Posted on December 20, 2009
Cue the men in the starched white waistcoats because I’m going to need restraints. I’m going to need to be held down, because my obsession with homemade pizza will not go away. What was originally conceived as an unhealthy indulgence gets a dramatic makeover with a handful of healthy ingredients and thirty minutes to kill. For the past two weeks I’ve been fixing homemade pizzas and oh dear god, the permutations are endless. Mixed veggies, meaty variations, triple cheese (gruyere, anyone? HOLD ME!), and a simple miniature pie with sundried tomatoes and curls of nutty Romano cheese. And what I love most about this dish is the fact that you control the ingredients. Long gone are the days of plastic cheese and suspect meat toppings, for here is yet another delicious homemade pizza option — pesto sausage.
1/3 lb of whole wheat pizza dough (store-bought)
2 tbsp arugula pesto
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
3/4 of a sweet sausage link, casing removed
Salt/pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 425F. In a small skillet, sauté the sausage link. With a wooden spoon, break up the sausage and stir occasionally. Cook until brown, approximately 5-7 minutes.
While the sausage is cooking, flour the counter (and rolling pin) and starting from the center of the dough, roll out until the dough is a 1/4 thick. I tend to like my pizza quite thin, so I keep rolling and circulating until the dough is evenly sized. Transfer the pizza to a cookie sheet.
With a brush, add the olive oil and pesto, ensuring that you cover all of the pizza. I adore whole wheat crust because it’s not only hearty and filling, but it also yields a rustic flavor. That having been said, whole wheat can sometimes be a bit dry, so make sure you cover the entire surface with glistening olive oil. Mind you, we don’t want an epic oil spill, just a light coating.
Add the cooked sausage, cheese, salt and pepper. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese bubbles and oozes. Cut, serve, sob!
Posted on December 15, 2009
After an exhausting day, it’s practically impossible to fix yourself dinner. When igniting the stove and dicing the chicken takes Herculean feat, sometimes it’s acceptable, downright necessary, to cut a few corners. Let me clarify – this is no Sandra Lee, high fructose syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, packaged nonsense – rather quick, unbelievably delicious meals made in under fifteen minutes.
My best friend Susan turned on to the rapture that is the homemade pizza. The options! Pancetta and pesto, gruyere and olive tapenade, the flavor combinations are endless, and why not fancy yourself a gastronomic tour-de-force in the kitchen?! Here’s my quick dinner delish recipe.
1 lb of store-bought whole wheat pizza dough
1/4 lb pancetta, sliced 1/2 thick
1/4 cup of basil pesto
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese (not fresh!)
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 tbsp of olive oil
Salt/pepper to taste
Flour for the board/counter
Serves 4 people, 2 if you’re having a BRUTAL day.
Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil a cookie sheet. Dusting the counter (and rolling pin) with a handful of flour, roll out the dough working from the center out. The dough need not be perfect, just evenly distributed.
On a small pan, fry up the pancetta until near crisp. Set aside. Brush the crust with olive oil, and add the pesto, pancetta (sans pan drippings), garlic, cheese, salt and pepper. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and delicious.
Posted on December 14, 2009
There’s something decidedly insouciant about fixing granola, magic, and lemon bars as an adult. We gorged on them as children, savored the lemon tart and toasted coconut on our tongues. When I think of granola bars, I harken back to grade school and plastic lunch boxes and thermoses filled with hot ravioli and soup. So the week that I turn 34, I mark it by infusing my meals with sweet, childhood indulgences. I invite you to indulge in these hearty granola bars. A delicious texture play, you have the meatiness of the nuts juxtaposed with the cool, sugary preserves combined with the deep, warm molasses of the brown sugar. I love, love, love these bars, and I’m continually grateful for having purchased Karen DeMasco’s wonderful cookbook!
From The Craft of Baking: Back-to-School Raspberry Granola Bars
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped*
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats*
1/3 cup granulated sugar*
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup raspberry preserves
(Makes 16 bars)
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet. Bake until lightly golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Cool the sheet completely on a wire rack.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, and pecans. Pour in the melted butter, and using a wooden spoon, mix together until well combined.
Transfer about two thirds of the dough to the prepared baking pan. Press the dough evenly into the pan, forming a firmly packed layer. Using an offset or rubber spatula, spread the preserves over the dough. Evenly sprinkle the remaining dough over the preserves. I love seeing a pop of blistering red poke through the topping, so don’t overdo it, as you’ll be shoveling bricks rather than bars.
Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until the top is golden brown and fragrant, about 40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let it cool completely. Then cut into 2-inch squares. The bars can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Recipe Notes: As I ran out of pecans, I used 1/4 cup of pecans + 3/4 cup of Marcona almonds. Certainly, any substantial, meaty nut will do – walnuts are equally fabulous. To note rolled oats aren’t the same as oatmeal – do not make this mistake as I have many, many moons ago. Rolled oats do not equal Quaker instant oatmeal, nor do they equal crap in a packet. As always, I use cane sugar.
Top image snapped by Sarah Conley
Posted on December 13, 2009
Deceptively simple, the pound cake should be the foundation of your baking repertoire. From pistachios to almonds to simple vanilla to smoky brandy and Madeira, the permutations are endless. The cake appears easy to make because of the minimum level of ingredients, however, don’t be fooled. I’ve dealt with the hockey puck loaf, the sunken ship loaf, and the tragic iteration that essentially tastes like a stick of butter. To ensure you make a delicious, classic loaf, here are my rules of engagement:
My affection for Karen DeMasco’s The Craft of Baking continues, as this delectable treat hails from her cookbook, which is, quite honestly, the best cookbook I’ve purchased this year. BUY IT.
1 cup cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp almond paste
3/4 cup cane sugar
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus butter for the pan
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 tbsp Demerara (or cane) sugar
In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. If you don’t have cake flour, you can mix cornstarch and unbleached, all-purpose as a substitute.
In your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the almond paste and cane sugar. Beat on medium speed for five minutes, until well combined. Add the butter and vanilla extract, and beat until light and fluffy, about five minutes. Increase to med-high speed, and add the eggs, one at a time, making sure each is fully incorporated into the mixture.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and slowly add the flour mixture. Fold the batter gently with a spatula, to fully incorporate the dry ingredients. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 40 minutes (do not open the door during this time, as you want the cake to set!). Then rotate the pan and continue baking until the cake is golden brown and firm to the touch, 5-10 minutes more.
Unmold the cake from the loaf pan and let it cool completely on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature or toasted. The cake is best eaten that day, but it can be stored, tightly wrapped in plastic, for up to three days. I’m dying to add some pumpkin or Irish butter, or a divine raspberry compote.
Posted on November 29, 2009
This morning I woke to visions of Chocolate Babka dancing in my head. I readied myself for a full day of brioche and semi-sweet chocolate, however, my hopes were dashed when I realized that the dough process takes well over a day. OH THE HUMANITY, PEOPLE. I sat, clutching my bar of chocolate, miffed. Can’t a woman have a Babka and call it a day?! Oh, cripe and a kitty.
As you guys know I raved (quite deliriously so) about Karen DeMasco’s (co-authored by Mindy Fox) new cookbook, The Craft of Baking, and I couldn’t wait to delve in. What you might now know about me is this: I find it easy to tackle complicated recipes and baking techniques, however, the MUFFIN has always alluded me. Blueberry versions have crumbled and fallen apart at the touch, and, in 2003, I made pumpkin hockey pucks. Muffins have been the sphinx, the allusive creature, and up until today I’ve never made the perfect muffin, although I can turn out pies and crepes on a dime. So I strived for a marriage of my two favorites tastes: the soft buttery texture of a warm cake juxtaposed with a sugary, toasted nut crumble. These muffins are a cinch to make and are high in flavor and texture. And cue the Chariots of Theme song, friends, for I’ve finally made a ROCK STAR MUFFIN.
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) pecans, finely chopped
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened, plus extra butter for greasing the tins
1 tbsp lemon zest (2 lemons)
1 cup cane sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sour cream
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
For the Streusel: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and bake until toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. In a large bowl, mix the pecans with the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt, making sure to break up and incorporate all of the brown sugar. Stir in the butter. Set aside
For the Muffins: Butter a 12-cup muffin tin. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, lemon zest, and sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
With the mixer on medium, add the egg, and then the sour cream and vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the mixer bowl and beat on low speed until just combined. Although the dough is soft, it’s a bit on the dry side, which initially freaked me out. DON’T FREAK OUT.
Fill the prepared muffin cups with batter so they are about 1/3 full. I use an ice-cream scoop, whcih is easiest, however, feel free to rock the two-spoon method. Sprinkle a generous tablespoon of streusel over the batter in each cup. Divide the remaining batter among the cups, and sprinkle the muffins with the remaining streusel.
Bake, rotating the muffin tin halfway through, until the muffins spring back to the touch, about 25-30 minutes. Transfer the tin to a wire rack and let stand for 10 minutes. Turn out the muffins onto the rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 1 dozen.
Recipe Notes: Please ensure that you use all room temperature ingredients. Reason being: you want the fluffiest, lightest dough possible, and you don’t want your ingredients to bake at varying temperatures. Also, baking powder and baking soda are not interchangeable. This isn’t improv, my pets. Baking requires precision and chemistry. As you guys know I always use cane sugar, unbleached flour and local/organic when I can.
Posted on November 27, 2009
It’s been quite some time since I’ve been smitten by a cookbook. As of late, many feel pretentiously branded, filled with staid recipes, parrotted techniques, and uninspiring photos — processed, if you will. Food books that lack passion and narrative. So believe me when I say that I never anticipated finding treasure. Who knew I’d uncover a gem amidst the rubble? Thumbing through James Beard award winner, Karen DeMasco’s (co-authored by Mindy Fox) The Craft of Baking: Cakes, Cookies, and Other Sweets with Ideas for Inventing Your Own gave me pause. From babka to shortbreads to beignets to luscious cream, you will want to bake every single recipe in this book. Combining her infectious passion for pastry and her sound tips, tricks, and techniques, DeMasco restores my faith in cookbooks – that not all are cookie-cutter Food Network marketing vehicles.
Posted on November 26, 2009
At dawn, I bolted out of bed. Not from excitement for the food debauchery that would ensue come afternoon, but from a terrible nightmare. This wasn’t your typical frightening fare — ghouls didn’t hover, blood didn’t make an appearance, and I wasn’t flung into the ocean. Rather, I was back in that Valley Stream apartment, fixing Thanksgiving for my friends while my mother sat in her room, door ajar, flipping channels. Her presence was felt, it ghosted, and I remembered clattering pans, sifting through cabinets, hating the fact that she never had anything I needed.
The dinner was abysmal — a failure like the time when I was a teenager and it was my duty to make the dinner while she lay in her bed, comatose. That year the turkey was overdone, it smoked, it’s cavity collapsed inward, and she stomped out of her room, waved the smoke away and sneered. I was devastated. The shakes returned as my dad ushered us out and we spent our Thanksgiving at 7-11.
I have this dreams intermittently, and I’ve learned to breathe through them. And I had quiet meditation before I embarked on today’s miniature feast.
That having been said I got a little adventurous and made my own stuffing! This is wholly unlike me as I prefer to follow an outline, but here’s hoping it’s delicious.
1 1/2 pound of ground sage sausage (casings removed)
1 cup of minced onion
2 cups of diced celery
3 cloves of minced garlic
3 cups of chicken stock
6-7 cups of toasted bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 stick of butter
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
Salt/pepper to season/taste
Pre-heat your oven to 350F. In a large pan, add two tablespoons of olive oil and brown one pound of the sausage. Remove from the pan and brown the remaining 1/2 pound. Essentially, you want your sausage to sear and slightly caramelize, and if you add to much surface area to the pan, the cooking temperature drops and your sausage starts to boil. Not a pretty party.
Remove sausage, set aside in a large mixing bowl. Melt one stick of butter and add the celery and onions and cook until softened (10-12 minutes). After eight minutes, add in the minced garlic.
When the vegetables are shiny and translucent, add the mixture to the sausage and mix until combined. Add the bread, stock and beaten egg. Toss until combined. Add the stuffing to a buttered 9X13 oven dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, remove the aluminum and bake for another 15. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil once removed from the oven.
Recipe Notes: If you don’t have access to sage sausage, opt for Italian sweet sausage, and add a tablespoon of fresh, chopped sage or a teaspoon of dried. Note that this isn’t like traditional stuffing in consistency. The stuffing is separated, but utterly delicious. To keep warm, leave in oven at 200 degrees, cover. Feel free to add additional stock in the event the stuffing dries out. Enjoy!
Posted on November 25, 2009
At this very moment, I am completely in my element. The dark, overcast day has a cast an actinic glow, and the whole of my apartment is fragrant with luscious chocolate and glistening caramel. Candles illuminate the rooms. I’m making epic preparations for a holiday dinner I’m hosting tomorrow, and when it comes to desserts I accept nothing less than extraordinary. From a sticky, luminous confection to bittersweet chocolate to a creamy cheese cake filling, I was instantly intrigued by the Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake. And with a foundation of graveled chocolate cookies – how could I resist the challenge?
Although I scored this recipe from one of my cooking inspirations, Smitten Kitchen, I made some tweaks to the original.
INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Epicurious.com
For the Cheesecake
1 crumb crust (recipe below)
1 cup cane sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
8 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (reserve a small portion for garnish)
1/2 cup sour cream
3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook sugar in a dry heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring slowly with a fork, until melted and pale golden. Cook caramel without stirring, swirling pan, until deep golden. Remove from heat and carefully add heavy cream (mixture will vigorously steam and caramel will harden). Cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until caramel is dissolved. I’ll be honest, this was probably the most difficult part of the recipe. A clump of caramel hardened on my fork as I was stirring, and I kept at it, vigorously, so that the texture was smooth.
Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate until smooth. Stir in sour cream.
Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until fluffy (2-3 minutes), then beat in chocolate mixture on low speed. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then vanilla, beating on low speed until each ingredient is incorporated and scraping down bowl between additions.
Put springform pan with crust in a shallow baking pan. Pour filling into crust and bake in baking pan (to catch drips) in middle of oven 55 minutes, or until cake is set 3 inches from edge but center is still slightly wobbly when pan is gently shaken. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR. Doing so will aid in cracking your cheesecake.
Run a knife around top edge of cake to loosen and cool completely in springform pan on a rack. (Cake will continue to set as it cools.) Chill cake, loosely covered, at least 6 hours. Remove side of pan and transfer cake to a plate. Bring to room temperature before serving. Add shaved chocolate as garnish.
Recipe Notes: It is incredibly important that you not use chocolate morsels or chips for this recipe. They have a lower burning temperature, which will ultimately yield more of a bitter, acidic flavor. I like whole bar chocolate (bought by the pound) as it delivers a depth of flavor. Please ensure that all ingredients are at room temperature – this will ensure they will bake evenly once in the oven. AND BY GOD, DO NOT USE SKIM MILK. Don’t even SPEAK to me if you used skim milk. REALLY.
For the Crumb Crust: Recipe adapted from Gourmet Magazine
1 1/2 cups (5 ounces) finely ground chocolate cookies, such as chocolate wafers
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Stir together crust ingredients and press onto bottom and 1 inch up side of a buttered 24-centimeter springform pan. Fill right away or chill up to 2 hours.
Recipe Notes: I used Newman’s Chocolate Alphabet Cookies. Instead of dealing with a food processor, I added the cookies to a Ziploc bag and smashed them with a rolling pin – a delightful way to release holiday tension!
Posted on November 22, 2009
There’s nothing more classic and comforting than pound cake. Whether your baking lemon poppy, chocolate cinnamon swirl or luscious pumpkin, the pound cake is quintessential dessert fare. When I set out on my journey to indulge my gastronomic cravings in 2002, Nigella Lawson’s Madeira version was the first hint of vanilla that perfumed my kitchen, my first cake pan unearthed from the oven.
Today I’m revisiting on old favorite, courtesy of Martha Stewart, in preparation for my EPIC dessert: Giada’s Chocolate Chestnut Mousse Trifle. As I’m not keen on using store-bought pound cake (who’s to say you won’t bring home a loaf ridden with hydrogenated oils and HFCS?!), I decided to quickly fix my own.
Although Martha’s recipe doesn’t call for the requisite pound of sugar, butter, and flour, this version is absolutely moist and unbelievably delicious. So whether you’re new to the kitchen or want to serve a rustic mainstay, I implore you to consider the POUND CAKE.
INGREDIENTS: adapted from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for pan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 large eggs
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)
Makes one 9-by-5-inch loaf
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan; set aside. Whisk flour and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
Put butter, granulated sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined after each addition. Reduce speed to low; mix in flour mixture until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and finish off by folding the batter in the stand mixer. You’ll notice in the picture that the loaf looks much like a BLOB — that’s due to the fact that folding incorporates air into the mixture, ensuring a moist loaf.
Spoon batter into prepared pan, and smooth with an offset spatula. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until cake is golden and a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack 10 to 15 minutes. Turn out onto rack, and let cool completely. Before serving, dust cake with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. Cake can be stored at room temperature, wrapped well in plastic, up to 3 days.
Recipe Notes: When baking something simple, the secret is in the ingredients. I implore you to get the best eggs, cane sugar, and butter you can muster. Ensure that ALL of your ingredients are at room temperature, as this will yield a moist, evenly-baked loaf.
UPDATE: I guess I should have seen this coming, but with six eggs and two cups of flour, the loaf, while DELICIOUS, is not appropriate for a trifle. This is the kind of pound cake best served with jam, as it’s light with a bit of a custard flair (not texture). For the trifle I’ve secured a traditional loaf.
Posted on November 17, 2009
There’s something wholly magical about entertaining. About laying out mismatched bowls that have a patina, a rich history. There’s something joyous in presenting the ones you love with a delicious meal. My best friend and I often talk about how we love the whole ritual of hosting a dinner (regardless of size) – from planning the meal to folding the linens to listening to the steady hum of water as you wash all the dishes. I never want to own a dishwasher because I still want to be connected to the complete tactile process of feeding someone else.
That having been said, I even consider a simple salad dish special. One could certainly toss in a bag of pre-washed greens paired with a divine provencal dressing — I’ve done it. However, I love combing my some pantry and throwing together disparate ingredients to make something truly tasty. This past weekend I fixed the following salad, and it’s probably the best I’ve had in quite some time.
1 bag of pre-washed spinach
1 cup of sundried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
1/4 cup of sliced gruyere cheese
1 cup of basil, packed
2 tbsp of sundried tomato-infused oil
1 clove minced/shaved garlic
1/4 cup toasted slivered, blanced almonds
Salt/pepper, to season
Toss all ingredients and serve!
Recipe Notes: I adore the nutty taste of gruyere, so instead of using a box grater, I slice large shards with a vegetable peeler (alternatively, you could use a microplane). For the olive oil, I simply used the oil in which the sundried tomatoes were packed. I toasted the almonds in a dry skillet.
Posted on November 15, 2009
Long-time readers of my site know that I’ve spent years perfecting the chocolate chip pumpkin loaf. And I’ve learned over the years, the real magic happens in the kitchen when you make mistakes and take risks. Today, I can say with conviction that this chocolate chip pumpkin loaf is the best I’ve made. Here are my tweaks: