprinkle milk chocolate chips over the batter so they kind of float on top. Bake at 325 F / 163 C in a Convection oven for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (if using a convention oven you will probably need to cook for around 20 percent longer).
Let cool in pan on a wire rack (so the bottom of the pan cools as well) for around 20 minutes or so before cutting. Enjoy sprinkled with powdered sugar or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream :)
* If you don't have espresso easily available - use a dark brewed coffee (no need for fancy machines though - I make my espresso on the stove top in one of these). It doesn't add a strong espresso flavor - just a hint that enhances the darkness of the cocoa. But don't worry - you can still enjoy these brownies if you simply leave the espresso out.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Like most people, we are always trying to eat on a budget. Eating on a budget can sometimes feel limiting and boring - but it definitely doesn't have to. Really, when you try to eat real food made from scratch - most food doesn't actually cost that much (especially if you try to use meat as a condiment instead of the main event - or hey, maybe even not at all). Some ingredients are a real bargain - and when you dress them up with herbs, spices and in-season vegetables they can offer endless variety and deeply satisfying meals.
Lentils are one of those wonderful ingredients. A little bit goes a really long way and like pasta and rice, they can serve as a backdrop for almost anything while still being an integral part of the dish. I think all total (not including the things already in my pantry like Olive Oil and Balsamic vinegar and spices) this soup cost a total of around 3 euros and gave us 4 very large main-course servings.
French Lentil Soup
1 cup French Lentils (or Masoor lentils - in fact I often find Masoor lentils labeled as French lentils here; even though they are different colors they have similar properties when cooked. Here is a good primer on different kinds of lentils - with pictures.)
4 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups water
2 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
5 gloves garlic, pressed or minced
2 tomatoes, chopped (between 1/2 to 1 cup)
1/2 eggplant, diced (about 1 1/2 cups) and drizzled with lemon juice
1 1/2 tbs dried herbs de Provence (thyme, basil, savory, rosemary, lavender, fennel if you have fresh)
salt and pepper
3 tbs olive oil
2 dried bay leaves
4 tbs (roughly - start there and add to taste) balsamic vinegar
Juice from 1/2 lemon ( a few tbs)
Heat olive oil in the bottom of a heavy soup pot (4 to 5 qt) over moderately high heat. Add chopped onion, season with salt, and saute until starting to turn golden - around 5 minutes. Add eggplant and carrots and garlic and herbs and toss in oil. Saute another 3 to 4 minutes or until eggplant is starting to soften.
Add tomatoes and lemon juice and saute another minute or so more. Add lentils and stir into the oil and veggies. Add veggie broth, water, bay leaves and balsamic vinegar. Taste the broth and season as needed with salt and fresh ground black pepper (I did around 6 turns on the grinder). Bring to a boil then reduce heat slightly and let simmer, uncovered until soup thickens and lentils have softened - around 30 minutes.
Serve warm with some crusty bread and good wine :)
Friday, September 4, 2009
Spreewald is really famous for one thing - its pickles. A few weeks ago we went down there to go canoeing and much to my delight the little town we visited was having a festival (though not to my delight was the fact that I realized I had no memory card in my camera). Lining the street were little stands with people selling locally brewed beer, home grown veggies, smoked fish and of course - Pickles. And these pickles really were amazing! My absolute favorite were the Senfgurke - mustard pickles - spicy and sweet and made with big pieces of ripe cucumber. The flavor of them reminded me so much of the sweet refrigerator pickles my Grandma Neldeen used to make us from the cucumbers in her garden in Oklahoma.
They are super quick to make and so delicious. They are just slightly sweet, and they keep their crunch. You could also include onion in these, as is traditional with Senfgurke (those are also usually peeled cucumber which you could do as well). If you don't have any fresh dill, simply leave it out and maybe include a bay leaf or two in the jar instead. They will keep for quite a while in the refrigerator (they will get eaten too fast to even worry about it) but this recipe is not meant for canning. They make excellent additions to antipasti platters or are just a great snack to keep in the fridge. I only wish I would have been enjoying these all summer! Whatever will I do when all the cucumbers from this season are gone?
Quick & Easy Refrigerator Pickles (Senfgurke)
Cucumber, sliced medium thin (one big cucumber should do it)
2 or 3 tbs mustard seeds
1 tbs chopped fresh dill
1 cup distilled white vinegar
about 3/4 cup water
4 tbs sugar
coarsely ground black pepper (a few teaspoons worth)
Dump about 2/3 of the mustard seeds in the bottom of a decent sized jar. Take the rest of the seeds and crush them just slightly using a mortar and pestle (you don't need to turn them to powder).
In a microwave safe bowl, combine the water, vinegar, crushed mustard seeds, chopped dill and ground black pepper. Add sugar and microwave for about 1 or 2 minutes to help sugar dissolve and flavors combine.
Tightly pack the cucumber slices into the jar. Pour the vinegar mixture over them. Let sit uncovered for a few hours (preferably 24) before serving or storing in refrigerator.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
But for someone reason I cannot even look at a cucumber without a scene from The Importance of Being Earnest playing in my head and laughing out loud (just skip ahead to 1:48). What can I say, I am a geek for Oscar Wilde (fun fact: when I was a kid my sister played Lady Bracknell in this play and in the final night changed it to Dime bar sandwiches, which I thought was just too funny).
The fact is, cucumber sandwiches are quite fantastic. The traditional variety are dainty little things made with soft white bread, butter and paper-thin sliced English cucumber. I kicked it up slightly (and made it ever so slightly better for you) with a dill cream cheese spread and whole wheat bread instead of white. They make great snacks or hors d'oeuvres (even a light lunch) and of course are just delightful with Afternoon Tea. I wish I hosted things like book clubs just so I had an excuse to fill a tray with them.
I enjoyed them instead with a homemade Mocha Frappuccino. I always have extra espresso in the mornings (because I cannot start my day without a Latte Macchiato). I simply freeze it in ziploc bag or ice trays and when I want an afternoon treat I break off a cube or two of it into the blender with some ice, milk and chocolate or caramel syrup - and voila - I just saved myself five bucks. My blender isn't the greatest so mine didn't quite have the consistency of the Starbucks variety (maybe you are lucky enough to have a nice blender), but they taste just as good and would make great after-school treats or even dessert.
makes 4 triangles or about 1 or 2 servings...increase the amounts as needed
1/4 cucumber, sliced medium thin, or around 1 cm thick (I recommend using a food processor or mandolin. Also cucumbers vary in size obviously - you need around 16 slices of cucumber)
3 tbs white wine vinegar
2 slices whole wheat sandwich bread, crusts removed (see photos above. Use a nice sharp knife and maybe a straight edge to make even squares)
about 1/4 cup low-fat cream cheese
2 tbs chopped fresh dill
coarsely ground black pepper
few pinches of sea salt
Place the cucumbers in a bowl and pour the vinegar over the top of them. Sprinkle with some salt and set aside for 10 or 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare your bread slices and the cream cheese spread. In a small bowl combine the cream cheese with the dill, a pinch of salt, and a few turns of black pepper. Stir to combine and make it a soft, spreadable consistency (if you are making a lot of these, you could make this in the food processor or stand mixer).
Lay out your slices of bread and spread the cream cheese mixture over the top of them (just a nice thin coating or the cream cheese over powers the cucumbers who are the star of this show).
Place your cucumber slices on a paper towel, place another paper towel over the top of them and press down slightly to drain the excess liquid off the slices. You don't want the sandwiches getting soggy.
Place 5 slices of cucumber on each slice of bread. Bring the sides together and press down so the 2 sides stick together nicely (but don't squish the sandwich!). Cut in half diagonally to make little triangles and serve (you could even cut again to make 4 triangles out of each sandwich instead of 2, depending on how you are serving them).
Save-Your-Money Homemade Frappuccino's
makes 1 very large or up to 4 small servings
about 2 shots espresso, frozen
around 1/2 cup milk
2 handfuls ice cubes ( I know - so exact...just taste and add ice or milk or coffee as necessary)
Heavy Cream, whipped (about 1 cup's worth, after its whipped)
Sweetened syrup of your choosing - chocolate, caramel etc (or you can use a dash vanilla extract and a few tbs sugar as well).
Put syrup, then frozen espresso, then ice in the blender. Pour milk over and blend until ice is mostly broken up. Add in a couple of spoonfuls of whipped cream. Continue blending until well mixed tasting and adding things as necessary.
Divide into glasses and top with a dollop of whipped cream and drizzle with syrup or sprinkle with chocolate or cinnamon sugar.
So easy right?