Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Daring Bakers Pucker Up

Being the lemon-lover that I am, I was happy to find out that this month's Daring Baker's challenge was lemon meringue pie. Let me just say that I am not an experienced pie baker by any stretch of the imagination but I certainly am an experienced pie eater! And lemon meringue happens to be one of my favorites so I was eager to start baking. To make the challenge less daunting for me, I made the pie over the course of one and a half days. First I made the buttery pie crust, stored it in the fridge to chill, and then tackled the lemon filling and meringue the next day. I liked the look of my finished pie—the meringue had that light and glossy look and actually appeared slightly blow-torched after baking. Even though I found my pie to be a little on the runny side, it still tasted delicious. I loved the tanginess of the lemon filling and the crust though not perfect, was as buttery and flaky as any pie crust I've eaten before. Overall, I was pleased with my first attempt at lemon meringue pie. What a great challenge to start 2008 with! Who knows, maybe this will be the beginning of more pie baking in my future. Thank-you Jen, of the Canadian Baker, who chose this month's recipe. If you would like to give this pie a try yourself, check out her blog for the complete recipe.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Bran New Day

I love a good bran muffin. I seriously would choose to eat a delicious bran muffin over a chocolate brownie any day (well, okay, how about on most days)? But the bran muffins I've tried from various bakeries over the years have let me down either in the way of taste or in ingredients. Many of them have been way too sweet or very high in fat which is why I much prefer making my own muffins whenever I can. This recipe is one I've had my eye on for a few weeks now, and comes from the cookbook, Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery. Nancy Silverton is, in my book, one of the queens of bread and pastry making, and I'm a huge fan of her two restaurants here in Los Angeles, La Brea Bakery and Campanile. I am also a huge fan of these bran muffins and I hope you will be too. They came out moist, slightly chewy, with just the right amount of natural sweetness from the pureed raisins and brown sugar. Enjoy them with a big cup of coffee and you're good to go!

Bran Muffins (adapted from Nancy Silverton)
2 cups unprocessed bran
1 and 1/2 cups golden raisins
1 and 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon orange extract (or use 1 teaspoon finely chopped orange zest)
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup canola oil
1 extra large egg
1 extra large egg white
1/2 cup unbleached AP flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Place oven rack in the middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F.
2. Spread the bran on a baking sheet, toast for 6-8 minutes until toasted; stir half-way through so it doesn't burn.
3. In a small saucepan, stir together 1 cup of raisins and 1 cup of water, simmer on low heat until the water is absored, about 15 minutes. Place in a blender or food processor and process until pureed.
4. Pour the bran into a large bowl, add buttermilk and the remaining 1/2 cup of water and stir to combine. Stir in the raisin puree, orange extract, and brown sugar.
5. Add the oil, whole egg, and egg white and mix well to incorporate.
6. Sift the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the raisin mixture; add the remaining whole raisins and stir to combine.
7. Spoon the batter into prepared muffin tins, filling the cups to just over the rim.
8. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the muffins are well browned and firm to the touch.
yield: about 10 muffins

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Balinese Treat

In anticipation of my upcoming trip to Indonesia, I’ve been experimenting with some native dishes from this Southeast Asian country. Earlier in the month I made Indonesian fried rice using brown rice, and this time around I played with a black, sticky rice to make a Balinese dessert called Bubur Ketan Hitam (literal translation: black sticky porridge). The recipe I used was found here, with a few minor modifications. I guess you could call this Indonesia’s version of rice pudding, loaded with the flavors of pandan leaves and coconut milk. The pandan leaf is a common ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking that is used in both sweet and savory dishes. The scent is characteristic for its rich and nutty fragrance and this lovely aroma was definitely evident in my house as the black rice simmered on the stove top. The ingredients for this dish may sound exotic but don’t let that stop you from giving this one a try. The black rice, coconut milk (canned is perfectly fine to use), pandan leaves, and palm sugar can be readily found at a Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese grocery store. The only ingredient I did have to search a little deeper for was the pandan leaf which I ended up finding in the frozen food section. To give it a bit more Indonesian flare, I topped off the rice with some chopped up jack fruit but I think lychees, or mango would work out nicely too. Overall, I enjoyed both making this recipe, as well as eating it. The creaminess, flavor, and color of the rice made me feel, if for a moment, transported to Bali, sitting on the beach or underneath a coconut tree. Well, we can always dream, can’t we? I hope you enjoy.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I Heart Macaroni and Cheese

As a child, one of my all-time favorite things to eat was macaroni and cheese. I used to look forward to a big bowl of the stuff, compliments of that familiar yellow and blue box of course. My mom could get pretty creative with it too; she’d sometimes throw in some crispy, chopped up bacon, or scramble up some eggs and stir it into the cheesy mixture, or make a tuna casserole out of it by adding canned tuna, then popping it into the oven until it got all bubbly and crispy on top. Needless to say, mac ‘n cheese always brings back a warm and fuzzy feeling to me, and as a grown-up, has become one of my favorite comfort foods. There are lots of different versions out there, but this weekend’s mac and cheese recipe comes from Ina Garten, aka the Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa. Ina is not known to shy away from all things buttery, rich, and creamy, and this recipe is certainly no exception. The only change I made to it was substituting Japanese Panko in place of the fresh breadcrumbs to top off the dish. I liked the addition of tomatoes on top which were baked into the cheese and Panko crumbs but I think the overall flavor was a little subtle for my taste buds. Perhaps I simply needed to add a tad bit more salt, or maybe adding something like mustard powder would give it that extra kick I was wanting? I did like the consistency very much though but be sure to eat this soon after baking in order to get the most of both the crispiness and creaminess of the dish. This recipe also makes a huge amount so you may want to share some with your friends. I have to say, the warm and fuzzies came and lingered for a long while this weekend. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

This Hit The Spot

I was craving something chocolaty, rich, and chewy so what better way to satisfy this craving than with a plate of fudge brownies? I know we're supposed to be in some sort of post-holiday dieting mode, but what the heck. I've learned over the years that when my taste buds are calling out for something, I'd better deliver! I used a recipe for Classic Fudge Brownies from my Gourmet Best Desserts cookbook. Though I admittedly haven't baked much from this book yet, I plan to during the new year. The book is a compilation of all sorts of desserts from the editors of Gourmet magazine and I was happy to snag it from a local church rummage sale during one of my cookbook hunting frenzies. These brownies turned out just the way I want my brownie to be: rich, fudgey, chewy, and oh-so-decadent. I hope you enjoy.
Classic Fudge Brownies
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped coarse
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into bits
3/4 cup sifted AP flour
1/2 tsp double-acting baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 large eggs (at room temp)
1 and 1/4 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts (I used pecans)
1. Butter and flour an 8-inch square baking pan; preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2. In a small heavy saucepan melt the chocolate and butter over low heat, stirring until the mixture is smooth; let the mixture cool completely.
3. Into a bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
4. In a large bowl with a mixture beat the eggs, add the sugar, a little at a time, beating and beat the mixture at high speed for 3 minutes, or until thick and pale. Stir in the chocolate mixture and the vanilla, add the flour mixture, stirring until the mixture is blended well, and stir in the nuts.
5. Pour the batter into the baking pan, smoothing the top, and bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until it pulls slightly away from the sides of the pan.
6. Let the brownies cool completely in the pan before cutting into squares.
Yields 16 brownies

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Hold The Syrup, Please.

Hmmm...I know these pancakes look a little on the, uh, naked side, but let me explain. I wanted to douse the stack with maple syrup before taking the photo but my boyfriend, who I made this particular plate for, is a maple syrup dipper. See, he likes to take a piece of his pancake with a fork and dip it into a small container of syrup instead of having his pancakes bathed in the sweet, sticky stuff. Actually, that's the way I usually eat my pancakes too and since this recipe makes just enough for two people, we settled for the bare, au naturale look for this post. Now that I've explained my picture to you, let me tell you what a treat these cranberry pancakes were. This recipe was another great find from my Eating Well subscription. The pancakes are made from a combination of white and whole wheat flour, a bit of cornmeal, and of course, fresh cranberries. The flavor of the pancakes was a little nutty with a mix of sweet and tart, and the texture of the pancake was surprisingly light. And you know what? These pancakes were so good on their own that I ended up eating them plain without a drop of maple syrup. My boyfriend on the other hand, dipped to his heart's content. Let me know what you think.

Cranberry Pancakes from Eating Well Nov/Dec 2007
(makes 2 servings of 2 pancakes each)
1/2 cup fresh cranberries
1/4 cup AP flour
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 tablespoons nonfat milk
2 tablespoons egg substitute (like Egg Beaters)
1 and 1/2 teaspoon canola oil
1. In a small saucepan, bring 2 inches of water to a boil. Add the cranberries and boil for 2 minutes. Drain and cool for 5 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, whisk AP flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl until combined.
3. Whisk milk, egg substitute and oil in a small bowl until combined.
4. Coarsely chop the cranberries; stir into the milk mixture. Stir the milk mixture into the dry ingredients just until combined.
5. Coat a griddle or large nonstick skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Using 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake, cook 2 pancakes at a time until bubbles dot the surface, about 2-3 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until browned, 1 to 2 minutes more. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Easy Does It Lasagna

This past weekend was cold and rainy here in Southern California so what better way to beat the rainy day blues than by cooking up, and then eating, a big plate of lasagna? I've made lasagna a few times in the past but I have to admit, it sure has been a long time. I think it's because I tend to think of lasagna as a labor-intensive dish with lots of little ingredients that I just don't have time for. Well, this recipe I used was actually quite the opposite as it required only a few ingredients, and best of all was healthy and delicious. I got it right off the box of Healthy Harvest Whole Wheat Pasta by the Ronzoni company. What I loved about the recipe was that it was quick, and even though these were not "no-boil" lasagna noodles, boiling the noodles was not required. Isn't that cool? Simply throw all the ingredients together and stick it in the oven. About 50minutes later, you will be indulging in a hot, cheesy, comforting plate of good stuff that is actually good for you too.
Healthy Harvest Easy Lasagna
1 lb. ground beef
3 cups (26oz jar) spaghetti sauce
1 and 1/2 cups water
1 and 3/4 cups (15oz container) ricotta or small curd cottage cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (8oz)--I used part-skimmed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs (or 1/2 cup egg substitute)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
9 pieces uncooked lasagna noodles
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F; in a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the meat and then drain the fat. Add the spaghetti sauce and water. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
2. While meat sauce is simmering, stir together the ricotta cheese, one-half mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, eggs, parsley, salt and pepper in a medium sized bowl.
3. Pour about 1 cup sauce on bottom of 13x9 inch baking dish. Arrange 3 UNCOOKED pasta noodles lengthwise over the sauce; cover with 1 cup sauce. Spread one-half cheese mixture over sauce.
4. Repeat layers of lasagna, sauce, and cheese filling. Top with layer of lasagna and remaining sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella cheese.
5. Cover with foil. Bake for 45 minutes, then remove foil and bake additional 10 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Allow to stand for 10minutes before cutting.
Makes 12 generous servings.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's Fried Rice

Wow, it's hard to believe that a new year has arrived, isn't it? By the way, Happy New Year! My recent break from baking, cooking, and blogging has actually been very good for me as I now feel rejuvenated and eager to start cooking and writing again. Tonight I decided to make an Indonesian chicken fried rice dish using some leftover brown rice I had in my fridge. Fried rice was actually a common dish my mother would cook for us in our family. I loved my mom's version with all the wonderful ingredients she would add: sometimes it would be shrimp; other times pork or beef, and on occasion she'd do a very hot and spicy fried rice with chili paste, or a more milder version with eggs and peas. The ease of preparing this dish makes for a tasty and quick dish, and you can pretty much add what you'd like which makes fried rice a very free spirited meal and something that reminds me of home.
Indonesian Fried Rice (adapted from Eating Well, Jan/Feb 2008)
(Serves 2 very generously)
1 large egg plus ¼ cup egg beaters (lightly beaten together)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon whole almonds
2 dried red chili peppers
1 tablespoon canola oil (divided)
1 cup vegetables of your choice (can use finely chopped cabbage or yellow bell pepper or broccoli)
8 chicken strips (more or less, it's up to you; I used Tyson's frozen chicken tenders)
½ cup peas (I used canned peas)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon kecap manis (this is a thick palm sugar-sweetened soy sauce and can be found in Asian supermarkets in the soy sauce aisle)
2 cups cooked and cooled brown rice
1 scallion, thinly sliced
Coat a large skillet or wok with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Pour in the egg mixture, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, lifting the edges so uncooked egg flows underneath, until mostly set. Slide the egg out of the pan onto a clean cutting board. When cool enough, cut into thin strips.
Place garlic, almonds, and chili into a food processor and process until a paste-like consistency forms. Heat one-half of the tablespoon of in the pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add the paste and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl.
Heat the remaining oil over medium-high heat and add the vegetables and chicken strips, stirring for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic/almond paste, soy sauce, kecap manis, and rice and stir until combined and heated through, about 2 minutes.
Remove the rice mixture from the heat and toss in the peas. Top off with the strips of eggs and scallion slices.