08 December 2007

All Things Pumpkin

There's just something about pumpkin-centric baked treats. I think they're one of the main reasons I enjoy the holidays so much. That smell of fresh-baked pumpkiny goodness wafting through the house... mmmm.

Two nights ago, I made an awesome recipe that my mom gave me, for pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting. Haven't made a pumpkin pie yet this year, but that's really what got me into baking in the first place, learning from my grandmother how to make a pie-crust for a pumpkin pie. And some of my fondest holiday food memories involve my mom's awesome pumpkin bread recipe. I decided it was time to share these three favorite recipes.

So here you go, fellow pumpkin-dessert lover. Indulge and enjoy.

Pumpkin Bars with Cream-Cheese Frosting

2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
4 eggs
1 c vegetable oil
2 c sugar
15 oz can pumpkin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the dry ingredients (except sugar). In a separate, large mixing bowl, mix the oil, eggs, sugar and pumpkin. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well.

Pour batter into ungreased jelly roll pan (17 x 21 x 1) or a 9 x 13 cake pan. If using jelly roll pan, bake 15-20 minutes; if using cake pan, bake 25-30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz softened cream cheese
1/2 c softened butter
1 tsp vanilla
4 c powdered sugar

Combine butter, cream cheese and vanilla; add sugar while mixing; stir until frosting is smooth.

(I know, isn't it awful how easy it is to make? You gained 2 pounds just by reading the recipe. But it's sooooo good.)

Mom's Pumpkin Bread

3 c sugar - 1 1/2 c white, 1 1/2 c brown
1 c vegetable or canola oil
4 eggs
1/3 c water
2 c pumpkin (16 oz can)
3 1/3 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cloves
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 t ground ginger
1 Tbs cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugar, oil, eggs & water; beat well. Add pumpkin. Add dry ingredients and mix well.

Pour batter into 3 small greased loaf pans (not glass), 8.5 x 4.25 x 3". Bake for ~ 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. If using Pyrex, bake 30-35 minutes. Turn loaf out of pan and let cool on wire rack.

Grandma's Pie Crust

2 crust pie:
2 c flour
1/4 c water
1 tsp salt
3/4 c shortening
1/3 c flour/salt to mix with water

1 crust pie:
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 c shortening
1/2 tsp salt
3-5 Tbs water

Sift flour & salt together. Take 1/4 c of flour/salt mixture and mix with 3 Tbs water (dry/high altitude climates, 4 Tbs). Add shortening to the dry flour-salt mixture and mix with a pastry blender; add in the wet flour-salt mixture and mix. (Use a light hand with delicate pastries like this, don't overmix.) Add a little more water as needed.

Roll out on a pastry cloth to a circle 9 inches, depending on the pie pan. To transfer to the pan, gently roll the pie-crust around the rolling-pin and quickly lift it over the pan, then pat down the crust, trim the edges and flute by pinching the edges.

Pumpkin Pie

1/8 tsp salt
2/3 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground/powdered ginger
1/8 tsp cloves
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 2/3 c milk
1 1/2 c pumpkin (1 can)

Beat eggs. Sift dry ingredients together and add to eggs.
Add milk & pumpkin.
Line piepan with crust and pour in filling. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes (high altitude: 20 minutes). Reduce heat to 325 degrees (high altitude can do 350 degrees) and bake for 35+ minutes (high altitude: 45-60 minutes) until knife in center comes out clean. Let cool.

Makes one 9-inch pie.

Homemade Whipped Cream

Chill mixer paddles and mixing bowl in fridge for at least half an hour. Pour heavy whipping cream in bowl and beat with handheld mixer until growing stiff (forms soft peaks). Fold in white sugar and mix to taste, about 1/4 - 1/3 cup.

17 October 2007

Dilly Potato Rolls

I just wanted to use up some leftover mashed potatoes, but when my BB pronounced these the best rolls I've ever made, I figured I should probably add the recipe to my blog. These are very buttery, soft and light. They walk a fine line between biscuits and rolls, depending on how you shape them, and make killer egg-biscuits for breakfast.

NOTE: If you're at high altitude, let the dough rise in the fridge so the gluten structure doesn't weaken. You may have to extend the rising time a little, but trust me, it's well worth it.

The recipe was adapted from the awesome cookbook, "One Potato, Two Potato" by Roy Fenimore.

Dilly Potato Rolls

~ 1 c leftover mashed potatoes, or 1 russet potato about 3/4 lb.
1 c warm water (~ 120 degrees), or 1 1/2 c water if using uncooked potato
1/4 c sugar
1 packet yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
3/4 t sugar (only if using an uncooked potato, instead of leftovers)
4 eggs
1/2 lb unsalted butter, melted
~ 5 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 T coarse sea salt
~ 1/2 t dill weed
1 beaten egg, for glazing

If using the leftover mashed potatoes, add the yeast to 1/2 c warm water and let sit until bubbly, about 5 minutes. In a stand mixer bowl, add the potato, 1/4 c sugar, remaining 1/2 c water, and 1 c of the flour to the yeast mixture, stir until smooth, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand in warm place for about 30 minutes, until doubled.

If using uncooked potato, peel and dice the potato, cover with the 1 1/2 c water and boil for at least 15 minutes, until potato is quite soft. Measure 1/2 c of the potato water and add the yeast to it with the 3/4 tsp of sugar; follow the instructions above, using another 1/2 c of potato water.

Once the sponge has risen, punch it down with your hands or a baker's spatula, put the dough hook on your mixer, and add in the eggs, butter, remaining 4 1/2 c flour, 1 1/2 tsp of salt, and the dill. Mix until it forms a smooth dough, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place until doubled, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Flour a work surface and your hands, and turn the dough out onto the surface.

For biscuits, punch the dough down again briefly, and pat it out to a circle about 3/4 inch thick. Use a three-inch cutter to cut out the rolls and put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat, spaced a couple inches apart. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double, about an hour.

For rolls, divide the dough in half, then divide each half into 10 - 12 equal pieces. Generously butter two 10-inch cake pans. Shape the dough pieces into spheres and line the cake pan with them, putting one or two in the center. This creates pull-apart rolls. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double, about an hour.

About 20 minutes before they're done rising, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Brush the tops of the rolls with the beaten egg, and sprinkle with the remaining sea salt. Put the tray/cake pans on the middle rack for 15 - 20 minutes, and rotate after 8 - 10 minutes for even baking. Once the tops are a lovely golden brown, lay a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the top so they don't burn while the insides keep baking.

Eat immediately, or can be stored at room temperature for several days. Makes about 20 rolls. They can also be frozen for several months.

04 October 2007

Pasta with Artichoke Hearts and Broccoli

Dinner turned out well tonight. This is a variation on a basic tomato sauce recipe I use semi-regularly. It's fast, healthy, and more importantly, delicious. The sauce is also nice and colorful, and we all know things are better when they look pretty... okay, food is, at least.

Psst... use organic veggies!

Pasta with Artichoke Hearts and Broccoli

1/2 lb chunky pasta, like farfalle

~ 2 T olive oil
1 head broccoli
1 can (14 oz) quartered artichoke hearts (not marinated), drained
2-3 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 med white onion, diced
2 Roma tomatoes, thickly sliced crossways
~ 3 T pinenuts (optional)

(spice measurements are approximate, modify to taste)
1/2 t basil
1/2 t oregano
1/8 t ground mustard
healthy pinch of marjoram
small pinch of thyme
1/8 t cayenne
1/4 t crushed red pepper
1/8 t fresh-ground black pepper

Start the pasta water to boil and put the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-low-ish heat while you prep your veggies. Add the garlic, onion, and spices except black pepper to the olive oil and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts getting translucent around the edges.

Around now, your water should be boiling. Add the pasta, stir, put a steam basket on top, reduce the heat under the pasta to med. low and steam the broccoli about 5 minutes. Rinse the broccoli after you've steamed it and turn the heat back up to med. high on the pasta.

Add the tomatoes to the sauce and use a wooden spoon to crush them as you stir the sauce, to release the juices. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until your pasta's about 3 minutes from being ready. Add the artichoke hearts and broccoli and stir it up. If you're using pinenuts, now's the time to put them in the oven or toaster oven; once toasted, mix with the sauce.

Drain the pasta, top with sauce, serve immediately - with garlic bread, if you have it.

Serves 2

30 September 2007

I'm Baaack...

Wow, I can't believe it's been so long since I posted. It's been a busy summer, and admittedly, one involving a lot of quick and easy veggie burgers and oven fries. (Mmm, french fries - try loading them up with sea salt and garlic powder and dipping them in honey.)

Anyway, a couple days ago I picked two acorn squash from our garden, and proceeded to prepare the four halves two different ways for last night's dinner. It was fun, tasty, and easy.

Sweet Acorn Squash

1 small acorn squash per person, halved; or half a large squash
~ 2 T butter
Brown sugar to taste, 1/4 to 1/3 cup
Honey (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Prick the flesh a few times with a fork. Butter the inside of the squash all over, then sprinkle a generous, even coating of brown sugar. If you have honey, drizzle some on top of the brown sugar. (We didn't have honey, but it was still quite tasty.)

Place the squash halves face down on a baking tray lined with aluminum foil. Bake until the flesh is tender, ~ 30 minutes.

Serve immediately with a nicely contrasting side of greens or veggies - I used steamed baby red potatoes seasoned with dill, sage, and rosemary. I like to put the herbs on the potatoes while they're steaming, and just toss with a little butter before serving.

Serves 2

Ginger-Mushroom Stuffed Acorn Squash

1 small acorn squash per person, halved; or half a large squash
~ 3 1/2 T butter
1 T fresh chopped ginger
4 - 6 crimini mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced
1 - 2 slices of bread, shredded into crumbs
salt and pepper to taste

Scoop out the seeds from the squash, prick the insides with a fork, spread a layer of butter on them (roughly 1 T per half or less), and place the squash face down on a baking tray lined with aluminim foil. Bake until the flesh is tender, ~ 30 minutes.

When your timer's down to about 5 minutes, put 1 T of butter in a small saucepan over medium to medium-low heat. Saute the ginger for just a couple minutes. Put the breadcrumbs in your toaster oven (or on another tray in your oven, should you be toaster-oven-deprived) and set them to toast them medium well. Add the sliced mushrooms to the saucepan, lower the heat slightly and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In the meantime, around about when you've added the mushrooms and given them a stir, your squash should be ready. Retrieve the squash from the oven, scoop out the flesh (preserving the shell), season with salt and pepper to taste, and mash it up quickly with 1/2 T butter or less. Now your mushrooms should be ready; add the contents of the saucepan to your mashed squash, stir it all up, and by the time you've refilled the squash shells with your mixture, your breadcrumbs should be ready to sprinkle on top. Serve immediately.

Serves 2

28 July 2007

Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Prepare to succumb to total bliss. I adapted this recipe from several that I found on the Internet. If you're growing zucchini in your garden, this is the perfect recipe to use for those zucchinis you don't notice until they're ridiculously big.

Although this might look complicated to a novice baker, it's really quite an easy recipe; it just has a lot of ingredients to combine. Grating the zucchini can be a little time consuming, but the result is so well worth it.

I've also added a way to make this TRIPLE chocolate zucchini bread. Mmm... no no, you don't have to thank me. ;)

Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread

1/2 lb or 2 c grated zucchini
4 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c cocoa
1 1/2 c sugar (1 c white, 1/2 c brown)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 c oil
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 c semisweet chocolate chips

For half of batter:
1/4 c toffee bits
1/4 c walnut pieces
1/2 c bittersweet chocolate chips (if you want triple chocolate zucchini bread - and who doesn't?!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (375 for high altitude). Butter two 8 x 4" loaf pans.

Grate zucchini. In large bowl, combine dry ingreedients.

In another bowl, combine zucchini with remaining ingredients except chocolate chips and optional stir-ins. Stir zucchini mixture into dry ingredients just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips, toffee and walnuts.

Pour batter into pans; bake until toothpick in center comes out clean, ~ 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool on rack 10 minutes, then remove from pan. Devour.

27 July 2007

Mmmm... bread.

I just read this in an "On This Day" email, from May 29th:

Bread is a basic food made from a flour-and-water dough, normally with yeast, baked in an oven. No other food is as redolent of myth, rite, and tradition as bread. Central to meals until almost the end of the second millennium (more so than meat), it is indeed the 'staff of life.' Breadmaking dates back to at least 9000 BC; the first breads were cooked on heated bakestones, many of which survive. The invention of leavened bread (around 5000 BC) is attributed to the Egyptians, who made bread from millet and barley and may have discovered fermentation by chance when a piece of dough became sour. In the Middle Ages, the bakery trade developed in diversity and complexity. Part of the baker's art is the careful choice of ingredients and the manipulation of factors such as oven temperature, length of baking time, and humidity, all of which affect the crumb, thickness, and quality of bread crust.

I hadn't realized that bread dated back quite so far. I love bread, and it's so much fun to bake. The feeling of accomplishment when you pull out a yummy-smelling loaf of bread or some delectable-looking biscuits is tremendous... at least, for me - I suppose because baking always seemed so difficult to me before I started learning from Janet and Grandma.

Here's one of my favorite bread recipes - Irish soda bread. This recipe is adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant's Low-Fat Favorites cookbook and Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Breads.

Irish Soda Bread

1 1/2 c unbleached white flour
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 T packed brown sugar
4 T cold butter
1 egg
1 c buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 deg. F. Lightly oil baking sheet. Mix dry ingredients. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or using two knives.

In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, and pour the wet mixture into the well. Stir until evenly moist.

Turn onto lightly floured surface, kneading just a little. Mound on baking sheet into ~ 9" domed loaf. Lightly cut an X in the top with a sharp knife. Bake ~ 45 minutes.

27 June 2007

Apple Crisp

My grandmother gave me a fruit of the month club membership as a Christmas gift, and I've used the resulting goodies for baking recipes several months. This month it was these gorgeous looking apples. As soon as my bb (best beloved) saw them, he suggested exactly what I'd been thinking: apple crisp!

I concocted this recipe with input from, primarily, Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone", as well as Williams & Sonoma's "Essentials of Baking" and of course, my good old Betty Crocker cookbook. As always, I recommend using organic ingredients whenever possible.

Mmm... it's baking right now and it smells SO good...

Apple Crisp

6 T butter, cut into half-inch pieces
2/3 c all-purpose flour
3/4 c packed brown sugar
1/4 c chopped pecans (could also try chopped walnuts)
1/4 t salt
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t ground cinnamon

Whisk all ingredients except the butter together in a large bowl. Add the butter and use a mixer with a paddle attachment or your fingers to work it into the remaining ingredients, until the butter pieces are thoroughly coated and the rest of the mixture is coarse and crumbly.

5-6 large apples, peeled, cored, and diced
2 T packed brown sugar
1 T lemon juice
1 t ground cinnamon

Make the topping and set aside. Preheat the oven to 375F.

Put the apples into a 2-inch tall, about 2-2 1/2 quart gratin dish and gently toss with the filling's remaining ingredients, evenly coating the apples. Cover the filling with the topping.

Place the dish on a baking sheet to catch any dripping juices and place in the middle rack of the oven for 30-45 minutes, until apples are tender, juices are bubbling and the top is golden brown. Once cooled, can be covered and stored at room temperature up to two days. Reheat in a 250F oven for 15 minutes (also good cold or microwaved). Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, but also tastes incredible just on its own.

23 June 2007

Cowboy Eggs

Every family seems to call this recipe a different name, but in ours, it's cowboy eggs. The name comes from my grandma. It is one of my favorite breakfast recipes. Using a nice big slice of bread is key to making this especially good.

Cowboy Eggs

2-3 T butter
2 eggs
2 slices of bread
garlic powder
black pepper

Turn a glass over and use it to cut a hole in the middle of the slices of bread. Put a heavy frying pan (cast iron, if you have it) on the stove over medium heat. Melt 1 T of the butter in the pan. Use pats from the rest of the butter to dot one side of the bread slices, also buttering the cut-out round. Place the bread in the pan, butter side down, and crack the egg into the hole in the bread. Season the egg to taste. You may need to reduce the heat slightly. Butter the other side of the bread. Place the cut-out toast in the frying pan and butter its other side.

Flip the cowboy egg when the white is almost set, flipping the cut-out round as well. Only cook the egg on its other side for a couple minutes, if you like a runny yolk, which is great to sop up with the cut-out toast. Serve immediately.


Last night, I made one of my favorite cookie recipes, and it's so good I have to share. It's quick and easy, and the cookies stay nice and soft the next day - perhaps even longer, but we wouldn't know. If your cookies last more than two days, you have a ridiculous amount of willpower and should allow yourself to relax more. :)

Anyhoo, all credit goes to the excellent dessert cookbook, "Chocolate on the Brain", by Kevin and Nancy Mills. If you're a chocoholic like me, I highly recommend this book. It has everything from varied cookies and brownies to impressive-sounding tortes and mousses and so forth. Whatever your mood, you're bound to find a chocolate dessert to fit your needs. And happily, these "Lava Cookies" will suit just about any mood.

Supposedly, this makes 36 cookies. I've never gotten more than 24 out of them, whether from batter-testing or making them a little larger than the book indicates. If using self-rising flour, omit the baking powder and salt.

Lava Cookies

3 squares (3 oz) unsweetened baking chocolate
6 T butter plus enough to grease two cookie sheets
1 c sugar (not a typo)
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla extract
1 c flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 c powdered sugar

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heavy saucepan over very low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside when the chocolate has almost fully melted; the heat of the pan will melt the remaining chocolate.

Mix the sugar, eggs and vanilla together in a large bowl until pale yellow and frothy. Add the chocolate mixture and mix on low just until blended, about 15 seconds. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix on low about 10 seconds more, or just until blended. Cover and put in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. (Note: you can freeze the batter overnight if you're preparing ahead. Why you would do this, I don't know, but that's what the book says.)

Place an oven rack in the middle slot and preheat the oven to 350 degrees (375 high altitude). Grease two cookie sheets with butter. Remove the batter from the freezer and use a teaspoon to shape the dough into one-inch balls. Roll the balls in the powdered sugar and place on the cookie sheet, four to a row, in three rows. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time, 10-12 minutes. They will spread out and have mottled brown-and-white surfaces vaguely resembling a lava field (hence the name). Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for three minutes bef0re transferring them to a cooling rack. Try to not eat them all the first night...

15 June 2007

Recent Recipes

At last, some time to blog! I've made a few things lately that I wanted to post. Since I last wrote, the aforementioned crab salad turned out pretty well; so did a spicy pasta sauce, and on another day, I finally invented the potato salad recipe I've always wanted and never been able to quite hit. So without further ado...

(The Cajun crab salad recipe will have to wait until I find the original recipe, as it had a great spice combination that I can't quite recall.)

Chicken Little's Revenge (Pasta with Spicy Vegetarian Chicken Sauce)
Serves 2

1 1/2 T olive oil
~ 1 cup Quorn vegetarian chicken bits
1 can organic diced tomatoes
2 large cloves minced garlic
1 chopped green onion
1/2 lb spaghetti
1/2 t cayenne
1/2 t ginger
1/4 t basil
1/4 t oregano
1/4 t chile chimayo (or regular chili powder)
1/2 t smoky seasoning (we like Northwoods Fire, by Penzey's)
1/2 t crushed red pepper
fresh ground black pepper

Fill a pot with water two inches from the brim, cover, and set to boil. Pour the olive oil into a large saucepan over medium heat. Let the oil heat for a couple minutes, then add the garlic, basil and oregano. Saute for another couple minutes, then add the chicken and all the other spices except the black pepper and salt. Saute, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes or until the chicken has browned a little; reduce the heat to medium-low if the garlic and chicken start sticking to the pan.

Once the water has come to a rolling boil, break the spaghetti in half and add it to the water; stir the pasta with the sauce spoon to help it not stick together. Reduce the pasta's heat to medium-high and boil about 5 to 7 minutes.

After you've added the spaghetti to the water, add the canned tomatoes to the saucepan. Stir well; if you reduced the heat, bring it back up to medium. Let the sauce simmer, stirring often. After a couple of minutes, grind a round of black pepper over the pan and add a little salt, to taste.

Once your pasta's done, drain it and divide between two bowls. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the chopped green onion. Pour the sauce over the pasta immediately and serve.

Ann's Favorite Potato Salad
Serves 4

1 - 1 1/2 lb russet potatoes
1/4 c light Ranch (or mayonnaise)
2 T horseradish mustard
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
2 hardboiled eggs (optional)
1 chopped green onion
1/2 t powdered garlic
1/4 t cayenne
1/4 t ginger
1/2 t black pepper
1/4 t salt
1/4 t rosemary
1/4 t marjoram

Peel and dice potatoes. Steam or boil for 15-20 minutes, until tender but still a tad firm. Hardboil eggs for 12 minutes, then let sit in cold water for at least five minutes. Dice eggs.

Stir all the ingredients together. Adjust spices to taste. It's even tastier the next day.

02 June 2007

To Cake, Or Not to Cake...

Crab is the question. I have a yummy-sounding recipe for a crabmeat, egg and artichoke heart salad that I could serve with jasmine rice; or I could make some crabcakes. Considering how much I love crabcakes, it's difficult to break out of the routine. But I'm also quite partial to egg and artichoke hearts, so it's kind of a draw.

Fortunately, I have several hours to decide. Whichever I go with, if it turns out well, I'll post the recipe.

21 May 2007

Mmm, potatoes...

Breakfast food is such a delightful type of cuisine. One of the essentials, of course, is potatoes. Potatoes make an excellent base for a veggie breakfast burrito (using this recipe, in fact, with some scrambled eggs and a little salsa or pico de gallo), or you can cut right to the chase with some hash browns or homefries. I don't usually feel like grating up potatoes first thing in the morning, so I go with homefries instead.

Now, homefries are like snowflakes: no two people make theirs quite the same. I like mine with a little kick to them, and made in a cast-iron skillet. Pepper aficionados could add diced red and green bell peppers or even a jalepeno. Serve with plenty of salt, pepper and ketchup. Mmm...

serves 2 generously, 3-4 as a smaller side

2 T canola or vegetable oil, or butter
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
4-5 medium potatoes, diced

crushed red pepper
fresh ground black pepper
fresh ground sea salt

Heat the oil/butter in a skillet over medium heat. Saute the garlic and onion about 3-5 minutes, until onions are turning pearlescent. Add the potatoes and stir to coat.

Spice according to taste; I use ~ 1/2 to 3/4 tsp. cayenne, ~ 1 tsp. red pepper, ~ 1/4 tsp. black pepper, ~ 1/2 tsp. salt, ~ 1/2 tsp. oregano and ~ 1/4 tsp. rosemary. Mix up thoroughly with the potatoes to evenly spice.

Fry, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are done, about 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately.

19 May 2007

Let's Hear It For Down Home Cookin'

On a recent trip to Dallas, I had the best oyster po'boy of my life. And considering that we spend time every year on the Outer Banks of NC, that's really saying something. It was just the right amount of oysters, the breading was tasty but didn't try too hard, and they had a sort of spicy French dressing on it. Yum. Dallas has some great restaurants, to be sure. My foodie friend Pam asked me how my trip was (I was at a conference) and I ecstatically described every meal.

There's still plenty of down home cooking available to vegetarians, especially those of us steeped in North Carolina tradition. Breakfast, of course, is an all-essential meal when you're talking good home cookin'. I'm still trying to perfect my recipe for pancakes, but will definitely post my recipe for angel biscuits soon. They're fluffy and buttery, just like a good biscuit should be. (Actually, our hotel in Dallas had great biscuits on the continental breakfast buffet.) In the meantime, since I have to look up those recipes and I remember the following one, here's a never-fail, super-easy recipe for French toast.

French toast was actually the first thing I ever learned how to cook, with my mom on weekend mornings. This recipe is adapted from the one she taught me, to include less lactose - and more powdered sugar!

Ann's Favorite French Toast
serves 2

2-4 slices bread per person
1 egg (buy free-range and organic!)
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 T brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
powdered sugar (~1/3 cup)
2 T butter

Start 1 T butter in a skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Stir the egg with a fork, in a bowl wide enough to hold the bread (flattish works best). Add the cinnamon, brown sugar and vanilla and stir until thoroughly mixed. Soak both sides of the bread in the mixture for several seconds, then place on the skillet. Cook until golden brown and smelling delicious. Repeat with each slice of bread; cut toast in half, arrange on the plates and sift powdered sugar to your preference over the slices. Fresh strawberries are great on the side; and of course butter and maple syrup as desired.

07 May 2007

Blackened Fish Seasonings

One of the great things about Colorado is that even though it's a land-locked state, you can find some tasty, fresh trout fillets at your local grocery store. Over the weekend, we made some awesome blackened Steelhead trout that turned out well enough to be post-worthy! This recipe is fast, easy and yummy. I paired it with baked potatoes and some steamed broccoli; nothing fancy, but very satisfying.

Notes on the recipe:
It was rainy and cold, so instead of putting the fillets on the grill, we "grilled" on the stovetop using this cool, cast iron griddle/grill piece that's flat on one side and has ridges on the other.
This would be a good marinade/seasoning for any red fish - trout, salmon etc. Could also work for catfish or probably any blackened fish.
If you can't find Smoked Tomato dressing, French would work as well.
Spices should be used according to taste; the quantities listed below are an approximation only.

Smokey Blackened Trout

Trout fillets for two people

1-2 Tablespoons Smoked Tomato dressing

3/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp basil
1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika (can substitute regular paprika)
1/4 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp Northwoods Fire seasoning (if you haven't discovered Penzey's Spices yet, check them out!; you can substitute any smoky-flavored grill seasoning mix)
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Heat grill to medium/medium-high. Wash fish and pat dry.

Brush smoked tomato dressing on top of each fillet. Combine spices thoroughly in small bowl, then brush on top of the fillet.

Place fillet skin side down on grill. Let cook for about 6 - 10 minutes, depending on thickness. Flip fillet and grill another 5-8 minutes or until it's blackened to your satisfaction. Flip fillet again, test for doneness by flaking with a fork, and if it's not done yet, let it cook longer on the skin side.

04 May 2007

Fluffy Cranberry Almond Scones

I just baked the lightest, fluffiest scones of my life. I've been searching for the perfect scone recipe for a long time, and I think I've finally gotten it by crossing recipes from two of my favorite cookbooks. At last!

"Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone", by Deborah Madison, is an absolute must for any vegetarian kitchen. Williams-Sonoma's "Essentials of Baking" is likewise a key reference for anyone who wants to hone their baking skills. It offers challenge for the intermediate/advanced baker as well as easy to follow instructions with pictures that are actually helpful. (Totally unsolicited reviews, y'all. They're just that good.)

A few notes on the recipe:

  • If you're using sweeter ingredients, you'll want to reduce the amount of sugar in your dough, using a minimum of one tablespoon.
  • I actually used about 2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder. You could vary this more, down to 2 teaspoons, depending on how dense you like your scones. This recipe is certainly lighter than traditional scones.
  • One of the original recipes was a currant cream scone recipe, and the other was a ginger cream scone recipe (with crystallized ginger). There are a million other add-ins you could try. Dream up various combinations of your favorite dried fruit, chocolate, and nuts.
  • Both original recipes called for cream rather than whole milk, but I decreased the dairy intensity and they still taste great.
  • It's generally helpful to have your eggs at room temperature when baking.
  • If you aren't using almonds in the recipe, replace the almond extract with the same amount of vanilla extract... or mint, if you wanted to make double-chocolate mint scones (mmmm).

Fluffy Cranberry Almond Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for the topping
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup sliced almonds
2 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk plus 1 tablespoon for the topping
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 425° F (high altitude 450°). Line a half-sheet pan or rimless baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.

Lightly mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or two knives, until the mixture looks like meal. Mix in the cranberries and almonds.

In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, milk and almond extract. Stir into the flour mixture just until evenly moistened. (I used a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.) If the mixture is sticky, add a little more flour just until the dough doesn't stick to your fingers.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently form it into a ball. Pat the ball into a circle about 1/2 inch thick. Cut the dough into 8 wedges with a sharp knife (floured if needed). Place the wedges 1 inch apart on the baking pan. Brush with the tablespoon of milk, and sprinkle the tablespoon of sugar on top.

Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. If you're not sure how golden brown to go, just wait until it smells irresistible, remove from oven and let cool slightly. Serve warm, with butter if desired.

02 May 2007

My Weird Diet

No, no, vegetarianism isn't weird. My diet is, though. Allow me to explain.

My weird diet is largely the result of being lactose-intolerant and somewhat selective about observing this restriction. In brief, I eat the dairy products that I enjoy, while my allergic aversion to items like milk, yogurt, sour cream and cheese makes me literally want to barf at the very smell. I will cook using the blacklisted items (except cheese), albeit sparingly, since the finished meal doesn't smell icky. I will also cheerfully go to town on some ice cream, butter or eggs, none of which smell nauseating.

This discrepancy makes my brother absolutely nuts. It makes my husband only slightly nuts, but my brother, who is nicknamed Cheese-Boy, is probably going to be frustrated by my diet for the rest of his life. In vain do I point out that this leaves more cheese in the world for him to consume. It does no good to suggest that he got all the cheese-loving genes for both of us. I think sometimes big brothers just need to be driven nuts by their little sisters.

So, because of my partial dairy aversion, when I announced to my mom at the tender age of 14 that I was now a vegetarian, she did what moms do best: she worried about me. She consulted a nutritionist who agreed that most vegetarians get important nutrients from cheese. And Mom did what moms are entitled to do: she put her foot down, saying I could be a vegetarian if I chose, but that I needed to keep eating fish so I could get enough protein. I acceded.

So I'm a fish-eating vegetarian who hates cheese. Nice, eh? If you're not a vegetarian, you're probably wondering what's left, what with the whole mercury-fish thing. I think it can be difficult for people to conceptualize other diets. I think that because of the number of friends that have invited me to their home with the caveat, "Although I don't know what you're gonna eat. What do you eat?"

Thankfully, there are lots and lots and lots of other vegetarians out there, some of whom eat fish, some of whom even dislike cheese. Once, while working as a cashier at the awesome health food co-op Weaver Street Market, in Carrboro NC, I actually met someone who had the exact same diet I do. I practically fell over, I was so astonished.

The important thing to remember is - not by sheer coincidence - also one of my favorite things about cooking. Every recipe can be adapted to your tastes. So even if you disagree with my diet, I hope you'll find some yummy tidbits on this blog to enrich your own culinary life.