Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Cook's Illustrated Pumpkin Pie

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I was gluttonous and not unhappy about it in the least. I also got a lot of rest and spent time with my "brother" Toby, the rat terrier mix, who is clearly now top dog in our family. His first Thanksgiving with my family and he's plated and served first; fed twice! Unbelievable what happens during the empty nest phase -- the spoiling is much worse than I imagined.

Anyway, I'm in charge of making pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and I'm happy to do so. I LOVE LOVE LOVE pumpkin pie. It's an understatement. I could eat it all year long and not lose interest. I have made pumpkin pie for the last five years since my family. How come my sister is the only one that comes away with not bringing anything?!!

I decided to try the Cook's Illustrated Pumpkin Pie as I read it was the be all, end all of pumpkin pies. It has wonderful ingredients like heavy cream, whole milk, eggs and egg yolks, cinnamon and fresh ginger all things that come right to my heart. So I made it and as you can see, it is really gorgeous, isn't? But I didn't like it as much as the recipe off the Libby's can. To be fair, the texture of this pie is silky smooth because you have to strain the pumpkin and the secret ingredient but you can't taste the spices that make pumpkin pie pumpkin pie, you know?

It was more pumpkin-y than I expected. I couldn't taste any cinnamon or ginger or any of the other spices that usually shine through. It was good but not the be all of pies AND it took way more time than the Libby recipe. I'm going back to the version I love best which I think I will make again at Christmas.


I'm not going to re write the recipe as a quick google search will promptly bring up oodles and oodles of recipes and pictures. Can you tell I have blogger burnout?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Black Beans and Chili Dressing

Oh my gosh, I haven't blogged in 10 days, and it has been the most freeing experience. I'm some times surprised at how much time it takes to cook, shoot pictures AND blog. It is a bit time consuming especially when you have so many other things to do. A lot more than I would like to admit. Truth be told, I've been really pooped, wiped out, in fact. It all started last weekend when to save money, I decided to dig out a trench 25' long x 1 ' wide x 6" deep. I probably saved $300. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, it was fun and I surprised myself at how relatively quickly I did it. And I impressed the contractor, no small feat given his perfectionist qualities. So impressed, I helped make and pour concrete. It was fun but also wiped me out. I wish I could say I slept better but I was so tired I couldn't sleep. I didn't hurt myself or anything, and I wasn't particularly sore, but I just haven't been feeling like myself.

So that project took me out. I've been napping throughout the day and eating a lot. I'm now convinced that I can do all sorts of other yard projects, including digging up and putting down pavers. I can't wait.

This hearty savory salad will fill you up and make you wish for more cool fall days.

Time: 45 minutes

4 Servings

- 4 medium sweet potatoes (about 1.5 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 large onion, preferably red, chopped
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 to 2 T minced fresh hot chili, like jalapeno
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- Juice of 2 limes
- 2 cups cooked black beans, drained (canned are great!)
- 1 red or yellow bell pepper, seed and finely chopped
- 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro


1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put sweet potatoes and onions on a large baking sheet, drizzle with 2 T olive oil, toss to coat and spread out in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast, turning occasionally, until potatoes being to brown on corners and are just tender inside, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven keep on pan until ready to mix with dressing.

2. Put chilies in blender or mini food processor along with the garlic, like juice, remaining olive oil and sprinkle of slat and pepper. Process until blended.

3 . Put warm vegetables in a large bowl with beans and bell pepper; toss with dressing and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature, or refrigerate for up to date .

bon app!

And real quick. I need ideas, big time. Friend getting married Dec. 11. She's asking friends to make appetizers for 15 people. The parameters are 50 pieces, on our own plates, limited prep area, no fridge or oven, finger foods only. Plates, no forks. I have an ice chest to potentially carry food. Food will be traveling 50 miles and will be on the from road and not "fridged" from 1 PM to 4PM when it will be served.

What the heck do I make?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Banana Bread | Healthy Snack

I usually poo-poo anything low-fat. I don't believe in no-fat or low-fat foods. I'm fortunate not have to worry about calories or where they come from (please don't hate me). The doctor recently suggested that I would be in better shape if I gained a few pounds. Outside of this, I eat whole fat everything including milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream because it is much more gratifying. Plus, I actually eat less of the item than say they're lower fat/cal version. My craving is fulfilled and I haven't eaten something with substitutes and additives.

Given this, I was surprised that I wanted to try this low- fat version of banana bread. I tried it only because it came out of Cook's Illustrated and if they like it, it must be pretty good. Plus, did you know that a slice of banana bread has 220 calories and 6 grams of fat?! This is actually not horrible considering the alternatives but Cook's was challenged to come up with something leaner, moist and full of banana flavor.

Their secret ingredients, fat-free cream cheese (I know, fat-free!) and roasted bananas which makes them sweeter, hence less sugar is required. Have you ever roasted bananas? It was my first time, and it really made the bread pop. My guinea pigs devoured the bread -- it was gone in two days. Given the low-fat content, I'm not sure this version would freeze well. Eat pronto!

Makes one 8-inch loaf

- 4 large ripe bananas
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 c sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 T canola oil
- 2 ounces fat-free cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces and chilled

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly coat and 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan with the vegetable oil spray and set aside.

2. Bake the bananas (skins on) on a rimmed baking sheet until the skins are completely black, about 20 minutes. (Do not turn off the oven.) Set the bananas aside to cool at room temperature.

3. Peel the bananas, then mash them with a potato masher in a small bowl until smooth. Measure out and reserve 1 1/2 cups of the mashed bananas, discarding any excess.

4. Whisk the eggs and vanilla together in a small bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together with a handheld mixer on medium-low speed until combined. Add the oil and cream cheese, 1 piece at a time, and mix until only -ea-size pieces of the cream cheese remain, about 1 minute. Slowly beat in the egg mixture, then add the mashed bananas and beat until incorporate, about 30 seconds.

5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth top. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached, 50 to 60 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.

6. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack and let cool for 1 hour before serving. (The bread can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up toe 3 days.)

I found that I need an additional 10 minutes though I have an oven thermometer that helps me gets the temperature just right.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Potato Curry with Tomatoes

I hope everyone is getting ready for the first major holiday of 2010. Yes, Halloween counts. I'm actually going to an evening group meditation sit tomorrow so I won't get to see the cute neighborhood kids dressed up. What are you all up to?

The Indian cooking continues with oohs and aahs from the family. I'm hearing that my bread and Indian food are causing weight gain. I think it's because they are over eating. I just cook. I don't provide portion control services. That's extra!

I've been making recipes from my little Indian cook book on a weekly basis with lots of success. So far, all the recipes I've tried (all three of the 1001) have been great! Easy, tasty and complete within 45 minutes. This one too. I love the potatoes and tomatoes together. The spices are amazing together in this combination. You could use this spice combo and vary the vegetables (and the cooking times accordingly). Thus, far this has become the family and friends favorite.

Serve with your favorite Indian bread or whole wheat tortillas, like I did. I promise you yumminess.

- 1 lb potatoes
- 4 T oil (I use half the amount called for in recipes, otherwise it is too much!)
- 2.5 tsp mustard seeds
- 2.5 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- 2.5 tsp ground red chili
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
- salt to taste
- 14 ounce canned diced tomatoes
- 2/3 c water
- 2 T lemon juice
- 1 T chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

1. Boil the potatoes in their skins then drain, peel and cut in 1/4 inch diameter. I would boil until a knife can pierce the potato easily, about 10-15 minutes.

2. Heat oil in a heavy-based pan and fry mustard seeds over medium heat until the start crackling. Add the cumin seeds and fry for a few seconds until lightly browned. Stir in the potato pieces and fry until lightly browned. Stir in the coriander, cumin, garam masala, chili, turmeric and salt.

3. Stir in tomatoes and cook until the water has been absorbed. Pour in the water, bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice. Sprinkle with cilantro.

Note: I took the pictures after I followed the above recipe to a T. I found that the sauce was rather thick and a little chalky so I thinned it out with additional water, making it as saucy as I wanted, sort of medium thick. Add water to your desired consistency.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Walnut Bread

My baking kick continues and now that the weather has definitively cooled, I have more to bake. Plus with a hungry brood of appreciative soles to feed, I feel nothing but desire to please those that eat my fare day in and day out without complaint.

After trying out a few no knead breads and not being as satisfied as I would like, I decided to go back to kneaded breads. I'm REALLY glad I did. I made this very easy walnut bread from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. It's dense, hearty, nutritious and scrumptious!. It also has the added bonus of making two loaves for all your efforts. A very deal for the work put in. Freeze one for later!

I love this bread untoasted with butter and cheese. I loved it toasted, with butter again, and sardines and avocado. I've been eating a slice or two a day of the high fiber content. No guilt here.

Try it out and tell me what you think.

- 2 1/2 c warm water
- 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 envelope)
- 1/4 cup roasted walnut oil (I used regular walnut oil)
- 1 T honey or malt syrup
- 1/ 2 c nonfat dry milk
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 cup wheat bran if whole-wheat flour is smooth
- 3 to 4 c whole-wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
- About 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts, preferably blanched and roasted
- Melter butter for top

1. Stir yeast into 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl and set it aside while you gather your ingredients

2. Put 2 1/4 c warm water in a mixing bowl and stir in the oil, honey, dry milk, and salt. Add bran and whole wheat flour (If you add 1 cup bran, then reduce wheat flour to 2 to 3 cups). Beat well until batter is smooth. Add enough all-purpose flour to make a heavy dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl, then add walnuts. Turn the dough out onto a counter and knead until smooth (won't be perfectly smooth with the use of wheat flour), adding more white flour as needed to keep it from sticking. Put the dough in an oiled bowl, turn it once, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise until doubled, about 1.5 hours.

3. Turn the dough out and cut it into two or three pieces (I did two). Shape each piece into a tight ball, cupping around the dough to give it a plump, round shape. Place each ball on an oiled baking sheet, cover, and set aside until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. During the last 15 minutes, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

4. Slash breads, making three or four parallel cuts across the loaves, then brush with melted butter. Bake until a rich brown crust is formed and the bread is done, about 40 minutes.

Blanched and Roasted Walnuts
This simple process really improves the flavor of shelled walnuts that aren't freshly cracked. Bring a pan of water to a boil, add walnuts, and let them stand for a 1 minute. Drain and wick up the excess moisture with at towel. Spread them out on a sheet pan, then roast in a 300 degree F oven until they've dried out, about 20 minutes. Remove them as soon as they are dry.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tortilla Espanola

I've been busy hosting dinner parties and it's been fun. I enjoy hosting friends and family; this week I've been doing it on a weekly basis. I like to cook foods that make people feel special which can some times be time consuming. But because I work full time and have a packed schedule of daily meditation, yoga, gardening, writing, blogging, cooking, cleaning house, etc. I like to cook food that is tasty, fuss free, and allows me to be an attentive host. Apologies for the less than ideal picture.

So easy and tasty, it's one of my favorite dishes to make on the fly. Supplement with a green salad with avocado, tomatoes and pomegranate, and a dense wheat bread with cheese, and you have the perfect quick dinner party meal. You probably the ingredients for all three of these dishes in your kitchen now. This meal is guaranteed to fly off the table; there were no leftovers.

I previously blogged about this dish back in 2006, using Deborah Madison's recipe. Mark Bittman was my chef this week. His recipe is more simple with fewer ingredients. I love this one too. The eggs were moist and the potato perfectly cooked through. Some of the potatoes on top were a little crunchy, like potato chips and they were yummy, really. Next time, I think I will add a dash of chili flakes for a little heat. I couldn't stop picking at it until the guests arrived.

Makes at least 4 servings

45 minutes or less
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound waxy red or white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8 inch slices (I didn't peel)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 red pepper, stemmed, peeled if desired, seeded and sliced
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 6 eggs
- 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

1. Place about half the olive oil in a large oven proof skillet, preferably non-stick, and turn the heat to medium. Add the potato slices and season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook, turning gently from time to time, until they soften, about 20 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon.

2. Add the remaining oil to the pan, followed by the onion and red pepper, and cook, stirring occassionally, until nice and soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

3. Return potatoes to the skillet, and turn the heat to medium low. Continue to cook, turning with spatula, for about 5 more minutes. Beat the eggs wiht parsley.

4. Turn the heat to low and pour the eggs over the potatoes, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes. Transfer from the oven and bake until the mixture is set, about 10 minutes more. Remove the pan and cool to room temperature before cutting into chunks wedges. Serve.

Bittman calls for first cooking the potatoes, and then the onions and red pepper separately. Not sure why. This takes more time than necessary but I followed his recipe exactly except that I had two skillets working simultaneously. Below I present easy modifications.

My modifications. I thought steps 1 and 2 could be combined to save time in one very large skillet. First cook potatoes and onions together, and then in the last 5 minutes add red pepper. Then continue with the garlic, and the remainder of the recipe. I felt that my potatoes were soft enough so I didn't cook the potatoes more in Step 3. Rather, I jumped right to adding the eggs. I think this will save you time. Something we can all use a little more of, no?!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Golden Beet and Greens Soup | Simple Soup

I don't know about you, I grocery shop with the weather in mind and only once a week. Last time I shopped it was cool fall day. The sun was out and the air was crisp perfect for fall foods like soups, curries and Indian food, and bread making. Then the weather did a 180 and it's been 80+ degrees this whole week -- beach weather calling for salads, melons, and less cooking! Don't get me wrong, I love the heat especially since it's unusual and short lived in this area but when the heat turns up, I like to cook less. You? Isn't it funny how that happens?

I've been playing catch up with a few Sunset magazine recipes. I recommend the Oct 2009 issue (yeah, I'm really behind) of Sunset for their roasted red pepper soup, fennel apple bisque, mushrooms in sherry shallot broth, and this lovely golden beet and beet greens soup. To be fair, I was not a huge fan as much as I love beets. I grew them from seed earlier this year and will be planting them again in a few weeks for a Spring harvest. I love the sweetness and how they look when they've been roasted or steamed. But in this soup, I didn't care for the sweetness with the savory. Friends really loved the soup and I don' think they were just being nice.

I do love how quickly this recipe comes together with very few ingredients that you probably have in your kitchen. It's even quicker if you cook the beets the night before, and it's pretty to look at too.

Serves 4-6

- 3 large golden beets
- 1 small, thinly sliced red onion
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1-2 T olive oil
- 4-5 C vegetable or chicken broth

1. Trim stems from beets (leave 1 inch attached to beets) and cutting off leafy tops. Discard stems from tops; cut leaves crosswise into thin shreds. Note: Beet greens do not last long so if you don't plan on using greens the day you purchase beets, I recommend buying beets without the greens and substituting 4 ounces of another green like chard, spinach, kale, or your favorite green.

2. Simmer beets until tender, 35- 45 minutes, first bringing them to a boil. Drain and cool. Remove skins and stems, then cut beets thinly crosswise into circles.

3. Saute 1 small, thinly sliced red onion with minced garlic cloves in olive oil until slightly browned. Add beets and 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Stir in beet greens (or other greens) and cook until greens are wilted, about 1 minute. Add broth to soup to thin it, if you like, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.