Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuna Salad with White Beans

This is one of my favorite recipes and one that I use ALL the time. When I'm at school, I usually cook for one, which can be tricky. Most recipes make more than one serving and most dishes aren't good for more than a few days. This means I'm stuck eating the same thing for several meals in a row and end up throwing away half of the things I cook because they've gone bad by the time I get around to eating them.

Enter tuna salad with white beans. This dish is delicious, versatile and can last for up to a week in the fridge. Perfect.

This salad makes a great light lunch

The best thing about this dish is how easy it is to fine tune. The recipe is just a rough guide. Personally, I like to add a little extra vinegar and parsley. It's also great with some cherry tomatoes thrown in. 

Bon appetit!

Tuna Salad with White Beans
Serves 4-6

2 6 oz. cans of chunk tuna in water
1 14 oz. can Cannellini beans
3 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1/4 red onion, chopped
3 tbsp curly parsley, chopped
1 big glug olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Juice from half a lemon
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

Drain tuna and white beans in a strainer and wash with cold water. Combine all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and mix thoroughly. Serve plain, on bread or crackers or on top of a salad.

This dish keeps really well. It can be stored in the fridge for several days after it's made. Just cover with plastic wrap or store in an airtight container.

Source: Shutterbean

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Cake Pops

I made cake pops! I seriously thought this day would never come.

Back in the day, Bakerella was one of the first food blogs I started following and cake pops are her signature. I always oohed and aahed over her adorable creations, but I was never brave enough to attempt them myself. This year she published a cake pops cookbook and in October my mom and I went to a signing at our local William Sonoma. Seeing her at the signing and looking through her cookbook motivated me to start working on this blog, which was something I had been wanting to do for a long time. Thanks Bakerella!

Armed with my new cookbook and some tips from Bakerella, I was ready to give cake pops a try. I decided to go with red velvet cake and cream cheese frosting for my pops, but any combo of box cake and icing will work (things get a little trickier when you make our own cake and/or frosting, I would recommend buying the cake pops cookbook before giving this a try).

Make things easier for yourself: Set out all your ingredients beforehand

The great thing about cake pops is they are incredibly flexible. So don't stress if you can't find the exact candy used in the recipe. Work with whatever you can get your hands on. And feel free to decorate the pops differently. Who knows, your cake pops may turn out better than Bakerella's (and even if they don't, people will still think they are super cute).

Rainbow chip sprinkles from Michael's make great ornaments for the Christmas tree pops

I have a few tips, but first a word of warning: cake pops are not for the faint of heart! They take a lot of time, effort and patience. It's important to set several hours aside to make them and also be aware that the finished product might not look that great. There are about a million things that can go wrong when making cake pops, so prepare for some frustration and be ready to improvise.

That being said, here are some of the glitches I encountered and tips to avoid said glitches.

Problem: There were cracks in my candy coating after it dried.
Solution: I left the cake balls in the freezer for too long, so the cake started expanding after it was covered with coating. Do not leave the cake balls in the freezer for longer than 15 minutes, transfer them to the fridge after 15 minutes have passed. You can leave them there for as long as you need. If the damage is already done and there are cracks in your candy coating, use a toothpick to fill in the cracks with extra coating.

Problem: Some of the candy decorations fell off my pops.
Solution: I worked too slowly. Candy coating dries quickly, so it's important to keep up the pace. This is where advance preparation comes in. If you have all of your candy out and ready to go, you should be able to work at a decent speed. This is particularly important when putting on the reindeer antlers. If you let the candy coating dry, you will have to push the pretzels through the coating which will cause it to crack.

Problem: My candy coating burnt.
Solution: I heated the coating for too long. Follow directions carefully when heating your candy coating. It's better to do things super slowly than to burn the coating and have to start from scratch.

Problem: My cake ball fell into the candy coating while I was dipping it.
Solution: I either stuck the lollipop stick too far or not far enough into the cake ball. Try to stick the lollipop stick about half way into the cake ball, no more, no less.

Problem: My candy coating kept dripping after I stuck it into the styrofoam.
Solution: Practice. Unfortunately, I don't have a better answer for this one. I was still perfecting my technique when I finished the last of my pops.

For more extensive cake pop troubleshooting, buy Bakerella's cookbook. It's amazing!

The finished product!

That's all folks. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone!
Bon appetit!

Christmas Cake Pops
1 box cake mix (I used red velvet)
16 oz. can icing (I used cream cheese)
48 lollipop sticks
Large styrofoam block about 3-5 inches thick

1 lb. bag dark chocolate candy melts
24 red or brown M&M's
48 round white sprinkles
ABC pretzels from World Market (the Es, Fs and Ys work really well)
Edible ink pen, black

Christmas Trees
1 lb. green candy melts
Rainbow chip sprinkles
Jumbo star sprinkles

Bake cake in a 9x13 in. pan according to instructions on box. Cool completely on a wire rack. Once cake has cooled divided into 8 rectangular pieces. Crumble cake by rubbing two pieces together over a large bowl. Once all the cake is crumbled, run a fork through the bowl to break up any large pieces.

Mix thoroughly with 3/4 can of frosting. Use the back of a large spoon to combine the cake and frosting. To make the reindeer, mold the mixture into 24 balls and place on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper. Freeze for 15 minutes and then transfer to the fridge until ready to use. Use the remainder of the mixture to make the Christmas trees. Mold into 24 cone shapes, instead of balls and freeze. Transfer to the fridge after 15 minutes.

To make the reindeer, melt the chocolate candy coating in a large, deep microwave-safe bowl according to package instructions. Remove several cake balls from the fridge at a time. Dip a lollipop stick into the candy coating and push about half way through a ball. Dunk the cake ball into the candy coating, making sure the entire thing is covered, and pull out in one swift motion. To remove the excess coating, hold the cake pop horizontally in the left hand, using the right hand to lightly tap the left wrist.

Tap the left wrist quickly to remove the excess coating before it dries

Immediately stick the cake pop into the styrofoam block and quickly press on two pretzels for the antlers (Bakerella uses E, F and Y-shaped ABC pretzels from World Market, but if you can't find those, just get regular pretzels and break them to make it work, that's what I did). Hold in place until the candy coating sets and the pretzels stand on their own. Let stand until completely dry.

Apply a small amount of candy coating to an M&M for the reindeer's nose. Hold on the front of the cake pop until the coating sets. Draw small black dots on two white sprinkles for the eyes. Apply a small amount of candy coating using a toothpick and hold each sprinkle on the pop until dry. Use the edible marker to draw a mouth on the reindeer. Smile and repeat.

Oh hey, Rudolph!

To make the Christmas trees, melt the green candy coating in a large, deep microwave-safe bowl according to package instructions. Remove several cake cones from the fridge at a time. Dip a lollipop stick into the candy coating and push about half way through the cone. Dunk the cake cone into the candy coating, making sure the whole thing is covered, and pull out in one swift motion. To remove the excess coating, hold the cake pop horizontally in the left hand, using the right hand to lightly tap the left wrist. Drag a toothpick through the wet coating to create the branches. Place a star on the top and hold until the candy coating sets. Allow to dry completely.

Use small amounts of candy coating and a toothpick to attach the rainbow chips sprinkles to the branches. Allow to dry completely in the styrofoam block.

Santa loves Cake Pops!

Source: Bakerella

Friday, December 17, 2010

Key Lime Pie

I know what you're thinking, this post seems a little out of season, right? Well, it is. But, over Thanksgiving I visited my grandmother in Florida and she has a great key lime tree in her backyard. Most of the key limes end up going to waste, so before leaving we went crazy and picked enough to fill a large trash bag. It was time to make my first ever key lime pie.

A little background: key limes are smaller than your average lime and have thinner rinds and a stronger aroma. They are known for their tart and bitter flavor, which is what gives key lime pie its distinctive tang. Traditional key lime pies are made with condensed milk and topped with meringue and cannot be refrigerated, but some newer variations use fresh milk or cream and are served cold. I prefer my key lime pie chilled, so I looked for a recipe with a whipped cream topping instead of meringue (because meringue is made with egg whites, it cannot be refrigerated).

Key limes are yellow when ripe, but are typically picked when green

Martha Stewart has a great cookbook dedicated to pies and tarts that contains two key lime pie recipes, one of which is made with cream and must be refrigerated. This recipe is pretty minimal and doesn't require a lot of time, which I appreciate. The down side is her recipes aren't always accessible to beginners, so I tried to make my instructions more detailed.

A couple of tips: first, make sure not to get any egg whites in the filling. They will form solid white chunks when you heat the mixture. If this happens, try to pick out as many chunks as possible, you don't want those in your pie. Secondly, give the pie plenty of time to chill. The recipe suggests 24 hours, but I found the pie tasted better after the second and third day than after the first, so don't be afraid to let it sit in the fridge for a while.

A key lime from my grandmother's tree

Once again, a big thank you to my fabulous photographer sister, Shelby.
Bon appetit!

Key Lime Pie
Serves 6-8 
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp granulated sugar
Dash of salt

1/3 cup fresh key lime juice
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 tsp freshly-grated key lime rind
2 1/4 cups heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 375° F. To make the crumbs, put graham crackers into a food processor and process until fine (or you can do it by hand). Add the rest of the ingredients for the crust and mix well. Press mixture into a buttered 8-inch pie plate and bake for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

In the top of a double boiler, combine the egg yolks, sugar and lime juice. Cook the mixture over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, until it coats the back of a spoon (i.e. a spoon dipped in the mixture and removed should be covered in a thin film and running a finger through the film should leave a clear path).

The white chunks are egg whites that got mixed in with the yolks. Try to avoid this.

Remove from the heat and stir in the grated rind. Pause to enjoy the yummy lime smell. Chill until the mixture thickens, but do not let it become stiff. I left mine in the fridge for about 30 minutes, but I think it could have stayed in longer. Use your discretion.

Whip 1 1/2 cups of cream in an electric mixer until it forms soft peaks (When you lift the head of the mixer out of the bowl, the cream should form a small curved peak that will fall over on itself. If the peak stands straight and does not fall over on itself, it is called a stiff peak). Fold into lime filling. Spoon mixture into the prepared crust and chill, covered, for 24 hours (or more). To serve, whip the remaining cream until it forms stiff peaks and decorate. I used a pastry bag, but a plastic bag works just as well. Just clip off the corner of a plastic bag and you're good to go!

Source: Martha Stewart's Pies & Tarts

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pumpkin Pecan Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Maple Brown Butter Frosting

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving, everyone! This year I spent Thanksgiving with my extended family in Florida. I wanted to contribute something to the big meal, but most items were already taken care of and I had limited space and tools to work with in my grandmother's kitchen, so I decided on something simple: cookies.

I found this recipe on Bakerella about a year ago and it immediately caught my eye for two reasons. First of all, it is a lot more complicated than your average cookie recipe in terms of the number of ingredients and the fact that it involves frosting. And second, it just so happens to include all of my favorite things: chocolate, nuts, pumpkin and frosting (all that's missing from the list is some peanut butter). I thought this would be the perfect Thanksgiving dish for me to bring to the table, cookies with a little extra zing.

Nifty old-fashioned flour sifter

Working on these cookies in my grandmother's kitchen was fun because I got to use some really cool old tools, like the flour sifter pictured above. One tool I was not a fan of was the handheld electric mixer. I had never used one before and it was just a nuisance. It took forever to blend things and it kept spraying batter everywhere, just made me miss my KitchenAid (I'm spoiled, I know).

When I first took these cookies out of the oven and transferred them to a wire rack, I thought I had done something wrong. They didn't feel like cookies at all. They were soft and pillowy. The texture of these cookies is completely unexpected. They're light and fluffy, like pumpkin bread, but in cookie form. At first I thought it was weird, but they taste great and they don't harden, even  if you leave them out overnight. What's not to love?

Frosting the finished product

The one tricky part about this recipe is browning the butter for the frosting. It's important to keep a constant eye on the butter to ensure it browns without burning. Check out the recipe for detailed instructions and a photo, which is very helpful if you've never browned butter before.

My frosting turned out a little bit thinner than Bakerella's, but that might have been because I hand mixed it instead of using an electric mixer. Other than that, this recipe was awesome. A great addition to the Thanksgiving table!

My adorable cousin Aiden enjoying a cookie

A special shout out to my sister Shelby for the beautiful photos. Thanks Shelbs!

Bon appetit!

Pumpkin Pecan Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Maple Brown Butter Frosting
Serves 36
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chunks

3 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp maple flavoring

Whisk together flour and pumpkin pie spice and set aside.

In an electric mixer, cream butter. Add both sugars and beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and mix. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the flour/spice mixture in three additions, alternating with the pumpkin in two additions. Begin and end with the dry ingredients (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry). Stir in chopped pecans and chocolate chunks.

Drop batter onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, use a small measuring cup or an ice cream scoop to create equal-sized cookies. Bake at 350° F for about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Allow cookies to cool completely before icing.

While the cookies are cooling, brown the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. After the butter melts, it will briefly foam up, then subside. Watch carefully, small brown specks should begin to form at the bottom of the pan. At this point the butter should be golden brown and have a nutty aroma. Remove butter from heat. It is very important to keep a close watch on the butter while it is browning, because butter can go from brown to burned in a matter of seconds. If the butter starts looking black, it's best to simply throw it away and start from scratch.

Brown Butter, Source: The Kitchn

Add butter to sifted sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add milk and maple flavoring and mix until frosting is smooth and has reached your desired consistency (if frosting is too thick, add more milk by the teaspoon and if frosting is not thick enough, add more confectioners sugar). Spread on top of the cookies with a knife.

Source: Bakerella

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hummingbird Kitchen

Food trucks are all the rage in Chicago right now and I've been dying to try one since Gaztro-Wagon made its debut this summer. I never made it to one while I was working downtown, so I was really excited when I found out that Hummingbird Kitchen would be hitting the streets of Evanston this month. Hummingbird-to-Go has been a long time in the making, but owners Heather Behm, Stephen Schwartz and Vince DiBattista (the trio behind Union Pizzeria and Campagnola) had to wait for Evanston to pass an ordinance permitting mobile food vendors before sending the truck out on the streets.

Hummingbird made its long-awaited inaugural run on November 9th and has been bopping around Evanston ever since. Today the truck was parked by Northwestern's campus, so I decided to stop by on my way to work.

Hummingbird did not disappoint. I had a hard time deciding because everything on the menu sounded so yummy. The menu changes on a daily basis and today they were serving meatball grinders, roasted chicken tacos, white bean soup, Italian fries and Valrhona chocolate brownies. I eventually settled on the white bean soup and a brownie, both of which were amazing! I was stuffed about half way through my meal, but I couldn't seem to put my spoon down and so I finished every bite, naturally.

White bean soup with escarole & Parmesan

The white bean soup was thick with a great texture and topped with escarole and Parmesan. The brownie, made with Valrhona chocolate and walnuts, was warm, lusciously dense and topped with fresh whipped cream and a rich chocolate sauce. Mmm!

I plan on returning to Hummingbird very soon to explore more of their menu and I highly recommend you do the same. Follow Hummingbird-to-Go on Twitter for daily location and menu updates.

Valrhona chocolate brownie

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Maple Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Streusel

It's getting to be that time of year again...The leaves are changing colors, the weather is getting chillier, and Halloween and Thanksgiving are right around the corner. I have to say, my favorite part about these holidays might be the food: turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, apple pie, pecan pie...the list goes on. But my all-time favorite fall food is pumpkin: pumpkin muffins, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin seeds, pumpkin bread, and, of course, pumpkin pie. So, as you can imagine, I jumped at the chance to make a pumpkin pie this weekend for my dad's birthday. For my close friends' and families' birthdays I bake whatever cake/cookie/pie their hearts desire. Luckily for me, my dad's favorite dessert also happens to be one of my favorites.

I've only attempted to make a pumpkin pie once before and it was one of my worst baking attempts of all time. The consistency of the pie was just off. No matter how long I baked or chilled it for, the pie filling remained runny. I hated it, and I rarely say I hate pumpkin pie.

Determined not to repeat my mistake, I decided to search online for a good recipe. I came across a Bobby Flay recipe from an episode of Throwdown that sounded promising, but reading through the comments it seemed many reviewers were eager to get ahold of the the other recipe from the episode from Bobby's competition, Michele Albano, owner of her own pie shop in New Hampshire. I searched the Food Network site for Michele's recipe and bingo, my adaptation of her maple pumpkin pie with pecan streusel was born.

I was pressed for time, so I used a premade pie shell and canned pumpkin, but the result was still awesome. The pecan topping was to die for! However, I am a huge fan of the graham cracker crust, so next time I try this recipe I might substitute one in for the plain crust, otherwise this pie was stellar. I may or may not be making it again in the next week...

Bon appetit!

Maple Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Streusel
Serves 6-8
1 9-inch premade pie crust, refrigerated
Heavy cream

3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, diced

2 cups pumpkin puree
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup Grade B maple syrup
3 large eggs, whisked

Maple Whipped Cream:
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup Grade B maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 425° F. Brush the edges of the pie crust with heavy cream and refrigerate until the filling is ready.

To make the streusel, toss the pecans, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Add the butter and work it in with your fingertips until small clumps form. Set aside.

To make the filling, mix the pumpkin, flour, brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the cream and maple syrup, scraping the sides of the bowl several times while mixing. Mix in the beaten eggs.

Pour filling into the pie shell and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350° F and bake until the filling is almost firm, about 30 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven and sprinkle the streusel over the top. Return to the oven and bake until the filling is just a little wobbly in the middle and streusel is golden, about 10-15 minutes. The total baking time should be somewhere between 55 and 60 minutes.

Cool the pie on a wire rack. This pie is best served chilled or at room temperature. I prefer my pumpkin pie chilled, so I popped it in the fridge while I made the maple whipped cream.

To make the whipped cream, place the bowl of an electric mixer in the freezer to chill for at least 15 minutes. Then, combine the cream, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla in the chilled bowl and beat on high speed until the mixture thickens. Add the maple syrup and beat on high until the cream forms firm peaks. Garnish pie with maple whipped cream before serving.

Source: Michele Albano via Food Network

Blueberry Pie with Cornmeal Crust

This was my first ever pie (gasp!). Well, 100% homemade pie, that is. I've always felt that using a store-bought crust was cheating* and since I don't have the right equipment to make a crust in my kitchen at school, I've never gotten around to it.

Fortunately, the perfect opportunity presented itself this summer. My sister Shelby and I took a trip to Alabama to visit my grandparents. My mother was an amazing baker and my grandmother is as well, so I was eager to prove that I'm not a complete failure in the kitchen. It was August and there was a lot of great fruit available, so I decided to try something new and bake a pie. And what's better than a blueberry pie? (Okay, maybe an apple pie, but wrong season). I scoured for recipes on Epicurious and this pie's non-traditional crust intrigued me, so away I went.

Overall, I would say my first homemade pie attempt went well. I had trouble working with the crust, so my pie wasn't very aesthetically pleasing, but hey, practice makes perfect, right?

What I really loved about this pie was the crust. The cornmeal gives the crust a subtle gritty texture, which sets this recipe apart from your run-of-the-mill blueberry pie.

A couple of tips: first, the better the blueberries the better the pie (kind of obvious, but very important), and second, make sure to keep a close eye on the oven for the last 20 minutes of baking time (my pie was done after about an hour).

Oh, and this pie is nothing without vanilla ice cream, so don't forget the Blue Bell!

Bon appetit!

*I later discovered this is, for the most part, false. Unless you're dealing with a graham cracker crust or some other special type of crust, you can't really tell the difference between one that is store bought and one that is homemade. But if you have the time and equipment, go for the homemade crust, if only for the feeling of accomplishment and bragging rights.

Blueberry Pie with Cornmeal Crust
Serves 8
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal, preferably stone-ground, medium grind
3 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup plus 6 tbsp (1 3/4 sticks total) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup nonhydrogenated solid vegetable shortening, frozen, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 tbsp (or more) ice water

5 cups fresh blueberries (about 27 oz)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp water
Milk (for brushing)
1 1/2 tbsp raw sugar

To make the crust, blend flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add butter and shortening and, using on-off turns, pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 4 tbsp ice water and blend just until moist clumps begin to form, adding more water by the teaspoonful if dough is too dry. Gather dough into a ball and divide in half, forming two disks. Wrap disks in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour. Can be made a day ahead. Keep dough chilled and let soften 10 minutes before rolling out.

To make the filling, combine the blueberries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and 1 tbsp of water in a large bowl. Toss to combine. Let stand at room temperature until juices begin form, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400° F. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the bottom of the oven. Roll out 1 disk of dough between two sheets of generously floured parchment paper until it is 12 inches in diameter. Peel off the top sheet of paper. Invert dough into the bottom of a 9-inch glass pie dish. Peel of the second sheet of parchment. Gently press the dough into the dish, pressing any cracks together as needed to seal and leave dough overhang. Spoon filling into pie crust.

Roll out the second disk of dough between two sheets of generously floured parchment paper until it is 12 inches in diameter. Peel off the top sheet of parchment. Carefully and evenly invert dough atop filling. Peel off second parchment sheet. Trim overhang to 1 inch. Fold overhang under and press to seal. Crimp edges decoratively. Cut 5 2-inch slits in the top of the pie crust to allow steam to escape while baking. Lightly brush the top of the crust with milk (not edges). Sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake pie for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° F and continue baking until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling thickly through slits, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool pie completely on a wire rack. Cut into wedges and serve with vanilla bean ice cream.

Source: Bon Appetit July 2008 via Epicurious

Monday, November 1, 2010

Peanut Butter and Toffee Candy Bark

Happy (belated) Halloween! I hope everyone enjoyed their Halloweekend. I had a very festive weekend filled with lots of yummy treats. On Friday, I made peanut butter & toffee candy bark from the October issue of Bon Appetit. On Saturday, my roommate Emily and I carved pumpkins and made roasted pumpkin seeds, and on Sunday, I made spooky Halloween cupcakes with buttercream frosting.

First off was Halloween candy bark. I've had this recipe flagged since the day I received my October issue of Bon Appetit. I mean, melted chocolate covered in more chocolate and candy? Count me in. This recipe is super easy and can be adapted based on your taste in candy. It can also be used for different holidays, substituting in holiday-appropriate candy for the Reese's, Butterfinger and nuts.

Another great Halloween goody I had this weekend: roasted pumpkin seeds. To make these, hold onto your seeds when carving pumpkins, wash and dry them, toss in a tiny bit of olive oil and seasoning of your choice and bake at 325 F for 25 minutes (or until golden and crunchy), tossing periodically to ensure even baking. Emily and I made several different varieties: sea salt, garlic sea salt, cinnamon sugar and spicy Cajun. They were all great, but my favorites were the cinnamon sugar and the garlic sea salt.

Spooky pumpkins! Save your seeds after carving for a yummy Halloween snack.

On Sunday, I made yellow cupcakes with buttercream frosting. Earlier this week, my mom sent me a Halloween care package which included Halloween sprinkles. I was determined to use them, so I picked up a box of Betty Crocker yellow cake mix and whipped up some of my favorite buttercream frosting (recipe courtesy of Bakerella) and spent several joyous hours decorating my spooky creations.

Can you tell I had a little too much fun with this?

Bon appetit!

Halloween Peanut Butter & Toffee Candy Bark
Makes 30 two-inch pieces
1 lb. bittersweet chocolate chips
3 2.1-oz. Butterfinger candy bars, cut into irregular 1/2-inch pieces
3 1.4-oz. Heath toffee candy bars, cut into irregular 1/2-inch pieces 
8 small peanut butter cups, each cut into 4 wedges
1/3 cup honey-roasted peanuts
3 oz. white chocolate, chopped
Small box of Reese's Pieces

Line a baking sheet with foil. Stir chocolate chips in a heavy medium saucepan over low heat until melted and warm (not hot) to touch. Pour chocolate onto foil and spread to 1/4-inch thickness (you should have a 12x10-inch rectangle).

Sprinkle with Butterfinger, Heath, peanut butter cups and nuts, making sure all pieces touch melted chocolate to adhere.

Put white chocolate in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until chocolate is melted and warm (not hot) to touch. Remove from heat. Dip a spoon into the chocolate and wave from side to side over the bark, creating zig zag lines.

Scatter Reese's Pieces over the bark, pressing the candy into the melted white chocolate.

Chill bark until firm, about 30 minutes. Slide the foil with candy onto a work surface and chop into small irregular pieces. Keep chilled in the fridge or store at room temperature.

Source: Bon Appetit October 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

Low Fat Oatmeal Banana Bread

I am a huge fan of breakfast breads: banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, lemon poppyseed name it, I'll eat it. Unfortunately, these yummy breads are not usually the healthiest of breakfast options, so I don't eat them all that much, so I was pretty excited when I came across a recipe for low fat oatmeal banana bread.

This banana bread is delicious and definitely does not taste low fat. Also, if you're baking for one like me, you can slice up the loaf and freeze the extra slices. When you want a piece, just pop it in the toaster oven for a few minutes and you're good to go.

Next time I might add some chopped nuts to the batter, instead of just using them decoratively on top. I think some pecans would be great in this recipe!

If you'd like to check out the nutritional facts, I've calculated them here.

Bon appetit!

Low Fat Oatmeal Banana Bread
Serves 10
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tsp olive oil
1 large egg, beaten
2 medium egg whites, beaten
3 large bananas, ripe
1 cup uncooked old fashioned oats
Pecan halves for decorating

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour a loaf pan and set aside. In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients, including oats and cinnamon.

In another smaller bowl mash bananas with a potato masher or a fork. Add oil and whole egg and mix thoroughly. Add wet ingredients to the dry and mix. Batter will be fairly thick.

In the bowl of an electric mixer beat egg whites until medium stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into the batter in three additions.

Pour batter into pan and top with pecans halves. Bake until firm, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Flip out and allow to cool for a wire rack for 10 more minutes. Cut into 10 equal slices.

Source: Joy the Baker

Monday, October 25, 2010

Flank Steak with Tomatillo Salsa & Green Tomato Au Gratin

While I was home this summer, my mom suggested we take a cooking class together. Naturally, I was thrilled by the idea. We couldn't find any good hands-on lessons, so we had to settle for a demonstration. In the end, we decided on a class based on tomatoes, called "You Say Tomayto, I Say Tomato" with chef Justin Keith of Food 101, an Atlanta restaurant specializing in American classics with a twist.

I love Food 101 (in fact, it is the restaurant where my sister Mary Lang claims to have had "the best Caesar salad of her life," but that's another story) and I love tomatoes, so I was excited to see what dishes Justin had in store for us. On the menu: Justin's take on the Caprese salad using cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls and white balsamic vinegar, tomato & cucumber gazpacho, green tomato au gratin and flank steak with tomatillo salsa verde.

Justin was great and I enjoyed every dish we learned how to make during the class. My mom and I were so obsessed with a couple of the dishes that we decided to recreate them for a family dinner the next week.

To prepare for our meal, I made a trip to the Forest Park Farmers Market, which is the largest farmers market in Georgia. It was my first visit and I was amazed. It was the biggest farmers market I've seen, by far. There are about 25 giant aisles filled with stalls on both sides and the aisles are wide enough to fit cars going in each direction. I picked up the tomatillos and green tomatoes I needed, as well as some zipper peas to go along with the meal (per my dad's request).

Next I went to Fresh Market to pick up the flank steak along with other ingredients. Flank steak is one of my favorite cuts of beef. It's a very lean, tough piece of meat, so it's important to give it plenty of time to marinate (I marinated mine overnight to really let the flavors sink in). Also, when you're picking out your flank steak, ask the butcher to trim the fat for you. When cutting the flank steak, make sure to slice against the grain. If you look closely at your flank steak you will see thin lines running in a certain direction. Those lines are fibers in the meat, which are tough and difficult to chew. If you slice your meat in the same direction as these lines, you will have to chew through the tough fibers, so instead, you want to slice across the lines. If you need a visual, this is a great how-to video from Epicurious.

The tomatillo salsa turned out incredibly well. The recipe is relatively painless and produces a huge amount of salsa that can be easily refrigerated and stored for later use. The salsa complemented the steak perfectly, but I can also imagine it would be great with chicken, salmon, tuna, mahi mahi, and even eggs. Note: The salsa has a substantial kick, so if spicy isn't your thing, be sure and remove the seeds from the jalapeño before adding it into the mixture.

My favorite part of the meal, by far, was the green tomato gratin. The combination of two of my favorite cheeses, breadcrumbs and lots of butter...what's not to love? Although I thought the original recipe using Panko breadcrumbs was awesome, my mom remade it a couple of weeks later using homemade breads crumbs soaked in butter and I have to say, it was even better. I would definitely recommend substituting homemade breadcrumbs for the Panko breadcrumbs. Just break several slices of white bread into small chunks and soak them in melted butter before adding to the top of each layer of the casserole. Using this method, you might not even need the extra butter.

Bon appetit!

Flank Steak with Tomatillo Salsa Verde
Serves 4
Flank Steak:
16-24 oz flank steak
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup chili sauce
2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1 cup olive oil
1 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp coriander seed

To prepare the flank steak mix all of the ingredients except the steak together in a large bowl. Transfer the mixture to a plastic Ziploc bag and add the steak. Marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.

Remove steak from the marinade and grill on medium/high heat for 4-6 minutes per side (for medium rare). Allow the meat to sit for 5-7 minutes after removing from the grill to allow the juices to settle. Top with tomatillo salsa before serving.

Tomatillo Salsa Verde
1 lb. fresh tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and quartered
1 fresh jalapeño chile, chopped
1/2 large white onion
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp ground cumin

Coarsely puree tomatillos, chile, onion, garlic, water, salt and lime juice in a blender until relatively smooth (mixture will still be a little chunky). Transfer mixture to a small saucepot and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes. This allows the moisture released from the tomatillos to cook down. Transfer mixture to a bowl and cool to room temperature or refrigerate to chill. Stir in cilantro, cumin and lime juice and salt to taste.

Note: this recipe makes 2 cups of salsa, so you will have plenty left over.

Green Tomato Au Gratin
Serves 4

1 yellow onion, julienned
4-5 green tomatoes, sliced 1/4"-1/2" thick
2 1/2 cups white cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 cups panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 cup fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped

Preheat oven to 350° F. Oil the bottom of a 9x13 casserole dish. Saute the onions in a saucepan with olive oil until they are translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Arrange a layer of tomatoes in the casserole dish. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange half of the onions on top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle half of the Parmesan and half of the cheddar on top. Cover with a thin layer of breadcrumbs.

Repeat the process. Sprinkle the casserole with the rest of the breadcrumbs and the herbs and finish by pouring the melted better over the top.

Bake at 350° F covered with aluminum foil for 30 minutes and then uncovered for an additional 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serve warm.

Source: Justin Keith of Food 101 in Atlanta, GA