Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cranapple-Oatmeal Cookies

Making cookies for an afternoon meeting at the office led me to recipes with a bit of heft and fuel, not just my preferred sweet and chocolate, or crispy and delicate. A cookie issue of Fine Cooking had this cranberry oatmeal cookie with walnuts and honey, which I modified into the version below.

I have been using some whole-wheat flour that has negatively impacted the texture of some of my baked goods. But I thought that with a few adjustments in advance, I could compensate for it, and that it would actually be really the right thing for these snack cookies.

My experiences so far with it had been that it was a bit tougher, drier, and grainier. I thought it needed more liquid to tenderize, and maybe more egg to add structure. I decided to add applesauce to the recipe both for flavor and moisture. I also let the dough sit overnight in the fridge, which is something I learned from a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. The resting allows the moisture to distribute evenly among the ingredients and "soak in" to the flour better so that the cookies bake more evenly and have a more consistent texture.

The resulting cookies had excellent flavor, with a pleasant crispy texture around the edges, and a soft, apple-y center. But they were a bit crumbly, and the only thing I think might address this is to add another egg, or part of an egg, but I don't want to sacrifice the crispiness; I worry that they would become too cakey. If any readers want to try with a second egg and let me know how it goes, I'd appreciate it! Meanwhile, as long as these don't have to pack in your day-pack for the hiking trail, they are delicious, and maybe even a bit nutritious!

Cranapple-Oatmeal Cookies
makes about 35 2-inch cookies, recipe can easily be doubled
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (or garam masala, or nutmeg/allspice blend)
1 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats (my oats are large, so I like to grind-up about 1/2 of them in the food processor or a coffee grinder to make more of a flour. You get the great oatey flavor but a finer-grained cookie less like granola.)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup applesauce
1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup dried cranberries
optional: 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or 1/2 cup chocolate chips (white or dark)

Grind oats, and mix with flour, soda, salt, and spice.

In stand mixer, beat butter with sugars until fluffy and light. Beat in egg, then applesauce, syrup and extract until well-mixed. Blend in flour mixture until completely incorporated. Stir in cranberries and any optional ingredients. Cover bowl tightly and allow to rest in refrigerator overnight.

Preheat oven to 350. Drop tablespoons of dough onto cookie sheet, allow room to spread. Bake for 10 minutes in middle rack of oven. Remove when edges are golden but tops are still soft, but set. Allow to cool on sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Cookies

I had been desperate for cookies for about a week, and kept eating other junk trying to satisfy the craving, which just never works. Because I had cracked into some cream cheese and had an odd amount of a brick in the fridge, I thought I'd try to find a cookie to use it in, and decided on chocolate chip.

This recipe gives an interesting texture... like some of the grocery store cookies that have an almost unbaked texture in the middle and even the crispy edges are still a bit "spongy" textured. I happened to really like them, but they won't be for everyone, so go in with full disclosure. An extra sprinkling of salt before baking really finishes them well.

Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from BakingBlonde
6 oz cream cheese, softened 
10 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups plus all purpose flour
2 3.5 ounce bars Lindt salted dark chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)

2 tablespoons whiskey
kosher salt

Beat together cream cheese and butter. Mix in sugars. Mix in vanilla. Whisk together flour, bakind soda, and salt, then stir into batter. Stir in chocolate chips and whisky. Chill dough overnight (up to 3 days).

Preheat oven to 375. Drop large spoonsfuls of dough at least 1 1/2 inches apart on baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Bake for 10-12 minutes; cookies will not brown very much. Cool one minute on cookie sheet, then transfer to a rack to finish cooling.

Your first sheet might be a test to figure out the right cooking time... you should let a cookie cool enough to eat it and make sure it is cooked all the way to your liking.

Even if not everyone ends up loving these, lamb seemed to enjoy them...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Beet Loaf and Sorrykraut

A local celebrity chef is a periodic guest on KUOW, our public radio station, and about every two months, he does a "What's-in-the-fridge" show. Basically, callers to the show say a couple of ingredients that they have around, and the chef explains a recipe they can use them in for dinner.

It's almost a game, but it can be quite successful in helping create a focus on some core, effective techniques and flavors. I have long used it as a guide in helping me branch into new recipes and ingredients. Ten years ago, I would type two virtually random ingredient into the search box on epicurious, and just scroll through to see what would come up. Sometimes I had the ingredients on hand, other times, I was just looking for new recipes to store in my file.

Another iteration of the game is Clean-out-the-fridge, which is what I decided to play in crafting this turkey meatloaf. But the game actually started a few weeks previously, when I began fermenting cabbage in our basement for homemade sauerkraut.

Will and I have long been intrigued - if not a little intimidated - by the Juniper and Mustard Sauerkraut recipe in Tony Hill's Spice Encyclopedia. Good sauerkraut can be so uniquely delicious, and so unexpected from its humble cabbage roots. But fermenting a vegetable in a towel-covered crock for weeks has long been outside my comfort zone.  I finally decided to take the plunge and give it a try, and sadly have no good news to report. I'll spare you (and me of reliving it) the details, but basically in the first few days, I don't think there was enough liquid and the cabbage oxidized. Then, my brine was just way too salty so even though the cabbage did not become moldy, it also didn't really ferment, it just pickled in super-salty brine. I might give it a try again, but before I do, I'd love more clarification on whether sauerkraut means pickled cabbage or if it means fermented cabbage. Or maybe it means both? Or maybe it means either? And in the meantime, this is good news for the neighborhood German pub where Will and I are planning to satisfy our kraut cravings.

Meanwhile, back to the beet loaf.  Knowing that kraut would soon be upon us, I started thinking what I wanted to serve with it. Sure, I could pick up some brats at the grocery store, but maybe someone more interesting and more healthful was an option? I had some ground turkey in the freezer, and bought a beet as a colorful yet still wintery, earthy, northern-European accompaniment. In my opinion, ground turkey makes good tacos, and can be successfully incorporated into a burger (my favorite is with a cup of mashed blueberries!) Because it's own flavor is so mild, and also because the package I had was very lean, I decided to moisten it up and flavor it up with everything I had.

Beet Loaf
1.25 pounds ground turkey
1/2 large onion
1 medium carrot

1 medium beet (8 oz)
2 cloves garlic
1 large radish
1 large mushroom
2 slices wheat sandwich bread
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds

Preheat oven to 375. Grind bread in food processor. Remove bread, and dice onion, radish, and mushroom with the same blade. Remove to a bowl with bread crumbs and turkey. Shred carrot and beet using shred wheel of food processor. Combine with remaining ingredients and turkey mixture until well-combined. Pack into 9x5 loaf pan and bake until 160 degrees in the center (this will depend on the starting temperature of your ingredients, but expect about 75 minutes.)

Slice and serve. Would be good with sauerkraut.

This recipe is very forgiving, so use whatever you have or like. But it wouldn't be right for me not to make a special pluf for the beet. Not only did it give a (slightly disconcerting) colorful hue to the finished dish, it really made for a sweet, earthy base that made ketchup and barbeque sauce condiments totally unnecessary. And you gotta love that you can call this a meat-loaf or a beet-loaf and both are true!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Spring Vegetables with Summer Herbs

Easter at our house means chocolate eggs and wide-spread validation for the lamb decorations that perenially crop up. As you can imagine from the name of this blog, the lambs are a plenty in my home, and they aren't trotted off to slaughter for Easter. Nevertheless, the lambs that so many other household prepare inspire many recipes in the media, mint frequently topping the list. All this mint-in-my-mind left me yearning for a sprig from our typically robust plant. However, it's far too early in Seattle for mint in April, as the patch in our garden which mere months from now we will be hacking down with a machete is still but a muddy mound of bare twigs.

But who was that genius last summer that, as the bounty came indoors to simmer into syrup for juleps, siphoned off an ice-cube-trayful for the freezer?? Why, it was The Lamb! The little white wooly who plays dumb but wisely realizes that if we get our mint-fix with bourbon and carrots, we won't have an appetite for lamb chops!

Wok-Seared Carrots with Orange-Mint Glaze
serves 4
4 medium carrots, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch rounds
1/2-1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper
2-3 teaspoons mint syrup
1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Heat oil over medium high heat. Add carrots and stir to coat. Cook, tossing periodically, about 3 minutes, until starting to discolor around the edges; do not allow to burn. Season with salt and pepper and continue cooking and stirring over medium heat about 3 minutes more, or until desired tenderness. Pour 2 teaspoons mint syrup down side of pan and toss with carrots to glaze, adding additional if needed to coat. Sprinkle with orange zest and serve warm.

And in another indication that either Seattle is much too far north, or that they can grow anything anytime in California, the market had tender, straight asparagus and gorgeous fresh basil wafting to my noise like the siren to Odysseus's ship. I was weak and had no destination, so easily succumbed. The result was neither shipwreak nor drowning: this most enticing salad. Sadly, Will was not wowed by it. But I was!

Asparagus-Basil Salad
Serves 6
1 pound asparagus
2-3 8-inch stalks fresh basil
1/4 fresh lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons shaved paremsan
4 teaspoons toasted pine nuts

Steam asparagus just to take off the rawness, but still crunchy - 2-3 minutes. Plunge into an ice-water bath to stop cooking and cool asparagus. Squeeze lemon over drained asparagus and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and toss to coat. Right before serving, chiffonade the basil or tear into small pieces, and toss with salad. (Basil starts to discolor soon after leaves are removed from stem.) Drizzle with additional olive oil if desired, and sprinkle with pine nuts and cheese.

I served these as sides to some chile-braised beef short ribs and homemade corn bread for my mother-in-law's birthday. The braising liquid for the short ribs was amazing. After the ribs slow-cooked in it for 8 hours, what didn't get served and mopped up with cornbread I used later in the week to slow-cook a pork roast! This recipe was originally prepared for us by our friend Anna, who learned it in a cooking class at Delanceys.

Chile-Braised Short Ribs
serves 8 (with plenty of left-over sauce for another round of braising)
1 and 1/4 ounces dried ancho chiles (3 to 4 medium)

2 cups boiling hot water
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped canned chipotles in adobo plus 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons molasses (not robust or blackstrap)

2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 whole cloves
2 and 1/3 cups cold water, divided
5 pounds beef short ribs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 pound sliced bacon, chopped
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
1 bunch cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Wipe anchos clean, then stem and seed. Discard ribs and tear anchos into pieces. Soak anchos in boiling-hot water until softened, about 20 minutes. Transfer anchos to a blender or food processor, reserving soaking liquid. Puree anchos with onion, garlic, chipotles with sauce, tomato paste, molasses, brown sugar, salt, cumin, cloves, and 1/3 cup of water.

Pat ribs dry and season with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Heat oil in a wide 6 to 8 quart heavy pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Brown ribs in batches, about 6 minutes per batch. Transfer as browned to a platter (or into crock of slow cooker). Discard fat from pot.

Preheat oven to 300 degree F with rack in middle (not necessary if cooking in slow cooker). Cook bacon in pot over medium heat until browned, then transfer with a slotted spoon to platter. Stir chile puree into fat in pot (it may spatter). Cook, stirring frequently, 6 minutes. Stir in reserved chile-soaking liquid, remaining 2 cups of water, and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil.

Return ribs and bacon to a pot and braise, covered, in oven until ribs are very tender, 4 to 4 and 1/2 hours (or add sauce to crock and cook on low heat of slow cooker for 6-8 hours).

Remove the ribs from the pan and skim the fat from the sauce. Adjust the seasoning and thickness as desired. Return the ribs to the finished sauce and garnish with cilantro before serving.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Strawberry Cream Cheese Cake

Something about puffy clouds of meringue seem completely like Spring. Maybe it's because they imitate light cumulo-nimbus against a clear blue sky. Perhaps its because the snow-white backdrop provides a perfectly clear canvas for pastel food coloring. Or it could just be that the clean, airy, melt-away sweetness is how many of us feel in Spring when a vibrant ray of sun cuts through the damp, dreary, drizzle of Winter. Whatever it is, planning a cake for my mother-in-law's April birthday had me headed straight down the path of whipped meringue frosting.

In actuality, I've never been a huge fan of meringue frosting - that sticky, ultra-sweet dollop that my best friend's mom called "7-minute frosting" because that's how long you had to stand there beating it. But, I saw a recipe for it that I wanted to try. And it's one of many common pairings with devil's food cake, which I've also never been a huge fan of, and never made, but sort of think I should. The more I thought about it, the more fun I thought I would have decorating a deep bitter-dark chocolate cake slathered in tangy-sweet vanilla meringue. A towering masterpiece of four cake layers bursting with pink, lavender, and cyan-tinged fillings would create a slice of cake to rival the best striped Easter egg. That was the reasoning behind why I decided to make my mother-in-law a Devil's food cake for her birthday. On further reflection, Will and I decided that my original intentions could leave room for misinterpretation, and coupled with follow-up from the birthday girl for a special cake that was "anything but chocolate," my devil's food days will have to wait.

What with my true motivations being the pastel hues of frosting, I decided to turn away from pink-dyed meringue and use something that is naturally pastel. Lemon jumped first to mind, but I'd done that for her last year with a Daffodil Cake. Next up: pink. Strawberries. And when the grocery store flyer came the next day with a special on organic strawberries, I knew I was in business.

I've layered strawberries inside cake layers before, and they are pretty, and delicious, but it can be messy to cut nice slices, and they don't stay fresh for long. I thought it would be fun instead to marble strawberry directly into the cake. I searched extensively for a cream cheese batter that I could marble, but I didn't want a cheese cake per se, and while I found a few, there seemed too many opportunities for it to turn out other than my expectations. After [way too much] thought, I finally decided to marble strawberry into a standby recipe for vanilla cake, and incorporate the cream cheese via the frosting.

Vanilla-Strawberry Swirl Cake
based on Dorie Greenspan's "Perfect Party Cake"
This batter seems thin to me, but I love the creamy white color. If you don't have clear vanilla, it will alter the color of the cake.

2 1/2 cups cake flour (250 grams, or 2 1/4 cups all-purpose)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (whole) milk
4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon clear vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup strawberry puree

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 2 8" round pans (line with parchment if they do not have removeable bottoms.) Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine milk, egg whites, and vanilla. Beat butter and sugar for three minutes with a stand mixture. Add flour in three additions, alternating with two additions of milk. Divide all but about 1/3 cup of batter evenly between both pans. Stir strawberry puree into remaining batter and drop spoonfuls over top of white batter in each pan. Swirl with a skewer or butter knife to make a marbled pattern. Bake about 30 minutes until golden and tester comes out clean. Cool in pans 15 minutes, then invert and cool completely.

Although my cakes had a gorgeous crust, the swirling visible on the tops of the layers in the photo below didn't penetrate the entire layer. I will swirl it more agressively next time, or maybe use a method more like the zebra cake. Nevertheless, the strawberry flavor was perfectly pronounced, tasting fresh and fruity but not overwhelming. These cake layers do make for dense, easy-to-serve slices, and the strawberries made it extra (but not overly) moist.

Cream cheese frosting is pretty sweet, so I didn't want to overwhelm the lovely fruit flavor of the strawberries. This frosting was also relatively thin; I wanted a higher cake with a noticeable filling between the layers. So I opted for lightly sweetened plain whipped cream between the cake. I frosted overall with the strawberry cream cheese frosting, and decorated with plain cream cheese frosting for a contrast in color.

Strawberry Puree
One pound fresh ripe strawberries, hulled.
Wash berries and pat dry, then slice in half or quarters, trimming any hard, seedy ends. Puree with immersion blender.

Cream cheese frosting
8 oz cream cheese (neufchatel)
5 oz butter
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup strawberry puree

Strawberry Sauce
Whatever strawberry puree is remaining, bring to a simmer with 2 tablespoons sugar and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon orange liquer. Drizzle on plate before serving.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Carrot Bread

For a morning meeting at the office, rather than picking-up some scones at Starbucks along with the coffee, I volunteered to bring some breakfast baked goods. When I didn't get home until 7 p.m. the night before, I knew I needed something quick, using ingredients already on-hand. In our house, that means bananas and carrots. So many of those browned bananas end up as bread, I decided to go with carrot for a bit of a change.

I came across the ecurry blog last week via another of my favorite sites - A Life of Spice. It was linked through a posting for chocolate chicken curry, but I immediately saw dozens of posts I wanted to explore more deeply. Once I got the idea to make carrot bread, I checked ecurry first, just in case, and much to my delight, she had a carrot bread recipe that sounded like exactly what I had in mind.

I knew right away that I wanted to make some changes; namely to skip the coconut. I wasn't sure if the freshly grated coconut that her recipe calls for would contribute moisture to the recipe that needed to be included, and I waffled on whether or not to try and compensate, but ultimately I decided to just leave it out entirely. She also calls for pureed orange, which I went to the trouble of making, but then decided at the last minute to leave out as well. She says to stir it in as the final ingredient, but my batter looked like just the right consistency. I frequently seem to have trouble with quick breads not baking throughevenly in the center, so while I was excited by the flavor profile of a carrot-orange bread, I trusted my instincts. It was the right choice, because the flavor of the bread was moist and spiced, and I don't know if the orange would have competed with some of that. Even if it hadn't, I'm quite certain that it would have extended my baking time considerably, and perhaps resulted in a burnt bottom and dry top before finishing through the middle.

I was so happy with the final texture and flavor of the bread, but I think orange-carrot is a really neat idea and would like to try it again, maybe with fewer carrots to balance out the moisture issue. An orange glaze is also a good idea, but I didn't do that this time because it gets too sticky transporting to work and eating off napkins during a meeting.

Here is the recipe as I actually made it, and will repeat:

Carrot Quick Bread
makes two 8.5x4.5" loaves
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
20 turns (in the pepper mill) of freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs
scant 1/2 cup vegetable oil

scant 1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 1/2 cups grated carrots (6 medium) - I used the medium shred wheel of my food processor

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour two 8.5 x 4.5" loaf pans.

Combine the first 8 ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and the spices and pepper) in a large bowl.
Whisk/beat oil and sugar until combined and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add one egg at a time and whisk them in until creamy and light colored. Add the vanilla extract. Add the grated ginger and carrots and stir them in.
Add about 1/3 or the flour mix in to the egg-oil-sugar mix and beat until combine. Add the rest of the flour in 2 more shifts and whisk/beat until combined and smooth.
Bake for about 1 hour 10 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cool cake in the pan in a cooling back.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

More Classic Sandwich Bread

But it is NOT sandwich bread! This recipe makes a little loaf like a quick bread, that slices up perfect for toasting, but not for stuffing!