Monthly Archives: March 2010

Homemade Pop-Tarts

Thank you, Bon Appetit! Their April issue has a section on breakfasts, including strawberry “Pop-tarts.” The flaky crust is an incredible base for the sweet strawberry preserves trapped inside. A tasty reason why food can be so much fun! Once you have these, could you bear to go back to the original snack? (p.s. this is easy!)

Strawberry “Pop-Tarts”

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. plus 2 T flour, plus more for rolling
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 c. (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 4 T ice water
  • 12 T organic strawberry preserves
  • Powdered sugar

In a food processor, add flour, salt and sugar. Pulse to combine. Add butter, pulsing until it resembles coarse meal. Add ice water by tablespoons, pulsing, until a moist ball forms. Gather dough into a ball, divide in half and shape each half into a disk. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On floured surface, roll first disk out to 13×11-inch rectangle. Trim to 12×10 inches, then cut into six rectangles. Arrange rectangles on baking sheet. Roll out and cut second disk same as the first.

Spoon 1 1/2 T strawberry preserves in the center of the first batch of rectangles. Place the second dough rectangles on top and press with your fingertips to seal. Using a fork, indent all edges. Using a toothpick, dot each top a few times to allow air to escape. Freeze tarts on the sheet for at least 2 hours or up to 1 week.

Preheat oven to 375. Bake frozen tarts until golden, reversing after 15 minutes, 30 minutes total. Immediately transfer tarts to cooling rack and sift powdered sugar over the top.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

These things are yummy! And you can make cinnamon-swirl cookies with the crust dough leftovers…Enjoy, friends! xoxo

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Cinnamon swirl cookies

If your  mother or grandmother ever made pie growing up, you’ve undoubtedly had these cookies before.

They are simply pie-scrap cookies that you make to use up leftover pie dough. Sprinkle with sugar and spices, roll and bake. When I was little, I thought these were the best cookies I had ever tasted. The flaky dough and the cinnamon-sugar mixture always bring me back to those days when mom would make strawberry-rhubarb pies…

You will shortly see why I had leftover crust to use…but until then, here is how I make my pie-scrap cookies.

WriteGal’s Cinnamon Swirl Cookies

  • Leftover pie dough (homemade)
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • allspice

Preheat oven to 350. Mix the sugar with your spices to taste. You could also add cloves or cardamom, but don’t forget to be heavier on the cinnamon. The mixture should be light brown when combined.

Roll out your leftover dough on a floured board and sprinkle evenly with sugar mixture, pressing down to make it stick. Starting on the long end, roll the dough up, then slice into 1/4-inch pieces. Transfer the cookies to a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat. Some of the sugar will spill out, but don’t worry about it. Bake until lightly browned, about 25-30 min. Cool on a rack.

Dare I say these cookies are my favorite thing about making pie? Dare I? Enjoy, friends!

Meow?

Pasta all’Amatriciana

Everything is blooming. When fall finally settled upon my Southern home five months ago, I thought I had never seen such color occur in nature. As a Northwestern gal, I’m used to the rich greens and sages of ponderosa pine and juniper. I wasn’t used to the sea of foliage blazing in crimson, gold and umber.

Now, spring. I swear, every one of those trees is blooming. Every one! Not just sprouting tender new leaves; blooming. I’ve never seen anything like it, not even in Seattle or Portland, Ore. Does that mean they all are fruit-bearing trees? No…we also have Southern magnolia to complement the pear and cherry trees. I stepped out of the office one day with a colleague and a perfume of flowers met us. We sat under a full umbrella of cherry blossoms, looking through the white petals to the blue sky. Perfect weather for a light jacket.

The extended evening light makes me more willing to cook after a long day of work. Granted, this still doesn’t happen quite enough, but at least I don’t go STRAIGHT to bed anymore. Instead, I make dishes like the Italian country dish called Pasta all’Amatriciana.

This is essentially a bacon-tomato based pasta that my boyfriend said reminded him of hoppin’ john. Alls I knows is this: pancetta = bacon without the smoke. I even went to the specialty store to get authentic, 1/4-inch sliced pancetta and real Pecorino Romano cheese. You must be authentic in this regard, because any thinner pancetta will dissolve into the sauce and bad cheese is just bad, especially when eaten raw.

It was simple and elegant and satisfying even for someone who wants a heartier pasta.

Coming at you from Cook’s Illustrated…

Pasta all’Amatriciana

Ingredients:

  • 2 T evoo
  • 6 0z. 1/4-inch sliced pancetta (I used 9 oz…whoops!)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
  • kosher salt
  • 1 lb. linguine or bucatini
  • 1/3 c. Pecorino Romano

Bring large pot of water to boil for pasta. Drop in pasta with a handful of salt and cook according to package.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium. Add pancetta and cook until crisp and lightly brown, about 8 min. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to drain.

Add onion to skillet, saute over medium until softened, about 5 min. Add red pepper flakes, cook 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and season with salt to taste. Simmer until thickened, 10 min. Return pancetta.

When pasta is done, drain and add to tomato mixture and season with salt to taste. Toss to combine. Add cheese and toss again.

Serve with Italian parsley, more Pecorino Romano and some toasted Italian bread.

Enjoy this as you enjoy your spring, friends! xoxo

Buttermilk spice cake with pear compote

A man once told me, “There is no word quite as lovely as buttermilk … it conjures up such warm and lovely feelings.”

As many of us discovered at an early age, buttermilk’s taste does not live up to that soft and sweet name. Instead, it tastes quite sour and will always remind me of the assisted-living home I worked at in high school (the residents ordered it with pepper sprinkled on top!).

This cake is not sour in the least. Instead, I believe the buttermilk adds a moisture and slight tang to balance the sweetness.

Adding lime zest, allspice, ginger, black pepper and ground star anise (which you’ll have to grind yourself) makes it just delightful, especially paired with a simple pear compote made with Boscs, sugar and lime juice.

The recipe recommended a dollop of creme fraiche on top, but I think it is fine without it. My only real complaint is that I don’t have a 1/8 tsp measure, so I don’t think I added enough of the spices and they were overwhelmed by the vanilla beans. Still quite tasty, I just recommend not skimping on the spices.

This recipe comes to you from Bon Appetit…

Buttermilk Spice Cake with Pear Compote

Ingredients:

For pear compote —

  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 T fresh lime juice
  • Large pinch of salt
  • 3 Bosc pears, peeled, quartered and cut into cubes

Method:

Mix sugar, lime and salt in heavy saucepan. Add pears and toss to coat. Cover and cook over medium-low until pears are just tender, 10-12 min. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

For spice cake —

  • 1 c. plus 1 T flour
  • 1/4 c. cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp ground whole star anise (or anise seeds)
  • 1/2 c. unsalted butter (1 stick) at room temperature
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 three-inch piece of vanilla bean, split
  • 1/4 tsp grated lime zest
  • 3/4 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour 9-inch cake pan and line bottom with parchment paper.

Sift first nine ingredients into medium bowl. Set aside. In large bowl or Kitchenaid, beat butter until fluffy, then add sugar, beating until smooth. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean and add lime peel. Beat to blend. Beat in flour  mixture alternately with buttermilk, in four additions. Scrape down bowl and mix thoroughly. Transfer batter to prepared pan and bake until browned on top and a tester comes out clean, approx. 30 min. Cool completely on wire rack.

Slide knife around edges to loosen, then invert on rack, peel parchment off and invert onto serving plate. Dust with powdered sugar.

To serve, slice a big piece of the moist cake and spoon pears on the side. Top with creme fraiche, although I think I prefer it without.

Num. Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Herb-crusted pork roast

We seem to always have a pork roast in the freezer. Pork tenderloins are a working gal’s best friend because they are so easy to prepare and almost always on sale at some market. Stuffing the meat with an herb mixture, then searing and finally coating with fresh bread crumbs to roast makes this a nice change to the traditional roast pork.

Instead of butterflying my tenderloin, I smeared the herb mixture in between two smaller tenderloins and then tied them together with kitchen twine. It worked just as well, you’ll only need to cook it a tad longer.

A wonderfully fragrant, tender meat dish for any week night. This recipe is adapted from Cook’s Illustrated “Spring Entertaining”

Herb-crusted pork roast

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 lbs. pork roast (in the market, one plastic pork tenderloin package contains two loins, so buy one)
  • kosher salt
  • 1 large slice of white bread, pureed in blender or food processor
  • 1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated, 1/2 c.
  • 4 T plus 2 tsp olive oil
  • Ground black pepper
  • 2 T minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced

Preaheat oven to 325. Pat pork dry and sprinkle all sides with salt and pepper.

Mix bread crumbs with 2 T Parmesan, 1 T oil, 1/8 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper in small bowl. Use fork to toss together. Set aside.

In small bowl, combine herbs, garlic, 6 T Parmesan, 3 T oil, 1/8 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. Mix well. Spread herb paste between two tenderloins and tie with three pieces of kitchen twine.

Heat 2 tsp oil in skillet over medium-high until almost smoking. Add roast and brown well on all sides, about 10 min. Transfer on wire rack set over foil-lined baking sheet. Top with bread crumb mixture, pressing to compact.

Place in oven and roast until internal temp of bottom loin registers 138 degrees, about 1 hour. The crumbs will be browned and juices will run clear when cut. Once out of the oven, tent with foil. (Note, it’s okay if the pork is a little pink because when you reheat the leftovers it won’t dry out!)

Meanwhile, prepare a side dish – I roasted broccoli at 400 degrees with garlic, salt, pepper and EVOO. I also made a quick sauce by deglazing the pork skillet with chicken stock and whisking in butter, salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, slice pork (and top with sauce, if making). Remove the kitchen twine as you go.

Pork is such a wonderful meat because it is mild and absorbs whatever flavors you put on it. The fresh bread crumbs add a nice topping, and the Parmesan gets crisp and nutty. Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Chocolate icebox cake with strawberries

What I know about making icebox cakes: layer crisp cookies with whipped cream, chill and you have a delicious, soft cake in a matter of hours. The cookies soak up the cream and become soft, cakelike and easy to cut into. I added strawberries because that’s how I originally saw this recipe made by my friend Colleen. It tastes just like cookies and cream…but better with your favorite berry!

Yummy, friends, and don’t be surprised if people ask to have a private moment with their piece. 😉

You can do this with prepared cookies, or you can be extra pretentious and make your own. Which is exactly what I did! This recipe is originally from Smitten Kitchen (love her).

Chocolate-Strawberry Icebox Cake

For the cookies:

  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 c. plus 2 T sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 14 T unsalted butter, chilled
  • 3 T whole milk
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

In a food processor, combine flour, cocoa, sugar, salt and baking soda. Cube butter and add, pulsing several times. In a small cup, combine milk and vanilla, pouring into food processor while running. Process until mixture forms a ball. Transfer dough to a cutting board, knead to make sure it’s blended, then shape into a 14-inch log. Roll in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut dough into 1/4-inch slices and place 1 inch apart on pan. I helped reform them into prettier circles at this point (they can be lopsided). Bake, rotating halfway through, 12-15 min., until cookies are dark brown. Cool on rack, repeat with remaining dough. The cookies should be nice and crisp!

When all the cookies are done, get started on the whipped cream and toppings!

  • 1 box of strawberries, cleaned and sliced (the more, the better!)
  • 3 c. heavy cream
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1 T vanilla extract

In a large, cold bowl, beat cream, sugar and vanilla on high, until soft peaks form. Done. Time to assemble!

On a flat serving dish, create a circle of 7 cookies with one in the center. Scoop out 1/2-1 c. whipped cream, smooshing all over. Be careful, the cookies can slide. Use a rubber spatula, pushing the cream from the center to the edges. You want to create a solid base, and for it to look nice. Scatter strawberries around the edge, then place more cookies on top. Repeat until you end with whipped cream and beautiful strawberries on top. You might not use all the whipping cream.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least eight hours, or overnight.

You will not believe how soft those cookies get, just wonderful and fresh tasting. Ain’t it pretty? And unlike many cakes, it only gets better the longer it sits in your fridge. Next time, I think I’ll try it with raspberries or blueberries or maybe even peaches!

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

How to make cheap steak delicious

Like any frugal gal, I limit my meat purchases to discount bins and sale signs. I recently read an article in Cooks Illustrated about how to cook cheap steaks. I happened to have a couple top sirloin steaks that were on sale, a cut of meat that Cooks Illustrated recommended. Each steak was 12 oz. and about $3.

I cooked it simply, according to their directions, and it was delicious. Even my ribeye-loving bf raved about it! Except he said it tasted kind of like a hamburger…not sure how to take that.

Heat 1 T canola oil in a skillet until smoking. Season steaks on both sides with salt and pepper. Sear until well browned, 4-5 min. Flip and sear the other side, 2-3 min. Remove to a plate and tent with foil.

In the still-hot pan, add 1 chopped shallot and stir for 2 min. Add 1/4 c. red wine (or whatever you’re drinking) and scrape up the browned bits. Add another 1 c. of chicken stock or beef stock and stir until bubbling. Reduce and simmer until reduced, about 10 min. Season to taste and sprinkle in chopped parsley. Spoon over the steak..

Meanwhile, I made these amazing roasted baby potatoes!

Write Gals’ Perfect Potatoes

  • 2 pounds baby Yukon gold potatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 400. Toss potatoes with a drizzle of oil, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Spread on sheet pan and place in oven.

Roast until potatoes are cooked through and browned, stirring occasionally, about 20-30 min. Cooking times may vary.

Yukon gold potatoes are simply the best, and roasting them really brings out their flavor. When I took them out of the oven, I tossed in one bunch of baby asparagus, smearing the existing oil and seasonings all over them. Then I roasted them 6-8 minutes, until just tender.

And that, my friends, was a wonderful and affordable meal! Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Blood orange polenta upside-down cake

Upside-down cakes are an interesting creation. They all start with a caramel sauce you make in a big skillet, then you arrange fruit slices on top of it, finally pouring a cake batter over everything and baking to finish. Magically, the sticky caramel and fruit release with the cake when you flip it over onto your serving plate.

I was first attracted to this recipe in Bon Appetit because the pictures were beautiful! I love that ruby pulp of blood oranges and polenta cakes have a sweet taste and slightly grainy texture. I had never made an upside-down cake before, so this would be my first.

I really liked the cake. It was sweet and light, thanks to egg whites that you whip and fold into it. But those oranges are so bitter! Not even just the peel part, but even the fruit! It doesn’t completely ruin the cake for me, but we definitely peeled off the oranges and piled lots of whipped cream on top to offset the bitterness. I honestly don’t think you could slice those oranges thin enough to get rid of any bitterness. It almost tasted like grapefruit, and I do not like grapefruit.

Nevertheless, it is a fun cake to make…

Blood orange polenta upside down cake

Ingredients:

  • 7 T sugar, divided, plus 3/4 c. sugar
  • 3 T water
  • 8 T unsalted butter, at room temp, divided
  • 3 unpeeled blood oranges, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 c. plus 3 T flour
  • 3 T coarse yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 6 T whole milk
  • sweetened whipped cream, for serving

Heat oven to 350.

Combine 6 T sugar and 3 T water in 10-inch ovenproof skillet with at least 2-inch sides. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil, swirling skillet, until it turns dark amber, about 4 min. Remove from heat and whisk 2 T butter into it. Arrange orange slices in concentric circles on bottom of skillet.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, polenta, baking powder and salt to blend. Using electric mixer and another bowl, beat 3/4 c. sugar, remaining butter and vanilla until fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk in two additions. Beat until batter is just incorporated.

In a clean bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1 T sugar and beat until stiff. Fold 1/3 of whites into batter, then fold the remaining in 2 additions. Drop batter by large spoonfuls atop oranges, then spread evenly.

Bake cake until a tester comes out clean, about 45 min. Cool in skillet 10 min., run a small knife around the edges, place platter on top, then flip the whole thing upside down. The cake should plop onto the plate. If any oranges come loose, rearrange them.

Cool cake completely to room temperature and serve with whipped cream or sweetened creme fraiche.

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Leek, prosciutto and goat cheese frittata

My perfect morning would go something like this: waking up to sun streaming through the blinds with a cat stretched at my feet; quietly walking down the hall so as not to wake the boy, cat trotting behind me; putting on a pot of coffee and opening the sun-room shades so my little prisms can reflect rainbows in my perfectly clean and tidy living room. While the cat chases the dancing rainbows, I would curl up on the couch with my hazelnut-scented coffee and watch my favorite Food Network shows, taking breaks to read lifestyle porn in my new Pottery Barn catalogs.

My favorite place to sit on the couch is in the corner, where the two sides hold me like a big, strong man. 🙂 It occurs to me that my ideal couch feels as comfortable as the soft embrace of a loved one.

Now, my house is never perfectly tidy and clean, but I can still enjoy the early-morning quiet with a yummy breakfast. Quiches and frittatas are perfect because you can add all your favorite flavors with eggs, and voila, you have a whole meal. I recently made one with leeks (a very underappreciated vegetable), thin slices of prosciutto, goat cheese and Gruyere. Sun-dried tomatoes and bacon would also be good, but I recommend the leeks for their delicate flavor that adds a bit of onion taste, and the goat cheese because it has a tangy, creamy bite that goes well with any other cheese, such as the fabulous Gruyere.

I do not have a nonstick skillet that can go in the oven, so I just used my cast-iron. A bit more work cleaning up, but it cooked the frittata beautifully. Just use your largest skillet that can go from stovetop to oven. This recipe is adapted from Cook’s Illustrated.

Leek, prosciutto, goat cheese frittata

Ingredients:

  • 12 large eggs
  • 3 T milk or cream
  • kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 3 leeks, white and light green parts halved, thoroughly cleaned and cut into thin slices
  • 3 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into strips
  • Handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • 4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled with your fingers
  • 4 oz. Gruyere cheese, or any other hard cheese, grated (use whatever is in your fridge)

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and preheat broiler.

Whisk eggs, milk, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper in bowl. Set aside.

Heat butter in skillet over medium until foaming subsides. Add leeks and 1/4 tsp salt, reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until soft, stirring occasionally. Eight to 10 min. Grate in a pinch of fresh nutmeg, if you have it (leeks love nutmeg). Stir in prosciutto, half the goat cheese, parsley and eggs, stirring to distribute evenly. Use spatula to scrap up from the bottom until large curds have formed and the spatula leaves a wake, but eggs are still very wet, about 3-4 min. Shake skillet to distribute eggs evenly, let cook 30 more seconds.

Top with remaining goat cheese and Gruyere, then slide into oven. Cook until surface has puffed and is starting to brown, 4-5 min. Eggs should be slightly wet, but cooked. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 more min. Slice and serve!

No matter what makes YOU happy in the morning, a satisfying breakfast will help get you there. Promise.

Enjoy, friends! xoxo

Easy as apple pie

Apple pie is not easy. Working with two layers of crust that could be too crumbly or too soft, apples that could collapse when cooked and juices that could get soupy. Many things can and will go wrong when you first attempt this American icon.

I love apple pie for the spices: fresh nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice. The lemon zest and juice adds a special kick to the filling. And the crust. Making the pie crust yourself is critical. Unfortunately, I always seem to have trouble with my crusts. Either they are too sticky or too crumbly. Very frustrating.

I turned to my Best Recipes companion, but even then, the pie had some issues. The taste was perfect. The texture of the dough was wonderful (even if it was too wet when I made it) – buttery and flaky.

My problem was the apples. Granny Smith and McIntosh. I think the McIntosh became too soft and resulted in the pie collapsing after it cooled. Maybe next time I will go with an equally sweet but less soft apple – any recommendations?

Sincerely,

Not The Apple of Your Eye