March 31, 2009

You Put The Lime In The Coconut

I not a fan of rushing the season, seeing Christmas decorations going up the day after Halloween drives me crazy, however I always make an exception when it comes to Spring. I get so impatient for baseball season, warm(er) weather, looking at my jasmine every day thinking hurry up and bloom already! Once Spring has sprung it goes by fast so perhaps it would be better slow down, stop and smell the roses, the freesia, orange blossoms, honeysuckle, (my neighbors must think I'm crazy always sniffing around their yard) and definitely take time to appreciate this week's Tuesdays With Dorie-Coconut Butter Thins.
Think Lorna Doones on vacation and you'll get the gist of these cookies. The comforting, buttery taste of shortbread with a little tropical hint of lime, coconut, macadamia nuts, and (in my case) curry powder. They are the perfect way to welcome, and appreciate the season.

For more on these cookies, check out the TWD blogroll.

March 27, 2009

Layers Are In

Growing up, special occasions meant one thing, lasagna. And if that occasion was your birthday, Carvel Ice Cream Cake. How I miss those crunchies! But I digress. I've made lasagna many times since then but never from scratch- ricotta, prego & boxed noodles, poof... lasagna. Well this month's Daring Bakers Challenge was a bit more complicated. Bechamel I could handle, homemade ragu, ok sure, but spinach noodles from scratch without a pasta maker? Mamma mia!

Not only was this lasagna absolutely delicious, but not as difficult as I thought. I made the pasta two days in advance, drying it out overnight on my clothes rack, and I made both sauces the day before. All that prep made baking day a breeze.

I will absolutely make this again, and look forward to experimenting with different types of pasta dough and sauces. Head on over to the the Daring Kitchen and learn how to make your next occasional really special. And don't forget Fudgy The Whale.

Now a word from our sponsor:

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

March 24, 2009

Its Ok To Crumble

My local Home Expo store is closing down. Over the past few years my husband and I made many trips to that store. We'd stroll down the aisles looking at the the fancy mock up kitchens and bathrooms and dream of the day when we could make those fantasy rooms a reality in our own home. A final trip there to check out the bargains left me feeling really depressed, as if seeing those displays all stripped down and torn up meant my home improvement fantasies were too. Luckily, today is Tuesday, as in Tuesdays With Dorie, and I just happened to have some Blueberry Crumb Muffins on hand.

A few bites of moist cake filled with blueberries and topped with a sweet,crunchy, nutty topping made me look a little more kindly on my non-fancy, cozy little kitchen. I'll take fresh baked muffins over granite counter tops any day.

March 17, 2009

Tuesdays On The Riviera

Its been a while since the stars have aligned where I've had both time off and disposable income. Unemployment checks don't cut it when it comes to international travel so for now all my adventures will have to be lived vicariously- my cousins 3 month trip to Europe, the Today Show in Ireland, and this week's TWD, Riviera Yogurt Cake.

I couldn't resist trying this exotic sounding variation although I frugally utilized what I had on hand- one lime, one meyer lemon and some thyme from my herb garden. The aroma was intoxicating. And as I savored my first bite of this cake which I topped with homemade lemon curd and fresh strawberries, I pictured myself not in my tiny kitchen but in a seaside cafe in Nice- sipping a glass of wine and looking oh so chic with my sunglasses and silk scarf and...a girl can dream can't she?

March 15, 2009

Any Requests

Due to my voracious baking habit (and appetite) I am always on the lookout for new victims, er I mean tasters, so I can bake without the burden of the final product remaining in my house. Often times, I sneak an offer for baked goods into casual conversation.
Looking at my blog...
Him: These look great, do you have any of this stuff here?
Me: As a matter of fact I do. Can offer you some...insert name of recently made treat here...
Him: Sure I'd love some.
Me: Hey, by the way, what's your favorite dessert?
Then whammo, guess who's getting a heaping helping of sugary goodness from your truly?!

On today's menu, Caramel Crumb Bars from The Modern Baker. Shortbread crust covered in a layer of creamy caramel with crumb topping. Perfect for someone who loves cookies and creamy treats. This one's for you Bob.

March 14, 2009

Flower Power

6 years ago this July, my husband's cousin married one of my dearest friends. My other dear friend (and sister-in-law) and I threw her bridal shower. We cooked a wonderful spring luncheon complete with lavender iced tea. In order to make the tea, my SIL had been "harvesting" lavender from her neighbors and had left it draining in the kitchen sink. Her husband came home and proceeded to wash the dishes, splattering sudsy water all over the lavender. My SIL began yelling at him to watch the lavender because she needed it for her lemonade. He replied incredulously, "I didn't know lavender was food!"
Ironically, this July my sister/brother-in-law are expecting their first child and at a mini baby shower the afore mentioned cousin and I threw for her, she brought me a jar of culinary lavender. And this months You Want Pies With That challenge, Herbs & Spices, gave me a great reason to try it out.  Since this was my first try at cooking with lavender, I opted for Fruit and Lavender Cream Tartlettes. I altered my standard pastry cream recipe by first adding 2 teaspoons of lavender to the boiling milk and steeping it for an hour. The base is a sweet tart dough and they are topped with white peaches and strawberries with an apricot glaze.  Spring has definitely sprung.

Head on over to the You Want Pies With That to see what all the other Creative Tarts came up with!

March 10, 2009

Looks Aren't Everything

What's that old addage, "If you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all." I can't very well leave this post blank but I'm struggling to come up with positive comments about this week's Tuesdays With Dorie, Lemon Cup Custard. On the plus side, it's pretty, easy to make, and has a lovely velvety texture. However, I found it severely lacking in the flavor department. I made the original lemon recipe, steeped the milk with extra lemon zest for over an hour but the end result was rather bland. Fresh raspberries and powdered sugar helped a bit but when it came time for dessert I opted for gingersnaps instead.
Hopefully my fellow TWD'ers had fared better than I- check out the blogroll and see.

March 8, 2009

Stacking Up

I'm a little concerned. I've never been a collector and don't need to have lots of stuff, especially considering how tiny my house is. Seriously, I live in an isosceles triangle. But I am developing quite a cookbook habit. There were a few I got as wedding gifts, then I needed some for participating in baking groups, and I always cruise the sale section at Barnes and Noble. Cat Cora's Cooking From the Hip for $4.99? Who could resist? The small cabinet I use to store my cookbooks in was getting so crowded I actually reorganized my kitchen to make room for more. And now that I've freed up some space, and still had a $20 Amazon credit, I just had to buy Nick Malgieri's The Modern Baker. Chock full of great tips and beautiful photos, I was having a hard time figuring out which recipe to make first- that is until I saw the Three-Way Gingersnaps.

This recipes combines of powdered, fresh, and crystallized ginger to give these cookies a leg up on the classic gingersnap recipe. I omitted the crystallized ginger on my first attempt, simply because I didn't have any on hand and was too lazy to go to the store, and they were still delicious.
With all the recipes to choose from in The Modern Baker, I ought to be able to resist buying any more cookbooks for a while...but I won't make any promises.

March 7, 2009

Spring Forward

When I was 6 months old my parents, both New Yorkers born and raised, moved from Long Island to Florida and never looked back. Growing up, winter to me was 65 degrees. I didn't even see real snow until I was 18 when, after my first afternoon of sledding ever, I promptly came down with bronchitis. Now I live in Southern California and a while most of the country envies our balmy weather, I still freeze my butt off every time the temperatures dip below 70. It must be genetic. Suffice it to say, I am ready to welcome spring with open arms so in honor of the time change, I made Fennel and Tangerine Salad.

Fennel and Tangerine Salad
adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine
2 tbsp cup olive oil
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 small shallot, chopped
1 tsp tangerine zest
1 tbsp fresh tangerine juice
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced and fronds chopped
2 tangerines, peeled and segmented
1 small head of leafy green lettuce

Whisk first 5 ingredients together in a small bowl. Toss tangerine segments with chopped fennel. Scatter tangerine and fennel over lettuce and drizzled dressing over the salad. Sprinkle with chopped fronds.

March 6, 2009

Roasted Corn Quesadillas

I love cooking dinner for my husband but for the nights when he works late, or has a softball game, I always resort to Chic Food. You know, light meals, mostly vegetarian, featuring lots of salads- stuff he would never consider dinner. For him dinner must always consist of some kind of meat, fish or chicken, a starch and although I always insists on a green vegetable, I could never sell him on something like Roasted Corn Quesadillas as dinner fare. That's ok though- it just means more quesadillas for me!

Roasted Corn Quesadillas
adapted from Cooking Light Magazine
1 ear of corn, kernels removed
3 oz goat cheese
1 green onion, chopped
4 whole wheat tortillas
2 tbsp salsa verde
1 tsp canola oil

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add corn and roast until kernels soften and begin to brown lightly. Transfer corn into a bowl and add goat cheese, stirring gently until combined.
Spread a heaping spoonful of corn mixture onto 2 tortillas and sprinkle with green onion, placing another tortilla on top of each one. Heat a lightly oiled skillet on medium and brown each quesadilla for 1 - 2 minutes on each side. Slice into wedges and serve topped with additional salsa verde.

March 5, 2009

Give Beets A Chance

Luckily for my mom, I wasn't a very picky eater as a child. As a matter of record, she was the one sneaking lima beans off of her plate and onto mine during dinner with my grandparents (sorry for outing you Mom). But I've never been a fan of cauliflower, wouldn't touch gefilte fish (shudder), and despised beets- especially the slimy ones lurking at the salad bar. But after watching an episode of Tyler's Ultimate, I decided to give beets a chance. Instead of warily walking by them like I usually do, I bought some baby beets at the farmers market. The recipe on the show was for a Winter Panzanella Salad, but I had eaten the last of the bread for breakfast. After roasting the beets with shallots and thyme and then tossing them in a honey balsamic dressing like Tyler had, I just poured the beet/dressing mixture over some romaine and then tossed in satsuma tangerines, pine nuts, and feta. It was delicious!
Now beets are officially on the menu. Maybe I should give cauliflower a second chance.
Gefilte freaking way.

Roasted Beet and Satsuma Salad
adapted from Tyler's Ultimate Winter Panzanella Salad
4 baby beets, scrubbed and halved
1 whole shallot, quarted
2 sprigs of thyme
5 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup honey
Romaine lettuce (or your lettuce of choice)
1 satsuma peeled and sectioned
1/4 cup feta cheese
handful of pine nuts
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Toss beets and shallot with 1 tbsp olive oil, add thyme sprigs and wrap in aluminum foil pouch. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes until beats are tender.
In a large bowl, whisk together 4 tbsp olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and honey. Add the beets and shallot (discard the thyme) and toss gently to coat. Pour over a bed of romaine, then add satsumas, feta and pine nuts. Salt and pepper to taste.

March 4, 2009

Pita Party

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year, you may have noticed we (collectively) are in a bit of a financial pickle. Record unemployment, businesses going under left and right, words ending in "ession" being carelessly tossed about, what are we to do? Hang our heads, cry in our coffee, have a big ole Pity Party? Screw that, how about a Pita Party!

With 3 months of unemployment threatening to drive me to drink (ok, drink more), I've been keeping my hands busy and my grocery bills down by cooking and baking as much as possible. Why spend my hard earned unemployment check on Trader Joe's pita and hummus when I already have everything I need to make my own?

The pita recipe comes courtesy of my new best friend, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day. You can use a number of their basic doughs to make pitas- I chose Light Wheat. Just pull off sections of dough, roll them out into thin rounds, toss them on your preheated baking stone and watch them puff up! So simple and easy to make, and they keep really well. Seriously, this book has changed my life. Hmm, wonder if they pay for testimonials?

Lemony Hummus
adapted from Cooking Light Magazine 1 can garbanzo beans rinsed and drained
Juice from 2 large lemons
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp water
2 tbsp tahini
2tsp olive oil
1tsp cumin
1/4tsp kosher salt

Combine everything in a food processor and process until smooth