Sweet and Salty Scones

I promised more sweet and salty/savory recipes, and here I am to deliver.  This one is for caramel apple cheddar scones.  My two-year-old absolutely loved them and my husband didn’t mind having one for breakfast this morning either!  They are sweet and salty and buttery and just plain delicious.  They’re also pretty easy which is good for me when it comes to baking.

What you’ll need:

3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1tbsp baking powder

1tbsp sugar

1 1/2tsp kosher salt

1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced into small cubes + 1tbsp for apples

1tsp cinnamon

1 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese

1 large apple, peeled, cored, and diced into small cubes (I used a Gala)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream + 1/2 cup for ‘caramel’ drizzle

2tbsp milk

1 1/2 cups butterscotch nibs

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  In a small sauce pan, soften the diced apple in 1tbsp butter with the cinnamon.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.  Then, add in your shredded cheese and toss to evenly distribute through flour mixture.  Coating the shreds now keeps them from lumping up and getting gummy when you’re adding the butter.  Next, rub in your stick of butter or use a pastry cutter until the mixture looks slightly ‘sandy’ and the butter is evenly distributed.  Fold in the cooled apples gently and then begin adding the cream.  I would add 1 cup and then add a tablespoon or so more as needed.  It shouldn’t take more than 1 1/2 cups; though, this really depends on how dry your flour is, the humidity in your house, etc., but the end goal is to get a slightly sticky dough.  Turn your sticky dough out onto a lightly floured surface, divide in two, and then shape each lump into a round about 6″ in diameter.  Cut the rounds into 8 even wedges using a floured knife or mezzaluna.  Use a spatula to move the wedges to an ungreased baking sheet alternating directions and spacing them 1/2″ apart (see picture below).  Brush with 2tbsp milk.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until just golden brown.

While the scones are baking, you can make your simple ‘caramel’ drizzle.  Place your butterscotch nibs in a medium bowl.  Heat your extra 1/2 cup cream in the microwave for one minute.  Pour the cream over the nibs and let it sit for 30-60 seconds.  Whisk until smooth.  (Of course, you could do this with a double boiler on the stove the gourmet way, but I have limited space and equipment in my tiny apartment kitchen, so this is the route I took. You could also make real homemade caramel, but I didn’t have the energy for that at 40 weeks pregnant.)

Once the scones are removed from the oven, allow them to cool slightly on the pan (10 minutes or so) and then use a spoon to drizzle over your ‘caramel.’  For an extra sweet/salty punch, you could sprinkle some coarse sea salt onto the drizzle.  Yummy and they take less than an hour (or 45 minutes if you’re industrious) to make.  Makes 16 delightful little scones.

Caramel Apple Cheddar Scones

Caramel Apple Cheddar Scones

 

“Tradition!”: Part II

After waxing poetic a bit yesterday on traditional foods, I decided that today I should give you some recipes or at least ideas for traditional foods.

Shepherd's Pie with Parve Mashed Potatoes

Shepherd’s Pie with Parve Mashed Potatoes (thickened version of my beef stew topped with mashed potatoes and baked)

How can you get more traditional than mashed potatoes?  Want to make super-yummy ones that are either vegetarian or vegan?  Simple.  Boil and mash your potatoes (I mash mine rather than using a ricer because we like texture).  Add mayonnaise (or vegan mayonnaise), vegetable broth, salt, and pepper to taste.  There you have it.  Simple, delicious, and parve/vegetarian/vegan/awesome.  Serve with…

Meatloaf?  1lb ground beef, 1 box parve stuffing mix, 1 egg, and 1/3 cup vegetable or beef broth (perhaps more depending on how dry the stuffing mix is).  Smoosh with fingers, place in loaf pan, and bake at 375 degrees until no longer pink and edges pull away from pan (about 45 minutes).

Simple vegetarian chili with cornbread topping?  Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse and drain 2 cans of black beans and 2 cans of pinto beans. Add to glass casserole dish. Add 1 cup chunky salsa (mild, medium, or hot), 3/4 tsp. cinnamon (trust me), and 2 tsp. chili powder. Mix thoroughly. Mix one box corn muffin mix according to package instructions. Spread 1/4 cup shredded cheese over beans and then spread corn muffin mixture over the cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes or until cornbread is cooked through (if the top browns and the inside is still gooey, cover it with foil and bake a little longer).

Vegetarian Chili with Cornbread Topping

Vegetarian Chili with Cornbread Topping

Finally, I have to admit that I absolutely love sweet and savory together.  That is ultimate comfort food to me, and I love finding new ways to combine traditionally sweet ingredients or elements with savory dishes.  My most recent discovery is how incredibly awesome Indian Pudding is.  It’s a traditional dessert from New England with a pretty un-PC name which is essentially a cornbread pudding.  It also let me use some of my new favorite ingredient, blackstrap molasses.  I served it as a side dish to a savory dinner.  There is an excellent recipe for Indian Pudding at Yankee Magazine.  To keep milk and meat separate, you could either make this with dairy alternatives and serve with sauteed maple chicken sausage with shredded cabbage or you could use dairy in the pudding and use a meatless sausage.  Playing up the sweet/salty aspect of this combination makes it comforting and fulfilling.

Maple Chicken Sausage with Cabbage

Maple Chicken Sausage with Cabbage

Indian Pudding (It's not pretty, but it's a molten pan of sticky-sweet deliciousness!)

Indian Pudding (It’s not pretty, but it’s a molten pan of sticky-sweet deliciousness!)

And there you have it.  These are just a few ideas for hearty, ‘traditional’ winter dishes that are sure to please your taste buds.  Enjoy and look forward to me posting some more sweet/savory combo dishes soon!

Return of the Pumpkin Muffin

I really love pumpkin.  Its sweet earthiness tastes like autumn and it’s loaded with vitamins.  I’ve already done a pumpkin muffin recipe here before, but I have a new one that I think is even better.  It’s not too sweet and really plays up the pumpkin flavor.  These muffins are also super moist, dense, and perfect with hot coffee.

This recipe makes about 2 dozen large muffins or 3 dozen regular muffins, so there will be plenty to share.

You need to use the muffin method for this, so gather these dry ingredients and whisk them together in a large bowl:

3 1/3 cups flour

2tsp. baking soda

1 cup white sugar

1 1/2tsp. kosher salt

1 1/2tsp. cinnamon

1/4tsp. ground ginger

Make a well in these dry ingredients to put the wet ingredients in once they’re mixed.  The wet ingredients should be beaten together until smooth and are:

1 cup melted butter

4 eggs, beaten

1 cup packed brown sugar

1tbsp. blackstrap molasses

2/3 cup evaporated or whole milk

2 cups pumpkin (canned or home pureed)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and either grease or paper line your muffin cups.  Pour your wet ingredients into the dry ingredient well and gently fold together just until completely moistened.  Don’t use a mixer for this or mix by hand too long or your deliciously dense muffins will turn into tough little pumpkin rocks.  Fill muffin cups 2/3 full for larger muffins and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Ta-da!  Super yummy, not-too-sweet pumpkin muffins.

I suppose you could frost these muffins (though I think that turns it into a cupcake) or put a crumble topping on them (thereby greatly increasing the sweetness and hiding the lovely cracks that form on these muffins), but I’ll leave that up to you.

A perfect pumpkin muffin

A perfect pumpkin muffin

 

Self-Sufficient Apartment Living?

We live in an apartment.  There, I said it.  I often admit this in hushed tones followed by an apology about how the itinerant nature of my career lately has forced us to seek only semi-permanent lodging, but the truth is that after living in apartments all over this state for basically the past ten years, I’m starting to get used to it.  It’s not ideal for the kind of lifestyle my husband and I dream of living but it works for now until we can set down more permanent roots somewhere else.

One of the major downsides to our current apartment (and our previous one) is that our outdoor space is incredibly ill-suited to growing anything of our own, even herbs.  We don’t get much light at all and the space is limited.  This has forced me to focus my goal of being more self-sufficient on things I can do indoors.  Every time I make my own bread from scratch, darn a pair of socks, or pass up some boxed convenience food at the store for the whole ingredient to make it from scratch myself, I feel like it’s a small move in the right direction.  I’m telling you this because it would be really easy for me to cop out on feeding my family more whole foods and to give in to modern convenience culture.  Super easy, especially being 37 weeks pregnant.  And yeah, sometimes I do give in when I’m really exhausted and it’s been ‘one of those days.’  That’s ok.  I feel like this is one of the few times in life you can really earn an A just for genuine effort.  So the message of this post is that it’s worth trying.  Even if you have no clue how to darn a sock (or what that even means), the small things you do matter.  They matter for the environment, for your budget (self-sufficiency is fascinatingly frugal), for your own self-esteem (making something yourself is extremely gratifying), and for your family (making things together creates traditions and built-in family time).  Give it a shot.

As a bonus, here’s the recipe for the sweet potato casserole I took to my in-laws’ for Thanksgiving last week.  Alas, I have no picture as it was devoured pretty quickly, but it’s as pretty as it is delicious.

Ingredients:

3 cups peeled, roasted, and smashed sweet potatoes

2 egg whites (easier to beat if kept cold in a cold metal bowl)

2tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice

1tsp orange zest

1/2tsp ground ginger

2tbsp sugar

1/2tsp kosher salt + 1/4tsp (for topping)

1tsp cinnamon + 1/2tsp (for topping)

1/4cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

1/2cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

3/4cup rolled oats

1cup brown sugar

3/4cup flour

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Beat egg whites with hand mixer (or lots of elbow grease) until soft peaks form in a small bowl.  Add 2tbsp sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form.  In a large bowl, combine smashed sweet potatoes, orange juice, orange zest, ginger, 1/2tsp salt, and 1tsp cinnamon until smooth (I used a hand mixer for this too).  Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the smooth sweet potato mixture.  Scoop from the bottom of the bowl and sweep over and around until the egg whites are no longer visible.  Place sweet potato mixture into medium casserole dish (you could use a 9×13 but it will not be as thick obviously).  Next, make topping by combing rolled oats, flour, brown sugar, 1/4tsp salt, and 1/2tsp cinnamon in a medium bowl.  Add cubed cold butter and use either a pastry cutter or your fingers to rub in butter until you get a consistency like wet sand that crumbles.  Add the nuts if using.  Top sweet potato mixture and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until topping starts to brown and is bubbly.  You could also add a few marshmallows on top if you wanted for the last 5 minutes for some extra pizzazz.

 

Stop! Put Down That Frozen Pizza!

Simple five-cheese and olive pizza.

Simple five-cheese and olive pizza.

What’s in that frozen pizza?  Does it have exactly the toppings you want or did you have to add/subtract some after opening the package?  Did you notice all that packaging you now have to try to recycle?  These days, there are a variety of ‘healthier’ options when it comes to frozen pizzas but even with all of the choices, nothing quite beats making pizza yourself.

I started making our own pizzas last year after finding myself completely frustrated by the lack of vegetarian options among frozen pizzas.  We eat mostly vegetarian (for environmental reasons) and keep biblically kosher (no mixing meat and dairy, no pork, no shellfish) so as I read the back of every box I grew ever more impatient.  Pepperoni was out.  The supreme pizzas had the veggies we wanted but also sausage.  There were a few vegetarian pizzas but they were fairly limited to the margherita or what I like to call, the garden (I love broccoli but not so much on my pizza).  Initially, we just bought cheese pizzas and added our own toppings.  Obviously, being frugal as I am, I quickly realized how cost ineffective that was.  I would have to start from scratch.

Below is the fairly basic pizza dough recipe I use.  It makes a 12″ round pizza or an 8″ round and a 9×13″ rectangle depending on how you do things (we do the round and rectangle combo because my son likes pieces from the round).  Also, this makes a chewy, rising crust because that’s what we like.  If you really spread out the dough evenly to make a larger pizza, it will make it slightly crunchier.

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (or one packet pizza yeast)

1tsp sugar

1 cup warm water

2 1/2 cups unbleached flour

2tbsp olive oil or melted butter

1tsp kosher salt

1tsp dried oregano or Italian seasoning

Butter or cooking spray to grease pans if using metal ones rather than a pizza stone, etc.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Combine sugar, olive oil, salt, and warm water in a large bowl.  Sprinkle in yeast and stir briefly.  Let settle until yeast starts to bloom (I usually prepare my toppings and grease my pans while I’m waiting for this).  Once the yeast mixture looks foamy, add dried herbs and begin adding flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough comes together.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough stretches well without tearing and is no longer sticky.  Form into a disk.  Press, roll, or toss your dough until you’ve reached your desired size and move to your prepared pan.  It’s okay if you have to press it out a little more and if it rips, just pinch it back together.  Add your favorite sauce, cheese, and toppings and bake for about 15 minutes or until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.

Tips:  Do not add too many toppings!  I know the freedom of finally getting to pick your own toppings is thrilling, but if you add too many or too much of any one topping, you will probably end up with a soggy mess.  Also, I would recommend adding things in the sauce-cheese-toppings-maybe a tiny bit more cheese order.  Putting the cheese down before the toppings will help keep the cheese from all sliding off the top when you take a bite.  Finally, this pizza dough recipe can be used to make some decent garlic knots.  I cut the dough into 6-8 even pieces, knot them (roll into log and basically tie a knot), and then place them in a cake pan that has 1/2 cup melted butter and 4 cloves of grated garlic in the bottom.  Bake until golden and turn the pan out upside down onto a plate to serve.

Frugal Fact: Depending on your ingredients, homemade pizza could cost as little $4.  That’s tough to beat for a frozen pizza this size that serves at least 3.

For the Love of Bread

In a world overrun with ‘low-carb,’ ‘sugar-free’ dare-I-say-nonsense, I believe there’s still a place for the most basic of human food staples.  Since humans domesticated grain, nearly every culture has devised some way of turning it into that most basic food.  Being unable to afford it has resulted in revolutions and riots in fact.  So why all this hate for bread now?  I could get into a long discussion about the role of GMOs, refined sugars, and processed foods in general in the demonizing of modern bread, but I think most of it is tied to a variety of fad diets out there.  If you have Celiac’s Disease, you no doubt find the idea of going gluten-free as a diet slightly offensive (and you probably realize there are wonderful gluten-free options nowadays which still allow you to enjoy bread if you choose).

I love to bake my own bread.  I bake bread at least once a week around here, usually the obligatory challah on Friday afternoons.  Sometimes I bake bread for other occasions though, such as garlic knots for pasta, sandwich loaves, or the delicious cousin to bread, buttermilk biscuits on weekend mornings.  To me, it’s about more than just getting my carb fix.  It’s about tradition and that link between my kitchen and the millions of others throughout time which have provided this basic subsistence through baking.  It’s also a great food to start getting young kids in the kitchen.  You usually don’t need a knife for basic bread and kids like to get their hands in the dough and squish it up.  Punching down the dough?  That’s fun for everyone and I’ve found, a great stress-reliever for mom particularly.

Here’s my favorite recipe for challah adapted from A Day Apart: Shabbat at Home by Noam Sachs Zion and Shawn Fields-Meyer (Shalom Hartman Institute 2004, p.17).  My changes from the original have been marked with an asterisk.

Combine 2/3 cup olive oil*, 1 cup sugar (raw or organic), 3 teaspoons kosher salt, and 2 cups warm water in a large bowl, stirring gently.  Sprinkle in 3tbsp. active dry yeast and stir once or twice more.  Let settle for 10-15 minutes or until foamy-looking*.  Add approximately 5 cups organic unbleached flour and stir until dough comes together (dough will be sticky, but I work in another 1/2 cup or so while kneading)*.  Generously flour a flat surface and knead the dough ball, working in additional flour until no longer sticky but smooth and pliable.  Then, I rinse out my large bowl and add in 1/2tsp. olive oil to oil the entire bowl*.  Return the dough ball to the bowl, cover, and place in an oven which had been preheated to 180 degrees and then turned off*.  Let rise for 1-2 hours (longer is better).  After dough has doubled, scoop back out onto flat floured surface.  From here, you can cut and braid it any way you like.  It can make 2 large traditional braided loaves or 4 smaller ones.  I sometimes make small knotted rolls which are baked in a round cake pan and are delicious.  You could even make a round-top loaf in a loaf pan.  I would recommend brushing any of your creations with an egg wash or melted butter*.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake until golden on top (times will vary based on your braiding, etc.).

Whole Wheat Pumpkin-Cranberry Muffins

Do you still have a can of pumpkin lurking in your pantry left over from Thanksgiving?  That’s really the great thing about canned food, isn’t it?  Well, I’ve got a great way for you to use it…pumpkin muffins with a healthier twist.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of ground cloves
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup buttermilk (or make your own from regular or Cholov Yisroel milk)
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
1 large egg
2/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries, chopped
1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional, hazelnuts pictured)

Preheat oven to 375°.Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and cloves well with a whisk in a medium bowl. Combine granulated sugar and remaining wet ingredients (through egg) in a large bowl; beat with a mixer until relatively smooth.  Add dry mixture to wet ingredients; beat at low speed just until combined.  Gently fold in dried cranberries. Place 12 paper muffin cup liners in muffin pan (you can spray cups and pan with cooking spray if you like).  Spoon batter into cups and top with chopped nuts if desired.  Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center.  Remove muffins from pan immediately and let cool on a wire rack.  Muffins will be dense but moist and make a great breakfast or snack.  (Note: You may fill cups more to make 9 larger muffins [what is pictured here].)

Slow-Cooker Middle Eastern Black Beans and Rice

This recipe is so easy and is best done in a slow-cooker so it’s twice as convenient.  Just dump everything in, leave it for about an hour, and you have a wonderful, hearty, and vegetarian dinner!

Ingredients:

2 cans of black beans (low-sodium, rinsed)

2 cans of chickpeas (rinsed)

1 can of medium black olives

1 cup white rice (or brown)

3-4 roma tomatoes, chopped

3 cups vegetable stock (low-sodium)

6 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small onion, chopped finely

2 tbsp paprika

1.5 tbsp cumin

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp coriander

2 tsp kosher salt

2 tbsp kosher olive oil

Cook the rice according to package instructions (typically, boil 1 cup rice in 2 cups vegetable broth for about 20 minutes) and set aside.  In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat.  Add onions and cook until just translucent.  Add garlic and paprika (heating paprika in oil brings out its flavour).  Cook just until garlic softens and then toss in tomatoes and remaining spices.  Lower heat and cook for 2-3 minutes or until tomatoes soften.  Empty pan into slow-cooker set on high.  Add remaining 1 cup of vegetable broth, rice, beans, chickpeas, and olives.  Mix well.  Reduce slow-cooker heat to low after about a half an hour.  Mixture is ready to eat when hot, but tastes better after about an hour or two in the slow-cooker on low.  I serve it with whole-grain pita and it easily feeds 4 very hungry adults.

 

Flourless Tiger’s Eye Cookies

Want to feel like you’ve got the eye of the tiger?  Try these super-easy, super-delicious cookies.

What you need:

Slightly less than 1 cup of creamy peanut butter

1 1/2 tbsp Nutella or other hazelnut spread

1 cup light brown sugar

1 egg

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Cream together the brown sugar and egg in a mixing bowl.  Once smooth, mix in the peanut butter until thoroughly combined.  Finally, drizzle the hazelnut spread over the top of the batter (you can warm it slightly first if you want to drizzle, but you will need to let it cool again before the next step).  Next, stir in the spread just slightly, being sure to maintain some of the “swirl.”  Form dough into 1″ balls and use a fork to press down the cookies in a hatch pattern on a non-greased baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes or until slightly puffy, and then let them finish on the pan on the counter for a few minutes.

These are chewy and delicious and oh-so-easy!

Fresh from the oven!

Learning to cook…take some time to find your talent

I am not a great cook.  I am a pretty good cook.  I have never been to cooking school or even spent a weekend at some expensive cooking retreat.  I’ve never even taken one of those turbo-charged classes at a certain high-end kitchen store.  My mom taught me how to make exactly five things: guacamole, chicken enchiladas, chile rellenos, meatloaf, and chicken kiev.  So how did I figure out how to cook well enough to cook my way into my husband’s heart?  The hard way.

I’m going to get on a soapbox for a moment and say that it really annoys me when people say they don’t know how to cook.  My sister says this all the time, and to be fair, she’s the kind of person who burns toast and manages to find a way to screw up scrambled eggs.  She doesn’t know how to cook because she doesn’t want to know though.  I think people who don’t know how to cook generally fall into one of about three categories: those who don’t want to learn, those who don’t have time to learn, and those who don’t need to learn.  Obviously, I don’t find any of those excuses particularly convincing.  Even if you don’t need to know how to cook (spouse cooks, private chef, etc.) or either of the other excuses, you should know how to make at least one or two things for those times when you’re in a real pinch.  Feeding yourself is a basic need after all, and I am pretty lenient about what I consider ‘knowing how to cook.’

And that’s how I learned how to cook.  I needed to learn how to cook.  When I moved out of my parents’ house at three months shy of eighteen to go to college, I never moved back.  Sure, macaroni and cheese from a box is great for a little while, but I think I was born a foodie.  I wasn’t satisfied with mediocre food from a box.  If I wanted to eat well, I was going to have to do it myself.  Unfortunately, that meant eating not-so-well until I figured it out.

Yes, I learned how to cook almost entirely through trial and error.  Well, almost.  The secret to learning something through trial and error without having a decade long learning curve is to seek out some outside resources.  With cooking, we are lucky to have a variety of resources available to us.  There are recipe websites, cookbooks, blogs (like mine), YouTube videos, and entire cable channels devoted to teaching you how to cook.  From these resources, you can learn techniques (t.v. is great for learning knife work) and maybe even more importantly, you can begin to learn what flavours work together.  You can then use these techniques and your knowledge of flavour profiles to begin to create your own dishes based on your preferences (say, creating kosher adaptations).  This is exactly how I learned how to cook.

I’ve made some pretty nasty stuff.  I made a grape-stuffed chicken that made me gag and I’ve made some of the most flavorless soups and stews that have ever had the sad opportunity to boil.  But, I kept at it.  Now, my failures are much fewer and far between (though things still don’t always work out…especially when you start talking about baking).  Come to think of it, cooking is probably the only thing I wasn’t good at right away that I didn’t quit (that’s another blog post).

I guess my whole point is that it’s not that hard.  Just try every once in awhile.  Watch 5 minutes of a cooking show here and there or read a recipe online.  Give it a chance and see what happens.  You might discover a talent you never knew you had, and it will only increase your sources of delicious food.  In the words of the lovely Ina Garten, “How bad could that be?”

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