Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Meyer Lemon Cookies

When I found out that The Daily Meal was having a recipe contest featuring Country Crock spread, I figured I'd throw my hat into the ring. And of course I went with a baked item.

Here's the deal. I live at high altitude and baking can sometimes be finicky. Cookies sometimes spread too much, particularly those with a lot of butter. To thwart that, I sometimes add vegetable shortening to cookies, but that stuff doesn't add any flavor to the party. I figured that County Crock would be fun to work with.

I decided to use Meyer lemon in these cookies, but they'd be great with any citrus you like, or skip the citrus and add vanilla instead.

For Easter, you could add a drop of food coloring to tint the cookies or shape them into egg shapes. Drizzle with a little icing or chocolate, if you like. The basic cookie is a blank slate, so adapt it any way you like.

These cookies are crisp with a little chew. Don't overbake them, or they can get hard ... but then they're pretty good dipped into coffee or tea.

Meyer Lemon Cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Country Crock spread
1 1/4 cups sugar
Zest and juice from 1 Meyer lemon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

Beat the Country Crock spread, sugar, Meyer lemon zest, and Meyer lemon juice at medium speed in a medium bowl with an electric mixer or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat for a few minutes, until the mixture is fluffy.

Add the flour mixture in several additions (this helps keep it from flying around the kitchen when you start the mixer), beating just enough to blend it well.

Use a small scoop to form balls of dough, and place them on the baking sheets, leaving room between them to spread. I put 12 cookies on each of two sheet and had enough dough left for another 6 cookies, but it depends on how big you make your cookies. Flatten the cookies with the palm of your hand.

Bake at 350 degrees until the cookies are very slightly browned, about 16 minutes - don't overcook them. If you're baking 2 sheets of cookies at a time, you'll probably want to swap them around after about 10 minutes of baking.

Remove the cookies from the sheets and let them cool completely on a rack. Continue forming and baking cookies until all the dough is used.

Monday, March 30, 2015

California Dip and a Classic Manhattan for the Virtual Mad Men Finale Party #PartyLikeAMadMan

California Dip! Different brands of soup mix resulted in dips of many colors.
Are you a Mad Men fan?

The season finale is April 5, and those wacky people who wrote The Unofficial Men Cookbook  are hosting a Mad Men Blogger Virtual Dinner Party. Because, well, why not?

I can't pour you a drink, but I can entice you with some virtual snacks and a classic cocktail.

I also have a GIVEAWAY of the cookbook at the end of this post. Parties with prizes are fun, right? And you don't have to play Twister or anything.

Oh, and I can also introduce you (virtually) to Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin who wrote the book. I wrote about them and the "inside story" about the book, here.

I've already made quite a few recipes from the book, and I blogged about some of them as well.

Way back in March of 2012, I made (and wrote about) the Steak Tartare and my own version of the Brandy Alexander.

I was pawing through the book looking for something new to make, when I spotted a recipe that I remember my mom's (much hipper) friends would make - California Dip. I remember thinking it was really fancy.


I hadn't had this dip in years. Heck, I seldom buy potato chips. But then I saw this recipe and figured it would be good for nostalgia's sake.

Let me warn you. DON'T MAKE THIS RECIPE. Just don't.

If you do make it, you will become obsessed. You will decimate the potato chip aisle. You will buy giant tubs of sour cream. And you will buy every brand of onion soup mix you can find, followed by all the brands of onion soup dip mix, because soup mix makers know their soup mix is likely to become dip.

Well, maybe that won't happen to you, but it did happen to me. And I'm still obsessed.

Did you know that not only is there French onion soup-dip mix, but there's also a green onion dip? It's madness, I tell you. Delicious, creamy, crazy madness.

In my defense ... ah, never mind. There is no defense.

Welcome to the party! Have some snacks!

California Dip
Adapted from The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin

You want this dip. You want this dip. You want this dip.
1 envelope onion soup mix
2 cups sour cream*

Mix well.

Yup, that's it. That's all the magic that you need to make this insane dip.

This is best if you let it sit for at least an hour or so before serving, so the mix hydrates and the flavors get all friendly with each other.

I think it's really best if you make it the day before you need it.

Keep it refrigerated until you need it.

*If you don't want to consume vats and vats and vats of sour cream, you can make this a little healthier by substituting Greek yogurt for some or all of the sour cream. Although I love Greek yogurt, I think this dip is better if there's at least some sour cream with the yogurt.

Oh, but let's not stop at a snack. Let's have a cocktail, too.

Adapted from The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook by Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin

I see a snowman. It was accidental, but I thought it was a cute photo.
2 ounces rye whiskey (I used Templeton's)
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes bitters (I used a cherry bitters)
Cherry, for garnish (I used my own home made cocktail cherry)

Pour whiskey, vermouth, and bitters into a glass with ice.

Stir well, then pour into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the cherry.

Or, I know some folks who simply drink it over ice.

If you like ice and don't want a watery drink right away, use large ice cubes. There are plenty of ice trays and molds for large cubes - or rounds.

GIVEAWAY is now over.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Birdie Bread - adorable buns shaped like little birds!

I posted this bread originally a few years ago, but it was part of another post about - of all things - chicken on the grill.

I thought these cute little birds deserved their very own post. They're perfect for spring, and adorable for Easter. And - big bonus here - they're a lot easier to make than my Bunny Bread. Yes, the bunny is adorable, but it's trickier than these buns.

And, since you're probably piling these into a bread basket, you can put the best ones on top for everyone to oooh and aaaah over. By the time they get to the bottom of the basket, they'll just be slathering butter on them.

This bread is just slightly sweet - not like a sweet roll that you'd have for breakfast, but a slightly sweet dinner roll. Great with a dab of butter. A really good match for spicy food or barbecue.

Like any shaped bread, you're never going to get two that look alike - but that's part of the charm. They'll rise differently before baking, and they'll rise differently in the oven. It's unpredictably fun. And every once in a while, you'll get one that looks just plain weird. Hey, you have to sample one, right?

The hardest part about making these is getting the eyes and beak to behave. The rising dough wants to push them out, so you need to insert them a lot farther in than seems right. And then give them another little push right before they go into the oven.

I wanted to use completely edible items for the eyes and beak, so I used slivered almonds for the beaks and chocolate pearls for the eyes. I was a little concerned that the eyes might melt and make a mess, but it actually worked. The pearls are chocolate-coated crunchy cereal, so they had some substance.

Something more solid - like a peppercorn - would probably work better as an eye, but most folks don't want to bite into a peppercorn, so if you wanted to use something like that, you'd be wise to warn people. A piece of black olive or a bit of dried fruit should work, too. You probably don't need to run out and buy something - look around your kitchen and see what you have that would be edible and suitable.

Birdie Bread

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Chocolate pearls (for eyes)
Slivered almonds (for beaks)

You want the liquid to be at room temperature or just slightly warmer, so if your orange juice is straight from the refrigerator, use warmer water to compensate. You won't ruin anything by using cool liquid, but the dough will rise much, much slower.

Combine the water, orange juice, sugar, yeast, and bread flour in the bowl of your stand mixer. Knead it with the stand mixer fitted with the dough hook until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add the salt and olive oil, and continue kneading until they are completely incorporated and the dough is smooth, silky, shiny and elastic.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until doubled in size, about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sprinkle your work surface with flour and turn the dough out. Knead it briefly, then divide it into 8 even pieces.

Take one of the pieces and cut off about 1/4 of the dough. Form that smaller piece into a ball. Form the other piece into a teardrop shape.

Make a divot in the fat part of the teardrop-shaped piece, but not too close to the edge as shown in the photo.

Place the ball on top of the teardrop shaped piece on top of that divot you just made.

Place this on the baking sheet, with the pointy end facing the center of the sheet. This will make it easier to work on the face later.

Continue until all the birds are shaped.

Cover the birds with plastic wrap and set aside until nearly doubled in size, about 20 minutes.

Using a toothpick or skewer, poke holes in the first bird's head where you want the eyes and beak. Insert the eyes and beak, pushing them well into the dough. Keep in mind that they don't all need to be facing straight forward - you can position the faces so they're looking up, down, or to the side.

Continue with the rest of the birds, until all of them have eyes and beaks. Cover them with plastic wrap and let them continue rising until doubled - another 5-10 minutes, depending on how long it took to get the faces finished.

Uncover the birds again, and if the eyes and beaks have started protruding, push them back in again. 

Bake at 350 degrees until the birds are nicely browned, about 30 minutes.

Remove the birds from the baking sheet and put them on a rack to cool.

If the eyes and beaks need to be pushed back in again, do so while the buns are still warm. Let them cool completely on the rack if you're not serving them right away.

Don't forget to check out Bunny Bread!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Cocktail Cherries

While you can use these cherries in your cocktails in place of jarred maraschino cherries, you sure don't want to give these to the kids.

Well, my mom probably would have given me one or two, but she's a pretty bad example.

The cherries absorb some of the liquor and they give up flavor to the alcohol, too, so you end up with boozy cherries for your cocktails as well as a cherry liqueur that you can use in drinks.

It's a two-fer.

I used frozen cherries because fresh ones are out of season. When they are in season, fresh cherries would sure as heck be better.

Once you've made these, you can adjust the spices and the sweetness the way you like. Have fun with it!

Cocktail Cherries

1 pound frozen pitted sweet cherries
6 whole cloves
6 allspice berries
1 star anise
1 tablespoon almond extract
1/4 cup cherry mosto cotto
1 cup vodka
1/4 cup sugar

Combine everything in a quart jar. If the cherries aren't covered by the liquid, add more vodka. Cover the jar and shake to dissolve sugar. You don't need to get it all dissolved at once - shake it occasionally until there's no sugar visible in the bottom of the jar.

Leave the jar cool place for 1 month to completely marinate.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mashed Carrot and Rutabaga (Swede)

I wonder when rutabaga will become the next superfood. Right now, it's pretty obscure, right along with its friends, parsnip and celery root. But I like rutabaga ... a lot. I don't buy it often, maybe because it's tucked in an odd corner at the grocery store.

When I found a recipe for "carrot and swede" in the book Root to Leaf written by Steven Satterfield, I figured I'd give it a try, The focuses on seasonal cooking, and rutabaga (also known as swede) and carrots make a lot of sense at this time of year.

I reviewed it here, if you're interested in more details about the book.

As far as the recipe, it's pretty simple, and makes a bright, colorful side dish for pretty much any meal. If you're looking for something more vegetable-y than potatoes, this could be a good choice,

Rutabagas have a sharp flavor - similar to cabbage - so it might be a little too strong for some folks. In this recipe, the sweetness of the carrots helps to balance the flavor. If you need to tone the flavor down even more, this could be mixed with mashed potatoes.

Really, though, I was very happy with this as-is.

Carrots and Swede
Adapted from Root to Leaf by Steven Satterfield

2 medium rutabagas, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)

Add the rutabaga and carrots to a heavy-bottomed pot. Add water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the rutabaga and carrots are both very tender.

Keep in mind that you're going to be mashing them, so crisp-tender isn't going to cut it. Figure about 30 minutes, and adjust the timing as needed.

Drain the vegetables in a colander and let them continue draining for at least 5 minutes. Rutabaga can be watery, so you need to get all the water drained, or your puree can be a little soggy.

Return the vegetables to the pot. Add the butter, nutmeg, pepper, and half of the salt. Mash well. I wanted a smooth puree, so I used a stick blender, but if you're energetic and the vegetables were cooked well enough, you can mash by hand.

Taste for seasoning, and adjust as needed. If the puree is seeping water, heat it gently and stir until the water evaporates.

Serve hot.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Olive Tapenade with Einkorn Berries

Einkorn tapenade with crackers.
It's not often that I get a cookbook where I've never used the main ingredient before.

But that was the case when I got The Einkorn Cookbook by Shanna and Tim Mallon.

Einkorn is an ancient form of wheat that's making a comeback, following in the footsteps of spelt and farro.

I've used both spelt and farro, and for sure I've used a wheatfield worth of wheat. But while I'd heard of einkorn, I'd never cooked with it, and I'd never eaten it, either.

Still, I figured I'd like it just fine, since I liked all of its relatives well enough. I did a little hunting and was able to find both einkorn berries and einkorn flour at a nearby natural food store. Score!

Einkorn salad with tomatoes and feta.
I figured that I'd try recipes using both forms, eventually, so I bought both the flour and the berries. I mean, hey, I had a whole cookbook, right?

As I was browsing through the book, I figured that a recipe using the berries would give me the best idea of the flavor of einkorn, so I picked out a recipe for an olive tapenade that was supposed to be served as topping for crusty bread.

I served the tapenade with crackers on the first day, but then decided to turn the leftovers into a salad.

To make that salad, I chopped up some tomatoes and cubed some feta cheese and added it to my olive tapenade along with extra cooked einkorn berries and a few extra olives that I roughly chopped.

I mixed it all together, then added a small drizzle of olive oil, It was a darned good salad.

I have to say that I'm pretty pleased with the einkorn berries - they've got a satisfying texture and a slightly nutty flavor. They should be just fine in any recipe that uses spelt berries or farro, and probably some that call for barley, wheat berries, or bulgur. Or, you know, get the cookbook and you'll have plenty of recipes.

To cook the einkorn berries:
Soak the einkorn berries for 8 hours (or overnight) in a bowl with enough water to cover by about an inch, along with 1 teaspoon of cider vinegar.

After soaking, drain and rinse the berries and put them in a heavy-bottomed pot.

Add 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook until the berries are al dente - figure about 30 minutes - stirring as needed.

This makes about 2 1/2 cups of berries, so you'll have enough for the tapenade, plus more for other recipes. The book says the cooked berries can be kept refrigerated for 2 weeks, so you needn't worry about using them right away.

Olive Tapenade

Adapted from The Einkorn Cookbook by Shanna and Tim Mallon.

1 cup pitted kalamata olives (or your choice of olive)
1/4 cup capers
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup basil leaves, thyme, or parsley
1 cup cooked einkorn berries

Put the olives, capers, mustard and basil (or other fresh herbs - I used a mix) in your food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until the olives are finely diced, but not pureed.

It's perfectly fine if there are a few slightly larger pieces of olive in the mix - it's better to have those than to turn the olives into a paste.

Add the olive mixture to the einkorn berries in a medium bowl. Stir to combine. Refrigerate until needed.

Serve with crusty bread or crackers.

I received the cookbook from the publisher at no cost to me; I bought the einkorn.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bread Machine Dark Rye with Caraway

If you were here, you'd never believe this bread came out of a bread machine.

Seriously. If it wasn't for the hole in the bottom of the loaf where the paddle was embedded, no one would know. It's that good. It's a little chewy in the crust, a little dense, the way a good rye is, and really, really good.

I made this bread specifically for corned beef sandwiches, but I might admit to eating a few slices with just a little smear of butter.

And right after the first loaf was gone, I made its twin.

You might think it's weird that I have a bread machine, considering I wrote a cookbook all about bread. But the truth is that I use that bread machine pretty often.

When I've got recipes I need to test, interviews I need to do, deadlines looming, and I want toast in the morning, using that bread machine for a quick loaf of bread makes an awful lot of sense.

I've made enough bread in the machine to know that I'm always going to get a decent sandwich loaf - and that's what I make most often.

Sometimes I experiment, but usually don't go too far from my standard recipes, because I know they won't fail. But I don't expect expect the machine to turn out something stunning.

Sometimes the results are better than I hope for. But this one was ... way better than that.

Dark Rye Caraway Loaf

1 cup water
1 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon active instant yeast
2 cups (9 ounces) bread flour
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) dark rye flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon caraway seeds

Place all ingredients in your bread machine, in the order suggested by the manufacturer. Press appropriate buttons for a standard loaf.

When the bread is done, remove it from the bread machine and let it cool completely before slicing. Seriously. It needs to cool. But it's well worth waiting for.

Especially if you've got left over corned beef. Or ham. That would be good, too.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Miracle Pasta from Guilt-Free Weeknight Favorites

I'm a little embarrassed to say that wasn't familiar with Mr. Food until I got the cookbook Guilt-Free Weeknight Meals. The name was vaguely familiar, but if I ran into him in the produce aisle, I wouldn't have recognized him.

If you're as much in the dark as I was, he was on television.

But this isn't about his fame, it's about his book. Guilt-Free Weeknight Meals is endorsed by the American Diabetes Association, if that's important to you.

That's not what I was thinking about when I decided to make Miracle Pasta. I just wanted to see if it would work. This pasta i similar to those I've seen all over the Internet, where pasta, other ingredients, and liquid are thrown into a pot and it's cooked until the liquid has turned into a sauce.

Many of those recipes include a whole bunch of other ingredients that need to all cook together. And the pasta needs to be cooked just right at the same time the liquid is reduced enough. This recipe is a little more simple, with just onions and garlic needing to be cooked through.

Now that I've made it once, I have a few adjustments I might make the next time. For one thing, since I live at high altitude, the pasta took quite a bit longer to cook. For another thing, next time around, I'd add more flavor. Maybe some bell pepper. Maybe shrimp. Maybe some tomato paste to add some richness.

But for a quick meal made from basic pantry ingredients, this was pretty good. The recipe points out that you could use whole wheat pasta instead of regular pasta. Or a half-and-half mix of white and whole wheat. I think I'd use one or the other, but not a mix, since they might not cook to the same texture in the same time.

Miracle Pasta
Adapted from Guilt-Free Weeknight Meals by Mr. Food

Balti cooking pot courtesy of  Le Creuset.
12 ounces* linguine pasta, broken in half (this it to fit into the pot - if you've got a wide pot, you can leave them whole.
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, diced or sent through a garlic press
4 1/2 cups** chicken (or vegetable) broth or stock
2 teaspoons dry oregano (use tablespoon for more flavor)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste. I thought it needed a bit more)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (I used more)
1 tablespoon grated parmesan (more for serving, if desired)

Put everything except the basil and parmesan in a large pot. Cover, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.

Cook for 10 minutes, or as long as needed to cook the pasta, stirring every few minutes to make sure the pasta doesn't stick. The liquid should be mostly gone. If there seems to be too much liquid and the pasta is nearly done, uncover the pot and stir more often until the sauce is saucy.

Add the basil and cheese. Stir and serve.

If desired, have more cheese available to add at the table.

*Every package of linguine I looked at was 16 ounces, so I weighed it to get 12 ounces, Next time, I'd probably use 1/2 of the box and cut back on the liquid, Or, if you're feeding more people, use the whole box.

**If you're buying it, I'm pretty sure an average container is 4 cups. It doesn't make sense to open another container for the remaining 1/2 cup, so I suggest adding water or perhaps tomato juice if you happen to have it. I was using my own stock here. Using chicken stock, this is a meatless meal; if you want to make it vegetarian, use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

I received this book from the publisher at no cost to me.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Spicy Mayo from Fire and Smoke

The lastest book from the Cook My Book group that I'm in was Fire and Smoke: A Pitmaster's Secrets by Chris Lilly.

The idea of the group is that at the beginning of the year, we each choose a book that we want to share, and we send the book to the next person on the list. Every few weeks, we all mail that book ... and it continues until each book has passed through everyone's hands and ends up back with its owner, with notes, comments, drawings, cartoons, messages, and food splatters that memorialize all the dishes that the cooks have made.

I didn't get very far in my browsing when I found a recipe for artichokes with a spicy mayo.

Well, I already had the artichokes - I'd already cooked them, so I didn't need the recipe for grilling them, but the spicy mayo sounded good. I usually stuff artichokes, but sometimes a little dip is good, too.

This mayo was perfect for my artichokes, but it would also be good on warm potatoes or mixed into a potato salad. Or smeared onto a sandwich or a burger or dolloped onto asparagus. Or on fish tacos. Or pretty much anywhere that mayonnaise and spice go together

I only made half of the recipe because I knew I didn't need quite that much. I also used less cayenne because, while I like spicy foods a lot, I didn't want to overwhelm the flavor of the artichoke.

This is the half-recipe, the way I made it. Taste it and add more cayenne if you want it even spicier.

Spicy Mayonnaise
Adapted from Fire and Smoke by Chris Lilly

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons ketchup
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon dry dill weed

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Refrigerate until needed.

You can use this immediately, but I always like these sorts of dips or spreads after they've had time for the spices to hydrate and for the flavors to mingle.