Archive for May, 2010
I could eat plain strawberries all day long—so could my kids. But sometimes, I like to dress them up.
Shortcakes are the obvious choice to serve alongside fresh strawberries, but I get a bit bored with the tasteless variety you can pick up in the produce section of the grocery store. Those spongy cups not only feel greasy, but they tend to leave a sort of film in your mouth that takes away from the bright flavors of the strawberries.
Inside of using store-bought shortcakes, or even making ones at home that involve making the dough, rolling it out, cutting it and then baking, I tweaked one of my favorite muffin recipes and created a ‘muffin shortcake.’ These muffins—complete with a whole tablespoon of baking powder, puff up beautifully. Add some lemon zest and a kick of almond extract and they practically beg to be finished off with a helping of strawberries after they’re out of the oven.
Fashion these muffins into a delectable dessert by cutting them horizontally and placing fresh cut strawberries on the bottom half, add a dollop of whipped cream and then the muffin’s top. You can even dust the plate with a little powdered sugar and mint for a more dramatic presentation. Whether you eat these muffins with—or without strawberries.
This is a variation of a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.
Prep time: 10 minutes, cook time 20 minutes
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup plain or vanilla yogurt
¾ cup sour cream
8 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
Lemon glaze ingredients:
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 Tablespoons milk
3-4 cups powdered sugar
dash of salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl blend together all of the dry ingredients, including the lemon zest. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar. Blend in the eggs and then the yogurt, sour cream and almond extract.
Stir the dry ingredients into the wet mixture using a spatula or wooden spoon. Line two muffin cup pans with muffin papers or grease well. Fill each muffin cup to 2/3 of the way full. You will probably have enough batter for 15 muffins.
Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes or until just golden brown. Allow to cool. Mix the glaze ingredients—the consistency should be thick enough so that when it is spooned onto the muffins it doesn’t run too far down the sides. Add more powdered sugar to adjust the thickness. Gently spoon the glaze onto each muffin. Let the glaze set for at least an hour before serving.
Cut the fresh strawberries into bite-sized pieces. Cut the muffins in half horizontally. To serve, place two generous tablespoons of strawberries onto the bottom half of the muffin. Top with whipped cream, if you want, and then add the top half of the muffin. Dust with powdered sugar to add some flair.
My oldest could literally drink this stuff–and she does. Splashed on sandwiches, nachoes, soups, she even put a few drops on her chocolate cake a few weeks back.
Cholula is common in Mexico–people serve it as you would ketchup in the US. The flavor is a tangy, vinegary blend of spices that give meals a kick not just of hot, but also chile flavor. It’s like Tabasco sauce with more depth.
You can find cholula at the grocery store in regular, chipoltle, and jalepano. Around our house, we like them all. So the next time you have hot sauce on your shopping list, why not reach for cholula instead?
Hint: Toss a little in the next time you make potato salad.
6 tbsp Unsalted Butter
¾ cup Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips
2 tsp Vanilla
½ Cup Sugar
½ Cup Purple Puree (see below for recipe)
¼ Cup Flour Blend (see below for recipe)
¼ Cup Rolled Oats, Ground
1 Tbsp Cocoa Powder
- Melt the butter and chocolate chip together and set aside.
- In a mixer, mix together eggs, vanilla, sugar, and purple puree and slowly add in the chocolate mixture.
- Add the flour blend, rolled oats, and cocoa powder in a separate bowl and add to the liquid mixture. Mix until well combined.
- Spray an 8×8 square baking pan and place brownie mixture into the pan. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean in a 350 degree oven.
- Cool and serve
Flour Blend: 1 cup All Purpose Flour, 1 cup Whole Wheat Flour, 1 cup Wheat Germ
Purple Puree: 4 cups cooked spinach (drained) 2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen), ½ tsp lemon juice and 1 tsp water. Combine all the ingredients and place in a food processor and puree until smooth
Would you choose hospital fare for your next date night? Maybe you should. The Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, which opened its doors just over a year ago, features not only a restaurant, Henry’s Cafe, where chefs are on hand to craft your meal as you watch, but they also offer a state-of-the-art kitchen demonstration area where you can learn a variety of cooking techniques and nutritional helps to improve what you offer at home.
The chef behind the new concept of tastier, better-for-you hospital food is Frank Turner, a Michigan native and a passionate advocate for locally produced, sustainable products. Chef Turner has a long history in Michigan’s top restaurants as well as volunteering in Detroit-area food kitchens. Today, as the Director of Food and Nutrition and Executive Chef at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, Chef Turner is helping patients learn how to choose foods that will help aid in their recovery and he’s lending his expertise to cooking courses offered to the public at the demonstration kitchen. Classes fill up quickly, so enroll early. But to get your own experience with fresh fare, head to Henry’s Café any night of the week or stop by on Wednesdays from 10am to 4pm, when there’s a farmers market open onsite.
What three ingredients do you always keep stocked in your pantry?
Olive oil, quinoa, and dried fruit. I love dried Turkish apricots, as long as they’re sulfate free.
How about your favorite meal?
Chicken dumplings. It’s my grandmother’s recipe and she always served it, and then my mother. You make it by poaching chicken in stock [gently simmering the meat in the flavored liquid]. Then you take out the chicken, pull the meat off the bone and reserve it while you cook the dumplings. Once the dumplings are cooked, you take them off and cook down the broth until it thickens—and there’s your stock. The chicken is always tender. And my mother would serve it with some sort of braised vegetable to the side.
We all have a favorite indulgence, for a foodie like you it must be something spectacular?
Snickers. I don’t have them very often, but I like a great big, king size classic Snickers bar with a glass of milk. But it’s a toss up between that and Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies.
What’s one of your worst cooking mistakes?
I’ve done it all—burnt the soup, opened the blender when it’s going, burned the heck out of myself. The silliest thing I ever did, though, was when I forgot to label some stock [broth] that I made for a sauce that went with a special recipe. It was a short rib lamb dish. I had to get the pieces cut especially for the dish. I had created this stock using boar bones and fowl venison. It was probably the best stock I’ve ever made. Well, someone used it in the soup that day and I didn’t have anything for my special dish so I had to improvise. The dish turned out fine, but I must say that was one really good soup. Great beef barley!
There are so many great Michigan-made food products, what is your pick?
Asparagus. Michigan asparagus has a distinct flavor that you don’t find anywhere else. It has a nutty flavor. I like to grill it and then serve it with cracked pepper, citrus zest and a splash of Manchego or Parmesan cheese.
The American station, burger of the day—you’ll find that it’s never a beef hamburger. It’ll be something besides ground beef—white fish burger or a chickpea burger, quinoa and black bean burger, but it won’t be a ground beef burger. [There are seven chef-manned stations to choose from.]
If you’d like to sample one of Chef Turner’s recipes at home, try putting together his nutritional-packed brownies. The dessert includes a puree of blueberry and spinach for a boost of anti-oxidants that blends perfectly with the intense chocolate flavor.
Ah, the 30-minute meal. Just because you need something quick and easy to make, it doesn’t mean you have to reach for the mac ‘n cheese box. Although having Cheerios for dinner every once in awhile doesn’t hurt anyone, right?
Chicken Parmesan has become a standard around our house, but not just because it’s a cinch to make. Along with having a short ingredient list (made up of mostly things you should have on hand), this dish tastes like it took hours to prepare.
Want to know the secret? Keeping it simple. The dish combines butter, Parmesan cheese, black pepper, garlic and chicken—that’s it. You batter the chicken with the Parmesan to create a crust. Unlike traditional Parmesan chicken, there’s no need to dip the chicken three times—in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs mixed with Parmesan. And no need to fry the chicken either, a little broiling at the end makes for a crispy finish. Instead, you can dip the chicken right into the cheese, then just pour the butter over the top. The chicken is oven-ready in less than ten minutes.
While the chicken is cooking, I prepare pasta noodles and heat up a marinara sauce to serve alongside. Okay, I’m going to have an infomercial moment now, but here goes—wait, there’s more! I can usually turn this one meal into two. With the leftover chicken, I make Italian subs the next day. On a hoagie roll, I add thin sliced Parmesan chicken, then ham or pepperoni (or skip the additional meat altogether), then tomato, shredded lettuce and add a little mayo to the bun. I often sprinkle either dried oregano or basil onto the mayo and even add a few drops of red wine vinegar to give the sandwich a little zing.
So one, 30-minute meal can actually give you two days worth of bring-the-family-around-the-kitchen-table worthy dinners. Maybe, this does deserve the infomercial treatment!
3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 8-ounce packaged shredded Parmesan cheese
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 9” x 13” baking dish with heavy aluminum foil (not a necessary step, but it makes clean up soooo much easier). Lightly coat the pan with cooking spray.
Cut the chicken breasts into long pieces (or tenders). Empty half of the bag of Parmesan into a shallow tray or plate. Mix the pepper and garlic into the Parmesan cheese. Dip each chicken piece into the Parmesan and then place onto the pan, being careful not to crowd the meat. Add more Parmesan cheese to the plate when needed. Drizzle the butter onto the meat.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer reads 165 degrees as the meat’s internal temperature. Bump the oven heat up to broil. Heat the chicken on the broil temperature until the cheese just begins to become browned (about 2 minutes). Remove the chicken from the oven. I usually serve the chicken along with pasta and spaghetti sauce. With the leftovers, I cut the strips into thin pieces and place on a deli roll, along with shredded lettuce, tomato, and mayo (sprinkled with a little dried oregano or basil) to create an Italian sub sandwich.
I’ve tried everything from peas to never-fail zucchini and so far that only thing I’ve been able to grow in abundance is mint—and I didn’t even plant that! Instead of pining over my lack of gardening skills, I’m investing my energy in finding the best farmers markets in my area. I’ve been surprised by what I’ve found.
The two closest farmers markets to my neighborhood include vendors that didn’t grow their products from seed—unless organic skincare products and gourmet popcorn have suddenly started sprouting up on trees somewhere in Colorado’s eastern plains. Fresh produce booths are outnumbered 2 to 1 at our nearby market, which also includes booths for pre-packaged steaks, bakeries, and more. The presence of non-farm goods has lead me to question whether the produce that is available is actually from local farms—and if so, whether the person selling them is affiliated with a farm at all.
I’m not the only one noticing that something doesn’t seem quite right at area farmers markets. Wall Street Journal writer Lauren Etter reported last week that some “real” farmers are being undersold at area markets by resellers. These resellers buy bulk produce at auctions for cut-rate prices and then pass them off as their own at markets. Farmers who are selling their own goods are feeling the pressure to drop their own prices to compete.
The national Farmers Market Coalition is now taking steps to define what can receive the “farmers market” label. Posting on the FMC website in January, Jeff Cole, chair of the Farmers Market Coalition ad hoc Definition Task Force and Executive Director of the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets, wrote that “the definition of a Farmers Market must be simple and clear: that it must include the words ‘farmers selling directly to the public products they have produced;’ and that a farmers market must define, and make public, what it means by ‘local.’”
When I first started frequenting farmers markets that’s what I expected to find. By allowing other vendors, the whole notion of what a farmers market should be becomes a mixed message. I want to support locally grown produce, but I don’t want to stumble over the skincare booths and artisan bread vendors to get to them.
Have you noticed your local farmers market has become less about produce and more about products? And how do you decide where to shop for locally grown goods?
Dough for the puffs
2 cups water
1 cup butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups semi-sweet or white chocolate chips
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
¼ cup raspberry jam (optional, but good)
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- To make the dough, place butter and water into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Slowly, bring the water and butter to a boil.
As soon as the mixture begins to boil, remove it from the heat source and add the flour in all at once. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together to form a ball.
Let the ball cool for around four minutes, then add the eggs one at a time. Beat after each egg is added.
At this point, you could just drop the dough in heaping tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet, but if you’re up for a challenge, break out the pastry bag! I use what’s called a ‘Mechanical Pastry Bag’ I bought on sale at Michaels to create the swan shapes.
Assembling the swan: You’ll need four large, ungreased baking pans (I highly recommend using parchment paper to line the pan, even though the dough shouldn’t stick to an ungreased pan it may). One pan will contain the swan necks, one and a half will contain swan wings and the rest of the space can be used for the base and regular puffs.
First baking pan: Swan necks. Place 1/3 of the puff dough into your pastry bag fitted with a large, straight tip (you want a tip that is about the diameter of a pencil eraser top). Draw ‘2s’ in three rows on the pan–each one stretching to about two inches in height. The curved part of the ‘2’ is the swan’s neck and head while the bottom of the ‘2’ will tuck between the wings to support the weight of the head. Place this pan into the oven while you prepare the rest. The necks should cook for only about nine minutes or so—keep a close watch because these thinner puffs cook (and burn!) quickly.
- Second baking pan: Swan wings. Change the pastry tip to either a large open star tip or even a large leaf tip (I’ve never purchased tips, I always just use what’s available in my kit). Working left to right, start with a thicker, rounded portion of dough and then draw the tip upwards and to the right—the winged shape should look like a sideways, slightly curved teardrop (these should be about one-and-a-half inches in length). Again, make three rows of wings. Keep in mind that the dough will grow to at least double what’s on the pan. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until slightly browned.
- With the remaining pans and dough: Using open star tip create circular cream puffs (these should be about two inches in length). Some of these puffs you’ll use as the base for your swan; the others you can make into regular puffs. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until slightly browned.
- Making the cream: Melt the chocolate and the heavy cream in the microwave at full power for about one to two minutes. Stir. If there are any lumps, microwave the mixture again at 10-second intervals or until the chocolate melts completely. (Stir in the raspberry jam if you’re using it.) Set aside and allow to cool.
- Beat the cream cheese and the sugar together in a medium-sized bowl. Once the mixture appears light and creamy, gradually add in the chocolate. (**Keep the chocolate pan handy with just a little chocolate inside to make swan eyes and beaks.) Whip the entire mixture again and place into a pastry bag fitted with a large open star tip.
- Assembling your swan: Now for the fun part! Gently remove the swan necks from the pan (some may break, but that’s why you have several). Dip the swans ‘beak’ (the end of the ‘2’) into the chocolate mixture. (Obviously, if you’re using white chocolate you’ll have to melt some additional darker chocolate.) Allow the swan necks to harden on wax paper.
- Carefully cut the base pieces in half. On the bottom portion, add a generous swirl of the chocolate cream. Gently cut a swan wing in half. Pushing in gingerly with your fingers, place the swan neck base (so the bottom of the ‘2’) into the cream swirl. Place a wing on either side of the neck base to cover it. Repeat with the remaining parts. Once you’ve assembled all of the swans, use a toothpick to dot each side of the swan head with a chocolate eye. Refrigerate until firm. Just before serving, dust with powdered sugar, if desired.
- At the end you’ll have mismatched cream puff tops (leftover from the bases), which you can use to create regular cream puffs.
For white swans, use white chocolate in the cream filling and omit the raspberry jam. For a stronger chocolate flavor, opt for semi-sweet.
I know, I know, it’s nearly Mother’s Day and I’m explaining how to take cream puffs to a whole new level by crafting the dough into swans. Here’s the thing, for me, an afternoon baking, undisturbed is nearly as relaxing as an hour of yoga. But even if you don’t enter a baking zen when you break out the flour, there’s another reason I like to make these eggy animals—they look impressive. There are some desserts that you make, they taste great, but there’s no ‘wow’ factor. No worries about that on this recipe. The swans will illicit ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from your family and friends.
Now, I didn’t dream up the swan cream puffs on my own. Years ago, I was at a friend’s baby shower where she’d bought some at a high-end New York City bakery. My first thought, after I did my own ‘ooh’ was, ‘Hey I bet I could figure out how to do that.’ (I noticed at the shower everyone was reluctant to take a swan because they looked so delicate and almost too pretty to eat). When I started trying to mimic the swans at home, it took several tries to master constructing them—my kids were more than happy to eat each and every crooked-necked mess up.
So if you’re ready for a little baking challenge, these swan cream puffs are fun to put together. They require more than a little patience, but the end results are tasty—and cool. Make sure to read through the directions completely before you get started. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to whip up the puffs for all sorts of occasions. I even made them once as sandwiches for my daughter’s 3rd grade class. Instead of a creamy dessert filling, I used chicken salad. The sandwich swans were an instant success!
Normally I shun getting too obsessed with the spices that go into a dish. I tend to keep a small herb arsenal of potent seasonings like cumin, basil, cayenne pepper, nutmeg and other easy-to-find spices on hand. Sure, I have a couple novelties, like ground ancho chiles and tamarind paste, but I don’t think of myself as a ‘spice enthusiast.’ That’s beginning to change thanks in large part to a spice shop a ten-minute drive from my house in Colorado, called Savory.
The shop made aromatic waves in Denver when it opened its first shop in 2004—three more locations soon followed. Now, when I say spice shop, I don’t blame you if you might yawn a bit. But this spice haven begs customers to try out each and every variety they offer. The fresh-ground spices are divided into logical sections like barbecue rubs, curries, Mexican chiles, baking spices. As you venture through the store there are large canisters of each spice, along with small, glass-bottled varieties for purchase. You can buy the standard spice jars or just a couple ounces in a baggy if you’re looking to try out something new. You can also bring in your old glass bottles for a refill. One bottle is marked ‘tester’ so that you can sniff and taste each spice. Although I will caution that the last time I was in my daughter urged me to take a whiff of the mole blend and I inhaled a little too deeply and felt like I was breathing in chiles for the rest of the day (actually, wasn’t too bad).
I meant to pick up only a few standards when I was in last, but I couldn’t resist picking out a few extra things. Since my kids were with me I ended up buying even more. My kids loved being able to try out new flavor combinations. The staff encouraged my kids’ curiosity and even told them if they tried out something and didn’t like it to just brush it off their hands and onto the floor.
Savory Spice Shop isn’t just a favorite destination of Coloradoans, though. The Food Network has noticed too. Janet Johnston, who co-owns Savory with her husband Mike, premiered her show “Spice & Easy” a couple weeks ago. The time slot seems dismissive—7:30am on Saturdays, but with our DVR we’ve been able to watch each episode. I was skeptical that a ‘spice’ show could hold my attention, but I was quickly won over (granted I already loved Savory spices).
What I liked about the show was first that you don’t have to be using Savory spices to make the recipe—Johnston imitates some of Savory’s best combos with dried and fresh herbs. For example, on last week’s episode she made an herb-infused popcorn. The popcorn was topped with a mix of grated Romano cheese, dried dill, salt, fresh chives and tarragon. Now, if you go into Savory, you can just buy the Paris Cheese Sprinkle that this recipe is based on, but it’s nice to have a few hints about how I can recreate some of the blends at home. (And I must admit that I also thought myself privileged that I could cheat my way through some of her on-air recipes because I could just buy the mixes at the store.) Johnston’s style also caught my attention. She seemed easy-going and approachable, her hair wasn’t plastered in place, it was like you were in the kitchen cooking with your sister.
What really sells me on Savory is finding fresh spices that I haven’t found anywhere else (not even Penzey’s, which opened its own shop a couple doors down about a year ago). From their eclectic, creative blends to the store’s down-to-earth style, which makes spices…cool…I’m a fan. So here are my favorites—
Black onyx powder: It’s like cocoa powder on steroids. Dark, rich. I add it in every chocolate recipe I make (and our homemade mole). The powder intensifies the depth of the chocolate flavor—and enhances it. I’ve never bothered with buying a jar, I just go for the large baggies.
Lodo Red Adobo: With a mix of paprika, Mexican oregano, cumin, Chile powder and more, this is the one spice blend I’ll reach for when I don’t have time to make my red enchilada sauce from scratch. You can whip up a sauce using a little apple cider vinegar and chicken broth to create a spicy, soothing, satisfying sauce. I also mix it with sour cream to top quesadillas, nachos.
Peruvian Chile Lime Seasoning: Start with cumin, add hints of tumeric, chiles, lime, cilantro and a few other spices and you have the complex flavors behind this blend. I use it as a rub on barbecued chicken or fish. (Sometimes, I just sprinkle it on plain rice—it’s that good).