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Archive for April, 2009

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When I got a huge bunch of rosemary in my recent farm share box, I started looking around for fun things to do with it.  Because I have an undying devotion to putting herbs in desserts, I went searching for something sweet.  This recipe from the New Orleans Times-Picayune came up, and I couldn’t resist.

It’s incredibly easy and you can have it mixed, baked, and in your mouth in about 30 minutes.   It’s like a Rachel Ray recipe, only it actually tastes good.  

Do not fear the addition of rosemary in this cookie.   It goes very well with the lightly sweet, buttery taste.  The end result tastes like a cross between pie crust and short bread.  It went well with a glass of limoncello after dinner, and with coffee the next morning (they are that addictive).

Tuscan Pine Nut Cookies with Rosemary

Ingredients
¼ cup pine nuts
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup all-purpose flour

Directions
Preheat oven 350 degrees. 

Toast the pine nuts.  The recipe suggests putting them in the oven, but really, there is no need to bother with at.  Get the pot that you will be making this batter in, toss the pine nuts in, put the burner on medium, and just let them toast up.  Give them a shake every 20 seconds or so and keep an eye on them as they’ll go from toasted to burnt very quickly.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

In that saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Remove pan from heat and stir in the powdered sugar, rosemary and pine nuts. Then stir in the flour to make a stiff dough.

Spread dough evenly into an ungreased 8-inch-square baking pan.  Bake until bars are golden and firm at the edges, about 18-20 minutes.  Cool pan on a rack for about 2 minutes, and use a sharp knife to cut into 16 squares.  Let bars cool in pan at least 10 minutes before removing them with a small spatula.

Ok, so maybe with cooling time these things technically take longer than 30 minutes.  But not much.  And they are totally yum-o.

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It’s strawberry season in California and I have been obsessed.  I feel the urge to buy local strawberries whenever I see them at farmer’s markets and produce stands.  I bought so many this week that I couldn’t keep up with eating them them before they went bad.  And, when I realized more strawberries would be coming my way in my Eatwell box this week, I knew I had to do something.

I had flagged this scone recipe from Confessions of a Tart in my blog reader recently, as it looked so easy and so delicious.   I made the batter the night before and it really just took a few minutes.  The next morning, I baked it and yum, yum.  I definitely recommend it to satisfy your strawberry baked good fix.  Or any fruit baked good fix, really.

Strawberry Scones

Ingredients
1 cup strawberries (or other fruit)
3 tablespoons sugar – I used vanilla sugar (threw a scraped out vanilla bean pod in a container of sugar, let it sit indefinitely)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, in cubes, slightly softened
2/3 cup half-and-half or cream or cold buttermilk

Topping:
1 tablespoon sugar (again, I used vanilla sugar)

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet or cover it in parchment.  Don’t skip this step.  I did and wound up with burnt strawberry bits encrusted on my sheet.

If using larger fruit, cut into bite-sized pieces.  At least quartered, more if needed.  Sprinkle fruit with 1/2 tablespoon sugar; set aside.  Be sure to make the pieces small, or they tend to fall out of the dough.  They’ll still be plenty prominent in your finished scones.

Combine remaining sugar with flour, baking powder and salt. Add butter, using a pastry cutter or your fingers to evenly mix the butter into flour.  Stir in fruit; then add cream/half-and-half/buttermilk all at once.  Gently stir dough until it holds together.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to incorporate dry ingredients.  Be gentle so you don’t break up the berries and don’t overwork the dough.  Sprinkle dough with flour if it gets sticky. 

Pat the dough into a circle 3/4 inch thick.  If any berries peek out, push them into dough.  At this point, I wrapped it up in plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge to bake in the morning.  Scone dough can sit for a couple days in the fridge since it doesn’t have any eggs in it.  But if you want to power through and bake it right away, no need to refridgerate.

Cut circle into 6-8 wedges, then transfer wedges to the cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/2 inch of space between them. Bake 15 minutes.

Sprinkle with sugar and bake 5-10 more minutes or until the tops are beginning to brown and spring back when you push them.  (The sprinkling of sugar over the top for the last few minutes of baking creates a simple, sparkly topping.

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I recently came across sorrel at the farmers market.  I had heard of it before, but had never seen it.  So when I saw a pile of it there, I asked the vendor if I could try a leaf.

It’s weird.  In a good way.  It tastes like a lemon.  Not at all what you’d expect from a little green leaf.

I bought a bunch and made pesto with it.  So delicious.  It’s much tangier than regular basil pesto.  I will definitely buy this stuff again.

Sorrel Pesto

Ingredients
All measures are approximate.  I didn’t really measure anything, just went with what looked good.  Or, if you don’t trust me, just follow your favorite pesto recipe, and substitute sorrel for basil.

1 bunch sorrel, stems removed (approximately 2-3 cups)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Put the sorrel, cheese, pine nuts, and salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.  Slowly add the olive oil and mix until combined.  Add additional salt if necessary.

I served it on tortellini, sprinkled with a handful of extra pine nuts.  It was also great on bread and sandwiches.  It’ll keep in the fridge for at least a week.

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I went to the farmers’ market over the weekend and went on a greens binge.  Among other things, I got my beloved arugula and a bunch of dandelion leaves.   I’ve never cooked dandelion before, but the bunch was only a dollar so I couldn’t resist.  I thought the bittery, peppery flavors of these greens would work well in a risotto dish.

The recipe is my own creation.  I just worked off of the basic risotto technique and incorporated flavors I knew would work well together.  Bacon and bitter greens has always been a heavenly combo for me, particularly when there’s cheese involved, so I’m happy to have created another vessel to enjoy that.

If you can find both dandelion and arugula, I would strongly recommend using both.   I think dandelion on its own might be a little strong, but mixed in with the other ingredients, it gives an unexpected kick to the dish.  Arugula on its own would be delicious too, or mix it with a milder green like spinach if you aren’t a big fan of bitter, pungent greens.

Ingredients
1 cup arborio rice
4-5 cups broth or water  (I use half water and half broth, it helps control the salt)
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 strips of bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 shallot, finely minced
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
3 cups (approximately) of coursely chopped arugula (and dandelion if you can find it)
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1-2 tablespoons butter

Directions

In a sauce pan, bring the water or chicken broth to a simmer.  While that is warming, cook sliced bacon in a large, heavy pan.  Over medium heat, add shallots and garlic and saute lightly until golden.

Add the arborio rice to the bacon mixture and stir for about 2 minutes, until the rice is coated in oil and starts to turn translucent.  Add the wine and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, stirring occassionally.

Using a ladle, slowly add the water or broth to the rice.  Add 1-2 ladles at a time, stirring occassionally.  When the liquid is just about absorbed, repeat until all the liquid is gone or until rice is soft but not too gummy. 

When all the liquid has been added and the rice is cooked, turn the heat down to low and add the greens, one cup or so at a time, followed by a stir.  This will lightly wilt the greens but keep them from turning too mushy.  Once the greens have all been added, stir in a pat of butter and the parmesan cheese.  Stir until the butter has melted and the cheese has been absorbed.

Season with salt and pepper and serve!

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Over the weekend, we took a friend on a drive up to Napa Valley for some wine tasting and gorgeous views.  I packed a picnic lunch and we stopped at the gorgeous Diamond Oaks winery to eat.

On the menu were chicken salad sandwiches, olives and roasted peppers, fresh strawberries from the farmers’ market, olive oil cookies, and Diamond Oaks Mina Ranch Chalk Hill Chardonnay.

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Chicken Salad with Grapes and Tarragon

I’ve seen this combination pop up on menus and most recently, on Barefoot Contessa.  She’s got a couple different versions, but I mostly improvised. To make mine, I roasted a mix of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs on 350 for about a half hour.  I used about five pieces combined.  Before baking, I drizzled them with some olive oil and salt and pepper, but other than that, I kept it simple. 

After they had cooled, I diced the chicken up into small cubes, and tossed it with a small shallot, a cup or so of green grapes that I had halved and quartered (cut before measuring), and a tablespoon of tarragon.  I mixed it all together with about a half cup of mayonnaise, maybe a bit more, and a bit of salt and pepper to taste.

I served the salad on thick slices of Acme’s pain au levain.  It’s the best bread ever.  If you live in the Bay area and have not tried it yet, go buy some now.  It’s like the perfect mix of sourdough and wheat bread and makes any sandwich taste magical.

Lemon Scented Olive Oil Cookies with Citrus Glaze

I stumbled upon Joy’s blog doing a Google search for olive oil cookies.  I had never eaten one, but I figured that they must exist and I wanted them for my wine country lunch.

This is a really fun recipe.  The cookies had a wonderful flavor – very fruity and light.    I didn’t want to buy almond extract for the glaze that she recommends, so I mixed the confectioner’s sugar with one part milk and one part orange juice, then added a pinch of lemon and orange zest to the mix.  I think the almond glaze would probably taste better, though I did like my improvisation. 

They are very cake like cookies, so I definitely want to make them again, but I’m thinking of making them into sandwich cookies with a fluffier icing in the middle, sort of like a food snob’s whoopie pie. 

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All in all, a delicious lunch.

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I should have known from the moment I saw these in the February 2009 Martha Stewart Living, that they would be another labor of love.  But I’m a sucker for pretty foods and I didn’t listen to the little voice in my head telling me that my cupcakes would never be as gorgeous as Martha’s.

After a few ugly cupcakes and some internet consultations, I figured out the trick to making the pools of jam to look almost as nice as those of the domestic goddess.  Hopefully, my tricks will help you out should you dare to attempt them.

I made a couple substitutions from the original recipe, namely, replacing the chocolate cookie crust with a gingersnap one.  Chocolate just didn’t sound right to me with a springy, apricot dessert.  If you wanted to do chocolate, then I think a berry jam would go better.  Of course, I happen to think apricot really is the only jam worth making this with.  Red jam wouldn’t look like anything, and I love how these look like eggs or suns.

Finally, the recipe says it makes 18, but I think it’s really a 14-16 cupcake recipe.  The crust recipe was a little short, and I had to grind more cookies up.  Then, I filled the tins, but couldn’t get to the top and they didn’t rise up.  They were a little bit flat.  So, I’ll probably do 15 next time.

Mini Cheesecakes with Apricot Jam

Ingredients

3/4 cup crumbled chocolate-wafer cookies (about 18 cookies)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 pound cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sour cream  (I used nonfat plain yogurt)
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup apricot jam (at least, I probably used about 3/4 cup)

I also added a teaspoon of lemon zest.

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Mix cookies and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar in a bowl. Stir in butter. Press 1 tablespoon of mixture in bottom of each cup. Bake until set, about 7 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks.

Reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees.  Beat cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until smooth.  Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, then vanilla and lemon zest, if you are using it.  With mixer running, add eggs slowly, scraping down side of bowl.  Add sour cream (or yogurt) and salt.  Pour batter into muffin cups, filling almost to the tops.

Bake until sides are set but centers are wobbly, about 20 minutes.  Let cool in tins on wire racks.  Wrap tins tightly with plastic, and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Now, this is where things get tricky.  My cheesecakes were not wobbly, they were firm and slightly domed.  To make the pools, here’s what I did. 

First, I lightly etched circles in each of the cupcakes using the tip of a grapefruit spoon.  You could use a knife or whatever you’ve got.  I recommend the grapefruit spoon if you have one, since it’s sharp, it will scoop better than a knife will, and it’s a little smaller than a spoon.  

After etching the circles, I wiped the spoon clean, and heated it over a flame (just turned on a burner on my gas stove top).  When it was still very hot, I carefully cut away the circles.  It’s important that the spoon or knife that you use is hot, because that helps melt the cheesecake and you get a neater hole.  You’ll have to wipe the spoon off and reheat every cupcake or two.  You also may have to go back over the holes with a warmed spoon to smooth out the edges a little.

Warm the jam in a small saucepan until liquidy.  Strain through a sieve.  Spoon 1 teaspoon jam on top of each cake.   It’s really much easier to do this while the jam is warm because it will firm up again as it cools, so you may  have to reheat in the middle of the process.

The good news is that the jam pools do firm up, so these are fairly portable.  I carried mine in tupperware about 12 blocks and they were still pretty looking upon arrival.

The recipe says that the cheesecakes will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days.  While this is probably true, the leftover ones were looking not so pretty after about 24 hours.  So, don’t make the jam pools until the day you want to impress people with them.

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