Friday, September 30, 2011

A Hearty Chocolate Almond Bread

I am so excited ... this weekend I going to visit my brother and his family, which means I get to meet my six week old nephew. It promises to be a lovely time of catching up with family, playing with my older niece and nephew, and sharing in the joy of a new baby. Of course, I can’t arrive empty handed and have had fun pondering what I can tuck into my carry-on bag. Bread travels well since it is compact and sturdy, and I’ve had my eye on a recipe for a chocolate loaf studded with chunks of chocolate and almonds.

Chocolate and almonds pair so well together. I love a good bar of dark chocolate with almonds, especially with a little sea salt added in, so when I spotted a recipe for chocolate almond bread in the Macrina Bakery & Café Cookbook (my favorite bakery in Seattle), I knew I had to make it. I added whole wheat flour, substituted almond milk, increased the chocolate and sprinkled salt on top, and am very pleased with the resulting bread.

We sliced the chocolate loaf while still warm, licking the melting chocolate off of our fingers. I had planned to butter the bread, or spread slices with cream cheese, but we enjoyed it plain and almost consumed the entire loaf in one sitting.

This is a hearty bread. The chunks of chocolate are decadent and the toasted almonds add wonderful crunch, while the cinnamon topping rounds out the flavors beautifully.

Have a great weekend!

Chocolate Almond Bread
Adapted from Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook
by Leslie Mackie
Makes 1 loaf

1/2 cup almond milk (I use unsweetened vanilla)
2 teaspoons dried yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup dark, unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (have a mix of big and small chunks)
1/2 cup whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons brown sugar
A tiny pinch of sea salt

Warm the almond milk slightly in a small saucepan. Sprinkle the yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer. Pour the warm almond milk into the bowl and let sit for 5 minutes, until the yeast bubbles up.

Add the remaining sugar, vanilla, eggs, cocoa powder, flours and salt. Using the dough hook, mix on low speed for a couple of minutes. Add the butter and increase the speed to medium. Mix for about 10 minutes, until the dough looks satiny. Add the chopped nuts and chocolate and mix for a couple more minutes.

Place the dough in a medium sized bowl, cover with a clean dish towel and place in a warm spot to rise for about 2 hours (if my kitchen is cold, I preheat the oven on its lowest setting, then turn it off and pop the bowl into the oven and shut the door).

Punch the dough down, remove it from the bowl and knead on a floured surface to remove air bubbles. Shape the dough into a ball. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the bread on it. Let rise for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the cinnamon, brown sugar and salt. Sprinkle it on top of the loaf. Bake for 50-55 minutes. The loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool for 1/2 hour before slicing (if you can wait that long!).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Honey Apple Cake: The Sweet Flavors of Rosh Hashanah

Apples dipped in honey ... I love this tradition that celebrates Rosh Hashanah. The crisp, juicy apples pair beautifully with sweet, floral honey. What a wonderful way to bring sweetness to the New Year! During the Rosh Hashanah dinner, we say blessings and pass trays of sliced apples around the table to dip into bowls of honey. (It is also a favorite after-school snack for my boys – a perfect way to welcome apple season.)

Food for this holiday focuses on sweetness. You can use sweet dates, carrots, apples, honey, prunes, maple syrup or dried apricots in stews, meat and vegetable dishes. For dessert, apple cake or honey cake are festive choices.

While I love apple cake and have baked different versions over the years (always in a happy search for “the one”), I am not the biggest fan of honey cake, even chocolate honey cake. Often, I find honey cake too dry and not a cake I want to indulge in to begin the New Year. Since apples and honey are a natural pairing, I decided to combine these two in a single cake that I hoped would yield dense, moist slices for us to sigh over and savor.

Traditional honey cake recipes call for liquids such as coffee, orange juice, whiskey, or a combination of all three. I decided to substitute pear juice and chunky applesauce for these liquids to increase the fall flavors. I also subbed out part of the usual vegetable oil for fruity olive oil. The ultimate addition, though, is layers of apples tossed with cinnamon. Moist and dense? This cake is that, and more. It is a tall, majestic cake that sings of apples and honey, cinnamon and cloves, and sweetness for a New Year.

L’Shana Tova! Wishing you a sweet and healthy year.

Honey Apple Cake
Serves 10

6 large apples (I used a combination of local Honeycrisp and Sansa)
6 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup honey (I used fireweed)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pear juice
3/4 cup chunky, unsweetened applesauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or oil a angel food cake pan. Peel, core and slice the apples into eighths. Toss the apples with 2 teaspoons of cinnamon in a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, remaining 4 teaspoons cinnamon, cloves and allspice.

In another bowl, stir together the oils, honey, sugars, eggs, vanilla, juice and applesauce.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and mix the wet ingredients in.

Spoon a quarter of the batter into the prepared cake pan. Place a row of apple slices in a concentric circle around the pan. Spoon in another quarter of batter to cover the apples and place another row of apples on top. Repeat two more times, finishing with the apples.

Bake the cake for about 1 1/4 hours. If it begins to brown or darken around the edges too much, place some foil on top. This is a deep, dense cake and you want to be sure it is fully baked. Test in a few areas to see if it is done all over. Let cool completely before removing it from the pan. It is a heavy cake. Slice and enjoy!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tomato-Pomegranate Jam for Fun

This summer I fell in love with tomato jam. How had I never eaten this lush condiment before? The first time, I kept it quite simple and we appreciated the pure, concentrated tomato taste. It became a staple slathered onto sandwiches and enhanced our scrambled eggs.

Tomatoes are still ripening on our vines and since we have run out of tomato jam I decided to make a new batch. Tomato jam is versatile. You can add different spices such as cumin or ginger, mince up some onion, heat it up with chilies, sweeten it with honey or tart it up with lemon juice. You can really get creative!

As I pondered what to include in the jam, pomegranates came to mind with Rosh Hashana approaching this week. Pomegranates are coming into season and are one of the fruits we will be blessing as we celebrate the Jewish New Year. For this batch, I thought I'd use pomegranate molasses, which is pomegranate juice that has been reduced to a syrup and is a marvelous staple to keep in your kitchen. It can be found in Middle Eastern markets and specialty grocery stores. It’s terrific to use in marinades, salad dressings, cocktails and homemade sodas.

I thought the sweet-tart flavor would blend well with the tomatoes and gave it a whirl. Quite delicious! In fact, the next time I make it I may increase the amount of pomegranate molasses to let it shine even more. We enjoyed this jam with homemade ricotta cheese and thick slices of whole grain bread over the weekend. I think pairing the jam with grilled cheese sandwiches will be next. Endless possibilities to enjoy!

Tomato-Pomegranate Jam
Makes about 1 quart

4 pounds roma tomatoes, chopped (I don’t bother to peel or seed, but if you prefer a smoother jam you can do so)
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coriander

Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium and let it simmer and bubble, stirring often, until thick and jammy (about 1 hour).

Let cool and ladle into a 1 quart jar. The jam will keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Celebrating Shabbat with Chocolate Chip Challah

My Friday mornings begin with challah baking. After putting the kettle on for tea, I pull out the stand mixer, sprinkle yeast and sugar into the bowl and pour warm water over it. As I make breakfast for the family, I breathe in the warm scent of yeast as it bubbles and foams. I love beginning the day this way! Listening to NPR is interrupted while the mixer kneads the dough for me ... such a wonderful time saver, allowing me to make lunches and help with the last minute rush of getting Bob, Sam and Isaac out the door for work and school. I then cover the mixing bowl with a kitchen towel, pour myself another cup of tea and go on to the next task of the day while the dough rises for two hours.

Unfortunately, I was without my KitchenAid mixer for a bit. It stopped working when the plastic housing encasing the motor cracked. Argh! After researching online, Bob learned this was apparently a common issue with this particular model (Professional 600) when we bought it six years ago. Quite frustrating, as I’ve known KitchenAids to last for well over thirty years. Bob is resourceful, though, and ordered a metal housing piece to replace the plastic one and fixed the mixer for me. Woohoo! Now my mixer should last for many years to come.

While without the mixer, I did continue to bake but did the mixing and kneading by hand. It was good to be reminded of the pleasures of creating dough with my hands, the relaxation of kneading and feeling the dough. Such a homey process! I realize there are times I want to make bread or cookie dough by hand. I don’t want to lose touch with the intimate feel of flour, fat and liquid combining to form something comforting. There are the times, though, when a particular bread dough requires the dough hook of a stand mixer or you want to whip up a big batch of cookie dough. And you certainly can’t beat the time saver of having the dough kneaded for you while you attend to something else. I welcomed my mixer back with open arms and am happy to have the choice of mixing by hand or stand once again.

So what is the first dough I mixed up? Challah! Every Friday evening we celebrate Shabbat. After lighting candles and blessing our children and wine, we bless challah. To make the challah even more special, I bake it with chocolate chips woven into the braids. The chocolate melts and is gooey and fragrant when you pull off a piece of the warm, soft bread. The kids dive in and the adults are right behind. Mmmm, what a way to begin Shabbat dinner ... with chocolate bliss. I sit back and relax with a glass of wine and am content. And, needless to say, my tablecloth is always smeared with chocolate by the end of the evening! Ah well, a small price for an enjoyable Shabbat dinner.

Shabbat Shalom!

A happy sight!

Chocolate Chip Challah
Adapted from Macrina Bakery and Café Cookbook
by Leslie Mackie
Makes 2 loaves

3 teaspoons dried yeast
1 cup warm water
1/2 cup canola or olive oil (I prefer olive oil)
3 tablespoons honey
4 eggs, room temperature, plus 1 for the egg wash
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 1/2 - 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
12 ounces chocolate chips

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, add the yeast, gently pour the warm water over and let sit until the mixture begins to bubble, about 5 minutes. Add the oil, honey, 4 eggs, salt and 4 1/2 cups of flour. Mix with a wooden spoon (if mixing by hand) or with a dough hook on low speed. When combined, begin to knead with your hands or increase the speed to medium on your stand mixer and knead for 10 minutes. This is a very soft, sticky dough and it is tempting to add too much additional flour to make it more manageable. Add up to 1/2 cup more flour if it is very difficult to handle but no more. This is where mixing in a stand mixer makes the process easier.

Scrape down the insides of the bowl with a dough scraper so a ball is formed. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and set in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours ( I preheat my oven to the lowest setting, then turn the oven off and pop the bowl in and close the door – just remember it’s in there if you have other baking to do!).

Sprinkle some flour on a surface to knead. When the dough has about doubled in size, punch it down, and with floured hands pull it out of the bowl. Gently knead the dough (it should be easier to handle now) and divide into 2 halves. Cut each half into 3 portions. Roll the 6 portions into ropes about 10 inches long , flatten each rope a bit and lay a generous row of chocolate chips on each. Lightly push the chocolate into each rope and pinch the dough around to seal it in. You will have 6 chocolate chip filled ropes.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To create each loaf, braid 3 ropes together, pinching the ends of the loaves and tucking under to seal. Place the loaves on the baking sheet and let rise for about 30 minutes. Mix the remaining egg with a few drops of water and brush the egg wash onto the loaves.

Bake the challah loaves for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on the baking sheet.

**If you have any leftover, it makes divine French toast the next morning!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Blackberry Compote

Blackberries are still in abundance, ripening and available at the farmer’s markets (as well as on bushes by the roadside, in parking lots and along sidewalks...I’m seeing them everywhere!). These blackberries call out to me and the desire to make something with them is strong.

I recall seeing a recipe of Heidi Swanson’s (of 101 Cookbooks) for a blackberry compote sweetened with maple syrup. Anything involving maple syrup sticks in my memory. I think this must be due to my New England roots, plus its distinct sweetness adds such a depth of flavor to both sweet and savory dishes. I prefer to use Grade B syrup for its darker color and more concentrated taste. With a flat of blackberries and jug of maple syrup in hand, I head to the kitchen.

These gorgeous berries are huge! I chop them roughly in half, just enough so that they blend into more of a sauce but retain some texture. A word of caution, when cutting them they will splatter juice everywhere! I hardly went crazy chopping, but ended up wiping drips and dribbles of juice off the counter, from the sides of the cabinets and up on shelves. A worthwhile endeavor, though!

As the blackberries and maple syrup simmer together, my kitchen fills with a fabulous aroma. After stirring in some lemon zest and freshly grated ginger, I begin sampling. Is it tart? Is it sweet? Just one more taste...totally addictive.

The compote is a delightful mix of summer and fall flavors. It is perfect to eat straight from the jar, stir into oatmeal, top pancakes or add to a cheese plate. I plan to serve it for dessert this week alongside homemade honey thyme ice cream. Enjoy some blackberry bliss!

Blackberry Compote
Inspired by Heidi Swanson
Makes 1 1/2 pints

4 very full pints of blackberries, cut in half
4 tablespoons pure maple syrup (Grade B if possible)
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 lemon, zested
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
3/4 teaspoons salt

In a medium size sauce pan, bring 2 cups of the berries, the maple syrup and sugar to a simmer. Let cook for 10 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and stir in the remaining fresh berries, lemon zest, ginger and salt. Let cool.

Ladle into jars or a sealed container. Spoon out as desired! It will keep in the fridge for a week.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pumpkin Cake with Salted Honey Caramelized Pears and Whipped Cream: Hello Fall!

There is a crispness in the air and, despite the calendar saying summer is here for another week, I say fall has arrived. My sons are outside throwing a football around, leaves are blushing red on the maple trees, Honeycrisp apples are in the market and I am craving autumn cooking with apples, pears and squash. Lots to look forward to!

With thoughts of fall cooking, this past week’s recipe contest on the Food52 site was Your Best Pears. As always, there is a tempting list of recipes to drool over and save (my “saved” list is huge!). One of the pear recipes leaped out at me – Salted Honey Caramelized Pears...these four words evoked an immediate taste that I needed to try. The timing was perfect since I was making dessert to bring to Shabbat dinner and was imagining sweet fall flavors.

Pumpkin cake is a favorite of ours. I love its dense, moist texture and fragrant scents of cinnamon, cloves, ginger and allspice. Mmmm, the flavors of comfort. In the past I’ve served this pumpkin cake with sautéed apples and caramel sauce. This time, Salted Honey Caramelized Pears seemed a perfect accompaniment (with a dollop of whipped cream, of course) and a warm way to welcome fall.

The recipe for Salted Honey Caramelized Pears can be found here (thank you to EmilyC for sharing!). I adapted it slightly since I was using six pears and do not have a sauce pan large enough to fit twelve pear halves. Instead, I made the sauce on the stove top, poured it into a 9x13 baking dish, arranged the pears on top (cut side down), basted with the sauce, then roasted the pears for 15 minutes. I flipped the pears over, basted again and roasted for another 15 minutes.

Simply put, the pears were divine with the pumpkin cake! This dessert combination is definitely a new fall favorite. I hope you enjoy it! This recipe is linked back to a lovely list of pumpkin recipes, too.

Pumpkin Cake
Adapted from The World Of Jewish Desserts
by Gil Marks
Serves 10-12

3 cups organic, pure canned pumpkin puree
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
4 eggs, room temperature, beaten
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Whipped cream for serving
Salted Honey Caramelized Pears (I multiplied the recipe by 3)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a Bundt pan well.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the pumpkin puree, sugars, maple syrup and oil until combined. Mix in the beaten eggs.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Stir into the pumpkin mixture until just mixed.

Pour into the prepared Bundt pan and bake for about 40-45 minutes. This is a moist cake and will have a few crumbs stick to an inserted tester. Let cool and then invert pan to release cake.

Serve with softly whipped cream and Salted Honey Caramelized Pears.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Take the $5 Slow Food Challenge: Kimchi Rice with Poached Eggs

Have you heard about Slow Food USA’s $5 Challenge? It’s an opportunity to gather with your family and friends and enjoy a “slow food” meal that costs no more than $5 per person, which is the typical value of a fast food meal. Slow Food USA’s Jerusha Klemper defines “slow food” as food that is “good for the people who are eating it, good for the people who produced it, and good for the planet. And on top of all that, delicious.”

Here is the pledge I took: “On September 17, I pledge to share a fresh, healthy meal that costs less than $5 – because slow food shouldn’t have to cost more than fast food.” I couldn’t agree more and am thrilled to know more than 5,000 meals are planned! I find this very inspiring, don’t you?

As I contemplated what to serve for this fun challenge, I thought of various ingredients that can produce a hearty, inexpensive, flavorful meal. Frankly, with two teenagers devouring several meals a day, this is what I ponder on a daily basis! In general, combining simple ingredients such as quinoa, lentils, plain yogurt, pasta, eggs, rice, canned sardines, tofu, some cheeses, canned tomatoes and a host of vegetables like potatoes, carrots, garlic, greens and onions can yield delicious meals (shakshouka and pita, fried eggs with spaghetti, and linguine with tomatoes and sardines spring to mind as I’m writing). And, of course, shopping for what is in season provides fresh, cheaper produce.

For this meal, I thought of cabbage, which is cheap and utterly delicious when transformed into kimchi. Mixed with brown rice and softly poached eggs, it’s a complete meal. And do you know how much it costs per person? $2.18! This is what I spent (per person) for the cabbage, brown rice, green onions, garlic, ginger and eggs. This does not include pantry staples I already had such as soy sauce, sriracha, vegetable oil, salt, rice wine vinegar, crushed red chili peppers and sesame seeds, but there is plenty of room in the $5 per person budget to buy any needed pantry staples, add another vegetable or even splurge on dessert.

With this in mind, I will also be roasting carrots. These gorgeous carrots came in our CSA box, but at the grocery store I saw two pounds of carrots were $1.99, enough for four people.

While at the store, I was tempted by a display of Theo chocolate bars at $2.89 each so I grabbed the dark spicy chile and dark toasted coconut for dessert. (Theo produces organic, fair trade chocolates here in Seattle and gives wonderful tours of their factory.) To round out the meal, I also picked up a couple of local Honeycrisp apples at $2.99/lb. They are our favorite and are just coming into season so will be a terrific treat. And yes, I do realize that almost half the budget was spent on dessert!

The total cost per person now? $4.62. Yes!!

Eating slow food requires planning and preparation. It is not always quick, but often it is unattended (like this kimchi or a stew) and can use pantry staples so a lot of shopping is not required. Ultimately, eating slow food is rewarding, healthy, fun and tasty, especially when shared with others. I hope you are inspired to join me in this challenge!

Kimchi Rice with Poached Eggs
Serves 4-6 (depending upon how many teenagers you have eating!)

1 large head green cabbage, shredded
1 tablespoon salt
4 tablespoons sriracha
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper (or more to taste)
2 bunches of green onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted (I use white and black)
4 cups cooked brown rice
8-12 eggs, depending upon how many you want per person
White vinegar

In a large bowl, toss the cabbage and salt together. Let sit for about an hour.

Stir together the sriracha, vinegar, soy sauce, oil, garlic, ginger and chili pepper in a small bowl. Pour over the cabbage and mix well. Let sit for at least an hour and up to 4 hours. Mix in the green onions, sesame seeds and brown rice.

To poach the eggs, bring a small pan of water to a boil and add a splash of vinegar. Crack an egg into a small dish and slip it into the boiling water. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 6 minutes. Remove the egg from the water with a slotted spoon and set aside in a bowl of warm water until all the eggs are poached.

To serve, arrange 1-2 eggs on top of a bowl of the kimchi rice. Garnish with additional green onions, sesame seeds or crushed red chili peppers if desired.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Celebrating My Husband with Tortilla Soup

As Bob’s birthday was nearing this week, I asked what he would like me to make for dinner to celebrate. He requested a Mexican feast which, given his Southern California roots and love of spicy food, was not a surprise. Happy to oblige! Mexican is a family favorite (tied with sushi) and often is our choice for a festive meal.

I just have to say, Bob is the most rewarding person for me to cook for ... he is my biggest fan, giving me praise and support and honest feedback when I create new recipes, make old favorites or dive into a new cookbook. He endures food crazes I subject the family to (ask him about the fennel phase ...) and enthusiastically sits down to dinner every night. I’m proud to say he has developed a very good palate and savors subtle flavors most others would miss. Anytime I’m talking about food (which is - well, most of the time!) he listens intently and takes a moment to think about each ingredient I toss out so he can picture what I’m proposing.

When I began to ponder starting a food blog, Bob immediately encouraged me to take the leap and jump into food writing. He encourages me to challenge myself, to grow and discover, allowing me to strive to be the best I can. No matter what I say I’d like to do in life, he’s right there to help me figure out how to make it happen. He is truly inspiring and always ready for a new adventure. Needless to say, life is exciting with him!

So, for his birthday dinner, I wanted to dazzle Bob with his favorites. Tortilla soup is a top pick for him and was on the menu along with tacos, pickled tomatillos, salsas, pickled red onions, refried beans and oregano roasted potatoes.

I began making tortilla soup after reading a recipe Amanda Hesser shared in the Food Diary section of the New York Times magazine. While on vacation in Mexico, she and her family stayed in a house with a local cook who prepared a tortilla soup that they enjoyed. I immediately made the recipe and it became a keeper. I’ve since played with it a bit, roasting the tomatoes and increasing the number of chilies and amount of lime juice. Garnished with sliced avocado and crispy fried tortilla strips, it is an earthy, deeply flavored bowl of smoky heat.

Cheers to my husband!

(White sangria, anyone? Mix together a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, two cups of peach lemonade, fresh raspberries, some sliced peaches, strawberries and limes and you have a pitcher for your fiesta!)

Tortilla Soup
Adapted from a recipe in the New York Times magazine (3/31/02)
By Amanda Hesser
Serves 8

3 dried ancho chilies, stems removed
4 dried guajillo or pasilla chilies, stems removed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for frying
24 corn tortillas, sliced into 1/2 inch strips
2 large onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
10 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 pound roma tomatoes, sliced in half, roasted in the oven until softened and beginning to turn black at the edges (this is an optional step, you can also just chop the fresh tomatoes and use as is)
10 ounces cherry tomatoes
1 quart vegetable broth
3 limes, juice 2 of them and cut the 3rd into wedges for serving
Salt to taste
2 avocadoes, sliced for garnish

Toast the chilies in a saucepan over medium heat (until their skin colors and bubbles, don’t let them burn). Move the chilies to a bowl and cover with warm water (about 2 cups) to rehydrate them.

Pour about a 1/4 inch of vegetable oil into the same saucepan. In batches, fry the tortilla strips until they are crispy and golden. Drain on paper towels.

In a large soup pot (I use an 8 quart), add the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft. Remove from the heat.

Drain the chilies (save the soaking water!) and roughly chop them. Add the chilies, roasted tomatoes and cherry tomatoes to the onions and garlic and stir. Pour in the vegetable broth and about 3/4 of the fried tortilla strips. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth (being very careful since it’s hot). Warm the soup over low heat. The soup will be thick so you can thin it with the chili soaking water to your liking (I add about 2 cups). Add in the lime juice and salt to taste.

Serve the soup garnished with reserved tortilla strips, sliced avocado and limes.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Macaroni and Cheese: A Comforting Favorite

We are facing the first full week of school ahead and I must admit it’s a bit of a reality check. Summer really is over and it’s time to focus on homework, practicing the bass (both Sam and Isaac play bass in the school orchestra), after school sports, more homework, school paperwork and meetings ... my calendar has filled up quickly and I’m already missing the blank white squares of July and August. Sigh!

I am in need of comfort food! Macaroni and cheese springs to mind immediately. I found a classic version in Cook’s Illustrated a few years ago that I love and have been playing with the recipe ever since. I like to add some variety at times and get creative with the cheeses, increase the spice or change up the crumb topping. The basic sauce foundation of butter, flour and milk stays the same.

Below is my current version. It includes goat cheese in addition to the traditional cheddar, and I’ve made a buttery crumb topping with whole wheat panko bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Other cheese suggestions for the sauce are Gruyere, Monterey jack or a handful of feta. It makes enough for a 9x13 baking dish, or you can get fancy and present it in ramekins as a side dish. Or, do as I often do on a weeknight and serve it straight from the cooking pot without the crumb topping. No one seems to mind!

I hope this cheesy goodness adds warmth and comfort to the start of your week!

Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Makes enough for 1-9x13 pan (main course) or 10 ramekins (side dish)

1 pound whole wheat elbow macaroni or your favorite shaped pasta
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and divided
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 cups milk (whole or lowfat is fine)
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 ounces soft goat cheese (or you can use all cheddar cheese or another cheese of your choice)
Salt to taste
1 cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Hot sauce for serving

In a large saucepan or soup pot (I use an 8 quart), bring water to boil and cook the macaroni until it is tender. Drain in a colander and set the macaroni aside.

In the same large saucepan, melt 5 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour, mustard and cayenne pepper and whisk together for about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and simmer until it is the consistency of heavy cream, stirring often to prevent sticking (about 5 minutes).

Remove pan from the heat and stir in the cheddar and goat cheese until melted. Season to taste with salt. Add the macaroni and stir well.

In a medium sized bowl, stir together the panko bread crumbs, the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and the Parmesan cheese.

Spoon the macaroni and cheese into a 9x13 baking dish or into 10 ramekins (if using ramekins you may have a little leftover). Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the top evenly. Broil until the bread crumbs are golden brown, rotating if necessary. Serve warm and enjoy!

**The macaroni and cheese can be prepared a day ahead (without crumb topping) and kept covered in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, reheat pan in the oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes (until heated through) and then sprinkle on the crumb topping and broil to finish. The macaroni and cheese also freezes well. Wrap tightly in plastic and freeze without the crumb topping. Defrost and follow the same directions for reheating.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Changing Seasons with Corn Chowder

While I am a summer girl at heart, I do love autumn and look forward to it. We are in a delicious time ... peaches, tomatoes and sweet corn are still in season and the pleasures of crisp air and cooking with apples and squash beckon just ahead.

Since we are back on a school schedule this week, I’ve also resumed my menu planning for meals. Planned dinners quickly fell off the to-do list during the lazy days of summer, an easy thing to do when surrounded by incredible produce that needs little more than a sprinkle of salt. Now that sports practices and homework fill the afternoons and evenings, I want to be sure dinner is ready so we can spend some time around the table catching up on the day.

As I pondered meals for this week, I thought about the coming season of simmering stews, hearty baked loaves and comforting soups. Corn chowder came to mind since there is an abundance of corn and I have a couple recipes calling out to me.

These two chowders are quite different. The first one includes sriracha (aka rooster sauce), the red chile sauce that originated in Thailand. Last year, I began making homemade sriracha. Wow, what an explosion of fiery flavor! Thus began a sriracha addiction ... I tossed our store bought bottle and now keep a jar of homemade in the fridge at all times.

The sriracha chowder was a hit, with Sam proclaiming it his favorite soup. Sam sets a pretty high bar for soup, so this is high praise indeed.

Sweet corn shines in the next corn chowder we devoured. This one fairly bursts with fresh corn flavor, and the addition of cherry tomatoes and basil ensures a taste of summer in every bite.

Savoring these chowders make the end of summer more bearable and will start easing you into the comforts of fall.

Sriracha Corn Chowder
Adapted from The Sriracha Cookbook
By Randy Clemens
Serves 6

8 ears of corn, husked
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
2 red onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup sriracha (I highly recommend making it from scratch)
4 sprigs fresh dill
1/2 large lime, juiced
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional – I added it but it is not necessary)
Salt and pepper to taste

Roast 4 of the ears of corn over a gas flame or on the barbecue until the kernels start to blacken. Let cool, then slice the kernels off into a bowl and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the bell peppers and onions and cook until softened. Slice the kernels from the remaining 4 ears of corn. Add the raw corn and garlic to the pot, stir and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the vegetable broth, sriracha (I found 1/2 cup to be perfect, but feel free to increase or decrease based upon your taste) and dill. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Remove the dill and discard. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (or in a food processor or blender). Mix in the lime juice and cream (if using) and reserved roasted corn. Cook for a few minutes, until heated through. Season with salt and pepper. If more heat is desired, serve extra sriracha alongside.

Corn, Tomato and Basil Chowder
Adapted from a recipe in the New York Times
By Melissa Clark
Serves 6

6 ears of corn, shucked
2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
6-7 cups vegetable broth
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
2 large limes, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream for serving (optional)

Slice the kernels off the cobs, place corn in a bowl and reserve cobs. In a large soup pot, add the butter or olive oil and warm over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic and cook until softened, stirring occasionally. Add 6 cups of broth, reserved cobs and a sprinkle of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes more. Remove the cobs and discard.

Stir in the corn kernels and tomatoes and simmer for about 10 minutes. If the chowder is quite thick, add some extra vegetable broth to your liking. Add the basil, lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving. Serve with sour cream, if desired.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Start Your Day with Oatmeal Pancakes

It’s the first day of school and my boys are off ... both of them in high school this year. Wow, not to sound cliché but really, where has the time gone?

I so clearly remember my first days of school, that fresh feeling of a new, blank slate ahead. Even now, back to school is always an exciting time of year for me. I love that Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) falls in September rather than in January. While it is sad to say good-bye to summer, I do appreciate the new energy I feel in September. Summer refreshes me and clears my mind so I am ready for new challenges and growth in the coming seasons.

I want Sam and Isaac to be well prepared for their learning and new experiences, and what better way to energize them than with a hearty breakfast? I am crazy about oats in any form (my daily morning fare: oatmeal with almond milk and blueberries) and my other breakfast love is whole grain pancakes. So how about oatmeal pancakes? A happy combination, I think!

I’ve been making oatmeal pancakes for several years and learned this method of soaking oats in buttermilk overnight from Elise over at Simply Recipes. This creates a soft, oatmeal-like mixture. In the morning, I stir in whole wheat flour, eggs, chopped almonds and cinnamon and start frying. You can be creative with adding different nuts, some fresh or frozen berries or perhaps some coconut. After liberally pouring maple syrup on our fluffy cakes, we tuck into breakfast and start our day.

Oatmeal Pancakes
Adapted from
Makes about 10 4-inch pancakes

2 cups old fashioned oats (not steel-cut or instant)
2 cups buttermilk
3 eggs
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped (optional)
Butter for frying
Maple syrup

In a large bowl, stir together the oats and buttermilk. Cover and leave on your counter overnight.

In the morning, stir in the eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon until well mixed. Add almonds, if using. It will be a thick batter.

Heat a large griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Add a pat of butter and, when melted, ladle 1/4 cup scoops of the pancake batter onto the pan. After a couple of minutes, when you see air bubbles form on the surface, gently flip the pancakes over. Let them cook for another minute or so and then check to see if they are golden brown. If they are browning too quickly, turn your heat down to medium.

Serve right away or keep warm in a low oven until ready to eat.