Saturday, February 27, 2016

Asian/Italian Fusion Noodle Bowl-Dinner for One!

Robert has been flying up a storm lately and so I've been on my own for dinner.  This crazy--but delicious!--dish was tossed together from what I had in the vegetable bin and pantry.  I wasn't expecting much from it, but was absolutely delighted by the flavors.  Even the rigatoni, which I decided to use instead of some rice noodles, long pasta, or rice, made a nice chewy contrast to the broccoli and roasted mushrooms, if I do say so myself.  Maybe my low expectations of the dish helped me to enjoy it more than it deserves.  I'll make this again--and maybe next time when Robert is around!

Asian/Italian Fusion Noodle Bowl Dinner for One
4 oz. white mushrooms (about 6 medium), stemmed, cleaned and cut in half
2 large cloves of garlic (not peeled)
olive oil
1 cup (or so) of broccoli florets
1/2 cup dried cut pasta (I used rigatoni--penne or fusilli or orzo would do--as would any long pasta)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon sriracha sauce (or red pepper flakes)--optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil.  In a small bowl, toss the cut mushrooms and unpeeled garlic with about a tablespoon of olive oil--making sure that all of the mushrooms are covered with oil.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil on the cookie sheet and place the mushrooms cut side down, and add the garlic.  Roast for about 10 minutes, then turn the mushrooms and garlic and roast for about 10 minutes more--until the mushrooms are nicely browned and the garlic is very soft.

While the mushrooms and garlic are roasting, bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to package directions.  About 4 minutes before the pasta is done, add the broccoli florets so that they blanch and become a nice, pretty green. Drain the pasta and broccoli.

When the mushrooms and garlic are done, as soon as you can handle the garlic squeeze the roasted cloves into a small bowl and mash.  Add the sesame oil, soy sauce, honey, and sriracha sauce and whisk to combine well.  Toss the roasted mushrooms, pasta, and broccoli with the sauce and enjoy your meal! 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Soft Rye Pretzels with Sesame Seeds


This is another great recipe from Cooking with New York Times. The rye flour adds a nice flavor to these pretzels, but you could probably substitute whole wheat or use all white flour if you don't have any on hand.  Like any yeast bread recipe, this takes some advanced planning--about two hours all told.  We don't like salty pretzels, so I sprinkled pinch of kosher salt on top and used sesame seeds instead. I may have over done the sesame seeds, a bit--but these are really good.  Poppy seeds or, since this uses rye flour, a few caraway seeds would also be nice.  The chewy, dark crust of pretzels is made by poaching the risen and formed pretzel dough in a pot of boiling water with a hefty 1/2 cup of baking soda stirred into it.  The baking soda makes an alkaline bath that creates the browning (some recipes call for lye--no lie!). Up for a chemistry lesson?  Check out this explanation from The Salt at NPR!

Soft Rye Pretzels with Sesame Seeds
1 1/4-oz packet of yeast (I used rapid rise)
1 1/2 cups luke warm water
1 tablespoon honey
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup rye flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup baking soda
1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds
kosher salt for sprinkling on top 
Place the water in a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top.  Add the honey and stir until well combined.  Add 2 3/4ths cup all purpose flour, all of the rye flour and the salt.  With a wooden spoon, stir until all of the flour is incorporated.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10-15 minutes, sprinkling the dough lightly with the remaining 1/4 cup of flour as needed.  If the dough is really sticky, oil your hands a bit to make it easier to knead.  Oil or butter a large bowl, place the kneaded dough in, oil the top and cover with plastic or a towel and set aside to rise for about 90 minutes. (It won't double in bulk.) 

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper (or aluminum foil) and lightly oil or butter them. Divide the risen dough into 12 roughly equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll into a long rope--about 16 inches long.  To make the pretzel form, create a loop by folding the rope in half, leaving a wide loop at the top.  Twist the ends twice and then fold them up to meet the center of the loop. Spread the ends a bit and firmly press them into the dough.  As you make the pretzels, set them on the prepared cookie sheets. Let the formed pretzels rest, covered, for about 20 minutes.

While the pretzels are resting, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and arrange the oven racks to be in the center and top of the oven. Place a large pot filled with 10 cups of water on the stove and bring to a boil.  Carefully sprinkle the baking soda into the boiling water--it will bubble up a lot, so take care with this!  Working with about three pretzels at a time, carefully drop them knot side down into the boiling water and poach for 30 seconds.  Turn the pretzels and poach on the other side for another 30 seconds.  Place them on a kitchen cloth to drain briefly, then put them on the prepared cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt and sesame seeds.  Bake for about 15-16 minutes, until they're well-browned, turning the cookies once for even baking.  Serve with spicy mustard--some honey mustard would be nice!

This recipe makes 12 pretzels.  I froze six of the formed pretzels, fearing we'd eat all 12 in a day or two if I didn't.  I can't vouch for how well the dough freezes, though.  My plan will be to thaw the dough on the counter and proceed with the recipe.  I'll try to remember to report back how well this works!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Scotch-Peanut Chocolate Truffles for Valentine's Day!

My father is a Scotch connoisseur.  Lucky for him, Robert occasionally makes a trip to Scotland, and when he can, brings back a drop or two of that country's finest drink.  Dad's favorite distiller at the moment is Deanston, which makes (according to Dad) some wonderful single malt Scotches. When I saw this recipe for Scotch Peanut Chocolate Truffles by Florence Fabricant on the NY Times Cooking website and noted that they used a bit of honey, too, I knew I had to give them a try. We're not as taken with Scotch as Dad is, so I had to borrow a few tablespoons from him to make these chocolates. (Don't worry, Robert! I didn't use the good stuff!)  If you don't have Scotch, a liqueur or other distilled drink would probably work--Grand Marnier or amaretto or Chambord? Bourbon?  You might also swap out the peanuts for another kind of nut like almonds or cashews.  A slight and lovely hint of the Scotch does come through and marries well with the peanuts in the chocolate. I used milk chocolate to coat the truffles instead of the bittersweet chocolate called for in the recipe. This made what seems like a ton of truffles--about 48--that I'll be sharing with Dad and Mom. Next time I make them,  I'll likely cut the recipe in half, though.  If you have some grown up valentines, these unique truffles would be a lovely, homemade gift!

Scotch Peanut Chocolate Truffles
8 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons Scotch
6 tablespoons salted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 lb 4 ounces good quality milk chocolate, chopped into small pieces

Place the bittersweet chocolate into a heat-proof bowl.  Heat the heavy cream to a simmer and pour over the chocolate, stirring to melt.  If you need to, briefly place the bowl over a post of simmering water to melt all of the chocolate.  Stir in the honey, Scotch, nuts and vanilla.  Chill until firm.

Using a scant teaspoon, roll the chocolate into small balls about an inch in diameter.  Place them on a lined cookie sheet and then freeze for about 30 minutes, or until nice and firm.

Melt 16 ounces of the  milk chocolate (either in a pan over very low heat or in the microwave for a minute or so--being careful not to burn it).   Add the remaining 4 ounces of milk chocolate and stir to melt.  Dip the truffles into the chocolate to cover completely and place on a lined sheet. (The directions in the original recipe called for spearing the truffles with a fork and dipping them into the chocolate to coat.  That didn't seem to work for me. I plopped a few a time in the bowl, tossed them around, and then used a fork to scoop them out.)  In about 15 minutes, they'll be ready to eat.  Store in the refrigerator.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Carrot Cake Whoopie Pies

This recipe was originally published in 2004 in Gourmet Magazine, under the title "Inside Out Carrot Cake Cookies." It now appears on the Epicurious website. I made them back in the day when I subscribed to Gourmet, and am happy to have rediscovered this recipe. They're a delicious treat--and fully approved during a "taste test" at Monday night dinner with Mom and Dad (thanks, Mom & Dad!). I followed the recipe almost to the letter (just added a bit more vanilla extract) and they came out perfectly.  It may be worth taking a look at the comments of other cooks on the Epicurious website, though.  Some complained that there isn't enough flour in the dough and the cookies spread too much, so recommend adding more flour (about 1/4 cup).  Others thought that the flavors weren't that strong, so recommend increasing the amount of cinnamon.  Still others left out the raisins and/or the walnuts. We thought the flavor was great.  The filling is simply 8oz of cream cheese mixed with 1/4 cup of honey.  Whether you make these little whoopie pies or not, the honey/cream cheese filling makes a great frosting for any carrot or spice cake!

Mini Carrot Cake Whoopie Pies
1 1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp.
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar 
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla 
1 cup coarsely grated carrots
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Filling:  8 oz. cream cheese, softened and 1/4 cup honey

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and put racks in upper and lower third of the oven.  Line two baking sheets with parchment or foil and then grease the sheets well. (Some complained about the cookies sticking too much. I used cooking spray to grease the sheets and didn't have any trouble.)

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a small bowl. In a mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat for a few minutes.  Using the lowest setting on the mixer, mix in the carrots.  Add the dry ingredients and mix on low until just combined. Stir in the raisins and walnuts until just evenly distributed.

Place by generous, rounded tablespoon onto the cookie sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart and trying to make them as even as possible so they'll be easy to pair when adding the filling.  Bake for 12-16 minutes, turning the sheets once during baking to promote even browning.  The cookies should be nicely browned and the tops should spring back when lightly touched.  Cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheets then place on cooling racks and cool completely.

Blend the cream cheese and honey thoroughly.  Take one cookie, spread the flat side with a heaping tablespoon, and sandwich another cookie on top, pressing a bit so that the filling squishes to the edges.  This recipe made 13 whoopie pies, each about 3 inches in diameter.