SWEET POTATO CORNBREAD – A New Tradition!

sweet potato cornbread textSWEET POTATO CORNBREAD

  • 1½ lbs sweet potato (either 1 big one or 2 smaller ones)
  • 7½ oz (1½ cups) fine grind cornmeal
  • 2½ oz (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1¾ oz (1/4 cup) dark brown sugar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1¾ tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk (whole milk is best, but I’ve used nonfat)
  • 8 T + 1 T butter, divided

Preheat oven to 425º Fahrenheit.

Cook the sweet potato – either in the microwave or oven – until it’s easily pierced with a knife. (Don’t boil it – it’ll take on too much water.) Let cool enough to handle.sweet potato cornbread7 Split in half lengthwise. sweet potato cornbread6Scoop out the insides, measuring out 1½ to 1¾ cups, and mash. sweet potato cornbread8The skin and remaining insides are not going to be used.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the milk and mashed sweet potatoes. Melt 8 T butter, then whisk into the sweet potato batter. sweet potato cornbread1In a separate bowl combine the cornmeal, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. sweet potato cornbread9Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and gently mix together just until the flour is incorporated. (Don’t over-mix.) Over medium-high heat, melt remaining 1 T butter in a 10″ non-stick or cast iron skillet until bubbling. sweet potato cornbread2Pour in batter, spreading out evenly. Sweet potato cornbread3Bake at 425º F 25-30 minutes – until toothpick comes out clean.sweet potato cornbread4You can eat it plain, or top with butter, maple syrup, honey, etc.

 

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AJOBLANCO (ALMOND GAZPACHO): A Refreshing Change!

almond gazpacho textOne, generally, associates ‘gazpacho’ with the red, tomato based chilled soup. But there are other types, including ajoblanco – an almond based gazpacho.

As is typical with these chilled soups, they are easy to prepare. But for maximum flavor, they need to be refrigerated for several hours before serving…so plan ahead!

NOTE: This is a delicious soup, but a little is quite enough. It’s a very rich soup and not meant to be an entire meal.

AJOBLANCO – (ALMOND GAZPACHO) – makes 5½ cups

  • 3 slices good quality white sandwich bread
  • 2 cups water
  • 1¼ cups + 3 T blanched slivered almonds, divided
  • 1½ T sherry vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cups green grapes, sliced in half

Remove and discard crusts from bread. Place bread in medium sized bowl and cover with the 2 cups of water. Let soak for 5 minutes. almond gazpacho6While the bread is soaking, grind 1¼ cups almonds in a blender until they become a fine powder – about 30 seconds. almond gazpacho7Gently squeeze water out of bread back into the bowl (you’re going to use this water). almond gazpacho8Place the bread into the blender with the almonds. Set aside 1½ cups of the bread water for later. Into the blender, add the remaining water in bowl (NOT the 1½ cups you set aside), the vinegar, garlic, salt, and cayenne. Blend for 30 seconds. almond gazpacho9With blender running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.almond gazpacho2 Pour in the 1½ cups bread water and run blender to mix.almond gazpacho3 Strain soup into a serving bowl. almond gazpacho4Into a small bowl combine 1 T of the strained soup with the almond extract. Then pour 1/2 tsp of this mixture into the soup (it enhances the almond flavor) and discard the rest (a little goes a long way). almond gazpacho5Correct for seasoning, if needed (I usually need more salt). Chill, at least, 3 hours – more is better. Toast remaining 3 T almonds in a dry skillet or toaster-oven.

To serve, ladle soup into small bowls and top with toasted almonds and grapes. If you like, you can drizzle on more olive oil – but I think that’s a bit too much richness.

GREEK POTATOES -A Lemony Wake Up Call!

GREEK POTATOES textOne of my favorite flavor combinations is lemon and garlic, so it’s no surprise that Greek Potatoes are a go-to side dish in our house. Not only is it delicious, but it’s super fast and easy to prepare. (It does take about 40 minutes to bake, but that’s hands-off.)

I highly recommend using a firm potato such as Yukon Gold or a red potato – the pieces will retain their shape. I’ve made this dish with russets, and they tend to kind of mash.

GREEK POTATOES – makes about 5 cups

  • 1½ lbs Yukon Gold or red potatoes
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2½ T vegetable oil
  • 1/2 T olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1-3 cloves garlic, pressed (I use 2)
  • 1½ cups boiling water
  • about 2 T chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 475º Fahrenheit.

Chop unpeeled potatoes into chunks that are no smaller than 3/4″. (If they’re too small, you’ll lose the balance of a firm outside and creamy inside of each piece.)

Into a flat bottomed, high sided casserole dish combine the potatoes, lemon juice, vegetable oil, olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic, and boiling water.GREEK POTATOES3 Place in 475º F oven uncovered. Bake, stirring gently every 20 minutes, until almost all the water is evaporated. This will take about 40-60 minutes. There will still be oil remaining on the bottom.GREEK POTATOES2 Remove from oven and sprinkle on parsley. Serve while hot.

 

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES – Chewy Goodness!!!

chocolate chip cookies textThere are easily hundreds of chocolate chip cookie recipes. For years my go-to recipe was the one on the Nestle’s chocolate chip bag. While it’s absolutely delicious, I decided to see if I could improve on it.

Let me just say, there really is no such thing as a bad chocolate chip cookie. BUT, some are definitely better than others. As usual, I started with an America’s Test Kitchen recipe, tweaking it to suit my taste.

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES  – makes about 21, depending on size

  • 6 T butter, divided, cut into 1 T pieces
  • 2 + 3/4 oz (1/2 cup) shortening (I use Crisco)
  • 4 + 1/4 oz (3/4 cup) dark brown sugar
  • 3 + 1/4 oz (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 yolk
  • 8 + 3/8 oz (1¾ cup + 2 T) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 4 + 3/4 oz (1 cup) bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet)
  • 2 + 1/2 oz (1/2 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use Nestle’s)
  • 2 + 1/2 oz (3/4 cup) pecans, chopped and lightly toasted

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

In a small light colored skillet (so you can see the color change – I used an aluminium pan), melt 4 T of the butter over medium/high heat. It will begin bubbling.chocolate chip cookies2Start swirling pan until butter is browned (turns reddish/amber) – it happens fast, so don’t leave unattended! (You may need to turn down the heat a bit or raise the pan off the flame.)chocolate chip cookies1 Immediately pour into large mixing bowl of your electric mixer. Add in the remaining  2 T butter and stir until melted. (This will cool down the butter.)chocolate chip cookies13 Let melted butter cool at least 15 minutes. (You don’t want to melt the shortening.)

Add in Crisco and, on low speed, beat until shortening is incorporated. (It can be a little lumpy – don’t worry, it will become creamy soon.) chocolate chip cookies6Add in the brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, and vanilla. Beat on medium 2 minutes. Don’t shortchange the 2 minutes – it aerates the batter.chocolate chip cookies5 Add in whole egg and yolk and beat on low for 30 seconds. Let rest 3 minutes. USE A TIMER! (You’ll be doing this for a total of 3 times.) Beat on low for 30 seconds, then let rest another 3 minutes. Finally, beat on low for 30 seconds (this is the LAST time, I promise!) and let set 3 minutes.

Add in the flour and baking soda. Mix on low until flour is almost incorporated (don’t overmix). chocolate chip cookies3Add in the chips and pecans, and mix on low until they are evenly disbursed and all the flour is incorporated.chocolate chip cookies11 Line cookie sheets with parchment or grease. Use a 3 T ice cream scoop or a 1/4 cup measuring cup filling it 3/4 full. Drop dough onto cookie sheet, spacing them far apart – you should get no more than 9 per sheet.chocolate chip cookies10 Bake in a preheated 375º F oven 8-11 minutes. (Check at the 8 minute mark – they cook faster on a dark sheet.) You want the edges to look done, but not the center (unless you like crispier cookies). The cookies will continue to bake on the hot sheet.chocolate chip cookies9 Remove from oven and let set on the hot cookie sheet for 10 minutes. Slide onto a wire rack to finish cooling.chocolate chip cookies8It’s tempting to eat them right away, but try and resist. The flavor improves as they cool and firm up.

SPINACH FETTUCCINE WITH CAULIFLOWER & BROCCOLI – Fast & Easy!

fettuccine with brocc caulif textI’m always looking for quick and easy recipes that are low in calories.  I found Spinach Fettuccine with Cauliflower & Broccoli in Green’s Cookbook, and it filled the bill. Of course, I had to tweak it a bit, as you probably will, too.

I’m a bit of a compulsive DIY-er, so I make my own pasta.  (I’ve included my recipe for spinach fettuccine at the end, for you brave souls.) You can shave off some time by purchasing the fettuccine. By the way, you don’t have to use fettuccine – choose a different pasta if your prefer (or don’t have any in the house).

FETTUCCINE WITH CAULIFLOWER & BROCCOLI – makes 2 large servings

  • 4 T butter
  • 3 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T Dijon mustard
  • 1 T sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, chopped
  • 1 T salt
  • 3 cups total broccoli and cauliflower, chopped in bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 pound fettuccine (or any pasta you prefer) Recipe for Spinach Fettuccine follows at end.
  • 1 tsp lemon zest

Melt butter in 3 or 4 quart saucepan. Add shallots and sauté for 3 minutes over medium flame. Add in garlic and cook another 30 seconds.fettuccine with brocc caulif2 Remove from heat and stir in vinegar, mustard, and dried tomatoes. fettuccine with brocc caulif3In a Dutch oven, bring 2 quarts of water and 1 T salt to a boil. Remove 1/2 cup of this water and stir into shallot mixture. fettuccine with brocc caulif4To the pot of boiling water add the broccoli and cauliflower. fettuccine with brocc caulif5When the water resumes boiling, cook veggies 1 minute only, just to blanch them, then scoop them out and add to the shallot mixture (which is still off-heat).fettuccine with brocc caulif6 Add the pasta and lemon zest to the boiling water, cooking until the pasta is done. fettuccine with brocc caulif7Save a cup of the pasta water in case you need it, then drain pasta. Into the empty Dutch oven combine the shallot mixture and pasta.fettuccine with brocc caulif8 Adjust seasoning, if needed. Add saved pasta water if you feel it needs to be looser.

SPINACH FETTUCCINE  – makes 2 servings

  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 cup + extra all-purpose flour

Note: For this recipe you’ll need a food processor and a pasta machine (I use the Atlas hand cranked brand)

Remove and discard stem ends from spinach leaves. fettuccine, spinach6Chop leaves with knife, then place in food processor and pulse until leaves are very finely chopped. fettuccine, spinach11Add egg and oil, and pulse a few times to blend. fettuccine, spinach7Pasta making is all about having the right ratio of liquid to dry ingredients. The spinach, egg, and oil are the wet, and the flour is the dry. You’ll have to go by feel since the water in the spinach and the size of the egg are variable. Don’t worry, there’s wiggle room!

Add in 1 cup of flour and run machine about 10 seconds, until mixture is blended. It will probably be too dry. Try to form a ball with some of the mixture. If it crumbles, you’ll need to add some water, 1 tsp at a time. If it feels like Playdough (i.e., it holds together and feels kind of tacky), it’s done. If it forms a ball but sticks to your fingers, it’s too wet – add more flour, a tablespoon at a time.fettuccine, spinach9 When dough reaches the proper consistency, form 2 balls and place them back in food processor with lid to rest for about 1/2 hour or so. fettuccine, spinach10Attach pasta machine to a table or countertop with plenty of room to lay out dough. You’ll also need something to hang the dry pasta over, such as a dowel. Pour about 1/4 cup of flour on the work surface. Work as quickly as you can so the dough doesn’t dry out.

Take one dough ball and smash it into the flour. Flip dough and smash other side into the flour.fettuccine, spinach1 Brush off extra flour the run dough through machine at the lowest number setting (this will be either ‘0’ or ‘1’). Fold dough like an envelope and run it through again. fettuccine, spinach2Lay dough flat and rub a little flour over both sides of dough. fettuccine, spinach3Fold in half and run it through machine at same setting. Repeat this last step 3 more times. You will have run the dough 6 times through the machine on the lowest setting. Repeat with second dough ball.

TIP: Each time you run the dough through the machine, say the number you’re on aloud so you don’t forget what number you’re on. It’s better to do too many than not enough – by the 6th run-through you’ll see a big difference in the dough consistency.

Turn the machine number up 1 digit and run each dough strip (without folding it) through 1 time only. Rub the dough (like before) with a little flour. Increase the number, run the strips through (again, without folding). You’ll notice the strips get longer with each number increase. It’s a personal preference as to how thin you want your pasta – I like to stop after number 5.

When you’re making your final pass with a strip, cut it to the length you want your pasta – I usually cut it in thirds. fettuccine, spinach4Run these pieces through the cutter before doing the other strip, so the cut edges don’t dry out.

Hang cut dough until ready to boil.fettuccine, spinach5

ITALIAN LOAF: No Need To Knead!

italian loaf textWho doesn’t love a warm loaf of Italian bread? Well, now you can make one just as good as any bakery….for pennies!

I’ve adapted America’s Test Kitchen Italian Loaf recipe to make it even easier and, IMO, tastier. The process in a nutshell: the day before, mix the ingredients in a bowl (no kneading!!!), cover, then at least an hour before serving, bake. You’ll never want to buy bread again.

Note: I highly recommend weighing your flour rather than using measuring cups – there’s too much variety, depending on how you pack in the flour.

Note: You’re going to need a 3 or 4 quart saucepan, or a Dutch oven, with lid. Make sure the handle and lid knob can withstand 500º Fahrenheit. I prefer using the 4 quart saucepan because it’s smaller in diameter thus producing a taller loaf.  However, if you prefer a squatter but wider loaf, use a Dutch oven.

ITALIAN LOAF – makes 1 round loaf

  • 15 oz (about 3½ cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
  • 9 oz water
  • 3 oz (3 T) beer (I prefer a pale beer)
  • 1 T white distilled vinegar

The day before you plan on serving the Italian Loaf, prepare the dough.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add in the water, beer, and vinegar. Mix with a spoon until all the flour is incorporated. italian loaf14Cover bowl with a plate or tea towel and let the dough rest on the counter 8-18 hours (the longer, the better flavor). You’ll notice a significant change to the dough – it will become wetter and bubbly:italian loaf15

About 2 hours before serving, preheat the oven to 500º Fahrenheit, rack in the middle position. As it gets close to 500º F, place the saucepan (or Dutch oven) with lid into the hot oven to heat it up.

When oven reaches 500º F, empty dough onto a floured surface. Fold it onto itself a few times to firm it up. italian loaf3Cut a piece of parchment paper big enough to line the saucepan with corner ‘ears’ sticking up. Rub paper with a light coating of vegetable oil. Place dough in center of paper and rub top of dough with a little oil. Remove hot saucepan from oven and lift paper and dough by the corners into the hot pot.

Make a 1/2″ deep slash across the center, edge to edge. (I use kitchen shears rather than a knife.)italian loaf9Cover with lid and place in oven.  italian loaf10Bake at 500º F for 1/2 hour. Remove pot from oven and turn out the loaf. Discard the paper and replace the loaf in the hot pot. Put the pot without the lid back in the oven. italian loaf8Bake about 10 – 15 minutes (I only need 10 minutes), until temperature of loaf is about 109º F. If you don’t have a thermometer, do a visual check – the top should be browned. Remove the loaf and the bottom should be browned, too. italian loaf7Remove loaf from pan to a wire rack to cool. Let loaf cool at least 20 minutes (this takes some will-power) before slicing in order to get a cleaner slice.italian loaf13

MEXICAN RICE – An Easy Twofer Recipe

Mexican Rice textMexican Rice is one of those foods that can be both a side dish and an ingredient in something else. For example, Monday night you might want a side dish with a bit of a kick to perk up a main course, and then on Tuesday it can become part of a burrito or taco. One preparation, two meals! Love it!!!

MEXICAN RICE

  • 2 large tomatoes or 4 Roma, coarsely chopped
  • 1½ cups onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 large onion)
  • about 1 cup vegetable stock or water
  • 2 cups uncooked white rice – medium or long grain
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 jalapeño chilis, remove seeds and mincemexican rice3
  • 4 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • about 2 T lime juice

Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit. 

In a food processor, purée the chopped tomatoes and onions. mexican rice5Empty into a large measuring cup and add enough stock or water (both work fine) to add up to 4 cups total. Set aside.mexican rice6Put uncooked rice in a sieve and rinse well to remove excess starch. mexican rice9In a saucepan, heat oil. Add rinsed rice and sauté 6 minutes. mexican rice2Stir in the tomato purée, garlic, salt, and tomato paste. Pour into casserole dish. mexican rice7Cover and bake at 350º F 30-40 minutes, stirring halfway through, until rice is fully cooked. (Make sure rice is fully cooked – it won’t continue to soften off-heat.) mexican rice8Add in cilantro and lime juice to taste. If you want more kick, stir in another minced jalapeño.