Archive for the 'Food and Drink' Category

And on Her Birthday Weekend…

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

I, Girl Detective, rested, and let other people do the cooking.

Friday night, supper at Cheeky Monkey. I greatly enjoyed the muffuletta sandwich and grits with bacon. Until they had their Reflux Revenge.

Saturday morning, breakfast at Red Stag. Crab cake, 2 poached eggs, tarragon aioli and mixed greens.

Still full at lunchtime.

Saturday supper, Solera, with JP Samuelson and 2 awesome grill guys whipping up the tapas: Chorizo Stuffed Dates with Smoked Bacon; Octopus Ceviche with Citrus, Pepper and Cumin; Tempura Squash with Pumpkin Seed Romesco; Grilled Short Ribs with Sunchokes and Baby Carrot; Roasted Beets with Duck, Walnuts and Palhais; Sherry Glazed Pork Belly with Morcilla and Lentils; Scallops ‘a la Plancha’ with Serrano Ham and Saffron; Grilled Asparagus with Lomo and Mahon; Braised Rabbit and Artichokes with Lemon and Egg. And that’s not all, oh no, that’s not all! While the rabbit was rich enough to be dessert, I couldn’t forego the ice cream trio: coffee, butterscotch and tangy cream cheese.

Apres supper, a Sprite at Mayslack’s while listening to Guns N Roses loud, louder and loudest, in a failed attempt to meet up with friends.

Sunday morning, breakfast in bed. The boys finally got the memo! For the first time on a birthday or Mother’s Day, 4yo Guppy and 6yo Drake weren’t sick, didn’t wake in the night, didn’t wake before I did! They brought in home made cards, then went to help G. Grod fix me breakfast in bed, though they were very confused as to why I would want such a thing. (To read more of my book, of course.)

Sunday afternoon. A global lunch at Midtown Global Market. G had a ham and cheese croissant, the boys had corn dogs, and I had a huarachazo. Then we picked up the chocolate-orange cake that Salty Tart chef Michelle Gayer and I had brainstormed on and which she brought into being. It’s coming to room temperature now, and should be perfect after a simple supper tonight. For which I _might_ wash some lettuce.

And did I mention the lovely well wishes and cool prezzies? I’ve had scores of emails, in the face of which it’s impossible not to feel loved and appreciated. A lime-green pair of high-heeled sandals with matching tank from sister Sydney, the bundt pan I’VE WANTED FOR FOREVER and the Lou Barlow cd I’ve wanted since Duff noted it was one of her faves of ‘05 from my sister Ruthie, an awesome Minnesota dish towel from my friend The Hoff, an electric kettle (since I’ve ruined countless stovetop ones), a mini Bodum, and a CD from G that he really was excited about. A copy of Baked of my own from G’s grandma. Plus lingering happy memories and waves of wellness from the yoga retreat my mother-in-law sent me on.

Thus far, a tremendous day. Last year was rather difficult. This year will be better. I’m feeling fortified for it.

Birthday Cake

Friday, February 26th, 2010

When I looked through Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, one of the first recipes to draw me in was for their Sweet and Salty Chocolate Cake. I asked my husband G. Grod if he’d like it for his birthday. (OK, I may have said, “This is the cake I’m making for your birthday, OK?”) He graciously humored me, and the plan was on.

I began on Sunday morning; the morning and I were both bright and full of promise. First were the three cake layers:

cake layers

That took about an hour and a half to make and bake. I took a break for lunch and nap, then returned to the fray once they’d cooled.

Next step was the salted caramel filling for the biannual airing of my candy thermometer, finished around 4pm:

salted caramel

Immediately after, a SECOND batch of caramel, which I added to a chocolate ganache frosting (1 pound of dark chocolate, 1 pound of butter, 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream…) around 5 pm and whipped into frosting on my trusty Kitchenaid:

whipped chocolate caramel ganache frosting

Next was cake assembly. On my cake stand (a wedding gift from friend LAP) I topped a cake layer with the salted caramel, left it to sink in, then added a layer of frosting, a sprinkle of fleur de sel, another cake layer, another dousing of caramel:

salted caramel layer

and lather rinse, repeat. Once assembled, I frosted with a crumb coat, refrigerated and went to town with the rest of the frosting, and topped with a final sprinkle of fleur de sel, finishing about 6 p.m.:

Sweet and Salty 3-layer cake

Served, it was a little squashed, so hardly the picture-perfect slice from the book, but it was nonetheless a striking specimen:

sweet and salty slice

And, if I do say so, pretty tasty. Seven hours from start to finish, but worth it for a special event.

More Food Writing

Friday, February 19th, 2010

I’m now also writing on food at Simple Good and Tasty, a Twin Cities group that celebrates local food, and is dedicated to bridging the gap from farmer to consumer. I’ll be writing about every other week, but go check out the site, especially if you’re a foodie in the Twin Cities. There are some great events coming up.

My first post is about one of the most consumed food items in our house: yogurt.

Here’s the variation I’m making right now, adapted because 6yo Drake and 4yo Guppy complained the one from the article wasn’t sweet enough.

Greek-style Honey Yogurt, makes about 3 cups, or 4 3/4-cup servings.

1 quart whole, local milk
2 tablespoons Organic Valley yogurt, vanilla or plain
1/4 cup Ames Farm honey

Heat milk in top of double boiler over simmering water to just past 180 degrees F.

Cool pan in ice bath to just below 120 degrees F. Thin yogurt with a bit of the warm milk, then add yogurt and honey. Whisk to incorporate.

Keep mixture in pan or transfer to glass bowl. (I use my 1-quart Pyrex.) Wrap in dish towels and place in oven with light on. (Light will warm oven to about 100 degrees.) Do not place towels near open flame or too close to light. Leave for 4 to 8 hours.

Line a quart-size sieve with thin cloth dish towel or layers of cheese cloth. Place over bowl to let whey drain, and refrigerate at least four hours, or overnight. Save whey to put in smoothies instead of juice.

Serve as you would store-bought yogurt, with granola, cereal, or a splotch of jam. It’s rich and thick, so I use less than a cup per person. Place remainder in covered container in refrigerator. It will keep for several days.

ETA: I added a line about using the drained whey in smoothies. This has been really useful.

Spaghetti Supper

Friday, February 19th, 2010

What do I do when I’m feeling low from a cold? Cook a three-course supper, apparently, as I did last night. In my defense, the cauliflower and lettuces were going bad, and had to be used, and all three dishes together took less than an hour to put on the table.

Spaghetti supper

First was the spaghetti with cheese and black pepper, which I had to make once I saw it at Smitten Kitchen. Funny, I often have that reaction to Deb’s recipes.

Then the roasted cauliflower with kalamata vinaigrette, from one of Gourmet’s last issues. 6yo Drake and 4yo Guppy had to be coaxed, but only a bit to eat theirs, and my husband G. Grod had seconds, and said this is the only cauliflower he’s ever liked.

I topped a mix of green and red leaf lettuce with Romano cheese from the pasta, and the kalamata vinaigrette from the cauliflower, and added some ripe slices of peeled Bosc pear.

Even sniffly, this was not a hard meal for me to make, and all three guys liked at least one of the items. Guppy snarfed down the noodles. This was a winner.

Two Winter Salads

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Layered Winter Salad with Pita and Hummus adapted from Food Matters “Hummus with Pita and Greens” Makes 4 to 6 servings

Layered Winter Salad

For the pita with hummus:

4 to 6 Holy Land whole wheat pitas , toasted or not
25 oz. can Westbrae chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Juice of one lemon, about 2 tablespoons
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
¼ cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup water, or to taste

Combine chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper in food processor. Process till combined but chunky. Add water gradually and blend to desired consistency. Refrigerate any leftover hummus.

For the salad:

1 bunch Living Waters hydroponic greens, stemmed and washed
½ cucumber, sliced thinly
½ Beauty Heart radish, peeled and grated
2 carrots, peeled and grated
2 stalks celery, sliced thinly on the diagonal
Asian pear, peeled and sliced thinly
6 kumquats, sliced thinly
handful Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced

For the dressing:

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ tablespoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper

You can toss, then dress the salad to taste, and serve atop whole pitas with hummus. You can layer the ingredients and add dressing after. You can quarter the pitas with hummus and serve alongside the salad. Or you can buy pocket pitas, smear hummus inside and fill with salad for a lunchbox sandwich.

Power Protein Salad, adapted from Food Matters “Tabbouleh, My Way” Makes 6 to 8 servings

Power Protein Salad

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

2 carrots, peeled and grated
½ cucumber, sliced into rounds then quartered
2 15-oz can Westbrae beans, drained and rinsed; I used black and soy
½ Beauty Heart radish, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup finely chopped mint
½ cup crumbled feta, goat cheese, or tofu
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon toasted sunflower seeds
handful Greek olives, pitted and sliced

1. Place quinoa in a small saucepan with 2 cups water and a pinch of salt. Bring to boil over medium heat, lower heat and cover for about 15 minutes, or until rings separate from grains. Drain if necessary. In large bowl, add oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Can be refrigerated if not eating immediately.

2. Before serving, mix in all other ingredients. Toss gently and serve.

Snarf Snacks

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

A few years ago, as I wrote previously, my husband G. Grod and I saw a television commercial for Chex cereal that equated making Chex Mix with being a mother. It concerned me; I was a mother, yet I’d never made Chex mix. I set about to remedy that at the same time I was reading The Fabulous Bouncing Chowder to now 6yo Drake, and he re-named the Chex mix (or Chex-cereal-imitator mix) Snarf Snacks, after the doggie treats in the book. The name stuck, and I experimented until I came up with the following sweet snack mix.

Girl Detective’s Sweet Spicy Snarf Snacks

Snarf Snacks (shown with dried cherries, pecans and dark chocolate candy)

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons flax meal
2 tablespoons shredded coconut

6 cups Chex-like cereal (I use Cascadian Farms Multigrain Squares)
1 cup nuts: walnuts, pecans, peanuts or almonds
1 cup small pretzels
1 cup chow mein noodles

1/2 cup dried fruit: cherries, blueberries, raisins, cranberries, whatever you like
1/2 cup semi- or bitter-sweet chocolate chips

1. Heat over to 250F. Grease large roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet.

2. Combine first 8 ingredients in small saucepan. Heat to boil, stir to combine, take off heat and let cool slightly.

3. In large glass bowl, mix cereal, nuts, pretzels and noodles.

4. Pour sauce over; mix until evenly distributed (I used my hands.)

5. Bake 45 minutes in prepared pan, stirring every 15 minutes to prevent burning. Cool about 15 minutes, then stir in fruit and chips. Store in an airtight container.

This recipe is extremely adaptable. Don’t like my spices? Try other ones. Add ingredients, use M & Ms instead of chips, as I did for the picture above, don’t use ingredients you don’t like or can’t find. For those interested in savory, Cook’s Country has a good recipe for Asian Firecracker Mix with wasabi peas, which I wrote about here.

Monster Cookies

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

Continuing my way through Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, I wanted to give the Monster Cookies a try. Once I suggested it and showed him the picture, 3yo Guppy would not rest until we made the “M & M cookies.” Alas, he had a very hard time understanding the 5 hour refrigeration time, but I did eventually get these made. It uses nearly 6 cups of oats, 3 cups of sugar, 2 cups of peanut butter and 5 eggs. Monstrous, indeed.

Monster Cookies

Monster Cookies, from Baked

This cookie is the Frankenstein’s monster of the cookie world. One part oatmeal cookie, one part peanut butter cookie, and one part chocolate chip cookie, it is many things to many people. We re-created this rather large, chewy cookie as an homage to the Monster Cookies we remember eating in grade school, only our version is slightly less sweet and a whole lot better. Don’t leave out the corn syrup – it’s integral for the cookie.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
5 3/4 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 cup (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup (6 ounces) M&M’s

Baked by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito1. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together. Add the oats and stir until the ingredients are evenly combined.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth and pale in color. Add the sugars and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Do not overmix.

3. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth (about 20 seconds) and scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and beat until just incorporated.

4. Scrape down the bowl and add the peanut butter. Mix on low speed until just combined. Add the oat mixture in three additions, mixing on low speed until just incorporated.

5. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to fold in the chocolate chips and M&Ms. Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for 5 hours.

6. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

7. Use an ice cream scoop with a release mechanism to scoop out the dough in 2-tablespoon-size balls onto the prepared baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until the cookies just begin to brown. Let cool on the pans for 8 to 10 minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

8. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

I used brown rice syrup instead of corn syrup to good effect. The recipe made nearly 40 cookies, so there were plenty to share. The cookies were well received by everyone but me. I longed instead for my favorite local cookie, the Thunder Cookie from Positively 3rd Street Bakery in Duluth, which has fewer oats and no M & Ms. To each her own monster cookie, I guess.

Nutella-Swirl Pound Cake

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Another one from Lauren Chattman’s Cake-Keeper Cakes, Nutella-Swirl Pound Cake was a hit at the gathering I brought it to. I’ve adapted it though. The original recipe calls for two layers of Nutella and says to swirl them. As you can see in my photo and the one at Food & Wine, the Nutella sinks, so I think it would be improved by having only one unswirled layer. Another caution: the Nutella is oily, and this skewed the tester, as it came out clean before the cake was quite done.

Nutella-Swirl Pound Cake

Nutella-Swirl Pound Cake

* TOTAL TIME: 2 HRS 2 hr plus 2 hr cooling
* SERVINGS: Makes one 9-by-5-inch loaf


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
One 13-ounce jar Nutella


1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Lightly grease and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan, tapping out any excess flour. In a glass measuring cup, lightly beat the eggs with the vanilla. In a medium bowl, whisk the 1 1/2 cups of flour with the baking powder and salt.

2. In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the mixer at medium-low speed, gradually beat in the egg mixture until fully incorporated. Add the flour mixture in 3 batches, beating at low speed between additions until just incorporated. Continue to beat for 30 seconds longer.

3. Spread two-thirds of the batter in the prepared pan, then spread the Nutella on top. Top with the remaining batter.

4. Bake the cake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted shallowly (i.e. above the Nutella layer if possible) in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Invert the cake onto a wire rack, turn it right side up and let cool completely, about 2 hours. Cut the cake into slices and serve. The pound cake can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Chattman says this is good with strong coffee ice cream. I found ice cream, either vanilla or coffee, overkill. (And if you know me, you know that this is a rare, rare thing for me to say.) This is a seriously rich, sweet cake, and doesn’t need much to complement it other than a good, not-too-sweet cup of coffee.

“Food Matters” by Mark Bittman

Monday, January 11th, 2010

I’ve written before about Mark Bittman’s book Food Matters, and have been cooking from it and using its ideas since I got it last year. I finally sat down and read it cover to cover. Bittman writes on many of the same aspects of food that Michael Pollan has in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food: the problems with industrial farming, the epidemics of obesity and diabetes in the US, and the prevalance of fast and processed food products. From the introduction:

If I told you that a simple lifestyle choice could help you lose weight, reduce your risk of many long-term or chronic diseases, save you real money, and help stop global warming, I imagine you’d be intrigued. If I also told you that this change would be easier and more pleasant that any diet you’ve ever tried, would take less time and effort than your exercise routine, and would require no sacrifice, I would think you’d want to read more.

After a weight gain and health caution from his physician, Bittman developed what he calls simply “sane eating,” or the Food Matters approach. He chose a mostly vegan diet for breakfast, lunch and snacks, and a looser approach for dinner so he didn’t feel deprived. He stresses many times that this has worked for him, but to take your own life, habits and preferences into account. The approach he advocates is simple, and eminently adaptable. This is not a strict regime, or a punishment. Instead it’s an adjustment of your approach to cooking and eating that focuses almost entirely on what you can and should eat (lots of fruit and veggies, whole grains), what you should eat in moderation (dairy products and meat) and what you should avoid (overly processed artificial foods and industrially produced meat.)

While Pollan wrote “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” from In Defense of Food, Bittman not only takes you through why it’s important, but also puts it into practice with 77 easy-to-read and good-to-eat recipes. As Laura Miller at Salon noted when it came out, Food Matters is applied Pollan. Bittman is an experienced cook and recipe writer; he’s the author of the New York Times’ Minimalist column. The recipes are easy to follow, and he offers myriad variations and ideas. Throughout he has an upbeat, encouraging tone that urges new and experienced cooks to experiment and have fun. Here are two salad recipes that can be eaten for lunch or dinner, and have many variations.

Hummus with Pita and Greens

Hummus with Pita and Greens

Makes 4 servings. Time: About 24 minutes with cooked chickpeas.

This is more salad than sandwich. I make this open-faced, with the crunchy pita and spread nestled under a pile of greens. But you can easily deconstruct the dish and serve the pita (toasted or not) alonside for scooping up the hummus. Or if you have pocket pitas, smear the insides with the hummus and fill with the stuffed greens for a more portable lunch.

4 whole wheat pitas
2 cups drained cooked or canned chickpeas,some cooking liquid reserved (use water if canned)
1/2 cup tahini (with some of its oil) or more to taste.
2 cloves garlic, peeled or to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon ground cumin or smoked paprika more or less, plus a sprinkling for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of one lemon, plus more as needed
6 cups lettuce or assorted salad greens, torn into pieces
Cucumber slices, tomato wedges, thinly sliced red onion, and/or black olives, for garnish
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint or parsley leaves, for garnish

1. To toast the pitas if you like, heat the oven to 450F. Put them on a baking sheet and cook until just barely crunchy on both sides, about 15 minutes total.

2. Meanwhile make the hummus: Combine the chickpeas, tahini, garlic and 1/4 cup of the oil in a food processor with the spice and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Use the reserved bean liquid (or water) as necessary to get machine going. Puree, then add about half of the lemon juice, along with more tahini or salt if desired.

3. When the pita has cooled smear a layer of hummus on each and put on plates. (You’ll probably have some left over; the hummus will keep, refrigerated, for about a week. Eat it with raw begetables or on bread.) Put the lettuce in a bowl, sprinkle with some salt, pepper, and a pinch of the spice you used and drizzle with the remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Toss well then pile on top of the pitas. Garnish and serve.

I further garnished the hummus salad with grated carrot and peeled, sliced orange with good results. Here, Bittman advises to use a little bit of bacon for flavoring, but the bulk of the meal is a filling, satisfying salad:

Spinach and Sweet Potato Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

spinach and sweet potato salad with warm bacon dressing

Makes 4 servings. Time: about 45 minutes.

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 thick slices of bacon
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Juice from one orange
1 pound fresh spinach leaves

1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Put the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Roast, turning occasionally, until crisp and brown outside and just tender inside, about 30 minutes. Remove and keep them on the pan until ready to use.

2. While the potatoes cook, put the bacon in a nonreactive skillet and turn the heat to medium. Cook, turning once or twice, until crisp. Drain on paper towels and pour off the fat, leaving any darkened bits behind in the pan. Put back on medium heat, and add the remaining oil to the pan. When it’s hot, add the bell pepper, onion, and ginger to the pan. Cook, stirring once or twice, until no longer raw, then stir in the cumin and the reserved bacon. Stir in the orange juice and turn off the heat. (The recipe can be made up to an hour or so ahead to this point. Gently warm the dressing again before proceeding.)

3. Put the spinach in a bowl large enough to comfortably toss the salad quickly. Add the sweet potatoes and the warm dressing and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning, and serve.

Chocolate-Caramel-Banana Upside-Down Cake

Friday, January 8th, 2010

Whole lotta hyphens goin’ on in this cake title.

Cake-Keeper Cakes
by Lauren Chattman was, I think, recommended online by my favorite local food critic Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl. The focus of the book is simple, easy-to-make cakes that are good to eat and nice to look at, so one can have cake at home all the time. I’m reminded of what Frances’ mom says to her in A Baby Sister for Frances:

You may be sure that there will always be plenty of chocolate cake around here.

Chocolate Banana Caramel upside down cake

The cake was indeed both simple to make and tasty to eat, especially when accompanied by coffee ice cream. The caramel made a crunchy top crust and good trio along with the roast-y bananas and chocolate cake.

I’ve only intermittently used my cake dish since I got it as a wedding present from my friend LP in 1998. It’s been out for a while now, and I like the idea of a cake on the counter at all times.

Chocolate-Caramel-Banana Upside-Down Cake, serves 8

For the topping
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3⁄4 cup packed light brown sugar
3 ripe bananas, peeled and cut into 1⁄4-inch-thick slices
For the cake:
3⁄4 cup plus 2 Tbs. unbleached all-purpose flour
6 Tbs. unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted
3⁄4 tsp. baking soda
1⁄4 tsp. salt
6 Tbs. (3⁄4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2⁄3 cup buttermilk

Make the topping:

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9-inch round nonstick pan and dust with flour.

Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foaming. Whisk in the brown sugar, turn the heat to low, and cook, whisking, for 2 minutes. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Arrange the banana slices in concentric circles on top of the sugar mixture. Set aside.
Make the cake

Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.

Combine the butter and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes.

With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides after each. Turn the mixer to high speed and beat until the mixture is light and increased in volume, about 2 minutes. Stir in the vanilla.

With the mixer on low, stir in 1⁄3 of the flour mixture. Stir in 1⁄2 of the buttermilk. Repeat with the remaining flour and milk, ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat the batter on high speed for 30 seconds.

Pour the batter over the bananas, gently spreading it into an even layer.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let stand for 5 minutes. Holding the pan and a plate together with oven mitts, immediately invert the hot cake onto the plate. If necessary, replace any fruit stuck to the bottom of the pan. Let the cake cool for 20 minutes and serve warm, or serve at room temperature.
Make Ahead Tips
Store uneaten cake in a cake keeper, or wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies from “Baked”

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Another recipe from Baked, this one a real winner, Pumpkin Whoopie Pies, with cakey, soft pumpkin cookies sandwiched around cream-cheese filling.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

As with all the Baked recipes I’ve tried, it required a little jiggering. The baking took 30 minutes instead of the 15 called for, and made 32, not 24 cookies, so I had to do 5 batches. But, as usual, the results were delicious. This recipe is a keeper.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream-Cheese Filling, Makes 12 whoopie pies.


* 3 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 teaspoon baking powder
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
* 1 tablespoon ground ginger
* 1 tablespoon ground cloves
* 2 cups firmly packed dark-brown sugar
* 1 cup vegetable oil
* 3 cups pumpkin puree, chilled
* 2 large eggs
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

* 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
* 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves; set aside. In another large bowl, whisk together brown sugar and oil until well combined. Add pumpkin puree and whisk until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and whisk until well combined. Sprinkle flour mixture over pumpkin mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.

3. Using a small ice cream scoop with a release mechanism, drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Transfer to oven and bake until cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cookie comes out clean, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely on pan.

4. Make the filling: Sift confectioner’ sugar into a medium bowl; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth. Add cream cheese and beat until well combined. Add confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, beat just until smooth. (Filling can be made up to a day in advance. Cover and refrigerate; let stand at room temperature to soften before using.)

5. Assemble the whoopie pies: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Transfer filling to a disposable pastry bag and snip the end. When cookies have cooled completely, pipe a large dollop of filling on the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies, pressing down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edge of the cookies. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate cookies at least 30 minutes before serving and up to 3 days.

Clever Cupcakes

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

I love cupcakes. I love clever. This series of 100 celebrates the world of games/gaming. The link from Wil Wheaton’s blog urges you to go, and I’m glad I did. I was delighted several times, and I bet you will be, too.

Scrabble cupcake

Breakfasts from Hell

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Minnesota’s Hell’s Kitchen, that is. I tried a few of my favorites off the breakfast menu, out of the cookbook Damn Good Food by Mitch Omer and Ann Bauer, a gift from my aunt for Christmas.

Hell's Kitchen Oatmeal

Oatmeal, makes 4 cups

2 1/2 c. whole milk
1 c. steel-cut oats
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 c. rolled oats (not quick)
2/3 c. warm half and half
Brown Sugar

Heat water to simmer in saucepan over medium high. Pour milk into large bowl; place bowl over simmering water. Heat milk to simmer. Gradually stir in steel-cut oats and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Stir in rolled oats. Cook until all milk is absorbed, about 13 minutes. Just before serving, thin oatmeal to desired consistency with warm half and half. Top oatmeal with brown sugar, berries, and any remaining half and half.

Omer, who goes a little gonzo for the dairy fat, likes to add a dollop of sweet cream butter, too. I tried it and liked it. This takes more work than my usual recipe, in which I dump 1 c. steel cut oats, 3 c. water and 1 c. milk into my rice cooker and press “porridge” but it was richer and quite satisfying. Speaking of porridge:

Mahnomin Porridge

Mahnomin Porridge, makes 4 servings

4 cups cooked wild rice
½ cup roasted hazelnuts, cracked
½ cup dried blueberries
¼ cup sweetened dried cranberries (Craisins)
¼ cup pure maple syrup
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Add cooked wild rice, hazelnuts, blueberries, Craisins, and maple syrup to a heavy, nonstick or enameled cast iron saucepan, and cook over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes. Add heavy cream, and stirring continually, heat through, about 2 minutes. Ladle into bowls, and serve immediately.

I used pecans instead of hazelnuts. 3yo Guppy and 6yo Drake pronounced it yucky looking and refused to try it. G. Grod was unimpressed. Only I liked it, and I’m OK with that. These, however, everyone liked:

Lemon Ricotta Hotcakes

Lemon-Ricotta Hotcakes, Makes 16 hotcakes

6 egg whites
9 egg yolks
â…“ cup unsalted butter, melted
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
4 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
â…“ cup all-purpose flour
Unsalted butter, melted (for the skillet)

Pour egg whites into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a wire whisk attachment, and whisk on high speed until firm peaks form. Reduce the speed to low. Slowly add egg yolks, and then gradually add melted butter. Continue whisking on low speed until well incorporated. Stop the mixer, and add sugar, ricotta, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Whisk on medium speed for 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low, and gradually add flour. Continue mixing for about 1 minute. Stop the mixer, and scrape the sides of the mixing bowl with a rubber spatula. Return the mixer to medium speed, and mix for about 1 minute. Makes about 4 cups.

I find it best to refrigerate the batter for a few hours prior to making the hotcakes. This allows the melted butter to firm up slightly in the mix and keeps the batter from spreading out too thin on a hot griddle. Refrigerated in a covered container, this batter will keep safely for up to 3 days.

To cook hotcakes, heat a large skillet over medium high. Brush skillet with melted butter, and drop batter onto the hot skilled in ¼ cup portions. Leave about 2 inches between hotcakes to allow them to spread. Cook until bubbles appear and bottoms are golden brown, about 5 minutes. Flip hotcakes, and cook another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the skillet.

I garnish the cooked hotcakes with a handful of fresh blackberries, blueberries, and quartered strawberries, then dust with a vanilla powdered sugar, and serve with a side of peanut butter and warm maple syrup. You can adjust the quantities and ingredients to better suit your personal tastes. That’s what good cooking is all about.

These hardly needed butter and maple syrup, and were good even when I accidentally doubled the salt amount to convert to sea salt from kosher rather than halving it as I should have.

Baking from “Baked:” Pumpkin Chocolate-Chip Loaf

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

I’m continuing to bake my way around Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito’s Baked: New Frontiers in Baking with their Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf. As you can see, I had some trouble with the loaves releasing from the pan, though I’d greased and floured the pans as instructed.

craggy pumpking loaf

Tops and bottoms were easy to reunite, though, and the end result was both pretty to look at and almost scarily addictive. I found it impossible to have just one slice of this bread.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf, from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

Makes 2 9×5x3-inch loaves, or 1 9 inch and 4 mini loaves

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour and 2 1/4 c. AP flour)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 cups pumpkin puree (a 15-ounce can)
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup (12 ounces) semi- or bittersweet chocolate chips (I’d reduce this to 1 cup)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 2 9×5x3-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda and salt.

In another large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree and oil until combined. Add sugar and whisk again.
Whisk in the eggs one at a time then the vanilla Fold the chocolate chips into the wet ingredients with rubber spatula.

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet, being careful not to overmix the batter. Spread the batter into the prepared pans, and gently knock the bottom of the pan onto the countertop to even out the batter. Use a spatula to smooth the top.

Bake in the center of the oven until a toothpick comes out clean, about 75 to 90 minutes, rotating pans halfway through. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes before inverting the loaf onto the rack to cool completely before serving. The loaf will keep for 3 days or more wrapped in plastic wrap or in an airtight container at room temperature.

Double Crunchy Winter Supper

Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

My husband G. Grod’s mother grew up in SC, and he recently had a craving for fried chicken. I unearthed the can of Crisco and candy thermometer we bought the last time we made fried chicken , which was five years ago, I think.

To offset the hardly heart healthy Extra-Crunchy Fried Chicken from Cook’s Country, I got some purple cabbage and made Crunchy Cabbage Slaw from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking:

Crunchy Chicken and Slaw

Extra-Crunchy Fried Chicken, from Cook’s Country

Keeping the oil at the correct temperature is essential to producing crunchy fried chicken that is neither too brown nor too greasy. Use a candy/deep-fry thermometer to check the temperature of the oil before you add the chicken (see related testing). If you cannot find a chicken that weighs 3 1/2 pounds or less, or if you don’t have a pan that is 11 inches in diameter, you will have to fry the chicken in two batches. Follow the recipe, frying the chicken four pieces at a time and keeping the first batch warm in a 200-degree oven while the second batch is cooking. If you want to produce a slightly healthier version of this recipe, you can remove the skin from the chicken before soaking it in the buttermilk. The chicken will be slightly less crunchy.

Serves 4
2 cups buttermilk plus 6 additional tablespoons
2 tablespoons table salt
1 whole chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds), cut into 8 pieces, giblets discarded, wings & back reserved for stock
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
4-5 cups vegetable shortening or peanut oil

1. Whisk together 2 cups buttermilk and salt in large bowl until salt is dissolved. Add chicken pieces to bowl and stir to coat; cover bowl with plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour. (Don’t let chicken soak much longer or it will become too salty.)

2. Whisk flour, baking powder, thyme, pepper, and garlic powder together in large bowl. Add remaining 6 tablespoons buttermilk; with your fingers rub flour and buttermilk together until buttermilk is evenly incorporated into flour and mixture resembles coarse wet sand.

3. Working in batches of two, drop chicken pieces into flour mixture and turn to thoroughly coat, gently pressing flour mixture onto chicken. Shake excess flour from each piece of chicken and transfer to wire rack set over rimmed baking sheet.

4. Heat oil (it should measure 3/4 inch deep) in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven with 11-inch diameter over medium-high heat until it reaches 375 degrees. Place chicken pieces, skin-side down, in oil, cover, and fry until deep golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove lid after 4 minutes and lift chicken pieces to check for even browning; rearrange if some pieces are browning faster than others. (At this point, oil should be about 300 degrees. Adjust burner, if necessary, to regulate temperature of oil.) Turn chicken pieces over and continue to fry, uncovered, until chicken pieces are deep golden brown on second side, 6 to 8 minutes longer. (At this point, to keep chicken from browning too quickly, adjust burner to maintain oil temperature of about 315 degrees.) Using tongs, transfer chicken to plate lined with paper towels; let stand for 5 minutes to drain. Serve.

Crunchy Slaw Salad from Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks, serves 4-6

2 Tbl. apple cider vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
splash of heavy cream

1 extra-crisp apple, peeled and cored
1 big squeeze of lemon juice
1 small cabbage, pref. savoy
1 c. toasted walnuts

Whisk apple cider and lemon juice together in small bowl, season with salt and pepper, then whisk in olive oil followed by cream. Set aside.

Shred apple on large holds of box grater, or use grater attachment on food processor, then put shreds in bowl of cold water with the squeeze of lemon; this will prevent browning. Cut cabbage into quarters and core each section, then cut into a very fine chiffonade. Just before serving, drain apples and toss with cabbage, walnuts and dressing in large bowl. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve immediately.

How to Heat a Pan

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

At Houseboat Eats, which I’ll presently be adding to my subscription list, author Talley writes “On properly heating your pan.” Be sure to watch the embedded video. I hesitated a bit about following the link from The Morning News, but holy cats, I’m glad I did. The video is fascinating, and I can’t wait to try it tonight when I cook tofu.

Baking from “Baked”: Oatmeal Cherry Nut Cookies

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Another recipe from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, Oatmeal Cherry Nut Cookies, were an obvious choice for me to make. Not only did I have most of the ingredients on hand, their recipe jazzes up the traditional oatmeal cookie by adding winter spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and my current fave, cardamom, along with dried cherries and walnuts. The dough requires freezing for six hours, so I made these with 3yo Guppy in the morning, and baked them in the afternoon. Soft out of the oven, they firmed up on the outside nicely, but still were chewy in the centers. The spice is pronounced; these are not bland! But both my 6yo and 3yo devoured them, so it’s a good alternative to the oatmeal raisin, as promised.

Oatmeal Cherry Nut Cookies

The recipe says to drop the dough by rounded tablespoons on the baking sheet, then

With the palm of your hand, gently press each cookie down so it forms a tall disk shape. Do not press too hard and do not press it flat.

In both the Chipotle Cheddar Biscuits and the Banana Cupcakes with Vanilla Pastry Cream, I found vague directions. Here, they are trying hard to be clear, yet I still wasn’t sure what they mean by a tall disk shape–a cylinder? Also, on my last batch, I forgot to press down on the dough balls, and these were at least as good as the pressed-down ones, so the specificity didn’t result in a better cookie, IMO.

Baking from “Baked”: Banana Cupcakes with Vanilla Pastry Cream

Friday, December 11th, 2009

In which I continue my way through Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. This is the intro for their Banana Cupcakes with Vanilla Pastry Cream:

Pastry cream is absolutely underused and unduly ignored. This richer, sexier, silkier French cousin to good old American pudding deserves another look. In our opinion, there are few things better thana good pastry cream for slathering onto single-layer cakes or little cupcakes, or as a base for a fruit tart. Lush and fragrant, we think it makes the banana cake in this recipe shine. Its homey taste and upscale finish turn an ordinary cupcake into something special.

They’re preaching to the converted, here. Boston cream pie? Check. Bavarian cream donuts? Yes. Italian cornetto di crema? Si! I love a good pastry cream, so this recipe seemed an obvious one to try.

My pastry cream turned out thinner than the recipe indicated. The instructions were not specific enough:

cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until thickened, about six minutes.

I whisked for at least eight minutes, and the mixture was thickened, just not thick enough to act like a frosting. I put it in a pastry bag and it oozed right out. Instead, I spooned it over the cupcakes to good effect, though they were messy to eat.

banana cupcakes with vanilla pastry cream

I’d amend the recipe to say “until very thick (not runny) and spreadable.

I also found a vague direction in the recipe for Chipotle Biscuits with Cheddar. I think the Baked cookbook is better for cooks with some prior baking experience, as the recipes aren’t always precise, and thus need a little interpretation or tweaking for home use.

Baking from “Baked”: Chipotle Cheddar Biscuits

Friday, December 11th, 2009

I saw the book Baked: New Frontiers in Baking recommended on Smitten Kitchen, one of my favorite food blogs. SK’s author, Deb, has a strange power over me. If she says make it, I do. Creamed spinach, yellow birthday cake, cherry brown butter bars, all butter pie crust, cornbread croutons… Her recipes are well-written and well-tested. So when she recommended Baked, I reserved it from the library. I’m now trying to make as many recipes from it as I can before I have to return it.

I had chipotle powder on hand after making the Baked Brownie, Spiced Up, so I started with the Chipotle Cheddar Cheese Biscuits:

Chipotle Cheddar Biscuits

I used a teaspoon, rather than a tablespoon, of the chipotle powder, which resulted in a light but definite spice. They tasted pleasantly of cheddar also. I found the recipe vague when it said to mix in the butter till the texture was of course sand. Did this mean it could have larger lumps, or should they all be sand-sized? I went in between, and the results were good. I like them best served warm with butter.

Chipotle Cheddar Biscuits

“Eat, Drink, & Weigh Less” by Mollie Katzen and Walter Willett, M.D.

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

The year after my 40th birthday I was very smug. Life was largely good. 41, however, has not been so kind. Weight gain, blurring of up-close vision, aching knees and joints were among the harbingers of age. As is my wont, I threw a flurry of attention at diet books, got several from the library, then ignored them for weeks. Several I returned. But Katzen and Willett’s Eat, Drink, & Weigh Less I renewed and finally read.

Simply, this book is what most everyone should do about their diet and health. Eat better (not less or more) and move more, and your chances for things like heart disease, diabetes and other age-related maladies are reduced. Throughout, Willett lists the long-term studies that prove what we know already: eat better, exercise more, and we’ll be in better health. The book is structured around 9 pieces of common-sense advice, such as eat more veg and fruit (but fewer white potatoes), choose good fats like olive oil over bad ones like trans fats, choose whole grain rather than simple carbs, and stay hydrated.

Additionally, Katzen, the author most famously of The Moosewood Cookbook (from which I learned to cook), includes a wealth of simple recipes and food advice. I tried several of the recipes, like the vegetable broth with peas, the vinaigrette and the avocado butter; all were easy, healthful and tasty.

For those looking for a diet book, this contains a quiz, a 21-day plan, a portable plan for travel and non cooks and maintenance advice. For everyone, though, is the short, sweet warm-up plan and the advice to practice the advice until it becomes standard practice.

What this book lacks is an emphasis on fresh, seasonal, local foods. For that, though, there are other books like Mark Bittman’s Food Matters. What this book does is make common sense health improvement easy to understand and easy to implement. Whether you’re looking to lose weight, or suffering from the lurking knowledge that your diet and exercise are not what they could be, this is a smart, helpful book to have on the shelf. Worth owning.