October 22, 2010

Halloween Brownies

Every Halloween Party needs a batch of Halloween Brownies.

Here's my version:

Mix up a batch of Moosewood Fudge Brownie batter, pour into greased baking pan, then sprinkle the top with Reeses Pieces. Bake as directed. Added bonus- ET would be proud.

October 21, 2010

Graham Cracker Pie Crust

Now that I know how to make the filling for sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie from scratch (and hopefully you do, too!), it's time to step it up and make the crust from scratch as well. Putting that homemade filling in a generic pie tin crust just feels like a cop-out. Plus, you run the risk of people thinking you bought the whole thing from a bakery. The great benefit of the graham cracker crust is it is a breeze to make, and no rolling pin is needed!

What's in it:
1 plastic sealed package graham crackers (about 10 crackers)
6 Tbl butter, melted
1/4 C sugar
tsp cinnamon (optional)

How it's made:
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Smash up the crackers before you open the package (it's pretty fun) and then dump the crumbs in a food processor. Pulse until the consistency is a fine crumb. Add in sugar and cinnamon and pulse to mix. Add in melted butter and pulse until thoroughly distributed, and you have a nice even consistency. Press the cracker crumbs into a 9" pie pan, evenly distributing the layer. If you do not have a food processor, you can do all this by hand in a bowl with any pounding and mixing utensil you would like to use (such as a muddler or rolling pin, etc).

Bake in oven 7-10 minutes, and cool. If recipe calls for an uncooked pie crust, chill in the fridge an hour before filling.


October 18, 2010

Lentil, Barley and Sausage Soup

Lentil and Barley Soup with Sausage
It's turning out to be quite a nice fall here in Portland, Oregon. (Hopefully I'm not speaking too soon.) For at least the last week, we've had gorgeous, crisp cool sunny days. Perfect fall weather if you ask me. The forecast for this week indicates we'll get more of the same. I certainly hope we do. It's my favorite time of year.

While I still can't believe it is already mid-October, I am definitely beginning to get excited about all the wonderful things that fall entails. Leaves are changing, temperatures are dropping, pumpkins are out on porches. One of the things I'm looking forward to is making soup. There is something so essential and satisfying about a good soup! And the truly fantastic thing about soups is they are so easy to make. They are so malleable. Be creative, get crazy---design a soup as you go. It is only recently that I realized that one really doesn't need a recipe for a soup, just a basic idea and whatever contents of your fridge and pantry that you are craving.

Soup after a long day at work.
That being said, I'm posting this soup recipe. I came up with this recipe by combining and tweaking a couple of recipes I've clipped from food magazines. I will always, always associate lentil soup with my mother. Lucky for me, she made fantastic lentil (and many, many other kinds of) soup. But, this version is a bit different than hers. It's a lentil soup with barley, and like any good lentil soup it is very hearty. It begs for a good chunk of crusty bread and a cold night. A little wine certainly doesn't hurt.

One of the best thing about soups, too, is that they just get better with time. Make a large batch and savor the left-overs for lunch the next day or freeze some to enjoy later.

Let the soup season commence!

Lentil and Barley Soup with Sausage
~Print Recipe~
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, separated (or more to taste)
  • 2 sausage links, cut into small pieces
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 cup carrots (or more), chopped
  • 1 cup celery (or more), chopped
  • 2 red potatoes, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon dill
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • OR since I discovered I was out of Italian seasoning, I substituted the following:
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of oregano, thyme, basil, rosemary (or more to taste)
  • 2 to 3 courts low-sodium chicken stock (or water)
  • 1/2 cup uncooked pearl barley
  • 2 cups uncooked lentils
  • 2 tablespoons dry red wine (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (optional)
  • Fresh cracked pepper and grated cheese to garnish
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium high in a Dutch oven or large soup pot. Add the sausage and cook until browned. Drain the sausage and remove from pot, set aside.  Add remaining oil and chopped leek. Stir to coat. 
  2. As the leek is sauteing, chop and stir in the onion. Chopping and adding as you go, add all the ingredients through the potatoes, continuing to stir frequently. Add the spices. Cook for a few minutes until the vegetables are softened and the onion is translucent.
  3. Add the barley and stir to incorporate. Add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Stir in lentils. Cover and cook for 30 minutes, or until lentils are soft and vegetables are cooked through.
  5. Add the cooked sausage (and optional ingredients, if using) and simmer for another 10 minutes, until the sausage is warmed and flavors have mingled. Adjust spices as necessary.
  6. Top individual servings of soup with more fresh cracked pepper and grated cheese of your choice. Serve with crusty bread.

October 14, 2010

Pate a Choux

Cinnamon-and-sugar-dusted pate a choux puffs.
Pate a choux. First of all, the word just looks fancy. (Well, it definitely does if you have all the proper accents, but I'm sadly not aware of how to render them on my computer.) Say it--it surely sounds fancy. It even tastes fancy. Why, then, is pate a choux so easy to make?

I first came across this recipe in Michael Ruhlman's book Ratio. I was struck by the way he described it: "Choux paste can be made start to finish using a saucepan and a sturdy wooden spoon," though he recommends a stand mixer for a better puff. "Either way," he continues, "the water takes longer to boil than it does for you to actually make the choux paste, so there's no excuse for not making pate a choux preparations at home."

That there is no excuse becomes even more obvious when you realize that once you have your choux paste, you can make eclairs, cream puffs, profiteroles, churros, gougeres, even gnocchi and more. In the book, Ruhlman gives a general ratio for each basic recipe, whether it's pancake batter, bread, or mayonaise. Working from that ratio, you can easily scale the recipe for how many servings you want AND, my favorite part, tailor the recipe to fit your taste.

You can fill the airy inside of the puffs with cream or ice cream!
Ruhlman also gives you tons of ideas of how to adapt the basic recipe. I like the idea of knowing what exactly makes a muffin a muffin, so that I can tweak that muffin recipe however I so desire. There is a great freedom in that knowledge. I think most professional and advanced cooks have this understanding of ratios within them. And now, with this handy book, we all can work from that place.

I think it's all very exciting---especially the pate a choux. I've been thinking about it since I first read the recipe months ago. I finally got around to making it last night and it certainly is easy. I wanted something quick, so I made the basic sweet preparation and dipped the dough in cinnamon-sugar before baking. This was my cheater version of churros. Cutting corners has never tasted so delicious.

Now that I've familiarized myself with the basic prep, I'm dying to make gougeres (cheese puffs), cream puffs or profiteroles. I can't wait to knock the socks off some dinner guests with a fancy dessert that really was a cinch to make. Next time I'm definitely taking it to a higher level.

Ruhlman's basic ratio for pate a choux is 2 parts water: 1 part butter: 1 part flour: 2 parts egg. That translates to:

Sweet Pate a Choux
  • 8 ounces (or 1 cup) water
  • 4 ounces (or 1/2 cup or 1 stick) butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt*
  • 1 tablespoon sugar*
  • 4 ounces (or a very scant cup) flour
  • 8 ounces (or 4 large) eggs
Dough after incorporating the flour.
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring the water, butter, salt and sugar to a simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour. Sir quickly. The flour will absorb into the water to form a dough. Continue to stir for 1-2 minutes, to cook the flour and cook off some of the water.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat. Let the pate a choux cool slightly--we don't want the eggs to cook when we add them, though the choux should still be pretty warm. 
  4. Add the eggs one at a time-- quickly stirring until each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. It will seem at first that the eggs will not incorporate, but keep mixing until they do. You can do this in the saucepan, or you can transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. (The last method results in more dishes to wash, but will produce a superior rise in the pastries.)
  5. On a baking sheet (lined with parchment for easier clean up), drop small (tablespoon to golf ball-sized) portions of dough spaced about 2 inches apart. I rolled the balls in cinnamon-sugar, but if you are making profriteroles or cream puffs, you may not want to do that.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes in your preheated 425 degree oven. Turn the heat down to 350 degrees and cook 15-20 minutes more, until they are a toasty, golden brown and are cooked all the way through. Cool on the pan or a cooling rack and serve room temp (or chilled and filled with ice cream!) 
Makes 20-24 puffs, or about 8 servings
 *For savory pate a choux, increase the salt to 1/2 teaspoon and skip the sugar.

October 3, 2010

Spicy Caramel Corn

Salty, spicy sweet caramel corn with cayenne and cashews.

I watched a kid eating some of this caramel corn last night. An adult nearby was also having some. She warned the boy that it was a little spicy. After taking a couple mouthfuls, he told her no it wasn't. (At first, it is rich, buttery-caramely sweet.) She said that it was spicy you just had to give it a second. He had some more and adamantly told her no, no, it really wasn't spicy at all.

About 30 seconds into the conversation, he yelled, "Whoa! It got spicy!" And then he stopped eating the caramel corn. The adult just raised her eyebrows and continued to munch away. It was pretty funny.

I've made this recipe twice. Last night and last December. Somehow the batch from last December was better. I think it had to do with how long I let the caramel cook and the quality of my cayenne. For last night's batch, I was kind of in a hurry and I don't think I let the caramel caramelize long enough. The batch was still quite good, but it was not as memorable as I thought it should be.

The interesting thing about this recipe is, of course, the cayenne. There is something genius about taking regular, cloyingly sweet caramel corn and making it a little spicy. It is addicting. The spice level of your caramel corn will depend on your cayenne. Cayenne's spice level varies depending on how fresh it is. If you are anything like me, you don't know how old your cayenne is--it just seems like it's always been there on the spice shelf. I added 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne to this most recent batch and it was just on this side of underwhelming.  Adjust your cayenne level depending on how spicy you like your snacks and how fresh your cayenne is.

Like many of my favorite recipes, I owe this one to Smitten Kitchen. Why does she always have the best recipes? I don't know how she does it.

Spicy Caramel Corn
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil (feel free to use less!)
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 2 cups salted cashews or peanuts (optional)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 to 3/4 teaspoons cayenne
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (depending on how salty you like it)
  1. Lightly coat 2 large heatproof spatulas, a very large mixing bowl (or 2 medium large bowls) and 2 baking sheets with nonstick spray. (I used parchment in addition to the spray on my baking sheets.)
  2. Heat oil over medium high heat in a large pot with a lid. Add the popcorn kernels, cover, and shake the pot until kernels are coated in oil. As the popcorn pops, shake the pot to keep from burning. Transfer all fully popped popcorn to prepared bowl, leaving any un-popped kernels in the pot. Toss popcorn with nuts (optional).
  3. In a very small bowl, stir baking soda and cayenne together.
  4. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, salt and 1/2 cup water. Cook over high heat, without stirring, for 10-14 minutes until the mixture is a golden yellow caramel.
  5. With baking sheets at the ready, remove the caramel from the heat. Whisk in the baking soda and cayenne. The mixture will bubble up some!
  6. Quickly pour the caramel over the popcorn and use the prepared spatulas to mix the caramel and popcorn/nuts until well coated.
  7. Quickly spread the popcorn on your baking sheets, separating any big clumps. Cool to room temperature to serve. 
*I actually like this caramel corn best the next day. The texture improves! Good luck saving any, though, it goes fast.