Just Out of the Oven

Normally, I’m not so  commanding when it comes to telling people what to cook, but if you really want to impress your taste buds (as well as the taste buds of those you love),  bake this apple pie today!   I’m SO serious.  All you need are about a half-dozen apples (I like to use a mix of organic Granny Smith’s and Fuji’s), and you probably already have most of the other ingredients on hand.  I’m not an experienced pie baker by any stretch of the imagination but after tasting this, your friends will think you are the Martha Stewart of  pies.  Crispy on top, juicy- apple-exquisiteness inside, this apple pie will  have you asking for seconds.   

Click here for the recipe!

 

 

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Desert LandscapeNo recipe post today, folks.  I’m off to Arizona early tomorrow morning and am rather frantically getting things ready.  We’ll talk food when I get back!

Soft pretzelsBelieve it or not, these are pretzels.  I seem to lack the gene that enables one to twist pretzel dough into that familiar, intertwined state that we all know and love.  Oh well.  On the other hand, these did taste like a soft pretzel , and I think that’s much more important than appearances, don’t you?

What I did very early this morning was break out my box of organic soft pretzel mix by a company called Wanda’s Nature Farm Foods.  Let me explain: many, many months ago, like around Christmas time 2008, my sweet then-six year old niece was having one of those school fundraisers.  You know, when the parents come around with their magazine-catalog that are full of things you’d probably never, ever need or use in your life but you buy anyway because you want to be supportive to those cute six year olds?  Okay, that’s just what happened.  I couldn’t for the life of me find anything I really wanted in that catalog so I settled for this pretzel mix and some cookie-cutter gizmo that has since broke.  So that’s the story.  This mix has been sitting in my kitchen cupboard  for that long, screaming to be baked.  Luckily the expiration date wasn’t til January 2010 so out of the cupboard it went, straight into the mixing bowl, along with some yeast (included in the box), and 1 cup of water.  That’s all there was to it.  Oh, some mixing and kneading and allowing to rest for 30 minutes of course.  Then I attempted to make a pretzel-looking something, dipped each one into a baking soda-water bath, and baked them for about 15 minutes.  Right out of the oven, I glazed the pretzels with melted butter and sprinkled either sea salt or a cinnamon sugary mixture on top.  Yes, these were pretty good for a soft pretzel that came from a boxed mix, but  I think it lacked a little of that chewy factor that I really like.  If you’d like to make your own soft pretzels, check out this homemade recipe I posted previously:http://pbjonrye.blogspot.com/2007/12/ode-to-carbshomemade-pretzels.html

 Pretzel mix

Okra and Sausage StewDo you realize that fall is right around the corner? Like 7 days from now?  I didn’t know that either until I looked at my calendar.  Yep, September 22, 2009 at 5:18pm EDT, the Northern Hemisphere will welcome the beginning of the fall season.  What better way to ring in a chilly fall day than with this okra and sausage stew. 

This is a dish I made  when a batch of okra arrived in my produce basket one week.  I had no clue what to do with the okra since I’ve never cooked with it before.  I didn’t need to worry though because there  are plenty of recipes available to help you put your bounty of okra to good and tasty use.

I think this is truly a great recipe–delicious and hearty with tons of flavor, plus you’ve practically cooked for the entire week because this makes a huge pot.

Here’s the recipe:

Okra Stew with Turkey Sausage (recipe adapted from How To Cook Everything by M.Bittman)
Serves 4
TIME: About an hour, largely unattended

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound turkey kielbasa
1 large onion, halved and cut into thick slices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound okra, trimmed

1 medium eggplant, chopped into chunks
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
4 cups chopped tomato (canned is fine; no need to drain)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves (optional)
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

Put 1 tablespoon of the oil in a deep skillet or large pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the sausage, prick it with a fork a couple times, and cook until it’s golden brown on all or most sides. Transfer the sausage to a cutting board.

Add the onion to the hot pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and turning golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the sausage crosswise into rounds. Remove the cooked onions with a slotted spoon.

Add the remaining oil to the pot and stir in the okra. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown a little, then add the garlic and cook for another minute or so, stirring once or twice. Return the sausage and onion to the skillet and add the tomato, eggplant and the cup of water. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat so it bubbles gently. Cook, uncovered, stirring every once in a while, until the okra are very tender and the sauce has thickened, about 45 minutes. Stir in the oregano if you like, taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve, garnished with parsley.

strawberry shortcake

No recipe today, just a short post.  This was my Monday afternoon snack at the office: make-your-own strawberry shortcake, compliments of  my boss .  Pretty cool, huh?   Nothing fancy but oh-so satisfying.  Just goes to show that Monday’s can be deliciously sweet after all.  Hope yours was too!

Onions and Green Beans

If you love onions like I love onions, then I think you’re gonna like this dish A LOT!  On the other hand, if you’re not too crazy about ’em, then just cut back on the amount you put in. Whatever you do, don’t leave them out because I think the onions are what makes the dish so great.  I had some green and purple beans that needed to be used in a hurry so when I saw this recipe for string beans with mushrooms and onions in an old copy of Real Simple magazine, I was sold.  There’s a crispy-creamy texture to this dish thanks to the pan fried “onion rings” that top it off .  So delicious and flavorful, it was the perfect side to tonight’s rotisserie chicken dinner.

String Beans With Mushrooms and Crispy Onion Rings (from Real Simple, Feb. 2009)

ingredients:

1/2 small red onion, cut into thin rings and separated

2 tablespoons AP flour

Sea salt and black pepper

2 and 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced

1 cup 1 percent milk

1 pound green beans (or a mixture of green and purple beans)

directions:

1.  In a medium size bowl, toss the onions with 1 tablespoon flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Heat 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook the onion, stirring until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes.  Transfer onions to a plate.

2.  Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the skillet and add the mushrooms, cooking them for about 5 minutes until tender.

3.  Reduce the heat to medium and sprinkle the remaining 1 tablespoon flour over the mushroom and cook, stirring for 1 minute.  Add the milk, salt and pepper, simmer and continue to stir until the mixture begins to thicken, about 1-2 minutes.  Add the beans and cook until heated through, 3-4 minutes.  Top off with the onions.

BFP Cake

I woke up early this Saturday morning to bake banana bread.  I based this recipe from one I found in the LA Times a few weeks ago.  In that recipe, the banana bread had dates, poppy seeds, and whole wheat flour, but since I didn’t have any of those I decided to improvise.  I used cake flour instead of the whole wheat, left out the poppy seeds all together, and substituted dried figs for the dates.  I also added a pear to the banana mixture just for the heck of it.   As the banana bread was baking, I did some housecleaning, and by the time the almost 1 hour of baking time went by, I was both starving  and zonked out.  My reward for all my hard work was a luscious, moist slice of what I think is more of a cake than a bread.  It’s actually quite light (thanks to the cake flour), and all the flavors really do work together.   I think I’m going to re-name my creation the Banana-Fig-Pear Cake, aka BFPC!

BFP Cake

Total time: about 1.5 hours

Servings: 2 loaves

ingredients:

3/4 cup (1 and 1/2 sticks) butter, plus extra for greasing the pans

1 and 1/2 cups AP flour

1 and 1/2 cups cake flour

1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 and 1/2 tsp baking soda

3/4 cup sugar

3/8 tsp salt

3 eggs

5 very ripe bananas, plus 1 fresh banana

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 cup yogurt (I used plain Fage yogurt)

3/4 cup coarsely chopped dried figs

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

directions:

1.  Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.  Grease 2 loaf pans with butter

2.  Using a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking pwdr and baking soda.  Set aside.

3.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl using a hand held mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy (approx. 5 minutes); add the eggs one at a time until incorporated.

4.  In a medium bowl, mash the very ripe bananas, then mash 1 ripe pear into the bananas.  With the mixer running, add the mashed fruit mixture and vanilla to the butter mixture until incorporated.  With the mixer at the lowest speed, add the dry flour ingredients just until incorporated.  Gently fold in the yogurt and figs. 

5.  Divide the batter between the two pans.  Slice the remaining banana and top the batter of each pan with the banana slices.

6.  Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 50 minutes.  Check the pans periodically after 20-30 minutes to make sure the loaves do not darken too quickly; if this happens, cover the tops with aluminum foil and cont. to bake.

7.  Cool the pans on a cooling rack, then unmold the loaves.  Sift powdered sugar over the 2 loaves.

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 French ToastWhen  I visited Cabo San Lucas , I stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast called The Bungalows.  Each morning, Eric, the inn-keeper , would whip up a scrumptuous meal to help kickstart the day of exploring the beautiful Mexican town.  One of my favorites was the French toast with a cream cheese and pecan filling.  Eric happily shared the recipe with me, and even revealed his secret: “Use a lot of butter.  And when you think you’ve got too much butter in the pan, add a little more.”  So there you have it.  So simple and pure, butter really does make everything taste better!  When I got home from Cabo I made the French toast and followed Eric’s wise words of wisdom.  What resulted was a bit of French toast nirvana in every bite.

 The Bungalows French Toast 

6 slices of white bread, crusts cut off

2 eggs plus 2 egg whites–beat together

butter

1/4 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon pumpkin spice or cinnamon

3 tablespoons softened cream cheese

1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1. Heat a frying pan or skillet with 2 tablespoons butter

2.  Dip the bread into the egg batter, coating all sides.  Once coated, place the slices of bread onto the skillet and allow to brown on each side. Place these prepared slices on a large plate and sprinkle the sugar/pumpkin spice or cinnamon mixture on all sides of the french toast.  Place this back onto the skillet with another pat of butter to just brown slightly; continue this until you have used up all the slices of bread.

3.  Combine the cream cheese with the pecans; spread this mixture onto 3 slices of the french toast and top with another slice so that you end up with 3 french toast sandwiches.  Sprinkle again with the sugar mixture, slice in half if you wish and eat with maple syrup.

 Braised LeeksWhen I first tasted my braised leeks, I wanted to eat the entire dish.  Yeah, these turned out that good.  The carmelization of the leeks yielded something luscious, tender and full of rustic flavor, with a bit of crispness on the edges.  The leaks were first seared in olive oil, then braised with a reduction of white wine , chicken stock, and shallots.   This is my favorite dish of the week!  I’m happy just eating the leeks by themselves,  but I also have fantasies of combining them with crispy bacon and adding a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.  Pretty heavenly, huh?  See for yourself!

Braised Leeks

Adapted from “Sunday Suppers at Lucques”

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

6 large leeks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
About ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup sliced shallots
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
½ cup dry white wine
1½ to 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Peel any bruised outer layers from leeks. Trim roots, leaving root end intact. Trim off tops on diagonal, leaving two inches of green. Cut in half lengthwise. Clean very well in water to remove internal grit. Pat dry with towel.

3. With cut sides up, season with 2 teaspoons salt and a few grindings of black pepper.

4. Heat pan over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Pour in ¼ cup oil and wait 1 minute. Place cut side down in pan without crowding them. (Make in two batches, and use more oil, if necessary.) Sear them 4 to 5 minutes, until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper, and turn over to cook 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer them, cut side up, to a gratin dish that will fit leeks and chicken, or use two dishes.

5. Pour ¼ cup oil into pan and heat over medium heat. Add shallots, thyme, ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Cook about 5 minutes, until just beginning to color. Add wine and reduce by half. Add 1½ cups stock, and bring to a boil over high heat.

6. Pour over leeks, without quite covering them.

7. Braise in oven 30 minutes, until tender.

Yield: 6 servings.

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Bursting With Flavor!

I love fresh cherry tomatoes, and enjoy eating them straight up, right out of the basket.  Sometimes though, I want to get a little more creative and try to make something delicious yet not too complicated with them.  This recipe for roasted cherry tomatoes fits the bill.  It’s from the magazine, Real Simple which is a publication I happen to really like.  The recipe takes about 30 minutes to prepare, and  it’s wonderful eaten as is.  You can also use the tomatoes as a topping to some pasta or eat them with crusty bread.  Hope you enjoy.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes (compliments of Real Simple Magazine, May 2003)

Serves 4 Hands-On Time: 10m Total Time: 30m

Ingredients

  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, torn if large

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients except the basil in a roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are just bursting. Carefully transfer the tomatoes to a bowl and set aside.
  2. Place the roasting pan on the stove over medium heat (or transfer the liquid to a small saucepan) and reduce the liquid until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Toss the tomatoes with the basil. Drizzle some of the thickened balsamic sauce on each serving