Friday, June 5, 2020

Sweet & Spicy Beef Lettuce Wraps

In our household we call this "Korean Beef" because it reminds us of flavors we love in actual Korean food, but "Sweet and Spicy Beef" is absolutely more accurate. Or perhaps Americanized Pan-Asian-Flavored Beef With Plenty of Gochujang But Also Sriracha and Hoisin, but then you start to feel bad about leaving out ingredients.

Semantics aside, this is one of the meals we go back to again and again. And again. It's totally crave-inducing (spicy chili paste plus brown sugar plus tangy rice vinegar plus browned-almost-blackened beef!), it's economical, and it's quick. Quick as in, a 30 minute meal that is ACTUALLY a 30 minute meal. And if you cook the rice and mix up the sauce ahead of time, dare I say you could throw this together in closer to fifteen (15!) minutes. That's 900 seconds.

Wrapped in cool and crunchy butter lettuce is my favorite setting for this tangy beef, but of course it's delicious in a tortilla or flatbread too. (Watch this space for homemade tortillas, which I've been making weekly during Covid!)

Assuming you venture out for the butter lettuce, definitely scope out an avocado too. Obviously we can't say the avo is a required topping, but it adds a LOT of points for taste and texture.

Just after adding sauce to cooked ground beef

5-10 minutes later, deeply browned and caramelized beef

Per my pro tip above, you can combine the sauce ingredients ahead of time and just keep it in the fridge until you're ready to make dinner. After cooking a pound of ground beef in a skillet, you add the sauce and crank the heat up. I don't want to tell you to burn anything, but also, what's the worst that can happen? (Okay, fires. Don't actually start a fire.) The brown sugar will help caramelize the beef and create a deeply browned crust. You'll deglaze the pan just before serving to scrape up all that browned goodness.

Ingredient Notes

Let's talk toppings. Pictured above is my favorite combo to complement the beef (there's a bit more detail on the rice, cabbage, and mayo below the recipe):
- Coconut rice
- Quick-pickled red cabbage
- Avocado
- Carrot (I buy pre-shredded carrots and I love them. I just can't achieve that matchstick shape at home!)
- Sriracha mayo
- Sesame seeds
- Scallions (I really am fairly sure these are in there somewhere, just not visible)

The toasted sesame oil definitely adds flavor here, but if you don't have it just use olive oil. Same goes for seasoned rice vinegar - you should totally get some! - but if you don't have it, sub in a white wine vinegar. 

The gochujang is really the only thing in this recipe that is actually Korean; it's a sweet and spicy chili paste used as a ubiquitous condiment in Korean cuisine. It's pretty easy to find (the not-so-robust "Asian" aisle in my local Hannaford carries it, so I'm assuming it's available at most grocery stores) and will last for ages in your fridge, so I recommend picking some up. But if you proceed without it, I would use sriracha (but probably not as much, depending on your spice tolerance - it is hotter than the gochujang I buy) and 1-2 additional Tbsp of brown sugar.

I didn't set out to write a paragraph about lettuce but here we are. Butter lettuce (aka Butterhead; Boston and Bibb are varieties) has a soft leaf with a crunchy spine. Hands down this is my choice for lettuce wraps, as it's pliable but has enough structure to hold fillings. Plus the leaves tend to be large and round (like a tortilla!), very handy for tacos. You could make something closer to a lettuce "boat" using Romaine, but I just don't think that's as fun. You can often find Butter lettuce in a "live" head at the grocery store, meaning the cluster of roots is still attached, which will stay crisp in your fridge for a few days. (If I can only find it without the roots I try to eat it the same day as it tends to wilt pretty quickly.)
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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Spicy Peanut Cabbage Salad

So last week I announced that the Blog Was Back in Town, Instagram pals want recipes, I've got free time, etc. etc. And to christen this re-born site, I brought you a really beautiful loaf of bread. It truly was too beautiful and too soft not to share, but now that I've gotten that out of my system, how about something that might actually be useful to you?

Ramen Noodle Salad had its 15 minutes of Pinterest fame a couple years ago, so you can find endless variations of this dish with a quick Google search. Don't write it off as a silly food fad, though—this one's a keeper:

  • With protein add-ins like tofu, chicken, and/or edamame, this is a filling meal (even for those of us who shed a melodramatic tear at the idea of Salad For Dinner) and is easily made vegetarian or vegan

  • If you aren't already on the cabbage train, get on board! Cabbage makes an amazing salad base (and more) and will stay fresh in your fridge for a couple weeks—making it especially handy if you are only grocery shopping every 10+ days. Plus, a single head of cabbage goes a shockingly long way, making it a cost-effective staple.

  • Remember when we used to pack lunches? Eventually we will again, and this is a perfect make-ahead lunch in a jar. The dressed salad is good for days; just pack the noodles and nuts separately if you want them to stay crunchy (or keep them mixed in if you still like them soft, like I do!)

  • This. Spicy. Peanut. Dressing. is amazing here but goes so far beyond salads. I use it as a dip for dumplings, a marinade for chicken, a glaze on salmon... Seriously, if you're not feeling this salad, just make the dressing and put it on something/anything.

Ingredient Notes

Protein: I like this salad with tofu but it's great with chopped or shredded chicken breasts or thighs, too. I've also omitted the tofu and served it with a filet of salmon on top (with extra peanut dressing brushed on the salmon while broiling).

Speaking of tofu: I like to buy pre-baked tofu blocks as a time saver, eliminating draining and baking the tofu prior to browning in a skillet. Trader Joe's sells baked tofu in two flavor profiles (sriracha and teriyaki) and I love both. Either can be used in this salad to punch up the flavor, but unflavored will work fine too as the dressing packs its own punch. If using unbaked tofu, definitely get an extra firm variety. Here's a helpful post on draining and baking it.

Nuts!: Almonds, peanuts, cashews all work here. I used salted almonds, so if using an unsalted nut, you may want to sprinkle a little salt on prior to toasting in the oven.

Cabbage: I could continue to extol this humble crucifer (e.g. slow-caramelized cabbage spun into mac and cheese!) but I'll save that for another day. I find slicing cabbage really thin with a good knife to be therapeutic, but you could also use a mandoline, the slicing blade in a food processor, or just buy a package of "slaw mix" which will likely include the carrot, too! One medium head of cabbage sliced thin will yield 8 cups (!), give or take.

Optional Mix-Ins: Use whatever you like! I usually make this with edamame to bump up the protein content; Trader Joe's (often) sells a really handy package of frozen, shelled soybeans. I also like adding slivered yellow and/or red bell peppers for visual interest and more textural variety.

Fridge Door Items: Soy sauce and sriracha are must-haves, but I also highly recommend stocking hoisin sauce and seasoned rice vinegar. They are easily found in most grocery stores (although your local Asian market could probably use some love right now) and will keep for a long time. If you are going to omit them, sub in an additional teaspoon of soy sauce plus a tablespoon of brown sugar for the hoisin, and try lime juice or white wine vinegar for the rice vinegar.

Stop the (Garlic) Presses: We can all agree that traditional garlic presses are SUPER annoying, right? For minced garlic I either use a knife or this ingenious garlic "rocker", but when I'm using uncooked garlic (most often in salad dressings), I grate the clove using a microplane or zester, which guarantees the garlic will be evenly distributed and mitigates the sharp, raw taste.

What other tasty mix-ins am I forgetting? Should we try a spicy peanut cocktail next? Let me know.

Spicy Peanut Cabbage Salad
Makes 2 large entree salads or 4 side salads

Salad Ingredients (* see notes above)
  • 1 package baked tofu* (7-10 ounces)
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 package ramen noodles
  • 1/3 cup sliced or chopped almonds*
  • 4 cups shredded cabbage* (purple or green or a mix of the two)
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 3-4 green onions, light and dark green parts, sliced
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
  • Optional mix-in ideas: sliced bell pepper, cooked edamame, shredded broccoli, mandarin orange slices—if it sounds good to you and you have it on hand, toss it in!
  • Optional garnish: additional sesame seeds and/or green onions, a squeeze of lime juice
Dressing Ingredients (* see notes above)
  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp hoisin sauce*
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar*
  • 1 tsp fish sauce (omit to make vegan)
  • 1-4+ tsp sriracha, to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, grated* or minced (or 1/2 tsp garlic powder)
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated (or 1 tsp dried ginger)
  • Water, to thin as needed


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Slice tofu into small, bite-sized pieces. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat sesame oil until it shimmers. Add tofu and brown on all sides. To minimize sticking, first make sure all the pieces of tofu are coated in oil and then let them brown for 2 minutes, undisturbed, before flipping them, to allow a crust to form. Continue until most pieces are evenly browned and remove from pan onto a paper towel-lined plate.

Break up ramen noodles into bite-sized pieces; place noodles and chopped almonds on a baking pan. (Discard ramen seasoning packet or save it for a rainy day!) Toast in the 400F oven for 7-10 minutes until starting to brown, stirring once or twice during the baking time. Remove from oven and set aside.

To make dressing, combine peanut butter, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, fish sauce, and sriracha (start with a smaller amount), garlic, and ginger in the bowl of a small food processor. Process until smooth. Taste, and add more sriracha for more spice and/or more soy sauce for more salt. At this point it should be an ideal dip consistency. To thin, add water gradually and process to combine, about 1-2 tablespoons for salad dressing. (And of course you don't need a food processor, although it makes it easier! If whisking by hand, gradually add one liquid at a time into the peanut butter in order to blend everything smoothly.)

In a large bowl, combine cabbage, carrots, green onions, noodles, almonds, tofu, sesame seeds, and any other mix-ins you have. Toss with dressing and garnish with more scallions and sesame seeds; serve with a lime wedge for squeezing!

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Japanese Milk Bread

Okay. So. 

Here we are, (almost precisely) 4 years since my last post. Which apparently was the sole, sad, lonely post of 2016. Maybe I was busy-ish back then, leaving the house on mere whims for things like jobs and social gatherings?

Who can remember. But here we are, mid-pandemic, "busy" being a cute, nostalgic concept for some of us, and there has never been a more apropos time to throw some content on a cooking/crafting blog. Yes, I can now take photos during the day to capture natural light. No, I probably won't after today, but at least free digital photo editing tools have made some strides since 2016.

What else could I possibly choose for my Homecoming 2020 post other than bread?? To quote one of the greats, I LOVE BREAD, and apparently during this pandemic, everyone is baking it! Luckily for me, I regularly buy yeast in 1/2 pound blocks, so (for now), I am unscathed by yeast scarcity. Assuming I post any further content on this blog, I will include some sort of yeast-less carb option for the less fortunate; in the meantime, I am hopping on this Covid-Wagon and showing off my risen riches.

I generally bake some sort of bread weekly (my go-to is this one hour or less skillet focaccia) but I rarely bake sandwich loaves. A) I have an obsession with Martin's Potato Bread (which is seemingly and heinously not available in Maine - !! - but Pepperidge Farm is an acceptable substitute) and B) most of my past attempts, while objectively decent, have been a little too "hearty" for my tastes as I prefer a very soft and slightly sweet bread for sandwiches.

Enter the Tangzhong Method.

I really don't know why I waited this long to try it out--I have read about this method for creating soft loaves and rolls for years, and I know from experience that Japanese bakeries have the BEST bread. For some reason it took a stay-at-home order to take the leap.

In a nutshell, the Tangzhong method is a Chinese technique (adapted and globally popularized by Japanese bakers) that starts with a small mixture of flour and liquid (water or milk), cooked together to form a paste, then added to the remainder of the flour and liquid once cooled. I don't fully understand the science here (follow the King Arthur link above for more info), but the liquid in that initial paste is kind of "trapped" in the dough, which leads to easier kneading, higher rising, and a finished product that is soft and stays softer longer.

The Tangzhong method can be used in any yeast dough but is especially popular for sandwich breads and soft rolls. (I'm itching to try cinnamon rolls with it.) Shaping the dough into multiple coils in a loaf pan is the traditional way to make Hokkaido, or Japanese milk bread, creating a pretty loaf and encouraging sky-high rising during baking. 

Above -> dough after first rise, shaped and fitted into  a 9"x5" loaf pan.

Below -> dough after second rise, brushed with an egg wash right before going into the oven.

A couple notes on bread-making ingredients:

Yeast: I exclusively use instant yeast (sometimes labeled Bread Machine yeast or RapidRise). I find it simpler to use than Active Dry, it tends to come in larger quantities (no little packets), and it's never let me down. When using instant yeast, you add it with the dry ingredients (no blooming in warm liquid first). The only risk here is that you won't know if your yeast is dead, as you don't have the initial visible activation as an indicator. That being said, I store my yeast in the freezer for 6+ months and have never had a dud. Active dry yeast will work just as well in this recipe (and in the same amounts). The recipe below includes how and when to add either.

Liquid: Even when using instant yeast, which doesn't require "blooming" in warm liquid, the liquid (in this case, milk) in the dough should be warm, about 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don't feel like taking an exact temperature, I always use the "baby's bathwater" test - meaning, could I safely submerge a baby in this temperature? (Disclaimer, I don't have an actual baby.) Just keep in mind it shouldn't be too hot, which can kill the yeast. I recommend taking an exact temperature if you're new to yeast baking, then going forward you'll know what 108 degrees should feel like.

Measuring: Because measuring in volume (measuring cups) can vary a lot, I measure by weight whenever possible using a digital kitchen scale (this also saves dishes because you can just set your mixing bowl directly on the scale and spoon in ingredients). If you don't have a scale and are using measuring cups, use a fork or scoop to "fluff" flour up so it is not densely packed, then spoon lightly into a measuring cup and level it off. (Most "professional" recipe sites also encourage this method and thus their cups should more or less equal my cups, or 120-125 grams of flour per cup. If you dip a measuring cup into a bag of flour and scoop it out by packing it into the cup you'll end up with considerably more flour!)

Corona Note: Due to this bread-making boom, flour is also in short supply. I've noticed that my grocery stores now have ample stocks of all-purpose flour after the initial rush, but are still out of bread flour. You can make bread with AP flour, but it won't be as good - the higher gluten content in bread flour is key not only for chewiness (think bagels or pizza crust) but for rising, as it adds structure to the dough. Don't despair though - if your Whole Foods is out of bread flour like mine is, they may still be stocking pure, unadulterated gluten. Vital Wheat Gluten (look in the Bob's Red Mill section in the baking aisle) can be added to all-purpose flour to create bread flour; the precise amount varies depending on the gluten content of the AP flour you have (King Arthur, for instance, has more gluten than Pillsbury) but you'll probably use between 1/2 Tbsp and 1 Tbsp per cup of flour. Here's a better guide. And if can't get/don't want vital wheat gluten, just use the regular flour and count your blessings because you have yeast.

Speaking of rising, look at this beautiful loaf fresh out of the oven! See that dark-colored dent on its second hump? That's a battle scar from rising so high that it ran into the broiler--don't be like me; make sure to position a rack in the center of the oven.

And in case you didn't know, Japanese Milk Bread + Egg Salad are best buds. A loaf and a batch would make an amazing week of lunches, but this bread doesn't need much to keep it company. A toasted slice with a drizzle of honey is an A+ breakfast in my book.

Other serving suggestions? Favorite memories of Japanese bakeries from the Before Times? Leads on where to buy Martin's Potato Bread in Maine? Let me know. 

Japanese Milk Bread
Makes 1 loaf
Recipe adapted from Dessert First

Ingredients (* see notes above)
  • 3 cups bread flour*, divided (375g)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup milk, ideally whole, lukewarm*
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar (60g)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp instant yeast or 1 packet active dry yeast*
  • 1 large egg, plus 1 egg for egg wash
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
    If using salted butter, decrease salt in recipe to 1/2 tsp

1. To make the tangzhong, combine 30 grams or 1/4 cup of the bread flour with the water in a small saucepan. Over medium-low heat, whisk water and flour continuously until it thickens into a paste. This will take a few minutes but then will thicken very quickly, so don't leave it unattended. Transfer the tangzhong (flour paste) to a small bowl to let it cool to room temperature.

If using instant yeast:
2a. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine warm milk, sugar, and salt. With the paddle attachment, mix to dissolve sugar and salt. Add the remaining flour (345g or 2.75 cups) and instant yeast. (Now skip to step 3.)

If using active dry yeast:
2b. In a small bowl, combine 1 Tbsp of the sugar, 1 packet of active dry yeast, and warm milk. Stir briefly and let sit at room temperature until the yeast "blooms" and the mixture is bubbly. This should take between 5-10 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the remaining flour (345g or 2.75 cups), remaining sugar, and salt and mix with the paddle attachment to combine. Once the yeast mixture has bloomed, add this to the mixer.

3. Add the tangzhong and the egg to the mixture. Mix on medium speed until a it mostly comes together into a soft and sticky dough, about 8-10 minutes. It will still be too sticky to handle at this point but should mostly be formed into one mass with only traces of dough on the sides of the bowl.

4. Switch to a dough hook attachment. Cut the butter into 6-8 pieces and add to the mixture. Beat the dough with the hook attachment on medium speed for another 10 minutes. The butter should be incorporated after the first minute or two. After 10 minutes you should have a smooth and tacky dough ball; if it's too sticky to handle, beat for another 3-5 minutes. If it's still too sticky at this point, add a Tbsp of flour and knead for a couple more minutes. The goal is to end up with a ball of dough that doesn't stick to everything but without adding too much flour, which will create a denser loaf.

5. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer dough ball to bowl, lightly coating the dough with oil to keep it from drying out. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let the dough proof until it is puffy and has doubled in size, which will take between 30-60 minutes depending on the temperature of your kitchen. My kitchen is cold, so I turn my oven on to 225F and place the bowl on top of the stove. (My oven leaks a LOT of heat so this creates a very warm environment.) Alternatively, you can preheat your oven to "warm" or the lowest temperature setting while your mixer is kneading the dough. Once it has preheated, turn the oven OFF, then when it's time to proof your dough, place it in the off but warm oven (kitchen towels and plastic wrap will be perfectly fine in there). 

6. Once the dough has doubled in size, divide into 4 equal pieces (you can use a scale to measure or just eyeball it). Roll each piece into a ball and place them back into the oiled bowl; cover and let rest on the counter for 15 minutes.

7. Grease a 9"x5" loaf pan. Lightly flour or grease a rolling pin and rolling surface and roll out one ball of dough into a long oval, roughly 9" long by 6" wide. Fold one long side into the middle, then fold the opposite long side into the middle, resulting in a long rectangle (ish) that is 9" long by 3" wide. (These measurements are rough approximations just to help illustrate the folding.) Roll lightly over the rectangle to flatten it slightly. Then, starting at a short end, roll up into a spiral, like a fat Ho-Ho. Place seam side down on one end of the loaf pan (spirals facing the long sides of the pan).

8. Repeat with remaining 3 balls of dough and arrange evenly in loaf pan (see photos above for reference.)

9. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again until the dough spirals are approximately even with the top edge of the pan, about 30-45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350F toward the end of this second rise and position a rack in the middle of the oven with plenty of space above it (and if your dough is proofing in the oven, take it out first!).

10. Whisk an egg with a tablespoon or water, milk, or cream to use as an egg wash. Remove plastic wrap and brush dough evenly with egg wash. (If you don't have another egg to spare, you can use cream or melted butter. The top won't get as golden brown but it will still be delicious.) You'll have egg wash leftover - save it for scrambled eggs, or dredge chicken cutlets in it before coating with breadcrumbs, which is what I did with mine!

11. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until top is golden brown and the bread feels firm to the touch. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then carefully turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

French Silk Peanut Butter Tarts

When I was a kid (and to this day), my dad made delicious home-baked treats for all occasions. Pies, cakes, brownies, cookies, the gamut. So you'd think I would have shunned any grocery store freezer section attempts at dessert. But, while I delighted in my homemade from scratch Decadent Chocolate Birthday Bundt Cake each year, my 7-year-old palate also craved the simpler things in life. In this case, Sara Lee's frozen French Silk Pie.

I mean, nobody doesn't like Sara Lee, right?

But I've matured (a bit). While I still cannot resist the creamy consistency of a French silk pie filling, I can skip the ice crystals in the whipped "cream".

This is adapted from a tried-and-true recipe - Pioneer Woman's French Silk Pie - but, BUT, with a few key changes:

1. I love a pastry crusted cream pie, but for some reason I just had to have the crumbly Oreo version (or in this case, Trader Joe's Jo-Jo version) this time around for extra chocolate-y goodness. So, pick your poison. As we approach warmer weather (I think?), an advantage of the cookie crust is that you don't have to bake anything/approach your oven.

2. These, as you can see, are mini. Because, in addition to Sara Lee, who doesn't like an individually portioned dessert? (I use this pan, which releases beautifully. If you are sadly not in possession of mini tart pans, this recipe would also work in a standard shallow 9" tart pan.)

3. Don't think I was going to forget to mention. This tart is topped with peanut butter whipped cream. And, I don't mind saying, this is a game changer. So easy to whip up, and takes this already luxurious dessert up a notch for us Reese's lovers.

And if deliciousness alone isn't enough reason to make these, they are also the perfect dessert for company - no baking, and you make them ahead of time to chill in the fridge, so no fuss after dinner.

French Silk Peanut Butter Tarts
Makes 4 mini (4") tarts or 1 shallow 9" tart

  • 16 Oreos or Jo-Jos
  • 3 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

  • 2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, cold*

  • 1 cup heavy cream, cold
  • 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 oz semisweet chocolate, for garnish (optional)

For crust: pulse cookies and salt in a food processor until they're fine crumbs. Add melted butter and process until incorporated; it should be the texture of wet sand.

Divide crust mixture evenly between mini tart pans; press firmly with greased fingers and/or a metal measuring cup to form around sides. Chill for at least 30 minutes before adding filling.

(While making the crust, chill your mixing bowl in the freezer.)

For filling: melt baking chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, stirring in between short increments so you don't scorch it. When fully melted, set aside to cool.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar in the chilled bowl until creamy, at least one minute. Add cooled chocolate and vanilla extract; mix until thoroughly combined.

Change out your paddle attachment for the whisk. Add one cold egg and beat with whisk attachment for 5 minutes on medium speed. Scrape down the bowl; add second egg, and repeat. Don't rush this! The slow and thorough addition of cold eggs is what will make it smooth and creamy.
*I should perhaps have pointed out earlier that French Silk Pie includes uncooked eggs. This isn't something I worry about, but if it worries you, you could try pasteurizing your eggs, skipping this recipe, or throwing caution to the wind.
After a full 10 minutes of incorporating the eggs, the filling should be smooth, creamy, and, yes, silky. Divide into 4 chilled cookie crusts, smooth tops, and return to refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
I made my whipped cream and topped the tarts just before serving, as it's a very quick step, but you could do this in advance as well. I add 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar to help stabilize whipped cream if preparing in advance.
For peanut butter cream:wash out your mixing bowl and return to freezer to chill for 15 minutes or so. When cold, combine heavy cream, peanut butter, and powdered sugar, and whip with whisk attachment until tripled in size and fluffy.

Spoon whipped cream onto tarts for a more rugged look, or pipe with a large decorating tip (or zip loc bag). Garnish with grated or peeled chocolate.
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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sweet Potato-Sage Scones with Spicy Cherry Jam

Yesterday was the first day of autumn, and, for once, Boston weather is adhering to the schedule. Seemingly overnight we swapped beach days for crisp, cool mornings, and glimpses of orange leaves are popping up all over my neighborhood. And I. Will. Take it.

I know plenty of my fellow New Englanders are still reeling from Snowmageddon '15, but we had a beautiful, long summer, and I'm tired of sweating, and of not eating pumpkins, sweet potatoes, or squash on the regular.

So let's start with breakfast! Sweet potato and sage (the one part of my herb garden that shows no sign of giving up as we enter fall) are always a sure bet to pair together, and this not-quite-sweet, not-quite-savory scone is no exception. I like to cut my dough into mini scones (these bake up to about 3 inches long), which makes them perfect for a quick snack or for breakfast, downed in sets.

Oh also, let's talk about this jam. It is a little sweet, a little tart, and ends with a little heat thanks to some cayenne pepper. And it's seriously delicious - it shines on these scones, but works just as well as part of a cheese board (brie, meet cherry jam) or even on a kicked-up PB&J. And it's also seriously easy - we're not talking an all-weekend canning experience, just a quick boil and stir to get everything mixed up.

Cook's notes: I used sweet potato as I had one to use up, but feel free to sub in canned pumpkin if you have it handy. The resulting taste will be quite similar. Along the same lines, sour cream will work just as well for the yogurt; I have used both in this recipe and tasted no difference. Fat-free Greek yogurt helps keep the calories down, if you're into that kind of thing.

And finally, I find that while cooking with pumpkin or sweet potato makes baked goods very moist and can serve as an egg replacement (as in this recipe), it also seems to necessitate a longer baking time. Keep an eye them, but you may find they need up to 5 minutes more in the oven, depending on your appliance.

Also to keep in mind: this a fabulous base recipe for scones, which I have adjusted for all sorts of flavor combinations. Without the sweet potato, add one egg to the wet ingredients, and then play around! Two of my other favorites are dried cherry/chocolate chips and lemon/fresh rosemary.

Sweet Potato-Sage Scones
Makes 16 mini scones
  • 1/2 cup Greek non-fat yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup chilled butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup pureed, cooked sweet potato (1 small potato)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh sage, chopped

Spicy Cherry Jam
Yield: ~1 cup
  • 1/2 pound fresh or frozen tart cherries, pitted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • Pinch salt

For scones:

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a small bowl, mix baking soda into yogurt. Let sit for 5 minutes while you prep other ingredients - it will get fluffy as the baking soda activates.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and pumpkin pie spice. Cut in chilled butter with a pastry blender or two knives until all of the butter is pea-sized or smaller.

With a fork, mix yogurt mixture, sage, and sweet potato into the flour/butter mixture. The dough will be quite shaggy. Empty onto a floured counter and knead with your hands a few times so it comes together into a (still a bit shaggy) dough ball.

Divide dough into two discs, each roughly 5 inches in diameter by 1 inch thick. With a large knife, pizza cutter, or bench scraper, cut each disc into 8 wedges. Using the bench scraper or a spatula, transfer the wedges to a parchment or silicone-lined baking sheet, leaving about an inch between each scone.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, until tops of scones are ever-so-slightly browned.

For jam:

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and mashing cherries as they soften.

Once boiling, cook until thickened, at least 5 minutes. Depending on how much your cherries have broken down, you could use an immersion blender to smooth it out (I did).

Remove from heat, cool to room temperature, and store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for a week or two.
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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Cider Smash

August, man.

It sneaks up on us all, right? I'm pretty much an autumnophile, so I welcome the cooler temps and fall colors every September, but still, each August I feel like I'm scrambling to complete my summer bucket list.

So today we check off a cold cocktail over crushed ice from that list, all the while savoring whiskey and cider, fall favorites.

(And, while we're on the topic, I'm savoring anything in these amazing tumblers, a spot-on birthday present from my friend Kase!)

We picked up this bottle of Citizen Cider during a recent trip to Vermont. Their "B Cider" is sweetened with honey from bees in their apple orchards - a concoction I definitely couldn't resist.

I had Bulleit Rye on hand, but your go-to bourbon would be the perfect base for this cocktail. It's reminiscent of a classic whiskey smash (hence the name), but with fizzy apple cider replacing the mint. Really, a perfect summer-meets-fall drink.

And if you happen to have adorable bunches of champagne grapes on hand, they looked divine as a garnish and were refreshing and boozy as a post-drink dessert. (But if not, a twist of lemon in the summer or a slice of apple in the fall would be swell.)

Cider Smash
makes 1 cocktail

  • 1.5 oz Rye or bourbon whiskey
  • .75 oz Fresh lemon juice 
  • .75 oz Simple syrup
  • 1 oz Hard cider
  • Crushed ice
  • Champagne grapes (or a twist of lemon) to garnish

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake well to combine, then strain into tumblers filled with crushed ice. Top with cider, and garnish with the fruit of your choice.
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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sweet Potato + Pancetta Risotto

This is a 100% autumnal recipe, but when you're faced with a single aging sweet potato and an overflowing herb garden in the middle of July, you go with the flow. So feel free to wait until September to make this sweet and savory risotto, but I promise that your taste buds won't mind if you jump the gun like I did!

I use Alton Brown's recipe as my base for risotto; I think the key parts are sauteeing the rice with garlic and onion before adding liquid and combining the wine and broth from the beginning - this prevents all the flavor in the wine from cooking off by the time the risotto is done. And, in my experience, jasmine rice works just fine if you don't have arborio (aka when Trader Joe's has decided not to stock it that week).

So hold off for fall, or serve this up now with some seared scallops and farmers market veggies. Why wait?

Sweet Potato + Pancetta Risotto
makes 4 sides or 2 entree servings

  • 4 oz pancetta
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 3 cups + 2 Tbsp chicken broth
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh sage, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine white wine and 3 cups chicken broth. Heat to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and keep warm.

In a large sautee pan or Dutch oven over medium heat, cook pancetta, stirring occasionally until crispy. Remove with a slotted spatula and drain over paper towels; set aside.

In the same pan, heat olive oil (you may need more or less depending on how much fat was rendered from your pancetta). Add shallot and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring so it doesn't burn. Add arborio rice and stir to coat with oil; sautee for 2-3 minutes.

With a ladle, add approximately 2 cups of the warm broth mixture to rice, so that rice is just covered. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Add more liquid, until rice is just covered, and continue cooking and stirring. Repeat until all liquid is used - this usually takes 4 total additions of liquid. 

Meanwhile, poke holes in sweet potato and cook in microwave for 5-7 minutes, until soft. Slice in half and let sit until cool enough to handle. Scoop out the inside of the potato and mash it with 2 Tbsp chicken broth until smooth (I did this quickly in a glass measuring cup with an immersion blender to achieve a very smooth consistency). 

When rice has absorbed all liquid, it should be quite creamy. Add sweet potato puree, parmesan, rosemary, sage, cooked pancetta, and generous amounts of Kosher salt and pepper to taste (optional: reserve a bit of the pancetta and parmesan to use a garnish). 
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