Friday, October 30, 2009

Another Twisted Treat

Sugar & Spice Cookies

Perfect for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas...

Just take your favorite roll-out sugar cookie recipe and add:

1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
dash ground cloves

cut into pumpkins, ghosts, or witches. cut into turkeys, pilgrims, or cornucopias. cut into bells, stars, or candy canes!

Happy Day Before Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween Treat

This recipe is my twist on Nigella Lawson's Blood and Guts Potatoes. Hers is more for kids, and while mine is still completely kid-friendly, I've transformed it into an appetizer.

Blood and Guts Potato Pies

Ingredients (Pastry and Filling):

2 medium Russet potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup cold, unsalted butter
4-5 tbsp cold water
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tbsp onion flakes
pinch dried mustard
splash milk
salt and pepper
extra ketchup


*Boil the potatoes until fork tender; boil two minutes more; drain, mash, and cool.
*Preheat oven to 450F. Prepare a mini muffin pan (24 muffin cups).
*Separate out 1/2 cup of the mashed potato. Mash/chop until there are no major chunks. (Do NOT put in the food processor--potatoes will turn to glue).
*Combine the 1/2 cup potatoes with the flour and the cornmeal. Cut in the flour with a fork (NOT food processor! Can't emphasize this enough!) until the chunks of butter are no bigger than peas. Still using the fork, whisk in water one tablespoon at a time until dough looks moist, but not wet, and sticks together in a ball when you press it together.
*Divide the dough into twenty-four even pieces (divide the initial ball into thirds, divide each of the thirds into sixths). Press each portion of dough into the muffin cups with your fingers, forming a little pastry cup.
*Bake in 450F oven for 6-8 minutes, until crisp and lightly golden around the edges. Cool in pans for about two minutes before removing the pastry cups.
*Over low heat in a small saucepan, combine remaining potatoes, cheese, ketchup, onion flakes, mustard, salt, pepper, and milk. Keep stirring until nicely melted together.
*Divide the filling between the pastry cups, about a teaspoon each. Splatter the tops with a little bit more ketchup (thus--blood and guts potatoes!)

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Top of the Slippery Slope

Birthdays (though I enjoy them immensely) are decidedly bad for the waistline. Especially since Ian's and my birthdays are only two days apart and not too far from Halloween. We tend to overdo our indulgence in sweets, making full-sized cakes for just the two of us, giving ourselves permission to eat spoonfuls of leftover frosting and as many mellowcreme pumpkins as we can handle. Sweets, and cooking vessels and books to help with their preparation, are a popular gift. This year I received a lovely madeleine pan (which I am more than excited to put to good use), Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess (basically a baking book with more deliciously sinful treats than you can imagine, along with entertaining tips), and Jeffrey Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything (part memoir, part cookbook). These amazing, delicious things, along with a large bag of mellowcreme pumpkins and several non-food-related gifts (all lovely and well-appreciated--thanks to the givers!). Our birthdays are really that first step down the slippery slope of the holiday season. Birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas...and then the self-disgust and weight-loss resolutions of January.

Of course, I know I don't have to be eating that whole time. I often impose (or try to impose) dietary restrictions on myself in the interim between such holidays. After the birthday cake and candy is gone, be good until Halloween (if there is indeed a gap between them). Low-calorie soup all through November until Thanksgiving day. Christmas cookies only at social events. These are well-meant, but rarely followed through. Sometimes I'll try to be "good" by using I Can't Believe It's Not Butter baking sticks and Splenda in my baked goods. But I know all that chemicalized food is just as bad, if not worse for me, than the high-calorie stuff. It's just bad for me in a different way. I like to justify fall treats by saying, "It's got apples (or pumpkin or pears) in it! Vitamin C!". But let's face it. If I said that to a personal trainer, they'd knock me out. I know it. I think the problem is, I just don't care. Or--not enough, anyway.

The fact is, there are just too many wonderful treats to be had this time of year. And with the cold weather setting in, our bodies crave extra fat. Comfort food. Hot, hearty food. Warm, gooey pear tarts and hot apple pie. One of my favorites are my special Apple Cider Muffins--much healthier than the "muffins" you'll get at your local coffee house that should rightly be called "cupcakes"--they're light and moist and yes, they contain lots of Vitamin C (unless that bakes out--I've never been clear on such things).

Laura's Special Apple Cider Muffins

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 packets dry apple cider mix
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup honey
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup plain applesauce (no sugar or spices added)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup nonfat milk

*Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
*Line cups of a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Set aside.
*Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, apple cider mix, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl. Create a well in the center of the mixture using the back of a spoon or the bottom of a measuring cup. Set aside.
*Mix honey, egg, applesauce, oil, and milk in a medium mixing bowl. *Pour wet ingredients all at once into center of dry ingredients. Whisk together. Batter will be slightly lumpy.
*Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full.
*Bake at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the muffins comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Don't Hold Your Breath

Yesterday, Ian and I made a souffle.

It. Was. Awesome.

Granted, our souffle was a little firmer than the French might like, with a slightly browner crown, but boy, was it good. It puffed up nicely. It didn't fall. It was like eating light, fluffy, cheesy, crusty, eggy heaven.

Of course, this souffle didn't come without a little strife. Ian prepped the ingredients but didn't read the recipe, so when I came into the kitchen a lot of things weren't ready. We had to move fast. We had to whisk and grate and measure all at the same time. All four arms were moving in fast-motion, blurring like some crazy many-armed cooking machine.

OK. It wasn't exactly a cartoon. It would be cool if our arms would blur like the roadrunner's legs as he zooms past Wile E. Coyote, but alas, we are not animated. Still, we were working at top speed.

If anything surprised me the most about this souffle, it was actually how easy it was to make. So many cooks treat souffles like finicky bits of the Divine, whose wrath will be brought down from the sky should a wrong move be made. Sure, you have to get the egg whites to the right consistency. Anyone who's ever made a meringue or Divinity or even Angel Food Cake has done that. Sure, you have to make a cheese sauce with a roux. Anyone who's ever made white sauce, homemade mac 'n' cheese, or a pot pie can do that. It's precise, don't get me wrong. It is baking, after all, even if you choose a savory flavor like the cheese souffle Ian and I made last night. But there are so many myths about souffle-making, it's nuts!

Here are just a few:

*If you make a lot of noise while a souffle is baking, it will fall.
*If you slam the oven door, the souffle will fall.
*If you look at the oven the wrong way, the souffle will fall.

OK, so I made that last one up. But sneezing, coughing, laughing, stomping: all have been blamed for the souffle's deflation. And it's just not true, people! Souffles are puffy because of the air you whip into the egg whites and the protein, mixed with the cream of tartar you should be mixing your whites with, should be enough to keep that air where you put it. True, you do need to be careful when mixing your flavor base into your egg whites. FOLD GENTLY or the whites will deflate, making your souffle a lot less ethereal than you would like. But people, don't hold your breath for the sake of your souffle. It isn't worth the brain damage.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Food/Love Epiphanies #3 & #4

When you don't have your favorite cooking partner, you'll eat a lot of frozen veggie burgers.

If you have to bring food to class three days from now but your husband won't be there to bake with you, your classmates can deal with stale brownies as long as your husband gets them fresh from the oven.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Shepherd's Pie

British food isn't exactly known for its flavor. Many English dishes are misunderstood. They're known to be packed with offal and lard; hearty, cheap dishes that could be made from little more than a few root vegetables and poor cuts of meat. OK--so the Brits do have a long line of sausages in their history. They make pudding from blood and boil kidneys in sheep's stomachs. But tonight, I made a dish that I (and, presumably others) have long misunderstood: shepherd's pie. A meat pie. A meat pie? Well, in America we do love a good pot pie...and what's in a name? Well, a great deal. Sure, we eat mud pie, knowing it doesn't actually contain any mud. But steak and kidney pie...we know ther are kidneys in there. And shepherd's pie...what's in there? Anything a shepherd could get his hands on, presumably. For a long time, I thought it was a variety of chopped innards. I was so wrong.

In fact, shepherd's pie is incredibly simple. Ground beef. Carrots, celery, onion. Tomato paste. Beef stock. Salt. Pepper. Mashed Potatoes on top. How simple could you get? And how perfect?

It's just beginning to get cold here. The sweaters are coming out of the closets and the pots are coming out of the cupboards. The salads of three weeks ago are being replaced by soups. Warm, lovely, comfort food is on the menu. Ian and I are spending our Sunday together, thankfully, after being apart for most of the week and spending our Saturday up in Spokane. We're in our apartment, in our living room, with bellies full of shepherd's pie and Costco beer (try it--it's actually good!). We're watching The Next Iron Chef on Food Network. This is one good autumn evening. We are fully comforted, thanks to one major comfort food. If you haven't made shepherd's pie before, you have to try it.

Of course, there's always room for improvement. The recipe we used contained no more complicated spicing than simple salt and pepper. A little thyme might be nice. Maybe rosemary. Sage. Anything warm and festive. What the Brits would say about this, I don't know, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to try it.