Saturday, March 8, 2014

warm buns

dear Kristin,

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” —James Beard

Nothing warms my soul (and believe me, it needs warming on these sub-zero days) than a basket of warm yeasty rolls straight from the oven. No matter how satisfying the meal, I always feel a little cheated if there are no rolls or bread offered. Oh, and as for those fancy-shmancy restaurants who offer "bread service", doling out one dinner roll at a time? They leave me feeling like Charles Dickens' "Oliver", pleading "Please sir, can I have more?". Just leave the basket, I beg you. You'll save a lot of repeat trips to my table!

You will remember these rolls; in fact, I know that you have made them yourself. I think we first discovered them at a chain steakhouse restaurant, although I can't remember which one at this point (so many have come and gone!). A little bit sweet, and nice and light, they make a wonderful dinner roll. But wait, there is more! They are also absolutely wonderful slightly warmed with butter and jam for breakfast. In fact, I can see these little gems fitting in well with breakfast, elevensies, lunch, brunch, supper, tea, dinner...... And, if that is not enough, warm some in the oven just before you leave for work in the morning and put them in your pockets - Edible Hand-warmers!!

sour cream dinner rolls (bread machine)

1/4 c. water
1/4 c. sour cream
1/4 c. butter cut into tiny pieces
1 egg
2 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 pkg. rapid rise yeast

Place ingredients in bread machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. Process on dough cycle. (In my machine this is about 1 1/2 hours). Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead dough 4 to 5 times.

Shape dough into 16 rounds and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Cover & let rise in a warm place for 40 minutes or until doubled.

Bake at 375 F. for 10-12 minutes.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

healthy cake

Dear Mom,

Speaking of healthy desserts, how about some good old fashioned carrot cake?  I think this is the original healthy dessert, it features vegetables as the main ingredient!  What's more healthy than getting a good dose of beta-carotene, vitamin A and fiber?  All in cake form?  This recipe has pineapple and pecans in it too, so we will just be topping those other healthy items with some heart-healthy nut oils and immune-boosting vitamin C!  Don't forget the calcium in the cream cheese frosting.  All in all, this is a very healthy cake, so why not have two servings? 

This cake is pretty easy to put together, you could do cupcakes too if you want individual portions, just decrease the baking time to about 15-20 minutes. 

carrot cake

1-1/2 cups AP flour
1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup sweetened, flaked coconut
1/3 cup chopped pecans
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
3 tbsp. veggie oil
2 large eggs
2 cups grated carrot
1-1/2 cups canned, crushed pineapple, drained
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350.  In a large bowl whisk together flour, sugar, coconut, pecans, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.  Whisk together oil and eggs in a separate bowl.  Add the oil and egg mixture, carrot and pineapple into the flour mixture, stir until combined.  Pour the batter into a 13" x 9" baking pan coated with cooking spray.  Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack.

cream cheese frosting

2 tbsp. softened unsalted butter
1 8-oz block of cream cheese, softened
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup sweetened, shredded coconut

With an electric mixer, beat together cream cheese, vanilla and butter until well blended.  Slowly add the powdered sugar beating constantly.  Spread onto the cooled cake.  Toast the coconut.  I use my toaster oven to do this, just spread the coconut out on a small baking sheet and put it in the toaster oven, watching it very closely as it has a tendency to burn quickly.  As parts of the coconut gets browned, stir it and re-spread it out on the baking sheet.  (You could easily follow the same procedure in a regular oven.)

Sprinkle the top of the cake with the toasted coconut.

Friday, January 17, 2014

healthy cookies?

Dear Kristin,

Yes, indeed we are very proud of you for passing all of your exams! It's been a very long road for you, and I don't blame you a bit for going the take-out route to help you through. But now that you are finished, and now that the holidays are over, it's time to settle down to some more healthy eating. So, you may ask, why am I posting a cookie recipe here? Well, I like to believe that these cookies are a somewhat healthier option - well, at least they are vegan friendly, and all of my vegan friends are healthy, so these must be healthy too, right? Sure - I'll just keep telling myself that as I scarf them down.

I guess these cookies seem healthier because they don't contain any butter or eggs, and they do contain good old fashioned oats. Whether they are healthier is probably debatable because they do contain a hefty amount of oil and sugar. They are also highly addictive, so you may end up eating three or four in one sitting - definitely not a healthy habit. These are loosely based on Giada De Laurentiis' Spiced Pumpkin-Raisin Cookies - I just fiddled with the spices and used diced apples instead of raisins. While, like any cookie, they are wonderful with a tall cold one (milk, that is), they are really amazing with a nice cup of tea on a snowy afternoon, making you just feel warm & toasty all over.

appleumpkin cookies

2 c. flour
1 1/3 c. oats
2 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. raw sugar
1 c. canned pumpkin
2/3 c. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup apple, small dice

Combine flour, oats, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In a larger bowl, combine the sugar, canned pumpkin, oil, syrup & vanilla. Whisk well to combine. Gradually stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture. Add the apples.

Drop by generous tablespoons onto parchment lined baking sheets, about 1" apart. Flatten each cookie slightly and sprinkle with additional raw sugar.

Bake in a 350 degree oven 17 to 20 minutes - they should be slightly firm to the touch. Cool slightly before transferring to racks.

Friday, December 20, 2013

hello from the land of take-out

Dear Mom,

Well, hello, hello!  Long time no talk!  So I've been MIA from the blog for a few months now, but with good reason.  So, for those readers out there who are unaware, my little profile there on the right-hand side of the page says that I'm an "architectural designer."  The big difference between an architectural designer and an architect is that a person who calls themselves an architect is a person who has received their degree through an accredited architecture program, has taken the ARE (Architectural Registration Exam) and has three years of work experience.  As far as the real world work experience goes, the work is about the same no matter what you call yourself.  Those three years of work experience were easy.  The ARE was not.  The ARE has seven divisions of tests, each with over eighty multiple choice questions plus a design "vignette" (or three design vignettes  depending on the division).  Its all very technical and boring, but guess what?  I JUST FINISHED AND PASSED MY SEVENTH TEST AND I'M FREAKIN' DONE! 

Needless to say, I'm very happy.  So this is what I've been up to the past couple of months, studying.  Since it was the last exam I wanted to be completely focused, I did nothing but eat, breathe and sleep architecture these past few months.  So, any recipes that I would post from these past couple of months would read something like this:

1 cell phone
1 take-out menu
1 credit card

1.  Turn on cell phone.
2.  Dial number on take-out menu.
3.  Order food.
4.  While waiting for food, study flashcards.
5.  Answer door bell.
6.  Eat food, while studying flashcards.

So that's been my life, until that wonderful little email came that said I was done!  I'll be changing that little profile over there soon enough, I just have to wait for the paperwork to go through.  After all of that hardwork I wanted something hardy, cheesy and warming (because it was snowing when I found out).  I had a bizarre surplus of onions in my fridge, so here is what I made.

french onion soup

4 cups thinly sliced red onions
4 cups thinly sliced sweet yellow onions
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. sugar
fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup dry white wine
8 cups less sodium beef broth or stock
8 sprigs fresh thyme
slices of baguette
slices of reduced-fat swiss cheese

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat, add onions.  Saute for 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender.  Add sugar, salt and pepper.  Continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the onions are browned slightly.  Add wine and cook for 1 minute.  Add broth and thyme, bring to a boil.  Cover and simmer for 1 hour (or more).

Ladle soup into heat-proof individual serving bowls.  Top with baguette slice, then top with a slice of cheese.  Broil in the oven on high until the cheese gets browned and bubbly.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

mom's big mistake

Dear Kristin,

Yes, it is definitely time to break out the winter-chill-chasing recipes. While I love summertime for all of the grilling we do, the fall and winter stews, pies and baked goods just make me all warm & fuzzy inside. We never had home-made soup when I was a kid - everything we had came out of those little red & white cans. I must admit, that although my mom was not the greatest of cooks, she could heat the heck out of a can of soup! Unlike some moms we know. Let me take you back a few years, to when you were just a tot and I was a harried working mom, just trying to get dinner on the table....

We came home from the day-care, and I was busily preparing one of my famous quick fix dinners of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup (from a can, of course). While I normally just blended the soup concentrate with all water or with half water and half milk, I decided that maybe you needed something a little more fortifying and used all milk instead. When I put the soup in front of you, you just kind of looked at it a bit skeptically, tilted your head, and asked "Mom, is the tomato soup supposed to be orange?"

"Yes, honey" I replied. I explained that using all milk made the soup a different color than what you were used to, but that it would be so much tastier and creamier. (Meanwhile I'm thinking - gheesh! the nerve of this kid, questioning her mom!) You seemed satisfied with this answer, knowing that, as always, Mom is always right, and could never, in her ultimate wisdom, ever serve her precious daughter anything less than a perfectly prepared meal. Imagine my surprise, then, when I heard this tiny voice a few minutes later, asking with just a tint of trepidation, "Mom, is the tomato soup supposed to be cold?" I was busted! even my four-year-old knew that soup is supposed to be hot! In my rush to get dinner on the table, I'd completely forgotten to heat up the soup!! Maybe that was the day you decided to become the culinary queen that you are - no more trusting Mom!

Well, I've come a long way since then. I rarely open a can of soup, unless it's an ingredient in something else like a casserole. And I must say that this recipe for potato soup came out wonderfully. I can't really call it baked potato soup, because unlike most similar recipes, the potatoes aren't baked - just allowed to simmer until they're tender. The beer & cheddar cheese add a nice tang, and the topping of bacon, cheddar & sour cream? Divine.

loaded potato soup

4 Tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 large ribs celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 c. flour
salt and pepper
3 c. chicken stock (more if necessary)
1 c. whole milk
1 (12 oz.) bottle of beer
4 large russet potatoes, peeled & chopped
2 c. grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of hot sauce (optional)
1/2 to 1 lb. bacon, cooked crisp
sour cream for topping
chives for topping

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, carrot, celery & onions. Cook until the veggies begin to soften. Sprinkle the flour over the veggies & continue to cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes more, or until flour is toasted. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2. Gradually whisk in the stock, and then the milk and the beer. Add the potatoes and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer until the potatoes are tender (about 20 minutes).

3. Remove the pan from the heat. Remove about 1 to 2 cups of potato chunks and reserve. Using an immersion blender, puree the rest of the soup until smooth. Return the soup to the stove, and turn heat to low. Add the reserved potatoes and a handful of bacon pieces.

4. Add one cup of  the cheddar cheese, a handful at a time, stirring and cooking until smooth after each handful. Add Worcestershire, hot sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.

4. Place soup in bowls and top with remaining cheddar, sour cream, bacon and chives.