Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tutu's Super-Crispy Sugar Cookies:
Delicious, with a great back story

I like a good story behind a recipe.
   Whenever I watch a chef competition show like Top Chef, my favorite challenge is when competitors are asked to make a dish based on their first food memory, or as a tribute to the person who taught them how to cook or inspired them to be a chef.
   The stories the competitors tell are always fun to hear.
   That’s part of the reason I wanted to try Tutu's Super-Crispy Sugar Cookies (click for the recipe) from Food & Wine magazine.
   Charlie Griggs, a Food & Wine reader, wrote in to the magazine with the recipe and a letter with a good back story.
   He explained the recipe came from an elderly woman, nicknamed “Tutu” or “Grandmother,” who sold the sugar cookies each week at a farmer’s market in Hawaii. She gave Griggs the recipe on the condition he not share it with anyone for 25 years. The time had passed, and he wanted to share it.
   You can read the full letter above the recipe at the link.
   A recipe that comes with a don’t-share-25-year-proviso must be good, I thought when I read the letter. (They are good -- very good.)
   Another aspect of the recipe intrigued me: The addition of Rice Krispies cereal.
   This turned out to be the secret ingredient, which made these delicious little cookies extra-crisp. And it’s not obvious that Rice Krispies are in the cookies – most people won’t be able to identify what it is that makes the cookies so crispy.
   Kosher salt is also an essential component of the cookies. They add a depth of flavor – an extra somethin’ somethin.
   The cookies were easy to make, but I did find one direction in the recipe to be a bit misleading.
   The recipe says to spoon two-tablespoon-size amounts of dough on cookie sheets. The only problem is, a dough hardly forms after everything is mixed together! It looks more like wet sand.
   Just taking a spoonful of the dough in this manner and slapping it on the baking sheet will not a cookie make.
   I measured out two tablespoons of dough-sand into one hand, then pushed it together into a ball. It will do this easily.
   I then put the cookie-balls onto the baking sheets.
   To make the cookies, sugar, butter, kosher salt, baking soda, vanilla, flour, and Rice Krispies are mixed together with an electric mixer.
   Two baking sheets are lightly buttered, and the cookies formed and put on them as described above.
   The cookies are baked for 15 minutes, and are then flattened gently with a spatula or flipper. The sheets are put back into the oven (rotated in position), and the cookies baked for 25 minutes more.
   Let cool completely before serving.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Tangerine-Soaked Tea Cake:
An ideal treat during citrus season

There’s definitely one thing I love about January and February: The appearance of an array of different types of oranges and other citrus fruits in the supermarket.
   My husband and I are big fans of blood oranges, with their deep-red crimson flesh and sweet-and-sour candy-like taste.
   Tangerines also make a major return, and these sweet citrus fruits are great for adding flavor to baking.
   Case in point: Tangerine-Soaked Tea Cake (click for the recipe), a lovely baked confection. Light and soft, it is flavored beautifully by zest and juice of tangerines, both in the cake itself and the sweet glaze on top.
   Tea cake it definitely is. It’s ideal for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
   The recipe included a step that rather mystified me: Buttering a six-cup loaf pan, then pouring in panko breadcrumbs to coat the sides.
   The breadcrumbs created very small indentations in the sides of the cake, perhaps allowing a better air flow during baking, or more glaze to soak into the cake.
   I won’t argue with the step though, because the finished product was perfect.
   Panko breadcrumbs, by the way, can be purchased in the Asian foods or bakery section of many supermarkets.
   The cake was easy to make.
   Tangerine zest (finely-grated tangerine peel), tangerine juice and lemon juice are combined in one bowl. Flour, baking soda and salt are combined in another.
   Butter, sugar and eggs are mixed together with an electric mixer, then the dry ingredients and buttermilk are added in alternating batches. The fruit juices and zest are added and mixed in.
   The batter is poured into the prepared pan, which is in turn set on a baking sheet. The cake is baked for 70 to 80 minutes.
   The glaze is made by combining tangerine juice, lemon juice and sugar in a bowl.
   After the baked cake is cooked for about 15 minutes, it is turned out onto a wire rack. With a turkey baster or pastry brush, the glaze is spread all over the top and sides of the cake.
   The cake is cooled to room temperature before serving.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Quick Pork & Chile Stew is latest
in line of great-flavor-in-little time dishes

My husband have been lucking out lately with comforting, quick-to-the-table-with-great-flavor recipes.
   In the last week on Recipes That Worked, I’ve written about Chicken Meatball and Escarole Soup and Sweet-and-Sour Shrimp, both terrific family-friendly dishes that can be prepared in little time, but with no sacrifice in flavor.
   Today I’m writing about Quick Pork & Chile Stew (click for the recipe) from Eating Well magazine, another recipe that was no sweat to make but was delicious, flavorful and comforting. If the directions are followed, the pork will be moist and tender.
   Stews are one of the hardest things for which to obtain good, rich flavor in a short time and with little effort, so when a stew recipe can accomplish that, it’s definitely a keeper.
   Although the stew is unmistakably Tex-Mex in flavor, it’s still a family-friendly, especially if you substitute green bell peppers for poblanos as the recipe introduction suggests, and don’t use the optional cayenne pepper. (We used green peppers and just a pinch of cayenne).
   Cubed pork tenderloin is cooked in olive oil in a saucepan (we used a large soup pot), then transferred with any juice to a bowl.
   Onion, poblanos or green bell peppers and garlic are cooked in the pan, then cubed potato, store-bought chicken broth, cumin, oregano, salt and optional cayenne are added and the stew is left to simmer for about 10 minutes.
   The pork is returned to the stew, which is then simmered for a few minutes more. Fresh lime juice is stirred in before serving.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sweet-and-Sour Shrimp has
impressive family-friendly flavor in little time

It was a delicious little plate of food: Tender shrimp with a tangy, vinegary sauce that spilled over onto a pile of warm jasmine rice.
   We were able to make it in impressively little time.
   It was Sweet-and-Sour Shrimp (click for the recipe) from Food & Wine magazine, a terrifically tasty family weeknight meal.
   My husband and I were impressed with the depth of flavor obtained by the few ingredients. It was much better, we agreed, than similar shrimp stir-fry recipes we have ordered in restaurants.
   And this was without the fancy ketchup, Sir Kensington’s, that inspired the recipe created by Food & Wine senior recipe developer Grace Parisi.
   We used good ol’ Heinz, and got great results.
   We served the shrimp with jasmine rice, and it was wonderful. The recipe also suggests serving the shrimp with snow peas. We didn’t do this, but agreed it was a grand idea – we could just picture the tastes and textures together.
   The sauce is made by combining ketchup, soy sauce, chicken broth, sugar, chile sauce (we used Thai chile sauce), cornstarch and vinegar.
   Minced fresh garlic and ginger are cooked very briefly in a skillet, then peeled medium shrimp is added and cooked (we used large shrimp, and the results were fine). The sauce is added to the pan, and the dish is cooked until the sauce is thickened and the shrimp cooked through, about three minutes.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Soul-satisfying Chicken Meatball and Escarole Soup

It was just what the doctor ordered for my husband: A steaming bowl of delicious, comforting soup.
   My husband was in the throes of a major head cold this past Sunday night when the two of us worked together to make Chicken Meatball and Escarole Soup (click for the recipe) from Fine Cooking magazine.
   It was ideal in so many ways: It soothed his cold, it was quick to make, and it was completely and utterly delicious.
   (While I was enjoying the soup, little did I know that I was due for ickiness shortly after. Just when my husband started feeling better, I started feeling crappy, and ended up spending time home from work also getting over a head cold.)
   The secret to this soup, my husband and I theorize, is the cooking of onion, carrot and celery, which is then boiled with store-bought chicken broth and a rosemary sprig. This simulates the taste of homemade chicken broth, an excellent base for soup.
   We couldn’t find escarole, a type of endive, so we substituted spinach for it. It was an absolutely perfect substitution.
   The first step in making the meatballs is making plain fresh breadcrumbs. I put pieces of a multigrain bun in a mini-chopper to make the breadcrumbs.
   The breadcrumbs are placed in a bowl and moistened with water. Finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, fresh parsley, salt, pepper, ground chicken and an egg are mixed in until just combined.
   To form a meatball, one tablespoon of the chicken mixture is scooped out and rolled into a ball.
   Oil is heated over medium heat, then chopped onions, carrots and celery are cooked in it until tender.    Chicken broth, rosemary and water are brought to a boil over medium-high heat.
   The meatballs are added gently to the broth mixture, and the heat is reduced to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer for about 10 minutes.
   The escarole or spinach is added, and the soup left to simmer five minutes more to finish cooking the meatballs and wilting the greens.
   Serve the soup with more grated Parmiagiano-Reggiano grated on top.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Double double your delightment
with Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Peanut butter cookies are mighty fine. There’s no mistaking the charm and comfort-food appeal of this classic soft cookie.
   I’ve got a recipe that, like Doublemint does for gum, double doubles the delightment of peanut butter cookies: Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies (click for it) from Fine Cooking magazine.
   That’s right – two peanut butter cookies sandwich a creamy icing-like filling that is also made from peanut butter.
   It sounds good, and it is. It’s a basic, happy, comforting cookie recipe that the whole family will love.
   The cookies have the lovely trademark softness of a good peanut butter cookie, thanks to the presence of cake flour in the dough.
   The recipe says to store the cookies in a sealed container at room temperature or the fridge. I opted to store them in the fridge because the filling contains a bit of heavy cream. Before I served them, I let them warm up to room temperature first – they’re a bit too hard to eat when they’re cold.
   The recipe says it yields 18 sandwich cookies; I found the dough was actually enough for a batch of 12 cookies.
   However, the filling part of the recipe produced enough for two batches, so I obliged and made another batch of cookies. The filling is far too good to go to waste!
   Like any good comforting recipe, this one is easy to make.
   To make the cookies, all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking soda and salt are mixed together.
   Room-temperature soft butter, smooth peanut butter, white and brown sugars, vanilla and an egg are creamed together with a stand-up or hand-held electric mixer.
   The flour mixture is stirred into the flour mixture by hand just until it’s incorporated. A soft dough will form, but don’t worry if it doesn’t come together into one nice ball. You can easily press pieces of dough together to form the cookies.
   Heaping tablespoons of batter are put on baking sheets lined with parchment paper, then flattened into two-inch rounds spaced two inches apart.
   The cookies are baked until they are puffed and golden, and are then left to cool completely on a rack.
   To make the filling, confectioners’ sugar (also known as icing or powdered sugar), butter, smooth peanut butter, and heavy cream (I used whipping cream) are creamed together until smooth. Coarsely-chopped roasted unsalted peanuts (I chopped mine in a mini-chopper) and coarsely-chopped semisweet chocolate or mini semisweet chocolate chips (I used the mini chips) are stirred in.
   Filling is spread on the bottom of one cookie, another is placed on the filling, and the cookies are pressed gently together to spread the filling and "glue" them together.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Excellent soup helps me overcome parsnip hatred

I hated parsnips, but now I don’t, thanks to a recipe for an awesome soup.
   For years I detested cooked parsnips. As a kid, I remember trying to desperately choke them down, tears welling up in my eyes as my parents demanded I eat them.
   But now that I’m an adult, I wanted to like parsnips. I wanted to cook them in a way that would appeal to my palate.
   I entrusted my parsnip-hating taste buds to Fine Cooking, an excellent food and cooking magazine that has never let me down.
   Parsnip and Parmesan Soup (click for it) from Fine Cooking was the recipe I chose to try.
   I was glad that it turned out to be an excellent choice.
   The sweetness of the parsnips came through deliciously. I think the secret ingredient was soy sauce, which added a perfect salty tang.
   I dare to guess that other parsnip-hating people, perhaps even children, will like this soup.
   It was easy to make.
   Peeled, trimmed and diced parsnips are cooked in butter, then shallots, garlic and fresh oregano are added and cooked. Chicken or vegetable broth (we used store-bought vegetable) is added, and everything brought to a boil.
   The soup is simmered until the parsnips are very soft, and is then pureed using a stand or immersion/handheld blender. Because my husband used a handheld blender, he didn’t need to let the soup cool a bit first before blending, nor did he need or blend it in batches as is the case with a stand-up blender. He also didn’t need to let it warm up a bit again after blending.
   Freshly-grated Parmiagiano Reggiano cheese, soy sauce and lemon juice are added to the soup and stirred. Salt and pepper is added to taste.

   The next hated vegetable to conquer with a great recipe: Brussels sprouts.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Snap that resolution right in half
with so-worth-it Banana Split Brownies

If you made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, I’m here to help to snap that resolution right in half.
   This recipe is worth it, believe me.
   Banana Split Brownies (click for the recipe) from Fine Cooking magazine are heavenly.
   Besides – all things in moderation, right?
   These brownies will be loved immediately by everyone, adults and children. The brownies’ slight “banana tang,” as my husband called it, sets it wonderfully apart from all other brownie recipes out there.
   The very pleasant banana flavor comes from real bananas, not banana flavoring as one of the brownies’ tasters wanted to know.
   Did I mention there’s a chocolate ganache and mini-marshmallow topping? Oh, yes. This fun dessert just keeps getting better and better.
   These brownies have a few more steps than your average brownie recipe, but they’re certainly not hard to make.
   The first part of the recipe calls for melting butter in a three-quart saucepan, then adding the rest of the ingredients to the butter in the saucepan.
   I didn’t do that. I opted for melting butter in the saucepan and letting it cool as directed, but then I poured it into in a mixing bowl and added the rest of the ingredients to the butter in bowl.
   The butter is melted in a saucepan over medium heat until it smells nutty and turns golden, about four to five minutes. The pan is removed from the heat and left to cool for five minutes.
   The butter is transferred to a bowl (or left in the pan), and sugar, salt, eggs, mashed overripe banana, vanilla, cocoa powder and flour are added and the mixture whisked together.
   The batter is spread in a nine-inch square metal baking pan that was been lined with foil. After baking the brownies are left to cool.
   To make the ganache topping, heavy cream (I used whipping cream) is brought to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Boiling cream is always tricky business, as it can burn easily. My advice is to stir it constantly and take it off the heat at the first signs of large bubbles.
   The saucepan is removed from the heat and chopped banana is stirred into the cream. The mixture is left to steep for one hour.
   Finely-chopped semisweet or mildly bittersweet chocolate is put in a medium heatproof bowl. (I used semisweet chocolate chips to speed things up a bit.)
   The cream with the banana in it is brought to a boil again, then strained through a fine-mesh strainer held directly over the bowl of chopped chocolate. The banana is discarded, and the chocolate mixture is left to stand for one minute. It is then stirred until smooth.
   The ganache is poured evenly over the cooled brownies, then covered with mini marshmallows and sliced almonds.
   The brownies are broiled to brown the tops of the marshmallows. This takes mere seconds, so be very careful. The 20 seconds suggested for a rotation in the recipe is actually too much time – I checked my brownies after just 10 seconds about six inches under the broiler, and the marshmallows were perfectly toasted.
   The brownies are cooled until the ganache and marshmallows set. Using the foil overhang, the brownies are removed from the pan and cut into squares.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Absolutely amazing Spaghetti
with Savoy Cabbage and Breadcrumbs

After an extremely busy time at my day job last week, I have this week off.
   My mom wanted to know what I had planned.
   Housework, cooking, baking, I said.
   "And blogging," my husband said, subtly reminding me that I've been slightly neglecting Recipes That Worked (purely out of necessity, not purposely).
   To make up for it, I've got a killer recipe today -- Spaghetti with Savoy Cabbage and Breadcrumbs (click for the recipe).
   It comes from Martha Stewart Living, and was in the "From My Home to Yours" section of the magazine. Stewart wrote this is a dish she makes often for guests, so I knew we had to try it.
   It was amazing.
   Anyone who claims they hate cabbage will be converted by this dish. The cabbage is thin and slightly crisp, a perfect companion to the spaghetti. The recipe calls for Savoy cabbage, but any type of green cabbage will work well.
   There are two stars of the dish: The cabbage and the breadcrumb topping.
   Freshly-made breadcrumbs are cooked until golden brown in a combination of melted butter and garlic. It's a masterful tactic, producing crisp breadcrumbs that are a heavenly topping to an already delicious dish.
   And to make a great dish even better, it's easy to make.
   Spaghetti is cooked in boiling water (I cooked the spaghetti until it was tender, rather than al dente as the recipe says). Some of the cooking water is reserved before the pasta is drained. I highly recommend using white pasta for this recipe, not whole wheat if you are inclined to such substitutions. We used Catelli Smart.
   My husband made fresh breadcrumbs from a multigrain bun. He put chunks of it in a mini chopper to produce the crumbs.
   Butter is melted in a skillet, then very thinly sliced or minced garlic is cooked in it until fragrant. The breadcrumbs are added and cooked until golden brown. The recipe said this will take about four to five minutes, but it only took us about 2.5 minutes.
   More butter is melted in a large high-sided skillet. Thinly-sliced cabbage (don't use the hard core), salt, pepper and cabbage are added, and the cabbage is cooked until its slightly wilted. Water is added, and the cabbage cooked some more, covered, until tender.
   Heavy cream (I used whipping cream) is added to the cabbage, and the mixture cooked briefly until the sauce is reduced slightly.
   The pasta, reserved cooking water, and finely-grated Parmesan cheese are added.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The 10 best recipes I reviewed in 2011

All the recipes I write about are good. That's the purpose of this blog.

But I wanted to look back at all the recipes I reviewed in 2011 and pick the best, the cream of the crop, the ones that will bring a look of wonder and delight to their lucky recipients.

After much consideration, these are the 10 best recipes I reviewed in 2011. Three drink recipes made the list.

Caramelized Banana Splits with Hot Chocolate Sauce - A fun late-evening treat on winter's night.

Chinese Barbecued Baby Back Ribs - These tasty ribs are "barbecued" in the oven -- and it takes just an hour and a half from start to finish to make them.

Ginger Rum Shandy - A fantastic combination of ginger syrup, apple juice, beer and lime juice. Even better, it's a recipe from cool Canadian chef Chuck Hughes.

Linguine with Lemon Garlic Shrimp - Mascarpone cheese is the key ingredient of this pasta's soft, creamy sauce.

Crispy Baked Drumsticks with Honey-Mustard Sauce - Easy to make fare that will please your family's palates. The honey-mustard sauce is out of this world.

Porterhouse Steak with Pan-Seared Cherry Tomatoes- A carnivore's dream.

Panna Cotta Parfaits with Raspberry Compote - A favorite in my extended family, this easy-to-make creamy dessert takes the fussiness of most panna cotta recipes and throws it right out the window.

Summer Berry Icebox Pie - When berry season returns, I strongly advise making this stunningly delicious dessert.

Classic Sweet Tea - Homemade iced tea gets absolutely amazing with this recipe, which uses the secret step of room temperature water to brew it.

Nectarine-Basil Lemonade - So easy to make and so lovely to drink. This recipe is a favorite in my family.