Wednesday, October 29, 2008

cranberry bran muffins

And just like that, it's winter in New York. The fashionistas have traded in their gladiator sandals for riding boots, there is a serious chill in the air and I think it actually snowed (or at least hailed) for almost a full minute today. So I'm sure it's no surprise that I'm finding it harder than ever to crawl out of my warm cozy bed in the mornings. Which is a problem given that I have a 9am class. With a professor who takes attendance. And doesn't tolerate lateness. So you can't blame me for doing whatever it takes to get myself up and out the door. Unfortunately, for the past week or so, whatever it takes has been the promise of buying a giant banana walnut muffin with my coffee. Needless to say, both my wallet and my waistline are begging for mercy. So I needed a replacement fast--something healthier, but still good enough to make the trek across the cold bedroom floor worth it.

Enter these Cranberry Bran Muffins--good enough to get me out of bed, but healthy enough that I'm not regretting my breakfast by noon.

Cranberry Bran Muffins
Adapted from The Healthy Oven Baking Book by Sarah Phillips via Epicurious
The original recipe is available here

1 cup wheat bran
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (I used fat free)
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
1 large egg
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
a pinch each of cinnamon, allspice and cardamon
2 cups cranberries

Preheat oven to 350, and place liners in 12 muffin tins. Put cranberries in a bowl, sprinkle them with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Mix together until cranberries are coated in sugar, and set aside. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Place all of the remaining ingredients except for the cranberries in another bowl and whisk until frothy (Note: the original recipe calls for a hand mixer, but since mine was at Boyfriend's and I didn't feel like getting out the KitchenAid, I used a whisk and it turned out fine). Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the wet ingredients, and mix until just combined. Stir in half of the cranberries, and spoon batter into prepared muffin tins. Press the remaining cranberries over the tops of the muffins, and sprinkle with additional sugar, if desired. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until tops are golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Monday, October 27, 2008

vanilla buttermilk cake

I had heard so many great things about Sky High Cakes, that I was sure I had built it up too much and would be disappointed when I finally tried one out for myself. This weekend I headed down to Washington DC for my friend Colleen's birthday, and I decided that it was finally time to take the triple layer plunge. I assembled my five sticks of butter, measured out my cake flour, and prepared myself for disappointment. Well, I am happy to report that not only was I not disappointed, I was blown away. This cake was good. I mean really good. I mean the best cake I have ever made ever good. To me, cake is usually just a vehicle for the frosting, but I was surprised to find that I loved loved loved the cake part as well.

In addition to being delicious, this cake was also huge. It easily fed ten people with plenty of leftovers (perfect for snacking on the next day!) So with that, let me add yet another voice to the Sky High fan club and say, make this cake for your next celebration! Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake with Instant Fudge Frosting
Sky High Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes, by Alisia Huntsman and Peter Wynne
Recipe Available at Gigi Cakes

Monday, October 20, 2008

{twd} pumpkin muffins

When it comes to food, I am all about balance. Romaine salad for lunch, followed by red velvet cake for dessert. A three mile run, and then three slices of pizza. A plate of Swiss chard, and a glass of chardonnay. You get the idea.

So it should come as no surprise that I made two very different types of modifications to these pumpkin muffins, this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.

First, I made some changes that made these muffins a little healthier. I replaced one third of the all purpose flour with whole wheat flour, used fat free Greek yogurt instead of buttermilk, reduced the amount of butter by a couple of tablespoons, and added a little extra pumpkin.

But then, to balance all of that healthiness, I made some changes that made these more dessert like. In half of the muffins, I replaced the golden raisins with Bittersweet chocolate. In the other half, I added a cream cheese filling.

Decadent and healthy? Sounds like a perfect balance to me.

Thanks to Kelly of Sounding My Barbaric Gulp for this week's selection. You can find the recipe on her blog.

*Note: I also made a third type of modification to this recipe: the accidental kind. I was watching Gossip Girl while I mixed the batter, and I got so into watching Blair bribe her ex-boyfriend Chuck to seduce his ex-best friend Nate's ex-girlfriend Vanessa to hurt Vanessa's best friend Dan, who used to date Blair's best friend Serena, that I totally forgot to add all of the spices. Needless to say, my muffins were pretty bland, so I don't feel that I can fully attest to their fabulousness. But, they were still good, and I'm sure they'd be even better if not made while under the influence of so much drama. I blame Blair Waldorf for this one.

homemade granola

I know that it was only last week that I was telling you about my lunch rut, and I really don't want you to think I'm a total square, but I have to confess that when it comes to breakfast, I'm a bit of a one dish kind of girl as well. You see, I made this granola from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, and well, it was love at first sight. It's been a steady part of my morning routine ever since.

But wait! Before you write me off as a total bore, you should know that I do mix things up a little depending on the season. Last spring, I ate this granola with berries and Greek yogurt. When summertime came along, I mixed it with nectarines and Greek yogurt. Now that it's fall, I'm eating it with pomegranate and...well, Greek yogurt. Hmmmm maybe I'm not so interesting after all.

But I don't care. This granola is just too good to give up.

Homemade Granola
Recipe from The Barefoot Contessa, available here

Recipe Notes: I use less dried fruit than the original recipe. Ina calls for figs and cherries in addition to the apricot and cranberries, but I find that to be a little much. You can mix it up and use whatever types of fruit and nuts you like, though. Feel free to experiment!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

romaine salad with green goddess dressing

It's time to shake up my lunch routine. When it comes to dinners and sweets, I'm always up for something new. But lunches...well...lets just say that once I get fixated on a lunch I like, it could be weeks or even months until I move on to something else. For longer than I care to admit, I've been spending my lunch hour with Amy and her burritos. And while they are delicious, I've been feeling like I need to add some more veggies to my afternoons. So this weekend, after a trip to the Greenmarket, I decided to switch it up a bit. I made a quick romaine salad with chopped veggies, toasted walnuts and cheese and topped it with a Green Goddess Dressing made from ripe avocado, buttermilk, and fresh tarragon. It was tasty and satisfying, and while it's not going to keep me from my afternoon rendezvouses with Amy completely, I may be seeing a little less of her from now on.

Romaine Salad with Green Goddess Dressing
Dressing adapted From Ellie Krieger, Available Here

For the Salad
1/2 head romaine, roughly chopped
6 small radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons feta, crumbled
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

{twd} hazelnut biscotti

I never understood why anyone would choose a biscotti when they could have a regular cookie instead. Leave it to Dorie Greenspan to change my mind. Her biscotti are crunchy and flavorful, and may just be my new favorite breakfast/dessert/snack.

I made a few modifications to Dorie's recipe--I replaced the almond extract with vanilla extract, and used only half of the amount called for in the recipe. I also substituted toasted, skinned hazelnuts for the almond slices. When they were cool, I dipped half of them in bittersweet chocolate. Now I'm only going to say this once, and you'll probably never hear it from me again, but I preferred the biscotti without chocolate. The flavor is just so perfect on its own that it really doesn't need anything else--except maybe a big steaming mug of coffee to dip it in.

Tuesdays are quickly becoming my favorite day of the week! Thanks to Gretchen of Canela & Comino for this week's pick. You can find the recipe on her blog.

Monday, October 13, 2008

ratatouille tart

Last 4th of July I was out on Long Island with a friend's family, and it rained all day. We decide that our best bet for saving the day off was to go to a movie. Surprisingly, my friend, her sister and I, all in our mid-twenties, wanted to see the same thing: Ratatouille.

The theater was packed with families and small children, but we were lucky enough to find three seats together. Behind us sat a boy, about 5 or 6 years old, who was saving a seat for someone else (we presumed one of his parents). He was doing a good job of guarding their territory, until, growing impatient, he decided to venture out into the aisle to see if he could figure out what was taking his absent parent so long. In the two seconds he was away from his spot, someone else took his seats. (In their defense, they were oblivious to the fact that he had been saving them). Thankfully, there were two empty seats next to us, which we quickly offered to him. He thanked us, sat down, and then turned to me and said "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Adam. And you are?" Seriously. We followed his instruction and introduced ourselves, and quickly learned that he was indeed saving the extra seat for his mother, who was off getting him popcorn. We also learned that he had a brother who was at camp, a sister who was at home with his father, and that his favorite movie was called "Silly Movie" but that he didn't think we'd enjoy it because it "contained some bad words." Our mature little friend was then silent for a few minutes, but right before the previews started he tapped me on the shoulder. "Excuse me," he said. "But aren't you three a little old to be at this movie?" "What do you mean?" I asked, stifling a laugh. "Well," he began slowly, "This is a cartoon. It's for kids. And you guys look like you're teens. You know, as in teenagers?" I smiled and explained that even "teenagers" like a good cartoon now and then.

Suffice to say, he was the most precocious six year old any of us had ever encountered, and is no doubt destined for great things. I think that this ratatouille tart is also verging on greatness, but it's not there yet. Oh don't get me wrong, it's good. But you know the scene in the movie where Anton Ego takes his first bite of Ratatouille's ratatouille his eyes close, a smile spreads across his lips, and he is transported to another place? Well I was hoping it would be that good, but after my first taste I was still sitting wide eyed in my kitchen.

Luckily, I think that there are some pretty easy change that will make this great, if not Ratatouille sublime. First, I wasn't crazy about the Cornmeal crust, and if I make this again, I'd use a more traditional crust, or perhaps even frozen puff pastry. Second, while the original recipe instructs you to roast the vegetables until soft but not browned before putting them into the tart, I think that a longer initial roasting time would impart more flavor. Finally, I wouldn't be too concerned about the amounts of olive oil, salt and pepper called for in the recipe. Use enough oil to lightly coat the vegetables, and season until they taste right to you. And remember: Anyone can Cook!

Cornmeal Crusted Ratatouille Tart
Recipe by Ellie Krieger, Available Here

Friday, October 10, 2008

raisin swirl bread

I thought long and hard about what I wanted to eat to break my Yom Kippur fast. I was meeting a friend for a late dinner, but wanted a little something beforehand to tide me over (read: I wanted to eat first so that I wouldn't shovel the break basket into my mouth so quickly I'd scare the other diners). I considered kugel, pancakes, macaroni and cheese, and a few, less traditional options (Pinkberry anyone?) But in the end, I settled on something simple, filling, and portable enough to eat on the subway on my way to dinner: cinnamon raisin bread.

There was only one problem: I've never made bread before, and have always been slightly terrified of baking with yeast. Had this experiment gone badly, it would have gone really badly, because i would have had nothing to eat when the clock struck sundown. Lucky for me, this recipe couldn't have been easier, and my bread turned out great! It's even better the second day, and I can't wait to try it in some french toast this weekend. I see many more loaves of homemade bread in my future....

Raisin Swirl Bread
Recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Baking, From My Home to Yours

For the Bread

1 pack active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar, plus a pinch
1 1/4 cups just warm to the touch milk
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
Grated zest of 1/2 orange (optional)
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3 3/4 to 4 cups flour

For the Swirl
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)
1 cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened to a spreadable consistency

**NOTES: I used the vanilla and nutmeg, and did not use the orange zest or the cocoa. Next time, I think I'd use even more of the cinnamon/sugar mix, and maybe even add a little cinnamon to the batter. For milk, I used a combination of skim and half and half, because that was what I had on hand, and it worked just fine.

To make the bread: Put the yeast in a small bowl, toss in the pinch of sugar, and stir in 1/4 cup of the warm milk. Let rest for 3 minutes, then stir--the yeast may not have dissolved completely and it may not have bubbled, but it should be soft. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the remaining 1 cup milk, the butter and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and mix on low speed for a minute or two. Add the salt, egg and vanilla, if you are using it, as well as the zest and the nutmeg, if you're using them, and mix for a minute. In all likelihood, the mixture will look unpleasantly curdly (it will look even worse when you add the yeast). Add the yeast mixture and beat on medium-low speed for 1 minute more. Turn the mixer off and add 2 3/4 cups of the flour. Mix on low speed just until you work the flour into the liquids--you'll have a sticky mix. If you've got a dough hook, switch to it now. Add another 1 cup flour, increase the mixer speed to medium, and beat the dough or a couple of minutes. IF the dough does not come together and almost clean the sides of the bowl, add up to 1/4 cup more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Keep the mixer speed at a medium and knead the dough for about 3 minutes, or until it is smooth and has a lovely buttery sheen. The dough will be very soft, much too soft to knead by hand. Butter a large bowl, turn the dough into the bowl and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Put the bowl in a warm place and let the dough rise until it is doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Scrape the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap, wrap it and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm enough to be rolled easily. (At this point, you can instead refrigerate the dough overnight if that is more convenient.)

To make the swirl and shape the loaf: Butter a 9-x-5 inch loaf pan. Whisk together the sugar,cinnamon and cocoa, if you're using it. Check that the raisins are nice and moist; if they're not, steam them for a minute, then dry them well. Put the dough on a large work surface lightly dusted with flour, lightly dust the top of the dough and roll the dough into a rectangle about 12 x 18 inches. Gently smear 2 tablespoons of the butter over the surface of the dough--this is most easily done with your fingers. Sprinkle over the sugar mixture and scatter over the raisins. Starting from a short side of the dough, roll the dough up jelly-roll fashion, making sure to roll the dough snugly. Fit the dough into the buttered pan, seam side down, and tuck the ends under the loaf. Cover the pan loosely with wax paper and set in a warm place; let the dough rise until it comes just a little above the edge of the pan, about 45 minutes.

Getting Ready to Bake: When the dough has almost fully risen, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butte and brush the top of the loaf with the butter. Put the pan on the baking sheet and bake the bread for about 20 minutes. Cover loosely with a foil tent and bake for another 25 minutes or so, until the bread is golden and sounds hollow when the bottom of the pan is tapped. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes, then unmold. Invert the bread and cool to room temperature right up on the rack.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

{twd} caramel hazelnut topped brownie cake

I wasn't going to make this cake. I did everything in my power to keep myself from making this cake. You see, after the Apple Cake, and the White Chocolate Cookies, and the Snickerdoodles and the Molasses Cookies (I had to taste them before I sent them to the soldiers to make sure they were okay!) I was feeling like I was on a bit of a perpetual sugar high. But then I saw this and this and this, and all of the other beautiful pictures of this amazingly delicious looking dessert, and I decided that I just could not resist.

Big Mistake. For me, this week's Tuesday with Dorie turned into a Tuesday Disaster. It started out simply enough--I made the cake first, and decided that as a concession to my healthier side, I would just do 1/3 of a batch. Instead of baking it in a springform pan as recommended by Dorie, I made cupcakes. Then, it was on to the caramel. This is when things started getting dicey. I've successfully made caramel before, but today was just not my day. I burned the first batch, setting off the smoke alarm. Undeterred, I set out on a second batch. Everything was going smoothly until I miscalculated when dividing the heavy cream in three (I was never very good at algebra, okay?) and added way too little. Or at least I think that's what happened. Because about three seconds after taking my caramel off the stove, it was hard as a rock.

Yup that caramel is so hard that it is standing up by itself. I must say that the little caramel I was able to taste before it hardened was delicious, and the cake was good, too, so I'm sure that under normal circumstances, this is a great recipe. This week's pick was by Tammy of Wee Treats for Tammy, and you can find the recipe here.

Here's hoping that next week will be more successful!

Monday, October 6, 2008

operation baking gals: cookies galore

I know, I know....more cookies? But these are for a good cause--I swear! All of these Snickerdoodles and Molasses Cookies are being mailed off to Afghanistan as a part of the Operation Baking Gals project, which provides US soldiers stationed abroad with cookies.

You can read more about this great program here.

Recipe from Emeril Live

Molasses Cookies
Recipe from Gourmet

Sunday, October 5, 2008

autumn panzanella, redux

Last week, Boyfriend and I went to dinner at Da Silvano. As usual, I had an awful time figuring out what I wanted to order. You see, I suffer from a common yet debilitating condition known as menu paralysis. Here are the symptoms of a typical attack: 1) I peruse the menu for several minutes, systematically narrowing my potential order down to a few different options 2) Unable to make a final decision, I quiz everyone else at the table on what they are ordering, and what they think I should eat. Arugula and pear salad with seared scallops or tuna burger? Butternut squash soup or fettuccine? 3) The waiter comes. Paralyzed, I let everyone else go first 4) My turn. I panic, and blindly select something from the menu. Nine times out of ten, my choice is something I hadn't even considered before it came out of my mouth. 5) I regret my order immediately, suddenly sure that the only thing I want is whatever I did not select. Sometimes, the attack is mild, and disappears as soon as my food arrives at the table. Other times, it is more serious and even as I'm enjoying my sauteed salmon, I'm wishing that it was spaghetti carbonara. On this particular evening, I was debating between grilled shrimp, and pazanella. "I just don't want to make the wrong decision," I explained to Boyfriend. "Well there really is no wrong decision when you're deciding what to eat," explained Boyfriend patiently, "because you always get a do-over at your next meal. If you're wishing you had picked something different, you can always have it then." Satisfied, I went with the grilled shrimp.

Big mistake. It wasn't that the shrimp wasn't good, because it was. It was just that from the second it landed in front of me, all I could think about was the panzanella. So imagine my delight and surprise when I opened the Dining section of the New York Times the next morning to find a recipe for the very thing I was craving. I could have my panzanella do-over right away! Little did I know, I would soon need a do-over from my do-over. You see, this was not an ordinary panzanella. It was an autumn themed dish, with butternut squash, pear, and....sun dried tomato? The combination of fruit and sun dried tomatoes sounded strange to me, but I was blinded by my panzanella craving and decided to proceed with the recipe. Besides, who was I to argue with the palate of the Dining Section?

Well, apparently someone smart enough to know that oil packed tomatoes and fall fruits do not go together. While it wasn't awful, it really wasn't great, either. In defense of the recipe, I did make some changes that may have added to the discord in flavor (I skipped the capers and substituted apple for pear). Regardless, this languished in my refrigerator for a few days until I threw it out. But I couldn't help feeling that it deserved another try, so I decided on yet another do-over. This time, I omitted the sun dried tomatoes, roasted the ingredients instead of blanching them, made a quick dressing, and changed up the herbs and spices.

The result? I finally got exactly what I wanted. It only took me a week and three tries.

Autumn Panzanella
Loosely adapted from The New York Times

3 cups butternut squash, cubed
2 cups cauliflower florets
3 small pears, thinly sliced
1/2 vadalia onion, sliced
3 cups of days old multi-grain bread, cubed
6 T olive oil, divided
2 T apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
juice of 1/2 a large orange
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
1 heaping tsp dark brown sugar

Preheat oven to 400. Toss the butternut squash, cauliflower, pears and onions with 3 Tbsp olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange on parchment lined baking sheets and roast for about 40 minutes, until the squash is soft and the cauliflower is beginning to brown (note: the onions and pears may cook quicker than the squash and cauliflower, so I suggest cooking them on a separate baking sheet). Toss the breadcrumbs with 1 Tbsp olive oil, and a pinch each of cumin and cinnamon. Arrange on a baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes, or until golden. Set components aside. Meanwhile, make dressing. Combine vinegar, orange juice, brown sugar, and thyme in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil. When ingredients have cooled slightly, place in a large bowl and toss with the dressing. Serve warm.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

an apple a day

Last weekend, Boyfriend and I went to Newport, Rhode Island. We had a great time, but it poured rain. The entire weekend. Thankfully, we found lots of fun indoor things to do there like touring old mansions and visiting museums. But, on Sunday, when the weather finally seemed to be letting up, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. As soon as the clouds cleared, Boyfriend and I hopped in the car, and headed to Sweet Berry Farms, where you can pick your own fruits and veggies.

That day, they were picking apples, peaches, and pumpkins. We headed into the barn to pre-purchase the bags we would need to haul our loot. "Do you prefer apples or peaches?" asked the woman behind the counter. I looked up, paralyzed. "Um, um...." I stammered, beginning to panic. Which did I want? The apples were sure to be fantastic, but how could I pass up one last chance for stone fruit before the season ended? "I think we're going to need one of each," said Boyfriend, eying me with amusement.

We headed out into the orchard.....and it started to pour. Again.

Undeterred, we filled our bags with Empire, Jonagold, Macoun and Macintosh apples, as well as the peaches before running back to the barn for cover. We didn't get to enjoy the orchards as long as we would have liked, but I returned home with enough apples to last me for weeks.

First, I made a nubby apple cake with an amazingly high apples to dough ratio, making it perfect for breakfast, a snack or dessert.

Next, I made a quick apple sauce that will be delicious on yogurt, with granola or as an ice cream topping...if it lasts that long--I've already eaten a whole bowl full right out of the pot.

Nubby Apple Cake

3 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
1 cup sugar (next time I would reduce to 2/3)
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups chopped apples

Preheat oven to 350. Beat butter and sugar. Add egg and mix well. Sift together dry ingredients and add to wet ones. Fold in vanilla and apples. There will be more apples than dough at this point. Press dough into greased 8 x 8 square pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden.

Apple Sauce
Adapted from Elise at Simply Recipes

6-8 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
4 strips of lemon peel
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 cup water
2 cinnamon sticks

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 45-60 minutes. Remove lemon peel and cinnamon sticks. Let cool, and mash with a potato masher, fork, or whisk.