Lately I've been trying to incorporate some new foods into my diet, mainly in place of other items that have less nutritional value. First up was quinoa, which looks a lot like a grain and is cooked similarly but is actually the seed of a plant that is related to leafy green veggies like spinach. I'd seen a ton of recipes floating around the web incorporating quinoa that I couldn't wait to try, but first I cooked it simply in a saucepan on my stove-top. Unfortunately, when I took my first bite, I hated it (sorry to be brutally honest). I can't even put my finger on what bothered me (I rinsed my quinoa, but it definitely still tasted bitter to me though that doesn't entirely describe the problem), but I knew this wasn't a food I could grow to like, no matter how I prepared it. Nutrition is nice, but if something doesn't taste good, I'm not going to eat it.
Undeterred, I moved on to pearl barley. I really enjoy risotto and I'd seen quite a few recipes substituting barley for the arborio rice so I figured why not give it a shot? Pearl barley isn't a whole grain, but it's still healthier than white rice (there's a nice discussion on barley and where it falls on the grain spectrum here). This recipe comes from Martha Stewart's new book, Fresh Flavor Fast, and the original version included corn and basil. It's asparagus season though and I've been on an asparagus kick so I swapped the corn for some asparagus that I roasted with a bit of olive oil. Like most risotto recipes, this one was a bit time-consuming but simple enough as long as you stirred occasionally. The verdict? The risotto was creamy and definitely warmed me up on a chilly afternoon. As for the barley, it was tender yet chewy with a slightly nutty flavor. Did I love it? Not exactly - I still prefer arborio rice, but I can definitely see myself using it in place of the arborio from time to time in risotto dishes. I'd like to try some other applications as well so if you have any recipe suggestions, please let me know!
Barley Risotto with Asparagus and Basil
from Fresh Flavor Fast by Martha Stewart Living Magazine
2 cans (14.5 oz each) low-sodium vegetable (or chicken) broth
4 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup pearl barley
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 lb roasted asparagus
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
1/2 cup grated (about 2 oz) parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
In a medium saucepan, bring broth and 4 cups water just to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cover to keep warm.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the barley; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Pour in the wine and stir until it is absorbed, about 1 minute.
Ladle in 2 cups of the warm broth mixture; cook, stirring occasionally, until almost completely absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes. Continue adding broth mixture 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently and allowing liquid to be almost absorbed before adding more, until barley is tender and mixture is creamy, 40 to 50 minutes (you may not have to use all the broth). Add the asparagus; cook just briefly to reheat if necessary.
Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the basil and parmesan; season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, garnished with extra cheese if desired.
Posted by Tracey Wilhelmsen at 12:46 AM
This week's Tuesdays with Dorie was chosen by Mary of Popsicles and Sandy Feet: chockablock cookies - an interesting name for a cookie that is serious business! These cookies include molasses, oats, coconut, chocolate, dried fruit and nuts. I wasn't sure how all of those flavors were going to work together but it was easy enough to throw them together so I figured why not. Plus, some of the TWD bakers who didn't wait until the last minute to bake the cookies were giving them positive reviews.
I made half of the recipe which gave me 15 cookies and I went with a combination of dried cranberries and raisins for the fruit and walnuts for the nuts. Since I don't like walnuts, including them was my way of ensuring that I didn't eat any of these cookies. I just received a ton of delicious treats from Margot in my Secret Baker package so the last thing I needed was more cookies tempting me. I've also recently decided that I'm not a huge cookie person. I'd much rather save my calories for pies and pastries and candy!
I emailed my mom yesterday to see if she wanted my cookies and she jumped at the chance. They aren't the most photogenic little guys but she absolutely loved them nonetheless! One of the things I was most curious about was how prominent the molasses was - I was concerned it would be overpowering and compete with everything else going on in these cookies. That wasn't the case at all though according to my mom. The many flavors worked together to make this one terrific chewy cookie!
Many thanks to Mary for hosting this week! You can find the recipe on her blog or on page 86 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.
I love getting magazines in the mail and at this point I'm receiving quite a few thanks to gift subscriptions as well as a few good deals I found myself. It really brightens my day to open my mailbox and see a new magazine waiting for me! Sometimes I don't find time to flip through them immediately but when this month's issue of Cooking Light arrived, I plopped down on the couch and read most of it. A short article on smoothies and several accompanying recipes caught my eye and not too long after, I was in the kitchen making one for breakfast.
I went with the banana breakfast smoothie first because it was the only one for which I had all of the ingredients on hand. It's really simple - a frozen ripe banana, milk, ice, nutmeg, honey and some Greek yogurt. I only made half of the recipe so I used a small banana as opposed to the large one the recipe calls for. I have a huge bag of ripe bananas in my freezer that I've saved for baking so I grabbed one of those, let it defrost just a bit until I could peel it then dropped it in the blender. This smoothie was delicious and very creamy! It's definitely going to be a repeat here (especially if I don't start baking with those frozen bananas soon - they take up a lot of valuable freezer space!). That said, I also can't wait to try the others in the magazine, especially the one that combines peaches and mangoes - yum!
Banana Breakfast Smoothie
from Cooking Light, May 2010 (also available here)
1/2 cup 1% milk
1/2 cup crushed ice
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 frozen sliced ripe large banana
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used nonfat)
Combine milk, ice, honey, nutmeg and the banana in a blender. Press the top on tightly then process for 2 minutes or until smooth. Add the yogurt and process just until blended. I grated a bit of extra nutmeg on top for garnish, but that's obviously optional. Serve!
Yield: about 2 cups
One of my favorite things about baking with Sweet Melissa Sundays is that we've kept the group relatively small with a maximum of 50 people. The goal isn't to be exclusive; rather, the small membership size allows each of us to visit and comment on all of the other blogs each week. When a group gets too large, it's simply not feasible for most people to visit everyone and inevitably some blogs don't receive the level of support that others do. I like getting to know the other bloggers in the group better as a result of stopping by their sites week after week - it makes this group a lot of fun!
The other benefit to the small group size is that we'll all likely have the opportunity to host two times and this week just happens to be my turn (my second - the first time I hosted I selected the caramel apple turnovers). After flipping through the book several times marking possible recipes, I settled on the strawberry rhubarb cobbler pie for this week! I had a few reasons - first, I suspected both strawberries and rhubarb would be in season for many of the members and I know I always appreciate when folks choose recipes that include seasonal ingredients. Also, I'd never had rhubarb before and this seemed like the perfect time to finally give it a shot. Plus, baked fruit desserts are one of my favorites, especially when they include both flaky pie crust and buttery biscuits :)
The recipe has three components - a bottom crust, the fruit filling and the cobbler topping. Melissa has two pie crust recipes in the book and I used the all-butter one, though I have provided a link to the recipe for the flaky pie crust (which contains shortening) as well. The all-butter crust recipe has become a go-to in my house since discovering it not too long ago. I can make it quickly in the food processor, it rolls out easily, and it's wonderfully flavorful. Since I already had the food processor out, I used it to make the biscuits too instead of making them by hand as the recipe instructs. I was only able to get 6 full size biscuits and a tiny 7th one, but they fit around the top of the pie perfectly. I used a fluted biscuit cutter, but I probably wouldn't bother next time as you couldn't see the pretty edges after the pie baked. The fruit filling includes strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice so it's very quick and easy to throw together in one bowl. I also found it was the perfect amount of fruit to fill the pie shell.
The hardest part of the recipe for me was determining when the pie was finished. I used the time estimate provided as a guide and waited until my juices were "bubbling and thick" - at about 1 hour and 10 minutes, it seemed I was there. The juices were bubbling feverishly! I pulled the pie out and though the filling looked a bit soupy, I know fruit pies set up as they cool so I hoped the filling would thicken then. Unfortunately, even after letting the pie sit on my counter overnight, the juices weren't as thick as I'd have liked. It made it nearly impossible to cut a neat slice, which explains why I haven't shared a photo of the slice of pie I tried. Were I to make the pie again, I'd bake it a little longer or maybe even use a touch more cornstarch in the filling.
Shane's dad and his coworkers received the remainder of the pie after I snagged my slice. I warned him that the pie was "soupy" before he came to pick it up but he wasn't deterred. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive despite my concerns over the texture. There seemed to be consensus that the filling was really sweet, but no one thought it was a detriment to the pie. I'm still on the fence on the level of sweetness - I might reduce the amount of sugar just a tad when I make it again. Because of the sweetness from the sugar and the strawberries I'm not sure I was really able to taste the rhubarb but Shane's mom commented that she thought it added a bit of tartness. Everyone liked the flavor of the crust and no one thought it was soggy, which I was glad to hear after all the juices I saw sitting atop it. The biscuits on top really made this pie outstanding for me - they were buttery, just a bit sweet but somehow light and even fresh from the lemon zest.
Many thanks to everyone who was able to bake with me this week! I hope the pie was a hit :)
Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler Pie
from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy
1/2 recipe for Flaky Pie Dough (recipe here) or All-Butter Pie Dough (recipe here)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher slat
2 tablespoons sugar, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons, for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 tablespoon whole milk or heavy cream, for glazing
Strawberry Rhubarb Filling
2 cups rinsed, hulled and sliced fresh strawberries (1/4-inch slices)
2 cups cleaned and sliced fresh rhubarb (1/2-inch slices
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
To Prepare the Piecrust: Roll the dough into a circle 12-inches in diameter and 1/4-inch thick. Gently fit it into a 9-inch pie plate. Fold the edges under and crimp then refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
To Make the Cobbler Topping: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, 2 tablespoons of sugar and the zest. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it resembles a coarse meal. Little by little, stir in the heavy cream until the dough starts to hold together (a bit more cream may be used if needed).
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Pat together to form a round that is 1/2-inch thick. Using a lightly floured 2 1/2-inch round biscuit cutter, cut the dough into 7 or 8 biscuits (cut as many as you can from the first round then use the scraps to form and cut from a second round).
Place the biscuits on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate, loosely covered with plastic wrap, until ready to use.
Before You Make the Filling: With a rack in the bottom third of your oven, preheat to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
To Make the Filling: In a medium bowl, combine the strawberries, rhubarb, lemon juice, sugar and cornstarch and mix gently. Pour the fruit mixture into the chilled, unbaked pie shell.
To Complete the Pie: Place the cobbler biscuits evenly around the top of the strawberry mixture. Brush the biscuits with the milk (or cream) and sprinkle with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar.
Place the pie on the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the juices are bubbling and thick. To check the "doneness" of the biscuits, carefully lift one to see that the bottom looks like a steamed dumpling and not raw dough. Remove the pie to a wire rack to cool to room temperature before serving.
This coffee cake made the rounds on several blogs a few months ago. At the time, I jumped into my kitchen and made it immediately...and apparently liked it so much that I ate the whole thing before I could get a few photos and share it on the blog. Warm from the oven it was irresistible - soft, light, sweet, and bursting with fresh citrus flavor. It almost reminded me of a citrus version of cinnamon rolls. The sugar that baked up from between the layers created a crunchy crust on top of the cake, which was one of my favorite parts. You can eat the cake either by peeling the layers apart or (after it is nearly cool), cutting it into 1-inch thick slices on the diagonal. I ate it both ways, but my preference was for the peeled pieces, mainly because you got more of the filling in each bite that way! This recipe was simply too good not to share so recently I made it again and managed to restrain myself so I could get it up on the blog.
The recipe isn't difficult despite its many steps, though it is a bit time consuming. The end result is certainly worth the effort! Though I make yeast breads frequently, this was my first time making a yeasted cake. The main difference was the consistency of the dough - it was much more fluid, almost like batter, and fairly sticky. I added a bit more flour than the recipe called for just so I could work with the dough but overall I followed the instructions. The other thing that's a little bit tricky about the cake is determining when it is done. The first time I baked it, I took it out when the top was golden brown, but when I got to the middle of the loaf, I discovered some raw dough. The second time I made it, I was more careful and ended up tenting the cake around 30 minutes so I could bake it a little longer without browning the top too much. The folks over at The Kitchn had a great suggestion - use an instant-read thermometer to ensure the center of the loaf is about 200 F before removing the cake from the oven.
The only thing I might change about the recipe next time is the icing. When I tried it by itself, I really didn't like it. On top of the cake, it was better but still too thick for me with a flavor I didn't love. I definitely think the cake benefits from icing so I wouldn't leave it off completely, just try a difference recipe.
I think this would be a wonderful treat to include as part of a brunch and I may include it in our Mother's Day spread. Though it makes a wonderful breakfast, I also ate it for dessert too a few nights. The recipe is fairly long so I'm not going to re-type it all here, but if you want to give it a shot you can find it here.
After sitting out last month, I jumped back in for the April round of Secret Baker. My blogging buddy Kayte, of Grandma's Kitchen Table, was our host this month. As the host, you get to choose the theme and Kayte went with snack foods, which I thought was a really fun idea! Oddly, the first thing that came to my mind when I thought about the options for snack foods was spiced nuts. It's odd because I don't like nuts and I definitely don't eat them as snack foods. Still, I thought they'd be be well received by my bakee so I got to work on looking for a recipe....and there were a TON of them! Who knew there were so many ways to make a relatively simple snack?
Despite not eating nuts myself, I actually keep quite a few types on hand for baking. As I've mentioned before, I give away most of what I bake and the folks who receive my treats do like nuts so I often include them when a recipe calls for them. As I searched my freezer for options, I found a lot of pecans so that helped me narrow down my search for spiced nut recipes. I also knew I wanted to use a recipe from Cook's Illustrated because I've found them quite reliable and since I wasn't going to taste the nuts, I needed a recipe I could feel confident about. With those criteria in mind, I quickly selected this recipe for warm spiced pecans with rum glaze. The pecans are first toasted, then coated with a glaze that consists of dark rum, butter, brown sugar and vanilla and finally tossed in the spice mixture, which includes sugar, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. They came together in no time and smelled amazing! The glaze is fairly light and allowed the spices to stick, without being too sticky or messy.
As luck would have it, my mom stopped by after I made these spiced pecans and before I mailed the package out to my bakee so I asked her to give them a try. She gave them a thumbs-up, saying the spices (especially the cloves) were prominent at first but mellowed as she bit into the pecan, allowing all of the flavors to meld. Hopefully the recipient will enjoy them too!
Warm Spiced Pecans with Rum Glaze
from Cook's Illustrated
2 cups raw pecan halves (8 ounces)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon dark rum
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar (light would be fine too)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spread pecans in an even layer. Toast the pecans for about 8 minutes, or until they are fragrant, rotating the pan halfway through. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack.
While the pecans are toasting, combine the sugar, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice in a medium bowl to make the spice mix. Set aside.
To make the glaze, bring the rum, vanilla, brown sugar and butter to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. Add the toasted pecans to the pan and stir with a wooden spoon to coat the pecans with the glaze. Continue cooking until almost all of the liquid has evaporated, about 1 1/2 minutes.
Add the glazed pecans to the spice mixture. Toss to coat well. Transfer the pecans back to the parchment-lined baking sheet to cool. The nuts can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
This week's Tuesdays with Dorie was chosen by Melissa of Love at First Bite: sweet cream biscuits! The recipe has all of 5 ingredients and can seriously be thrown together in just a few minutes. That might lead you to believe it would be impossible to screw up, but I found a way. Biscuits scare me - I never know how much I should be handling the dough to get the best results. I thought I followed Dorie's instructions exactly here but clearly something went awry. I did freeze the shaped biscuits overnight before baking, but since Dorie specifically says you can do that, I can't imagine that was the problem. My little biscuits didn't rise at all and they definitely weren't very soft. Still, they were fairly tasty and since I scaled the recipe way back to make just 3 biscuits, I wasn't too upset.
Since I'm pretty sure these aren't the biscuits Dorie had in mind when she wrote this recipe, I will have to try them again. I wish I'd had time to research what might have gone and make the biscuits again before today, but I've been busy. In lieu of repeating the recipe, I decided to jazz up my little flat biscuits and the first thing that came to mind was strawberry shortcake! Unfortunately, I didn't have any strawberries so I dug in my freezer and came up with peaches instead. I whipped a little cream and stacked it along with a few defrosted peaches and one of my biscuits. Delicious! Though, in all fairness, anything that includes a mound of whipped cream is awesome in my book.
Big thanks to Melissa for hosting this week! My apologies for not producing nicer biscuits :) If you'd like to give these biscuits a shot, you can find the recipe on Melissa's blog or on page 23 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.
When it comes to chicken, there's a difference of opinion in our house. Shane would probably be perfectly happy if I never bought bone-in chicken again. I get it - boneless chicken is much easier to eat, none of those pesky bones to work around. Unfortunately for him, I do 99.9% of the shopping and I generally purchase bone-in chicken. For one, it's almost always cheaper than boneless and I am frugal. Just as importantly, though, I think bone-in chicken pieces are so much juicier and the cooking process is easier - if I overcook bone-in chicken by a minute or two, I don't end up with a dry piece of meat.
Thighs are one of my favorite cuts of chicken and we have a few recipes we turn to over and over again. With summer approaching, I'd like to start grilling them more though so I've been searching for some different ideas. This was one of the first recipes we tried. It doesn't get much easier than whisking a few ingredients together, popping them in a bag with the chicken and letting it marinate for a few hours. The resulting chicken was juicy and very flavorful! I don't often cook with balsamic vinegar but it's one of my favorite ingredients so I'm glad to have this recipe in my arsenal. Maybe if I keep finding tasty recipes I'll even be able to bring Shane around to a bone-in chicken lover eventually...
Lemon, Rosemary and Balsamic Grilled Chicken Thighs
from Emeril Lagasse (as seen here)
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup rosemary leaves
3 tablespoons thinly sliced garlic
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
8 chicken thigh, skin-on and bone-in
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a medium bowl whisk together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, rosemary, garlic, lemon zest and red pepper flakes. Transfer the marinade to a large resealable plastic bag; add the chicken thighs to the bag and seal it. Turn to ensure that the chicken is evenly coated, then refrigerate, turning occasionally, for 2 to 4 hours.
Preheat a grill to medium and brush the grates lightly with an oil soaked cloth. Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry. Season well on all sides with salt and pepper, then place on the grill, skin side down. Cook the chicken about 8 to 10 minutes, turn over and continue to cook an additional 8 to 10 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 165-170 F and the juices run clear. Remove the chicken from the grill, tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
This week's SMS was chosen by the terrific founder of our group, Lorelei of Mermaid Sweets: sweet potato bread with cinnamon-rum-orange glaze! The recipe for this quick bread calls for canned sweet potatoes (though you could just as easily bake a sweet potato in your oven and mash it up instead), uses oil rather than butter (big cheer for not having to bring butter to room temp!) and includes a combination of spices that I'm more likely to associate with fall than spring - cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Mother Nature must have known I needed to bake the bread this weekend because gone were the sunshine and moderate temperatures of the past few weeks, replaced instead by cool, damp air - in other words, perfect weather for curling up under a blanket on the couch with a slice of a hearty quick bread.
The instructions called for baking this bread in a bundt pan, but I went with minis instead so I could scale the recipe back. I made half of the recipe and wound up with five mini bundts, though the breads rose quite a bit in the oven (over the top of the pan even though I was careful not to overfill the tins) so I'd make six next time. The baking time for the minis was about 20 minutes. I was tempted to skip the glaze because I wasn't sure the breads really needed it - I could tell they were incredibly moist when I removed them from the pan. I ended up making it simply because I had everything on hand and it was easy: rum, sugar, fresh orange juice and a cinnamon stick are simmered until reduced by half and then brushed over the minis twice.
The verdict? The bread was wonderful! The flavor actually reminded me a lot of quick breads made with pumpkin rather than sweet potato. The aroma from the spices filled my house as the breads baked and the spices were definitely prominent in the final breads. I'd probably skip the glaze next time because I don't think it added a lot of flavor to the cakes and it made my minis all sticky. Also, as I mentioned, the breads are plenty moist (maybe even on the verge of too moist if such a thing is possible) without the glaze. Thanks to Lorelei for hosting this week! You can find the recipe for this bread on her site or on pages 21-22 of The Sweet Melissa Baking Book.
One of the best things about the unseasonably warm April we've had is that it's allowed us to get outside and grill quite a bit. I don't recall ever being out grilling regularly so early in the year before. It thrills me to no end as grilling is among my favorite things about summer. What's not to love? Shane does almost all of the grilling at our house so it frees me up to do other things inside - make sides to go with dinner, clean, watch the start of the Red Sox game... Plus, the oven isn't heating an already warm house up even further and there are fewer pans to wash after we eat. Best of all, the food just tastes so good - I love the char on grilled food!
We don't usually grill shrimp much but the other night I needed a fast dinner option and this one fit the bill. You do need to plan ahead as the shrimp have to marinate for at least an hour, but the actual cooking time is less than 5 minutes. As I made this recipe I realized the reason we don't grill shrimp more often is probably because I think skewering them is sort of a pain and I don't find putting a ton of shrimp on the grill to cook individually very practical (by the time you get the last one on the first one is overcooked). That said, these shrimp were delicious and definitely something I'll make again this summer! I was only able to marinate them for an hour and they still had a ton of flavor. This was also my first opportunity to use the herbs I'm growing on my deck so that was pretty exciting - I can't believe how well they're doing!
Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend :)
Grilled Herb Shrimp
from Ina Garten (via FoodNetwork.com)
2 pounds large shrimp (16 to 20 per pound), peeled and deveined
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, small-diced
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
Place the shrimp in a resealable plastic bag. Add all of the other ingredients to a bowl and stir to combine. Pour the marinade into the bag with the shrimp and allow to marinate for at least 1 hour or for up to 2 days in the refrigerator.
Skewer the shrimp. If you are using wooden skewers you may want to soak them in water for 30 minutes beforehand (there's an interesting discussion here about whether soaking is necessary). Light your grill and adjust the gas (or coals) for medium heat. Brush the grill grates with oil to prevent the shrimp from sticking. Grill the shrimp for about 1 1/2 minutes on each side, or until they are opaque and cooked through (if you're using smaller shrimp than the ones recommended in the recipe, they won't need quite as much time).
It feels like ages since we've posted for the Martha Stewart's Cupcakes Club but we're back and this month we baked jumbo cream-filled chocolate cupcakes! The recipe was selected by Jess of Cookbook Habit, a fellow New England blogger and one of the wittiest ladies I know! We don't post recipes for this group so you won't find it on Jess's site, but I still encourage you to drop by and say hi :) If you'd like to try the cupcakes, you can find the recipe on page 133 of Martha Stewart's Cupcakes or here on Martha's website.
As their name implies, these cupcakes are huge! They're baked in a jumbo muffin tin and although I don't remember when or why I bought one, it is among the pans hanging out in my basement. The recipe makes 12 jumbo cupcakes, but as usual, I scaled back to make just 1/3 of the recipe. I only got 3 cupcakes, but that was plenty because seriously, each cupcake was giant! In fact, I couldn't get over the size and to demonstrate the scale I pulled a "regular" sized cupcake from my freezer and photographed it next to the ones from this recipe.
The cupcakes get their flavor from cocoa powder and also incorporate sour cream, which makes them just the tiniest bit tangy. This was probably one of the only times I've baked cupcakes without liners, but I didn't have jumbo liners and fortunately, they released easily from the well-greased pan. The filling for the cupcakes was just two ingredients - a combination of butter and marshmallow creme. I knew it was going to be trouble though when the instructions wanted me to whisk the two of them together. Marshmallow creme is sticky stuff and as I suspected, it was not easy to whisk. I had to stop and scrape the fluff from the whisk more times than I'd like to admit. To fill them, you cut a small piece from the center of the bottom of each cupcake using a melon baller. I found it easiest to scoop out a small piece of the cupcake using the melon baller then switch to a paring knife to hollow out the center a bit more. The bit of cupcake is reserved and plugs the hole after you fill it with the cream/butter combo.
After dinner last night Shane and I split one of the cupcakes for dessert. I think we agreed that they were good, but not great. The cake was tasty and tender but just a bit on the dry side. For me, there was just too much cake in relation to the amount of cream filling. Shane thought the sides of the cupcakes were too crisp, but I liked them that way. The filling had a really buttery flavor and while we enjoyed it in the cupcakes, I just found it too difficult to work with. If I were to make these cupcakes again, I'd make them in standard sized muffin tins and probably make a marshmallow icing from scratch. If you really wanted them to be more like Hostess cupcakes you could add a chocolate glaze to the top too.
Thanks to Jess for hosting this week! Next month we're making tres leches cupcakes and they've been on my to-do list for ages so I'm really looking forward to it!
As part of my continuing quest to have breakfast foods readily available so I don't go reaching for cookies, brownies or other yummy, but not really breakfast-appropriate treats, I spent some time in my kitchen recently making bagels. They'd been on my to-do list for a while and after some gentle nudging from a few friends on Twitter, I finally got to work. I'd considered a few recipes and initially planned to go with the one from Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice because I know it's been hugely successful for just about everyone that's tried it. Recently though, I'd picked up a copy of Peter Reinhart's newest book, Artisan Breads Every Day, and when I pulled it off the shelf and flipped through not only was there a recipe for bagels but it made a relatively small batch (6 bagels). It was perfect as there are only 2 of us and 6 bagels is more than enough. I know I could have frozen the extras if I'd gone with a recipe that made more, but our freezer is already overflowing so trying to shove a bunch of bagels in there wasn't necessarily something I wanted to do. My friend Di had already tried this recipe and enjoyed the bagels too so I didn't have to worry much about whether the result would be worth the effort.
Don't be put off by the fact that bagel recipes tend to be a bit lengthy; this was seriously one of the easiest yeast breads I've ever made. On the first day you make the dough - I made mine by hand and it still took less than 20 minutes from the time I started until I stuck it in a bowl to start rising. I'd been warned that bagel dough is stiff and that making it with my KitchenAid might be scary so that's why I made mine by hand. After letting the dough rise, it's time to shape the bagels, which proved to be the trickiest part of the recipe for me. There are two possible methods for shaping - in the first you make a ball with the dough then use your fingers to press a hole in the center. I went with the second, the rope method, in which you roll your ball of dough into a rope and connect the ends to form a circle. The actual shaping wasn't hard, but after a night in the fridge, I pulled my bagels out and noticed the ends weren't holding together as nicely as I'd have liked; I was worried they were going to come apart when I poached the bagels. Fortunately, they did not, but the joints were very visible in many of my finished bagels and the perfectionist in me was bothered by that, even though it didn't impact the flavor at all.
Speaking of the flavor, these bagels were fabulous! Once toasted, the outside was crisp and the interior was soft and chewy. They were definitely worth the effort and I'll be making them again as soon as we finish this first batch. I may try the other shaping method next time, who knows, but I'll definitely experiment with other flavors. My favorite is cinnamon raisin so that's probably next up, though I'm also tempted by the whole wheat variety so maybe I'll combine the two. Oh one other note - this recipe called for barley malt syrup and I didn't bother looking for it before I made my bagels. Apparently barley malt is a distinctive ingredient in bagels but I thought they were terrific even with the honey I substituted. If I remember to look for it at the store, I'll use the malt syrup next time just to compare the difference but rest assured that you can definitely get good results if you substitute honey.
from Artisan Breads Every Day by Peter Reinhart
[I've rewritten the recipe below to reflect the manner in which I made these bagels. If you'd like to see the entire recipe, which includes directions for making the dough in a mixer as well as the alternative method for shaping and other flavor variations, you can find it on The Kitchn here.]
1 tablespoon (0.75 oz / 21 g) barley malt syrup, honey, or rice syrup (I used honey)
1 teaspoon (0.11 oz / 3 g) instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons (0.37 oz / 10.5 g) salt, or 2 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (9 oz / 255 g) lukewarm water (about 95°F)
3 1/2 cups (16 oz / 454 g) unbleached bread flour
2 to 3 quarts (64 to 96 oz / 181 to 272 g) water
1 1/2 tablespoons (1 oz / 28.5 g) barley malt syrup or honey (optional)
1 tablespoon (0.5 oz / 14 g) baking soda
1 teaspoon (0.25 oz / 7 g) salt, or 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
In a measuring cup stir the honey, yeast, salt and water. Add the flour to a medium bowl and pour in the honey mixture. Use a large wooden spoon to stir the dough for about 3 minute, until well blended. The dough should be stiff and coarse, and the flour fully hydrated. You can add a bit more water if necessary to hydrate the flour. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
Move the dough to a floured work surface and knead for about 3 minutes. You're looking for the dough to be stiff but smooth and supple and just barely tacky. If necessary, knead in a small amount of extra flour. Form a ball and put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray the parchment lightly with cooking spray or oil. After the dough has risen, remove it from the bowl and divide it into 6 pieces, each weighing about 113 grams (or 4 oz). Form each piece of dough into a ball by rolling it on the work surface with your hand. Do not use additional flour on the work surface. To shape your bagel, use both hands to roll the ball out into an 8-inch rope, tapering the rope slightly at each end. Use a bit of water to moisten the last inch of each end of your rope then wrap the dough around the palm of your hand to form a circle. Overlap the ends of the dough by about 2 inches and squeeze them together well by closing your hand around them. Once sealed, use your hands to shape the circle to an even thickness all around, with a hole about 2 inches in diameter in the center.
Repeat to shape all 6 bagels and transfer each to the prepared baking sheet after shaping. Spray the tops of each lightly with cooking spray then cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for up to 2 days.
On the day you plan to bake the bagels, remove them from the refrigerator about 60-90 minutes before baking. Perform the "float test" on one to check if the bagels are ready - place a bagel in a bowl of cold water, if it floats you are good to go! If the bagel sinks and doesn't return to the surface, return it to the pan and wait 15-20 then test again. Once a single bagel passes the test, they're all ready. About 30 minutes before baking, preheat your oven to 500 F.
Fill a pot with 2-3 quarts of water that is at least 4 inches deep. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer and stir in the baking soda, salt and honey (if using). Lower each bagel into the poaching liquid, taking care not to overcrowd the pot - you can do them in batches if necessary. After 1 minute, flip the bagels over and poach for 30-60 seconds on the other side. Use a slotted spoon or kitchen spider to transfer the bagels back to the baking sheet, domed side up. Make sure the parchment is lightly oiled or you won't be able to remove the bagels after baking. I resprayed the parchment with cooking spray while the bagels were poaching.
After all the bagels have been poached, transfer the baking sheet to the oven and lower the temperature to 450 F. Bake for 8 minutes, then check the underside of the bagels to make sure they aren't getting too dark. If they are, place under baking sheet under the one already in your oven. Bake for another 8-12 minutes, until the bagels are golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and wait at least 30 minutes before slicing.
Makes 6 bagels
This week's Tuesdays with Dorie was chosen by Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs: Swedish Visiting Cake. Through TWD I've discovered some terrific blogs and found so many friends who share my passion for baking/cooking. I'm happy to count Nancy among those friends. She's a genuinely nice person and a fabulous blogger - her posts are always so detailed and she's quick to offer tips/advice via Twitter whenever I ask. So, even though the last thing we needed around here was another dessert, I couldn't skip Nancy's pick.
Fortunately, her selection couldn't have been easier to make. In fact, Dorie mentions that this cake is so quick that supposedly you could start making it when you saw visitors coming up the road and have it finished by the time they arrived at your home. I'm not sure it was quite that quick, but it definitely ranks among the easiest recipes we've made from Dorie's book. It can basically be made in just one bowl (if you ignore the bowl you use to melt the butter) with a whisk and a rubber spatula and since I started my cake Sunday night at 10:30 pm, that was a very good thing! The ingredient list is short and includes sugar, lemon zest, melted butter, flour, eggs, and both vanilla and almond extracts (though Dorie notes that the extracts are optional - I used both). The recipe calls for baking the cake in a 9-inch cast iron skillet, but my only cast iron skillet is 12 inches so I just used a regular 9-inch cake pan. Sliced almonds are sprinkled on the cake before it's baked, but I only had whole almonds, so I did my best to slice them as thinly as I could. I think this cake would have been impossible to turn out of the cake pan so I just left it in there and cut slices as necessary.
Since there is no leavener in the cake, it bakes up fairly thin and falls in the rustic category for me. It's wonderfully moist and chewy, and dense - but in the best possible way. I'm not a big fan of almonds but there's almost no flavoring I love more than almond extract, which I acknowledge is somewhat weird. I've found it rare to include almond extract in a dessert and not have it play a starring role and that was certainly the case here. The almond is definitely the prominent flavor in the cake though I could also detect the lemon hanging out in the background. The only thing I didn't love about the cake were the almonds I sprinkled on top - I picked them off before eating my slice and wouldn't include them next time. I would have skipped them entirely, but I knew the cake would photograph better with them on there and I'm not above including garnishes just for photos. I gave most of the cake to my mom and she commented that it might be her number 2 favorite recipe - so high praise all around on this one!
Thanks, Nancy, for a great pick this week! You can find the recipe for the Swedish Visiting Cake on Nancy's blog or on page 197 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.
This week's SMS was chosen by Nicole of Sweet Tooth: chocolate malted layer cake! In the past few months I've gotten into the habit of baking for Sweet Melissa Sundays on Saturday morning when I wake up. It's a fun way to start the weekend, but if the recipe is time consuming, it might easily be after noon by the time I make the recipe, clean up and photograph the treats. This week I was on the ball, completing the recipe on Thursday night, which freed up yesterday morning, a gorgeous Saturday, for a 3-mile walk and some yard work. Today is supposed to be another lovely sunny day and I can't wait; I feel like a new person since winter ended - so much happier and far more productive!
Obviously, I did not make a layer cake, opting instead to go with cupcakes this week since they're easier to transport and give away. My real motivation for baking on Thursday was to get the cupcakes ready for Shane to bring to work on Friday. Chocolate treats are always a big hit at this office so I knew these would probably go over well. I made 1/3 of the recipe, which yielded 9 cupcakes - the baking time was 20 minutes. The cupcakes are made with oil rather than butter and they get their chocolate flavor from both unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder. Additionally, the recipe calls for hot coffee, an ingredient often used in chocolate recipes to intensify the chocolate flavor. We don't drink coffee and don't even own a coffee pot so I substituted hot water along with instant espresso powder (I used 1/3 teaspoon, which would have been 1 full teaspoon had I not scaled back the recipe).
The frosting is made using milk chocolate, malted milk powder, heavy cream, butter and a bit of corn syrup. I didn't want to spend the money on malted milk powder, which I knew I'd probably never use after this recipe, so I took a chance and instead added some Ovaltine that was hanging out in my pantry. Fortunately, it seemed to work! My frosting was a bit thin after I mixed it up, but a little bit of time in the fridge firmed it up and gave it a wonderful consistency for piping. I only made 1/4 of the frosting recipe and had just enough to add a little swirl around the outer edge of each cupcake. To the middle of each cupcake I added 3 malted milk balls.
Not surprisingly, the cupcakes were a hit with Shane's coworkers. I also thought they were delicious! The cupcake was moist and incredibly fluffy - it reminded me of a little pillow it had such a nice light texture. The frosting was very sweet and paired well with the dark chocolate flavor of the cupcake. That said, I'm not a huge fan of chocolate frosting paired with chocolate cupcakes (it's a bit too much chocolate for me - who knew there was such a thing?) so I'm not sure I'd make the combo again, but I can definitely see making these cupcakes and topping them with some peanut butter frosting :) Thanks to Nicole for hosting this week! You can find the recipe on her blog or in the Sweet Melissa Baking Book.
Updated: I noticed that Nicole never posted the recipe on her site so I wanted to update to link to the recipe. Caitlin over at Engineer Baker made the cake and loved it too. You can find the recipe on her site here. Thanks Caitlin!
After having brownies for breakfast two days in the past week, I decided it was high time to get something more appropriate in the house. Nothing at the grocery store appealed to me, so I came back home to bake something. Fortunately for me, my buddy Jessica over at A Singleton in the Kitchen has been sharing muffin recipes every Monday as part of an event she calls Muffin Mondays. I've bookmarked many of the recipes as she's posted them so I just needed to figure out which one I'd try first. I kept going back to the first recipe she shared - cranberry vanilla muffins - they'd appealed to me immediately when I'd seen them back in February and even though cranberries are no longer in season, I had a bag stashed in my freezer just begging to be used. Besides, I think we can all agree that cranberries are a bit easier to justify than brownies when it comes to breakfast...
I adapted the original recipe just slightly based on Jessica's recommendations. The recipe calls for vanilla sugar, which the author makes by combining half of a vanilla bean with a cup of sugar in a food processor. I substituted 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract for the 1/2 vanilla bean. I actually had vanilla sugar in my kitchen (which I'd made previously by tossing used vanilla beans into a container of sugar) but I wanted to see how the vanilla extract substitution would work. The only other change I made to the recipe was to substitute 4 tablespoons of nonfat Greek yogurt for 4 tablespoons of the butter. It's not a change I've ever made to a muffin recipe but Jessica said she does it regularly with good results and I'm definitely in favor of lightening things up where possible.
The verdict? They were very good muffins! The batter was delicious and just a bit sweet and the tartness of the cranberries was a nice contrast to that sweetness. The yogurt for butter substitution worked perfectly - the muffins were moist, fluffy and not at all lacking in flavor. My only minor change the next time I make the muffins might be to cut back a bit on the cranberries. Granted I've only tried two muffins so far, but I thought the ratio of cranberry to muffin was high. Still, these are a great breakfast treat and one I definitely recommend trying if you have cranberries leftover in your freezer!
Cranberry Vanilla Muffins
adapted from Cold Weather Cooking by Sarah Leah Chase (as seen on A Singleton in the Kitchen)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons nonfat Greek yogurt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk (I used 1%)
2 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 375 F. Line 12-14 muffin cups with paper liners.
Place the vanilla extract and sugar in the bowl of a food processor (or blender) and process until the vanilla is fully incorporated into the sugar.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the vanilla sugar with the butter and Greek yogurt until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk, mixing until smooth and fluffy. Fold in the cranberries.
Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each about 3/4 full. Mix together the sugar and the nutmeg for the topping and sprinkle generously over the muffins. Bake until the muffins are light golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes.
Makes 12-14 muffins
Earlier this week, one of our favorite neighbors celebrated his birthday. I wanted to bake him something but, not surprisingly, I didn't get around to it until the last minute. When I'd called my neighbor's wife to ask what she thought he'd like, she told me he loved Twix and I immediately thought of the millionaire's shortbread from the Baked book, which have a shortbread base topped with caramel filling and then a chocolate glaze. Unfortunately, there simply wasn't time to get them completed before it would be too late for us to deliver them to their house. I still plan to bake them, especially since I also love Twix, but it'll have to wait for another day.
Luckily, she also told me he loved chocolate and cheesecake, so I came up with a backup plan. Brownies!! Everyone loves brownies and when you add cheesecake and peanut butter to the equation, they're bound to be a hit. Plus, they're quick to whip up - perfect if you're a procrastinator like me and need to put together a dessert in short order. We loved these brownies - the base is fudgy and moist and the peanut butter cheesecake swirl was perfect. It's slightly tangy with a definite cheesecake texture, but the peanut butter flavor makes it appealing even for cheesecake haters (like Shane - who gladly gobbled a few of the brownies that didn't make it over to our neighbor).
Just a few quick tips for this recipe. The only 8x8 baking pan I have is a Pyrex so that's what I used. I have a few 9x9 pans, but I didn't want the brownies to be too thin. The recipe instructs 25-30 minutes for the baking time and that would probably be fine if you use a metal pan, but my baking time was closer to 35 minutes in my Pyrex. Also, the brownie batter is thick and it will be easier to swirl with the cheesecake batter if you work quickly. I stopped to take pictures as I dropped the batter into the pan and my swirls suffered :)
Peanut Butter Cheesecake Brownies
adapted from Naturally Ella
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/8 cup sugar
1 egg yolk (save the egg white for the brownie batter)
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup flour
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray an 8-x-8-inch baking pan with cooking spray, then line with foil (or parchment), leaving an overhang on 2 sides to create a sling. Spray the foil with cooking spray.
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2/3 cup flour
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray an 8-x-8-inch baking pan with cooking spray, then line with foil (or parchment), leaving an overhang on 2 sides to create a sling. Spray the foil with cooking spray.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and cream cheese on medium until combined. Add the peanut butter to the bowl and beat to incorporate fully. Finally, mix in the egg yolk and milk until the cheesecake batter is smooth; set aside.
Combine the cocoa powder, flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. In another medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and melted butter. Add the whole egg as well as the egg white and the vanilla extract and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and use a rubber spatula to mix until combined.
Smooth 2/3 of the brownie batter in the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Add the cheesecake batter on top and smooth to form an even layer. Drop the remaining brownie batter by spoonfuls on top of the cheesecake and then use a knife to swirl the two together.
Bake for 25-30 minutes (probably closer to 35 minutes if you're baking in Pyrex), or until a thin knife inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Remove the pan to a cooling rack. Once the brownies have cooled, use the foil sling to lift them out of the pan and then cut them into squares.