Monday, December 31, 2012

Gingerbread Cookies

Last post about Christmas cookies (for a bit, anyway...), I promise!  Since I didn't go all out with cookies this year, I asked the husband to choose one that he really wanted.  He loves gingerbread, so that was his request.  While it's not a favorite of mine, I am a baker who loves to make people happy, so gingerbread it is!

I remembered that 2 years ago he got me some "Ninjabread" (te-he) cookie cutters.  Although they are not Christmas-y (I don't believe ninjas are involved in the Nativity story), they are fun.

See this ninja is taking down his Christmas tree too.  :-)

I did not grow up with gingerbread, and now I think I understand why my mom didn't make them.  They're so sticky!  I knew this, and thought I was prepared.  However, after my first attempt at cutting them out was followed by some very non-Christmas-y words, I loaded up on the flour.  And, of course, it worked out just fine.

These cookies have a lovely flavor that even won me over.  They aren't punch-you-in-the-face gingery.  Still spicy, but wonderfully balanced, and tender.

My icing attempt won't win any prizes for their aesthetic appeal, but they sure tasted great!  This recipe has secured a place in my Christmas cookie rotation.

Gingerbread Cookies
(from Taste of Home)
Makes 2-3 dozen, depending on size of cookie cutter

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1 egg
2 tablespoons water
2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice

In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the molasses, egg and water. Combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice; add to creamed mixture and mix well. Divide dough in half. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until easy to handle.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out each portion of dough to 1/8-in. thickness. Cut with a floured 4-in. cookie cutter. Place 2 in. apart on greased baking sheets. Reroll scraps.
Bake at 350° for 8-10 minutes or until edges are firm. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 Tbsp milk (to desired consistency)

Beat sugar, butter, and vanilla extract until well combined.  Mix in milk one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.  Scoop into Ziploc bag (or pastry bag) to pipe onto cookies.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Sometimes you just want to bake a solid crowd-pleasing cookie without much hassle (okay, most of the time...)  I thought I should make good on my promise to bake Snickerdoodles in my Snickerdoodle Cupcake post.

Not having a go-to recipe of my own, I consulted Smitten Kitchen (big shock!), and she had just the Snickerdoodle recipe I needed.

When you make these, you not only get tasty cookies, but your kitchen will smell amazing for at least a day.  Seriously, waking up the next morning to the remaining scent of fresh-baked cookies IS the way to start your day.

So, the last day before the holiday, I brought these in to work, and they were gone within an hour.  It surprised me because half of the office had already left for vacation!  I had a fair number of folks come up to me later in the day and say guiltily, "I had...two..."  Great!  That's the sign of a tasty recipe.

(From Smitten Kitchen)

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 stick or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, plus more if needed
2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 400°, with one rack in top third and one rack in bottom third of oven. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs, and beat to combine. Add dry ingredients, and beat to combine. If the dough is too sticky to work with, just chill it in the fridge for an hour or so.

In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the ground cinnamon.  Scoop out a rounded tablespoon of dough, roll into a ball, and coat in cinnamon sugar. Place about two inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.  Put one sheet in the upper rack and the second on the lower rack in the oven.  Bake until the cookies are set in center and begin to crack (they will not brown), about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheets after five minutes. Transfer the sheets to a wire rack to cool about five minutes before transferring the cookies to the rack.


Peppermint Marshmallows

Chilly weather always makes me think of sitting in front of a crackling fire, with a cozy blanket and a hot mug of something.  Well, we haven't got a fireplace, but I do have a blanket, two cozy kitties, and mugs waiting to be filled with that something.


The husband's favorite wintery combination is peppermint and chocolate.  Classic!  Making peppermint marshmallows to go with hot chocolate seemed like a fantastic idea.  You have to be careful, however, to not add too much extract to the 'mallow because if you do, it tastes like toothpaste.  Not an ideal flavor.  I started with a tiny amount (that turned out to be perfect), because you can always add more!  It's a bit tougher to take it away.

My friend, Chut, of previous marshmallow fame, suggested cutting them into circles to fit in a mug.  Adorable.  So instead of spreading it all out and then using a biscuit cutter to make circles, (and have funny-shaped leftovers), I thought I'd try my hand at piping circles. 

I lightly traced some circles on my parchment paper and used them as a stencil.  The actual piping worked... okay.  I had forgotten a key difference between frosting and marshmallow and that is... the stickiness factor.  The marshmallow didn't, however, stick to the prepared parchment paper (which is good), but then it would stick to the bag which made for some wonky circles (and lots of cursing).  At the end I just started piping individual 'dollops' which actually looked kind of cute.  Or like snowman poop.  Anyway.

Also, for fun, I finely chopped some bittersweet chocolate and sprinkled it on top of the marshmallow immediately following piping.  Because extra chocolate is never a bad thing.

I packaged these up with my favorite sipping chocolate as my holiday gift for my coworkers.  What a shock that I always prefer to give something edible!

So go ahead and whip these up to have with your family on some wintery night!

Peppermint Marshmallows
(Chut's recipe)

Cold mixture:
1/4 cup water
1 packet of gelatin
Pour water in stand mixer bowl, and sprinkle the packet of gelatin on top and let sit while you work on the syrup.

1/8 tsp. peppermint extract (it seems small, but it really is enough!)
1 oz. finely chopped chocolate for garnish

3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup hot water

Combine into saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until it reaches 240 degrees (soft-ball stage). It took roughly 10 minutes on medium-high heat. Remove from heat and pour slowly into stand mixer, with whisk attachment, and whip at high speed until it's opaque, no longer runny, and at least doubled in volume, and is much stiffer, about 10-15 minutes. In the beginning of the whipping of this, add the peppermint extract.

While it's whipping, put parchment paper on a cookie sheet, and lightly spray with cooking spray, and lightly sprinkle cornstarch on it. After marshmallow is done whipping, scoop into large Ziploc bag and cut off corner. Pipe circles, dollops, or straight rows, and sprinkle chopped chocolate immediately on top. Then sprinkle cornstarch over it and let sit for at least and hour or two to completely set.

If you piped rows, use pizza cutter to cut marshmallow when set.

Pair with your favorite sipping chocolate and enjoy!

Friday, December 21, 2012

White Russian Cupcakes

I'd had a request from the husband and a friend, to make another boozy cupcake - White Russian Cupcakes.  Okay, done!

 I was surprised to find that there weren't a ton of recipes out there for them, but this one is very good.  If I had to change one thing with this recipe, it would be tweaking the frosting.  It's good, don't get me wrong, but it's a tad sweet for me.  In light of that, I didn't 'pile high' the frosting as I might with other cupcakes I've made in the past.  However, no one complained!

Those who know me know that I'm not a huge coffee fan, so this flavor profile isn't exactly up my alley.  However, I'm always happy to expand my boozy recipe repertoire!

Those who read this blog with any frequency (thank you, seriously, all 3 of you!) know that I utilize Ziploc bags for piping all the time.  Seriously, I should get a sponsorship.  Anyway, the husband saw how I fill the bags and suggested that I share it, in case any of you struggled with a droopy, messy bag-filling experience.  Simply put the bag on the inside of a standard Pyrex measuring cup (or something similar) and it's super easy to fill.  It's also helpful for avoiding annoying air bubbles that create frosting flatulence, although humorous, disrupt the perfect piping experience.

I know chocolate isn't part of the White Russian flavor profile, but are you complaining about authenticity if chocolate is present?  I thought not.

The simple flavors of White Russians (vodka, Kahlua, and cream) transform into cupcake form really well. This recipe incorporates all three staple ingredients to give it an authentic flavoring. While I'm not a fan of the movie that made White Russians popular, The Dude would approve.

White Russian Cupcakes
(from Baked Perfection)

makes 12 cupcakes

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 large egg and 1 egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1/8 cup Vodka
1/8 cup Kahlua, with 1 additional tablespoon, set aside
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl or in a stand mixer, beat together the sugar and butter until combined. Add egg and egg white, one at a time. Then add the vanilla, Vodka, and 1/8 cup of Kahlua. Gradually add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk in two additions, ending with the flour mixture.

Bake 17 -20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a cupcakes comes out clean. While the cupcakes are still warm, brush the tops with the remaining Kahlua. Remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting. 
Kahlua Buttercream

1 stick of butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons Kahlua
1 tablespoon milk (or more, for your preferred texture)
1 oz. chocolate, minced, for topping

Beat butter until creamy. Add salt. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, beating until combined. Add Kahlua 1 tablespoon at a time and milk until you reach desired consistency.
Use bag to pipe on cupcakes, and top with minced chocolate.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sweet Potato Marshmallows

This time of year means lots of holiday parties, which gives me many opportunities to bake and cook to my heart's content.  Last year, at our neighbor's party I brought Oatmeal Stout Marshmallows, which were quite a hit.  This year, a different spin - sweet potato marshmallows.

Now, I can't take the credit for coming up with the flavor.  That would be my friend, Chut, who incidentally, taught me how to make marshmallows in the first place.  However, it's definitely a favorite of mine.

A holiday flavor, reminiscent of sweet potato casserole, of course.  But this is a delicate, velvety treat without any of the trouble of a goopy casserole.  If you're not necessarily a fan of eating the marshmallows straight, it works well in hot chocolate (it actually was really good, despite what you might think of the flavor).

I also tried something new for the 'shapes' of the marshmallows.  Typically I'd spread them in a prepared, shallow pan and then cut them with a pizza cutter.  It works fine, and is definitely a 'rustic' look.  This time, I put the marshmallow in a Ziploc bag, cut off a corner, and piped a few rows of it so I'd just have to 'slice' them instead of cutting out squares.  It made for more uniform marshmallows and was quite a bit easier and an easy cleanup.  The perfection of technique continues!

The recipe below is actually a halved recipe of the original.  But unless you have an army to feed, I'd stick with the smaller amount, as a little goes a long way with these treats.

Sweet Potato Marshmallows
(Chut's recipe)

Cold mixture:
1/4 cup water
1 packet of gelatin
Pour water in stand mixer bowl, and sprinkle the packet of gelatin on top and let sit while you work on the syrup.

1/4 cup, rounded, of sweet potato puree (I used canned, unsweetened puree, but if you were ambitious, I'm sure you could make your own)
1/4 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
Pinch nutmeg

3/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup hot water
Combine into saucepan over medium-high heat.  Cook until it reaches 240 degrees (soft-ball stage).  It took roughly 10 minutes on medium-high heat.  Remove from heat and pour slowly into stand mixer, with whisk attachment, and whip at high speed until it's opaque,  no longer runny, and at least doubled in volume, and is much stiffer, about 10-15 minutes.  In the beginning of the whipping of this, add the sweet potato puree and spices.

While it's whipping, put parchment paper on a cookie sheet, and lightly spray with cooking spray, and lightly sprinkle cornstarch on it.  After marshmallow is done whipping, scoop into large Ziploc bag and cut off corner.  Pipe straight rows (it was about 4 of them for me), and sprinkle cornstarch over it and let sit for at least and hour or two to completely set.

A pizza cutter works GREAT to cut the mallows, and coat all sides of mallows with cornstarch to keep from sticking all over everything.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mom's Lasagna

Ah, December in the Pacific Northwest.  The sky is dreary, gray, and leaking precipitation... and will be for the next seven months.  Ugh.  Enter the desire for some comfort food - lasagna.  It was a favorite of mine growing up (I requested it frequently when I came home to visit from college), and still is a favorite.  Discussing lasagna recipes with folks can get a bit heated as everyone I know always has the same line, "my mom's is the best."

And, of course, I think MY mom's is the best.  I certainly haven't had one at a restaurant I liked as much.  Perhaps it's just one of those things that is just better homemade.  It takes a bit of time, and it's great fun to assemble.  Anticipation grows at is bakes. And then you have to wait for it to cool a bit so you don't burn off the roof of your mouth.  Delayed gratification at its best.

Also, plenty of time for you (and any sous chefs present) to polish off your favorite bottle of red wine, and enjoy hanging out.  That's happened...on more than one occasion for me, could you have guessed?  0:-)

I finally got the recipe from my mom a few years ago, but prior to that I would request it for dinner anytime I was home.  I distinctly remember one time that she was in the middle of making it when she realized she had no noodles.  So my dad dutifully went off to the store to get some.  Upon his return, she started to assemble and realized that she had forgotten the ricotta cheese.  So it was my turn to go off to the store.  Thankfully she didn't forget anything else, but it was pretty funny that she forgot some very key ingredients.  (She's going to kill me for telling that story...)

While I was making it this time, the husband was commenting on the order of layering, and for that I gave him a look.  Then he said, "Really, this is just a vehicle for cheese, so you can layer it however you want."  We really are true, cheese-loving Sconnies.  :-)

If you're looking for a down home, tasty, lasagna, I recommend my mom's recipe.  Grab a bottle (or two) of your favorite red and some friends, and get cooking!

Mom's Lasagna
(my mom's recipe!)
Makes 10-12 large servings

2 lb. lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp. garlic powder (or fresh minced garlic equivalent)
1 tsp. ground oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
3 cups tomato juice
2 12-oz. cans tomato paste
1/4 cup brown sugar
Salt & pepper to taste

1 lb. lasagna noodles (I'm lazy and buy the oven-ready kind)
1 15 oz. carton ricotta cheese
8 - 12 oz. mozzarella cheese, to your cheesiness preference!
Parmesan cheese, to top off

To make the sauce:
Brown ground beef and onion. Drain if necessary.  Add remaining sauce ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes (to meld flavors).

To assemble:
In a 9x13 pan (or larger), first put in some sauce in the bottom.  Then layer noodles, sauce, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses.  Continue layering at your discretion.  With last layer of noodles, top off with remaining sauce and mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes or until golden and bubbly.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

A friend has a game night every month, and I usually bring cookies or something (no one complains).  I'd been posting about cupcakes on Facebook, and her husband responded with something along the lines of "CUPCAKES!!!!"  So I thought I'd bring some to the party this time around.

I was looking for something fun and not too complicated.  I spotted this recipe, and Snickerdoodles are such a well-loved cookie, how could the cupcakes not be yummy?

Note to self: Make some Snickerdoodle cookies and post on blog!

This recipe also used a seven-minute frosting, which was perfect as I had some egg whites that I needed to use up.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed them at the party, and I'd imagine they would be a big hit with kids!

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes
(from Brown Eyed Baker)
Makes 26-28 cupcakes

For the Cupcakes:
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1¾ cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1¼ cups whole milk

For the Seven-Minute Frosting:
1½ cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
2/3 cup water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
6 egg whites, at room temperature

For the Garnish:
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Sift together both flours, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low. Add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until combined after each.

3. Divide the batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes and frosting. Cupcakes can be stored up to 2 days at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.

4. Make the Frosting: Combine 1½ cups granulated sugar with the water and corn syrup in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Continue boiling, without stirring, until syrup reaches 230 degrees F.

5. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With mixer running, add remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, beating to combine.

6. As soon as sugar syrup reaches 230 degrees F, remove from the heat. With the mixer on medium-low speed, pour syrup down the side of the bowl in a slow, steady stream. Raise the speed to medium-high; whisk until the mixture is completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl) and stiff (but not dry) peaks form, about 7 minutes. Use immediately.

7. Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip or using a large Ziploc bag with the corner cut off (my cheapo method), pipe frosting on each cupcake: Hold the bag over the cupcake with tip just above the top, and squeeze to create a dome of frosting, then release pressure and pull up to form a peak.

8. Combine the 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and ½ teaspoon cinnamon.  Dust the peaks of the frosted cupcakes with cinnamon-sugar. Frosted cupcakes are best eaten the day they are frosted; keep at room temperature until ready to serve.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Creamy Brown Sugar Frosting

I've been plotting what to bake for my boss' birthday for weeks.  On a sidenote, her birthday happens to coincide with my work anniversary, and what better birthday present for her than me, right?  ;-)  Anyway, last year I made her THESE, which everyone loved.  This year I decided to go with an autumnal flavor - pumpkin!

I found a great pumpkin cupcake recipe that was light and not brick-like texture - great.  There was a maple cream cheese frosting recipe that went with it, and I'm sure that would be fine.  But I wanted to try something a little different.

I'm not really a huge cream cheese frosting fan, and I'm not sure why.  But after lots of searching, I just settled for a different type of cream cheese frosting - brown sugar.

The flavor was great, and it was creamy and not overly sweet.  It was a big hit at the office, and everyone was raving about the frosting.  Perfect!

Since it was a cream cheese frosting that softens up quite a bit, I made the frosting the night before, refrigerated it, and then piped it the morning of with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.  It worked well, and I'm glad to have another fantastic cupcake recipe to add to the ever-growing list!

Pumpkin Cupcakes 
(from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 17 to 18 cupcakes

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (I used far less as I don't like it super-spicy)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk mixed with 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin

1. Preheat the oven to 350° (175°C). Line a cupcake pan with 18 liners.

2. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper into a medium bowl.

3. Add the eggs 1 at a time to the mixer, scraping down the sides after each addition. Alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat in the pumpkin until smooth. Scoop the batter among the cupcake liners — you’re looking to get them 3/4 full. Rap the filled pans once on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool the cupcakes on racks completely.

Creamy Brown Sugar Frosting
(slightly adapted from Epicurious)
It makes more than you will need. Bummer, right?

12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until fluffy. Add brown sugar; beat until well blended. Add powdered sugar 1/2 cup (scant) at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Chill at least until firm enough to pipe, about 30 minutes.

Put frosting in large Ziploc bag or pastry bag to pipe on cupcakes. Pipe on and sprinkle cinnamon on top to finish.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Broccoli Cheese Soup

I stumbled upon this recipe while looking through my hoarded Cook's Illustrated magazines, and it piqued my interest.  Broccoli Cheese soup always sounds good but I dislike the amount of cream that typically goes in it (I prefer to get my extra calories from a stellar dessert!)

What's great about this soup is that there isn't any cream!  It tastes rich enough without it (with no real calorie bombs) and the broccoli is the star of the soup with good flavor. 

The article in the magazine explains how they came to this final recipe (so it really doesn't need any extra fiddling!)  I was surprised about the addition of baking soda, but there's science behind it.  When you cook broccoli for a long time, it can begin to taste sulfurous, due to isothiocyanates, which is obviously never an ideal flavor.  The added baking soda staves off that nasty flavor.

 And this was another opportunity to use my favorite appliance - an immersion blender - whoo hoo!

I decided last minute to make croutons to top off the soup and to give it some textural contrast.  What better bread to use than my favorite local artisan rosemary bread?  The croutons turned out fantastic (I'd ask the husband what he thought, but he's busy swiping croutons from the bowl and munching away.)

A bite of this creamy, flavorful soup with a crispy crouton is the perfect remedy for the dreary days of November!

Broccoli Cheese Soup
(from Cook's Illustrated)
Serves 6-8

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 lbs broccoli, florets roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces, stems trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1/4 inch thick pieces
1 medium onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
2-3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard powder
Pinch cayenne pepper
Table salt
3 c. water
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 c. low-sodium chicken broth
2 oz. baby spinach (2 loosely packed cups)
3 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (3/4 cup)
1 1/2 oz. Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 3/4 cup), plus extra for serving
Black pepper

~ 6 slices of bread of choice (I used a rustic, artisan rosemary bread)
3 Tbsp melted butter or olive oil
1 tsp garlic powder
Pinch salt 

1) Heat butter in large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add broccoli, onion, garlic, dry mustard, cayenne, and 1 tsp salt.  Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 6 minutes. Add 1 cup water and baking soda.  Bring to simmer, cover, and cook until broccoli is very soft, about 15-20 minutes, stirring once during cooking.

2) Add broth and 2 cups water and increase heat to medium-high. When mixture begins to simmer, stir in spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Blend soup with immersion blender or in batches with regular blender.  Add cheeses and reheat briefly, stirring, to melt.

3) Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Cut bread into 1/2-3/4 inch cubes.  Mix melted butter or olive oil with garlic powder and salt.  Toss with bread cubes until they're coated.  Pour out on a rimmed baking sheet, place in oven. Bake for 15 minutes, stir and bake until dry and crispy (10-15 minutes more).

4) Top soup with freshly grated Parmesan and homemade croutons.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Tofu & Veggie Stir Fry

I've been posting a lot of sweets lately, whoops... How about a healthy meal?  This recipe has been a great go-to meal for us this past year.  We've tweaked a few things here and there and it just keeps getting better.  A solid, healthy, tasty choice!

The husband found the perfect use for law books - pressing tofu!

The original recipe calls for coating the tofu in cornstarch and then pan frying it.  That worked, and tasted good, but we prefer pan frying it with no coating.  You still get a great crispy and golden brown outside without the mess and hassle of cornstarch.

We had a supervisor during the cooking of this meal.  I don't think tofu is the protein of choice with felines, however.

This recipe would easily be made vegetarian/vegan if you used veggie broth instead of chicken broth.  And it reheats well for lunch the next day, which is preferable in all of my recipes as I'm a huge fan of leftovers!  I've also induced lunch envy among coworkers with this dish, muahahaha.

Tofu & Veggie Stir Fry
(adapted from Eating Well)
Makes 4 servings

1/2 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. rice wine
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. cornstarch, divided
2 Tbsp & 1 tsp. sugar
Crushed red pepper to taste

Stir Fry
1 14 oz. pkg extra-firm tofu, drained
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. canola oil, divided
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
6 c. veggie mix of broccoli, carrots, onion
3 Tbsp. water

1 c. uncooked red quinoa
1 1/4 c. water or chicken broth

Drain tofu and cut into cubes.  Sprinkle with salt and set aside.

Combine broth, rice wine, soy sauce, cornstarch, sugar & crushed red pepper and set aside.

Rinse quinoa thoroughly.  Put quinoa and water (or chicken broth) in pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 30-35 minutes.  Fluff with a fork when done.  For more tips on how to cook quinoa perfectly, click HERE.

While the quinoa is cooking, heat 1 Tbsp. oil in wok over medium-high heat.  Add tofu, and cook until golden brown.  Transfer to a plate (and set on paper towels to drain if you're concerned about excess oil).

Reduce heat to medium.  Add remaining oil, garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant (30 sec.)  Add veggies and water.  Cover and cook, until tender crisp.  Stir in broth mixture.  Cook until sauce has thickened.  Return tofu to pan.  Serve over red quinoa.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

I love trying out different flavors of crème brûlée, but it's been awhile since I've been adventurous and tried a new one.  Well, this time of year you just crave fall flavors like apple and pumpkin while wearing a big, comfy sweater and crunching through colorful leaves.

 Pumpkin, it is!

Most crème brûlée are very creamy and custard-like, while this one leans more towards pumpkin pie without a pie crust.  I was a bit concerned that it would be too spicy, but it turned out perfect.  I did tweak a few slight things with this recipe, so it was more in line with the crème brûlée I've made before.  The flavor is great, and the crunchy burnt sugar topping is a fantastic addition with a contrasting texture.

Who needs the traditional pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving?  I think I'll be serving this instead!

Pumpkin  Crème Brûlée
(from Williams-Sonoma Kitchens)
Serves 6 (four-ounce ramekins)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. freshly grated cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
5 egg yolks
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
6 Tbs. pumpkin puree
1/3 cup plus 6 tsp. granulated sugar
1 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Have a pot of boiling water ready.

Pour the cream into a small saucepan and whisk in the cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg. Set over medium-low heat and warm the cream mixture until bubbles form around the edges of the pan and steam begins to rise from the surface, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla, salt, pumpkin puree, the 1/3 cup granulated sugar and the brown sugar until smooth and blended. Slowly pour in the cream mixture, stirring until blended. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Divide the mixture among  six 4-fl.-oz. ramekins and place in a large baking pan. Add boiling water to fill the pan halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Bake until the custards are just set around the edges, about 30-35 minutes.

Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.

Just before serving, sprinkle 1 tsp. granulated sugar evenly over the surface of each custard. Using a kitchen torch according to the manufacturer's instructions, move the flame continuously in small circles over the surface until the sugar melts and lightly browns. Serve immediately.