Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Honey Biscuits ... or Honey, biscuits!

I don't know why I don't make biscuits more often. They're pretty easy. And fast. You mix, roll, fold, cut, bake, and you eat. That's it.

If you're thinking, "Biscuits, ho-hum. Been there, done that," you might want to think again.

I bake a LOT of bread. Every week, there are at least one or two new recipes rolling through here. It's gotten to the point where a loaf has to be pretty spectacular to get any lot of notice.

Otherwise it's just "nice bread" and we move along to something else.

On the other hand, these biscuits have been the subject of a lot of conversation, and there's been a request to make more. That doesn't happen all that often.

These biscuits aren't dessert-sweet, but you can taste the sweetness and richness of the honey. They're not so sweet that you couldn't eat then with dinner or breakfast. Or slathered with peanut butter. But if you wanted to, they would make a great base for strawberry shortcake.

Honey Biscuits

3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a small bowl, combine the milk and honey. Stir until it is completely combined.

Cut the butter into chunks and add it to flour. With a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the flour until it's the size of small peas. Add the milk and honey mixture to the flour and mix gently just until there are no dry spots.

Flour your work surface and turn the dough out. Pat it into a rough rectangle, then roll it until it's about 1/2 inch thick. Fold it in thirds, like a letter, and roll it again. Fold in thirds again.

This time, roll it again to about an inch thick. With a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut as many biscuits as you can. Re-roll the scraps and cut more biscuits. You can re-roll a third time, but I usually use the final scraps for a free-form biscuit.

Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, If you like soft sides, place the biscuits so they touch. If you want the sides more crisp, keep them separated.

If you like, brush the top of the biscuits with milk, butter, or cream. Bake at 400 degrees until the tops are nicely browned, 12-14 minutes.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bread Baking Made Easy

A lot of people think that bread baking is difficult or complicated, but it doesn't have to be. After all, our fore-bakers managed to make bread without standard measuring cups, and in ovens without precise controls. Sure, bread recipes can be complicated. I have a bread-baking book that has a recipe that is 40 pages long.

Yes, 40 pages.

This recipe isn't anywhere near that complicated, and the ingredients are simple. The most unusual ingredient is bread flour, but if you don't want to buy that, you could use all purpose flour. It might take a little bit longer to knead if you use the all purpose, but it will still make a fine loaf of bread.

This bread also doesn't require any fancy techniques. You need to knead the bread, but you can do that in a stand mixer, or, if you don't have a stand mixer, you can knead it by hand. To make the kneading easier, the bread takes a short rest before the kneading begins, which helps activate the gluten.

Simple Sandwich Bread

1 cup lukewarm water
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 large egg
3 cups (13 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer. Stir to combine, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes.

Uncover the bowl and knead the dough with the stand mixer fitted with the dough hook until the dough is smooth and elastic. Remove the dough from the bowl, drizzle it with a little bit of olive oil, just to coat the surface, and return it to the bowl.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap again and set aside for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and have a 9x5 loaf pan on hand.

Flour your work surface and turn out the dough. Press it gently to deflate it, then form it into a log about 9 inches long to fit into the loaf pan. Place the dough, seam-side down, in the loaf pan.

Cover it with plastic wrap and set aside until the dough has risen just above the top of the loaf pan - about 40 minutes.

Bake the loaf at 350 degrees until it is nicely browned, about 30 minutes.

Remove the bread from the loaf pan and place it on a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Five minute broccoli

Broccoli is one vegetable that I often like better when I buy it frozen than when I buy it fresh. Maybe it's the local growing conditions, or maybe it's the variety of broccoli, but the frozen stuff is very, very acceptable. And let's face it, a bag of frozen broccoli in the freezer is great to have on hand.

Quite often, I prepare vegetables as simply as possible - steam, microwave, boil - and then maybe a pinch of salt and some butter or oil. I like vegetables - I don't need them to taste like something else.

On the other hand, when the main dish is grilled meat or poached fish, there's nothing wrong with adding a little extra "zing" to the vegetables. Sometimes that means a squeeze of lemon juice. This time I added more.

This side dish is ready in no time at all, particularly of you buy the small broccoli florets. If you buy the giant florets with chunks of stems, adjust your cooking time appropriately. It's not so much that you need to cook the broccoli a lot. But rather, if we're starting from a frozen vegetable, you want to make sure it's warmed all the way through.

This is the sort of recipe where you absolutely don't need to stress about measuring anything exactly - eyeball it, and you'll be fine.

And another tip - although I like to keep fresh garlic on hand, there are plenty of times when I reach for a clove, and I have none left. You can buy chopped garlic in a tube - just like you an buy tomato paste - and it lasts a long, long time in the refrigerator. I prefer fresh, but the emergency tube is better than running out of garlic - or running out to the store at the last minute.

Five-Minute Broccoli

1 bag frozen broccoli florets (about 1 pound)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
2 tablespoons dry sherry
Oil, for cooking - about a tablespoon

Heat a skillet on medium high heat. Add the oil and when it begins to shimmer, add the pepper flakes, stir them around for a second or two, then add the broccoli.

Stir the broccoli around for a few seconds, then add the garlic. Cook, stirring as needed to keep things from burning, until the broccoli is heated through and has a few brown spots. Add a splash of the sherry stir it around to coat the broccoli, and continue cooking until all the liquid is gone.

Serve hot.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Bertolli Meal Soup

Obviously, I like to cook, right? And you might know that I work from home. Which means that lunch can be whatever I want it to be. Anything at all.

But my dirty little secret is that I don't always want to eat what I made.

It's not that I dislike my own cooking, but if I made something for dinner the night before and I know we're having leftovers for dinner later, I might not want that same thing for lunch. No matter how good it is, something different is often much more appealing.

Sometimes that means I'll be eating a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. Or something else simple. Because, really, as much as I like to cook, I don't want to make a fuss for lunch. On the other hand, there are times when I want something that's a little more ... substantial. More like a meal.

As much as that's true for lunch, it's also true for the times when I happen to be eating dinner alone.So when I got an offer from Bertolli to sample on of their new Meal Soups, I figured it was worth a try.

I like soup. I make a lot of soup. But remember that part about me wanting something that I didn't cook? Yep, that's where this soup comes in. It's fast, it's easy, and it's a heck of a lot better than canned soup.

I bought the Tomato Florentine and Tortellini with Chicken. Kind of a long name, but it gets all the main points covered. In case you don't know it, "florentine" is code for "has spinach in it."

When I opened the package, I was pleased to see that all of the components were frozen separately - the chunks of chicken,pieces of spinach, and tortellini were frozen individually rather than in a big brick, and there were chucks of the frozen liquid, as well. IQF (individually quick frozen) foods fare much better than those that are frozen in blocks, whether we're talking about a bag of broccoli, a box of hot wings ... or soup.

All I needed to add was a cup of water, then bring it to a boil, cover it and simmer it for a while. Not complicated at all. The bag also had microwave cooking instructions, but I went with the stovetop method. Bertolli asked us to creating a dining experience using this soup in under an hour for all the prep. Including opening the package and picking out a bowl and plate that would look nice with the soup, this was ready to eat in under 15 minutes.

All it took to make a meal out of this was a few breadsticks that I had on hand. Okay, the breadsticks were made already, but there's nothing wrong with that, right? A perfectly filling meal, nicely presented. For those with larger appetites, salad would have been a nice addition to the meal, or perhaps some buns instead of breadsticks. But for me, that bowl of soup was all I needed. Well, and the breadsticks.

This isn't going to stop me from making my own soups, but I have to say that I wouldn't mind having a few bags of this on hand in the freezer for a quick meal. Since it was frozen instead of canned, it tasted a lot fresher, which is a plus.

These soups come in four varieties: Chicken Minestrone, Roasted Chicken & Rotini Pasta, Tomato Florentine & Tortellini with Chicken, and Tuscan-Style Beef with Vegetables.

Wanna know more? Bertolli is on Facebook and Twitter. Or check the website.

Disclaimer: I was compensated by Bertolli to participate in this Weeknight Meal Special Challenge. But of course my opinions are my own.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Whole Foods Friday: Splash Salad Dressing

Wandering up and down the grocery aisles at Whole Foods, I ran across an interesting product called Pomegranate Splash. Interesting as in, "I have no idea what this stuff is going to taste like or what I'm going to do with it."

All of the varieties I saw were based on pomegranate juice, but the varieties had names like Plum Sake and Blueberry Merlot. Very interesting!

I wasn't sure what I would do with it, but I knew I could find some way to work it into a recipe.

So I brought one home and gave it a taste. A little sweet, a little fruity. So many possibilities. It would make a nice glaze on chicken or pork, and it would be wonderful drizzled over fruit or added to sparkling water or lemonaid for a refreshing drink.

The other thing I picked up was a small bag of Meyer lemons. If you're not familiar with them, Meyer lemons are (allegedly) a cross between a standard lemon and either an orange or a tangerine. Whatever they are, they're pretty good. They're still a lemon, but a little less tart and with some extra flavor.

Meyer lemons have a pretty thin skin, and the ones I got were very, very juicy. A little lemon gave up a lot of juice.

I decided to combine the two into one dish. After mumbling a bit, I decided to make a salad dressing. And gee, I also had some of the bulk olive oil from the big, fancy bulk section.

Perfect. Salad dressing doesn't need much more than an acid like vineagar - or in this case, lemon juice - and oil

If the dressing is too tart, a little sugar or honey can cut the sweetness. Herbs are nice. But really, if the oil and the acid are flavorful, you don't need a lot more.

Salad dressing is all about a ratio, and if you know that ratio you can make as much or as little dressing as you like.

The standard ratio I use is 1 part acid to two parts oil. Some people use as much as 3 parts oil to the 2 parts of acid. I suggest you start with the lesser amount, and add more, to taste.

Meyer Lemon and Splash Salad

1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Pomegranate Splash
Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to combine and emulsify the dressing. Drizzle over your salad.

I made a very simple salad with Romaine lettuce, hearts of palm, and strips of roasted red peppers, but this dressing would work for any green salad you like.

For more info on Whole Foods Friday, see the tab at the top of this page.

Whole Foods Friday: Not quite my mom's chili

Chili was the first full meal I ever cooked. I remember it vividly. It was for a Girl Scout badge and I chose chili because it seemed complicated.

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, and I'd helped my mother mix meat loaf plenty of times. I'd watched her cook pork chops and chicken and steak. I peeled vegetables and chopped them and made salad - including the dressing.

Those things seemed so simple. And the meats looked just about the same after they were cooked as they did when they went into the pan - except a little more brown. They weren't transformed, they were just cooked.

But chili was a mystery. Some sort of magic happened when everything was combined in a big pot. Ground beef and some canned goods turned into something that didn't look the same any more. I figured there had to be some kind of magic involved.

When I finished making it, I was sort of disappointed. Ground meat, canned beans, canned tomatoes ... along with some onion and green pepper ... and that was just about it. It was no big mystery. And then elbow macaroni went into the mix, because that's how mom made her chili.

Cranberry beans
Then, to my great embarrassment, my mother burst into tears when I served the chili for dinner. I mean, it was chili, not an academy award. There might have been salad, too, but that wasn't tear-worthy, either. But then she explained that she was all weepy because chili was the first dinner she ever cooked for my father. And here I was, nine years old, making chili.

At that point, I really wished I would have made spaghetti sauce instead.

But that was the chili I grew up with, and I was happy to know how to make it, even if it wasn't as mysterious as I hoped.

It took me many, many years before I could accept the idea of chili without noodles. And many more years before I had chili made with anything except ground beef. Green chili was completely foreign. But although my horizons have expanded, I still like chili that's similar to the one my mother made. Sometimes I even add noodles when I'm feeling particularly nostalgic.

These days, I tend to change the recipe to fit my mood. Sometimes it's spicier, sometimes milder. I use different beans - this time I used cranberry beans - pretty speckled things that are larger than the more typical pinto beans that I use. And sometimes I serve optional toppings at the table.

Chili with Cranberry Beans

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, cored and diced
2 jalapeno or serrano peppers, cored, seeded, and finely diced
1 tablespoon chili powder (or to taste)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 pound ground beef
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 pound cranberry beans, cooked
1/4 cup masa harina
Salt, to taste

Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot. A Dutch oven is perfect. Add the onion, peppers, chili powder, and cumin and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring as needed, until the vegetables soften.

Add the ground beef and cook, stirring as needed, until there's no more pink left in the meat.

Add the tomatoes, cooked cranberry beans, and masa harina. Stir to combine and cook, stirring as needed to keep the chili from sticking to the bottom, until the flavors have melded and the sauce has thickened. Taste, and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt, if needed, and more chili powder or cumin, if you prefer.

You can serve as soon as the masa harina has thickened the sauce, but it's better after it has simmered longer. An hour is great. This is also great reheated the next day.

For garnishes, I added sour cream, avocado, and shredded cheddar cheese.

For more info about Whole Foods Friday and my partnership with Whole Foods, see the tab at the top.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Valentine's Day Dinner - Spaghetti?

Some people might say that spaghetti isn't good "date" food because it's too messy. Too great a chance of spilling, dribbling, slurping, or otherwise being a slob.

On the other hand, what's more romantic than the spaghetti-eating scene from Lady and the Tramp?

I'm not saying you and your loved one should recreate the scene - just that any food can be romantic if you both enjoy it and you both have a good sense of humor about spills and mishaps.

In fact, sometimes it's the things that go wrong on a date that make the best stories ten years later.

I can imagine my husband cringing right now, wondering if I'm about to recount the list of faux pas that littered our first few dates. Suffice it to say that even though we were at the wrong restaurant, the food was good, and even though the newspaper review the next day said the movie was not a good "first-date movie" we laughed ourselves silly and didn't care what the movie reviewer thought.

And we've been laughing ever since.

So, spaghetti it is. Red is the color of Valentine's day, so this recipe is based on tomatoes. As a nod to the squeamish, there's no garlic. And as a nod to the punsters, it includes hearts. Artichoke hearts, that is. I found some really fun marinated artichoke hearts that are on longer stems than usual, so they look sort of like roses on stems.

Valentine's Spaghetti (with a heart)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 red pepper, cored and diced
1 onion, diced
8-10 medium mushrooms, thinly sliced
Salt, to taste
1 28-ounce can chunky tomato sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh basil, cut in thin ribbons
Marinated artichoke hearts
1/2 pound thin spaghetti, cooked al dente
Grated parmesan

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the carrots, red pepper, onion, and mushrooms. Add a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring as needed, until the vegetables soften.

Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, dried basil, dried oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook at a simmer, stirring as needed to keep the sauce from sticking, for at least 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add extra salt, if needed.

Add the fresh basil and the cooked, drained spaghetti and stir to combine. If you need to loosen up the sauce a bit, add some of the pasta cooking water.

Serve hot, and garnish with the artichoke hearts, as desired. Have the grated cheese available to add at the table.

And how about a drink with dinner? Virtual Potluck has teamed up with Taste to serve up some beverages to go along with our special Valentines meals - and we'll be doing this for three weeks - plenty of Valentine's menu choices for you.

If you're not familiar with it, Taste is a mixology show that features cool cocktails from the creative minds at N8tion.com, an independent television and radio network founded by brothers Myron and Otis McDaniel..

The resident “booze head” is Otis, who showcases classic and not-so-classic cocktail recipes. After tending bar at college parties, Otis honed his bartending skills at local taverns on the nights he wasn’t moonlighting as a bouncer. And now, he's serving drinks in a limited engagement here with Virtual Potluck

Here's the video:

In case you didn't catch the credits in the movie, the other Virtual Potluck members contributed their courses to this special Valentine's meal (with drinks provided by Taste) invite you to see what they've made.

The appetizer, sweet potato wontons, was provided by Shelby at Diabetic Foodie
Our intermezzo, a French onion soup, was made by Matt at Thyme in Our Kitchen
And the dessert, a chocolate lovers cheesecake, was made by Heather at Farmgirl Gourmet

Go check them all out!

And for a wrap-up write-up of the event, go see Groov-y Foody.

Not Quite Greek Salad

Every month, Kitchen Play has a new contest, and most months I throw my proverbial hat in the ring to see if I might win something. I mean, why not? I'm posting recipes all the time, anyway, so why not tailor one or two to fit a theme?

This month's contest is sponsored by Lindsay Olives, and what can I say - I love olives. I can't remember a time I didn't love olives. And I don't think I've ever tasted any kind of olive since then that I didn't like.

So this month is PERFECT for me.

The deal with the Kitchen Play contests is that you're supposed to riff off of one of the posted recipes that uses the sponsor's product, and for this entry, I'm playing with a a roasted vegetable Greek salad. But my riffing has no roasting (except for the fire-roasted red peppers), and the salad has turned into more of a snack. Finger food. A deconstructed salad, perhaps. Or, to mix ethnicities, Greek antipasto.

This time of year, I'm a little more conservative about having fresh summer vegetables on hand - they're just not as good now as they are when I'm getting them from the farmer's market - so I made this salad almost entirely from pantry ingredients. If you like, cucumbers, chunks of green pepper, tomatoes, and slices of baby zucchini would play nicely in this salad.

My choice for olives in a salad like this would be kalamata, but it's your choice. If you're making a giant salad, a variety of olives would be nice. For herbs, I used oregano and rosemary, but marjoram, thyme, or basil would be lovely as well.

The quantities are up to you. Fill a salad plate, or fill a platter. Feed your family, or feed the neighborhood. It's entirely up to you.

Greek-Style Nibbles

Fire-roasted red peppers
Artichoke hearts
Feta cheese, cut into cubes
Pepperoncini (Greek peppers)
Dried oregano
Dried rosemary
Fresh lemon juice
Olive oil

Arrange the vegetables on a plate, platter, or other serving vessel. Sprinkle on some oregano and rosemary. Squeeze on some fresh lemon, then drizzle with olive oil.

This is great served with some crusty bread to sop up the remaining olive oil and herbs, if you like.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chocolate Olive Oil (Mayo) Cake

This is the last post in the  four-week Healthy New Year promotion that Virtual Potluck is doing in conjunction with California Olive Ranch and Bob's Red Mill. Hard to believe it's over ... and I'm going out with a big recipe - DESSERT! CHOCOLATE!!!

Yes, dessert with olive oil. And you're going to love it.

Just like every other week, I paired a whole grain from Bob's Red Mill with with healthy olive oil from California Olive Ranch. This week, the combo was whole wheat pastry flour and Everyday Fresh California extra virgin olive oil

And as usual, I'll be giving away the same olive oil and grain combo that I'm working with. Sweet, huh?

Before I launch into the recipe, I've got to ask - have you ever done an olive oil tasting? I mean, a comparison of oils? Side-by-side?

I'm betting that most people buy one olive oil at a time, use it until it's gone, then buy another one. Maybe a favorite brand, or maybe what's on sale. But how many people have ever bought an array of olive oils and compared them. I highly recommend doing it.

One of the best ways to taste olive oil is to simply dip bread into the oil and taste. Some oils are sharper, some are more fruity. Some taste more like olives, and some are peppery. Some are smooth. Some are mild.

And none of them are wrong. It all depends on what you're looking for. An olive oil that is perfect on salad might not be the one you prefer for drizzling over vegetables. And an olive oil you like for finishing dishes might not be the one you like to cook with. So you might want to have several different oils on hand. I do. Several ... plus a few extra.

And now we have a recipe. You might have heard about olive oil cakes. Maybe you've heard of mayonnaise cakes. This one combines the ideas.

This cake starts with a home made olive oil mayonnaise. Well, it's not exactly a home made mayonnaise, because it doesn't include the typical lemon and salt and mustard that you might find in a more typical mayonnaise. But it's thick and rich and would be very tasty slathered on a sandwich, or as the beginning component of a salad dressing, or over some fish, if you wanted to make some extra mayo.

But keep in mind that the mayonnaise includes raw egg yolks, so if you're squeamish or you have health issues, skip the extra mayo as a condiment, and just make enough for cake. It gets cooked when you bake the cake, so it's no different than adding eggs to a regular cake.

Chocolate Cake (with home made olive oil mayo)

2 egg yolks
1/2 cup Everyday Fresh California olive oil
2 cups Bob's Red Mill whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a Bundt pan with baking spray (or you can make cupcakes or bake in a 9x13 baking pan.)

Put the egg yolks in a medium bowl and whisk until the yolks are light. This is really important - if you don't whisk the yolks enough, the oil won't incorporate properly.

Add the oil a little bit at a time, whisking to combine it with the yolks. At first, add just a teaspoon at a time. As the mixture thickens, you can add a little more with each addition, but make sure all the oil is incorporated before you add more.

By the time you have added all the oil, you should have a thick and stable mixture. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt, and sugar. whisk to combine and break up any lumps.

Add the water and vanilla to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add the egg/oil mixture and stir to incorporate it completely. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean - about 30 minutes.

Let the cake cool for 5 minutes before removing it from the pan.

Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting. If you've used a decorative bundt pan, you can simply sprinkle the cake with powdered sugar. I used a poured ganache over the cake, but you can use any frosting you like.

To enter the giveaway (Closed) the winner is Rachel!

For your mandatory entry, visit either the Bob's Red Mill or California Olive Ranch Facebook page and retrieve the current week's Virtual Potluck code word. Use that code word in a sentence in your comment here.

For an extra entry: Follow Bob's Red Mill, California Olive Ranch, and Virtual Potluck on Twitter, and tweet a link to the contest using the #virtualpotluck hashtag. Then comment here again, telling me that you've tweeted..

For some good karma (not an extra entry) I'd love it if you'd like Cookistry on Facebook. If you already follow, I appreciate it!

More Blogs, More Ways to Win: Get additional entries in each week's giveaways by visiting our host blog where you'll find a complete list of the other participating Virtual Potluck Bloggers. You could win there, too! So let's do the math on this one. Twelve bloggers, 4 weeks - that's 48 recipes and 48 chances to win something. Not a bad deal, hmmmm?

One more added bonus! If you buy California Olive Ranch oil from their online store, you can get a 10% discount by entering coupon code BLOGFRIENDS at checkout.

Contest begins when this posts and ends at midnight, mountain time, on Sunday, January 29. Open to US residents only.

Bob's Red Mill and California Olive Ranch supplied us with the grains and olive oils to work with and will be shipping the product to the winners.

Did you miss the last three posts? Check out:
Mini flatbreads with hummus and a warm olive salad
Whole grain and olive oil muffins 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cheese and Pepper Cornbread

In summer, I often dress up my cornbread with fresh corn, cut right from the cob. At this time of year, I still like to dress up the cornbread, but with other ingredients. For this recipe I chose cheddar cheese and sweet fire-roasted red peppers.

If you want something spicy, you could of course use hot peppers. But since this was intended to be served with some spicy chili, it make more sense to make the cornbread sweet and mild, Besides adding extra flavor and texture, the bright red peppers and the orange cheese look darned pretty, too.

This isn't a super-sweet cornbread, nor is it crumbly - it holds together well. The measurements for the cheddar and red peppers don't have to be exact - use more or less, as you desire.

Cheese and Pepper Cornbread

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for the pan
2 ounces cheddar cheese, cut in small cubes
1/2 cup fire roasted red pepper, cut in medium dice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a cast iron frying pan in the oven.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

In a small bowl, combine the eggs, milk, sour cream, and vegetable oil. Whisk to combine.

Remove the pan from the oven, add about 1 tablespoon of oil in the pan, and swirl it around to coat the pan. Return the pan to the oven.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. It's fine if there are a few lumps. Add the cheese and pepper, and stir to distribute them.

Remove the pan from the oven and pour the cornbread batter in. Return it to the oven and bake at 400 degrees until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean - about 25 minutes.

Remove the cornbread from the pan and let it cool on a rack. Or, if you prefer, you can cut it and serve it directly from the pan.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Infused Booze Coffee and Chocolate

Since I was so happy with the coffee liqueur recipe I made last time, I decided to give it one more tweak by adding chocolate. I figured that the easiest way to add chocolate would be to add cocoa to the infusion.

Honestly, it sort of worked, but there wasn't quite as much chocolate flavor as I hoped for. And I'm not sure that adding more is the right answer. Now, after the fact, I'm thinking that perhaps heat is the right answer. Maybe next time I'll make a simple syrup and infuse the coffee into that.

Meanwhile, this has strong coffee flavor and a very mild chocolate flavor. It's really good, but not exactly what I was looking for. But that's okay. More experimenting is fun.

Coffee and Chocolate Liqueur

4 cups rum (plus 1/2 more if you want to fill a 1/2 gallon container)
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 cups ground coffee
1/4 cup cocoa

Combine all ingredients in a half-gallon jar. If you like, top it off with more rum to fill the container a little more.

Shake the container to combine the ingredients and dissolve the sugar. Let it sit in a cool spot away from direct sunlight for a minimum of two weeks, or longer if you have time.

Strain the mixture through a fine metal strainer to remove the ground, strain a second time through a paper towel to remove the fine bits, and strain again through a coffee filter to remove the really fine sediment.

If it's not as clear as you like, you can strain again through a coffee filter.

Transfer to an appropriate container for storage.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Barbecue Baked Beans

No matter how you look at it, dried beans take a long time to cook. There's no sense in rushing them - let them cook slowly and you'll be rewarded with flavorful beans that are soft and creamy without being mushy.

I know that conventional wisdom says that you shouldn't salt the beans when you cook them, but I find that soaking them in salted water rather than plain water works really well. They end up flavorful, creamy but not mushy, and not a lot of burst beans.

Give it a try once, and see what you think.

I know that white beans like navy beans are the most common ones for baked beans, but I used pintos. They're just a little larger, and around here, they're much more common than navy beans.

The barbecue sauce I chose has a mustardy kick and quite a bit of spice that would be perfect on your pork ribs or your pork roast. In these beans, it adds a bit of heat and the mustard adds a different dimension that you won't find in your usual baked bean recipe. It also makes it a very easy recipe - just add ketchup and molasses for those familiar flavors, and you're done.

Barbecue Baked Beans

1 pound dried pinto beans
1 tablespoon salt, plus more as needed
1 large onion, diced
1/2 cup Cook'n'Shoup Bold n Tangy Barbecue Sauce
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup ketchup

Sort through the beans to remove any rocks or other bits of unwanted material. Rinse the beans until the water runs clear. Add the salt and enough water to so that it's at least 3 times the depth of the beans. Soak at least 6 hours or overnight.

After the soaking, rinse the beans and put them in a heavy-bottomed oven-safe pot. A Dutch oven is perfect. Add clean water to cover the beans by at least a few inches. Cook on low until the beans are cooked through, 1-2 hours, depending on the beans. Add water, as needed, to keep the beans covered with water during the cooking, and stir as needed to keep the beans from sticking or burning.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Drain out the excess liquid, leaving about a cup of liquid (you can drain it all out and add it back in, as needed, if you prefer.) Add the onion, barbecue sauce, molasses, and ketchup. Stir to combine. You should have enough liquid to come just below the level of the beans. If you need more, add some of the drained bean-cooking liquid or water.

Cover the pot and put it in the oven Cook until the onions are soft and the beans have absorbed most of the liquid - about 3-4 hours. Serve hot.

This post is sponsored by Fooducopia. For more information, see the tab at the top.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Infused Booze: It's fruitcake!

I have to credit (or blame) my husband for this idea. We were talking about the different flavors of liqueurs I had made - everything from coffee to fruit to nuts - and for some reason he brought up fruitcake. Maybe because of the fruits and nuts.

It sounded interesting despite the fact that neither of us really likes fruitcake.

Now, we weren't talking about blending up a fruitcake and using that. No need to make a whole cake if we could just use the flavor components - you know - those fruits.

I figured that since the fruits were already candied, I'd skip the sugar and add it later if I wanted a sweeter drink. That made this a two-ingredient infusion - just vodka and the fruitcake fruits.

You can use as much of the fruit as you like -and how much you use might depend on how you buy them. The local store had them in pint-sized containers, and I bought two. They weren't packed tightly into the containers, and they weren't full to the top. So use your judgement. When you put the fruit into the container for infusing, you need to have enough room for the vodka.

The result? Well, the colors from those fruits started fading almost immediately and the liquid turned a golden color ... and then it got darker ... and darker. It was an odd brown color. Sort of like muddy water with a dash of algae.

I let the infusion steep for about a month, then I strained out the fruits which had faded to nearly white. Then I strained the mixture through a coffee filter. The resulting liquid was still brown, but an interesting color rather than a muddy creepy one.

The flavor was citrusy and fruity. There were hints of a licorice-like flavor as well as some spice. It had a lot of flavor, but I kind of doubt anyone would immediately think of fruitcake.

Fruitcake Liqueur

2 pint containers of candied fruits for fruitcake
Vodka, as needed

Put the fruits into a quart jar. Add vodka to fill the jar. Seal the jar and shake. Let it sit for several weeks - or longer - shaking the jar occasionally.

Strain the fruit out, then strain the liquid through a coffee filter. Transfer to a bottle for storage.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Whole Foods Friday: Cube Steaks

Cube steak is not the prettiest meat at the market, but it's very versatile and not expensive.

It's not pretty because of the way it's tenderized - it looks sort of lumpy and ragged and might have a few holes in it. But after you cook it, you don't really notice - and that tenderizing turns a tough piece of meat into something you can cut with a fork.

This is the cut of meat that's used for making chicken fried steak, but you're not stuck with adding all that breading, and you don't need to fry it in copious amounts of oil.

Just for the fun of it, I prepared it two different ways.

The first version uses Gilberto's marinara. I've tried several of their products, and so far I've liked all of them. They're a local company and I know some of the farmers that sell produce to the company, so it's not like buying from a big, nameless conglomerate. You can use your own marinara, if you prefer, or use a prepared one that you like.

The second version is incredibly simple. It's the perfect meal when you've got no time for anything more complicated. It cooks in no time at all, so you can spend a little time with side dishes.

Smothered Cube Steak

4 cube steaks
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut in medium chunks
1 green bell pepper, cut in medium chunks
1 medium onion, cut in a large dice
1 jar Gilberto's Old Country Marinara
Oil, for cooking.
Noodles (cooked), for serving

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan on medium-high heat. If the pan isn't big enough to cook all four pieces at once, you can cook the meat in two batches. Cook the meat until it is nicely browned on one side, flip t over and cook on the second side.

Remove the meant from the skillet and set aside. Add the celery, bell peppers, and onion, and cook until the vegetables are cooked through. Add the marinara, and cook until it simmers. Taste for seasoning and and salt, pepper or herbs, as desired.

Add the meat back to the pan and cook just long enough to heat the meat through.

Serve with noodles.

Fast and Easy Cube Steaks

4 cube steaks
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Oil, for cooking

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the steaks with salt and add a few grinds of pepper. Dust with flour to coat the steaks - this isn't meant to be a breading, but just a thin coating.

Fry the steaks on the first side until nicely browned. Flip them over and cook on the second side until browned. Serve hot.

I served these with mashed potatoes and edemame, but you can dress yours up with any sides you like.

For more information about Whole Foods Friday, see the tab at the top.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

You can buy hazelnut-flavored coffee, hazelnut liqueur, hazelnut coffee creamer, and of course there's Nutella. People must like hazelnuts, right?

But hazelnuts themselves don't seem very popular. You'll find one or two of them among the more plentiful cashews in mixed nuts, but you won't find big bags of them at the store, like you'll find bags of walnuts or pecans.

And to make things even more confusing, when you do find them, they might be labeled "filberts."

Although they aren't quite as plentiful as walnuts, they're still available at most grocery stores. You might have to look past the bags of other nuts to find them. but they're around.

You probably won't be able to find chopped hazelnuts for this recipe, but they're not difficult to chop by hand. You can also use a food processor, pulsing until the nuts are in small bits, but stopping before they are all powdered - you want some texture in the cookies.

These cookies are crisp on the edges and a little chewy on the inside, but if you prefer a cookie that's dry throughout, you can bake them a few minutes longer.

TIP: If you've ever chopped nuts by hand, you know that they tend to leap off the cutting board or roll away. To thwart that nutty behavior, put your cutting board in your rimmed baking sheet. If nuts fall off the cutting board, the baking sheet will keep them contained, so you won't be chasing them all over the counter and picking them off the floor.

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup hazelnuts, chopped

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

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until it is softened. (Note: you can also use an electric hand mixer, but if you have a stand mixer, it makes it much easier.) Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until they are incorporated. Add the flour mixture, and mix on low speed just until the mixture is combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Mix the hazelnuts in with a wooden spoon.

With a tablespoon or small scoop, make balls from the dough, and place them on the baking sheet. Flatten the balls to disks about 1/4 tthick.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes, until the cookies appear dry on top - they will be visibly lighter in color than the raw dough.

Move the cookies to a rack to cool completely.

Just for the fun of it, I sprinkled some of the cookies with edible star glitter. I wondered if it would melt. It didn't melt and it looked pretty cool. It would also be nice on cakes or cupcakes, scattered over the frosting.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rice-i-Noa - a healthier alternative to a familiar box

This is week three of the four-week Healthy New Year promotion that Virtual Potluck is doing in conjunction with California Olive Ranch and Bob's Red Mill.

Each week, we're paring a whole grain from Bob's Red Mill with with healthy olive oil from California Olive Ranch.

And each week, I'll be giving away the same olive oil and grain combo that I'm working with. Sweet, huh?

This week, I worked with quinoa from Bob's Red Mill and Arbosana extra virgin olive oil from California Olive Ranch.

Even the most die-hard organic locavore slow-food foodies probably have some sort of junk food dirty secret...some beloved prepared food that is the exception to the fresh-cooking rule.

I have a few of them, I'll admit it. When it comes to the dinner table, I have a strange love for Rice-a-Roni. It's been a looooong time since I've bought any, but I've managed to tame that beast by making my own versions. But this time, I've upped the ante by replacing the pasta with quinoa.

The benefit of using quinoa is that unlike (most) pasta, this little round grain is packed with protein. Okay, technically, maybe it isn't a grain. But it is a seed, so it's close enough.

By using protein-rich quinoa instead of standard pasta, this dish changes from a starchy side dish to something that's closer to being dinner.

Presentation-wise, it still looks like a side dish, but you can dress it up by stuffing it into a pepper or some other vegetable. Me, I'm fine with a bowl and a fork.


2 tablespoons California Olive Ranch Arbosana olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill quinoa
1/2 cup rice
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
Salt, to taste

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large saute pan with a lid. Add the onion, quinoa, and rice.

Just for the fun of it, here's a really close view.
Cook, stirring as needed, until the onion has softened, the quinoa is lightly toasted, and the rice turns whiter.

Add the chicken stock and poultry seasoning. Bring to a boil. Taste for seasoning - depending on how salty the stock is, you might not need additional salt.

Reduce to a simmer, and cook until just about all the all the liquid is absorbed - about 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and let it sit for another 15 minutes with the cover on.

Fluff with a fork and serve.

If you like you can drizzle the rice with some additional olive oil before serving.

To enter the giveaway: CLOSED. This week's lucky winner is Pat R. A new giveaway starts Jan 25.

For your mandatory entry, visit either the Bob's Red Mill or California Olive Ranch Facebook page and retrieve the current week's Virtual Potluck code word. Use that code word in a sentence in your comment here.

For an extra entry: Follow Bob's Red Mill, California Olive Ranch, and Virtual Potluck on Twitter, and tweet a link to the contest using the #virtualpotluck hashtag. Then comment here again, telling me that you've tweeted..

For some good karma (not an extra entry) I'd love it if you'd like Cookistry on Facebook. If you already follow, I appreciate it!

More Blogs, More Ways to Win: Get additional entries in each week's giveaways by visiting our host blog where you'll find a complete list of the other participating Virtual Potluck Bloggers. You could win there, too! So let's do the math on this one. Twelve bloggers, 4 weeks - that's 48 recipes and 48 chances to win something. Not a bad deal, hmmmm?

One more added bonus! If you buy California Olive Ranch oil from their online store, you can get a 10% discount by entering coupon code BLOGFRIENDS at checkout.

Contest begins when this posts and ends at midnight, mountain time, on Sunday, January 22. Open to US residents only.

Bob's Red Mill and California Olive Ranch supplied us with the grains and olive oils to work with and will be shipping the product to the winners.

Did you miss the last two posts? Check out:
Mini flatbreads with hummus and a warm olive salad
Whole grain and olive oil muffins