Sunday, December 30, 2012

Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce, Ricotta, and Mozzarella

Now that we are finished with cookies, cakes, and holiday goodies (at least for a while), I offer you a tasty dinner option to try in the new year.  I have been trying to find a baked pasta that I like.  I tried several recipes, but none fit the bill.  I wanted some ricotta for creaminess, but too much of it turns me off.  I also wanted something with a little natural sweetness and depth of flavor from homemade tomato sauce, but I didn't want to spend all day on one.  So, I fiddled around until I found something that worked for me.  Here is the finished product. 

This baked ziti is comprised of three main components other than the pasta.  A ricotta mixture makes it creamy, a quick homemade marinara with ground beef and red wine adds depth of flavor and that hint of sweetness I was looking for, and cubes of mozzarella baked within the dish gives you ooey, gooey cheesiness.  Both the ricotta mixture and the sauce can be made up to two days in advance making this an easy dish to assemble in parts and then bake when you want.  The sauce can also be frozen and thawed when needed.

One piece of advice...since the ricotta mixture and mozzarella cubes are added first, and the sauce is then mixed in, try not to overmix the pasta once you add the sauce.  It is good to have a swirled effect so that you get some bites with more ricotta and some with more sauce rather than having a well mixed pink combo throughout.     

Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce, Ricotta, and Mozzarella- serves 6

For the Meat Sauce: 
¾ pound lean ground beef
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
6 basil leaves, chiffonade
½ onion, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
½ red wine
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp olive oil

For the Ricotta Mixture:
1 cup ricotta cheese
¾ cup grated pecorino romano
6 basil leaves, chiffonade
generous pinch of grated nutmeg
1 egg yolk
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

1 pound ziti
½ pound mozzarella, cut into small cubes
½ cup grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 

In a skillet, heat the olive oil for the sauce.  Add the onion and cook 5 minutes until tender.  Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more.  Brown the ground beef in the skillet with the onions and garlic until cooked through.  Add the wine and cook 5 minutes until the liquid has reduced by half.  Pour in the can of crushed tomatoes along with the salt, pepper, sugar, and basil.  Cook the sauce 20 minutes until thickened. 

While the sauce cooks, boil your pasta.  Once al dente, drain and set aside until the sauce is ready. 

In a large bowl, mix all the ricotta mixture ingredients.  Once the pasta is cooked, pour the pasta and the mozzarella cubes into the bowl with the ricotta mixture and mix gently.  Pour the meat sauce over the pasta and mix briefly.  Pour the pasta into a 9 x 13 baking dish.  Sprinkle the top with the parmesan and bake 20 minutes until brown and bubbly.  Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving.   

Printable Version

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Liege Waffles with Speculoos Spread

The waffle is a beautiful thing.  I just discovered this last year on a holiday trip to New York.  We were shopping at the holiday markets which we love to do at Christmas and wanted a little snack.  The Wafels and Dinges truck looked appealing to the hubby, but I was not so sure.  Waffles in my experience were just not so great which is, in large part, due to the fact that waffle and Eggo had been synonyms to me up to that point.  I am a bit of a sucker for dessert though, and when he returned with a warm, golden brown waffle topped with spekuloos (also spelled speculoos) spread and whipped cream, I had to give it a try.  I took a bite, and suddenly my entire opinion of waffles was tranformed.  This was no Eggo waffle, my friends.  This was something delicious.  Crusty and sugary on the edges, thick, warm, and wonderfully brown.  I have since discovered that these waffles are not made with any ordinary batter.  They are Liege waffles created using a yeast batter made special by the addition of pearl sugar (that's where the crunchy, sugary crust comes from).  

The spread on the waffles was speculoos which tastes like gingerbread cookies or graham crackers ground into a paste.  I could eat it by the spoonful.  I won't, but I could.   

See those glistening edges?  That's from the crushed sugar cubes.
After this year's trip to New York and the reminder (by way of the first bite) that these waffles truly are spectacular, the hubby decided to do a little research on the batter.  He also ordered the spread online from Wafels and Dinges (although you can also purchase other brands of speculoos spread).  We even went out and purchased a Belgian waffle iron just for the occasion.  And oh, what an occasion it was.  A taste of the Big Apple at Christmas right there in our tiny kitchen.  Delicious!

So, let me tell you a little about this waffle dough.  It requires a little time since it needs to rise, but it is well worth it, and it is very simple to make.  You essentially activate your yeast with a little sugar and warm water, mix it with flour, cinnamon, eggs, and melted butter, and let it rise for about an hour.  At that point, you mix in pearl sugar.  Now, I could not find pearl sugar no matter where I went (and I live in a place where it's pretty easy to find unusual ingredients), so I had read that you could coarsely crush sugar cubes and mix those in at the end.  It worked beautifully.  They got nice and melty on the edges of the waffle, creating the desired crunchiness, and they formed little pockets of sugary goodness within.  So, if you can't find pearl sugar, I would advise this route. 

You can see the crushed sugar cubes in the batter.  You want to make sure you allow these waffles to brown enough so that you melt that sugar and create crunch. 
I wanted small waffles since they are so rich once topped with the spread, so I scooped 1/4 cup of the batter into the center of my waffle iron which, of course, did not fill the entire thing.  That was fine.  It gave me small, round waffles about 4 inches in diameter.  I then topped two of them with spekuloos spread, sliced banana, and whipped cream, and I am a little embarassed to admit that that was dinner.  But remember, it is Christmas, and I'm pretty sure that makes waffles topped with cookie spread okay. 

Liege Waffles- makes approximately 10 (4 inch) waffles
adapted ever so slightly from Food and Wine

  1. 1 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  2. 1 packet active dry yeast
  3. 1/3 cup lukewarm water
  4. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  5. 1/4 tsp salt
  6. 3 large eggs
  7. 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  8. 1 tsp cinnamon
  9. 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  10. 1 cup pearl sugar or coarsely crushed sugar cubes
In a small bowl, mix the sugar, yeast, and water.  Let stand 10 minutes until the yeast the mixture begins to foam.  Mix the flour, salt, and cinnamon in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Turn the mixer on to rotate the paddle to create a small well in the flour mixture.  Pour in the yeast mixture. Mix at medium speed to moisten. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing between each addition. Add the vanilla and mix.  With the mixer on low speed, slowly drizzle in the melted butter until incorporated.  The dough will be thick and very sticky. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the batter rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Stir in the pearl sugar or coarsely crushed sugar cubes.  Allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes.
Preheat a Belgian waffle iron and brushed with additional butter if desired. Scoop 1/4 cup of batter into center of waffle iron (may need to adjust the amount of dough depending on the type of waffle maker being used).  Cook the waffles according to the manufacturer's directions until they are golden and crisp which will take anywhere between 3 and 5 minutes (mine were perfect after 4).  Serve topped with spread of choice, syrup, fruit, and/or whipped cream.   

Printable Version

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cookie Swap

For some reason, this holiday season seems a little more hectic to me.  It may be that I have been more of a procrastinator (which is very unlike me) this year with things like shopping, but we have also had some problems with the computer which has prevented me from posting for a longer time span than usual.  In any event, I am back and wanted to share some pictures and a recipe from the cookie swap I hosted just a few days ago.  There were five of us total which was a good number, but you could certainly have more.  The more people attend, the more cookies you take home with you. 

In case I have never mentioned it before, my house is very small.  I like it that way.  Less to clean.  However, it is a little trickier when you have people over.  In this case, the cookie 'bar' was set up on a back counter just outside the kitchen so that everyone could gather around it easily, and I kept things very simple.  A homemade garland made of kraft paper, a small Christmas tree, cookie boxes, burlap, and canning jars (which had candles in them although they weren't lit in the pictures).  White platters and bowls displayed the assortment of cookies nicely.  And what great cookies they were!  From left, here is what we had...

Molasses Cookies-  these were soft and chewy with a sugary coating and just the right amount of molasses to flavor

Oreo Balls- Oreo cookie mixed with cream cheese and coated in white chocolate

Speculoos Buttons- lightly spiced, crisp cookies similar to gingerbread edged in sprinkles and glazed

Chocolate Walnut Cookies- crisp on the outside, soft on the inside with a taste reminiscent of a brownie

Snickers Filled Peanut Butter Cookies- peanut butter cookies formed and baked around a Snickers miniature candy

Each person at the swap made 5 dozen of one type of cookie and we divided them so that we each received a dozen of each.  A cookie swap is a perfect way to have your holiday treats without doing all the baking yourself.   

I leave you with two for the Speculoos Buttons I made from Bon Appetit and the other for Oreo Balls.  You can also make the Snickers cookies by simply mixing up a homemade or store-bought peanut butter cookie dough and rolling it in balls around a miniature Snickers candy before baking.  The cookies will spread out leaving the candy piece in the middle.  Yum!

Speculoos Buttons- makes about 90 cookies
from Dorie Greenspan for Bon Appetit

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mild-flavored (light) molasses
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg white
  • Sanding or other decorative sugar

  • 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • Sprinkles, colored sanding sugar, or dragées (optional)
Whisk first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl; set aside. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat butter in a medium bowl until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add both sugars and molasses; continue to beat until mixture is smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla; mix for 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low; add dry ingredients and mix to blend well.
Scrape dough from bowl and divide into thirds. Using your palms, roll each piece of dough into an 8-inch log. Wrap logs tightly in plastic or parchment paper and freeze for at least 3 hours. (For neater edges, remove logs from freezer after 1 hour and roll on counter.) DO AHEAD: Dough can be made up to 2 months ahead. Keep frozen.
Arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of oven; preheat to 375°. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Whisk egg white in a small bowl to loosen; lightly brush all over 1 log. Sprinkle with (or roll in) sanding sugar. Using a long, slender knife, slice off a sliver of dough from each end of log to make ends flat. Cut log into 1/4 inch-thick rounds. Transfer to 1 baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart; place in freezer while you cut the next log. (The cookies hold their shape better if you bake when dough is cold.) Repeat with remaining dough.
Bake 2 sheets of cookies, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 6 minutes, until tops are golden brown and centers are almost firm, 11-13 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool. Repeat with third sheet of cookies. DO AHEAD: Cookies can be baked 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
Mix powdered sugar and 7 teaspoons cold water in a large mixing bowl (glaze will be very thick). Spoon about 1/2 teaspoons glaze onto each button (alternatively, fill a resealable plastic bag with glaze and cut a small hole in 1 corner; pipe glaze in an even circle around edges of cookies, then fill). Decorate with sprinkles, colored sugar, or dragées, if desired. Let stand on rack at room temperature for at least 30 minutes for glaze to set. DO AHEAD: Cookies can be made 5 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
Oreo Balls
1 package Oreo cookies
8 oz cream cheese
1 bag white chocolate morsels
Grind the Oreos in a food processor.  Add the cream cheese and continue processing until well blended.  Roll the mixture into 1 inch balls and chill in refrigerator or freezer for 30 minutes. Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler and dip each ball into the chocolate using a toothpick or skewer.  Place on wax paper until the chocolate hardens.  Keep refrigerated while storing.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Nachos Grandes...As Supper or a Quick Nibble

Life is hectic, and if you are anything like me, dinner sometimes falls by the wayside because you are too tired or too short on time to spend any over the stove cooking.  Nachos Grandes can be a solution to that problem. With it only being the hubby and I here, this is a dish we have sometimes when we need a quick fix.  I know some people will say that nachos can't be a meal, but these really have everything you need to make a complete one, and you can customize them with other ingredients as well.  If you prefer not to eat them for supper, they make a great appetizer or quick nibble to serve when you have people over.  Either way, they are tasty and filling.

This recipe originally came from a great little cookbook, Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers. I have changed it to suit our tastes and what we usually have on hand, but really just about anything can go here.  If you can imagine it on a baked nacho then it should be right at home in this dish.  It's also a great way to use some of the things you preserve over the summer months like jalapenos, corn, and salsa.  One word of warning...the sour cream is baked with the nachos which means it sometimes separates a little in the oven making it looks slightly less appetizing.  I would suggest still baking it, though, as it tastes wonderful warm on the nachos and helps create a sort of saucy thing. 

Here is how I layer them up. 

Place corn tortilla chips (we use multi-grain) in the bottom and up the sides of a baking dish (I use a 9 x 9 but use a 9 x 13 if you want a thinner layer of nachos).  Mix a can of refried beans (you can use non-fat) with a tablespoon or so of water to thin them out enough to be spreadable.  Spoon and spread them on top of the chips in the dish.  Add some corn.  This really is a dish where you layer things until they look good to you so change the ingredient amounts to suit your tastes. 

Then layer on some diced tomatoes and pickled jalapeno slices. 
Sprinkle on some shredded cheese (most any kind will do but I usually go for either Monterrey Jack or Sharp Cheddar), and dollop some sour cream in spoonfuls over everything.  Bake it for a few minutes, and you'll be ready to dig in.  I serve salsa on the side, but you could also add the salsa to the nachos before baking. 
Nachos Grandes- serves 4
Remember, all of the ingredient amounts below are approximate. Use your judgement once you start layering everything together. The first set of ingredients are the ones on the nachos in the pictures, but underneath, I have listed other possible ingredients.
4 cups corn tortilla chips
1 15oz can refried beans mixed with a tablespoon or so of water (to thin them)
2 cups fresh corn kernels or frozen kernels, thawed and drained
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 cup pickled jalapeno slices
2 cups shredded cheese (I use either Monterrey Jack or Cheddar)
1/4 cup sour cream
Your favorite salsa, for serving alongside
Other Possible Ingredients:
1 tablespoon chopped green chiles or fresh jalapenos in place of the pickled
1/4 cup sliced olives
2 tablespoons scallions
1 tablespoon chopped pimiento
1/2-1 cup chopped zucchini or summer squash
Fresh chopped cilantro
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Layer the tortilla chips into the bottom and up the sides of a 9 x 9 (or 9 x 13 if you want a more shallow layer) baking dish.  Spread the beans over the chips.  Layer all other ingredients up to the salsa in the order listed on top of the beans.  Bake the nachos for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and the beans are hot.  Serve with salsa on the side. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Freezing Pie Crusts

Okay, I know that Thanksgiving was last week and most people want cleansing food right now, not pie, but I have to share the most ridiculously logical and yet unthought-of-by-me approach to pie crusts.  Frozen crusts.  So simple, I can't believe it never crossed my mind before now.  I mean, I have made and frozen disks of pie dough which are easily thawed and rolled accordingly, but I never (call me crazy...I know!) thought to actually roll it out, place it in a pie plate with pretty fluted edges, and freeze it.  It makes pie so easy! 

So, even though Thanksgiving has passed, there are more holidays just around the corner, and you can never be too prepared for homemade pie.  Whip up a double batch of your favorite pie dough or use my favorite all-butter dough, and get it ready ahead of time.  You won't regret it. 

To freeze the crusts, simply chill your dough as you normally would.  Then roll it out and place it in aluminum pie pans (or in your good pie pans if you don't mind freezing them).  Flute the edges as desired, and stack the crusts with wax paper in between each.  Put the stack in a plastic bag or wrap in wax paper and aluminum foil and freeze.  When you need one, just remove it from the bag and bake from frozen just as you would a store-bought crust. 

FYI...the pie in the pictures is Toffee Pecan Pie from Martha Stewart (very likely the best pecan pie recipe you will ever try...seriously!). 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What's For Thanksgiving Dinner?

As I mentioned in my last post, I will be having a small Thanksgiving this year.  Very small, in fact.  Since both of our families live out of town, and my husband's family will be out of state for the holiday, we will be doing Thanksgiving just the two of us.  That means a very scaled back, yet equally yummy holiday dinner.  We did want to make enough for leftovers, though, because really, isn't that the best part of Thanksgiving?

So, we will be having the basics...a small roasted turkey breast, gravy, some stuffing, a veg, and dessert.  As I sat down to try to decide which recipes to use, I thought it would be helpful to offer up some ideas for Thanksgiving.  The following are dishes that will fit perfectly into any holiday dinner, and most of them are easy to prepare.  So, if you are a procrastinator (like me) and are still trying to figure out what to make, check these out.  They make excellent dinner choices and leftovers for the long weekend of football watching, shopping, Christmas tree searching, and decorating that follow the big day. 

Pickled Beet Salad with Walnuts and Fried Goat Cheese
Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Spicy Pecans and Cider Vinaigrette


Aunt Lynn's Sweet Potato Casserole
Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Apples with Honey Butter Glaze
Roasted Turnips with Sorghum Syrup
Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Applesauce Muffins with Cream Cheese Frosting
Brown Butter Pumpkin Cake
Mini Apple Pies with Spiced Apples
Toffee Pecan Pie

Sauces and Pickled Goodies:
Cranberry Sauce with Apples and Pecans
Cranberry Conserve with Apples and Pecans (canned)
Spiced Pickled Pears
Pear and Cranberry Conserve


Monday, November 12, 2012

Canning Thanksgiving Conserve

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and due to various circumstances, the husband and I will probably be spending the holiday at home.  Just the two of us.  That means that, even though we will want a Thanksgiving meal, we don't need to cook nearly as much as if, say, we were spending it with family and friends.  That also means, that even though cranberry sauce is a must-have in my opinion, there is no way we will eat an entire quart of the stuff.  So, I started thinking about canning it.  Actually, I've thought about canning it before, just to have on hand, but never got around to it.  Now, we can have it on Thanksgiving and several other times throughout the year.  Of course, you don't need to wait for a Thanksgiving alone to can cranberry sauce or conserve.  Now is the perfect time to do it while fresh berries are available, and then you will have it on hand all year round.  

The cranberry sauce I make is more of a conserve with the addition of apples and nuts.  If you want to make the conserve without canning, check out last year's post.  For the canned version, I used a recipe from National Center for Home Food Preservation which is almost identical to the recipe I have always used.  It does make a few changes, which I am sure are there to ensure the safety and longevity of the canned product.  The changes include using more sugar (if you use less, the final product may not last as long on the shelf) and limiting the amount of nuts to 1/2 cup.  Their version did include raisins which we don't like, so I added an equal amount of chopped apple.  The apple will not affect the acidity negatively, but to keep it safe, make sure you do not increase the amount of nuts in the conserve from the amount listed.  

The cooking time on this conserve can be anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes once it begins boiling.  You are looking for a temperature of 220 degrees (as if you are making jam).  You can test it out on a chilled plate to see if it mounds and sets up.  

Cranberry Conserve (canned)- makes approx. 5 half pints
adapted slightly from National Center for Home Food Preservation

1 quart (4 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries, picked over and washed
1 cup water
3 cups granulated sugar
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Prepare the canner, jars, lids, and rings. 

Place the cranberries, water, sugar, zests, and juices in a skillet over medium high heat.  Bring to a boil.  Cook rapidly, stirring frequently 5 minutes until cranberries begin to pop.  Add the apple, and continue cooking, stirring frequently 15-25 minutes until the mixture reaches a temperature of 220 degrees.  Five minutes before it reaches the desired temperature, add the pecans.  Ladle the mixture into hot, sterilized half-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Remove any air bubbles, and wipe the jar rims.  Top each jar with a sterilized lid and ring, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Remove jars to a towel to cool for 24 hours before labeling and storing.

Printable Version

Sunday, November 4, 2012

It's That Time Again!

As the days turn crisp and the leaves begin to fall, cabbages of all sizes start showing up at the farmer's market signaling the time for sauerkraut.  After experimenting with sauerkraut several seasons, last year I stumbled upon the easiest and most fool-proof method I have seen.  I posted about it last year, but since it is sauerkraut time again, I thought it would be helpful to have a little reminder. 

This method was published in a Martha Stewart magazine in an article about a woman who owns a company which makes various flavors of sauerkraut.  The method eliminates the need for large fermenting crocks which not everyone has floating around the house and uses pint size canning jars instead.  It also seems to be easier to take the cabbage through the fermenting process without it going bad. Three pounds of cabbage produces approximately three pints of sauerkraut, and it is easy to increase the quantities as needed since you are essentially using a pound of cabbage per jar. 

This year, the cabbages at the market were huge.  I opted for a six pound cabbage which gave me six jars of kraut.  I started them on October 15, so I am a good way through the process.  The longer it sits, the stronger it will taste, so it is good to begin testing it after about twenty days to see if you like it.  You can add flavors such as caraway or apple, but I like to make it without added flavor as it is more versatile that way.  

The basic things to remember with this method (and others) are below: 
  • You will need a cool (around 70 degree) and dark location for fermentation.
  • You will need to save several good-looking outer cabbage leaves to cover your shredded cabbage before placing the lid on top.  
  • You will need to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze the cabbage to extract juice.
  • You will need to loosen the lids on the jars every few days to release pressure (you don't want your ceiling wearing sauerkraut), and you will need to replace any liquid lost with a brine mixture.
  • You will need to store the finished product in the fridge or process it in a boiling water bath for long-term storage. 

If you find yourself with an abundance of cabbage, head over to my original post on this method and try it for yourself.  It is easy and will reward you with great tasting kraut to use through the winter. 

And one more thing, if you have never tried sauerkraut balls, you should head over to Pinterest or search online or a recipe that sounds good to you.  A friend of mine makes these little babies with sausage, sauerkraut, and cream cheese, they are excellent as a holiday appetizer. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

I have always loved chocolate chip muffins.  I remember my mother making them from scratch many mornings, and I could just as easily enjoy those little treats for dessert as I could for breakfast.  My love affair with chocolate chip muffins has continued into adulthood.  

I had a difficult time imagining any muffin better than a chocolate chip one.  I mean, what could be better than the moist cakey inside studded with ooey gooey chocolate?  I'll tell you what...a pumpkin chocolate chip muffin.  That's what! 

When I stumbled upon this recipe, I was actually looking for a good muffin to make with my students at school.  One that they, as fourth graders, would enjoy mixing and eating.  This Nestle Toll House recipe from Very Best Baking fit the bill perfectly. 

Not only does this recipe contain pumpkin, chocolate, and whole wheat flour, it also makes plenty of muffins that keep well for several days and freeze beautifully.  I have been making this recipe both with my students each fall and at home ever since finding it several years ago. 

When I make them at home, I make the entire batch which is usually around 30 regular size muffins (even though the original recipe says 36), and I freeze the ones we don't eat in a day or so. 

To freeze, just pop them into freezer bags.  When you want to thaw one, remove it from the bag, wrap it in a paper towel, and microwave for around a minute until thawed and warm.  They make one of the best on-the-go breakfasts around. 

I have not changed this recipe at all except to use cinnamon instead of pumpkin pie spice (the original recipe calls for either).  As I said above, I do find that the quantities tend to be a little smaller, around 30 muffins instead of 36.  Even though this is not my recipe, I am reposting here to have on file for myself.  I give full credit to the original which you can find by visiting Very Best Baking

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins- makes approx. 30-36 standard muffins 

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups granulated sugar
1 can (15 oz.) pure pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) semi-sweet chocolate chips

PREHEAT oven to 350° F. Grease thirty to thirty-six standard size muffin cups or line with paper bake cups.

COMBINE all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl. Combine eggs and sugar in large bowl. Add pumpkin and oil; mix well. Stir in flour mixture until moistened. Stir in chocolate chips. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.

BAKE for 20 to 25 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 5 minutes; remove from pans.

TO FREEZE, allow muffins to cool completely on wire racks.  Place muffins into zip top freezer bags (usually 4 will fit in a quart bag), and freeze.  Frozen muffins will keep 2-3 months and can be thawed in the microwave. 

Printable Version

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chicken with Brussels Sprouts and Mustard Cider Sauce

I have been doing a little more cooking and less canning lately, although I'm hoping to do more canning in the near future.  I have been slightly obsessed (as I get each fall) with cooking magazines and cookbooks, and I've been trying to add some new dishes to the weeknight line-up around here. 

This is a dish I had been meaning to try for awhile, but finally got around to several days ago.  It was perfect for a busy weeknight as it was quick to prepare, and it was so good it had me looking forward to the leftovers at lunch (which if you know anything about me and leftovers is really saying a lot). 

The chicken for this dish is browned in olive oil and finished in the oven. I roasted red potatoes in the oven with a little thyme and garlic which worked well because it allowed me to slide the potatoes over to make a little room for the chicken in the last 10 minutes of cooking.  This saved me one dirty dish which is always a major plus in my world.   

The Brussels sprouts were cooked until brown and tender in a separate pan while the sauce was being made where the chicken had been browned originally.  And let me tell you about this sauce.  It is amazing!  It's zesty and tangy from the whole grain mustard and slightly sweet from the cider.  I found it needed a tad more sweetness, so I added a little honey.  I also increased the quantity of sauce and thickened it with a cornstarch slurry.   

All in all, a very quick and satisfying fall meal that I will definitely be making again very soon!

Chicken with Brussels Sprouts and Mustard Cider Sauce- serves 4
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light 

2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 tsp salt, divided
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups chicken broth, divided
1/2 unfiltered apple cider
2 Tbsp whole-grain Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp butter, divided
12 ounces Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet on high heat.  Season the chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.  Add the chicken to the skillet and cook 3 minutes per side until nicely browned.  Place the chicken in an oven-proof baking dish (or on the sheet pan where you are roasting the potatoes if you choose to do so) and bake 9 minutes or until done. 

In the meantime, add 1 cup broth and the cider to the pan where the chicken was browned.  Scrap any bits from the bottom of the pan, and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer 4 minutes.  Ladle several tablespoons of the broth mixture into a small bowl and add the cornstarch to the bowl to create a slurry.  Whisk this mixture until the slurry is smooth with no lumps of cornstarch remaining.  Slowly whisk a little of the slurry mixture (you may not need to use it all) into the broth mixture in the pan and boil to thicken.  Add more slurry as needed until the sauce it thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Add the mustard and honey to the sauce and whisk to combine.  Remove the pan from the heat and swirl in 1 tablespoon of butter until melted. 

While making the sauce, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon butter in another skillet on medium-high heat.  Add the Brussels sprouts and saute 2 minutes to brown.  Season with remaining salt.  Add 1/4 cup broth to the pan, cover, and cook 4 minutes until the sprouts are crisp tender.  Serve the chicken topped with the sprouts and a drizzle of sauce. 

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Apples with Honey Butter Glaze

This time of year sends me into nesting mode.  I want to stay at home, make everything cozy, and cook, and the foods of fall seem to go seamlessly with my desire to be in the kitchen.  Even though it may seem a little silly, going to the farmers market becomes something even more special as you search for perfect bouquets of winter greens, freshly dug sweet potatoes, and colorful winter squash.  Our bodies begin craving heartier fare like these Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Apples with Honey Butter Glaze. 

This layered dish is full of fall flavor and would make a welcome addition to the Thanksgiving table, although it is perfect any other day also.  It does take a little prep initially since you need to bake the sweet potatoes until they are almost tender, but after that, it goes together in a snap.  The sweet potatoes can also be baked a day or two ahead to make prep quicker on the day you want to serve this. 

The combination of creamy sweet potatoes, tender apples, crunchy nuts, and caramelized glaze is balanced perfectly by the addition of a little lemon juice and is a nice alternative to more traditional sweet potato dishes.  So, if you are testing recipes for the big Thanksgiving meal or just want something a little different for a cozy family dinner, this dish may just fit the bill. 

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Apples with Honey Butter Glaze- serves 6
adapted from Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook

This dish can easily be doubled to feed twelve. 

3 medium sweet potatoes (2.5 pounds)
2 large Honeycrisp apples (or other apples that will hold shape when baked)
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Wash the sweet potatoes and pierce each with a fork or sharp knife.  Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and roast for 1 hour until almost tender.  Remove from the oven and allow to sit until cool enough to handle.  Remove the skin from the potatoes.  Cut each potato in half lengthwise and then into 1/3 inch thick semi-circle slices.  Set aside.  (This step can be performed up to two days ahead).  

Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl.  Core the apples and cut in half.  Cut the apples in semi-circle slices.  Toss the apple slices in the lemon juice to prevent browning.  

In a small bowl, mix the melted butter, brown sugar, honey, spices, and salt until combined.  Set aside. 

Spray an 8 inch baking dish with cooking spray.  Place the sweet potatoes and apples with rounded sides up alternately in the baking dish.  Pour the lemon juice from the apple bowl over everything in the dish.  Spoon the honey butter mixture over the potatoes and apples.  Bake 30 minutes. 

Remove dish from the oven.  Baste with the honey butter from the bottom of the dish.  Sprinkle with pecans, and continue baking 15 minutes more until everything is tender and the nuts are toasted and brown.  Baste with the glaze just before serving.  

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pear and Cranberry Conserve

Pears are a quintessential fall fruit.  Fragrant, sweet, and floral, they pair well with another favorite, the tart cranberry.  Combining the two makes perfect sense as they balance one another allowing us to create foods that travel from sweet to savory effortlessly. 

This conserve is the perfect example of this marriage.  Sweet from the pears with just the right bite from cranberries, you can serve this on biscuits or toast, with roasted pork or turkey, or as an alternative to traditional cranberry sauce.  It would make an absolutely fabulous spread on an after-Thanksgiving sandwich of turkey, dressing, and gravy, and it also makes a delicious addition to a vinaigrette for salad greens when mixed with a little vinegar and olive oil.  Better yet, it comes together fairly quickly and easily. 

I used a combination of half-pint jars and 4 oz jelly jars when making this to give myself options for how much to open at once.  If you want to use the smaller 4 oz jars, just process them for the same amount of time as the half-pints. 

Pear and Cranberry Conserve- makes 7 half-pints or 14- 4 oz jars
Recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Canning

6 large, ripe pears (3 pounds), peeled, cored, and chopped
16 oz fresh cranberries
4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups water
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp grated orange zest
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice

Prepare your canner, jars, lids, and rings.

Combine all ingredients in a large non-reactive pot.  Bring the mixture to a boil on medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Boil gently, stirring frequently, for 20-25 minutes until the mixture reaches a thick jam-like consistency.  You can test this by dipping a spoon into the mixture.  If the conserve falls in sheets from the spoon, it is ready.  Alternately, you can chill a plate in the freezer, then place a small amount of conserve onto the cold plate.  It should form a mound and should hold a clean line if you run your finger through it. 

Ladle the hot mixture into hot, sterilized half-pint or 4 ounce jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Wipe the rims of the jars, and place a lid and ring on top of each. 

Process jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.  Remove jars from the canner and allow to cool on a towel for 24 hours.  Check seals, label, and store.

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Five Minute Bread

I love homemade bread, but who has time to make great, crusty bread on a regular basis?  With all the mixing, kneading, and proofing required to produce a loaf, you need hours in the kitchen, and that isn't even factoring in keeping a starter alive for those deeper flavored loaves. 

Well, I found a solution in the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a DayI know what many of you are saying...this book has been around for several years now.  I know, and I have no idea how I am just now discovering it, but I am so glad I have. 

A free-form loaf slashed with three scalloped cuts on top.
This book and the accompanying website, Bread in Five, from its authors outline a new approach to bread making for those of us with little time to spare.  You can simply mix up a batch of high-moisture dough, skip the kneading process, and keep the dough in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, cutting off and baking sections as needed.  It will take you a little time to get each batch of dough going, but once it is mixed, the hands-on time is minimal at about five minutes per loaf.  You can remove a chunk of dough, let it rise for 40 minutes while you do other things, and bake it.  Best of all, it produces a loaf that is crusty on the outside, and chewy yet moist on the inside.  People will never guess that you have spent almost no time in the kitchen to produce a pretty impressive loaf. 

One other great thing about this dough is that you can continue to use the same storage vessel for mixing new batches, and each time you do the flavor of the dough will deepen due to the bits of leftover dough that get mixed in to the new batch.  After several batches, you have a dough with a much more developed flavor, all without the need or use for a starter. 
The inside of the finished loaf has a nice, chewy texture.
This dough is also very versatile, allowing you to make all sorts of breads without mixing multiple batches.  With the master recipe I have made free-form loaves like the one pictured above as well as baguettes and pita.  It is fabulous to be able to have a loaf of bread when I want or need one without a trip to the bakery. 

Part of a baguette made with the same dough.  The baguette does not get dusted on top.
Pita made with the same dough.  The pita is rolled thin and then puffs as it bakes.  You do not need to add water to the broiler pan when making the pita as you do not want it to get crusty. 
Below, I am only outlining the basics of the Master Recipe and how to form a free-form loaf.  For more information on this recipe visit Mother Earth News, or visit Bread in Five for more dough and loaf types. 

Five Minute Bread- makes enough for four 1 pound loaves
adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

To make this bread, you will need the following ingredients as well as a pizza stone, pizza peel, and the bottom portion of a broiler pan.

3 cups lukewarm water
2 packets active dry yeast (1 1/2 Tbsp)
1 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt
6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached all-purpose white flour
cornmeal for dusting pizza peel

Mixing and Rising the Dough:  Place the water in a large bowl or large plastic food container with the salt and yeast.  You do not need to let the yeast sit for any period of time before adding the flour.  Add the flour to the water and yeast.  Use a wooden spoon to incorporate the flour.  If it becomes too difficult, wet your hands, and finish mixing manually.  Cover the bowl with a towel or lid (not airtight) and allow the dough to rise for 2 hours until the dough has risen and is beginning to flatten on the top.  At this point, the dough is ready to shape or store.  It is a little easier to work with if it has been refrigerated for a day before the first baking.   

Shaping the Loaf:  You will not need to knead the dough before shaping.  Instead, when ready to make a loaf, simply cut off a 1 pound piece of dough and shape it into a loaf by stretching it and turning the ends under to create a ball of dough.  The ends will all be bunched under the loaf which is fine, but the top should be rounded and smooth. 

Slashing, Dustin, Resting, and Rising: Sprinkle cornmeal on a pizza peel.  Place the shaped loaf on the pizza peel.  Liberally dust the loaf with all-purpose flour.  Using a serrated knife, make several 1/4 inch deep slashes in the top of the dough.  Allow the dough to rest on the pizza peel for 40 minutes.  The dough may not rise much during this time, but it will rise more in the oven.  About 20 minutes into the rising process, place your pizza stone on a middle rack in the oven.  Place an empty broiler pan on another rack.  Heat the oven to 450 degrees.  

This loaf was dusted and slashed in a tic-tac-toe pattern.  This is a picture of it after rising. 
Baking:  After 40 minutes of rising, transfer the loaf from the pizza peel to the pizza stone.  Quickly and carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler pan and close the oven door.  Allow the loaf to bake 30-40 minutes until the loaf is very brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Since this dough is very moist, you can bake it until it is nicely browned without drying it out inside.  Remove the loaf to a wire rack to cool.  It will make crackling sounds as it cools resulting a crusty outer shell.

Storing the Dough:  Keep the dough in a covered but not airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 14 days, cutting pieces of dough out to shape, rise, and bake when needed.  When you are ready to make more dough, simply mix the new batch in the same, unwashed bowl, mixing in the older bits of dough into the new. 

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