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Friday, November 21, 2014

More Ways with Blueberries

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I guess I went a little crazy the last time I bought frozen berries because when I looked in the freezer yesterday, I still had half a bag of blueberries. And this is after making the Blueberry Pancakes and the Blueberry Breakfast Bars! Not only that, I have 2 bags of frozen raspberries! I guess I’d better start looking for some good raspberry recipes.
Since the bag of blueberries was already open I decided I’d better find a way to use those up first. My other freezer discovery yesterday was some pie pastry that I had cut into small circles a while back for some apple pocket pies. So, I had 5 little pastry circles, some blueberries, and some granny smith apples that I found in the fridge. I decided to put them all together and see what happened.
When I made the pie pastry, it was just a basic double crust pie recipe but I used all butter instead of shortening. I rolled it out to normal pie crust thickness then cut it into 4-inch circles (I used a large can that had both ends removed). I managed to get nine little circles out the pie crust but next time I would make them a little thicker and settle for eight. Originally, I had filled these little pastry circles with homemade applesauce after my husband had remarked that my applesauce tasted good enough to be a pie filling. Those were good but I had frozen the remaining circles so that I could try another filling later.
So, while my pastry was defrosting, I started on the new filling. I peeled and chopped two apples and put them in a bowl. I added a handful of frozen blueberries, the juice of half a lemon, a tiny dash of almond extract (less than 1/8 teaspoon), about a tablespoon of flour, some brown sugar and lots of fresh grated nutmeg. I mixed it all together, tasted it, and added more sugar (the apples and blueberries were pretty tart).
When the pastry was defrosted (in the fridge), I rolled each one out on a floured board (rolling from the center of the pastry out to the edges, turning frequently) to increase the diameter as much as I could while keeping the shape of the circle and not breaking the pastry. They probably ended up being about 6 inches in diameter by the time I was through. The size doesn’t really matter but it can’t be too thin or it will break when you fill them.
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As I finished rolling each one, I put a spoonful of filling in the middle, folded one side of the pastry over and crimped the edges with a fork. You might want to dip a finger in water and wet the edge of the pastry before folding it over to get a good seal. My filling was pretty runny at that point so the pastry was already wet enough to seal. I placed them on a baking sheet and pricked the tops with a fork.
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I baked the little pies in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes (I just kept an eye on them and took them out when they looked golden brown). After letting them cool (and photographing them of course!), I tried one and decided that this recipe is a keeper! In fact, I don’t think I’ll change a single thing about the filling, all the flavors went really well together. The idea for the almond extract came from the Blueberry Breakfast Bars recipe and as long as you don’t use too much, it really adds something special. It goes really well with the nutmeg also.
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I had about half of the filling left over so I poured it into a saucepan and cooked it over medium-low heat until the apples were just tender. I added a couple of tablespoons of water while they were cooking because it started to thicken quickly. I also added some cinnamon because I wanted it to be a topping for my cinnamon swirl French toast the next morning. The cinnamon made it taste even better! After letting it cool, I stored it in the fridge.
This morning, I did make some cinnamon swirl French toast and the Blueberry Apple Topping was perfect on it. It would be a great topping for any type of French toast, waffles or pancakes!
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I will be writing regular recipes for the pocket pies and the fruit topping and they will appear in a separate post, probably in a few days. But you are more than welcome to follow my directions and see what you can come up with in the meantime.
So, there you go. Two more ways with blueberries!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Beef with Butter: Heart Attack or Heaven?

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I decided to get out and grill something before I missed the deadline for Carnival of the Grill…a blogging event hosted by Men in Aprons. I usually don’t need an excuse to fire up the grill but lately I’ve chosen to stay in my air conditioned kitchen and have kept my distance from fire-producing objects. Luckily, the mercury seems to be dropping and it’s actually pleasant outside in the evenings again.
So last night, in honor of my return to the grill, I opted for something fancy. And by fancy I don’t mean complicated, I mean expensive! But it’s nice to splurge once in a while and the thick beef tenderloin steaks looked so good that I couldn’t resist. Although I love a good porterhouse and rib eyes are always a good bet, there’s nothing like biting into a perfectly grilled tenderloin steak.
Usually I don’t do much to these steaks…a little olive oil, some salt and pepper and they taste amazing. But occasionally I wrap them in bacon and last night I took it a step further and crowned my effort with a slice of spicy, smoky compound butter. I was inspired to make up this butter a few days ago after visiting 101 Cookbooks. I love my smoked paprika from The Spice House and am always looking for new ways to use it. It tastes amazing in this butter and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner! By the way, if you like to make your own barbeque rubs and you have never tried smoked paprika…go buy some now!!
Yes, a steak wrapped in bacon and covered in butter might sound like a heart attack waiting to happen but beef tenderloin is very lean and we’re only talking about one slice of bacon and maybe a teaspoon of butter. It’s not something I do often but adding a dab of compound butter to grilled meat takes it to a whole new level. Try some sage butter on a grilled pork chop if you don’t believe me!
On to the recipe…
Bacon-Wrapped Beef Medallions
4 beef tenderloin steaks, 1 1/2 inches thick
4 slices bacon
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
  1. Take steaks out of fridge and let sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. While steaks are coming to room temperature, get your grill ready (gas or charcoal).
  2. Rinse steaks (not necessary, it’s up to you) and pat dry with paper towels. Tightly wrap one slice of bacon around each steak, securing with with a toothpick. Brush a thin layer of olive oil on each side of the steaks and season both sides with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.
  3. Place steaks over a direct medium-hot flame and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side. Move steaks to indirect heat, reduce grill temperature to medium, and continue cooking until the interior temperature reaches 145 degres for medium rare (medium 160, well-done 170).
  4. Remove steaks to a platter, top each steak with a slice of Spicy Smoked Paprika Butter (if using) and resist the urge to cut into them for at least 10 minutes!! It is important to let ANY meat rest for 10 minutes after it comes off the grill so that the juices can redistribute throughout the meat. If you cut it right away, all the juices will run right out.
Spicy Smoked Paprika Butter
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup) at room temperature
1 T. smoked sweet paprika
1 t. chili powder
1/4 t. chipotle chili powder (or substitute with cayenne pepper)
1/2 t. powdered cumin
1/2 t. garlic powder
salt to taste
  1. In a small bowl, mix all ingredients into butter until well-combined. Add salt to taste and mix well.
  2. Spoon mixture onto a sheet of waxed paper, roll it into a cylinder and twist each end tight. Refrigerate overnight or place the wrapped butter in a freezer bag and freeze until ready to use.
The butter will keep in the freezer for 6 months. When ready to use, defrost in the fridge to make it easier to slice.
Make sure you visit 101 Cookbooks to check out some other ideas for making and using compound butters.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Weekday Brunch

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I was in a rush this morning and pretty much forgot all about breakfast. I’m not much of a breakfast eater during the week but I usually force myself to at least eat some cereal and yogurt by 10 a.m. But when I came home today at lunchtime, I realized that I hadn’t eaten anything at all. I wanted something quick and filling but not too heavy and the first thing that came to mind was eggs.
It’s when I’m hungry that I get creative in the kitchen. I don’t want to spend the time searching through recipes and my growling stomach doesn’t give me time to “overthink” what I’m throwing together, it’s more intuitive. So today, this omelette recipe just kind of happened. Luckily, It turned out really, really good and I’ll definitely be making it again!
Cheddar, Chive and Sour Cream Omelette
2 eggs
1 T. sour cream
1 T. water
1/2 T. fresh snipped chives
Salt
Fresh ground pepper
1/2 T. butter
1/4 C. grated extra sharp cheddar
  1. In a small bowl, beat the eggs, sour cream, and water with a fork until well blended. Stir in chives, a pinch of salt some some fresh ground pepper.
  2. Heat a nonstick skilled (8 or 10 inches) over medium heat. Add butter and swirl around. Pour egg mixture into pan and cook until the top is almost set. Gently loosen omelet and carefully flip it over in the pan. Sprinkle cheddar on one half and gently fold the omelet over the cheese. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Spinach and Feta Turnovers

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My favorite thing about traveling is the food. And of all the places I’ve traveled, I love the food in Greece the best. I really don’t know much about Greek food except that I have loved everything I’ve ever tasted. I don’t even have any Greek cookbooks (I really need to do something about that!). But I do occasionally create “Greek-inspired” dishes and snacks.
This “Greek-inspired” snack came about because I’ve never baked with phyllo (filo) sheets before and I decided it was about time I try! I bought the phyllo last week and it has been sitting in my freezer since. What finally spurred me on was a recipe over at La Tartine Gourmande. The recipe Bea used was pretty different than the one I ultimately used but as soon as I get my hands on some goat cheese and fresh mint, I plan to try the Feta and Mint Cigarettes. What I had on hand was frozen spinach and feta cheese so that became the base of my filling and I’ve found that you really can’t go wrong with spinach and feta!
It will probably be a while before I attempt some baklava but these Spinach-Feta Turnovers were pretty easy to put together, even for a phyllo virgin. The worst thing that happened was I tried to unroll the sheets before they had completely defrosted and accidentally broke about three inches of the end of the stacked sheets. To keep the sheets from drying out, I covered them with a paper towel and then spritzed it with water occasionally to keep it damp. It worked pretty well and that way I didn’t have to dampen one of my big kitchen towels.
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Well here’s the recipe I used for these yummy, flaky, spinach-feta treats:
Spinach and Feta Turnovers
1/2 onion, chopped
1 T. butter
2 small cloves of garlic, chopped
1 package frozen chopped spinach, drained and squeezed dry
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
1 egg, slightly beaten
dash of fresh-grated nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper
pinch of salt
20 sheets store-bought phyllo dough
1/2 C. butter, melted
  1. In a small skillet, saute onion in butter over medium heat until soft. Add garlic, cook for 30 seconds and then remove from heat.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine spinach, feta, egg, onion and garlic, nutmeg, pepper and salt. Stir until well combined. Set aside.
  3. Remove one sheet of phyllo from stack (cover the remaining sheets with a damp cloth to keep from drying out) and lay it on a work surface. Brush entire sheet with a thin layer of melted butter. Place another sheet on top, brush with butter and repeat two more times (you will have four sheets stacked with a layer of butter on the top sheet). Cut this stack in half lenghwise with a knife.
  4. You now have two long rectangles of phyllo in front of you. Place about 2 Tablespoonfuls of filling on the bottom right side of one of the rectangles. Fold the bottom left corner up and over the filling so that the bottom edge is now even with the right side. Continue folding up and over until you end up with a triangle. Brush triangle with melted butter and place on a baking sheet.
  5. Repeat this procedure with the other phyllo rectangle.
  6. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until you have 10 triangles on your baking sheet.
  7. Place baking sheet in preheated 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
  8. Cool on wire rack and eat either warm or at room temperature.
  9. Enjoy!
Yield: 10 turnovers
Note: These can also be made as bite-size appetizers. Proceed with the recipe as directed except instead of cutting the stacks of phyllo in half lengthwise, cut them crosswise into 4 equal pieces. Use only one spoonful of filling for each strip and roll up just as directed for the larger ones. You will end up with 20 small turnovers, perfect for a party!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monster Meatball Sandwiches

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My favorite meatball sandwiches come from DiCiccos restaurant in my hometown. I don’t order them anywhere else because I’m always disappointed. I’ve never tried making them at home either. I just wait until I go home to visit and make sure to hit DiCiccos at least once while I’m there. But it’s been a very long time since I’ve been able to enjoy my favorite meatball sandwich and I decided that it’s time to take the matter into my own hands.
I think the key to a good meatball sandwich is the sauce. You’d think it would be the meatballs since that’s the main component of the sandwich but I think if you have a good sauce, decent bread, and right type of cheese, you can get away with a mediocre meatball. Not that I planned to make any mediocre meatballs!
I remembered a pizza sauce recipe that I had tried from one of my favorite cookbooks Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. The sauce was so simple but it was nice and tangy…perfect for the sandwich I had in mind. Yes, maybe it’s a little ironic that I found the perfect sauce for my MEATball sandwich in a VEGETARIAN cookbook but I really think that you could replace the meat on this sandwich with grilled eggplant or some grilled portabellos and you’d have something just as good!
For the bread, I just purchased the best looking sandwich rolls at the grocery store and for the cheese, I picked up some packaged pre-sliced mozzarella cheese. This is a sandwich that doesn’t need anything fancy. If I had the time, I would have bought bread from a bakery or made my own but the pre-sliced mozzarella was exactly what I wanted.
The meatballs are what intimidated me. I’d never made any type of meatball in my life and I don’t even have much experience with regular meatloaf. So I read all the meatball recipes I could find in my cookbooks (that took a while since I my cookbooks are taking over my house!) and then got started working on my own meatball recipe which was a combination of what I liked from the other recipes.
Once I had a plan as to how this sandwich was going to come together, I started the sauce so that it could simmer and thicken while I was preparing and cooking the meatballs. I decided to make the meatballs extra large since my sandwich rolls were pretty big. I turned one pound of beef into eight meatballs (and these in turn made two enormous sandwiches!). I cooked the meatballs on the stovetop but I think next time I’ll try baking them instead. When the meatballs were almost cooked through, I put them in the sauce and let them simmer until they were finished.
Finally, I loaded each sandwich roll with four big meatballs, covered them with sauce and then put two slices of mozzerella on each. I finished them off under the broiler for a minute to make sure the cheese was completely melted. It turns out that DiCiccos isn’t the only place that can make a decent meatball sandwich :-) But I’ll certainly be going there the next time I visit home anyway!
Here are the recipes:
Tangy Tomato Sauce:
2 T. olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large can crushed tomatoes
Pinch of salt
fresh ground pepper
  1. In a medium saucepan, saute garlic in olive oil for one minute.
  2. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until thickened (about 30 minutes).
Monster Meatballs
1 T. butter
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1/2 C. seasoned dried breadcrumbs
1/2 C. fresh-grated parmesan cheese
1/4 C. minced flat-leaf parsley
1 t. salt
a few grinds of fresh black pepper
  1. In a small skillet, saute onion in butter until translucent. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Remove from heat.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine ground beef with all remaining ingredients, including onion and garlic. Mix well (I use my hands for this).
  3. Turn meat mixture out onto a sheet of waxed paper, form into a rectangle and cut into 8 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball and set aside.
  4. Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat(I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet) and carefully place the meatballs in the skillet to brown.
  5. Carefully give the skillet a shake now and then to keep the meatballs turning in order to brown evenly and keep their round shape. Or, carefully turn meatballs with tongs frequently (I found it easier to shake the pan). Continue cooking for 15 – 20 minutes or until the meatballs are completely brown all over and have almost cooked through (about 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer).
  6. Drain meatballs on paper towels and then transfer to the simmering tomato sauce. Simmer sauce and meatballs together for about 20 minutes or until the internal temperature of the largest meatball reaches 175 degrees.
Monster Meatball Sandwiches for Two
2 large, crusty sandwich rolls, sliced almost through but still connected
8 Monster Meatballs
Tangy Tomato sauce
4 slices mozzerella cheese
  1. Lay sandwich rolls open flat on a baking sheet. Place four meatballs on each sandwich.
  2. Cover meatballs with tomato sauce.
  3. Place 2 slices of cheese on top of each sandwich.
  4. Place under broiler just until cheese is melted, not browned.
  5. Fold top of roll over the cheese.
  6. EAT!
Now I have to tell you that these sandwiches are ridiculously big! They were actually a special treat for my husband right before he left for a deployment. Yes, he did polish off his entire sandwich but I didn’t even make it halfway through mine! So, the recipe can easily be changed to make four sandwiches instead of two. Just make 16 small meatballs instead of 8 large ones and then divide them between four sandwich rolls. There should be plenty of sauce for four sandwiches.

Baking with Whole Grains: Best Banana Muffins

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If you are new to baking and cooking with whole grains, I think one of the best places to start is with quick breads and muffins. I have already posted a recipe for whole-wheat banana bread and well, I guess I’m not very creative because here I go again with another whole-wheat banana recipe!
I have been working this last week on creating a muffin recipe that tastes great but has fewer calories and more fiber than the muffins I’ve made in the past. Since I love banana bread and I always have some extra-ripe bananas stored in the freezer, I have mostly been working on a banana muffin recipe.
My first couple of attempts were banana-coconut muffins. I was frustrated because I was having problems creating a recipe I liked and then I realized that the reason I wasn’t happy with them had nothing to do with the recipe. I simply didn’t like the texture of coconut in the muffin. I also kept trying to add cinnamon or nutmeg and was disappointed with the flavor. Then I remembered that I prefer my banana bread without any extra spices. So finally, I went back to basics and came up with a banana muffin that tastes like bananas.
I prefer nuts in my quick breads and muffins but many people (including my husband) prefer them without. My solution was to add ground pecans to batter. This adds a more complex texture and flavor but is subtle enough to please the “no nuts” crowd. I used pecan meal that I recently purchase from the King Arthur Four Baker’s Catalogue but it should be easy enough to grind your own in a food processor or blender. I was really impressed with the results so I suggest that even people who love a “chunkier” texture, try using the pecan meal at least once.
I also added some oat bran to increase the fiber and this contributed even more flavor and texture. I’ve never used oat bran in baking before and I loved the results! It added a “chewiness” to the texture that was a really nice surprise. The oat bran I used was Hodgson Mill’s Oat Bran Hot Cereal.
The idea for using buttermilk came from the muffin recipes in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. After using some of her muffin recipes, I’ll never make muffins without buttermilk again! I think it adds tenderness and although you can’t really taste the buttermilk, it does add that little extra “something” to the flavor.
The recipe below is now my absolute favorite banana muffin recipe. It gives you exactly enough batter to fill 12 regular muffin cups (I hate recipes that only give you 9 muffins!). These muffins are low in fat and high in fiber. They are full of carbohydrates but if you’re on a low-carb diet, you shouldn’t be looking for muffin recipes anyway!! They are 100 percent whole grain which means these muffins do contain a good amount of complex carbohydrates (the good ones). At just over 150 calories per muffin, they are the perfect snack!
Best Banana Muffins
1 ½ C. whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur’s new Organic White Whole Wheat)
½ C. Oat Bran
½ C. Pecan Meal (1.5 oz ground pecans)
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt

2 T. butter, melted
½ C. honey
3 egg whites
1 C. banana
2/3 C. buttermilk
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 12 regular-sized muffin cups or line with paper cups.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients (first six ingredients) until well combined. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together all wet ingredients (last 5 ingredients).
  4. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.
  5. Immediately spoon batter into the 12 muffin cups, filling each cup almost to the top.
  6. Place immediately in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Start checking early!
  7. Turn muffins out of pan and cool on wire rack.
  8. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Back to Sourdough

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It seems like I’ve been doing more baking than cooking lately so rather than post a recipe this time, I’d like to show off one of my latest baking successes.
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I purchased a sourdough starter from King Arthur Flour quite a while ago and I’ve been maintaining it despite the fact that I took quite a long a break from baking with it. Sourdough is finicky sometimes (especially when you’re new to baking with it) and I became a little disheartened after my last attempt. Everything had been going well and I had turned out quite a few great loaves of sourdough so it was frustrating when I saw two days of work collapse into an unmanageable pile of goo after I accidentally let it proof too long after shaping. That was actually my second sourdough disaster. So, I decided I needed a little break from it. Fortunately, the break didn’t last too long because I started craving the stuff!
I brought my little sourdough starter crock out from the fridge, fed it a few times over the course of a couple days to make sure it was nice and happy, then made my dough. Usually I start by making a sponge, which increases the flavor of the bread and makes it “extra-sour” the way I like it. But this time, I followed a new recipe that uses twice as much starter and no sponge. I thought I’d try it and see how I liked a lighter-tasting bread.
Another change I made this time around was letting the bread rise in proofing baskets (ok, so I really used colanders…I don’t own any real proofing baskets) that I lined with floured kitchen towels. It worked pretty well except the towels stuck to the bread a little more than I would have liked. Next time, I’ll use more flour! But it was nice to let the basket shape the bread instead of dealing with trying to shape the super-soft, sticky dough into nice looking loaves myself. All I had to do was turn the proofed loaves out onto a piece of parchment paper on top of my peel and slide them right onto my baking stone.
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The only real problem I had this time around was I let the oven get too hot and one of the loaves burned a little. They tasted great even though they weren’t quite as sour as normal. The crust was good and the crumb was nice and open…perfect for soaking up lots of butter!
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Now that I’m feeling confident again, I’ll probably try to get in the habit of baking it once a week. I might not be able to eat it all myself but I can really use the practice and it’s not hard to find someone willing to take some fresh-baked bread off my hands!